December 24 (Midnight). “Under My Skin”, once more with feeling.

(This homily was written for our celebration of the Eucharist on the occasion of the Vigil for the Solemnity of Our Lord’s Nativity, with friends from the Development profession. This is an annual celebration at the San Jose Seminary. Fr. Noel Vasquez, S.J., former Provincial Superior and tatay of many of development workers with the Jesuit social network in the Philippines is the main presider, December 24, 2014).

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 9, 1-6; Titus 2, 11-14; Luke 2, 1-14

Id quod volo (That which we desire most):  To sense God, our Emmanuel, our Word-made-flesh, present and active in us, becoming in us a wellspring of joy, faith, hope and love, so that the more we allow God’s spirit to move about in us, the more God penetrates us and makes our visions and dreams, our affections and desires, our love and convictions one with God’s.

Magandang gabi po. Para makumbinsi po ako ni Fr. Noel na maghomilya ngayon, sabi po niya, ulitin ko na lang daw ang “Ngayon at Kailanman” homily ko na ginamit ko nang huli akong maghomilya sa Christmas midnight mass na ito para sa mga kaibigan sa development work.

Pero sa dalawang kadahilanan, hindi ko po uulitin ang “ngayon at kailanman” homily—una, hindi ko na makita ang kopya. Nakasama yata iyon sa nagcrash na computer. Ikalawa, ginamit ko ang tema sa katatapos na misa ng silver anniversary ni Francis at Nida Gomez at naisip ko baka marami sa dumalo doon at dadalo rin ngayon. Mahahalata.

Kaya binalikan ko na lang ang lumitaw sa isang dasal ko kamakailan, kanta rin, pero ibang-iba sa “ngayon at kailanman” ni Basil Valdez. Mas malikot, at nanunukso, medyo jazzy. At ang kantang ito ay ang isang awit ni Cole Porter. Pinatanyag ni Frank Sinatra at kamakailan inawit ng napaka-seksi na si Katharin McPhee kasama ang trumpetistang si Chris Botti. Ito nga ang kantang “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Sa dasal ko, una kong inisip na kinakanta ko ito kay Jesus. Pero habang inuulit-ulit ko ang mga linya, parang may mali, parang hindi totoo. Para bang may bumubulong na, “hwe—ikaw, nanunuot sa kalamnan mo si Jesus? Eh bakit marami ka pa ring karupukan, marami ka pa ring short cut sa buhay heswita? Bakit marami ka pa ring pagkukulang o pagmamalabis?  Medyo pangahas yatang sabihing, inaawitan mo si Jesus ng “I’ve got you under my skin.”

Binagabag ako ng mga kaisipang iyon at nanliit sa harap ng Diyos sa aking panalangin. “Oo nga,” sabi ko sarili, “ang yabang ko naman, pangahas nga.” Pero sa loob-loob ko, parang nanlulumo na ako at nanlalamig. Para bagang, kinantahan mo na nga ang Diyos, napasama ka pa. Hanggang unti-unti, sa katahimikan nang puso, habang humihingi ako ng tawad sa Diyos sa aking kapangahasan, biglang bumulong si Jesus, “baligtarin mo kaya. makinig ka at hayaan mong ako ang kumanta para sa iyo, Vic—oo Vic, pakinggan mo: “I’ve got you under my skin.”

At medyo bumalik ang sigla sa loob ko, mula kay Katharine McPhee-nailarawan ko sa isip ko na si Jesus nga ang kumakanta, at parang malikot din siya, pasayaw-sayaw, kumikindat at nanunukso, parang pilit akong pinapangiti.

Medyo naantig lang ako nang malalim nang dumako na sa siya sa parteng nagsasabi:

“I’d sacrifice everything, come what might, for the sake of having you near, in spite of warning voice that comes in the night and repeats and repeats in my ear. Don’t you know little fool, you never can win, please use your mentality, wake up to reality, but each time that I do, just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin, coz I’ve got you under my skin.”

Medyo pursigido nga pala itong Panginoon natin, may pagkahibang. Walang tigil sa panunuyo sa atin at hahamakin ang lahat, mapalapit lang sa siya atin. At mag-isip-isip daw tayo kung gusto natin siyang iwasan o hamunin. Wala raw tayong kalaban-laban.

Lumayo man tayo o tumakas sa kung saan-saan, aabot at aabot ang Panginoon sa atin, patuloy na kakatok sa ating puso. Sa mga hindi pa magbubukas, marami siyang Plan B. Kahit na sa pinaka-corrupt at parang wala nang pag-asa. Hindi niya susukuan.

Pero sa mga magbubukas sa kanya at magpapatuloy, papasok siya, manunuot sa kaloob-looban natin at unti-unting iaayon sa kanyang Ama ang ating pananaw sa mundo, sa kapwa, sa sarili. Iaayon din sa kanya ang ating mga pangarap, ang mahalaga sa atin, at hugis ng ating pagmamahal, ang kadalisayan ng puso natin lalo na sa mga usapin ng katarungan, kapayapaan, pananampalataya, pag-asa, pag-ibig.

Kumbaga, sa bawat sandali na pinapatuloy natin siya sa ating puso at pagkatao, gaya nang isinusubo natin at nilulunok at ginagawang bahagi natin ang kanyang katawan sa binasbasang tinapay at alak, tayo man ay unti-unting nagiging katawan ni Kristo at lagusan ng kanyang presensya at biyaya para sa iba.

At totoo nga: nasa mismong hibla ng laman ni Jesus na tayo, dahil bahagi na tayo ng kanyang katawan. Espiritu niya ang nananalangin sa kaloob-looban natin. May kung anong alab ng pag-ibig at malasakit sa kapwa ang nanunuot sa atin palagi. Kapag parang dinadag-anan tayo ng krisis sa buhay, sa trabaho, sa bansa, pag-asang mula kay Jesus ang manunuot sa ating puso para bumulong na sige lang, kapag nadapa, bangon; kapag nasasaid ang lakas, sumalok pa sa kalaliman o umabot sa kapwang sasalo sa iyo; kapag nilulukuban ng takot at dilim, tumahimik at isiping, maging dilim at kamatayan ay nagapi na niya.

Kagaya ni Maria at Jose sa kabila ng dilim at pagka-alanganin ng mga sitwasyon sa paligid, makinig lamang tayo sa mga tinig ng anghel sa kailaliman ng puso o sa pinagpalang mga panaginip, naroon at nanunuot pa rin ang liwanag ng Mabuting Balita, hindi na magbabago, itinaya na ni Jesus ang kanyang kabuohan para sa atin dahil siya ang Emmanuel, lagi at lagi nang magtitirik at magpapanday nang tahanan Niya sa piling natin at lagi at lagi  siyang kakanta nang buong saya at sigla, “I’ve got you under my skin!”

Hindi siya bibitiw. Pagkat malinaw sa kanyang mahal niya tayo at hindi niya tayo susukuan. Pero heto yata ang assignment natin, mahalaga ring sikapin nating kumapit at kung makaalpas ay bumalik agad sa pagkapit.  Kasi kung dumarating man siya sa atin at umaabot lagi, kailangan pa rin nating siyang papasukin, patuluyin, isaloob at gawing bahagi mismo ng ating pagkatao at tuloy unti-unting maging bahagi na rin tayo ng kanyang Katawan. Ganoon yata tayo kamahal ng Diyos, hindi niya tayo pipiliting mahalin siya pabalik. Pero hindi rin siya titigil sa kanyang panunuyo sa atin hanggang umooo tayo sa kanya.

Si Ronald Rolheiser, isang Oblate at batikang manunulat ng mga akda ng spiritualidad ay nagsabing:

The power of Christmas is not automatic. It can’t be taken for granted. It has to be given birth, nursed, coaxed, and lovingly cajoled into effectiveness. The baby Jesus doesn’t save the world, the adult Christ does and our task is to turn the baby Jesus into the adult Christ. We need to do that in our own bodies and with our own lives. As Annie Dillard once put it, the Christ we find in our lives is always found as he was found at the first Christmas, a helpless infant, lying in the straw, someone who needs to be picked up and coaxed into adulthood. To make Christ effective, we need, ourselves, to become “the body of Christ”.

To put it metaphorically, the Christ-child has to be awakened by us. We need to go to the manger and awaken the child.

We awaken the child by inducing it to smile. We awaken the Christ-child when we smile at charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, longsuffering, fidelity, gentleness, and chastity until they begin to smile back. What comes back is the power of Christmas, a baby’s power to transform a heart, divine power hidden in human weakness.

At tayo naman, gaya nang mga batang pinasaya ng mga simpleng regalo ng pasko, uulit-ulitin natin ang kanta sa atin ni Jesus, at hahayaan natin an gating mga sarili na makisayaw sa kanyang himig upang mag-umapaw ang saya sa ating puso at makadama ng bagong lakas para sa mga laban at gawain ng buhay. May liwanag sa isip at lakas ng loob dahil ang puno’t dulo ng bawa’t pagsisikap natin ay ang dakilang pag-ibig na sumilang muli sa ating lahat. At kapag siya’y nanunuot na sa ating lahat, “under my skin” ‘ika nga, tayo mismo ay magiging tagapagdala na rin ng kanyang presensya sa iba. Pag-asa sa nawawalan ng pag-asa; pagbubukas-palad at malasakit sa mga naghihirap at nangangailangan; liwanag sa nagagapi ng dilim; kapatawaran at pagkakasundo sa paghihiwalay na dala ng pagkamakasarili at kasalanan.

May the Good Lord bless you and keep you and may the Word-made-flesh abide in you and fill you with abundant blessing and grace through the coming year. Maligayang Pasko po sa lahat.

December 24, 2014  Leave a comment

December 21. Buhay Bilang Pag-oo at Pagyakap sa Pag-ibig Ngayon at Kailanman

(This homily was preached on the occasion of the Silver Wedding Anniversary of long-time friends, Francis and Nida Gomez. Francis has been a friend since college days at the Ateneo de Manila while Nida became a friend from engagements with the NGO Healthdev and LIKAS foundations. Both have ventured into their marriage and family life amidst the complex commitments of health and development professions and like many NGO development professionals a network of friends have evolved a distinct circle of support for both their careers and family life. We toast the many years of love for this lovely couple, and now with their three children and we celebrate how Mary’s fiat has taken flesh and root in their lives as well. Readings used were those of the Fourth Sunday of Advent: 2 Samuel 7, Romans 16, 25-27; Luke 1, 26-38).

Magandang Umaga. At Francis, Nida, congratulations sa inyo sa inyong Silver Wedding Anniversary. Seminarista pa lang yata ako nang maghomilya rin ako sa kasal ninyo Francis at Nida. At si Fr. Mario rin ang nagmisa sa inyong kasal. Kaya magandang pagdiriwang ito, habang ipinagdiriwang natin ang tibay at katapatan ng pagibig sa inyong buhay-pag-aasawa at buhay-pamilya, ipinapaalala rin sa akin ang tibay at katapatan ng pag-ibig sa aming pagkapari. Pero siyempre sa inyo tayo tututok at sa Diyos.

Kung huhugot tayo ng ilang mapagninilayan sa ating mga pagbasa, aanyayahan ko kayong tumutok sa ilang mahalaga at akmang detalye.

Una sa kuwento ni Haring David sa unang pagbasa, maari nating tanungin, sino nga ba ang nagpapanday ng isang tahanan o ng isang lahi o ng isang bayan?

Ikalawa, paano ba natin masusumpungan ang tugon sa ating unang tanong, paano ba isinisiwalat sa atin ito sa ating buhay?

At ikatlo, ano nga ba ang kinalaman ng mga ito sa ating mga pinipili, pinagtatayaan at minamahal?

Maikli lamang ang ating tugon sa unang dalawang tanong, at tuwirang mahuhugot ang mga tugong ito sa mga pagbasa.

Sa unang tanong, makabuluhan ang balangkas ng istorya ni David. Nakita niya ang yaman at kapangyarihan, at papuri at ginhawang natatamasa niya sa puntong iyon ng kanyang buhay bilang hari ng Israel, at bigla niyang naalala si Yahweh ang kanyang Panginoon. Samantalang siya bilang makataong hari ay nakatira sa isang magara at maginhawang palasyo, ang Kaban ng Tipan naman ay nakapirmi lamang sa isang payak na tolda. Kaya minabuti niyang ipagtayo ng Magarang Templo para panahanan ng Kaban ng Tipan. Subalit sumagot ang Panginoon sa Kanya: “Ikaw David ang magtatayo ng tahanan para sa Akin? Nakalimutan mo na ba na ako ang humango sa iyo mula sa pastulan at naghirang sa iyo bilang hari? Hindi David, ako ang magtatatag ng Tahanan para sa iyo, at ang Kahariang ito ay magiging pagmagpa-kailanman.” Naiisip ko magandang ulit-ulitin ito sa ating lahat. Hindi tayo, kundi ang Panginoon ang nagtatatag ng matibay na tahanan para sa atin. Sabi nga nila, “If the Lord does not build a house, then the building shall be in vain.” Balik-balikan natin ang ating buhay—maging ang sa inyo Francis at Nida. Palagi tayong nagsisimula sa magaganda at malilinaw na plano—mapa-pamilya o karera sa NGO o gobyerno, mapa-buhay may-asawa o pag-aasawa, may God’s lesson plan pa ring sisingit at sisingit at babaligtad sa ating mga plano. At sa malaon at madali, nakikita natin—ahh mas mainam ang niloloob ng Diyos para sa atin, kaysa sa mga unang pinangarap natin at binalak.

At, at ngayo’y dadako na tayo sa ikalawang punto, hindi biglaan o minsanan ang pagsiwalat ng katotohanang ito sa buhay natin. Gaya ng inilalarawan ni San Pablo sa atin, nagsisimulang tago ang plano ng Diyos sa atin, minsan nakapunla sa puso natin, hangarin at pangarap, at unti-unti nating naaaninag at nabubuo; minsan nababasa natin sa mga sorpresang pangyayari sa buhay natin, sa mga kaibigan, sa mga sakuna, sa mga pagsubok, sa mga nagsasara at bumubukas na pinto; kung minsan naman, walang lumilinaw hanggang lumulundag tayo nang may pagtitiwala—para bagang kung hindi tayo pumipiling magbago, nagpapaikot-ikot tayo sa isang rotundang walang lagusan, pero kapag lumundag tayo nang nananalig at gumawa na tayo ng pagpili, parang bumubukas muli ang daan at umuusad ang paglalakbay.

Unti-unti lumiliwanag sa atin at nariyan lang pala si Jesus sa ating tabi, nagbibigay-liwanag, nagbibigay ng lakas ng loob, nagpapatindi ng pag-ibig at nagbukas ng mga bagong lagusan mula sa dilim.

At kaya naman kapag pagbubulayan na natin ang eksena ng Ebanghelyo, ang napakagandang eksena ng pagdalaw ng Anghel Gabriel sa ating Mahal na Inang si Maria, ibig kong anyayahan kayo sa estilo ni San Ignasyo sa pagbubulay nito. Kay Lolo Ignasyo, may parang pagpapakita ng back-stage ng kuwento ni San Lukas.

Kumbaga habang ang kuwento ni San Lukas ay nagaganap sa mundo ng “ngayon at dito,” may ibang eksenang ring nagaganap sa mundo ng “kailanman”—ang Santatlong Diyos daw ay buong pag-ibig na nakatitig sa mundo natin, tinatanaw nang buong habag at malasakit ang unti-unting pagbagsak natin dahil laging kinukulang ang ating pag-ibig sa isa’t isa at nananaig ang pagka-makasarili at pagkamakasalanan. At hayun sa lalim ng pag-ibig niya, napagkasunduan nga raw na mula sa “kailanman,” mananaog ang Anak at makikipamuhay sa ating “ngayon” upang bilang kaisa natin, ay turuan tayo kung paano ang umibig nang tunay “ngayon at kailanman.” Dito pa maari na kayong umawit nang kanta ni Basil Valdez.

Maganda pong maalala natin ang aral ni Haring David. Diyos at hindi tayo ang makapagtatatag ng Tahanang Pang-magpakailanman. At sa pinipili ni Maria ngayon, muli may mga pangarap at planong binaligtad ng kalooban ng Diyos. Pero may nanalig at umoo. Sa pagbitiw ni Maria ng kanyang matamis na oo, iyong pag-ibig na pangmagpakailanman ay nagkalaman sa “ngayon” ni Maria: “Heto ako, abang lingkod ng Panginoon, maganap nawa sa akin ayon sa iyong Salita.” At sa isang iglap, naging maliit ang nakadakilang Diyos at pumasok sa ating mundo, taglay ang pag-ibig na pang-kailanman.

Kung iisipin nating lahat, ang kaya lang naman nating ialay sa isa’t isa ay pag-ibig ngayon at dito. Ito lang talaga ang tiyak tayong hawak natin. Pero dahil sa ginawa ng Maykapal at tinumbasan ng Mahal ng Ina sa kanyang pag-oo, nakakaya nating mangako at sumumpa ng pag-ibig ngayon at kailanman. Munting tanda tayo nito, Francis, Nida at tayong lahat na narito pa rin pagkatapos ng 25 taon—sumusubok magtaya, nagsisikap magmahal, nagtatamasa ng masaganang bunga sa mga pag-ibig na ipinupunla natin at itinatag ng ating mahabagin at maibiging Diyos.

Sana patuloy nating alalahanin ang paanyaya n gating mga pagbasa:

Sa Diyos nagsisimula at pagpapanday ng tahanang pangkailanman, hinahanag ng Diyos ang mga pusong pananahanan at tutugon ng kanilang matamis na oo sa kanyang kaharian.

Unti-unti ang pagkilatis ng galaw ng Diyos at unti-unti nating makikita ang bunga nito sa ating buhay. At madalas doon sa mismong pagtatalik ng galaw ng Diyos at makabuluhang pagpili natin lumalago ang kanyang presensya sa ating buhay.

Ikatlo, sa bawat “ngayon” na pumipili tayo sa ngalan ng pag-ibig, naroon at naroon ang Santatlong Diyos sa kanyang kailanman, patuloy na tumititig sa atin nang buong pag-ibig, at may matinding hangaring lumusot sa ating bawat ngayon para maturuan tayong umibig ngayon at kailanman. Congratulations kay Francis at Nida, sa buong mag-anak, sa amin ni Fr. Mario, at sa lahat ng kamag-anakan at kaibigang narito, sumusubok at sumusubok pa ring magmahal ngayon at kailanman.

December 22, 2014  Leave a comment

December 21. Fourth Sunday of Advent. God’s Loving Gaze

To Pray on and Ponder:  2 Samuel 7, 1-5.8b-12.14a.16;  Romans 16, 25-27; Luke 1, 26-38

Id quod volo: That on this Advent-Christmas season, I may gaze upon my God lovingly as he gazes upon me lovingly as well, so that I may grow in trust, lovingly engage and embrace God’s mystery in my life and give myself to God in loving surrender and obedience, as Our Lady did before me.

This evening I thought we might draw from our readings some way of understanding “what looking God in the eye means.” When I was studying and reflecting on the prayer of contemplation, I read someone say, the way to contemplate is to look God in eye and to see him taking a long, loving look at us. Contemplation is a long, loving look. There is someone we really, really love, and we simply find ourselves lost sometimes, fixing our gaze lovingly at this someone.

And then some other spiritual writer says, slowly and gradually, you become what you contemplate. When we keep fixing our gaze upon something, we begin to absorb the qualities of our beloved. We begin to put value in the things our beloved values, we desire what he or she desires. We feel the way he or she feels, our loving becomes shaped by his or her way of loving. And so really, literally we become what we contemplate—pera, problema, rosy cheeks sa mahilig sa kamatis, at oo, iyong mga mag-asawa na sa bawat araw, tumititig nang may pag-ibig sa kanilang kabiyak—nagiging magkamukha na rin paglaon. Couples who keep gazing with love at each other, day in and day out begin to resemble each other.

Following the same principle, we become what we contemplate when we keep fixing our gaze upon this God who from his eternal abode, also gazes upon us, upon our world with love.

My founder, Ignatius of Loyola recounts, there is back stage to this scene of the annunciation. And what happens backstage happens in the eternal realm. The Trinity gazes upon our world with love and seeing how troubled we humans can be without anyone teaching us about the ways of love, the heart of the Triune God quickens with love and in an instant, the Son of God is chosen to come into our world and be our mentor, our coach in the ways of eternal love.

In the same instant, the Spirit of the Lord finds Our Lady, one whose life has been a constant contemplation of her God, a virgin who has given her life in prayer and service and has been betrothed to a just man, a righteous man, Joseph. God must have seen how these two people have hearts that are free and full of love and can be the one couple to receive the Son of God, teach him the ways of genuine human love so he in turn may in due time teach the world the ways of God’s love.

We humans are really empowered to offer a love for this moment. That’s as far as we can guarantee. Pang-ngayon lang po ang kaya nating ialay na pag-ibig. Hindi na natin hawak kung ano ang gagawin natin bukas o makalawa. Ni hindi nga po natin alam kung bukas ay humihinga pa tayo. Umaasa tayo na ang ipinapangako natin ngayon at magagawa pa rin natin bukas.

But God who knows love eternal can teach us, can empower us, can be the love in us precisely because the Son-God has become one of us and has entered the deepest recesses of our hearts to enkindle from within us the fire of God’s love. Dahil ang Diyos ay isinilang sa ating ngayon, nakakaya na natin at napapagtibay ang pangako ng pag-ibig hindi lang ngayon, kundi “ngayon at kailanman.” We try to remain rooted in God so that our finite loving may stretch out into constancy, into fidelity, into strength and stability of commitment, moment by moment, choice after feeble choice, containing in itself the power to convert in the name of love; the power to transcend our selfish desires so we may desire what our beloved desires; the power even, to rise above the hurts the come from others so that we can forgive and reconcile.

God’s eternal loving teaches us and begins to shape our own limited loving. And the more we fix our gaze upon this loving God, the more we learn the ways of his love and the more we embrace it as the very pattern and core of our lives.

There are some things though we have to try to emulate from the example of Our Lady:

First, gazing upon our Lord begins from a disposition of trust, and not of fear. A person filled with love, has the power to trust the beloved and to entrust oneself in full surrender to the one he or she knows loves him or her. And while we all hold many reasons to fear because of our experiences in the world, because we have also felt loved and received, we can learn to trust and entrust, even to trust enough to ask questions and seek direction.

Secondly, gazing upon our Lord, Our Lady opened her heart and soul to God’s unfathomable mystery. It must have been difficult to receive Word about impending pregnancy when such scenario could spell a radical change in her life and even imminent danger and death. She is after all betrothed already, and when word spreads that she is with child, she will fall under suspicion of adultery, which is a crime punishable with death. yet mystery unfolds with the angel’s news. How else can she make sense of words like “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child you will conceive will be called holy, the Son of God.” This young maiden is able to hush her questions after some time. She embraces God’s mystery and entrusts herself to God’s favor. Nothing will go wrong. Things will fall into place even when she could not see how. We humans do have the need for clear maps, for rules and boundaries, for clear concepts and processes for the future. Yet we know that not everything will be clear. The bigger of life is left unclear. God simple assures us he is here with us, but no complete road maps are offered. If we want to follow God, we simply have to take a leap and embrace mystery. Yes, there will signposts here and there. We can proceed by trial and error. We can use the best GPS that our intellectual capacities may offer us, yet like it or not, we will commit mistakes, sometimes by ignorance, others by pride, others with much malice. God’s presence will continue to be there, signaling to us the mistaken turns we took and then telling us, “recalculating, recalculating,” and so we wait for the next instructions.

Finally, like Mary we take courage, respond with great docility and generosity and give our yes to the Lord. And at times we marvel that God’s plan seems to light up, unravel and reveal itself by the humble and gracious choices we make. And we marvel that God even chooses us to be privileged partners in unraveling his plans. Like Mary, we come before this great and loving God, humbled to have been seen and chosen and we say our piece, as well: “I am the servant of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”

And so it happens, love is born anew in our world and we are the privileged bearers of that love. We pray that by giving our yes to God in our “here and now,” with eyes fixed on Jesus, our love will stretch and grow, to be a love that is eternal, a love that will give refuge to others and a love which extends to all those whom this great and loving God loves as well. Merry Christmas!

 

December 21, 2014  Leave a comment

December 16. The Parable of Three Sons

To Pray on and Ponder:  Zephaniah 3,1-2.9-13; Psalm 34, 2-3.6-7.17-19.23; Matthew 21, 28-32.

Id quod volo (That which we desire most):  To contemplate Jesus and learn obedience form him and through him–his way of seeing, loving and his following his Father’s will on account of their shared vision and love.

The theme of “God leaving a remnant” mentioned in the first reading from the book of the Prophet Zephaniah makes me wonder how really, really patient God must have been as he searches for faithful and obedient hearts among his people. I recall Abraham’s negotiations with God, asking him to relent from destroying a whole city on account of the righteousness of a few. But sadly though, after all the haggling on Abraham’s part, he and God did not find even one righteous person in the city though God would have agreed to save the city for that one righteous person. When at the time of the Prophet Zephaniah, God proclaims that he was the one who would leave a faithful remnant, we rejoice in hope. And we realize that ultimately it is God himself who will guarantee fidelity in his people. As in the time of Abraham, fidelity is scarce and rare, and perhaps only by God’s merciful action can fidelity spring forth and grow and take root.

Perhaps God just wanted Abraham to negotiate so that his passion for the salvific plan may come alive. Perhaps it was really Abraham who would be the father of faith and the line from which the really faithful one would arrive.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus recounts a very parable of two sons–one who seemed unfaithful in his words, but ultimately followed his father’s instruction, while the other seemed faithful in words and even quick to say “yes!” yet, ultimately did not obey the very words he said “yes” to.  One may argue that the one who proved faithful was the son who carried out his fathers instructions despite the initial resistance. Yet I am moved to include the storyteller, Jesus among the sons we are called notice. And of course in Jesus, we find a third Son who is faithful in word and deed and in whose love we can incline our hearts so that by our loving contemplation of him, some of the fidelity and obedience may rub in on us.

In the first place, contemplating Jesus, we can learn trust and surrender. After all, people who would tend to resist at first instance and block of the deepening of a love relationship probably have things to defend or have need for a clear map on how to proceed where a genuine loving relationship have no clear maps to help us navigate. Trust and surrender asks from us a leap of faith, an opening to vulnerability with only the assurance that God loves and God cares to draw us and confirm us in a more complete self-gift.

Secondly, contemplating Jesus, we can learn to befriend mystery and to open ourselves to a God who resists any form of reduction or idolatry. God draws us closer to himself, yet he will resist any attempt from us to put him in a box so we may fully understand him and take a hold of him.  God as Truth has made himself knowable and accessible to us, yet not completely. As with the Greek’s notion of truth as “aletheia” God as Truth reveals himself to us even as he hides himself in dark mystery as well, so that even in finding God here and there, we thirst for more and continue seeking him out. There’s more to know about him and ourselves.

Finally, contemplating Jesus, we can learn obedience through sacrifice. Alas, the self-gift and self-surrender are not without cost. We learn obedience by sacrifice. Our love deepens as our offering of self becomes more serious and of value and consequence. As we die more and more of ourselves, we proclaim by our dying that God is more and more to us. What John the Baptist proclaimed becomes truer in us: “I must decrease, so he may increase!” so that in due time we can honestly proclaim as with St. Paul: “It is Jesus and not I who lives in me.”

And so this third Son who is faithful in words and deeds, faithful in fact in everything in his life, will become the very spirit of our own life. We ask especially in this Advent-Christmas season, that Christ our Lord may come, and he allow this kind of fidelity to spring forth and take root in us and our communities. God Bless!

 

December 16, 2014  Leave a comment

December 15. “Under my skin!”

To Pray on and Ponder: Matthew 21, 23-27

Id quod volo (That which I most deeply desire): To notice how intimate and close God desires to be with me, and be swept by God’s passionate love where the mystery of the incarnation is God’s way of genuinely bringing us “under his skin!”

Praying over the episode depicted in this twenty-first chapter of Matthew made me really pause at how the pharisees’ attitude reflected well my own propensity to dwell on role and function as I live my commitments to Jesus. I know there were many moments I feel very close and intimate with Jesus and I know I have deep convictions about finding rootedness of my person, life and ministry in my relationship with Jesus, yet I also feel many times the distance I put between him and myself. Yet these advents have made me notice a current flowing in my heart–God is indeed drawing me closer and closer. Since a conference in Hong Kong I had felt a clear invitation to imitate St. Ignatius our founder in his prayer at La Storta, “place me with your Son!” and this disposition of “mecum,” to “be with me” has become an ever increasing desire in my heart.

In an instant thus, I found myself this morning, humming and then singing this Cole Porter tune, “I’ve got you under my skin!” Then images of Katharine McPhee, naughtily singing the tune with the accompaniment of trumpeter Chris Botti surfaced in the eye of my mind. At first I thought I was singing the tune to Jesus, but as quickly as the thought crossed my mind, feelings of inauthenticity, thoughts about the line being simply a distant and unfulfilled desire, quickly turned the excitement into sadness and depression. I felt how far from truth this “I’ve got you under my skin!” is as a descriptor of my relationship with God. “Too presumptuous and arrogant” I thought to myself, thinking of course of the many infidelities of my life.

And then some gentle shift came in my prayer. I realized the seriousness beneath the naughty song. And it was not me singing it to Jesus, rather, it was the Lord singing it to me. Deep consolation and joy flooded my mind. And I was in tears when excitedly I told myself–this is the incarnation! this is the incarnation. Jesus himself singing to me “I’ve got you under my skin!” And when he is the one singing, no doubts could come to the surface. The Lord is the one assuring me, no matter how you feel, no matter what infidelities you may think in yourself, nothing changes, “I’ve got you under my skin!” The whole you, under my skin!” I just stayed with Jesus singing the song to me as though he were singing a lullaby which brings me to deep calm and peace!

Here’s praying that you may all find that space where the Lord can sing to you, “I’ve got you under my skin!” Simbang gabi begins! God Bless!

December 15, 2014  Leave a comment

December 14. Gaudete Sunday: Finding Joy in Witnessing to the Light

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 61, 1-2a.10-11; Luke 1, 46-54; 1 Thes 5, 16-24; John 1, 6-8.19-28

Id quod volo (That which we most desire): To experience God our Emmanuel, as the Light that gives life to our world, and serves as a wellspring of genuine joy for all who believe and testify to him as light.

On this third Sunday of Advent, the Church bids as “Rejoice!” and rejoice because God our Light dawns upon us. God is the light who gives life to us, who brings order in the chaos of our lives. God is the light who helps us come to reason and truth, who allows us to make choices out of freedom and love. God is the light who makes straight our paths and helps us to find our Way towards our purpose in life.

Witnessing to our Emmanuel who is eternal light for us all helps us find the real source of joy in living. Joy is not to be found in ephemeral things, no matter how intensely pleasurable or gratifying in the short term. Genuine joy is not to be found in things that we procure or buy, in relationships that we crave for because they meet some deep need in us. Genuine joy is not to be found in lording it above others or shining in fame or fortune. All these may serve to fulfill a craving or two and gratify us for some time, but such pleasures fade away when our hearts, created for God alone, begins to desire for something deep and real and of true value. Our hearts are created for God and only in God will we find rest, and yes, genuine joy.

We testify to the light in many ways. We live as children of the light and seek to banish from ourselves things that keep us in the dark ways of sin. We testify to the light by our humble and honest ways. By allowing ourselves to become transparent before God so that his light might shine on us and shine into and through us in love and charity before others. We testify to the light by proclaiming to others how our relationship with God has given us genuine joy and fulfilment. Bishop Bacani once used the term “hi wattage” to describe Christians he considers as good witnesses to God’s light–he says these Christians are like hi-wattage bulbs in the way they shine before others. So if we look at ourselves in the mirror or look at other friends who are Christians, we have to ask–do our faces shine like hi-wattage bulbs or do we look like spent and busted bulbs?

Finally we also witness to the light when we abide in God through constant and relentless prayer. Spiritual experts say, we become what we contemplate. And so if we unceasingly contemplate on God, then God’s light will show in our faces. We become like Jesus, transfigured! and the spirit of love will cascade in our quality of presence and compassion before others. We pray that we indeed shine and become God’s presence to others as we live our lives in joy and peace! God Bless!

December 14, 2014  Leave a comment

Dec. 13. For Kindling and Setting Ablaze of Our Hearts

To Pray on and Ponder:  Sirach 48, 1-4.9-11; Psalm 80, 2ac and 3b.15-16.18-19; Matthew 19, 9a.10-13

Id quod volo (That which we desire most):  That we encounter our God, the Living Flame of Love so God’s Spirit may burn in us and set our hearts on fire to bring his love to others, especially in these seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Our advent readings this evening places a good focus on the element of fire in our notion of advent preparation. The prophet Elijah our featured prophet in the first reading is used here as a prototype for John the Baptist who is featured in our Gospel for this evening. John the Baptist, like Elijah prepares for the coming to the foreground of our Lord. Both prophets’ words were like a “flaming furnace”—they illuminate, they burn, they sting, they purify. In that short text on the character of the prophet Elijah, words related to fire came at least four times and they bring meanings that suggest swiftness, reform, zeal, supernatural source, hard-to-control spontaneity and fast paced change that promises to be total and all-consuming.

While we represent advent light in terms of candles slowly and gently light up our advent night, the images we are given are more swift, almost violent, consuming, spreading fast like a wild fire ablaze. For these represent to us the kind of dispositions that John the Baptist modeled for us—a kind of zealous, judging, acerbic prophetic stance that will not shy away from powerful people and will mince no words to render judgment on clear violations of covenant law. “Repent, turn away from your sins, make straight the paths for the Lord!” was John the Baptist’s prophetic message and he proclaims these words with quite a bit of urgency. On hindsight, perhaps his leaping in her mother’s womb before the presence of the Messiah many years back was perhaps not only out of delight, but out of attentiveness and urgency. A kind of “I can’t wait to get out into the world to accomplish my mission!” leap in the womb. The same sort of violent movement that St. Paul describes of a world that awaits salvation—a world laboring as she awaits her children to come to freedom.

As we know ourselves to be perennially distracted, lacking in focus and also dissipated in energy and conviction, we pray the Psalmist’s prayer, “Lord make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.” For the Lord is living flame, the Lord is our light and our salvation.

We ask the Lord to set his flame ablaze so “from his throne upon the cherubim, he may shine forth for us to see and follow. We ask that he look down from heaven and protect us, the vine that his right hand has planted. May he send his messenger to make us strong, give us new life so we always call upon his name.

When at Piazza del Popolo in Rome, our father Ignatius of Loyola sent off Francis Xavier to a mission that would bring him to the edges of China and Asia, Ignatius was said to have told Xavier—“go and set the world on fire!” When our fathers in GC 35 set foth our new mission document from year 2005 onwards, they told us to be “Fires that enkindle other fires.” We ask the Lord of Advent to set us all ablaze with a passion for loving service, an ardent enduring fire that can enkindle still other fires so we can really set the whole world ablaze with the passionate love that God is for us. May Elijah the Prophet in the fiery chariot come indeed and restore all things. May the Baptist continue to proclaim to us in his fiery words his plea for repentance and reform of life. May the Spirit of the Lord who comes as tongues of flame conscript us all into mission descend upon and let us see his face so all of us can be saved.

December 13, 2014  Leave a comment

Dec. 12. Our Lady of Guadalupe. Helping Make Joy to Leap from Within.

To Pray on and Ponder: Zephaniah 2,14-17, Judith 13,18bcde. 19; Luke 1,26-38 or Luke 1,39-47

Id quod volo: To receive from our Lord who comes, the gift of genuine joy that springs from a heart that interiorly knows what it means to hope and love.

At a time when many in our lands try to recover from the devastation of a super typhoon and prepare in the remaining time to welcome the coming again of our Messiah to remind us all that our God is a God who is Emmanuel, we turn to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Mexican Marian icon which has become Filipino too as it stands as our secondary Patroness, after the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. The story surrounding the Our Lady of Guadalupe is filled with meaning for us.

The Mexican icon is of course significant to us, because the first Catholic territories in our country were helped set up by Spanish missionaries linked to Catholic Mexico. But it strikes me now that many of the meanings attached to Our Lady of Guadalupe form part of the compassion which radiate and cascade from the wonderful Marian tradition behind this miraculous icon. The Lady from Guadalupe of course appeared to a tribal, a native indigenous man, by now canonized St. Juan Diego, who at that time was deeply troubled by the serious illness that has afflicted his uncle. Our Mother appeared to Juan Diego to comfort him and assure him that his uncle will survive the illness and then asked Juan to intercede for her before authorities so a temple may be built in her name on the spot where she appeared. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in traditional Mexican garb, donning colors which suggest that she was clothed with a mantle of divinity, and that she was with child, represented by the belt that she was wearing. In this one simple narrative, God provides us with an icon that assures protection and compassion for the valuable things in life, which unfortunately modern humans often render vulnerable given our propensity for distorted value hierarchies–the life of vulnerable people–whether these be the poor, indigenous communities, children who deserve first of all life, and quality of life, farmers and peasants, pregnant mothers, people of simple of faith.

Our Lady’s message in Guadalupe: “Am I not your mother who assures you of care and protection?” sounds out clearly God’s preferential care for the vulnerable of the land which will be the mark of Divine compassion. God will always be on the side of the vulnerable for God has chosen to be born among the vulnerable and pitch God’s tent among them to bring salvation to the whole world.

In the Gospel that recounts Mary’s visitation of her cousin Elizabeth we find echoes of the story of Guadalupe. For in that Gospel account, Mary gifts Elizabeth with a gracious visit. Mary exercises charity to her old cousin who must be suffering a lot because of the unexpected and miraculous pregnancy at a time when she was already well advanced in age. Mary came to minister to her. And yet we know this was extraordinary charity on Mary’s part for she too was with child and the long travel from Nazareth to Elizabeth’s place must have made her suffer too. But genuine love between these two women would know no limits and the two of them had much to share of the many wonderful things that God caused to happen to both their lives in the previous months. Just the sound of Mary’s voice makes John the Baptist leap in joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Jesus’ presence was already causing deep joy in his prophet’s heart.

Mary’s presence in the lives of people of faith is indeed cause for joy, because our Lady is first of all an icon of total availability and transparency to God’s love. Only souls which are pure and focused can transmit God’s love to the full. People whose hearts are not plagued by egoism, selfishness, manipulation, coercion or oppression can be in the midst of others and their presence elicits trust and a multiplication of love and compassion, because people do not fear them, rather they are inspired to bring out their best in love. Oh, it is in this vein that I may not be too sympathetic with too superstitious a line that says a great boxer can lose his game because he had abandoned wearing his rosary or sealing himself with the sign of the cross but I can understand well if that faith practice had been a genuine cause for focusing the boxer’s faith and confidence in years past and his disrupting that practice may have been an expression of his complacency and over-confidence–things he did admit after the loss.

Mary’s eternal role will be to help give birth to Christ in people’s lives, in the very detail and fiber of our human concerns where love always has to find concrete presence in us and among us, especially when love is needed the most because the lives of people are in grave danger. We ask that the Lord quicken our hearts and make us new Juan Diegos to bring Mary’s mantle of compassion and protection especially to the most vulnerable.

One final detail in the narrative of the miracle was that Mary directed Juan Diego to pick up fresh rose blooms in a lush rose garden that she caused to be preserved in the midst of harsh winter–such an image of the beauty and bounty that love’s presence can preserve even in the most difficult of places. When Juan Diego went to recount his story to the authorities, the mantle he used to wrap the roses because his best help in arguing his cause, for the  mantle became a living miracle, with the image of the apparition miraculously etched on the tilma, Diego’s image even reflected in the Lady’s beautiful eyes as it happened in the moments of appearance.  May we like Juan Diego be bringers of love’s joy to people, even to those caught in the midst of harsh realities which threaten to make life difficult for the vulnerable ones. And may we like Mary always choose to love until the child in people leaps in joy, in praise of a God who never fails to pitch his tent as one of the vulnerable ones among his people. This day 12.12.12 need not be the day the world ends in judgment, but a day we remember God’s loving presence to all of us, a day we make present that love to each other and to the least among us. God Bless!

December 11, 2014  Leave a comment

Dec. 10. On Eagle’s Wings

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 40, 25-31; Psalm 103, 1-4.8.10;
Matthew 11, 28-30.

Id quod volo (That which I desire most):  That I draw from the grace abounding this Advent so I engage the God who comes to me as Emmanuel and renew my relationship with Him who hides me under God’s wings and renews my strength so I can soar like an eagle.

When in our first reading, Isaiah assures us the “they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagle’s wings they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. . . . ,” I am reminded of the scene in the “Lord of the Rings, third installment, “The Return of the King” when after Frodo finally disengages from the poisonous ring and both ring and Gollum fall to their death into the fiery mouth of the volcano, the small protagonists Frodo and Sam both fell flat on one of the remaining hills, spent and almost certain that after accomplishing their missions, they are now doomed to die. But Gandalf the White came with the giant eagles to save the two hobbits. The image etched in my mind is that of the mighty eagle’s talons picking up the unconscious Frodo with such gentleness and care and then flying them off with such power, vigour and magnitude.

Perhaps these latter images are the same that I associate with God who comes as Emmanuel: power, vigour, magnitude but applied in love with such restraint and gentleness and grace. For the power of love is not a power of dominion, though it draws and wins adherers too. The power of God’s love rests in vulnerability and self-sacrifice; a total and unreserved pouring out of self in order to raise up the beloved into new life. These lines are not meant to refer to Jesus’ resurrection, but for now, the Word’s incarnation into our world.

Ignatius’ says, the Triune God was looking lovingly at the world and was moved with great compassion with what they saw as happening to the human family–so moved that they sent the Word to live among them and teach them the ways of love. They who learn to hope in the Lord and live according to God’s ways of love will soar like the eagles, and become conduits of the Lord’s saving grace to others. Michael Joncas has a beautiful liturgical hymn that extols the Lord’s love in beautiful images of stable rock, life-signalling breath of dawn, shield of fidelity and the protective wings of the eagles’ wings which make us fly and soar.  This advent season, may the Lord indeed come to you and scoop you out of weariness and faint-heartedness, and make you soar into the breath of a new dawn. God Bless!

On Eagles’ Wings (Michael Joncas)

You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,
Who abide in His shadow for life,
Say to the Lord, “My Refuge,
My Rock in Whom I trust.”

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

The snare of the fowler will never capture you,
And famine will bring you no fear;
Under His Wings your refuge,
His faithfulness your shield.

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

You need not fear the terror of the night,
Nor the arrow that flies by day,
Though thousands fall about you,
Near you it shall not come.

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

For to His angels He’s given a command,
To guard you in all of your ways,
Upon their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

 

December 10, 2014  Leave a comment

Nov 25. When the Prospect of “End of Days” Becomes Gift

To read and pray on:  Revelation 14, 14-19; Psalm 96, 10-13; Luke 21, 5-11

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To reflect on the signs of “end of days” as events that bear God’s gifts of assurance, celebration and and a call to vigilance and joyful expectancy for the coming of the Lord.

This week being the last week of the liturgical year, we are given our serving of apocalyptic readings—those texts which deal with the End of Days, which is why I suppose, end of days predictions become vogue around this time of the year.

Reflecting on our readings I noticed several images that biblical authors attach to “end of days.” The first reading talks about “harvest time”—a time of reaping the fruits. Presumably, the people of God had been hard at labor in planting and cultivating. And the time has come to reap the fruits and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Except that in this particular harvest, the People of God is itself the vine and the grape to be harvested are those members that are ripe for reaping and these grapes would be come the Lord’s vintage after they are thrown into the winepress of the Lord’s fury. Quite horrible images to attach to the joyous time of harvest and reaping.

The second image is that of a joyous procession of creatures as depicted in our psalm—the glorious procession of the heavens and the earth, seas and mountains. It’s because the Creator-King is come and he rules with justice and equity.

Finally, the Gospel depicts horrible things that will take place—wars, plagues and pestilence, catastrophes like earthquakes and storms. These are horrible, horrible signs, except that many of us can become inured because we may be experiencing these powerful signs as becoming more and more ordinary in our days.

Perhaps, the way we receive these end of days signs depends on how we are in our relationship with God. End of days become a glorious reaping for those who feel themselves on the side of God in the planting and making grow God’s vineyard.  On the other hand, those who feel themselves alienated from God and even at odds with God’s desires for a reign of justice and peace, these people would perhaps feel the “End of Days” is doomsday scenario for them. For God will surely punish his enemies.

But “End of days” can become a gift for us regardless of where we are with reference to God. “End of days” can serve as an assurance to the faithful and generous. It can also be a signal of celebration, of reaping of fruits, of joy and glory on the other side of toil and suffering for the Kingdom. Finally, “end of days” also serves as a wake-up call, a call to vigilance and preparedness, so that when the Lord does come like a thief in the night, we are prepared to meet him like foolish virgins who constantly tend the fire of their lamp to lend our small and flickering light to guide our path and others to the Lord’s way.

As we process through the end of this liturgical year, may we see these “end of days” scenarios to be yet another gift from the Lord, who so wants us to dwell in his home praising him till the “end of our days.”

November 26, 2014  Leave a comment

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