April 9. Engaging God as Truth

To Pray on and Ponder: Daniel 3, 14-20.91-95; John 8, 31-42.

Id quod volo (that which we desire most):  To receive God as Truth, one who receives me with utmost kindness, compassion and unconditional love, but one who also challenges me tough love to call forth from me greater honesty, integrity and transparency so that only God’s Light can touch my heart to heal it and give it new life.

Just a few days away from Passion Sunday, the Gospel shows us the character of Jesus engaging the Jews proclaiming to them that to follow the Son of Man as a disciple involves the discipline of truth-telling and truth-witnessing, because Jesus himself is the way of truth and life: “If you remain in my word, you will be truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

How many times have we come across friends who have all the kind words to tell us and who would tend to appear always accepting and accommodating and yet when push comes to shove, would leave us in crises when our glossed-over weaknesses or vulnerabilities take their toll on us and have us abandoned by everyone else. With Jesus the psalmist’s ideal is quite real: kindness will always meet with truth! Jesus will always receive us unconditionally, but will also keep confronting us with the truth about ourselves and challenge us to integrity. Only real friends do that. Enablers and codependent friends will appear to receive us but will not challenge us. Dogmatic and self-righteous people will keep harping at what they believe to be true, but will judge us and look down on us unless we allow them to control us and dictate to us their own version of the truth.

Engaging God as truth means always training ourselves to perceive events and things with as much accuracy as we can, with the least prejudice and bias. Our very capacities for sense and perception will always involve some form of bias because of our unique experiences as well as the limits of our physical bodies and stances, but if we honestly acknowledge these sources of prejudice and bias then we may also take care to compensate for our limitations by consulting others in community who perceive things with us. We may never arrive at absolute truth by ourselves but as we seek to perceive things with a community of knowers of really want to see the truth, then perhaps we will arrive at a perception closest to the truth, with each one in community correcting the deficiencies and distortions of each other.

Second, as we try to perceive things and events as accurately and closely as we can, we also seek to draw meaning from our experiences and perceptions by asking the proper questions. We try to draw meaning from different points of view and according to different contexts, most especially exploring what meanings may be drawn from these experiences from the purview of faith and our right relationships with self, neighbour, creation and God.

Finally, we draw truth by looking at the world from the viewpoint of God’s love. As St. Paul goes, the love of God is the beginning of all knowledge. We see things differently when we see things with love and compassion. When we look at the world from eyes of selfishness and egoism, we tend to impose meaning and value on people and things depending on how these are useful and beneficial to us, not according to their proper gift-ness from the point of view of God from whom they come to us as precisely as gift.

“It is from the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye,” as St- Exupery’s Fox taught the Little Prince who felt confused after seeing so many roses on earth that somehow made his own rose less unique and special. The fox taught the little prince that his rose had become special to him because of his whole history of engaging it in a “taming” relationship, because of the intimacy that has developed between him and the rose which will forever render it extra important and valuable to him, much like how the fox had become a friend to him now. But lest we think of witnessing to the truth as some chummy relationship with social friends, the true witness to the truth will witness to the value of truth to the point of offering his or her life for it. Otherwise, we may go the way of Pilate who will risk undermining the very meaning of truth by washing his hands from its painful consequences, when abiding by the truth means putting his own power and stature in jeopardy. Alas the one who witness radically to the truth will be ready as the three faithful men who risked being thrown into Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace if only to witness to the truth that there is but one God and that they shall not pretend to worship any other, just to save their skins.

Looking at the truth in people and in things from eyes filled with God’s love allows us then to see all of these as connected to God and God’s loving desires and actions for ourselves and for the whole world around us. And when we allow ourselves to move in synch with this whole loving and life-giving movement of God, leading our lives according to the will of God. We awaken to freedom that God’s love brings and we begin to see life itself as God’s moment-by-moment creation of ourselves and our world en route to an eternity of dwelling in his truth forever. God Bless!

April 9, 2014  Leave a comment

April 8. Unlocking Some Meanings of the Cross

To Pray on and Ponder:  Numbers 21, 4-9; Psalm 102; John 8, 21-30

Id quod volo (That which we desire most):  To experience profound attraction to the love and healing that shine forth through the sign of the cross–the wisdom and power of God for the salvation of the world.

Pondering over our first reading from the Book of Numbers, our Psalm and the Gospel for today’s Catholic liturgy, made me recognize a study on what could be some meanings of the sign of the cross. The text from Numbers recounts the grumbling of the Israelites against the food the Lord has provided them as the wandered in the desert en route to the Promised Land. At one point, the character of God in the story felt completely frustrated with the people’s grumbling that he sent snakes to bite them. When many were dying of the snake bite, Moses pleaded to the Lord to save his people yet again.  And so the Lord ordered Moses to craft a bronze serpent and mount it on a tall pole, so that all who suffered from snake bite might be saved just be looking at the bronze serpent.

In the Gospel, St. John depicts Jesus revealing his identity as “I am” but in very cryptic words. One of the more direct statements  included in this text has Jesus say, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own but I say only what the Father taught me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.”

Finally, the latter stanza of the our psalm for today sings: “The Lord looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoners, to release those doomed to die.”

Here I am led to contemplate on the sinner and the crucified Lord. This image is one of the first images that Ignatius depicts of Jesus encountering the sinner in prayer and supplication for God’s mercy. Ignatius suggests to the retreatant that after pondering in depth on the dynamic of sinfulness that has caused disorder and chaos in his or her life, he or she is invited to looked directly at the crucified Lord and be moved deeply by the love and mercy that s/he sees, asking the Lord three questions: “Lord you have given me a lot and have done so much for me, what have I done for you? what am I doing for you? what ought I to do for you?”

And here I draw some insight into some meanings of the cross for us.

First, the cross is deep love that draws us out of ourselves and closer to God who is Love incarnate. Even though the cross is a sign of the depth of cruelty and violence in humankind, it is also a sign of a love that simply refuses to accept such sinful violence to be the final word in a human life. For from the heights of the cross, we find a man broken of body but certainly not broken in spirit and has deep love enough at heart to look with love at his persecutors and say a prayer of mercy in their behalf: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And here I find echoes of St. Francis Xavier’s prayer to the crucified Lord whose Jesus flashes a smile in his face.

Hindi sa langit Mong pangako sa akin
Ako naaakit na Kita’y mahalin,
At hindi sa apoy–kahit anong lagim–
Ako mapipilit nginig Kang sambahin.
Naaakit ako na Ika’y mamalas
Nakapako sa krus, hinahamak-hamak.
Naaakit ng ‘Yong katawang may sugat
At ng tinanggap Mong kamataya’t libak.
Naaakit ako sa ‘Yong pag-ibig
Kaya’t mahal Kita kahit walang langit,
Kahit walang apoy, sa ‘Yo’y manginginig.
Huwag nang mag-abala upang ibigin Ka
Pagkat kung pag-asa’y bula lamang pala,
Walang mababago, mahal pa rin Kita!

Francis Xavier a young man who used to be given to worldly vanities is slowly drawn to this self-sacrificing love of Jesus and has his life turned upside down with the words from Sacred Scriptures that go: “For what good is there for man to gain the whole world but lose his soul in the process?”

Deep love attracts us and inspires us, draws us out of ourselves and makes us reach out to others with the same love that healed us and made us whole. This brings us to our second point.

Second, there is something about the cross that renders the venom of sin and death powerless because love has generated power for new life to spring forth from the very muck of sin. At calvary we can look at the crucified Lord and be filled with horror at the limits that proud sin and violence will go to try and bring a person down and eliminate him because he is a threat. We can also see a man broken and his ministry project effectively halted in failure with all his friends, family leaving him behind out of fear or frustration.

Yet, on the cross we see the tremendous power of love and hope. Especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus is exalted in glory even as he is crucified. For on the cross he said no to the power of sin and by his no, he effectively put a stop to sin and death. By his very offering of life, Jesus proclaims that love has conquered death, and never again can death threaten to leave humankind alone and unloved. For God will always be on the side of those condemned to the fringes and those who are left unloved and uncared for. God will always be with us. On the cross, Jesus also proclaims to the world that there is “meaning to a life of dying” and we do not need to fear death. For if death meets up with our freedom to love to the end, then our offering of life will surely bear fruit in new life for others.

Finally, we see that where sin and violence scatter and divide, the love that shines forth from the cross draws everyone and gathers all into a communion.  For looking at the man crucified, we are awakened to the love that heals us. We awaken to the love that builds among us who share the experience of being loved to the core and without condition. When are made to remember how God has loved us with such a cost, we are moved to love others in turn.

We ask that as we inch closer to the Holy Days of Christ’s passion and death, that the Spirit really enkindle the fire of love in us that we really begin to see in the cross a sign of love that is the power and wisdom of God for the salvation of the world. God Bless!

April 8, 2014  Leave a comment

April 6. Fifth Sunday of Lent. No Greater Love.

To Pray on and Ponder:  Ezekiel 37, 12-14; Psalm 130, 1-8;  Romans 8, 8-11; John 11, 1-45

Id quod volo (that which I desire most): I see Christ modelling for me what genuine love means and confirming my own small efforts to love genuinely as God does.

While in the thick of ministry, Jesus is summoned by beloved friends Martha and Mary. Their brother Lazarus, also a close friend of Jesus was very sick and in mortal danger. But Jesus decides to defer his coming. In obedience to his Father’s will, he postpones his coming so that “God’s glory may be revealed.” When friends peg their hope on you to save the life of their brother, it must be quite difficult to give this reason for not coming immediately. In not responding in haste, Jesus has risked his close friendship with the sisters.

When the opportune time to come arrives, Jesus does come to Bethany at the risk of the sisters’ rebuke and the risk of an encounter with his enemies from the Sanhedrin. Jesus listens to the sisters’ lamentations. But conversing with them, he is able to elicit from them very deep professions of faith that he will indeed raise Lazarus to life some day. Jesus deepens their faith even more. Jesus does not only have the power to raise Lazarus on the last day, He is himself the author of life and thus have the power to restore Lazarus immediately, especially so that God’s glory will be revealed.

There is no doubt that Lazarus had already died when Jesus came. The curious detail of Jesus’ coming on the fourth day since Lazarus died testifies to this. The Jews believed that it is only on the fourth day when the soul leaves the body and moves on to Sheol, the place where the dead go. But Jesus being the author of Life, orders the tomb stone rolled and after intense prayer, calls forth Lazarus. He orders that Lazarus be unbound from the linen that covered him, a sign that signified the freeing of Lazarus from the cudgels of sin and death.

But what my instincts tell me as one of the more important details in this story is this: as a result of the great impact of the event of Lazarus’ raising on the people, the pharisees and scribes begin to conspire and resolve to send Jesus to death. Indeed, Jesus’ giving back life to Lazarus also meant that he was sealing his fate on the cross, death on the cross.

Alas giving life to a friend has a cost. Genuine love of friends challenges us to soften the limits we put on self-giving. Real love for a friend goes beyond loving from our surplus, or loving with condition, or loving because of an expected “return on investment”.  For Jesus it was trusting radically in his Father’s love who after all was ultimately not asking Jesus to abandon his friends, but to wait for the opportune time when a fuller love can be made manifest.  In the end indeed, we come home once more to this: “no greater love there is than this: to give ones life to a friend.” And yes, we are all, by the standard of the cross that seals our Christian identity, called to stand by this truth by the very disposition of our lives. God Bless!

April 5, 2014  Leave a comment

April 3. The Ground and Horizon of Our Faith, Our Life, Our Ministry!

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 5, 31-47

Id quod volo (That which we deeply desire): To be able to contemplate Jesus as he faces fierce opposition against his person and ministry from people whose hearts have been hardened even when they occupy leadership positions in their religious community. To find in Jesus, a faith firmly grounded on his Father’s love and sending, a hope fired by the promptings of the Spirit regarding the place of God’s love in the redeeming of all that is of value to the human family and most important of all, a love that is a but a response to his Father’s unconditional and extravagant love that renews all that is human, in and through the works and person of Jesus.

Today I am led to contemplate Jesus in prayer who is assailed by so much opposition from the religious leaders of his time.  ”His lifestyle killed him,” says one author for he espoused a covenant vision that includes people who are marginalized by the leaders’ interpretation of the law. Jesus went about doing good, healing even on a Sabbath, touching the untouchables and giving importance to people who are considered nobodies–tax collectors, sinner, prostitutes, widows, women and children, lepers, the blind and the deaf and the mute–these people were marginalized in Jewish society. But with Jesus, to live according to God’s covenant meant to give importance to these people because they are children of God and they are part of God’s flock.

In our Gospel today, Jesus asserts his authority by claiming that important witnesses attest on his behalf: John the Baptist, an important prophet recognized in his time, the works that he does at the command of the Father, his Father’s own testimony as Jesus’ sender, and the testimony in his support that we may draw from Sacred Scriptures. It’s like Jesus was before the Jewish Sanhedrin, on trial for all his misdeeds against the Jewish Law. But Jesus truest to stand above his leaders accusations and appeals to the testimony of these important witnesses in his support.

To my mind the one important and essential point in this Gospel is this: against fierce opposition and faced with the possibility that his ministry will face total collapse in failure, Jesus draws strength from who he considers to be the ground and horizon of his faith, his life, his ministry, and this is none other than his Father. It is his Father who sends John the Baptist as the forerunner prophet to Jesus who is the very Word of God. It is the Father who loves Jesus and takes delight in the many exemplary things that he does. It is his Father who draws all people unto himself by the word and deed and example of Jesus, the righteous one and the Son of God.  We look upon the works, the life, the style that Jesus made manifest in his life and we allow ourselves to be drawn, to be attracted, to fall in love with this man. We allow ourselves to imitate Jesus and identify with what Jesus considers most important and of value in his life and ministry. And we try to embrace Jesus–to see as he sees, to love as he loves, to commit and surrender to the Father’s Love as Jesus did.

When this love of God poured out in our hearts become the real ground and horizon of our being, of our faith, our life, our ministry, then we have nothing to fear. We will always come out of life, whole and filled with joy. Because a person who loves in the love of God will see things differently, see the world, see others, see himself or herself with the very eyes of God; a person whose heart is formed in self-sacrificing Love of God will feel for the world with a depth that others who do not know love will not even understand. For a love shaped by the cross will always be a scandal to people and folly to others; a person who knows a loving commitment as Christ gave all and poured out all on the cross, will always be one who will see his or her loving project to completion. This person will keep finding reason to be generous and reason to hope, because this person’s horizon is as broad as the breadth of God’s dream.

And so we ask that in the remaining days of lent, God receive us and place us in the palm of his hand, carefully nurturing in us his way of seeing, his way of loving and his way of offering himself as total gift to others whom God loves. And may Jesus continue to make us see that God is truly the ground and horizon of everything that constitutes our faith, our life and our ministry. God Bless!

April 3, 2014  Leave a comment

April 1. By the Water of Life, We are All Healed.

To Pray on and Ponder:  Ezekiel 47,1-9.12; Psalm 46, 2-3.5-6.8-9; John 5, 1-16.

Id quod volo: An insight into the wisdom of every miracle of faith–that the loving providence of God meets with human faith; a sense of the health of my faith and its capacity to receive healing grace and mercy from the Word-made-flesh and the Life-giving Water.

Following Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s explanations in his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, I reflected on the headings at Bethesda and Siloam. (Today’s Gospel is focused on the healing performed by Jesus at Bethesda). The Holy Father explained that Jesus’ identification with water is a part of the many identity revelations of our Lord in the Gospel of John following the “I am” formula. We may recall that Yahweh in speaking to Moses by the burning bush instructed Moses to tell the people of Israel that it is “I am” who sent him. In the Gospel of John, one after another, Jesus would use the primordial human and sacramental symbols to reveal facets of his person and mission–”I am” the water of life, light of the world, the bread of life, the Good Shepherd and gate of the sheepfold, I am the vine and you are the branches, etc.” Notice that all of these are liturgical and sacramental symbols both appearing in Jewish rituals and Christian sacraments. For us Catholics, each of these revelations of the identity of Jesus as Messiah helps us make sense of the many ways by which Jesus has left for us to enter into the mystery of his life and person, as well as participate in his very mission of saving the world and building the Kingdom for his Father.

The healing featured for today brings our focus to the water of life. With other Gospel stories we have seen many facets of this archetype as applied to God–water as healing, purifying, quenching of thirst, life-giving, making whole, consecrating and nourishing to growth and fruitfulness. With a pharisee, Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus dialogues with one of the church leaders of his time in order to reveal that one needs to under a real rebirth so that genuine transformation and conversion may happen. With the Samaritan woman (John 4) Jesus helped an otherwise lost and isolated woman to take responsibility for the disorder in her life and restore not only order but a sense of purpose and mission. From an unfaithful wife, the Samaritan rises to become a new witness, a prophet who paves the way for the conversion of a whole town, who before then would been people who abused her or held her in contempt. In the healing we have today Jesus confronts a paralytic who had been in the complaining mode, playing victim to his circumstance and condition of being a paralytic with no friend to throw him into the miraculous pool of Bethesda when the opportune moment comes when some angel agitates the waters to signal the moment of healing powers in the pool (John 5). Jesus ensures that a healing will happen, by quickening the desire of the paralytic and having him make sure he wanted to be healed. Then Jesus gives a stern order for the man to get up, pick up his mat and go home, something which somehow that in Jesus’ world dependence on a superstitious belief in the healing pool is not adequate–it is by the Word that we are healed coupled with our faith that we are healed. The miraculous cure is a fortuitous combination of God’s providential love and human faith. It was not Bethesda that healed the man but Jesus, who is for us Water of Life.

By the same water, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples signaling that we become part of his loving service only insofar as we participate in his communion marked by self-sacrificing love. At the cross, Jesus would give himself, all in all when after having been pierced, he pours out blood and water, for us baptism and Eucharist, which is our privileged way of growing in communion with the very lifeblood of Jesus, the very love and life that will empower us to love as God loves. Indeed we need to be reborn in Jesus. We need to be purified and healed and we need to be constantly nourish ourselves, eating and drinking of Jesus’ life-giving water and blood and bread, so we too can feed and nourish others. God Bless!

April 1, 2014  Leave a comment

March 31. Laetare Sunday: The Father’s Great Joy: His Children’s Return

(Nb. In most places, the Gospel read for Laetare Sunday was the Healing of the Man Born Blind. For some reason, at the Jesuit Retreat House, Cebu, the Gospel read was the Parable of the Prodigal Son which is read on Laetare Sunday in other liturgical years. I hope this reflection will still help us enter more deeply into Lent as we inch our way closer to the Sacred Triduum).

To Pray on and Ponder:  Luke 15 

Id quod volo (Our deepest desire): To contemplate a loving Father whose greatest joy is to meet up and restore a child who was lost and has come back home.

Don’t be surprised if you see some of your priests wear pink for today’s Catholic liturgy. Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent is similar to Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent. Priests don pink vestments, instead of purple or violet to signify some shift in liturgical mood from penitence to joy. For today it is joy because the God of mercy looks kindly on us and receives us back home, and coming home we experience celebration, renewed closeness to the Father and bounty from the fruits of the earth–genuine gifts from God to us.

The Gospel features the all too familiar Parable of the Prodigal Son, which as you know is a three part story that is always punctuated with joy at the end of each part. The Gospel assigned for Laetare actually focuses on the story of the lost son, but this is actually a third part of the whole pericope which is like a three part drama linked by the same pattern: something is lost, that something is found, and so a celebration ensues. All these things represent a penitent who was lost and has found his way back home. The first two parts are quite simple: a coin is lost, the woman who lost the coin searches for it and finding it, invites her friends to celebrate with her. In preaching this story I sometime joke around saying that I wonder how much more the woman spent celebrating the finding of the lost coin, than what the coin she found actually amounted to. The other precursor story was that of the lost sheep, which the shepherd-boy looked about and found, and finding the lost sheep, the boy celebrates.

The joy of the finding of lost things is such that the community gathers to celebrate and mark the moment of finding. But then we know that the third segment of the story which is our main parable for today, was a bit different. After the finding of the lost boy, there was also celebration, killing of the fatted calf at that, but not all was well. The lost younger son was found yes, but it seems that the lost older son would not join the celebration. Something was wrong somewhere. At least one of the family could not rejoice the return of his homecoming brother, and he could not even call him brother, he refers to him as “your son” as he addressed his father. And this elder son seemed resentful too that the father would do great things for his homecoming son, all these after that son got his share of the family’s wealth, squandered them all and made a mess of his life. The guy does not even have any right anymore in this household.

But the Father who is our figure here for God simply confirmed before the elder son that despite everything that happened, the younger son, remains as son and will never lose that dignity. And whatever happens, since all that is the Father’s is the sons,’ no transgression will change that the younger one remains brother as well to the elder son. But yes, the story remains unfinished. Perhaps the episode is meant to be finished by our own lives. Do we forgive those who sin against us? When we say we stay on with the Father, do we mean to stay on as son and not with a heart of a slave? At the height of his resentment, the elder son was complaining loud: “I have slaved for you father all these years, and you haven’t even given me so much as a goat to celebrate with my friends.” Was his staying home with the father no different from the slave mentality that made the younger one leave?

But the father would pay no attention to this, as he did not attend to the younger son’s coming back script as well: “I am no longer fit to be called your son, treat me as a slave.” Both are sons and the Father makes it very clear that both will remain so. And his mercy is not even dependent on his son’s seeking forgiveness. It is his and his alone to give.

We pray that in the final act of our lives, we awaken to such mercy and love of our Father and allow ourselves to be swept up again as children of God, forgiven, healed, called and sent to serve our other brothers and sisters. So that the pattern will in the end be completed: all that had been lost, will have now been found, and as all will have gone back to the Father’s embrace, we will have cause to celebrate, we will have a genuine cause for our joy and our joy will be complete! God Bless!

March 31, 2014  Leave a comment

March 25. Solemnity of the Annunciation. Ngayon at Kailanman (Now and Forever)

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 7, 10-14. 8, 10; Luke 1, 26-38

Id quod volo: To encounter the Lord in his generous and compassionate gift of Our Lady, whose faithful yes to God becomes a source of example and strength for all of us who desire to live lives of faithful, joyful and enduring commitment.

Solemn Feast of the Annunciation. The Roman Catholic Church normally celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord on March 25, but it is celebrated a day late this year because March 25 fell on a Lenten Sunday and not even a Solemn Feast will displace a Lenten Sunday celebration. There is nothing so special about the choice of March 25 as the day of the feast. It is simply nine months before December 25 which is the day we assign for the birth of Jesus. Even the choice of December 25 as the birthday of Jesus is a choice not made from historical data, that is to say we do not know if that real, historical person named Jesus whom we have identified as our Risen Lord and Christ was indeed born on a calendar day December 25. The choice was in part to use the symbol of the triumph of light on the day after winter solstice (December 24), the day we get the longest period of darkness in a day. From December 25 onwards, daylight becomes longer and our days become brighter, as we experience in our life when the Jesus Christ of our faith is born in our hearts and becomes the foundation of the way we live our lives.

But focusing now on the annunciation, I am reminded of the way St. Ignatius of Loyola weaves into the Gospel story of the angel’s visit to Our Lady with an imaginative contemplation of the Trinity looking at the world seeing its diverse people follow a trajectory that leads them to hell, the Trinity feels deep compassion for the people and chooses to send the Son to redeem them. That choice the God’s love sending the Word into our world corresponded with Our Lady’s “yes” and wonderful miracle of Word-made-flesh happens.

This is where I begin hearing in prayer, a classic Filipino pop song “Ngayon at Kailanman”, immortalized by artist Basil Valdez. From God’s eternity (kailanman), God makes Godself small to become one like us and to teach us to love with a promise of eternity. In reality, we humans can only intend and choose to give of ourselves as completely as we desire in our “here and now” moments (ngayon). But Jesus’ self-offering has empowered to stretch our momently loving into a commitment, a promise of eternity. When Jesus became small and his Spirit of Love began to dwell in our hearts, we have become empowered to commit ourselves to love others with fidelity and constancy. We have become empowered to rise again whenever our human frailty inflicts a wound on our fidelity. We have become empowered to forgive each other when hurting each other threatens our bonds of love and communion. Because God loved us from eternity, our fickle, frail and faulty human loving in our every “here and now” assumes the value of “Ngayon at Kailanman,” now and forever and Jesus Christ is our guarantee for this self-offering. Jesus becomes the third party when a couple promises eternal love together in marriage. He becomes the guarantor of commitment when a person makes vows and promises fidelity in the priesthood or religious life. Nakiisa ang Diyos mula sa kanyang kailanman, at dahil dito bawat pancake ng pag-ibig na ginagawa nation sa ating ngayon ay nagkakaroon ng posibilidad ng “kailanman.” Kaya nagagawa nating sabihin, “mamahalin kita ngayon at kailanman.

Our Lady’s “yes” celebrates our commitments–of husbands and wives to each other, of priests and religious to God and people, of parents to children and vice versa, of social change agents who dedicate their lives to helping improve the lot of their poorer brethren, of nature activists who give their all to sustaining the integrity of creation, of friends who give their lives to their best friends forever, etc. Our Lord’s infinite compassion becomes the wellspring for our loving. We bring our vows to the altar of the Lord and ask him to confirm us in our pledges and make Mary’s fidelity, and God’s compassion the strength of our many, many wounded commitments. And so children of the seventies, please sing with me with full hearts:

“Ngayon at kailanman, sump ko’y iibigin ka, ngayon at kailanman.
Hindi ka na mag-iisa, ngayon at kailanman,
sa hirap o ginhawa pa, asahang may kasama ka, Sinta.
Naroroon ako tuwina, maasahan mo tuwina, ngayon at kailanman. . . .” 

May God bless us all. God Bless!

March 25, 2014  Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better than I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2014  Leave a comment

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

To Pray on and Ponder:  Mark 9, 2-10

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

March 15, 2014  Leave a comment

March 13. Careful What You Ask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 13, 2014  Leave a comment

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