March 21. God does write straight in our crooked, crooked lives.

To Pray on and Ponder: Genesis 37, 3-4.12-13a.17b-28a; Matthew 21, 33-46

Id quod volo: To be able to look at our “soap opera” lives and from hindsight, sense God’s redeeming work as he “writes straight in our crooked” life lines.

Our first reading from Genesis gives us the beginnings of the thickening plot in the”soap opera”-like story of Joseph the dreamer–the young and favourite son of Jacob who as we know caught the ire and jealousy of all his, well un-favored siblings so that they decide to kill him or abandon him to die in a dry cistern or as what ultimately happened, sell the boy to traders, effectively making him a slave. This text is somehow used as a foil to the Gospel assigned for today–the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, where tenants who are supposedly stewards of a vineyard simply rebel and refuse to give the share due to the vineyard owner and go the extent of abusing and killing emissaries sent by the owner, even the owner’s very son.

If we follow the life of Joseph from start to finish, we see how sinfulness begins to infect the family’s story.  The father of Joseph is of course Jacob, one of the twins of Isaac and Rebecca. Jacob was the deceitful twin, who manipulates his ailing father into thinking he was his older brother Esau, so he could steal the blessing meant for the first born. Of course Jacob is able to do this because his mother Rebecca colluded with him at the expense of her other son. Esau therefore vowed to chase Jacob and kill him. On his escape, life would have its way in twisting Jacob’s fate. He fell in love with Rachel, Joseph’s mother. But Laban, the father of the Rachel loved deceived Jacob, (giving the man a dose of his own medicine), and sent another daughter Leah on the night they slept in Jacob’s tent. Thus Jacob was forced to marry Leah, and had to work seven more years to be able to take Rachel her beloved in the marriage he preferred. And so we come to Joseph.  And we begin to understand the family dynamics into which Joseph was born. As it turns out, only Joseph among Jacob’s sons is the legitimate son of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved. The rest are either sons of Leah or of slaves of the two wives of Jacob, hence the favouritism. Henceforth, after Joseph was sold, Rachel bore Jacob another son by the name of Benjamin.

As can be expected, the family with a favoured son develops a certain complexes, and the jealousy, envy and hatred can sometimes turn really bad that violence is inflicted on the favoured one. Come to think of it, the favouritism itself may also have engendered an earlier violence on the un-favoured ones so that the later violence is really some taste of sweet revenge for these sons.

Follow through the end of Joseph’s story we see how God does write straight in our crooked, crooked, soap opera lives. And where we fail in faithful stewardship of the gifts entrusted to us, including birthright blessings and family, God rides with us through the murk of our lives to accompany us when the dark chapters come, and help us to draw some good even when the worst bring us to rock bottom. In the case of Joseph, his life as a slave gave him a dose of starvation, humiliation, treachery, betrayal, but ultimately, some high administrator in the Egyptian court took notice of his talent and appoints him to a high post. Joseph was in the right place when Egypt needed someone to protect their people when famine and drought set in. With Joseph at the helm, Egypt had plenty of food stocks at the time of famine, so that one day Joseph’s brothers find themselves at the court of Joseph begging food for their family. Joseph of course recognized them and after some masquerade, pretending to give the brothers a hard time, demanding even that the brothers surrender Benjamin to him, Joseph finally breaks and introduces himself to the brothers, at which point Joseph also proclaims his interpretation of his own life story–God allowed everything to happen so he could be at the right place when the crisis of famine and drought happened. His betrayal became the way for his redeeming his family in the end, quite an uncanny foil for the fate of the Messiah himself.

An animated film on Joseph’s life featured a song entitled “Better than I” which I thought captures how God was able to write straight in Joseph’s crooked life.

Better than I

I thought I did what’s right
I thought I had the answers
I thought I chose the surest road
But that road brought me here
So I put up a fight
And told you how to help me
Now just when I have given up
The truth is coming clear

Chorus 1:
You know better than I
You know the way
I’ve let go the need to know why
For You know better than I

If this has been a test
I cannot see the reason
But maybe knowing
I don’t know is part of getting through
I tried to do what’s best
But faith has made it easy
To see the best thing i can do
Is to put my trust in You.

Chorus 2
For, You know better than I
You know the way
I’ve let go the need to know why
For You know better than I

Coda:
I saw one cloud and thought it was a sky
I saw a bird and thought that I could follow
But it was You who taught that bird to fly
If i let You reach me
Will You teach me.
(Repeat Chorus )

For, You know better than I
You know the way
I’ve let go the need to know why
I’ll take what answers you supply
You know better than I .

In a sense God’s providence and mercy shines through in this Joseph story. We cannot say it is completely the same tone that we receive the Gospel Parable of the Unfaithful Stewards. For the parable does end with a warning tone: “If you persist in your rebellion and infidelity, your stewardship will be suspended and the vineyard entrusted to you will be given to someone else more disposed.” We therefore need to seriously ask ourselves especially in these remaining of Lent:  Looking at my life thus far, how much and where do I find this pattern of “God writing straight in my crooked lines?” Do I find myself receiving this with penitence, gratitude and a resolve to amend my crooked ways?  What have been the plot lines of sin in my family history? How do I in my own life now perpetuate this plot lines of sin? How is God inviting me and other members in my family to act in favour of healing and renewal in my family? What sort of forgiveness am I called to live for this healing and renewal to happen? God bless!

March 21, 2014  Leave a comment

March 16. Why Does a Person’s Face Shine (or How to Make Sense of the Mystery of Our Lord’s Transfiguration)

To Pray on and Ponder:  Mark 9, 2-10

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To encounter Jesus whose personal integrity and passion shine forth as the Father confirms his deepest identity as Son and expresses deep delight in his faithful and passionate embrace of his mission as Messiah. To notice in ourselves and take consolation when such resonant experiences happened us and made our faces shine as brightly.:

 

I am sure that the mystery of the Transfiguration of our Lord carries meanings that are more than we can ever explain or imagine, but just for this morning, let me propose to you three human experiences that make a person’s face shine, that perhaps help us to make sense of the deeper mystery of the Lord’s transfiguration. I’ve seen these human experiences happen to myself and to other people especially in the context of profound religious experiences.

First, I’ve seen a face shine when the person comes to terms with a reality that he or she has been struggling with.  It may be a problem whose resolution has been long in coming. Or a period of grieving for some loss has passed. Or the person experience the joy of discovering a key element in a problem or coming an insight to a question that has bugged her for some time now.  In these situations, the person’s face shines because things have fallen into place and each piece of the puzzle so to speak has begun to make sense in a whole picture that has finally emerged. This experience of a puzzle coming to place was in fact something that a friend shared with me when I asked her how her previous long retreat went. She said Vic, do you remember that grade school science demonstration which our teachers did to teach us about magnetism. You know the teacher takes a sheet of paper, places some iron fillings on the paper and then she puts a magnet under the sheet and lo and behold, the iron fillings come together and form a pattern. When our teacher moves the magnet about, the whole bunch of iron fillings moves with it. You know Vic, before that retreat, I was like those scattered pieces of iron fillings, and in the retreat, God was a powerful magnet that pulled my scattered piece of self together and formed some pattern in me. And the pattern that I saw was good, very good.

A second place where I’ve seen a person’s face shine is when a person is able to acknowledge some wrongdoing, some pattern of disorder that had been kept secret for a long time. It’s as if the person has been living in a shadow, in the dark and the guilt and shame of it all have registered on the face, in lack of focus, lack of interest and energy, some kind of tepidity or sloth. When a person comes to a moment of grace and with great honesty and courage, takes responsibility for his or her bad choices, the person’s face lights up, some burden is lifted and a sense of freedom is felt, peace and joy settle in. With nothing to hide, and no guilt being carried on one’s shoulders, the person moves about with a certain lightness and focus, a greater presence and availability. The face shines. This second point though might not be in synch with explaining our Lord’s transfiguration, because in faith we believe that no sin has found a place in our Lord’s heart even as he was fully human as we are. But perhaps we say this much: that he did struggle through temptations as well, he did experience critical moments of choice and in those moments when he makes real some choice that brought him closer to his Father or more, resolved to give himself totally in the name of love, his face lit up and shone. And this brings me to my last point.

A person’s face lights up with the highest wattage, when the person comes home to his or her deepest identity before God. When the person is able to discover and be at peace with who he or she is and proclaims it, lives by it before others in relationship, in some purpose or mission, witnesses to it without fear or shame, and more, when he or she senses others affirming him or her with delight, especially those people who matter most to him or her. With our Lord, the Gospels tell of some of these moments in his life–at baptism and now in this moment of transfiguration. He touches base with who he is, embraces more fully what his mission is all about, at this stage perhaps the prospect of fully offering himself for the people he loves with the Father confirming his deepest identity as Son, a Son who elicits God’s deep delight: “This is my Son with whom I take deep delight! listen to him.”

And so we reflect and ask: In which 2 or 3 moments in our life have we seen our face shine, as though a light from deep within has lit up like a bulb of high wattage? How much of this “transfiguration” happens on account of an experience of deep religious experience–whether of being released from the burden of guilt or shame, or experiencing some aha experience–an experience of wholeness, or perhaps the profound experience of coming into one’s own, in one’s deepest identity before God? May God gift us with this profound religious experience of encountering him genuinely and experiencing his transforming grace most intensely. God bless!

March 15, 2014  Leave a comment

March 13. Careful What You Ask

To Pray on and Ponder:  Esther 12,14-16.23-25; Psalm 138,1-3.7c-8; Matthew 7,7-12.

Id quod volo (That which I desire most):
To encounter the Lord, who is most eager to provide for us the gifts we need to grow and deepen in our embrace of God’s love and life, so that when we stumble upon God’s profound love and care for us, the Spirit will enkindle the same love in our hearts so we can reach out to others. 

I remember once when as scholastics we were into a concluding conference of an annual eight-day retreat and the Jesuit retreat master was proposing our final points for prayer on Ignatius’ contemplation to obtain the love of God. In that contemplation, Ignatius would have us reflect on the many gifts which we have received from God thus far and in exploring these gifts, we are invited to notice God’s presence in his gifts and how God would through his gifts labor in our lives to accomplish his work of salvation. Finally we were asked to notice the very broad horizon of God descending upon our world in order to insert Godself into our lives, gather us all into Godself in love and then bring us all back to God’s eternal home.

After every part of those four stages of contemplating the movement of the love of God in our lives and our world, Ignatius invites us to allow gratitude to well up in our hearts so that we can find ourselves responding with great generosity to God’s initiative of love. And it was here where Ignatius proposes the beautiful prayer “Take and Receive.” One who is deeply moved by God’s lavish generosity in his gifts and self-gift very naturally overflows with zeal and generosity and it is not difficult to love God back and to give all back to God.

But then our Jesuit preacher quite dramatically paused and told us, “careful what you ask.” You may want to check each of those “take and receive” prayers and really check if you’re really quite ready to give those things up for God–really, take your liberty, your memory, understanding and will? Those offerings are quite radical and total. Are you really ready to be imprisoned, or to have amnesia, to go crazy or to be a total puppet under another person’s command?

Are you really sincere when you say–”i should really just give all back to you, since you gave all to me anyways?” Careful what you ask, for Jesus promises: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened.”

One thing that we do have to remember is what the Gospel acclamation proposes: “A clean heart create for me O God, and give me back the joy of your salvation.” Our persistence in asking and seeking and knocking before God in prayer seems to presuppose a disposition of purity of heart and intention, so that the things we ask, the favors we pray for and desires we implore from God are motivated by Jesus’ project of establishing his Father’s reign in our midst. Ultimately “the asking and seeking and knocking” are also grounded on the other prayer that goes, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all things shall be given unto you.” The Father always means to give us what is most precious to him–the Spirit of his Son.

And so we pause and ask, how goes our persistence in prayer? how much do we really entrust everything we need and desire in God’s providence and care? In asking God for things and favors, how much of what we ask and how we ask is marked by a pure and sincere desire in our hearts to really give God the space to reign in our hearts and in our midst?  How do the hundred and one things we pester God with in our prayers move the building of God’s Kingdom forward in our world? God Bless!

March 13, 2014  Leave a comment

March 12. Signs that Confirm vs. Signs that Conceal.

To Pray on and Ponder:  Jonah 3,1-10, Psalm 51, 3-4.12-13.18-19; Luke 11, 29-32

Id quod volo (That which we most desire): To notice our own responses to God’s invitations whether these be receptivity or resistance. To notice signs of God’s loving touches that melt away our resistances and encourage responsiveness and disponibility.

Our readings reminded me again of the wisdom in one of our Filipino sayings:  “Kung gusto maraming paraan, pero kung ayaw, maraming dahilan!” Roughly translated into English, the saying means, “For those who favor something, more possiblities for its accomplishment arise, for those who do not favor it, more reasons to block or suppress it arise.”

For the pharisees and scribes opposing Jesus, no new sign would have changed their resistance and refusal to believe. The signs they asked already abound wherever Jesus went, preached and healed, and these signs and miracles were publicized all over, the news about them reaching towns and cities even before Jesus comes. But the pharisees and scribes must have very fixed notions of the Messiah, his person, his works and his mission that Jesus could never have satisfied their version of the Messiah.

Ultimately, Jesus conceded in giving them a sign and that sign is no other than the so-called sign of Jonah, which all the more confounded them in their unbelief. The sign of Jonah was a sign of death and rebirth. The Messiah was to be a sign of suffering and death and birth-ing to new life. If the sign of suffering and death makes us succumb to resistance and refusal to believe, then the possibility of new life is also blocked for us.  Jesus therefore warned them about their obstinacy and hardness of heart–it will be those outside of their religious tradition who will rise to condemn them. For it will be those who do not share their Jewish belief that open their hearts to receive Jesus and be transformed, much like those from sinful city Nineveh, drawn to conversion by Jonah or the Queen of Sheba, attracted strongly by the Wisdom of Solomon. How is it that Jesus who is far greater than either Jonah or Solomon could not convince them.

“Kung gusto, maraming paraan, pero kung ayaw, maraming dahilan.”  When Jesus healed the man born blind as recounted in the Gospel of John, that healing posed a big challenge to the people around the blind man. For it did appear strongly that it was the blind man who could really see God’s light and it was those who refuse to believe that we showing signs of blindness, the strongest of which is the blindness of the men who choose not to see because what they see before them is not according to their preferences–talk about bias and prejudice. These people would only see as real what they want to believe is real. And their narrow vision will always be a losing proposition, a sure formula for living life under illusion or prejudice. Blind and incapable of moving about in genuine freedom and love.

We therefore ask, when we come to God and ask for signs, are the signs we ask, meant to constrict God into doing what we want or are these signs meant to confirm our faith in God’s wisdom and providence? The latter disposition leaves the outcomes of our prayer entirely in God’s hands and we leave God complete freedom to direct our lives according to God’s plans and desires. When we begin to show signs of “creating God in our own image” by testing him with impossible signs, we pray that we go back to the sign of Jonah. Look at the crucified Lord and converse with a God who has given all to us to show us how much God loves us. Perhaps we will realize more deeply that no other sign is needed. God Bless!

March 12, 2014  Leave a comment

March 11. The Faith that Carries Our Prayer to God

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 55, 10-11; Matthew 6, 7-15.

Id quod volo (that which we desire most): To search my own encounters with Jesus, the Word of God, incarnate, who has always been for me a bedrock of loving kindness on which my faith rests. To experience anew this consistent offering of self that Jesus offers to me and with it the love that give life and makes me capable of loving as well.

The verses we use for our First Reading in today’s Catholic liturgy, Isaiah 55, 10-11, is one of my most favourite biblical passages. I remember using it for an opening prayer in our class in Juniorate English. Our professor, the late Fr. Joseph Galdon, S.J. required us then Jesuit juniors to take turns writing up a prayer to open our class. And I began my prayer with the beautiful depiction in Isaiah 55 of the Word of God:

“Just as from the heavens,
The rain and snow come down
And do not return there
    till they have watered the earth,
    making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
    and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.” 

I am always awestruck reflecting on the certitude of faith in this vision of how God’s Word moves from the heavens to the earth (and us!) and then with us, it moves back to God again. The verses remind me too of St. Ignatius’ beautiful vision by the River, Cardoner in that small and quiet town at the foot of Montserrat, the town of Manresa. Ignatius saw God in his many gifts coming down from the heavens, working our redemption in the world and gathering us all into one so we may all return to the Father.

It is from this vision that I in fact visualized the seed of my own vocation, my vow song to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus goes,

Pusong mahal, ang pintig mo
ay tawag ng pag-ibig.
Banayad mong bulong sa ‘kin
ay kaygandang himig.

Sa ‘Yong bulong aking puso’y
sadyang naakit,
nguni’t aking sala
ay Yong pasakit.

Ganumpaman, mananalig ako sa Yong habag.
Nawa’y iyong kalingain itong punlang tawag.
Di man ako handang lubos, ako”y manunumpa,
Puso Mo’ng kasabay, magtataya.

Kahit nangangambang, sa ‘Yo ay mag-alay
Batid ko rin namang Ikaw ang Buhay,
Kaya ako ngayo’y manunumpang
Ako ay sa Iyo habambuhay. 

And so when we pray the Lord’s prayer bearing this much faith and certitude in our hearts, we offer ourselves to the Father as children who will carry out his reign and will in our world. We offer ourselves as God’s daily bread for his hungry people. We offer ourselves as people who will exercise God’s loving forgiveness and mercy to people wounded by sin. We make ourselves faithful people who would stand in vigil so the evil one may not prosper in hurting us or the people around us. And all these because God has loved us first, and in God’s loving, we live in certain faith that the love with which God called us into being will remain the love with which God will call us home where home means that place where love will continue burning in us forever. God Bless!

March 11, 2014  Leave a comment

March 10. Where Love of God and Love of Neighbor Meet

To Pray on and Ponder:  Leviticus 19, 1-2.11-18; Matthew 25 31-46

Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That in Jesus, we see a human person responding to God’s love in love incarnated and made visible in love of neighbour. That finding life in Love’s very Source, we are moved to love the people whom God loves.

This Monday of the first week of lent, we are reminded by our readings of the close link between  love of God and love of neighbour. The first reading from the book of Leviticus shows a God who proclaims to his people how holiness translates into concrete acts of love and justice. The Book of Leviticus normally documents liturgical rules that is why perhaps the accent placed on “holiness.” Yet what we find in these rules are more detailed specifications of the Commandments pertaining to love of neighbour.  When we read the Gospel on the Final Judgment in the light of this first reading we see how our final communion with God in the afterlife are connected closely to the love we exercise especially for the least of the brethren, the one most in need of love and justice and compassion.

These teachings on the close link between love of God and love of neighbour always remind me of the genius of one of the more radical renditions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus–that wellspring of genuine love of God and neighbour. This to me is given in the song whose lyrics were composed by Jesuit poet Fr. Albert Alejo and rendered into song by our Jesuit pioneer of Filipino liturgical music, the late, Fr. Eddie Hontiveros.

Nang Buo Kong Buhay
Albert Alejo, SJ-Eddie Hontiveros, SJ

O Mahal na Puso, O Loob ng Diyos,
Kapintig ng bayan ang Iyong tibok,
Puso ko’y pukawin, hanggang kumilos,
Magpasya’t mangatawang ibigin ang Krus.

Chorus:
At managot sa kapwa na mahal sa ‘Yo,
Nang buo kong buhay, nang buong kaluluwa,
Nang buo kong isip, nang buong lakas,
Kahit kamatayan, aking malasap.

O Mahal na Puso, ng Butihing Diyos,
Batis ng pag-ibig, sa kapwang kapos,
Tao’y ‘Yong hinanap nang ‘Yong matubos,
Sana’y matularan Ka sa paglilingkod.
(Repeat chorus)

Roughly translated, with much apology to Fr. Albert, the hymn goes,

O Most Sacred Heart, O God’s most secret core
Your Heart and your people beat as one,
Awaken my soul, until I am moved to act,
to choose and commit to love your Cross,

And take responsibility for the others, beloved as well to You.
With all my life, with all my soul,
with all my mind, and all my strength.
Even if this means offering my life for them.

O Most Sacred Heart, My One Good God,
Fount of love for the least of my brethren,
You sought after the lost so you may redeem them,
I pray that I can serve them as you did.

Recall that in the Gospels, Jesus was asked what were the two greatest commandments, and he immediately summarized the decalogue into the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbour. In Albert’s song, Paring Bert applies the commandment’s love of God norm to our exercise of love of neighbour and the distinction between the two great loves fades a bit:  ”managot sa kapwa na mahal sa Iyo, nang buo kong buhay, nang buong kaluluwa, nang buo kong isip, nang buong lakas, kahit kamatayan, aking malasap.” (That I take responsibility for the others, beloved as well to You, with all my life, with all my soul, with all my mind, and all my strength, even if this means offering my life for them).
We ask the Lord to make us feel his love for us deeply and so that God’s love may quicken our hearts and enflamed with God’s Spirit, we too may reach out to others and be channels of God’s love for them. God Bless!

March 10, 2014  Leave a comment

March 9. Deceitful Promises, Identities Removed from Reality and Alienated from God our Source

To Pray for and Ponder:  Genesis 2, 7-9; 3, 1-7; Romans 5, 12-19; Matthew 4, 1-11

Id quod volo (That which we desire most):  To receive from God, the grace of deep trust and surrender in God’s loving mercy and kindness, that we may foster in our hearts, the conviction that God creates in us a genuine identity created by and rooted in God’s love; God desires to transform us and make us whole into persons that God regards with great delight and joy, proclaiming to all as he gazes upon us, “Good, all I have created is simply, and delightfully, good!”

For some reason, we humans grow into adulthood with more or less ambivalent feelings towards obedience. There is something in us that says our need for autonomy runs counter with obeying authority. For some, this may be because our parents, faulted in some respects as well may tend to impost their own broken dreams and incomplete life projects on us, or desire intensely to see in us what they wanted for themselves but failed to have and be, and so we are caught between honouring our parents’ desires and honouring our own, of obeying elders and expressing our life’s desires.

And so this ambivalence somehow also carries over to our desire and intent to obey God’s will. We feel caught between fulfilling our life’s desires and seeking and obeying God’s will. Some even avoid or ignore seeking God’s will or discovering it, harbouring a fear in their hearts that God might just tell them to do something they are not inclined to pursue, whether because of interest, disposition, competence or values. But of course we sometimes never find the chance to ask God if he really wanted us to be or do that which we are afraid God might ask? In many ways, we create our own ghosts and call it the God we do not like to hear out.

And then temptation enters our world and our life’s plots thicken even more. Temptation tends to deceive us by taking a true part of our genuine need or desire and build around these valid human needs and desires to lure us into selfishness and disconnect us from the very source of our true identity as creatures loved and created into being and identity by God. Temptation creates false gaps, promises alternative identities founded on false self-sufficiency, grounded on the premise that life is possible without God, or worse that life and identity is possible only if we disobey God. The promise of wholeness plus the adventure of being at it alone and without dependence on God can really sound like a good deal for many of us. Being allowed to accomplish things by our own strength can be very liberating especially when we feel that obeying forces us to restrict our liberties and control our destinies. Yet when with the grace of God we are able to detect the deceits and false promises that temptations propose, we are able to say, “no,” because like Jesus we realize that genuine freedom is not about indefinite choices that feed selfish need and pleasure, but really about definitive commitments which build our character in the mode that God delights in–what will truly make us profoundly happy, whole, fulfilled, connected with others and at peace with God.

Take for instance Adam and Eve. They had been placed in a garden whose trees yield fruit free for their taking, except for the ones at the very center which according to the myth were called the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Somehow, in the mysterious scheme of things, God did not see their need to eat of the fruit of these trees and so they were informed not to touch these fruits. But the serpent built his temptations around these prohibited fruits, and gave its own spin to it: “you know why God did not want you to take these fruits, well because he did not want you to be like gods who can be wise enough to know good and evil.”  The serpent promised an alternative identity to Adam and Eve: disobey God, and you will be like gods, and you will have gods’ wisdom. Think about it. You will not only relieve your hunger, you will live and you will be like gods. Don’t you like such an identity?” Adam and Eve succumbed and they realized too late that the serpent’s promise of this new identity will not come to fulfillment, rather they incur the punishment of death because of their disobedience, and the rest of paradise would no longer be for them to enjoy. They will have to toil for the rest of their life, struggling to be good with the knowledge they incurred with the impurity they chose in their disobedience.

In stark contrast, we see Jesus as discerning and steadfast, even when the devil he meets in the desert was so wilely and deceitful in trying to weave temptations from the inner logic of Jesus’ needs or convictions. “You’re very hungry, why don’t you turn these desert stones into bread and save yourself.” But Jesus answers, “no, my strength and nutrition is not simply by bread but by the very Word of God that I hear and obey.” And so the devil quickly tweaks the argument and introduces a new temptation, “ahhh so you say obedience to God’s Word is the key, okay, in Scriptures God says he will send angels to minister to you when you need, so then, why not throw yourself from this parapet of the temple and prove that you are indeed the Son of God by having angels minister to you after the fall.”  Jesus sees through Satan’s deceit–”testing God is not obedience to the Word at all, you are just using Scripture and bending the text to suit your evil designs!” And so Satan tries to motivate Jesus using the very heart of his Kingdom project: Well, are you not the Son of God, anointed to be King? Why don’t you consider receiving dominion over all these kingdoms, all these that you before you from this mountain peak? Everything is yours, if you only bow and adore me.” Jesus does not buy into Satan’s deal. Jesus knows from deep within himself that He is indeed King, He is anointed, He is Son of God, but this identity rests in total trust and surrender to God, not in disobedience and in the worship of false gods who make false promises he does not even have the power to fulfill.

In this we learn to trust in a God whose love we feel as we engage him more and more in relationship. God’s lovingkindness always bring promises of life and identity to fulfilment albeit in a grace-filled and gradual process. It would be good to notice the key deceits that work in our unique life stories. What fears and insecurities have bred imbalance in our lives that make us prone to be deceived by temptation? What creaturely idols lure us into embracing false gods–false securities, attachments, hidden disorders, addictions, etc. that somehow give us temporary fixes or false sense of “life is okay” but really only serve to deepen our descent into a quicksand or trap? How does God fill us by his unconditional regard and acceptance, by his Providence despite our infidelities? How does God offer us mercy and lovingkindness and heal us into genuine wholeness and personal identity?

From a foundation of fear and mistrust, we would find ourselves tending towards stinginess, greed, mindful only of personal gain or survival, unable to share power or collaborate, much less offer oneself in genuine love and self-sacrifice. But from a foundation of trust and surrender to God’s love, a person would feel the world safe enough to share self, riches and power, because they always feel with God providing for them, we can continue to share and not find ourselves wanting. God’s track record of care and compassion is clear and God never fails us. And with St. Paul we can really say, if there’s an abundance of sin, there is a superabundance of grace. And like Jesus proclaimed in the presence of the penitent woman, in fact, “the more one is forgiven, the deeper this person will love,” and with that, even sin becomes God’s privileged entry point, ‘O happy fault, indeed!” God Bless!

 

March 9, 2014  Leave a comment

March 7. Friday after Ash Wednesday. Fasters for Justice

To Pray on and Ponder: Isaiah 58, 1-9a

Id quod volo (that which I desire most): To encounter Jesus who calls me to an asceticism that bears fruit in care and compassion for others, especially those most in need; and a self-sacrifice that flowers into charity and love for the people whom God loves.

Today I fondly remember and pray for groups like AKKAPKA and Fasters for Justice. Back in the early 80′s, our La Ignaciana Apostolic Center, with the late Fr. Jose Blanco, S.J. as one its leader, began to organize a peace advocacy group called AKKAPKA (nb. I believe, the acronym means Alyansa ng mga Kilusan para sa Kapayapaan at Katarungan or roughly, Alliance of Movements Advocating Peace and Justice). This movement that advocated active non-violence as a mode of promoting peace and justice followed radical teachings of the Gospel. When Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated, AKKAPKA together with many other groups began a series of mobilizations and boycotts of brand products produced by known cronies of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Thus many of these mobilizations had that quality of using peaceful means, and the aim of winning over opponents, two qualities that became a clear mark of the EDSA Revolution when it irrupted. Foreigners and tourists could not wonder enough how a revolution of that scale happened without bloodshed and with four days of prayerful celebration rather than hateful curses, chants or even outright violence and killing.

And I thought, much power began from the days of the Fasters for Justice. They would come together on Fridays to fast and pray for the country. Then when the opportune came from this core group began many creative active non-violence campaigns like the weekly protest runs by the April twenty-one movement or ATOM, or the boycotts led by then candidate Cory Aquino who was perceived then to be that widow cheated by Marcos of her victory in the snap Presidential elections.

In Isaiah, the Lord was quite clear with the kind of fasts the Lord desires: “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

For the Lord, this kind of fast will heal Israel’s wounds from sinfulness–they will heal alienation of individual from themselves and their God, as well as heal them from alienation from others.”Light shall break forth like the dawn” says the Lord, “and your wound will quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

It is in this light that we understand the Lord’s actuations in the Gospel. God shows Godself in solidarity with the needy, but also in solidarity with the sinful people who repent and take responsibility for the damage they have done with the sins they have committed. The disciples will be with the bridegroom until he is taken from them which is when they grieve and proclaim a fast. For ultimately what penances and fasts are meant to accomplish is to dispose a repentant heart and a generous spirit. The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek word, “askesis,” a word that is normally used in the field of athletics and the word means “saying ‘no’ to things to be able to say ‘yes,’” for instance to say ‘yes’ to that championship. We say “no” to food in order to help give the inner spirit the focus and intensity it needs to be able to dedicate oneself to loving others. In other words, the “freedom from” that we obtain from our fasting and penances, are meant to bear fruit in “freedom for”, i.e., to bear fruit in love, compassion, charity and care–a commitment which unites us deeply with God and with neighbour. May the Season of Lent that has begun be for us occasion to exercises asceticism so we may grow in the mysticism of love and service. And yes please pray that more such groups of Active Non-Violent change and Fasters for Justice, may rise and help our country experience a radical conversion of hearts and healing of structures. God Bless!

March 7, 2014  Leave a comment

March 5. Ash Wednesday: Why Ash?

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

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 krus
na 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.

 

March 4, 2014  Leave a comment

March 4. Gospel Incentives on Mardis Gras.

To Pray on and Ponder:  1 Peter 1, 10-16; Mark 10, 28-31

Id quod volo (that which I desire most): To hear the Lord calling me to simplify, to release myself from clutter and disorder, the things that block me from real loving and genuine worship of the Lord.

Alas, we have reached Mardis Gras or “Fat Tuesday,” the day when people tend to do a little binging before the next day, Ash Wednesday ushers forth the Season of Lent when fasting and abstinence become the tone of the season. In many places people celebrate the Carnival, which as you know comes from the two words “carne vale” or “goodbye to meat,” referring of course to the practice of abstinence which is recommended for all Fridays of the year, especially the Fridays of Lent.

Our first reading from Peter gives us one of reasons, perhaps the more important one for our Lenten disciplines of temperance, fasting and abstinence–they are all meant to foster in us, the holiness proper to disciples. Because the one we follow is holy, we are invited to embrace the same holiness.

In the Gospel, we see the disciples in an almost desperate tone when Jesus told them how difficult it is to be saved, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom, more especially for people who are rich and have many possessions. Jesus’ metaphor could not have said it clearer: “It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom!” And so the disciples, in a quite desperate tone tells the Lord, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you.” And giving up everything, the disciples did so, and so Jesus assured them that their sacrifice was not in vain. We can take what Jesus said as incentives to a life of self-sacrifice and detachment:

“Amen I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and last will be first.

Wow, what a deal: you give up all, and you regain back all but with a plus: persecutions, eternal life and role reversal, i.e., if you were marginalized, you will be exalted in the end. I can almost hear St. Teresa of Avila when she scolded the Lord saying, “No wonder you have very few friends–you make them suffer!”

But really, these things can be genuine incentives if we look at them with the eyes of faith.

First, our detachment or surrender of things becomes the occasion for the reordering of our lives. I recall one of my brother Jesuits here in the Jesuit residence. At table with him, I sort of wondered out loud how the world I can get my room cleaned and put to order. My brother Jesuit told me, he understands my predicament as he also has the experience that full engagement in ministry somehow makes you “hop on, hop off” from one engagement to another and you somehow accumulate lots of things in the process–notes, materials, books taken from shelves, post-seminar gifts and memorabilia, clothes, etc. And if we don’t consciously insert down time, to re-shelve, clean up, replace things, throw scrap, etc., the weeks turn to months and months turn to years and you realize your room has become this great junk yard and you’re afraid to have others help clean it because it will become almost impossible to trace where the things you need for the next seminar or retreat were placed. And so the only way he does it is to bring everything out of the room, and slowly (2 weeks to a month) replace them into the room in the order most helpful. After the first two weeks, for the most part he’d always feel the most important things he has already replaced into their proper places inside the room. Those that remain seem the ones for throwing.

Second, this giving up of things and ridding ourselves of clutter gives us breathing space for the things that really matter. We become more mindful and intentional in our relationships, especially our relationship with God. Many times when we feel that everything we need is in our immediate grasp, sometimes we start thinking that we can do without others’ help, we can make it without God’s help. And these are far from the truth.

Third, this giving up of things and simplifying our lives also help us to go depth rather than always pursuing breadth. Always pursuing breadth helps us to go far, but keeps us to knowing only the superficial aspects of reality. And sometimes the little and shallow details we know do not provide us with adequate data for really important decisions or choices. When we have greater space to breathe, it is easier to make time to pause, look more intently at things, mindfully explore the depths of things, people, experiences, God. And the more we are affectively and interiorly connected with these, the more truthful our judgments and choices can become.  Clutter makes us rush into things, settle for the superficial and at times make rash judgments on situations because we know only the superficial bits and we risk decisions on them.

Temperance, detachment, self-surrender, and even persecution, which effectively curbs our lust for power . . . all of these can indeed be incentives for us as we bid goodbye to what can be the equivalent of that “luxury of meat” in our lives this season of lent. We are invited to enjoy a good morsel of these things today and when Ash Wednesday comes, we say hello to being our real selves again before God: dust, just ordinary free, moving, reasoning, loving and worshipping dust. God Bless!

March 4, 2014  Leave a comment

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