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 TubaƱa 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.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Shepherd's Staff

Some would say that our work in the Chancery is not pastoral, unlike that of those in the parish. Maybe that is true, but I think, only partially. While we in the Chancery are not in one parish, we work for all parishes. While we do not serve a particular section of the People of God in Nueva Segovia, we are for each and all of the People of God in Nueva Segovia. We do not shepherd a particular flock, but we serve with the Archbishop’s shepherding of the Archdiocese.

I prayed during my ordination that I may be a "shepherd after the heart of God." Right now, I am not a shepherd of a particular flock. And I am struggling to be "after the heart of God". But I find meaning in my present ministry as being a staff of a shepherd.

The staff is an instrument of the shepherd – to strike and drive away wolves attempting to ravish the flock, to guide the sheep towards the sheep gate, to pull back and draw to himself any sheep when it strays from the fold, and also to lean onto when the tediousness of shepherding takes its toll on him.

The rough surface of the staff many times bruises the sheep as the bend is used to pull the sheep back by the neck. The same surface, often uneven, sometimes serrated, bruises even the shepherd as he grips the staff.

The staff may be useful to the shepherd, but it may be disliked by the sheep, and abhorred by the wolves.

Although tough and sturdy, the staff could also be cracked with striking, even bitten by the wolves, trampled on by the sheep, or broken to pieces.

At the end of the day, the shepherd may put it aside. After all, it is not indispensable. The joy of the staff is that it has been of use to the shepherd.