Saturday, July 21, 2007

Work Or Prayer?

I just had a mass this afternoon with those who are working to build our church. I asked them at the beginning of my homily, "Which is better, work or prayer?" I received no answer, but it would be safe to presume that they prefer work. Work produces pay while the result of prayer is hard to quantify. But the workers just heard the Gospel involving Martha and Mary. Mary decided to stay and listen to Jesus while Martha preferred being busy preparing something for Him. Jesus, after hearing Martha's complain about Mary not helping her at all, responded that Mary had chosen the better part. By staying and listening to Him, she chose Jesus, who is the better part.

Jesus was not really despising work per se. In fact, in the Gospel last Sunday about the Good Samaritan, He commanded His listeners to go and DO the same. Doing is at the core of the teaching of Jesus. In fact, if the Word is heard and not done, it has no meaning and effect. Here, Jesus emphasizes the priority of listening, praying or communicating with God. It is from God that we receive guidance. It is from Him that we would know how life must be lived. We can only proceed if we had heard Him. Then, we execute and live what we had heard. Whereas if one will just go and does things without asking or knowing first what to do, it is very probable that the work will have no direction, much more, the worker will finally find no meaning in what he is doing.

I reminded the workers that they do not live to work but they work to live. I was hoping that I could persuade them to believe that there is more than just working. Working, if it is to be meaningful and fruitful, must be in the context of faith. It is very important to spend time with God, the Author of Life and the Lord of Work. Working is connected to faith and life.

So, it is still true that we must work. Doing is important but always in connection with and in the context of ones relation with God. Listening is the better part because one could never go wrong in working after it. Doing without listening and praying may lead to a dead end.

Therefore, it is Prayer and Work. As the saying goes; "Work as if everything depends on us. Pray as if everything depends on God!"

How Do We Deal With Pundits?

Ever since we began the construction of our parish church, lots of pundits unleashed their opinions and observations on the kind and value of church we are building. "Too grand!" "Very ambitious!" "Very Expensive!" "Too long to build." "Hard to maintain." There was even one who told me that in building this church, we are going to hell! But there are much much many who are very positive about it. "Very beautiful!" "The best should be offered to God!" "It is bound to be a very important landmark in the city." I am proud of this church!" "Finally, we have a church that is conducive for worship and prayer!" "State of the art design!" "It would become a shrine." Truly, the construction of our church had drawn lots of reactions ranging from the most positive to the most negative.

It is obvious that comments of people come from their respective life orientation and experiences. Technically, a certain "paradigm". From this fact alone, we owe it to them to be understood. While it is true that if we listen to each and every comment, we would not be able to create and build our church. There will always be people who will be dissatisfied even as there will be people who will be very satisfied. So, where do we draw the line? To whom will we listen to? What will be our guidelines or criteria?
From the very beginning, it was clear to the Construction Committee and the architect that we will build a church that is; 1. In accordance with the liturgical requirements of the Catholic Church, 2. It will imbibe and express the charism of our patron, St. Alphonsus, 3. It will be durable and could withstand the test of time and natural threats, 4. It will be very functional and worshipper-oriented, 5. Done in the most economical way possible. If we build too simple a church, we might end up renovating it immediately which would make us spend more. The beauty and genius of the old churches that we have today is that they are still functional and good. It was mainly because they were made from the best material and from the best intention. They saw the church as a permanent, long lasting, and functional place. This is our hope and intention in the church that we have now. Specifically, it followed all liturgical requirements. All the time, we conferred with the liturgical minister of the archdiocese before we make decisions as to designs, placements, materials, and forms of the parts of the church and its internal fixtures. Durability and functionality entails more work and material support. It is worth it!
We welcome pundits. The challenge they pose in the decisions we make helps us to be more discerning, careful, and prudent. It will be impossible to accommodate and agree on all of what they would say, but it would be good to have listened and reflected on them before making decisions. Any criticism no matter how simple as long as it contains some truth and good things would certainly make our decisions better and stable. However, our prayer is that, once the criticisms had been listened to and considered and a decision had been made, we will all support it and do everything to work and live with it. Ultimately, it is us who must try to be perfect and worthy of God's love irregardless of the structures we build. We must take advantage of these structures to lead us to the heavenly Kingdom of God.
Pundits are therefore welcome. We are happy that they are concerned. But hopefully, after all is said and done, they will join the community in the more important and urgent task of building the real Church, the People of God!

Friday, July 20, 2007

It Is The Hair!

Suddenly, many noticed I had grown my hair long. Since July 2006, I decided not to have any hair cut until our new church is dedicated and blessed. It was a personal decision. I believed I needed something to remind myself that there is a task at hand that needed to be done. Because it was not known to everybody, many made impressions and wild guesses about it. It was very probable that I had been accused of being too "cool" or being "hippie-like" (of the '70's remember?). All of these I endured for a year. Some children, I was told, commented to their parents that I was really cool and "cowboy" because of the hair. There were those who found it ugly and even irreverent. Some, however, found it fitting me and supported it. The mixed reactions were a testimony to the effectivity of the "gimmick". One mother asked for my help when one of his children also grew his hair long. The response he got from her son was that because of my example. I told the mother the reason and advised her to tell her son that he can grow his hair if he is building a church like me. The next day, her son cut his hair.
Even the Cardinal joined the issue. Once he asked a parishioner why I was growing my hair long. It was good that the parishioner responded correctly that it was for the church. He was told that I would cut it as soon as the church is dedicated.
The hair was effective in a sense that many who would notice it would ask me about it. Immediately, I could offer our need for the rebuilding of our church. Whereas if I do not have anything to rally our cause for raising the funds for the rebuilding, I would find it very hard to get the attention, much more the sympathy of those who I would approach.
Now, we are nearing our dedication. Ten days to go! I am faced with cutting it on the day or the day after. My promise was after the dedication. But many are telling me that it would be better if I would have my "neat-look" on dedication day. I guess, I need to discern it.
In any case, many had told me that the hair contributed a lot in our cause. I believe it did. It was a concrete reminder of what we need to achieve. For our next project, should I go bald?

The Other Miracle

In the last week of June, our parish was faced with the task of raising the remaining 7M that will complete the 25M pesos more needed to finish our church. It is known to many now that we had achieved the impossible. It was a miracle by any standards. Many did not believe that we can do it. But with God on our side and the cooperation and support of everyone, we did it.

No doubt, having the 7M completed a week after we expected it was a God-given modern-day miracle. But there was another miracle. Maybe clouded, lost or unrecognized because of the more spectacular one. I am talking about the community effort in achieving the impossible. Anytime you have people cooperating, contributing, and working as one for a common goal, it is considered a great miracle. This, I saw immediately after the church got burned. I saw it too in all of the fund-raisings we did before the final one, the tenten (10-10-25). The tenten made it more pronounced and evident. The number of people who participated in the final fund-raising push was tremendous. People from all walks of life and from everywhere chipped-in their worthy earned money. It was really more of how many participated than how many were received. Yes, 25M was really something, but thousands of donors were really a great thing!

Having made a lot of people from different places and from all levels of society, and add to that from different age brackets, work together and agree to unite and conspire to achieve our "impossible" goal, is the other miracle. Or, should I say, the greater miracle!

As Sis. McKenna said, "Miracles do happen!" It happened here in our parish, not once, but twice! And I would not object if anybody would say, "many times"!

God With A Heart?

Yes, we have a God with a heart! In fact, He has a heart that is bigger than life! Contrary to the thinking of many that He has vindictive attitude, we have a forgiving God. This we have seen and had been shown by our Lord Jesus. Mercy and not sacrifice is what He gave during His lifetime. Mercy is what we had been receiving during our lifetime. If not, where do you think will we be right now because of our sins? What should we had deserved by now because of the evil things we had done? Do we still deserve the heat of the sun, the blow of the air, the fruits of the trees, the meat from the animals, the "perks" of life? Even counting the sufferings and challenges we are experiencing, where we are now and what we are having, are greatly outweighed by God's goodness.

Truth is, God understands, forgives, loves and cares. In human terms, He is with a heart! This we must never forget and take for granted. Sometimes, we live as if we had been forsaken by Him. Sometimes we live as if He does not exist at all. Sometimes we live as if He is here only to look for our mistakes and punish us. Instead, we should recognize His goodness. Instead, we should appreciate His understanding and mercy. Instead, we should be forever thankful for His enduring and unconditional love for us.

Thank God He has a heart!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Is Anything Really Possible?

Mary, when told by the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Son of God, asked how it would be possible since "...she knew no man"? The angel responded by saying that "Nothing is impossible with God." I believe, the crucial phrase in that response which most of us miss or take for granted is "with God". Left to ourselves, we are limited. Though there are many things we can achieve with our talents, much much more are not achievable. As creatures we can only do so much. But "with God", everything is possible!

Recently, our community in St. Alphonsus were faced with the task of raising about 7M in funds to complete our church. Ten (10) months ago, we launched our final fund raising activity to raise 25M. It was called "10-10-25"campaign. It means raising 25M in ten months in ten (10) ways. We set voluntary contributions ranging from as low as 100 pesos to 50,000 pesos by every person which they have to give per month for the next ten months. Nine (9) months and twenty four (24) days later, we had raised "only" about 18M pesos. So, we need to produce the last 7M in six (days)!. Many did not believe it is possible. On the Sunday before the deadline, I went up and appealed in all the masses rallying the people that it is possible. One simple computation helped convert many that it is possible; 7000 people to donate 1000 pesos. Surely, a thousand pesos is not hard to raise in a week. But that is not enough, I told them that if it is the will of God that our church will be built, then, the raising of the money is not an impossibility.

As a testimony to our belief, we had set the dedication of our church in a month. The architect and the contractor committed to its completion as long as we can provide the funds. So, the stage is set for the miracle to happen on June 30. Since my appeal on Sunday, many people had flocked our office giving their donations in various amounts. On the last day, donations poured without let up that those (wo)manning the receipt could not take a break anymore. We stayed till midnight of June 30, as promised and after the last donor which came about fifteen minutes after midnight, we were just 1.9 M pesos short! Meaning, we were able to raise 5.1 million in 7 days!

The next day, Sunday, people could not believe what happened, They thought it cannot be done. On that Sunday, another 800 thousand pesos more were donated! Many thought that by the end of the week, we will have our 25 million.

But we did not have our 25 million on June 30th? Yes, we did not have the miracle we expected. But we got something better; God had made us closer, dedicated and united as a community. Everyone exerted his best effort to raise the money we needed. It had become more than the money. It had become more of being community! And, community, we were and had become!

God called us to unity through the building of our church. We all responded. The miracle happened! Indeed, WITH GOD, anything is possible!