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

January 18. Radical Newness in Jesus

wineskinsTo Pray on and Ponder: 1 Samuel 15, 16-23; Mark 2, 18-22

Curiously, our readings for Catholic liturgy today makes me recall two things, an important lesson in Philosophy of Science that we had with the late spiritual master, Fr. Thomas Green, S.J. and a lesson about vertical and horizontal freedom that we took up with then Msgr. (now Bishop) Teodoro Bacani in Theology of Commitment class.

In our class, Fr. Tom talked about what he described as “normal science” and “revolutionary science.” From what I recall, he said that the period of normal science is that period when after a new theory about something settles and is considered normative by a community, then the ensuing scientific activity follows the framework of questions and experimentations, and confirms the theory through and through with every facet or detail of reality as framed by the worldview or paradigm of the current theory. But when more and more facts appear that seem anomalous or “outside the norm,” it becomes more and more difficult to hold the theory as valid, and at a certain “tipping point” revolutionary science sets in. Some scientist or school of scientists would surface and propel an entirely new theory and this introduces a whole paradigm shift in viewing reality. Fr. Green’s example here was the advent of the view that the earth revolves around the sun after many years when scientists thought it was the sun revolving around the earth, especially because that is how we see it when we stand on the earth, and proceeding from such vantage point, mathematical calculations of relations between heavenly bodies would tend to prove what they originally assumed from perception.

Of course the advent of better technologies and the accumulation of more data, begins to present anomalies. And so when a scientist proposes the entirely new framework that sets the sun as the center and the earth and other planets revolving around it, then the anomalies assume greater fit and newer discoveries begin to come out. A revolutionary paradigm shift has already happened.

Our lessons on commitment under then Msgr. Ted Bacani led one day to an insightful discussion about vertical and horizontal freedom. Msgr. Bacani, explaining a portion of our booklet, Should anyone say forever? written by John Haughey, S.J. (cf. http://www.amazon.com/Should-Anyone-Say-Forever-Commitments/dp/1597525715/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1390165481&sr=8-8&keywords=John+Haughey). Fr. John Haughey was distinguishing vertical and horizontal freedom. Horizontal freedom it seems is that freedom we humans use when we make choices in a given horizon from where we stand in life. I recall for instance a period in my young adult life where my central concern was to discern and choose what I will be and do for life. It was therefore a stance of discernment and many of my choices whether they be related to relationships (eg. should I pursue this love interest or not?) or career-related (eg. do I want to try development work or do I want to explore a career in the corporate world?) or vocation-related (eg. should I pursue the priesthood in San Jose Seminary, i.e., diocesan priesthood or do I want to consider life as a Jesuit priest?). All of these questions were very important questions but the freedom that I use when I explore them or make choices which lead me to go one or other direction is really still horizontal freedom, i.e., I am choosing options within a given horizon of my life–as a discerning young adult.

Vertical freedom is a little more profound. And here I brought to an actual leap into a new horizon-defining choice. When I chose to profess perpetual though simple vows, the whole of my life has changed and the horizon with which I make subsequent choices has already changed as well. I chose to become a Jesuit for life. When I resumed studies in philosophy as a Jesuit, I knew there was something qualitatively different in my studies as compared with my philosophy studies as a lay student at the Ateneo. First, I was consciously doing philosophy with a view to preparing for the priesthood. Second, my whole experience in the novitiate already matured my reflective capacities somehow and gave some “thickness” to my view of reality. Finally, it was only by then that I had this sense that the Truth I study in philosophy is none other than the God I pray to everyday. Vertical freedom is much like the paradigm shift that happens in revolutionary science. Here it is not the choices in the day-to-day detail that fill my heart, rather it is the very movement of my commitment that changes me, my identity and therefore the horizon with which new choices surface and define themselves. I remember Fr. Rene Ocampo who was our provincial. He was speaking to us who were scholastics then. Apparently, one of my companions shared that transferring to the Ateneo campus from the secluded Sacred Heart Novitiate opens up the horizon again for him and so how does he deal with the new data coming (eg. I’m seeing coeds anew, I get attracted, etc.) does this mean my vows were for naught? And Fr. Ocampo wisely replied, these so-called new data, does not radically open your life anew. Because of the seriousness of a lifetime vow, you don’t simply ignore the vow for your new data, rather your new data has the burden of proof. You are not discerning from scratch. Your discernment ought to be coloured by your already vowed commitment. Your perpetual vows is not a soutane that you take off once the liturgy is over. In the same way, a husband or wife would perhaps continue to be attracted by other women or men, but they take these new experiences of attraction within the reality of their marriage vows.

It is within this framework that I understand Saul’s failure in God’s and Samuel’s eyes. He was the anointed king, yet he succumbed to his fear and insecurity in the face of his people. He could not enforce God’s command that everything must be smitten from the enemy camp–men and flock. Saul did not restrain his people from taking spoils out of the best sheep and oxen that the enemy camp had. And Saul even made excuses that these spoils were reserved to be offer to the Lord. For this disobedience, the Lord rejected Saul as the king and in the sunset of Saul’s kingship, Samuel will be asked to seek out a new king.

It is also within this framework that we are invited to see the radical newness of Jesus’ way. While the grumbling Jews were accusing Jesus of ignoring details of the law, eg. fasting and ritual washing, etc., Jesus was engaging in gracious fellowship with the rejected and the marginalized to invite them gradually into a radical commitment to his Father’s Kingdom, i.e., to become adopted children of God. And those who say yes to this invitation will now live a paradigm shift in their lives–not an obsessive demand to follow external rules but a more radical and fuller surrender of self to “love the Lord with all your heart, and all your mind and all your strength . . . .” The new revolutionary living out of the faith cannot be a conversion in details or rules alone. It has to be total, radical and identity-defining conversion. The new wine of our faith, deserves a wholly surrendered self that will become the fresh wineskin that would see the new wine age to maturity.

And so I pause and ask myself: When in your life have you experienced God’s promptings to conversion not only in Printchoices involving details of your life but in the very life direction that you are taking? What is the experience like for you when what God seems to be asking of us goes beyond this or that little choice, but a more total, definitive and identity-changing commitment? St. Ignatius suggests that even before we consider discerning whether good spirits or bad spirits rule our hearts, it’s important that we check on the overall climate of our commitment: are we people who live our faith seriously and who move from good to better constantly, or are we people who are moving from sin to sin? That climate of overall faith commitment serves as a horizon with which we find our heart choosing. And that somehow skews our choices’ tendencies even before we make the actual choice, so it does pay to examine our horizon from time to time. God loves us wholly, unconditionally and totally and invites us to the same quality of loving, for there really is no other kind of loving but total and unconditional. Anything less cannot be called love at all. God Bless!

January 18, 2016  Leave a comment

January 15. Healed through the Faith of Friends

To Pray on and Ponder: Mark 2, 1-12jesus-paralytic

Two lines from the Gospel caught my attention this morning. Four friends moved by their love and compassion for their paralyzed friend, went out of their way to really bring their friends to Jesus so our Lord may heal him. They even went to the extent of carrying their friend on a stretcher, onto the roof of the house where Jesus was, they make a hole on the roof and carefully suspend the stretcher to carry down their friend before Jesus. Quite heroic and dramatic, especially at a time when Jesus was teaching a whole crowd which filled the room.

The lines that moved me was this: “Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door . . . They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him . . . (and) let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, child your sins are forgiven.’”

Normally, Jesus’ healing and exorcism miracles build on the faith of the person being healed. But this particular healing is quite different. It is not the sick person’s faith that moves Jesus, but the faith and love which his friends have shown. Their dramatic and extraordinary effort to bring their friend and set him in his presence showed the intensity of their love for their friend whose paralysis would not have allowed him to come close to Jesus in the first place. But more than this, their valiant efforts also show the strength of their faith in Jesus’s power to heal their friend.

The image that comes to my mind is that Jesus was like a cell site tower, a powerful signal source for God’s healing and these four friends were like a broadband gadget that connected their paralyzed friend’s otherwise disconnected machine to an active wi-fi spot. Once these friends are able to locate and connect with Jesus, then the healing is communicated from Jesus to their friend, and in an instant, their friend is transformed from being paralyzed to moving about healed and free.

But we have to notice though that some in the crowd did not have the same faith as the friends did. Some in fact, like the scribes and pharisees paid attention to the blasphemy they judged in Jesus’ words of forgiveness, rather than the miraculous healing that occurred. Did the wonderful event of this paralytic’s being set free from paralysis just escape their attention? Did they refuse to see this miracle because their minds and hearts were simply hardened by disdain and unbelief in Jesus? If faith and love of people move Jesus to bring healing and freedom, then what would lack of faith and lack of compassion yield for people with hardened hearts? Our faith in Jesus moves us to hope still, that God still reserves a lot of “Plan B’s” to reach these hardened hearts, thaw them and move them to faith and compassion in due time.

But for us we allow this Gospel text to move us more deeply into holiness in ordinary time. We pause and Paralytic-300x199ask ourselves, “What sort of paralyses do we experience in ourselves and in our loved ones around us? In which areas of our lives individually and together, do we experience unfreedom, an inability to move perhaps because of some attachment or addiction or enslavement to one or other vice? How has faith or love sustained us even in our state of unfreedom? How have the love of friends and belief prevented us from giving up hope? What practices of prayer and disciplines or acts of compassion and charity have helped us locate and set us in God’s presence so that our faith and love may connect fruitfully with God’s transforming grace and bring healing and freedom to our lives where our paralyses most need God’s healing touch?

May this season of Ordinary time be a good occasion for our healing unto freedom. May we find in it the stretcher on which to bring friends or ask friends to bring us closer to Jesus, to set us all in God’s healing and transforming presence. During this prayer, find time to name friends who have been truly God-sent gifts to us, instruments of God’s healing and freedom. Say a prayer of thanks to God for them. Ask God to especially bless them through this Ordinary time that ushers us into Lent. God Bless!

January 15, 2016  Leave a comment

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