March 13. Measuring the Life of Minda, the Wise Virgin

(The following is the homily shared in the second wake mass for Minda Evalle, friend and associate of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality)

Seasons of Love

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments, so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets. 
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?
How about love? 
How about love?
How about love? 
Measure in love
Seasons of love (love) 
Seasons of love (love)

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned or the way that she died

It’s time now, to sing out.
 Though the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
, Remember a year in the life of friends

Remember the love
 (Oh, you got to, you got to remember the love)
Remember the love
 (You know that love is a gift from up above)
Remember the love
 (Share love, give love, spread love)
Measure in love 
(Measure, measure your life in love) Seasons of love
Seasons of love
 (Measure your life, measure your life in love).

I thought the wake mass Gospel text we chose was just a propos for our dear friend Minda—the wise virgin. In many wake masses, that beautiful but haunting song from the Broadway Musical “Rent” always comes back to me. You may probably recognize it by its title: “Seasons of Love.” You see, the play revolves around the stories of a theater group which had fallen into bad times and was struggling to keep themselves together for a production. They were quarelling all over, some were fighting for love,  Some were scrounging around for money. Until one day one of the friends fell ill, the happiest actually, and succumbed to HIV and AIDS.

“Seasons of Love” was the finale song of the play and the group was all in tears singing the song, no doubt dedicated to their fallen friend. How do you measure a year in a life? How do we assign a value to the life of a friend? We can probably use some of the questions to ask what measure can we use for Minda—our wise virgin.

Do we measure life’s value by daylights and midnights spent, should we count the numbers in minutes and seconds—525,600 minutes in the year. For what were these minutes spent—drinking coffee at Larry’s bar, in so many journeys planned with friends, in truths that Minda learned or the way she cried or died. In miles, in laughter, in strife.

The song of course ultimately suggests the good measure to use is love.

When I recall Minda, our wise virgin, it is three L’s that I recall:

Minda was a woman of leisure, and by this I do not mean anything bad. I mean to say that Minda is a woman who knew self-care. She knew how to rest and enjoy life. She knew how to spend time with friends in travel or food trips or slow coffees and conversations. She knew how to feed her soul and in the process deepen as well in her ability to help others. The woman who knows how to pause and rest is one who knows how to be quiet and contemplative. She knew how to see things with the gentle eyes of love. One author describes contemplation as a long, loving look. And I think Minda loved doing that with people, that’s why she is very empathetic and compassionate. She would sit with people and share conversations with them that may be light in the feeling, but very deep in the themes that are shared.

Secondly, Minda is a woman of boisterous laughter. Her nephew was right to call her one crazy woman. She knew how to laugh. She knew how to tell stories of funny experiences. She knew how not to take life too seriously. Oh we enjoyed so many stories about friends who mistakenly put on two pairs of bras (please forgive me if you are here—bato-bato sa langit!) or another friend who was frantically looking for her house keys until the guard noticed a key chain dangling from the side of her hand bag. Or that other story of a woman who was getting frustrated knocking for so long at the door, until she realized, she was knocking at her own house. I guess Minda loved to tell these stories so she can also laugh at herself as she experienced her own aging.

Once a group of us retreat guides had a delayed flight in Naga and so their group of senior associates couldn’t find any seat except in that corner where there was no one seated. The three lolas sat there exhausted but all burst into laughter when they realized the big sign behind them: breastfeeding station.

Minda knew how to laugh and I think this gift was one of her points of access to wisdom. Life was too serious to take too seriously. And her laughter allowed her distance from life so she can think through life with a certain ease and wisdom. And this is not to say, she did not feel fear or pain. I know she did but she also knew how to carry her fear and pain with lightness and graciousness. One of her last messages to me was to ask for my prayers as she was feeling some fear as she faced her surgery. I reminded her of her inner strength and she wrote, “ha-ha, oo nga, father Vic. thanks.”

Finally, Minda, our wise virgin knew how to love. And I have a sense that many if not all of us have been touched one way or another by this love. Minda gave attentive care to people she talked to. She was generous in her giving. I think even when she could not come to our associates gathering, all of us felt her presence when the big lechon came—iyon daw ang kanyang contribution. She was always the gentle, light presence that always had a smile to give, an encouragement to share, and many initiatives to give joy to poor people in her midst. I know she’s been preparing for her meetup with her Creator because in her last years, she was giving themed retreats on the topics of aging, diminishment—but mind you, she entitled these retreats—Praying our Golden Years—nothing dark or morbid. Not like us Jesuits who would call our infirmaries—the pre-departure lounge. And so as the “Seasons of Love” song ends, we ask, how might we measure the life of our friend, Minda? Remember the love, measure in love.

Thank you wise virgin: you have taught us how leisure, laughter and love are good gifts from our good God, and we keep all these things in our hearts as we bid you farewell. Now for a prayer of forgiveness.

March 14, 2015  Leave a comment

March 12. The Cracks on the Fortress’ Wall

To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 11, 14-23

Id quod volo (That which I desire most):  To awaken to the “cracks on my fortress,” those places where my commitment to Christ is most vulnerable and weak and I am most prone to naiveté, compromise and mediocrity, to render these vulnerable areas transparent to God’s Light and entrust all these to God.

The Gospel text from Luke served to us in today’s Catholic liturgy reminds me of several things:

First it reminds me of a comment I read once about how we in this contemporary world can be vulnerable to evil activity in two ways: we sometimes do not take the power of evil in our midst seriously or if take it seriously at all, we take it TOO seriously. Our faith should be enough to assure us that Christ has triumphed over evil and death by his loving self-gift on the cross.

By the life and love released from the pierced side of Christ on the cross, we have been empowered to love as God loves although for many of us, we need continued conversion and healing and we need to open our hearts more and more to God’s grace. We can be at peace with Jesus’ assurance: “If it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe.”

Yet the Gospel reading does not end there. Jesus does show the possibility of a transition scenario. So long as we have not completed our journey to heaven, we need to make sure we remain in Jesus, “for whoever is not with me (Jesus) is against me, and whoever does not gather, scatters.” St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises reminds us of this too. We could have very well made a fundamental commitment to Jesus Christ and even signed in for working with him in his Kingdom project, but when we are in the thick of battle in life and ministry, we can drift away from Christ slowly and unknowingly. Engaging with the world constantly makes us vulnerable to the values of the world. The lure of riches, of honours, of pride and entitlements can subtly work itself up in our hearts and before we know it, we are suddenly prepared to declare independence from God, telling God, “I don’t need you, I can make it on my own.”

The Gospel text also reminds me of several parts of Ignatius’ rules for the discernment of spirits.  For one, Ignatius says we ought to see which spirits dominate the general orientation of life. If we lead a life from sin to sin, it is the evil spirit that is at home in our hearts and so these spirits will keep peace so as not to rock the boat so to speak, but the good spirits will make noise and disturb the soul by pricking the person’s conscience so the person can wake up to the reality of sin and resolve to change his ways. When the person is generally moving from good to better, it is the good spirit that is at home in the person’s soul and it simply encourages the soul quietly in its good direction. The evil spirit on the other hand makes noise, magnifies difficulties, creates false roadblocks to the person’s elected path to loving service, proposing any affection or thought which could distract or derail his or her good progress in pursuing God’s will.
The third thing which the Gospel text reminds me of is Ignatius’ third image of the evil one. He says the evil one, the enemy of human nature, is like a military commander who will keep looking for the weak spots of a person’s fortress and will keep pounding on that area until it gives and  the whole fortress crumbles with its weak part., leaving the evil one and his minions free to penetrate and dominate the space for themselves.

This is why perhaps Ignatius calls our attention to the person he calls “second class”–the person who genuinely desires to commit himself completely to God but holds back on one or other area in his life. That hidden area of compromise can be small initially, but it remains a crack in the whole fortress. And it is there where the evil one will surely strike and pound away.

We therefore ask the Lord to protect us, to awaken us to these vulnerable parts by honesty and self-awareness and to entrust these parts to the care of the Holy Spirit which brings renewal to any area of our persons and lives that it touches. God bless!

 

 

March 12, 2015  Leave a comment

March 10. The Core of Loving: Forgiveness

To Pray on and Ponder: Daniel 3, 25.34-43; Psalm 25, 4-9; Matthew 18, 21-35

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): That our encounter with our Lord of Loving Mercy, inspire in us the courage to forgive as the Lord always reaches out to us in forgiveness: undeserved, unasked, unconditioned.

Peter must have thought he got it right already, perhaps already giving himself a mental pat on the back, when he told the Lord, “how many times must we forgive an erring brother or sister–seven times, right?” But Jesus raises the bar even more–”not seven times, Peter, seventy-seven times!” It was like telling Peter, “You ask me how many times we ought to forgive erring brethren, not only all the time, but all the time and without exception whatsoever–perfection made even more perfect.” The number seven after all connotes perfection already in Jewish numerology, but what do we make of seventy-seven?

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant just reinforces the point more strongly–we who have been forgiven by our master must take it upon ourselves to forgive others who have wronged us, otherwise, our master will withdraw his merciful gesture from us and give us what we in our sins deserve.

This is in fact one way of interpreting one of the final petitions in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Are we telling God that our level of forgiveness be used as the norm for how he would forgive us?” As I said in a previous reflection, careful what you ask?

I’d rather use the psalmist petition when I implore the Lord about how to deal with me–”Remember your mercies, O Lord.”

I can think of three good reasons why we must always struggle to forgive others who wrong us.

First, forgiving is healthy for us. Nursing a grudge or resentment against others, often times without the person we consider an offender even knowing that s/he had hurt us, many times hurts us more than it hurts the so-called offender. We impose upon ourselves the burden of depression or suppressed/ repressed anger. And this imposed resentment poisons our heart and fills our mind with all sorts of prejudice against others and ourselves. Forgiving releases us from such negative emotion and allows us to do something about it.

Second, forgiving paves the way for the possibility of verifying sources of conflict and building genuine communion in a community that is necessarily made up of different people whose very difference may rub each other the wrong way. Forgiving can help people learn to appreciate the richness that diversity brings and learn complementarity and communion where conflict can erupt among intolerant and self-righteous people. Forgiveness teaches people to see life from the perspective of the other and thus broadening one’s perspective on things as well as deepening empathy and compassion.

Finally, forgiving makes our loving more genuine. Reconciled people often have deeper bonds among each other. Forgiving helps us love like God who is slow to anger and rich in mercy. Even as we await fuller healing of the wounds that others inflict upon us, we can by God’s grace choose to forgive, with or without the offenders repenting before us. Like the Prodigal father who does not even wait for his returning son to finish his repentance script, we can choose to run and welcome an offender without his apology fully expressed as yet. In fact our forgiveness is not dependent on the other’s seeking our apology. And there lies the space for embracing Christ’s cross–in many ways forgiving another person is telling the world, I choose to absorb this violence and I choose further not to allow it to continue its spiral. I suffer the consequence of these choices. We pray that God’s love will remain strongly felt within us so we can have the courage and humility, fortitude and magnanimity to forgive. God Bless!

March 11, 2015  Leave a comment

February 18. Ash Wednesday. Why Ash?

 

 

 

To Pray on and Ponder:  Matthew 6, 1-6.16-18

Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That in meditating on the meaning of the ashen cross imposed on my forehead, I am able to come before you Lord and ask your Spirit to breathe life into me again, renew me and make me a channel of your life and love again.

Bagong Bulong
Victor R. Baltazar

tila putikang tubig
ang abong dinilig
ng banal Mong tubig:
butil-butil na kinumpol,
sa noo nami’y kinintal,
paggunita sa nangagkalat na lupa
na tumipon sa ‘Yong Salita.
at sa isang iglap ay nalikha
kaayusang sinisibulan
ng samu’t saring gandang
humihinga’t dumarama,
kumikilos, nagpapagal,
nag-iisip at nagmamahal.

sana’y may bulong Kang bago’t
hingahan ang putikang tubig na loob ko,
pagkumpul-kumpulin rin nawa
na parang abong naging krus,
itong butil-butil kong
pagbangon at pagdapa
sa pananalig at pag-ibig.
panaugin ang krus mula noo
hanggang puso at pag puno na’t hitik
sa kilos ng katawan, masdan ako’t ngitian—
bumulalas rin ng “kayganda!”
sabay ganyakin mo akong muli
sa kapana-panabik
mong inuuwiang
pahinga.

The figure of an ashen cross imposed on our foreheads during Ash Wednesday mass moves me deeply, and easily connects me with the symbol dynamic of primordial creation in Genesis. Scripture scholars teach us that the Jewish mind sees pre-creation world as “chaos”–represented by murky water or muddy water, very much like that material produced when you mix the ash of burnt palm fronds from the previous palm sunday and little droplets of holy water. That is the murk of our lives, the chaos that we will continue to be if we simply allow the Spirit of God to hover outside of our lives and not give him space to transform us from inside out. When we allow the minister to impose an ashen cross figure on our foreheads, it is like we say “amen” to two things: “yes, I have been living with chaos in some areas in my life and I am responsible for it–mea culpa!” and second, “yes, I am most consoled to surrender myself to your love, O God; I welcome your coming to me at this time, and inviting me to your saving path of the cross, to purify me, to redeem me, and to conscript me to your project of loving many others you mean to entrust to me in the future.”

The first poem quoted in the beginning of this reflection was written in Rome after a prayer within the season of Lent in 2005. This sequel of sorts was written in February 28 two years ago (2012) during the days of my second long retreat as a Jesuit. These poems are shared to invite you to reflect on your own lives and the places where you find murky water and the breath of God blowing as we begin this most Sacred Season of Lent. God Bless!

Hingahan Akong Muli
Victor R. Baltazar, S.J. 

Panginoon, hingahang muli itong abo,
Itong tinubigang putik na krusna ikinintal sa makinis na noo,
Upang sa basbas ng walang pinipiling pag-ibig,
Itong sinugatang sukat na puso
Ay pintig ng puso mo’ng maging himig.

Nang makita ko ang mundo mula sa tayog ng iyong pangarap.
Mahalin ko rin ang daigdig ayon sa iyong itinangi at inibig.
At muling magkalaman sa aking paninindigan at pipiliin,
Ang bagong buhay na sa aki’y hangad mong likhain.

 

February 17, 2015  Leave a comment

January 27. Kapamilya (When I am Most a Part of God’s Family)

To Pray on and Ponder:  Hebrews 10, 1-10. Psalm 40, 8a and 9a. Mark 3, 31-35

Id quod volo:  That we may touch base from within ourselves, a wellspring of freedom and generosity to offer ourselves in the pursuit and embrace of God’s will in our lives.

A companion Jesuit of mine, recently requested some prayers as he experiences something that seemed to be for him an unfamiliar ground in prayer, a place where he experiences something that both intrigued and attracted him: “nakakaligalig na humahalina” were his very words. As I write this now a poetic phrase comes to my mind “nakakaligalig sabay nakakakilig”–something disturbing that draws me closer. With that conversation I am brought back to a conversation I had in spiritual direction with Fr. Benny Calpotura. We were both looking at some growth pattern that I was being drawn to take at that moment. Something I still felt I was resisting, but that I was very drawn too, because I knew deep down that that path was what would really liberate me or transform me. Fr. Benny in his usual “wisdom owl” style threw in a word I could ruminate–”Ang tawag divan Vic, ‘obediential imperative’” (That, Vic, is what we call, ‘obediential imperative’”) Deep down you just know there’s nowhere else to go. God has given the path without any crossroads. It is this or nothing. And yet you also know deep inside that God was still giving you a choice and you were free to take it or leave it.  You know that taking the first step at obedience will be difficult but you also know that not taking it will make you miss an important opportunity, a kairos moment, as it were. A grace being offered to you just now and perhaps not anytime else.

Our Gospel depicts to us Jesus proclaiming that his true family are those whoever does the will of God. As an aside, some non-Catholics tend to use this text to diminish the role of Our Lady in Jesus’ life, saying that Jesus himself set aside his earthly mother and did not give her special attention during this public ministry. And yet, what such critics forget is that Our Lady also perfectly qualifies for Jesus’ new definition of True family. For Our Lady was not just Jesus’ blood-mother, she was always the first to offer her yes to God in her “Be it done unto me according to Thy Word”. And so when Jesus redefines the contours of the Family that grows around him and will soon dwell in his Father’s house for all eternity, Mary must be the first of members to be allowed in.

I am Jesus’ family too, whenever I struggle to embrace God’s will in my life, whether embracing God’s will means allowing God to define the very details of my daily grind,  as Fr. Arrupe would describe it in his prayer:

“What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.”

Or embracing God’s will in the very shape of my vocation, my life direction. That at a special juncture of my life I have discovered and decided in prayer that the gifts I have received and honed in my person and the needs around me that I have perceived and explored and imagined as the niche of my particular service do find quite a good match in this one vocation, this career path and as I deepen into this life direction, I find that I am able to be a facet of God’s love to people and the work itself also becomes a way God redeems me from my sins and shadows. And in this I find profound peace. I find that I grow in becoming a loving and happy person living a meaningful life among God’s people. I feel at home, imaging from time to time the face of a Father delighted in me.

I thank God that even if there remain moments when I feel the contrary, right now on this special day, one of the many blessings that I count and are grateful for is this deep sense of I am where God wants me to be and I myself want to be here. I am God’s family. What better birthday gift can one receive? Thank you all for greets and prayers. God bless you all!

 

 

January 27, 2015  Leave a comment

January 26. Sts. Titus and Timothy. Creating Access for All in the Core of God’s Heart

To Pray on and Ponder:  Hebrews 9, 15. 24-28. Mark 3, 22-30

Id quod volo: That as we embrace and breathe into our hearts the Spirit of Jesus, we may grow in our disposition of inclusivity and communion, so we may become instruments of God’s desire to be in genuine solidarity and communion with God’s people.

I find many hidden meanings in the liturgy’s use of the Letter to the Hebrews in today’s celebration of the Feast of Sts. Titus and Timothy. The Letter to the Hebrews highlights the movement of Christ the High Priest as mediator of the New Covenant. Christ tears down the curtains that closed the Holy of Holies and entering into the sanctuary he creates access for us before the Father by the offering of his own blood to take away anything in us that might block our salvation. And so Christ brings us before the Father so we may be in communion with Him and in that communion we find ourselves also in solidarity with God’s people.

We see this movement of inclusivity and communion in the very introduction of Sts. Timothy and Titus into the narrative of our Early Church. From the original ek-klesia, i.e., the community build by being “ek-kaleo” “called out of” Judaism, the fledgling Church quickly grew from a Jewish sect to a Universal body. Timothy was a half-Jew and half-Greek, and Titus was a full-blooded Greek. That the small Church began from the bosom of the Jewish community and slowly found its unique identity as a universal, catholic Christian body surely implies that the foundations of Christian belief and praxis had to be read and interpreted into the life and language and culture of the groups that are invited into the fold.  For sure crises erupted as different groups joined as the Church grew, especially as the original generation of believers died and traditions of faith practice in different places interacted among each other and with yet other cultures around Jerusalem and Rome. That we find a coherent deposit of faith–texts, liturgical practice, moral norms, etc.– in our present generations is testimony enough for a miracle I must say.

And yet as we continue to confirm our Christian community, the same movement of Christ happens and will happen repeatedly. Jesus will tear down curtains and break down walls, and call people into solidarity and communion.  And this even amidst diversity, transcending our sinful tendencies of alienation, exclusion and division.

Christ will always invite us to healing and wholeness. Where previous wounds bring us to love only those who love as back or avoid those who threaten us, Christ will heal us with a generous dose of unconditional love so we may also rise above our selfish needs and trust enough to be able to reach out to others even if they do not seem to respond to our love or when they respond to our love with abuse or manipulation. Christ’s healing helps us to see others for who they are and experience genuine freedom of heart as we discern how best to love the other.

Christ will also heal communities. Where members are plagued with prejudice and bias, God’s love will always inspire people who see in the dynamics of communities the dance of mutual love and service amidst intrigue, divisiveness or even outright tendencies to dominate. Where Christ’s love is able to penetrate people’s hearts and inspire them to honesty, open communication and cultivation of the mutual trust and unconditional love and compassion, then people begin to reach out and interact more honestly and with integrity. And as people share with each other their pains and fears, mutual solidarity grows and the desire for the common good matures.

When each of us is filled with the love of Christ and he is able penetrate the inner core of our beings, healing us and opening us to a wellspring of loving care, then Christ is able to bring to the surface the gifts inside us that we can share with courage and generosity and build in that sharing of gifts the love and affection for others. This plus a regular nourishment from the Eucharist will certainly build communion and solidarity among disciples of Christ. We are then gathered in One Body and become as a whole a real sanctuary where the love and life of Christ flow freely, wounded people loving and embracing others in love, and becoming themselves as one body, the very presence of Christ who redeems the whole human family so we can all come home to the Father. God Bless!

 

 

January 26, 2015  Leave a comment

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

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