To Pray on and Ponder: 2 Maccabees 7; 2 Thessalonians 2,16-3,5; Luke 20, 27-38
Id quod volo (That which I most deeply desire): To beg for the gift of trust and hope in embracing the mystery of death and the afterlife, resting in the God’s love and friendship and in the hope that this loving God will share with life and love through eternity.
As you may have noticed, we are gradually approaching the end of our Liturgical year when we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. And of course when one liturgical year ends, a new one begins, again with the start of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
And so we will begin to read and hear Scripture texts which make us reflect on the end times; to invite us to ask questions anew about what the end will be for this world, for this life; what will happen when we die, what do we hope for in the afterlife.
This is why in today’s readings, we are served two different stories about seven brothers who die and a woman who dies with them.
The text from the Book of the Macabees tells of an impressive story of seven brothers who willingly offer their lives in martyrdom to affirm their fidelity to their Jewish law. Each one confess their faith and their willingness to die for it in the hope that God will raise them to new life. The mother who painfully sees her sons go one by one does not recant the faith when her youngest son is put to test, rather, she encourages her to follow his brothers’ path and not make a mockery of their heroic deaths. Her words are quite moving:
I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law [2 Maccabees 7, 22].
The Gospel tells of the story of seven brothers who were married to a woman. The first husband passed away and so one brother after another was bound by an old Jewish Levirate law to take on the responsibilities of a husband as the current one died. In the end after the seventh husband dies, the woman herself dies. And so arises the trick question of the Sadduccees regarding the resurrection: In the afterlife whose wife will the woman be, since each of the seven brothers was married to her?
In truth, the Sadduccees did not believe in the resurrection. They were simply using this outrageous question to mock the Pharisees and to entrap Jesus.
But Jesus responded well. He said two things with wisdom and simplicity: First, that in heaven, we will no longer need marriage for we will live like the angels, interacting simply with life-giving love. Second, that God who continues to converse with Abraham and Moses after their life here on earth, is the God of life and will share with us that life in its fullness at the appointed time. For sure Jesus’ reply still leaves much for us to understand what the afterlife holds for us and it is our way of dealing with this mystery that I wish to invite you to reflect on now. Perhaps we can take the cue from our psalm response and ask ourselves, “when the Lord comes, will our joy indeed be full?” Kapag kumatok na po sa atin ang kamatayan at dumating na ang Panginoon para sunduin tayo, buong galak ba tayong sasama sa kanya?
First, I’d like to invite you to notice how do we deal with the anything that has to do with death and the after life. Despite our denials, the most common feeling we all have before death is often that of fear. We fear death, we fear the unknown. Many people have said a lot about death because they had experienced near-death or they died momentarily and came back. But still because we ourselves have not experienced it, we approach death with much fear. Despite all our credo about the goodness and graciousness of our loving God, we still fear it when we experience in our bodies or in the events around us that death calls. Before our fears, we have to beg to be given the virtue of trust–to trust as Jesus did that the last word of our Father is not death but love and it is by this love that Jesus has already conquered death.
But second, aside from succumbing to fear, we try to explain away our fears by our hundred and one concepts about death. Like anything mysterious and unknown to us, we try to put order into the unknown by putting it in a box we can contain. Like what we do with anything that elicits dis-ease or discomfort in us, we try to accomodate it into our comfort zones or ignore it altogether. It’s like an unknown destination we try to conquer using Waze or GPS. A Canadian Jesuit calls this a propensity for clarity. We hold on to clarity to protect ourselves from the unknown. We draw maps. We make guidelines. We draw up rules, so that what remains mysterious and possibly chaotic like a wild horse, we pretend to tame and control with our clarities. And yet if we look at death straight in the eye, we know that controlling how it will come and when is beyond us. We can only wait in hope and prepare for its coming. And we try and learn to embrace the mystery of death and the afterlife with faith in our loving God. We can draw hope in Jesus’ words that in the afterlife, we hope to receive a share of God’s fullness, we can hope to share in God’s life-giving love. We can therefore live this life on earth with joyful hope, because when Christ comes again, he will give us joy that is complete.
November 6, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Revelations 7,2-4.9-14; Psalm 24,1bc-2.3-4ab.5-6; 1 John 3,1-3; Matthew 5,1-12a
Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To become more acutely aware of how God’s love and life reaches us through the life and witness of the saints. To see more clearly how God nurtures us through the example and prayers of the saints.
When I was in First Year Theology, back in 1992, on one most consoling afternoon, I found myself writing a Filipino verse in honor of our cook, the late Aling Mila Lineses. I had gone home from school earlier than usual, and I chanced upon Aling Mila cooking our dinner while chanting and humming the local versions of liturgical songs like Take and Receive. We had a brief conversation about a modern Filipino Jesuit martyr in whose honor our house is named–Fr. Alingal. Fr. Godofredo Alingal was shot on the chest by the heart, by a still unpunished gunman purportedly hired by people piqued with the priest’s defense of a young girl-parishioner who had been abused. Upon hearing the story, Aling Mila said, “Eh di ba Fr. Vic, sa El Salvador may mga Jesuits rin na binaril kamakailan? Di ba kasama nila ang cook nila? Basta ako papayag din akong mabaril kung kasama ninyong mga Heswita.” (Didn’t some other Jesuits get gunned down and killed recently in El Salvador? Wasn’t their cook killed with them. As for me, I wouldn’t mind getting killed too if it is with you Jesuits). Allow me to share with you that poem in its original. For those among you who do not understand Filipino, for now, simply imagine a bowl of rice on the table of your meal, and then very slowly, work up your imagination to see the many hands through which that bowl of rice passed from farm to market to dinner table. The title of the poem is “Paglikha ng Mga Pari,” which literally means, “The Making of a Priest.”
Paglikha ng mga Pari
Fr. Victor R. Baltazar, S.J.
paghanda at paglinang ng lupa
pag-araro, paglagay ng abono
pagsaboy ng binhi, pagtanim ng punla,
pagsisige sa pagdilig
o paglagay ng patubig,
pag-antabay sa pagtubo
ng sanga-sangang palay at damo,
… sa pag-uhay
… sa paglitaw ng palay
… sa ginintuang bunga
ng kaytagal na pag-aalaga,
at ‘di pa tapos…
gagapasin, gigiikin, hihimayin,
pupulutin, patutuyuin, paaarawan,
babalatan at babalutin
sa sakong sa trak kakamadahin,
at ‘di pa tapos…
tatawaran at babaratin
(ng komprador na medyo sakim!)
upang itawid sa bayan-bayan
at ipamahagi sa mga pamilihan…
doon kinikilo, binibili mong turing suki
pinipilian pa kung minsan ng mga batong mumunti
isasaing kapagkadaka para sa pananghali…
kaya nga ang binhing-punlang-sangang-uhay
ang inabonohan, dinamuhan, diniligan…
ginapas at giniik; binalatan at binalutan
itinawid sa mga pamilihan;
tinawaran at tinubuan
ngayo’y iyong inihahain sa hapag,
kanin na kakanin
ng mga binatang papariin.
sa isang banda roon,
sumingit ang kamay Mo sa paglikha.
Perhaps this kind of interweaving of human hands that help create the priest in us can serve as our starting image of what the communion of saints could mean for us today.
Saints are like a great web of graced human life, through which Godlife reaches us. One theologian once wrote that the birth-ing of the Church happens only when through the grace of the Holy Spirit, one generation is able to communicate Christian meaning and values so that another generation may receive and appropriate the faith and values as principles of their lives.
If we really think about it, the many details that we take for granted as part of our faith, countless saints and believers have once lived out, and sometimes, even died for. Many of us pray prayers that were once a fruit of a saint’s spiritual journey. We in the Ignatian family, pray the same Spiritual Exercises that grew out of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s experience. The same Spiritual Exercises has raised countless generations of Jesuits and later also radically charged the faith and apostolic life of generations of lay Christians ever since.
The faith that we share and celebrate this at every mass has been articulated in countless creeds, defended with their lives by many martyrs, and explored and developed by various lucid minds of Church fathers and mothers, and of theologians and men and women doctors of the Church.
Our cults and devotions have also reached us through many a saint’s hands. Here in our country, more churches and chapels are honored with the name of saints and titles of Our Lady, than they are of the titles of God. The popular devotion of the Sacred Heart have reached us through a St. Margaret Alacoque who was herself directed by another saint, Jesuit Claude dela Columbriere.
For us Filipinos, we have practically a saint to run to for the most concrete of needs—St. Gabriel for healing, St. Francis of Assisi for pets, St. Anthony for lost things, St. Jude for impossible things and if all these fail, we of course still have our last recourse in our Mother of Perpetual Help. “Childish piety,” one European was said to have commented, when the same child-like faith was seen winning rebel soldiers’ hearts through rosaries, images of Our Lady and flowers, during the people power revolution of EDSA fame. But who knows how much genuine faith really goes into such piety?
The Eucharist we share every day, has gone through so many periods of meaning-making since that first Sacred meal presided over by our Lord at the Cenacle. And many a martyr or confessor-saint have founded their saintly lives on this Eucharist. One of the earlier martyrs even wrote that he wanted to be that wheat, ground into white, and kneaded and placed over fire so that the Lord’s hungry may be fed. The one baptism we share as well as the countless other rituals that all shape our prayer and belief had first reached our respective shores through the efforts of the great missionary saints, some of them martyrs and are already proclaimed saints—each of us will have his or her own favorite. I would of course remember the likes of Saints Francis Xavier, Paul Miki, Leo Mangin, Spinola, Pacheco, who all preached in Asia, or the great martyrs of North America—the likes of John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues, whose courage some of us may have celebrated some days before our retreat began. Some brought the faith to South America or in then anti-Catholic England and met with much opposition and persecution. Some died promoting unity and harmony among warring tribes in Africa.
In my own readings of our Jesuit saints, back here in the Novitiate, I was especially touched when I read how the making of an English Jesuit martyr began when as a boy, Henry Walpole watched closely as Jesuit Edmund Campion was being racked and quartered on orders of the English Queen, and spot of Campion’s blood splashed upon the boy’s coat. Thirteen years hence, the chronicles say, Walpole would die Campion’s death also as a Jesuit at the gallows of York.
That image remains in my mind till now as a powerful example that the witness and example of the saints leave in our hearts sparks of desire for holiness that can only come from the fire of God.
We think of compassion for the poor and commitment to justice and we have saints such as Peter Claver or Miguel Pro or Maximilian Kolbe to look up to. We think of passion for the ministry and simplicity we think of a John Maria Vianney or a Therese of Lisieux. We can go on and, but I really wish to highlight three points through this litany of the saints…
First, that the faith we have received passed through many sinful but eventually sainted hands. Remembering how Divine life continues to reach us through the human makes us see the dynamism of our faith. We ought to appreciate how holy lives like those of the saints confirm for us God’s choice to embrace the human as his way of reaching us, and we ought to fully embrace our human life with the same commitment, to help us in turn to embrace God’s holiness.
Second, it is good to remember that the faith passed on to us by the saints has been passed on at times with great cost of human life. And that thought ought to awaken us to value our faith a little more deeply, and cherish it by our deeds a little more seriously and faithfully, not only out of a sense of indebtedness for the great offerings of those who came before us, but for a deep sense of responsibility for the many generations who will receive the faith from us. They too need an added number of saints from among our generation.
Finally, it is good to remember that in their passing to life in glory, the saints continue to remain in communion with us. They continue to keep the web of Godlife intact—to continue to communicate God’s grace as we complete our own journeys to the life they now enjoy. Those among us who have just begun the spiritual journey with an experience of deep conversion might as well pray as Ignatius prayed the cry of wonder that despite our sins, the saints and angels continue to help us, because they do. The saints know very well what sinfulness means because they were one of the most sensitive to sinfulness. The few among us who are maturing in discipleship and are either contemplating on the life of Christ might as well try to stand on the shoulders of the saints, the better to see Christ, to love him and follow him. For each saint can be for us a facet of the many faces of Christian commitment fulfilled in our Lord Jesus. Those among us who are maturing in the faith and are coming face to face with the cross may find strength in those saints who have embraced the cross as their radical following of Jesus. And finally, I know there are a few can perhaps look at the saints as part of those Godly rays that shine forth from the Son-God and allow us all to bask in Divine light. Should we look far for models of a love expressed in deeds when the saints are there to help us see and inspire us to try that love for size?
Until now God continues to woo us all into Godlife. And of this, a writer once said, in God’s courtship of people, he sometimes throws handkerchiefs—those handkerchiefs are the saints.
This evening, friends, with every spoonful of rice that you take at supper, may you also awaken to God’s love as the many saints of the great web of Godlife pass on the faith to you. And yes, please say a prayer for the likes of our faithful cook Aling Mila. Please pray for the repose of her soul. With people like her by our side, the struggle to become a little more like the saints is made somewhat easier.
November 2, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 8, 4-15
Id quod volo [That which we desire most]: A renewed trust and confidence in God’s desire to plant good seed in me and draw fruit from me notwithstanding the mixed bag of desires and gifts and shadows in my person.
Let me focus today’s reflection on the Gospel for today’s Catholic liturgy–one of my favorite parables–the Parable of the Seed and the Sower. We do not know who in the history of bible translations started putting titles to various pericopes of the bible texts. But the title that settled with our parable for today is as you know, “The Parable of the Seed and the Sower,” and I believe, with good reason.
While many of us, myself included tend to do an immediate examination of conscience when we hear or read this parable, asking ourselves the question: “So, what kind of soil have you been lately? Look and see so you’d understand why the seed of God’s Word grows the way it does (or worse, does not grow in you at all!”) And then we do another round of self-bashing.
But the more I read the parable, the more its very title touches me and I say to myself, “It’s really not about the soils, silly Vic, it’s about the seed and the Sower.” The Sower sows the seed quite arbitrarily and as he sprinkles the seeds onto the field, naturally, some seed fall on bad soils–some thorny, some rocky, some shallow, some full of weeds, but some do fall on good soil and such seeds spring up with much life and confidence, grow healthy shoots, and in due time bear abundant fruit, its bounty probably offsetting whatever the sower lost because of the bad soils.
And so perhaps we look into ourselves and not see whether the soil of our hearts is hard-rock, or thorny or shallow or full of useless weeds or good. Rather we look into our hearts with a sigh and say to ourselves, “oh my the field of my heart is filled with different kinds of soil, yet my good sower looks at my field with delight and spreads good seed in all of me. With hope and love sown by the sower, my faith grows that something good will come out of me, no matter what. No I do not leave it to chance, I know in due time that even my hard and rocky places will transform and become fallow. I know that the weeds and thorns that plague my soul will soon be cut off and burnt. But even as I know myself to be this mixed bag of desires and motives, I try to put all my energy into growing good seed and in the good parts of me, while the other “bad” parts heal and become whole.
It’s not about the soils, it’s about the Seed of God’s Word–too precious to ignore and brought to waste. And more importantly, it’s about the Sower, if he deems it right to sow seed in me, then I ought to have faith and honor the Lord’s trust in me and I proceed in earnest with my life, my ministry and service and hope to God that he does “write straight in (my) crooked lines,” that he breaks the meagre crumbs of bread I offer and a multitude be fed; that he does bear fruit a hundredfold in the little efforts I give into the service of God and of God’s people.
And you, how have you experienced fruitfulness in your life and service lately? How do you see the hand of Sower working in you? I what ways do you sense God cultivating you, preparing your soil so it may receive the seed of God’s Word with awe and wonder and give our hearts and soul to nurture the many little signs of Godlife that we have borne witness by our words and deeds and the overall direction of our lives? God Bless!
September 17, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 14,15-25
Id quod volo (That which I desire most): To recall moments of God finding us and welling up deep joy in our hearts.
I felt amused reading the Scripture Text offered to us today’s Catholic liturgy. The Gospel has us see a believer experiences joy in seeking God out. From my own experience, I can very well resonate. Our constant search for God brings deep, genuine joy, especially when we do it not only in dire times but also in good times. Yet in the Gospel text for today, it is not we who seek and find God, it is God who seeks and finds us, and experiences joy and delight in finding us. And once more I reflect on experience and say to myself, it’s true, it is not really God who is hiding from me and then I find God and experience joy in finding God, no many times it’s really me who is hiding from God, it is really I who gets lost along the way, gets distracted or diverted. And it is often God who finds me and brings me home.
It is quite consoling to contemplate the God figures in these first two story segments which prepare us for the bigger parable of the prodigal son: the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep. The story’s plot line is quite simple and straightforward: something is lost –> the lost thing is found –> the owner is overjoyed and calls for celebration. And after each parable, Jesus punctuates his telling of the parable with the image of the Father rejoicing in heaven and taking delight upon the return of a penitent.
God finds us and many times, when God finds us, God receives us again and again where we are when he finds us. We find that God does not make conditions for our return. He does not need any bribe of an offering or an achievement to reward us of God renewed presence. God simply takes delight that we have been found and that we will be restored to his flock.
We pray that we too feel that deep joy at our reunion with God and that humility takes over seeing this image of a God who goes out of his way to seek us out and meet us along the path where we were lost and found. God Bless!
September 13, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Wisdom 9, 13-18b; Luke 14, 25-33
Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That we may find and embrace even but a fraction of God’s Wisdom so we may be able to offer pure and focused hearts to the service of our Lord and our neighbor, seeing as God sees, loving as God’s love, and living with the consequences of such love.
Reviewing yesterday’s readings which we read and proclaimed in the CIS RDL launch, we mull even more deeply on God’s wisdom in the light of the recent Davao bombing.
Finding refuge in and embracing God’s Wisdom. This proposition will always be easier said than done. While all will certainly want the fruits of a life led according to God’s Wisdom because of the fruits it promises–peace, justice, righteousness and gentleness through life–the path to be followed to get there is not as easy a choice to make. Because “the just one” according to the sinister characters described in the Book of Wisdom, is obnoxious to them, blocks their wrongdoing and punishes them for their violations. The wicked ones who suffer from the righteousness of the just–they simply resolve to fight back by torturing the just and framing them to die a shameful death. “God will protect and defend them anyways.” They say with impunity as if to justify their evil plots.
This scenario is lifted from Sacred Scriptures. It is not a testimonial account of some responsible political detainee arrested for his work for the poor or human rights advocacy. Neither is it the murmurings of those left behind by innocent people mistaken to be targetted drug addicts or pushers who are summarily killed because they are suspected villains of the state-propelled drug war plot line. But the wisdom text certainly could have been a real-life martial law scenario.
“Embracing wisdom from above” has been a constant theme of Christian call since the days of Cain and Abel. Whenever worldly desire makes us covet and dominate others and kill, even, men and women who allow themselves to be ruled by a wisdom from below, a kind of thinking and valueing that is ruled by “jealousy and selfish ambition” arise and becomes the rule of the day and so very subtly begin to bring about “disorder and every foul practice” which then leads to wars and conflicts. James writes that these conflicts stem from irrational passions that wreaks havoc in our hearts and makes us lose our reason when we deal with others to obtain what we crave for. Our reading of reality becomes myopic and distorted: we only limit ourselves itto seeing that which we want to see, the very things that we crave for. All others, especially those which block our possessing what we want, all these have to go. We will eliminate them.
Jesus’ message in the Gospel represents the most radical expression of “wisdom from above” yet given. Even as he was teaching how the Son of Man will become the persecuted just man described in the Book of Wisdom, his disciples were not listening. They were busy arguing as to who among them was the greatest. The irony in this story simply makes our hearts coil. Here was Jesus, nearing the end of his career, and his very followers were still filled in their hearts with the wisdom of this world. Will he die in vain? At the rate the disciples are going, they would be the first ones to desert Jesus when events prove Jesus’ predictions right. (And yes, all of them except John flee for their lives once Jesus is arrested!)
Yet, Jesus continued to hope in these people he called and chose. He saw in their moment of argument a teachable moment. Though the world would consider greatest the strongest and most powerful among you, in the Way of the Kingdom, in God’s world, it is the least and the servant of the least who is considered the greatest.
In yesterday’s Sunday Gospel, Jesus further reminds his disciples, “Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Freedom of heart from every form of egoism and avarice is needed to that the disciple can really offer to the Lord and his service, a pure and focused heart and a magnanimous, zealous spirit.
Jesus might even have added what James proclaimed in his letter: and no matter what we see on the surface, ” the wisdom from above is pure and peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruit. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate in peace.” We may by our righteousness earn the ire of the wicked in our midst. We may be subject to revilement and persecution. But the purity in our heart and the humility that our service proclaims will invite others to also offer their love and support to the people most needy and vulnerable.
We who desire to choose to embrace the Wisdom from Above will soon see that we choose a road not usually taken. By jesus-and-young-manour lives, we will “crucify the world” but “the world itself will crucify us too.” And in such process of love absorbing the violence of evil, in such process is the world saved. For the passive ones simply endure and allow evil to wreak havoc and sow violence. But the vengeful ones fight violence with counter violence and in the process increases and intensifies violence and suffering in the world. Those who meet the world with Wisdom from Above lead their lives saying their firm “no” to violence and “yes” to life. But often times, people who say yes to life, offer their own life to say it, as Jesus himself did.
Some questions for reflection thus: What sense of void or vaccum in our hearts feed into our fears? How much do we tend to use possessions and abusive relationships to fill in the void inside us? When we are threatened to lose control over the usual inordinate attachments we hold on to, how easily do we have recourse to violence and domination to defend and protect our turf? How secure are we in our hearts that God will always provide for us and sustain us that we are able to share what we are and what we have to those in greater need? How much do we embrace God’s Wisdom in the way we live? For such profound graces, we ask for God’s wisdom and love. We ask that if our turn to face the question (of embracing God’s Wisdom) comes, we may be ready to answer as well with our own lives, even when our answer may be seen as foolishness by the world. God Bless!
September 5, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 13, 22-30
Id quod volo (That which we desire most deeply): A graced remembering of the story of my relationship with the Lord and a heartfelt gratitude for the many ways this relationship felt like “entering a narrow gate” that has become a transforming influence in my life and person.
For the more “substantial” or “weightier” (aka “fat”) people like myself, entering a narrow space is rarely a pleasant experience. I recall my recent EVA Air flight from Toronto to Taiwan, i.e., the long haul part of my return trip. I had no choice but be seated in that part of Economy seats by the wall where they often assign those caring for babies. Like the seats on emergency row, these seats have fixed sides, no movable arms and so I was forced to rest (more like stress!) my big legs onto a narrow space that I instantly recalled my old philosophy lessons on the metaphor of Procusthes’ Bed, where a long-legged person is forced into a short-sized bed, by cutting off part of the legs, instead of creating a long bed to accommodate the long-legged person. Entering a narrow space, much less, forcing to fit a big person onto a small space is hardly a pleasant experience for the big person.
And so I can reasonably expect this prospect of engaging the Lord in relationship or commitment here likened to entering a narrow gate (of the sheepfold) to be nothing but a negative experience. And yet when I recall my experience with the Lord, I don’t see negativity as the dominant tone, rather it is one of deepening, growth, maturing, peace, a sense of fit, i.e., a sense that “I am in the right place and right time,” and more importantly warmth, at-homeness in love and a sense of lightness and joy.
If there was a sense of negativity it is when initially, entering the narrow gate meant, stripping. After all a fat guy with so much baggage will surely find it hard to enter the narrow gate. And so when cutting body flab is a more difficult option, getting rid of excess baggage is perhaps an easier choice. Entering the narrow gate means that initially we have to reduce what we bring with us to the really essential things and relationships. We only carry things and relationships that are essential to our person and mission. I recall a time when I was studying in Rome. A companion Jesuit brought me to the hermitages in Assisi which St. Francis and his companion friars used. The entrance doors into the hermitages were so small I couldn’t enter the rooms comfortably and especially when I carried my back pack with me. And so I had to take off my back pack and enter the narrow gates side ways even, until I reached the central cell. Now don’t ask me what happened coming out the hermitages. I just remembered I thank God he called me to become a Jesuit and not a Franciscan.
Second, entering the narrow gate also meant becoming more and more focused in the kind of apostolic response I give to the Lord’s calling–substance-wise and energy-wise. In my life I have seen more and more clearly what gifts in myself I can and must offer to the Lord’s vineyard and how much of my time and energy and treasure I must surrender in order to prepare this response to bear optimal fruit, of course, always with God’s grace and providence. And I as I get older, I know too that my own talents and treasure, alas even my own body will systematically diminish and more and more focusing will be needed perhaps even more and more trusting in the Lord’s providence will be needed.
Third, entering the narrow gate also meant what St. Paul describes as “It is no longer I but Christ who lives in me” experience. Pope Francis says, as we enter the narrow gate it is Christ himself who enters into our lives and persons and takes over our visions, our dreams, our capacities until we see the world in God’s eyes, and love it with God’s love that the whole of our lives and service becomes Christ’s own, so that ultimately it is the narrow path of the cross that will define our life and work. With the cross though is the graced promise of new life. And so narrow gives way to a bright and broad space for new life, new light, new energy. At this side of the fold, the images on God’s promises are always portrayed in abundance: feasts, bright halls, mansions with many rooms, mustard seed turned into big trees, a net that can contain hundreds of fish of many kinds, etc. etc. Though I was asked to leave family and property, God promises to provide me with a hundredfold of these. I know, I have experienced these many times over.
And so we pause and ponder: First, what has your “narrow gate” experience been like? Second, In your life of service and commitment, how has God’s response to your offering been? What do you notice about the truth (or falsity) of Jesus’ promise of “a hundredfold” in your own experience? Bring these reflections to a hearty conversation with the Lord, bringing to him any experience of gratitude or resignation or complaint, whatever your prayer may bring you to notice and bear. God Bless!
August 20, 2016 Leave a comment
May 22. Solemn Feast of the Holy Trinity. Contemplating our Triune God and God’s Ever Intensifying Love for Us
To Pray and Ponder On: Proverbs 8, 22-31. Psalm 8. Romans 5, 1-5. John 16, 12-15
Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To contemplate our Triune God and be in awe with the ever-intensifying love that God reveals to us, food for our hearts and souls, exemplar for our journeys.
“We have peace in God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . and we boast in hope of the glory of God . . . because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Because an eternal God is really beyond any time and space, there is no sense of speaking of God as “ever intensifying love,” except to say that within the Eternal Godhead dwells Jesus–the Word who became flesh and who continues to be the human in the Triune God–one who was of human flesh, time-bound, culture-bound, a man who grew up a good Jew and in whose life and teaching and death and rising, arose a new religious tradition bearing his name–Christianity. We can also think of “ever intensifying love” as the ever growing reception in our hearts of the constant love being poured by God into the human family. Creator-God, Redeeming God, Sanctifier and Giver of Gifts: the Father, Son and Spirit as a Trinity has revealed to us a God whose constant love has grown in intensity in our hearts as we gained more insight into the core of God’s person through generations.
Not only has God been originally revealed as Creator, but even as we write, God creates us, we draw life’s breath from God moment by moment. And every breath is witness to a God who constantly raises in us holy desires to be good, to do good, and to be more and more like God in love and service. God did not only create humans in that far distant beginning of time, no, God is Creator, moment by moment in the very foundation of our existence: sustaining us, making us grow, penetrating the most interior parts of our person, moving our hearts to love and give of ourselves to God and others.
But more than giving these gifts of creation moment by moment, we also receive this Creator-God as redeemer, as one who pays ransom for us by his offering of life. Sin has rendered each of us indebted, enslaved in the wiles of the evil one. Yet this God has drawn the evil one into a wager it could not refuse. God’s wager made the evil one think that love was just too weak to withstand the violence of power-hungry leaders or cowardly followers or messianic dreams gone political and women devotion gone too emotional. God’s wager was just too attractive to refuse: the Word of God in the Messiah crucified on the cross and silenced forever? What a victory for hell! The Messiah’s ministry failed and folded up, followers all fleeing in fear?
Yet death was not to be the last word in Calvary. When Jesus breathed his last–he also unleashed the Spirit who was to be the completion of his life–the love poured out for all. Love was to be the final word in Calvary, and this time Love was not to be silenced, for even death, love has conquered and vanquished. Love would break the walls of time and space, and shatter even the power of sin and death. No human experience would henceforth be inaccessible to God’s life and love.
Now the Spirit of God can penetrate into the inmost recesses of the human soul, dwell in the heart and carry out the sanctifying action of God: recalling to us everything that Jesus taught and did, inspiring us with virtues and dispositions that help us divest of anything worldly and resistant to God and elevating our desires from the base and sensual to those that are deeply spiritual and directed heavenward. That we are human, need no longer be excuse to be worldly, for our Lord remains human, and is gloriously Divine as well. And all of us are called to the same destiny. We need no longer murmur, “sapagkat kami’y tao lamang, marupok at mahina” (because we are mere humans, weak and vulnerable), because Jesus enables us to say, “kami’y tao at sa bawat sandaling kami’y tunay na nagpapakatao, higit kaming nagiging maka-Diyos” (We are humans and as we become more truly human we become more and more truly divine too). At the heart of this pagpapakatao which I’d dare translate into, “sanctification,” is the Spirit of God at work, converting us, healing our every unfreedom, elevating our desires to make them holy, and forming us into those facets of Christ which our own charisms and cluster of gifts suggest.
We thank this Triune God for gently revealing Godself to us: Creator-Redeemer-Sanctifier! Three persons in one God who continues to abide in us until Christ can gather all in all through the sanctifying work of his Spirit onto the final days when Christ will restore us all back to the Father’s loving embrace. God Bless!
May 23, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Acts 2, 1-11; 1 Corinthians 12, 3-7.12-13; John 20, 19-23
Id quod volo (That which we desire most): That the Spirit prepare us to become worthy temples of God’s love and life–a sanctuary for the Sacred in the world, a space from which God may reach out to others in need of creative renewal and re-charging that only God’s Breath can bring.
On this Solemnity of Pentecost, our Liturgy invites us to look back at our lives and see the invisible dynamism of life and love that renders God most intimately present to us as individual persons and as whole communities. Unlike Jesus who has shown us the visible, bodily form that makes the person of God known to us, the Holy Spirit is an invisible principle, a shapeless person of God but one whom Jesus sends with particular missions. We contemplate this unique gift of the Third Person of the Trinity because all our lives as creatures, person and Christian disciples, even missioners or apostles are given life and are sustained by this Spirit.
First the Holy Spirit is ruach, life-giving breath of God. He breathed life into creation even to the point when he fashioned humans from the earth and then breathed God life into them. But recall back the seven days of creation and we find various configurations of this invisible principle which transforms life at every stage to create order where there was chaos, light where there was only darkness, life to fill the Sacred Spaces built through years of separating and gathering–vegetation, birds, beasts, fish. And then as creation becomes more complex, the Spirit brings about movement and freedom, reason and affection, various levels of desiring whether by wishing, willing or outright wanting. Only in a matter of further “complexifying” that the creature who reasons out becomes also the creature who works and loves. At every stage a new form of excellence, a broader power to share the Creator’s work, and a deeper capability to love and give of oneself to others and to the world. Ruach is God’s breath, and where God breathes in creation, God’s life touches creatures and the rest of further creation happens over and over–ordering, movement, multiplicity and complexity, reason, freedom and at its peak, love, even perhaps the self-sacrificing love that Jesus himself exemplified.
This life shared to us by the outpouring of the Spirit of God in our lives also builds communication and inspires communion despite the fact that we gather as people who have received different gifts. By the action of the Spirit, unique people find themselves looking at their own gifts, precisely as gifts–things meant to be shared to others and things that build community.
Second, the Holy Spirit gives birth to the Church. By the action of the Spirit, we awaken to faith and this faith draws us to a communion with like beliefs and life religious practice. The Spirit seals us into the communion whose head is Christ, by sealing the baptism and confirmation we have received. The same Spirit showers many gifts and charisms to build individual members and to build the Church, with the Spirit always recalling to the Church the things that Christ taught and did. By this Christ memory, the Church gives visible spaces and occasions for the Spirit to breathe again and again new life, and newfound occasions to share and rejoice God’s forgiveness, mercy and communion among the members of the community.
Third, the Holy Spirit renews individuals from deep, deep within. As we have seen in the Gospel passage given today in Catholic liturgies, the Risen Lord appears before his disciples–at this moment dejected and desolate because they had failed their Lord, because they had fled out of fear, forgetting all the wonderful things they had witnessed through out the Public ministry of Jesus. And in this appearance, Jesus’ first words are of peace. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them and at once, this fearful, motley group of desolate disciples regain their courage and faith, recognized Jesus for who he really is, and found their voice so they can proclaim the Good News of our Lord which brings about an era of peace, justice, compassion and forgiveness. Fearful disciples become transformed into courageous and zealous proclaimers, they become missioners and become ambassadors of the Lord’s presence and peace.
Like all of God’s gifts, the Spirit is always gift offered to us by our Loving God and gifts offered are still gifts to be received in love and freedom. We may then ask ourselves some reflection questions: first, in my life, how far deeply into my interiority do I allow the Spirit of God to penetrate me, dwell in me and transform me into a fitting temple for God’s love and life? or do I simply keep the Spirit hovering outside of me, waiting patiently to enter into the murk and chaos of my life to begin creation anew with his “Let there be Light!”; second, how far do I allow the Spirit to labour in me and give birth to Church? How much do I embrace and take responsibility for the faith the brings me into communion with others, so the faith I have received and was baptized into becomes a real personal choice that I live not only when I celebrate Eucharist with other Christian Catholics but also in my day to day, allowing my baptismal vows to flourish and mature into a genuinely discerned and committed, Christian life, mindful of the gifts and charisms I have received which I turn offer to build up the Church I embrace.
Third, how much do I engage God’s Spirit of New Life even in my desolate moments, so that animated by God’s love and life, I awaken to mission again, and bring God’s good news with courage and zeal even to a world which is sometimes crippled by fear and so chooses to put their trust in worldly things which pretend to fill their fearful hearts with false securities built on riches, power and pride? The Spirit draws us to absolute trust in God’s Providence so we can pin our hopes in God alone who can give the peace and joy we seek.
Do “Come Holy Spirit, and fills us with the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” God Bless!
May 16, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Acts 13,14.42-52; Revelation 7, 9.14b-17; John 7,1-2.10.25-30
Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That I may grow in my interior knowledge of Jesus who became human for me, for all of us, that I may truly see him more clearly, the better to love him more ardently and follow him more closely.
The one detail that caught my attention while reading the Gospel for this morning was the inhabitants of Jerusalem were asking themselves–“Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ?” But we know where he is from.” It seems these people were themselves entertaining the possibility that Jesus was really the Messiah, but were also hesitant to pursue their questioning because their religious leaders were bent at arresting and eliminating Jesus for some reason. But that latter question “but we know where he is from” is to me an important question. Do they really know where Jesus was from. Humanly speaking, they could really have known–Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee. But was he indeed really from there?
John’s Gospel is one which will refute such claims of knowledge of Jesus–for John includes in his Gospel a whole prologue which relocates the origins of Jesus from that described in the earlier synoptic Gospels. Mark begins his Gospel already at the wake of Jesus’ public ministry. Both Matthew and Luke inserts an infancy section, where Luke recounts from a Marian optic, Jesus as the son of Mary, while Matthew inserts an even more elaborate genealogy which inserts Jesus as Son of David in the lineage of Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father. John identifies Jesus explicitly with the Word, who was with God when God created the world and was in fact the Word through which all creation came to be. This Word was the word that became flesh through the action of the Holy Spirit and became the child of Mary and Joseph.
But that whole prehistory of Jesus is something that needs an intentional assent, a conscious choice to believe. And only people who have been drawn by the Father to Jesus would know. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” This intimate and interior knowledge of Jesus is a mark of a genuine disciple of our Lord. St. Ignatius distinguishes this grace to be the mark of discipleship in the Exercises: “to see Jesus clearly, to love him more ardently and to follow him more closely.” It is this knowledge which will give disciples the wisdom and prudence to discern God’s desires for the world and the courage and generosity to give oneself in an elected vocation and mission for the fulfillment of such desires of God. In fact one can argue that my capacity to discern God’s will is nothing more than an intuitive familiarity with what God loves, much as a happily married couple begin to develop in time an intuitive familiarity with the preferences and desires of the loved one, and so discerning what his or her next action would be just comes so naturally.
It is ironic that these conversations of the people of Jerusalem happen in the context of the sukkot or the Jewish feast of tabernacles or booths. For the duration of this feast the Jews are asked to eat their meals inside a pre-decorated tent. This practice is meant to help them remember and celebrate their coming back to God after they repented from the worship of the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai, just after they forged a Covenant with Yawheh. Sukkot it seems means renewed fellowship with God. For Christians we see in sukkot kindred theological meanings hidden in the nativity, that is the birthing of the Messiah in the house of bread, i.e., Bethlehem; palm Sunday (Jews wave palm fronds too on the feast of tabernacles), and the harvest blessing festival celebrated in autumn. But what precisely happens in John’s Gospel is quite the opposite. The people, especially the authorities plotting to kill Jesus, fixes Jesus’ meaning in their minds–a threat to a social, cultural and religious order that has kept their peace and prosperity, and so they claim to know Jesus through and through and resist any show of belief in Jesus’ true origin as the Word of God. But know Jesus, they did not. Only Jesus’ true sheep would know him.” God Bless!
April 18, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Acts 9, 1-20
Id quod volo (That which I desire most deeply): That I encounter the Risen Lord, as Paul did, and in this encounter receive from our Lord an insight into the ways he offers conversion to me in my life’s journey.
The late Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan, S.J. taught us much about the human experience of conversion. He says it is grounded on a person’s commitment to look at his or her experience and really seek out the truth in the realities that one experiences as well as in the self that goes through such an experience of truth-seeking and truth-telling. This level of conversion has to do with intellectual conversion. Of course one must remain attentive that his or her affective faculties help one to really engage reality and embrace it. This is because a person’s psychoemotional states and capacities can serve to delude us, fill us with prejudice or biases which may distort our perception and interpretation of realities. hence affective conversion, even psychic conversion is needed so we may truly engage reality with genuine attention and more or less accurate perception. And Intellectual conversion also includes our capacity to understand reality and draw meaning from those parts of reality that we experience. On this level the person is challenged to be intelligent in his or her inquiry into things , at times questioning, at times probing, all the time, seriously reflecting on the reality one engages from many different angles and perspectives, trying one’s best to get a glimpse of the truth of whatever reality one is engaging. Intellectual conversion nurtured by constant attentiveness and intelligent inquiry bears helps one face the challenge of a deeper conversion–moral conversion. where we are challenged to exercise our freedom and make reasonable judgments from all the data we have drawn from our attentive and intelligent engagement with things. Reasonable judgment of things help us make good decisions and undertake responsible actions which not only enrich the world and people around us, but also make us grow as free and loving persons. Intellectual conversion helps us to really look at things with attention and a critical mind, so that when we are faced with choices on how to respond to the things that we see, our choices are realistic and genuinely responsive to the needs that we apprehend. But then Lonergan explains while our commitment to these first four precepts of “being attentive,” “being intelligent,” “being reasonable,” and “being responsible” are important foundations to transcendence, what really move us to transcend our narrow parrochial concerns is the love that draws us out of ourselves and towards God and others.When we find ourselves caught up in the dynamic of love, such love animates us and transforms what we are able to see and perceive, helps us to penetrate and understand interiorly the very heart of things and helps us to stand by our commitments with fidelity and generosity.
In many ways, what Lonergan describes as conversion can be traced and verified in the experience of the great apostle to the gentiles, St. Paul. Saul of Tarsus was a zealous Jew, a pharisee whose passionate love for the law made him see those who adhere to the Jesus way as misled, even perhaps a threat to Jewish cult and practice. Thus he volunteered to pursue those who follow the Way, so that he may be of help in bringing these threats to court and so eliminate these believers in what he saw as the false way. To him his efforts were a sincere living out of his Jewish faith and nothing could be far more pleasing to God than to stamp out this Jesus movement before it gets too big.
And so the Risen Lord decides to pay Saul a visit–a quite dramatic encounter on the Road to Damascus. From his own testimony, Paul said that suddenly a bright light shone before him which toppled him from his horse, and then he heard a voice audible only to himself and not to others: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked “who are you, sir?” and the reply came: “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
This initial religious encounter would set Saul off into a lifetime journey of many conversions. In this event alone, the Spirit of Light already begins to labour to transform Saul’s way of seeing. The Light blinds Saul temporarily, loosening the grip of his own former biases so that on the third day, when his sight is restored, what he sees will be a little closer to what the Lord of the Light wants him to see.
The same Lord revealed to Ananias what Saul was to become–“this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” From this short line the author of the Acts of the Apostles makes us privy to the life Saul was to look forward to. His mission would be far broader than that of the Jewish Pharisee. Saul was to go out to the whole world to proclaim the man whose followers he used to pursue and persecute.
From his initial intellectual conversion, Saul, now renamed Paul, would slowly find his way to the bosom of the Church he once made to suffer. He had to take steps so those believers in the Way, by then renamed as Christians, can recover their trust in him and embrace him as one of the apostles, only that his mission was focused on people who stood outside of the Jewish faith. Did he really suffer? Certainly, Paul had to endure the doubts and fickleness of some of the original believers. For it is not often that we see former persecutors becoming passionate promoters in a short span of time. And then Paul had to face a community which thought God willed for Christians to be Jews first, and then become Christians. Through the efforts of Paul and Barnabbas, eventually the Council of Jerusalem recognized that it could happen that a gentile be converted and ask to be baptized as a Christian and that such a person need not convert to the Jewish faith before he gets baptized as a Christian.
Paul’s theological and pastoral writings speak much of his characteristic love for the (Jewish) law, but such a devotion did not lead him to support the Judaizers in imposing the Jewish faith on would-be Gentile Christians. We are saved by grace that comes from the Spirit of God in whom we have been baptized and not by mere fidelity to the Law. Paul also had to use his gifts in discernment, leadership and administration so that Christians who see in themselves many varied gifts may not be misled to selfish autonomous works but may learn to see their gifts in complement to and collaboration with others who carry other gifts. Hence the Church Saul once persecuted and wished to destroy, Paul now loved dearly and helped to build up. It was at the core of his original converting vision that this Church made up the Body of Christ and he had to exercise ministry so that the many different parts of this one body may really work together to build up the whole.
For sure Paul went through many other crises characteristic of those active in the apostolate. Cardinal Martini suggests that Paul had to endure crises in friendships, for instance with the other apostolic leader–Peter who as an avid Jew would have shown vacillation in whether to support the Judaizers or confirm the new non-Jewish converts without forcing them to become Jews. And Paul would have rebuked Peter when he did vacillate. Furthermore, Cardinal Martini talks about some falling out with Barnabbas, the apostle who helped to initially integrate Paul to the apostolic body. The conflict may have been caused by Paul’s gentle approach to the young disciple John Mark whose immature ways may have affected their ministry. Barnabbas may have preferred Paul to be clearer and firmer with his young ward. And then the many travails of missionary work–shipwrecks, hunger, poverty, resistance, false accusations, arrest and imprisonment. Finally, Paul speaks of some “thorn in the flesh,” a difficulty that may be a root weakness in his personality, something which blocks his fuller commitment to Christ, yet ironically, says Paul, makes him always humble before Christ, seeing himself as a vulnerable earthen vessel that holds an infinitely greater treasure such as the Christ.
Paul’s journey as a believer would have gone through many conversions of the mind, the heart and the will so that in the end, he can proudly proclaim, “I have run the race, fought a good fight and am now ready to claim my prize,” so that on that latter point in his life, he knew he was prepared to die, yet he was really also content to continue living and serving the Lord. What death did Paul suffer?–he was said to have been privileged to die the more compassionate way because he was a Roman Citizen. He died by decapitation. He was beheaded–pain was minimal because death was swift, unlike Peter’s execution by crucifixion, and inverted at that, slow painful, excruciating death. But through it all, it was Paul’s encounter with so great a love as the Risen Lord’s that fired him. It was this love that gave his vision to things the breadth of horizon that only the mystery of God’s plan held. It was love that made Paul capable of loving even amidst suffering and pain. It was love that gave him a distinct spirit of generosity and zeal that stretched him beyond his previous limits so that he may proclaim the Word of God, really to the ends of the earth.
We ask that the Lord accompany us through our life-long conversion. We pray that God take away whatever scales that block our spiritual vision to the lofty dreams of God for our lives, so that locked into God’s dreams we may offer receive God’s love and offer our lives completely to the spreading of that love to others. God Bless!
April 15, 2016 Leave a comment