January 25. Remembering St. Paul: When Love Transforms Us

To Pray on and Ponder:  Acts 22,3-16 or Acts 9, 1-22

Id quod volo: That God may give us light to see and notice how love constantly invites us to conversion and transcendence–broadening our visions, deepening our capacity to give ourselves in self-sacrifice and strengthening our capacity to make responses way beyond our usual comfort zones the better to embrace God’s dream for God’s people. 

This year, the 25th of January, the day normal designated as Memorial of the Conversion of St. Paul, this day, falls on a Sunday. Therefore the liturgy prescribed is for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. As you know any Sunday Eucharistic liturgy takes precedence over memorials. Only solemnities can break the regular cycle of liturgical seasons. May I however invite you to still reflect on the Conversion of St. Paul which is the memorial that has been sidelined this year.

The late Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan, S.J. taught us much about the human experience of conversion. He says conversion is grounded on a person’s commitment to look at his or her experience and really seek out the truth in the realities that one experiences as well as in the self that goes through such an experience of truth-seeking and truth-telling. This level of conversion has to do with intellectual conversion. Of course one must remain attentive that his or her affective faculties help one to really engage reality and embrace it. This is because a person’s psychoemotional states and capacities can serve to delude us, fill us with prejudice or biases which may distort our perception and interpretation of realities. hence affective conversion, even psychic conversion is needed so we may truly engage reality with genuine attention and more or less accurate perception. And Intellectual conversion also includes our capacity to understand reality and draw meaning from those parts of reality that we experience. On this level the person is challenged to be intelligent in his or her inquiry into things , at times questioning, at times probing, all the time, seriously reflecting on the reality one engages from many different angles and perspectives, trying one’s best to get a glimpse of the truth of whatever reality one is engaging. Intellectual conversion nurtured by constant attentiveness and intelligent inquiry bears helps one face the challenge of a deeper conversion–moral conversion. where we are challenged to exercise our freedom and make reasonable judgments from all the data we have drawn from our attentive and intelligent engagement with things. Reasonable judgment of things help us make good decisions and undertake responsible actions which not only enrich the world and people around us, but also make us grow as free and loving persons. Intellectual conversion helps us to really look at things with attention and a critical mind, so that when we are faced with choices on how to respond to the things that we see, our choices are realistic and genuinely responsive to the needs that we apprehend. But then Fr. Lonergan explains that  while our commitment to these first four precepts of “being attentive,” “being intelligent,” “being reasonable,” and “being responsible” are important foundations to transcendence, what really moves us to transcend our narrow parrochial concerns is the love that draws us out of ourselves and towards God and others.When we find ourselves caught up in the dynamic of love, such love animates us and transforms what we are able to see and perceive, helps us to penetrate and understand interiorly the very heart of things and helps us to stand by our commitments with fidelity and generosity. When I am caught up with a greater love, say love for a partner, or love for a community entrusted to my care in ministry, there a moments when I don’t even notice I go out of my way to offer my gifts to serving and pleasing the partner or the community. I just give and give because of the love that animates me. I can think of Pope Francis looking tired after the Sri Lanka leg of his apostolic pilgrimage and yet suddenly looking so animated and full of energy once he makes contact with the Filipino crowds who give him a most loving welcome and show much desire to receive him.

On the other hand, I can also think of the people of Tacloban who gather to receive their shepherd still grieving and struggling hard to recover from the wounds inflicted by Typhoon Yolanda. But with the Holy Father’s show of deep sensitivity and compassion, beyond language difference, despite the current typhoon, the solidarity experienced in that grace-filled mass in Tacloban transformed into a communion of sheep reunited with their Shepherd and so filled with hope for new life and renewed will to carry on and heal and recover.

In many ways, what Lonergan describes as conversion can be traced and verified in the experience of the great apostle to the gentiles, St. Paul. Saul of Tarsus was a zealous Jew, a pharisee whose passionate love for the law made him see those who adhere to the Jesus way as misled, even perhaps a threat to Jewish cult and practice. Thus he volunteered to pursue those who follow the Way, so that he may be of help in bringing these threats to court and so eliminate these believers in what he saw as the false way. To him his efforts were a sincere living out of his Jewish faith and nothing could be far more pleasing to God than to stamp out this Jesus movement before it gets too big.

And so the Risen Lord decides to pay Saul a visit–a quite dramatic encounter on the Road to Damascus. From his own testimony, Paul said that suddenly a bright light shone before him which toppled him from his horse, and then he heard a voice audible only to himself and not to others: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked “who are you, sir?” and the reply came: “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”

This initial religious encounter would set Saul off into a lifetime journey of many conversions. In this event alone, the Spirit of Light already begins to labour to transform Saul’s way of seeing. The Light blinds Saul temporarily, loosening the grip of his own former biases so that on the third day, when his sight is restored, what he sees will be a little closer to what the Lord of the Light wants him to see.

The same Lord revealed to Ananias what Saul was to become–”this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”  From this short line the author of the Acts of the Apostles makes us privy to the life Saul was to look forward to. His mission would be far broader than that of the Jewish Pharisee. Saul was to go out to the whole world to proclaim the man whose followers he used to pursue and persecute.

From his initial intellectual conversion, Saul, now renamed Paul, would slowly find his way to the bosom of the Church he once made to suffer. He had to take steps so those believers in the Way, by then renamed as Christians, can recover their trust in him and embrace him as one of the apostles, only that his mission was focused on people who stood outside of the Jewish faith. Did he really suffer? Certainly, Paul had to endure the doubts and fickleness of some of the original believers. For it is not often that we see former persecutors becoming passionate promoters in a short span of time. And then Paul had to face a community which thought God willed for Christians to be Jews first, and then become Christians. Through the efforts of Paul and Barnabbas, eventually the Council of Jerusalem recognized that it could happen that a gentile be converted and ask to be baptized as a Christian and that such a person need not convert to the Jewish faith before he gets baptized as a Christian.

Paul’s theological and pastoral writings speak much of his characteristic love for the (Jewish) law, but such a devotion did not lead him to support the Judaizers in imposing the Jewish faith on would-be Gentile Christians. We are saved by grace that comes from the Spirit of God in whom we have been baptized and not by mere fidelity to the Law. Paul also had to use his gifts in discernment, leadership and administration so that Christians who see in themselves many varied gifts may not be misled to selfish autonomous works but may learn to see their gifts in complement to and collaboration with others who carry other gifts. Hence the Church Saul once persecuted and wished to destroy, Paul now loved dearly and helped to build up. It was at the core of his original converting vision that this Church made up the Body of Christ and he had to exercise ministry so that the many different parts of this one body may really work together to build up the whole.

For sure Paul went through many other crises characteristic of those active in the apostolate. Cardinal Martini suggests that Paul had to endure crises in friendships, for instance with the other apostolic leader–Peter who as an avid Jew would have shown vacillation in whether to support the Judaizers or confirm the new non-Jewish converts without forcing them to become Jews. And Paul would have rebuked Peter when he did vacillate. Furthermore, Cardinal Martini talks about some falling out with Barnabbas, the apostle who helped to initially integrate Paul to the apostolic body. The conflict may have been caused by Paul’s gentle approach to the young disciple John Mark whose immature ways may have affected their ministry. Barnabbas may have preferred Paul to be clearer and firmer with his young ward. And then the many travails of missionary work–shipwrecks, hunger, poverty, resistance, false accusations, arrest and imprisonment. Finally, Paul speaks of some “thorn in the flesh,” a difficulty that may be a root weakness in his personality, something which blocks his fuller commitment to  Christ, yet ironically, says Paul, makes him always humble before Christ, seeing himself as a vulnerable earthen vessel that holds an infinitely greater treasure such as the Christ.

Paul’s journey as a believer would have gone through many conversions of the mind, the heart and the will so that in the end, he can proudly proclaim, “I have run the race, fought a good fight and am now ready to claim my prize,” so that on that latter point in his life, he knew he was prepared to die, yet he was really also content to continue living and serving the Lord. What death did Paul suffer?–he was said to have been privileged to die the more compassionate way because he was a Roman Citizen. He died by decapitation. He was beheaded–pain was minimal because death was swift, unlike Peter’s execution by crucifixion, and inverted at that, slow painful, excruciating death. But through it all, it was Paul’s encounter with so great a love as the Risen Lord’s that fired him. It was this love that gave his vision to things the breadth of horizon that only the mystery of God’s plan held. It was love that made Paul capable of loving even amidst suffering and pain. It was love that gave him a distinct spirit of generosity and zeal that stretched him beyond his previous limits so that he may proclaim the Word of God, really to the ends of the earth.

And so we ask ourselves in reflection:  Looking back at your life thus far, how has this experience of deep love called you to transformation?  How has love stirred you to broaden your dreams, deepen your loves, bring your commitment a mile longer?  We also ask that the Lord accompany us through this life-long conversion. We pray that God take away whatever scales block our spiritual vision so we may see the lofty dreams of God for our lives, so that locked in God’s dreams we may receive God’s love and offer our lives completely to the spreading of that love to others. God Bless!

January 26, 2015  Leave a comment

January 21. Healing Touch of Outstretched Hands

To Pray on and Ponder:  Mark 3, 1-6

Id quod volo:  That we may open ourselves to God’s healing touch and receiving this, we are able to find the love and compassion of God flowing from within us and out to others in need.

The Gospels offered to us in Catholic liturgy for January 21 recount miraculous healings performed by Jesus to a man with a withered hand and on people who press on our Lord to touch him for a cure. It is the gesture of touch that I found myself drawn to contemplate and reflect.  We have just witnessed quite a bit of this in the Filipino celebrations of the Nazareno and Sto. Nino, and especially in the grace-filled days of Pope Francis’ visit.  We see how countless peoples queued up not only to see the Holy Father but even to have that rare opportunity to be with him and to be touched by him. How many fathers tried their best to reach out from amongst the mammoth crowd just so their children may catch the Holy Father’s eyes and have these children brought to him for a kiss and a blessing? The Holy Father even intentionally ceased to give words to the really wounded and suffering and simply chose to be with them in solidarity, even if only with a little touch of solidarity of being with them in a storm not quite like what they suffered, yes, but still communicating oneness of him, the shepherd with his flock, wounded and confused by what they suffered, and making sure they are re-connected with the Good Shepherd and his mother of compassion, so they may find refuge as they move on to fuller recovery.

Come to think of it, how many words do we Filipinos have for expressing how we touch people. Physical touch would use a different word for touches that communicate different affections. Even for affectionate, caring touches we already have so many terms at our disposal–dampi, haplos, dantay, salat, hagod, himas, masa. Some terms like “hipo or its derivative, hinipuan, halay or its derivative hinalay” would tend to carry more sexual, even abuse images. Other words within the “touch” universe would have meaning associations of violence–sampal, suntok, kurot, sinikmuraan, buntal, dinuduro, sakal. But one thing that we notice in all these touch verbs is that the sense of touch is not a detached sense, rather, it is an engaged and committed sense. What we touch, touches us back. And there lies the power of touch to heal and also, unfortunately, its power to inflict pain or to hurt another person.

In our Lord Jesus’ case, we know that when he stretches out his hands to heal a person, he is committing more than his power to heal. He is actually using his power to release a sick man from exclusion and discrimination in a society which supposedly prides itself in living out covenant values of love of God and love of neighbour. When Jesus does the healing, he puts himself on the line. He can be adjudged as impure (having touched a leper for instance) or be considered rebellious (having violated the Sabbath law to heal the man with a withered hand) or be considered scandalous for allowing a prostitute to touch his feet. Somehow, touching the sick man or allowing the prostitute or leper to touch him, prompts others to consider him infected by sin, sickness or impurity, and that impurity is seen to touch his soul. Yet really, it is really the reverse that happens. Jesus’ touch makes people whole. Jesus’ touch takes away impurity and sin and sickness.  In fact in biblical lingo, the outstretched hand of God that touches is a sure symbol of redemption.

But when is touch healing, and when does touch hurt. I guess touch directly communicates when the heart wants to express. So that while a sex addict’s touch would immediately send signals of impending abuse, the good minister’s blessing hand would also communicate effectively a love that the person being touched can trust and feel. A touch that means to hurt will immediately invite fear, resistance and a desire to escape or fight. On the other hand, a touch that means to communicate love and compassion invites openness, receptivity, and even a response of mutuality in love. For someone who is plagued by deep fear or trauma, by insecurity or grief or shame, there is nothing like a compassionate and caring presence that brings healing because the touch of unconditional love instantly creates a safe place for people. Pope Francis’ gestures that effectively communicate our Lord’s mercy and compassion are a case in point–his kisses and embraces especially to those in tears and suffering create spaces of healing and comfort, and give people the strength to face life events that pose hard questions, and allow people to shed tears freely so their visions and loving may be healed.

Allow me to share a poem that came out of a contemplation prayer of the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage. The prayer came to me quite gradually, with the image first coming to the surface of my mind while I was suffering a momentary bout with diarrhea. The free gush I experienced that morning just reminded me instantly of the woman with a hemorrhage. And her story just stayed with me for a two weeks or so, just inviting me strongly to inch my way towards the Lord to touch the tassel of his cloth too. Of course the woman had to egg me to come closer and closer to the Lord. She kept on asking me, “bakit ba parang ayaw mong gumaling?” “why don’t you seem eager to get well?”

Through with Touching Tassles
Colloquy of the One with a Hemorrhage

I hear you whisper

a voice that moans of love within:
you it was who sent her
to bid me touch your tassle
and so be touched and healed

and sealed so where
the wounds dare drain
the life in me and bear
much hurt and hassle
though not mine, so much I build.

I hear you whisper
your love that soothes and heals within:
“I am here, ease your pain.
Rest the dark, I am light’s flicker within.”

You breathe in me the warmth and fer-
vence of your care.  Again I feel
the love from me you dare to bear;
like rising steam, an inner surge
of passion love does yield.

I dared touch your tassle
and touched, the hemorrhage in
me ceased and waned.

I am here. somewhat stronger now.
Speak now your inner voice of love
by me as yet again I play your field.

May the Lord’s outstretched hand bring healing to us all who open ourselves to him. May his outstretched hand redeem us from whatever it is that block us from feeling whole and fully alive. May the Word of God help us appropriate the many meanings, images and affections that the days of Pope Francis’ visit elicited from within us so we may with God’s outstretched hands be healed and prepared to go with the Lord to the peripheries, bringing more of God’s mercy and healing to others. God Bless!

January 21, 2015  Leave a comment

January 19. Radical, Radical Newness: Farewell Pope Francis

To Pray on and Ponder: Hebrews 5,1-10; Ps 110,1-4, Mark 2, 18-22.

Id quod volo (That which we most deeply desire): As we bid goodbye to the Holy Father, we ask that the Spirit really open our hearts so that God’s Word disclosed to us through Pope Francis’ visit may really take root and bear fruit in our lives in the manner of a genuinely radical renewal.

Today’s Catholic liturgy features the “new wine for new wineskins” Gospel reading, but it is preceded this year by another Hebrews passage which extols Jesus as the eternal high priest, consecrated according to the order of Melchizedech, the renowned high priest who called the people of Israel to return to fidelity to the Covenant Law.

These themes are offered to us for prayer and reflection precisely on the day our Holy Father departs from our midst, leaving us with quite a number of invitations and challenges, on account of our deep identity as children of God.  All of us who have received the gift of Christian baptism receive in our person the mark of sanctity which calls us to offer our very person to the important missions of Jesus Christ–priest, prophet and king. As priests we are asked to mediate between God and God’s people, to offer prayers and offerings of great value so God may sanctify us, others and the world as Sacred spaces where God’s Spirit may move about freely consecrating all to the Father. As prophets, we are called to proclaim God’s Word by our words, deeds and witness of life. As king, we are called to live our lives as Jesus, the suffering servant-king did–constantly moving around in compassionate, loving and self-sacrificing service to others, making manifest that God’s Kingdom of love is indeed at hand and real in our midst.

Even as we acknowledge that once the seed of God’s Word is planted in our hearts and our midst, it does grow gradually like a mustard seed, we also note that once God’s Word is planted firmly in our hearts and our world, it does move to consume everything. One theologian called this process of faith-ing, the total embrace of God’s consuming world. God’s Word will stop at nothing until it has permeated everything in our person and world with its transforming grace, at least in all those spaces we allow God’s Word to move in us and around us. The Word invites to complete and radical newness. We cannot buy into God’s Word as we buy strawberries or other fruits–we choose and pick only those pieces which satisfy our criteria, at times not even knowing the criteria we use. Like some admit only those aspects of the faith which are convenient, writing off anything that challenges or confronts an addiction or attachment. Others pick and choose only those aspects of the faith that show a God who loves without condition, who affirms me and makes me feel accepted and supported, but then distances from a God who preaches justice (oops, too radical!) or calls for solidarity with the poor (wait, that’s too uncomfortable and inconvenient!) or asks “to sell all you have, give to the poor and come, follow me,” (isn’t that too much, Lord?), and following ends up in “the son of man will be handed over to be crucified but on the third day rise again” (you mean, all this following will all be for nothing?) There is an integrity to the faith that we are called to. Jesus’ Word means to restore everything back to the Father’s reign and that means complete and radical newness in us, i.e., that we be transformed completely, bottom-up, inside-out so that we indeed all become a living sacrifice of love to God and to others.

Pope Francis reiterated many of these things to us even as he proclaims everything from the new key of compassion and mercy. We are all called to a poverty of heart and spirit that first and foremost knows how to receive love from God and from this be able to give in total trust even from our poverty. Our Holy Father exhorts us to learn to reach out to our neighbour and learn to cry with them even if this path of solidarity ends up in our share of calvary. He exhorts us to learn to be poor beggars and learn to give not out of our excess but out of poverty. He exhorts us to allow the word space within us so we can think well, feel well, respond well, as if to say, it is our whole person that God means to call, and it is a response of integrity and commitment that we are called to give. We know that these calls from our faith echoed by Pope Francis invite from us really, really radical renewal, and to be sure, there will be resistances and blocks in all of us before we come to terms with a decent radical response. These resistances and blocks may be rooted in personal attachments that displace the Lord as our root and ground. And so we all need no less than a real conversion or metanoia that is in itself a gift from the Holy Spirit to be able to respond with honesty and generosity to these calls.

We can verify these from our experience when we reflect on these questions: What areas in our lives do we tend to hold back from God on account ofone or other attachment we want to hold on to?  How does holding on to these attachments prevent me from giving myself more completely to love and service to others? How much energy do I tend to waste defending or protecting my attachments which otherwise I could have spent for love of God and neighbor? Where do I find tendencies to compromise, make short-cuts, offer mediocre responses to the Word of God who has given himself totally and lavishly to me and to others around me?

We who have received freely from our loving and extravagant God are called to give freely and totally as God has also done for us. We pray that God makes of our hearts completely and radically new so they may be real mediations of God’s love for others. And as we bid farewell with grateful and renewed hearts to our Holy Father Pope Francis, we take to heart the mission to which he sent us: to bear the light of Christ to others through Asia and the world. And for this most important grace of radical renewal, we ask the help of Our Lady of Compassion to teach us how to really ponder God’s Word in our hearts so that we can be better servants of this Word in our lives. God Bless!

January 19, 2015  Leave a comment

January 18. Feast of the Santo Nino. “May Might Made Meek Make Me Divine”

 

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 9, 1-16; Ephesians 1, 3-6.15-18; Mark 10, 13-16

Id quod volo (That which we most deeply desire):  To receive and embrace in our hearts, the gift of a child-like heart: littleness, humility, meekness, gentleness, tenderness, vulnerability, in brief, a heart that knows how to receive totally and freely, God’s loving care for us and openly share that love to others with simplicity and spontaneity.

The Pope Francis fever that has infected us these days and our Filipino Solemn feast of the Sto. Nino, make me read our Sunday readings in the spirit of a prayer I wrote in a poem (and shared in this blog once before), entitled, “A word with the Word.”

a word with the Word
(a prayer as we honor Our Lady)

Victor R. Baltazar, S.J. aka German Hot Skins Lee, S.J.

Ever wondered why this Lord has come as Word,
soft and still, oft-whispered Will and heard
in quaint and quiet human hearts slow-hushed:
once hurt-now-high with brimming joy spring-gushed?

Perhaps for human lives to utter.

Ever pondered pining-awed why this God’s Word
came; had been as babe-tucked tight ‘mongst herd
by saint, soft-sweet virgin handmaid’s hands
once waiting-Held, haste-heeded His commands?

Perhaps for manger-hearts to bear.

Come, O soft-still Word and whisper please
your Will; and grant grace good to ease
the pain in Kingdom toil and stress.
This heart will speak your Joy’s caress.

Come, O babe-born, Lord, come rest and sleep
my heart: Thine merest touch stretch manger deep
and wide, to bear such Love as Thine.
May Might-made-meek make me divine.

————————————————————

That’s a good prayer for all of us: May Might-made-meek make us divine. I notice that Pope Francis is a person who is able to elicit from deep within us a kind of tenderness and vulnerability that is disarmed and disposed to receive God’s loving mercy and compassion. There is something about our Holy Father’s demeanour and smiles that makes us experience deep awe before the greatness of God in such gentleness and tenderness. The great made small. The mysterium tremendum that reaches us as mysterium fascinans, and so we find ourselves moved deeply in our souls, drawn into intimate bond and then are moved to tears.

I guess there’s something about this experience that relates intimately with what Jesus invites us to do in today’s Gospel which celebrates Senyor Sto. Nino. Jesus invites us to accept the children around us, so we may emulate them and embrace their hearts. Funny but if we think about it, the groups of people we exclude from our favourites list are people who reflect to us qualities we are least comfortable with. Perhaps they reflect qualities we resist or qualities which we consider foreign to us. And so we often avoid these people. And the reverse is true is as well. If we wish to embrace these child-like qualities, then we heed Jesus’ call to allow ourselves to be among children, to be attracted by their simplicity and playfulness, their joyful  spontaneity and honesty, their humility, their dependence on the people who show them love and affection. And receiving them, they infect us with their child-like hearts. Before we know it, their meekness has won us over.

God must have seen this when God decided to pitch tent among us by becoming a child, and grow among us, and grow into us, a small seed sowed in our parched lands helping us to desire and seek wellsprings of love and compassion that will make this seed sprout, and then grow root and stem so that in time it may also become a decent bush that can lend food and shade and comfort to others.

Pope Francis shows this to us. He faced our brethren in Tacloban with tender affection, with love that enters their stormy world with silence, solidarity and a love that listens rather than pontificates. The Pope carried with him the same Jesus who loved children and in whose child-like heart stretched out his arm, obedient unto suffering and death before the Father with whom he so desired to pour out everything, “love beyond love, pain for our pain” so we can become “the presence of God, food for the hungry, life for the weary . . . .”

And so that prayer is good for all of us, “May might made meek make me divine!” When we are able to offer God a child-like disposition of a receptive heart, that love pierces us, penetrates us and invites us to embrace it in full, and filled with such love, we become its wellsprings to others, and without knowing, we who have such sinful and superficial hearts, have come stretched to bring God’s love to others. God Bless!

January 18, 2015  Leave a comment

January 16. Tough Love: Celebrating Teresa “Techa” Nietes

(This homily was given in the second wake mass in honour of Ms. Teresa “Techa” Nietes, one of the founding partners of the Emmaus Center for Psycho-Spiritual Formation).

Magandang gabi po.  I decided to use our readings for today’s liturgy for our wake mass to celebrate Teresa’s or let me use the name I have known her use when we first met in 1986, Techa. I bet Techa’s choice to resurrect her other name Teresa was a signal that she was embracing her more tender, gentle parts. She was mellowing down perhaps? But precisely, it is this stronger, more incisive facet that I suspect has helped many of us formands still just beginning to see ourselves for who we really were. Long before the word “tough love” became vogue from the addiction circles, our Techa was already for many of us, “tough love” in the flesh.

And this is what the Jesus in our Gospel is portraying—tough love. “What is easier to say, ‘son, your sins are forgiven you’ or ‘stand up, pick up your mat and go?’” To the sick one, mercy and compassion stood out, but to those around the sick one who seemed more bent to justify themselves rather than help the one in need, Jesus seemed to show more grit and growl just to show what was to those who believed already obvious, and the irony of it all, I think is that many times, for mercy and compassion to gain a voice in our dark and distracted selves, such mercy and compassion have to take on the face of tough love.

The first time Techa became our main facilitator in a deepening group, she asked us in a journal writing workshop to reconstruct a letter to introduce ourselves to the vocation promoter. I wrote my letter with much honesty and candor and yet after I shared my letter to our group, not expecting any major question or comment, Techa’s first words immediately pierced and disturbed: “Eh bakit parang curriculum vitae ang sulat mo. Para kang hindi pumasok sa religious life, para kang nag-apply sa isang mahabang seminar-workshop!” And it was true, just three weeks back, until May 30 which was Entrance Day, I was still working at my desk as an administrator at the Ateneo. Techa did not know that, but she did sense through my letter, that I had not completely left my baggage of my previous life. And I was unconsciously trying to shape my novitiate in the old maps of my professional life, which was after all my comfort zone. Perhaps I myself would trim down the roughness in the intervention, but Techa knew that only the toughness of honest confrontation could break our hold on comfort zones.

And I guess healing had a lot to do with tough truth, for the psalmist would not have included truth in his equation: and “truth and kindness shall meet.” God after all is not only kindness and compassion. God is also Truth. In our philosophy classes with Apo Roque Ferriols used to teach us that there are two Filipino words for choice: desisyon at pasya. And in his characteristic etymology, Fr. Roque would say, a genuine choice involves as cision, a break, a tear from an old worldview if you wish, an old habit. There is a cutting off. And once that cision is made, then the person can more freely give of the self, pa-siya, a self-gift, a self-donation that is directed with some freedom and intentionality, papunta sa siya. I guess it is in those moments of breaking, of cutting off when tough love helps us build the self that will be given away in the next moment.

Which is why, I sense some amount of heroism for people who dare to exercise tough love. They may judged domineering, intrusive, even violent perhaps, but when we are able to sense integrity, honesty, fortitude and courage in the prophecy that they offer, then we also see the heroism in their love.

Siguro kaya rin marami sa amin noong mga bata-batang formand kami, alam naming malaki ang tulong sa amin ng gaya ni Techa, pero hindi siya ang una naming lalapitan. Mas madali naming nakakapalagayang-loob sina Johnny o Eva, kahit iba ring klase ang sundot nila, dahil swabe, sundot pa rin!

When Jesus saw that the Pharisees and scribes around him had hearts and heads so hardened that soft words such as “my son, your sins are forgiven you” would invite disgust or ridicule rather than inspire belief, Jesus simply gave witness to powerful actions way beyond his opponents capacity to understand and fathom: “stand up, pick up your mat and go.” If we really look at it more deeply, this was also tough for the sick man. For he had to embrace his own healing while throwing away the dependency which was his crutches. But really this was a lot more tough for Jesus’ opponents for they were challenged to throw away very basic articles of their belief—that Jesus was a fraud and a blasphemer, that people who were sick were hopeless sinners to be avoided, that they, the righteousness had to try hard not to be defiled by the corruption of the sick ones. In one radical action, Jesus, performed a healing; Jesus witnessed to the radical power in him; Jesus restored this formerly sick man into life and life-in-community.

Thank you Techa. In many ways, you have shown that Jesus-facet in your own ways of formation. With your stance of tough and incisive words, you help us face ourselves, own up to our shadows and gifts, embrace a path to wholeness, and yes restore us into ministry and community with much lightness and freedom of heart.

I have to say though that after the first psycho-spiritual processing I went through with you that fateful year of 1986, there was one afternoon I became particularly obsessed in working through an issue that came out in my consciousness that day. I asked Fr. Mat Sanchez my novice master, Fads, punta ako sa apostolic building ha, magka-catharsis lang ako. And Fr. Mat simply smiled and said quite innocently but with much wisdom, Victor, may mga sugat sa pagkatao na hindi maipipilit ang paggaling, for some of these wounds, healing takes time and takes a more attentive look at the way of healing that God wants for them.  Malay mo iyan ang iyong “thorn of the flesh?” After hearing of Fr. Mat’s wisdom—I thought his own background as agriculturist taught him well. Healing and growth does have their own rhythm and rhyme. Tough love like that of Techa’s does help, at the same time, that force of truth does need the balance of gentleness and compassion, so that truth and kindness indeed meet.

 

 

January 16, 2015  Leave a comment

January 11. Solemnity of Our Lord’s Baptism: The Father’s Delight is the Lord, Our Emmanuel.

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 42, 1-4.6-7; Psalm 29, 1-4.9-10; Acts 10, 34-38, Mark 1, 7-11

Id quod volo:  To receive a sense of what being a child which is the Father’s delight feels like. To beg Jesus to give us a feel of God’s look of delight and to see this loving look as the ground of our person and mission.

Marks version of the story of Jesus’ Baptism begins with John the Baptist acknowledging his unworthiness to be before Jesus, the Messiah, much less perform his baptism. He extols the greatness of Jesus, his own (John’s) unworthiness even, to stoop and tie the thongs of Jesus’ sandals.  He also proclaims that Jesus would be the one to perform the true baptism, which is baptism with the holy spirit. His own baptism with water was a mere foil to that greater baptism. Yet Jesus, plods on to receive John’s baptism.  Jesus, the incarnation of God’s loving mercy, desires to enter fully into the human family, and come in solidarity with sinful humanity.  Thus, Jesus’ baptism proceeds in earnest, and the launch of Jesus’ public ministry becomes even more imminent. For ourselves, this solemn feast where we remember the Baptism of our Lord becomes the formal end of the Advent-Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time–a beautiful season where we walk with Jesus in his day-to-day life of love and service, a time for elaborating Sacred Mission in our most ordinary life, relationships and works.

My own contemplations of Jesus’ baptism made me appreaciate that Jesus had to go through a very human process of growth into adulthood. The Scriptures are practically silent on what happened in Jesus teen-age years and young adult years. We can only imagine what happened which unravelled the two sentences that St. Luke offers to us in the Gospel at the end of the account of the Finding of Jesus (twelve years old then) at the Temple: “And he returned with them to Nazareth and became obedient unto them, growing in grace and wisdom before God and men.” In my own prayers, I thought of Jesus’ public ministry and did an imaginative retrojection of sorts–if he was at home with fishers and farmers and vinedressers and shepherds, he must have had a good deal of contact with them when he was younger. If Jesus prayed a lot and dealt gently with sinners and showed a lot of compassion when he talked to the poor and the weak and ill, he must have as a boy been exposed to people who were sick and who were assailed by sin. If he was fond of feasts and friendship and merriment, if he was fond of telling stories and using symbols and metaphors, he probably was exposed to a lot of these with Mary and Joseph. Jesus must have also dealt with grief because in those years, he must have lost Joseph who would have been a major anchor in constructing his sense of male journey–his identity, his messianic mission, the strange things that surrounded his birth and coming into the world, perhaps even how he could deal with emergent power–to heal, to give life, to pronounce words that bear miraculous power. I imagined Joseph on the way home from the temple, helping Jesus to process a gruesome sight he saw on the fringes of the Roman wall–people crucified. And Joseph to help Jesus deal with the terrible things he saw must have explained to Jesus the ins and outs of Jewish society–their share of religious and political powers, the Roman empire, the rebel Zealots, the ascetic desert Essenes where his cousin John probably grew and practised his faith, etc.

The most moving thing in my own contemplation those days was Jesus seeing a lamb slaughtered and its blood poured out for offering at the temple. In my mind, Jesus told Joseph, I know I am not like a Pharisee or a Sadducee, I do not see myself fighting Romans like a Zealot or withdrawing from it all like  an Essene, for the most part, I identify most with that lamb. My father seems to call me to a kind of complete and nothing-held pouring out of myself to give life to others.

The baptism he immersed himself into and his submission to his prophet who was the lesser man than he is, served not only as a launching pad for his public ministry–it also signalled the unique Messiah that he will be and is–he fulfills his mission not as a distant God wielding power to take back his kingdom, he fulfills his mission by entering humanity in utmost solidarity, even in solidarity with the darkness of human sinfulness. In Jesus whether by his birth of by his adult embrace of personal mission, Jesus embodies the good of humankind in his very life and flesh. It is by incarnation that he takes on with love and deep compassion the plight of the people he came to save. All through his public life and ministry, through his journeys way up to the cross, this compassion for and solidarity with sinners will mark Jesus’ service and dealings with people. Those who wish to call themselves followers of Jesus can use these characteristic marks of compassion and solidarity to distinguish their identity and mission wherever they are.

But all these culminates in the one core identity that Jesus receives and embraces in this major turning point in his life: Jesus at the moment of his baptism hears his Father in heaven, confirm in no uncertain terms that he delights in this man that is his Son: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am delighted, in whom my favor rests.” Jesus must have been deeply confirmed by this–his beloved Father claiming him and expressing delight in him.” I can recall feeling but a pale sample of such elation of a son-confirmed, when I overheard my dad bragging about me and my accomplishments before his friends and colleagues.

And so Jesus’ public ministry is launched and outlined: He was to become the Christ, the Messiah who will be the suffering servant of Yahweh. He will proceed with gentleness and compassion to show himself as the gentle mercy of God. He will make people feel the God who is in complete solidarity with them, taking on everything that human life represented and assuming these to be accessible to the Father’s healing and transforming love. He will be a bearer of God’s justice and healing and he will draw all men and women closer to God. But in his very core, at the very foundation, he is Son, claimed and favored and by a Father who sees in him nothing but delight.

We pause and reflect: What formative experiences were you gifted with that slowly and gently brought you to where you are now? What bedrock religious experience(s) ground our person and life’s work? What animates our day to day work and relationships must be someone or something we hold dearly and deeply–something that approaches the level of “love of my life.” Who do you imagine takes delight in you in the works that you do, the life that you lead? Where is God the Father in all these? Where is God’s people in all these? I invite you all to listen closely in your heart because wherever you are, the Father claims you, invites you to be his love and mercy for his people, and whispers those same words to you: “You are my beloved child, I take delight in you!” God Bless!

January 11, 2015  Leave a comment

January 4. Solemn Feast of Our Lord’s Epiphany. A New Year’s Desire: To see God Face to Face

To Pray On and Ponder: Isaiah 60, 1-6; Psalm 72; Eph 3, 2-13a.5-6; Matthew 2, 1-12.

Id quod volo (That which we desire most):  The grace of profound religious experience–of encountering God face to face in some deeply human experience, of love or prayer, of intimacy with another, of hopefulness amidst situations of darkness and pain, the experience of deep joy or of peace.

Since the time of the great servants like Moses and Elijah, a most important religious experience sought after, desired and yet, feared was to meet God face to face. In the time of Moses many believed that seeing God face to face would mean instant death, until Moses himself was given the privilege. Yet Moses was also notified by God, “you will not enter the promised Land to which you were asked to lead my people.” Moses indeed died in the wilderness before Israel was able to enter Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.

In the Beatitudes, it is proclaimed that those who are pure in heart will be blessed with seeing God face to face. The “heart” in Hebrew includes practically the whole person–the whole inner life of the person. Purity of heart translates into singlemindedness or singleheartedness, a sense of integrity in one’s thinking, feeling, desiring and willing and acting. One who does not allow duplicity and ambivalence or hypocrisy to render one’s service of God and neighbor to be distracted or tarnished or derailed will ultimately see God face to face.

It is in this light that we appreciate today’s readings on the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord. Epiphany as we know literally means “manifestation of the Face,” in this case, God’s face. The narrative goes, three magi, wise men, astrologers from the east have received a sign of a great revelation, a sign that signals the birth of a new king. What they saw was a very bright star that seemed to move about to guide them to a journey. They left their lands and followed the star which eventually led them to Jesus–the manifestation of God’s face.

In a sense these magi represent all of us as we are the faithful who have connected with Jesus, not through the religion of the old, i.e. of the Jews. In the Jewish category we are as the magi were, gentiles, people who were not of the book (of the Jewish Scriptures). The very experts of the Law, the one they called the scribes in Jesus’ time actually knew of his birth-ing from their reading of Scriptures. They knew that the baby was already coming then, and he was to be born in Bethlehem. They knew as much, yet such great knowledge did not prompt them to any response. They seemed indifferent and even fearful when Herod confronted them. While the magi, braved distant travel and even an audience with the Jewish King in their pursuit of the star and their search for the new born king, the scribes showed indifference and fear. Might they have been so paralyzed by fear, that proclaiming the good news they have drawn from their reading of their own scriptures might lead to their extermination by the jealous Herod?

Our Archbishop, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle teaches us, one whose heart is open to the gift of faith when the light of God shines and dawns upon him, is invited to a response. Faith is a gift that needs intentioned embrace. A person who receives the light of God is still invited to embrace that light and become missioners of that light. The point of Epiphany is not only for us to see God face to face, but embracing God’s light, that we ourselves become ambassadors of that light. We come before God with pure and transparent hearts, and God’s light will shine through us, much like the moon reflects back the light of the sun. Like Our Lady who proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,” in the purity of heart, our souls become good and shining reflectors of God’s light to others. We need not fear like the scribes, nor become threatened and violent in jealousy like Herod. We can be like the magi who listened intently to heavenly signs, even those outside their own cultural frames, outside of their comfort zones, adjusting their lives so only to pursue a star bigger than their own dreams. In the purity of their hearts, they are able to see through Herod’s manipulative intent.

No wonder, after they see God face to face in the infant king, their lives are turned around and they go home by another way. Indeed if we are reallyattentive and open to God’s light, each of us will come out of the encounter radically renewed and transformed and we will return to our homes always by another way, i.e., God’s way.

Therefore we pause and reflect, first we ask ourselves, in our own lives, what stars has God sent us to pursue to draw us beyond our limited dreams, to draw us beyond the confines of our limited loving and to attract us to venture farther roads than we have previously seemed to care or dare to take? How have we received God’s light in his call, in the journey and in the many encounters we’ve had with God? Have we allowed ourselves to bask in God’s light–feel its warmth and healing love? allowed God’s light to challenge us and transform us in the Truth? Embraced God’s light so we may become its ambassadors and missioners? We pray that God may help purify our hearts so we can be that face that will see God as God manifests Godself.  For only the pure of heart sees God face to face. God Bless!

January 4, 2015  Leave a comment

January 3. Holy Name of Jesus. Starting the Year “in the name of our Lord!”

To Pray on and Ponder:  1 John 2, 29-3, 6; Psalm 98, 1.3cd-4.5-6; John 1, 29-34.

As we begin the work of Christmas this new year, the Church prepares us for the Feast of Christ’s Epiphany, inviting us to reflect what would this Christ be like? In today’s readings on the Church’s Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, our readings proclaim the definitive holiness of Christ–Jesus is the Righteous One of God, because he is begotten of the Righteous God, and all who call upon him will be called children of God, made pure and righteous by his Spirit.

In the Gospel, John the Baptist is recalled back to the scene so he may proclaim anew: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

We are therefore called to begin this new year “in God’s name.” Let me share this beautiful prayer, written by Ted Loder in his book of prayers, entitled, Guerillas of Grace. God Bless!

O God, turn your spirit loose now,
and me with it.
that I may go to where the edge is
to face with you the shape of my mortality:
the inescapable struggle and loneliness and pain
which remind me that I am less than god after all,
that you have made me with hard limits,
limits to my strength, my knowledge, my days.

Facing those limits, Lord,
grant me grace to live to the limit
of being unflinchingly alive,
fully alive,
of experiencing every fragile,
miraculous,
bloody,
juicy,
aching,
beautiful ounce of
being a human being;

of doing my duty
and a little more;
of loving the people around me,
my friends & enemies;
of humbling myself to take others seriously
and delightedly;
of applying my heart to the wisdom of simplicity,
the freedom of honesty.

O God, turn your Spirit loose here,
and me with it,
that I may go to where the silence is
to face with you the utter mystery
of questions without answers,
pain without balm,
sorrow without comfort,
and fears without relief,
which hound my days
and haunt my sleep.

Facing the mystery, Lord,
grant me the grace
to wrestle with it
until I name the fears
and force them to set me free
to move on with whatever limp I’m left with;

to wrestle with it
until the pain teach me
and I befriend it,
until the silence subdues me
into an awareness that it is holy
and I am healed by it;

to wrestle with it
until I go deeper in it
to gratitude
for all the shapes of wholeness
and of hope that bless me.

O God
turn your spirit loose now
and me with it,
that I may go to where the darkness is
to face with you the terrible uncertainty of tomorrow,
of what will happen,
what might happen,
what could happen,
to me
and to my children,
and to my friends,
to my job,
to my relationships,
to my country;

all that I cannot see but fantasize,
all that I would prevent but cannot.
and so must accept as possibilities.

Facing the uncertainty Lord,
grant me the grace
to look at it directly and openly and truly,
to laugh at it with crazy faith,
in the crazy promise
that nothing can separate me from your love;
to laugh for the joy of it,
the joy of those saving surprises
that also stir in the darkness.

And so I trust ,
despite the dark uncertainty of tomorrow,
in the light of my todays
in the cross,
and in a kingdom coming,
and, so, I move on and pray on
in the name of Jesus, my friend and my redeemer.

January 3, 2015  Leave a comment

December 31. Another word with the Word. How do you Love? Let Me Count the Ways . . .

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 1,1-18.

Id quod volo (That which we most desire): That God’s Word be spoken from deep within our hearts and in God’s gift of His Word, we are recreated and renewed, we become transfigured into becoming children of the Light, and a people of faith who believe that the God who sent forth His Word will have it return to Himself full of fruit.

As we bid goodbye to year 2014, we engage the Word with yet another word and in our silent pause, we ask the Word to speak to us. I am wont to ask, “How do you love me/us? Let me (reflect) and count the ways.

John’s prologue gives us a rather profound depiction of Jesus’ origins beyond our temporal realm as before the blood-and-flesh Jesus entered our world he was in the eternal abode–the Word, the eternal Word. Many a theologian from way back the ancient times and even the middle ages struggled to characterize this eternal Word from scripture and the witness of believers.  Here we tackle at least three points which may help us do our year-end Consciousness Examen as a prayer we might call “Lectio on Life,” i.e., an application of the Lectio Divina on our life.

First, when John begins his prologue with “In the beginning was the Word,” he immediately transports us to the primeval events of creation. Recall that Genesis 1, begins as well, “In the beginning . . . .” Therefore John is teaching us that this Word who we have come to know as the Word-made-flesh Emmanuel, is the same eternal Word who has caused everything to be. This Word is THE Creator-Word. Somebody said this Word is a performative Word, i.e., a Word whose speech completes itself in the act, a speech-act so to speak. So that when this Word proclaims, “Let there be Light,” the fulfillment is accomplished in the same eternal moment. And so we can fast-forward and simply say, this Creator-Word is a Word that brings order where there is chaos, light where there is darkness, life where there was no life, and life in its complexity, life in its multiplicity, life in its fecundity and fruitfulness. From that original Light that the Word created, we experience gifts that become more and more intricate–order, life, spirit, reason, freedom, love, worship. Just review the days of creation, and you will find the Word weaving these things into a “complexifying” world impregnated with light, life and love.

And so we ask ourselves as in an examen: Where in our life this year have we seen a growth in order, in light, in life, in reason and in love? Where we see some lack or resistance to these, notice chaos, darkness, oppression, a sense of death or fixation or refusal to grow, a sense of being unreasonable; a sense of tepidity or lack in generosity to reach out to others in love and compassion? The areas of growth are probably the same areas of our lives  where we have allowed God to speak God’s Eternal Word and be heard and lived, so that the Word may continue with its creative action at every moment of our lives all through eternity.

Second, the Word not only creates us into beings of life and reason and love and worship, this Word transforms us into become Children of God. This Word shares the gift of filiation with us. We become adopted children of God, and so we begin to share not only light but Truth, i.e., Divine Light. We begin to share not only life, but Divine life. We begin to share not just any kind of love but the love that God shares, something akin to what the Greeks would call “agape,” a love that pours out everything of Godself. It seems that when God repeats God’s Creative Word, he transforms us to an even higher level of existence. The very thing that the serpent was deceiving Adam and Eve was a gift that God intended to give us: “to become like Gods.” But it is meant to be a gracious gift from God to us, never something we covet nor usurp nor pretend to have. God has promised this gift to us and because his Word is a performative Word, we can be assured that God’s promise will be fulfilled. St. Paul in Romans 8, 22-29 anticipates this in a graphic image of a woman labouring in creation:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for uswith groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”

Again we pause and examine ourselves, where in my life do I find childlikeness growing in me? when did virtues like humility, gratitude, total dependence of God’s providence, a sense of creature hood, graciousness in my life’s gifts and limits, trusting obedience and surrender? When have I allowed myself to receive God’s care and compassion and not insist on cutting myself off and declaring total independence from God saying, “I don’t need you God in my life!”?

Finally, this Word will carry us through until we return home to our Father in His eternal abode. Even when I see myself in utter vulnerability and weakness, I contemplate God’s Word and always gain some sense of assurance and confidence not because I know I have the power to change, but more because I know God will never tire in working at me. The two verse of Isaiah (Isaiah 55, 10-11) on God’s Word never fails to console me:

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Again we pause and ask, how much faith do we find in our heart that nurtures fidelity and commitment in us, rather than weighs us down in hopelessness and helplessness? How much of our weakness and sinfulness do we surrender to God so that God’s Word may renew us, bringing order into our lives once more, and leading us back from darkness into light? For some of us, we tend to wallow in our sinfulness harbouring in our hearts some subtle pride that says, “Away from me Lord, I am a sinful man/woman, and no amount of loving from you will be powerful enough to erase my sin.” But redemption from sin is really the role of the Messiah and not ours. We only have to receive the Lord and allow our flesh to become a new home into which God’s Word may pitch tent anew, little by little, in God’s way and in God’s time.

I remain in communion with you as we thank God for the many gifts given us through the year, 2014, a gift in itself. And we anticipate the new gift aborning, year 2015 with much hope and availability.  Here’s wishing you all a Grace-filled year ahead. God bless.

December 31, 2014  Leave a comment

December 24 (Midnight). “Under My Skin”, once more with feeling.

(This homily was written for our celebration of the Eucharist on the occasion of the Vigil for the Solemnity of Our Lord’s Nativity, with friends from the Development profession. This is an annual celebration at the San Jose Seminary. Fr. Noel Vasquez, S.J., former Provincial Superior and tatay of many of development workers with the Jesuit social network in the Philippines is the main presider, December 24, 2014).

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 9, 1-6; Titus 2, 11-14; Luke 2, 1-14

Id quod volo (That which we desire most):  To sense God, our Emmanuel, our Word-made-flesh, present and active in us, becoming in us a wellspring of joy, faith, hope and love, so that the more we allow God’s spirit to move about in us, the more God penetrates us and makes our visions and dreams, our affections and desires, our love and convictions one with God’s.

Magandang gabi po. Para makumbinsi po ako ni Fr. Noel na maghomilya ngayon, sabi po niya, ulitin ko na lang daw ang “Ngayon at Kailanman” homily ko na ginamit ko nang huli akong maghomilya sa Christmas midnight mass na ito para sa mga kaibigan sa development work.

Pero sa dalawang kadahilanan, hindi ko po uulitin ang “ngayon at kailanman” homily—una, hindi ko na makita ang kopya. Nakasama yata iyon sa nagcrash na computer. Ikalawa, ginamit ko ang tema sa katatapos na misa ng silver anniversary ni Francis at Nida Gomez at naisip ko baka marami sa dumalo doon at dadalo rin ngayon. Mahahalata.

Kaya binalikan ko na lang ang lumitaw sa isang dasal ko kamakailan, kanta rin, pero ibang-iba sa “ngayon at kailanman” ni Basil Valdez. Mas malikot, at nanunukso, medyo jazzy. At ang kantang ito ay ang isang awit ni Cole Porter. Pinatanyag ni Frank Sinatra at kamakailan inawit ng napaka-seksi na si Katharin McPhee kasama ang trumpetistang si Chris Botti. Ito nga ang kantang “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Sa dasal ko, una kong inisip na kinakanta ko ito kay Jesus. Pero habang inuulit-ulit ko ang mga linya, parang may mali, parang hindi totoo. Para bang may bumubulong na, “hwe—ikaw, nanunuot sa kalamnan mo si Jesus? Eh bakit marami ka pa ring karupukan, marami ka pa ring short cut sa buhay heswita? Bakit marami ka pa ring pagkukulang o pagmamalabis?  Medyo pangahas yatang sabihing, inaawitan mo si Jesus ng “I’ve got you under my skin.”

Binagabag ako ng mga kaisipang iyon at nanliit sa harap ng Diyos sa aking panalangin. “Oo nga,” sabi ko sarili, “ang yabang ko naman, pangahas nga.” Pero sa loob-loob ko, parang nanlulumo na ako at nanlalamig. Para bagang, kinantahan mo na nga ang Diyos, napasama ka pa. Hanggang unti-unti, sa katahimikan nang puso, habang humihingi ako ng tawad sa Diyos sa aking kapangahasan, biglang bumulong si Jesus, “baligtarin mo kaya. makinig ka at hayaan mong ako ang kumanta para sa iyo, Vic—oo Vic, pakinggan mo: “I’ve got you under my skin.”

At medyo bumalik ang sigla sa loob ko, mula kay Katharine McPhee-nailarawan ko sa isip ko na si Jesus nga ang kumakanta, at parang malikot din siya, pasayaw-sayaw, kumikindat at nanunukso, parang pilit akong pinapangiti.

Medyo naantig lang ako nang malalim nang dumako na sa siya sa parteng nagsasabi:

“I’d sacrifice everything, come what might, for the sake of having you near, in spite of warning voice that comes in the night and repeats and repeats in my ear. Don’t you know little fool, you never can win, please use your mentality, wake up to reality, but each time that I do, just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin, coz I’ve got you under my skin.”

Medyo pursigido nga pala itong Panginoon natin, may pagkahibang. Walang tigil sa panunuyo sa atin at hahamakin ang lahat, mapalapit lang sa siya atin. At mag-isip-isip daw tayo kung gusto natin siyang iwasan o hamunin. Wala raw tayong kalaban-laban.

Lumayo man tayo o tumakas sa kung saan-saan, aabot at aabot ang Panginoon sa atin, patuloy na kakatok sa ating puso. Sa mga hindi pa magbubukas, marami siyang Plan B. Kahit na sa pinaka-corrupt at parang wala nang pag-asa. Hindi niya susukuan.

Pero sa mga magbubukas sa kanya at magpapatuloy, papasok siya, manunuot sa kaloob-looban natin at unti-unting iaayon sa kanyang Ama ang ating pananaw sa mundo, sa kapwa, sa sarili. Iaayon din sa kanya ang ating mga pangarap, ang mahalaga sa atin, at hugis ng ating pagmamahal, ang kadalisayan ng puso natin lalo na sa mga usapin ng katarungan, kapayapaan, pananampalataya, pag-asa, pag-ibig.

Kumbaga, sa bawat sandali na pinapatuloy natin siya sa ating puso at pagkatao, gaya nang isinusubo natin at nilulunok at ginagawang bahagi natin ang kanyang katawan sa binasbasang tinapay at alak, tayo man ay unti-unting nagiging katawan ni Kristo at lagusan ng kanyang presensya at biyaya para sa iba.

At totoo nga: nasa mismong hibla ng laman ni Jesus na tayo, dahil bahagi na tayo ng kanyang katawan. Espiritu niya ang nananalangin sa kaloob-looban natin. May kung anong alab ng pag-ibig at malasakit sa kapwa ang nanunuot sa atin palagi. Kapag parang dinadag-anan tayo ng krisis sa buhay, sa trabaho, sa bansa, pag-asang mula kay Jesus ang manunuot sa ating puso para bumulong na sige lang, kapag nadapa, bangon; kapag nasasaid ang lakas, sumalok pa sa kalaliman o umabot sa kapwang sasalo sa iyo; kapag nilulukuban ng takot at dilim, tumahimik at isiping, maging dilim at kamatayan ay nagapi na niya.

Kagaya ni Maria at Jose sa kabila ng dilim at pagka-alanganin ng mga sitwasyon sa paligid, makinig lamang tayo sa mga tinig ng anghel sa kailaliman ng puso o sa pinagpalang mga panaginip, naroon at nanunuot pa rin ang liwanag ng Mabuting Balita, hindi na magbabago, itinaya na ni Jesus ang kanyang kabuohan para sa atin dahil siya ang Emmanuel, lagi at lagi nang magtitirik at magpapanday nang tahanan Niya sa piling natin at lagi at lagi  siyang kakanta nang buong saya at sigla, “I’ve got you under my skin!”

Hindi siya bibitiw. Pagkat malinaw sa kanyang mahal niya tayo at hindi niya tayo susukuan. Pero heto yata ang assignment natin, mahalaga ring sikapin nating kumapit at kung makaalpas ay bumalik agad sa pagkapit.  Kasi kung dumarating man siya sa atin at umaabot lagi, kailangan pa rin nating siyang papasukin, patuluyin, isaloob at gawing bahagi mismo ng ating pagkatao at tuloy unti-unting maging bahagi na rin tayo ng kanyang Katawan. Ganoon yata tayo kamahal ng Diyos, hindi niya tayo pipiliting mahalin siya pabalik. Pero hindi rin siya titigil sa kanyang panunuyo sa atin hanggang umooo tayo sa kanya.

Si Ronald Rolheiser, isang Oblate at batikang manunulat ng mga akda ng spiritualidad ay nagsabing:

The power of Christmas is not automatic. It can’t be taken for granted. It has to be given birth, nursed, coaxed, and lovingly cajoled into effectiveness. The baby Jesus doesn’t save the world, the adult Christ does and our task is to turn the baby Jesus into the adult Christ. We need to do that in our own bodies and with our own lives. As Annie Dillard once put it, the Christ we find in our lives is always found as he was found at the first Christmas, a helpless infant, lying in the straw, someone who needs to be picked up and coaxed into adulthood. To make Christ effective, we need, ourselves, to become “the body of Christ”.

To put it metaphorically, the Christ-child has to be awakened by us. We need to go to the manger and awaken the child.

We awaken the child by inducing it to smile. We awaken the Christ-child when we smile at charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, longsuffering, fidelity, gentleness, and chastity until they begin to smile back. What comes back is the power of Christmas, a baby’s power to transform a heart, divine power hidden in human weakness.

At tayo naman, gaya nang mga batang pinasaya ng mga simpleng regalo ng pasko, uulit-ulitin natin ang kanta sa atin ni Jesus, at hahayaan natin an gating mga sarili na makisayaw sa kanyang himig upang mag-umapaw ang saya sa ating puso at makadama ng bagong lakas para sa mga laban at gawain ng buhay. May liwanag sa isip at lakas ng loob dahil ang puno’t dulo ng bawa’t pagsisikap natin ay ang dakilang pag-ibig na sumilang muli sa ating lahat. At kapag siya’y nanunuot na sa ating lahat, “under my skin” ‘ika nga, tayo mismo ay magiging tagapagdala na rin ng kanyang presensya sa iba. Pag-asa sa nawawalan ng pag-asa; pagbubukas-palad at malasakit sa mga naghihirap at nangangailangan; liwanag sa nagagapi ng dilim; kapatawaran at pagkakasundo sa paghihiwalay na dala ng pagkamakasarili at kasalanan.

May the Good Lord bless you and keep you and may the Word-made-flesh abide in you and fill you with abundant blessing and grace through the coming year. Maligayang Pasko po sa lahat.

December 24, 2014  Leave a comment

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