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.

Happy Birthday, My Mother, My Model!

She is the Mother of God. She is the perfect disciple. She is a woman of faith. She is a model of Christian living. She is one of us. She cares for us. She will not let us be separated from her Son. She intercedes for us.

The devotion to Mother Mary ranges from the most basic to the most sublime. Her being an intercessor goes as far as seeing her as a giver of grace, either from her own or from her Son. This is one of the reasons why other religions would attack our faith as idolatrous. While there are some truth to the accusation that there are some faithful who almost worship our Blessed Mother, the Catholic faith never teaches her as God, a salvific grace-giver, or a necessary conduit for the grace of God. That title and capacity is given only to Jesus our Lord and Savior! (Incidentally, at present, Bp. Ramon Arguelles, D.D. of the Archdiocese of Lipa is in Rome promoting and defending the possibility, maybe in a specific sense, of officially giving the title "Mediatrix" to Mary.)

Even as a priest, I would not consider myself as a "die hard" Mary devotee. My relationship to her is because of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is clear to me that she can not save me, but she can show me the way to it. She does not give me grace but she can show me how to avail of it from her Son. She is not God but she bore God in her human womb. I do not look up to her in prayer but feels her by my side praying with me. In moments of need, sorrow, decision, failure and other dire situations, she would inspire me, comfort me, encourage me, and join me. She is a mother to me too!

As a young priest, I was once invited by a family who regularly goes to the Carmel Church in Lipa. It is the home of the famous apparition, Mary Mediatrix of All Graces through then Sister Teresing. That first visit to Carmel immediately attracted me to the devotion. Since then, together with that family, I would visit and go to mass at six in the morning. I would bring with me my personal petitions and the prayers asked for by my friends. Though it was difficult to wake up early, I always find myself preparing every first Saturdays. I have found consolation in the devotion. It had become a part of my spiritual life. I have not made an inventory of which petitions had been answered or not. It was not my primary concern. But what I know is that the regular monthly visit to the church had helped me go through all the challenges of my ministry and personal life. It made me at peace amidst some turbulent events in my life. I am always confident knowing that there is a first Saturday visit to Carmel where our Blessed Mother would join me in approaching her Son.

True, salvation is attained only in Jesus Christ. No more, no less. But Jesus Himself had entrusted His mother to us. For Him, His mother is a true model for she did not only carry Him in her womb, but also in her life. She lived her motherhood and her discipleship. Her being a mother to Jesus was not a reason for her to be complacent in her spiritual life. It was her life! So too with us. As children of God, as Christians (followers of Christ), we do not just wallow in our membership to the faith by virtue of our Baptism. Like Mary, we should also live it, to the full!

Happy Birthday, Mother Mary!

Jesus Prays! Why not us?

The beginning of todays' Gospel says that Jesus departed to the mountain to pray. And He did not only pray for hours but spent the night in prayer to God! You ask; "Jesus prays?!" And why not? Prayer is communication with God more than an activity of a creature to its Creator. It is a person to person exchange. It is an exchange of "wills" if you will. The Christian is expected to pray always and more in serious situations. There is nothing important to a Christian than to know what his God wills and to express his will in the process. Jesus shows here his true humanity. He was the Son of God, true, but He was also the son of Mary and Joseph. He needed to pray, and pray, He did!

Incidentally, He did it because He was about to choose His twelve apostles. Men who will be witnesses to everything He will do and say. Men who will compose of the foundation of His Church. Men who will see to it that everything will be passed on from generations to generation. They were important men and therefore, He has to confer with God!

As parish priest, I get to choose also my servants. They are men and women who will be my co-operators in the ministry of salvation. Ever since I became parish priest, I have always looked for people who will be of service to the parish. And I invite them and even interview them to let them know what are expected of them and what service in the parish would entail. Every time, I will always find myself praying to God for enlightenment. I will also tell them to spend time in prayer before they make their final decision to be servants. Service to God is ultimately between them and God and not with me. In most cases, our decisions were stable and responsible.

Personally, I make it a point to be in prayer before I go out of my room in the morning for my ministry. I know that once I get out of my room, I would find it hard to commune with God anymore because of so many things to do and people to attend to. Before I retire at night, I pray again. So that I and God will always be on the same page.

Needless to say, prayer is the source of my spiritual strength. It is also my refuge during challenges and crucial decisions. If Jesus prays, much more should we!

Live To Love

The Lord Jesus cured a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath. According to Jewish Laws, it is forbidden. But He did it not before He gave His teaching; " I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" Jesus was a Jew, a very pious Jew. His parents reared Him as one. He was subjected to everything  Jewish boy should undergo. He knew its teachings from His parents. He knew the Law on the Sabbath. But He was also God's Son. He knew the spirit of those laws. He knew the purpose and importance of the Sabbath Law and all Jewish Laws. He took advantage of this situation to show them the real intent of the Law which is to be a good child of God and to merit receive salvation. The Laws were not given only to be followed literally but to imbibe and live its spirit which will save.

In my ministry as a priest, I usually follow a schedule so that I could effectively attend to the needs of my parishioners and to give myself time to prepare well in disposing those commitments. Once I had a mass at six in the evening in our parish. Half an hour before the time I was already busy preparing myself. But just minutes before the mass, a call from my secretary came telling me that a woman was in the office asking for a priest to visit and give the Sacrament of Anointing to her dying mother. Immediately I told her to wait for me and I will go with her. I gave instructions to my secretary to inform the people at mass to wait because I  would be attending to a dying person. I was hoping that they will understand. But even if they did not, going to the dying person was the right decision. It was not that hard for me anymore to make the decision. Although I was committed to the mass, the soul of a sick person took priority. I need not relate here in detail the sad story of a sick person I rejected when I was a young priest. In brief, what happened was I decided to preside over an scheduled mass first before going to that sick person. Unfortunately, the person died before I arrived. The family was angry at me but I was thankful that later they were able to forgive me.

After the visit, I rushed back to the parish to preside in the mass I left for a while. I was told that some left but many stayed and even prayed for the sick person. I was sad for those who left (unless they had important schedules too!) but I was happy for those who stayed and even prayed for the sick I visited.

We always hear some lawyers and even some non-lawyers cry out the Latin dictum, "Dura lex sed lex!", meaning, "The law maybe harsh but that is the law!" Whoever said that and whatever it meant to him, the truth about who the servant and the master still faces us. The fact that it is harsh renders it useless and illegal! For Jesus, the law is the servant and men are its master. Of course, the ultimate Master is God for He created everything. But according to God's purpose, the law must serve man. Man should not be enslaved by the law.

Out Of Court Into God's Kingdom

2011 Sep 4, Sunday: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 33:7-9/Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9/Romans 13:8-10/Matthew 18:15-20

In one university in the early seventies, conflicts among fraternities and organizations were prevalent. Not a year would pass when there would be no riots or clashes by the members. Worse, many of their members would end up severely injured and in some cases there would be death. I was a part time professor in that university and it so happened that the dean of our department was the Professor-Adviser of these recognized fraternities and organizations. When the tension among these groups had become worst, my dean decided to meet with all their leaders, representatives, and elders. He believed that bringing in law enforcers would just aggravate the situation. This one, he told me could only be resolved by dialogue.

He set the date, time, and venue of the meeting. Then, he gave me strict instructions to give each participant something to eat and drink as soon as they arrive. I remembered being so afraid and tense for that meeting. These were warring groups and it was very possible for them to attack each other once they meet. But my dean knew better. And he was right. As each arrive, I could sense their anger against their enemies. When they began eating, the anger was still written all over their face. They even would give sharp and threatening stares at each other. But I noticed that as they continued eating, they begin to lower down their guards. Next thing some were already talking about their differences. Others had even reconciled! By the time dessert was served,almost everyone is already in the mood for dialogue. That was the time when my dean adviser arrived. Needless to say, the meeting went well. Everyone was cooperative. They were even laughing when they went out.

So that was the point of my dean. There is nothing that can not be resolved by dialogue. The food and drinks helped a lot in disposing them for it. That is also the point of Jesus' in the Gospel today. Why go to court when you can resolve it between the two of you? If necessary, get somebody you trust to be a go between. As a last resort, do it before a community. Harmony is free. If everyone is willing to listen and make sacrifices, jails, criminal courts, and lawyers would be obsolete. In a Christian world, dialogue more than legal battles prevail. To be united is the rule rather than an exception. We just have to be always open to dialogue and forgiveness.

Friday, March 12, 2010

God Rules The Rules

2011 Sep 3, Saturday: Saturday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Colossians 1:21-23/Psalms 54:3-4, 6, 8/Luke 6:1-5

It should not take a genius to know that if you believe in God, then it should be God who must prevail and be obeyed. However, actual experience seems to show that it is easier said than done. In so many instances, we still disobey God and let our will happen than His.

It was one of the main reasons why God sent His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Aside from the Father's intention of letting us believe that He is with us, He wanted us to see Him, feel Him, hear Him, and even have a taste of His love the human way. But another reason was to let us know the real intent and spirit of His commandments. Salvation should be the ultimate goal and not just doing what He commanded. Everything we do must advance our relationship with God. Everything we do must make us more divine and human. In the same way, everything we do must be a rejection of the attraction of evil. Everything we do must move us farther from the influence of the devil. Everything we do must be a defeat of satan. The laws were supposed to fulfill all of the above.

I was then reviewing for our final examinations in the seminary. One review evening, a fellow seminarian knocked at my door and invited me to pray with him in the chapel. He said he wanted company in asking God for an intention. It was a very tempting invitation. Prayer is a very holy action. I wanted to join him but I was having my review for the next days' examinations. Finally I told him that I could not go because I was deep in my review. If I join him and pray, I will surely risk so much and endanger my passing that subject. I thought that part of my responsibilty to the vocation of the priesthood was to pass my subjects. Had I gone praying and failed in my examinations, I would have done the expectations of a "good" Christian but may have been wanting in becoming a minister of God I was called to be. As the Book of Ecclesiastes say, "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven..." (Ecclesiates 3:1-11). My decision was not because I did not want to pray nor that prayer was not a good act. It was a matter of choice between two goods. And the challenge was to choose God's Will for me at that time and place. It was my review time and not my prayer time. My passing the exams should take priority. It was God's Will for me in that particular situation. Prayer could be done at another time. Here, God helped me see through the invitation of my friend. At another circumstance, I would have easily gone with him in prayer.

St. Ignatius calls it "discernment". It is the capacity to see through things in terms of their apostolic value and salvific relevance. It helps us to do things not just for the sake of doing them but according to the intentions of God. Faced with a lot of rules to follow in our lifetime, we have to remind ourselves that those rules were man-made and therefore limited. The words and actions used to capture those rules were similarly limited. Only God, who is omnipotent and from whom those rules came from is perfect. Therefore, only God rules the rules!

Changing For The Better, Not To The Letter

2011 Sep 2, Friday: Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Colossians 1:15-20/Psalms 100:1, 2, 3, 4, 5/Luke 5:33-39

Jesus came teaching and doing miracles. The people were astonished at the "newness" of those teachings. Some were able to accept them. But others could not. For the Jews, the Torah, the document that contains the laws given through Moses, was the standard. In the Gospel, the people were asking why the disciples of Jesus were not following the fast. He responded by pointing out that the wedding guests do not fast while the bridegroom is with them. Jesus is the bridegroom, so they do not need to fast. Jesus was not really teaching something new or going against any law. He was actually fulfilling the law in its spirit. But since the law was given to Moses, it had developed and multiplied. In the process, the spirit was lost and the laws had not served as intended. In the words of Jesus.

The intention of the law as given by God was to help man towards salvation and not merely to do them even devoid of its spirit. Jesus pointed out their need to go back to the spirit of the law. There is no one who knows the law better than Him. Jesus wanted them to "change", not to something really new, but to go back to the original purpose of the law. The parable of the old and new cloth and the old and new wine skin illustrates the tension He was creating with the leaders. The "newness" He brings will challenge the "old" they hold.

Once, when I was still in formation, a new Rector came and immediately made a lot of changes in our seminary life. Obviously, many of us reacted. We felt that he should have settled for a while first before changes were made. But because he is the Rector, it was within his authority to do so. Because we trust him, we tried to adopt to the change. At that time, I was the beadle (seminarian head) of the community. One day, I just felt I have worked and studied too much that I really needed a break. After an afternoon class, I asked one of my classmates to play basketball in a court at the back of our building. It was already 4;30 pm and our schedule requires that we must be in by 5:30 pm to prepare for the evening prayers. We thought we can easily make it. Unfortunately we did not. We were so engrossed with our game that we lost track of the time. We finished at about 5:45 pm. way pass the required time we must be in. When we entered the seminary, the Rector was there standing and staring at me. When we were closer to him, he asked why I was not following schedules and added that I was setting a bad example to other seminarians being the head of the community. I just told him that I was very stressed and I felt that I needed to release them. I apologized to him for the extended game.

I did not feel guilty about what happened. I needed that release very much. Schedules are guides in order to get the best formation. Being healthy (sane?) and conditioned are parts of that formation. I fully respect the schedule. But I believe, the situation was more in fulfilling the spirit rather than a violation of the law.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jesus Says, Simon Follows!

2011 Sep 1, Thursday: Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Colossians 1:9-14/Psalms 98:2-3, 3-4, 5-6/Luke 5:1-11

This may be the story of the call of Peter to the discipleship of Jesus, but in essence, it is every one's call to be a Christian. The circumstances of the call reveals to us who we really are and who Jesus really is.

Peter had just come back from an all night fishing job when he was approached by Jesus and requested him to put his boat ashore so Jesus can teach. I am sure Peter had heard the Lord talked. Am sure he was moved and touched by it so that when Jesus commanded him to go out again and catch fish, he wanted to follow Jesus saved for fact he knew there was nothing more to catch. Remember, Peter was a veteran fisherman. He had been in the job for so long. He knew his craft well. He knew the sea, the weather, the fish, etc. Later, however, he would realize that the Lord knew better. He was not able to constrain himself to question the Lord. But because of what he heard from the Lord's teaching, he followed Jesus' command. Proven wrong, Peter saw deeper in Jesus. Maybe a beatific vision that prompted him to kneel before Jesus and admit to his unworthiness.

Crucial to Peter's conversion was listening first to the Lord. It should be the same with us. Listening here does not mean hearing the spoken word but also understanding it. The Lord had spoken from the heart, therefore, we must listen from the heart.We must listen not only with our ears, but also with the heart. There may have been some questions or objections from the mind of Peter, but having felt and heard the Lords presence, faith rather than experience prevailed. The Lord's Will over his will. The Lord's authority more than his. In short, Peter simply put everything in Jesus' hands.

The miracle of the catch not only astonished Peter but also those around him who had also heard the Lord. It was enough for them to make a decision to leave everything and follow Jesus. It is symbolic of the fact that when we find the Lord, everything becomes dispensable. Having found the Lord completes us. We will never be wanting of anything or anyone. The Lord is our enough.