Monday, April 27, 2009

Witness or Wetness?

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He left His apostle a command to proclaim the Good News to all peoples. This was after He appeared to them a lot of times after His death. There were many accounts of His appearances before the apostles and at one time, He asked for something to eat sending the message that it was really Him they have met. He even let them touch Him to compliment their seeing Him. The mission of the apostle was to share everything that they had heard and seen in Jesus during His life and ministry here on earth.

It is interesting to note that after His death, the apostles were frustrated, dejected, and demoralized. They could not understand what happened to Jesus, to whom they had given and left  everything just to follow Him. And then He died!? Is this the one who is going to free them from their oppression? Is this the one who would save them? Jesus, in His appearances answered all their questions and clarified all their confusions. What He had told them before about His suffering and death now has meaning and answer in the resurrection. Having seen the Lord changed everything in the life and faith of the apostles. Having seen the Lord made them ripe and very much prepared for the mission of proclaiming the Good News to others.

They will be "WITNESSES" of all that Jesus said and did. As witnesses, they will testify to what they had seen, heard and touched. They will be credible witnesses because they were there. Their experiences will speak for themselves. The account on the Gospels and the New Testament letters attest to that. What were written were what the apostles experienced. And as such, they are considered the Word of God proclaimed and borne out of faith. In other words, INSPIRED by God. Even in our daily life, the credibility of witnesses rests so much in their presence in the situation. No amount of hearsay can weigh more heavily than an experienced witness. The apostles were of those kind. Their personal accounts are considered Gospel truth. At the same time, one who had experienced the Lord can not but share that experience to others. The responsibility consists in faithfully communicating what the Lord Jesus did.

It is easy to understand this as the work of priests, nuns, lay workers and missionaries alone. That is far from the truth. Our Baptism makes us also responsible. As a member of the family of God, we share that responsibility. And so it should lead us to a reflection of how we have been a witness for the faith. The mass is a perfect example of how we can measure our witnessing. In the mass, we are supposed to have experienced the Lord; in the Word of God that was read, in the congregation gathered together in His name, in the priest who presides as a vicar of Christ, and most specially and perfectly in the Eucharist who is Jesus Himself made present in the form of bread and wine in the Spirit. Just like the experience of the apostles who became courageous and zealous in their witnessing after having seen the Lord, we too, after having experienced Him in the mass, should have the same attitude. After the mass, the priest would send us to mission by commanding as to "go and proclaim the Good News" or other similar words of mission.

But what happens after we "go..."? Do we reflect the image and presence of Christ to others? Do we get excited sharing to others our experience? Can we say that "We have seen the Lord!". Indeed, the mass should have given us an experience of the Lord. Unfortunately, the expected results were not there to some. Unfortunately, it was just a ritual which has little if not irrelevant in our daily life. Once I approached a son of a "religious" family in our community. I asked him why he was not going to mass with his family. His father told me that they were trying hard to invite him but he would not go. The son answered me with, "Father, if the result of going to mass is shouting at our household helps, cursing, dishonesty, quarreling, gambling, and even having illicit affairs, I would rather not go!" This response startled me. The son has a point. While the merits of the mass is not determined by the lack of witnessing of a couple, it should give us the message that what happens to us after the mass sends a very strong message to those who know we are participating in one.

And so the challenge is before us. Let us go back to our experience of the Lord. How real is that experience? How much do we believe in that experience? These are what will inspire us to go and proclaim the Good News. These are what will make us true and effective witnesses of our faith. Otherwise, we might as well be called, "WETNESSES", meaning we are doused with the cold water of passivity, fear, and cowardice rather than be inspired, moved, and inebriated by the Spirit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life Made Harder

Always we would encounter a book, video, an article, or a suggestion on how to make or do things easier. And it is true. There are a  lot of ways, techniques, systems, mechanics, etc. that can make things easier. Man, for so many years, had discovered and find ways to make life easier and faster. From the crude and primitive Stone Age, we have arrived at a very sophisticated and ultra-modern Computer Age. We are now hi-tech. However, on second thought, there are things that we have done that had made life more difficult for us that even sophistication and modernization could not do anything against. The ways of some had made life generally hard for everyone. Let me count some of those ways...

In spite of the availability of cell phones, fax machines, xerox copiers, and computers, it is very possible now to take you long to get necessary documents like birth certificates, pass ports, car registrations, baptismal certificates, marriage licenses, etc. This is because of the proliferation and availability of fake documents and to be protected against those who give wrong information or would want to have more than one identity. Using the very technology which were supposed to make life easier had made life harder. Apparently, showing yourself "alive" is not enough proof to give you your birth certificate. If your parents, relatives, or "kumadrona" had not registered you when you were born, and then you come to apply for a passport, you will undergo a lot of processes; get a certification from the National Statistics Office that you have no existing record, apply for "delayed registration" in your local civil registry (which has about ten requirements!), then apply to the Department of Foreign Affairs. In parishes, it is not surprising anymore to receive a letter from the Japanese Embassy sending a xerox copy of the Baptismal Certificate we issued and asking us if we issued such a certificate! Again, because of the prevalence of fake documents, the Japanese Embassy spends time in verifying the authenticity of the documents presented to them. I feel ashamed of the process, but they have their reasons for doing so. And in most cases, they are right, unfortunately! If people can only be trusted, things would be a lot easier. It used to be that applying for passports did not need the presentation of a birth certificate. As far as I know, there were a lot of countries, including the United States, when we were not required to get a visa. But because times had changed, meaning we Filipinos had become less trustworthy, we have to go through all of these scrutinies, interviews, presentation of documents, and even pay just to be accepted for application.

Travelling, specially abroad, had become so difficult. Because of the security measures existing now in air ports due to the threat of terrorism all over the world, you have to be at the airport at least three hours before boarding time, baggage now have a lot of limitations, you go through many check points from the time you enter the building to the plane (passport and ticket check, initial baggage check by a scanner/detector, metal detector, check-in check, baggage check-in check (remove your shoes, belt, cell phone, watch, keys, etc.), liquids must be limited to 100 ml, pass through a metal detector, manual checking by the guards, and visual checking by the  flight attendants. Whew! In spite of those checks, sometimes, some things still go through! I agree that all of these must be done because of the the present circumstances. But precisely, if the present circumstances are not present, travelling would be a lot easier! We have made things difficult for ourselves.

Big bills have to go through a fake money detector machine (which I think are not perfectly reliable). If you happen to have a very old and crumpled bill, most probably, it will not be accepted. But the point is, because of the possible presence of fake bills, our cash payments had to be examined first. While on the "fake", now, even fake merchandises, when detected or recognized, would be a reason for one to be disallowed entry to a country (the US and Europe). It is very possible that when you arrive at their airports, your luggage will not only be examined for explosives or deadly weapons but also for imitations! All of these because of previous experiences involving counterfeits. Again, this added to our difficulties.

Cars now have different security gadgets; alarms, steering wheel lock, automatic lock, car safe, GPS, key lock, etc. All of these in order to protect the car from being car napped, "basag-kotse" gang victim, forcibly opened, etc. Houses also have their own security gadgets like double locks, alarms, electric fences (this is expensive!), close circuit television system (CCTV), motion detectors, and the human guards! So much expenses and efforts for security which need not be if only the threats were not present. Again, we have made our life difficult and expensive too!

City travel, in spite of the presence of many vehicles can be easier if (all) drivers, specially bus drivers, are disciplined. Traffic should be more tolerable if we follow traffic signs. In Metro Manila, we have more traffic signs because our traffic managers have to address the unique driving habits of Filipinos; road dividers (steel,plastic, and cement fences), instructional signs, traffic enforcers, yellow lines (for buses only), allotted stops (private, taxis, and buses), number (color) coding, free windows, truck bans, cameras, etc. So many things which would not have been necessary if drivers are disciplined. The most important benefit is actually less accidents and less lives lost or endangered. Again, we have made our life harder!

If we can address these things, is it not true that life can really be easier? Unfortunately, these things had emerged for some legitimate reasons. It only show that our efforts should be concentrated in instilling good values to each and everyone. Otherwise, we would all suffer the consequences. The saddest part of it is that even if we have all the high technologies and most sophisticated gadgets available in our time, life would still be difficult because we still have to spend everything we have just to address our lack of discipline and immoral intentions and actions. Which, if not for those human inflicted difficulties, we could have used to make life even easier, which was really the reason for their discovery or development.

How about you? Do you know of something that had made life harder?

(This reflection was inspired by observing a fellow bowler who plays bowling the hard way!  Without explaining the mechanics of bowling, let me say that one of its most effective principle is; "the shortest way between two points is a straight line." This bowler would instead used a reactive ball (one that hooks) in order to down a single pin for a spare conversion. In the process, because of the unpredictability of the lanes (at times due to erratic oil distribution on the lane), he misses the pin by being too short or over. I thought he could write a book on bowling entitled, "Bowling Made Harder!" Who knows, it could be a bestseller here in our country !)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

From Doubt To Faith, Doubt To Faith, ..... To Blessing!

On this second Sunday of Easter we encounter another significant character in the life of Jesus and in the life of the Catholic Church, Thomas, one of His apostles, known for his doubting the Lord Jesus. In the Gospel scene in today's reading, he was not present the first time the Lord Jesus visited the apostles. When told about His visit, he did not believe the apostles and said that unless he puts his finger in the hole caused by the nails in the hands of Jesus and put his hand on the side of Jesus, he would not believe. To our surprise, (at least to my surprise), Jesus, on His next appearance to the apostles, this time Thomas present, allowed Thomas to do as he requested. Thomas then believed and uttered the most famous expression of faith, "My Lord and my God!".

To doubt is not immediately a sin. As human beings, we are not knowledgeable of everything. We have limitations. There are things in life and faith that we could not help but be tentative or doubtful of. If one doubts just for the sake of it and is not really interested in knowing and arriving at the truth, then it maybe sinful. Much more, if the doubt is just to create a issue about something which may lead to controversies and further confusion, then the doubt should rather be abandoned. But if the doubt arises from a sincere searching for the truth which includes openness and humility, then it is a very positive and a welcome doubt. Such kind of doubt would lead to being graced with revelations from God and deeper faith on the doubter! But it does not end there. A sincere searcher, after having been gifted with revelation, would still have doubts. Our relationship with God is a never ending deepening, knowing, loving and serving.

Do we have this kind of doubt with our God? Do we have this attitude towards God? A reliable survey was made about whether people believe in God. The response was an overwhelming ninety percent  (90%)! There was not much question about people recognizing the presence of God. But the other relevant question got an alarming answer. As to whether those people who believe in God are willing to follow that God, the answer was positive for less than half of them. This, I believe is what is missing in our faith-life.A determination to follow the God we believe in. Why is it that we easily follow our parents, doctors, lawyers, and other experts we consult in life? By any standards, they are much much less than our God! So where is the fault? I believe it is in the real presence of God in our lives. The tendency is to regard God as somewhere out there. In many cases, God is really just an idea and not a "person" whom we can relate too really and truly as we relate with each other. There is a lack of if not a missing experience of God especially of the Risen Christ. We remember that the apostles, after the death of the Lord were frustrated, abandoned, and orphaned. One by one, they were going back to their original life. They thought that Jesus gave them too much expectation. But after their "experience" of the resurrected Jesus, things became different. In fact, everything became clear! Suddenly they were courageous, assertive, and bullish in their faith. Even death could not threaten or frighten them anymore. With Jesus risen they, they could not but go and share the experience. Were there still doubt in them? Definitely. But now, they have reasons to believe the resurrection, doubt included!

Our daily experiences tell us that the resurrection is possible. A beautiful, colorful, and full of life butterfly emerges from a corrupted cocoon. A seed has to "die" before it can be planted, grow, and bear fruit. Our person are not just bodies. We are not merely skins, organs, hairs and muscles. There is something in us other than our physical self. We have a soul. Our soul continues to exist even after we have died. Besides, life is so precious that it could not have a dead ending? As for you, what is your faith-experience of God? There must be. If until now you are in this faith because of your parents, then it is about time to stop and reflect on your own "whys". The answers to the your questions might lead you to a realization of your true self. If you find God, then all His promises will be a reality to you. If you don't, then at least you have freed yourself of the "burden" of the faith!

Just a last point. In the Gospel, Jesus gave special importance to those who had not seen and yet believed. He was actually referring to our generation. While it is true that having seen the Lord should make belief easier but not automatic, to believe in Him even if we have not seen Him as the apostles did, makes us more blessed! it means that we have the capacity to believe given our circumstances. And if we do, we are blessed!

Let us therefore aspire and be worthy of that blessing!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We Are People Of The Resurrection!

Who does not fear death? No matter how courageous you are, no matter how contented you are, no matter how holy you are, no matter what, I suppose, death has a certain amount of sting in everyone. The fact that we are "living", gives death a counter-effect. At least, in this sense, the resurrection is very relevant. This is not to make the resurrection as an anti-thesis to death. Rather, death is part of the resurrection. Death is part of life. Death is part of living. While it is regarded immediately as a negative, an end, a failure, a frustration, or a "kill joy", it is actually and in reality a part of life! To live is to be aware of death. Life has so much meaning because of the truth and presence of death.

Death is earthly life's door to eternal life. Every Christian hopes to reach his final destiny with God in His Kingdom where he would spend after life eternally. Death provides the only entry towards eternal life. It is for this reason that Jesus embraced it too, willingly. Not that God glorifies death, but that through death, God, and later man, would be glorified! Death has really no power against God who is life. Death is even used by God to help man appreciate and understand His love. Death was used by God to lead us to Him. In other words, unless we die, we could not live! The life being referred to here is of course a life with God.

It is interesting to note that eternal life presumes eternal death. While earthly death leads to eternal life, if a person is not worthy of it, eternal death becomes an option. Eternal death means an after life spent in separation with God. Nothing can be more "painful" and "dreadful" than that! We are not anymore talking of physical pain here because we were done with it after we met our earthly death. We are talking of "spiritual pain". This is not just about the consequences of sin in the form of punishment, but what we are losing and not experiencing because we are not with God. The parable of the Prodigal Son is very applicable here. The younger son committed a great sin against his father when he asked for his share of his inheritance while his father was still alive. Then he left his father and spent all his inheritance. Living alone and away from his father, he was not only concerned about the hardship he was going through but also of what he was missing if he was with his father. In a way, the pain eternal death is the same. Essentially, it is more!

Death is dead. The resurrection removed its deadliness! Death still happens but only as part of life. That is what the Lord Jesus showed when He embraced it on the cross. It was not easy. His humanity offered resistance. But His divinity prevailed. At the garden in Gethsemane, He was tempted to forgo with it as planned. But His obedience to the Father prevailed. Obedience was the key. Obedience founded on trust. When life is at stake, our convictions are jarred. When life is at stake, our loyalty is challenged. When life is at stake, resolve begins to crumble. When life is at stake, our foundations tend to collapse. To whom do we turn to? Jesus turned to His Father. Just like His Mother, He saw that the only answer to the situation is, "Your will be done!" Later, St. Paul would see the decision of Jesus as a redemption of the fall of Adam who disobeyed God that led to the lost of Paradise. He referred to Jesus as the NEW ADAM, Mary as the NEW EVE and the resulting situation as the NEW CREATION.  Where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus and Mary succeeded! What Adam and Eve lost, Jesus and Eve recovered. What Adam and Eve violated, Jesus and Mary obeyed.

As a last point, Jesus' feat tops. Nowhere could we found a religion sect, group, or anyone who could lay claim to what we claim. Our God became one like us, lived with us, died, was buried and RESURRECTED! The first and the last are our greatest and important claim. The last one, the Resurrection, is our main claim. It is the very foundation of our faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, all of what we have done, are doing, and will do, have no meaning at all. It will be an exercise in futility. Death as an end will be mans greatest frustration. Indeed, if we do not believe in the resurrection, the best option to live would be to eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we will die. But we elect to pray, sacrifice if necessary, and do acts of charity. We are more than bodies. We have souls. We are meant for eternal life. The resurrection gives us that hope. The resurrection inspire us in this life. The resurrection will lead us through the door of death to life eternal!

"This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice"

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Holy Week Through the Lenses!

                                      Celebrations were filled to the rafters!

                                         Priest in pink on Laetare Sunday!

                                  "Apostles" carry the cross to every station.

                           Nico sings ably the Responsorial Psalm on Holy Thursday

                        Server lights one of the twelve candles around the church. 

                            Blessing of water for use in Baptism and blessings.

                     The Apostles awaiting the Washing of the Feet by the priest.

                 Ministers of the Word played a very important role in the liturgies.

                Eucharistic Ministers in full force to assist in giving communion.

                              Faithful kisses the cross during the Good Friday veneration.

                           Priest leads the praying of the Litany before Baptism

             A minister lights a candle for the renewal of Baptismal promises.

                   Christ our Light! Everyone danced during the Exultet!

               Priest carry the ciborium to the Altar of Repose outside the church.

                                 Everyone receives the Lord in communion.

         The Washing of the Feet is one of the main highlights of Holy Thursday.

                               Candles were lighted during the Holy Thursday vigil.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

It Does Not End. It Never Ends...!

Our Easter Triduum began with the Holy Thursday celebration. It's highlight was the reenactment of the Washing of the Feet of the Apostles. The celebration is about the institution of the Eucharist and the Ministry of Priesthood. Below is a "remembering" of the homily I gave
From John 3:16, we can find a biblical summary of God's plan of salvation. God loved the world. He created everything. He also wanted that all Creation will join Him. He wanted all men and women be saved. He would do everything and spare no one for the realization of His purpose. And so, even His Son, was offered for our salvation. That mission to save man was inaugurated by the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (The Incarnation). The unthinkable and impossible for man was done by God. The Word became flesh. God became man. God fulfilled His promise to save us and to be with us forever. Emmanuel ("God with us.") was the name that Jesus bore based on the message of the angel Gabriel to Mary. Jesus, in the three years of His active ministry proclaimed the Good News in Word and Deed. His mission culminated in His death on the cross. "Consumatum est!" (Everything is done! It is finished), were His last words on the cross. By virtue of that whole act of love of God from Creation to the death of Jesus, man was saved. The grace of redemption flowed from God who died on the cross! But it did not end there...

The night before, knowing that He would die, He instituted the Eucharist. That which every Jew does during the Passover, remembering how God saved them from Pharaoh through the Passover meal, was given a new meaning by Jesus. This time, it will be the Passover of all men and women from the slavery of Satan. The bread that they ate was His Body. The wine that they drank was His Blood. It is the blood of the new and everlasting covenant that will be shared  for the purpose of salvation. Whenever it is done, we remember the Lord. Note that the remembrance here is not just an exercise of the mind. Jesus meant here that whenever the Eucharistic meal is being done, that which was available when He died on the cross is made available in the present! 
The Eucharist is a bloodless Calvary. In the Eucharist, the victim continues to be Christ. The priest acts in persona Cristi, in the person of Christ. He represents Christ. That is why we refer to the priest as the Presider and not the Celebrant. In as much as in the Eucharist salvation emanates, it is constitutive of our Christian life. Our life revolves and finds its source in it. It is the Center of our spiritual life! We celebrate the Eucharist to offer our lives to God and to open that same life so that God can offer Himself to us for our spiritual nourishment. When we receive communion, we perfect the relationship we have with God and with one another. We become in communion with God and neighbor. And so, the Lord Jesus gave us the Way in order for us to benefit from His saving act which was done in Calvary. But, again, it did not end there...

How will the Eucharist be celebrated? Who must lead in celebrating it? How sure can we be that the intention would be preserved in every celebration? Jesus, also covered that part. When He commanded the apostles to do the Eucharistic meal in His remembrance, He entrusted it to His apostles. From His apostles it was passed on from generation to generation through the ministry o the sacred order or the priesthood.

There is only one Priesthood and that is the Priesthood of Christ. He is the High Priest who offered prayers to His Father for our salvation. We, on our own can not stand toe to toe with God. We on our own do not have the personality to deal with God regarding our salvation. The one must be God's equal. Jesus was the One! We also share in that Priesthood of Christ. Everyone of us received it when we were Baptized. Aside from the Priestly function, we also  received also the other two functions of Jesus, the Prophetic and Pastoral functions. Both shared priesthood are active in the celebration of the Eucharist. The only difference is that the priest alone turns the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, in the Spirit. All others, we participate by virtue of our own priesthood. We all give thanks, express our petition, offer gifts, and receive communion. In other words, we all exercise our priesthood in the Eucharist though in varying degrees and essence. The shared priesthood thus ensures that the Eucharist will be celebrated for all time. The ordained priesthood further guarantees it because of the commitment made by the candidate during his ordination. The ordained minister will be a priest forever! But again, it does not end there...

The Eucharist that is celebrated, in all its merits, is not contained in the celebration. At the end of each Eucharistic celebration the priest says, "The celebration is ended, GO..." There is the missionary aspect of our being Eucharistic people. Today's ritual of the washing of the feet reflects that message. Service is at the core of the Eucharist. The Eucharist we celebrate must find its fulfillment in the service of neighbor. The one who had experienced the Eucharist can not but be joyful in sharing it to others in word and deed. He reflects and shares Christ to others. Others must see Christ in him. But again, it does not end there...

In the next life, life continues. The Eucharist continues not anymore in the earthly context but in the heavenly bliss. The heavenly banquet will be celebrated in God's Kingdom where all will be filled by God's Spirit! And it never ends because its ETERNAL!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Change In Parishioners, More Than Of Priests

Yesterday, April 7, our resident guest priest, Fr. Jimmy Segun celebrated his forty-seventh (47th) year in the priesthood (1962). I concelebrated with him to join him in his celebration. It was definitely a feat for him to have served for those number of years! I said after mass that I was merely five years old when he was ordained. It was the most simple sacerdotal celebration I have ever witnessed. Fr. Jimmy, I believed, did not even consider celebrating it until I joined him and told him that our mass will be for his anniversary. He was even wearing a violet stole and the books were prepared for the daily mass. 

I know he had his reasons in the way he would want to celebrate his anniversary, but I thought that we owed it to him to at least honor him by offering that mass as a thanksgiving for the gift of priesthood. Some servants and parishioners were generous and considerate enough to prepare some gifts for him during the offertory. They applauded him after the mass as a mark of their appreciation of his presence and valuable assistance in the parish.

In his homily he cited  the common tendency and need of people for change. He said that there are parishioners who, after having a priest for some years or have thought that they have had enough of their priests, move for a change of parish priest. He said that burnt out is not just for a priest but for parishioners themselves. Parishioners express burnt out for their priest. He criticized it by saying that such a move is not good a source of real change. Rather than a change of parish priest, he recommended a change in the parishioners themselves. He further said that a parish may regularly change a parish priest but if the parishioners would not change, then they will always experience burn out. And what if all priests had served the parish? Just a wild thought to drive home his point that more than the change of priests, what must happen is a change in the parishioner's attitude. Change of parish priest is relatively easier than change in parishioners. Ultimately, the change in  parishioners would matter much in salvation while the change of parish priest has minute effects.

While he was giving his homily, I further reflected on his message from the point of view of the parish priest. After the new church had been built, there had been times that I wanted to be transferred to another parish, for some personal reasons. Unfortunately, up to now, it has not been granted, for some reasons too! But there lies the difference between the parish priest and the parishioner; priests have no choice but to stay while parishioners may opt to go to another church to worship. The priest had made a commitment. We have offered ourselves to God and the community. We had committed to be the vicar of Christ for everyone in order to ensure the perpetuation of the saving work Jesus had initiated and fulfilled when He died on the cross. The gift of priesthood that we share from the Priesthood of Christ is at the dispense of the the faithful for the purpose of salvation. And Fr. Jimmy, in spite of his unworthiness, weaknesses, defects, and even sinfulness, had fulfilled that commitment for nearly fifty years! No mean feat by any standards. I would be lucky if I even reach three-fourths of that!

Before the final blessing from Fr. Jimmy, I rose to congratulate him and thank God for the gift of priesthood. In behalf of all those whom Fr. Jimmy had baptized, married, confirmed, given communion to, presided mass to, anointed, and facilitated their reconciliation with God, I thanked him wholeheartedly! In forty-seven years, I know he had served many! Then, we prayed that he will continue to be a holy and good priest for God and for His People!

God bless you Fr. Jimmy!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Yesterdays Make Our Tomorrows!

Lk. 13:18-21 (Parable of the Mustard Seed)

The parable may refer to anything, anyone, or any situation which believes in successes or achievements from simple and tiny beginnings. As far as the Lord Jesus was concerned, He was referring to the "Church" He was building that would journey towards the Kingdom of God. Beginning with the Apostles, He planned to proclaim the Good News to all the world. He likened the Christian community that He was establishing to the mustard seed which has all the potential to grow at a size unimaginable based from its original size.

The life of the Church is very similar to the life of every Christian. The best analogy for this is the present project of Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, the PONDO NG PINOY (PnP). The PnP believes that small good deeds, if done regularly, would bring one to salvation. It particularly addresses the bad habits which need rehabilitation. It believes that bad habits were created because of a series of small bad acts. As one gets use to doing these small bad acts, one develops the habit of doing them and later imbibe them. Then, it becomes automatic or second nature to the person. Frequent doing of small bad acts had led the person to believe that it has become right or moral. PnP tries to reverse the process by encouraging people to do good deeds no matter how small they are. Hopefully, just as bad habits were formed out of small bad deeds, the person would imbibe doing good deeds and therefore create a good habit.

Saints were not Saints because of one act of martyrdom or charity. We believe that one could not easily be a martyr overnight. In fact, the martyrs, before that critical moment of decision, had first lived a good life and developed a faith and love for God. So much so that when the time comes, they were led to that decision to offer their lives in faith. Even Mary, the Mother of Jesus, did not say "Thy will be done!", out of the blue. Yes, she was graced by God, but she also disposed herself for that grace. The disposition to receive the grace was arrived at because of her being a good Jewish girl. She was prepared by God for the big moment. But she prepared herself by living her faith.
Rainbow Stairs by Bisayan lady.
The stair analogy is very appropriate here. A high stair is impossible to climb with one big step. It is hard to climb if you will take two or three steps at a time. It is easiest to climb if you do it one step at a time. The impossible and the difficult maybe conquered by small steps, small victories, small deeds, or small actions. Come to think of it, life works in the same way. We were able to hurdle difficult moments in our lives because we have been triumphant in small ones! That is why we must welcome little challenges. In the future, our experiences in going through those little challenges would help us through bigger challenges. Or should I say, because we have been used to hurdling small challenges, big ones look smaller!

The Lord Jesus had seen that His Church will encounter a lot of challenges, rejections, and threats from the enemy. The parable is a reminder to the early Christian community that there is nothing they could not defeat. Not only because the Spirit will be with them, but that they had been gradually fortified by their daily triumphs of faith. The long history of the Catholic Church will show that. For the Church, it was not always laurels and roses. There were also thorns, failures, and dark times. There were lots and lots of small and big challenges to a life of faith. But every time, she would rise up in faith! Her destiny is the Kingdom. Jesus had made sure it would be so!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

We Are Blessed By Monsignor Nico!

"Is it alright with you if I assist you during your mass?" I asked Msgr. Nico (Bautista) after his mass the two Sundays past. I expected that he would decline my offer. Before even asking him, I had already prepared myself in case he would decline. "Yes, of course! You will be like a deacon to me?", was his answer. "Sure," I said, "I will gladly assist you!" 

I thought Msgr. Nico needed assistance after receiving information and some complaints that he was finding it very hard to read and he was skipping some parts of the mass. While it was a real sacrifice for Msgr. Nico to celebrate the mass, it was, in a way, the same for the people attending the mass. There were suggestions not to invite him anymore but I was already decided that I will invite him as long as he wants to celebrate mass in our parish. Until that time when he himself will say he can not preside anymore or the Cardinal would tell me that he is not anymore allowed to preside, Msgr. Nico remains invited. It took a lot of courage from me to make him an offer of assistance. I thought that the fact that he was trying to commit himself to preside every Sunday was a clear sign that he can still do it. Nevertheless, I believed that I could still assist him without diminishing his resolve and commitment. After the first mass I assisted, I asked some people if they were distracted or bothered by my presence. And their answer was not at all. In fact, it was a sort of relief for them to see me guiding and facilitating things for Msgr. Nico. One even said that the scene of me and Msgr. Nico together was an inspiration to them about caring and loving each other!

I know that there will be people and priests who would not agree with this. Msgr. Nico, though loved by many, he was an irritant and a bother to the conscience of many others. He was known to have stood his ground against the Marcoses in the '70's. People even from afar would travel to St. Alphonsus Church to hear Msgr. Nico's homilies against the government of Marcos. This was the reason why even up to now, there are families not from the village or from the parish, who had made St. Alphonsus as their adopted parish and in turn the parish had made them as  adopted parishioners. All of these had been revealed to me when the old church got burned.

I know that I will be criticized as somehow "sacrificing" the liturgy and the people for a priest. But that is not how I see how things are. I am sure, many in the seven-thirty (7:30) Sunday evening mass would agree with me.  In the two Sundays I had assisted Msgr. Nico, I never felt that people were impatient, irritated, or distracted. Even Msgr. Nico intimated to me that he lauds the generosity and acceptance of the congregation. I thought that if he felt he was rejected by the congregation, he would have volunteered not to celebrate mass anymore. He knew that he could not make use of the Eucharist for himself. He knew how grave a sin that would be against the Lord!

So, why does Msgr. Nico continues to celebrate mass in spite of his serious condition? Your answer is as good as mine. I wish that I could ask him that question one day. At present, I am afraid to ask. At present, I believe it should not be asked. At present, I think it would be imprudent, ignorant, and insensitive of me. If we empathize with his condition, more than anyone, he should know. If we feel pity for him, he should also know. Maybe he wants to help the Church, particularly our parish, in proclaiming the Gospel that even his weak condition is not enough to stop him. Maybe he was trying to be faithful to his commitment as a priest. When we were ordained, we made that promise to celebrate the sacrament which is a sacrament of salvation. If salvation was foremost for the Lord Jesus, it is too for His priests. It is too for Msgr. Nico! Maybe it was his faith. He was showing us an example. He, who is already debilitated with his sickness still preside, how much more are we who are more healthy and strong? I believe this is the strongest message he is giving everyone. As a priest, it is not easy to preside in a mass. Attending a mass is much much comfortable and convenient. Rather than see his difficulty in presiding the mass as a distraction or degrading to the celebration, it should be seen as an inspiration and a source of a deeper understanding of the mass. To put it simply, Jesus accepted even death in order to save us and merit again for us eternal life. Msgr. Nico, even in sickness, continues the saving action of our Lord in every Eucharist that he presides. 

Every priest is a vicar of Christ. We represent Christ in every sacrament. We have been ordained not for ourselves or for some groups but for all the faithful. When we were ordained, we have committed ourselves to the Gospel. When we were ordained, we had offered ourselves for the service of God. Msgr. Nico is just fulfilling the very reason for his ordination. Msgr. Nico truly represents Christ our Savior whenever he presides in the mass. Msgr. Nico was chosen by God for us, chosen by us for God, and committed himself to both!

God bless us for the gift of Msgr. Nico!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No Life After Forty?

Life Begins at Forty by kinggrl.
In today's episode of ABS-CBN's Correspondents by Ms. Karen Davila, she depicted the fate of workers, over forty years of age, who had been terminated from work. The program relates the predicament of those who will be out of work and are beyond forty years of age. Most factories and offices had limited (is this by law, by common policy, or speculative assessment?) their employees from as young as nineteen years to forty as the oldest. This makes those who are eighteen and below forty-one and above discriminated from earning a living in factories and offices.  

Somehow I do not agree with this. While I would agree with limiting how young one should be able to work, limiting how old those who can work must consider other aspects like; experience, health, mental alertness (psyche?), motivation, and even responsibility (among others). I believe that we should be more considerate (or appreciative) of those who have had experienced working. Unless companies are more concerned about longevity, compensation, and strength, the mature workers are hands down better workers than the young inexperienced and less mature ones. Not that I underrate and disregard the younger workers, but it is very unfair to disqualify anyone because of age, much more of old but still capable age like those just above forty.

We always say, "Life begins at forty!". Just for trivia, John Lennon actually wrote a song for Ringo Starr when they turned forty in 1980 (Ringo in fact reached another milestone in fulfilling another song, "When I am 64", in 2004!). Lennon sung a demo of the song but he meant to give the song for Ringo who was then producing an album. Ringo was not able to record it and the death of Lennon in December 1980 shelved all plans. It was eventually included in John Lennon Anthology album. In the song, John correctly pointed out that "age is just a state of mind". It is a measure of one's life here on earth. Doctors, psychologists, and other experts may have theories and facts about the state of one's person at a certain age, but they are never conclusive for everyone at all times. It would be unfair, unscientific, and illogical to absolutely rely on those findings. At most, they should merely be guides for future decisions.

John Lennon even said, I think, in jest, that if life begins at forty, then he had been dead for thirty-nine years? While in the song he expressed his seeming regret for the years that passed and hoped that he life would be better after forty, we can all agree that reaching forty years is a milestone these days. Much more, to many, to be forty means basically lots of experiences, strength, lots of lessons learned, lots of motivations, lots of wisdom, vigor and vitality!

I juts hope that in evaluating employees or prospective workers, experience, health, maturity and other more important qualities to work would be given preference than age. "Life begins at forty." actually means that a person had gathered so much experience and had matured both physically and psychologically that he is very fit to work using his God-given and experience- developed skills. That, I believe is the best combination of the most efficient, productive, and reliable worker.