Monday, January 28, 2008

Thank God For Teachers!

Today, Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of colleges and universities, I celebrated mass in an Assumption Sister's run school in San Simon, Pampanga. This is actually the second time I presided their Eucharistic celebration in thanksgiving for the gift of teachers.
I admire the school for being concerned not only in the education of their students but also in developing a very good relation among them and with them. On this day, teacher's day, the students of every class honor their teachers by offering them gifts and flowers. They also prepared numbers like songs and dances in order to express their thanksgiving for the teachers patience and commitment to share to them their knowledge. There was also a part when they would one by one tell their teachers how they feel about them. Praises and commendations were expressed lavishly. It was a very satisfying and rewarding experience for the teachers. Rarely does it happen when a teacher is praised and recognized every year. usually it happens when the teacher leaves the school or when the students graduate. I can see for the reactions of the teachers and the students that the activity is doing them lots of good!
I then presided the mass in thanksgiving for the wonderful feast. It was a solemn but meaningful celebration. Before the end of the mass, the Mother General addressed the students and expressed their gratitude for their cooperation. It is interesting to note that the student graduates of the school go back time and again specially on this occasion to reminisce with their teachers. It just show that the bond they had developed when they were still students were real and lasting. It is always good news when students and teachers still see and celebrate together even after graduation.
Knowledge is not everything. Friendship and values are very important parts of one's education. The years a student spent in school must not only be focused in obtaining high grades. The student must also acquire and develop values that would benefit his family and society. The student must not only bring material riches to his family and country but also honor and integrity. Schools must not only produce intelligent and wise people; they must also produce honest and God-fearing people.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Monique

I would like to dedicate this piece to Ruth Anne Monique Subia Ungco, my inaanak.

Happy 14th birthday Monique, my inaanak and very good friend!

Monique is a very intelligent and good-hearted child. I saw her grow up. In fact, I already related to her even when she was still in her mom's womb. I saw her start to crawl, walk, laugh, dance and sing. When she was still a baby, I used to massage her tiny hands to make her sleep. Many times, I would carry her or guide her to walk.

Once when we were on board a plane on our way to the U.S., I had to carry her and walk her along the airplane aisle because she was very uncomfortable sitting on her mothers lap. While we were travelling with her relatives and family from New York to Washington, she would render different nursery rhymes and children songs that kept us all awake and laughing the whole trip. She was a complete joy for all of us. She was a perfect representation of the child Jesus wanted us to respect and take care. 

There were times when I would bring her to and fetch her from school whenever circumstances allow and requires it. She taught me how to deal with heavy traffics. Once, on the way to school, we encountered heavy traffic along the super highway. She told me that we should pray to St. Michael, the Archangel. We did, and lo and behold, we were able to make it in time!

She loves the song "The Christmas Alphabet". She learned it in school when they interpreted it in one of their Christmas parties (which I also take time to attend! You can say I am a Monique fan!). When Christmas time nears, I would play the cassette containing the song in the car stereo and we will it sing together over and over until we reach school. Yes, she enjoyed it very much. But maybe I did more than her! Ha ha ha.

One very exciting moment in her spiritual life was during her first communion. She was so thrilled and filled by it that even in her dreams she would see the initials "FHC" everywhere (cars, buildings, people, carry the initials with the). I was the presider in that celebration. When she told to me about her dreams, she asked that I do not mention it to anybody. I told her it would be good to share it. I actually did share it during the homily. Somehow, the children were able to identify themselves with the dream. They appreciated being understood. oh yes, "FHC" means "First Holy Communion!"

I personally liked the incident with her mommy. One day, he mommy noticed some bills were missing from her wallet. There was no one in the house except Monique. She asked Monique about it and it was good Monique knew where she brought them. She led her mom to where the wastebasket was. She pointed to her mom that she threw money here. Her mommy was able get back the missing bills. But she asked Monique why she threw the bills in the wastebasket? Monique replied, " Di ba you told me money is dirty?". Ha ha ha, she has a point!

There are many things more, but I guess this is quite long already

Anyway, happy birthday! I pray that you will grow up to be a good child of your family, a good citizen of our country, and a good child of God!

"Which" is "Who"

It was almost 25 years ago when I first heard of a very solemn, intense, and moving version of the "Lord's Prayer" in a funeral mass and sung by the father of a friend who died of a freak car accident. The version, which was created by Albert Hay Malotte, was so touching that it made everyone very silent while listening meditatively. The song made God the Father very real to me. The song, in a very unique way, gave everyone a feeling of comfort and consolation. In spite of the grief and great feeling of loss, the song, somehow, helped in communicating the very message of Jesus when He taught the prayer to His disciples.
Since then I had been regularly hearing the version in many funeral masses and even in wedding masses. The solemnity of the version adds to the solemnity of the celebration be it a wedding or a funeral. Some Gospel and Christian singers had even made it as part of their repertoire in their concerts or shows.
However, just recently, I noticed that there seems to be something wrong with the lyrics of the song. The beginning lyrics of the song says "Our Father, which art in heaven." Hearing those words made me uncomfortable. In the bible, the word used was "who" and not "which". As far as I remember my grammar, the relative pronoun "which" refers only to things, while "who" refers only to persons. In that Albert Hay Malotte version, the word "which", which, in modern use should be for things, appeared disrespectful to God who is being referred to by the pronoun. It would be unfair to just judge Malotte for the improper use of the relative pronoun "which". There must be an explanation somewhere. I do not believe that he overlooked it. The most I can think of is that during his time, the word "which" may also be used for persons and only later was it made exclusive only for things. In any case, the present generation can not help but be uncomfortable with it whenever it is sung for the reason stated above.
It is therefore better to change the "which" to "who" whenever the Malotte version is being sung. If some would prefer to stick to the original for courtesy's sake or in faithfulness to the original version, so be it. But, when it is sung in church or any religious celebration, I suggest that priests should see to it that the "which" is changed to"who". To refer to God as a thing is courting sacrilege or disrespect. But in order to render to God the perfect respect and recognize His true dignity, the word "who" must be used.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

An Angel Named "Fountain"!

Mothers, what would you do if you come to know that the child in your womb will certainly die minutes after its birth? How about if you are the father of that child? This was the fateful situation of a couple and a child named "Fountain" who was found incapable of developing herself because of the absence of water in the uterus of her mother. Without that basic substance, she will be purely dependent on her mothers sustenance. Why would a mother still undergo a pregnancy that would just result in the death of the child? Why not abort the child and spare the mother of the gruelling experience of carrying the child for nine months and laboring for nothing? "Cut loose and move on!"
It was not an easy decision for the parents of Fountain. Abortion meant "killing" an unborn child. It meant killing their own child. Even if she was not yet born, she was already alive. She was already a person. Is being freed from carrying her for nine months worth the abortion? Practical people would not find it hard to decide for abortion. But the parents of Fountain were not only practical people. They were very religious and faith-full Catholic Christians (Thanks be to God!). Specially in this situation, a Catholic does not decide merely on what is practical and easy, and on what is comfortable or inconvenient. The faithful Catholic depends on his God. The faithful Catholic asks guidance from his God. The faithful Catholic discerns. Salvation is always at the bottom line of every Catholic decision.
God was very kind to them. He gave them a sign. He led them to the full realization of what they believe is the best alternative for their angel Fountain. While in the waiting room of the clinic which would lay out for them what would be done, an article in a magazine on the receiving room table opened their eyes and hearts to the evil of what was being offered to them. It was just too much for them. They could not do it to their God-given angel. Against all odds, they decided for Fountain . They decided for God. They would see through the birth (and death) of Fountain.
Just recently, Fountain was born. As expected, merely minutes after the birth, she died. But not before she saw the light of day, the beauty of the world, and experience the sweet embraces and loving gazes of her parents and relatives. To top it all, she was also baptized before she passed away. Something that could not have been possible had she been aborted. It was an experience of joy and sadness, of birth and death, of hello and goodbye, and of living and dying. That is not really something new. Life is about all of those. The difference is just the time in between. To some it amounts to years. In the case of Fountain, only some minutes. But that does not determine the quality of life. It is the why and the how it is lived. Fountain lived because she was a gift of God. Fountain lived by letting her parents and all those who would hear her story know that life is precious and can be meaningful even if lived only for a moment. I would not be far off if I say that there are people who had lived a longer life but had not really lived meaningfully because they did not live for the right reason and the right way. In that measure, Fountain is a better person even for just a moment.
Life is a mystery in the same breath as death is also a mystery. God has a reason for letting us live. We have the responsibility to become according to His plan. The fullness of our life is not in how long we had lived it but whether it was lived according to Gods plan. God is the source of our life. God sustains our life. And God will be the destiny of our life. The hardest part in that cycle is the last part. It entails much of our decision. Hopefully, the destiny we will choose for our God-given life is the same destiny God had fashioned for it. Fountain was a God-given gift to us. Fountain was sustained by God in the short time she was with us. And Fountain was fully blessed because she is now back to her Giver!

Bless Fountain! Bless her parents! Bless lovers of life!

Angel Fountain, bless your parents. Angel Fountain, bless lovers of life!

How Many Would Have The Courage To Make This Decision?

One morning, I received a text from my sister that her son, who was working as a crew in one of the cruise ships in the Mediterranean was arriving home unscheduled. He said that he would explain when he arrives. Immediately, I went to the airport for it was already about the time he was arriving. I was a bit shocked when I saw him. Medyo namayat and he looked a little sick or just recovered from a severe one. My observation was confirmed when we finally talked and rode home. He said he could not anymore take the condition in the ship. It was just too much for him. He narrated to us that they worked almost twelve hours everyday. The work was harder when it is cold and they have to go out to accompany the passengers. Another difficulty was the managing of the baggages of the almost four thousand (4,000) passengers who are boarding the ship.
In their work, getting sick is practically not allowed! As long as you can still afford to stand up, the doctors would not merit you a sick leave. You still had to report for work. They are very strict in declaring a crew as sick for it would entail costs for the ship. They will still be paid while having the leave. Medicines given are being checked if they are really taken. Apparently, there had already been a lot of cases when some crews would call sick only to be caught lying about it. He told us that the work was so hard that to be granted a sick leave is already considered a luxury!
The worst part of getting sick was being alone. He related to us his ordeal when he was very very sick that he could not get up from his bed. As a result, he was not able to eat the whole day! He was really very devastated and frustrated about his situation. His room mate was so deep in his work that he could not attend to him all the whole day. Even in that situation, he was not given a sick leave. The doctor said that nothing was wrong with him. He was forced to work. For three days, he worked in that sick situation. When finally he told himself that he had had it. The pay is good, but it is not worth it. After working for almost three months, he finally called it quits. Time to "sign off"! He was very clear and sure of the decision. During these times when everyone here in our country would take any opportunity to work even under the most adverse situation, he had the courage to say "enough". I admired him for that. He went home partly a failure, but definitely more mature. I asked him if he would ride again. He answered quickly in the affirmative. Most probably in another ship. Hopefully, a better experience and manageable conditions. I am sure he would find another ship to work in. I am sure he had learned a lot from the previous experience that will help him prepare better. I am sure, he emerged from that first ship a better man and a better person!
In life, we are always faced with a lot of decisions. Do we have the courage to make difficult ones with difficult consequences?

When Is One Really Healed?

A lot of times Jesus performed healing in the Gospels. He healed the blind, the lame, the deaf, the sick, and even brought back to life a young child and a dear friend. In most of those healing would advice the healed person not to tell what happened to anyone. This is because He does not want to be known as a healer in the physical sense. It was not the reason why He came. His mission was to bring everyone to salvation. His mission was to bring into healing every ones soul. His purpose was to bring everybody to repentance.
In the first place, He did not go about every place healing the sick and the needy. This should make us understand that He has a more important business. Even those He brought back to life, later would die. The healing sessions of Jesus were for a purpose. Whenever He has an opportunity to heal, He would take that opportunity to present God as having power and authority on everything. That truth should lead one to trust and belief in God. If God has control over one's physical condition, He must also have control on one's spiritual condition.
The important part in the healing of Jesus was whether those healed would follow his advices and/or would follow Him. There were those, who, after being healed, did not follow Him. Worse, they did not follow His advice. They were physically healed, but unfortunately, not spiritually. They had not realize the very reason of their physical healing. In one instance, after healing the ten lepers, one went back to give thanks. Jesus made an accounting of those who were healed compared to those who went back and gave thanks. In the process, recognizing the recognition of the leper who went back, Jesus granted Him the more important spiritual healing.
I know of two couples who went to a healing session of a healing priest. Both wives were suffering from terminal illness. Months after the healing, one of the husbands called me up and told me that his wife was now completely healed from her sickness. Her recent examination showed no more traces of the sickness. The couple was very very happy. Of course, I was happy too. The other husband also called me up and told me that his wife was also healed. I was happy too and asked him give the phone to him so I can talk to her. He said that she can not talk to me anymore because she already died! I could not believe what I heard. But he explained that before she died, she was able to make a confession and was happy she has reconciled with God! The husband said that it was the perfect healing he was talking about. She was not physically healed, but certainly, she was spiritually healed. And that is what real healing is about!

Not everyone who goes to a healing session is healed. Both patient and healer are aware of this truth. To announce and propagate successful healing to everyone is to give false hopes. Religious or faith healing is always about being healed of ones sins. The physical healing is just one of its signs. The absence of physical healing does not mean the absence also of spiritual healing. Most of the times, spiritual healing are not accompanied by physical healing. In any case, the best sign for true healing is when one is reconciled with God. Any other situation is merely temporal healing.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Have You Seen God?

For a long time, the focus of the Feast of the Epiphany(manifestation of God), are the three kings (magi). One wonders what is the significance of the three seekers from the East. By tradition, the Feast of the Epiphany is one of the Christmas celebrations of Christians in the world. Many celebrate the birth of Jesus as we celebrate it. There are Christians who celebrate it on this feast. There are a few who celebrate it on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday feast after the Epiphany. Although they are different ways, the message is the same. The Christmas message is that God decided to be one like us in order to save us. The Word is made flesh so that He can personally minister on us. God is not anymore watching from a distance but had pitch His tent in humankind. In the feast of the Epiphany, the message is that God had manifested Himself. The shepherds and the three magi found Him and did Him homage. They had seen the promised savior. Just like Simeon, the three magi did not stop and had not lost hope in seeing the Messiah. The Baptism of the Lord is the commissioning of the Father of His Son who will minister to all the sinners in order to proclaim and bring the Good News of salvation.
Before the coming of the Lord Jesus, God can not be seen, heard, or touched. People interpret nature's acts. Prophets are tasked to bring the Word of God, but never God Himself. The most that people had experienced in the Old Testament was Moses' experience of the burning bush. It was an experience of mysterium tremendum. An experienced that can not be contained and described in words. The mystery experienced is too much that it could cause the death of the person. Our humanity can not withstand the divinity of God! But God knew the need of man to feel Him. Human beings operate via the senses. The easiest way for human being to believe is if he can see, hear, smell, and feel. And so, the Incarnation. God will save us in the way we best understand and accept. So, God manifested Himself!
Now, God can be seen, heard, and felt in Jesus Christ. He is still present to us now in Himself in the Eucharist. That is why, when we receive communion, the priest tells us, "The Body of Christ." Then we will answer, "Amen.". The exchange means that we are being given Christ Himself and we agree and believe He is the one we receive.
He is also present through our neighbor. He said, "Whatever you do to the least of my brother, you unto me." He also present in the priest. He also present in the community, "Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Just in the Eucharist, the Lord had made His presence in so many different ways. Though there are pilgrimage places which are recognized as places of visitations by the Lord, there is no presence like no other presence in the Eucharist. There, the Lord is always available for us to hear, feel, see, and even receive.
But of course, our faith has a lot to do here. If we believe in His presence, then, we also would live His commands. If we live His commands, we have given our response for conversion and reconciliation with God. Then, the mission of Jesus had been fulfilled in us! And we can claim, "We have seen the Lord!".

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It Is Still Christmas!

The celebration of Christmas here in our country had adapted a different look and a different rhythm. As early as the month of July, I already can hear some Christmas carols being played on radio stations. There are also some malls that are beginning to decorate their facade with some Christmas symbols. All of these to drum up the coming season. All of these to encourage everyone to enter the season. But as soon as December 25 Christmas Day is celebrated, the spirit immediately wanes and decorations were being removed accompanied by a big shift in the mood and spirit. So, after a very long preparation, everything comes to a stop as soon as the season begins! When it is time to savor the celebration, they pack up!

For clarification, we have the four weeks of Advent (four Sundays before December 25) allotted for the purpose of preparing ourselves spiritually for Christmas. The spiritual preparation is shown by the material and physical preparations. The mood must be of repentance and subdued. This is another matter that had been "violated". During the season of advent, instead of entering in the repentant and anticipative mode, people are more into parties, buying sprees, and festive modes. That is why the very essence of the advent and consequently, Christmas, is just partly if not hardly attained. The point of the feast is missed. Christmas is without Christ!

The Christmas season only begins on Christmas Day, December 25 and immediately followed by the Christmas octave. The eight days after Christmas are meant to sustain the spirit of the Incarnation and the liturgies and readings make us more deeply aware that Christmas, though it is a cause for celebration, is actually the Incarnation of God in Jesus in order to"personally" address the sinful situation of man who is deep in sin. It is good to note that feast of some martyrs (Dec. 26-St. Stephen, Dec. 28 - Holy Innocents, Dec. 29-St. Thomas More) are being celebrated in this octave. They remind us of the real situation the new born child will face and will experience during His ministry.

The Christmas season continues up to the Feast of the Epiphany which also considered a Christmas celebration in other Christin countries. There are even some countries that celebrate Christmas on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Here in the Philippines, it is even extended up to the Feast of the Sto. Nino which, by its nature, maybe considered as a celebration of Christmas.

In the light of the above, it follows that the days after December 25 are still days of Christmas. The spirit of giving, parties, festivities should still be continued and are in fact more proper. Christmas decorations must still be maintained and savored in every home and establishment. Greetings of "Merry Christmas" should still be said. It is the time to savor and reap the fruits of the preparations we had during the advent season. That is why it is very important that we stick to the mood and mode of the seasons. Only in that way can we really enter and linger in the season at hand!

Merry Christmas!

New Year, New Chance!

Another year had passed and another one is coming. Life is like that. A series of beginning and ending. For every beginning, there is an end. For every end, comes a new beginning. But what happens in between is what really matters. What happens in between is what changes. As I had said in one reflection here, the "dash" is the matter. That dash that we usually see in between years that reflect the coverage of a certain period, is the most important of all.
No doubt, what we are very much concerned of are the mistakes and failures that we had. The successes and the sound decisions we had made can speak for themselves without prejudice to their improvements. But those that came short of our expectations need to be addressed if we are to keep on moving on and develop our being. How determined and serious we are in making the change would measure our potential for progress and maturity.
As the saying goes, "The only permanent thing on earth is change." Therefore, we can not help but enter its realm. If we decide not to change, not only would we be where we were but most probably regress. But, if we change, we must be inspired. What should be our inspiration? Who should be our inspiration? We can name so many reasons and so many persons. But there is one effective and universal agent of change. He is the Lord of Life, the Source of Love, the Prince of Peace, and the Master of Change, Jesus Christ. In the Incarnation, one of the greatest changes was achieved. From Divine, He became human. From God, He entered the world of change, Creation. From the Maker and Changer, He became a creation and was changed. All because of His love for us. All Because of Peace. All because of our need of salvation.
The Good News is that God had put His Spirit in our hearts. Therefore, we have the capacity to change. We have the hope to be change because of His Presence. We know not only that we must change but what we need to change. If we will listen to His Presence and His Words, change can come immediately and effectively in us.
I thank God for the New Year. It is always a good reminder for change. Being aware of the ending of a certain period in our lives helps us reassess and reflect what needs change and what needs improvement. Another Year, another chance to change!