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

February 21. Second Sunday of Lent. What Makes Us Glow?

The-Human-Aura-by-Massage-IntegrationTo Pray on and Ponder:
Genesis 15, 5-12.17-18; Psalm 27, 1.7-9.13-14; Philippians 3,17-4,1; Luke 9, 28b-36

There is a kind of engagement in ministry that is hinged on “things of this world” that one enjoys out of ministry–the sense of achievement, the praise and accolades, the esteem of superiors and friends, the sense of power over people we serve, even the material riches that ministry can sometimes make us gain. Of course we’d always like to think that we do not go into service and ministry poised to gain these things for ourselves. We say they are just fringe benefits that go with the service and so we simply accept them and enjoy them. After all St. Paul says, “the laborer is entitled to his wages.” Even if we sometimes get entangled with all these sorts of worldly desires, even when sometimes a strong sense of entitlement grips us and makes us face God with a certain “what about me Lord? who takes care of me after I have spent myself taking care of others” tone, even when sometimes we embrace ministry as the person Jesus calls “the hired one” instead of becoming as the proverbial good shepherd, we still know what truly matters to us in ministry, because for many of us it is this that called us into service and for many us it is also this that really sustains us to stay on, and this is our love covenant with God who loves us, saves us and gives us light through the dark tunnels of this life of service. And we know that because it is this profound covenant of love which gives us life, it will also be moments when God’s presence and love is at its peak when our faces glow with consolation and shine forth with joy.

transfiguration-lewis-bowmanWhat changes us from deep within and transforms us genuinely through and through is to feel this love aglow in us as the Father confirms us in our deepest identity as child of God. “This is my child, in whom I take deep delight!” In in the end this is what will make us stay in the service despite the many lacks and sufferings. It will be this love that will sustain us and make us grow as we continue to give ourselves to others. In the end it will be this love that will make us follow the path of calvary and resurrection. In the end it will be this love that makes us glow in deep, deep joy because in our hearts we will know when life has become for us a real dying to ourselves and a rising to Christ’s life that feeds and nourishes the world with God’s love and life which transfigures us and makes us glow. God Bless!

February 22, 2016  Leave a comment

Feb. 14. Faith Includes a Proactive Fight Against Temptation

Temptation_of_ChristTo Pray on and Ponder: Deuteronomy 26, 4-10; Psalm 91, 1-2.10-15; Luke 4, 1-13

Time was when we thought the only way to fight temptation is to resist it. Agere contra, act against it, as Ignatius of Loyola would teach. That approach still works somehow and works well depending on how strong our reserve of virtue and strength of character is.

Our readings for this First Sunday of Lent somehow bring us several steps further. We do not fight temptation by facing it head on but by being proactive in undermining its hold on us from its root and how do we do this–by proactively confessing our faith, and drawing strength from our Lord himself.

Our readings from Deuteronomy and Paul’s letter to the Romans both show ways by which believers have strengthened their resolve to hold on to God by their confession of faith. The Israelites always remembered their redemptive story to the children, beginning from their identity as wandering Arameans whow found their way into Egypt and in Egypt fell into slavery. Their Exodus experience, sojourn in the desert and their journey into the land promised to them by God become the core narrative of their faith story, and even by just remembering these storylines, Israel renews its strength. As time passed, the Israelites thought it good to keep remembering this saving story and enacting their offering of first fruits from the promised land to make present again the power of the saving story in their present lives. Confession of faith with an offering of fruits.

In Paul’s letter, we see a similar injunction from Paul–to confess by mouth and heart that Jesus is our Lord and so believing and proclaiming our belief with word and witness, we experience salvation.

It is within this context of confession of faith that we realize Jesus own strategy before the evil one who tempts him. the-baptism-of-jesus-jeff-haynieFirst and foremost in his arsenal of weapons against the evil one is that he is one filled with the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit of Love that confirms him in his messianic mission and gives him wisdom to discern what is of the plan of God and what represents the deceits of the evil one. The crux of the temptations is how Jesus ought to live out his messianic vocation. The devil tempts Jesus into practicality, convenience, materialism, grasp for power and spectacle, but from one temptation to another, Jesus kept coming back to the Word of God and confessing his faith in his Father and the Father’s plans. He would not be derailed from the saving plan of the Father even if it meant foregoing practicality and convenience, even if it meant embracing sacrifice and even death.

Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, professed his absolute faith and trust in the Father who has sent him to mission and who then strengthens him at every step.

We ask ourselves then, what sort of temptations do we meet in our lives that draw us to compromise our vocations in the name of convenience, practicality, of remaining in comfort zone, in lusting for riches or power, spectacle or fame? How has God confirmed our vision, clarified our stance before him and others and given us the courage to offer ourselves in sacrifice in order to fulfill God’s will. We ask that God give us the gift of discernment and the courage with which to fight temptation with a proactive confession of our faith. God Bless!

February 15, 2016  Leave a comment

Feb 10. Ash Wednesday. “Why Ash?”

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.

Bagong Bulong
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
kaayusang sinisibulan
ng samu’t saring gandang
humihinga’t dumarama,
kumikilos, nagpapagal,
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
sa kapana-panabik
mong inuuwiang
pahinga.

pentecost1The 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 two 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 krusna 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.

February 10, 2016  Leave a comment

Jan 27. Surrendering to Love as a Midlife Call

sowerTo Pray on and Ponder:  2 Samuel 7, 4-17. Mark 4, 1-20.

Id quod volo (That which I desire most): A heart that surrenders in humility to a God who wants to love us through and through.

Today as I pray in gratitude for the gift of life (53 years and counting) and as I press on from midlife to senior’s discount age, (haha), I read King David’s conversation with Yahweh as a call to humble surrender before God’s love. Active ministry can give us all a sense of pride and self-importance, especially when we are made to perceive time and time again, how we are able to mediate God’s grace that transforms people’s lives. At times we may tend to forget John the Baptist’s lesson–we are simply vessels that mediate, it is God’s grace that transforms, and so we must (continue to) decrease, and the Lord increase!

King David in his proud triumphs as king, thought about his God living in a lowly tent (the Tent of the Ark of the Covenant) while he the King whom this God supports and sustains, lived in a palace and in luxury. And so David thought of building a big temple for the Lord. To this, Yahweh responds through the prophet Nathan: “You will build me a house? No, it is I who will build you a house . . . and your house and sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established forever.”

The Gospel on the other hand, features the popular Parable of the Sower and the Seed. From long ago, I have always marvelled at a point which Fr. Bill Abbott, a Scripture scholar who has for long years served the Philippine Jesuits as Socius to the Provincial Superior, once taught us in a community recollection. He said, if I remember right, if we read the parable from the point of view of different soils yielding low and high output or harvest, then we are bound to ask ourselves how much of our hearts represent the bad soils–shallow rocky ground, or thorns, etc., and see how low-yielding we are in terms of the Word bearing fruit in our lives.  But if we keep fixing our gaze on the Sower, then we will see how in his goodness, he tends the ground, whether in the good or bad places, and in the end the whole field yields good fruit and a bountiful harvest, because at least one part of us has good soil to meet with the Sower’s good farming.

This morning, I immediately sense God’s gentle voice inviting me: trust and surrender. It is God’s love that gives life and sustains. God is the one who builds my house. God is the one who sows seed and seeks out the good soil in me to draw abundant fruit and fruit that lasts. It is here that trusting surrender works. It is here when I need to humble myself and not trust in my effort alone both in personal transformation and in ministry. There are good invitations to mull over and hear when one is celebrating life and thanking God for it. Do pray for this priest still in awe that God has kept me going despite. . . . God bless!

January 27, 2016  Leave a comment

« older posts newer posts »