Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Becoming And Being An Anthonian

Welcome Anthonians! Or should it be welcome to me? It is both. It is a welcome to me because of my arrival to St. Anthony (Catholic) School as the new Director. It is indeed a difficult task because of the great responsibility it demands. Add to that my being new to the ministry of managing and directing a Catholic school. But I welcome the mission. I see it as an opportunity to be a part of the formation and education of children who will eventually be the leaders and stewards of God's creation. Their young minds and bodies are open to all available knowledge and experiences. Our God, through the Faith and the School, should be involved actively so that His promise of salvation maybe fulfilled in them.

St. Anthony is a Catholic school. The stress here is in being a Catholic school. The Catholic Church, I believe, decided to participate in the field of education through managing Catholic schools for the primary purpose of producing graduates who have been informed of and hopefully formed in, and transformed by Christian values. While at present, Catholic schools, colleges, and universities are more known for their academic capacities and successes, their original purpose still remains. Catholic schools will strive hard to fully prepare their graduates academically. But they will strive much much harder to prepare them morally. In other words, then Catholic schools are a success if they have produced moral and formed graduates even if they are not academically superior. The Catholic schools will be more proud to recognize their graduates because they have become good citizens of our country and of God's Kingdom. It will not be a source of pride for Catholic schools to have graduates who are well known academically but are despised by society due to immoral actions and questionable integrity.

This is not an easy task. This needs the cooperation and unity of every sector in the school; teachers, administrators, maintenance personnel, students, parents, and even alumni are part of the whole effort to achieve this goal for the students and the school. The Vision-Mission of the school echoes and reiterates this objective. Every member of the school community takes this into heart. Everyday, before the community begins their daily activity, these are recited in order to commit oneself again to this cause. They are the source, sustaining force, and fulfillment of their school lives. At the same time, living them gives them joy and meaning.

I therefore enjoin all sectors of the school community to be a part of this journey. Through God's Will, I became a part of St. Anthony family. Together with the new members of the school, in my capacity as school Director, I embark on my own formation and education to be an Anthonian. I welcome it with great enthusiasm and excitement. I pray for that day when I can truly and profess with conviction that I have become an Anthonian.

I join you in Praying, Learning, and Serving with Passion!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

God's Ever Reliable Angels!

Today we celebrate the feast of the Archangels; Michael (meaning "Who is like God."), Raphael (meaning "The Medicine of God."), and Gabriel (meaning "The Power of God"). Michael is known as our defender against Satan and all its evil angels. Raphael was the archangel who took care of Tobias in his journey and therefore our caregiver. And Gabriel was the one who announced to Mary that she will be the Mother of the Son of God and therefore our wisdom and source of courage.

The reality of angels is found in Scriptures. Jacob wrestled with an angel. The Lord Jesus' birth was announced by an angel and Paul mentioned angels in his teachings. From Genesis to Revelations, angels were always part of the message whenever relevant. Its reality was not just then but also now and in the future. Angels are God's messengers. They are God's communication to us. Through His angels, we come to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. Through His angels, we experience God's loving presence.

Early catechism tells us that each of us had been assigned by God with Guardian Angels. They were meant to let us be aware and feel that God is with us and guide us. However, we need to respond to it. Recognition of and openness to it avails us of a unique presence of God. Many baptized, at a certain point in their life forgets if not dismiss the presence of these spirits of God's presence. Does it matter? Does it affect us? Definitely , yes!

Stories had already been told about some women who were in close danger of being harassed and harmed and suddenly found the courage, the action, and the words needed to ward off their attackers. All because they sought the assistance of God through His angels (Michael Archangel). Maybe coincidence or simple untrue to many, but to those who experienced it, it is true! It is faith! Another friend who was very sick asked the intercession of Archangel Raphael to help him be eased of the pain and inconvenience he was experiencing. He claimed he did go through his sick days not without pain but much much less of it! I, myself, felt God's wisdom in Archangel Gabriel when I was seeking my vocation. Inspired by Mary's Gabriel experience, I sought the Lord and He responded to me through Archangel Gabriel. The call of God became more clear and definite for me.

It is a matter of faith. God's ways are really mysterious and unpredictable. But we believe they are always the best. Others may have lived their faith without recognizing or maybe just accommodating the presence of angels. But, to many, like me, who are very aware of their presence and power, have a plus in the angels. Another way or added manifestation of God in His angels is certainly a welcome gift!

Hail to Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The True Child Of God

Children are wonderful. Their spontaneity and abandon express their freedom and vulnerability. In every child is always a potential, a development, and an accomplishment. As a new Director of our parochial school, I have decided to go around during breaks in order to meet the children. I am in great anticipation of the discoveries and joys in every encounter. One such school day, after their break, I saw a young boy near the canteen crying. I approached him and ask him why he was not in his class and crying. He said that the classes were too long and they keep changing teachers! It turned out that he was a grade one student and was experiencing a period of adjustment from his preparatory school where classes were relatively short and there was only one teacher in charge! I brought the boy to the Guidance Counselor's Office and they told me that it was a natural occurrence for grade one pupils.

In another incident, a grade three student was also crying. When asked why, he said that some of his classmates were spreading word that he has a boyfriend. I asked him if it was true and if he felt offended? He said it was not true and felt bad about them who he considered his friends. I told him not to take them seriously and that he just show everyone that he was not gay but was just being friendly to everyone, boy or girl. That if there was anyone who knows himself well, it was himself.

The innocence of a child! This lies at the heart of Jesus' message in today's Gospel. He used this to respond to the disciple's reluctance in accepting somebody who does things similar to what they do. But came the answer from the Lord that whoever is not against you is for you! The person is a child of God because he does good. He was not doing anything offensive to God. While the person of the person is important, what he does, that is, his way of life, is more crucial. That was our situation when we were children. As children we might have had some mischief deeds, naughtiness, mistakes etc., but we were always candid and free. There was always the intention to achieve the best and do what is good. Our limitations and weakness sometimes bring us to failures and worse, ill actions. Nevertheless, before the eyes of God, we are still good. Given ample knowledge and a formed conscience, we can be good!

God wants us to be perfect because He is perfect. But He only expects us to strive giving our best. He encourages us to make use of everything He had bestowed on us. He does the rest! As creatures, we are wanting. But our dependence on Him and humility allow us to be completed and complimented by God. With this attitude, we can never go wrong. We will never be against God. Our goodness which He gave from our birth remained. Let it loose!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Everything God Willed, Laws Included, Is Meant For Our Goodness

January 18, 2011
Mk. 2:23-28

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is even Lord of the Sabbath." In this pronouncement, the Lord Jesus made clear that the welfare and salvation of man is the ultimate goal of any law. It is man who has a soul and is need of salvation. Man is God's greatest creation. In fact, he was created in God's image and likeness. The Psalmist says that man had been made a little less than a god and have lavished their hearts with God's love. Given with dignity and honor, he was given the authority to rule over all! What a privilege! Compared to a mere law (composed of letters and ideas), man is more important than any creature, hands down!

Sabbath had been designated by God as a "special" day. Not that it is longer, higher in dignity, or very different. It is just any other day save for the fact that it has a distinct purpose. It is separated because God wants man to have a time for himself and God apart from and without the concerns of work and other day to day activities. The separation or sacredness is not in the day itself but the very intent of that day. If man will just work and work, he might not have the time to relate with others and reflect on what is happening in his life. Sunday worship is very helpful here. It is the time to commune with others and God. It is a perfect activity for Sunday.

But Sunday should be celebrated in context and not just as it is. We come to Sunday mass aware that we belong to a community. We hear the Word of God and break bread together symbolizing our unity with each other and God. Vatican II had made a lot of headway in this aspect by making some changes in the way mass is celebrated. Now, there is interaction, exchange, and dialogue. It is hard to imagine a Sunday mass goer praying alone! It defeats the very purpose of the separated day.

There are those who take for granted the Sunday worship. They come in late. They do not participate in the singing and the responses. They do not pay attention to the readings. They do other things like texting, playing games, imagining, reading, and worse, sleeping! They attend just for the sake of it. Maybe to lessen their guilt about not doing something they have been asked to do since they were young. Maybe they are afraid of the consequences of not attending even though they lack belief in it. There maybe a lot of reasons but the fact remains; it is not truly and aptly appreciated. Thus, it is boring to some and optional to many.

The challenge is to know and live its true meaning in our lives. When we are asked to attend it, it is meant to help us be saved. We are not supposed to serve the mass but it must serve us instead. God does not owe us our attendance, rather, we owe it to God and to ourselves. Knowing, loving, and serving Him does not mean the same as we know, love and serve another. What God wants us to do for Him is actually for our own sake. Indeed, everything God commanded is for our good!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Openness Is Newness

January 17, 2011
Mk. 2:18-22

Fasting was part of the spiritual life of the Jews. It was a form of sacrifice. It was an act of controlling one's desires and wants. In the religious context, it was a practice to atone for sins or presenting a sincere heart in prayer. In today's Gospel, Jesus was being questioned because His disciples were not fasting compared to John's who did. The answer of Jesus was a seizing of the opportunity to reveal who He really was and the "newness" He was bringing.

There are those who would easily welcome something new. There are those who would have second thoughts about it. There are those who would reject it outright. The newness Jesus brought was rejected by many especially those in authority. The simple, humble, and the common accepted it but not without some difficulty. The newness of jesus is not about something that had not been there before. Nor was it an improvement. It was a bringing back of what was there. That which was there was lost because of the succeeding laws and rules that those in authority had put. To be fair, the effort was to enhance and make effective the fulfillment of the law. Unfortunately, there was an emphasis in the external rather than in the internal. Accidents were given importance and front page treatment than essence. Thus, the coming of Jesus and His teachings were considered "new".

This was apparent in His two examples. New cloth will tear the old when sewn together. Old wineskin containers would burst when filled with new wine. The teachings of the Lord tore down the legalism and show off mentality of the Pharisees. Jesus' "newness" is actually a going back and bringing out of the true spirit of God's commandments and intentions. The Pharisees had gone used to their customs that they find it hard to accept any change or "new" ideas.

The best attitude is always to be open. Even if we are already comfortable with our present ones, the possibility of "new" ones may come up and we must be ready to incorporate them. Not without sincere discernment, of course. The biggest room is the room for improvement. There is always a space for advancement. In faith, it is more apparent because God continues to reveal Himself to us everyday. We can not say that we already know God fully. We can not say that we have loved Him totally. We can not say that we have served Him for with finality. God is much much greater than us. Newness will always come!

Pro-Life and Pro-Good

January 19, 2011
Mk. 3:1-6
The Man With A Withered Hand

The Jews had a very high, if not an absolute, respect for their laws. These laws were derived and sourced out of the laws given by Yahweh to Moses. Jesus, as a Jew, knew all of these laws by heart and lived them to the full. His parents taught Him these set of commandments which they called the Torah. In the Gospel today, we can dispense the idea that Jesus was not aware of this regard for the Law which includes the law on the Sabbath. As provided in that law, no one is to make any cure on that day, among other things.

But Jesus took the opportunity here, in the case of the man with the withered hand, to bring firth the true and essential spirit of the law. He asked the disturbing question to those who around, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" Here, he makes a clear distinction, maybe an exception? No, much much more. It is actually the rule rather than an exception. Jesus did not really violate the law but put it in proper perspective. The ultimate end is goodness and life! "Good" here is not the relative worldly good but the absolutely divine good. Life here is really more of life in the Lord than just mere breathing! In that case, it is not against the Torah but a deepening of it. It is not even a disrespect rather, an honor.

Those who are so tied down to the law, like the Pharisees during the time of Jesus, could not accept it. For them, accepting it means the crumbling of everything that they had believed and lived all along. What they could not see was the effort and offer of Jesus to help them transcend the law which they had limited to written and oral rules. Most probably, they felt the compelling message of Jesus behind those pronouncements and actions, but they decided to disregard it and cling to what is "safe" or legal! This attitude is quite prevalent today. Too much regard for the law at the expense of life and goodness!

Once I was in a retreat together with some priests from other countries in Europe, Asia, USA and Latin America, in Novara, Italy. It was in preparation for the formation seminar being given by the Legionaries of Christ to formators (I was then Dean of Studies in Holy Apostles Senior Seminary). Near the end of the retreat, there was an announcement that we would take a break after dinner. That was unusual! It was not part of the program. The reason was not announced. Some priests were smiling. I asked my Argentinian seat mate why. He said that it was because of the World Cup in Football and Italy was playing against Argentina! I could not believe what I heard! Later, watching them watch the game made me appreciate the decision even if I did not fully understood.

There was break from the rule, no doubt. But, as far as the football fans are concerned, it is "good" and maybe, their "life"! Only God knows whether it was reasonable enough or in accordance with the Spirit. I tend to believe it is. The message in today;s Gospel becomes clearer. Each of us, in our heart, has a good connection with God. The decisions we make are guided and influenced by various people, events, and faith. In the end, it is between us and God. As Cardinal Rosales once said, "With love and God, you can not go wrong." Goodness and life are testimonies of loving and a spark of the divine!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Christian Always Gets Going!

January 20, 2011
Mk. 3:7-12

The Lord Jesus became one like us in order to embrace humanity and effect salvation through living life to the full. During His three year ministry, He went around teaching and showing, through His miracles, the Good News of salvation. Whenever necessary, He will heal the sick. It was His best way of empathizing with us and communicating to us His power and love.

In the Gospel we have today, He was being sought by so many people. They were so many that the Lord was afraid that they would crush him...maybe to death! But He did not run away from them. Instead He instructed His apostles to put him on a boat so He could continue His mission. For the Lord, it was His mission first. For the Lord, there is nothing and nobody who could stop him in fulfilling His cause. The unclean spirits recognized it that they themselves, when they saw Him, will fall down before Him and shout, "You are the Son of God!"

As a priest for more than eighteen years, I have already realized the difficulty of being effective in the ministry. Preaching is not an easy task. So is pastoral work, What had consoled me many times in the past is that not everyone who had listened to the Lord's preaching and received the gift of healing changed. The Lord, and the preacher, could only do their best. In the end, the listener or the receiver is responsible. Priesthood may be frustrating. Ministering to the faithful can be very tiring, sad, and even psychotic! Without the necessary vocation and faith, the minister maybe led to disastrous and unwanted end!

But the Lord Jesus was clear in His mission. Salvation! That is much much more than any threat of frustration, sadness or craziness! It is enough reason for and against everything. When the going gets rough, the Lord and the Christian gets going! While it is true that many times giving up seems to be the best thing to do, the Lord will always come to us in and say "no". We never give up on Him and the mission in the same way that He saw through everything to the end up to death!

Grow up!

Feast of the Sto. Nino
Mt. 18:1-5, 10

What about the children that Jesus gives importance to them by setting them as examples? Is it not true that children are sources of irritations because of their questioning without let up? Are they not always breaking, spilling, or deforming things? Are not their cries, tantrums, and rowdiness the cause of so many headaches and anger from their parents and elders? We can enumerate and cite lot more reasons questioning the choice of the Lord Jesus, but the fact remains that He did refer to the children as the greatest in God's Kingdom! (Mt. 18:2). Maybe, all of the complaints we have against children are acceptable to the Lord at their age. But in the Gospel today, the Lord Jesus refers more to the dependence, simplicity, and humility of children

Remember, the concern of the Lord is our salvation. If we are to belong to the Kingdom, we have to know our place before the Lord and have complete faith in Him. It is for this reason that Jesus took the children as models. In the same way that children are dependent on their parents for sustenance and formation, we must also be the same with God. In the same way that children recognizes their place before their parents and elders, we too must relate in the same way. Children rely so much on their parents. We must also rely on God in living our lives. Children know that they came from their parents and therefore their parents know better than them. We know that God created us and therefore should recognize that God knows what is best for us.

Jesus, Himself, was the best example. Though He was God, He willingly fulfilled His role as a child of Mary and Joseph. As an ordinary child, He was born of a mother, lived with His parents, helped them, visited the temple, etc. The Gospel writer and Apostle Luke saw Him growing in wisdom and strength! He did not remain a child, though. He grew up! He was not a"nino" forever. He later preached, made miracles, and suffered and died obeying His Father! He was a perfect Son to His Father. He showed the way to salvation.

Today's feast is not only a recognition of the humanity of the Lord Jesus. Today also is a reminder for all of us that we can achieve salvation with our humanity. We should also grow, in wisdom and strength. We should continue to imbibe the dependence we have to our parents and use it in relating with God. Let us not forget our being creature to God being Creator.

One thing about children, (this is true today as it was during our time), they do not hold grudges. They may have a fierce fight against each other, but they forgive fully! When they say "peace", they really mean it. After the reconciliation, they play as if nothing happened! I believe it will be accurate to say that it is not true with adults. The Lord Jesus is right! The Kingdom belongs to children!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

God Needs No Ultimatum

One of the most quoted Gospel passage is John 3:16, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life!" I remember one of our theology professor asked us the reason why God loved the world? We gave our answers in the best and perfect reason why God loved us so much. After we have exhausted all possible answers, he told us that our answers were excellent but the truth is, the passage did not say it. It only says that He loved us and that love is unconditional! God loves us! That's it. No ifs, no buts. Nothing we have or we can do that will merit us that love. Before and after our creation, he loved us! By virtue of that, we must busy ourselves thanking him for being so with us.

Also, we must be the same with him. Our relationship with him must also be unconditional. We do not relate to him just because we benefit from him. We do not pray to him because he grants our wishes. We do not love him because..... . We must love him, period! It is unfortunate if we attach conditions and when they are not met by God, our relation with him is affected. Worse, we wane or even abandon our relationship with him. We act as if we can live without him.

I remember when I was still a deacon and I was about two months before my ordination to the priesthood. My throat was weak. I could not speak for more than an hour. I brought my situation before the Lord. I told him how ineffective I would be if my voice will only be good for an hour. How can I preside in masses, give recollections, seminars, and retreats, etc.? I went to the doctor and I was told to rest my throat for a month! Well, it seemed I had no choice. But I kept on praying. Ordination came and I was still in the same condition. I was very sad but I got to resign myself in that situation. If it is the way God will make me serve him, then so be it! In my early years in the priesthood, I will always find myself arranging my schedules so that I will have time to rest my voice. A lot of times I would decline invitations to have mass or give recollections precisely because I will not have the voice to do them. Some people found it unusual for a new priest like me. There were some who were angry at me! They could not understand and believe my reason. It was painful for me. I really wanted to serve but I could not. but, God had given me his answer. I was once tempted to give him an ultimatum to stop my ministry if I would not have my voice. But he gave me the grace to be humble. And I realize that I could not impose conditions on him. It was the situation he had given me, I will serve him through that capacity. I knew that exacting conditions at him will go nowhere.

I continued to serve accordingly. But I tried to help myself by constantly going to the doctor. The doctor told me that I had weakened my throat due to abused talking in my previous years. Before I entered the seminary, I was a professor in a university. I remembered really abusing my voice during those teaching years. Now, I am suffering its consequences. The doctor told me hat I can recover if I will take care of my voice. I did. After some time, I just realized, I had recovered. Thanks be to God!

Had I stuck to my conditions and not proceeded in serving, I would have allowed myself (or the devil) prevail and I would not have served at all or worse, not entered ordination. Truly, trust in God should always guide us. He knows what he is doing. Our human conditions may tell us one thing. But the divine wisdom is always supreme. Truly, God's unconditional love deserves an unconditional faith response!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sorrows Are Opportunities For Better Tomorrows!

This feast refers to the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mother of God. They enumerate specific events in the life of Mary in relation to the Lord Jesus. They give the message that Mary, as a mother and a disciple, was not spared from pains and miseries. They give us the idea that if the Mother of God herself experienced them, we too, as children of God and disciples of the Lord will be subject to some sorrows in their following the will of God. But we know, as in the case of the Blessed Virgin, that these are not ends by themselves but opportunities to show our faith in God the way Mary dealt with them. These seven sorrows provide the milieu for the exposure of the devil's ways and how it will be defeated by faith and God;s power. In all of these sorrows, let us be reminded that Mary was encountering a lot of temptations to abandon the mission given to her by God. It was not easy for her. The decision to just get away from these sorrows was very attractive. But Mary endured them all. Mary stuck to her commitment that God's Will be done. And so, together with her Son, they came out victorious!

For purposes of further reflections, the seven sorrows are; (i.) the prophecy of Simeon while the Holy Family was in the temple on their way to offer Jesus. (ii) the Holy Family's flight into Egypt because of the threat of Herod. (iii) Jesus was lost in the Temple for three days. (iv) Jesus' carrying of the cross to Calvary. (v) Jesus' crucifixion. (vi) The taking down of Jesus from the cross and Mary carried the dead Jesus in her arms. (vii) Jesus was laid in the tomb.

I myself can enumerate my own seven sorrows. But just like Mary and most of us, we are not just talking about seven sorrows in our lifetime. Definitely, we will encounter and go through thousands of sorrows. but there are some sorrows which we can consider as critical and crucial in our lives. They can break or make us. Mary made use of those sorrows to show her faithfulness to God. We too must have the same attitude against those sorrows. Rather than be affected by them, the Christian will use them against the very source of those sorrows! One of those sorrows I had was when the donor of the main door of the church (which is all good wood and quite expensive) backed out because his requirement to put the names of his late relatives along the edges was not granted. He also wanted the size of the names to be an inch tall! I thought the donation was substantial and I really wanted to accommodate his request. I suggested a more conspicuous place for those names but he would not settle for anything less than what he already stated. I prayed over the request and it dawned on me that if I would agree to it, we might end up with a church full of names of donors, dead or alive! I called the donor and told him the sad news that I can not grant his request. He told me that it was unfortunate and that he will instead donate the money for scholarship. I responded that it might be a better idea.

I was not remiss in my responsibility to remind that prospective donor about the consequences of his request. That instead of being honored, his relatives might be dishonored by comments against the placing of those names. Also, I reminded him of the essence of giving; ask nothing in return and donate in thanksgiving to God for those gifts. The explanations were not enough for him. I was sad because we lost a donor. I was happy because we stood by our principles. I gave that donor the opportunity to do an authentically good deed. I gave that donor the opportunity to responsibly make use of the graces given to him by God. But he declined.

I did not lose hope after that. I knew that God will provide. I knew that there will be a way. And true to my hope, somebody approached me and told me that a group of people had decided to raise the money for the door among themselves. They heard about what happened between me and the donor. They agreed that the request of the donor must not be granted. And they agreed to provide the money needed for it. Sorrow turned into joy!

Visiting And Visited God

This is a very touching story because it involves the bringing back to life of a young man by a widow in Naim. Touching because the widow during the time of the Lord Jesus lost her son who would not only be her companion in life but one who would give her representation in society. The patriarchal society prevalent during the time of the Lord Jesus renders this widow weak and outcast. Already devastated by the loss of her husband, now she faces the loss of her son! Jesus, fully aware of the situation, brought back to life the dead young man. This prompted the witnesses to the event to exclaim, "A great prophet has arisen in our midst!" and "God has visited His people!" These are two great statements any person can give to anyone at that time. The former is given only to prominent and credible people who had appeared in the streets of Israel and nearby villages. The prophet is an emissary of Yahweh! The former is another version of the latter but is more defined and divine. Jesus came to the life of this mother and son at the most appropriate time. And the Lord Jesus responded fully and with compassion!

People look for God in their daily lives. To some, when God does not appear to them the way they wanted or expected, would turn atheist. Others would not accept God's seeming absence or unwanted presence. But many are happy because God is very much present to them in their lives. They find God in the Eucharist, in the chapels, in their joys and sorrows, in their love ones and friends, in all the events happening around them, and in sickness, and in death. People living in the same place at the same time experience God differently. It is primarily because of faith. This makes the difference.

I noticed in my early years as priest that most of those who ask for me to give to them the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick were rich people. But when I was assigned in a parish relatively full of poor people, I discovered that the poor were even demanding for the presence of their priests during those moments of need. I was once called to give the sacrament to a very poor faithful in one of the depressed areas of my parish. It was raining hard and the flood water had begun to rise along the road. But the relative was determined to fetch me and give her mother an opportunity to reconcile with God and receive the anointing. When we arrived at their place, flood water had risen up to hip deep! I was very worried! But my companion was not. She was more concerned about her mother. I ended up administering the sacrament soaked in water. They elevated their mother by holding up her bed. It was difficult but I saw their faith. They could not endure having their mother go without God visiting her at all! I saw the calmness and peace in them while I was leaving. They thanked me but they thanked God more. One of the children said, "Salamat at hindi pinabayaan ng Diyos and nanay!" ("Thanks be to God because He did not forsake mother!"). They thanked me too for braving the flood. Deep inside, I thanked them for showing me their faith and teaching me about Gods' presence in the process.

I could have declined their invitation seeing the rising water. I could have told them I am not feeling well. I could have told them I have another appointment to meet. I could have told them a lot of reasons not to go. But I was glad and thankful I did not. Not only because I was able to minister to that mother. (Eventually, she died and I presided her funeral mass.) but because they had ministered to me and made me appreciate this great gift of God to me. God chose me to represent Himself to His people. Irregardless or including all my weakness, He made me His priest. Since then. my concern and awareness of my priesthood as a representation of God to His people had increased and deepen.

Thank you Lord for the gift of the priesthood. Thank you Lord for giving Your people a concrete way to see, feel, and hear You through us, Your priests. Thank You for visiting us!

Walang Utang Na Loob!

This teaching of forgiveness was a very radical teaching from the Lord Jesus. It was one of the reasons why some questioned and rejected Him. But it was also for the same reason that many were attracted to Him. The teaching comes from the very essence of human life. The teaching comes from the Lord Himself who knows best whom He has created. The teaching comes from the ultimate purpose of salvation. The Lord Jesus knew it was difficult because of the common human tendency to retaliate when attacked, get even when abused, revenge when vilified. Then we had "an eye for an eye", now we also have "tit for tat", "a taste of his own medicine", etc. The Lord Jesus knew that these responses will amount to nothing better for everyone. The spiraling violence would just lead to more pains, destruction, and death. Such a fate was not part of God's plan when He created the world. Peace, harmony, bliss, glory, and the like are what He wanted for everyone. Therefore, FORGIVENESS!

There was a time in my when I thought I was already the worst sinner in the world. Not that I have committed all of the sins possible. I thought I have wronged so many people and had developed a very minimum regard for God. Yes, I believed in God, but it was merely in thought or a pronouncement from my lips. I still feared Him, alright, but not enough not to succumb to every temptation that I encounter. By God's grace, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I was given the courage to humble myself before the Lord and went to a priest to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After I had confessed my sins, I asked the priest if God can forgive me. He assured me that God had forgiven me because I was contrite. Just before I was leaving, I remembered somebody who had greatly offended me. I told the priest about it and the pain it was causing me. The priest asked me to forgive the person. I said I could not. I saw the wide surprise in the priests' face. He seemed floored by my answer. Then he reminded me about the forgiveness I just received from God. There I was very worried about whether God can forgive me, and yet, in spite of my many and grave sins, I was forgiven. But when it comes to the forgiveness of another person, I could not. Why? I want to receive forgiveness but I do not to share one. I want to enjoy being given another chance but I do not want to give another the same. Now, who is being unfair? Who is wicked? I felt ashamed.

One prayer that we always pray is the Lords' Prayer. In the last part it says, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us!" Put in another way, it means that we are asking God not to forgive us unless we forgive others. The prayer did not mean to attach a condition to Gods' forgiveness. Never does God give any condition to His forgiveness. We are forgiven once we admit our sins and resolve not to do them anymore. But Jesus, in teaching His apostles the prayer, wanted us to share the joy of forgiveness. He wanted us to live at peace and in harmony with each other. If we will continue to be divided even if we claim to be united with God, our joy will not be complete. The two greatest commandments are; Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as you love yourself." It means that our relationship with God must also redound to our relationship with others. So how can we accept forgiveness when we do not give it to others? Unless "wala kang utang na loob!"

With God, We Can!

The centurion in Capernaum by Marvin Macatol.

For the Lord Jesus to be amazed of the faith of someone, it is already amazing. For that someone to be a centurion, a pagan, it is doubly amazing. The Lord pointed out that He had never seen such kind of faith in Israel! Israel, according to God's plan, should be the one exhibiting such faith. And yet, the irony was that the very people He chose was rejecting Him and the very people He would address later were the ones accepting already Him! The centurion showed true faith by just relying on the word of Jesus. His response to our Lord Jesus had been quoted in the mass to prepare the faithful in accepting the Lord in communion; "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed!" For the centurion, physical presence is not anymore necessary for one who has faith. His experience as an officer, a person of authority, taught him that. Authority complimented with faith makes things happen.

The challenge of building a new church after it got burned was very daunting. To think that I was new assigned in the parish, merely a month after I took over and six days after my installation. The task of building the church was not a question. The question was how; how should it look? How will the funds be obtained? Who will design and construct it? Who will finance it? Specially the funding, the task at hand is a challenge to ones' faith. But that is the point of faith. To believe and trust in God in a situation like this. And trust and faith I gave. And trust and faith our faithful gave!

In one of the fund raising events we had, a dinner concert, the orchestra was playing and everyone was enjoying the performance. We were in the middle of our dinner when suddenly it drizzled. The event was being held right there in the ruins of the burned church. We did not provide a tent cover hoping that it will not rain. Besides, such an event is best experienced in open air. There were some who stood and find a place to protect them from the rain. But many stayed. It was still a slight drizzled. I just found myself bowed in prayer, to God, to Mother Mary, and to our patron St. Alphonsus. I sought Gods' intervention and the intercession of Mary and St. Alphonsus. But I was resigned to it in case it is really Gods' will that this fund raising event will be aborted.The orchestra continued playing. The music seemed a musical score to my prayer. But I had faith, a deep faith, that it will not be stopped. Suddenly, the rain stopped. Everybody went back to their places and the orchestra played more loudly approaching the climax of the piece it was playing. Everybody clapped their hands, both for the players and the rain!

We had many succeeding events to raise funds for our church. In all of those, problems and challenges occur. Every time, we have to rely on God to assist us. Every time, we have to summon the guidance of Mother Mary and our patron, St. Alphonsus. This has become a refrain in all of those events. I realized that life is very much like any fund raising event; never without God's presence and assistance. Yes, God had given us so many things and he had made us capable of achieving great things. But we can not completely be on our own. Our dependence on God is absolute. Our faith should guarantee that. Without Him we can do nothing.

The Cross Is Victory

This was also called as the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross referring to that historical account of the bringing back of the pieces of the original cross where our Lord Jesus was crucified. King Heraclius recovered the parts of the cross from the Persians who stole them earlier. When brought back to its original place and was displayed for worship, many were cured of their sickness. Now called as the Triumph of the Cross brought its meaning not only to the recovery of the parts of the Cross but to its real essence of being the main symbol used by God in order to save us. The Cross, representing the most scandalous, absurd, painful, and difficult way to die, had become a symbol of love, life, and salvation! That which was considered a message of death and defeat was transformed into victory and life in Jesus! The Christians adopted it as their dominating symbol.

However, at present, it seems that the cross had been misused, abused, and over used. Worse, Christians themselves are guilty. The cross has been used more of a decoration rather than a symbol of love and triumph over suffering and death. The cross, because of its powerful message and its place in the Christian, faith had been used to attract people's attention to use them for their own purpose. The cross is being threatened again by being devoid of meaning or at least given a different and adversary one. This feast reminds us to rally the cross back to its significance in the Christian faith.

A miracle (at least for the faithful of St. Alphonsus in Magallanes Village, Makati City) happened when our parish church got burned. Almost everything, from the pews, ceilings, glass doors and windows, and the statues were gutted down by the fire. Except for one, The wooden cross located at the church entrance. The late Msgr. Nico told me that the place of that cross had always been an issue among priests and parishioners. In any case, it found its place at that door entrance. After the fire, that cross stood alone, not unharmed by the fire, but the main features were still visible. Many saw it as a miracle. It was another triumph of the cross against the fire. It was the triumph of the cross against destruction. It was the triumph of the cross for the faith!

While the new church is being constructed, it was placed in the bahay-kubo, our make shift church. It served as our cross for all the masses held there. Everyone going to mass, recognizing what it had gone through, would pass by it, utter some prayers, kiss it, or hold it. It became a source of strength for everyone. It became an inspiration for all the challenges and sufferings we encounter in life. The cross was a living testimony to the power of God!

When the new church was finished, it was placed there on a side where people can have access to it. It was a hard decision to determine its location. But where it is now, seems to be the perfect place. People continue to visit it and others, in fact, had developed a devotion to it!

Today, whenever I look at that cross, I remember the difficulties we had in the reconstruction of our church. The work of reconstruction was a big task to fulfill. Going back to those meetings and supervision of the construction made me ask myself how I was able to go through them. The cross gave me the answer. Sufferings, challenges, and even death are not the ultimate destiny of life. We will all go through all of them and more. In the same way that the Lord Jesus defeated death on the cross, we too, in faith and with the Lord, will also be victorious over all. The cross does not anymore represent defeat but triumph, not death, but life, not hate, but love, and not damnation but salvation!

Love Than Judge

OLMC-Statue - 3 by The Catholic Sun.

Do not judge! Such is the command of our Lord Jesus. Is this possible? Is it not incumbent of every human being to judge given that we see, touch, hear, taste, and feel? The mere use of our senses already make us guilty of judgment. As thinking people, are we not always guilty whenever we make an assessment, understanding, and conclusion of every situation we encounter? In other words, the only time when we can not make a judgment is when we are dead. And even that is questionable. So, what is the point of our Lord?

In the Gospel, His command goes further by telling us to first look at ourselves before we look at others. Is he against any criticism? Is He against any effort to try to help others to change. Surely, the Lord knows that we are not the best "judge" of ourselves. We need the other people to better ourselves. "No barber could cut his own hair!", the saying goes. So what is this commandment telling us?

There was a time when I was very critical of other priests. I was guilty of self righteousness. I look down on them and questioned God how He allowed them to be ordained to be His minister. I behaved as if I knew better and God was deceived. Until I was into deep formation work. As a formator, I became privy to the life and faith of seminarians. There I realized how human weakness seem to prevail at times over our will and noble desires. Then, during the renewal for priests, I was assigned as one of the Spiritual Directors who will assist and "direct" brother priests in their life and ministry. I heard their pains and joys, victories and defeats, loves and hates, etc. They were not perfect but they were sincere. They were not sinless, but they were struggling. They were not successful but they had given their best. After those heart to heart encounters, I found myself looking at myself. My own life and ministry. And I realized I was no different. We share the same challenges and temptations. I, too, had my own failures and guilts. I suddenly felt empathy. I began to judge less.

The point of the Lord in the Gospel was not to abandon our senses and refrain from criticisms. What He wanted was for us to see deeper and be aware of our limitations as human beings. We do not know the whole experience of the person before us. The first quality we have is that we are humans. We are creatures and therefore we are limited. At most, we only have our point of view or a part of the whole truth. Rather than be judgmental, we must be humble. The fact that we do not see what is in every one's heart, should remind us that we only know so much of the truth but never the whole truth. Only God knows that. but even if God knows everything about us, He would rather heal than destroy, love than punish, forgive than get even. Judgment is Gods'. Yet, He chose to love. That was why He went by way of the cross. Dying for us is the ultimate loving.

My formation in the Jesuit institution, San Jose Seminary, had given me a principle I would never forget but keeps me struggling to be humble and avoid making harsh and unwanted judgments. 'Always give somebody a plus sign." It means to give every one the benefit of the doubt. There must be a reason why he had done it. It is an attitude of trust in the person. And even after the truth is known and the person is "guilty", compassion rather than rejection should be the result. Come to think of it; that is how God is with us!

Thanks be to God!

Faith On Its Feet

Signs of a good harvest by Caramdir.

The Lord Jesus began His teaching today by reminding people that a good tree does not bear rotten fruits and a rotten tree does not bear good fruits. It follows that because we were created by God, then we have divine qualities. Qualities proper to our humanity. We acquire and cultivate it to perfection every time we follow His command. To be a child of God means to live according to Gods' Will. Then, to further guide His listeners, Jesus gave the parable of the house built on rock. It means that if we are to be strong, consistent, and stable in faith, we must found our life in the LIVED Word of God. Having read or heard the Word only accomplishes an encounter with God. By the grace of God and our persistence, He will reveal to us its relevance in our lives. He will help understand its meaning and purpose. If we still persist, we will make it applicable in our day to day living. It will not just remain a knowledge but it will become a way of life!

So many times we claim to know God and calls to Him in prayer. Many times He had answered us and told us what to do. But many times we reject what He wants us to do. Worse, we do the exact opposite of what He wants. So, why do we remain with Him? Why do we even call Him our God? What the Lord Jesus said is true; "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord', but do not do what I command?" For what is the relation we have for Him as Creator-creature, if we prefer to be in command and not Him? Would we rather that we exchange places with God? We command and He follows? Of course not! But here we realize the challenge of who we are, what we are suppose to do, and where we are going. God created us. God sustains us. God will welcome us in the end. We belong to God and therefore, we must know Him, love Him, and serve Him!

After the mass one Sunday morning, a parishioner approached me and told me that I repeated my just repeated the homily I gave last year for the same occasion. I thought about it and admitted to him that it was the same homily. I asked him if there is a problem. He answered by telling me that it seems I did not prepare and that I just rehashed a homily. He has a point but I believe that repeating a homily is not bad. In fact, the Gospels give a united message: salvation. The Word of God is communicate this message of salvation. The prophets used the situations in their time to enflesh God[s everlasting Word. Preachers today have the same task. Armed with the right interpretation of the Scriptures, they must be able to help the people to apply them in their lives. It is not about giving a new message but in having a new way of communicating THE SAME message. Further, the burden is more on the hearer. If given the right message, the hearer must go and live the message.

I looked at the person and answered him; "Yes, I admit I delivered the same homily, the same message. Have you lived it?" Surprised at the table being turned against him, he just went away quietly. Hopefully the message was clear to him. He may attend all masses and take note meticulously of the homilies given by whom, on this or that day, but the most important part is in the application of those messages in his life. All of those awareness and knowledge will amount to nothing if he had not verified and confirmed those truths in his daily life.

We priests who give those homilies are not exempted from living the message. In fact, our witnessing to the Gospel message is the best preaching. If people see in our lives the message, I believe, we may already be exempted from giving homilies at mass! The goal is for the message to be received as the Lord had given it. Words are a good medium. But those words becoming flesh in the life and ministry of the priest is the best! Just in the mere preparation of the homily, the priest is already confronted by the Word. More than anyone, it is the priest who is first faced with the challenge of the Word. In a way, the delivery of the homily is affected by how much the priest had been affected by it. Hopefully, the message is not only given but already testified to by the priest.

Blessedness Is Being With God

Who is truly blessed? In the Gospel today Jesus enumerated them as the poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded, insulted, and denounced as evil. On the other hand, He gave His woes on the rich, the laughing, and those of good reputation. Is it not the other way around? Was Jesus mistaken? Then and now, this teaching would receive so much resistance and criticism, and ridicule. Indeed, during the time of the Lord, they find it hard to accept. Now, many belong to the Christian faith but these teachings are considered either irrelevant or optional. But Jesus knew what He was saying. He is the expert as far as blessedness is concerned.

The key to unlocking the wisdom of His reversal teaching is in the cause of the blessedness and the curse. Jesus points out that blessedness is achieved if the above situations occur because of Him. Poverty, hunger, weeping, etc. will be a blessed situation if we experience them because of faithfulness to the Lord. If in following His Holy Will we are put in those situations, then we are blessed! But if one, in his poverty, sorrow, and difficulties is unfaithful and resorts to sin, then, he is not blessed but cursed instead. Poverty or any merciful situation can not be considered blessed if experienced because of evil. Therefore, the rich, laughing, and those of good reputation are not absolutely and eternally cursed. They too can be blessed if they are faithful and good. Concretely, they attain blessedness if they share their gifts; the rich shares with the poor, the laughing sharing it with the crying, the healthy sharing it with the sick, or the powerful defending the weak. Any goodness and faithfulness merit blessedness as far as God is concerned.

Situations of dire need comes in every person. The temptation to take the easy way out of responding to it even in illegal and immoral ways is very strong. I was not spared of it. After I made an appeal for medicines for our parish medical clinic in one of my masses, one person approached me and told me that If I will write a letter to his brother doctor in the United States, he could send me a lot of of medicines. To make the long story short, the medicines in a cargo box addressed to the bishop (because I thought the cargo will be acquired easily if it was sent through him) arrived and was ready for pick up in the customs department of the international airport. Bringing with me the notice, I went to the customs office at eight in the morning and immediately on the first window, I was charged with an application form for twenty pesos without receipt! After that I was subjected to a lot of waiting, approaching one table after another, and talking to a lot of persons. To make the long story short (again), at three in the afternoon (a good seven hours!) I said enough. There is no way I can get those medicines today or even tomorrow. My paper was being processed very slowly. Reason? Because I was not giving bribe money to those persons. (Totoo pala yung bukas na drawer sa bawat table na dapat mong hulugan ng pera para umandar papel mo!) I refused to do so. It was immoral and as a priest getting the cargo of a bishop, it was unbecoming and unacceptable!

I left proud that I did not succumb to the temptation. I felt blessed in spite of not having obtained the cargo which would have been of help to many. But I was not giving up. I sought help from authorities and eventually, the cargo was obtained morally! Those people who are extorting and accepting bribes maybe amassing so much money but they are not blessed. Those people who are electing to bribe than go through the required process maybe saving so much time but they are not blessed. Blessedness is not in material things, power, fame or whatever this world could offer no matter how great. It is in having a good relationship with the Lord.