To 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.
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
Scripture 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!
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
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
To 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 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
To 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 periphery, 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
To 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 this 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
A Prayer to Creatures
Come, let us pray
that the seed of our life’s flowering,
falls not upon rock, falls not upon thorns
or that hard frost
or among the weeds.
But today’s sorrow,
prepare the world’s soil
and sift for sowing tomorrow.I beseech you
Because, when the flame is lit,
the wax is consumed quickly.
When the leaf flowers
swift is the withering.
But if the seed falls into the heart in fallow,
the passing loveliness,
the flicker of light,
will remain in the dark night,
to flower with eternal life.
I fell in love with that poem the first time I read it. It was a woman named Caryll Houselander who wrote it. I found it in an anthology of spiritual writings written by women. There’s something about the feminine heart that allows for a deep intuition into Godlife. This is perhaps why, it is to women that the first apparitions of the Risen Lord are ascribed. Hindi po totoong kaya sa mga babae unang nagpakita si Jesus ay para kumalat agad ang balita! The women were the last to bid goodbye to the dead Jesus laid on the tomb. The women braved the cursing, jeering crowd and expressed their compassion for Jesus up to the very end. And alas, they also graced the tomb that was the womb of Jesus’ rebirth to new life. Caryll’s poem was entitled “A Prayer to Creatures.” And for a while there I read it as a woman’s poem to fellow creatures. Caryll was praying about fragile life. She was praying about proper seedbeds for new life’s flowering. She was praying for gentleness, for at it’s peak, life is consumed so quickly. She was praying for fertile hearts, so that in death, the seed may rest in the dark only to sprout anew when the new day dawns. Caryll’s sensitivity and attention to life’s rhythm edifies me. I sense the fragility she feels in life. I sense that what makes lives flow are twists and turns that make up life’s rhythm. And part of how I suck the marrow out of life is to listen to it, learn from it, receive from the manifold gifts that life never fails to offer to us day by day. Caryll’s poem awakened the feminine in my heart. For several days it felt like I slowed down, entered a listening and watching mode to life, created some fertile space within me which lay ready when life’s seeds would fall. Docility and receptivity became the theme of my life for days. And I remembered many places in life that such docility prove to be important. I thought of farmers who after planting their crop would stay in vigil until the first sprouts come out. I thought of games of poker and scrabble where one needs some time to imagine the best possible combinations of ones cards or tiles. I recall how slowly and painstakingly a sinful pattern in my character is noticed, exposed, unearthed, and uprooted in the course of long years of formation. I imagine what goes on in the heart of the mother-in-waiting as she contemplates the movement of some new life within her.
And in that powerful stance of docility and receptivity, I remember the empty tomb. Perhaps one way of looking at the empty tomb is this: a docile and receptive heart is the proper womb of our Lord’s risen life. These reflections would linger in my heart until the day when I read the poem in an entirely new light. This time, the poem struck me not as Caryll’s piece addressed to fellow creatures. The title struck me. It said: “Prayer to creatures.” And I asked myself, might this be God’s prayer to God’s creatures?
Might God be talking to us God’s creatures and pleading that we plough some space in our otherwise weeded or arid heartland so that the seed of Godlife may find a bed to quicken it to birth? Might God be pleading creatures to slow down, and gently take their life to heart, for human life is but a short song to sing? Might God be asking us to brave the many nights of our dying so we ourselves may give life to others?
Almost instantly, I felt myself entering the heart of the crucified one. From where he was nailed, the Jesus I saw was pining for a heart which understood, a heart which empathized, a heart whose love also knew how to bleed for a loved one. Jesus was looking for one such heart, as if pleading to the Father, as Noah once did, “only one heart my Father, and perhaps all the pain will no longer be in vain.” When even his closest disciples fled for fear of arrest, what can be counted as success in his life’s work? After all he was faithful to his mission to the end.
When I arose from that prayer, I had a sense of what my Lord was telling me. God’s redemption is there, but it is there for the taking. God was not about to force love and life to everyone. People need to be prepared. People need to be weaned out of their selfishness. People need to be formed in the way of God’s truth, and God’s hope and God’s love.
In this quiet sort of prayer, the glory of the Easter liturgy all fell into place in my mind. I understood the rhythm that went with God’s manner of creation. I understood how God builds order where there is chaos. Piece by piece, layer by layer, as an artist paints layer by layer of his obra, God prepares a world in which human life can thrive and build, and love and return to God in worship. And even though the writers of Genesis write of God’s sabbath rest, I sense utter activity and fruitfulness in the way God commits to rest. And looking at the pattern of my own life and the world around, somehow I know, God has not rested in creating the world and myself. In the same vein, I see how God’s creating is not without cost. God pours Godself to share life to us. God gives the Son who in turn sheds off his life to make us fill with God’s Spirit. No it is not Abraham who had to give up an Isaac for his God. It was God who had to give up a Jesus for us. And in that same Spirit, we are asked whether there might Isaac’s we might want to give up that means life to another.
In the same spirit, I see how God’s creating means freedom for me. I understand the many times I choose to stay a slave in my own Egypts, even as God calls me to my exodus. I know the many times when selfishness is just so stubbornly set in my heart that I choose to stay in the comfort of my masks and pretenses rather than be born into my more authentic self, as the people of God was called to birth by Yahweh in their passage through the red sea. I know how even in those times when I already thread my own desert to my own Promised Land, and experience clear movement to wholeness and healing, I would look back to my Egypts with nostalgia or worse, a subtle consent to backsliding.
And yet overall, when I look at my life; when I look at my world, I sense the power of God’s desire pumping life within me and around me. For I remember religious sisters passing on the last life jackets to the people around them, knowing that they will sink with the illfated ship. I remember the many generous and committed people in an EDSA rally which communicated strength of conviction as it expressed festive communion and sharing. I remember a young Jesuit who gave away his life to save a class of students already maimed by the violence in Cambodia. I see whistle-blowers daring to speak the truth despite the dangers to his or his family’s life. I see thousands of peace-keeping forces who volunteer in the most life-threatening of places marred by extremist terror or fundamentalist fanaticism. I see many people who continue to make time to reconstruct lives of peoples and communities through donated housing and villages.
And I also see countless people seriously searching for God and some others coming forward to journey with these in their search. I witness this or that novice taking to heart the prospect of a life no less than heroic. I see a wife and mother struggling to bring her diverging missions of family and ministry together. I notice God’s subtle ways of drawing her most self-sufficient children into silence, docility and compassion. I notice friends struggling to stay in love despite the pain, and some others sticking it out in their simple ways and simple jobs in the passionate desire to bring focus to their service.
In these silent moments of noticing, the great throng of the Easter alleluiah fills my heart and sings with Mary Magdalene, yes, in my heart, I know my Savior lives. And I pray with the singers in their song, “May our simple lives be a song of praise to the goodness of the Lord. May the Lord delight in this song we sing, this song we sing with joy. If we had to sing just one song to the Lord, creator of life, may our lives be that song, resounding in praise to the goodness and glory of God. We are the children of the Easter morning, we sing to proclaim the Lord’s might. Now there’s meaning to a life of dying, for our Lord, our God has conquered the night. With joy we dedicate our lives to the service of the God of Life whose goodness we’ve known, until our lives be themselves our song of Easter morn.
May the Risen Lord fill your hearts with joy!
April 15, 2017 Leave a comment
March 12 (Second Sunday of Lent). What Makes a Person Glow? (Or Making Sense of the Transfiguration of our Lord)
To Pray on and Ponder: Mark 9, 2-10
Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To encounter Jesus whose personal integrity and passion shine forth as the Father confirms his deepest identity as Son and expresses deep delight in his faithful and passionate embrace of his mission as Messiah. To notice in ourselves and take consolation when such resonant experiences happened us and made our faces shine as brightly.:
I am sure that the mystery of the Transfiguration of our Lord carries meanings that are more than we can ever explain or imagine, but just for this morning, let me propose to you three human experiences that make a person’s face shine, that perhaps help us to make sense of the deeper mystery of the Lord’s transfiguration. I’ve seen these human experiences happen to myself and to other people especially in the context of profound religious experiences.
First, I’ve seen a face shine when the person comes to terms with a reality that he or she has been struggling with. It may be a problem whose resolution has been long in coming. Or a period of grieving for some loss has passed. Or the person experience the joy of discovering a key element in a problem or coming an insight to a question that has bugged her for some time now. In these situations, the person’s face shines because things have fallen into place and each piece of the puzzle so to speak has begun to make sense in a whole picture that has finally emerged. This experience of a puzzle coming to place was in fact something that a friend shared with me when I asked her how her previous long retreat went. She said Vic, do you remember that grade school science demonstration which our teachers did to teach us about magnetism. You know the teacher takes a sheet of paper, places some iron fillings on the paper and then she puts a magnet under the sheet and lo and behold, the iron fillings come together and form a pattern. When our teacher moves the magnet about, the whole bunch of iron fillings moves with it. You know Vic, before that retreat, I was like those scattered pieces of iron fillings, and in the retreat, God was a powerful magnet that pulled my scattered piece of self together and formed some pattern in me. And the pattern that I saw was good, very good.
A second place where I’ve seen a person’s face shine is when a person is able to acknowledge some wrongdoing, some pattern of disorder that had been kept secret for a long time. It’s as if the person has been living in a shadow, in the dark and the guilt and shame of it all have registered on the face, in lack of focus, lack of interest and energy, some kind of tepidity or sloth. When a person comes to a moment of grace and with great honesty and courage, takes responsibility for his or her bad choices, the person’s face lights up, some burden is lifted and a sense of freedom is felt, peace and joy settle in. With nothing to hide, and no guilt being carried on one’s shoulders, the person moves about with a certain lightness and focus, a greater presence and availability. The face shines. This second point though might not be in synch with explaining our Lord’s transfiguration, because in faith we believe that no sin has found a place in our Lord’s heart even as he was fully human as we are. But perhaps we say this much: that he did struggle through temptations as well, he did experience critical moments of choice and in those moments when he makes real some choice that brought him closer to his Father or more, resolved to give himself totally in the name of love, his face lit up and shone. And this brings me to my last point.
A person’s face lights up with the highest wattage, when the person comes home to his or her deepest identity before God. When the person is able to discover and be at peace with who he or she is and proclaims it, lives by it before others in relationship, in some purpose or mission, witnesses to it without fear or shame, and more, when he or she senses others affirming him or her with delight, especially those people who matter most to him or her. With our Lord, the Gospels tell of some of these moments in his life–at baptism and now in this moment of transfiguration. He touches base with who he is, embraces more fully what his mission is all about, at this stage perhaps the prospect of fully offering himself for the people he loves with the Father confirming his deepest identity as Son, a Son who elicits God’s deep delight: “This is my Son with whom I take deep delight! listen to him.”
And so we reflect and ask: In which 2 or 3 moments in our life have we seen our face shine, as though a light from deep within has lit up like a bulb of high wattage? How much of this “transfiguration” happens on account of an experience of deep religious experience–whether of being released from the burden of guilt or shame, or experiencing some aha experience–an experience of wholeness, or perhaps the profound experience of coming into one’s own, in one’s deepest identity before God? May God gift us with this profound religious experience of encountering him genuinely and experiencing his transforming grace most intensely. God bless!
March 12, 2017 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Gen 2,7-9.3,1-7; Rom 5,12-19; Mt 4, 1-11.
Id quod volo (That which I most deeply desire): To look deeply into my heart and notice the core fear that is of the serpent’s subtle suggestion, namely “that God does not desire me to be like God.”
I don’t think that the serpent’s suggestion was really simply a matter of eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This may have some bearing too, for in the story, God did forbid Adam and Eve from eating that fruit. But for me the more serious of temptations that the serpent suggests is make us believe that God would not like us to be like God, that though God has confirmed that we are part of that creation which he describes with delight as “everything is good” God simply, God still means to maintain our separation from him, keeping us from really coming close to his image and likeness, for we are simply weak and vulnerable creatures. In a sense it is a subtle suggestion that strikes our core and gives rise to all sorts of emptiness and fear that perhaps propel us to grab on any other creature that can promise to fill our lack, and assuage our fears of aloneness, of poverty, of vulnerability.
A woman religious philosopher once said that the dynamic of sin begins with this fear and emptiness. We choose fill our lives with creaturely attachments which promise to fill our hearts and save us from our fears. And when other people challenge us and mirrors our attachments, we become even more defensive and grasping and grabbing because divestment from these attachments can feel like annihilation and death of our ego. It is when defensiveness hardens our attachments into real idols (aka., other gods) and when we begin to see our well being dependent on these creatures that we actually turn away from God and succumb to sin and vice, which of course further erodes our character. Like Adam and Eve we end up alienated from ourselves (notice that they hid in shame for they were naked); alienated from other persons (as with all the successive blaming that ensued after the fall), alienated from other creatures (the blaming and banning of the serpent and the cursing of the ground) and finally, alienated from God (they hid and didn’t want God to see them).
Consider then temptations our Lord faced in the desert and you find the more usual stuff of temptation–things, power and renown, which the demon seems to suggest to Jesus to lure the latter to take on redemption of himself or others into his own hands: “Rely on bread rather than feed on God’s Word constantly and faithfully; show yourself important to God by falling from the temple parapet and having yourself rescued by God’s army of angels–what a show! and then, worship me (Satan) and receive power over the whole world!” St. Ignatius of Loyola, the master of discernment suggests that we notice the pattern of “Satan’s strategy” as it unfolds in our own lives: the evil one deceives–first its lures us into entrusting our lives in riches which then stirs in us a desire for honors, for prestige, for renown that this world ordinarily gives to its kind and finally, power and pride–a sense of declaring ourselves independent, capable of living by ourselves, of becoming so filled with pride that we look at our God glaringly and say: “I don’t need you!” Of course even if we are able to say these words with pride and bravado, we also know deep in ourselves that this statement of a bloated ego is founded on a big lie. Everything we have and hold is gift. All our riches and talents are gifts. Our capacity to feel, to reason, to choose, to love–all these are gifts. In fact our very life and breath are gifts.
And so Ignatius gives us the wise counsel–to fix our gaze on Jesus Christ, our Eternal Lord and King who offers us a different strategy, one that does not only counteract Satan’s strategy but also opens up a path of renewal for every disciple who wants to offer himself to our Lord. And if Satan’s strategy was riches–> honors–> pride. Christ’s on the other hand was to invite people into poverty–> humiliations–> humility. And these all translate into a humble entrustment and surrender of our lives before our Provident God, for we are creatures, we are servants, we are friends who are now adoptive children of God. Take note, children of God. God bless!
March 8, 2017 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Matthew 6, 1-6.16-18
Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That in meditating on the meaning of the ashen cross imposed on my forehead, I am able to come before you Lord and ask your Spirit to breathe life into me again, renew me and make me a channel of your life and love again.
Victor R. Baltazar
tila putikang tubig
ang abong dinilig
ng banal Mong tubig:
butil-butil na kinumpol,
sa noo nami’y kinintal,
paggunita sa nangagkalat na lupa
na tumipon sa ‘Yong Salita.
at sa isang iglap ay nalikha
ng samu’t saring gandang
nag-iisip at nagmamahal.
sana’y may bulong Kang bago’t
hingahan ang putikang tubig na loob ko,
pagkumpul-kumpulin rin nawa
na parang abong naging krus,
itong butil-butil kong
pagbangon at pagdapa
sa pananalig at pag-ibig.
panaugin ang krus mula noo
hanggang puso at pag puno na’t hitik
sa kilos ng katawan, masdan ako’t ngitian—
bumulalas rin ng “kayganda!”
sabay ganyakin mo akong muli
The figure of an ashen cross imposed on our foreheads during Ash Wednesday mass moves me deeply, and easily connects me with the symbol dynamic of primordial creation in Genesis. Scripture scholars teach us that the Jewish mind sees pre-creation world as “chaos”–represented by murky water or muddy water, very much like that material produced when you mix the ash of burnt palm fronds from the previous palm sunday and little droplets of holy water. That is the murk of our lives, the chaos that we will continue to be if we simply allow the Spirit of God to hover outside of our lives and not give him space to transform us from inside out. When we allow the minister to impose an ashen cross figure on our foreheads, it is like we say “amen” to two things: “yes, I have been living with chaos in some areas in my life and I am responsible for it–mea culpa!” and second, “yes, I am most consoled to surrender myself to your love, O God; I welcome your coming to me at this time, and inviting me to your saving path of the cross, to purify me, to redeem me, and to conscript me to your project of loving many others you mean to entrust to me in the future.”
The first poem quoted in the beginning of this reflection was written in Rome after a prayer within the season of Lent in 2005. This sequel of sorts was written in February 28 five years ago (2012) during the days of my second long retreat as a Jesuit. These poems are shared to invite you to reflect on your own lives and the places where you find murky water and the breath of God blowing as we begin this most Sacred Season of Lent. God Bless!
Hingahan Akong Muli
Victor R. Baltazar, S.J.
Panginoon, hingahang muli itong abo,
Itong tinubigang putik na krus na ikinintal sa makinis na noo,
Upang sa basbas ng walang pinipiling pag-ibig,
Itong sinugatang sukat na puso
Ay pintig ng puso mo’ng maging himig.
Nang makita ko ang mundo mula sa tayog ng iyong pangarap.
Mahalin ko rin ang daigdig ayon sa iyong itinangi at inibig.
At muling magkalaman sa aking paninindigan at pipiliin,
Ang bagong buhay na sa aki’y hangad mong likhain.
March 1, 2017 Leave a comment