PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Monday, July 31, 2006

 

"Humility is like underwear"


Humility is one area most of us struggle with. The humility test often shows its results especially when we examine our responses during our close brushes with other people. The usual culprit, of course, is our immodest ego, this disgusting desire of ours to make an impression, which is, after all, human nature. Loving ourselves is not wrong, we recognize readily. But the trouble is most of us seem to have an excess of it that we always find ourselves dying to send the subtexts of our having good looks, wealth, intelligence, fame, even character.

The last item, in my observation, is especially pathetic. When we send not just deliberate subtexts but screaming announcements that we are canonizable, it too sucks, oftentimes because it is untrue. Someone likened humility to underwear: essential, he said, but indecent if it shows.

I, for one, struggle in the humility department especially because I grew up perennially getting the top honors in school as a young boy. I amazed my family, my aunts and cousins with my drawing talent, too. Plus I found out that I had quite a sharp memory. What's worse, when I grew up and attended college, I went to a non-humble school, one that screened out those it considered less intellectually or academically endowed.

It wasn't long before I noticed that every gift I had also came with a curse in terms of the temptation and the resultant struggle to keep my feet on the ground, i.e., to remind myself that I am only human, I am not perfect, and I could die any time.

But I made it a point not to hide my gifts just the same, when the situation did not call for hiding. To insist I am dumb and ugly would be indecent as well if I am not. I would be telling a lie. There's also such a thing as false humility. A lot of us are not aware of it but we often practice false humility.

But going back to humility... Fr. J. said that, once you're aware of it (humility), you don't have it!

What?, you ask. Yes, the concept is not as easy as ABC. Here's a sample of reactions that exhibit humility as a false facade: Instead of saying a curt Thank you to a valid compliment, we deny the compliment aloud in the hope that it is counter-attacked very kindly, thus heightening the validation we want to hear. The trouble is, most of us are given to lying and, with this common knowledge, most of us cannot take other people at their word. It's understandable that we are wary of flatteries, but a pure, humble person would not want to be self-effacing either.

So what really is humility? The right answer might be found in St Teresa of Avila's words: "Humility is living in the truth." When we are humble, we recognize that a) we are but made of humus, but b) we are children of God. That's the true definition of humility from the Christian perspective.

To an outsider, humility - and the absence of it - can get indeed get pretty deceptive. Like J. D. Salinger said (in the novel Franny and Zooey), there are people who are so conceited they are actually humble. On the other hand, I know certain people who dress up humbly but are actually subtle braggarts, dropping insinuations here and there like it's the most natural thing to do in a given conversation.

St Teresa of Avila's admonishing definition therefore can never be overemphasized. As Christians, we are constantly told to be humble, but we are also constantly told to love ourselves. "How can we love our neighbors if we can't love ourselves? We can't possibly give what we don't have." But some Christians often miss the second point or element of humility: We must act with confidence, a confidence in the knowledge that we are children of a God who not only died for us, who not only saves, but one who lives in us (Emmanuel) and promises immortality. What's more, we must act like we are children of the greatest royalty here on earth and beyond, the King of the Universe, no less. The point is, how can we remain humble if we are to boast in the Lord, if we are children of a king at the same time?

Humility, it seems, depends on what we are being humble for. There are times when it's plain wrong to be humble and there are times when it's also wrong not to be.

12.5.2000


 

Letter to Timothy


Dear Timothy,

Never look up to people or you'll see how the stars of heaven fall. Christians have Jesus Christ, no less, to look up to. Your baseline is your personal relationship with the Master Himself. Nothing else will do, not even the person you consider to be extremely holy. But if you must need an inspiration, no one can beat the Virgin Mary in terms of discipleship, she who first showed us the way.

And if you need to look up to people, the right attitude should be to look up to their downside - look at their very weakness was used by God to lift them out of the mess (ICor. 1).

Look at the apostles' beginnings and wonder how you'll ever get inspired. All unqualified, all without credibility of their own. Matthew the tax collector? Who's that! Simon the wishy-washy? Never mind. His brother Andrew? Huh? Paul, the former persecutor of Christians? Ugh. The fishermen? Oh. Thaddeus, the cousin of the carpenter from Nazareth? No way. Simon the Zealot, who reeked of fundamentalist proselytizing? No way.

If these apostles did their work today, no one would lend an ear! But you know the rest of the story. One becomes the first priest of the Catholic Church, most of them write at least one book of the Bible, another becomes the patron saint of Spain, another of India. Etc. Etc.

It's when we are weak that we are strong. The one great requirement - and this is easier said than done - is the act of surrender, taking that quantum leap into the dark, having faith in an unseen and mysterious God. You need to open up for His grace, for only by doing so can you be filled up. The image of an empty vessel or a piece of clay waiting to be molded is the image of a true Christian. A Christian should surrender everything, especially his weaknesses, for God to carry out His work more fully. That's the only time he can become powerful, the only time he has bragging rights.

In the early part of my walk, I, too, saw the need for role models. While they were instrumental in my being evangelized to Christianity, eventually there came a time when I needed to be my own yardstick. I've had my great role models and I saw them all falling from grace. I'm not saying all role models are bound to fail, and when they fall, that is that; it's just that we have enough and a far better benchmark who had known how it was to have feet of clay yet did not sin at all. Had I chosen to base my faith on other people's strengths and virtues, I would have drowned with them all.

7.13.2000


 

Perfection Street


To love your enemies is one commandment that is central to the Biblical theme of God’s brand of love, a reflection of the teaching that we don’t merit salvation, that it is a gift, freely given, for which we ought to give freely ourselves in return. It is God’s call to ‘perfection’ for His followers. It is a revelation of the kind of love God has for His people. ‘Perfection’ here doesn’t mean God-like infallibility. We are obviously imperfect in so many ways -- God knows and expects that. But if we are able to forgive unconditionally, that’s when we are near to perfection of faith.

This commandment is a call to stretch one’s concept of living in this world, particularly the concept of loving. It is an invitation to go the extra mile, to transcend one’s humanity, particularly the instinct to get even with our enemies. The sun shines on both the wheat and the weed, how are we able to be any different from people who are able to love only those they find lovable?

We all have a first-hand experience at being loved and forgiven no matter how much we are unlovable and prone to fall, so we are expected to love and forgive in the same manner.

Notice how unconditional forgiveness opens up a river of grace both for us and our enemies. It prevents us from unnecessarily suffering from prolonged bitterness and resentment. It invites the Holy Spirit to descend upon us, with its gifts of healing and further conversion. It causes our enemies to receive an outpouring of forgiveness and the grace of conversion. It impels them to reflect on their misdeeds, how they have caused other people to suffer and in spite of it, what they get is an undeserved absolution. It shames them so bad they would want to reform. In unconditional forgiveness, everyone wins in the end.

Isn’t that God’s way of converting us ourselves? We get so embarassed that in spite of our brazen disregard for His laws, He would continue to bless us like a fool even if our actions warranted no less than thunderbolt and lightning.

Loving one’s enemies is such a ridiculous according to the logic of the world but it paves the way to ‘perfecting’ one’s soul.

6.19.2001


 

Gadfly


We seldom notice it but the people closest to us, the ones we usually take for granted, are oftentimes the very people sent to us as instruments to help us become better. It's especially true when these people are so obnoxious we can't stand them.

AV once recounted how God was using him as an instrument to mold his wife into becoming a sainted man. He was not joking. He said he is at his crankiest when he gets sick and only the holiest of saints could withstand the crucible of his impatience. Amazingly, he claimed, his wife has so far passed the test.

I have a younger brother who drives me nuts every time I bump into him, and being an elder brother, I am obliged to strike a decent conversation with him, whether I like it or not. Our terrible exchanges would invariably sound like this:

"Why?" I ask.
"Because," he replies.
"Because what?" I inquire incredulously.
"I don't know," he answers.

Naturally I am flustered to the edge of insanity; I wonder if it is him or me. All my efforts at holiness are quashed to the ground; I'm back to reviewing the basics. And so daily I resolve not to bump into him.

But to make matters worse, he shares the room with me.

I can recite a litany of my failures on account of my brother's non sequiturs: impatience, frowning, arrogance, snickers, correcting or upbraiding him in the presence of others, ignoring his existence.

Of course, I now realize that I've been put to the test all along - and have failed splendidly. I fear that my weakness would soon backfire and be used by God as the very yardstick to judge me.

But behind my arrogance, I saw a humbling experience instead. In my impatience, God has reminded me how he has endured my favorite sins. In my selfishness, I've realized the otherworldly extent of His love.

Let's watch out for the people who get our goat. Like sandpaper, they are here to help us polish the diamond-in-the-rough in us. Like a grain of sand seeded inside a clam, they are heaven-sent irritants, coaxing us to form that pearl in us.

(1998)


 

The prodigal son's brother


Father, it's so unfair! You welcome this ingrate with open arms and throw him a mad tea party while I've been pestering you about that cellular phone and you wouldn't give in. You give him a brand-new car just like that, after wasting all your money while you resisted all my pleas for a mere hand-me-down. How could you do these to me? I have obeyed you in all the tasks you assigned me. I have given you all my time and offered you whatever I've got. And when this drug addict, drunkard, pervert and idiot comes home, he gets everything he wants. What do you expect me to do? Give him a warm welcome, too?

What are you trying to tell me, Father? Should I be like him first before you give me everything I want? Maybe if I rebel like your favorite son did, you'd throw a party for me, too, huh? Maybe I should be a foul mouth, too, or engage in sex orgies, smoke pot, join a Satanic cult, practice witchcraft and fortune-telling? Maybe I should steal, kill and do all things evil?

-o-

Watch your language, young man! You don't raise your voice at your father like that!

Don't be silly. Of course you are special to me; it's just that I couldn't contain my joy so I seem to have overreacted. But that's no overreaction at all. I shower him with a kindness he doesn't deserve so that he would be embarrassed enough to have a change of heart with conviction. Why do you keep on asking me things when my entire bank account is named after you? It's been named after you from the time you were born. It's on a time deposit, so you'd get all my savings in due time.

Shouldn't you be happy instead that your brother is back with us? Your complaints only show that you're just after the rewards. What I expect from my sons is to follow me out of love and not out of what I can give them. I'm your father, not your vending machine!

Son, you have disappointed me. Stop sulking in that corner and help me with these bottles of wine. We are expecting guests from as far as Saudi Arabia.

4.27.2000


 

Cracks


O. Y. thinks leading a Christian life is enough to keep the devil at bay - until one little mistake showed her to what lengths the devil can go to destroy us. The enemy, she implied, is as proactive as we are fervent.

She related how, feeling a little dizzy one night and tired as a dog after arriving home, she refused to take heed of her husband's advice not to take any food for dinner that would make her condition worse. O. had been having some high blood pressure lately and as if to tease her, a favorite temptation lay ready at the kitchen table upon her arrival. "Just a tiny bit of pork will do," she said to herself in defiance after helping herself with the oily pork stew. But even before she could spell 'bad cholesterol', or so it seemed, she got what everyone expected her to get - further dizziness which landed her to the hospital.

This little defiance brought her into a glistening realization: The enemy wouldn't stop till he gets us. He would even go out of his way to exploit that little crack in our character and use it against our favor.

Eating the forbidden food may not be quite a good evocation of half-baked Christianity but look at what happened in Eden - Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit and the rest is salvation history. It took just one little crack in her character to attract the devil.

Giving in a little is the devil's favorite window of opportunity. Give an inch and he'll ask for a mile, your hands and he'll go for your whole arm.

Let's all watch out before the little snake slithers in!

6.26.2000


 

Three ways of looking at a problem


There are three ways of looking a problem, according to the parable of the multiplying fish and loaves. (This is according to a Sunday sermon.)

1. Magnify the problem. ("How are we going to feed everybody when all we have is this?")

2. Underestimate our own capacity. ("Well, there's a small boy here who has just this.")

3. Lift up the problem to God. ("Jesus lifted up the bread, and raised it to God...")


 

Who is God to me


Father, whose commands I strive to follow
Provider of all my needs, who is self-sufficient
My Creator and the Creator of all things
Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who lay down His life as a sign of God's love for His people
Holy Spirit, who inspires me and gives me Its seven gifts
Holy Trinity, one God in three persons who is all-mysterious to me
Ruler of all nations, whose unseen hand directs world history from the dawn of civilizations up to the end
Master of the universe, who is in control, who has laid out His grand plan for everything
Fountain of life, upon which I can quench my soul's thirst again and again
Supreme Good, who leads me to paths of righteousness
Bread of life, who sustains me both in my physical and spiritual hunger
Lamb of God, the sacrifice lamb who was slain for my sins
The Truth, The Way, The Life
Holy One, whose sanctity is such that no sin can ever endure in His presence
Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of everything
Risen Christ, who showed that I, too, shall rise from the dead
Love, who wants to be loved back because he has created me for love and out of love
Wisdom, who shames the learned because His brand of wisdom comes from direct knowledge of the Father
Justice, my avenger when I am wronged and my punisher as well when I treat others wrongly
Healer of my bodily and spiritual illness
Deliverer from every kind of bondage
Protector in times of trouble
Consoler in times of sorrow, frustration and defeat
Torrent of joy that melts any amount of sorrow
River of living waters, along which I can grow and bear fruit like a tree
Wellspring of hope even when there seems no reason for hope
Light in a world of darkness
Bright Morning Star that illuminates the heavens
Divine Mercy, who forgives my sins even if I fall again and again
Strength, from whom I draw energy to face another day
Rock upon which I rest my faith, believing that no matter what, He is
Refuge, in whose embrace I can find succor from life's miseries
Fortress, where I can ran to in times of persecution
Name above all names, which I invoke at all times
Beautiful Savior/Redeemer, who promises me redemption from sin and, ultimately, eternal life
Wonderful Counselor in times of confusion, especially in matters of faith
Prince of Peace, who makes me aspire for world harmony and unity based on Christian fraternity
Lord, whom I approach as my master
King, whom I bow down to, who makes me realize that I am a son of a royalty
Messiah, who will come soon to redeem us
Almighty God, omniscient, omnipotent, the one I praise and adore now and forever
Emmanuel, a God who is not far away, up there in His throne but one who lives among His people, one
Who dwells in my heart, one who is actively involved in my life, one who works even in the littlest
aspects
Good Shepherd, who makes sure I shall not want because He leads to green pastures
Holy Immortal One, who is the same yesterday, today and forever


In Don Moen's best-selling album, God With Us, he specifically enumerates who Jesus Christ is as accounted for in the Bible.

Genesis: The Ram at Abraham's altar
Exodus: Passover Lamb
Leviticus: High Priest
Numbers: Cloud by day and Pillar of Fire by night
Deuteronomy: City of our Refuge
Joshua: Scarlet Thread out of Rahab's window
Judges: Judge
Ruth: Kinsman Redeemer
1 & 2 Samuel: Trusted Prophet
Kings, Chronicles: Reigning King
Ezra: Faithful Scribe
Nehemiah: Rebuilder of everything that is broken
Esther: Mordecai sitting faithful at the gate
Job: Redeemer that ever lives
Psalms: My Shepherd and I shall not want
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes: Our Wisdom
Song of Solomon: Beautiful Bridegroom
Isaiah: Suffering Servant
Jeremiah, Lamentations: Weeping Prophet
Ezekiel: Wonderful Four-Faced Man
Daniel: Fourth Man in the Midst of a Fiery Furnace
Hosea: Love that is forever faithful
Joel: He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit
Amos: Burden Bearer
Obadiah: Our Savior
Jonah: Great Foreign Missionary that takes the Word of God into all the world
Micah: Messenger with the beautiful feet
Nahum: Avenger
Habakkuk: Watchman that is ever praying for Revival
Zephaniah: Lord mighty to save
Haggai: Restorer for our lost heritage
Zechariah: Our Fountain
Malachi: Son of Righteousness with healing in His wings
Matthew: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Mark: Miracle Worker
Luke: Son of Man
John: The Door by which everyone of us must enter
Acts: Shining Light that appears to Saul on the road to Damascus
Romans: Our Justifier
1 Corinthians: Our Resurrection
2 Corinthians: Our Sin-Bearer
Galatians: He redeems us from the law
Ephesians: Our Unsearchable Riches
1 & 2 Thessalonians: Our soon coming King
Philippians: He supplies our every need
Colossians: Fullness of the God Head Bodily
1 & 2 Timothy: Mediator between God and man
Titus: Our blessed Hope
Philemon: A Friend that sticks closer than a brother
Hebrews: Blood of the everlasting covenant
James: The Lord that heals the sick
1 & 2 Peter: Chief Shepherd
1, 2 & 3 John: Jesus who has the tenderness of love
Jude: The Lord coming with 10,000 saints
Revelation: King of Kings and Lord of Lords

God is practically my everything. Words are not enough to describe Him. As St. Augustine exalts,

"No praise can be worthy of Your majesty.
How magnificent Your strength!
How inscrutable Your wisdom!"

2.9.2000


 

"Always seek my face"


(TRLV messages, Aug. 3, 2001)

Always seek My face for I am here with you. I am here in good times and in bad. You just have to seek Me. I am the Lord your God Emmanuel, constant in My love for My flock. Learn from Me in My fidelity. Stay holy as I am always holy. I am with you.

You are where you are right now because I will so. I have deemed it to be the very best for you. Why did you desire to come to me? Is it to solve your problems with money? Perhaps you should have gone to a bank for a loan. Is it to solve your relationship problems? Maybe you should have sought a psychiatrist’s help. Is it to look for new people to meet having the same mind as yours? Maybe.

Life in God may not help you solve your problems but it teaches you how to deal with them.

But you are now with God because God called you.

I chose you. And for what reason, you shall know. I want you to value that, treasure that in your hearts.
Difficulties in life will come whether or not you are in Community. What I am asking you is to seek My face both in times of joy and difficulties. Perhaps you wonder how you can be a light for Me while in the middle of trials and sorrow. How can you possibly be joyful amidst trials and persecution? Who knows? Who knows how I can use you to touch souls?

All you need to do is trust Me, be pleasing in My sight. This way you become bearers of My light. You make My light in you shine brightly for all to see. Never falter in your faith and zeal for the Lord, in fact double up on them, hold on to Me even more when the going gets rough. Place your lamp on the table, not under it. Shout from the rooftops what you know about Me. Be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Receive the multitude of hungry souls I am sending you. Realize how much they crave for God just like you have.

Be aware that I am with you always.

8.5.2001


 

Back to work, back to square one


I got it all wrong. I thought I was really serving You wholeheartedly but unconsciously, my attitude had been "I am serving You because I expect You to give me what I want."

It was a basic mistake but I'm glad it opened my eyes before it's too late: God is not pleased with a service that expects reward. God is not pleased with hidden agenda. Unlike men, He knows what's in my heart and He is beyond deception.

A true servant serves the Lord in love. He feels privileged to do it. To him, serving the Master is its own reward, no matter if the service is a pleasant, fulfilling one or not. He doesn't make the fatal mistake of comparing himself, in envy, to people who prosper but do evil.

I got to read this particular misspelling in my heart when I thought that serving Him and leading my life in Him will result in a minimum of trials, or for best results, to zero trials. When trials came left and right, like Timothy was warned in the Bible, I thought God was not just angry, He was also unfair.

I was like the prodigal son's jealous brother.

I was also like Job when he found himself reciting a litany of complaints for all his undeserved afflictions. To silence him, God retorted, "Why, were you there when I created the world?"

Like these two characters, I got it all wrong. I was mortified.

The irony of all this is, the most insignificant deed done for the love of God and neighbor never goes unrewarded.

8.30.2000


 

Big mouth, forked tongue


(Based on a CLP talk)

The tongue, if it is not into sampling gourmet food or exploring other delights, is into sinning. The tongue is likened to a ship's rudder; it's just a piece of muscle yet it holds the power to either up-build or destroy - be it a person's reputation or an entire civilization. Gossiping, although it is often dismissed as a lightweight sin, is actually equivalent to murder itself.

We can easily blame media as purveyor especially of filth, gossip and intrigue, but we also greedily lap up what is being fed us. Bad-mouthing has always been a linguistically rich tradition. Listed below are dictionary definitions of the wealth of offenses our tongue can commit.


 Lie - to say a false statement with an intent to deceive
 Perjury - lying under oath
 False witnessing - testifying to a falsehood
 Slander - a false report maliciously uttered and tending to injure a personal reputation
 Gossip - a rumor or report of an intimate (private), scandalous, sensational, often inaccurate, nature
 Rumor mongering - stirring up or spreading a statement that is current but not authenticated
 Backbiting/Backstabbing - to say mean or spiteful things about someone who is absent
 Intrigue - to [needlessly/unnecessarily] arouse one's interest, desire, or curiosity
 Being a busybody - meddling [in something that is none of our business]
 Curse - to call on [spiritual] power to send injury upon someone
 Blasphemy - the act of insulting, showing contempt, or lack of reverence for God or persons/things considered sacred or inviolable; the act of claiming the attributes of God
 Profanity/Irreverence - the use of words that debase or defile what is holy
 Cuss/Swear - to use profane or obscene language
 Dirty Talk/Green Joke - [use of impure or obscene language, either to amuse or titillate or both]
 Brag - to talk or assert with excessive [i.e., invalid, misplaced, undeserved] pride
 Namedropping - the practice of seeking to impress others by studied but apparently casual mention of prominent persons or associates
 Gobbledygook/Prattle, etc. - a silly talk
 Insult/Invective/Affront - to treat with insolence or contempt
 Taunt/Gibe/Sneer - to utter a sarcastic challenge or insult
 Jeer - to speak or cry out in derision or with scorn [i.e., anger and disgust]
 Mock - to treat with contempt or ridicule [often with sarcastic words]
 Grumble - to mutter discontent


They say that the easiest way to fall from grace is through our stupid tongue. Verily I say unto you, the best mirror of the state of one's soul is one's speech. This doesn't mean, however, that everything that comes out of our mouth should be nice, either. ("Oh, dear, you look so gorgeous!" "Thanks, you don't look bad yourself, my dear!") Remember, it's also a sin not to speak out when necessary. "No talk, no mistake" is not quite right. Prudence is the key word, although it's easier to spell it than practice it. Observing prudence is an art.

I have read a curt but beautiful way of putting this art into practice from the book of ironically one of the most sarcastic authors I've ever read, Kurt Vonnegut (in his novel Slapstick): "Whenever she spoke either in public or private, no reputations died."

They say, "He who has mastered his tongue has mastered himself." But we know it's next to impossible to master ourselves, not the least our tongue. For one, gossiping is a very enjoyable pastime. (Listen around and make a little survey and you'll find that about 90% of talks - in the canteen, in office cubicles, in buses and jeepneys, in school - are backbiting in nature.) That's why after everything is said and done, we really need divine help in this, as in any spiritual endeavor.

4.5.2000


 

Resentment


Forgive me for resenting your will for me, Lord. I resent my lot in life. I resent being born poor and still in poverty. I resent having poor parents. I resent it that, as a result, I need to provide for them and my siblings when I’m single and couldn’t provide for myself well enough. I resent it that I couldn’t break into a regular writing job, writing being the only thing I really like doing. I resent that I have no close friends left that I could ask for help any time of the day. I resent that I am trapped, it seems, with the wrong people. I resent a workplace that seems to stifle me. I resent not being in control, being so helpless about my situation. I resent a dead-end for a job. I resent the hard commute, the traffic, the noise, the pollution, the crowd. I resent my rented abode which is drab, cramped and unartistic. No, I resent that I’m renting at all. I resent the confines of my dog poo-strewn neighborhood. I resent the parish I belong to. I’m annoyed by the lector and commentator’s diction. I reset it that the church looks more like a godforsaken chapel, not fit for worship and divine inspiration. I resent it that I go to Mass all alone. I resent it that I had to cut my phone connection because I couldn’t afford the bill. I resent it that I have no cable connection. I resent it that I couldn’t buy all the books and magazines I want when it is probably the only vice I have. I resent it that I couldn’t buy all the clothes I want when I only want them cheap and common-looking, nothing showy, just stylish enough. I resent it that I’m almost all alone in m community. I resent feeling like an outsider always. I resent it that I’m the only active single male in the group. I resent it that I couldn’t do a lot of things many guys my age can do. I resent problems that are neither my choice nor my own doing. I resent it that evil people prosper, while I barely scrape by. When You know, O Lord that all I ever want is to live in dignity and peace, without the slightest intention to dupe or harm or put one over my fellow, without the vaguest desire to compete nor to profit selfishly.

Lord, I dare ask you whether all these constitute your will for me. I couldn’t, for the life of me, take a bitter pill for a will.

Lord, for resenting your will for me, forgive me. Help me focus on the positive, the things you’ve given me, the blessings I refuse to see and take for granted, the blessings-in-disguise I refuse to recognize. Don’t let life’s storms drown me. Let the burdens weighing me down right now be lifted off my shoulders. Let me hope in you, that you’d turn each cross into crown, each yoke into plow. Let everything, in your own sweet time, be blessings in disguise. I refuse to let resentment and regret rule my being. Help me in my unbelief, Lord, that You will eventually calm the storms of my life, that, in confidence, I could walk on the water towards You.

8.1.2002


 

Tired


Forgive me Lord, but I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of fighting you. I’m tired of fighting the devil. No, I shouldn’t ever tire of fighting the devil. I want to move on. I want life. I choose life. Happiness, too. I want peace. But at what price? Am I willing to pay for it? But you said you have already paid for it at the cross. All I need to do is believe. I choose to believe then. I believe in your unwavering love. I believe that you won’t fail me. I will have faith in you. I will always choose to be happy, to rejoice, notwithstanding. You never take back or eat your words. It’s I who should eat of Your Word, live off it. Come, Lord, and claim me. Possess me. I am yours totally. Don’t let me get separated from You. Never let me fall from grace. And if I ever would, take my hands in haste. I want to stand up at once. I’m tired of stumbling. I’m tired of getting up every time. Oh, but I should never get tired struggling.


 

Hostile


Lord, it’s so hard to live in a world you’ve given me, a world where it’s hostile to be a Christian. “Live in the world but not of it,” you said. And so I did. But I could only maintain my peace for so long. How many times do I find myself all alone in my beliefs and convictions? I cannot count the moments I am made to feel so humbled, so small, so poor and unfortunate by people who “live in the world.”

For listening to your call, I don’t get any reassurance that I’m doing alright.
People make me feel so fashionably out, so wanting, so out of tune. I am pressured to earn this much. I am told I should have been this and been that, owning these and those, doing things like they do. As a result, I get unduly discontented and pressured like they do. I am not supposed to be happy with what I am and what I have, and my face should show the proof for it.

But thanks to You, all they ever see in my face is the kind of peace that only You can give.

You have witnessed, Lord, who these unbelievers are; may You not take it against them. You’ve seen how even my own folks saddle me with artificial responsibilities as though I were answerable to all these. You’ve seen how people closest to me “seconded the motion” of making me feel unnecessary guilt for imagined failings and inadequacies.

But thank God the world is hostile to me because it means I am all right with God.

1.2002


 

Prophet


We ushered in the new millennium with a world jamboree without identifying the right reason. We were all wary of the Y2K bug, but why did we keep at our celebratory mood by staging no less than a global Mardi Gras?

Perhaps our collective subconscious knows: The Satanic century has ended, we only forgot to take notice. We see a world on the verge of a global glasnost and perestroika. The world as we know it is on its death throes. What we are witnessing at the tail-end of the 20th century are just the labor pains, signs of an impending birth.

Hunger, death, terrorism, price increases, extinction of species, pornography at our fingertips in the Internet. Darkness is shrouding us still, but it’s a sure sign of the coming dawn. We should grin and bear it, the devil’s last-ditch effort at clawing us into joining his misery.

Keep calm. The time of our redemption is nigh! Expect all adversities to turn in our favor. The reign of the Evil One has ended. Wipe the tears in your eyes. Shout in jubilation. The eleventh hour has passed. Noah has closed the door of the ark. Choices have been made. The die is cast.

Sleep tight and be awake for the morrow. What happens next is not up for us to decide, but we know that it will be good.

6.2001


 

Forgiveness


I know I should forgive an offender seventy times seventy times. How come I just couldn’t?

I am profoundly hurt when A. accuses me of false things – to my face and within the earshot of others in the office. I am insulted when my co-worker B. bosses around more than the boss herself should. I am offended when C. whom I am having a harmless joke with, suddenly walks out on me when she herself would make really insulting jokes which I should have had walked out on. I am supremely slighted when D. goes around offering everyone but me something nice to eat. I am deeply outraged when E. who owes me a considerable sum, conveniently forgets it when he had even short of made a promissory note. I treat as an affront F.’s entering the apartment I am renting without even bothering to utter a vague trace of hello. I recoil in pain when G. slights me with chronic comments like I am a dinosaur and things like that. I still cannot accept it that H. has run away with my brand-new bag I have yet to use; this, after treating him like a friend. I am incensed when I. answers arrogantly after I ask him a very harmless and even well-meaning question.

On the bigger picture, I am consumed by a flaming anger whenever I read the classified ads and find them all requiring job experience. I gnash my teeth because I don’t have any money left. (That’s it. That’s it.)

I know that life is too short for hurts and pains to get the better of me. Still, I find it extremely hard to forgive, even if I know I have been and still am guilty of the same mistakes in the past and in the present. I know how it is to be forgiven but why am I so reserved when it is my turn to forgive?

Even something like forgiveness must be grace.

**

1. Forgiveness is realizing that the victimizer has been a victim himself/herself.
2. Forgiveness starts with me. "The buck stops here."
3. Forgiveness is breaking the vicious cycle of hate in the world.
4. Forgiveness involves: naming, separating, incorporating.
5. Forgiveness requires: competence, compassion, suffering.
6. Forgiveness is blaming oneself if really at fault. There's an adult takeover, a letting-go process, a choice.
7. Forgiveness is not: forgetting, indifference, naivete (looking for something/-one else to blame)
8. The call to life is not to deny our pain but to suffer with somebody, to become Christ-like.
9. Pain is bearable if we suffer with a meaning, a purpose.
10. We need pain so that we can fathom the meaning of love, to understand how much we are loved.
11. We need pain so that we can understand the pain of others. Only people who are at home with themselves can be at home with others.
12. People who suffered the most and have forgiven are the most compassionate, creative, contemplative. They become our mentors in this journey. (Ex. Einstein, Beethoven, Helen Keller, Francis of Assisi)
13. Be martyrs for the Lord! Take up the cross of Christ!
14. Count your blessings. Don't worry, God's grace is enough.

3.14.2000

(The second half is based on Fr. A.'s Lenten recollection, ~1997)


 

Spell, in reverse


(Inspired by three great O.T. young men, Shadrack, Meschach and Abednego.)

Lord, please stand up for your servant. Show to my enemies who they are oppressing. Show them what kind of God You are. I am but Your lowly slave, O God; I am inadequate and lacking yet You will stand up for me just the same. You don't call me a slave any longer, O God, but a friend, in spite of my lowliness.

But they slander me left and right, day and night, as if the God I believe in is impure and full of malice and filth. They scorn me and call me names as though I don't share Your sacred name. As though I was not wonderfully and fearfully made, and then rescued at a very high price, the blood of Christ.

Lord, stand up for Your child. My enemies insult me as though I don't have a King for a Father. They look down on me as though I am not an heir to imperishable riches in heaven.

I call on You, my dearest Protector! I am horrified at how they ignore Your power. You are a most merciful God, but they don't realize that You, too, are a God of Justice. They are mocking and unrepentant as though they won't face a stern Judge themselves someday, if not today. If there is anything to fear in this world and beyond, it is Your Divine Wrath!

Stand up for Your follower, Lord. They mistreat Your soldier as if You are a wimpy, fickle-minded military commander. Send forth an army from heaven to defend me.

I am surrounded by demons and they wouldn't let up with their tortures. Their vile torments crush me to the ground but You O Lord of Hosts shall repay each one of them. You are not called the Master of the Universe for nothing, yet witness how they treat my Master like dirt. If You count as nothing to them, how much more Your helpless lambs?

Smite all these wolves with your glinting sword, O Lord! You will not listen to their pleas because they have mocked You. If evil people call on demons to cast hexes and all sorts of spells, how much more can I not call on You to pour Your cup of wrath on them?

Thank You Lord that You would condescend and listen to me. I owe You words of glory in the assembly of Your people where I shall proclaim Your greatness as my God, my Father, my King and my Defender! Amen.

4.18.2000


 

The inner us


When Princess Diana and JFK Jr. died, we got sad because the princess or prince in us also died. We love to track the private lives of show biz stars and the rich-and-famous because there's a celebrity and a mogul in us, if not a dreamer. We get hungry, sexually aroused, aggressive and belligerent because the animal in us is acting up. We love to fly because of the bird in us, to swim because of the fish in us, to belong because of the herd in us. We continue to watch cartoons, fly a kite and play a game because of the child in us. We warm up to things that are cute and pretty and homey and delicate and sweet because of the woman in us, while we beat our chest like a drum and flaunt our physical, economic, social muscles because of the man in us. We love to be creative: paint, sculpt, write, act, sing, and dance because of the artist in us, as well as invent things because of the creator in us. We rebel and commit sin and keep little, dark secrets because of the devil in us, but we also become guilty and repentant and do good because of the angel or child of God in us.

What's with us humans? Whatever we do, it seems that it's always driven by some other thing deep inside us.

Whatever happened to the apparent us, who do the actual decision-making power?

4.27.2000


Friday, July 28, 2006

 

My problem with fasting


I have a problem with fasting. I refer to that kind of fasting being done to seek God’s favor on a certain intention, usually spiritual in nature. My qualm is not that if I fasted, I’d be deprived of my favorite dish for lunch. It is that if I fasted, it’s as though I was using my own power to further something spiritual, as though God’s grace alone is not enough. Why do I have to bribe the Lord with death-defying fasts? I feel it’s intrinsically wrong to have to earn my way into His favor, much like doing this and that pilgrimage to gain a plenary indulgence.

To further border on what seems like a heresy, there was a point in my life as an active, practicing Catholic when I was being asked to fast more than I could chew my favorite meat. It was a time I was beginning to feel too mortified for comfort until such time that I gave up altogether, particularly fasting on bread and water, which I find particularly debilitating. It was too much against my voracious nature. If I deprived myself too much, then what is the use of living, making a living, struggling to be alive?

And so for the longest time, I shunned the practice of fasting. I feasted instead. What I offered the Lord were good works and the more convenient way to fast – self-deprivation from TV, radio, movie, etc. I knew I was deceiving myself, though. I was defying the spirit of fasting, I was depriving myself of something I can easily do without. I have long proven that fasting on bread and water or on nothing at all was the most effective way in seeking God’s favor, in bribing God.

But it didn’t escape me either that whenever I splurged on food, whatever my intentions were at the moment went less than smoothly as I fervently hoped. And I am attacked by the enemy in a special way right after: I get awfully drained and irritated, I feel spiritually sapped and spent.

I realized that fasting is for my own protection as well, not just for the benefit of my supposedly selfless intention. I realized that there’s this annoying opposition watching behind my shoulder, looking out for that single moment of weakness. Fasting, I realized, is stocking up on some positive spiritual reserve and because that energy is spent again and again in the daily struggle, it needs to be replenished, the thirst has to be quenched - and right away, too. Fasting is essentially a spiritual undertaking, and it protects against spiritual weakness and the devil’s attacks; foregoing fasting is therefore especially dangerous when you are about to embark on special spiritual missions. If you are vigilant, the enemy is certainly just as vigilant; it wastes no time in jumping at the chance.

All spiritual activities are sheer grace, it’s true; but it would do well for those who serve God to sacrifice a bit for a certain period of time in the form of fasting, especially from food. Being vessels of grace, servants are special targets of hatred and fury from the enemy, and fasting is a potent weapon against it. I believe it’s because, through fasting, we servants open ourselves more fully in terms of being spiritually attuned, which the devil fears so much it weakens him.

Those are just my thoughts and presumptions about fasting.

An even more straightforward explanation on fasting can be found in the Lent 2004 issue of The Word Among Us:

“Fasting is not meant for trying to motivate God to do something for us. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s about learning something from him, rather than earning something from him. … Our role is to find our delight in the Lord. The rest is up to God.

“This is ultimately why Scripture urges us to fast: not for the sake of making our voices heard on high but so that we can love the Lord and give ourselves in service to his people… “

“Fasting that pleases God involves fasting from our fallen nature.”

Moreover, fasting has a social dimension. “…[S]etting free the oppressed, sharing our food with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the poor…”

**

It took me years of observation before I was able to understand the mysterious whys and wherefores of fasting. I still find it unsettling, though, that fasting is akin to telling me that Christ’s suffering is not enough, that we his followers also have a part to do, to pinch in. That's my basic problem with fasting, and it is still unresolved up to this day.


8.13.2001

Updated Feb. 27. 2004


**

(Here's another take, a tongue-firmly-in-cheek one.)

Fasting or feasting?

Fasting and abstinence, I've found, is easily the hardest thing to do in my newfound spirituality. Every now and then in my community, we find ourselves being requested to fast for this and that intention and every time, my knees wobble.

The first time I fasted on bread and water from 12 AM to 3 PM, I felt like dying. It's my closest brush with death, really. I become so irritable when I'm hungry, I’ve found. Because one is told not to put on a Pharisee's face (frowning and all) when fasting, we ‘fasters’ resort to jokes to feed our funny, hungry bones.

"I'm fast-eating'" one says in mock agony.

"I'm on a seafood diet. Whenever I see food, I eat," another deadpans, stealing a joke from somewhere.

We ‘fasters’ end up becoming ‘fast eaters.’

Why on planet earth should we fast? The answer to this question, they say, is symbolism. Whenever we fast, we declare that there are more important things other than our mortal bodies which always pine for three square meals a day, not counting refreshments. Whenever we fast, we declare that man does not live by bread alone. It's the most practical way of getting close to something spiritual.

Jesus Himself fasted and so must you and I.

It's simply going against the grain of human nature to fast, but, as they say, why should we be afraid of those things that harm the body, (although people say fasting is actually good for health)? We are told to be afraid instead of the things that harm the soul.

After all, fasting can also be seen as a matter of attitude, a test of one's emotional intelligence.

Or it can also be a form of cunning. The idea of a Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), it seems, is "Eat All You Can't": fatten yourself with meat so that by Wednesday, you feel nothing but revulsion for it.

One further funny thing about fasting is the attending anticipation of a saturnalian smorgarsbord after a day of successful deprivation. Even before the next day dawns, everybody is into imagining the next fare (hotdogs! corned beefs! roasts! steaks! fried chickens!). Meat, or food for that matter, never tastes so much better as right after a day of a fast.

It would therefore be easier if all carnivores turned vegetarians, right? Wrong. That defeats the very purpose of fasting and abstinence. If you are semi- or incorrigible vegetarian, you are not exempted, for fasting in your case would mean doing without your beloved soups, salads, and favorite fish dish. It could mean forcing your teeth into that yucky burger or..ugh...dipping into that barbecue sauce.

But there is greater wisdom in fasting other than this, especially total fast (absolutely nothing taken in), and I cannot explain it up to now. I just notice that after bouts with terrible pangs of hunger, dizziness, physical weakness, and irritability, what I do get in every fast is this undeniable perception of spiritual strength - a strengthened line to heaven, a greater openness to the Spirit's leading, and a better power to scare the devil away. Yes, instead of the devil scaring me, it's the devil who gets scared! You've got to try it to believe what I'm saying.

Fasting is not mere symbolism, after all! It is a potent ammunition in spiritual warfare, perhaps even more potent than prayer.

3.20.2000


 

Da Vinci wisdom


I always complain that nothing good is coming out of my life, but I realize that nothing extremely bad is happening either. I remember that guy who played Leonardo da Vinci in the movie Ever After, cautioning with an impish wink, "It could have been worse!" That shook me out of my complacency. For each and every single thing boring the heck out of our lives hide a thousand things that could make life more hellish than it already is.

It must be another law of the universe: Things could get even worse so you better shut up. Think instead of the things you should thank for. You feel punished for having done naughty things? Thank God that you only received in pinch in the ear. Admit it: for having done the things you've done today, what you really deserve is flogging in the public square: 100 lashings with a rattan cane. Think about God's brand of justice - a justice always tempered by mercy.

This reminds me of the most ridiculous parental punishment I've ever witnessed. I once had this woman for a neighbor who had a daughter who tortured her daily with a typical dose of juvenile mischief. One such wayward act, one fine day, received a major spanking from mom which caused the child to cry a river for minutes. Perhaps tired of listening to the sound of suffering, the woman finally said, "O, may chocolate cake diyan sa ref." ("Go help yourself with some chocolate cake in the fridge.") I couldn't help laughing on the floor when I heard that. Maybe wanting to make her daughter stop bawling was not the reason for the anticlimactic gesture? I’d lie to believe she’s just trying to temper her justice with love.

I've been particularly bad today. On my way home, I looked up to a sky that promised torrents. At the end of the day, I expected divine punishment. For complaining about a problem at home, I deserved to get drenched in a livid downpour, not to mention getting struck by lighting within inches of my life. Being irritated to the edge of sanity by a specially rude caller in the middle of work probably should have merited getting trapped in a great flood. Yet what did I get for my trespasses?

I only got a mild sprinkle in the middle of the expressway. Oftentimes, a horrendous gridlock would ensue before I could spell 'vehicular traffic,' yet in my case, this meant I could get off my bus and walk my way home through a shortcut. For a few minutes, the drizzle turned into a storm but just in time, I got my head safe under the toll gate where I got to observe how the guy at the toll gate counter works (That's an exciting job, meeting all the people behind the wheels, including all the celebrities living in the south, and there's a lot of them.) Before long, the storm subsided, and I could walk in the drizzle again. When I finally got my head under my own roof, a real apocalyptic torrent poured down, complete with a lighting-and-thunder accompaniment that would make the heart of the toughest thug around here thud in fear.

So, you're missing out on the best things in life, huh? Look at the things that should have happened but didn't. Look at how we are blest despite our inadequacies. Look at how God’s little mercies are blessings, too.


**


Indeed, I could've crossed a street and got run over by a speeding car.

I could've forgotten to lock the door of my apartment and all my earthly belongings could've been spirited out by robbers.

Worse, some arson could've started a fire in the neighborhood and all that I've stashed in my years of working life would have gone up in smoke.

I could have walked through a dark alley and got bitten by a rabid dog or got mugged by thugs.

I could've crossed a bridge that would have collapsed out of sheer age.

I could've met the Grim Reaper in the form of a debris flying from a nearby construction area. Glass panels could've rained on me as the earth shook while I walked along Ayala Ave.

The jeep I'm riding could've figured in an accident on the expressway.

The ugly, overloaded and creaking tricycle I always take could've turned turtle after negotiating a hump on the road.

A terrorist could have planted a bomb at the mall.

Hooligans could've sprayed bullets on me as I line up for the ATM or I fix something about an account with an errant bank.

The bus I'm riding could have been held up by goons.

The taxicabs I have taken could've carried a robber masquerading as a driver.

What I'm gobbling up at the fastfood could've been loaded with poison and parasite and I could've caught the chicken flu or mad cow disease. I could've gotten electrocuted or could've caught hepatitis while drinking in a fountain.

I could've been suffocated to death by carbon monoxide in some car park, or by the smog at EDSA.

I could've been stuck in traffic on an emergency, which has a 98% statistical probability.

The planes crossing above my head could've crashed on my flat. (I live near the airport.)

I could've been trapped inside an elevator; got burned to a crisp by live wires; tripped into a manhole; hit by a wayward bullet while I’m out playing; trapped inside a burning disco, mall, restaurant, or hotel; swindled by mind-altering tricksters.

The soup I’ve been swilling with porcine delight could've revealed a roach at the bottom.

These things are not far-fetched ideas; they actually did happen to someone somewhere.

But so far, they have not; I’ve been spared so far. I take it that, so far, God has been very good – in spite of me. My worst nightmare had been falling in the larcenous hands of pickpockets because I was dressed up to the nines and about to fall asleep in a jeep. I've reached these five long years relatively whole, alive, virtually "unscarred" and unscathed.

As a result, living in the city has made me most grateful even if only in an ironic way. You know how urban life can get so distressing and frustrating. But, had I not chosen to stick it out with this place, I think I wouldn't have experienced God's loving protection in a most dramatic way.

The beauty of the countryside is indescribable, it's true, and I can never be grateful enough. But city life can be just as so, in its own unique way. Metro Manila is an odd mix of decay and birth. Here and there you see feverish construction of skyscrapers that scintillate from a distance side by side with all that splendid squalor. All of which makes for one such ambivalent place to live in. The element of pleasant and unpleasant surprise is inescapably a part of it, lurking in every corner, and I mean just about every corner. Thus, emerging intact after living in the city even just for a year is not something to sneeze at.

Tell me, if that is not God's love and faithfulness, then I don't know what is.

(Spare my life, O God, and save me. And I will gladly proclaim your righteousness.
Ps. 51:14)

9.29.98
6.20.2000


Thursday, July 27, 2006

 

Litany


God is love. He loves you and me. That’s the only thing worth saying. That’s the only thing worth believing. For when God loves us, nothing else matters. In the face of God’s love, everything else amounts to nothing.

God loves us whether we are rich or poor, mighty or weak, famous or not-so-famous, healthy or sick, intelligent or dumb, great-looking or plain-faced, achiever or of modest ability.

God loves you even if you don’t think so. God loves you even if you’re a klutz. He loves you even though you’re perceived as a snob. He loves you even if you’re tone-deaf, handicapped, scarred, gay or lesbian. He loves you even if you’re a nerd.

God loves us even if we scream He doesn’t. He offers His love even while we are not yet ready for it. He loves us in spite of our falls. He loves us in the middle of our trials. He loves us especially if we are near giving up. We attract Him when we are in our most wretched; that way He can demonstrate the extent of His illogical brand of love. He loves us even after our betrayals. He loves us even if we’re not that consistent. He loves us in spite of us.


 

Walking a tightrope


How do we strike a balance between forbearance and confronting a colleague’s wrongdoing? Where do we draw the line between forgiving someone’s personal attitudes and pointing out one’s inadequacies? Can we do these things at all?

I’ve recently found myself in the eye of such storms. I’ve felt inextricably embroiled in some persons’ private life and I’ve found that the only way out is to confront the wrongdoer head-on. But the problem is, I can't help it but react just like the rest would.

We are almost always angry at the time that we need to balace things the most. So no matter how well-meaning we may be, we inevitably end up confronting with biased views, our subsequent actions inescapably colored by our emotions. What's more, the person’s wrongdoing cannot be discussed without delving on another person’s character, or together with all those involved. Things can get pretty complicated in no time.

It is always uncomfortable to delve on somebody’s character. It’s hard enough to confront one’s own; how much more others’?

Of course the easier way out is to air our grievances to people other than the one who did us harm, which needless to say, is unfair and solves nothing and, worst of all, adds insult to the injury, especially if the third party, our supposed confidante, betrays us by spilling the beans to others.

We know in our hearts that the ideal path is the path of love. But how does one confront with love? Tough love is an oxymoron. Is it doable? We always end up being judgmental, self-righteous in the end.

Enter the need for another party: a presumably objective authority: the boss in the office, say. It’s a good thing there’s something like a boss hired precisely to bridge an ensuing gap such as these. But what if the boss breeds further animosity in its stead by taking sides and says one thing but mean another. Ultimately the boss ends up with the same dilemma as ours. Everybody is back to square one.

Life is such a complex affair. They say that’s exactly what makes it exciting. But how can something so negative ever bring excitement
6.19.99


 

Bubble


Life is so ephemeral like a bubble, here today, gone tomorrow. A plump, bouncy baby boy suddenly throws up, turns pale and catches a fever. A much-publicized marriage touted to be made in heaven is now on the rocks. A political strongman is diagnosed with a crippling disease which leaves him feeling totally out of control. A rising movie star is exposed as a former prostitute and her star wanes even before she realizes it. A boss who habitually lords it over you loses his job. A blooming artist with a thousand crazy ideas meets sudden death. A woman with a delicate aura of comeliness morphs overnight into a whore. A boxer who had claimed “I am the greatest!”, an actor who had popularized Superman, a band member who had claimed, “We are more famous that Jesus Christ,” we know where they are now.

Oh, we are so foolish because we know the truth yet continue to deny it. Or we acknowledge the truth but head for the wrong directions anyway. Either we say let’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die. Or we delude ourselves that earthly attachments are eternal. We go through the motions of living but we refuse to live life by the day. We plan all sorts of things but never consider those that could come unexpected. We regard life as if it were our own. We regard ourselves as if we’re totally in control.

It would be good to see how one saint prayed to God along these lines (Prayer of St. Augustine on Our Miseries and Weaknesses): "Suffer me, O Lord to speak with You, Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy on me. My life is vanishing as a shadow and before long no one will remember me. Today joy fills my heart. Tomorrow I may be overwhelmed with sadness. For no length of time am I in the same condition. Often I am convulsed with laughter and presently, sorrow intervenes and my eyes are filled with tears. How often death makes its appearance when least expected. When, how, and where will death find me? I know not, but that it will find me one day, I know to be a certainty. Look down, then O Lord, upon Your creature encompassed by so many miseries. You alone are He who can give me the strength that I need and the light that will show me all things as they are in Your sight. Amen."

6.99


 

“Degraded deity”


You've heard it before: It only takes a few muscles to smile, hundreds to frown. This means smiling is energy-conserving; frowning, a waste of it. And while cooling it and taking things in stride is necessary, worrying is so unnecessary, a waste of time, as virtually nothing gets solved especially by worrying too much. Not only that. I bet you haven't heard of this: Worrying is a sin, particularly too much worrying. It took someone to tell me that. And I feel duty-bound to tell this to you. Wait, where’s my little book of quotations?

A quote attributed to Feltham drove home the point: "He that despairs degrades the Deity, and seems to intimate that He is insufficient, or not just to His word; and in vain has read the Scriptures, the world and man."

Worrying, apparently, has its roots in lack of faith. No wonder it is considered weakness. And haven't you noticed? A worrier indeed tends to be always angry, grouchy, grumpy. His behavior tends to rub people the wrong way.

I should know. One of my monumental flaws is being a worrier. Again, it took me some well-meaning people to realize that. An encounter with such people while I look irritated has never failed to mirror my state of irritation on their faces. Frazzled line once crumpled the countenance of a rather angelic-looking salesgirl after I frowned over the wrong size of a shirt I had bought from her.

I have grown warts and white hair worrying about my future, my job, the absence of a clear career-path, my family. I have acquired premature lines on my face worrying about the end of the world or a brewing war with China over the Spratley Islands or the coming of the anti-Christ from the Middle East. I've grown older bothering about my finances, my bills, my present work, my looks. I'm anxious about the global economy. I worry that my LPG tank at home might explode, that the young ones at home would bump their soft heads on the wall. I worry that one day, on my way to work, a slab might fall on me from a skyscraper or a daredevil car racer might sideswipe me as a I huff and puff to beat the grace period.

One thing I've noticed about fussing and fretting is that it has a multiplicative property. A quote from Massinger says, "To despair is but to antedate those miseries that must fall on us." Worrying, I've found, is like grumbling. It is actually a grievous offense and a worrier, much like a grumbler, is punished with the unleashing of a new set of things to get upset about. The worst tragedy would be for worrying to become an almost unbreakable habit because of this.

My teacher in high school once remarked during the height of a storm that we the young always complained about the weather. "What's wrong with you?" he asked his class, bewildered. "During the summer, you complain about the heat. During the wet season, you complain about the rain, the flood, and the muddy roads." He implied that it's a good thing we didn't have winter and autumn in the Philippines; if we did, we would find fault with the snow and the falling leaves as well, assuring us a year-round life of complaints, until life itself becomes one big complaint.

Years later, I found myself in Manila nursing a bad cold in the heat of the El Niño. Imagine having cold at the hottest, crankiest days of your life. Like a bad cue, I remembered my teacher admonishing us about the weather. In resentment at being corrected by authority from the distant past, I blew my nose so hard my eardrums nearly got flushed out.

With my propensity to anguish over things being almost genetic, I can't say for certain when I would stop worrying altogether. Just like chain smoking, I know it's hard a habit to break.

But that's what God is for, thankfully. If everything is certain, then let's just stop all these things about faith and start relying only in ourselves, in our own efforts. He will help us overcome our worries if we take the plunge of trusting.

In spite of all the negative things around us, it pays to whistle while we work, sing a happy tune or two. Worrying won't guarantee that things will get better. What we should watch out for is the temptation to go the extreme way, to the other direction. The presumption is that we are doing our best we can wherever we may be, and we are constantly guarding against complacency. The movie, 'The Lion King' talks about hakuna matata or a worry-free existence, while the Australian film 'Strictly Ballroom' cautions that "a life lived in fear is a life half-lived." Great men have advised us "to live till tomorrow will have passed away" and rightfully observed that "it is late before the brave (or faithful) despair."

The Bible itself points to the birds in the air and the grass in the field, which thrive because it's the Almighty who feeds them. “His eye is on the sparrow.” Surely, in His eyes, we are notches higher than birds and grasses? But we tend to keep on degrading the Deity.


1998


 

Cry of defeat


You have humbled me Lord, You have quashed me immensely. From my lofty perch You have brought me to the ground. From my exalted position, You have demoted me beyond belief. My great expectations You have extinguished just as greatly. My huge ego You have reduced to a splint. As you have written Lord, “The proud shall be humbled and the humble shall be exalted.” “Those who were first shall be last.”

I’ve been proud and am now humbled. I knew how it was to be first and now I feel the sting of being the last. I have foolishly placed my security on things that don’t last; eschewing the eternal like Your work and precepts and my salvation. I’ve been into self-worship. I have looked up to people who were intelligent, good-looking, popular or wealthy and based my own worth on these criteria. I forgot Lord that I’m nothing. Banish me from Your thought for just one second and I vanish altogether forever. I forgot that my only true security in this world is that I’m a child of God. I’ve been like Peter who had denied You three times, like Herod who feared the loss of men’s esteem but not Yours, and like Judas who broke bread with You only to sell You to Roman authorities for a paltry sum.

Now that I am humbled to dust, I no longer gloss over the things that Job went through. Like him, I learned how it is to wonder about my lot only to be left wondering still, to agonize and didn’t get consoled, to seek Your presence and only felt Your absence, to be left with only the wind to clutch at. But unlike Job, I tried to box with you. So here I am now crestfallen, spent.

But I know, Lord, that in the end, You will lift me up as You rescued Job from shame. You "called me to be faithful, not to be successful," and I obeyed. You told me that "sanctity does not consist in the esteem of men but only in striving not to offend You." Please tell me that You'll never allow defeat to those who choose to live their lives for You.

Thank You Lord for humbling me, for by doing so, I have nothing left in the world to boast about but You. By doing so, You have actually saved me.


 

Awful


It’s awful to be a Christian. When someone hurts you or offends you, you have no choice but to forgive. You cannot possibly withhold or delay forgiveness in the knowledge that you yourself have been loved and forgiven even while you’re still a sinner.

Now the worst part is that forgiveness may guarantee peace of mind but it won’t guarantee that the pain will go away immediately. Try as you might, you find yourself totally helpless in soothing yourself from the injury. You have no choice but to depend on God’s goodness, to wait for Him to deliver you. Meanwhile, you suffer in silence.

Taking revenge should not even cross your mind. To a Christian, only God has a say as to whether to punish someone or not, and as to when or how your enemy is going to be punished. All you can do is surrender, lifting up to God all the damages inflicted upon your person and soul.

Being hurt is even considered...”a call to greater love” which in layman’s term is nothing short of loving thy enemies. It’s totally incredible how Christians are called not just to love their neighbors – which is already a hard thing to do in itself; they are also called to pray for their enemies, to love their enemies. It’s illogical but that’s true Christianity for you. Here you are, totally devastated, and you’re being asked to forgive your enemy, you’re being asked to pray for your enemy.

But Christianity makes sense. You cannot possibly ask forgiveness for your own sins without forgiving others first. Hence the line in Our Father, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This must be the reason why St. Paul regarded himself as somewhat a beggar and a fool rolled into one, looked down upon and reviled by “the world.” It must have struck him as surreal, having this posture of not having the desire to get back at his persecutors; he could only get back at them with love and forgiveness. He suffered a lot for it, until God said enough, it’s over, I will heal you, I shall take you.

It’s terribly humbling to be a Christian. Your fallen nature says, “Take revenge,” but your redeemed self reminds you, “Who are you to do so? Have you not sinned against God yourself? Haven’t you done the same thing to others?” It’s simply terrible that even while you’re still offended, you bow down in shame asking for your own forgiveness, for the times you did the same offenses and was repeatedly forgiven for it.

Being a Christian won’t shield you from suffering. It is as though, day by day, you are being trained and primed for the sufferings to come, until you learn to expect suffering and ultimately embrace it like Jesus did on the cross for the sake of all sinners.

It’s awful to be a Christian. It’s like a bad joke. It sucks. But when you start getting the point, that’s when you get awe-struck.

9.2.2001


 

A God in hiding


God is a secret, silent orchestrator. He sets things in motion in ways we never expect. It is His unseen finger that directs the fate of a person, the history of nations, the history of the world, the fate of the universe.

Who can fathom the mind of God? What statistics and physical laws govern it? What plans lie waiting to unfold? What are His agendas? Every ticking of the clock is subject to His whims. Who knows what he's up to next? What if He did this or that?

Is God not behind every bloom and wilting, thunder and rain, the baying of the horse, and the flap of a wing?

But God is in control even when the enemy attacks. The point is, He allows certain things to happen. He could have said no and that would be it. But sometimes He says Go ahead and Go on, I'll tell you when time is up. In times like these, we feel like He is not there, but He is.

Our God is a God who's slow, not given to fits. If He gives out rewards, He makes sure we are caught by surprise. He brings back the smile on our lips just when we are about to lose hope. If He brings punishment, he makes sure it's long overdue and we've been given more than enough chance.

Our lifetime is just a wink to God, a thousand years just a week to Him. To Him, sad beginnings could be a prelude to something great, happy endings could actually be new beginnings. To Him, sad starts can actually be a prelude to a life of happy endings or new beginnings. So the things we see as abrupt, unfair or unjust may not always be the case for Him. He sees through generations, through ages and eons. Nothing escapes His notice, every detail taken into account.

If the scale tips for or against our favor, He waits and waits until He comes to a decision. He weighs and reweighs His options. He gives out warnings in the guise of prophets and events. He places certain circumstances as though He wanted to remain anonymous for the moment. When His moment of truth comes, everyone realizes He was the one, the Force that's been moving things all along.

The God of history is a secret, hidden, silent orchestrator. He remains in hiding up to now, His fingers clutching at His blueprint of the universe lest someone who wants to be God steals it. He makes sure we know nothing about it lest we'd lose our reason for needing Him.

It seems the God of history hides because the reward is to see Him face to face, to behold His glorious work of salvation.

4.22.2001


 

Growl of a derelict

This ain't funny, this ain't funny at all. You always say things that make me want to die, always treat me in a way that makes me feel I'm dirt. Why do you do this to me? I never chose who I am, and had I got a choice, I'd never ever choose what I am and what I'd become.

You disgust me, you disgust me so. You never said anything to lift me up, but everything you said discouraged my spirit. If only I could choose the people that would cross my path, I would never even dare to step next to you. You sting me so, yet you never care about the depth of my sorrows.

Go away, go away from me. You've been such a great help, thank you. You can go home now, there to torment other souls who don't share your foolish ideas. Get off me, you j*rk, you have drained me of my blood, and sucked the very marrow of my being. For several times you've made me desire not to live one moment longer. You've made me anticipate the grave much, much earlier.

Don't come back, please don't come back. Have mercy on this soul if you still have mercy to spare. I've been judged as wretched and, like a leper, I could no longer face the world.

Please leave me now, leave me here in my own private hell where I can die in peace at least, at last.

3.30.2000

(Note: I’ve always wondered how Mother Theresa broke through the bitter barrier of the world’s abandoned.)


 

Crucible

(Cry of torment)

I am in the middle of a storm. I’ve just seen the dying of light and I’m passing through a night dark and deep. I have been suckered deep into a tunnel of turmoil, twirling tight with trials and tribulations. I am going through a purifying fire. My soul is bereft of joy, my spirit has dried up. Gloom has robbed the spark off my face. I am crushed to the ground, humbled in every way. My bones are losing their strength to forge on, and my sinew is giving up. My eyes have dimmed, my lips are parched, my mind has turned fuzzy and my heart is full of lamentations.

I feel being purged and I see a need to atone. Yet the avalanche of sufferings won’t stop; another torment arrives with lightning speed even before I can get used to what I already have; another burden pins me down like a boulder even before I can find enough strength to carry on. The wind whips at me relentlessly like a red-hot iron rod without mercy.

Brimstones from hell pour upon me like a curse without letup. It seems like blessings and grace have been withdrawn and wrath and rage took their place. I am left with nothing to hold on to except that little thread of faith that threatens to break in the faintest wind. I am sitting by myself in a desolate field that is slowly turning into an island. I await the water to flood me until it gets neck-deep, and there’s not a single rescuer in sight.

I am in a shipwreck. I can’t find my captain among the ruins and so am left to fend for myself. Friends have deserted me to save their own skins. On a floundering ship, everyone is a foe, each one fights for his own survival, every man to himself. The once-gentle lapping of the waters has turned into a threatening wave, ready to engulf my spent body, taking it away from the shore and towards the fearsome depths, toward the whirlpool of uncertainty.

I am weak and hungry, naked and cold. And thirsty. And wet. I feel as though I were in a desert, without a drop to drink, with nary a morsel to eat, without a shawl to wrap around me. I am covered with gashes and sores, and some of my pains have numbed, knowing it’s impossible to find an oasis or the shore in the middle of a sea- and sandstorm. In no time the sharks would be coming and the snakes a-slithering.

It’s only me and my thread now. One either breaks or I’m finished. It’s just me and my fingers crossed now. One either gives up from bending or I’m done.

“Oh, I think I will give up, Lord. But You will catch me.”

2.27.99


 

Job’s lament in mixed metaphors


(Or, Going through Hades)

I am a flickering candle, melting its last wax. If I were the sun, I am on my way to setting behind the mountains. If I were a leaf, I am wilting and withering fast. I am an engine near breakdown. I am at the end of my rope and the last thread I am holding onto is about to split up. I’m a flower shriveling fast, my petals weltering, my essence spent. I’m a tunnel about to cave in, a river drying up, a condemned building about to collapse. I am like the leaning tower of Pisa, tottering on the verge of a crash. I am an army in a losing battle, with no reinforcement in sight. I am a nerve about to snap. I am a computer glitch, about to turn valuable data into catastrophe. I am an economy on the verge of collapse, an employee on retrenchment, a stockmarket about to crash, a currency on depreciation, a business on a slowdown if not a slump. I am an endangered species on the verge of extinction.. I am a forgotten museum piece deteriorating in some dusty corner. I am a strand of hair falling off, a memory on a lapse, a fever in relapse. I am a wrinkle sagging, collagen stiffening. I am an airplane crashing, my fuel dipping. I am singing the blues in the Great Depression. I am becoming impotent, flaccid, limp. If I were a pill I should be a depressant. I am a rooster crestfallen. I am an immune system giving up on the viral infection. I am floodwater stagnating. I am a beast of burden weighed down by my yoke, saddled with the boulders of oppression, torments, trials. I am an old furniture creaking, a clogged drain, a toilet out of order. I am a faucet running out of water, a pen running out of ink, a lamp running out of oil, a stove running out of gas, a battery running out of charge. My zest for life has flagged, my energy has been zapped, my confidence has dipped. I’m languishing in the doghouse, a jailbird without parole, a candidate for the gallows. I am a losing athlete, a waning show biz star, an unpopular political candidate. I am a metal corroding, a radioactive element in violent fission. I am van Gogh about to cut his ear, my paintings becoming gloomier by the hour. I am Romeo without his Juliet. I am Adam banished from Eden. I am Abel stabbed by Cain. I am Jonah inside the whale’s belly. I am a rotting log, where nothing but molds, fungi, and mildew thrive. I am a planet rotating off my spin, on its way to a black hole. If Darwin were here, he would have espoused the theory of devolution. I am a broken vase, my shards scattered. I am an electric circuit disconnected. I am a tattered cloth.

Lord, come down now from heaven and rescue me. I seem to be everything yet I remain nothing.

Deliver me now for I cannot count on anyone but You. Find me for I am lost.


 

Psalm


Console me, oh Lord, in my afflictions. Give me hope to carry on. Light up my life, like the song said. Be a salve to my pains, an efficacious oil to my hurts. Shelter me from the howling storm. Comfort me with Your presence. Give me strength and courage for this life’s ordeals. Deliver me from the yoke of oppression and poverty. Hide me from my enemies. Protect me from their insults. Do not reject me. Instead rescue me from the mire.

The future looks uncertain Lord. I know it has always been and will always be. That’s why I surrender to You. Let my heart beat for You alone. Let every cell in my body work for You. Let my soul praise You, my whole being acclaim You.

Right now a huge mountain stands before my path but I know there’s no mountain so huge you cannot move it. I am humbled in every way but I know You will lift me up. I am lost in a terrible squall but I know You will help me find my way back. I walk the valley of darkness but you will light up my path. A pack of wolves prey upon me but You’ll stop them dead on their tracks. Vultures swoop down on me but You’ll make them miss.

Oh, Lord, stop abiding in me and I will be lost. Depart from me and I’ll immediately go the way of the dead. Disdain me and I’ll quickly amount to nothing. Disgrace me and I’ll be quashed. Pronounce me unworthy and I will self-destruct violently.

Quench my thirst in You then oh Lord; spring forth like a fountain into my dry being. In my hunger, feed me, with daily bread, with Your words. Come into my heart and I will be glad. Come, that I may see the rose instead of the thorns, the coming rainbow instead of just the rain, the silver lining instead of the dark cloud.

I don’t always understand Your ways oh mysterious God. Teach me to humble myself. Give me the patience of Job. Give me faith that I may go on believing amidst life’s unbelievable woes. Give me the gift of joy and peace that can only come from You. Bring back the smile and laughter to my life. Help me understand that the battle is not mine but Yours. Release me from the crucible pure and fine like gold. Let me live to see the fruits of my pains. Let me live to see the sun rise after the rain.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

 

Lamentations of a Luddite



A car parked nearby has its alarm system going off violently, garbling the sermon of the priest during a solemn mass. In the middle of an intimate conversation, a friend sends a text message to someone who had sent a pressing message. Someone’s pager suddenly beeps during a pivotal scene of a movie. The profusion of cell phones among the audience causes glitches in a theater performance.

The TV has replaced parenting, giving birth to a generation of mutant ninja turtles: limited attention span, given to instant gratification, conditioned by visually preprocessed sound bytes, in short, low emotional intelligence.

Kidlat Tahimik, the artist formerly known as Eric de Guia, rightfully dubbed the TV as an ‘idiot box’. We get to watch a lot of shows, these shows become our very life. We end up neglecting to do the things we ought, like, getting a life.

Automation has improved productivity and eliminated boring jobs but robots and computers also cause humans to get fired and made it possible for us to work with absolutely no human contact. The ATM is a fine invention but aren’t bank tellers more attractive? The Internet is a wonderful global medium, but it makes pornography highly accessible and peddles hoaxes and other forms of untruths.

Remote controls have made things faster, easier and ‘clickable’ but also help our bodies stack up fats and we have to invent things like fitness gyms which eat up a lot of time anyway. Fast food at every street corner reinforce a life of instant gratification.

Automation has debased the human race to couch potato-hood.

Why text somebody when you can call him up? Why call up your friend when you can take a few steps and talk face to face with him? Why send an email or e-card when a personalized card or letter written in long hand and sent with the help of the postman would have a more personal impact?

We are just starting to suffer the aftereffects of the Industrial Revolution: greenhouse gases, ozone holes. Global warming is set to melt the polar caps, kill corals by heating up the seas, destroy the favorite breeding grounds of young marine life. Deforestation, indiscriminate poaching and over-fishing gave birth to endangered species.

Urbanization is synonymous to pollution, population explosion, cultural homogenization, alienation. Billboards have defaced unique pastoral landscapes, giving birth to garish and jarring counterpoint to city cacophonies, not to mention contribute to unnecessary energy use-up.

Look at what our work gave us: More work and more overtime. We have invented the washing machine, electric fan, flat iron, and other accoutrements to make us work faster and make our life easier, but we end up in need of rest. We end up creating another vicious circle. We have to double our work to pay for an ever-greater variety of creature comforts.

The clock, which is strictly not a modern invention, has practically enslaved us too. We take things into account down to the last nanosecond, or even into smaller increments. We have come to worship time as a new god, or at least treating it as a commodity valuable as gold.

It is paradoxical that while the world marches in technological development at an exponential rate, a large part of the world is scandalously deprived, diseased and made desolate. Whatever good technology may bring to the poor is being blocked by First World countries, according to a UN report.

Our current fuel resources are said to be soon to be exhausted 20 years from now. And now we are left with dangerous nuclear power plants to contend with. Think about managing all that waste, together with the detritus of the digital age.

And now we must engage in a secret nuclear arms race for world domination.

Media, when not invasive of personal and private space, ends up unwittingly creating superstars of terrorists, coup plotters, kidnappers and all sort of criminals whose crimes increasingly challenge our pro-life position. In their desire to give both sides of the story and being willingly co-opted by commerce, media end up airing pure propaganda and PR (press release) from the very forces inimical to freedom of expression and democracy.

Jet-age travel and Internet-speed communication are increasingly breaking the limits. But so does the transmission of an incurable disease like AIDS, and disastrous computer viruses. The ease of travel has speeded up trade and cultural exchange. It has also created a border-less world and confusing ‘races,’ challenging the very notions of ethnicity and nation.

The speed of technological change for cell phones and other telecommunications gadgets is dizzyingly breakneck, catching all of us as well in an aggressive marketing that offends, pricing schemes that exploit the poor, if they are not outright unaffordable to the poor, and a society of trendoids and fashion victims that further alienate the have-nots.

The advent of digital films like Final Fantasy may make human actors obsolete and the Oscars extinct.

Call me a Luddite if you will. Someone of lesser tact actually called me a dinosaur. One sage (poet Alexander Pope) observed that, “We shape our tools and, thereafter, they shape us.” Have we really come to the point where robots rule over us?

I believe we have the duty to expose the dangers of technology before adapting them for everyday use. We should dissect the moral ramifications of cloning and contraception. We should treat biotechnology with suspicion. We should put all inanimate objects in our behest instead of objects commanding our society into dumb slaves.

We should tone down the intrusiveness of telecommunications, or our miserable lives would all be like the Truman Show. Things irreplaceable might be lost with the advent and sneaky encroachment of new technology.

Let us be efficient, innovative and competitive if we need to. An easier life is always welcome. But along the way, we must strike a balance between the benefit of a mouse click and the time spent sniffing the roses. Let us salvage humanity from the technological invasion. Why, we can use technology itself to do that for us.


 

Reflections of a ruminant


(Or, Ruminating on the world's ruination)


We all agree that communism failed. But capitalism isn't anywhere near better either. Huh, you don't believe that? You want proof of it? Just take a look at the long lines of squatter shanties along the railroad tracks. If capitalism were any good, then why did we create such a most horrible monster, complete with poisonous fangs?

I know, the truth is that our brand of capitalism in the Philippines, in particular, is at best pseudo-capitalism which is misspelled as cronyism, corruption, and unfair competition.

Much as I'd like to be an ardent fan of capitalism, I couldn't. The big C persists like bad cholesterol inside the nation's arteries. Just take a look at the whole mess it made of America where the monsters of mindless consumption, materialism, and instant gratification rear their horrible heads. Obviously capitalism without a heart is bad for the health.

The point, simply, is that, I'm afraid I have found the answer to all the world's ills. And I'm afraid you know all too well but choose to ignore it in an egregious manner. The answer is this: What we really need is a civilization of love, to borrow a phrase from the Pope. With a risk of sounding like Deepak Chopra or John Lennon, let me repeat that all we need is love, the brand that sets its sight outside the self. Socialism failed in spite of a revolutionary restructuring without regard for nonmaterial factors, while capitalism continues to be a failure in spite of the good things it offers because it focuses on what one’s self can do for oneself, disregarding others. Apparently, both failed because they don't have a heart and a soul.

A civilization of love is one that looks at every person as unique and valuable, entitled to an equal degree of dignity, of respect and to have innate value to the community. A civilization of love thrives on this uniqueness of every human being, offering a role for each actor in the grand stage that is the world, and welcoming every newborn as another potential to be tapped. In a civilization of love, we can not all be managers; someone has got to be the crew, to borrow another phrase from somewhere. Competition, therefore, is anathema to civilization.

As are social classes. An allegedly classless society crippled when some members are not functioning fully. What we want is a society where the pain of one is the pain of all, and the joy of one is as well the joy of all. Communism did not capture this paradox of unity in diversity and so it turned out to be a monster. Capitalism refuses to think along these lines, and so it ended up just like that - a limp stack of loose coins, each member hostile to another, viewing him as a threat. Capitalism gnawed at the soul of every nation and is soon to gnaw itself to death. All the signs are visible - environmental destruction, resource depletion, cultural homogenization, urban poor phenomenon (extreme poverty amid riches), unthinking competition.

We are all losers both ways because we turn a blind eye. Rich nations are morally bankrupt and they know it, while poor nations are not just spiritually parched, their thirst is economic as well. People always admonish me for thinking this way, with this constant subtext: "You are not God." I know I'm not that's why I am complaining. It's simply impossible for me to go on living in a world like this. What will I tell our future children? That everything is okay with the world? That nothing is wrong? That it's alright to deny?

A civilization of love revolves around just one simple doctrine: Love of God and love of neighbor as oneself. In such a society, no one is so poor that he can’t afford to contribute anything and no one is so rich that he doesn't need any help. It is a time and place where every human action is motivated by this great requirement of love. The usual legalities fade in the face of such a law. It is a time and place where anger is won over by patience, envy with empathy, greed and selfishness by compassion and passion for things of God.

It is a time and place of equal opportunity, the just distribution of this world's goods, zero crime-rate, politics as a means to serve, and education as a means to see God in all things, and justice as a vehicle to ensure dignity to every human being.

I know, I know… How come I get this funny feeling that all this is wishful thinking? That I am just having the thoughts a ruminating ruminant, chewing my cud and processing it through a four-chambered stomach? Innocent thoughts, yes, but all unreal and impractical in the here and now?

Indeed, I may be barking up the wrong tree all along, that I am just pining for that time and place where faith is needed no more, because all the things hoped for have come upon the world.

2.2001


 

Death penalty: the anomaly that was


(A sort of reverse requiem)

"God loved us first before we loved Him." Are we honestly convinced of this? If not, then we have never gotten and will never get the point of Christianity.

Father Reinero Cantalamessa, the Pope's personal confessor, once pointed this out to a congregation of Catholic charismatics in a recollection he gave in November 10, 1997 at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City. He based his theology on the Bible, of course, quoting generously from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans.

He noted that there are among us who profess to be Christians but do not necessarily have the same mindset, even those who have long been in the charismatic renewal movement. Oftentimes, we end up being self-righteous, judgmental. For a more concrete example, we end up supporting the death penalty.

We wrongly think that God came into our lives because we are special, or we are better than the next person, or we have merited good karma from our God-fearing parents, or because we happen to have God-loving friends.

While all these may be true, the fact - according to the Bible - remains that we do not merit God's love. No one has the right to say, "God loves me because I am innately good." This is an unadulterated lie because all of us, children of Adam and Eve, have inherited a fallen nature by 'virtue' of The Great Fall from Grace. To quote Fr. Cantalamessa, "Man is basically a self-centered sinner. We are lost. We are hopeless. It is through God's grace that we are saved."

"This means," he went on, "that we need salvation from outside and not from inside ourselves. We cannot rely on our own."

So everyone instead ought to ask, "Why does God love me in spite of me?" This reaction is more intelligible and the only one valid, especially when we witness people we have branded as "irredeemable," "incorrigible," or "hopeless case" mysteriously find the Lord like we have had, i.e., experiencing conversion purely by way of God's grace, in His own time, making use of instruments we never thought would touch us.

God's brand of love is simply different. "His ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts." Indeed, it's unlike our legalistic love, which stipulates a corresponding amount of disposable love based on an empirical merit system, as if life is one big climb up a series of promotions in a corporate or academic ladder.

Because, if we come to think of it, everything boils down to grace. Can anyone among us honestly claim that we sought God first? If that is the case, who put that longing in our heart in the first place? (You can refer back to St. Thomas Aquinas’s “un-causable cause.”) We simply have no right to monopolize God's love, to form a cartel of exclusivist, close-minded holier-than-thou Christians who think that God will work only in our group or in our church. We have no right to withhold God's love to anyone, much less His forgiveness. Except in cases of self-defense, which essentially is life-preserving anyway, we have no right to take the life of anyone - inside and outside the womb, by the way - no matter how much we think undeserving he or she may be.

Punishment or retribution is logical if we are to function as a just and civilized society, but why punish with death?

Only God has a free say as to where and whom love, grace, justice and mercy should be withheld. Only God has the right to take someone's life.



2.19.2000


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