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Monday, December 31, 2007


Catholic Homily/Reflection
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

We all have our own storehouse of what we consider precious in our lives. I remember my maternal grandmother had a wicker chest (baul) full of a great many and varied stuff, from pieces of cloths (retazos) to old clothes, and a number of old little boxes containing more trinkets. It dawned on me only when I was already an adult that that chest was grandma’s storehouse of memories of times gone by.

Up until quite recently, I, too, had my own version of this chest. It contained a whole lot of memorabilia from my first assignment as a practical trainee in a small start-up parish that was no more than 3 years old then, as a student of theology, as a young priest, of my various travels in the U.S. and in Europe. Everything precious…everything memorable…everything worth reminiscing…we keep them for posterity. We treat them as some kind of a priceless treasure.

But there are things that we cannot keep or hold on to. We cannot hold on to certain things for one simple reason: they are not things. Stuff like memories of events in the past, or values that we have learned to cherish… they cannot be kept in storage. Though they are treasures all the same, they can only be cherished in the greatest and unlimited storehouse available to humans alone – the storehouse of the heart.

The heart, both traditionally and Biblically, stood for the core of the person. It stands for what and who the person is essentially, the summation of everything that a person is, or is perceived to be. What is in the heart of the person is what the person is worth, in the long run. What the heart is full of, the mouth gives utterance to (cf. Luke 6:45). The heart represents the person for all he or she is worth.

The Church presents to us today, a towering figure of a woman who has a big, big and magnanimous heart – Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God.

To be magnanimous is the opposite of being pusillanimous. For us to see whether we, or others have enough magnanimity of heart, we only have to look at the treasures kept in that unlimited storehouse of our own hearts. What sort of a treasure trove do we find therein? What sort of trinkets do we consider important enough as to crowd out other objects or considerations in that heart? What kind of memories do we hold on to within that heart? What dreams and plans do we nourish and nurture in our heart? What would we rather rehash and remember in our quiet moments?

Puny little hearts beat mostly for self-centered concerns. They are always only a heartbeat away from what benefits them, aggrandizes them, and fulfills them – temporarily, that is. They aim mostly after ephemeral stuff, things that do not last, all the temporariness of life in this world: power, glory, the adulation of men, material goods and “carrion comfort.” Herod, the one who got pretty much insecure at the news of the birth of a boy whose coming was signaled by a star followed by wise men from the east, was a clear example. His heart was no bigger than the worms that eventually consumed his body in life and in death. The storehouse contained nothing more than selfish concerns. So, too, was the fate of Julius Caesar, whose heart nurtured ambition more than anything else. He sacrificed truth and justice on the altar of his personal desire to wield power.

Pusillanimity of heart abounds in our society, in our times. Just look at how many programs meant for the common good get stalled, if not shot down, all because of too many people with puny little hearts who could not find it in their heart to allow room for dreams whose benefits extend far, far beyond their own immediate and personal good! How many of those who lord it over others, whether in government or in the Church, whose hearts are so tightly packed with their egos that they seem unable to expand their horizons, broaden their concerns and squeeze in some good initiative or good idea simply because it is not theirs! How much longer are we to wait before we can get a set of lawmakers, judiciary people, and executive people in government who are magnanimous enough to let go of their own agenda and really work for that which benefits the greater majority of our people – the poor?

Pusillanimity is all about hemming in, fencing in, gathering in for oneself – and obviously – closing in on oneself! Pusillanimity is all about selfishness and getting caught in a rut of utterly personal concerns. It has to do with constriction of heart. There is a virtual narrowing, not only of the arteries understood as conduits of good towards others, but also a constricting of pursuits and dreams and visions that all are reduced to a myopic search for more, for oneself, that is.

Magnanimity, its opposite, is all about opening up, expanding, giving! Magnanimity of heart has to do with a broadening, not a constriction of dreams and visions and programs. Magnanimity is all about pushing up and not shooting down! It is all about leaving wide room for others’ initiatives and ideas that are for the good of others, even if they are not one’s own!

Magnanimity of heart is all about motherhood and fatherhood! It is all about giving and not counting the cost. It is all about doing, while not fully understanding the whys and the wherefores, provided one knows it is God’s will. Magnanimity of heart is being like Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of divine grace, the woman above all women and men!

Today’s solemnity, then, is a feast and a song to magnanimity and motherhood! This is a song about the magnanimity of Mary’s Divine Motherhood. This is, plain and simple, about a Mother, a woman, who held nothing back, who held onto nothing for herself, whose storehouse of everything good – her maternal heart – only contained “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious” (Phil 4:8). This feast is to extol the praises of a woman and mother who stood like a towering figure who represented to the full what the Gospel speaks about: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

There surely is something for us here to learn today. Mary’s heart was a storehouse of veritable treasures the world may no longer consider as such. The Gospel of today reminds us: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Mary’s heart contained the treasure of God’s word and promises proclaimed through the angels and the prophets. Mary’s heart was a storehouse of all that would redound to the good of others, not her own – for generation upon generation! Mary’s heart held on, not to doubt and uncertainty, not to questionings and self-centered political posturings, but to openness and readiness, availability and willingness, to do God’s will so that others may live!

The title of today’s reflection is really a misnomer. But I did it on purpose. Mary’s treasure, indeed, was well-kept in the heart, for her heart was that of a magnanimous mother who gave all. That treasure was well-kept in the sense of being well-thought out, well-reflected on, well-meditated on – and well-accepted as coming from the Lord! But its effects, its fruits and consequences – in the form of Divine Grace from above, the grace above all of salvation – is something well given, well-shared, well spread out, for, in the final analysis, she allowed herself to be the conduit of salvation by bringing to bear Jesus, the Son of God, the Most High!

Blessed are you among women, Mary! And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Catholic Homily/Reflection
Feast of the Holy Family

The first two readings today almost sound Pollyannish – an ideal situation, a too-good-to-be-true kind of thing that many people in our times may find close to impossible to attain, let alone, aim after. At a time when, in many places in the world, 50 % per cent of marriages end up in divorce within the first ten years, when we can easily delete one another’s presence in our lives as fast as we can delete each other’s names from our electronic address books and PDAs, marriage – and family life, for that matter – do not appear as rosy and saccharine as how Sirach may paint it to be. When the average number of years marriages last in America has fallen down to only seven years, in a culture where adults long to remain young, and young people cannot wait to “grow up,” and fly the roost, and build one’s own nest by age 18, Sirach’s exhortations just cannot compete with what the age of reality TV offers, day in and day out.

In third-world countries like the Philippines, where families bond remotely (or try to), through “texting” (cell phone short text messaging service), where parents who work thousands of miles apart from each other and from kids, try their darndest best to form their children and instill in them the “impossible” dream of family communion, mostly by proxy, that is, through the real heroes in my country next to overseas workers – the grandparents, Sirach’s reminders for children to honor and revere their cyberspace father or mother, may be asking for too much.

Having been an educator over the past 31 years, a priest for 25, I have seen first hand how family communion and intimacy are values that are hard to come by in our times – for both affluent and so-called developing countries. Where I am right now, by the southeastern American seaboard, I am an almost daily witness to the far-away looks and eloquent, talking sad eyes of boys and girls, who, I surmise through my pastoral counselor’s clinical gaze, are sorely missing either father or mother in the first decade of their otherwise promising lives. On closer look, I am often proved right. As a classroom teacher for many years, a counselor to young people by as many, I have seen from close ranks the pathos, the drama, the sob-stories of young people whose initial pining for parent – a natural desire for attachment – becomes replaced by either insecure, or avoidant patterns of attachment for either parent, or both, whom they never got to know, whom they simply will never learn to warm up to. Having been a formator in the seminary setting for at least ten years, I know for a fact, from first-hand experience, that many a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, gets dashed to smithereens in the shoals of insecure, undifferentiated, family-of-origin engendered lack of a sense of self, and inadequate self-definition. For a number of them, whom we painstakingly exerted effort and patience for, there was no vocation in the first place. There was only an unfulfilled desire and longing for family intimacy and communion they never had, which they thought would be supplied for in the seminary. As one who also has been in leadership for 8 years, I also stood witness to so many interpersonal and intrapersonal problems that are traceable to early family-of-origin experiences, or the lack of them vis-à-vis parental or authority figures.

The family is surely taking a beating for these past decades. Some people blame reality TV for it. No, TV merely reflects reality that is already there, and caters to people already immersed in situations that only are waiting for symbolic representations. For decades, all of human society has been busy constructing reality for itself. We all have been part and participant of the grand narrative that we are weaving with what we read, what we do, what we watch, what we talk about, what jokes we say to each other, and what songs, and shows we produce. Hollywood alone (Mother Lily and company in the Philippines, including the dynamic duo of Philippine TV, GMA-7 and ABS-CBN) does not produce these narratives. They serve as sounding boards, verbalizers, and codifiers of said reality – the story that all of us write in our daily lives. The Days of our Lives, Passions (soap opera daytime features in America) and the teleseryes and telenovelas in the Philippines and in the rest of the Latin American inspired world, merely tell the stories that people live and write daily. (Years ago, in the Philippines, Rosanna Roces captured the national attention of people in the Philippines, particularly the men, because she was bold and brazen enough to say aloud in street-smart terms, what people were merely whispering in hushed, repressed tones!)

The family is a big story that we write. And that story is something that could use a little help from another meta-narrative (a big story) that is based on God’s story. God’s story, His story, is History – the history of a people loved and called by God for all time to intimacy, to relationality, to relationships, and to communion. That story began with a call to relationships … “It’s not good for man to be alone.” That story grew with a series of other calls to other relationships … “and God brought everything to man to see what he would call them … the man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals …” That story progressed to even greater callings … that of Abraham, called to be father of a multitude of nations; that of Moses, called as leader of a pilgrim people; and that of so many others, all the way to the time of Joseph and Mary, called to take part in a momentous portion of this saga of salvation.

The family is a story that we all ought to weave together. Thus, in Sirach’s exhortations, sons and daughters are enjoined to respect parents. Paul, for his part, refuses to wallow in people’s little stories of “grievances against one another,” “bitterness,” and “discouragement.” Such petty stories, the daily trivia that mar and tar our serenity and peace, our closeness and healthy attachment to each other, ought to be reframed by “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” The “murder that we write,” can be replaced anytime with the love that we make into an ongoing narration in our lives as family, as community, as nations.

But now, some of you my readers (or hearers) might well complain … aren’t we back to saccharine idealisms? Is this really possible? Can we really revise the stories that we tell each other, that meta narrative that we write with our lives? Is it indeed possible?
And this is where the reason why Holy Mother Church added today’s feast in the liturgical calendar lies. The Church presents the story of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as an alternative to the story that we write with our daily lives. Their story is not one for the imagineering world of Disney and Disneyland. Their story is one that started with terrific trials and tribulations – much like the stories that each of us can narrate.

Joseph’s family, like the family of today, was battered and bruised as they were just starting the first chapter. The life of their newborn infant child was threatened, soon after birth. In our times, lives of babies are threatened much earlier – even before they are born! Cozy and feeling safe in his sleep, perhaps throwing himself into bed after hours of planning for his fledgling family of three, he was challenged in a dream by something that was not exactly welcome news: “Rise, take the child and his mother to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.” Before teary eyed and sorrowing mothers and fathers flew to far-off lands to work for their children’s future, exiled by lack of opportunities back home, before migrant workers dismantled families in the Philippines, the whole family of Joseph already experienced being rudely uprooted, displaced, and banished afar owing to the murderous envy of a powerful man who wanted to rewrite history in his own terms.

The story of the holy family is no saccharine and polyannish ideal that is written only in fairy tales of “Neverland.” Neither is the story of each and everyone of us: a story of imperfect parents, rebellious teen-agers, less than satisfactory growing up conditions, petty stories of misunderstandings, etc. But precisely because our stories are marred by imperfections, we would do well to give a close look at the story of this fledgling family, unified by a call to compassion, a call to conversation with a God who reveals Himself in dreams, a call to communion, and to commitment, understood as dedication to each other’s welfare, to each others’ equally imperfect stories. Only then can we dream God’s ultimate dream for us His people – an eternal celebration with God who is family, who is love, who is all about relationships. Glory be to God who is Father, glory be to God who is Son, and glory be to God who is Holy Spirit – Giver, Gifted, Gifting – since then, till now, till then.

His story still unfolds. His story becomes us, and, as we take part and cooperate with His will, His story becomes, ever so gradually, ever so subtly, history!

Monday, December 24, 2007


Catholic Homily/Reflection
Christmas Midnight Mass
N.B. I am posting here a homily I preached last year in Waldorf, MD

All our preparations for Christmas pays off tonight … the sleepless nights, the patient waiting in lines at shops, or in our traffic-clogged thoroughfares, our participation (at least for many, many Filipinos all over the world) at the now fabled and proverbial “simbang gabi” (done everywhere there are enough Filipinos, as it is done in Dubai with a nightly attendance of no less than 4,000 people!). We are a people in deep rejoicing … from the hovels and palatial homes in and around Manila, to the snow-covered and chilly “maisons au ville du Montreal,” from cold and chilly majestic Milan churches, to more humble, but no less gaily decorated chapels at Marilao in Bulacan, or Mendez in Cavite, and beyond … yes, even in Metuchen, NJ, and that city by the Hudson river that is home to Philippine Bread House that is responsible for most of those ubiquitous “pan de sal” and “ensaymada” eaten by many Filipino-Americans all over – Jersey City!

We Christians are a rejoicing people. We Christians are a community of hoping people. And we are a people whose specialty is in the art and the practice of waiting expectantly in hope. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Isaiah confidently proclaims (1st Reading). What was promised of old by Isaiah, today is fulfilled: “Today a Savior is born for us; Christ the Lord!” (Responsorial Psalm). We may be led here to Church (much more than ordinary Sundays and feast days) for the great cultural pull of custom and habit, deeply ingrained in us through the centuries. We may be here tonight for less than the ideal and right motivations. We may be here simply because it is Christmas, and there is nothing better on Christmas night to do than be seen, be felt, and be heard – together with others – singing or praising, or just quietly watching the goings on in church or chapel from Batanes to Busuanga, from Caloocan to Copenhagen.

But the glaring fact is … we are here. We are here for big or small reasons. Allow me to enumerate some of those reasons that bring us here – if you will – the reason for the season!

First and foremost, the more than 4,000 Filipinos in Dubai who attend Simbang Gabi at the Cathedral church every night, could not be there solely because it is “the most wonderful time of the year.” I would like to believe that they are there, primarily because they are in awe, and in deep gratitude to God, for they find themselves part of the hordes of what the Philippine government loves to call “bagong bayani ng bayan” (modern-day heroes). They may not be real heroes for the nation, but they are heroes all the same … heroes for their equally heroic families back home who sacrifice a lot in the present, to assure a whole lot more in the future. We Christian believers are not only “forward looking.” We not only dream about tomorrow, or wait passively for something vague about what’s probably coming up ahead. No … we are also a “forward-moving” people. We dream for family. We dream for our nation and people. We dream for a better tomorrow. But we also dare and do. We go places. We are a pilgrim people, like the more than 175 million migrants all over the world as of last year. Did I tell you that we Filipinos are present in at least 95 out of about 130 sovereign nations all over the world?

There are pilgrims tonight who also dream, dare, and do like us Christian believers. Angels tonight are sent out in full force. They are “messengers” sent by God. They are not around to give more messages to Joseph and Mary. They are there to proclaim the glory of God who has wrought wonders through Joseph and Mary’s acceptance of messages given through Gabriel. “You will conceive and bear a son.” “Fear not about taking Mary as your wife.” The pilgrim angels are here around to sing the praises and the glory of God, “[who] has come and redeemed His people.” They sing “Hosanna in excelsis … Glory to God in the highest!” Their mission … to sing the glory of God, to proclaim His glory for “a people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

There are pilgrim shepherds around, too. In this ordinary night, made extraordinary by very ordinary folks who could only afford to get lodging in a cave, and lay their child in a manger, it was pilgrim shepherds who followed the guidance of pilgrim angels. Although originally afraid, they were the first to have the privilege of beholding the glory of God-made-man. “A savior has been born for you, who is Christ and Lord.” The shepherds, originally more like vagrants leading their hungry flock, now become migrants of hope, whose lives changed forever – changed by a pilgrim-God who came, who “migrated” of his own volition into our sinful world, “who became like us in everything except sin.”

There are wise men in pilgrimage, too, on this night. Learned though they most likely were, they went down from their lofty pedestals of knowledge. The pilgrim wise men were on a pilgrimage of truth. They were in search for the truth-in-person. For guidance, they followed no despot, no ruler, no ambitious – and blinded – power-that-be like Herod, who only pretended to be in search. He was really out for a witch hunt … out to crush truth taking-on-flesh in the person of the little boy-child laid in a manger.

But most of all, there is this pilgrim-family of Joseph and Mary-with-child, migrants from Nazareth, roused to movement from a decree of a census from Caesar Augustus.
“And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child” (Gospel). Like many Filipino families now, all over the world, the Holy Family was a family of migrants. They left their hometown, forced by circumstances beyond their control.

We are a people in pilgrimage. We are a people of great rejoicing because our God, too, was in a pilgrimage of salvation-redemption on behalf of His beloved people. Angels were pilgrims with a message. Now they are pilgrims with, not just a message, but a proclamation: “Hosanna in excelsis!” Shepherds, too, were on pilgrimage. What was originally lowly work became lofty worship. “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” The Holy Family are pilgrims-in-mission. They moved. They traveled to Bethlehem to bring forth the fulfillment of promises of old. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And the rest is history that now influences the story of each and everyone of us. God’s dream for us that brought His own Son to sinful humanity in a pilgrimage of salvation has become reality for us this Christmas night.

We cannot pretend to do more than the pilgrim-angels did, but neither can we afford to do less. We are a rejoicing people. In pilgrimage, though we still are, on the way to our heavenly Jerusalem, we are never alone in our journey. In the desert situation that our life-as-pilgrimage basically is in this world, God has come down to us in Christ, and “pitched his tent in our midst” (Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis). And so tonight, together with all fellow pilgrims in heaven and on earth, we cry out in sheer rejoicing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

And yes … did I mention it? MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL!


Catholic Homily/Reflection
Solemnity of the Birth of Christ

By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

Preaching during the Christmas liturgy is a truly challenging one for a variety of reasons. For one, there are four different liturgical moments that revolve around Christmas: the Vigil Mass, Midnight Mass, Dawn Mass, and the Mass during the day, each of which points to a second reason – the sheer richness of the readings, the breadth and depth of insights contained therein, and the unfathomable mystery they all try to shed light on. Having been preaching for the last 24 Christmases, I would personally add a third, no less difficult, challenge … the utter exhaustion and tiredness of the adults in our midst, battered limp and listless by so much partying, stressful shopping (particularly if one’s budget is tight), and being at their wits’ end trying to guess what gifts to whomever that will most likely not end up in the recycle bin.

No, I am not speaking about the GUI icon that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. I mean the real, existential recycle bin that explains why certain gifts get to you with mall tags that are simply suspiciously a tad too yellowish and brittle for Christmas comfort! Recycled gifts … This is THE phenomenon par excellence in a consumer machinery that is our contemporary society, that churns out a lot more choices than people can handle. We live in a world of infinite choices. Decades ago, (ancient for millennium kids’ standards), choices multiplied only in the arena of soaps, cosmetics, and grooming products. The sheer variety of “flavored” bath soaps alone is mind-boggling. In America, we have peaches and chocolates that are not meant to be put on the table, but on the washbasin. For more than a decade now, enterprising businessmen in the Philippines have been raking it in selling papayas not to control one’s libidinal urges, but to smoothen facial skin texture. And that Mexican staple called guacamole, otherwise known to the rest of us as avocado, has also become the “secret” ingredient in facial beauty products. Want some toothpaste? What kind? What color? For what purpose? An endless array of products will make a harried shopper go into panic mode and break out in cold sweat, temporarily unable to decide.

Faced with such a glut of items to choose from, small wonder, people end up rejecting – and recycling – gifts they receive. Gifts that used to be much awaited for their usefulness, (because, in the first place, consumer goods were few and hard to come by), for the sheer thoughtfulness of the giver, valued to such an extent that recipients of yore would try their best to “wear” or “use” that valued item for the giver to see and thus, feel good about having given a gift, have now gone the way of the electronic digital address book. They are deleted at will, at the push of a teeny, weeny button. They go the way of the digital recycle bin, stowed in cybermemory, or given a semi-permanent frozen status in a partitioned hard disk, compressed for long-term storage. They are not exactly discarded. They are just stored, for possible future retrieval. The gift, thus, while received, remains unappreciated, kept in virtual storage, and then retrieved when another round of frantic and frenetic shopping for the next “holiday season” – whatever that means – comes around again.

What, then, do we make of Christmas? How, then, ought we to react given the fact that Christmas has to do with the greatest gift ever given, the greatest gift ever received by people who do not even merit to be given such a gift? “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son …” What then are we to do with a celebration in which many people forget or conveniently set-aside the original reason, and yet retain the season’s “greetings” and mirth-making? How does one justify sincere gift-giving when all people have is “Happy Federal Holiday” cheers? What does one do with a Santa laden with gifts and armed with a big, big heart exploding with love and tenderness for poor, little rich kids who can’t seem to make out what’s so holy in singing “I’m dreaming of a white … holiday!”

This, now, is the biggest challenge of them all. This morning, when all the tinsel wrapped gifts have been opened, when all you want to do is throw yourself down your cozy bed to sleep off all the pre-Christmas tension and stress, when just about the only happy creatures on earth are the kids who (at least in the Philippines) are dashing through the soot-filled thoroughfares in pursuit of their hiding godparents who owe them a thing or two from two or more Christmases past! With gift-inventory and appraisal over and done with, this Christmas morning, perhaps we can step aside from the “city-sidewalks- busy- sidewalks- dressed-in-holiday-style” hype and open the ORIGINAL GIFT that made all gift-giving meaningful and symbolic.

I invite you to unwrap this gift for a few short minutes for as long as your physical and mental exhaustion can allow you. I promise not to disappoint you. I promise not to short-change you.

The gift that I am talking of started with a preview. Biblical language that antedated Hollywood films calls it a prophecy. Isaiah, our insider and source, (our Cristy-per-minute, for my Philippine readers, or Nancy O’Dell and Billy Bush for my American audience), speaks to us excitedly, more excited than your hyperactive kids today, of what is to come. He has some kind of a foot fetish, and focuses not on the Ferragamo shoes, but on the feet: “How beautiful are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation!” What is the good news all about? Better than what your children’s Santa can ever put in their stockings... infinitely better than anything any man, woman or child can even dream of … “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard… this is what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him.” Isaiah gives fast moving MPEG clips of what is to come: “The Lord restoring Zion …the Lord comforts His people …the Lord has bared His holy arm … all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God!”

Push the skip button (or fast forward for ancient readers like this writer), and see what bytes the letter writer to the Hebrews has to add to our current file folder. He recovers and updates Isaiah’s bytes, and converts said file to a language compatible with early Christian time CPU processors. In effect he shows us that God spoke formerly in partial and various ways through the prophets. But now, he says, God has spoken directly in the person of His Son. Christ, he in effect says, is not just a series of 1s and 0s, a mime of someone else. Christ is God, the “refulgence of God’s glory, the very imprint of His being.”

It takes a little effort and attention to unwrap our gift this morning. Unlike the gifts you gave and the gifts you received, no tinsel, silver, and gold wrappings were used. No, he came “wrapped in swaddling clothes,” put not in a dainty box, but “laid in a manger” – a manger, mind you, a place where animals take their fill.

But you cannot judge a book by its cover, as they say. You don’t want to miss the gift for the wrappers, the forest for a tree. To unwrap this gift, you must have the wit and wisdom of Forrest Gump, and his infinite capacity for wonder, surprise, and joy. You need to be capable of being utterly happy with just a simple, little box of chocolates, “for ya just never know what you’r gonna git.”

John the Evangelist comes to our help in our gargantuan effort to unwrap the gift of aeons, the gift of all gifts – the gift that made Christmas a holiday, that made our “holidays” worth being called “happy,” and worth “jingling our bells” for as we dash through life snowed in by a culture of death, a culture of violence, a culture of terrorism and consumerism, and consequently, a culture devoid of hope.

Slowly and methodically – if theologically – John unwraps the mystery of the Word. Going beyond the romanticism of the child born and laid in a manger, surrounded by glossy-eyed mules and asses, venerated by well-coiffed and well-dressed “kings,” John soars high in the firmament of theological reflection, and gives us the equivalent of a “powerbook” account of the ultimate meaning of what happened in Bethlehem. Isaiah’s preview has now become concrete reality. Where Isaiah spoke of the coming “light,” John confirms that indeed, “the light [now] shines in the darkness.”

This morning, whilst you are all tired and sleepy and just about ready to hit the sack again, Isaiah, the letter writer to the Hebrews, and John help us to see truly what transpired, to see the totality of the meaning of the events surrounding the first Christmas. We need updated processors to understand it all. We need faster CPUs to process the meaning of it all. That updated processor that we all need to use today, as did the three figures in today’s readings is the processor, the eyeglasses – if you will – of faith. These eyes of faith will allow us to see the fullness of God’s revelation in and through Christ. This is the faith that will help us see truly and grasp fully the glory of God becoming one with us, like us, for us, in the person of this newborn King.

A merry and blessed Christmas to each and everyone of you!

Monday, December 17, 2007


Catholic Homily/Reflection
4th Sunday of Advent - Year A
By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

This Sunday, just as we are stepping onto the threshold of the much-awaited time of fulfillment of the promises of the Lord, we are told stories of tests, trials, failures, and flying colors!

Ahaz is given the opportunity of a lifetime. He is told by the Lord to ask for a sign … “a sign as deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky.” He is, to use a contemporary figure of speech, given some kind of blank check, a capital he could use to show his faith in the word and promises of the Lord. Ahaz, we are told, fails the test. False modesty and feigned piety do him in. “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord.”

Joseph, betrothed and practically joined in marriage to Mary, as was the Jewish custom at that time, also undergoes a particularly trying ordeal. Already given to him in a marriage that only needed the formalities as set by the law, Mary was “found to be with child.” Just one step towards the consummation of that marriage, Joseph agonizes, suffers, and feels sorely tested. In his virtuous (just) nature, compassion reigns supreme, and he swiftly acts so as not to put Mary to shame. Boldly, humbly, and courageously – for one who, to all appearances has been “cheated” – Joseph decides to “divorce her quietly.” Tried and tested to the core of his being, Joseph remains true to his virtue and character, and passes the test with flying colors!

For both Ahaz and Joseph, it was not a case of simple personality tests; it was in both cases, a test of faith. In both cases, however, such faith became the grounding of a personality that would either break down or brook solid in the face of trials.

Our Advent waiting is fraught with equivalent tests. For many in affluent America, right after Thanksgiving day, (as early as 5 a.m. for many), Christmas went full swing with the mad rush to shopping malls to get the biggest bargains! No, this is not the Christmas that the liturgy is preparing us for, but the commercialized Christmas whose patron saint is the gender-bending Santa Claus, a Christmas whose temple is the ubiquitous cathedral of commerce. In a culture that cannot wait, we have anticipated the joyful banquet that Advent is supposed to be preparing us for. In a computer world of fast-paced search engines, the sleigh filled with consumer items has gone much faster than the reindeer. We have begun eating the dessert and the sweets, so to say, much earlier than the main course that is the Christmas mystery. In more a more familiar figure of speech, we have put the cart before the horse.

Advent, the supposed time of waiting and preparation, is all but glossed over and ignored. In its place, we have taken to thinking of gifts to be given and gifts to be received, and forgot all about Him whose coming gave the original and only valid meaning to gift-giving.

Still for others in the rest of the marginalized world, Advent waiting may be fraught with a series of disappointments. Employees of firms and factories closing down all over the world may be waiting with dread for the day they would receive their last paycheck. A great many of the 45 million Americans (from 1.5 million just a few years ago) who suddenly found themselves without any health insurance surely would rather not wait for the day they might get sick. For the thousands of families in the Philippines who lost loved ones, in a series of natural calamities, and whatever little they had, now buried under mud and debris, brought about by the callous, selfish, and greedy machinations of their more affluent fellowmen who denuded precious forests and mountains, there is precious little to wait for, to hold on, and hang onto for dear life. Their little dreams and hopes now lie buried under an avalanche of logs and thick gooey mud. A source of subsistence wages for a great many of the poor, those logs have been the steady source of sleighs-full of wealth for politicians, military officers, government functionaries, communist rebels, and unscrupulous businessmen and middlemen alike. Having killed the goose that laid the golden eggs, the Filipino people, can only wait with dread and untold fear, for the next mostly man-made calamity.

For many in similar predicaments, Advent time is a painful time. Still for many, it might be a futile wait, like the proverbial “waiting for Godot,” an angst-filled and empty waiting time for something that may not come.

Whether one is in a place where “sleigh bells ring,” or in a place where ominous claps of thunder and reports of roaring rain and mud-soaked logs fill the uncertain air, waiting could be problematic and fraught with difficulty. The comic strip “Family Circus” says it all. The day before Thanksgiving Day (in America), the little boy tells his Mom: “I wish, I wish, it were already Thanksgiving!” When asked why, he said: “So I could begin wishing it were already Christmas!” People wait avidly for Christmas. In some places like the Philippines, it has begun yet last September. And when Christmas day really comes, everything falls flat on its face. There is a sudden “denouement,” a precipitous drop in people’s expectations. Built up to a frenzy months and weeks before, it fails to satisfy when it’s finally there. Once gifts are opened, and Santa’s predictable presents are taken off their tinsel wrappers, far from the deceptive glow of halogen lamps in crystal caged shelves of malls, they fail to give the promised lift, the expected fulfillment as promised by the vendors, and by glossy mouth-watering brochures.

Everything turns out to be vanity .. and all is vanity, especially for those who lack the right perspective that today’s readings remind us of.

We are reminded today that everything turns to vanity when waiting is not spurred on by faith, when we do not really see what we are waiting for beyond what glitters and glows. The Gospel shows us how even Joseph’s disappointment turns into active engagement with God’s will when he saw what it all meant, when he saw the vision of an angel who said: “do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” Joseph’s faith, already strong in the first place, came out even stronger, when God’s dream became his own dream, when God’s vision became his own vision and mission.

Advent waiting that is based on our own selfish dream is bound to be disappointing. Advent dreams that are not in keeping with God’s dreams for us and the world are bound to fall flat on their faces. Like the purely earthly dreams for gifts that glitter, in the long run, they do not satisfy us fully. Like the sinful, get-rich-quick dreams of the illegal loggers in the Philippines, which are not obviously in syntony with God’s dreams for everyone to enjoy the fruits of the earth, in the spirit of equity and solidarity, they end up in disaster for everyone, both now and in the future.

Advent means waiting alright. But it has as much to do with listening as with waiting. We who claim we believe in this God who came, still comes, and yet will come in and through Christ, have some listening to do. Like Joseph, we need to stop, look, and listen to His gentle nudges and reminders … never to be afraid, for God has become Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” He invites us now, as he did Joseph, to make His dream for the world and for humanity, our very own.

The Gospel tells us that “when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” What, then, are we to do?

St. Paul shows us the way. Unlike Ahaz, who hid behind a thin veneer of pretended religiosity and hypocrisy, despite the Lord’s telling him to ask, Paul listened to the Lord and obeyed. He became, in his own words, a “slave,” an “apostle,” and “set apart” for the gospel of the Lord. Paul’s faith, in other words, was not one to remain on the level of pietistic declarations and hypocritical, shallow attachment. It was not a faith that was good only for one hour on a Sunday morning, not a faith that glows only with tinsels and lights on Christmas day. It was not that kind of faith that theologians call mere fiduciary faith, a faith based on touchy-feely emotions and mere fellow-feeling, but a faith that is performative, a faith that is willing to “do as God commands.” For Paul, it meant being and becoming a “slave,” an “apostle,” “set apart,” not for honor and glory, but for service.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Catholic Homily/Reflection
3rd Sunday of Advent - December 16, 2007

Not only is there a collage (and a seeming clash!) of images in today’s readings – deserts coming to full bloom, farmers waiting for rain and harvest, prison and prophetism; one also comes to grips with a mélange of feelings ... Isaiah waxes hopeful, painting a picture of regeneration, with the “desert,” the “parched land,” and the “steppe” all coming to full flowering, and all exploding in joyful song. James, for his part, extols patience through the image of a farmer waiting “for the precious fruits of the earth.” With a tone that seems to speak of ambivalence, John the Baptist, gives a puzzled question to Jesus through his emissaries: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Gaudete Sunday, which is meant to be a day of “rejoicing,” midway as we are through the liturgical period of “waiting” and “preparation” for the “parousia” or the coming of the Lord, finds us with a mixed bag of images and feelings – and I would venture to add – questions!

We are in a situation not much different from that of Isaiah, James, and John the Baptist. Isaiah speaks to a people in bitter exile. James writes to an incipient church community frazzled by the imperfection of its members, and puzzled by just when this awaited “coming” was going to be! The situation then was as human as it could be, so as to merit a little admonition from him: “Do not complain about one another … Behold the judge is standing outside the gates!” John the Baptist, who speaks about the “one whose sandals [he] is not even worthy of untying,” the one on whose behalf he enthusiastically proclaimed: “Prepare the way of the Lord … Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain shall be made low… the winding road shall be made straight and rough ways made smooth,” was not exactly having a nice, smooth ride. He was, in fact, in prison!

This is the same human situation that Gaudete Sunday finds us in – a situation of various types of exiles, of interpersonal strifes, disunity, and mutual criticism, and even more varied types of imprisonment. We are no better off than Isaiah, the exiled Hebrews, James and the early Christian community, and John the Baptist about to perish literally in prison and suffer a martyr’s death for somebody’s personal convenience and “peace of mind.” Like then, we need to hear a message that puts back meaning into an otherwise meaningless existence. Like them, we need to see first hand the unfolding mystery of a God who saves, a God who reveals Himself, as much in experiences of tears, as in experiences of rejoicing. Like John the Baptist, who for a short while wavered because what he “saw and heard” Jesus did was not becoming a reality as far as he was concerned, our faith can also waver. The one who “would set the captives free,” who gave sight to the blind, who made the lame walk, the deaf hear, cleansed lepers and proclaimed the good news to the poor … Was he or was he not? Was he the one, or ought he to have waited for another?

But the message of Gaudete Sunday is not for those who are already rejoicing. The message of today is not for those who are already filled, the already free, the smug, and the complacent. The message of Gaudete Sunday is for those who still “mourn, for they will be comforted.” Today’s message is for those who still “hunger for righteousness, the poor, the suffering, for they will be satisfied.” The message of today, as it has always been the message of the Savior, is for those who despite being in “prison,” like John the Baptist, can still afford to be “peacemakers.” The message rings clear for those who, despite being hurt, can still forgive; who, despite being shackled, can still be free to speak the right, the true, the good, the beautiful – even if it offends the sensibilities of people who don’t want to hear it.

Gaudete Sunday is a song of rejoicing and blessedness for people who seem to have no right at all to rejoice. Gaudete Sunday, once again, is a story of the famous “reversals” we have been referring to over the past Sundays in this series of reflections. Gaudete Sunday is a message redolent and replete with hope as only a people in pain can understand. He who knew the rigors and harshness of imprisonment – John the Baptist – also knew how to speak of freedom, of deliverance, of salvation. In life, he preached eloquently. In death, he prophesied convincingly and definitively.

Gaudete Sunday is not for those whom the Lord addressed his famous “woes.” “Woe to you who are rich, you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep …”

Gaudete Sunday is a mixed bag of images and feelings. At a time when all we see is the drought of optimism in a world that walks in the darkness of consumerism, individualism, competition, the mad dash for more and more comfort, and the specter of terrorism and counter-terrorism hangs like Damocles’ sword over everyone of us, it is hard to rejoice. At a time when we are beset and besotted by a train of trials – “sweat and care and cumber; sorrows passing number,” it is hard to rejoice. When all we see is desolation, when we fall victim to people’s idle talk, to others’ unjust “complaints” and criticism, when “all I endeavor in disappointment end,” it is hard to be patient. It is hard to go on focusing our thoughts and minds – and hopes – on him who claimed to be the “way, the truth, and the life,” and the tendency is to go some place else for solace. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?”

Gaudete Sunday is for you. Gaudete Sunday is for me. It is for all of us, for we all basically are exiles who still live in this valley of tears. Gaudete Sunday is for every believer, whose beliefs are being sorely tested and tried by what we see and hear, and experience. And even believers do have their moments of questioning, their temporary state of desolation and dryness.

Isaiah, the Jews in exile, James, John the Baptist … they all were in conditions familiar to those who “mourn, suffer, hunger, and who are poor.” People in pain, they knew what they spoke of. People of faith, they saw more than the average person. People of hope, they saw far beyond their tears, their sorrows, and their pain. They were people of vision. They were people with an alternative imagination and consciousness who saw “cadences of home,” and images of hope in what, otherwise, could not be mistaken for any other thing than plain and simple desolation.

They speak to us now. They rouse us to a fresh reframing of our list of “woes.” As Isaiah saw visions of swords being turned into plowshares, our tears will become overflowing torrents that will water the parched land which will “bloom with abundant flowers.” As James saw the image of a farmer awaiting rains whether “early or late,” so shall we see copious fruits of a life well-lived.

What do you think will you find out in the desert? “What did you get out to the desert to see?” What do you expect people who are brave and strong enough to face their life’s deserts? Do you expect to see a “reed being swayed by the wind?” No. You don’t expect a weakling to last in the desert. You expect to see a person of strength, of courage, of faith, of hope, and of love. You expect to see a prophet in the caliber of John the Baptist! And that was exactly what Jesus’ disciples saw in John the Baptist – a prophet par excellence, who prophesied bravely in life and even more so in death!

Gaudete, dear friends. I say it again, as St. Paul does: “Rejoice … the Lord is near!”

Friday, December 7, 2007


Catholic Reflection/Homily
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - December 8, 2007

So many people want to be recollected. But so few understand what it means. Still fewer do not know what it entails. The world keeps on telling us: Produce. Do something. Don’t just sit there; be productive. People who claim they want to be recollected often don’t really want to be recollected. What they really want is collect things, collect souvenirs. Just like people who spend their recollection day gathering up stuff to bring home from the gift shop, or taking pictures, especially the digital kind that you can easily crop, drop, or otherwise reject, without guilt, or dump into one’s digital dust bin of overflowing memories.

For one reason or another, to be recollected is almost always seen as being hopelessly passive, wasting time gracefully, (and money, for one usually pays for an excursion to a monastery or retreat house), and waiting passively for the next talk or powerpoint presentation, or the next musical piece designed as background to whatever it is we do, or don’t do. Many times the background music becomes the centerpiece of conversation. It becomes just one more distraction. All too often, we ask one another where we got it, who’s the artist, or whether we have more of the kind, etc.

Recollections and retreats end up being the most mentally and physically active times of the year. We run hither and thither. We cannot sit still, for we are preoccupied with not being occupied, with being just there and doing nothing productive. This may well explain why the ubiquitous cell phone (or is it the blackberry?) or PDA is always on “just in case.”

Our topic for today, no matter our pious sentiments, is not a popular one. Who wants to be a “handmaiden?” Who would want to be playing second fiddle? Who would want to be at the beck and call of someone else, ever ready and willing to do someone else’s bidding? Who would want to be a doormat of sorts and be everyone’s personal administrative assistant?

Anyone of you who has seen or read the novel/film “The Devil Wears Prada” would know how hard and how counter cultural it is to be a handmaiden. Andrea, the main character of the story, was the perpetual handmaiden of the narcissistic character played by Merryl Streep, Miranda Priestly. For a whole year, she was tripping and falling all over herself just to please the intractable and unreasonable Miranda Priestly.

I am sure no one in our times and days would ever want to be such a handmaiden.

But I would like to suggest that it is so because we really do not understand what a handmaiden in the Biblical tradition is really all about. We think it is all about being passive, being with eyes perpetually downcast, and being a pushover. We think being a handmaiden is being literally a doormat.

No one wants to enter this unknown “virgin territory.” We’d rather be in control, in charge of things. We’d rather be on the wheels, rather than being on the passenger seat, or in the back seat. We want to know where we are going, even if all we really do is obey that flat voice of the GPS that tells us to turn right or left, or make a legal U turn where possible.

And yet, today, you are here to extol Mary as Handmaid of the Lord. First and foremost, let us get it straight. The original word in Greek is doule, meaning slave or servant. It might interest you to note that it was Mary herself who chose the word doule kuriou (handmaid of the Lord), or in Latin ancilla Domini. The meaning, somewhat clouded by the English handmaid, in OT theology, is really a high compliment. It implies certainty on the transcendence of God and submission to his design. God’s might and sovereignty, which evoke and answer “service” is what this being doule is all about, the subject of the Magnificat, Mary’s great prayer. This prayer insinuates that Mary is a type of Israel, God’s servant, pais. It pays honor to Abraham, God’s servant. The Magnificat points to the “servant” characteristic quality, which may be linked to Christ’s description of himself as lowly of heart. The lowly were God’s favorites, the Poor of Yahweh, the anawim of Yahweh.

All this is to say that the word “handmaid” applied to Mary has nothing of the saccharine, touch-feely characteristic trait in it. There is nothing passive and weak in it. Instead, it all has to do with action, not mere passivity.

ECCE ANCILLA DOMINI. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. We are entering virgin territory here, through and through. No, not the uncharted kind of territory, but the one chosen, decided on, freely accepted by Mary, a courageous woman of faith. To be virgin, in this sense, is to be what recollected ought to mean. It means, in the words of Loretta Ross-Gotta, “to be one, whole in oneself, not perforated by the concerns of the conventional norms and authority, or the powers and principalities. To be a virgin, then, is to be in a sense recollected.” And here, we speak of recollection of the right kind.

We can talk of so many problems that plague humanity in our times, but I think that one of them is this lack of recollection, this lack of free choices and decisions. We are led, like meek lambs by mass media. The “Black Friday” (shopping spree the day after Thanksgiving) phenomenon, designed by social psychologists, and social engineers to be come-ons for people to go out and buy, and to fan the flames of consumption and consumerism, takes most of us for a ride, a roller coaster ride of excitement and disappointment. We are not free in a sense. We are co-opted. And when we buy, we always are led to believe we have made wise purchases, and wise investments, for at the very least, there is nothing quite like owning something that only about 2,000 other people own exclusively for a few months.

Andrea of “The Devil Wears Prada,” is an image of the harried and always hurried ambitious young woman or man, who need, who are coerced to do almost anything to go up the corporate or success ladder. And one is forced, literally, to do anything to get that coveted post, or that coveted salary range. One does not become a doule, or a slave in that sense. No … one becomes enslaved, which is a different thing altogether.

But Mary was ancilla, by choice, by decision, by profession. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Mary, as I said in my reflection for the Immaculate Conception feast, is both servant and sovereign. She was no pushover, no Andrea to be patronized and looked down on by a mighty and supercilious Miranda Priestly. She was a self-professed doule, like Abraham was God’s servant, like Jesus himself was, the great suffering servant of Yahweh.

But there is more to this doule, this handmaid of the Lord. Her openness, readiness, and virginity led her, ironically, to conceive. It might interest you to note that the word conceive is a very active verb. Again, it has nothing to do with passivity. Its root word has to do with “capturing, seizing, taking hold of.” But the stem “con” connotes cooperation, participation, activity, and conscious decision. Angelus Domini annunciavit Mariae. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto. The Holy Spirit took hold of her, but we can also say that Mary cooperated with, offered herself as doule to the Holy Spirit. We could say also that she took hold of God active in her and through her, and the miracle of the Incarnation took place. Mary was no pushover. Mary was doule, servant and sovereign in her virginal motherhood.

No one of us wants to be doulos or doule, as I said. All of us want to be CEOs and Masters, and Managers, and Supervisors. But the Christmas story, not according to Hollywood, but according to Gospel good news, did not unfold through the manipulative machinations of the rich, the powerful, and the mighty. All the Christmas story needed to allow the plot of God to come true was a willing womb, a ready heart, and a virginal vessel that was willing to allow itself to be seized by God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s plan for all of humanity.

All that God needed was a handmaiden who was ready and willing to profess, FIAT MIHI SECUNDUM VERBUM TUUM. The rest is history … ET VERBUM CARO FACTUM EST, ET HABITAVIT IN NOBIS.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Catholic Homily/Reflection on the 2nd Sunday of Advent - Year A
By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

One thing I love doing most is going up mountains (as I get older, these coveted mountains get lower and lower, I must confess). The best part, of course, is not the grueling climb up the peak. Neither is it going down from the peak. The best part is being at the peak, looking down and far in the fading horizon, or at least, looking down with ill-concealed sense of triumph at seeing the winding path one has traversed. On a clear day, or a moonlit night, the best yet is to extend one’s gaze in the undefined distant horizon, soaking oneself up in the oceanic feelings brought about by the breathtaking beauty of nature, conjuring up visions of yet better and greater things, as only the human spirit can do. There is something deeply awesome in being up a mountain on a clear day, looking towards the direction of one’s dreams and visions. Somehow, buoyed by the success of making it to the top, one cannot but wax hopeful. One’s perspectives change, and one senses stirrings of fulfillment and fullness. One is buoyed by heights, and encouraged by the possibility of homing into the very cradle of one’s brightest hopes.

Today, the good Lord turns engineer and road-builder, and, through Baruch the prophet during the great Babylonian exile, tells us to set our sights on the heights that is Jerusalem, from there to look down upon Bethlehem, to look down on the difficult paths traversed, and still being traversed by a people steeped in equivalent exilic circumstances. He seems to tell us (and the Jews of old), as did Frank Sinatra: “On a clear day, rise up and look around you …”

Our days may be far from clear in our times. Like Baruch’s Jerusalem days, ours may be wrapped up in the “robe of mourning and misery.” All we see may be nothing more than mountains, and depths, and gorges. As we go uphill in our struggle for meaning, our search for truth and salvation, our valiant efforts to “rid [the] dragons, and root out […] sin,” all we want to do at times may be to just “sit down by the rivers of Babylon, hang up our harps, and weep.” Like Magdalene’s, our eyes may be clouded over by tears, and like her, we may not see the gentle stirrings of home, and the soothing images of hope that today’s liturgy offers us.

There is precious little clarity in the minds of many people today. Even those of us, who, by virtue of their special vocation and call to ordained ministry, ought to be clear “transparencies of Christ” may also succumb to discouragement, despondency, and a gnawing sense of defeat. I do… time and disappointing time again. Just when you thought you have made a brilliant homily … just when you thought you have reframed the Christian teaching so well for people to understand – and accept with alacrity – you realize with utter disappointment that people invariably do their own reframing, their own filtering, and the gospel message ends up being watered down, its moral cutting edge blunted by people’s existential and current predicaments, and a complex set of entangled relationships, and unkept vows. In a mall-driven culture of “returns and exchanges,” allegiances and loyalties change as fast as commodities change hands (and as fast as they are discarded in this Styrofoam throw-away world). In the end, for most people, their “operational theology” takes the better of their “professed theology.” What they say and claim they believe in, is not necessarily what they live in practice.

Clear days may well be getting fewer and farther between in many places. When we behold a tired earth, groaning under the collective weight of people’s greed and insatiable desire for more and more luxury and comfort; when we realize that 3 per cent of the world’s population (that is America) use up 30 per cent of the world’s energy; when we see how the source of clean and safe drinking water is fast going the way of fossil fuels, and that it will soon dictate the course of wars; when we behold a terrorized world cowed in fear by misguided zealots who have succeeded to reframe cold-blooded murder and mayhem into martyrdom, and successfully hijacked religion to serve their sinister ends, our life may be likened to a “falling leaf, and no everlasting hills I see” (Christina Rosetti).

Last week, we reflected on the sore need for us now to “re-imagine our hopes,” using Brueggemann’s concepts as springboard. Today, we continue our “fresh readings” of these modern-day realities in the light of Scripture. Once more, we cast a fresh glance at the lack of clarity in our times, and allow the light of God’s Word, to lead us. Like Cardinal Newman’s famous prayer, we pause today and ask the Lord: “Lead kindly light, amidst the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on.”

The paths traversed by God’s people were not exactly bright. They were “led away on foot by their enemies.” They were “a people who walked in darkness,” like God’s people even now, even here. But we share in the same people’s destiny to “see a great light.” Baruch reminds us now, as he did the Israelites of old, that “every lofty mountain will be made low.” An engineer, a road-builder, and a bridge-maker all rolled into one will come and intervene with “mercy and justice.”

Our celebration today has to do with that road-building message of a God who has come, still comes, and will yet come. Our gathering here at Mass is an exercise at gaining a little more clarity, in order to banish the darkness of disappointment and loss of hope in the effectiveness of God’s promises. Our business agenda here today is to cure our shortsightedness, our blindness to the egregious Biblical fact that for people of faith, “the Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (Responsorial Psalm). Our thoughts today are focused on a people in exile, whose banishment did not push them to abject despair and abandonment of faith. On the contrary, it produced brilliant prophets like Baruch, with a hopeful imagination who “lifted their eyes to the mountain, whence comes their help.” Looking at the mountain as home, as goal, and as source of strength, they proclaimed: “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.” From atop that vantage point of God’s fidelity and God’s love, at home in the presence of a God who does not abandon His people, they conjured up images of hope, buoyed up by the unflappable conviction that the “winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.” Through Baruch et al’s prophetic imagination, we are led to re-imagine our hope as a sense of moving toward home, getting closer to the pinnacle of our longing, which is ultimately God’s own desire and dream for us His sons and daughters.

Advent is waiting time. We talked about that last week. But Advent is also listening time – a time to be actively and fully engaged in hearing the Lord’s cadences of home in the stirring and bold proclamations of prophets like Baruch and St. John the Baptist. Advent is obedience time, if we understand the word obedience in its original Latin sense, which is “to listen,” “to hear the gentle call from the heights, to follow the homecoming invitation of a God who tells us today, as he told the exiled Israelites: “Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west…”

I end with a quote from F. Buechner (cited by Brueggemann, 1997) who speaks about hope as a “longing for home.” “We carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons us […] Joy is home, and I believe that the tears that came to our eyes were more than anything else homesick tears.”

Our eyes may be temporarily clouded over. We cry for what is, for what might be, for what could be. But we glory in God’s abiding presence behind this thick veil of tears. Between the “already” of His coming as man in Jesus Christ, and the “not yet” of our unfulfilled longings and dreams, our eyes are kept focused up above, from where comes our help, as we hear each other sing the gentle “cadences of home,” and see images of hope behind the mountains and depths and gorges that mark our way to the summit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

IT IS NOW THE HOUR! (1st Sunday Advent-A)

Catholic Homily/Reflection
1st Sunday of Advent- Year A

The second and third readings’ insistence, not without a tone of urgency, to “rise and shine” and “conduct ourselves properly as in the day,” is striking. There is no mistaking it. It is urgent. It is important. And it is imperative that one gets to realize that, while waiting for something imminent and sure, one really has no time to lose, no moment to spare, no opportunity to waste and let go.

The insistence can be summarized simply thus: it is now the hour!

It is now the hour! Whilst it is true and obvious that in our days, people are hard pressed for time, and are quite incapable of waiting, it is also true that for many people in a mad rush towards something undefined, the sense of urgency can often be more a sign of neurotic attachment to being occupied and busy with something. People rush out of their work places, only to kill time in front of the TV screen, watching and getting involved in telenovelas, or let time fritter away in some entertainment place, while nursing a drink or two in the hand. People everywhere try to cut through snarled or stalled traffic, only to get home and spend more time in front of the ubiquitous computer.

People are in a perpetual rush. And people in rush are people who cannot wait.

Henri Nouwen makes an insightful comment that in the gospel according to Luke, the first personages mentioned are all described as people in waiting … Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna … and, of course, Mary! I would like to suggest my own tentative insight, for whatever it is worth to you my readers. I would like to suggest that for at least two of them, their waiting was crowned with a satisfied and fulfilled sigh of more than just relief. They acclaimed and extolled God who made known His glory at the appointed time. Zechariah waxed prayerful and grateful as he acknowledged the “hour of visitation” from the Lord God: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free.” Zechariah acknowledged that the Lord’s appointed hour of salvation has come. His profuse praise is made as if to say: “It is now the hour … it is now the hour to thank and praise God who has made good his promises of old."

Simeon, too, was a man conscious and cognizant of the “hour” of God’s epiphany. Happy and fulfilled that the Lord has, indeed, chosen to favor him with his timely self-manifestation, Simeon poured forth his thanks and praise for his “hour” had already come, and that it was now his “hour” to take leave with overflowing joy and a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment. “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled.” It is now the hour for me to go. It is now the hour for me to take leave quietly, for “my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people.”

But Mary herself was a woman of the hour. She knew how to appreciate and acknowledge the overwhelming truth, not only of the hour, but for all time: “From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty had done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Her prayer is made as if to say, “it is now the hour to give God utmost glory and praise, for he has mercy on those who fear him in every generation” … now … then … and thereafter.

We are a people tired of waiting. We cannot wait a minute longer to get our favorite fast-food meal. Many of us get violent while sitting it out in snarled traffic everywhere. In the Philippines, some people can even get so worked up waiting that, in their anger, they pump bullets into other people who happen to also get very impatient and cranky while struggling for limited driving space in our hopelessly inadequate roads. Road rage is nothing more than impatient waiting turned violent. In crowded restaurants, everyone has a sense of entitlement making unreasonable demands on the oftentimes hapless waiters and waitresses who get the ire of pretentious and unsatisfied customers who all want to be served first. Again, in the Philippines, predictably, ambitious wannabes are already positioning themselves as they drool over the most coveted office in the land as we approach once more the year of national elections.

It is indeed the hour for everyone who has his or her personal agenda to take care of. It is the hour to strut one’s stuff in the ramp of life. When it comes to ambition, it is always the right time. When it comes to personal dreams and desires, it is always the hour. And there is precious little time to waste when it comes to fulfilling one’s overriding desires and dreams. Already, in every Senate investigation and high profile discussions done under the glare of lights and whirring TV cameras, people who drool over national positions of leadership consider it their opportunity “to strut and fret their hour on the stage” of life.

Advent has once more set in for us believers. Today, we begin that very short period of no more than four Sundays when all we do is focus on the main issue of waiting. But today’s opening salvo would have us acknowledge like Zechariah, Simeon, and Mary did, that the time has come. What we are waiting for has come already and has irrupted into our present hour.

The personages in waiting as reported by Luke are individuals who wait, not impatiently, but imbued with the spirit of hope. Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna had all the time to be waiting. Luke’s report tells us they were old, very old, but ever youthful in their active and hopeful waiting. Their beard and hair may have been grey, but their hope never grew grey hairs. For patient and hopeful people who know how to wait never grouse and become grouchy when the “hour” finally comes their way. Impatient people complain when the object of their waiting comes around. “Why only now?” would be their exasperated statement, most likely. But hopeful people burst forth in praise and proclamation when the much-awaited “hour” comes around.

We postmodern people just cannot wait. There was a time people said, “wait a minute” if they had to have people on hold for any reason. Nowadays, people don’t even want to wait a minute. Most people would now say, “hold on a second.” Just a second, never a minute … In a world that communicates instantly “in real time,” a minute of waiting is simply unimaginable and unforgivable.

But important things can stand being waited for, more than just a second, and definitely more than just a minute. Today’s liturgy, the first Sunday of Advent, reminds us that it is now, not the second, it is now, not the minute, but “it is now the hour” of our salvation.

With salvation and redemption so important, a second less, a second more; a minute less, a minute more would not count as important. What really counts and matters in the long run is what that “hour” ultimately is all about – everything that our hope and patient waiting stand for – our salvation in Christ, “for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Fr Chito Dimaranan, SDB
CB Retreat House

Tagaytay City, Philippines
November 27, 2007 7:00 PM

Monday, November 26, 2007


Catholic Homily/Reflection
1st Sunday of Advent - Year A

By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

Advent has come once again. The rhythm of the Church’s liturgical calendar once more reawakens us to a fresh start, a new beginning, a renewed sense of expectation. There is newness all around us. In temperate zones, the breathtaking sights of “Goldengroves” of once lush greeneries turned orange, crimson, ochre, red, yellow, and then brown, fade away gradually, and give way to an apparent starkness and barrenness of winter, giving way to images of life preparing to burrow under cover of cold, chilly snow. In the rest of the world gifted with more sunshine and warmth, cool, dry, refreshing breezes take the place of wet, wild, and windy storms, or scorching heat, as the sun withdraws a bit from the scene, causing longer nights and shorter days – and milder weather. All over the world, there is a reason that comes with the season, to start afresh, make new plans, and adapt oneself to the changing conditions of nature that remind one as much of endings as of beginnings; closings and openings; death, and the hope of rebirth; and images of the old giving way to the new.

This is the backdrop to what the whole Church is beginning today, the season of Advent. At a time when all we want to do is to stay in bed for as long as we want, Paul tells us that “it is now the hour for [us] to awake from sleep.” At a time when darkness lingers longer than earlier days, he tells us to “throw off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” At a time when Israel could use a lot of encouragement, Isaiah spoke about “all nations streaming toward [Jerusalem].” At a time when people, like the Jews of old who were tried and tested to the core by exile, we are getting sick and tired of wars and terrorism, beheadings and gruesome murders, Isaiah awakens people’s flagging hopes with visions of nations “beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” At a time when most people are so taken up by the daily concerns that contemporary culture imposes on us all, the gospel’s apocalyptic language rouses us to also think about being prepared, “for an hour you do not expect, [when] the Son of Man will come.”

Without falling into the trap of accommodism, which is the tendency to read the Bible in terms of current historical events, and the concomitant tendency to show exact parallelisms between what happens now and what happened then, we should not fall into the opposite trap of reading Scriptures merely as a distant story of the Israelites, or of the early Christians, without seeing the underlying relevance, significance, and the power that its message has for us and our postmodern – even post-christian –society.

The Bible is historical in a precise way, as only a people of faith can understand. It is historical, whose underlying meaning counts as more important than the story it narrates. It is as much a record of the complex vicissitudes of a people’s history, as much as a record of their faith about a God intervening, working in, and speaking through the same shared history. But Scriptures transcend material history. Scriptures relate as much to the history of the Israelites and the early Church, as to the ongoing, unfolding history of God’s people all over the world.

We are part of this unfolding history. We are sharers and recipients of this same saving love and work of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaiah, the God of the prophets, and the God whom Jesus Christ revealed. We are a people in waiting like Jews waited for deliverance, like they waited for the restoration of the temple’s glory. We are a people of hope, and as we go through our own experiences of exile, of persecution, of trials and tribulations – our own “sweat and care and cumber; sorrows passing number,” we are also led by the same God who continues to save us in Jesus Christ, His Son. Our forgetful minds are refreshed by messages designed to sow hope and love, and not fear. Our story is reframed in, and rendered meaningful by His story.

Humankind’s contemporary story, like always, is a story of search. We are still in search for answers to problems that are bigger than life, bigger than the world, bigger than all of us put together. Our story is a story of waiting. We are awaiting the fulfillment of the brightest hopes and dreams of Abraham, of Moses, of Isaiah, of Paul, of Peter, of Jesus Christ. Today, Isaiah shares with us his dream – God’s dream ultimately – “In days to come … the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain … all nations shall stream toward it …one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again …” Today, too, Paul shares the partial – if, ongoing fulfillment – of this same dream: “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is far advanced, the day is at hand.”

We are, indeed, a people in waiting. We are a people of hope, as we grapple with a world that lives life like as if everything it offers is the ultimate. Many postmodern people live like as if there were no tomorrow to wait for, no future worth investing in. People go through life “imagining there is no heaven.” (It’s easy, if you try!) Indeed, in this cynical post-christian world, all modes of absolutism, dogmatism, and unempirical bents of mind are held suspect. Faith, hope, love, and other unquantifiable, and scientifically unverifiable “cumquats” are thrown out the window. By and large, people’s take on things is characterized by a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” to use loosely a term popularized by Schussler-Fiorenza. All forms of dogmatism from people in power are held in utter suspicion. No wonder categorical pronouncements from men of the cloth are not paid attention to, or downright ignored. Descartes’ famous statement that started the Enlightenment “I think; therefore I am,” continues to hold sway over us. In this logically positivistic culture, hope is bound “to grow grey hairs.” Hope is often replaced by mere feverish dedication to human efforts designed to banish sickness, pain, disease, and other blights of the human condition.

The Church, like always, like she has always ever been, goes counter-cultural today. We are told, not to imagine there is no heaven. No… we are precisely reminded there is a heaven to hope for, a heaven to work for, and the fullness of salvation to wait for. The good Lord, in and through the Church, issues a “wake-up call” for us. “Now is the time for you to wake from your sleep.” Now is the time of salvation. Now is the time for hope … more than ever … more than before.

But I am one with Brueggemann (1997) who suggests that there is a need for us to do a “re-imagination of hope” to be able to transform what he calls the Enlightenment “scripting of reality.” Isaiah did his part, by taking part through his prophetic imagination in the rescripting of Israel’s history. Through him and the other prophets of old, Israel’s history of subjugation, exile, and banishment became a story of God’s love, God’s compassion, and God’s faithful covenantal love. Above and beyond their experiences of sin and forgiveness, unfaithfulness and conversion, the story of God’s fidelity to His people became the grounding of Israel’s conviction, Israel’s faith in a God who fulfills His promises to His people.

Our current history is one of difficult waiting. We wait for wars to end, and for weapons of mass destruction to be banished from the face of the earth. We hope for better things to come, for a better and less frightening future for our children. In the Philippines, for far too long, a people shackled by so much graft and corruption in and out of government, bondaged by a progressively worsening lack of collective self-esteem and self-respect, wearied by so much lack of a sense of nationhood, healthy patriotism, and concern for the common good, for justice and solidarity, finds reason to continue on believing, to continue on hoping – even against hope itself – that “the days to come” will be an unfolding history, not of a forlorn and forsaken nation, but of a God who comes to the help of His people.

However, here is where there is a need for a re-imagination of our hopes. And Advent can help us in this quest for a needed re-imagination. Hope is not a type of resigned and passive waiting, we are told. Isaiah’s vision speaks of a “mountain” to which “all nations shall stream towards.” But he ends with something for people to do: “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.” The responsorial psalm extols the same “house of the Lord” as envisioned by Isaiah. But we all respond: “Let us GO rejoicing to the house of the Lord!” A re-imagined hope is a hope that is awake, a hope that is ready to pay the price for hoping. A re-imagined hope is a reframed story – a story not of people in bondage, but a story of God saving, God forgiving, God loving, and GOD BEING LOVED IN RETURN. A re-imagined hope is one that waits, not in vain, but waits actively, working for the very fulfillment of its hopes.

Advent is waiting time. We wait for the definitive coming of Him who has already entered into our human history. By his coming as man, He started the rewriting of our life script. Whilst before, we wallowed in the narrative of sin that was deathly and destructive, we now glory in the greatest story of reversals humankind has ever known, the greatest story ever told – our salvation in Christ. But Advent is also working time. We work together to write an alternative life script. Our new, common Christian narrative is no longer a story of hopelessness and despair, but a life-enhancing, and life-fulfilling narrative of a new life in Christ, the narrative of the life-giving Kingdom of God.

We are now back to where this reflection started – on Scripture. Scripture is one such alternative narrative we are speaking about. It speaks of hope in every chapter, in every book, in every page – the kind of hope that, in the words of Brueggemann, is “not a vague optimism or a generic good idea about the future but a precise and concrete confidence in and expectation for the future that is rooted explicitly in Yahweh’s promises to Israel.”

We who live in a postmodern, postindustrial world of technological marvels and gizmos, also live in an atmosphere of despair. Despair belongs to those who cannot appropriate an alternative narrative of the great storyteller, who once uttered “let there be … and there was life.” This ongoing story always ends with the truth – God’s truth: “And He saw that it was good.” God’s promises, God’s deeds, God’s marvels – the so-called magnalia Dei – all have to do with life-giving truths for us His beloved people.

It is time we listened to God’s wake-up call. It is time we realized that, amidst the falling leaves, the changing season, the lingering, longer darkness, God’s promises triumph, and will continue to triumph, for those who believe, for those who love, and for those whose hope goes beyond vague optimism.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
Solemnity of Christ the King

By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

Over the past few weeks, we have been reflecting on some reversals that the Gospel accounts present: the Pharisee and the Publican, Zacchaeus the tax collector, and his dramatic turn-around towards the Lord and his fellowmen, and the powerless widow who nevertheless influenced the unjust judge by her persistence. Make no mistake about it. Scriptural evidence is clear with regards to whose side God is on. He is on the side of the powerless, the poor, the orphan, and the widow. More than that, He has a soft spot for those who call on Him in trust, in unflinching and unflappable faith.

Today, we are face to face with one more such reversal … the ultimate reversal of the cross, an overturning of something that all of humanity associated with defeat, with death, with shame, and utter humiliation.

No matter contemporary and past society’s attachment to a culture of power and prestige, pomp and circumstance, honor and glory through worldly power and wealth, somewhat counterintuitively, the Church would have us celebrate today the solemnity of Christ, the King of the universe.

Contemporary postmodern society is really conflicted about power and the trimmings of power. We don’t value anymore the image of kings and queens in regal splendor, ruling over the masses with such aplomb and an air of snobbish detachment, far removed from the hoi polloi, the ranks of the great unwashed, and the arena of daily mundane, workaday world. The world has little respect and awe left for royal fanfare and pomposity. Just look at how much not a few societies have reduced the image of their centuries-old royalty all over the world. They are kept, not so much as a necessary fixture in their societal lives, as a cultural and historical artifact that defines, not so much their daily life, as their glorious historical and cultural heritage. Modern society is not exactly in love with royalty at least in its traditional image characterized by pageantry and pomposity.

At the same time, however, society all over the world manages to find a replacement for what they throw out the window. Ridding themselves of inane royalty, they look for the equivalent of persons on whom to bestow the same status. People do not line up anymore to get a glimpse of kings and queens in gilded horse driven carriages, but people do rant and rave for their favorite divas and entertainment kings and queens down Hollywood, Bollywood, and their local equivalents all over the world. They swoon, they stumble, they shriek with delight at the sight of their queenly and kingly stars whose faces are perpetually plastered on TV screens, billboards, and glossy magazines.

People just love to dignify and glorify all those they fancy, all those they identify with, all those who seem to represent their collective dreams and desires.

The Feast of Christ, the King of the universe, seems to be a little counterintuitive to this postmodern trend. There is something in the language that does not seem to fit the mould, something in the image that does not quite add up to the expectations of a people who have enthroned a lot more kingly or queenly figures than they can handle. The symbolic image of a Christ reigning gloriously on earth and in heaven just cannot compete with the modern icons of cultural leadership that the young people have elevated to the dignity of a figurative type of royalty. An image that drew raves during the baroque period associated with colonization and missionary expansion of the Church just does not attract a society that is now far removed from that understanding of Christendom that spelled untold successes and triumphs as far as “bringing the world to Christ” is concerned.

What do we make, then, of this feast of today? Wherefore celebrate it? What does it mean for us who talk less of kings and queens, and more of divas, thespians, idols, and cultural icons? With no space, time, nor interest for triumphant processions and whole-day adorations and the like, what is there left for us believers to hang on to?

A cursory look at history ought to show us that our faith has always been expressed through the prevailing customs, language, and symbols of the time. Thus, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament arose at a time when, first, there was a heresy denying the Real Presence of Christ in the sacred host. Second, it arose as a substitute to receiving communion at a time when, thanks to Jansenism, people thought nobody was worthy to receive communion, so people weren’t receiving any. In its place, popular devotion, supported by private revelation given to some saints and mystics, substituted the act of giving a “pious stare” to the Sacred Host placed in ornate, baroque, regal, and pompous “monstrances.”

The figure of Christ the King and other images associated with worldly kingship like power, majesty, prestige, and glory became de rigueur in people’s minds. People began to think of themselves as loyal subjects of this King, ready to suffer the cold, the heat, hunger, and sleep deprivation, in order to show one’s unparalleled allegiance to this same King and Lord, for whom the pageantry and high profile symbolism of triumphant processions were but right and fitting.

The image of Christ the King as powerful leader, savior, and Lord became uppermost in people’s minds and hearts.

I am not about to obliterate that tradition with this reflection. That is not my task. It is up to the believing community, helped by theological reflection, and led by sound and wise pastoral leadership to do that. But a little reflection on the liturgy and today’s readings might help us in our common quest for the unchanging essence of today’s feast. To start with, it might come to many as a pleasant surprise that the readings chosen for today do not emphasize that pompous image of Christ the King.

The first reading from the 2nd book of Samuel gives the opening salvo. It presents the image of David as a shepherd: “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” Shepherd here connotes tenderness, not brute power. Paul’s letter to the Colossians speaks of Christ as the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Christ, our King and Lord, comes from the Father, and cares for all of God’s creation, being its “firstborn.” More like a divine gardener sent from above, to which Paul adds still another image, this king is shown thus: “all things were created through him and for him.” He is, furthermore, “head of the Church,” “firstborn of the dead,” who by his rising, now shares everything, including reconciliation and peace with His Father. He is King who mediates. He is King who serves. And lastly, He is King through “the blood of the cross.” His kingship shines out most fully on the throne of the cross.

The baroque period was right in conjuring up images of a victorious, triumphant Christ as King of the universe. It was a period of growth and expansion on both the political and ecclesial fields. I am not about to take that away from history. But as a priest, pastor, and part-time teacher, I do suggest an overhauling of the way we present the feast of Christ the King of the universe. We do have to reappropriate the rich Biblical tradition that steers clear of worldly honor and glory, and pride of an elevated, but detached status of leadership. Rather, we need to appropriate a Christ, who earned this same honor and glory through dedicated leadership as servant, as victim, as bridgemaker (pontifex) who brought heaven to humankind, by offering himself to be lifted up on the cross. He was both priest and victim, offerer and offering, servant and leader, up on the cross.

The cross was Christ’s most important image in the tradition of “reversals” in his preaching and teaching. Up on the cross, he proclaimed one more such reversal. The condemned was no longer damned forever. The repentant sinner’s plight was reversed by him who overturned a sign of a shameful and ignominious death, and made it a symbol of eternal life and salvation. To the repentant thief, this same Jesus up on the cross himself said: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Silenced, cursed, wounded, derided, and defiled on the cross – and ultimately by dying on that same cross – he destroyed death and restored life forever.

What does your cross mean for you? What do you make of your current pain and suffering? One thing certain, for Christ, his cross represented the ultimate reversal. On that cross, he reigned supreme, as Lord, as King of the universe. Down from that cross, and once more lifted high in the glory of the resurrection, he still reigns as Lord and King in the hearts and minds of every believer. And He shall reign forever and ever. Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!