Dec 10. 2nd Sunday of Advent. Grateful for the “John the Baptists” of My Life

johntb-255x385To Pray on and Ponder:  Mark 1, 1-8

Sa Monghe sa Ilang
Fr. Victor Baltazar aka “Reggie Adviento. S.J.”

Monghe sa ilang, makailang ulit kang
namangha’t nag-animong makatang
takang tumikom ang bibig nang bumigkas?
Monghe sa ilang, makailan mong inusisa
‘yang puso mong balisa’t tila binabalasa
ng tadhana iyang sariling ‘di mabasa?

Tinig mo’ng pumailanlang sa ilang
at nahilig ang ‘di-iilan;
bumaling, nahumaling sa naulinig.
Kaytalas ng ‘yong dila:
tinudlang walang takot
ang sa batas ay sumira;
maging hari’t kanyang harot.

Katapusan ang ‘yong balita–
paghuhukom, iyong sumpa.
Pagkagunaw ang ‘yong babala;
pagsisisi’ng paanyaya.

Bakit nagulumihanan sa
tanong na natanim
Nang sa wakas ay dumating
S’yang tila ‘yong pinakaaasam?

Sabay pagpugay at pag-amin
nang binyagan mo S’ya’t ipakilala:
“Ako’y tinig at Siya’y Salita;
ako’y lingkod, Siya ang dakila.”
Tinig ay tagawika; Salita ang siyang Balita.
Ang tinig ay tinig; salita ay Salita.

Kaybaba ng ‘yong puso’t naamin sa madla:
ang lampara’y lampara’t iba sa Ilaw ng Salita.
Lalaging tagahawi ang tagahawi ng landas;
ang landas ay landas ay Landas.
‘Di ang abay ang ikakasal; siya’y abang tagausal
ng Salitang dumaratal.
At ikaw, dakilang monghe,
Maging ang isinigaw mong hatol sa iyong ilang
Ikinamatay mo’t pinangatawanan.

Matapos sumaksi papanaw ka na’t tinig ka lang at Salita’ng marapat luminaw.
Kaisantinig ng dugo mo’y
bubulong  Siya sa simula,
pagkadaka’y bibigkas at lalakas:
iigkas ang walang lakas
magkakahimig ang walang tinig; walang tinag
hanggang sa inggit ng nagbibingi-bingiha’y
dalhin Siya sa bingit ng bundok ng kamatayan,
itulak: itarak sa pulso niya ang pako.

Dugo ay bulong ng patawad
na lumigwak sa kanyang puso.
at nagsasanlibo’t-isang patak
ng buhay ng pag-ibig
ang kukurus sa landas ng libo
pang bagong maninindigang bibig..

Monghe sa ilang, pihadong payapa ka na’t higit
na masaya at buo ang loob sa ‘yong
bagong ilang na langit.

Nahawan mo na ang daan,
mas hayag na ang Landas.
Tiyak kong kaisantinig mo na Siya
Salitang tuloy pa rin sa pagsangyaw:
May bundok pa ring papatagin,
May lambak na pupunuin,
sa liwanag at pag-ibig nililitis ang
mga puso at bayan;
sa tanglaw at pagsuyo titipuning
muli ang buong kawan,
At liwanag at pag-ibig ang
siyang huling salitang
mumutawi sa papuri ng lahat
ng pinaghaharian.

At oo, nangyari na ang minsan mong inasam:
ika’y naglaho’t samakatuwid, nabawasan,
at Salita’y sukat tumingkad, at oo, nadagdagan.
At mangungusap na ang Langit:
“Heto na aking Anak, Siya’y inyong pakinggan.”

I always thought that if the Advent Gospel cycles were a stage play or a concert, the characters who appear on the first weeks must be important “front acts” that prepare us for the coming of the real star of the event, who is the Messiah who is to come. Those who prepare the way for the lead characters are important in disposing an audience for the coming of the main artist. They help establish the appropriate mood and decorum on the part of the audience for the major portion of the show. They help build excitement, anticipation, expectancy. So that if we were to use the classic dramatic structure called Freytag’s model (named after the theory’s model, Gustav Freytag) which portrays the first part of a show as essentially the initial salvo, the rising action that launches the drama on its way to the climax, the front act serves to prepare both stage and audience for climactic build up for which the main act is responsible.

For Advent, I would say, it is clearly John the Baptist who is first front act. And he clearly portrays himself as such. He is “the voice crying out in the wilderness calling the people to repentance, so to prepare the way for them as the Messiah comes.” Many symbols that the Baptist uses for himself or that the story attributes to him—bridegroom, voice, lamp, preparer of the Way, the bridge between the old and the new (testaments, I suppose) and the greatest of the prophets of old, while he remains no greater than the least of the Kingdom—all these indicate that this front act does his role well in preparing the people for the lead character who comes, but it remains the main actor of the story who will establish something radically new and different! I guess this is because it is the Messiah himself who brings salvation and anyone who does the Baptist’s role for us will do best to prepare us, but the actual encounter between the Messiah and ourselves, the actual intimate relationship that is established and built, no preparer can do this for us. Like our old Jesuit philosophy professor used to teach, “thinking is very much like swimming. Someone can give you all sorts of theories and instruction on how to dive, how to tread, how to float and how to move your arms and feet to start swimming, but none of these instructors or instructions can do the swimming for us, in the end we all have to jump into the water and actually swim–“lundagin mo babehh!” Fr. Ferriols would tease.

Having said all these though there remains a space for profound gratitude for all who played John the Baptists in our lives–certainly, they’re too many to mention! I paid my respects to a big group in my list when I visited the Jesuit cemetery in the novitiate compound. The novitiate after all is womb and tomb to many Jesuits. But before I honor my Jesuit forebears, let me begin with my earlier “baptists.”

On top of the list of course is my mom, Josefina, who instilled fidelity and devotion in me through our very regular family rosaries and Sunday masses at the old military camp chapel of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Libis. This daily prayer ritual grew into daily quiet time with the bible which by God’s good grace was taught to me by an protestant campus evangelizer as early as when I was ten. Protestant fellowships nurtured my love for the biblical text and community fellowship, but somehow Marian devotion did not sit well with them. When these conflicts came to head, I thought hard and deep, and drawn by the love of my mom even from a distance, I just thought to myself, when the Church was just a fledgling Church after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the first generations of believers gathered around Our Lady and together they kept pondering on the meaning of the Jesus event for all of them. Mary’s maternal role for this newly born Body of Christ must have proven essential because many of the new believers did not know Jesus at all and among the early disciples it was Mary who had the most complete story to tell about Jesus! Today I may not be as devoted as my mom in praying the rosary, but certainly when close to times of commitment or when critical moments visit that challenge me to core of my faith, the presence of Mary becomes very palpable to me, reminding me of everything Jesus has come to mean for me, re-birthing as it were the Christic in my soul to guide me back on track.

My father, Angel was not as avid a churchgoer like my mom. He speaks of having been disedified earlier by people who go to Church regularly but led their lives with much inconsistency. From my father thus I learned about fairness and justice, diligence, care in the details of service, and serious adherence to one’s word. Pretty much like St. Joseph who has no recorded word in Scriptures, I guess my father’s main instruction to me was all about silent witness, silent presence which protects and provides. For sure there was much woundedness in my father too, for you can sense much worry and anxiety when he retreats into silence at night and somehow anesthesize his worries and anxieties with his daily drink. Once when I had a chance to renew my Jesuit vows in a program in Canada, my mom in attendance, my dad who had passed away many years previous to that year, seemed present to my consciousness as well, smiling radiantly with the assurance that he is proud of what I have become and he expressed misgiving over my entering the seminary only because he thought with my ateneo education and all, I could have aimed “higher” which of course for him like many parents, meant–a more lucrative career path. In prayer I would tease my dad time and again, “don’t you like this, I am a member of a great multinational corporation, haha! it’s just that we have quite a different product to sell.”

Of course there were so many religion teachers, mentors, counselors, advisers along the way as I did my basic education. But perhaps the most impact on my character came from extra-curricular activities. Foremost of these would be my attendance for many years in a program by the Religious of the Good Shepherd, especially Sr. Rivkha Rogacion–the Peer Counseling Program. San Jose seminarians who I first met in catechism classes at the Quezon City Science High School would come back to my life introducing me to the idea of the priesthood. For awhile the idea was also tainted with prejudice against the Jesuits. I guess those young seminarians also had their own difficulties at the seminary. What stuck to my mind as a young high school student was that in their mind the Jesuit mentors they had a love-hate relationship with took all the thighs and legs while only the wings and necks of the chicken remained when they were served Chicken stew for a meal at the seminary. And so little me thought of how horrible Jesuits were to do that. Ironically all those Josefinos who had planted the seed of vocation in me had all left the seminary and pursued other paths.

Those early prejudices against the Jesuits would somehow heal and purify when I finally entered the Ateneo as a college student on scholarship. In the first place, a Jesuit who would be a long time mentor to me, Fr. Raul Bonoan, gave me the scholarship when he was still Director of Admissions and Aid. I also joined a major exposure program in Mindanao and I had contact with Fr. John Krebs at a time when a Filipino Jesuit was killed by an assasin’s bullet right after mass and in front of his altar servers. I did not come to know Fr. Godofredo Alingal personally, but his martyrdom certainly changed the course of my life radically. When I returned to the Ateneo on my third year, I decided to shift from my business course to development studies, and from hereon I would find myself joining in political work, social justice advocacy and student organizing.

By the end of my fourth year I was very seriously entertaining the question of joining the Jesuits but it was 1983. Events would unfold that would lead to the assasinations of Ninoy Aquino. I was still deep into political work, working with farmers, cooperatives, urban poor dwellers and political detainees. I was also helping out in the newly resurrected alternative school paper (Matanglawin) which provided a platform for the more socially oriented issues of the time. Towards graduation, I thought of making my senior’s 8-day retreat with Fr. Joe Blanco, a Jesuit known for his leadership in the active non-violence movement. At a critical moment in the retreatant, I asked Fr. Blanco as serious question that was bothering me. I asked him, “Father, given the chaos in our political scene, might God not want me to remain a committed lay person and not a Jesuit novice. Doesn’t this latter option seem like a cop out at this time?”

Fr. Blanco remained silent and in deep thought. And then he looked me in the eye and said, “Vic you may be right. We need many committed lay Christians at this time of chaos. But what if God is calling you to become a priest who will help form committed lay Christians? I was dumbfounded by Fr. Joe’s response and because of that, the doors of my heart would remain open to the prospect of the priesthood. I decided to work at the Ateneo for three years and reconsider the option after that. I became a Director of Student Affairs at the Ateneo and who could be a better boss to me that Fr. Raul Bonoan, the Jesuit who opened the doors of the Ateneo to me. After EDSA revolution, it was rather clear to me after I saw the Jesuits move about through the EDSA revolution–that style is style, that kind of service is the kind of service I want to do for the rest of my life. And so despite the lateness of an application, I asked permission from my boss, Fr. Bonoan who immediately said–let it pass, it might be just the euporia of the revolution. But somehow word got around and I received a phone call from the then Provincial, Fr. Ben Nebres, who simply instructed me to talk to several Jesuits to see if an application was warranted. I did enter in 1986 and from hereon, more Jesuit “John the Baptists”came to my life–my novice masters and mentors, Fr. Mat Sanchez and Fr. Benny Calpotura; my spiritual directors, Frs. Benny, Art Borja, Ruben Tanseco, Pepe Fuentes, Tony Lambino, and Eva Galvey. The superiors and mentors who had helped me a lot—Frs. Rene A. Ocampo, Joel Tabora, Bro. Jim Dunne, Archie Intengan, Noel Vasquez, Bill Kreutz. Then there were illustrious mentors in spirituality–Arthur Shea, Ken Bogart, Bob Rice, Tom O’Gorman and once more my novice masters, Mat and Benny. Some companions through formation have also provided constant support and presence–Fr. Manoling Francisco, Jun Borres, Manny Uy, Cesar Marin, Karel San Juan, Nono Alfonso, Gabby Lamug-Nanawa, Totet Banaynal, Kim Lachica; Heru Prakosa, Petrus Puspo, Joseph Chun and Andreas Setyawan. Some of them have left the Society for other paths but they remain close to my heart–Alex Puente, Joel del Corro, Mike Lambino, Roy Cosca and Rady Olazo. I think of many other people who have touched my life with richness and wisdom–Eva Galvey, Aida Endaya, Rory Valdeleon, Liya Vidal, Tina Montiel, Francisca Gloria Bustamante, Monchito and Tina Mossesgeld, Sr. Celine Santiago. Then there were my other mothers and benefactor-friends–Alice Chan, Luth Lavadia, Siony Kalalo, Girlie Kitami, Jane Franco and in many ways, my sisters, Rose, Lizzie, Ochie and Ela. Bosom friends with whom I experienced profound comunity life and friendship–Most “Lay friends with the Lord”–Miel Reyes, Karel San Juan, Mila Lagrosa; YMCA friends–Pastor Erich, Paul Balenton, Ditas Pinili-Yutuc, Roland Ubando; “Friesuits” from My Social Apostolate days; Confraternitas Jesu, Lino and Lito Rivera; CLCP; Gabay and QC Science Alumni, and many, many more as I go more deeply into memory lane. The fullness of God’s love in sending me these Baptists has been filling me to the brim.

These days, by God’s good graces, I find myself in a very joyful and supportive Jesuit community–one I’d be all too happy to break bread with on the occasion of our vows, they too are my present John the Baptists and they help me sense the deep joy of the Gospel every day I wake up to a new day of living and serving as a Jesuit. And a life of giving becomes all the more meaningful because you do it with joyful companions I have been gifted with at this point of my Jesuit life.

Today, two nights before my final profession, I am filled with profound gratitude to a God who has been real Shepherd to me, sending me the right John the Baptists whom I needed for one or other stage of my life. There had and have been more of these baptists, many unnamed who had been part of my journey–all of them preparing the way for my restless heart to find its home in the peace in my Christ. I thank the Lord for all of them and I invite all of you as well to contemplate all your baptists with gratitude and praise. God Bless!

 

 

December 10, 2017  Leave a comment

December 8. Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception

according-to-thy-word-annunciation

 

 

To Pray on and Ponder:  Luke 1, 26-38

Id quod volo (That which we most deeply desire): That the Lord may shape in us a heart that is docile, open, radically trusting that “letting be” becomes the constant whisper of our hearts before the Lord, as it was for Mary in her own fiat: “Let it be done to me according to Thy Word.”

 

 

 

Let It Be (Beatles)

When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be, Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, Let it be

And when all the brokenhearted people, Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be

Let it be, let it be, Let it be, let it be
Yeah, there will be an answer let it be
Let it be, let it be, Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

And when the night is cold, There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

It could very well be that the Mary figure in the Beatle’s classic, “Let it Be” is really some mother figure or even marijuana for that matter, but the connection between the phrase “Let it be” and the name of “Mary” is just too memorable for me not to think about it on this Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. An interviewee for my thesis once described how she saw this phrase as crucial in our life of faith.

“Let Be” is a performative phrase that demonstrates much “letting go and letting be” in one’s actions. It was through a series of “let be’s” that God is said to have created the universe, e.g., “Let there be light . . .” was God’s first creative act that created order where there was chaos and disorder.To this day, I contemplate God calling forth “Let there be light” in my own life and perhaps yours too so that God may create order where there is chaos and disorder in our lives. But my interviewee, a master of writing promptly reminded me that with God, performatives and their actual fulfilment are tightly knit and are almost actualized in the very speech. For God speech and act are in the same eternal moment, though for us, the bigger part of a performative is a promise which is yet to be fulfilled in day-to-day acts.

Our Lady’s life was pretty much set at fourteen. She was betrothed to a just man, but God would intervene into her life and an angel broke the news to her that she was going to be the mother of God’s Word-made-flesh. Her life suddenly turned over. After several questions from an expectedly surprised maiden, profound calm and peace took over her docile heart and before God’s big plan, she uttered her own performative “Let it be done unto me according to your Word,” and in that instant, God’s love from eternity, God’s new redeeming performative took flesh in Mary’s yes. By Mary’s yes, what the priest prays in every mass has become a real path to our adoption as children of God: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in Christ’s divinity as he humbled himself to share in our humanity.” And many other things became possible. Let humans like us know what it means to love as God loves by looking at Jesus and the life he led with Mary and Joseph Let humans like us reflect deeply on this singular grace-filled event and trust deeply in our humanity because God has ratified it as a most privileged way of becoming like God, a desire that slipped through Adam and Eve’s grasp.

In Mary’s performative “Let it be” we now have the space to offer our own performatives. We speak our response of Mary-and-baby-jesuspromise to God and entrust its fulfilment in active and loving surrender. We let go and let be, knowing that our lives would ultimately make sense only if we make it a constant manger for God’s birthing into our world, for God’s love to take flesh in our day to day thoughts and loves and actions. It’s as if another chapter in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ is appended as more and more are born as new alter Christus, new “other Christs” making God’s love reign in our world.

But Mary’s “let be” is a graced disposition of the heart that we must beg for from the Holy Spirit. It is contemplative stance in the flesh. It is freedom of heart and humble surrender before a God whose love we have personally known through and through and so a God for whom we have come to trust deeply even as we tread a future we know so little about. All we know is the one who calls us into this future is the God of love whose goodness we have known. As we continue to deepen into Advent, we ask that this grace of a consistent “letting be and letting God” be the climate of our hearts and we ask for Our Lady’s intercession for this unique grace that is hers in an excellent and singular way. God Bless!

December 8, 2017  Leave a comment

December 7 (St. Ambrose). The Incarnate Word: The Strength of Good Values Embodied.

house-on-rock-011To Pray on and Ponder: Isaiah 26,1-6; Psalm 118,1.8-9.19-21.25-27a; Matthew 7,21.24-27

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”   — Mahatma Gandhi

I recalled this Gandhi quote as I reflected upon the readings for today’s Catholic liturgy. These years when many parts of the world are experiencing the force of super typhoons and catastrophic , we read these words of wisdom from the Gospel of Matthew: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house, but it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.” (We presume of course that illegal logging, irresponsible mining and global warming and irresponsible deforestation of our watershed mountains were not in the world that Matthew was describing here so the house can stay “solidly on rock” without having to contend with flash floods with rogue logs or landslides or supertyphoon wind surges). Without those environmental catastrophes we simply focus on the incarnational principle behind “listening to God’s Word and acting on them.” It is quite known in formation and values education circles that a value acted out repeatedly is a much more stable value in a person than an ideal publicly proclaimed. For the value that has been acted out repeatedly has involved the person’s body moving about in the orientation that the value suggests the body go. The value has been embraced and enfleshed somehow. The person has allowed his or her body to communicate the reality of the value and many times the person has had to say “no” to other values to make space for this newfound value and say “yes” to it. Perhaps I am a person who values excellent accomplishment of work goals and have been quite accustomed to demanding quality work from my office companions without due sensitivity to the effects my demands have on their health and the quality of time they have left for their families. Sure our work at the office may show good results in the short term, but the increasing discontent will eat away work morale and may ultimately affect work performance in the long term. When I am awakened to the effects of my misplaced valueing for work and balance it off with a new found value of wellness and right relationships then something may change in myself, in my workmates, among relationships in the office and still perhaps radiate good changes in relationships with whom our workmates engage. The value of excellence at work then becomes redefined with other values being embraced and emphasized, namely, wellness, quality bonding time with loved ones, a culture of courtesy and kindness at work, etc. And these new clustering of values find their way not only as ideals in our thought processes, but as norms for behaviour and actions, as virtues reflected in our habits, or as convictions the are the fruit of repeated flesh-and-blood choices. These embraced values that have become convictions and virtues somehow form part of begin to form part of our stable personal qualities and help shape life directions and destinies. When it is the Word of God that is the value at stake, then what we are about is the prospect of radical conversion, i.e., the Word of God becoming the principle that shapes our thoughts, our affections, our desiring, our choices, the values with which we conduct our works and relationships, the norms which guide our life directions and commitments.Before we know it the “Christic” in us begins to take shape and people begin to recognize God’s presence when we are around them. And we become real sources of edification for others. Our dealings with them serve to remind them and make them feel the reality of God’s love in their lives. As we make progress in our advent journey, we ask the Lord for that experience of the incarnation of God’s Word in our lives, that we become real mangers for the birthing of God’s presence in our corner of the world through our very thoughts and feelings, our actions and choices, our life calls and commitments. God Bless!

December 7, 2017  Leave a comment

Dec 6 (St. Nicolas). In the House of the Lord, All my Days!

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 25,6-10a; Psalm 23, 1-6; Matthew 15,29-37.

“To dwell in the House of the Lord, all my days!”  If we go by Isaiah’s and the psalmist’s descriptions of what it is to dwell in the Lord’s house, that promise should indeed count for more than winning the first prize in the coveted lotto–a continuing feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines–no uncomfortable divisions, no deceptions or secrets, no sickness or death, no tears, no reproach–only feasting, redemption and joy. What else would we need a big lotto winning for?

To live in the house of the Lord all our days is to receive personal care par excellence from our Good Shepherd Lord: always attentive to our needs, constantly guiding us to where the pasture is green and lush, to where waters are silent and safe to approach for a refreshing drink, always guiding us through right paths, and protecting us with God’s very identity as we walk the perils of the dark valley. With a God who chooses and claims us as God’s own, heals us and makes us whole, anoints us to boot, provides quite a good spread on our table, protects us from our enemies and makes sure our cup always overflows, what a life we anticipate with God! We can only imagine a God who not only loves each one of us but loves us lavishly and extravagantly! Such coming home to God is worth all our advent wait.

Were we to ask why, the Gospel would only give us this reply: because of deep compassion in God’s heart. God has seen us move about in our pilgrimage, struggling to follow him. God has seen us sick and tired from the cares of this world, hungry and on the verge of collapse. God has seen us grasp at the little hoard of bread and fish in our stash, secretly kept so we can at least be assured of a bigger share. A small bit of bread would not satisfy the hunger seven thousand member crowd, would it? Yet Jesus draws out the the giftedness from people who otherwise see poverty and lack, and from our frail and faulty gifts, God’s grace miraculously creates abundance and generosity. It is not the small bit of bread that satisfies deep hungers, but the love and sharing of gifts. And what an amazing aftermath: we still see traces of miraculous abundance as we fix our gaze at the crowd’s left-overs. And as the Lord’s disciples, we gather the people’s fragments so we can use them to continue feeding the hungry.

Advent invites us to reflect: What hungers or illness do we bring before the Lord at this time? Listen attentively to 7778180-autumn-cornucopia--symbol-of-food-and-abundanceJesus as he intimates the compassion he feels for you. How does Jesus’ disclosure of the depth of compassion he feels for you affect you or move you? When the Lord asks, “How many loaves do you have?” what small bit of riches are you wont to disclose and donate? What does the miracle of the loaves and fish stir in you? What does this “ministry of gathering fragments” suggest to you?

As we continue to breathe the advent air, may we feel this growing sense of expectancy and anticipation for the provident care that the Lord gives, praying with a deeply grateful heart, “only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life!”  God Bless!

December 6, 2017  Leave a comment

September 24. “Unfair” is an “Entitled” Heart’s Complaint.

laborers-in-the-vineyard-2015-01-01To Pray on and Ponder: Matthew 20, 1-16a

Id quo volo (That which I desire the most): A heart awakened to the manifold gifts of God that come to me to sustain me through my life and to empower me to lovingly share God’s gifts to others. That the Lord protect my heart from the poison of a rabid sense of entitlement.

At first reading, I find my guts squirming when I read that part of the text of the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard when the first hour workers begin to argue with the landowner about unfair wages, which for them meant why they who worked eight hours were receiving the same wages as those who had worked only for an hour. To my “human rights” and “often-the-self-sufficient-person” mind I was telling myself that the statement of these first hour workers were quite reasonable. They did good full day’s work and they were entitled to good pay for that full day. It’s but stuff of human rights.

Yet, there was something about the Landowner which makes me hold my guts and listen more attentively. He responds to the first hour workers quite simply: “My friend, I have done you no wrong. Did you not agree to a day’s wage for your full day’s work? Why do you begrudge my generosity?” And so taking a second look at the story, and this time from the perspective of the land owner, we realize that indeed there was no justice issue here. 

In fact first, it was compassion and urgency that may have moved the landowner to go out and continue recruit more workers even if it was a losing end for him to have to pay them a full day’s wage for a shorter period of work. This action of his was also good response in a context where there were many idle men who needed work, and where a plentiful harvest of perishable fruit had to be processed fast.

Ultimately, it was generosity and gratuity that the Landowner showed when he chooses to pay all the workers a full wage despite the differences in the number of work hours that they gave.talents_main

And so I am brought to reflection on my gut reaction. Where was the squirming of my guts coming from? What did I find wrong here? Why was my heart complaining, “foul and unfair.”

And what I find in my heart was this: the lethal poison called “entitlement”.

When I do something good before God, the self-sufficient in me very naturally scores points of entitlement: “Lord I did this and this for you, perhaps you can give me this in return . . . .” so much for St. Ignatius, “to give and not count the costs, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and ask not for reward . . . .”

What I conveniently and quite constantly forget is that whatever I have or hold, whatever I am, whatever gifts I use for every good deed I am able to do—all of these—is gift. And I were to be really honest, it is the Lord who is entitled for anything I can do or give.

The evangelist would even go to the extent of reminding us of what a servant does when the master gives him or her a kind, pat-on-the-back praise for some duty fulfilled, “I am but a servant of the master, I have only done what is expected of me.” Yet Jesus would more generously respond to us and say, “I no longer call you servants but friends, I have shared everything with you and I will even lay down my life for you, my friends.”

Face to face, with such a Lord, any sense of entitlement in my heart ought to melt away. And my heart ought to be filled with deep gratitude and generosity. We are drawn by this Great Love and in fact, we are empowered to love in turn only from the same wellspring of love.

September 24, 2017  Leave a comment

Sept 3. (22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time). Embracing the Cross in My Following of Jesus

form20iamlightScripture Text to Pray on and Ponder: Matthew 16, 21-27Id quod volo (That which I desire most): Light to see the deeper meaning of the Cross in my life of discipleship, so I may embrace self-sacrificing love as a real sign of God’s loving presence in my life and world.

Our readings for this morning invite us to reflect on the shadow of the Christ’s cross in our lives. The closest I can describe what this cross could mean for us is to use the phrase “self-sacrificing love”. A deep love we can feel and offer for a person so much so you are able to sacrifice much just so you can make that person feel your love for him or her.

Once I made a retreat with the former Jesuit Fr. Antonio Lambino. And he recounted to us a story about a woman who stared at the sun directly, seemingly unmindful of the ill effects this practice might have on her aging eyes. One of the concerned neighbors finally had the courage to approach her to ask what the matter was and why she was doing this. The mother was told to have replied quite briefly and to the point: “You see, somewhere in Vietnam, my son, remains and is suffering. A fellow of his who was fortunate to have returned from the way told me the unfortunate news that my son got blinded while in battle and that was why he wasn’t able to escape with them. Each day that I feel I experience a fraction of that blindness, I also feel closer to my suffering son. I can’t bear the thought that my beloved son is suffering more than I am.”

“Foolish and impractical!” some of us may be led to say. But a few would be able to deny that what the mother was doing was in fact a genuine show of love. The logic of genuine love always goes beyond what is practical and what rationalization can calculate. For the human heart can find in itself a capacity for freedom and a profound commitment to a beloved that is far beyond logical expectation. It is only within this perspective of genuine love that I am able to understand and fathom the depth of Jesus’ choice for poverty, humiliations and humility in his response of love to the Father and to his closest disciples and circle of friends. I guess someone who really loves another will find it hard to allow a situation where the beloved suffers more than he or she does. I recall a scene from the beautiful C.S. Lewis biopic, “Shadowlands” where C.S. Lewis while beholding her suffering, cancer-stricken wife, Joy, prayed to God so that he and not she might experience body pain caused by the cancer, even if only for the last few minutes of her life–that she may die in peace and tranquility rather than in severe pain. The smile that flashed from Joy’s face and the pain the C.S. felt were confirmation enough to C.S. that the Lord had answered his prayer.

A third story I recall is something that my theology professor Fr. Catalino Arevalo once recounted in a homily on the cross. He said in a communist country abroad, a very young man was executed before a big crowd and the persecutors did not know that the prisoner’s younger brother was in that crowd. As the prisoner was being crucified, a practice which clearly mocked his beliefs, the younger brother was said to have whispered, in the tune of a Jewish Psalm of Lamentations, “why, why o Lord have you forsaken your people, where are you in all these senseless suffering?” And then a taller woman who stood beside the young boy, one who the boy did not know, held the boy’s hand and whispered back to him, “he is there son, God is right there, suffering with your brother.”

Let me now propose some meanings of the cross for us.

First, the cross is deep love that draws us out of ourselves and draws us 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!Christ on the cross

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.

So we pause and ponder once more: How deeply have I really known the love of Jesus? How much of his love draws me out of myself to bring myself to love others with the love of Jesus and to embrace this love even at the risk of suffering for it? Consider each person I find in my circle of relationships–what sort of love am I able to radiate to them? Am I able to make them feel a little more deeply, the love that only Jesus can give?

 

September 3, 2017  Leave a comment

August 10. St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr. Joyful, Radical, Fruitful Self-Giving

blood-crossTo Pray on and Ponder. 2 Corinthians, 9, 6-10; Psalm 112, 1-9; John 12, 24-26.

It is said that in the year 258, there were seven deacons in the Church and the one appointed to assist the Bishop of Rome, Pope Sixtus was St. Lawrence. On one occasion Pope Sixtus was arrested and led out to die, and St. Lawrence stood by, weeping because he could not share his Bishop’s fate: “I was your minister when you consecrated the blood of Our Lord, why do you leave me behind now that you are about to shed your own?” The holy Father’s words of comfort in reply to Lawrence was: “Do not weep, my son, in three days you will follow me.” We know that indeed those words comforted the deacon, for when three days came to pass, his own martyrdom did come as the Pope prophesied and his death was such a joyful, radical and fruitful self-giving.

After the Pope died, the Prefect demanded from the deacon information about the riches of the Church. The holy deacon told the Prefect to come at an appointed time when he would point to him the said riches. Lawrence was said to have gathered the poor, the infirm and the religious into the Church and when the Prefect came, he pointed to them saying, “here are the riches you are looking for, riches exceeding all the wealth of the empire. they are the most valued treasures of the Church.”

St. Lawrence special love for the poor and the infirm gave him strength in the conflict that ensued. He was said to have been roasted over small fire. And even in this great suffering he was said to have made sport of his pains telling his tormentors, “please turn me around now. I am already well done on this side–and if you wish, take now and eat.” Ultimately, Christ, the Father of the poor received him into eternal life, for God showed by the glory which shone around Lawrence, the value that God set upon his love for the poor.

A Basilica, considered as one of the seven principal basilicas in Rome and one, much frequented by 0719-Caravaggio-painting-st.-lawrence_full_600[1]Ignatius in his lifetime arose from where St. Lawrence was buried. Many prayers have been miraculously granted in that holy site, a sign that this holy deacon even while in heaven, has not retired yet from his ministry of charity to those in need.

For us though, reflecting on this saint we honor today, we ask ourselves, to what extent have we allowed ourselves the follow the path of the seed which embraces death so as to spring forth to a new and fruitful life? How deeply ingrained in our hearts are the virtues of charity and love that we give of ourselves not only fully, but also cheerfully? And how far can our love for the poor and the infirm lead us to self-giving that our works of mercy shine forth as radical witness and true martyrdom, even the so-called “white martyrdom,” i.e., the day-to-day dying to self? I think it was Blessed John Paul II who preached once in the Philippines on the occasion of the beatification of our own St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo Ruiz, also named after Lawrence the Deacon!): “To die for the faith is a gift to some, but to live the faith is a call for all.” God Bless!

August 10, 2017  Leave a comment

August 5. The Irony in Herod’s Sin

images-26To Pray on and Ponder:  Leviticus 25, 1.8-17; Matthew 14, 1-12

Id quod volo (That which we most deeply desire): To be attentive to the way we are lured into evil ways so we may open our vulnerable parts to the workings of God’s grace and virtues and be protected from falling into the traps of the evil one.

It is a bit of a puzzle to me why our readings are combined for us this morning. In our first reading we read of the Book of Leviticus, the lovely prescriptions of the Jubilee Year, i.e., the special year of grace proclaimed after the seventh Sabbath year. We can almost hear of the extravagance with which God’s love is lived when this year of grace happens—the year of homecoming, the year when slaves are freed, the year when all land is put to rest and people are to consume only produce gathered from the wild, the year when all debt is cancelled. We know that God’s love is always over and above whatever we can imagine God to give us—there is always largesse in the way God gives us gifts and the way God pours out Godself to us. Although many of us attempt to compete with God in ways of loving, we can never outdo God in love and generosity. Because God always takes delight in us, his people.

But what we see in the Gospel is a very corrupted version of this. We see in our Gospel account a portrait of who was supposed to be God’s chosen—the Jewish King. And yes we also see in his story extravagance and largesse. But since Herod’s delight is based not on love but on lust and thirst for power, his ways—pretty much like the fall of an old predecessor of his in the person of David–his ways ended up in the murder of an innocent, a prophet in the person of John the Baptist.

Herod lusted for his mistresses daughter. His obvious delight and lust for the young lady showed in the extravagance with which he wanted to reward Salome made him publicly promise even half of his kingdom only after the girl’s very alluring and tempting dance. Such a misplaced and imprudent promise ended up in murder as Salome upon the bidding of her mother asked for the head of John the Baptist.

Ironically, Herod felt compelled to fulfill his dishonorable word because he had made it so publicly before his honored guests—delight, extravagance, fidelity to oath are all beautiful things—but when they are connected with a very corrupt heart, the sin that it bears fruit in is like the sour grapes that a bad vineyard yields probably abundantly, yet unfit for consumption.

Perhaps we can pause and reflect on this depiction of sin in three short points:

First, sin especially the type that lures leaders, somehow mimics gracious action, but turns awry. The sinful person pursues some valid good, but corrupt motives blur and misdirect values and the original good being pursued ends up in destruction. And because leaders have the power to create great and extravagant good, the destruction that is made in the end is also great and extraordinary!

Second, we find here two dynamics that St. Ignatius describes in his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits. He says that some people live their life as though they were moving from sin to sin. For this types of people, the evil one only need to encourage status quo quietly and they will bear bad fruit continually, without fail.

But here we might also apply something Ignatius said which relates well with leaders or people advancing in the service. As a leader Herod must have been a prime target of the evil one for a leader claimed for the standard of evil will misdirect more souls to the cause of evil than say an ordinary mortal will. And so the evil one has to constantly look at the weak points of the leader, pound him on those weak points of his fortress, until his whole fortress falls. The evil one can also exaggerate one of other of the leader’s virtues and make the leader fall into imprudence and ensnare him back into slavery after that.

Finally, we may want to revert to the prescriptions of the Jubilee in order not to fall into the trap that Herod fell into. To celebrate the Jubilee means we all return to the tender mercies of God and acknowledge that all the good we enjoy comes from the extravagant love of God, and these come as gifts graciously given us. To celebrate the Jubilee we are also invited to acknowledge our sinful ways and be liberated from our debts. To celebrate the Jubilee we are asked to restore right relationships—Creator to us creatures and creatures among ourselves. The love and justice that ensues from this restoration of covenant life will prevent anyone from mimicking God’s extravagance in ways that are destructive because they really proclaim, not God’s praise but ego.

I’d like to suggest that if we simply follow in the ways of Our Lady—keeping our life, our persons, our souls transparent mirrors of God’s extravagant love, then we will prevent the coming out of Herod’s from our hearts.

 

August 5, 2017  Leave a comment

July 31 (Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola). Diving into Ignatius’ Cardoner (Or Walking his Pilgrim’s Way)

Id quod volo: To explore the sacred spaces of St. Ignatius’ story and sense resonances with my own life story.

The story of a person’s life can be likened to a riverflow or if one wishes to use another metaphor, a road. River or road can be easily applied to Ignatius as we all know a major moment in his life happens by the bank of Cardoner and that the greater of his life he spent as pilgrim who was always on the way, always walking from some origin to some destination.

We imagine ourselves now to dive deep into Ignatius’ Cardoner or to walk in his Pilgrim’s way and while exploring this flow or path, we encounter the significant Sacred symbols that occur in this stream, each symbol replete with dynamic meanings, and capable of making us sense resonance or dissonance with our Founder’s narrative depending on where we are in our own (Jesuit) story.

Diving into the deep for instance we can ask ourselves questions like when we look back to the beginnings of our own stories, Can we locate life shattering cannon ball experiences? or Did we also experience confinement on a bed of convalescence where life gave us a moment to heal what is broken in us and find our bearings in a whole new world of vowed life and mission?

Did we also climb some mountain of transcendence like Moses did his Sinai or Elijah his Horeb or our Lord his Calvary or of course, Ignatius his Montserrat, and there experience some grand encounter with our God enough for us to surrender the sword that previously meant the world to us?

Like the epic heroes of old, did we also retreat into a cave to lick the wounds of our initial defeats, learn from some wise mentor, die to ourselves and rise as new persons ready to live a radically new life and cause. Even Superman and Batman had to retreat to their caves, even Luke Skywalkers. Every hero needs this momentary cocoon experience—a tomb of sorts when we need to die to old selves and a womb of sorts for the new self to be born. Ignatius himself retreated into his Manresa and this made him confront himself with radical honesty and surrender himself totally to the God who loved him and offered him new life. In that cave Ignatius must have experienced looking at God delightfully looking at him with much love, redeeming him, transforming him so that his native gifts may be put to good use for a life dedicated to God’s greater praise and service. Did we also have this cave experience where an honest-to-goodness First Week general examen happened and we ended up rising to an honest-to-goodness oblation to our Christ the King.

Or perhaps our cave took the form of an inquisition cell where frustrations or disillusionment or brushes with the Church we so desired to serve may have taken its toll on us because the Church has also done things that have hurt us or disedified us or limited us. Like Ignatius did we come out of this space of liminality even stronger with our resolve to think and work with the Church.

Or just maybe our cave is in the form of the University or the Collegio, where the grand visions of our Cardoners had to take back seat so we can focus on what hidden life of studies can teach us, giving letter to whatever Spirit inspires us into, helping us build concrete things from our consolations and inspirations, the better for us to engage the world as Ignatian apostolic life would have us do, rather than flee from it in retreat. Or the Collegio, where Ignatius first experienced dreaming and praying and working with companions and where he resolved to band together in common life and mission. From this Collegio experience, Ignatius life in companionship would grow as they engaged the Urban Vineyard of a Venice—where they discerned where people gathered and met, where they experimented on rhythms of prayer and work, where they prayed and discerned in common, where they built, operated and transferred services and ministries to trusted confraternities which they formed and prepared.

Or perhaps our riverflow has already brought us to that wayside chapel at some La Storta, a place in the Manresaperiphery, a place of a twist or a bend, where like Ignatius, something clarifies for us, that the Jerusalem we’ve been pining to reach may really be Rome where God calls us. Where life’s twists may introduce some change in our life’s direction, but in following this, we also receive God’s certain assurance of abiding presence and favor, never mind the crosses that go with following this path. What delights us is that like Jesus at his baptism, we hear the Father making colloquy with his Son asking him to take us by his side.

On this Feast of Ignatius, with which Sacred Space in our Founder’s life do we find great resonance where we are in our life right now? Where do we sense God moving in our lives and how do we go about following after his lead?

 

 

 

 

July 31, 2017  Leave a comment

April 16 (Easter Sunday). The Gradual Dawning of Easter Light

IMG_1549To Pray on and Ponder: Acts 10, 34a.37-43; Psalm 118, 1-2.16-17.22-23; Colossians 3, 1-4; John 10, 1-9.

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To be attentive to the smallest and subtlest signs of God’s new light and new life in my day-to-day world, a sharpening discernment to sense God quickening in the grey areas of my life, and enough courage and generosity to meet God where he calls me so I may embrace more and more fully my vocation to be a child of Easter light and I may help accompany others who also need companions to crossover from darkness to light.

The beautiful Canticle of Zechariah found in the Gospel of Luke is a prayer of praise we pray every morning when we do that part of the Liturgy of the Hours referred to as Lauds. The last few lines of the prayer can be for us a beautiful depiction of what was happening to the disciples on those early days of Easter:

“In the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The light of a new dawn is a good metaphor for many things that happen in the easter experience of Jesus’ followers, although the Filipino image of “magbubukang-liwayway” seems to me a more accurate picture of how light dawns upon us–more like the spreading-open of a fan, the gradual unfolding of layers of light that slowly spreads over the once dark nightscape, than the more forceful breaking of light, like that of a lightning bolt which slices through the horizon. For we human beings can really only rest in a love that is freely given, unconditional, without demand of an exchange–but a love so attractive and enticing that we give back an offer of love anyway. We open to the prospect of healing love, we allow ourselves to become vulnerable–there’s no other way, wounds heal, except to have it exposed to the healing agent. And the more we trust and entrust, the more this God’s transforming power can reach deep into us to restore order into things, to sort out our entangled desires, to give us courage and generosity to die to our old selves and rise to the new self that our compassionate God means to create–that enlightened, free, loving and peaceful self.

For the disciples, the dawning of recognition, understanding and belief, of renewed hope and zeal, of courage and daring testimony came gradually. After the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, the disciples were scattered scared. Only a handful went as far as the foot of the cross and the tomb–Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary of Magdala, Mary wife of Cleopas and the beloved disciple, John. Simon Peter tried to follow in Jesus’ footsteps but was overcome by fright once bystanders recognized him and squealed him to others as one of Jesus’ disciples. In Peter’s fright, he denied Jesus three times as Jesus himself predicted. But slowly, Jesus would show himself alive to all of them, first, I believe to Mary, our Lord’s mother, then as Scriptures testify, to Mary of Magdala, and then to the disciples hiding at the Cenacle, then further on to the Lord’s second layer of disciples–presumably including the disciples who walked to Emmaus and also to the persecutor Saul of Tarsus, who after Easter light came upon him blinded him so that in three days he may see again with new eyes as Paul, apostle to the gentiles. By the moment of Pentecost, we find the motley group of disciples already out in the streets, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaiming what it means to receive new life in Jesus–there we really see the birth-ing of a new church, a new communion filled with the Spirit of Jesus, spreading the good news of love and mercy and compassion in the power of the Spirit.

And the same might be true for us in our everyday Holy Saturday world. We must continue to seek small subtle signs of IMG_0580this new life. Perhaps in a small stir of the heart to forgive. Perhaps it is in an inspiration to be more honest and genuine to oneself and to other people. Perhaps it is brewing courage to give oneself into a relationship of love and care. Perhaps it is a wake up call, to discenter ones preoccupations and realign ones efforts to God’s desires rather my own selfish schemes. Perhaps it is an invitation to finally entrust a lost loved one to the caring hands of God and to allow our Lord to heal me of the wounds of grief and loss. Perhaps it is to release myself from the hold of material things or abusive relationships that may seem to have filled an inner void but have propelled to a path of self-destruction. Perhaps it is a call to simplify, to settle for the really essential things, in order that we become a really focused loving presence to the people who matter to us. What might be the invitation to us of this gradually fanning Easter light that will renew us and move us to greater freedom and love?

We have been baptised as an Easter people after all and so even in this gray, sometimes bleak Holy Saturday world, we discern God’s footprints everywhere, still gradually dawning Easter light in the dark chaos, putting order into the details of our lives, creating us, renewing us, giving us a foretaste of the Godlife which he promises to make us experience when we finally come home to the Father. Allow me once more to recall this song by the Bukas Palad ministry on these days of the Easter octave. They are like a creed of sorts, an identity anthem for Easter people like us. The second stanza best captures for me the joyful proclamation of an easter child. For an easter child draws courage and zeal for living God’s compassion in their service because they too first receive God’s light while they groped in the darkness of their lives, and they too received God’s lovingkindness when there seemed none in the world where they struggled to live. After experiencing God’s personal care in people around them, they rise and join the ranks of God’s ambassadors of love, dedicating much of their lives to be Christ’s hands and feet for others, and so become new lights that do shine for those who still walk in darkness.

We are the children of easter morning
We sing to proclaim the Lord’s might
Now there’s meaning to a life of dying
For the Lord our God has conquered the night
With joy we dedicate our lives to the service
Of the God of life whose goodness we’ve known
Until our lives be themselves our song of easter morn.

I wish you all a Blessed Easter, and pray that we all experience this slow, subtle dawning of Easter light in our lives and through us who believe, may others experience God’s light shining in them as well! God Bless and Happy Easter to all!

April 16, 2017  Leave a comment

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