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

March 29. Palm Sunday. Palm Fronds Today, Ashes for Next Year.

To Pray on and Ponder: Isaiah 50, 4-7; Philippians 2, 6-11; Mark 15, 1-39

Id quod volo: That in contemplating Jesus’ embracing his cross to the end, we may enter the mystery of his profound love for the Father to whom he give his wholehearted and trusting surrender, to whom he finally surrenders his life in full abandon and also Jesus’ radical solidarity and communion with all our brethren who up to now suffer on account of others selfishness and evil. We ask the grace to surrender ourselves to this profound mystery of love for God and love for neighbour which culminates in a complete offering of self for the beloved.

Today, Palm Sunday will make us listen to two Gospel texts on top of the first and second readings and the psalm. On this day when the Holy Week begins, we bless the palm fronds and wave these in the midst of Hosannas and Halleluiahs, reenacting our welcome to our King who as it were, enters into Jerusalem to complete his earthly mission. Those hosannas and halleluiahs were muted in a matter of few days. Shouts of invectives and “crucify him!” would replace the praises probably because the type of kingship that Jesus chose was not the political messiahship that the people expected and wanted. And so the crowds thinned, the palm fronds disappeared. The triumphant royal procession that seemed to depict Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem would gradually shift into a gruelling way of the cross in which Jesus exercises not conquest by the power of domination, but a conquest by the power of a love freely and completely given by the innocent man Jesus to redeem the guilty.

Our rituals speak eloquently about the religious meanings we believe and embrace. On Palm Sunday, we catholics bless the palms we wave for our radical praise of the Lord, and almost a year after, we burn the same palm fronds to produce the ash with which we seal ashen crosses on our forehead to usher forth a new lenten cycle with the next year’s Ash Wednesday. It is an occasion for us to take to heart Jesus’ challenge to confess our guilt and drink from the innocent love that led him to his cross. The evangelist St. Matthew proclaims Jesus as the Son of God as the culminating point of his passion narrative, and it is a Roman Centurion, not even a Jew who proclaims the Sacred Truth: “Truly, this was the Son of God.” And with that truth proclaimed, a hidden reality is proclaimed in the silence of it all as well: “And despite his innocence, Jesus embraced his death sentence with total freedom and surrender in the name of complete trust and obedience to his Father and solidarity with all those members of the human family who also suffer because of the evil of others.

We who struggle to suffer our love for God and love for others can draw strength from Jesus’ supreme self-sacrifice. We borrow from Cardinal Tagle’s reflection points in his The Word Exposed program for this Sunday. Cardinal Tagle explains how Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross make manifest to us two things: first, his trusting obedience to the Father and second, his radical solidarity with the suffering of the human family.

First, Jesus constantly listened to God’s Word and sought to constantly proclaim that Word in Spirit and Truth by his every word and deed throughout his life. Even as Jesus noticed that less and less of the crowd was believing his word and listening to God, Jesus chose to proclaim his truth ultimately in the silent witness of his self-sacrifice. Ironically God’s Word proclaimed love the loudest in his Silent Act of total self-gift. And some people finally got it! When the seeds of the Word are planted and watered with the blood and water of a clear witness of love in martyrdom, the seeds of faith take root and grow vigorously. The life of the Church after Jesus’ self-gift on the cross would bear this truth time and time again, even in our own times. Even in the eyes of non-believers, they will notice that a value is indeed a value when they witness people willing to give their lives for it. Our faith, our redemption, the people for whom love leads us to self-sacrifice–these must be real values if our very God gave up Godself for these.

Second, in the midst of all the violence, insults, deceits, betrayal and abandonment by the ones he considered his closest friends, Jesus responds with no curse, no blaming, and no succumbing to despair or counterviolence. What comes out of Jesus is forgiveness and compassion.  Jesus begs his Father for forgiveness for the guilty ones, and in his remarkable show of compassion, he puts a stop to the spiral of violence and conquers sin and death definitively. By his forgiveness even a thief is able to claim paradise after his humble admission of guilt and his act of belief in Jesus who has shared their lot as a common criminal. Pure love that brings Jesus to act in solidarity with the sinful ones, this love is as Moses’ bronze serpent–the way of life for people bitten and sentenced to die with the venom of sinfulness–we fix our gaze on the one taken up on the cross and by his wounds we are healed, by the love and compassion he has shown, we are drawn close to God’s heart and we are able to feed and drink from the love which is the cup of our salvation.

Finally, we are strengthened by Jesus’ final act of self-surrender in trust to the Father in whose hands he intuitively knew he would finally receive new life: “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” is the final sign of victory that Jesus did not succumb to initial temptations to despair, “God why have abandoned.” Jesus must have felt deeply in his aching body, that in his loving self-sacrifice it was not that the Father abandoned, the Son, no, it the Father also grieving the loss of the Son because the Father shares in the Son’s self-gift. God’s Spirit of love is released to all believers because both Son and Father poured themselves completely to show their love for people. The Father must have made Jesus feel this solidarity and love from the Father and so he could say with affection, “It is finished, Father receive my Spirit now, I have obeyed you through and through and showed how deeply God cares for God’s people.” Sin and death has not silenced our love even if they deceive themselves into believing, no, the Spirit of our Love lives on and that will be the final word of God’s story.

When on Ash Wednesday, we have the priest seal us with the ashen cross, we choose to embrace that the same self-sacrificing love of Jesus will be our path to communion with God. In humility we confess the times when we chose to replace our “hosannas and halleluiahs” with violent shouts of “crucify him.” We ask that Jesus show us mercy and compassion, forgive us and heal us, help us in our unbelief so that we too may trust in God’s abiding love even the darkest hours when our love meets up with the cross.

“Halleluiah” proclaims our radical praise of Yahweh–“Hallal Yahweh!” In earlier times, the radical praise of Yahweh may have included rituals of voluntarily wearing ash and sack cloths to show signs of humble penance for past sins of self-importance. In our days, we simply open our ears and listen to the priest telling us, “remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return” and as the ashen cross is sealed on our foreheads, we proclaim our muted “yes” or “amen.” Admitting before the Church that “yes, only Yahweh is my life, and by my embrace of dying, I give Yahweh my whole hearted praise, even if this means loving unto death. God bless!

March 29, 2015  Leave a comment

March 24. The Man on the Cross Draws all to God

To Pray on and Ponder:  Numbers 21, 4b-9; Philippians 2, 6-11; John 3, 13-17

Id quod volo [That which I desire most]:  To encounter in our Lord Jesus Christ crucified, love triumphant so that we have the courage to embrace our many crosses–opportunities to show the triumph of self-sacrificing love over egoism and selfishness.

Pondering over our first reading from the Book of Numbers, our Psalm and the Gospel for today’s Catholic liturgy, made me recognize a study on what could be some meanings of the sign of the cross. The text from Numbers recounts the grumbling of the Israelites against the food the Lord has provided them as the wandered in the desert en route to the Promised Land. At one point, the character of God in the story felt completely frustrated with the people’s grumbling that he sent snakes to bite them. When many were dying of the snake bite, Moses pleaded to the Lord to save his people yet again.  And so the Lord ordered Moses to craft a bronze serpent and mount it on a tall pole, so that all who suffered from snake bite might be saved just be looking at the bronze serpent.

Medium is the message is a communication principle that is certainly true in our hymn from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The “falling and rising” dynamic that we find in the paschal song given in Paul’s letter portrays a foundational pattern in the life of Jesus Christ who was as he said, at the start in the form of God yet did not regard himself equal to God nor did he grasp at or hold on being God, rather, he emptied himself of his divinity, taking our human form and even abasing himself as a slave, to the point of suffering and death on a cross. This who downward mobility characterizes the depth of God’s love for the human family. He held nothing back in showing the depth of his love for us, and then the upward mobility begins after the story reached rock bottom.

Because of Christ’s radical self-offering, God greatly exalted him so that his name will be worshipped by all on earth and heaven, and his name be confessed as Jesus Christ, Lord, the Glory of God the Father, communicating to us now the very strength of God’s love which stands the test of time and space and even human frailty. In Jesus Christ’s radical self-offering, the very core of being human has been redeemed and has become a privileged way in which God’s salvation happens.

Such is now the law of the cross: any sinful situation may occasion for us humans, a chance to offer ourselves and selfless, self-sacrificing love to give new life to others, then God’s saving love takes over, and love is able to transform the world, with the power of Christ’s Spirit renewing creation to its very core. We ask that God gives us light and courage to be God’s love for others even when loving takes us to bear our cross.

In the Gospel, St. John depicts Jesus revealing his identity as “I am” but in very cryptic words. One of the more direct statements  included in this text has Jesus say, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own but I say only what the Father taught me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.”

Finally, the latter stanza of the our psalm for today sings: “The Lord looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoners, to release those doomed to die.”

Here I am led to contemplate on the sinner and the crucified Lord. This image is one of the first images that Ignatius depicts of Jesus encountering the sinner in prayer and supplication for God’s mercy. Ignatius suggests to the retreatant that after pondering in depth on the dynamic of sinfulness that has caused disorder and chaos in his or her life, he or she is invited to looked directly at the crucified Lord and be moved deeply by the love and mercy that s/he sees, asking the Lord three questions: “Lord you have given me a lot and have done so much for me, what have I done for you? what am I doing for you? what ought I to do for you?”

And here I draw some insight into some meanings of the cross for us.

First, the cross is deep love that draws us out of ourselves and closer to God who is Love incarnate. Even though the cross is a sign of the depth of cruelty and violence in humankind, it is also a sign of a love that simply refuses to accept such sinful violence to be the final word in a human life. For from the heights of the cross, we find a man broken of body but certainly not broken in spirit and has deep love enough at heart to look with love at his persecutors and say a prayer of mercy in their behalf: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And here I find echoes of St. Francis Xavier’s prayer to the crucified Lord whose Jesus flashes a smile in his face.

Hindi sa langit Mong pangako sa akin
Ako naaakit na Kita’y mahalin,
At hindi sa apoy–kahit anong lagim–
Ako mapipilit nginig Kang sambahin.
Naaakit ako na Ika’y mamalas
Nakapako sa krus, hinahamak-hamak.
Naaakit ng ‘Yong katawang may sugat
At ng tinanggap Mong kamataya’t libak.
Naaakit ako sa ‘Yong pag-ibig
Kaya’t mahal Kita kahit walang langit,
Kahit walang apoy, sa ‘Yo’y manginginig.
Huwag nang mag-abala upang ibigin Ka
Pagkat kung pag-asa’y bula lamang pala,
Walang mababago, mahal pa rin Kita!

Francis Xavier a young man who used to be given to worldly vanities is slowly drawn to this self-sacrificing love of Jesus and has his life turned upside down with the words from Sacred Scriptures that go: “For what good is there for man to gain the whole world but lose his soul in the process?”

Deep love attracts us and inspires us, draws us out of ourselves and makes us reach out to others with the same love that healed us and made us whole. This brings us to our second point.

Second, there is something about the cross that renders the venom of sin and death powerless because love has generated power for new life to spring forth from the very muck of sin. At calvary we can look at the crucified Lord and be filled with horror at the limits that proud sin and violence will go to try and bring a person down and eliminate him because he is a threat. We can also see a man broken and his ministry project effectively halted in failure with all his friends, family leaving him behind out of fear or frustration.

Yet, on the cross we see the tremendous power of love and hope. Especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus is exalted in glory even as he is crucified. For on the cross he said no to the power of sin and by his no, he effectively put a stop to sin and death. By his very offering of life, Jesus proclaims that love has conquered death, and never again can death threaten to leave humankind alone and unloved. For God will always be on the side of those condemned to the fringes and those who are left unloved and uncared for. God will always be with us. On the cross, Jesus also proclaims to the world that there is “meaning to a life of dying” and we do not need to fear death. For if death meets up with our freedom to love to the end, then our offering of life will surely bear fruit in new life for others.

Finally, we see that where sin and violence scatter and divide, the love that shines forth from the cross draws everyone and gathers all into a communion.  For looking at the man crucified, we are awakened to the love that heals us. We awaken to the love that builds among us who share the experience of being loved to the core and without condition. When are made to remember how God has loved us with such a cost, we are moved to love others in turn.

We ask that as we commemorate Christ’s triumph in his holy cross and embrace by our life’s choices the meanings of Christ’s cross for our lives, that the Spirit really enkindle the fire of love in us that we really begin to see in the cross a sign of love that is the power and wisdom of God for the salvation of the world. God Bless!

March 25, 2015  Leave a comment

March 13. Measuring the Life of Minda, the Wise Virgin

(The following is the homily shared in the second wake mass for Minda Evalle, friend and associate of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality)

Seasons of Love

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments, so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets. 
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?
How about love? 
How about love?
How about love? 
Measure in love
Seasons of love (love) 
Seasons of love (love)

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned or the way that she died

It’s time now, to sing out.
 Though the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
, Remember a year in the life of friends

Remember the love
 (Oh, you got to, you got to remember the love)
Remember the love
 (You know that love is a gift from up above)
Remember the love
 (Share love, give love, spread love)
Measure in love 
(Measure, measure your life in love) Seasons of love
Seasons of love
 (Measure your life, measure your life in love).

I thought the wake mass Gospel text we chose was just a propos for our dear friend Minda—the wise virgin. In many wake masses, that beautiful but haunting song from the Broadway Musical “Rent” always comes back to me. You may probably recognize it by its title: “Seasons of Love.” You see, the play revolves around the stories of a theater group which had fallen into bad times and was struggling to keep themselves together for a production. They were quarelling all over, some were fighting for love,  Some were scrounging around for money. Until one day one of the friends fell ill, the happiest actually, and succumbed to HIV and AIDS.

“Seasons of Love” was the finale song of the play and the group was all in tears singing the song, no doubt dedicated to their fallen friend. How do you measure a year in a life? How do we assign a value to the life of a friend? We can probably use some of the questions to ask what measure can we use for Minda—our wise virgin.

Do we measure life’s value by daylights and midnights spent, should we count the numbers in minutes and seconds—525,600 minutes in the year. For what were these minutes spent—drinking coffee at Larry’s bar, in so many journeys planned with friends, in truths that Minda learned or the way she cried or died. In miles, in laughter, in strife.

The song of course ultimately suggests the good measure to use is love.

When I recall Minda, our wise virgin, it is three L’s that I recall:

Minda was a woman of leisure, and by this I do not mean anything bad. I mean to say that Minda is a woman who knew self-care. She knew how to rest and enjoy life. She knew how to spend time with friends in travel or food trips or slow coffees and conversations. She knew how to feed her soul and in the process deepen as well in her ability to help others. The woman who knows how to pause and rest is one who knows how to be quiet and contemplative. She knew how to see things with the gentle eyes of love. One author describes contemplation as a long, loving look. And I think Minda loved doing that with people, that’s why she is very empathetic and compassionate. She would sit with people and share conversations with them that may be light in the feeling, but very deep in the themes that are shared.

Secondly, Minda is a woman of boisterous laughter. Her nephew was right to call her one crazy woman. She knew how to laugh. She knew how to tell stories of funny experiences. She knew how not to take life too seriously. Oh we enjoyed so many stories about friends who mistakenly put on two pairs of bras (please forgive me if you are here—bato-bato sa langit!) or another friend who was frantically looking for her house keys until the guard noticed a key chain dangling from the side of her hand bag. Or that other story of a woman who was getting frustrated knocking for so long at the door, until she realized, she was knocking at her own house. I guess Minda loved to tell these stories so she can also laugh at herself as she experienced her own aging.

Once a group of us retreat guides had a delayed flight in Naga and so their group of senior associates couldn’t find any seat except in that corner where there was no one seated. The three lolas sat there exhausted but all burst into laughter when they realized the big sign behind them: breastfeeding station.

Minda knew how to laugh and I think this gift was one of her points of access to wisdom. Life was too serious to take too seriously. And her laughter allowed her distance from life so she can think through life with a certain ease and wisdom. And this is not to say, she did not feel fear or pain. I know she did but she also knew how to carry her fear and pain with lightness and graciousness. One of her last messages to me was to ask for my prayers as she was feeling some fear as she faced her surgery. I reminded her of her inner strength and she wrote, “ha-ha, oo nga, father Vic. thanks.”

Finally, Minda, our wise virgin knew how to love. And I have a sense that many if not all of us have been touched one way or another by this love. Minda gave attentive care to people she talked to. She was generous in her giving. I think even when she could not come to our associates gathering, all of us felt her presence when the big lechon came—iyon daw ang kanyang contribution. She was always the gentle, light presence that always had a smile to give, an encouragement to share, and many initiatives to give joy to poor people in her midst. I know she’s been preparing for her meetup with her Creator because in her last years, she was giving themed retreats on the topics of aging, diminishment—but mind you, she entitled these retreats—Praying our Golden Years—nothing dark or morbid. Not like us Jesuits who would call our infirmaries—the pre-departure lounge. And so as the “Seasons of Love” song ends, we ask, how might we measure the life of our friend, Minda? Remember the love, measure in love.

Thank you wise virgin: you have taught us how leisure, laughter and love are good gifts from our good God, and we keep all these things in our hearts as we bid you farewell. Now for a prayer of forgiveness.

March 14, 2015  Leave a comment

March 12. The Cracks on the Fortress’ Wall

To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 11, 14-23

Id quod volo (That which I desire most):  To awaken to the “cracks on my fortress,” those places where my commitment to Christ is most vulnerable and weak and I am most prone to naiveté, compromise and mediocrity, to render these vulnerable areas transparent to God’s Light and entrust all these to God.

The Gospel text from Luke served to us in today’s Catholic liturgy reminds me of several things:

First it reminds me of a comment I read once about how we in this contemporary world can be vulnerable to evil activity in two ways: we sometimes do not take the power of evil in our midst seriously or if take it seriously at all, we take it TOO seriously. Our faith should be enough to assure us that Christ has triumphed over evil and death by his loving self-gift on the cross.

By the life and love released from the pierced side of Christ on the cross, we have been empowered to love as God loves although for many of us, we need continued conversion and healing and we need to open our hearts more and more to God’s grace. We can be at peace with Jesus’ assurance: “If it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe.”

Yet the Gospel reading does not end there. Jesus does show the possibility of a transition scenario. So long as we have not completed our journey to heaven, we need to make sure we remain in Jesus, “for whoever is not with me (Jesus) is against me, and whoever does not gather, scatters.” St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises reminds us of this too. We could have very well made a fundamental commitment to Jesus Christ and even signed in for working with him in his Kingdom project, but when we are in the thick of battle in life and ministry, we can drift away from Christ slowly and unknowingly. Engaging with the world constantly makes us vulnerable to the values of the world. The lure of riches, of honours, of pride and entitlements can subtly work itself up in our hearts and before we know it, we are suddenly prepared to declare independence from God, telling God, “I don’t need you, I can make it on my own.”

The Gospel text also reminds me of several parts of Ignatius’ rules for the discernment of spirits.  For one, Ignatius says we ought to see which spirits dominate the general orientation of life. If we lead a life from sin to sin, it is the evil spirit that is at home in our hearts and so these spirits will keep peace so as not to rock the boat so to speak, but the good spirits will make noise and disturb the soul by pricking the person’s conscience so the person can wake up to the reality of sin and resolve to change his ways. When the person is generally moving from good to better, it is the good spirit that is at home in the person’s soul and it simply encourages the soul quietly in its good direction. The evil spirit on the other hand makes noise, magnifies difficulties, creates false roadblocks to the person’s elected path to loving service, proposing any affection or thought which could distract or derail his or her good progress in pursuing God’s will.
The third thing which the Gospel text reminds me of is Ignatius’ third image of the evil one. He says the evil one, the enemy of human nature, is like a military commander who will keep looking for the weak spots of a person’s fortress and will keep pounding on that area until it gives and  the whole fortress crumbles with its weak part., leaving the evil one and his minions free to penetrate and dominate the space for themselves.

This is why perhaps Ignatius calls our attention to the person he calls “second class”–the person who genuinely desires to commit himself completely to God but holds back on one or other area in his life. That hidden area of compromise can be small initially, but it remains a crack in the whole fortress. And it is there where the evil one will surely strike and pound away.

We therefore ask the Lord to protect us, to awaken us to these vulnerable parts by honesty and self-awareness and to entrust these parts to the care of the Holy Spirit which brings renewal to any area of our persons and lives that it touches. God bless!

 

 

March 12, 2015  Leave a comment

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