Praying over our readings from Book of the Prophet Daniel and the Gospel of Luke, full as they are of apocalyptic images of the downfall of empires and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, respectively, brought me back to one of my many walking tours of Rome, led by our usual guide, Fr. Joe Quilongquilong, who was a graduate student living with me in Rome at that the time. In one of those Ignatian walks, we were on our way to the residence where the first companions stayed and did the so-called Deliberation of the First Fathers (the discernment that led them to form themselves into a Society of Jesus and also elected Ignatius as their first Superior General). We stopped briefly in a low-level ruins park located in a place called Largo Argentina. Fr. Joe initially explained that the name Largo Argentina has nothing to do the Latin American country called Argentina. Rather it had to do with silver or argento. The area was probably the place where the silversmiths lived and worked. But the more interesting detail was yet to come. Fr. Joe showed us a map of the low level ruins and to our delight, he pointed at a place somewhere where the present trams stopped and parked. He said, below that train stop is what remains of the Roman Senate. And then he points to the line in the inscription that says, this is the spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated. And of course Fr. Joe explained how this low-level field was actually connected with the Foro Romano or the Roman Forum where all the seats of Roman Government of that time were laid out.
But the last line was “juiciest line” that would come from Fr. Joe that afternoon. “Now, look at the park below. Look at the ruins. What do you notice?” And of course we all looked and saw that the ruins has become a sanctuary for cats. There were numerous cats which were probably pet cats but which were abandoned by their Italian former masters, and thrown into the park. And Fr. Joe said, “So the lesson of the day: Even the most powerful empires will fall and become mere sanctuaries for stray and abandoned cats.” Whew, a good lesson at relativity of even those that had been previously perceived as absolute power.
I guess apocalyptic visions of the downfall of empires and the total destruction of glorious temples when the end times come help us to recover a sense of perspective. No empire or power or wealth or property, no work or achievement, not even the best of friendships will last for eternity. Violence and calamities showed us as much. I saw how whole communities have been reduced to stilts that protrude through desolate waters by the mangroves of Zamboanga City–this because of the fierce fighting between the Philippine Army and the rebel forces of the MNLF. The earthquakes that hit Bohol and Cebu have brought down big churches and houses, left big cracks on highways and brought down bridges. And of course our memories are still filled with images of wanton and widespread destruction left by Supertyphoon Yolanda on the bigger part of the Visayan region. Things will come and go, like beautiful wild flowers of the field. This life and death cycle gives us a sense of the real importance of things we get preoccupied with, and what really remains as things of eternal value. This sense of finitude, this facticity of life in this world in a sense forces us to acknowledge that really only God is our Principle and Foundation, and others assume value only relative to our supreme value for God our life’s foundation. Rilke’s beautiful poem entitled “Autumn” helps illustrate our theme:
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.
When we sense some experience of fall or threat of destruction, let the moment be an occasion for falling into God’s hands. Let our many crises in life bring us back to the God who sustains us and will regather us into the glory of life eternal with the Father. God Bless!
November 27, 2013 Leave a comment
Ang mabuhay sa pag-ibig ay pagbibigay na di nagtatantya ng halaga
At hindi naghihintay ng kapalit, pagbibigay walang pasubali.
Naibigay ko na’ng lahat, magaan akong tumatakbo,
Dukha man ako sa lahat, dukha man ako sa lahat.
Ang tangi kong yaman, ay mabuhay sa pag-ibig.
These lines belong to the first verse of the late Fr. Ed Hontiveros’ classing song “Ang Mabuhay sa Pag-ibig.” The song is of course an
adaptation-translation of some poetry by St. Therese of Lisieux. I remembered this song pondering over this little Gospel pericope from the Gospel
of St. Luke which features the so-called Widow’s Mite. Jesus, looking at those who visited the Temple, noticed the rich people who gave much as
their donation to the Temple treasury and of course people were all praises for their generosity. But among all who put in money into the temple
treasury, it was with an old poor widow that our Lord took exception, saying “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those
others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
The gift of being free and able to give all to God and neighbour may come to many of us as a real struggle, but the more we are able to untangle our hearts
from the many attachments we keep, the more we are able to recognize the value of people over things and the joy that being able to affirm that through
cheerful and generous giving brings. As St. Therese of the Child Jesus teaches us, when we are able to give without counting the cost, without expecting
recompense, without experiencing any tinge of doubt or insecurity, then loving becomes our sole wealth, and the smallest thing we give or do that we give or do with much love, becomes a real pearl of great price–because it becomes redemptive for the people who receive it.
When I am able to sing joyfully to God that God is my only pearl of great price–“ikaw any aking tanging yaman na di lubusang masumpungan” I am sure to
experience profound freedom of heart. No crises breaks me. For I know God, my pearl is always at my back. No new situation, no new friend nor work will make
my knees wobble in fear or insecurity, for I know that especially when a new relationship or a new work are fruits of new life directions or missions set forth by God’s plan, then God’s grace will always abide with and be felt by us.
When I am able to sense God’s unconditional and extravagant love always providing for us and always anticipating our every need with much thoughtfulness and
compassionate care, no amount of impending calamity or crisis, not even the gravest threat to life can unnerve us, for we know that God will keep sustaining us through
pain and suffering; God will continue to walk with us even through the dark valley, and there is no pain, suffering or hell that I may end up in, which Jesus himself
has not previously visited and conquered before me.
We pray fervently for this gift of our availability and ability to give all to God. It’s not that God wants our all and demands our all to be surrendered to him (he does not
have to ask nor demand for something that is already his in the first place!) but this gift of complete self-gift to God is essential in learning what freedom and adult commitment really means–that having received everything as a gift of love from God, now I am able to love God back and offer everything back to him–my life, my person, my gifts, my weaknesses, my story of joys and pains, everything! God Bless!
November 26, 2013 Leave a comment
Sunday marks the Solemn Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The Feast also marks the end of the Liturgical Year as well as the end of the Year of Faith, opened last year by Pope Emeritus Benedict and to be closed in a special solemn mass as our present Pontiff, Pope Francis.
Reflecting on our Sunday readings this morning led me to think about the meanings we attach to Kingship and how the kingship we perceive in Jesus Christ, our exemplar informs our meanings. For myself, thinking about this is quite important especially when we recall that our baptism makes us participate in the prophet, the priest and the king in Jesus Christ. Each of us among the baptized faithful is called to embrace these dimensions of our baptismal character.
To be priest of course pertains to our responsibility to bless and consecrate the world and set the world apart as a dwelling place of God. To be prophet on the other hand pertains to the proclamation of God’s Word by word and deed and witness of life. To be king pertains to service and leadership of community, the gathering of peoples into a communion built around the genuine service of God and God’s people.
In a sense the three functions support each other. Prophecy initiates individuals and communities into building their lives slowly and gradually as persons and groups around the beliefs, values and witness of Jesus Christ. In a sense it is through prophecy that the process of incarnating the spirit of Jesus into the very fiber of people’s lives begins and grows. To this end we see the important contributions of catechists, homilists, teaching-bishops, spiritual directors, retreat-givers, social media practitioners, etc.
And then the priestly function, helps ground our Christiam life on the life and action of the Spirit. When we consecrate things, people and works to God, we open them up to the action of the Spirit and we allow God’s creative and sanctifying power to flow through them, so anointed by the power of God, things are configured more and more after the pattern of God’s love and life. And the communion built around God’s Word becomes more and more incorporated into the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Spirit. To this priestly end, we appreciate the important contributions of priests as cultic leaders, liturgists, liturgical musicians and masters of Sacred Space, and all of us who intercede for each other and the community in prayer and supplication, we who go out of our way to pray for and bless each other, we who by our intentional offering of prayer, blessings and spiritual direction, sanctify the people we touch and help draw out the Christic identity within them.
The kingly function helps gather peoples and build Christian communities among them. The kingly function empowers us to do our share in building community–share our gifts, complement others who might draw fruit from the very gifts we share, and help redirect shared gifts into genuine service of God and God’s people, especially those who are in direst need. To this end we see and appreciate the contributions of pastoral ministers and pastoral leaders. People who it is said, can draw out and draw together people’s gifts–whether personal or communal. And so it becomes more possible for individuals and communities to experience concretely the reign of God and the Kingship of Christ. But what exactly do we know of kingship according to Jesus Christ?
For one, kingship after Jesus Christ’s example is one of shepherding. The Good Shepherd who cares for people with a deep bond of familiarity and intimacy with members of its flock, with personal care, with meticulous knowledge and appreciation for this sheep. Jesus Christ as a leader will look after his sheep, ready to give even his life for the flock. He is not like the hired man who is won’t to abandon his flock when he sense danger lurking
Second, Jesus Christ’s kingship goes beyond wielding political power–and this in contrast to Jesus’ contemporaries who believed the Messiah to be would be someone who would grab political power from the heathen Romans of their time. Although Jesus himself comes from the lineage of the great political King David, Jesus’ Messiahship goes beyond political brokering and takes the form of a more spiritual leadership. Jesus is after all, King of the Universe–sustainer, sanctifier of all creation and reconciler of all in all. His power of loving kindness and mercy is able to redeem people from being enslaved by sinfulness and violence in order to build a communion that goes back to then Father himself. In this sense, the reign of God that Jesus restores is more universal and more comprehensive than any political king can achieve.
Finally Jesus’ leadership is one of servant-leadership. In him alone do we see a master-teacher who strips himself, stoops down in order to wash the feet of his servants–so that he may call them to a love of friends. His leadership is akin to a Father who runs towards an erring younger son or a proud elder son, in order to win them back into the communion and celebration. Jesus’ kingship is one which risks touching the untouchables, reaching out to those on the fringes, challenges those who pretend to lead the people but really abuse and enslave them with oppressive laws and manipulative dealings.
Especially in times of crises and calamity like what we face in our country today, the kind of kingship that Jesus exemplifies is certainly needed these days. We ask especially that God empower us to embrace our baptismal character more intensely at this time–share in the leadership that our people need so that as a body, animated by the Spirit of love and communion, we can communicate God’s pastoral care for his people–make people feel God’s nearness amidst suffering and pain, show compassion and care, and help people rise above selfish concerns in order to lend a helping hand to those in greater need. God Bless!
November 25, 2013 Leave a comment
This morning, I recalled David Haas’ song, “How Shall I Sing to God?” thinking about Saint Cecilia whom we commemorate today. I still remember quite clearly that as a young boy, a distinct painting portraying St. Cecilia would grace walls where pianos where located in old homes of my aunts or uncles or my mom’s friends. The usual depiction of St. Cecilia was that of a pretty caucasian lady playing the piano accompanying three angels who appear to be singing joyfully . That is why when finally I found myself in Rome, first in some tour at the Catacombs where the real St. Cecilia was martyred and then several times again much later when I was already based in Rome for doctoral studies, St. Cecilia’s new depiction marked my mind and heart deeply. She was considered one of the virgin martyrs an the time of the Roman persecutions. Apparently she belonged to a wealthy patrician family, but her complete surrendering of herself as a virgin consecrated for the Lord brought her to her martyrdom. Inside the catacombs, St. Cecilia’s image was that of a woman lying lifeless, with some string still strangling her . I really stopped and prayed at the spot the first time I saw it. In the first place I was taken aback that the picture of Cecilia which grew with me was this piano-playing woman, singing praises among angels and good spirits. That kind of iconography may have glossed over the suffering and pain she experienced as a virgin and martyr. Seeing the second image in fact made me think as well, how did the virgin and martyr get associated with music anyway? Why did she become Patroness of Music?
A little research informs us that St. Cecilia was secretly singing to the Lord while the musicians played in her wedding with Valerius. When on the evening after the wedding, Valerius tried to consummate their marriage, Cecilia was said to have told her husband that an angel was guarding her and that if he tried to make love with her and violate her consecrated virginity, the angel would strike him dead. When Valerius asked to see the angel, Cecilia promised that he would be able to see the heavenly spirit if he went to see the Pope and got baptized, which Valerius promptly did. All these led to the martyrdom of Cecilia, Valerius and some other kinsmen of Valerius. Apparently Cecilia was struck dead three times on the neck area. Years later, she was to be the first saint to be found with her body incorrupt. Many of the stories that surround Cecilia’s life accounts do not have matching historical foundations in hagiography (scientific study of saint’s lives), but that she did exist and that she was really martyred is celebrated in both Eastern and Western Churches.
For myself, I celebrate this memorial asking myself, David’ Haas question, if my life were music being played before God, what song would I find myself singing? And how would I sing it? I guess for the likes of St. Cecilia, she sang her ultimate song of witness of praise to God with her very life, a pure melody that can only come from a heart that has been completely freedom from selfishness or any form of attachment to the world. A real temple of the Spirit.
1. How shall I sing to God
when life is filled with gladness,
loving and birth,
wonder and worth?
I’ll sing from the heart,
joyful in believing.
This is my song;
I’ll sing it with love.
2. How shall I sing to God
when life is filled with bleakness,
empty and chill,
breaking my will?
I’ll sing through my pain,
angrily or aching,
crying or complaining.
This is my song;
I’ll sing it with love.
3. How shall I sing to God
and tell my Saviour’s story,
life from the dead?
I’ll sing with my life,
witnessing and giving,
risking and forgiving.
This is my song;
I’ll sing it with love.
November 22, 2013 Leave a comment
For a while it was not clear to me precisely how the two readings weave together some theme for prayer and reflection. The First reading recalls to us the beautiful account of the martyrdom of a family of Jews–the mother and all seven of her sons. The account was already proclaimed at a mass last week. But today’s account focuses on the mother and her youngest son, with all the elder sons presumably killed already. We imagine the anguish that was in the mother at this point. The King himself was teasing her with a deal that says the King will not only spare the youngest son, but also lavish him with riches and power through his life, if only she, the mother would convince the son to abandon their Jewish ancestral custom.
The mother of course talked to her son in the native language, pretending to convince him as regards the King’s wishes. But what she was really telling his son was to take courage, remain steadfast and faithful in the practice of the faith and honour his elder siblings with faith and courage. The mother reminded her son in very poignant language that she herself does not know how he was mysteriously formed in her womb. She says:
It was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the Universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy will give you back both breath and life because you now disregard yourself for the sake of his law . . . I beg you child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things and in the same way, the human race came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.”
With great courage thus, the little boy shouted to his executioner, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the King’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our fathers through Moses. But you, who have contrived every kind of affliction for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God.”
Our Gospel reading presents a slight contrast. While the first reading shows us the profile of a disciple’s response drawn out of faith and courage, this second one shows us the profile of a disciple’s response that comes out of fear and distrust. It is Luke’s version of the famous parable of the talents. In Luke’s version, a would-be king set out from the land to claim his crown. Some of his countrymen sent a delegation after him to protest his claim. Before the would-be King set out, he entrusted some amounts of talents to ten of his men, and gave them ten gold coins. When the man finally returns as King, he called his men to account on the money that was invested in them. The first two men reported good gains on the money invested in them, one with returns of ten and another with five. To these two men, the King was so pleased that he proclaims, since the two were faithful in using the talents entrusted to them, then now as King, he entrusts bigger things to them. He will let them administer several cities each. A third however stepped forward to report that he had not returns for the coin entrusted to him. And he gave quite a curious response: “Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief, for I WAS AFRAID OF YOU, you were a demanding man; you take up what you did not lay down, and harvest what you did not plant.” The king of course was not pleased, condemned the man, confiscated his one gold coin and gave it to the one who gained ten. And for those who rejected his claim to kingship, he ordered executed.
Perhaps one good thread of a theme to reflect on in these readings is this: what difference will it make if as disciples we respond to our Lord’s call from a sense of fear on one hand, or from a sense of courage and trust on the other? Looking at the mother and her sons meeting martyrdom face to face, it seems that profound courage to face death springs forth from deep faith that trusts that the same God who created the universe and brought each of them into existence will bring them back to life in the future and bring them together again because of the faith they all bore radical witness to. In a sense, the dynamic of life exemplified by this mother and her sons moves from FAITH/TRUST –> COURAGE AND RISK –> GENEROUS WITNESS. And from generous witness, we see how steadfast they all observed God’s law even to the point of embracing death on account of their shining witness.
On the other hand, for the third man entrusted with talents, he responded to his King with a starting point of distrust and fear. He was afraid of how harsh and calculating his master was and so he felt more comfortable simply hiding the coin in safety, rather than lose it in risky investment. His fearful way did not please the master upon return as King he had his cowardly steward dispossessed and imprisoned. So in contrast, the fearful steward followed quite an opposite strategy: FEAR/DISTRUST–> DEFENSIVENESS AND CAUTION –> STINGY AND TIMID RESPONSE. And of course we see how such a strategy yields little or no fruit.
We therefore ask that the Lord accompany us in all we do in our works, relationships and ministries. We ask that we are able to acknowledge yet transcend our fears and learn to trust in ourselves and in others and most especially in God. Faith and trust allows us to remember God’s faithfulness to us and God’s lavish love, in bringing us into existence. This bedrock experience of God’s love allows us to risk giving ourselves to others even if giving means offering our lives for it. The path to generous witness is a blessed path especially because it is the path the Jesus, our Lord, himself has chosen and for giving his love unto the cross, everything he stood for and valued were validated into eternity when the Father raised him to new life.
I can almost hear our friends from the Bukas Palad ministry singing their creed, Children of the Easter morn:
We are the children of easter morning, we sing to proclaim the Lord’s might
Now there’s meaning to a life of dying for the Lord our God has conquered the night
With joy we dedicate our lives to the service of the God of life whose goodness we’ve known
Until our lives be themselves our song of easter morn.
. . .
May our simple lives be a song of praise to the goodness of the Lord
May the Lord delight in this song we sing, this song we live with joy
If we had to sing just one song to the Lord creator of life
May our lives be that song, resounding in praise to the goodness and glory of God.
November 20, 2013 Leave a comment
The grace-filled weekend of the Life Directions’ Retreat for young professionals is still foremost in my mind today as I reflect on our readings from the Book of Maccabees and the Gospel of Luke. In the first reading from the Book of Maccabees, we meet the character Eleazar, an old Jewish scribe who is being forced by a foreign ruler to eat what Jewish law forbids–to eat meat. His captors were old friends of his and were only too eager to let him go by egging him to bring his own meet and to just pretend that he was eating the unlawful ritual meat. But he simply refused and gave the example of honourably showing fidelity to the Law even if this meant sure death. In the Gospel of Luke, we meet again, that lovely character, the diminutive tax collector, Zacchaeus who in his earnest desire to see Jesus, goes beyond the crowd and climbs a Sychamore tree and from that perch, he came in the sight of Jesus who in turn acknowledges him, invites him down and gives him the grace-filled opportunity of his life–to invite the Lord into his dwelling place. Of course that visitation ultimately bears fruit in “today salvation has come upon this house!”
I think, our Gospel’s feature character, Zacchaeus, can pretty much like our young people or even people facing midlife transitions. When a person is struggling to discern what is truly essential or of value in one’s life, one can get lost in the search. One can get stuck along the way–either enamoured with one or other pleasure of life, or led to believe that this or that thing or relationship or life project spells one’s redemption from deep insecurities or fear. One may also be caught in a forever frustrating struggle to honour the broken dreams of elders or acknowledge real personal desires in her heart that may be different from what parents or elder siblings want to impose on her. Or perhaps one has sunk himself deep in the muck of an addiction or obsession that even the sense of right or wrong has blurred and heart has numbed, rendering any sense of moral judgment scarred.
The good thing is God always seems to have an eternal list of “Plans B.” God finds a way to penetrate our walls of defences and reach our very hearts–nagging questions keep challenging the status quo and keep pestering our numbed sort of false peace; some jarring event that jolts us when a false center is dislodged, a strongly attractive person of grace is sent to us whose virtue, and love and care draw you out of complacency and make you feel loveable again, or like in the case of Moses or Jacob or Zacchaeus–the Lord plants the seed of curiosity and wonder.
Teased by his wonder about this person Jesus who according to people around him is a prophet, mighty in word and deed, Zacchaeus leaves the blocking crowd and claims his perch on higher ground–up a Sychamore tree, where above the crowd he could have a broader view of things and clearer view of where Jesus was.
Higher ground and broad view are in fact important elements to tease deep conversion in us. Ignatius of Loyola our Jesuit founder seem to always begin this way when he tried to help souls find their grounding–look at God looking at you and in the eyes of God you change the way you look at the world, first and foremost, yourself. In the eyes of God I am not that rejected child, I am not that unwanted, unloveable person. I am not the person prejudged to be mean and manipulative and lying. In the eyes of God I am not the awful and lost person who has wasted away himself into addictions of sex or alcohol or drugs. No–in God’s eyes, I am simply beloved, perhaps a creature that is still in process, but I am beloved, and so beautiful and lovable, certainly heal-able and call-able. I have only trust and entrust myself back to God and I am brought to an even higher ground and an even much broader view. For seen from God’s eyes–other people shine before me–they are not only people I use to satisfy my selfish needs–they are also people in search, people who want to love and be loved, people who like me are loved by God. In the eyes of God, career is not simply a path to achievement or wealth or status. Career is about using my gifts to the full in service of others, career is about embracing a vocation where my life’s choices come in synch with God’s dreams. Life becomes a space where God’s love can grow in me and through me reach others. This theme of higher ground and broad view reminds me of a meaningful lively song once popularized by that icon Karen Carpenter. Let me quote just a few lines and the refrain:
Such a feelin’s comin’ over me. There is wonder in most everything I see
Not a cloud in the sky; Got the sun in my eyes and I won’t be surprised if it’s a dream
Everything I want the world to be is now coming true especially for me
And the reason is clear: It’s because you are here.
You’re the nearest thing to heaven that I’ve seen
I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation and the only explanation I can find.
Is the love that I found, ever since you’ve been around, your love puts me at the top of the world!
Of course Zacchaeus does testify to making a response of love and of real consequence–his encounter with the Lord bears fruit in real, concrete changes in his life. Zacchaeus was so moved that Jesus would even notice him, invite him down and give him the honour of a visit to his house even when many voices around whisper in protest that his was a house of a thief. In his sense of being restored and received unconditionally, he proclaims with some sense of seriousness and solemnity: “Lord half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I defrauded anyone, I will repay that person four times.” And Jesus could only respond in turn: “Today, salvation has come to this house.”
I think our First Reading character, the old man Eleazar who willingly and joyfully embraces the radical faith witness of a martyr would have had his own “Zacchaeus moment” earlier on in his life. God must have visited him many times before for him to develop such a deep faith and love that empowers him to see beyond what his earthly life offers.
I pray that every young or midlifing person would be gifted with what Zacchaeus received–a real visitation and encounter by God which brings us to higher ground and broader view, and yes, ruins our life forever. And yes, help me pray for my new found friends in that community called Life Directions. God Bless!
November 19, 2013 Leave a comment
The Gospel readings for yesterday and today have drawn me to reflect on how much of our self-imaging affects our response to Jesus’ call. In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus seemed to give us some stern warning: “Intimacy and familiarity with him were good for disciples, but, in the end do we really realize who we are before God? Can we as creatures still look at God and ourselves and say as-a-matter-of-factly, and without much fanfare, “We are [but] unprofitable servants, we have [only] done what we were obliged to do.” We can be the most heroic servants, we can be the most zealous and generous of apostles, we can be the most caring and loving, even forgiving of followers, we still go back to the truth of things, and acknowledge humbly, these are all but expected of followers of Jesus, because Jesus himself exercised ministry in that way–stripping himself of things, stooping and kneeling before his disciples to serve and wash their feet–Creator-turned-human-turned-slave-stripping-stooping-serving, even unto death, for us.
Today’s Gospel attests that the ministry and caring Jesus exercised is far from mere words or concepts–they are about concrete acts of caring, of healing, of exorcisms, of feeding. And these acts of caring were not without cost. That’s why it is also understandable when Jesus pauses and asks, “Were not ten healed, why has only one come back to give thanks? And only this foreigner? Why only this Samaritan who sees the finger of God in his healing? Perhaps only this Samaritan had the humility to recognize God in things.
In many ways, how we see ourselves, shapes our response and commitment to God’s call. The “You” does shape our response to Jesus’ confirming question, “Who do YOU say that I AM?” For instance, some sociologists of religion have criticized the fact that Filipinos have an intense devotion to the Infant Jesus, our Senyor Sto. Nino, an image of Jesus Christ we have probably appropriated from the European Child Jesus of Prague. And their criticism is that we prefer to relate with a child Jesus we can still manipulate with our self-serving novenas and prayer intentions. Or that we are fixated with our devotion to the holy corpse of Jesus–the Santo Entierro, probably our long time Holy Week rituals of the pabasa sa Pasyon the prayerful chanting of the History of Salvation surrounding the events of the passion and death of our Lord. Might this be on account of our need for a God who commiserates with us, who joins us in our suffering, even shares in our very experience of death?
In the very dramatic images used by Ignatius of Loyola to depict himself as a sinner before his God seated on a thrown, Ignatius portrays himself as a worm, rendered so little before the magnificent God. Ignatius imagines himself as a creature from who flows out a stream of vile and infectious material, because he can choose to really move others to sinful ways and thus be a source of real corruption in the community. How do I see myself as I embrace the mission of one who introduces Jesus Christ to others?
“So you have been converted to Christ?”
“Then you must know a great deal about him. Tell me: what country was he born in?” “I don’t know.”
“What was his age when he died?” “I don’t know.”
“How many sermons did he preach?” “I don’t know.”
“You certainly know very little for a man who claims to be converted to Christ.’” “You are right. I am ashamed at how little I know about him. But this much I know: Three years ago I was a drunkard. I was in debt. My family was falling apart. My wife and children would dread my coming home each day. Now I have given up drink; we are out of debt; ours is a happy home. All this Christ has done. This much I know of him!”
To really know. That is, to be transformed by what one knows.
And I’d think this man has a deep sense of who Jesus is for him because he is profoundly aware of himself as someone Jesus touched deeply enough to have transformed him radically. And if there is anything that he can boast about, it is this, Jesus took notice of him and called him into relationship. And before this Jesus who loves me, heals me and calls me, I will always say, “I am but a servant happy to do as you ask.” Yet my master simply insists, “No I no longer call you servants, but friends, for I have revealed to you all the love that is in me. Now love one another as I have loved you.” God Bless!
November 13, 2013 Leave a comment
Good evening. Reflecting on our readings for today’s liturgy challenges me to ask myself how much am I able to notice God in recent events. The verses from the Book of Wisdom asks, “Do we have to ability to discern and see the artisan from his works?” I am moved to ask therefore, seeing all these events of earthquakes and super typhoons, am I able to perceive a God present in nature and present in people?
When I see God I definitely do not agree with one self-righteous voice who wrote on his page that God must be punishing Filipinos for having allowed licentiousness, prostitution, contraceptions and abortion, that’s why the land has incurred God’s wrath. I also do not agree with another racist voice saying God was wise enough to direct the superstorm on the path of the Philippines so that the world is rid of a lot of Filipinos. One wonders what bad things this woman (if indeed she is a woman and not someone else masquerading in a false web identity) has experienced in the hands of Filipinos for her to exhibit such racial hatred against Filipinos.
When I ask the question from the Book of Wisdom, “Can we discern God the artisan from his works?” I ask myself seeing such overwhelming power in earthquakes, winds and storm surges and seas, am I reminded enough of my littleness in the vastness and power of this God’s creation such that I am able to relativize my sense of self-importance and return to my rightful place as steward and not master of this creation?
As I look at the magnitude of death and suffering among our brothers and sisters who suffered the strong earthquakes and super typhoons, am I able to see in them not a punishing God but a God who stands squarely in solidarity with them, with much compassion and empowerment, with streams of love and hope, showing some miracles of selflessness here and there, of generosity, of heroism and concrete, attentive and effective signs of caring which lightens up the otherwise desperate situations and invite order where much temptation to chaos and selfishness is felt?
Where some foreigners may have seen this disaster as a place where a punitive God gets a chance to wipe out Filipinos, some others like that CNN commentator saw this event as place where Filipinos shine in their resiliency and heroism and beauty as a people. We take to heart the core message of our readings as we continue to stand in awe at the recent events in our country and seeing God moving where we are, we try to bring out in us the responses that most point out this presence of God in us and in our people.
We try our best to rise above ignorance and the foolishness that fails to notice God’s genius and beauty and force in the world he created for us to behold and receive joyfully. We take responsibility for the many actions we may have done to precipitate such destructive forces in nature.
When we see the beauty in the creatures that we see and encounter, we are invited to contemplate the original beauty which they give us but a glimpse of. “Ang nilikha kong kariktan, sulyap ng Iyong kagandahan.” Fr. Manoling’s iconic hymn echoes.
Seeing their force and energy in the creatures we encounter, we are invited to see God who is its original author. And we’d like to think, our good God will always want us to harness that power and energy to gather people back to his fold so he may receive back all in all in heaven.
Finally, seeing that the one who lives in faith receives freely and completely in the power of the Word living in his or her heart, we also have faith in Jesus’ own words–even but a mustard seed of faith is enough for us all to quicken new life in ourselves and others, so that what God has sowed in all our hearts, may germinate and grow and bear fruit in due time, in God’s grace. But key in all these is our ability to see–to notice–to pay attention to the very movement of God at the heart of things.
And with that mustard seed of faith that allows us to see God’s footprints in all things, we have the courage to continue on with life and mission, with God’s grace on our side. God Bless!
November 11, 2013 Leave a comment
This homily was delivered on the occasion of a gathering of friends and former neighbours of recently departed Dr. Paul Piamonte, Ateneo Batch 83 and who was one of the respected young doctors in the NGO community connected with the LIKAS and HealthDev’t programs, close friends with the Ateneo and Jesuit social ministry network. Paul contracted cancer and he and his family decided not to receive further chemotherapy to arrest the cancer and so joined our growing list of Batchmates who have passed on to life with God.
To Pray on and Ponder: 2 Maccabees 7, 1-2.9-14; Psalm 17, 1.5-6.8.15; 2 Thessalonians 2,16- 3,5; Luke 20, 27.34-38
I was reflecting this morning on our Sunday readings in the face of the news that our friend Paul passed on to life with God. I learned earlier that Paul was diagnosed as having contracted cancer and he and his family decided not to subject his body with further chemotherapy to arrest the cancer, presumably at a late stage by the time it was detected. Paul died in Sweden and close friends of his among the members of Batch 83 decided to gather together to celebrate mass in honour of Paul–to remember together how much of a gift Paul was to us all.
I was trying to make sense of Paul’s choice not to fight it out against the cancer with the usual route of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and my memory was brought to a text I once read about a certain Christian book published during the middle ages. The book was entitled “Ars been morendi” which means literally, “The Art of Dying Well.” Apparently, back in the middle ages, death and dying seemed widespread and rampant because of wars and plagues that claimed thousands of deaths. Because of this, the Church back then, included as its important ministry what we would consider a bit strange in our times: they called the ministry Ars been morendi, meaning, the art of dying well. The Church tried to teach people to face death squarely and to apply the norms suggested by the art of dying well.
For us, perhaps, we’d much rather help people to value life and prolong life, rather than help them prepare for a good death. During the middle ages however, people faced death with a greater sense of inevitability. Medicine was still quite crude and could not contain the quick spread of microorganisms that spread the plagues or other communicable diseases. The deaths caused by contact battle in fierce political wars also went beyond the power of medicine or Church to exercise control over. If we reflect on the matter deeply however, the two concerns of value of life and preparing for a good death do not necessarily negate each other. In fact those who intentionally prepare for a good death, are people who realize what is really of value in life.
As we celebrate Paul therefore, let us learn from three very good guidelines presented in that Medieval book, Ars bene morendi.
First, dying is a kind of spiritual submission, a redemptive form of surrender or of giving in, a “sacramental good acceptance” of God’s will. We notice this clearly as we grow and develop in this world. There was a time in our life when we felt very strong and very invincible. And at that time, our normal tendency was to take life into our hands and we pretty much control how our lives are run. However, those among us who feel the proximity of death moving closer and closer to us–the pains we start feeling in our bodies, the frequency with which friend gatherings become more and more about wakes and funerals rather than weddings or baptisms or graduations. Death sort of knocks more frequently at our door, and we say to ourselves, it’s coming, it’s really coming, so I better make the most out of life, I better do the good things I always wanted to do. I better become more and more attentive to what God really wants of me in my life.
Second, dying well involves detachment, a freedom from obsessing with results, a taking responsibility for our choices, not others’ choices, taking responsibility for our faithfulness and not simply our successes. When death knocks on our door more frequently, we realize life is not simply about achieving or becoming the best, or doing the most I can. No, we realize that life is about being responsible for the gifts entrusted to me; life is about being able to share love with the people I hold dear. Life is about fidelity to what I know God has planted in me. Life is about being faithful, and not merely successful, especially when success means stepping on other people and destroying them in the process.
Third, dying well, involves a turning away from sinful tendency and turning toward the more responsible thing, the more God-directed. Ultimately, it is a turning away from self-centredness and turning to”seeking first the Kingdom and his righteousness.” As we die to self, surrender and reframe, “we conform our hearts to the heart of Jesus and learn to see our circumstances and ourselves as the Father sees us, his children, as his beloved, as receivers of gifts piled higher than any Christmas haul.” [Spencer, Awakening the Quieter Virtues].
We therefore celebrate the best of Paul in those days he really touched us and helped the best of ourselves to come out and reach out to others is love. We pray that Paul’s dying becomes for us another occasion for a good death to teach us–we ask for the courage to really embrace life as gift and with it, we also pray that the Lord give us this unique grace of Ars bene morendi, the art of dying well, so that when death really comes to meet us face to face, we are ready to embrace a most peaceful and loving death, especially because as faith teaches us, death simply means a passage to a fuller life which the Psalmist can only describe in codified language: “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full!” We pray of course for our dear Paul: Eternal rest grant unto Paul, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace, AMEN. God Bless!
November 10, 2013 Leave a comment
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” [Ephesians 1, 3-14].
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. [Father and the Younger Son, Luke 15, 18-23]
‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him,, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ [Father and the Elder Son, Luke 15, 29-32]
The appearance of the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15) in our Liturgy of the Word for Catholic mass today gives me occasion to review another important theme in my tertian thirty day retreat. And this is “the way we are with gifts.” The theme still belongs to our capacity to receive God’s love with total freedom and availability. For as God’s love is totally GIFT, all we are and all we have also refer back to the one act of creative love that is God–ALL, ALL is GIFT. And so the way we are with gifts affects how we receive God and God’s gifts, and moreover, affects the overall perspective with which we view the whole of our life, which by the way, is also GIFT.
Framed in the story of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we can say, some of us are like the younger son. We abuse God’s gifts because of our being slaves of the flesh, of our impulses, of our selfish needs, our capriciousness, our desire to quickly satisfy our desires without thinking of consequences for ourselves and others. And takes reaching our so-called “rock bottom” experiences before we come to our senses and decide on a change in the direction of our journey. Some commentator even showed some distrust on the younger son’s “penitent homecoming move” and said, “Oh he was just hungry and he remembered that servants were well-fed in his father’s house. And so he would just go home and apply to be a slave in his father’s house. At least his basic needs would be taken care of.” So this commentator explained then even the homecoming was not a complete turn-around. He was still motivated by his enslavement to the needs of his flesh. Only the Father would turn around and restore this slave to sonship.
But some of us are rather more subtle. We may not be slaves of the flesh and like the elder son, we remain with the father, faithful and dutiful in serving in the Father’s household. And yet we may be simply slave to the rule, to external fidelities, to a deep need for appreciation or validation or affirmation from the father we always try to please and serve. The slavery comes to a head when the elder son learns that his father had killed the fattened calf for the wild and irresponsible younger sibling. So for this child thus, it is quite difficult to see any gift because his expectation precedes any sense of gratuity offered by a loving father. I work faithfully and I deserve all I receive. I have worked hard for them. I earned them. I am ENTITLED to these. How can we feel anything freely give to us out of love as GIFt, if before they are given us, we already consider them an entitlement?
I remembered that these thoughts were a constant prayer theme since my first vow retreat in 1988 till my pre-ordination retreat in 1997. Previous reflections I have written in those days prior to commitment as a Jesuit, and then deacon and priest showed a distinct affinity of my story with the parable of the prodigal sons. Many times I myself tended to approach my Father-God in fear, perhaps even with pride. And like the younger son, I return and ask the Father to just treat me as a hired hand, because I didn’t feel worthy to be called a son. But the father insists in restoring me to sonship. “The hired hand leaves the flock in the midst of crises, but the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Yes, if I remain in that slave mentality that serves with a strong sense of entitlement and a strong attachment to the things of this world, then so little of my heart would be left to love the the Lord’s flock.
Many times have I heard the Father always reminding me: “everything I have is yours, come celebrate with us. Your brother is home safe.” Despite all my cynicism and proud entitlement, “Gusto kitang maging malaya at masaya dahil anak kita–akin, anak ko! Hindi na magbabago iyon. Gusto kitang maging masaya, hindi kumakabig, hindi maangil, hindi naniningil, kundi malayang nagbibigay dahil malaya ring tumatanggap at puno ng pasasalamat.” (I want you to be free, because you are my son, you are mine. That will never change. I want you to be happy. I want your joy to be complete–not obsessed in fending for yourself, not complaining, not demanding pay back, but always joyful in freely giving because you have also freely received gifts and you are filled, overflowing with gratitude).
And as this graciousness of the Father deepened in my heart, it just dawned on me how lavish every good gift came to me, many of these unasked. And the gifts came and continue to come in proper places and times, in proper doses, in providential ways–family, friends, the circles that brought the faith and its practice to my life, parish choir, opportunities to train and serve with the Good Shepherd sisters as a high school student-peer counselor, life-long scholarships, my schooling with the Marists, with UP and Aguinaldo, Quezon City Science and of course, my Ateneo education which ultimately gave me a chance to know the Jesuits, the religious order I belong to now. Ignatian and Jesuit spirituality are of course a treasure trove of gifts that I am humbled to be tasked to share to others as well.
God is indeed good. He brings the manifold gifts to our lives in wise and thoughtful ways. I am the one who sometimes abuses the gifts or who does not appreciate enough their import in my life because I receive them as an entitlement. But really as Jesus said in the Gospels, at the end of the day and I find myself serving at the table of my Lord, my role is really to simply say, “I am but a lowly servant doing what is expected of me.” Yet Jesus rebuts to gently remind me instead–”no I no longer call you my servant, but my friend, because I have shared much of my heart with you and now I lay down my life for you, my friend. Now do to others as I have done with you, in joy, in complete freedom and joy!”
May God really show us the way to receive God and God’s gifts in total freedom, love and joy. God Bless!
November 7, 2013 Leave a comment