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Friday, December 31, 2010

VIRGO PRAEDICANDA, MULIER VENERANDA, MATER AMATA!

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
January 1, 2011

Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21

You got to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. You got to take seriously what Scripture says. You got to be non-selective for once, and take to heart what the Archangel himself says to this woman, blessed among all women: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

Maria … virgo praedicanda! Mary, the virgin who shocked the world by giving birth, has to be proclaimed. This is news that made it to the headlines of the world at that time that sent shock waves all over Jerusalem! 

This is the news that sent shivers down the spine of the evil one, long foretold in Genesis as the woman who will strike the serpent with her heels! This is the virgin that defied all worldly logic and, contrary to her feelings of fear and trepidation, threw all caution to the winds and replied with a resounding “FIAT!”

This virgin defied not only earthly, worldly logic. She defied what now everybody seems to think is the most compassionate. She did not abort the baby born out of wedlock. She did not think of what to feed the baby. She did not think of what most people now think about with so much concern and calculation.
What would others say? I know not man!

The virgin defied worldly logic, but did not defy the will of God. She listened. She experienced normal fright and worry. She asked. She begged. She prayed. But she obeyed!

Nowadays, we are in the same predicament. Population, some quarters say, is on a runaway inflation mode. Population, they say, threatens the very future of the human family. Ironically, though, their worries about  the future of the human family lead so many to eradicate the very humanity they say they are trying to safeguard. 

Mary, virgin, mother, woman, daughter … filled with trepidation, was nevertheless “filled with grace!”
By virtue of her saying “yes” she was elevated by the author of grace to the level not reached by any human born of Adam and Eve … she became thus, mulier veneranda, a woman worthy of veneration and emulation!

We all have our worries and fears. I fear getting sick and old. Gone past the stage of the morning of my life, I fear for so many things. I dread being incapacitated and rendered unable to do the things I enjoy. I fear for Philippine society and societies all over the world, apparently becoming fully co-opted by a Godless world of entertainment and showbiz. I fear entire governments no longer acting under the sway of the Christian, evangelical culture – what good old Pope John Paul II called a “culture of death.”

It is tempting to throw away the virgin and her lessons. It is tempting to treat Mary as just one of the female personages of the Bible, nice figures and images to put atop pedestals, but who really have nothing to tell us about how to live, what to believe, and what values to hold onto.

It is tempting to say “yes” to the rampaging culture of postmodernity and globalization, and just surrender to what the laws of economics seem to tell us … to wit: more people means more mouths to feed, more bodies to take care of, and therefore, more poverty. It is more than just tempting to fall for their arguments that prosperity will accrue automatically if we lessen the runaway population boom.

That seems the more logical thing to do … join the bandwagon of doomsayers and declare new babies as threats to the planet’s health, threats to our well-being.

There was this woman, worthy of veneration. She did not give in to popular pressure. She did not follow the surveys and the leading cultural gatekeepers in her time. She worried … Yes! She feared … undoubtedly! But despite the fears, in spite of the worries, she listened. She meditated on the angel’s words … and she obeyed. “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum!”

She gave birth. She became mother. And her son, being God and man, brought upon her the singular title that ultimately made her virgo praedicanda, and mulier veneranda! But beyond this, as mother of God, as mother of us all, as mother of grace, as mater amabilis, she is also mater amata … a woman so much loved … a woman blessed among all … MATER DEI, MATER AMATA, ORA PRO NOBIS!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

AS ONE WHO GATHERS TREASURES FOR HEAVEN!

Feast of the Holy Family(A)
December 26, 2010

Readings: Si 3:2-6.12-14 / Col 3:12-21 / Mt 2:13-15.19-23


Yesterday, Christmas Day, I spoke about an eclipse much like the lunar eclipse that people stayed up late for last week, mostly under the North American skies. I referred to what spiritual writers spoke of a whole lot over the last decade – the eclipse of God in the mainstream culture of postmodernity. God is effectively shunted aside by popular culture, the voice of His Church effectively muffled by the onrush of the postmodern forces of individualism, hedonism, and minimalism that Matthew Kelly wrote about so well in his book “Rediscovering Catholicism.”

All three forces are formidable, to be sure. All three are real threats to a culture that was once a mainstay of people’s social and individual lives. For what was once Christian Europe, for example, the liturgical year was what shaped people’s lives, what gave it rhythm, and what directed the daily events of people for centuries.

But all this is gone … ravaged by the forces of modernity – and now – postmodernity!

I dare not talk about which is the worst among the three in the list of Matthew Kelly. But I do venture to say that of the three, individualism seems to be the trend that hits right at the jugular of Christian family living, what effectively not only shunts aside, nor simply muffle the voice – and influence of – the Christian family, but also renders it almost powerless to propel any meaningful and lasting change to the course of society as a whole – all over the world!

Just 15 or 20 years ago, less than the number of years I have been a priest, families used to go to Christmas Day Mass together. Mother, Father, and grown-up and growing children in tow, would dutifully, solemnly, and, I must add, joyfully, do their Christmas morning rituals and worship as one, big, happy family in their parish Church. Today, mothers and fathers would do their duty first thing in the morning. Their teen-age sons and daughters presumably have gone the night before, with their friends, or would go to the evening Masses, not in the parish Church, mind you, but in the many masses that take place now in shopping malls all over the country!

Togetherness has gone the way of the extinct dodo bird! In its place is the ubiquitous individualism that puts the individual person at the center of everything that humans do on a day-to-day basis. The culture of fast-food (courtesy of microwave ovens!), the sub-culture of texting and digital personal entertainment via 3G or higher generation phones that are more than just phones, have all conspired to make the individual person feel – and behave – like he or she does not need anybody else. Institutions have effectively lost their power to influence their thought patterns, value systems, and behavior clusters.

This is the bad news. This is the horizon of human existence in the here and the now. This is the situation that Bishop Anthony Bloom wrote about many decades ago – a life like as if there were only two dimensions – the here and the now, where the hereafter no longer captivates the fancy of the young, the fearless, and the lonesome. Where personal data management and information systems, can be made to fit tiny electronic gizmos that are just bigger than one’s wallet; where one’s survival can be assured by the flick a switch or the push of very small buttons that one can push at will even without looking, the need to do things together effectively goes out the window.

But God’s horizon, that we hear about now in the readings, beckons all of us to take a second look at the reality we are immersed in. For such is the whole message of Christmas. Christmas is all about God coming and God staying. It is all about a God becoming like unto us; a God becoming man so that man might become more than just remaining helplessly and even hopelessly imprisoned in his own  self-made walls of individualism, minimalism, and hedonism.

Families are no better off now that each one can fix his or her own meals, at his or her own pace and time – and even – place! Families are no better off now that children can decide for themselves the right thing to do, that even minors can have the right to decide to abort unwanted teen-age pregnancies without the permission or knowledge of their clueless parents!

Families are no better off now that the aged (read: old “yucky” grandparents) can no longer have any say on how to discipline – or at the very least – “educate” their beloved grandchildren who have suddenly grown bigger than their breeches, almost overnight!

Families are no better off now that no one, as in no one, can anymore tell young people how to distinguish between right and wrong, between the convenient and the honorable course of action, and between the self-centered and altruistic course of action at any given time. No … individualism, minimalism and hedonism have long held sway, and  have long kept the young under their spell.

But God’s horizon tells the Church never to give up even what appears to be a losing battle. God’s horizon keeps on beckoning us, men and women of good will, to put up a gallant fight and keep up a stiff resistance to the forces of individualism, minimalism, and hedonism.

Today is one such occasion. Today is one such “teachable moment,” a privileged moment of evangelization. And as a priest, I would like to call you to task. Yes … you! I would like to remind you that evangelization is not mine alone, but yours and mine to do. And the family that needs most to be the focus of evangelization cannot be reached if the Church does not co-opt you, if the Church does not call each one of you to task, and if you don’t allow yourselves to be taught precious lessons by the Holy Family of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!

We must do a fusion of horizons. We must get up and gather the scattered pieces of our societal lives. We must become family again. Humpty Dumpty must pick up the scattered egg shell pieces and make himself whole again.

Life can be more like we are Humpty Dumpty’s most times. Everything is broken and tattered courtesy of individualism, minimalism, and hedonism. Everything seems in disarray.

But no! Christmas is about broken humanity getting a boost because God chose to be broken and become finite like us, so as to make us whole again. And if family reunions take place and we are able to make them happen during Christmas time, it is because deep inside, we all know, that God has the power to heal brokenness, that God gives us the graces we need to make more than just Humpty Dumptys to be whole once again. That we, on account of Christ’s birth, are now empowered to work together to make the world a better place of everyone … and that this can only happen if we start with the family, as God wants it, as God wills it, as God will do eventually and definitively, with a little help from each of us!

How about giving God a hand? Now. Here. The "thereafter" is assuredly ours to get ... for "he who honors mother (and father) is like one who gathers treasures for heaven!"

Friday, December 24, 2010

CERTAINTY, SURETY, PAGEANTRY, & MYSTERY

Christmas Day Year A
December 25, 2010

Midnight Mass: Is 9:1-6 / Titus 2:11-14 / Lk 2:1-14    Day Mass:  Is 52:7-10 / Heb 1:1-6 / Jn 1:1-5.9-14


Preaching on Christmas day is doubly difficult, at least in the culture I am most familiar with, Philippine culture. Although I have spent more than enough Christmas seasons outside of my home country to know the difference, preaching is a little more challenging in my home country for a variety of reasons. For one, most people who are in front of me right now have been at it for nine days – attending Mass and doing the Simbang Gabi (Misa de Gallo) either at early dawn or late evening – everywhere in the world, where there are Filipinos! Secondly, with so many last minute Christmas parties galore everywhere there is a semblance of a group or club, or clan, or work-related associations and assemblages, (not to mention hordes of balikbayan relatives to do family reunions with!), people are generally tired, weary, and sleepy on Christmas day itself. Thirdly, especially for the early Christmas morning masses, armies of excited kids, and wide-eyed youngsters take the Churches by storm, before they attack their harried godparents, to get their wherewithal to spend the rest of Christmas day with, in the many bursting Malls all over the country!

Let us face it … your attention span is close to zero by this time! And the chattering, blubbering kids, each one with his or her own story to tell, does not help this equally harassed preacher and presider any!

But as priest, prophet, and king, albeit unworthily, but truly, ontologically – in an analogical and participative sense like unto Christ the Supreme High Priest, the Prophet and King par excellence, I have to do my duty today, the second most important feast of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar.

Now, let me wax a little more theological … After all, this is what the liturgies of Midnight Mass and Mass during the day tell us, each one with its own focus and slant. The Midnight Mass gives us all the elements that make for pageantry: crèche, swaddling clothes, fully occupied inns, shepherds keeping watch at night, manger, and animals for good measure!

But behind the seeming pageantry, and poetry of Christmas night, the readings evoke certainty and surety! “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” This light is not like the tentative, oftentimes fleeting light that the moon showed last week during the much awaited lunar eclipse. Many of my friends in California were frustrated. After staying up all night, they failed to see the eclipse, for the simple reason that rain clouds covered the show of almost four centuries! Not even those who saw the live stream webcast saw the whole proceedings with surety and certainty.

Christmas midnight Mass revels, as much in surety and certainty, as in pageantry! Yes … quite unlike the lunar eclipse last week, the light shone … with definitiveness, with certainty, and with surety! This  is the certainty of faith that sees, notwithstanding the seeming signs to the contrary, the outcome. This is the surety of a faith that comes from Him, who fulfills His promises of old … promises that we heard repeatedly over the past nine morning or evening Masses!

But lest we get lost in mere pageantry, and miss the forest for a tree, sort of, the Mass during the day, takes us further out into deep waters, or higher up the mountain of mystery, as the case may be. Yes, mystery takes the place of shallow pageantry on Christmas morn. And it is simply ironic that when the Church revels in mystery, and proclaims the depths of the meaning of Christmas, she does so just when noisy, ebullient, and energetic kids are on the prowl for their godparents, and their older counterparts wistfully longing for the comforts of bed to recover all the lost energies of the frenetic pre-Christmas novena period in the Philippines!

For the sake of the richness of the liturgy of Christmas, let us ask ourselves: what exactly is this mystery all about?  The first reading from Isaiah puts us right into the heart of it all … salvation! “The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.”

Why is this “mystery” a “mystery” at all? John answers this for us … it reveals and hides all at one and the same time. It gives away clues, but it does not and cannot give it all away all at once, for it something so profound, so vast, and so far-reaching that we need a lifetime and a day to fathom it, yet not fully … John speaks about the Word … the Divine utterance taking on flesh. The big word for it is INCARNATION … It also talks about light … “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Whilst the Midnight Mass liturgy revels in pageantry, the Christmas Day Mass glories in mystery. It builds on an event. It bases itself on a fact of the birth of the most awaited one. It builds on history. It rallies on the majesty of a newborn King, but the Christmas Day liturgy tops it all up with a word on mystery.

But mystery, per se, does not mean abstruse and incomprehensible. It does not mean something vague and unbelievable. It is something that reveals, even if the fullness of what it reveals is not yet perceivable and perceptible, not on account of its being unintelligible, but on account of our human debility and finitude.

We celebrate Christmas year in and year out. And despite the “repetitiveness” of it all, we never tire of it. The child in us never ceases to wonder. And it is in the wondering that faith is enkindled all over again, so that its light shines even brighter and clearer, even in the new forms of darkness that envelopes the same world we belong to – a world in search, a world in waiting, a world in expectation that the certainty and surety of all this pageantry-cum-mystery, would one day bloom into unspeakable reality, untold glory, and utter majesty!

The angels knew it. The shepherds felt it. The animals in the manger proclaimed it. And the whole Church militant now cries: GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO, ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS BONAE VOLUNTATIS!

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

Postscript: The Salesian Philippine Province of the North welcomed the pilgrim relic of St. John Bosco yesterday. I would like repost the montage of images on Don Bosco with the official hymn for this momentous visit of the Father, Friend, Teacher and Intercessor of the Young to his beloved young people of the Philippines and the world in over 130 different countries!



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CONCEIVE, BEAR, NAME!


 This reflection obliquely touches on St. John Bosco, Father and Teacher of Youth, whose relics are now making a tour of the Salesian world. I would like to share the official MTV and official song to commemorate this once-in-a-lifetime event for the young, for the world, for us who are willing to dream and ready to pay the price for that dream.


4th Sunday of Advent (A)
December 19, 2010


You all have probably heard about it, read it, or got to know about it somehow … the grisly, gruesome deed … the cold-blooded murder of a 28 year-old husband and father of four young children, apparently planned and plotted and perpetrated by someone so close, so unexpected, so unbelievably on intimate footing with him, for years!

Planned for, plotted, and perpetrated … It apparently took her only a few months to plan for, with a little help from someone who stood to gain from it all. The news of the cold-blooded – if, so shoddily planned – murder of this young man out in Las Vegas, is a shuddering piece of news, and a sobering thought for each one of us, myself included, who happens now to live just a few miles away from where he grew up.

Being no spring chicken anymore, I know a little about plans being hatched, and projects eventually seeing the light of day. I know from experience, and can speak a little about dreams and visions coming to full bloom, when one has, not only the blueprint in hand, but also the grit and determination at hand, to see through to their completion and eventual fruition.

I know it from first-hand experience …

My father came from a poor family of two boys. At age 11, his only younger brother died, ravaged by typhoid fever. At that age, the two brothers already shared a dream. In the little plot of land their parents owned, they dreamt of something bigger than their puny little bodies could possibly attain. But not quite adolescents yet, they started planting coffee. My father not only managed to make them grow. He actually became a little expert on how to care for them and make them bear fruit in plenty.  From what I know, years later when we were growing up, those coffee trees they planted when they were just innocent play-age kids, were what eventually tided us over and sent us all to school.

I know it from second-hand experience and from training …

When I got to know Don Bosco, the particular detail that remained etched in my mind was the very same concept of “dreams” becoming reality. In his modesty and simplicity, he spoke of what seemed like “heavenly visions” as simply “dreams.” But it was a particular dream at nine years old that sent him soaring to the heights of holiness. He dreamt of “wolves becoming sheep, and shepherds who guard and never sleep.” That dream is now reality in over 130 countries all over the world!

All of us, who turn into wide-eyed and dreamy little kids on Christmas day, have experienced a little about dreaming and making what we dream for a reality. All of us can probably tell a story or two about people who “conceived,” “bore” and finally “named” the dream that has become real.

I cannot forget our teacher in Pilipino when I was but a 16 year-old freshman in college. His classes were not just lessons on making well-crafted sentences and verses in Pilipino. His sessions were all one seamless and telling lesson on life, on conjuring up lofty dreams, and on the capacity to pay the price for those dreams. Mr. Florentino Gecolea, who came from a very poor family himself, shared with us not only his literary prowess in our own native language, but his “life technology.” As he taught us the beauty of prose and the nobility of poetry, our hearts were touched by his life-story. It was one of “dreaming” and aiming high, and being ready to work hard for it, neatly summed up in a very touching and moving poem that he dedicated to us, prior to his leaving for good for Canada … “Awit ng Makahiya.”

I cannot forget too, one of my teachers in Speechpower back in the day. I cannot recall her name, but I do remember what she shared with us … how she brought herself all through the public school system, and made it to where she was then, all on the basis of a childhood dream.

I now go to the point of this reflection. In this fourth Sunday of Advent, our thoughts are focused on one who “conceived,” and “bore a Son” and eventually “named” Him Emmanuel. I speak about Mary, who dreamt along with God, and who paid a handsome price for it. She conceived. She bore. And her bearing the child in her womb for nine months and introducing him to the world, caused her untold pain. In fact, sorrow, just like a sword, broke her heart and tore it apart. Only he or she who is willing to bear all, can be worthy of “naming” what that pain has brought into the light of day.

I bear witness to the power of dreams and their concomitant power to conceive, and bear, and name. I saw it from both ends: the power to make something happen as when criminals hatch up a plan, plot for it, and execute it. Selfish and greed-motivated as they are, the focus and the energy put into it can literally move mountains and cause untold havoc to the hapless victims, as happened in the story I told you above.

But I bear witness, too, to the overriding power of a dream, that rides on, and jibes, with God’s dream – all for the good of others, all for the sake of people other than oneself. That was my father’s dream. That was Don Bosco’s dream at nine. That was my two teachers’ dream, who both refused to be victims of circumstances, victims of their parents’ poverty, and victims of their lack of capacity to pull themselves up from their bootstraps.

Advent, so we were told repeatedly, is a time of waiting. But let me qualify that. It is not empty waiting. It has nothing to do with futile twiddling of thumbs, waiting for something to happen. It has to do with pregnant waiting. It is “conceiving.” It means “bearing” … paying the price for what you expect and actively wait for. It has to do with “naming” – naming what one needs to get out of the way; naming what one needs to do “to fill in the valleys, and straighten the highways” for the Lord, who is coming … as sure as night follows day … as sure as the lessons that life has taught me so far … as certain as the meaning of His name: Emmanuel – God is with us!




Wednesday, December 8, 2010

FEEBLE HANDS + WEAK KNEES = FEARLESS HEARTS!

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A
December 12, 2010


They simply don’t seem to add up! Problems today … challenges here …  obstacles there … worries here, there, and everywhere … they don’t add up. No … if you think otherwise, you’re not odd. You are just one of us lesser mortals … at times cautious, many times afraid … and most times worried sick.

At 55, I am worried about getting sick and unable to do what I mostly enjoy doing everyday. At any age, people everywhere worry about the future. Everywhere, people now, who know enough and are observant enough to take notice, do wax worrisome over the fast degradation of the only place we call home – mother earth!

Take the case of people in the Marshall islands – the Mashallese – whose tiny island atolls are predicted to be the first to disappear with the rapid onset of global warming. Already now, shorelines are being reclaimed by the ocean, rocks and solid land are crumbling before the eyes of residents who now worry about their legal status, should the time come for them to leave the place they have been calling home for generations!

Take my case … I have been an educator for decades, and a teacher for 33 years! Like the “oldies but goodies,” songs “the likes of which nobody makes anymore,” as my fellow baby boomers generally lament, children and young people in general, just seem to us to be growing more and more distant … more and more different from years past … more and more given in to entering into their inner worlds, inner shells, and inner sanctums! The “narcissism epidemic”  (Twenge & Campbell, 2009) is now widespread, and we educators are helpless and clueless about what to do to stem the tide, much like  the hapless Marshallese who are at a loss as to what to do about water tables getting more and more salty by the day, due to ocean water seepage deep in the bowels of their disappearing islands!

There are reasons galore to be worried!

But no! Today, the liturgy takes on a different stance. Like always! Like before! And like it would, till kingdom come! One thing about the Church’s liturgy is it does not follow the bandwagon. It does not echo the pessimism of the times. It, in fact, echoes down the good news for all times, for all seasons, despite all the reasons to the contrary. Liturgy is prophetic. It refuses to give in to the times, even as it seeks to “read the signs of the times” and tries to offer an alternative view of things, a transcendent one, if you will … a  view that makes us take a second look at things, and see beyond crumbling rocks and disappearing islands, and tries to make us worried people see a glorious future, that goes far beyond the here and the now!

Last week, I reported to you, my readers,  a world of powerful feelings, associated with people in pain, people who have more reasons than I can ever muster, to throw in the towel, and crumble into a heap of despondency and depression. I see it every day … people who live on a hand-to-mouth basis, who may have something to eat now, but nothing sure and certain for the morrow … people who may stand stolid and stable now, but who may not know what to do with their sense of utter loss when they get back home and face the reality of an unreplaceable personal loss!

I see it in the likes of Elizabeth Edwards, who, just seven years ago, was a bubbly and bright companion on the side of a vice-presidential candidate. Back in my Baltimore days, she was a picture perfect icon of a rich, powerful, and brilliant woman who had everything going for her … a rising star political bigwig for a husband, a bright future, a successful personal career, and a host of other “enviable” privileges, rights, and accomplishments.

But God had other plans! I saw it, too,  in the life and death of my older sister who died 7 years ago at age 56 of the very same cruel disease that cut short the otherwise idyllic life of Elizabeth. I saw it in the pained looks of the 3 boys and their mother I told you about last week. Today, I received a follow-up plea for further help. I knew it … their lives have been transformed into a big heaping crumble of a mess … a far cry from what they were enjoying just a month or so ago, suddenly cut short by “man’s inhumanity to man.”

But I told you that the liturgy takes a second look at things. And this is what as a priest, as a preacher, teacher, and as counselor, I would like you all to take notice too. We see now, mostly through the eyes of our raw sinful humanity, prone to hopelessness, depression, and despondency.

But to look again, to take a second look (respicere in Latin, which is the root word of “respect”) is to respect the “imago Dei” deep within us all – the image of God deeply embedded in our personhood and creaturehood.

I would like you to look again at the formula above … the first two addenda represent what all of us are saddled with … feeble hands + weak knees.

Feeble hands … I have been toiling in the field of education and teaching much longer than many of my readers have been in this world. My hands are feeble … for educating young people seems more like pouring water off a duck’s back. What it all reminds me of is a ferris wheel or a merry-go-round. I seem to be just going around in circles, and it all does not seem to work in the end.

Weak knees … I used to play some soccer when I was younger, and climbed a lot of mountains of yore.  But age seems to be catching up with my lofty dreams. My knees wobble. My legs tremble. And my resolve gets me into a double trouble. How now do I go on educating young people who don’t even seem to appreciate what I do for them, preferring to remain in their mind-set that I am there to make their lives miserable?

“Lord, come and save us,” is a very real prayer for me, not just  a feeble response after the first reading today. Lord knows how often I prayed it when we siblings were at my sister’s bedside, praying for a miracle, hoping against hope, that, somehow, my prayers as a priest, will reverse nature and keep the cancer cells miraculously on hold. Feeble hands + weak knees do not equal a miracle. Feeble hands plus weak knees equals tears, copious tears, and bitter tears!

But despite – and, precisely because of these tears, I come to you as messenger of a God who stands by us in pain and sorrow, and I say, with Paul the Apostle, “Gaudete” – “rejoice!” I say it again, rejoice! I repeat what last week’s readings already said, “They will bloom with abundant flowers … “

Yes …I submit that feeble hands and weak knees do not add up and make for joy. But God does. God is. God will. Surely. Definitely. With finality and utter fidelity! For it all has nothing to do with us. It all has to do with Him. Life as we know it, life as God wills it has nothing to do with additions and subtractions, divisions and multiplications. It has to do with more, not less; with a resounding reality, and not with subtrahends and dividends; with infinite joy, and not pointless products and multiplicands!

It has to do with final, utter, and unspeakable joy – perhaps not now, but forever; perhaps not here, but for always; perhaps not today, but for all days. And so I say, with James: “Be patient until the coming of the Lord.” And so I say with Isaiah: “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing.” And yes! As two and two make four, feeble hands + weak knees, over faith, hope and trust in God, will always result to FEARLESS HEARTS! GAUDETE IN DOMINO!

Paranaque City
December 8, 2010
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE!


2nd Sunday of Advent(A)
December 5, 2010


Two things I like most about Advent season are: first, it is real short … just four short weeks and Christmas comes around without further ado! The second is, it brings in a whole lot of reasons that fit in nicely with the season!

Let us go straight to the point … Advent is all about coming, and coming points to waiting, and this is the whole point … Advent is all about waiting that goes beyond merely twiddling thumbs expecting for something to happen!

Today, the readings sound like things are happening right here, right now!  Isaiah talks glowingly about the coming Messianic times. He speaks in terms of images, graphic symbols that only serve to whet the appetite for what is to come … surely, definitely, without fail.

The first reading’s images remind me of a farm, a farmer, and his menagerie. It speaks about what pass for strange bedfellows. Isaiah speaks of sprouts from lifeless stumps, wolves living alongside lambs, lions lounging with carefree calves, and teething babies bantering with otherwise cruel cobras. The set of images are a lesson on clashing contrasts. In a word, they speak of something impossible.

Last Sunday, 1st Sunday of Advent, I saw pretty impossible images that stand more like closer to our reality. I presided over a moving funeral Mass at early morn. The sight of the young bereaved children left behind by a man even younger than me broke my heart. It was a picture of impossibility. How would a single mother now continue to send them all to school?

Later that day, I saw another impossible sight. I dwas asked to do a family therapy session for three young adolescent boys and their mother after their father much younger than me again, was ambushed and killed. Knowing in my heart that “it is such a secret place – this valley of tears,” (The Little Prince) I thought it was an impossible situation! My heart got broken a second time all in the course of a day’s work for me! And it had to happen when I, together with the whole Church, am supposed to preach about hope, about patiently waiting for what is to come surely and without fail.

This second Sunday of Advent, the readings convict my lack of hope and faith. But even before they did, the “impossible situations” I saw last Sunday already brought me face to face with my waning and wavering hope.

Today, I stand up with the courage and faith that I learned from people whom I ministered to last Sunday. I saw images of my father, a natural-born farmer by vocation, and an accountant by avocation, who first taught me precious lessons on hope. I saw images of Mang Jess, an old, retired public school teacher, who volunteered to help us develop the farm in Canlubang many years ago when I was there. I saw images, too, of my two grandmothers during my childhood, who literally made sprouts out of stumps, and raised a menagerie of cats and dogs, and free-range chickens and all, and figuratively made “a hundred deserts bloom” by sheer hard work and a lot of patience and more patient waiting. I remembered Mang Jess, who at way past 72 years, was still planting fruit trees for the future, who still raised animals and cultivated vegetable plots for others to enjoy. I remembered by grandmother who, long after her death, left us so much mementoes of gardens abloom, and fruit trees bearing copious and luscious fruits.

They all conjured up images of hope and patient waiting for me. They turned the impossible possible. They made what was, for all intents and purposes, meaningless into something real and meaningful. For the bereaved children of those I ministered to, I saw the tenacity of hope in the face of so much uncertainty, suffering, and pain.

Yes, dear friend … “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.”

Today, as I reflect together with you on the second Sunday of Advent, I am once more convicted by the readings and the whole tenor of the liturgy. My experience last Sunday assures me that it has nothing to do with empty promises, and that it has everything to do with reality. And it happens, not in an indefinite future, but a definite time, “in GOD’S time,” which means NOW.

I believe, together with Antoine de Saint Exupery, (The Little Prince) that “it is such a secret place – this valley of tears.” But this Sunday, I also would like you to know that I believe, together with Isaiah, Paul, and John the Baptist, that this “secret place” will  not be forever. “For there will no longer be crying, tears, or pain” (Rev 7).  “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.” (First Reading).

This Sunday, as every Sunday, but most especially through Advent season, this is what we proclaim and declare in our common worship – “that by endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.”

My father, Mang Jess, my two grandmothers – all farmers for that matter, knew it by experience and training. You plant today, and nurture and fondle what one has planted with the tenacity of hope. And this means, waiting, and waiting some more, for stumps to turn into sprouts, and everything  to bear fruit “in his time.”

Advent is all about coming. And it points to the need for waiting. And claiming what one waits for with faith, hope, and courage, is to make what seems impossible, possible. Like I personally saw last week. Like I continue to see in many of you today.