April 1. Remembering the Poignant Story of Tiberias: From Misery to Mercy to Mission.

th-18To Pray on and Ponder: John 21, 1-19

Id quod volo (That which we desire most deeply): A renewed encounter with the Risen Lord who receives us in mercy and compassion and heals us from the misery of sin to renewed sense of the Lord’s entrusting to us of our share in His mission.

I am not sure if we are supposed to assume that this apparition of Jesus to his disciples by the lakeshore of Tiberias happened after several other previous apparitions had already taken place, but this particular apparition somehow represents a “complete” religious experience in itself. When Peter announces “I am going to fish” it sounds to me as though Peter was taking on again the things that he had left behind when he first chose to follow Jesus. And to me this was a sign of misery–a backslide of sorts. The leader of Jesus’ followers was stepping back from mission and returning to the life he had before he followed Jesus. And now, all the other disciples wanted to go with Peter. They all went out and got into the boat. But like that scene in the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called the first disciples, they caught nothing. Life and ministry without Jesus are always wanting in fruit, and yield nothing.

And then of course, Jesus appears and all things change.”Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find something.” Was it the case that all night long, the fish hid on the right side of the boat and rendered the left side empty? Weren’t they working in the same lake? Or was Jesus talking about that working on the wrong side of things because the Lord was not with them in their work? And so when they cast the net again on the right side of the boat, they did catch fish–an abundance of fish! Immediately John knew and said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” And hearing John’s words, Peter dressed up and then threw himself into the water, wanting to immediately swim to shore and see Jesus. For some reason though, Peter reached the shore last, while the two boats filled with the big catch reached the shore aheard. Before disciples could come around Jesus, the Lord already shouted to invite them by the fire. “Bring some of the fish that you caught,” Jesus asked.

In my own contemplation, a very humorous, irreverent Risen Lord was presiding over breakfast–keeping the tone of the conversation light and humorous, as if to lighten up the tension among the disciples who seem to continue doubting and to draw his followers into fuller reconciliation and restoration of communion. I mean I heard Jesus calling out to John and Andrew–telling them lovingly to sit on his right and on his left, “o, at least while I’m still here on earth, enjoy the moment, for in this breakfast, you will be the chief waiters. (And the disciples laugh hard!) “O Matthew, can’t you clean the fish any faster? I bet you’re still looking for coins in the mouths of fish that’s why it’s taking you so long! (And the disciples laugh again!) O Nathaniel, what are you doing by the fig tree–are you doing what I think you’re doing? There’s a comfort room somewhere near that house, you can pee there. (Haha, the disciples laugh yet again!) O Simon, please call Cleopas, Mary and Mom. Mom just went to the house because she wanted to prepare fried rice for you to go with the grilled fish. Peter finally reaching the shore, went closer to the group sheepishly. Jesus handed him a towel saying, “Finally, you’re here Peter, come closer, come by the fire. Here’s a towel you can use to dry up a bit. I wouldn’t want you sneezing before the cock crows–the disciples laugh again, with Peter showing on his pale-pink face a grin masking a frown.

When the meal was in progress, Jesus said, “a few days more I go to my Father in heaven, but you can be sure, I will gojesus_peter_fish ahead because I want to prepare a place for each one of you. When I leave, I will entrust you to the Spirit, he will take care of you, and will empower you to forgive those who repent of their sins.”

And then Jesus called Peter whom he really wanted to confirm as his leadership is crucial for the group. Peter himself receives mercy, with Jesus asking him three times to confirm his love and to renew his commitment to support his brothers and as it were, feed the sheep. Three confirmations to heal the pangs of his three previous denials.

But the one really touching part in this reconciliation conversation between Jesus and Peter was this: “Amen, amen I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you want to
go . . . follow me.” The evangelist John commented that these words of Jesus indicated the way Peter was to die. By tradition we know that Peter was crucified as Jesus was, but at Peter’s request, the leader of the apostles asked to be crucified upside down for he felt himself unworthy to die his master’s death.

To me, Jesus’ words can also indicate the kind of obedience that all followers of the Lord experience growing in their hearts as they mature in ministry. It’s this sense of being drawn to follow more faithfully and with less and less self-leading, just a free and focused following of Jesus’ lead.

And so we pause and reflect: When were those moments when we entertained some doubts in the Lord’s presence in our lives, especially in moments of crises or darkness? Return to those moments when we were tempted to take on once more sinful practices and destructive ways of coping that we lived by before our self-commitment to the Lord? How did these episodes of “backsliding” feel? From what we notice in our experience, how does God call our attention and make us remember our covenant with him and renew our love and commitment to him and his redemptive project?

As we continue to reflect on the Easter mysteries, may we also heal through God’s gift of mercy and receive a renewed entrustment to us of mission. God Bless!

April 1, 2016  Leave a comment

March 30. Two Disciples Walk to Emmaus: When God’s Story Irupts Into Ours

ev4pa13To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 24, 13-35

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To notice and savour moments in our lives when God’s story irrupts into ours and with his presence palpably felt, we feel our hurts burning.

Even the most committed and loving Christians, Church leaders and ministers, included, can live months and years of their lives doing the routine, workaday, ordinary stuff without the consoling visits from God. Life goes on and on with its usual alternative highs and lows, peaks and ebbs. We even read of someone like Mother Teresa of Calcutta who would spend most of her days serving the poorest of the poor when interiorly she’d feel herself wrestling or enduring what she perceived as the darkness of God’s absence and so she simply prayed over and over, “Come be my Light.”

In these darker moments, our better selves continue to engage the “absent God.” We find ourselves at times reporting, at times complaining, often times asking and begging for our own needs and those of others who ask us to intercede. At other times we quarrel with him whom we know entrusted some work to us and then had since left us fending for ourselves. We lament, we negotiate for what we think are our entitlements, we vent frustration at silence. Like shadow boxers we throw punches into the air. And we do all these until we get too tired to continue crying. We find ourselves stopping our shrieks and sobs. And then when silence begins to settle again, when strong emotions fade away from within our hearts, and when our minds seem to have cleared, with the tears having washed away the webs of thoughts that had crowded the mind, then some real prayer begins. We get a glimpse of wisdom from somewhere that somehow allows the light to dawn. We get to discern some order and light from all the chaos that we’ve been through. Even when we have yet to recognize the Lord, somehow we sense we are not alone anymore and there just might be another way of telling our story so with hearts burning, we listen more to this mystery unfolding.

And then slowly, we remember parts of our lives that had been kept in the dark before. For a long time I have perhaps needed to keep to a sad, self-sacrificing story, so many joyful experiences remained cut off from my memory. For a long time I have probably needed to keep to my humorous, light hearted, comic persona before my publics and so nobody knew how sad or angry I was deep inside, and so each time sadness and anger visited me, I’d quickly sweep it under the rug so to speak, lest others or I myself begin to pay attention to these unwanted feelings and then chaos would follow. Or perhaps I have many conflicting desires in my heart that I’m afraid others would find offensive and so I keep them to myself, showing one face of myself to one of my publics and another face to another. I am perhaps the goody-goody character before my family and workmates and then become this wild and uncontrollable character to friends before whom I can let my hair down. When God begins to draw us out of ourselves, God’s grace attracts our better selves and draws our hidden darker selves out as well, giving assurances that love receives the whole of our person. Love honours the better desires that made us frantically seeking and unfortunately led us to more superficial deals with the shady characters of our story. Love invites us to trust in His care and providence so that we may heal and find our way home to the one who can really put our pieces together again. Who was it who said, the reason why they couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty together again was because they only called all the King’s horses and all the King’s men and never bothered to call the King himself?

Then we sense, the more we allow the Lord to enter into our shadows, the more light he would bring to us. And with God’s light and assurance of unconditional love, we make choices that are more appropriate, that express genuine love for ourselves and others. And in due time, we find our stories retold to us with less gaps, less inconsistencies, less of the shame or fear or anger or guilt. And our stories would be something we can better embrace to be mirrors of who we are and who God is for us. Yes, God becomes a visible character as well. For knowing ourselves more clearly, we begin to get a glimpse of this loving God as another beautiful character in our story who had been long hidden behind the scenes. This time God comes to the foreground and before God we can begin to face ourselves not only as whole, but also as beautiful, a character to whom God looks with great delight. We see God more clearly now and recognize him. And see God with his loving gaze fixed on us, creating us even more with his delight and love.

So that was why our hearts were burning back then. So that was why that new relationship felt right, it may have stirred fear because of past wounds, but it did feel right–a gift received at the right time. So that was why that trip seemed right. It promised new experiences, new sights, new places to explore and a new self with newfound openness and wonder. So that’s why the call to forgive that person who wounded me, felt right. Humbling, daring perhaps, maybe stupid in the mind of others but the time the call came, I know it was the right thing to do. So that’s why recovering the art that I’ve seen flourish in my younger days felt right. Returning to drawing and painting seems to draw out a lot of creative passion in me and helps me to see so many aspects of myself I never imagined were inside me in the first place. As I draw or paint, the Great artist up there seems to be drawing my self as well, and yes, I like what I am seeing.

Seeing my genuine self unfolding also makes me begin to see and recognize God for who God is, not how I thought he th-20was on account of all the past I have endured and I thought God had caused. And ironically, while I was limiting God to whom I thought God was to justify my painful story, the real God was right there walking with me, loving me, constantly knocking at any door in my guarded self where he could enter to bring more light and love, offering me precious wisdom with which to see and recognize my more complete story which is God’s story as well. And henceforth, I know I must be mindful of when my heart burns, when I sense some inner movement in my heart, those moments when my God calls my attention. For I know that if I only stay and ask the Lord to stay with us, what we previously felt as faint and subtle signs of God’s presence would begin to unfold and irrupt as God’s Sacred Story elaborates in my own.

And so we pause and reflect: What 2-3 moments in your life did you sense God’s presence and activity? When did you sense God’s wisdom slowly helping you make sense of your life’s experiences–especially those you found too painful to hold, or for which you felt anger, fear or shame? How did you sense God helping you complete your story, gifting you with a sense of self that you can better receive with reverence and love, in all its ambivalent facts–joys and pains, sweetness and bitterness, lights and shadows, with its dyings and risings to new life? God bless!

March 30, 2016  Leave a comment

March 29. Encountering Jesus, Our Consoler

th-15To Pray on and Ponder: Acts 2, 14-33; Psalm 16, 1-2a.5-11; Matthew 28, 8-15

Id quod volo: To encounter Jesus, our Risen Lord, the very source and wellspring of our deep consolations, as he brings to healing the wounds that hurt us deep within, makes us feel his joy in new life and fresh gush of love and compassion, and makes present to us again all the joyful memories that make up our core identity as children of God.

Towards the end of the Ignatian retreat, to invite retreatants to consider communion with the risen Lord, St. Ignatius suggests that the retreatant consider contemplating Jesus in the resurrection narratives and suggests for the retreatant to notice two things–first, that Jesus performs for his disciples and others, the unique role of the consoler. Jesus goes about consoling people, calming their fears, healing their wounds, quickening their hearts with fire and zeal for mission. Second, Ignatius also suggests that retreatants see in Jesus, divinity manifesting itself fully, revealing light and love and life–three sure signs of God’s abiding presence among us.

In our liturgy for  Monday of the Easter Octave, we encounter Jesus as he meets up with the women who came from the tomb. He sends the women to tell the good news that he has risen, and this while the Pharisees bribe the guards to make up a false story to prevent any news that threatens to resurrect what they believe to be the Jesus myth. That we are here today among millions of other believers in Jesus Christ bears witness to the strength of the testimony of those women, and the strength of their message too. “Tell them to go to Galilee and there I will see them.”

Right there in the first sending of the women to become apostles to the disciples of Jesus, we already see, tell tale signs of something mysterious and big happening. How can the testimony of women find force in a community that holds women in second place–and with this the contrary rumours spread by religious authorities and Roman guards.

The disciples did as Jesus told them (believing in the women’s words of course!). They went to Galilee and waited for Jesus there. Galilee for sure meant a lot to the disciples. Galilee was a place of much joy and fruitfulness in ministry. It represented for the disciples almost three years of intimate companions, of getting to know Jesus closely, of doing fruitful ministry with the Master, of seeing him do lots of signs up close, of seeing crowds thicken and increase by the day, and perhaps building their expectation about the real power their master and teacher possessed.

And in many ways, the Jerusalem events put a halt to their consoling Galilee experience, and so Jerusalem came to represent–horror, and frustration and much fear. Jerusalem was where their dreams were dampened and broken. In Jerusalem, they were paralyzed with a lot of fear for their lives and for sure, guilt and shame for the way they had abandoned, even denied their master.

But now, Jesus was bidding them all to go to Galilee. Jesus was making them go where their consolations were alive, where the joy of companionship and service was planted, and grew and bloomed and bore fruit. Jesus was asking them to embrace love and life and light anew. The days of Jerusalem darkness are over, and now it’s time for them to regroup and rebuild their ministry.

Jesus consoles them. He makes them remember their past joys and experience these joys well up again like a spring. tumblr_l83ol7ItgW1qchu5wJesus heals them of their wounds of betrayal and abandonment, and tells them to fear not and forgive, to build communion again. Jesus gifts them anew with the gift of truth and love. Truth that will make them take responsibility for their sins and surrender all their weakness to God’s healing love again.

In due time, these same men would be seen again in the streets of Jerusalem, preaching boldly with the fire of the Spirit, penetrating even cultures beyond their familiar world by their word and work, most ordinary though these are, when now said and done in the name of Jesus, their Risen Lord and Master, assumes in their flesh the very power and wisdom of God.

We ask in this easter octave, that we also receive the deep consolations Jesus our Risen Lord comes to offer us: that we may see him more clearly, love him more ardently and follow him more closely, with his consolations helping us to fly again in his friendship and service. God Bless and still Happy Easter!

March 29, 2016  Leave a comment

March 29. Monday of the Easter Octave. Meeting Jesus Our Consoler.

To Pray on and Ponder:  Acts 2, 14-33; Psalm 16, 1-2a.5-11; Matthew 28, 8-15

Id quod volo:  To encounter Jesus, our Risen Lord, the very source and wellspring of our deep consolations, as he brings to healing the wounds that hurt us deep within, makes us feel his joy in new life and fresh gush of love and compassion, and makes present to us again all the joyful memories that make up our core identity as children of God.

Towards the end of the retreat, to invite retreatants to consider communion with the risen Lord, he suggests that the retreatant consider contemplating Jesus in the resurrection narratives and notice two things–first, that Jesus performs for his disciples and others, the unique role of the consoler. Jesus goes about consoling people, calming their fears, healing their wounds, quickening their hearts with fire and zeal for mission. Second, Ignatius also suggests that retreatants see in Jesus, divinity manifesting itself fully, revealing light and love and life–three sure signs of God’s abiding presence among us.

In our liturgy for today, Monday of the Easter Octave, we encounter Jesus as he meets up with the women who came from the tomb. He sends the women to tell the good news that he has risen, and this while the Pharisees bribe the guards to make up a false story to prevent any news that threatens to resurrect what they believe to be the Jesus myth. That we are here today among millions of other believers in Jesus Christ bears witness to the strength of the testimony of those women, and the strength of their message too. “Tell them to go to Galilee and there I will see them.”

Right there in the first sending of the women to become apostles to the disciples of Jesus, we already see, tell tale signs of something mysterious and big happening. How can the testimony of women find force in a community that holds women in second place–and with this the contrary rumours spread by religious authorities and Roman guards.

The disciples did as Jesus told them (believing in the women’s words of course!). They went to Galilee and waited for Jesus there. Galilee for sure meant a lot to the disciples. Galilee was a place of much joy and fruitfulness in ministry. It represented for the disciples almost three years of intimate companions, of getting to know Jesus closely, of doing fruitful ministry with the Master, of seeing him do lots of signs up close, of seeing crowds thicken and increase by the day, and perhaps building their expectation about the real power their master and teacher possessed.

And in many ways, the Jerusalem events put a halt to their consoling Galilee experience, and so Jerusalem came to represent–horror, and frustration and much fear. Jerusalem was where their dreams were dampened and broken. In Jerusalem, they were paralyzed with a lot of fear for their lives and for sure, guilt and shame for the way they had abandoned, even denied their master.

But now, Jesus was bidding them all to go to Galilee. Jesus was making them go where their consolations were alive, where the joy of companionship and service was planted, and grew and bloomed and bore fruit. Jesus was asking them to embrace love and life and light anew. The days of Jerusalem darkness are over, and now it’s time for them to regroup and rebuild their ministry.

Jesus consoles them. He makes them remember their past joys and experience these joys well up again like a spring. Jesus heals them of their wounds of betrayal and abandonment, and tells them to fear not and forgive, to build communion again. Jesus gifts them anew with the gift of truth and love. Truth that will make them take responsibility for their sins and surrender all their weakness to God’s healing love again.

In due time, these same men would be seen again in the streets of Jerusalem, preaching boldly with the fire of the Spirit, penetrating even cultures beyond their familiar world by their word and work, most ordinary though these are, when now said and done in the name of Jesus, their Risen Lord and Master, assumes in their flesh the very power and wisdom of God.

We ask in this easter octave, that we also receive the deep consolations Jesus our Risen Lord comes to offer us: that we may see him more clearly, love him more ardently and follow him more closely, with his consolations helping us to fly again in his friendship and service. God Bless and still Happy Easter!

 

March 29, 2016  Leave a comment

March 27 (Easter Sunday). The Gradual Dawning of Easter Light

IMG_0867To 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!

March 27, 2016  Leave a comment

March 26 (Easter Vigil). The Empty Tomb as Womb for the Birth-ing of New Life

A Prayer to CreaturesEmpty-Tomb-300x225
Caryll Houselander

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
be gentle.
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?

images-4Almost 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.

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!

March 26, 2016  Leave a comment

March 26 (Holy Saturday). Quiet Remembering with Our Lady.

imagesTo Pray on and Ponder: Quiet remembering with Mary after the Funeral

Id quod volo: To be drawn by Mary’s quiet remembering and learn from her gracious strength that meets crises with pondering, trust, discernment of where God moves in the dark, and how God continues to speak in the silent grief, and as in the past, the docile expectancy for the dawn aborning from the horrors of the night.

Holy Saturday is for quiet remembering. The events of the passion and crucifixion of our Lord all happened so fast. People’s dreams were torn away like the veil that covered the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple. Mary lost her son in the span of a few hours. After Jesus breathed his last, the world stood still and the Word in whose power and presence everything is created poured all that was left of his love and life. Mel Gibson’s film Passion of the Christ even catches a rain drop like a tear drop of grief fallen from the Father in heaven. Soon after it was Mary bearing her son’s lifeless body close to her heart, desiring but unable to breathe back life to him. The cleaning of the corpse was done in haste. The passover of Jesus may have begun but the old covenant in the Jewish passover was still in progress. People had to pause and wait. Quiet remembering is in order except perhaps for the Romans whose gods demanded other forms of devotions.

Mary walks and remembers. After the experiences at calvary, her memory was the only one that contained the fullest reserve of the story of Jesus. From way up to the time Jesus was just some mysterious message announced by an angel that asked of her to offer all for something she didn’t quite understand. And she did offer all at that tender age. She gave her yes and tried her best to live out that yes everyday teaching her child-God how it is to be human and to believe and to trust and to love. The pain of Calvary was too much; much more than when she and Joseph almost didn’t find a place in which to help Jesus see light on that first Christmas day. Much, much more than how she felt when just days after hard birthing labor, they had to flee Bethlehem to protect the child from those who deal death on account of fear and lust for power. Much more than when Jesus got lost at the temple many years back or when she lost Joseph her loving partner and support in the care of this precious Son. Mary had to reinvent her mother’s role time and time again, for her Son was growing, reaching adulthood, coming to fuller awareness of who he was and what his life meant for people.

When Christ breathed his last, Mary’s heart must have cried out lamentations before her God. How could you have hailmarydone this? How could you have given me a precious gift only to take him back? Why can’t you do the same as you did with the widow of Naim, you brought her son back to life, right? Why can’t you do the same for me? But her lamentations only served to make her remember, “you did promise that you would do according to God’s Word, right?” And so tragedy and grief gave way to reflective remembering and waiting. There was some mysterious call somewhere–another remaking of her motherhood, perhaps? She had the fullest memory of Christ has she not? Perhaps it is around her that Jesus’ friends and followers have to regroup, to gather again, to recoup their communion and to remember who they followed and the way they once dreamt to live their lives. Jesus’ self-giving on the cross cannot end in senseless violence. There must be something greater that will come out of such a noble, heroic love.

Mary will say yes again, ponder over these things in her heart and allow God’s Spirit to overshadow her again so a new birthing can happen once more. As Mary remembers on this holy saturday, let her lead us through our own remembering: where in our life have we felt God’s touches whether intensely or subtly, distinctly or as it were in a shadow? Where has loving brought us much pain and joy? What sort of dying and rising has our choices to love brought us? What sort of new life do we sense a-borning as we do our remembering? God Bless!

March 26, 2016  Leave a comment

March 25 (Good Friday and Feast of the Annunciation to Our Lady). When Love Beckons (K. Gibran)

To Pray on and Ponder: Isaiah 52,13-53,12; Psalm 31; Hebrews 4, 14-16; 5, 7-9; John 18,2-19,42.

according-to-thy-word-annunciation

Id quod volo: Light and inspiration as I receive profound insight into the core meaning of the cross as a sign of our redemption by our Lord, a sign of contradiction and folly to many in the world, the cross is power and wisdom in Jesus’ loving self-sacrifice as he pours out everything to renew the whole world.

I’m not sure if Kahlil Gibran was reflecting over Jesus’ supreme self-giving on the cross when the poet described love this way in his famous book, The Prophet. But Jesus’ life and the kind of death his life ultimately led him to suffer were certainly reflective of Gibran’s love and more. I’m not sure as well, if Our Lady knew what her life would be destined for when she said yes to becoming mother of the Messiah. Did she have one bit of suspicion of such images as the via crucis or the pieta when she gave her “I am the maidservant of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word!”

When Love Beckons . . . (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height
and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots
and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire,
that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

As we mature in the faith we have to refine our notions of how the cross of Christ means redemption for us. We need to go beyond the (really mistaken!) notion that Jesus took on the cross to become our scapegoat before the Father who had been angered by our sins. An infinite satisfaction for disgracing our infinite God. By Jesus’ sacrifice in our name we are redeemed. I don’t think we do the Father service when we portray Him as a vindictive God who is hurt by our sins and exacts a payback from us in the form of his Son’s sacrifice. Nor is he an unfeeling, merciless Father who would sacrifice his only Son only to assuage his anger. Nor are we doing God the Son a favour by portraying him as an unthinking victim of circumstance, a sacrificial lamb to restore honour to a wounded ego of a Father and to restore sinful humanity to wholeness and holiness. Something is wrong with such notions of how the cross saves us.

We propose some alternative meanings. First the cross represents the general life trajectory and culmination of self-sacrificing love that characterized Jesus’ life. He loved his own and till the end, he showed the depth of his love. We his disciples seek to live our lives marked with the same love and we trust that that love will bring new life to all.

Second, the cross represents Jesus’ conviction that even in the darkest moments of our life when we live by our commitments despite crises and difficulties, and even the threat to our lives, to continue to love is meaningful and life-giving and somehow, God will be there to confirm our lives and self-offering with his love. Therefore the cross is Jesus Christ’s ultimate expression of trust and obedient surrender to his Father.

Finally, the cross is the way Jesus pours out his life and love completely to those who live in faith in him and live according to what he valued and lived for. From Jesus hung on the cross we drink of the lifeblood and water that poured from his pierced side. Thus when life gives us the feeling of a dead end because of crises and difficulty we look to the Crucified One and pray that his outpouring of love will make a way for us to move on and continue living and loving, with the Father and the Son confirming every Christ-like choice we make because such choices are simply filled with God’s Spirit of love.

Here’s a beautiful Filipino translation of Gibran’s poem. This one is done by good friend and idol companion Jesuit-poet, Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J.

Kapag Tinawag Ka ng Pag-ibig
Salin ni Albert Alejo, S.J.. ng orihinal ni Kahlil Gibran

Kapag tinawag ka ng pag-ibig, sumunod ka, Kahit landas niya’y mahirap, matarik.
Kapag niyakap ka ng kanyang mga bagwis, pumayag ka, Kahit masugatan ng lihim niyang mga tinik.
At kapag ikaw’y kanyang kinausap, manalig ka, Mawasak man ng kanyang tinig ang iyong mga pangarap. tulad ng pagkasalanta ng hardin sa hampas ng hilagang hangin.

Pagkat koronahan ka man ng pag-ibig ipapako ka rin niya sa krus.
Hangad man niya ang iyong pagtubo, kamay rin niya ang sa iyo’y pupungos.
Akyatin man niya ang iyong katayugan at lambingin ang mura mong uhay na nanginginig sa araw,
Sisisirin din niya ang iyong mga ugat at yuyugyugin hanggang sa lupa’y bumitaw.
Tulad ng mga bigkis ng maistitipunin ka sa kanyang dibdib.
Gigiikin upang mahubdan. Bibistayin upang lumaya. Gigilingin hanggang sa kaputian.
Mamasahin hanggang tumalima. At pagkaraan, itatalaga ka niya sa apoy ng banal upang
maging tinapay na banal para sa banal na piging ng Poong Maykapal.

“We adore you O Christ, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” And we are impressed by the cross not by the violence we see inflicted on the innocent one, we are moved by the cross and drawn to the crucified one because of the deep love that the cross radiates. A love that pours itself completely for the beloved, a love poured forth from the pierced side allows us to share in its wellspring of power to draw others into God’s light and love, even in the darkest moments of crises or violence or hate. In the crucified one, love becomes God’s final word to the world. And yes, this also rings true for Our Lady. In her fidelity to her first fiat, she showed her best lights, loving Jesus to the end, to the foot of the cross, even to his borrowed tomb. “Let be . . . according to God’s Word” was a life she lived to the very end. At the cross, when Jesus tells John the beloved, “Behold thy mother,” Mary would have received a hint that her vocation to motherhood was now the new annunciation for her. Henceforth she will mother a bigger child–a Church born of the blood and water that flowed out from the pierced side of his Son. And yes, she would become our mother hence. Till now, Mary embraces this new cross, helping us through our own paschal journies. God Bless!

March 25, 2016  Leave a comment

March 24 (Holy Thursday). The Passage to Self-Sacrificing Love

jesus-washing-feet-disciplesTo Pray on and Ponder: Exodus 12, 1-8.11-14; Psalm 116, 12-13.15-16bc.17-18; 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26; John 13,1-15.

Id quod volo: To encounter in Jesus a love that strips, stoops and serves with great humility and compassion, drawing me out of my self-serving comfort zones and stretches me to go an extra mile to be of service to those who are in greater need.

The Holy Triduum celebration for Holy Thursday focuses on the Eucharist, hence the name, “Mass of the Lord’s Supper.” Yet, the chosen Gospel reading for today’s celebration does not portray to us the narrative of the Lord’s supper per se, but rather it features the lovely ritual of footwashing that Jesus performed on his disciples. While all the synoptic Gospels focus on the breaking of the bread, John chose to depict Jesus’ self-sacrifice through this beautiful episode of his washing his disciples’ feet in order to teach them what genuine loving and self-sacrificing service means.

The context of the stories in Exodus, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and especially the Gospel of John are all linked to the Passover feast. The story in Exodus is of course the event that began the Passover Law. For Yahweh has decided to send the angel of death to Egypt to smite all of Egypt’s first born. Yahweh instructed all Israelites through Moses that their doors’ lintels have to be painted with blood from an unblemished lamb so that the angel of death would not come into any Israelite home. All of them have to stay indoors and celebrate the passover meal with haste, prepared at any time to flee from Egypt when Egyptians still mourn their lost loved ones and Pharaoh is sure to release them.

And so the passover feast which is the precursor to our Christian eucharist celebrates the redemption and liberation of the Israelites from Egypt and from sure death in the hands of the angel of death. At the core of the event is the blood sacrifice of the unblemished lamb and the ritual offering in the passover meal of unleavened bread and the four cups of wine that celebrate salvation by Yahweh. Several passovers are fused together in a symbol: first, the passing over from slavery in Egypt to beginnings of life in freedom in the wilderness; second, the passing over of the angel of death to spare those Israelite homes whose lintels were painted with the blood of the lamb; third, the passing over from the possibility of death to life. The elements of the passover meal are quite profound: unleavened bread whose flour comes from the first fruits of the new harvest, without leavening because this bread is prepared in haste and it symbolizes a total break from the past because no leaven from previous dough is used. The sacrificial offering of the lamb whose blood was painted on walls and lintels depict for us Christ whose life is offered for our redeeming, for our new life. The cup of salvation is wine from first fruits of the vine and celebrates Yahweh’s coming to save them from slavery in Egypt.

All these elements find their way into our own Christian passover where Jesus is both lamb and shepherd giving life to their flock by the offering of the blood. The symbols of unleavened bread and wine also find their way into our eucharistic celebration. But for us the bread and wine become the sacred symbols for our Lord’s Body and Blood poured out completely for us so we can become like him in our loving and we can gather into one body and one spirit in Christ.

But the evangelist John, as we said before uses a new event to make sense of Jesus’ self-offering, and this event is the sacrament of footwashing. Three movements highlight the sense in which Jesus wants to teach his disciples and us. First, Jesus strips. He takes off his teacher’s garment and instead ties a towel onto his undergarment. Second, Jesus stoops. He did not only take off his master’s role, he proceeds in stooping down and bending to reach the feet of his disciples. HIs disciples instantly knew how lowly the status to which Jesus had descended, i.e., the status of a servant who washes the feet of his master’s guests before the meal is served and of course the disciples, especially Peter protested. They only calmed down when Jesus declared that they will have to part in his inheritance if they did not allow Jesus to wash their feet.

Finally, Jesus serves in the spirit of loving self-sacrifice. “He loved them to the end,” the Gospel declares. Stripping and stooping are ways by which Jesus disposedbread_of_life himself into doing the lowly service he chose to do for his friends. He wanted to serve them in the spirit of love and self-sacrifice. And all these to teach them what it means to love the way God loves–a total availability, a love that holds nothing back, a love that is prepared to strip and stoop so the beloved knows how important he or she is. The sacrament of footwashing, profound and lovely as it is, is still but a preview of the greater self-giving love that God will show in Jesus when he finally embraces his cross and give his life away for the salvation of many. And there in the final way of the cross that Jesus trod, he would be literally stripped–of family, the crowds who followed him in ministry, most of his very disciples, his honor, his clothes, his Father (he did cry abandonment at one of the lowest point), but even to his Father to whom he cried abandonment, he entrusts his life fully in complete abandon so that as he breathed his last, he declares with great faith and trust, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

We ask for the same graces to strip and stoop and serve, as the Lord did when he washed his disciples’ feet, and when he gave himself up unto death so all of us can passover from death to life. God bless!

As you come before God in prayer today, do say a prayer for priests like myself as this day commemorates as well the institution of the priesthood where at an earlier Chrism mass, priests are called to gather around their bishops and as one body, renew their priestly promises and then bless the oils that “give birth” to Christians in baptism and confirmation, anoint those consecrated into service in the Church and also anoint the sick and the dying. Once, more God Bless!

March 24, 2016  Leave a comment

March 24. Holy Thursday. The Passover to Self-Sacrificing Love

To Pray on and Ponder:  Exodus 12, 1-8.11-14; Psalm 116, 12-13.15-16bc.17-18; 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26; John 13,1-15.

Id quod volo:  To encounter in Jesus a love that strips, stoops and serves with great humility and compassion, drawing me out of my self-serving comfort zones and stretches me to go an extra mile to be of service to those who are in greater need.

The Holy Triduum celebration for Holy Thursday focuses on the Eucharist, hence the name, “Mass of the Lord’s Supper.” Yet, the chosen Gospel reading for today’s celebration does not portray to us the narrative of the Lord’s supper per se, but rather it features the lovely ritual of footwashing that Jesus performed on his disciples. While all the synoptic Gospels focus on the breaking of the bread, John chose to depict Jesus’ self-sacrifice through this beautiful episode of his washing his disciples’ feet in order to teach them what genuine loving and self-sacrificing service means.

The context of the stories in Exodus, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and especially the Gospel of John are all linked to the Passover feast. The story in Exodus is of course the event that began the Passover Law. For Yahweh has decided to send the angel of death to Egypt to smite all of Egypt’s first born. Yahweh instructed all Israelites through Moses that their doors’ lintels have to be painted with blood from an unblemished lamb so that the angel of death would not come into any Israelite home.  All of them have to stay indoors and celebrate the passover meal with haste, prepared at any time to flee from Egypt when Egyptians still mourn their lost loved ones and Pharaoh is sure to release them.

And so the passover feast which is the precursor to our Christian eucharist celebrates the redemption and liberation of the Israelites from Egypt and from sure death in the hands of the angel of death. At the core of the event is the blood sacrifice of the unblemished lamb and the ritual offering in the passover meal of unleavened bread and the four cups of wine that celebrate salvation by Yahweh. Several passovers are fused together in a symbol: first, the passing over from slavery in Egypt to beginnings of life in freedom in the wilderness; second, the passing over of the angel of death to spare those Israelite homes whose lintels were painted with the blood of the lamb; third, the passing over from the possibility of death to life.  The elements of the passover meal are quite profound: unleavened bread whose flour comes from the first fruits of the new harvest, without leavening because this bread is prepared in haste and it symbolizes a total break from the past because no leaven from previous dough is used.  The sacrificial offering of the lamb whose blood was painted on walls and lintels depict for us Christ whose life is offered for our redeeming, for our new life. The cup of salvation is wine from first fruits of the vine and celebrates Yahweh’s coming to save them from slavery in Egypt.

All these elements find their way into our own Christian passover where Jesus is both lamb and shepherd giving life to their flock by the offering of the blood. The symbols of unleavened bread and wine also find their way into our eucharistic celebration. But for us the bread and wine become the sacred symbols for our Lord’s Body and Blood poured out completely for us so we can become like him in our loving and we can gather into one body and one spirit in Christ.

But the evangelist John, as we said before uses a new event to make sense of Jesus’ self-offering, and this event is the sacrament of footwashing. Three movements highlight the sense in which Jesus wants to teach his disciples and us. First, Jesus strips. He takes off his teacher’s garment and instead ties a towel onto his undergarment. Second, Jesus stoops. He did not only take off his master’s role, he proceeds in stooping down and bending to reach the feet of his disciples. HIs disciples instantly knew how lowly the status to which Jesus had descended, i.e., the status of a servant who washes the feet of his master’s guests before the meal is served and of course the disciples, especially Peter protested. They only calmed down when Jesus declared that they will have to part in his inheritance if they did not allow Jesus to wash their feet.

Finally, Jesus serves in the spirit of loving self-sacrifice. “He loved them to the end,” the Gospel declares. Stripping and stooping are ways by which Jesus disposed himself into doing the lowly service he chose to do for his friends. He wanted to serve them in the spirit of love and self-sacrifice. And all these to teach them what it means to love the way God loves–a total availability, a love that holds nothing back, a love that is prepared to strip and stoop so the beloved knows how important he or she is. The sacrament of footwashing, profound and lovely as it is, is still but a preview of the greater self-giving love that God will show in Jesus when he finally embraces his cross and give his life away for the salvation of many. And there in the final way of the cross that Jesus trod, he would be literally stripped–of family, the crowds who followed him in ministry, most of his very disciples, his honor, his clothes, his Father (he did cry abandonment at one of the lowest point), but even to his Father to whom he cried abandonment, he entrusts his life fully in complete abandon so that as he breathed his last, he declares with great faith and trust, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

We ask for the same graces to strip and stoop and serve, as the Lord did when he washed his disciples’ feet, and when he gave himself up unto death so all of us can passover from death to life. God bless!

As you come before God in prayer today, do say a prayer for priests like myself as this day commemorates as well the institution of the priesthood where at an earlier Chrism mass, priests are called to gather around their bishops and as one body, renew their priestly promises and then bless the oils that “give birth” to Christians in baptism and confirmation, anoint those consecrated into service in the Church and also anoint the sick and the dying. Once, more God Bless!

March 24, 2016  Leave a comment

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