June 28. A “Miracle Sandwich” and What the Filling Offers Us

image26To Pray on and Ponder: Mark 5, 21-43

Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That awakened to the healing I need most in my person, I bring before my Lord, a focused desire to receive the healing I need and experience Jesus’ healing touch with radical openness and faith.

The Gospel pericope from Mark features what I call a “sandwich miracle”: two miracle stories where a less important one serves as the bread and the more important one (at least in my view) serves as the spread or the filling. In this case, the bread for the sandwich is the miracle of Jairus’ daughter revived, while the filling is the miraculous healing of the woman with a hemorrhage. If we were to contrast the two miracles, I’d say that the most glaring difference is how the two women engaged Jesus in the way they received the miracle. For Jairus daughter of course, there was hardly any volition or effort at all on the girl’s part. It was on the strength of Jairus’ faith that this miracle is granted by Jesus. For the woman with the hemorrhage on the other hand, there was much too much effort on the part of the woman. She actually stole the miracle from Jesus, desperately reaching out secretly to touch the tassle of Jesus cloak with the strong faith that she would get healed with such mere touch. Unknown, to her, Jesus would feel that power was taken from him, even with the big crowd pressing upon him at that same instant.

In a sense this woman with a hemorrhage, more than Jairus’ daughter, has become for me a lovely model for intense prayer: we come to the Lord with a rather focused desire and entrust this desire entirely in his power. I had previously prayed on this episode at a time when I felt very aware of my own vulnerabilities and had come before the Lord with the weight of such an awareness. I wrote of the following poem coming out of that intense religious experience:

==================================================

Through with Touching Tassles
Colloquy of the One with a Hemorrhage
Fr. Victor R. Baltazar, S.J. aka Reggie Adviento

I hear you whisper

a voice that moans of love within:
you it was who sent her
to bid me touch your tassle
and so be touched and healed

and sealed so where
the wounds dare drain
the life in me and bear
much hurt and hassle
though not mine, so much I build.

I hear you whisper
your love that soothes and heals within:
“I am here, ease your pain.
Rest the dark, I am light’s flicker within.”

You breathe in me the warmth and fer-
vence of your care. Again I feel
the love from me you dare to bear;
like rising steam, an inner surge
of passion love does yield.

I dared touch your tassle
and touched, the hemorrhage in
me ceased and waned.
I am here. somewhat stronger now.
Speak now your inner voice of love
by me as yet again I play your field.

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When we come before the Lord, bearing a plea for healing, do we really desire that healing badly enough to dare to “touch his tassle” so to speak? Is there enough “owning” within us of the illness for which we want healing? As with addicts and alcoholics, there is an acknowledgement and taking responsibility that a genuine plea for healing needs. Third, do we have enough trust in the Lord that he would receive our desire with loving compassion and generous providence? Here’s praying that when you experience the proper time, you may bring your own need for healing before the Lord and asking him earnestly, you may feel his warm healing embrace as I did:

“I hear you whisper your love that soothes and heals within: ‘I am here, ease your pain.
Rest the dark, I am light’s flicker within.’” God Bless!.

June 28, 2015  Leave a comment

May 24. Solemn Feast of Pentecost. God Breathes Love and Full Life into our Lives

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 23, 2015  Leave a comment

May 17. “It Bulaga! (Peek-a-boo!): Three Fruits of Our Lord’s Ascension

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 16, 15-20

Id quod volo:  To recognize in the Mystery of the Lord’s Ascension another expression of the Lord’s loving providence for us in the further deepening of God’s love for us from a limited earth-bound, culture-bound and in-the-flesh communication of love to love that knows no bounds, no limits, no conditions, a love beyond any of our known horizon and depth.

When Jesus ascended to the heavens, there were immediately three consequences for our life of faith:

First, his capacity to give love was intensified and elevated. No longer was his loving limited to his mortal body, no longer limited by his own time, and people, and religion and culture. His love was now accessible to all times and peoples and cultures.

Second, but Jesus has not lost his humanity. Even as he sits at the right hand of the Father, he is completely and still human through and through—and in fact human in an infinitely glorious way. Hindi na nga natin puwede sabihing, pasensya ka, sapagkat kami’y tao lamang, marupok at nagkakasala. No Jesus as a human person has penetrated our human experience to the very core and now he can be big enough so he can be present to millions at the same time that he can be so small as to be fully present to each of us in the intimacy of our unique personal experiences and struggles.

Finally Jesus is now for us a mysterious Spirit—a presence that will be at times most visible and distinct to us, yet many times invisible, darkly mysterious whom we see as if in a dark mirror, says St. Paul. Or as St. John recounts Jesus saying to his disciples—sometimes you see, sometimes you don’t.

I was reflecting on this third quality and what it could mean for us.  What I came to recall was a game we normally play with children. You know psychologists say, small kids believe as real only the things that they see. That is why if you play with a kid and hide yourself from him, he or she will lose interest in a bit and think that the hidden you is no longer real anymore. “Concrete operational” the psychologists call this stage.

That’s why perhaps we Filipinos have invented the game “It-bulaga” a rough equivalent of the American “peek a boo!” What does this game have to do with the Ascended Jesus?  Well we say to the kid who is still training to see: “It-bulaga!” and then alternately show and hide ourselves from the child’s view. In due time he would learn that we are really still there, even if he does not see us.

In the same way I think, our Risen Lord is training us to sense his presence whether or not we see him, feel him, or sense his most subtle motions. Hopefully we develop a deep familiarity with Jesus’ ways so that his slightest signs move us and excite us.

We can also learn from the fox and little prince, recalling what the fox taught the prince. Taming means that we see each other alternately from a distance then closer and closer, and in every sighting, we foster greater anticipation and expectancy, we feel greater love for the one we had missed. And in due time we see our beloved not only from the eyes but from the heart and this makes all the difference for the more essential things in life are really invisible to the eye. Only with the heart can we see these things in full light. God bless!

May 17, 2015  Leave a comment

May 1. (St. Joseph, the Worker) God Labors.

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 15, 1-8.

One curious detail in the pedagogy of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is that from the many scripture passages available in the Gospels and Epistles that narrate Jesus’ life, Ignatius made a definite selection of fifty-one episodes in the Gospels spanning from the Annunciation to the Our Lady to the Ascension of Christ our Lord. Many theories have been propounded why Ignatius chose these 51 mysteries and why he inserted this section of three point summaries of these mysteries to guide would be directors of the Ignatian retreat. We remind ourselves that one of the first serious contacts of Ignatius with the life of Christ was not from reading the bible, but from reading the popular tales on the Life of Christ, by Ludolf of Saxony, and the Life of Saints, the only two books available for him when he was convalescing from his leg surgeries in the Castle of Loyola. The main argument that works for us here is that Ignatius chose these mysteries which showed clearly his image of Jesus–a Christ on the move, a God who labors constantly to accomplish his mission of redemption, given to him by the Father. This point was developed quite insightfully by our former Superior General, Peter Hans Kolvenbach. On this day’s feast of St. Joseph the Worker, I invite you to contemplate this God who is always on the move, a God who bestows us with a lot of gifts–of things, people, works, experiences–and in these gifts, God labors, God works to accomplish in us our redemption–a work which has costs for him, as every work of love does.

Using today’s Gospel reading (which includes a metaphor–vine and the branches), we find the same image of a laboring God, symbolized here as a vinedresser. Treating of this storyline in the Gospel, Pope Emeritus Benedict tries to complete the picture of vineyard stories by using all its forms in the Old Testament and then in the Gospels. The Holy Father reminds us of this God, a Vineyard owner who wanted to cultivate a vineyard to produce fine grapes for the winery. In the Old Testament allusions, (eg. Isaiah 5,1-2, Jeremiah 12 and 1 Kings, 21, etc.), we find God’s passionate desire in building this vineyard, complete with a watchtower, yet the vineyard yielded nothing but sour grapes unfit for producing good wine. And so these vineyards were left to be trampled upon, despite all the work that was put into it. Pope Benedict explains that all these symbolism expresses human infidelity against God’s passionate work of labor. Sour grapes is tantamount to the harlot’s infidelity even as the husband Yahweh has done so much to make Israel bear fruit. The synoptic Gospels (Mark 12,1-12, Matthew 20, 1-16 and Luke 20, 9-19) treat of the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, where tenants of a vineyard plot to usurp their master vineyard owner’s authority and kill the master’s delegated officials, including his son who he sends as a last resort. When the workers killed the owner’s son, the master sent his troops to wipe out all so that the vineyard may be handed over to a new set of workers who would be more respectful of the leasehold.

John’s vine and branches parable subverts the whole vineyard story line, by making Jesus himself the Vine, the vinedresser and the vineyard owner, alongside his Father. The focus now is everything God does in order to share the very life of our loving God with those who choose to become part of this life. Of the many actions God does in this plotline, two stand out: grafting and pruning. Believers who wish to share in God’s life and love have to be grafted into Jesus, the main tree from which we draw new life, feeding from the very source of love that makes us fruitful. No disciple will live into fruitfulness unless s/he remains in Jesus.

After having been grafted and made part of the main branch of the vine that is Jesus, the vinedresser cleans and prunes us, throwing away dead branches into the fire. And those parts of us which remain in Jesus, cleaned and pruned well eventually bear fruit, abundant and lasting fruit. Our main task is to offer ourselves for the grafting and for the pruning–whatever these two actions mean to us, they definitely include a painful part of dying to self, so that Jesus’ own visions, and loves and preferences live on in us and not only our narrow dreams, superficial loves and confused, misdirected desires.

And so perhaps some reflection points we may ponder are in order:  First, how has your God labored in this way in your own life? When has God taken the initiative to cut you off from a previous life condition so that he may graft you into a better, fruit-producing plant, that is Jesus himself? How did this new grafting feel, what sort of renewal or reordering did this new grafting introduce in your life. Second, even as you remained in this vine called Jesus, what sort of pruning continued to happen to ensure your fruitfulness? And how did this fruitfulness “happen”?

We pray to St. Joseph, that silent worker who mirrors for us constantly the kind of labor that God does as God continues to work out our full redemption to restore us back to our Father. God Bless!

May 1, 2015  Leave a comment

April 26. The Child and the Shepherd

Pray on and Ponder:  John 10, 11-18

Id quod volo: That embracing our identity as children of the Father, we may also be empowered to love others as the Shepherd loves his flock–with intimacy and with the genuine self-gift as to be willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

Magandang umaga po. Today is Fourth Sunday of Easter, which we also refer to as Good Shepherd Sunday. At this mass I would like to invite you to reflect on the theme of embracing the Shepherd’s love as adopted children of God.

Let me begin with a story. There was a time when I was just beginning in the priesthood and was making a retreat to prepare for first vows. My novice master and retreat guide told me, “Vic, why is it that your two years here in the novitiate, the theme of self-sacrifice was always dominant but you seem always burdened and gloomy. I don’t sense genuine joy in embracing Jesuit life. If this continues, I’m afraid you will not last long. In this retreat, please ask for the grace of genuine joy. And know that joy is pure gift, undeserved. You cannot earn it or work for it.”

And so I launched into the retreat with that intention. I begged the Lord to give me genuine joy. I told the Lord with great intensity and supplication, I want to be a joyful and happy shepherd, like my Lord, Jesus Christ. I can even see the image of the laughing Christ in my head, the image of a Jesus playing with small children.

And then what surfaced in my prayer was the character of the elder son, berating his father: “For years I have slaved for you, and you have not even given me a small goat to feast on with the my friends, but this irresponsible son of yours who have squandered half of your money, you even kill the fatted calf?”

The elder son immediately mirrored to me and gave voice to many hidden sentiments in my heart. A voice of self-righteousness for living the faith seriously and in committed way since childhood, living like the dutiful child of God; a voice of entitlement, one who seems to ask for pay back for the sacrifices offered in the past; a voice of condemnation for the other children who do not do their part well.

And then my mind wandered to the younger son, and I heard him say: “Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son, but please take me in as one of your hired servants.” Of course the response of the Father was epic. He rounded his servants to restore back the dignity of his fallen younger son. “Put a robe on him, give him sandals, give him back the son’s ring for him to wear again. My son is back and he is alive.”

And then the Father’s words to the elder came back to me. “My son, all I have is yours, you are here with me. But your brother is back, he is alive again. We have to celebrate.”

After dwelling on these dialogues from the story of the prodigal son. I realized what was blocking genuine joy to flood in my heart—I could not give myself freely and from the heart. I was doing sacrifice and loving on my own terms, and the sense of entitlement kept me attentive to pay back for the acts of sacrifice I do, for the acts of kindness and generosity. It was pretty much like the hired man in our gospel today. I was doing the chores of loving expecting some return for what I invest and do. And even if my lips do not say, my actions betray the kind of entitlement my heart bears.

And so the words of the prodigal father to his elder son moved my heart with the Father reminding me, “Vic, all I have is yours, mabuti kang anak, at mahal na mahal kita. Ako ang unang nagmamahal sa iyo. At mula sa pagmamahal na ito, kaya mo ring magmahal nang totoo, nang hindi naniningil, nang hindi natatakot na ikaw ang mawawalan. Kaya mo ring magmahal nang bunso kapatid.”

It was here when I realized how truly different the hired man was from the Good Shepherd. The hired man is bent on working for pay, much like what the younger son initially planned on asking. “I’m no longer fit to be your son, I am sinful, just hire me as one of your servants, at least I can still eat well.”

But the Father loves me so much that he keeps inviting me back to sonship. And now I know why that is. Only a child of God who is secure in God’s love and providence can forget himself or herself and offer life to others as the Shepherd does.

Iyon pong tao na matibay ang pananalig na iniibig siya at inaalagaan ng Diyos ang may sapat na lakas ng loob na mag-alay ng sarili sa iba.

Natapos na po ba doon ang dasal ko. Naku hindi pa po. After that prayer with the Prodigal son story, I became more intent at begging for the gift of joy. I thought of imitating our founder Ignatius of Loyola in staying on vigil and offering his sword to our Lady. But immediately after seating myself in that beautiful chapel of the Immaculate Conception in our own retreat house in Sacred Heart Novitiate, Our Lady spoke to me gently in my mind and told me, Vic I want you to sleep and not to hold vigil here. If you stay on vigil all night, you will feel that you worked for the gift Jesus wants to give you. Now go.” I smiled because Our Lady knew my dynamics well. But hardheaded me, I went to another chapel where there were mats and I slept there hoping to still somehow pray in my sleep. At around 4AM, sweet music and the smell of roses woke me up and Our Lady whispered, “O ngayon anak, magrosaryo ka na, glorious mysteries because it’s now Sunday.” As I prayed the four mysteries, one happy memory after another rushed into my minds—experiences which have been kept inside my heart because my mind was filled with those memories of me begrudgingly offering myself to others. And I was overwhelmed by so many happy memories in my life—real gifts from God through the years which I had failed to notice. I felt embarrassed. By the time I reached 5th mystery, Our Lady spoke again. It was around 5:30am by that time. She said, Vic if you want to pray “Queen heaven rejoice, and if you pray now that I am queen in your life and world, I also want you to rejoice in God’s goodness to you.” Pray outside, listen to the birds sing their praises, notice the sun fill the world with praise for our Creator. Be happy Vic because God is so good to us all and by his goodness, we live and love. When I ended with the prayer, I decided to go to the main chapel just to say a prayer of thanksgiving. I realized morning mass was going on. An elderly Jesuit was by then proclaiming the Gospel and as I came in, he was saying the words that I felt the Good Shepherd wanted me precisely to hear: “I came that you may have joy and that your joy may be complete.”

There are three points of reflection I wish to leave with you: First, in which aspects of your life and person, do you find yourself vulnerable, having needs to fend for and so the times when you reach to people, these vulnerable areas keep you attentive to self-needs rather than to giving genuinely to others. Second, in which aspects of your life and person, have you found genuine peace and security before God and others, because you have experienced God’s loving care for you. God has always taken care of you, so that you can trust God enough to keep providing and caring for you even as you also give much of yourself to others in greater need. Nagtitiwala na hindi tayo mauubusan? When did we feel that we can be genuinely happy to find others receiving things we don’t have because we know we have also received much from God?

Finally, how have we nourished this living relationship with our loving and provident God that we are acutely aware of the many gifts that God is giving us everyday, even long before we ask for the things we need, God has already thought out in great detail the graces we need day by day?

Ultimately, it is the heart of a real child of God will rise to the occasion and become like the Good Shepherd, who knows his flock most intimately and lays down his life for his sheep.

April 26, 2015  Leave a comment

April 21-23. God as Food

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 6, 30-51

Id quod volo (That which I desire most):  To see in bread a sign of a God who wants to be a part of us so we can ultimately be a part of him. Like bread that we eat and share, God wants to be taken in, chewed on, swallowed, ingested and made a real part of our persons so that with God becoming us, we become parts of God’s very body as well and as Body of Christ, we also come to feed others with God’s love.

“I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst!” The Gospel episode continues John’s series of “I am” discourses. “I am” as you know is the phrase that God used to name Godself before Moses. In a sense it was both a positive affirmation of eternal presence of God at the same time that it is a kind of refusal by God to give Moses or whoever dominion over God. Remember that naming creatures was one way Adam exercised dominion and stewardship over creation. In this part of the Gospel, Jesus reveals God’s presence among us in the form of bread, of some ordinary daily food which are quite familiar to people, quite commonplace. When Jesus does this he emphasizes to us that we do not need extraordinary signs or mind-boggling, hard-to-explain experiences to encounter the Divine. The most ordinary human experience of eating and eating a common food like bread can have the power to become a sacrament, a sign that signifies and embodies God, a thing that can communicate to us the very presence of God. As we break the bread of the Eucharist, let us break this Word about eating bread as a sacrament.

First, the very act of eating can be sacramental. That God has made Godself food means that God wants us to take him in, to chew on him, swallow him, digest him so that his dreams and desires become a part of our own dreams and desires and all of us who take him in will become one in pursuing Jesus’ dream for God’s reign. That’s why we all receive Jesus’ body and blood, consume them and make them a part of ourselves so that we all become one body and one Spirit in Christ. Eating as sacrament points to the reality that God in his largesse, has made Godself so small that he can now come into our interiority, into our depth and fill us with his dreams, desires, loves and longings, and from within God will stretch us so that our minds can contain his very dreams and our hearts can love his very loves.

Second, that God chooses to be present in the sign of bread indicates that God does not want want to be some special treat reserved for special occasions. God wants to be a staple, something we take in everyday as part of our notion of survival. Something we consider as part of daily living, and thus some essential element without which we cannot live, and live well. We know when God has ceased to be essential in our lives when we begin looking at things, ideas, plans, relationships and commitments and read EGO everywhere, instead of what Ignatius describes as “finding God in all things.” But where we are able to honor God in the most ordinary things of the day-to-day, God in turn sets us apart, and consecrates us, shaping and purifying us so he may also present us to others to feed them and nourish them as well. Many spiritual writers have seen in the movement of the priestly prayer of consecrating bread at mass as the same action that God takes when he calls a person to mission. The priest takes an ordinary piece of bread. God calls this or that ordinary person for some mission, perhaps for no reason at all except that he loves us and trusts us enough to mission us. Then the priest blesses the bread much like God consecrates us and forms us to give the graces proper to the missions he gives. And then the priest breaks the bread, and so too, God breaks us, purifies us, stretches us so the human can contain the Divine. This phase of breaking is not very easy to take for it involvews pain and suffering. But all Christian love involves this purifying moment. Fourth, the priest gives, he distribute the bread blessed and broken, much like God gives us away to become food for others, to become carriers of the God others will take in and make part of themselves too.

Finally, that God chose to become food for us signals that God wants to be shared and celebrated in community. That is why our bread is a communion, a commmunion that is both sacrifice and thanksgiving. It is quite difficult to share a meal with someone with whom we feel estranged or conflicted. This is why perhaps Jesus advises us to leave our offering on the altar and reconcile with an enemy before completing our celebration. For a genuine sacrament ought not only to signify something, it also ought to communicate it, to make the bigger thing real, genuine, palpable. If the bread we partake contain profound community in the Trinity’s presence, then that communion ought to show itself in our lives and in the life of our communities. We pray that the depth of meaning that the Eucharist communicates become ultimately embodied meaning for us, that really, we become bread, blessed, broken, shared so that Jesus becomes really eternally present, the I am, who comes to nourish God’s people day by day. God bless.

April 23, 2015  Leave a comment

April 21 and 22. I am the Bread of Life–God as our Food

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 6, 35-40

Id quod volo (That which I desire most):  To see in bread a sign of a God who wants to be a part of us so we can ultimately be a part of him. Like bread that we eat and share, God wants to be taken in, chewed on, swallowed, ingested and made a real part of our persons so that with God becoming us, we become parts of God’s very body as well and as Body of Christ, we also come to feed others with God’s love.

“I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst!” The Gospel episode continues John’s series of “I am” discourses. “I am” as you know is the phrase that God used to name Godself before Moses. In a sense it was both a positive affirmation of eternal presence of God at the same time that it is a kind of refusal by God to give Moses or whoever dominion over God. Remember that naming creatures was one way Adam exercised dominion and stewardship over creation. In this part of the Gospel, Jesus reveals God’s presence among us in the form of bread, of some ordinary daily food which are quite familiar to people, quite commonplace. When Jesus does this he emphasizes to us that we do not need extraordinary signs or mind-boggling, hard-to-explain experiences to encounter the Divine. The most ordinary human experience of eating and eating a common food like bread can have the power to become a sacrament, a sign that signifies and embodies God, a thing that can communicate to us the very presence of God. As we break the bread of the Eucharist, let us break this Word about eating bread as a sacrament.

First, the very act of eating can be sacramental. That God has made Godself food means that God wants us to take him in, to chew on him, swallow him, digest him so that his dreams and desires become a part of our own dreams and desires and all of us who take him in will become one in pursuing Jesus’ dream for God’s reign. That’s why we all receive Jesus’ body and blood, consume them and make them a part of ourselves so that we all become one body and one Spirit in Christ. Eating as sacrament points to the reality that God in his largesse, has made Godself so small that he can now come into our interiority, into our depth and fill us with his dreams, desires, loves and longings, and from within God will stretch us so that our minds can contain his very dreams and our hearts can love his very loves.

Second, that God chooses to be present in the sign of bread indicates that God does not want want to be some special treat reserved for special occasions. God wants to be a staple, something we take in everyday as part of our notion of survival. Something we consider as part of daily living, and thus some essential element without which we cannot live, and live well. We know when God has ceased to be essential in our lives when we begin looking at things, ideas, plans, relationships and commitments and read EGO everywhere, instead of what Ignatius describes as “finding God in all things.” But where we are able to honor God in the most ordinary things of the day-to-day, God in turn sets us apart, and consecrates us, shaping and purifying us so he may also present us to others to feed them and nourish them as well. Many spiritual writers have seen in the movement of the priestly prayer of consecrating bread at mass as the same action that God takes when he calls a person to mission. The priest takes an ordinary piece of bread. God calls this or that ordinary person for some mission, perhaps for no reason at all except that he loves us and trusts us enough to mission us. Then the priest blesses the bread much like God consecrates us and forms us to give the graces proper to the missions he gives. And then the priest breaks the bread, and so too, God breaks us, purifies us, stretches us so the human can contain the Divine. This phase of breaking is not very easy to take for it involvews pain and suffering. But all Christian love involves this purifying moment. Fourth, the priest gives, he distribute the bread blessed and broken, much like God gives us away to become food for others, to become carriers of the God others will take in and make part of themselves too.

Finally, that God chose to become food for us signals that God wants to be shared and celebrated in community. That is why our bread is a communion, a commmunion that is both sacrifice and thanksgiving. It is quite difficult to share a meal with someone with whom we feel estranged or conflicted. This is why perhaps Jesus advises us to leave our offering on the altar and reconcile with an enemy before completing our celebration. For a genuine sacrament ought not only to signify something, it also ought to communicate it, to make the bigger thing real, genuine, palpable. If the bread we partake contain profound community in the Trinity’s presence, then that communion ought to show itself in our lives and in the life of our communities. We pray that the depth of meaning that the Eucharist communicates become ultimately embodied meaning for us, that really, we become bread, blessed, broken, shared so that Jesus becomes really eternally present, the I am, who comes to nourish God’s people day by day. God bless.

April 23, 2015  Leave a comment

April 19 and 20. Reflecting on the Priesthood, Once more with Feeling

To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 24, 35-48; John 6, 22-29

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To come before the Father and the Son with profound feelings of praise and thanksgiving for the gift of the priesthood in every baptized person and in those ordained to the priesthood–the gift that empowers us to bless, to sanctify, to set aside our persons, our relationships, our possessions and powers, indeed, all of creation to give greater glory to our God.

It must have been the priesthood anniversaries (ours and many others’), the final days of our CIS Module 4–“Coming Home to God, our Foundation” module (Giving the First Week) and the Ordination liturgy for our six companions last Saturday, I was led to reflect on the priesthood again, after reading the Gospel texts for Sunday, April 19 and Monday, April 20.  Sunday’s Gospel reading features the tail end of the “Walk to Emmaus” account, where the two disciples, with the hearts burning from their encounter with the Risen Lord who broke Word and bread with them, return to their community in Jerusalem and proclaim to them that the Lord had indeed risen. The two disciples had barely finished their story, when Jesus appears once more and immediately shares with his friends, the gift of peace, reaching out so the disciples may touch the wounds on his hands and feet at once turning their fear to joy and their doubts to faith and hope. St. Ignatius of Loyola referred to the Risen Lord’s actions as his “ministry of consolation.”

Monday’s Gospel on the other hand spoke about “the work of God,” which Jesus defines as “that we believe in the one that the Father sent.” To my mind, this “work of God” is pretty much the same as the Risen Lord’s “ministry of consolation” and both are at the core of our priesthood. As priests, we are charged with helping persons and communities struggle through genuine belief until they choose to consecrate their lives, their persons, their communities as people of God–as people set apart for God.  To consecrate something or someone is set him or her apart for God’s sovereign project. Our priestly actions–prayers, supplications, ritual offerings, reconciliation, spiritual direction, blessings, sacraments–are meant to create space in the hearts of people and at the very heart of the world so the Spirit may speak the Word once more and call upon the Light that renews each person and indeed all of creation.

The previous week was a week of many consolations that to me confirms priesthood on many levels. I am moved deeply by our young companions, our novices whose sharing of faith and whose first crack at spiritual direction in our CIS modules have been exemplary and edifying. To see them engage this ministry with much fervour and seriousness and demonstrate that the gifts of spiritual direction, retreat-giving and discernment are in them gives me the assurance that God continues to provide for the Society and the Church with ministers who can continue the priestly work of sanctification. That they worked with much ease and even profound joy with lay people, other religious and in fact also other Christian denominations also makes me feel deeply consoled and hopeful for the future. I also marveled at signs that a dream is moving closer to fulfillment. Spiritual directors and retreat-givers are rising in many regions and we find joy in hearing testimonies of some of our graduates bearing much fruit in their places even midstream into their formation as guides. We hope that CIS can grow with them as the demand for guides begin to pull them in all directions.

I was also moved by the sight of six companions who received the gift of the presbyteral ministry and also the sight of my own batch whose members gathered to have lunch together to celebrate our 18th or 19th anniversaries. From our own ordination days till now, much has transpired. And 18 years have seen us grow and flourish in different areas of Jesuit life and ministry. I sense that we have mellowed quite a bit and there is a growing desire to share more deeply about what moves us deep within and what brings us joy. Many of my companions are now leaders, superiors, directors of works, even consulters of Provincial leadership, but when we gather, we continue to relive fun memories of the past and simply enjoy each others’ company. It is my hope that in the future, much more spiritual conversation may mark our gatherings so we too can be priests too each other–helping each other foster stronger belief in the Lord and supporting each other in our work of consecration and sanctification.

More than two thousand years ago, little did the world know that something has radically changed with the world, when the Sacred Word took flesh and pitch tent among us. Little did the world know that much more happened to us when the Lord poured out blood and water from his pierced side and breathed the Sacred Spirit to all of us. We continue to trace the footprints of our Lord, follow him wherever he takes us and we commit ourselves anew to this wonderful gift that is the priesthood so that truly we may all be sanctified by His Word and Spirit and in time come home to God, the foundation of our lives.

Some questions for reflection:  How have you sensed the baptismal gift of the priesthood come alive in you in your life and work at present?  How have you been instrument in bringing the Lord’s blessing to people–helping them create space for the Sacred in the lives, consecrating things, relationships, lives unto God, setting aside our hearts, our possessions, our lives for God’s disposition? How have you sensed this gift of priesthood making a deep mark of holiness in your person and your character, that people immediately sense God’s presence when you are around them?  May God continue to bless you and keep you. And yes, may God make God’s face shine upon you forever!

April 21, 2015  Leave a comment

April 13. By the Water of Life, We are Reborn and Healed

To Pray on and Ponder:  Ezekiel 47,1-9.12; Psalm 46, 2-3.5-6.8-9; John 5, 1-16.

Id quod volo: An insight into the wisdom of every miracle of faith–that the loving providence of God meets with human faith; a sense of the health of my faith and its capacity to receive healing grace and mercy from the Word-made-flesh and the Life-giving Water.

Following Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s explanations in his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, I reflected on the readings from the Gospel of John that involved water. These include the Gospel text we have read at mass today which is the visit of the pharisee, Nicodemus, whom I call with fondness, the closet disciple.

The Holy Father explained that Jesus’ identification with water is a part of the many identity revelations of our Lord in the Gospel of John following the “I am” formula. We may recall that Yahweh in speaking to Moses by the burning bush instructed Moses to tell the people of Israel that it is “I am” who sent him. In the Gospel of John, one after another, Jesus would use the primordial human and sacramental symbols to reveal facets of his person and mission–”I am” the water of life, light of the world, the bread of life, the Good Shepherd and gate of the sheepfold, I am the vine and you are the branches, etc.” Notice that all of these are liturgical and sacramental symbols both appearing in Jewish rituals and Christian sacraments. For us Catholics, each of these revelations of the identity of Jesus as Messiah helps us make sense of the many ways by which Jesus has left for us to enter into the mystery of his life and person, as well as participate in his very mission of saving the world and building the Kingdom for his Father.

The healings featured in John’s Gospel bring our focus to the water of life. With other Gospel stories we have seen many facets of this archetype as applied to God–water as healing, purifying, quenching of thirst, life-giving, making whole, consecrating and nourishing to growth and fruitfulness. With a pharisee, Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus dialogues with one of the church leaders of his time in order to reveal that one needs to undergo a real rebirth so that genuine transformation and conversion may happen.

Despite the good heart that may have drawn Nicodemus to visit Jesus in the dark of night, we sense fear and doubt in Nicodemus. We sense some longing within him to come closer to Jesus and live by his teachings. But his mind must have been fixed much by the Pharisaic tradition which he lived by that he found little space to consider and understand the new law of love that Jesus proclaimed and professed. Nicodemus’ fixation makes me recall the Rich, Young Man who short of boasted before Jesus that he had lived the decalogue (ten commandments) from his youth. Jesus looked lovingly at the young man and challenged him to go a step further: “Go sell all you have, give to the poor and come follow me.” Would Nicodemus be ready to risk his life and stature as a Pharisee and member of the Jewish council, for a new way of loving and seeing that draws him strongly, but have yet to really understand and live by. Unfortunately one understands genuine loving BY actually loving. And loving is a risky adventure for which he has to take a leap of faith to be reborn with the Water of Life.

With the Samaritan woman (John 4) Jesus helped an otherwise lost and isolated woman to take responsibility for the disorder in her life and restore not only order but a sense of purpose and mission. From an unfaithful wife, the Samaritan rises to become a new witness, a prophet who paves the way for the conversion of a whole town, who before then would been people who abused her or held her in contempt. In the healing we have today Jesus confronts a paralytic who had been in the complaining mode, playing victim to his circumstance and condition of being a paralytic with no friend to throw him into the miraculous pool of Bethesda when the opportune moment comes when some angel agitates the waters to signal the moment of healing powers in the pool (John 5). Jesus ensures that a healing will happen, by quickening the desire of the paralytic and having him make sure he wanted to be healed. Then Jesus gives a stern order for the man to get up, pick up his mat and go home, something which somehow that in Jesus’ world dependence on a superstitious belief in the healing pool is not adequate–it is by the Word that we are healed coupled with our faith that we are healed. The miraculous cure is a fortuitous combination of God’s providential love and human faith. It was not Bethesda that healed the man but Jesus, who is for us Water of Life.

By the same water, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples signaling that we become part of his loving service only insofar as we participate in his communion marked by self-sacrificing love. At the cross, Jesus would give himself, all in all when after having been pierced, he pours out blood and water, for us baptism and Eucharist, which is our privileged way of growing in communion with the very lifeblood of Jesus, the very love and life that will empower us to love as God loves. Indeed we need to be reborn in Jesus. We need to be purified and healed and we need to be constantly nourished ourselves, eating and drinking of Jesus’ life-giving water and blood and bread, gradually becoming like what we eat, so that we too can feed and nourish others.

And so pause and reflect:  When were the times when a Nicodemus-type character showed up in our personal stories?  When have we found ourselves to be like Nicodemus, the closet disciple–one who allows ourselves to bond with Jesus, but only in the dark, where commitment to Jesus did not have to be public and thus with some accountability?  When have we found ourselves wanting to understand everything before we risked faith in Jesus, when we know by heart that nothing can completely explain the faith offered to us. By nature, faith is a leap of trust that God is loving and trustworthy God and God will always take care of us and look at us lovingly as he did Nicodemus, the Rich young man, the Samaritan woman and all else.  God Bless!

April 13, 2015  Leave a comment

April 10. Tiberias: From Misery to Mercy to Mission

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 21, 1-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 10, 2015  Leave a comment

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