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

April 8. Wednesday of the Easter Octave. When Sacred Story Irrupts and Our Hearts Burn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 8, 2015  Leave a comment

April 7. Tuesday of the Easter Octave. Mary Magdalene, from Weeping to Witnessing

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 20, 1-2.11-18.

Id quod volo:  Profound appreciation and gratitude for the witness of love that Mary Magdalene has shown us, a saint who must have experienced God’s unconditional love and mercy deeply so as to awaken to her profound identity as the Risen Lord’s first witness and apostle.

The phrase “earthen vessel” is a good way to capture the mark of authenticity in the call and journey of an apostle. An apostle is often called out of darkness, a past life of sinfulness, at times even of oblivion. How many of us ministers and leaders of the Church look back to a past and reflect on where could our lives have led were we not called into service by our Lord? The usual trajectory of a genuine call is thus, the three phase journey of “conversion–> commitment–> communion.” “Even while we were yet sinners,” as St. Paul describes (and recalls to be his personal experience as well!) God intervenes in our lives and calls us out of our dark past, engaging us in a relationship of love, unconditional, merciful, healing. God receives us and entrusts us with his flock despite all the reasons that suggest otherwise.

God awakens us into the core goodness in our person and the gift that we are that awaits self-offering to others and to the Church. God blesses us with a multitude of gifts that elevate us from being simply “sinner, forgiven” to “sinner, called to be companion and collaborator in the vineyard.”

Mary Magdalene’s journey is no different. She is described to be one from whom many demons were expelled. And called to be disciple among others, she was one who walked with Christ way up to the foot of the cross, witnessing Jesus’ suffering up to the end. She walked back to the tomb mindful that she needed to find to corpse to complete its cleaning and to prepare it for a burial more proper to the stature of his Lord and Master. But alas she could not find the body. Ironically, Mary’s yet immature love fixated her into her desire to see Jesus’ dead body that she was blinded and failed to recognize Christ in his Glorious and Risen state. Blinded at least until Jesus calms her and calls her by her name: “Mary!” In an instant, now grounded in her deep sense of identity, as one called by God, Mary proclaims her shining witness: “Rabbouni!” and acknowledges the Risen Lord’s place as the Teacher of her life.

The one detail that remains curious to me is the Risen Lord’s proviso that Mary must not touch him just yet. (I believe this is the biblical strand from which Jose Rizal got his “Noli Me Tangere” phrase used for his celebrated novel). But this detail somehow reminds me of this long intermediate phase of purification that prepares for fuller commitment and communion after a call initiates us into a life of conversion and discipleship. The one initial call is never enough to magically transform us. We realize that a history of sinful choices has taken some toll on our character and quite a bit of undoing needs to happen this time with God’s grace reordering the chaos of our lives.  For the disciple this may seem like the uphill challenge of continuing conversion, but perhaps for a Creator, this is the long stretch of moulding, and shaping, of love preparing the beloved and teaching him or her how to love the way God loves. This can only end up in genuine communion of the Lover with the Beloved.

As for Mary Magdalene, she was given the privileged role of becoming the first witness to other witnesses. She was the one sent by the Risen Lord to announce to others that he is risen, and that he intends to show himself to the rest of the disciples to console them and call them to witness as well.

Now for some points to ponder:  As one called to witness to God’s presence in your life, how have you experienced these “phases” in your own journey: conversion –> commitment –> communion? Recall key moments when the Lord seemed to have revealed to you your deepest identity before God. What have become part of that identity that you cherish and joyfully embraced? What do you sense resistance as of yet? How have you found yourself giving witness before others of the transforming presence of the Lord in your life? God Bless!

April 7, 2015  Leave a comment

April 7. Tuesday of the Easter Octave: Mary Magdalene From Weeping to Witnessing

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 20, 1-2.11-18.

Id quod volo:  Profound appreciation and gratitude for the witness of love that Mary Magdalene has shown us, a saint who must have experienced God’s unconditional love and mercy deeply so as to awaken to her profound identity as the Risen Lord’s first witness and apostle.

The phrase “earthen vessel” is a good way to capture the mark of authenticity in the call and journey of an apostle. An apostle is often called out of darkness, a past life of sinfulness, at times even of oblivion. How many of us ministers and leaders of the Church look back to a past and reflect on where could our lives have led were we not called into service by our Lord? The usual trajectory of a genuine call is thus, the three phase journey of “conversion–> commitment–> communion.” “Even while we were yet sinners,” as St. Paul describes (and recalls to be his personal experience as well!) God intervenes in our lives and calls us out of our dark past, engaging us in a relationship of love, unconditional, merciful, healing. God receives us and entrusts us with his flock despite all the reasons that suggest otherwise.

God awakens us into the core goodness in our person and the gift that we are that awaits self-offering to others and to the Church. God blesses us with a multitude of gifts that elevate us from being simply “sinner, forgiven” to “sinner, called to be companion and collaborator in the vineyard.”

Mary Magdalene’s journey is no different. She is described to be one from whom many demons were expelled. And called to be disciple among others, she was one who walked with Christ way up to the foot of the cross, witnessing Jesus’ suffering up to the end. She walked back to the tomb mindful that she needed to find to corpse to complete its cleaning and to prepare it for a burial more proper to the stature of his Lord and Master. But alas she could not find the body. Ironically, Mary’s yet immature love fixated her into her desire to see Jesus’ dead body that she was blinded and failed to recognize Christ in his Glorious and Risen state. Blinded at least until Jesus calms her and calls her by her name: “Mary!” In an instant, now grounded in her deep sense of identity, as one called by God, Mary proclaims her shining witness: “Rabbouni!” and acknowledges the Risen Lord’s place as the Teacher of her life.

The one detail that remains curious to me is the Risen Lord’s proviso that Mary must not touch him just yet. (I believe this is the biblical strand from which Jose Rizal got his “Noli Me Tangere” phrase used for his celebrated novel). But this detail somehow reminds me of this long intermediate phase of purification that prepares for fuller commitment and communion after a call initiates us into a life of conversion and discipleship. The one initial call is never enough to magically transform us. We realize that a history of sinful choices has taken some toll on our character and quite a bit of undoing needs to happen this time with God’s grace reordering the chaos of our lives.  For the disciple this may seem like the uphill challenge of continuing conversion, but perhaps for a Creator, this is the long stretch of moulding, and shaping, of love preparing the beloved and teaching him or her how to love the way God loves. This can only end up in genuine communion of the Lover with the Beloved.

As for Mary Magdalene, she was given the privileged role of becoming the first witness to other witnesses. She was the one sent by the Risen Lord to announce to others that he is risen, and that he intends to show himself to the rest of the disciples to console them and call them to witness as well.

Now for some points to ponder:  As one called to witness to God’s presence in your life, how have you experienced these “phases” in your own journey: conversion –> commitment –> communion? Recall key moments when the Lord seemed to have revealed to you your deepest identity before God. What have become part of that identity that you cherish and joyfully embraced? What do you sense resistance as of yet? How have you found yourself giving witness before others of the transforming presence of the Lord in your life? God Bless!

April 7, 2015  Leave a comment

April 5. The Dawning of Easter Light

To Pray on and Ponder:  Acts 10, 34a.37-43; Psalm 118, 1-2.16-17.22-23; Colossians 3, 1-4; John 10, 1-9.

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To be attentive to the smallest and subtlest signs of God’s new light and new life in my day-to-day world, a sharpening discernment to sense God quickening in the grey areas of my life, and enough courage and generosity to meet God where he calls me so I may embrace more and more fully my vocation to be a child of Easter light and I may help accompany others who also need companions to crossover from darkness to light.

The early days of the Easter octave always remind me without fail, of three things: first, some lines in the Canticle of Zechariah which many in the Church pray at Lauds, that part of the Liturgy of the Hours scheduled to be prayed at the dawn of light, and second, the first lines of a beautiful poem for which an English Jesuit poet, Gerald Manley Hopkins is known for—“God’s Grandeur;” and finally some lines from a Manoling Francisco song, “Children of the Easter Morn”

You may recall the story behind the canticle we pray at dawn: The priest Zechariah (meaning “Yahweh remembers” had been struck dumb after he doubted (he actually forgot that Yahweh remembers!) the fulfillment of God’s word that his old wife Elizabeth would bear his first-born. But after his wife had come to term and gave birth the John, Zechariah confirmed the name that God desired for this child even with many of his relatives opposed to the idea (finally Zechariah remembered that Yahweh remembers!). There and then Zechariah regained his speech, and thereby he proclaimed his beautiful canticle. It is the final part of the canticle which I recall to you now:

“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

“The dawn from on high shall break upon us.”

Beautiful, beautiful image of dawn which depicts our easter morning. We recall many horror or epic stories where ultimately the forces of light and goodness begin to turn the tide against darkness and evil, when the sun rises from the East at the first crack of dawn. Think “Lord of the Rings,” or “Harry Potter 7” or even the many vampire scenes when evil is at its peak when midnight comes, but the battle against evil begins to get the upper hand, once the light of dawn peeks, bringing with it hope and victory.

The Filipino translation of the line gives me deep consolation:  “Sa habag at kagandahang-loob ng Diyos, ang ating umaga’y magbubukang-liwayway sa atin.” It looks like for us Filipinos, light does not come as a breaking of darkness, something like the crack of a lightning bolt in the dark sky. Rather, light comes a lot more gently, like pins of light gently fanning out into the morning sky. With the light revealing itself gently and gradually and with it the sounds of the morning rises gently as well—birds beginning to chirp and sing and whistle; the sounds of the cicadas receding gently, as it were in sleep, and the sounds of human activity slowly rising to pitch, at times to a tremolo of praise. Unti-unti po ang pagpapaypay ng liwanag sa ating buhay.

This is where the Hopkins piece makes even more sense.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God, it will flame out like shining on shook foil; It gathers to a greatness like a ooze of oil Crushed.”

For Hopkins, the light of God is already grandeur embedded—hidden in our life’s experiences. We need to attend to it till it flames out.  We need to notice the little pieces of light reflecting beautifully as shining on shook foil. And then as we perceive God’s epiphanies of light, we see these lights gather into unmistakable greatness, gathering as with the slow oozing of oil.

Fr. Albert Alejo’s translation of this Hopkins piece is for me much, much more compelling:

Daigdig ay puspos ng ganda’t gara ng Diyos. Sisiklab tulad ng kislap ng inalog na palara; Tumitipon sa tigib na tila pagtagas ng gatang Piniga.

For many of us, such is our experience. God’s light comes to us gently, fanning its way to light our dark and dreary lives. Perhaps some came into this retreat, burdened by much noise in the heart—confusions, endless questions, hurts, grudges, difficulty to forgive, pain of betrayals, difficulty in forgiving oneself, a compulsive addiction to some sinful behavior, relationships that have turned irreversibly sour and many other darknesses. But God’s light fans its way gently into our darkness and tells us, “I am with you, ever with you, sin and death is no final word for us, love and life is, find my light, struggle on.”

Some of us find some dead end in the way our sinful choices have unfolded and piled up in our lives and we begin to move around in circles, tired and confused and with the light of meaning fading away, leaving us in the dark. We find ourselves somewhat trapped in one or other attachment, a situation which has made us unfree, like a person groping helplessly in the dark. With only life enough to be aware of our lies and pretenses and some ounce of courage to take responsibility for them and start anew even if undoing the wrong choices seem like such an uphill climb.

Or perhaps we have been like the elder son of prodigal fame. We have been the faithful one, the one who had stayed with our fathers or mothers. And like the elder prodigal we have unwittingly grown accustomed to our role as the dutiful one and with this we have also grown a sense of entitlement for all the obligations we fulfill, nursing a hidden pride and expectation in what we have accomplished. There is still a subtle darkness there. Entitlement after all makes the heart believe that everything about love is one’s accomplishment and that one ought to receive payback for the things that s/he does for others, even those s/he does in the name of love. You will know if you have fallen into the trap if you have lost the power to feel and express gratitude. But even with the lost elder son finds gentle light shining from an ever assuring father who would not feast until the elder son joins in. “Son, everything I have is yours, but this brother of yours was dead and has now been restored to life—we have to celebrate. Please, come join the celebration.” God’s light shines gently reminding us that anything we are able to give out of love, comes from God’s love as well. It is God who has loved us first.

Even in our communities God’s dawn fans away our darkness gently. We’ve been through a lot of darkness as a people and we’ve seen moments of greatness in times past. Flowers set against tanks. Small groups of people building homes for others, communities filing to help others who have been hit by calamity. When God’s people are beset by crises, other parts of the Body come and help. And many times, crises help make us stronger. My wise retreatant proclaims, “Father our sufferings have seasoned me!” Naalala ko tuloy iyong t-shirt ko—“Adobo: habang tumatagal lalong sumasarap.” Para ngang ganoon, dahil binabad siya sa pag-ibig na handang magpakasakit, sumarap, siya. tamang-tama ang timpla, lalong maihahain para kanin ng iba.”

And so I come to my final memory from Fr. Manoling’s “Children of the Easter Morn:”

The dawning of recognition, understanding, belief, renewed hope and zeal, courage and daring testimony came gradually among the disciples. After the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, the disciples were scattered. Only a handful went as far as the foot of the cross and the tomb–Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary of Magdala, Mary wife of Cleopas and the beloved disciple, John. Simon Peter tried to follow in Jesus’ footsteps but was overcome by fright once bystanders recognized him and squealed him to others as one of Jesus’ disciples. In Peter’s fright, he denied Jesus three times as Jesus himself predicted. But slowly, Jesus would show himself alive to all of them, first, I believe to Mary, our Lord’s mother, then as Scriptures testify, to Mary of Magdala, and then to the disciples hiding at the Cenacle, then further on to the Lord’s second layer of disciples–presumably including the disciples who walked to Emmaus and also to the persecutor Saul of Tarsus, who after Easter light came upon him was blinded by it, so that in three days he may see again with new eyes as Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles. By the moment of Pentecost, we find the motley group of disciples already out in the streets, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaiming what it means to receive new life in Jesus–there we really see the birth-ing of a new church, a new communion filled with the Spirit of Jesus, spreading the good news of love and mercy and compassion in the power of the Spirit.

As for us in our everyday, Easter vigil, we seek small subtle signs of this new life. We have been baptised as an Easter people after all and so even in this gray, sometimes bleak Holy Saturday world, we discern God’s footprints everywhere, still gradually dawning Easter light in the dark chaos, putting order into the details of our lives, creating us, renewing us, giving us a foretaste of the Godlife which he promises to make us experience when we finally come home to the Father. I always like to recall this song by the Fr. Manoling and the Bukas Palad music ministry on these days of the Easter octave. It is like a creed of sorts, an identity anthem for Easter people like us. The second stanza best captures for me the joyful proclamation of an easter child. For an easter child draws courage and zeal for living God’s compassion in their service because they too first receive God’s light while they groped in the darkness of their lives, and they too received God’s lovingkindness when there seemed none in the world where they struggled to live. After experiencing God’s personal care in people around them, they rise and join the ranks of God’s ambassadors of love, dedicating much of their lives to be Christ’s hands and feet for others, and so become new lights that do shine for those who still walk in darkness.

We are the children of easter morning
We sing to proclaim the Lord’s might
Now there’s meaning to a life of dying
For the Lord our God has conquered the night
With joy we dedicate our lives to the service
Of the God of life whose goodness we’ve known
Until our lives be themselves our song of easter morn.

I wish you all a Blessed Easter, and pray that we all experience this slow, subtle dawning of Easter light in our lives and through us who believe, may others experience God’s light shining in their lives as well! God Bless and Happy Easter to all!

 

April 6, 2015  Leave a comment

April 1. “Spy Wednesday”: The Ambivalent Face of Betrayal

To Pray on and Ponder:  Matthew 26, 14-25.

Id quod volo (that which I desire most):  The grace to see through our big and small betrayals and sense the intimate love between ourselves and the Lord that precisely make our sinful actions, betrayal. To gain a heartfelt knowledge of the truth that the Lord proclaims, “the one who is forgiven much, loves much.”

The one thing that caught my attention, reflecting over this Gospel text on the Last Supper was how it was that the one who dips into the dish with Jesus was the one who betrays him.

This detail reminded me of the many years I shared meals with my family. Sharing condiments and dipping sauces was not at all forbidden. But when I began to eat out with others, and also began to live with the Jesuits as a Jesuit, I noticed that people normally prepared their own dipping saucer and used their own mix of condiments, normally not sharing these with others. It was like condiments were a personal thing, lest we begin to mix all our fluids into the common dipping sauce. But I guess protocols like this begin to relax when you’re sharing a meal with close family or friends. It was like such practice of sharing dips can be included in our notion of intimacy or closeness.

This is precisely why that one detail of Judas sharing the dip with Jesus caught my eye, much like perhaps Judas planting a kiss on Jesus to signal to his captors that this was the man to arrest. It is a close friend who betrays, which perhaps makes the reverse also true: the one who is capable of betraying us is s/he who is connected with us beyond the initial pleasantries and superficial conversations.

The betrayals being highlighted in the plot lines of the days before the way of the cross show us this painful reality and this perhaps is a good way by which God invites us to examine ourselves, our big and small betrayals, and seeing the seriousness of our actions that betray God we come to experience the sorrow and confusion that is an important grace a betrayer needs in order that his or her heart may be converted from betrayer to beloved reconciled. This is the reality of the cross for us,  that we are face to face with a God who loved us so much even while we were yet sinners. The one who loved us first begets a response of betrayal, even as love ought to be requited with love.

At the core of this ambivalent face of betrayal, we are invited to see through all our shortcomings and failings and excesses, and dwell on the love that ironically, makes betrayals, betrayals. We nourish whatever fickle and failing love there is in us by dwelling on the constancy and extravagance of God’s love for us . . . even while we were yet betrayers.

Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. once shared a short meditation on a peripheral scene in the Trial of Jesus at the Sanhedrin. While Jesus was speaking his truth before the Sanhedrin, Peter found himself denying his association with Jesus, confronted as he was three times by bystanders just outside the Sanhedrin courtroom. When Peter hears the cock crow, he realized his betrayal and just at that moment Jesus was passing by accosted by his guards, Peter’s eyes caught Jesus’ and de Mello says, Peter saw no judgment in Jesus, only love. Perhaps it is this gaze of loving and forgiving friend that spelled the difference between the two betrayers–Judas and Peter. The latter one caught those loving eyes of Jesus and from those wellsprings of mercy, Peter found cause to hope and to love again. God Bless!

April 1, 2015  Leave a comment

March 31. Allowing God’s Extravagant Love to Anoint Us

To Pray on and Ponder:  Isaiah 42, 1-7;  Psalm 27, 1-3; 13-14; John 12, 1-8

Id quod volo: To enter the mind of Jesus as he nears his day of radical self-offering; to embrace the reality of God’s extravagant love in Jesus as he orders all things, even how our mix of sinful and graced choices play out in the grand scheme of things, making love the ultimate shaper of the final days of his life and drawing us into the sweet scent of extravagant love which only another loving heart will understand and take in.

Mary models for us quite an intimate devotion to our Lord. The Lord once described her to her sister Martha as she who “chose the better part.” Was the Lord referring to Mary’s constant choice to sit by his feet and listen to his words attentively, feeding on them to nourish her soul. Was this Mary the one whom the Lord forgave much and so loved him much as well, because experiencing such healing and freedom released Mary from attachments and distractions and made her more focused in devotion and service to the Lord?

Whatever moved in Mary’s heart that night, she was ready to show the extravagance of love which prepares us for the greater extravagance of God’s love that Jesus’ self-gift on the cross represents.

Judas would not understand such love. For his heart was full of entitlement and expectation. In his mind he had a frame with which to understand Jesus and he and many like him were manipulating events so that Jesus, the political messiah would come out and lead and fight against Rome. He too was not without greed and corruption. The Gospel says “he held the group’s purse and he helped himself to it.” And so to Judas’ mind, Mary’s use of the scented oils to anoint Jesus’ feet was nothing more than waste. Mary could have sold the bottle of oil and with the big amount of proceeds, they may have served the poor instead of Jesus’ feet. Laudable and heroic? Jesus did not even bother to argue Judas’ hypocritical point. He simply said, the poor you will always have with you, but the bridegroom will be taken away soon. Leave Mary to perform the anointing that she wants done. Death after all was in the air.

Or did Judas and the others understand the signs somehow. Jesus was unravelling “the handover, dying, crucifixion plot.” After all, he had prophesied this several times before them. They knew and understood, but they never wanted to accept Jesus’ words. If he was to be anointed king, it was by their way. It was for the logic of conquest, and not for a love that wastes itself in death.

The drama takes its course. Mary received so much from Jesus and her love for her master knows no bounds. She pours the expensive scented oil on Jesus’ feet, kneads them with her hand, wipes them with her hair, until the the scent fills the room and extravangant love fills the air as though to draw everyone there to inhale love and say yes to an extravagant offer of love which is for Jesus the way of the cross unfolding.

In the broadway play-turned-Gospel-Rock-Movie, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” it was the Magdalene depicted to do the anointing and the song she sung she sang struggled to soothe Jesus, and calm his nerves as Judas’ jeering were creating heat in the air. Tempers were rising. And Mary simply asserted her love to assure Jesus that “Everything’s alright and everything’s fine.” Death may be in the air but love is too, and love is sweet. Try not to get worried, try not to turn unto problems that upset you, because everything’s going to be alright.

Mary may not have completely understood her song and neither may have Jesus at that time. Ultimately it is God’s extavagant love which orders things for all of us and makes everything fine, despite the pain and death and squabbles and extravagant devotions and envy and corruption. God’s extravagant love will always be an ever soothing balm that heals us, anoints us into something special and prepares us to receive and give love as extravagantly as Jesus did on the cross. When we have our chance to take a whiff of the scent of such extravagant love, pray that we breathe long and deep, and that God’s fragrance may fill our hearts as well.  God Bless!

March 31, 2015  Leave a comment

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