Monday, December 24, 2007

The Christmas Story

The Christmas Story never ceases to confound me.
God. Humanity. A couple. A manger. A Child. Love. Redemption. Faithfulness. Promise. Hope.
Indeed, the greatest story ever told - and which is more, it is true. It did happen.

The Birth of Jesus
(Matthew 1.18-25)
v1At that time Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. v2When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. v3Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own hometown.
v4Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. v5He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, v6and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. v7She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger---there was no room for them to stay in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels
v8There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. v9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, v10but the angel said to them, "Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. v11This very day in David's town your Savior was born---Christ the Lord! v12And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
v13Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:
v14"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!"
v15When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us."
v16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger.

v17When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. v18All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. v19Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. v20The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.

May the blessing of the Birth of Christ be with us today and always.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


(the Seminario during the blessing)

Yesterday, we began the 3-day alumni homecoming at the Immaculate Conception Minor Seminary. This is in celebration of 50 years since the transfer of the seminary administration from the religious to the diocesan clergy, with Msgr. Panay as first Rector, thus.

We were not many. Most of those who have arrived are the elder ones. Hopefully, tonight, with the "commemoration dinner", more would come in.

Nevertheless, the spirit was there. The elders, now successful in their own fields and lives, manifested a contagious air of gratitude to the good old seminario. And us who are more recent (well, actually not, it has been 13 years since I graduated there) find inspiration in our manongs' spirit.

Their resolve to actively collaborate in the upkeep of the seminary and in bettering seminary formation is equally inspiring.

I know little of the elder alumni, and have had only very minimal interaction with them, but I feel a sense of connectedness.

For sure, it is the shared reality that we all experienced
, in varying ways of relevance, religiosity, resolve, or nonchalance, mediocrity or even notoriety - the lawn, the building, the classrooms, the dining hall, the study hall, the dormitories, the Rector and Prefect's Office, the basketball and soccer courts, the comfort rooms, the corridors, the nooks, the bell, the Chapel and Oratory - the formators, the teachers, the classmates and community mates, the personnel - the formation, the prayers and daily Eucharist, the spiritual direction and confessions, the study periods, the discipline, the mischief, the homesickness, the adventures and misadventures, the community programs and outing, merits and sanctions, the friendships, the mentoring, the guidance, the journey, the minor seminary life.

Bishop Jacinto Jose in his homily during the Opening Liturgy yesterday emphasized the minor seminary's formative impact - as influence and inspiration. It was a succinct way of putting it. The whole minor seminary formation package, indeed exerted influence on each one who experiences it, hopefully as an inspiration to live up to the ideals of Christian living and servant-leadership.

Keep in touch with fellow alumni through the Alumni website :

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's the now that matters

Today is the beginning of a new liturgical year – ushered in by the First Sunday ofAdvent, the Sunday after the celebration of Christ the King. It continues through 4 Sundays until December 24.

Advent is d
ivided into 2 parts - First Sunday to December 16; and December 17-24. These 2 parts correspond to the season's two-fold meaning. It is a season to remember and celebrate the First Coming of Christ, and a season reminding us to anticipate and look forward to the Second Coming of Christ.

The First Coming of Christ is what we celebrate in Christmastime: the coming of God in the flesh, the Incarnation. It happened in the past. We remember and celebrate in gratitude, awe and joy.

The Second Coming of Christ is what the readings of this Sunday until December 16 will speak about: the coming of Christ in spirit. It will happen in the future. It will be the day of our full liberation. The liturgy provides us an opportunity during Advent to reflect on this, with longing, joy and expectation, preparing ourselves for this last day.

The proper way of remembering and celebrating the First Coming of Christ, and anticipating and looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ is living our present thankfully, mindful that we have been liberated from sin and death, and living joyfully hopeful of the definitive and final coming of Christ.

We live not as people in the dark, living in the ways of sin – selfishness, perversion, lust, greed and pride. We live as people of the light, living in the ways of goodness, truth, justice and compassion.

The symbols of Advent remind us of the twofold meaning, and the essential task of the present.

The purple color of the liturgical vestments show a certain penitential character – to repent and free ourselves from sin, so that Christ may have a place in our hearts.

The Advent Wreath symbolizes the anticipation of the people of the Old Testament of the Coming of Christ – as the Christ’s Coming drew nearer, the world and humanity’s hearts are gradually illumined and illuminated. It also symbolizes the Christian ideal of our personal lives as well as our social, political, economic, religious and cultural lives – the more we get to know Christ, the more we celebrate his love in the Sacraments, the more are we liberated from the darkness of sin, the more are we shaped and guided by the light of God’s love.

In our present circumstance, there is always a temptation towards externals especially in this commercialized world. The invitation is to prepare ourselves spiritually, by more intense prayer, participation in the liturgy, and a heart more open to the needy.

Today too, we remember our brothers and sisters who have physical disabilities, those who are differently-able, or the handicapped. For us who have full physical abilities, let us be reminded of our responsibility to use our abilities properly, and to their ordered finality. For our brothers and sisters who have physical disabilities, those who are differently-able, or the handicapped, it is our task to make this world more friendly and accessible to them. Let us remember, that the greatest disability or handicap is the inability to see other people’s needs, the inability to share, the inability to forgive – the handicaps of our hearts.

May we take the season of Advent as an opportunity to truly remember and celebrate the First Coming of Christ, to truly anticipate, look forward to and prepare for His Second Coming, by living our present, freed from the handicap of selfishness, free to love.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hope in the midst of hopelessness

In these times when the difficulties of life lead many to none but skepticism and cynicism, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI in his new encyclical, On Christian Hope, reminds us reassuringly:
Our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world's future either tire us or turn into fanaticism, unless we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures or by a breakdown in matters of historic importance. If we cannot hope for more than is effectively attainable at any given time, or more than is promised by political or economic authorities, our lives will soon be without hope. It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere. (Spe salvi, 35)
Amen to that, Pope Benedict.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

the ego and alterity

"You will know Life and be acknowledged by it according to your degree of transparency, your capacity, that is, to vanish as an end, and remain purely as a means."

- Dag Hammarskjöld

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is Christ our King?

The Gospel today (Luke 23:35-43) presents us Jesus as King in a manner that defies all conventions on kingship – Jesus as King – tortured, crucified, dying, mocked by soldiers, jeered at by the rulers.

The ironic situation however does not negate the Kingship of Jesus; it defines it.

Christ’s Kingship is not about physical power – he was crucified, cannot even move his hands and feet; Christ’s Kingship is not about financial power – he was poor as a rat – “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”; Christ’s Kingship is not about political power – he was hanging on the cross, brought there to die by the greatest political power of that time, the Roman Empire, and the local political powers.

Christ’s Kingship is about LOVE – serving, self-giving, sacrificing – a love that gives life to others, even if it would mean giving up his own life – a love that is freely given, unmerited, but is never forced upon – like in the case of the repentant thief. It is only when we open ourselves to this love that we will receive it and its life-giving blessing.

The celebration of Christ the King, at the end of the Liturgical Year, reminds us of this great offer of Christ of love – that we receive him as our King, and allow his love to direct everything of our lives.

Is Christ really King of our lives? Accepting Christ as King of our lives entails:

That we make Christ King of our personal lives. This entails personal conversion. Before anything else, we need PERSONAL conversion. We need to accept that the Gospel and its message speaks to us, confronts us, challenges us, first of all addressed to ourselves;

That we make Christ King of our families. That we live in love and concern for each other. That we seek to understand, give and forgive, that we may see the need of each other and serve each other. The irony is, like in the Gospel, we ignore even those closest to us;

That we make Christ King of our relationships, the ties that we hold dear, the way we relate with others;

That we make Christ King of our work;

That we make Christ King of our economics – the way we make money and spend money;

That we make Christ King of our politics; in the Gospel, it was those who had political and military power who mocked and jeered at Jesus. We pray for all who have political and military power, that they may use power for the genuine good of all, and not for selfish aims, that they may use power to serve God’s Kingdom. We pray that they will not use power to jeer at and mock Jesus again by manipulating, dominating, exploiting the poor and powerless.

That we make Christ King of our culture;

That we make Christ King of each and all aspects of life. That we make Christ’s teachings and values direct our lives.

Today we celebrate Christ the King. Are we like the people of the Gospel who at the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem were shouting, “Hosanna to the King!” but shouted “crucify him”? Are we like the disciples who promised to be with Jesus always, but left him to die alone at the cross?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Morning Prayer

"Before Thee in humility,
with Thee in faith,
in Thee in peace."

-Dag Hammarskjold

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Echoes from Fr. Jerry

Which side?
By Fr. Jerry Orbos
Last updated 01:28am (Mla time) 11/18/2007

In today’s Gospel (Lk. 21,5-19), Jesus talks about the signs of “end-times”: wars, earthquakes, plagues, famines, insurrections. Jesus also warns about the appearance of false prophets who will come in His name. Finally, Jesus warns us about persecution of His followers. Through it all, Jesus tells us: Do not be afraid, do not be deceived, and do not give up.

* * *

Fear is one of the greatest instruments of the evil one and his agents. How often have people been silenced because of fear? How often has the work of God been aborted because of fear, real or imagined? The Lord tells us today: Courage! What sort of fears haunt and affect us? Are we paralyzed by our fears?

* * *

Another instrument used by the evil one and his trusted agents in this world is untruthfulness. And so we have all sorts of liars all around us. Don’t you get the feeling that our country is fast becoming the lying capital of the world? The biggest problem we have now is “Truth Decay,” and what our leaders are saying is: “Don’t talk about it. Let’s move on.” No. We must talk about it, because without the truth, there can be no real moving on.

* * *

We need to listen to God in these trying times. A text message I received reads: “When you say, ‘it’s impossible,’ God says, ‘All things are possible.’ (Lk. 18, 27) When you say, ‘I am tired,’ God says, ‘I will give you rest.’ (Mt. 11, 28) When you say, ‘Nobody loves me,’ God says, ‘I love you.’ (John 3,16) When you say, ‘I can’t do it,’ God says, ‘I can do all things.’ (Phil. 4, 13) When you say, ‘I feel all alone,’ God says, ‘I will never leave nor forsake you.’ (Heb. 13, 5) When you say, ‘I’m afraid,’ God says, ‘I have not given you a spirit of fear.’ (2 Tim. 1, 7)”

* * *

We need to be courageous when we encounter all sorts of lies and intimidation. There will be problems, there will be pain, and even persecutions. Through it all, we must be joyful and strong. May our faith strengthen us and enable us to withstand all the pressures and attacks of the evil one and his trusted agents. Let us once more listen to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “You will be hated by all because of My name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed; by your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

* * *

When will God take you and me? We often put the question: “Am I ready to face God?” Perhaps the question should be: “Is God ready to face me?” For those who think that they can go on sinning and can continue with their evil ways, they should realize that, perhaps, they are not yet being taken by the Lord because they are not yet acceptable in His sight. Or perhaps, they are still being given a chance by the Lord to mend their ways.

* * *

One other reason your and my personal end-times have not yet come is that, perhaps, you and I still have a mission in life. Mission not yet accomplished. Let us all be reminded today that we all have a mission to accomplish in life. Let us also remember that our mission in life is not just to become rich, comfortable, or powerful. Our mission is to do good in this life, to love God and spread His love, and to go to Heaven at the end of our earthly lives. This is the “big picture” that will help us persevere and that will encourage us to live righteously even when everything around us is infiltrated by the evil one.

* * *

Next Sunday, the last Sunday in the Liturgical year, is the feast of Christ the King. Where will you and I be when He separates the goats on His Left and the sheep on His right? Where will you and I be “when the saints go marching in”? The answer to these questions depends on how faithful and true we have been to Him, through it all, and how we have persevered in His grace.

* * *

Heaven, they say will be full of surprises. Let us all work out our salvation in fear and in trembling. And yet, let us be hopeful and joyful because it is by His grace that we will be saved. Instead of boxing out each other, why don’t we reach out to one another and help one another get to heaven?

* * *

Saturday, November 10, 2007

God of the living...

The readings this Sunday, (especially the Gospel, Lk 20:27-38) remind us of the truth of the resurrection of all from the dead, which we profess in the Apostle's Creed.

But it is important to ask whether we really believe in the God and in the Resurrection before we proceed reflecting.

Only with faith in God will we be able to have a certain level of understanding of the Resurrection.

God is Love, Pope Benedict reminds us in his encyclical with the same title. He says that this is the most basic (note the redundancy, for emphasis!) truth of the Christian faith. And the love of God, God who is Love, is eternal. When God chose to love, he loves not only yesterday or today or tomorrow, but he loves yesterday, today and tomorrow. God’s love never fails! God’s love is eternal, everlasting. God’s love outlasts the limits of our mortality. God’s love is greater than death! God’s love makes possible the resurrection!

The Resurrection of the righteous is a manifestation of God’s continuing, everlasting love. God loves us so much, and always that he wills that we share his love forever.

What is meant by the Resurrection? How will things be when we resurrect? The question of the Sadducees (Lk 20:27-33) seems to be valid at first glance. What will become of our relationships?

Our Resurrection is our liberation from the clutches of sin and death gained for us by Jesus' own Resurrection. In the resurrection of the dead, in heaven, in the Kingdom of God, we shall not have the same relationships that we have in this world. Instead, we shall have a different, more perfect, more fulfilling intimacy with God and with each other.

We cannot fully comprehend, but we hope for this resurrection.

Just as the Kingdom of God is not only something we hope to share in the afterlife, but a reality we struggle to begin realizing in the here and now, the Resurrection of all, is not only a future event we hope for, but a reality we work for, live and make present in the here and now – by defeating death-dealing structures and situations, and making present life-giving opportunities, conditions, communities and relationships. We make present the Resurrection we hope for by making possible a life worth living, the fullness of live, a life replete with the blessings of the Kingdom, a life filled with life-blessings of total well-being.

The irony is that we seem not to live a Resurrected life. The death of 12-year old Mariannet Amper of Davao (and the plight of teeming thousands!) is an illustration and loud wake-up call.

The girl committed suicide because of her family’s depressing condition of poverty. She snapped because of the incomprehensible duality of what should be and what is actually happening.

Suicide of course is not justifiable, and is no solution to problems. But the desperation that brought it about should be enough to make Christian rethink their role to be bearers and sharers of life and hope. It should lead the Christian to review his or her responsibility for the other.

I agree with Archbishop Cruz when he mused that the death of this child in a way falls in our hands. Fr. Gerry Orbos reflects along with Archbishop Cruz that this should lead us to review our social responsibilities.

It falls on the hands of authorities, civil leaders who are in position to serve the common good, and have special predilection for the poor, not to serve their own good, and have special concern for their personal gain and aggrandizement. If we have in one way or another power to help, we have greater responsibility to help. More so, if we have been entrusted with public trust and funds. Shame on us if we use them for our own pleasure and comfort when thousands wallow in poverty, when many slowly die in hunger, when countless cannot have access to decent living conditions, food, health care, education, when teeming thousands despair, or even when just one child snaps because of the seeming hopelessness. Shame on us for killing people gradually by killing their hope of a better world.

It falls in our own hands for we are all called to help each other, to serve each other, to make life more worth living for each other. We need not go far away, we just are to begin with our own families and neighborhood. Shame on us if we fail to encourage family members, if we withhold forgiveness to a repentant parent, child, or sibling, if we refuse to help a relative in need when we can, if we close our hearts, our homes, our pockets, our lives to our needy brothers and sisters.

Walang sinoman ang nabubuhay para sa sarili lamang. Walang sinoman ang namamatay para sa sarili lamang. Tayong lahat ay may pananagutan sa isa't isa. Tayong lahat as tinipon ng Diyos na kapiling niya.

Our God is a God of the living, not of the dead. Are we making the presence of a God of the living a reality in our lives, our families, our communities, our church?

We can make a difference. We should make a difference. We can be witnesses to a living God, a God of the living. We could live as people freed from the enslavement of death-dealing selfishness. We could live and let others live in the freedom of life's blessings.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The best translation...

There were four clergymen who were discussing the merits of the
various translations of the Bible. One liked the King James Version
because of its simple, beautiful English. Another liked the American
Revised Version best because it is more literal and came nearer to
the original Hebrew and Greek. Still another liked Moffat's
translation because of its up-to-date vocabulary.

The fourth minister was silent. When asked to express his opinion, he
replied, "I like my mother's translation best." The other three
expressed surprise. They did not know that his mother had translated
the Bible. But he assured them, "She translated it into life, every
day of her life, and it was the most convincing translation I ever

- Author unknown

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Two wolves

Received through SMS (thanks, Atty. Elena):
An old man once told his grandson: "A terrible fight is going on inside me - a fight between two wolves. One is evil, it represents hate and anger. The other is good, it represents empathy, compassion, and love. This same fight that is going on inside me, is inside every other person too, even you."

The grandson then asked, "Which wolf will win?"

The old man replied, "The one you feed."

Time to change...

Tomorrow, we will again exercise our sovereign right to choose our leaders. It is an opportunity too to exercise our God-given intellect and will. Let us be discerning.

"Rumkuas tayo iti makaadipen a wagas ti biag-politika."
A few reminders to SK Voters

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gestures of Prayer

Today’s Gospel (Lk 18:9-14) presents us 2 men praying: a self-righteous Pharisee: Lord, I thank you because I am not like the rest of humanity, especially this publican; and a repentant publican: Lord, be merciful to me because I am a sinner.

In the end, Jesus said that it is the tax collector who was justified

From this text, we could reflect on 3 gestures of prayer (which could stand for 3 attitudes of prayer) – (1) looking up to God with empty hands raised (praise of God); (2) bowed in humility, beating our breast (humility); and (3) standing side by side each other (solidarity)

Prayer is looking up to God and raising open, empty hands (raising our hearts to God, not raising our heads in pride) – PANAGDAYAW. Prayer is praise, thanksgiving and acknowledgment of God’s goodness, not praise and acknowledgment of one’s goodness and achievements.

The Pharisee was not praying to God; he was praying to himself. He was praising himself and indirectly claiming on God – I am good, I should be rewarded. Prayer is not proud.

Do we claim on God? Do we think God is indebted to us?

Prayer is bowing in humility and beating our breast in contrition (not pointing an accusing finger on others) – PANAGPAKUMBABA. Prayer is seeing ourselves beside God's infinite goodness, recognizing our limitations and trusting in his mercy.

The Pharisee compared himself to the tax collector – he looked down on the tax collector.

Beside God, there is no comparison possible – we see our limitations, our weaknesses, our sinfulness, and no response is more apt but humbly seeking his mercy.

When we sin we do not only transgress a law. We wound relationships. That is why, we all need healing and reconciliation.

Do we recognize our own sinfulness? When was the last time we came to confession? Do we look down on others?

Prayer is standing side by side with others in prayer (not isolating ourselves from others) PANAKIPAGMAYMAYSA.

Prayer builds community.

We stand side by side each other because we pray to one God. We are children of one Father. We are brothers and sisters.

We do not set ourselves apart from others in self-righteousness and pride. Instead, we recognize that we all need God, and we need each other.

Prayer leads to respect of others. Prayer leads to love. Prayer leads to compassion. Prayer leads to service.


The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds. The Lord will not be slow in coming to his aid. (Sir 35:17)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A prelate asks forgiveness...

The Second Northern Luzon Youth Forum is ongoing (October 23-26) at the Immaculate Conception School of Theology. Today's Liturgy will be led by the Bishops of the Pangasinan Sub-region. Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan will be the presider and homilist.

He has a blog entry addressed to young people (blog entry of October 19, 2007). The Prelate of Lingayen-Dagupan, at one time President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines and Secretary of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, asks forgiveness.

Thought-provoking. Challenging.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Can love be commanded?

The “commandment” of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be “commanded” because it has been freely given. We can love because we have been loved first, because God has loved us first.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Random thoughts on Prayer

Pray without ceasing, persevere in prayer. (Luke 18:1 - 8)

If a godless and unconcerned judge would give a widow what she persisted in asking for, how much more will God listen to sincere, persevering prayer. God is a Father who loves his children – he will not give us a snake if we ask for a fish, or a scorpion if we ask for bread – he will give us what he knows is best for us.

Maybe this is why sometimes, our prayers seem to be unanswered – what we've been asking for may not work for our real good, and God has something better in store for us.

Although prayer is our personal act, our prayer is not only for ourselves – it is also for others. The prayer of Moses was not only for himself, but for the Israelites in battle. (Exodus 17:8 - 13)

Every moment of our lives, we are in battle, and we have to realize that we cannot do it alone, others cannot do it alone - we need help, they need help. Somebody put it well - we are strongest when we are on our knees.

And we have to realize that our lives are all interconnected.

As we pray for ourselves and for others, we build a connection with God, such that we no longer pray for what we want, but pray for what God wants for us, and pray that we may receive, pursue and be faithful to his will.

Two things consumed Jesus throughout his life – communion with the Father, and fulfilling his mission. The Gospels, especially Luke attest to this.

If Jesus, Son of God saw the need for prayer, communion with God, all the more for us.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 120)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

"Lord, increase our faith."

We all have questions. Why are people poor? Why are we poor? Why did this happen? Why did it have to be us? Why is there suffering in the world? What is God doing amidst all the suffering in the world? Why does God allow all these to happen? Why do good men suffer? Where is God? Is there God?

We seek for ready answers and immediate solutions. But many are left unanswered. The Prophet Habakkuk also asked these questions (Habakkuk 1:2-3). The answer of God was – “Write these in tablets of stone. There will be a time when all these will cease, and there will only be goodness, peace and prosperity. It may come slowly, but it will surely come.” (Habakkuk 2:2-4) God was saying through the passage – Itaga mo sa bato. Lahat ng ito matatapos din. Mananaig ang kabutihan, at mananahan kayo sa kapayapan at kasaganahan. Just believe. Manalig ka.

But it will always be an uphill climb – enduring suffering, toil for a better life, working for justice, living a clean life, resisting corruption, holding on, fighting and not quitting, keeping the faith. We also get tired. We also get hurt. We also get frustrated. Sometimes the going gets really tough. Sometimes we meet everything but appreciation. Sometimes the certainty of failure is greater than the possibility of success. Sometimes the promises of our faith are obscured by the persistence of reality. The prayer of the disciples is to be our prayer – Lord, increase our faith (Luke 17:5).

Faith is not just a disposition of the mind. It is a disposition of the mind and heart lived in action. Faith without good works is dead. (James 2:26) Faith involves proclaiming a message of hope – that amidst all the negative things happening, the goodness of God will triumph, and working in our own capacity for the triumph of God, by allowing God to triumph in our person, our relationships, our day to day life, witnessing to his goodness and will for the good of all, even if it may be difficult. After all, God is our strength.

And while we hold on in our mind and heart, and work with all our hands and might, the questions may persist. But this time, rather than asking for ready answers and quick solutions, it will be a questioning praying for God’s presence as we seek the answers ourselves.

Blessed Theresa of Calcutta shines as an example for us. She grappled with and struggled through endless questions – existential and faith questions, ultimately even asking, “Where are you God in all these suffering and pain?” I would like to believe that her questioning was a confession of trust and a prayer faith, rather than a statement of doubt and disbelief. As she questioned the existence and persistence of poverty, suffering and pains of peoples, which has caused her heart to grieve in anguish, she did her best to do what Jesus would have done were he in her place – she loved the poor, she served the suffering, she attended to those in pain. I would like to believe that daily her prayer was, “Lord, increase my faith.”

We all have questions - because we all have problems, we go through all kinds of crises, and we live in a beautiful but troubled world. The Lord invites us not seek for ready answers and quick solutions. He invites us rather to pray for faith that makes us trust that God will fulfill his promises, and that gives us the resolve to work and allow God to fulfill these promises with, through and in us.

The Servant of God John Paul II constantly reminded us what Jesus told his disciples: “Do not be afraid. Believe in God. Believe in me.” (John 14:1) Let us respond, “Lord, we sometimes doubt and question. Increase our faith.”

Have a blessed Sunday.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Blessed to bless

In the beginning, God made everything good, for everyone. God’s will is that all of creation may live in harmony, and that all women and men may live life to the full. But our history and present situation show how God’s will is contradicted. In the face of this, the Word of God continues to be a social critique, and a call to personal conversion.

The Prophet Amos (Amos 6:1a.4-7) rebuked the leaders of their time, who unjustly enriched themselves, and wantonly indulged in the pleasures of the world, leaving the people in poverty, and exposing them to plunderers. The rebuke of Amos is relevant to us, people of today, as it was then.

In the Letter (1Timothy 6:11-16), which becomes clearer when read it with the context (1Tim 6:7-10 and 1Tim 6, 17-19) St. Paul admonishes Timothy to trust not in wealth, but in God, only in God. Those who trust in riches are bound to ruin. The admonition is not only for Timothy, but for us as well.

Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 16:19-31) reproached the Pharisees for their love of money, and their wanton disregard of the suffering people. The Pharisees claimed as their birthright, privileges now and in the world to come. The Pharisees desired wealth for pleasure, ignoring the needs of other people. They were content in legalistic practices, without lifting a finger to unburden the poor. They were reveled in comfort, and considered the poor, and the unjust practices perpetuating poverty as normal, and so they did nothing to condemn them, much less, do something to curb the system and alleviate their condition.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a vivid portrayal of this wanton disregard, and the ultimate reversal of fortunes – not as a threat but as a reminder, and yes, a warning. The rich man, traditionally called Dives (Latin for “rich”) lived in affluence – comfortable dwellings, expensive clothing and daily feasting, surrounded by rich acquaintances and servants, while Lazarus (Latinized form of Eleazar, meaning “God is my help.”), the poor man – stayed at his gate, most likely almost naked, perpetually hungry, the dogs that licked his sores as his only company. But when both die, Dives plunges into hell, and Lazarus is brought up by angels to the abode of Abraham.

Dives was condemned not because he was rich. Lazarus was not rewarded because he was poor. Affluence is not a sin; poverty is not a blessing. Dives was condemned not for something he did, but for what he did not do. Dives was condemned because he did not help Lazarus when he was in the best position to do so. Instead, his love for wealth and his revelry closed his mind and heart to Lazarus. Lazarus was just at the gate of his house, but he did not even bother to give him even of the bread crumbs that fall from his table which was always brimming with sumptuous servings (The rich of that time did not have napkins, so they used bread to wipe their hands. They did not eat this; this is to clean off from their hands the fat of roasted calf!). In his filthy affluence, he was blind to the plight of the poor Lazarus, who was so weak and helpless he cannot even ward off the dogs licking his wounds. Lazarus was rewarded because in his poverty, weakness and helplessness, he held on to God as his only help and hope.

Jesus reminds (and maybe even reproaches) us too, in our complacency and apathy.

We have in one way or another been blessed – yes, for ourselves and for our family, but ALSO for others. We are blessed so that we in turn may be a blessing to others.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Kaandingay, mangan-andingay, innandingay

We had our vicarial gathering yesterday in celebration of the feast of our patron, San Lorenzo Ruiz, at ICST. It coincided with their Kapihan (their occasional community party). It was sponsored by the Nuestra Señora de Caridad (Ilocandia) Formation Community led by Fr. Ramelo Somera and Fr. Marlon Belmonte. The theme was Kaandingay. We expected it to be a night to showcase and enjoy the best of the Ilocos - buridubud, sapsapuriket, tinola, tinuno and basi; kankanta, daniw and sala.

According to Fr. Marlon, kaandingay could mean three human values - (1) camaraderie - to be with another in friendship; (2) brotherhood - to be with one with another in respect and concern; and (3) comfort - to be with and for the other in time of need and difficulty. These three, he said are to be valued and practiced by every seminarian and priest - for each other, and for the people entrusted to them. The first nuance of kaandingay however is comfort - one is in sorrow, or pain because maybe of loss, or frustration, or disappointment, or disregard, or anything else - and the other comes as a kaandingay, comforting the earlier with his presence - mangan-andingay.

Fr. Ramelo added, that though his priesthood is always a source of deep joy and fulfillment, there are also times of difficulty, doubt, frustration and aloneness - even a priest needs a kaandingay. We are reminded to be available for each other.

Come to think of it, they are right. We all need a kaandingay. And who has been our most faithful and reliable kaandingay? God himself. I think this is what God exactly did when he became man - he came to be with us in camaraderie and brotherhood, and he comforts us with his presence. This I think is the full extent of innandingay - that God became one of us to comfort us in our human condition of finiteness by allowing us to experience brotherhood without bounds and camaraderie without conditions. And it is by these that he invites us to enter into God's infinity. It is by these that he restores us in our dignity and self-worth.

Innandingay then is a call and challenge for all in all relationships - marriage, family, community, friendships, work places, Church.

The night indeed was a showcase of the best of Ilocos - not simply the good food and the sweet basi, but the real best of Ilocos - the gift and openness to be kaandingay.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

musing in paint

This was sent via email by Bernice Rio. This he says is part of the collection of paintings he did, exhibited and opened for sale for the benefit of their seminary.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Three voices...

In this Sunday's Liturgy, three voices speak to us: the Prophet Amos (Amos 8:4-7), St. Paul (1 Timothy 2:1-8), and our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 16: 1-13).

Amos lived in the 8th century BC. He saw the prosperity of Israel, but side by side with it was the exploitation of the poor, and the corruption and injustices being perpetuated. The needy were trampled upon. The capitalists overpriced their merchandise. They cheated on the scales, and the quality of their products. The powerful buy up the poor for money, and the needy, even just for a pair of sandals!

This condemnation was made centuries ago, but the situation still persists. And as in the days of old, Yahweh, our God promises: "I shall never forget their deeds."

The situations of injustice, corruption, poverty and exploitation of the poor continue to exist in our present time, and have even taken on new forms. Talk about bribery and influence peddling in the government, red tape, bribery, "SOP" for projects, commissioning (ABZTEFG!). Talk about vote buying and results manipulation. Talk about the trampling of human rights. Talk about unjust trade practices, imbalance in trade liberalization. Talk about unequal opportunities in business, agriculture, education and employment. Talk about garapal employers and agencies. Talk about plunder and misuse of public funds. Talk about syndicates for drugs, gambling (jueteng!), prostituion, illegal recruitment.

Faced with these, we cannot be complacent. We may not accept these as normal - no matter how common they have become, no matter how embedded they have become in our social system, government, consciousness and culture. We may not accept injustice, corruption, poverty and exploitation of the poor as the norm.

Our first response may be to heed the call of St. Paul - to pray for each other, and in a special for our leaders - "for rulers of states, and all in authority, that we may enjoy a quiet and peaceful life in godliness and respect." We pray for those in positions of power – so that they will use the power they have been entrusted with for the good of all, and not for their personal gain. We pray that they may rise above the system of corruption, and stand up for the values of truth, justice and the common good.

We should not underestimate the power of prayer - for in the end, everything is in the hands of God. But we should not renege on our task. And so we are called to heed the call of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. In today's Gospel parable (Luke 16, 1-8), Jesus deliberately uses the word "steward". Truly, we are STEWARDS. We do not own what we have; we have only been entrusted with it. This is to be a fundamental attitude. We have no right to amass more than what we need, because nothing is ours (except our sin). We are to share of the goods of this world, which is intended for all, not for a few. We are to make use of whatever we have been gifted with to earn for us an earthly life worthy of our dignity as children of God, but also to "store up for ourselves treasures in heaven" - to allow others, and to help also live an earthly life worthy of their dignity as children of God.

Jesus reminds us: "Whoever can be trusted in little things can also be trusted in great ones; whoever is dishonest in little things, will also be dishonest in greater ones."

A biblical scholar rightly puts it:

"We have no absolute right to anything we have. "I can do what I like with my money and property because it's mine" is not a statement any committed Christian can make. So the question of a successful life is not "How much did you make?" but "How did you use what you had to creative purposes for the general welfare of all?" That is the way to make the friends Jesus talks about in the Gospel.... Upon earth you are in charge of things which are not really yours. You cannot take them with you when you die. They are only lent to you. You are only a steward over them. They cannot, in the nature of things, be permanently yours. On the other hand, in heaven you will get what is really and eternally yours. And what you get in heaven depends on how you use the things of earth. What you will be given as your very own will depend on how you use the things of which you are only steward."
2. In the parable, the master praises the dishonest steward - not because of his dishonesty, but because of his cleverness. The wish of Jesus is that we, his disciples may also be zealous, ingenious and driven - "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." As Jesus sent his disciples, he admonished them - "Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves." (Matthew 10, 16) Jesus is sending us too, and he challenges us. If the people of this world could use all and any tactic to fulfill their scheme, we are also called to exert all our efforts, to exhaust all our creativity in doing good, and curbing evil, in going against a corrupt system. Yes, even a monstrous corrupt system.

If God is on our side, who can triumph against us?

These oft-quoted lines are fitting reminders: "It is better to light just one little candle than to curse the darkness." "For evil to triumph, it takes good men to do nothing."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Letting go and letting God...*

Letting God hold us and lead us will always be a struggle, as the initial step of letting go first of what we hold with our hands will always be difficult. But only when we have let go of what we hold and hold on to, that we can let God hold us.

Fr. Henri Nouwen has this illustration of really praying: moving from clenched fists to open hands - loaded imagery.

Again, it is and will be a struggle, given our situations and circumstances, and our own stubbornness. But God is bigger and more pervasive than any situation or circumstance. And he is far more "stubborn" in loving us, and wanting to have us share in his life.

By the way, I would appreciate if you would identify yourself when you comment. I think it is part of my calling to pray for people whose lives intersect with mine - yes, even only through the blogs.

(*Originally, this should have been a reply to a comment in my September 9 post. But i thought I might as well put it in as a regular post.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lost, and found.

This Sunday’s readings (Ex 32, 7-11.13-14;1 Tim 1, 12-17; Lk 15, 1-32) bring us face to face with the human condition: we are vulnerable to sin, and we have in fact sinned.

More importantly though, the readings bring us to the awareness of a more fundamental truth, in fact, the only truth that matters: before we have sinned, even when we have sinned, and even in our sinfulness, God has never ever ceased to love us. Since the beginning, God has loved us, and he continues to love us. In God's eyes, even when we have sinned, our value, our worth has never changed.

Sometimes we stumble and fall, stray foolishly like the sheep, get lost in the seduction of others like the coin, or stubbornly rebel like the sons. The constant invitation for us is to rise, and go back to the Father - whose gaze is compassionate, not condescending, whose arms embrace, not strike, whose love gives life and restores our lost sense of self and dignity.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Following Jesus

In today's Gospel (Lk 14, 25-33), Jesus renews his invitation for us to follow him.
v25...large crowds of people were going along with Jesus...
Jesus was moving towards Jerusalem. This is significant, since Jerusalem stood for the culmination of the ministry of Jesus, where he is to be tried and condemned unjustly, tortured and killed brutally. We see here the resoluteness of Jesus to fulfill his mission - no matter what it takes. And many went with him, but not all were followers, not all were disciples.

There could have been 4 kinds of people who went along with Jesus - (1) those who wanted to see a miracle performed, without understanding who Jesus is, and why he was doing all these things; (2) those who waited for him to commit a mistake, so that they could hold him in this; (3) those who thought that he was going to Jerusalem to fight against the Romans, to reconquer Israel and liberate them from these foreign colonizers; (4) a little who were trying to understand who he really was, and what his mission is about.

The first were mere drifters and spectators; the second schemers; and the third, misguided activists. The first three were the anonymous crowd - they just went with Jesus; the fourth, are those struggling to understand who Jesus was and what his mission was all about. They are those whom the Gospel would refer as disciples, true followers of Jesus.

Jesus taught 3 challenges of truly following him:
v26"Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well.
1) Jesus invites us to follow him in our relationships. He did not teach hatred, but love, the way he loved. In loving, Jesus loved passionately, and he loved everybody. Yes, Jesus had special preference for his mother, his friends and his disciples. But these relationships did not deter him from loving others too - in fact, it was what sustained him in his service for others, especially the poor and the needy.
v27Those who do not carry their own cross and come after me cannot be my disciples.
2) Jesus invites us to follow him at all times, even, and especially in the most difficult times - to love even when it is most difficult to do so. He invites us to take up our own struggles, and carry these with him. He does not promise to take our crosses, but he assures that he is with us.
v33..."none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have."
3) Jesus finally invites us to follow him in trust - let go, and let God. The metaphor of Fr. Orbos is fitting: Jesus, calling us to follow him, calls us to hold on to him. But real holding on is not we grasping the hand of God, in which case, we open the possibility of us letting go of God. Real holding on to God is letting God hold us, and asking him never to let us go. It is letting go of everything in our hands, of all our attachments, and letting God hold us and lead us where he wishes to bring us.

There is infinite joy and peace in following Jesus. And this joy and peace Jesus wants to give us. We are however to love as Jesus loved, to love even in the most difficult times, and to let go and let God hold us, and lead us to this joy and peace. Open your heart to him today.

Have a blessed Sunday.

More than coffee and small talk

Together with the seminary fathers, and Fr. Gary, we had coffee with Prof. Randy David. A good brew is always a fine stimulant, to keep the mind active and the night infinitely young. But more than the coffee, the conversation was most stimulating.

It began with pizza and coffee. Then anchovies and annulment. The pizza was good, although the coffee was just okay. Then the talk shifted, thanks to the pizza which was named after a local political kingpin, to politics in the province and in Pampanga. Then, politics was followed by some remarks on ecclesiastical personages, the former and the latter, not always a good mix, but almost inseparable at times.

The meatier and more substanced talk began when Prof. Randy hinted about his talk tomorrow at the second day of the ICST Symposium (I hope I'd be able to write about the first day soon. It was greatly stimulating too.) - he was to venture into uncertain seas, so he said - "unfamiliar territory" but for which he was willing to "stick out his neck", though. He said he was to speak about theology, specifically on a nouveau thing in theology from an "unlikely mixed" theologian - the topic of kenosis as the the essence of God, and love as the heart of Catholicism, of Christianity. This of course is central in the Scriptures, but the current reading he shall speak of posits some uncharted (or maybe laid back) implications.

Then it got to Von Balthasar and his theological aesthetics which according to Fr. John was much like Prof. David's theologian's thesis, to Benedict XVI and his debate with Habermas, his facility with Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, and his great work, Deus Caritas Est, to his brilliance, piano prowess and smoking, to John Paul II's "theological time bomb", the Theology of the Body, to the dynamics of relationships and spirituality - awe and sublimity, beauty, sheer and pure sociability, to humanity and being human, to Levinas and Ethics and Infinity, to mysticism, conversion, faith, narratives and metanarratives, the Scriptures and worship, to passion about life and many more.

My temples warmed as I listened to the spirited exchange. I realized the brilliance of the man, Randy David, informed and reflective, indeed a man of postmodernity, and of the Rector, John Habawel, equally informed and reflective, a man in whom sentire cum ecclesiae becomes concrete.

Somebody said it well - shallow minds talk about people, average minds about events, and great minds about ideas. Tonight I had a glimpse at great minds. I was amused at the thoughts exchanged. But I know that would not be enough; I am to assimilate.

To begin with, I write this, and maybe tomorrow begin a good read.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Strain forward...

It is always natural to want to savor the fruits of one's labors, to linger in moments of fulfillment.

In today's Gospel (Lk 4, 38-44), Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law (4, 38-39) and a lot of sick people (4, 40) and he drove away demons, liberating many people from their bondages (4, 41). And the people of this place loved him. They begged him to remain with him (4, 42b). But Jesus replied, "To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent." (4, 43)

This I think highlights the wisdom of reshuffles/periodic change of assignments for priests and religious (aside of course from the fact that the parishioners or communities deserve a break and a change of guards =) - after the work we have done, we do not credit ourselves, and we are not to be exclusively attached - whether to people, to our work, or to anything of this world. After all, the work, the fruits of our labors, the success we may have achieved are not actually ours, but God's. We are but mere servants. We live for the mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

The words of Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family (priests and nuns) is a fitting reminder - "Mi protendo in avanti". - "I strain forward". We strain forward. We always move forward, even if we have to strain - doing the mission - giving ourselves for the mission, for God and his people.

Laudetur Iesus Christus.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Blessed are the meek and humble...

In the Jewish culture, the meal is of great importance – it is a symbol of the Kingdom of God, it is an expression of intimacy, and an occasion to recognize each other’s worth and importance as persons.

Jesus was invited to a party, and he could not take the prevailing wrongful attitude and practice. And so he took the occasion to teach.

1) Jesus first noticed that the guests all wanted to be at the place of honor, and so he related a parable (Lk 14, 8-11):

"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, `Give your place to this man,' and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, `My friend, move up to a higher position.' Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus reverses their usual understanding. They thought that their place in social functions determines their worth in the community, that how they are regarded by other people determines their importance. On the contrary, Jesus teaches, that these have nothing to do with the real worth and importance of anybody. One priest put it well:

The only status that counts is one's relationship with God and how one relates with other people, irrespective of their classification by race, religion, profession or class. Our real status is measured not by our rank or occupation but by the level of love and service offered to God through our relationships with those around us. What counts is not how we are looked on by others but the degree of care and compassion with which we look at them. This calls for a strong inner security, which is independent of arbitrarily conferred status or position.
2) Jesus also noticed that those who were at the party were always of the same group – those that they invite are those who could invite them in return. And so he related another parable (Lk 14, 12-14):

"When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Jesus recognized that the people actually invited each other, to serve their own personal agenda. Sadly though, since a meal in the Jewish culture is a sign of the Kingdom of God. But they have denigrated it to a self-serving affair, a ritual of status-recognition, and a show of position and influence. That is why people who think of themselves as important would wish to be seated at the best places. And that is why those who throw a party invite people who could and would reciprocate the invitation, so that the former could also sit at a privileged place in the party of the latter – something like, scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours – a show-off charade. Plainly, they used each other, to further their status and influence in the community.

Unfortunately, such attitude and practice are prevalent not only in Jesus’ time, but also in ours. We recognize how people (we?) use each other to further our selfish gains. We recognize how we manipulate people to fulfill our ambitions.

One priest illustrates this creatively – are we a ladder community, or a round table community? In a ladder, we turn our backs against each other, we occupy positions and rise in rank, and maybe even, when we wish to go higher, we have to step over another. In a round table setting, we see each other face to face, recognizing each other’s unique person and inviolable dignity, and we genuinely interact.

At the base of it all, Jesus teaches us the virtue of humility. We can only recognize our own true worth and value in humility. We can only recognize and serve each other’s true worth and value, in humility. Let us pray for humility – it is such a difficult virtue, but indeed a necessary one – it is like a glass being empty – it is only then that God can fill it with his loving and life-giving grace. A thought I overheard could be a fitting conclusion to our reflection:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself than you are. Nor is humility always talking about your faults and shortcomings as compared with anyone else's superiority and achievements. Humility is simply the recognition of the truth about ourselves; and then most often, a forgetfulness of self that allows genuine concern for others and a genuine worship of God.

The first reading reminds us:

The greater you are, the more you should humble yourself and thus you will find favor with God. For great is the power of the Lord and it is the humble who give him glory.

Have a blessed Sunday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

John: Beheaded!

Today is the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.

The Gospel account (Mk 6, 17-29) goes:
Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias's own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you." He even swore [many things] to her, "I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the Baptist." The girl hurried back to the king's presence and made her request, "I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
1. This feast prods us on our task as messengers of the truth. The ORDO writes for this day:
St. John's fearless condemnation of Herod's unlawful marriage incurred the hatred of the king's bride, Herodias. She had John imprisoned and, finally killed. St. John the Baptist teaches us to be strong in carrying out the mission God has given us.
2. But we are not only messengers. We are also recipients of the message.

God sent John to Herod to bring him the message to repent and end his sinful relationship. But Herod, much through the urgings of Herodias, rejected the message.

God also sends us messages through people. At times, the message is regarding our wrongdoing, misgiving or omission. Of course, these messages do not come palatable. Like Herod, we many times ignore the message, sometimes, like Herod, eliminate the messenger.

We are familiar with these situation and attitude - in workplaces, in communities, even in families. And very unfortunately, in our society, and in our government. Our tendency is, when we do not like the message, we shoot the messenger.

Maybe silencing the messenger stops the bugging. But only temporarily. The more persistent messenger is within. Unless we have numbed our consciences, and have closed our hearts to the Spirit. Silencing the messenger however does not change the wrongdoing we did. And we will still be held accountable for it.

Every messenger God gives us is a chance to change. God gives us a lot of chances, but let us remember, there will always be a last.

May we be courageous messengers of the truth, and humble recipients of the truth as well.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Who will be saved?

One time, a preacher of one religious sect came to my lola’s house. He chanced upon my uncle who was there to visit. The preacher began his discourse on the Scriptures, and salvation, and how the Good Book hints that only the believers of their sect would be saved. My uncle, who was innately pilosopo, and also very much informed of the Scriptures, asked him, “Does not the Bible say in Revelations that only 144,000 will be gathered into the Kingdom of God (see Rev 7, 1-8)? How many are you in your sect? Do not the leaders and elders alone account to already 144,000 ? Does that mean that you will not be saved?”. With the table now turned, the man discretely bade goodbye, and promised to come by again soon. For the next few weeks, my uncle frequented my lola’s house. The preacher never returned.

The man’s question to Jesus in today’s Gospel (Lk 13, 22-30) is a valid one – “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”. It was like asking, “how many Lord, will be saved?” The answer of Jesus was enlightening and essential – “The door is narrow. Concern yourself instead with how you can save your own soul.”

The Lord directs the man to the fundamental question – “Do you think you will be saved?” – and task – “Do your best to enter the narrow door.” He proceeds to correct the wrong notion of the Jews that only Jews will be saved, and then he teaches what to do to be saved.

Salvation is never a privilege attached to birth, nationality, affiliation or position. The Jews who were in the Old Testament the Chosen People of God are not automatically saved. Affiliation or membership in the Catholic Church or a Christian Church, or any religious community does not guarantee being saved. Yes, Baptism as a Christian or a Catholic gives us all the helps, but only the helps. One may not just sit on the blessing of being one, and the availability of helps. God wills that all men and women be saved, and he provides a whole lot of helps to this, but each must cooperate with his grace.

We are called to instead become who we are. We are called to be Christians every minute of our lives – yes, every minute, even, every second, amidst all the difficulty and challenge. And of course, the Christian calling is love – for God, for ourselves, for others, especially the least, the lost and the last. And this is not easy – heaven’s door is narrow. To love God is to say yes to goodness and no to wrongdoing; to love ourselves is to stay in grace and avoid sin; to love others is to be compassionate to them, to forgive them when they sin, to guide them when they stray, to help them in their need. But sometimes it is easier to do wrong than do good. Sometimes it is easier not to forgive, not to help, not to accept people; sometimes it is much easier to stay in an immoral relationship, or to stay in a corrupt system, or to cooperate with, or do nothing in the face of a wrongdoing.

Not even nuns, or priests, or bishops could sit complacently. All of us are called to struggle to love. It is not membership, not even position in the Church that could guarantee our salvation.
A man died and was ushered in to the 4th heaven. He was surprised to see there the nun who instructed her in catechism when he had first communion. He told the nun, "Sister, how could you be here? You should be in the seventh heaven." The nun was quick to reply, "Quiet, lower your voice. Remember the priest who used to preside the masses we attended? He is at the second."
St. John of the Cross said it well: "When the evening of life comes, we shall be judged on love."

Have a blessed Sunday.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jesus and Peace, Division and Fire

“I came to bring fire upon the earth and I long to see it kindled. Do you think I came to bring peace in earth? Not that, I tell you, but division.” (Lk 12, v49. v51 - from this Sunday's Gospel)

These are rather surprising words to hear from Jesus. Did not the angels who announced the birth of Jesus sing, “glory to God in the highest, and PEACE to his people on earth”? What is Jesus up to now, when he says he brings fire, and wants to see it burn, and that he did not come to bring peace, but division?

We have to understand what Jesus meant when he said, peace, and division, and fire that burns.

By peace hear meant here, the people of his time’s (or even of our own time) wrong notion of peace. For them peace was the absence of conflict, peace was when no one contradicts each other, peace is when no one meddles with the affairs of others, peace was when they pleased each other, or when they pleased those who had power, and/or money, and/or influence – even at the expense of truth, justice, fairness, morality, goodness. Jesus brings not complacency but disturbance. He wants us to be disturbed by falsehood, injustice, immorality and evil.

By fires, he meant the light of truth, which should burn and bring to light all that is false, unjust, immoral and evil.

What Jesus came to bring is the knowledge of God – a knowledge that is to bring us to a commitment to what is true, just, moral and good, and the disturbance that moves us to resolve to expose, condemn and fight against what is false, unjust, immoral and evil.

Let this (attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577) be our Sunday Prayer:

Disturb us Lord,
when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true
because we have dreamt too little,
when we arrived safely
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord,
when with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst
for the waters of life;
or having fallen in love with life,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
or in out efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision
of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord,
to dare more boldly,
to venture into wider seas
where storms will show us your mastery;
where losing sight of land,
we shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
the horizons of our hopes;
and to push into the future with us
in strength, courage, hope, and love.
Have a blessed Sunday. May the Lord disturb you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Ang Pagbabalik"

August 13. 6PM. ICST. JOLOGS: Ang Pagbabalik.

Two years after finishing theology formation at the Immaculate Conception School of Theology, the JOLOGS, Class of 2005 returned to celebrate a thanksgiving mass with the seminary community.

The mass was presided by Fr. Sherwin Aquino. Fr. Johnny Valdez was homilist. Fr. Berlynden Daoanis introduced the class to the community. Fr. Redentor Mejia thanked the seminary community. Fr. John Habawel, most able rector of ICST, gave the final remarks.

In his homily, Fr. Johnny cited reasons for the thanksgiving mass: to thank the Lord for calling us, although we are unworthy; to thank the Lord for sustaining her Church; and to thank the Lord for the gift of seminary formation, community and formators. He reminded us of the greatness of the gift we received, and are called to share. He encouraged the seminary formators to continue the good work they have begun. He admonished the seminarians to obey the formators, who are after all the representatives of Jesus in their formation.

Fr. Redentor thanked the seminary for accomodating our class for this thanksgiving mass. And he invited us to thank our Mother Mary who accompanied us in our seminary formation.

Fr. John thanked the class for the visit, saying that this was one way of showing support for the work of formation, and of encouraging the seminarians to continue on, faithfully. He likewise asked the class to collaborate with ICST in the formation of future priests by being open to invitations to become spiritual directors, or retreat/recollection facilitators, or in other ways that we could be of help.

Fortunately, 15 of us were able to gather - Fr. Sherwin, Fr. Ernesto Juarez, Jr., Fr. Bernardo Gonzales, Fr. Lester Plana and myself from Nueva Segovia; Fr. Adel Agcaoili of Tabuk; Fr. David Cabuten and Fr. Berlyn Daoanis of Baguio; Fr. Redentor and Fr. Fernan Estrada of Dagupan; Fr. Dionisio Lozano of Urdaneta; Fr. Alex Peralta of La Union; Fr. Johnny and Fr. Jaime Noto of Bayombong; and Fr. Leonardo Tubaña of Bangued. Fr. Alger Gonzales of Batanes (had to swim the seven seas to make it to Vigan but was hindered by Dodong and Egay), Fr. Rex Singson of Tuguegarao, Fr. Christian Bullozo of Tabuk, Rev. Renante Bose of Bangued (who was sick due to over dieting and anxiety of the political situation of their locale) and Businessman Isaac Refuerzo were not able to attend.

It was nevertheless a wonderful opportunity to renew our commitment to Christ and to the Church, to draw from the wellsprings of ICST, to go back to our "Galilee" where we daily encountered Jesus, as he formed us to be his ministers.

We thank ICST, the seminary community, our formators then, and the formators now. Agbiag ti ICST.

The Eucharist, indeed truly a meal-celebration of fellowship, thanksgiving and praise, food for our pilgrimage, has empowered us to continue Journeying Onwards with the Love Of God's Son.

(Some "Ang Pagbabalik" pics)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Random thoughts from tomorrow's Gospel

Tomorrow's Gospel (Lk 12: 32-48) serves us a hearty food for thought (and living).

Appetizer: "Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (verse 34)

I am reminded of an anecdote cited by Fr. James Reuter:
Jose Rizal in his cell in Fort Santiago, just before he went out to die, said to Josephine Bracken - "My people have always been poor. For centuries, our treasures have been the land, the seas, the sun, the rain. But having nothing, we discovered that our real treasure was each other."
Main Course: "Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." (verses 39-40)

We are all witnesses to the fact that many people die in the most unexpected of times. Sometimes, in a way, those who have terminal illnesses are blessed, in that they are constantly reminded that their time is near, and they can concentrate on preparing themselves.

Jesus reminds us that we must always be ready. This is not to set us to paranoid mode. He just reminds us to keep our vision clear, and our priorities right.

First, we are to be “dressed for action”. We go on with our daily lives, but we are to be mindful of what we do – that we remain, “blameless and pure until the coming of our Lord.” Let us not allow our vision of a life that goes beyond this world to blur.

Second, we are to keep our “lamps lit”. Our lives must be lived “in the light of truth” not “in the curse of the darkness”. We live not simply for ourselves, but with each other, through each other and for each other.

Maybe it is good to ask ourselves:

Are our lives, our hearts, shining with the light of forgiveness, grace, love and sharing, humility, and trust in God, or are we still languishing in the darkness of hatred, sin, selfishness, pride and prejudice and trusting only in ourselves, our material possessions and the world?
Dessert: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." (verse 48)

A seminarian was sent out of the seminary. He asked Father Rector, "Why do you send me out, Father? I did not break any rule, I did nothing wrong." Father Rector answered, "Yes, you did nothing wrong, but did you do anything good?"

Have a blessed Sunday.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Persons, not things...

Today is the feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr.

From A Year with the Saints:
After the martrydom of Pope Sixtus II and four deacons at the catacombs of St. Callistus, Lawrence sold the sacred vessels and distributed all the money in his hands to the poor. The Prefect of Rome, informed about this generous charities, ordered him to surrender to the emperor the treasures of the Church to be used to strengthen the army.
Lawrence came back and presented all the poor of the Prefect, saying: These are the treasures of the Church. The Prefect was maddened by his words and decided to have him killed.
Lawrence sent the Prefect a clear message - the things of this world are ordained for the genuine good of all, especially those most in need, and the real treasures are not things, but people.

He sends us the same reminder.

(other links to St. Lawrence: 1; audio: 2)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

18th Sunday in OT

Greed leads to a lot of evils. One who wants more, will do everything to have more, regardless of whoever he tramples on, whatever it takes, however he could take more. And he will never be satisfied.

A lot of pain, a lot of conflict, a lot of division, a lot of violence, a lot of evils could be removed from our lives, our families, our society, our world, if only we seek to give and share, not covet and hoard.

Greed blinds us from the needs of others, and blurs our vision of our true nature and goal.

An old story illustrates this
A rabbi, concerned over the growing worldliness and materialism of his friend, invited him over to his study and led him to the window.
"What do you see?", he asked. There was a playground next door.
"I see children playing."
Then the rabbi took a little hand mirror out of his pocket and held it before the visitor's face. "Tell me, what do you see now?"
"I see myself," he said, wondering what was going on.
"Isn't it strange," the rabbi asked, "that when a little silver gets between yourself and others, you see only yourself?"
In the Gospel, Jesus cautions us: beware of greed. The illustration is rather blunt, although not lacking in good humor. The man kept everything of his riches to himself. Well, he has a claim on them, since he may have worked well and hard to acquire them. Note however, that the man in planning for his future was concerned only of himself. He had only himself in mind. And his security he pinned on himself and his riches.

Irony of ironies, he was not alone, and security does not lie in his possessions. His riches could not save him. The illusion of greed is immortality. But that is just about what riches, material possessions can give - the illusion of immortality. So much cost for so little gain - actually, no gain at all. "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?"

Join me in prayer:
Lord, teach me to see beyond the glitter of this world, to train my eyes towards the true glory of being with you, now and forever.