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Friday, November 29, 2013


First Sunday of Advent (A)
December 1, 2013


Mountains have always mystified me. Oceans frightened me each time, but mountains always somehow make of me a little mystic. I have climbed at least 14 of them in tropical Philippines, a number of them for more than just once or twice, or even thrice, and every time I set my sights on one, I always sigh – and pine for – the heights.

The Israelites were spot on to think of mountains as a place of refuge and a place to encounter God. It certainly was – and is – refuge for me … Then and now … when times get tough and the rough and tumble of life get the better of me. It is also a place of encounter with God, especially when right from day one we started the group – and the tradition of trekking up heights at Don Bosco Mandaluyong, Philippines – we ended each weary day with a lively recitation of the rosary and the traditional Salesian pep talk called the “good night.” But the best was always the Eucharistic celebration either at sundown or at sunrise.

More often than not, we did so, facing the rising sun, “ad orientem” – towards where the light of salvation emanates.

Three weeks after the unparalleled and unprecedented devastation wrought by the super-typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines), I still find myself in tears, unable to find sufficient meaning to so much suffering and death and utter desperation for millions, not hundreds. Although I am not directly involved in relief operations, but in finding ways and means to send help to those who do direct work of helping the hapless victims, I can’t help but be moved every time powerful images of intense suffering and an equally intense spirit of acceptance and resignation, brought about by deep sense of faith on the part of so many fellow Filipinos.

Today, first Sunday of Advent, thoughts of mountains come rushing back to my mind. After all, the prophet Isaiah says so: “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills” (1st reading). Mountains definitely conjured up images of strength and power as refuge. The ancient Israelites looked up to the mountain for solace and strength: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where shall come my help” (Ps 121:1)

Today, we are starting afresh … a new liturgical year … another challenge … another opportunity to be prepared for suddenness, for surprises. Typhoon Haiyan caught us all by suddenness and surprise. No one of us understood fully what “storm surges” were. Many of my countrymen thought they were safe inside their own homes, unmindful and unaware of what that much vaunted “storm surge” really would amount to. I don’t blame them. I probably would have done the same.

Now, in retrospect, casting another glance at today’s readings, and reading them once again using the prism of faith, we stand to learn a lesson or two that is totally apt for the Advent Season we are just beginning.

And just what would that lesson be? Simply this … nothing beats preparation for suddenness and surprises that can spring any time in our lives. But let me clarify this a bit … Suddenness and surprises only have to do with life in this unpredictable world as we know it, in our earthly and human way of reckoning. Suddenness and surprises can overwhelm only those whose minds, hearts, and total personhood are not attuned to the God of death and the God of life – the God who can give life while killing, the God of the living and the dead.

Suddenness and surprise can defeat only those whose focus never goes beyond the here and the now … those whose take on life does not go higher than satisfying physical bodily needs and desires … those whose only preoccupation is to make the most out of life this earthly life offers. Suddenness and surprise can only thwart one who refuses to “know the time,” and who refuses to acknowledge that “it is the hour now for [us] to awake from sleep.”

Advent is an antidote to suddenness and surprises. And Advent, more than being an antidote is really a powerful vitamin booster. It does not make us immune to suddenness and surprises. We will still be surprised by suffering, even as we will still be surprised by joy, even despite the suffering. Advent will never make us immune to pain of any kind, but what Advent leads us to is something beyond the heights, beyond the mountain peaks, beyond what mortals can pine and dream about, beyond thoughts, beyond imagination, beyond anyone’s loftiest longings and expectations.

It is great and noble enough for our strivings. It is worth our while to “prepare” and “stay awake for,” “for it will come at an hour we do not expect.”

It is beyond suddenness. Beyond surprise. It is the coming of the “Son of Man.” And when He comes, suddenness and surprises pale in comparison and will have to take the back seat. For we will then be in the realm of God’s promised SALVATION.

Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!

Friday, November 22, 2013


November 24, 2013
Solemnity of Christ the King Year C
Closing of the Year of Faith


I missed my weekly “pan” last week. I was taken up trying to do what in my little capacity I could, to help the hapless victims of the supertyphoon that wrought death and unprecedented devastation to many places in Central Philippines.

It felt so humbling … being literally so helpless. The magnitude of the destruction was and still is, unfathomable. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and no one plucks it out of nowhere just when one needs it, no matter how urgent, no matter how important, no matter how noble.

But at the same time, it felt so encouraging. The little that was available for everyone to do was precisely what the suffering millions needed. The power that was not anyone’s innate resource was the very same power that God needed to do His mighty works. Aid came in trickles … a little bag here; a little bag there. A few hundred pesos now; a few hundred pesos later. By Tuesday I had enough to send me to the groceries and shop for needed ready to eat foodstuffs that I felt I needed to send. Fast. Forthwith.

So to the mall I went. After buying solar lamps and sending someone to buy a Ham radio transceiver and generator sets from people’s initial donations, I proceeded to the supermarket. There I saw the power of lowlinees, simplicity, and weakness, the power of one becoming the power that God eventually needs.

I espied a group of old ladies, hardly able to push their carts. They were shopping for loads and loads of crackers and noodles. Behind them and before us were young couples with their toddlers in tow, stocking up crackers and noodles and other easy to prepare foodstuffs. I made for the beeline of people asking for boxes and boxes of the same stuff. And then it dawned on me. I was going to send them to the typhoon victims. They, too, apparently, were going to do the same.

Today is the Solemnity of Christ the King. There is ironically nothing kingly (as the world understood it) that oozes out of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The image connotes simplicity and weakness. What power does a lowly shepherd has? What force can a young smelly shepherd like David muster to frighten giant marauders and warriors like Goliath? What dent can little old ladies who could not even carry what they buy make to a gargantuan tragedy that Haiyan (Yolanda) was for millions of Filipinos that happened to be in its murderous path?

But Kingship as the Lord would have it, was not meant to be associated with power. Kingship as he showed and lived it is far from what the world prizes and values and understands. Kingship of the Lord has to do with shepherding and serving. It has to do with being lowly and low-keyed; with simply serving rather than serving self and aggrandizing and ingratiating oneself.

This King is one who established his kingship with the passport of suffering and pain. He hung on the cross, reviled, ridiculed, dissed in every way, and despised by everyone. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”

This King is the one we honor today. He is no ruler, if what you mean is commander of armies and warrior and power wielder. He suffers in silence. He serves in his suffering and suffers in his ultimate service – the offering of his own life so that we all might live.

Our people are once again in pain. I see so much helplessness. Many lost everything including loved ones. Life will never be the same again for millions of us. And yet, those very same people in pain are the very first ones to call on the Lord that the world considers a shame. Despite all the pain, they behave like there is everything to gain, if only they held on to their faith.

Christ, the King, passed through the same path. Simplicity. Suffering. Death. Unjust treatment from everyone. He experienced no typhoon, but he is just as battered and bruised by undeserved suffering. He is King. And He is such because He is the first to show that glory, fullness of life, salvation, and God’s final victory are nothing but the flip side of what the world rejects, refuses, ignores, and intends to deny – the mystery of human suffering.

To a people so hardy and strong, steadfast and sturdy in faith, I say: “Hold on.” The King has an important message in his simplicity, suffering, pain, and ignominious death …”Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Hail King! King of our hearts, King of the universe, strengthen us in faith, hope and love!

Saturday, November 9, 2013


32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
November 10, 2013

N.B. I would like to join CNN, and the rest of the world, in paying tribute to my suffering compatriots down south in Central Philippines, who braved through the strongest tropical cyclone on earth in about three decades, by posting this pic I grabbed from CNN


Despite the systematic drive of anti-Catholics, most Filipinos trooped to the cemeteries, brought and lit candles and offered flowers for their beloved dead. Many also offered prayers and had the names of their beloved deceased relatives written and brought at the foot of altars in innumerable churches all over the country. They all are symbols and at the same time, actualizations of what many of us believe – that for us Christians, life is changed, not ended, and that we owe it to those who have gone ahead of us, to intercede for them, pray for them, that they all might be granted, in God’s mercy, eternal rest with Him in heaven.

Of course, we just don’t pray for their “eternal rest.” Souls don’t have weary bodies anymore as to need “rest.” But “rest” here, of course, stands for rest with God, union with God, eternal salvation in Christ, and full redemption just as God had promised in the same Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.

Belief has a lot to do with what we pray for, and how we pray. In Latin, that’s a real old saying that is worth remembering … lex credendi, lex orandi. What one believes shows in what one prays for and how one prays in general. So, too, with the whole community of believers called the Church. The Church’s prayer has always been attuned to the same Church’s belief systems.

What, you might ask, is the Church’s most important belief with regard to life in its fullness, as God would have us live?

Simply put, it is called the Church’s constant  teaching about life going beyond the merely physical and palpable level. It has to do with the Church’s conviction that life is a continuum and that it does not end with physical or bodily death. It has to do, too, with the fact that death for Christ and His followers is actually a bend to pass through, not an end that puts a full stop to living here and now.

Death for us Christian believers is exactly how the Maccabean brothers thought of it to be. Yes … they believed in life after physical death, life in its fullness; life as God willed it. And they stated their belief quite unhesitatingly: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”

This, too, is what the Gospel passage reminds us of. Through a dramatic,  - if, highly improbable scenario – the seven brothers who each had to marry the same woman when all of them died one after another, shows us that life here on earth is but temporary, along with what the world considers as undying bonds while on earth. But life on earth, and everything that it entails as earthly realities, are ephemeral. They are not permanent. They all can be cut short by physical death.

But there is one thing that cannot be cut short, that cannot be denied, that no earthly power can take away…

We call this eternal life – that which goes beyond earthly and bodily demise, that which happens after we say good-bye to this world. And this happens because we believe, as Christ taught us, in the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting with the Trinitarian God in heaven!

Nothing is permanent in this world. “Here, we have no lasting city.” Yes … even the billions that corrupt legislators and politicians divided among themselves did not last. Yes … even the whole corrupt system concocted by the top most powerful people in and out of government … Whistleblowers, for whatever motive, not excluding the religious motive of finally seeing the light and turning back to the Lord in repentance, managed to expose the whole abominable and abhorrent deed.

Nothing lasts. Nothing remains as is. Todo se pasa, St. Teresa of Avila wrote long ago. All things change. Only God never changes. Solo Dios no se muda! And one of those Godly teachings that don’t go away with the wisp of changing wind or violent tempest is the teaching, and our conviction that the dead will rise again on the last day.

We will rise again. We will rise again. To new life. To a new heavens and a new earth! “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.” For you are a God, not of the dead, but of the living!

Saturday, November 2, 2013



31st Sunday Year C

November 3, 2013


I am afraid of heights. I fell from a tree once in my life, while doing  - you know – that childhood classic Batman stunt! (I will spare you the details!) But for one afraid of heights, I think I have done a mean feat climbing 14 Philippine mountains, one of them for more than 12 times!

I am a small man, too, by any standard, including by current Philippine standards where children of people not any taller than me, end up being a lot taller than their progenies. (Did we do the Star margarine challenge right? Or we just didn’t have Cherifer “tangkad sagad” back then?)

Today, I take comfort from the story of Zacchaeus. No … I don’t mean to gloat over his height (or the lack of it!). I meant, I take comfort from Zacchaeus, not because he was just as small as me, but because he was endowed with a big heart. He was willing to go out very literally, on a limb, because he had a great desire to see, to know, to be blessed, even from afar.

Many people there are who prefer not to see, not to know, and not to be blessed by a possible serendipitous surprise of a lifetime. Simon and Garfunkel (at least before they walked out on each other’s lives) crooned about them many moons and suns ago … people looking without seeing; people hearing without listening … The Lord had better words to describe them … “they preferred the darkness rather than light.”

I am still reeling from a memorable participation at the recent Philippine Conference on New Evangelization as one of the speakers. I spoke about a Zacchaeus-like story. I talked about “growing strong in broken places,” a title I borrowed from Paula Ripple who wrote a book back in the early 80s about the same topic. I talked about my younger me back in the 70s wounding a hapless mango sapling. I tied a knot in its young trunk, when it was not more than 2 feet high, a young tree trying to find its rightful place under the sun.

It was trying to rise above the other plants and shrubs, to touch and see the life-giving warmth and rays of the sun, and become part of the grove that surrounded the public school where I taught Catechism. It was trying to do a Zacchaeus, running, huffing and puffing, and trying to rise above the crowd, for he had a desire to see, to experience what the rest of the pressing crowds were all excited about.

But the great surprise happened. People in search do find, as the Lord promised: “Seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” It turned out the Lord was far more in search for him, than he was for the Lord. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for I today I must stay at your house.”

I would like to tell the world today of this great wonder, this great surprise. It is not so much the fact that we are out in search, as the Lord being out to extend his compassion and mercy and forgiveness and salvation. Christian life is not so much about us calling on God, but about God calling us, beckoning us to climb down from our perches and being surprised by joy, by life, by everything that has to do with life in its fullness.

The Lord has called the mango sapling to life. But I, sinful and selfish that I was, had decided one morning to destroy it, by wounding it gravely. But many years later, when I got back to the place after my ordination, I saw the tree, fully grown, sturdy and stable and mighty and proud. I felt for the wound. It was still there – a humongous scar that became the star of its total being. It had grown strong at its broken place.

The tree now stands for me an eloquent witness of what we just heard in the first reading: “But your spared all things because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

A tree was trying to live, trying to rise above its natural limitations and join the rest of God’s handiwork, and find its place under the sun of God’s compassion and mercy. Like Zacchaeus, broken and sinful as he was, just like you and me, was trying to see, to behold, to touch the glint of mercy in the Lord’s eyes.

Zacchaeus got it. The Lord, who never intended to go to Jericho, ended up staying for a while to do an errand of mercy. God was in search of sinners. God still is. And he is in search of me and you up till now.

But there is one thing I need to do. Zacchaeus shows me the way. I must run. I must rise. I must climb up the tree and embrace it wounds and all, warts and all – including the tree I just wounded horribly. Scarred trees are beautiful, even as according to Fr. Guido Arguelles, scarred people are found beautiful by God, in Christ, who himself was superscarred!

I need to see. I need to hear and listen. I need to look and really behold – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

My former student and mentee, Ronan, together with his own current students now in High School, took up a challenge I posed to them while preparing for the Conference on New Evangelization. I told him my story. I asked them to write their take on the story. And they came up with a short film entitled ANG KWENTO NI BUHOL (THE STORY OF KNOT).

I may be broken, but I am not beaten. I may be short, but I am not shit in God’s eyes. I may be powerless, but I am not forgotten. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”