The one thing our readings today made me remember was a revision that my companion, Fr. Johnny Go once wrote of the Parable of the Prodigal Son where the elder son did not end up griping for the return of his younger brother, but actually went out on a loving mission for the Father to seek out his younger brother in that dark and dangerous outer world of famine and strife. The twist in the story that Fr. Johnny introduced just instantly made the Parable a good mirror for the story of redemption that Jesus actually wrote with us.
In Fr. Johnny’s version, the elder son set off from the comforts of his father’s home and began looking for his brother everywhere, leaving lights all around so his brother could find his way home much more easily amidst the dark and lonely world. He felt for his lost brother and he was concerned that he was really hard up and need much help so he can find his way back home.
Today’s Feast of the Presentation to my mind highlights this truth of Jesus as the “light to the gentiles” that Simeon waited all his life for, and once found felt finally prepared to come home to his God. This is the day we Catholic Christians bless our candles–symbols of God’s light shining constantly in our dark and gray world–reminding us of all that reveal God’s presence within us and around us. These flickering lights may be small and fickle but they can still give us direction and help us to move, they can still dispel the oppression of darkness and give us a sense of hope and freedom. And because they are all over the place, seeking them out makes life a constant occasion for vigilance and discernment, something like the bread crumbs that Hansel and Gretle dropped along the way when the wicked witch was luring them into “lost-ness.”
Fr. Johnny had a correct and deep insight in his revised Prodigal story. Our elder brother was not some self-righteous, rejecting, insecure elder brother. Like the prodigal father, our elder brother was a loving and forgiving sibling, ready to follow our father out of love for us, to look for us in our time of weariness and wandering, dropping big and small hints of light and love so we can all find our way back in the loving embrace of our Father.
Now pause and reflect: As we slowly inch our way closer to the Season of Lent, make an initial examen–where in your life does there seem to be a sense of “lost-ness, darkness, wandering? Look back at the days, months and years–what little lights have you stumbled upon in these times of wandering–a wise friend, some wake up call “event,” nagging questions about a stubborn sinful pattern, an urge to reconcile, a passionate anger for injustice or wrong, some recurring bouts with loneliness and the need to bond, surge of courage to rise above usual fears, etc.? How has this mystery of a Father making a Presentation of his Son to us to become the Light of our world been revealing itself to you at this time of your life?
After all this is not only a story of Mary and Joseph presenting their first born to the temple of God according to the prescriptions of the Jewish Law, this is for us the even more important story of the Father presenting his Son, our elder brother as the light to call us all home. So we pray that we become sensitive to those little lights that our brother has left along the way, so finding and embracing these smaller lights, we eventually find him and finding him, find our way back to the Father. God Bless!
February 2, 2014 Leave a comment
Talk about serendipity, but the icon of the Lunar New Year, i.e., the wooden horse, apparently proposes to us the following meanings:
The year 2014 will be the Year of the Wooden Horse. The Horse will make it a dynamic year with rapid movements. Wood is the cosmic element associated with growth, spring, something new coming out or breaking through, and with creativity. The 2014 Wood element has a positive polarity. This means that a seed will be planted, something new will be created. It will be a year for cooperation and helping each other, towards a higher purpose. Some speak of the Blue Horse, while in the Chinese tradition the Horse is Green. In fact both blue and green are possible, as are emerald and turquoise. Green is the color associated with wood, nature and harmony. Blue is the color for Water, the element that nourishes the Wood.
Our Gospel for this morning’s Catholic liturgy brings back to us the vibrant Kingdom symbols of the seed that yields a hundredfold and of course, the one of the mustard seed. These seed symbols seem to speak of the same themes of the birthing of something new, of growth and new comings. Though rather than focus on the dynamism or rapidity of movement as in a horse, the Gospel symbols highlight rather, slow hidden work from something hidden, something small, as would be the pattern of growth for God’s Kingdom.
One seeming anomaly is introduced by our First reading which centers on the Sin of King David. How can dynamism and growth happen when sins like those of David proliferate in our world and in people? I recall one line in the Easter Exultet which hints at this paradoxical reality of a deep awareness of our sinfulness paving the way for real moral and spiritual breakthrough and renewal: ”O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”
In a sense initial conversion can make us overconfident and give us the illusion that to lead a moral life is quite easy and not such a challenging thing for us given our new found sense of righteousness. Yet it is often the case that people who have experienced initial conversion are the ones assailed and downed by temptations from their previous favourite sins. There is in fact an important danger here: high ideals set forth by initial conversion present a stark contrast with the still quite strong sinful patterns from our past and these result in intense scruples (when one is not really in a state of sin, but feelings of guilt and doubt weaken ones resolve bit by bit) or in intense feelings of conflicting desires in ones heart that can lead to wishing or willing to sin. One may think he or she is strong enough to withstand these conflicting desires but over self-confidence in ones effort can simply complicate the situation, and eventually lead indeed to backslide.
The good spirit stays calm at this time and inspires radical self-awareness in a person. The good spirit fosters genuine shame and confusion in the heart of the sinner, loved and forgiven by God, with an acute memory of God’s track record of mercy and unconditional love gives this person a level-headedness that breeds trust on God’s love more than on any human effort unaided by grace.
Funny but what fosters real lasting conversion in a person is this radical awareness of ones sinfulness coupled with a profound trust on God’s saving grace. This is not like self-bashing, but rather a deep sense of creaturehood before God. “Only in God will my soul be at rest because from him comes my hope and salvation.” And so this constant memory of my own capacity for sin and God’s constant loving pursuit of this sinner with a constant offer of healing and transforming grace–this is the redemption that I experience constantly and the same redemption that I bear witness to before others.
We pray that we receive these important graces and allow them to become mustard seeds that will grow into big trees that will be of service to others. God Bless!
January 31, 2014 Leave a comment
To shine is not about bragging or standing proud before others. (To be humble is never about having to keep ones gifts in the dark out of a desire to be discreet or low key). To shine is to take stock with honesty and gratitude, of the gifts that one has received in life, to awaken to these gifts, nurture and hone them so we may use them to the full to do God’s good works. Gifts are after all meant to be received and used to build up others in community. St. Ignatius describes love as shown better in deeds and deeds that consist in a mutual exchange of gifts. In a sense when we shine about something umistakably Godly–the light that people see is not simply our light but God’s light. We become as Mary describes herself, a “soul that magnifies the Lord!” Our goodness becomes like a clear, transparent glass the allows God’s light to shine in pure, unadulterated way.
Reflecting on today’s first reading from the Second book of Samuel, in connection with our Gospel exhortation for us to shine brightly, I got a sense of God inviting those of us who struggle to do good to take the more proactive stance and not allow the evil ones to rule the day, but we shine, to shine God’s Light. To shine in a world that often loves and even flirts with agents of darkness can be tiring at times. A good person can sometimes feel envious of the lawless one who seems to do all things bad, gets all the perks and prize and gets away with it, enriched, unscathed and filled with pleasure (and with many, not a tinge of guilt in their hearts). In contrast we imagine the good and faithful servant of the light who already leads a tiring life, taking his stand against the current of the world, receiving little in return and sometimes earning the ire of the world, not of few of them punished and persecuted for the good that they do. When the light we shine is not our own, nor of the world, but God’s Light, then the light we share will never be extinguished or blacked out.
I recall here the image of the lamplighter in that beautiful novel, The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. That lamplighter, said the Prince, may still appear absurd like the others whose planets he visited previously, but this lighter stands out if only because his life’s preoccupation is something other than himself. He was following life’s orders: to light his lamp and put it out. It’s only that his world has changed so rapidly and become so small that at that time the lighter had to light his lamp one minute and then put it out quickly on the next minute, leaving no time for him to rest at all.
The lamplighter was on the verge of burn-out. The Prince remembered his own experience and gave his friend some counsel. “You can be faithful and lazy at the same time. Why not step back slowly so you keep standing in the light of day for a longer time?” But the lamplighter could not imagine what the prince was saying. He was caught up in his tiredness and weariness. The prince left his friend with a heavy heart but knew he could no longer be of help to him at that point.
I wonder what “faithful and lazy” could mean for us budding lamplighters of Jesus? For myself, I’d think of choosing to shine with prospects and limits of the gifts I possess. To be truthful enough to offer my gifts to others and shine for them before God and to be humble and honest enough to say this is how far my gifts can take me, I am sure others who have complementary gifts can take over where my limits bid me stop. As with John the Baptist, an acute awareness of my gifts and role will make me stand where I am in profound peace. I am not the Messiah, I am simply sent to prepare the way for his coming. I must decrease, so he may increase. I shine so God’s Light may be seen.
And so we pause and reflect: What gifts do you sense you have received from God that you are now invited to use for good works that make God’s light shine before all? What things inside you or around you make you tend to hide your gifts and keep you from giving shining testimony in word or deed before others? When you find yourself weary about doing good in countercurrent to the world, where do you draw new strength and courage to stay faithful to the Light? May God who is father to all children of the light give us life and love to remain in the Lord who is source of everything that is good. God Bless!
January 30, 2014 Leave a comment
The Responsorial Psalm offered for Catholic mass on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas on this day reminded me of the “rhetorical question”–a device that St. Thomas must have used a lot in this theological proofs: “who is this king of glory? It is the Lord” I recall that when siblings or friends want to prove a point or strengthen a line of argument, these rhetorical questions are used a lot because they draw out an answer which confirms a point that the speaker wants to put forward. I also recall a friend who wanted to remind a lady he was interested in courting, how instrumental he has been to the success of an project they both want done. This friend pretended to talk to a companion and asked his rhetorical question while making sure the woman heard both question and answer: ”Sino nga ang nakaisip ng desenyo ng proyektong ito?”, “sino pa kundi ikaw!” (Who was it, pray tell, thought out the core design of this important project? Who else but you!)
In a sense these confirming questions help us bring home the more important truths that we want our life’s beliefs to stand on. Jesus would use the same device to teach his disciples an entirely new basis of family in the Kingdom of God. His mother and kinsmen arrived where he was and they were requesting an audience with him. Jesus asked the question of his disciples: “who are my mother and brothers? He looked around and then pointed at some people: “Here are my mother and brothers–whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother.” For myself, I wouldn’t have any doubt that Mary, our Lady, was one of those Jesus pointed to. For if there was anyone in that crowd who was fit to form part of that group of faithful disciples who fulfilled God’s will in their lives–it is Mary.
The old so-called scholastic style of argumentation in philosophy and theology used a lot of these question-answer devices which tried to present proofs of things and therefore argued about the truth of what we believed in. St. Thomas was one of those who wrote volumes explaining the core truths of our faith in a language that was most understandable to people of his time. Thus he was named “Doctor of the Church”–an eminent teacher of the faith.
Such confirming questions used in rhetoric and argumentation help us to fathom the deeper meanings of our beliefs and where we find doctrinal clarity in our faith, we also find it easier to appreciate the tradition that founds our religious practice.
Yet Thomas would be the first one to tell us of an even more penetrating and anchoring confirming question that each of us has to face and answer for ourselves, and this kind goes beyond rhetoric and argumentation. Rather the question enters the realm of conviction and commitment. At one point in his life, Thomas looked at all the volumes he had produced but he also looked at the quality of his religious experience and genuine encounters with God. Moved deeply by his friendship with God and how this friendship has been nourishing him profoundly, Thomas looked at his volumes and said, “straw” i.e., all those disputations and rhetorical question-answer tracts felt like dry and insignificant straw compared to the real thing–the genuine friendship with God. If I were God’s sheep, I’d surely prefer green grass over, well, straw!”
As for our Lord, he used this conviction-level confirming question on his disciples while they were on the road. Jesus stopped, looked at his disciples in the eye, and then asked: “who do people say that I am?” The disciples reported on what they hear around as people’s responses to that question: “Some say Elijah, some say some prophet of old, etc.” And then Jesus zeroes in on the disciples’ own conviction: “And you, who do you say that I am?” If I were walking with the disciples at that point, I would take a long pause, look back at how my life has fared so far, and then struggle through my answer to that identity-confirming question: “Who do I say that our Lord is?”
Only maturing disciples would venture to give an answer. And where we can address Jesus directly and answer his million peso question, then we would have confirmed who we are before God and who God is before us at the same time. My own answer would be something like, “You are JC, my best friend, my companion, the one who called me to healing and wholeness, the one who saw through my eyes and through my foibles to see a heart filled with desire and love despite all weaknesses. You are JC my childhood friend with whom I grew in dreaming and loving and committing. You are my Lord and Creator, my close companion in mission. It is in your love that I am able to trust my own loving and give myself to others. With you by my side, I can risk offering myself to the missions our Society entrusts in me, and I can rest with peace and joy in my heart, believing and trusting that all that I seek to do with love will bear fruit so long as you are there.”
And if you friends, pause awhile and ponder, what would your own response be: “who do you say that I AM (Jesus is)? May your struggles to answer this question with utmost generosity and honesty, help confirm the best of who you are in God’s eyes and God’s peoples’. God Bless!
January 29, 2014 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: 2 Samuel 5, 1-10; Psalm 89, 20-26; Mark 3, 22-30
Praying early this morning on this day when I celebrate life on my birthday made me see images of myself reaching the peak of a mountain climb, and then gradually starting my descent. It’s probably because I turn fifty-one today and within me, a part of me felt I was stepping past prime and am now beginning my descent. And so there was this voice that immediately said, “Oh my, I’m past my prime, and have begun my descent, I feel I have not even come close to a distinct apostolic fruit or accomplishment that can count as a future legacy. (You see that part of me which embraces Enneagram 3 high value for achievement can think thoughts such as these–achievement, legacy, image, etc.) And yet another voice, deeper, more stable and more profound, was whispering to me, “No worries, we’re getting there, [and as the Psalm response for this day goes, "my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with (you)."]
And then I recalled one of Fr. Johnny Go’s most haunting songs, “Gather me” (Music by Ms. Ginny Pantig)
Gather me; every scattered sheep in me.
I’d rather be waiting here for Your voice.
I’ve seen the life outdoors,
I think it’s time to make a choice.
There’s no other course – only Yours.
Shelter me; every shattered self in me.
Better be waiting here for Your touch.
I’ve been out there in the rain,
I’ve hurt myself far too much.
Come and ease my pain again.
Such a weary world
All its ways gone wild
Save this child from the storm
I’ve been tossed, I’ve been lost, I’ve been broken
All my wounded days
All the bitter tears
I have shed for all these years
But You were there all my life
Gather me, shelter me
Safe in Your arms
So please gather me;
the scattered laughter in me
Only You can make me whole.
Come and ease my battered soul.
Shepherd me -
Come and lead me home to You.
This image of gathering into wholeness, this movement towards coherence and unity and integrity is indeed a movement that is a sign of God. AS the Gospel indicates, division is the mark of the devil. God’s pedagogy is that of separating (a purifying movement, I believe), and then gathering into a greater wholeness; separating, then gathering. This we saw in the symbolisms manifested in the Creation stories of Genesis. But we also saw this in God’s way of dealing with Israel his people. God’s way is always to gather them, forge unity among them by calling them to a communal identity and covenant. And when God’s call to communion does not seem to pull through because of human sin and division, God activates some “plan b” and calls forth a remnant of the people for whom God’s care will continue to flow visibly until his only Son becomes in his very human person, the very incarnate form of wholeness and integrity that remains a promise for each of us and all of us taken together.
We also saw how sin causes alienation and puts a wedge on people’s good relations. Just recall how in Genesis the character Adam was just happily ecstatic when he first laid eyes on Eve, saying: “You are bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, I shall call you Eve.” Yet in the face of sin and judgment, Adam is alienated from himself (he noticed he was naked and ashamed of what he saw, he hid behind the bushes!), and then alienated from the woman she loved. (It was the woman you gave me, she caused me to sin). And of course Eve for her part put the blame on the serpent, so now we also see the human characters alienated from the rest of the created world. Fast forward a few chapters more and you’d see the division worsen into murder (Cain vs. Abel) and then strife among whole tribes and finally a somewhat definitive break amongst and between peoples and their God (Consider the image of the Tower of Babel where people keep using their powers to reach God and be like God but God confounds them and puts different languages into their mouths so that soon enough the people fight among themselves and are scattered.
In Jesus, we have the concrete face of the wholeness that God means for all of us, and much more besides. In Jesus we also find the way towards that wholeness. For when God makes a promise in Isaiah 55, that his Word will not return until it has accomplished, that prophecy finds fulfillment in Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice and love when he offered his life on the cross. When Jesus’ uttered the words, “Into your hands I commend my Spirit,” that very Spirit of love poured out on the cross now becomes the “power and wisdom” that makes us whole as individuals and as a loving communion struggling through new life in Christ. The image of Pentecost reverses the most severe divisions that we’ve seen in Babel. For now, even the very uniqueness of individuals and the multiplicity of gifts and talents, need not cause division, but in fact bear fruit in unity-in-diversity. The Body of Christ will be the symbol of primal communion that God desires for all of us and we receive abundant life and love when we feel connected with the Vine which is Christ.
Receiving good wishes and greetings from hundreds, some of you I haven’t even met face to face, has been to me a sign of this movement of gathering. First your kind expressions of gratitude for the guidance that these reflections provide, affirm that the grace of the priesthood is alive in me and is bearing fruit somehow. Reflecting on God’s Word and sharing these with friends has been part of my life since early on when I was still studying philosophy. Second, the many kind words of affirmation and spontaneous offer of prayers for myself and my ministry also leads me to hear God telling me, “O, as I told you Vic, I have blessed you with good things and plenty, and surrounded your table with friends . . . .” I guess for myself, celibate life has made me get in touch with solitude initially in the form of loneliness or disconnection. And worse, my work-orientedness also make me see in personal relationships a “give-and-take” dynamics which can be functional and cold: “you do this for me, and I do this for you.” Loneliness can set in when I begin to feel, I am doing things for people and doing so can be such a thankless job.” When after a day’s examen I try to console myself and say, “well Vic, you’re called to love unconditionally, right, “thankless” is just another word for that. Didn’t you pray this before? Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous, teach me to serve you as I should, to give and not to count the cost, to find and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and ask not for reward, save that of knowing, that I do your most holy will.” And so a lavish outpouring of thanks from people from all over, many of whom I do not know personally can be heartwarming. It’s not a thankless life at all. People appreciate deeply though it’s not always expressed. So thank you all.
God’s promise and work of gathering us into wholeness and communion can sometimes be derailed in us when we hear inner voices that say, ” you see, people just tend to like you and appreciate you when you can give something to them”; or another voice that goes, “this business of unconditional love and service is really a joke. you know you need mutuality, you know you need appreciation. Don’t you just feel unloved and unchosen? Don’t you get tired just giving, and giving” The temptation of thinking oneself unloved and then a little later, unloveable can be a devastating thought and temptation and this can never come from the good spirit, nor from God himself. It is in fact the complete opposite that God’s inspiration brings: “I have known you before you were born. And I love you, and you are mine.” When we live this latter thought and allow it to shape the way we see ourselves, our relationships and our world, it is light and love that begins to reign and create us. And the goodwill that comes out of our hearts also begin to warm our friendships and make our bonds more intimate and constant. And so the gathering of community begins to happen as well.
We ask that we implore the Lord to be the Shepherd who will gather us into wholeness as persons and as communities. The Spirit of communion will remain us until Christ is able to bring us all back as to the Father as one Family. Thank you again for the greetings and prayers. Please continue to pray for this sinner, loved and called into wholeness by God, and sent Jesus to be a companion-in-mission. God Bless!
January 28, 2014 Leave a comment
The Gospels offered to us in Catholic liturgy for January 22 and 23 both 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. First I realized how many words 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.
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.
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. God Bless!
January 24, 2014 Leave a comment
Hands down, the phrase in our readings which caught my attention was this: “Not as man sees does God see, because a man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” The phrase comes out the mouth of God’s character as God spoke to Samuel. God had commanded Samuel to go the house of a certain Jesse because the king who would be anointed to replace Saul was to come from Jesse’s sons. When Samuel thought the eldest was going to be the anointed one, on account of his good looks and regal stature, God rejected the idea altogether and spoke that important phrase to Samuel.
For myself, I had heard that phrase spoken to me by Jesus when I made my first thirty-day retreat. I had gone through a life-changing 4 days of contemplating Jesus’ hidden life. I and Jesus had grown together into a deep-faith commitment of life to building God’s Kingdom and we had become close friends through these years of growing up. Finally I saw him mature and grow into the full “adulthood” of his religious commitment and embrace of mission at his baptism, temptation and his first attempts at ministry in his own hometown in Nazareth. I was beside him when he was deliberating on which men to pick as his disciples. When he emerged from prayer and showed me his list of would-be disciples, in my contemplation, I found myself violently reacting on the kind of people he chose to be his disciples. And it was at this point that he responded to my rants and told me pointblank, “Why are you so judging? Vic, you do not look at appearances, but instead see into the eyes of people and try look into their hearts. The same way I did with you.”
This statement was in fact the second time Jesus confirmed to me in prayer my own vocation. But he said, look beyond appearances and penetrate the heart. For some reason, knowing that God looked into my heart and decided to call me because of what he saw in my heart, consoles me deeply until now. It does make a difference when we have that solid ground for certitude for a call. For we can discern on a call simply based on externals: I am basically pleasing and attractive. I have the gift of a certain level of eloquence. I know I can lead and gather people and get them organized around a certain cause. I sense I am strongly attracted to how the Jesuits work and relate with people from all classes and make good impact on communities or institutions they serve. But all these still look into externals.
And then I sensed that I am also attracted to the deep spirituality that several Jesuits I knew taught and lived. Time was when I was deeply into social and political development because I believed in the values of democratizing power and wealth. And I believe I still do. Time was when social change for me meant leading simple lives, accompanying the poor in their pursuit of radical changes in their communities, even a commitment to education for change grounded on principles of such individuals as Paolo Freire. But I know my own commitment has grown not because of this or that program for change or ideological position, but ultimately because of the kind of faith and apostolic commitment I learned from Jesus and my spiritual father, Ignatius of Loyola, and the way Jesuits with whom I became close lived. There was a freshness that flowed non-stop when service is chosen out of love and when the zeal that brings you to the neighbour you want to care for comes from the love of God that shines through your heart. “Vic, ang titingnan mo iyong mga mata at iyong puso ng tao, hindi ang panlabas. Bakit ikaw ba, bakit sa palagay mo, pinipili kita?”
And so I thought of how the Lord drew me closer and closer to Jesuit priesthood with the Jesuit priests he sent to guide me: the very prayerful and zealous, Fr. Raul Bonoan, the dean of admissions, who admitted me and gave me a scholarship so I can study at the Ateneo. Derps Rolly as we called him back then, became my Dean and eventually my boss when I worked for three years as Director of Student Affairs in the Ateneo. Then there was the other Derps, Fr. Jose Blanco who taught me how Active Non-Violence was the only mode of change that respected human dignity fully. Then there was Fr. Asandas Balchand, my professor in Theology of Liberation, later my chair at the College Theology Department and would be my long-time Rector at the Jesuit Residence and Loyola House of Studies; Fr. Ben Nebres whose lectures on Marxism and Christianity helped us young student activists to appreciate the distinctions between ideological convictions and practices of people who espoused these positions. Fr. John Krebs, the big and tall German-American who I met when he was a missionary in Kadingilan, Bukidnon, speaking Visayan quite fluently and serving his parishioners with much zeal and simplicity and of course that Jesuit I did not know but his offering of life radically changed my own life direction–Fr. Godofredo Alingal, a Filipino Jesuit who was gunned down after morning mass because for days and weeks, he had been pursuing justice for one of his parishioners who was abused by a local politician. Fr. Alingal was killed in Kibawe at the time I was on exposure in neighbouring Kadingilan with Fr. Krebs. Before this exposure I was sure to pursue a career in business. After that exposure I returned to the Ateneo ready to shift to a social development profession.
Something was indeed moving in the heart. And I guess it was this movement that our Lord saw in me. In our first reading for today, our Lord rejected all of Jesse’s elder sons and so Samuel asked Jesse if there was any other son left unseen as of yet. Jesse could not even count the youngest son as a candidate for he was but a young boy, charged with taking care of the family’s small flock of sheep, but Samuel insisted to have the boy summoned and when the boy finally arrived, God told Samuel that indeed it was this young boy that he was choosing to be his people’s next king. And before Jesse and all the elder siblings, Samuel anoints David king, the one who would be Israel’s greatest king and from whose lineage will emerge the future Messiah.
With that I apologized to Jesus and promised I would hold people with greater reverence from that point on. Something indeed moves in people’s hearts and if God can plant seeds of good desire in each person, then I am called to honour them and reverence them and do all in my power to help these seeds to come out and grow and bear fruit.
I graduated from college in 1983 and like other seniors who wanted to discern future career before graduation, I did an 8-day discernment retreat with Fr. Joe Blanco, a man who I thought with lead me wisely as I decide on a path to development and political work. But the call the priesthood came out strongly in the retreat. It’s just that in 1983 with all the political turmoil we experienced back then, I also felt strongly that entering the priesthood was a total copout from all the political commitment needed at that time. I told Fr. Blanco just that. I said, “With all the political crises we face in our country, isn’t the better path for me that of a committed lay person? Must I just simply continue with my political work and student organizing? Fr. Blanco’s response was both wise and prophetic: “Perhaps you’re correct Vic, but perhaps God is also calling you to be that priest who will form committed lay people. For many priests do not know or refuse to share power with lay people.” From then on, I would give myself three more years to continue my discernment and explore the paths towards priesthood.
And so we pause and reflect: In times when you sense you were able to see deeply into people’s hearts, what difference did you see in yourself while looking at this person with greater love and reverence? How do you image yourself as one whose heart the Lord sees and penetrates, and having seen you from your core, the Lord lovingly calls you to service? What seeds of desire do you find in your heart that is something you want to nourish and bring to bear fruit?
God truly calls each one of us and honours what he sees in our hearts. God is in fact the only one who can penetrate the very core of our hearts and see the precious things that are kept there. We pray that we may grow in greater reverence for ourselves and others on account of the loving gaze that God fixes on our hearts. We also pray that we nourish with care the precious seeds of desire that God plants in our hearts so we may grow in greater communion with his desires for ourselves and for the world. God Bless!
January 21, 2014 Leave a comment
Curiously, our readings for Catholic liturgy today makes me recall two things, an important lesson in Philosophy of Science that we had with the late spiritual master, Fr. Thomas Green, S.J. and a lesson about vertical and horizontal freedom that we took up with then Msgr. (now Bishop) Teodoro Bacani in Theology of Commitment class.
In our class, Fr. Tom talked about what he described as “normal science” and “revolutionary science.” From what I recall, he said that the period of normal science is that period when after a new theory about something settles and is considered normative by a community, then the ensuing scientific activity follows the framework of questions and experimentations, and confirms the theory through and through with every facet or detail of reality as framed by the worldview or paradigm of the current theory. But when more and more facts appear that seem anomalous or “outside the norm,” it becomes more and more difficult to hold the theory as valid, and at a certain “tipping point” revolutionary science sets in. Some scientist or school of scientists would surface and propel an entirely new theory and this introduces a whole paradigm shift in viewing reality. Fr. Green’s example here was the advent of the view that the earth revolves around the sun after many years when scientists thought it was the sun revolving around the earth, especially because that is how we see it when we stand on the earth, and proceeding from such vantage point, mathematical calculations of relations between heavenly bodies would tend to prove what they originally assumed from perception.
Of course the advent of better technologies and the accumulation of more data, begins to present anomalies. And so when a scientist proposes the entirely new framework that sets the sun as the center and the earth and other planets revolving around it, then the anomalies assume greater fit and newer discoveries begin to come out. A revolutionary paradigm shift has already happened.
Our lessons on commitment under then Msgr. Ted Bacani led one day to an insightful discussion about vertical and horizontal freedom. Msgr. Bacani, explaining a portion of our booklet, Should anyone say forever? written by John Haughey, S.J. (cf. http://www.amazon.com/Should-Anyone-Say-Forever-Commitments/dp/1597525715/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1390165481&sr=8-8&keywords=John+Haughey). Fr. John Haughey was distinguishing vertical and horizontal freedom. Horizontal freedom it seems is that freedom we humans use when we make choices in a given horizon from where we stand in life. I recall for instance a period in my young adult life where my central concern was to discern and choose what I will be and do for life. It was therefore a stance of discernment and many of my choices whether they be related to relationships (eg. should I pursue this love interest or not?) or career-related (eg. do I want to try development work or do I want to explore a career in the corporate world?) or vocation-related (eg. should I pursue the priesthood in San Jose Seminary, i.e., diocesan priesthood or do I want to consider life as a Jesuit priest?). All of these questions were very important questions but the freedom that I use when I explore them or make choices which lead me to go one or other direction is really still horizontal freedom, i.e., I am choosing options within a given horizon of my life–as a discerning young adult.
Vertical freedom is a little more profound. And here I brought to an actual leap into a new horizon-defining choice. When I chose to profess perpetual though simple vows, the whole of my life has changed and the horizon with which I make subsequent choices has already changed as well. I chose to become a Jesuit for life. When I resumed studies in philosophy as a Jesuit, I knew there was something qualitatively different in my studies as compared with my philosophy studies as a lay student at the Ateneo. First, I was consciously doing philosophy with a view to preparing for the priesthood. Second, my whole experience in the novitiate already matured my reflective capacities somehow and gave some “thickness” to my view of reality. Finally, it was only by then that I had this sense that the Truth I study in philosophy is none other than the God I pray to everyday. Vertical freedom is much like the paradigm shift that happens in revolutionary science. Here it is not the choices in the day-to-day detail that fill my heart, rather it is the very movement of my commitment that changes me, my identity and therefore the horizon with which new choices surface and define themselves. I remember Fr. Rene Ocampo who was our provincial. He was speaking to us who were scholastics then. Apparently, one of my companions shared that transferring to the Ateneo campus from the secluded Sacred Heart Novitiate opens up the horizon again for him and so how does he deal with the new data coming (eg. I’m seeing coeds anew, I get attracted, etc.) does this mean my vows were for naught? And Fr. Ocampo wisely replied, these so-called new data, does not radically open your life anew. Because of the seriousness of a lifetime vow, you don’t simply ignore the vow for your new data, rather your new data has the burden of proof. You are not discerning from scratch. Your discernment ought to be coloured by your already vowed commitment. Your perpetual vows is not a soutane that you take off once the liturgy is over. In the same way, a husband or wife would perhaps continue to be attracted by other women or men, but they take these new experiences of attraction within the reality of their marriage vows.
It is within this framework that I understand Saul’s failure in God’s and Samuel’s eyes. He was the anointed king, yet he succumbed to his fear and insecurity in the face of his people. He could not enforce God’s command that everything must be smitten from the enemy camp–men and flock. Saul did not restrain his people from taking spoils out of the best sheep and oxen that the enemy camp had. And Saul even made excuses that these spoils were reserved to be offer to the Lord. For this disobedience, the Lord rejected Saul as the king and in the sunset of Saul’s kingship, Samuel will be asked to seek out a new king.
It is also within this framework that we are invited to see the radical newness of Jesus’ way. While the grumbling Jews were accusing Jesus of ignoring details of the law, eg. fasting and ritual washing, etc., Jesus was engaging in gracious fellowship with the rejected and the marginalized to invite them gradually into a radical commitment to his Father’s Kingdom, i.e., to become adopted children of God. And those who say yes to this invitation will now live a paradigm shift in their lives–not an obsessive demand to follow external rules but a more radical and fuller surrender of self to “love the Lord with all your heart, and all your mind and all your strength . . . .” The new revolutionary living out of the faith cannot be a conversion in details or rules alone. It has to be total, radical and identity-defining conversion. The new wine of our faith, deserves a wholly surrendered self that will become the fresh wineskin that would see the new wine age to maturity.
And so I pause and ask myself: When in your life have you experienced God’s promptings to conversion not only in choices involving details of your life but in the very life direction that you are taking? What is the experience like for you when what God seems to be asking of us goes beyond this or that little choice, but a more total, definitive and identity-changing commitment? St. Ignatius suggests that even before we consider discerning whether good spirits or bad spirits rule our hearts, it’s important that we check on the overall climate of our commitment: are we people who live our faith seriously and who move from good to better constantly, or are we people who are moving from sin to sin? That climate of overall faith commitment serves as a horizon with which we find our heart choosing. And that somehow skews our choices’ tendencies even before we make the actual choice, so it does pay to examine our horizon from time to time. God loves us wholly, unconditionally and totally and invites us to the same quality of loving, for there really is no other kind of loving but total and unconditional. Anything less cannot be called love at all. God Bless!
January 20, 2014 Leave a comment
This image of being anointed with the oil of joy is an old image of a ritual of consecration using a luxurious sacred element which is oil, and not just some oil but olive oil which is often times scented with aromatic herbs or spices like cinnamon, balsam or other scented essences like myrrh.
Prophets or seers are often tasked with anointing individuals to consecrate them for some holy duty such kingship or priesthood. The flask of oil is broken and the oil is allowed to pour into the head of the person being consecrated. The act sets apart the person and elevates the person from his ordinary existence to a place or calling at the side of the Lord. In our first reading, we see the consequence of the the people’s clamour for a king. Samuel the prophet anoints Israel’s first King in the person of Saul, described as extraordinarily handsome in stature and standing tall among the people. And the circumstances of his anointing were quite amusing but also symbolic. Saul was just sent out by his father to track down two asses who had strayed into the wild. Upon entering into the City of Benjamin, Samuel meets Saul by the gateway and immediately the prophet invited Saul to a meal where he anointed the young man.
With the act of anointing, Saul is set apart for his sacred call, Samuel calls on the Holy Spirit to enter into Saul’s mind and heart and body to purify him and prepare him for his holy duties. Saul is consecrated, blessed and made whole, confirmed and strengthened with joy before he takes on his post. With Saul now consecrated to represent the office which God himself played before him, he receives the powers incumbent upon a good shepherd to God’s people, claiming stewardship of this ministry of caring for all and not only a select few.
With this Saul the anointed king becomes a foil to Jesus, the Son of Man now going about his day to day ministry to people, especially the sick, the possessed and those who need healing. Jesus himself while he was in Nazareth, declared that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him and anointed him to be the one to launch God’s Kingdom. And now all these healings and exorcisms are but signs that the Spirit of God has indeed come to be present with God’s people.
All of us who are anointed with the same oil of gladness are invited to live with joy the call to which we have been consecrated.
First, we live the joy that overflows from a heart at peace because virtuous life has borne fruit in right relationships. I think it was the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 1,9) that proclaimed,“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” One author says although this passage from the letter to the Hebrews really pertain to Christ, the Anointed One, it also refers to all the faithful who by their consecration in baptism and confirmation have dedicated themselves to the service of righteousness and light in Christ.
Second, we also live the joy that flows front he heart at peace with giving self wholeheartedly to call and mission. One whose life has become more and more centred on a lifetime of committed response to the people of God. Here anointing takes the form of God’s loving kindness setting apart some members of the body of Christ to take care of one or other ministry built around the gifts previously bestowed on the appointed minister.
Finally, we also live the joy that arises from a community that experiences genuine communion of gifts united in diversity because individual members who possess the gifts are aware that they have received such gifts so they may help edify the Body of Christ and complement others who have been given different gifts. What a joy we experience when we are able to look at people who have gifts different from ours and the interior response we sense in our heart is genuine joy and gratitude for them rather than envy, jealousy or competitiveness. Communal peace and joy is quite similar to the quiet effusive joy that members of a community feel collectively as in the first Pentecost event when Christians felt the outpouring of the Spirit in the way they shared together prophecy and mission.
We ask that the Lord continually anoint us with the oil of gladness that had been first sealed upon us in our baptism and confirmation. God Bless!
January 18, 2014 Leave a comment
Two lines from the Gospel caught my attention this morning. Four friends moved by their love and compassion for their paralyzed friend, went out of their way to really bring their friends to Jesus so our Lord may heal him. They even went to the extent of carrying their friend on a stretcher, onto the roof of the house where Jesus was, they make a hole on the roof and carefully suspend the stretcher to carry down their friend before Jesus. Quite heroic and dramatic, especially at a time when Jesus was teaching a whole crowd which filled the room.
The lines that moved me was this: “Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door . . . They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him . . . (and) let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, child your sins are forgiven.’”
Normally, Jesus’ healing and exorcism miracles build on the faith of the person being healed. But this particular healing is quite different. It is not the sick person’s faith that moves Jesus, but the faith and love which his friends have shown. Their dramatic and extraordinary effort to bring their friend and set him in his presence showed the intensity of their love for their friend whose paralysis would not have allowed him to come close to Jesus in the first place. But more than this, their valiant efforts also show the strength of their faith in Jesus’s power to heal their friend.
The image that comes to my mind is that Jesus was like a cell site tower, a powerful signal source for God’s healing and these four friends were like a broadband gadget that connected their paralyzed friend’s otherwise disconnected machine to an active wi-fi spot. Once these friends are able to locate and connect with Jesus, then the healing is communicated from Jesus to their friend, and in an instant, their friend is transformed from being paralyzed to moving about healed and free.
But we have to notice though that some in the crowd did not have the same faith as the friends did. Some in fact, like the scribes and pharisees paid attention to the blasphemy they judged in Jesus’ words of forgiveness, rather than the miraculous healing that occurred. Did the wonderful event of this paralytic’s being set free from paralysis just escape their attention? Did they refuse to see this miracle because their minds and hearts were simply hardened by disdain and unbelief in Jesus? If faith and love of people move Jesus to bring healing and freedom, then what would lack of faith and lack of compassion yield for people with hardened hearts? Our faith in Jesus moves us to hope still, that God still reserves a lot of “Plan B’s” to reach these hardened hearts, thaw them and move them to faith and compassion in due time.
But for us we allow this Gospel text to move us more deeply into holiness in ordinary time. We pause and ask ourselves, “What sort of paralyses do we experience in ourselves and in our loved ones around us? In which areas of our lives individually and together, do we experience unfreedom, an inability to move perhaps because of some attachment or addiction or enslavement to one or other vice? How has faith or love sustained us even in our state of unfreedom? How have the love of friends and belief prevented us from giving up hope? What practices of prayer and disciplines or acts of compassion and charity have helped us locate and set us in God’s presence so that our faith and love may connect fruitfully with God’s transforming grace and bring healing and freedom to our lives where our paralyses most need God’s healing touch?
May this season of Ordinary time be a good occasion for our healing unto freedom. May we find in it the stretcher on which to bring friends or ask friends to bring us closer to Jesus, to set us all in God’s healing and transforming presence. During this prayer, find time to name friends who have been truly God-sent gifts to us, instruments of God’s healing and freedom. Say a prayer of thanks to God for them. Ask God to especially bless them through this Ordinary time that ushers us into Lent. God Bless!
January 17, 2014 Leave a comment