PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

 

Life as spiritual warfare

**
the fight between good and evil
is the reason we are all here on earth
there are no indifferent bystanders
it shapes our character
it moulds our final destiny
on which side have you been lately?

eastwind [1507]

Monday, August 28, 2006

 

Grab vs. share

if you grab the other also grabs
greed is contagious
nothing is left for all

if you share the other also shares
love is contagious
there is enough for all

eastwind [1506]

 

"The paper crown"

THE PAPER CROWN

if you climb over others
to get to the crown you have never seen
you will discover when you get there
the crown is made of paper
the real crown of gold is within you
when you do not have to climb over others

eastwind [1500]

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

 

Txt msgs


When we let go of fear, only then can we gracefully move from 'what was' into the miracle of 'what can be.'

Lord, when I lose hope because my plans have come to nothing, help me to remember that your love is always greater than my disappointments and your plan for my life is always better than my dreams.

Life doesn't need to be perfect, and you need not be rich and famous; as long as you have Christ in your heart, it's more than enough.

God always answers our prayers. Either He changes the circumstances, or He supplies sufficient power to overcome them.

God stands by us when we are down and out, guides us when we think of quitting, and inspires us when things seem confusing. God knows. God sees.

He who is filled with love is filled with God himself. - St. Augustine

Before you think of saying any unkind word, think of someone who can't speak. Before you complain about the food you eat, think of someone who has nothing to eat. Before you complain about life, think of someone who went too early to heaven. And when you are tired and complaining about your job, think of the unemployed, the disabled, and those who wished they had your job. And when depressing thoughts seem to get you down, put a smile on your face and thank God you're alive and still around. Life is a gift. Live it well.

Life is like a book. Everyday has a new page, with adventures to tell, lessons to learn, and tales of good deeds to remember.

People as sandpaper, as sand: In life, God doesn't give you the people you want. Instead, He gives you the people you need, to teach you, to hurt you, to love you, and to make you exactly the way God wants you to be.

Life is never without a problem, never without difficulty, never without hurtful moments, but should never be without God to lean on.

You'll never know that God is all you need until God is all you've got.


 

Pain, dark, rain


Sometimes, we must be hurt in order to grow. We must fail in order to know. We must lose in order to gain. Because some lessons are best learned through pain.

**

Love the sun for it warms the body, yet love the rain for it cleanses the spirit. Love the light for it shows the way, yet love darkness for it shows the stars. Welcome happiness for it enlarges the heart, yet endure sadness for it opens the soul.

**

Like the rain that can't stop falling, God's love and blessing keep on pouring.


Friday, August 18, 2006

 

Charismatics, evangelicals: Shallow?


If you think happy-clappies (pejorative term for charismatics) give you the heebie-jeebies because you think they are shallow, think again.

L.R.'s testimony one assembly night would be illustrative.

"God really loves me so much. Whenever He give me blessings, he also follows it up with trials. That's how much the Lord loves me.

"I had a new job a few days ago and my husband M. has also transferred to a new job offering a better package. Of course, we felt so blest. However, barely was I through with my thanksgiving when I would go home one day to find C., our youngest and only son, coming down with a mysterious fever, which made him so weak and lose his appetite. This has brought me and my husband back to the days when we bargained so hard with God for our son's life and ended up joining the renewal.

"We brought C. to the hospital to have him examined for dengue fever but the findings were negative. Still, his condition hardly improved.

"My husband and I got very much worried when, suddenly, we remembered a faith healer in the past whom we had brought C. to for healing. This heaer sought his curative powers from Jesus and the Blessed Mother. We took C. to the healer's place and we were glad to see him still alive and ready to serve. He gave C. a glass of water to drink, which the healer presumably had blessed. Miraculously, after our son drank the water, he was up and about after just a few minutes.

"I want to thank God for always giving me trails. This was, He makes sure I am always dependent and ever close to Him."

I have encountered such a level of spirituality among the mystics of the Church in my readings. Who says charismatics are vicitms of prosperity-gospel, pie-in-the-sky demagoguery that eschewes the long-and-narrow road?

I, myself, relatively a long-timer in this kind of movement, used to laugh at Bro. Mike Velarde's folksy style, even look down on such groups of people I see at Channel 13 wearing clunky green rosaries arund their neck and the great unwashed of Quiapo and Baclaran who wipe the statues clean with their hankies and leather wallets. Now that I am constantly subjected to the same kind of ridicule, I am brought into rethinking my judgmental position.


 

"Every path leads to you"


** [from week 42]

i get lost i grow cold
i grow weary seeking shelter
and i cry in the wind

though i grope and i wander
though i am weak
and i am wrong

though the road buckles under where i walk
still i find to my wonder
every path leads to You

theme from ‘The Cardinal’ [1461-pp42-x1]


 

Forgiveness is hard?


Forgiveness is hard? Think again.

[from week 148]

it is hard to forget
the sins of others against us
it is easy to forget
our sins against others

forgiveness refreshes the spirit
like dew on desert flower
forgiveness awakens the soul
like first light in morning darkness

eastwind [x973-pp148]


 

Missionary


I never knew I would pesonally meet someone like them in my lifetime. I only get to read about them, hear about them: St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. Damien of Molokai, Francis Xavier, St. John Bosco, St Francis of Sales, and the first apostles. But now P.S. is aspiring to be one of them - missionaries of Christ, potential martyrs. A teacher at Don Bosco Technical School, he has been approved by the Salesians to go to Papua New Guinea as a lay brother. Everybody knows what it means to give your life to the missions. You end up giving your whole life, sometimes literally. "Death is not a dim prospect," P. himself put it quite bluntly, half-joking.

If things push through as planned, P. will be joining the league of that young Jesuit priest who had died recently in Cambodia saving the lives of the young victims of war there, as well as those two guys our parish priest told us about who had been beheaded for distributing Bibles in Muslim Saudi Arabia. Beheaded. Decapitated.

Like figuring in a scene in Tarzan, it is a chilling prospect - to be eaten alive by some horrible cannibalistic tribe dwelling in the far reaches of the Amazon or Papua New Guinea rainforest. Especially to us whose day-to-day questions suddenly become vacuous in the face of P.'s decision. How will I improve in my craft? What will be my next job? What shirt best suits me on this day and that? Where and with whom will I watch this concert and that movie?

With P.'s story, suddenly my questions in life were: Where am I so far in my "walk with the Lord"? Am I bearing fruit as a Christian? Will I give up my life for the Lord? Am I living a life credible enough to evangelize, like, two billion mainland Chinese?

I count myself fortunate for personally meeting a courageous would-be martyr as P. I've read somewhere that martyrdom is one sure way of going straight to heaven. Why not, indeed? A martyr's blood has a way of making fertile an arid ground to which the seeds of Christianity are planted.

I pray hard for P.'s work and that he comes home alive and well. Besides, there are too many men to tell the Good News to, and too few chosen to spread the word like that.

19??

Update: P. came home alive and well a year or two after.


 

The zenith and the nadir


(The highs and lows (hopefully not the cycle) of spiritual life)

They say that when you reach rock-bottom in your life, there's no other way to go but up. But what if you have reached the zenith? Does it follow that you'll have no other way to go but down?

This sums up my problem with achieving that spiritual high right after my renewal experience via the Christian Life Program (Life in the Spirit Seminar). I gave in to the temptation to 'go down.'

J. D. Salinger, in his novel Franny and Zooey, has an apt phrase for what I've been through right after the high part; the all-fired-up euphoric part that 'triggered' the 'problem': "detachment from all hankerings." Detachment is one of the major fruits of my new-found faith and I initially found it to be good. Attachment especially to materials things controlling me seem to have vanished almost overnight. All my worldly passions flew out of the window after attending and completing the Christian Life Program. Before long, I had nothing more exciting to do but meet by Maker.

Soon, however, I also became bored with life at large. I woke up one day to find out that the business of trying hard to be holy is incompatible with the world I was born into. I knew I could no longer live in a world full of compromises, competition, corruption. This, strangely, got me depressed.

In my wonder years as a wide-eyed, open-mouthed boy, I was a picture of someone who's full of love, or lust, for life. I would collect stamps, postcards, coins, shells, rocks, spiders and butterflies, among other things. I modeled myself after Jose Rizal, whom I saw as a renaissance man. You could say I was a philatelist, numismatist, marine biologist, petrologist and lepidopterologist, if there's ever such a word. And I was genuinely so. Would you believe I was in the habit of tracking down the more than fifty species of spiders, butterflies, ants, and birds in our wide yard alone in the province? I would make sketches of butterflies and color them with fascination. I was so astounded by the mysterious beauty and overpowering variety I found in nature; I couldn't express my amazement other than by collecting everything I fancied.

As if these were not enough, I would grow up to be a very nostalgic and romantic person. My heart thumped at the sight of old things, of history and antiquity. I couldn't just throw away my moldering, dusty stuff because they signified a kind of charm I couldn't quite describe.

I knew I was a fool. I might as well be a garbage collector. I would notice how my peers feigned excitement at the things that interested me - while I had to suppress myself lest I'd be seen as a weirdo. I realized not everyone shared the same temperament as I.

Life was exciting and wonderful in a way that was mysterious but, that early, the likelihood that everything could be empty didn't escape me as well. I was a thinking, constantly self-questioning kid and as acquisitive as I was inquisitive. What was the meaning of it all? I couldn't make sense of it except to devour everything and enjoy the good life.

And now came the life in the renewal, which I, too, absorbed like a sponge. I 'surrendered' in the hope that I could unlock life's meaning behind all that mystery. I reveled in the love of the Lord. I could almost see Him and touch Him. He alone sufficed in my life. I basked in His goodness.

I felt powerful with Him. I felt like I could face a thousand demons without a single strand of hair raising out of fear. I could wrestle with Satan himself.

I seem to have unlocked some of life's meaning, but I also found worldly life to be empty, and that's how my trouble began. It was supposed to be good, but soon I found myself having no choice but to go on living in the world. I still needed to go to work, I still had meetings to catch, physiological needs to meet, skills to hone so that I could remain competent in my job. Making matters worse was that I realized that the cloister, the only logical place where I could escape life's vanities and continue to live my life to an earthly heaven, didn't impress upon me as a possible option. Slowly but surely, my personal revelation was that I'd be in an ironically whimsical pursuit, one who should lust for life in order to be effective in his craft.

There's the rub, this detachment from all hankerings. It means readiness to die anytime. It means losing your lust for life. What you're now hoping for is something that already transcends all worldliness; your only immediate prospect is the grave. A character in the movie The Big Chill put it more succinctly: "With everything being boring, your only hope is to die." The usual zest for life is gone just when I thought I found a new life.

As I have said, a spiritual high is kind of troublesome because it is incompatible with the goings-on in a world that is still bearing the brunt of Adam and Eve's fall. So sooner or later, you find yourself succumbing to a lot of little compromises. But since you fear the loss of that high, you choose to struggle, to fight back, to achieve that delicate balance between asceticism and worldly pressures. Eventually you realize that the struggle can be elevated into an art form: The moment you reach Balancing Artist status, you can expect to be canonized as a living saint! Christianity, I found, is very hard to almost impossible to practice in the real world; the Christian is bound to suffer in anguish.

But even harder is this: With the new mindset, all your worldly efforts become pointless. Of what use is personal advancement, climbing the corporate ladder, running the rat race, social prestige? What is success anyway? Oh, how fleeting worldly happiness can be! Nothing else in this world could possibly satisfy me after everything I went through in the renewal.

Alas, life goes on even for the ascetic. A delicious meal, a lovely conversation, a hilarious joke, a baby's affection, all are ephemeral. Even the best of music fade out. Today's high fashion is tomorrow's laughingstock. A memorable movie and novel become mere memory in a matter of minutes.

What do I do on such a plane of existence except endure boredom? For me, this developed into a totally unexpected result: I got depressed. I found life so flawed and unnerving that the only solution, it seemed, was to engage in a frantic search for an ever-new source of pleasure no matter how fleeting. I didn't have the choice but be constantly on the lookout for something new: Within a short span of time, I would juggle between a movie, act in a short play, join a creative writing workshop, learn the basics of dancing the swing, practice the barn dance, play ping-pong and watch a soccer game, finish a storyl I have shelved for a year, get an article published, buy a glossy art book, retro shirts and new sounds, try fetuccini alfredo and putanesca at a posh restaurant, and learn at least four new computer games.

Somehow doing and learning new things provided the cure to boredom if only for a few moments. But before long, I'd wake up to find myself where I started: worldliness, the world ruled by the senses. Thankfully, God's grace rained out upon me and I eventually got bored of getting bored. Until I just found myself slowly going out of the mess.

It took me sometime to regain that old excitement in the simpler things in life: hot buns from the neighborhood bakery, my little nephew's smile, a bird's song, a sudden rain in the summer, hot tea with lemon, a call from a long-lost friend, a new pair of socks, an inspiring passage, a macaroon with a cherry bit on top.

Looking from my current state of mind which I'm optimistic is both peaceful and balanced, my mistake seemed to be one of self-delusion, deluding myself that life with God even while still here on earth, is already heaven, in the sense that life would be easier and happier, free from suffering, hurts, pains, disappointments that there's no more work to do except to await God, that there's no more emotions left but love, joy, hope, peace, that I was no longer bound to fall and sin and experience pain. I forgot that I remain descended from Adam and Eve, that I too have partaken of Eden's forbidden fruit, causing our collective fall from grace, that as such, I couldn't escape my share of hardship and pain. It was a given fact but I wrongfully hoped to be spared. I believed hardship and pain would go away if I ignored them. I knew and have learned to accept that earthly life was temporary but I was surprised that with suffering, it might feel like an eternity.

As long as we live, we will sin; that's for sure; we will still fall. That's what I've learned from having savored the spiritual high. We can't be spared from life's sorrows, temptations, hunger, pain, lust, because of our inescapable fate, our fallen nature. After all the euphoria, there is much work to do, hard work.

I guess depression came to me because I was expecting a literal heaven-on-earth and I failed. The world I live in, I found out, runs counter to that expectation. I failed to see or conveniently forgot that the world as it is, is not likely to change with me just because I did. And that it is I who should continuously change...unless, as I have said, I shut myself off from the world and live as a Trappist monk. (But even that choice is also subject to hard work.)

The thing to do next, apparently, is to struggle until the day of my final redemption; a tall order, really: striking a balance between the spiritual and the temporal, between heaven and earth. The realization came very slowly, but it still felt like a douse of cold water.

So it's true then: there's no way to go but down when you're up there. Savor the euphoric part, yes, but after that, Christian life ought to be a life-long vigil. We should constantly be keeping an ever-watchful eye so as not to remain passive that we get bored, depressed and suicidal or overly zealous that we become unreasonable in our expectations.

1998


 

To the cross


"If you wish to be a follower of Mine, deny yourself and take up your cross each day, and follow Me." (Luke 9:23)

In the 14th century, Johann Tauler (a disciple of Meister Eckhart) noted: Jesus did not ask you take up His cross, but to take up your cross! ... My cross will not look at all like the cross of Christ! It will look more like me! We are our own crosses. To carry ourselves along, with all our fears and compulsions and our laziness: that alone could make most days a Good Friday!...

Commentary from Claretian Publications Inc. as published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer's The Daily Gospel (March 9, 2000)


Thursday, August 17, 2006

 

Joy = strength


"The Lord is my joy. The joy of the Lord is my strength."


 

The poor's knowledge of God


Being poor is hard enough. To be looked down upon because one is poor stings even more achingly. But before I cause tears from falling, let me remind ourselves that the poor are no stranger to things like happiness and God. I myself am not rich but I am nonetheless surprised to realize this. The poor need God more than anyone else; the rich are too self-sufficient to think about Him. A few years ago, when I had a chance to minister to boys who couldn't make it to college because their parents were financially hard-up, I heard each one talk about how much they knew God loved them in spite of the fact that they were poor. They talked about God in a way that I never heard horizontally enhanced, hip-hop-attired, cell-phone-toting boys do.

I was astonished. I was at a loss for words. Here I ws, studying a personal God for years and I found Him still all mysterious, and here was someone I was ministering to and her seemed to know God even better.

Fr. J.L. once related a story straight from the slums of Tondo, in Manila, where he had served: People from the squatter area were having a prayer meeting when some smart-alecky outsider made this scathing comment within the hearing distance of the accused: "Naku, uma-attend lang ang mga iyan dahil may libreng pagkain." ("These people are only after the free food.")

Of course, God's poor took offense. One of them was said to have retorted, "Wala na nga kaming bahay, wala na kaming makain, wala pa kaming Diyos. Hindi naman na yata tama 'yon." ("Isn't it enough that we have nothing else left, no house, no food to eat...Do we have to lose God too? Now that would be really unfair!")

Don't be surprised to find the poor and the simple having a deeper knowledge of God than you and all the theologians combined.

9.19.2000


 

Parenting: delicate balancing act

I know I'm encroaching on other people's turf when I dare talk about parenting, but I have found myself belonging to a small group where I got to interact with married men as co-members. The day they started talking about their kids, I felt so out of place, yet I found I stumbled into a a world so different from mine it was actually interesting, even fascinating.

I myself have visualized having clones of my own but I am constantly having questions as to how I could possibly raise kids when I couldn't even seem to keep my own body and soul together. Either it was such a scary prospect or it's best to perish the thought. But then, who said he or she was prepared the time his or her first child was born? The truth is, no one is, and I am just being cowardly. These are the things I found out from my groupmates:

In the birth of a child, as in the rest of life, we always say we'll cross the bridge when we get there. Our parents were certainly just as clueless and even if they have learned the ropes of parenting through years of trial and error, they could not possibly pass on the same exact lessons, particularly the nuances of handling relationships, to would-be parents precisely because each child is a different creature. (That's what I learned from my own mother, too, by the way.) Would-be parents would have to learn the lessons themselves - or unlearn, as the case may be. Maybe God intended that things like child-rearing be gone through with all its joys and pains without the benefit of a blueprint; it's more thrilling that way; life becomes truly an adventure, even down to the little things.

I was amused by the litany of dilemmas I'd hear: A young father fussed about whether he was too strict or too lenient with his kids who were fast becoming grownups. Another, a newly married man, shared about how he couldn't keep a single glance away from his first-born daughter lest the toddler bumped her head on the floor. Parents who have grown-up kids, I'm sure, struggle similarly when it comes to when to hold on and when to let go, like another guy anguished.

Parenting, to paraphrase a newspaper columnist (Ms. Grace Shangkuan Go), is a precarious balancing act tailored to meet the specific needs of each child. There are no hard and fast rules, except the need for parents "to give their children roots and wings." The mixed metaphor would no doubt give us a freak of a child - one who is part-plant and part-bird. How can something planted on the ground fly? But the advice makes perfect sense.

"Roots are the foundation that give stability to children - family, security, moral and spiritual values. Wings give them freedom to fly to higher levels of accomplishments: creativity, independence, courage and confidence." ..."While the depth of our children's lives is dependent on their roots, the height to which they will soar is dependent on their wings."

To echo my fellow group members: When and how much do we enforce discipline? When and to what extent do we allow play, warmth, love, protection? It's beginning to sound like an adventure, right? The message to singles who are afraid of commitment and responsibility is "Get married and have children. It's fun!"

"It's hard, but it's fun," another from my group summed it up. Perhaps this ambiguity is where the beauty of parenting lies.


4.13.2001


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

 

Fulmination


Fr. S.R. is not among my favorite priests because whenever he gives sermons, I oftentimes cringe in fright. So when I saw him on TV giving a retreat one Good Friday, I expected lightning to strike me with remorse and guilt and shame and inadequacy. He hasn't opened his mouth yet but I feel already guilty. Perhaps, it's him, it's me. This Holy Week I've been praying to God to grant me the grace of a genuine sorrow for sin and what I got was Fr. S.'s frightening fulmination. Yet I remained glued to the boob tube just the same. Not because there was not much choice but because he said something that really, really caught my attention. It was something that disturbed my conscience.

"80% of suicides in the Philippines are committed by people in the 15-20 age range,' he said, quoting a study, "...young people, who commit suicide for the inconsequential of reasons."

"They take their own life just because they've been jilted by a lover, or didn't pass the board exam or felt themselves to be a failure."

"What does this statistic tell us?"

"We have lost our values!" he fulminated. "When asked if we really love God, surely all of us will say yes. But the truth is many of us don't."

"These young people commit suicide because they had wrong priorities in life. And I'm sure their parents and our society are just as guilty."

"We place more importance on saving our face in front of society than in front of God." We put more importance on temporal needs, on material comfort and security, on worldly success. We feel unimportant if we fail."

"Even if you perceive yourself to be a failure in life, in the eyes of God, you're still Number One!" Fr. Sonny lectures.

At this point, I was shedding genuine tears of dramatic contrition. Why do I feel lonely sometimes, especially this Holy Week? Why do I feel angry and rebellious?

Maybe it's not just because I feel abandoned, my prayers unanswered? Maybe it's more because I pity myself. Maybe I feel that I am a failure, that until now I couldn't show any proof of so-called success. Maybe I forgot that in my unspeakable state of humiliation, I remain God's Number One. I forgot that He remains my No. 1 fan. That no one can ever be a loser with God.

Thank You Lord for answering my prayer through someone I love to hate. Please forgive my desire for worldly adulation - which I have failed to get. I forgot that You've been there all along clapping for me, egging me on unceasingly behind my perceived failure.

"What matters in life are not great deeds but great love." (St. Therese of Lisieux)

4.13.2001 Good Friday


 

When wrong is right and right is wrong


It always upsets me out of my wits - this abominable situation where I end up being looked (down) upon as the culprit when I was the one being victimized. Really. If right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right, what kind of planet am I living in? I might as well be a Martian.

I had my baptism of fire in this regard during high school. I was in an English class and the teacher was otherwise a brilliant one. The fateful lesson was about root words and gender-related words. In the middle of lecture, the teacher asked the class, "What is the root word of 'bilingual'?" The class answered 'lingual' with the confidence of a linguist. I said 'lingo' with equal confidence.

But nobody, it seemed, not the least our brilliant teacher, knew about the existence of my word. Still, I insisted because I knew I was right. Not a few of my classmates laughed about it in my face.

This was not enough. Later the teacher asked, "What's the female counterpart of 'emperor'?" The class answered 'emperess', to which my teacher conceded like a fool. I said it's empress, it's empress, because I happened to have had met the word. Yet again, not a few laughed about it in my face, giving the kind of laughter that you would like to kill an entire high school studentry for.

I was sure I was right but that laughter crushed me so much that I began to doubt. When I got home, I opened the Webster's dictionary like it was the most important thing in the world to do after panting like a dog from school. True enough, Webster proved me right on both counts so was I fuming mad. "Empress!" I gnashed my teeth, "Lingo!"

But as oppressed protagonists in movies say, ""I'll have the last laugh." A few years later, what would occupy primetime TV on Sundays but the popular show 'Showbiz Lingo.' Then, of course, there was the Empress bathroom tissue commercial on TV featuring a Chinese or Japanese empress, in full kabuki regalia to boot.

If I can remember every detail of these harrowing moments in my young life (to the point of being persnickety), it's because, as I've said, I almost believed the mistakes myself. It's a dangerous world, I realized. When a vast majority believe a mistake or an outright lie, it has a danger of becoming a fact. How's that again, Hitler? "A lie that's been heard a thousand times is easier to believe than a truth that's been said only once." Up to now, I find it hard to forgive myself for failing to show the right Webster's page to my teacher and classmates. My anger is warranted because I guess it speaks of a greater truth: calling truth untruth and vice-versa is a sin of the gravest order! For instance, blasphemy of the Spirit, according to the Bible, is unforgivable!

Later in life, I would time and again meet with such misfortunes. If I fumed at something, people would immediately say, "Snob! Grouchy! Grumpy!," never mindthe reason why I flared up at all. I thought I deserved a little benefit of the doubt, but apparently I didn't. Yet if I explained my case, I always ended up being defensive. As always, I would end up getting a bad press like a senator who's been quoted out of context. It's no dice both ways.

Thank God, truth has its own way of avenging itself. Like they say, truth is its own defense, truth is its own reward. For usually, I find my own eyes witnessing the same wrong done to others and, lo and behold, my personal stand which others see as flippant self-defense suddenly becomes a physical law without me ever lifting a finger!

As they always say in the movies, "I'll have the last laugh!"

The Nobel Price-winning Elie Wiesel had to go through the Holocaust to learn this invaluable lesson. We shouldn't be silent in the face of untruth, oppression and injustice. We shouldn't be timid if it's our dignity as a person that's at stake. We shouldn't be too pusillanimous about correcting linguistic atrocities because it is our (mis)education that's at stake.

7.7.2000


 

'High' Mass


I rushed things up to catch the 9 AM Mass and I got rewarded for it. The priest gave a homily filled with interesting if not appalling tidbits of info. First, he declared that only 10% of the people in his 'parokya' (diocese) attend the Sunday Mass. My long-standing suspicion is confirmed. Of the approximately 25,000 parishioners, only about 2,000 attend the five Masses including the anticipated Mass on Saturdays. And he said he was making a very liberal estimate.

But he didn't stop at that. "And how many among those who go to Sunday mass," he went on, "are properly dressed for the wedding banquet" (referring to the day's passage on a wedding banquet), "like, how many receive communion properly, i.e., with the benefit of confession?" I saw people swallowing their respective saliva.

Our priest continued the homily by telling an astounding information: We know that the earth rotates on its axis, right? We also know that it revolves around its orbit, right? What we may not know, the priest said, is that the planet rotates as it revolves at roughly the same rate. And have you noticed, he asks, that when you look at yourself, your house, everything around you, things seem to be stationary? The truth is we are in constant motion.

What really kept my eyelids from drooping was this: He quoted latest scientific reports which have found that as the planets revolve around the sun, the whole solar system, together with the other heavenly bodies in the Milky Way galaxy, revolve around the star Vega.

I don't know about you but that's something new to me. And dig this: the whole thing moves around an as yet undetermined body... and the whole thing moves at an even much faster rate!

And that's only as far as present science can determine which is another way of saying 'as far as man's intellect can grasp'. Who knows, we could be scratching just the surface of the universe! A universe which appears to be a vortex within a vortex within another vortex within yet another vortex within...oh no.

Our priest further wondered how the heavenly bodies manage not to collide or bump into each other. Of course, his audience could only react, "Amazing indeed!"

After the Mass, this observation drove me walking off into a world that was suddenly more wonderful than ever. In spite of my many, many problems, suddenly I had no reason to be bored, depressed, sad or miserable. As I limbered my way home, I stared at the first plant or tree ("Oh hi there, Mr. tree, Ms. Plant, brother moon, sister sun!") with renewed interest and for the first time, it felt good to know that in this mysterious thing we call 'life' and this wonderful place we call 'world', I knew absolutely nothing.

It was a Sunday of reckoning for everyone, liberating us with newfound humility and awe.

10.10.1999


 

Two deaths: Diana vs. Teresa

This week's two historic events are no coincidence, noted A.V.

Th deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa are a contrast of worldly adulation and an otherworldly one. Tens of thousands or even a million at Kensington Palace brought with them flowers to mourn the death of Diana. People thronged Mother Theresa’s remains to catch a glimpse of something otherworldly, in the hope that they may receive a wealth of grace that is thought to overflow from a poor and humble servant of God. We prayed for Diana's soul. We asked the once-living saint to pray for us. We deeply grieve the princess' death. We rejoice that Mother Teresa is finally with her beloved Maker.

We offered prayers for Diana. We asked Mother Theresa to intercede for us.

Media have rightfully reported and reflected on the state of mass adulation around the world, devoting extensive coverage even to the littlest-known aspect of Diana’s life while mentioning only in passing the life and times of an ‘ugly’, ‘uninteresting’, 'unexciting’, non-telegenic nun from Skopje, Macedonia.

Outer image sells and Diana is indeed a paragon of beauty, elegance, style. A newspaper columnist correctly observes that we love Diana because there's a princess/prince/royalty in all of us. (The immediate effect on me, however, was a shiver down my spine, stoking in me the fear of figuring in a fatal car crash.)

But Mother Teresa’s brand of beauty is implicitly regarded as unappealing, even revolting (take a look at her feet!), in the public eye, certainly an anathema to the viewership ratings war, to media mileage.

But in the eyes of faith, this 'coincidence' is an historic juxtaposition, one actually hatched by divine hands for the world’s edification.

9.11.98


 

How today's Christians are subtly persecuted


It's cool to be rebellious. The glamor or sin is as attractive as, what, James Dean. This means that, in the standards of the world, professing oneself to be a Christian is the religious equivalent of outing oneself as a pedophile.

Christians are often accused of hegemony or religious arrogation, which to some extent, is true. But Christians are also often subject to persecutions here are the most common and the most laughable:

1. They are hypocrites.
2. They are just sexually repressed.
3. They are too serious, they're a bore.
4. They are monolithic in thinking (thanks to a dictatorial mode of hierarchy?), hence prone to groupthink; they all think alike, like robots.
5. They often feel spiritually superior.
6. They are...ultra-conservative.

Here are the rebuttals:

1. Acknowledging one's weakness is never hypocrisy. A true Christian recognizes that, on his own, man is hopeless sick, corrupt, irredeemable.
2. God's grace and the person's active effort to stay away from sin result in a chaste sex life.
3. Christians are, can be, fun to be with because they're often lighthearted, trustworthy and well-meaning.
4. Don't be fooled by that Christian uniform/-ity.
5. No one can boast of one's personal virtues, not the least the redeemed Christian, whose only hope is with his merciful Lord and Savior.
6. "Conservative" is too pejorative a term because it automatically connotes unthinking attitude, closed-mindedness, hostility to reason and a host of other laughable, patently misinformed assumptions/presumptions. Besides, what is "conservative" in this day and age? How is that any possible?


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

 

Confidence


My assignment to serve young people in my new community brought me anew to facing the issue of confidence. How do I serve the Lord, indeed, walk my daily walk as a Christian, with confidence? Do I do things because I know I could in my own wisdom, or do I do things humbly, i.e. in a submitted way? Do I ask the Lord how to do it His way? Or is it more about doing it my way?

C.J., my unofficial extra spiritual director of sorts, whom I canonize for sainthood, confronted me with this issue.

Whenever I am asked to serve the youth (mostly high school students), I always recoil in defiance. "Why me when I am most unworthy, unqualified?" To start my litany of excuses, I would always say that I am a nerd, a klutz, a Luddite, a weirdo and a recluse rolled into a one.

Even in my only perceived strength, I feel inadequate: I am a thinker, tinkerer and moper. I would rather think and sleep afterwards than do anything. But, tell me, where in serving the youth does my special temperament (artist bent?) enter into the scheme of things? Almost nowhere.

But God wants me and He was insistent. Talk about the Lord pushing, shoving me out of my comfort zone. I told the Lord, don't press the issue; it's of no use, it's a no go. Then, one day, an annoying email message just seem to jump out of the screen catching my attention: "I do not call the qualified but I qualify those whom I call." Then scriptural messages galore followed in and out of my prayer time. The message became deafening.

Under my personal circumstances, it was so very hard to say yes. But in the end I made a gamble just the same: "Lord, get off me my heavy burdens and I'll do what You want." I was referring to my tremendous debts at the time which were weighing me down like a bad IMF loan.

To cut the story short, my baptism of fire - specifically, conducting the community's first Young Adults Summer Camp - came and turned out a success, considering everything. Things simply fell into their proper places - the concept, the materials, the warm bodies needed, the venue. Talk about the finger of God moving things like an unseen director. The kids themselves said they enjoyed the camp and actually asked when the next camp would be

And yet during the camp's duration, there were moments when I still felt like I couldn't do the job because I was unfit. I knew that it's God's way of shaming the wise - remember the lowly fishermen of Israel becoming the world's first apostles? Obviously it was devil attacking me right where I was vulnerable - the issue of confidence.

Like the times when ugly realities rear their ugly heads: I realize I don't know how to do this and that (yes, embarrassingly, despite my age, sex, and state of life). I never had the chance to learn a lot of things largely because I didn't have the time, energy and inclination. Unfortunately, serving the youth means doing all the things for which I sorely lacked in talent.

My unofficial spiritual adviser noticed a hint of this problem one time when we were holding our hands for the Our Father. She has this gift of discerning things just by holding people's hands. She detected that I was having problems with self-confidence. I could only pause and tell her on the verge of tears that she was right!

Then and there, the trouble stared at me in the face: The trouble was I was plucking my confidence from the self that's why I felt I was not up to the task. The right attitude, C. reminded me, was to be confident in the Lord, that He was the one who has chosen me in spite of me, that it was not my work but His, that I was serving Him because I was called foremost to be a lowly servant.

And that I could only do all the things He has tasked me to do by first being attuned to Him at all times.

C., on days ensuing, would quote me Ps. 16:8: "I keep the Lord always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken." And Ps. 112: "They shall not fear an ill report; their hearts are steadfast, trusting the Lord. Their hearts are tranquil, without fear..." And Is. 12:2: "God is indeed my savior, I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord and He has been my savior."

C. advises me to offer myself up completely to God every morning. She advises me about the importance of praying to the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit may supply all the words as I speak in God's name.

My story is a recapitulation of ancient stories of how the Lord chooses the fool to shame the wise; how the Holy Spirit emboldens us when we need it, so that we need not worry on what to say or do when we are attacked in our spiritual Achilles' heels; and ultimately, how the Lord does things in such a way that we may not end up boasting, and that "if we are to boast," we may "only boast in the Lord."

5.31.2001


 

Colloquy on suffering


It took me seven years into the Renewal before I fully realized how small my faith in You is, especially when it comes to little things. The proof of this is crystal-clear: I worry a lot.

As though the proof is incontrovertible enough, I once asked an officemate to verify it and, true enough, he affirmed that my one enduring image is that I am always anxious. I also remember that back in college, my classmates would tell me I was a constant grumbler.

I'm sure, God, You are slighted big time. I can always raise the excuse, though, that I have always lived a life of uncertainty.

But God, You can always retort, "That's the point. That's what the test is all about." "If you truly believe that I love you in the face of uncertainty, then why should you fret at all?"

I have philosophized countless times that suffering has a loving purpose. Yet, I can't help but worry, though I know that worrying is pointless. I seem to have been born fearful of the world. Maybe insecurity is the price of having been born way too early?

I know, I know, I should channel my being a worrywart into something productive, like finding a way out of the things that cause me worry. But You know that's exactly one of my great worries - I couldn't find a way out, try and pray hard as I might. I feel trapped in the world I live in, even if I am supposedly free. I feel freedom is pointless if I am enchained in some way.

Hence, the only logical thing from all these, is for worrying to become my mark and for it to show on my face - a testament that I don't trust You well enough. Or a testament that I've been expecting You to be Santa Claus all the time when all You're probably saying all along is for me to learn to trust, hope against hope, even when there's nothing to hope for.

That's really a tall order, Lord, considering who I am, how I was raised. You know I was educated to think like a scientist, from grade school to college. "To see is to believe." "This set of variables gives this set of conclusions." I couldn't think out of the box. There are certain physical laws to consider. So when this particular need arises or this particular problem hits me and I see nothing in the horizon, I see nothing but despair ahead of me.

This scientific thought process has apparently left me a wide room to doubt Your divinity. "Are You really a good provider? Are You really my Good Shepherd like You said? How come You don't deliver all the time like I expected? Why do You keep on testing me to the point that I break? Of course, You know up to what point my pain threshold is? Why don't You put a stop NOW?"

Can anyone blame me about being a worrywart? Can You, Lord? Can You blame me if I ended up blaming others as well? The company I work for for not giving me a higher pay? My parents for being unemployed for the longest time? My siblings for counting on me? My country for making my life miserable with taxes and bills and bad service? God, You know I've done and am doing my best, so what gives?

If all these sufferings are not from You, as You've said - which means the devil is so fond of me - then why allow things to happen at all? Why me, why this? What sins do I still need to confess and expiate? How can I be totally free from this yoke, this shackle? Is this how strange Your brand of love is?

I know things could have been worse, thank God. Other people get dreadful diseases, horrible accidents, and all. But I've come to You precisely for healing and protection and providence, and ultimately, redemption. Lord, I'm not asking for mansions and troves and troves of gold; all I'm asking is a life of dignity. Can't I have at least a foretaste of it?

What would nonbelievers say if I couldn't show them any proof of Your love? Maybe to some, my unbelievable human resolve to hang on is enough proof, but what matters to me is if I, myself, feel secure and confident, with nothing to worry myself to death about.

I've lost everything, Lord, You can see plainly. When I was growing up, You gave me this impression that I would succeed in life. Now that I'm 30 years old, what have I gotten by way of accomplishment, at least by worldly standards? Nothing. That's what I've got right now - nothing, so that there's nothing left for me to lose.

But do I have to lose You too?

Lord, forgive me for my little faith. All I've been doing here really is make excuses, but the truth of the matter is, I'm a man of little faith. Maybe it's Your will, after all, that I remain this miserable for sometime, for some reason or another. All I've been doing here is say my long, talkative piece to You. Perhaps, what I need is to listen to You more?

In any case, Lord, I realize I couldn't trust You on my own, even if it would save my soul. My human resolve can only get me so far. It is really dependent on Your grace, like everything else in this world. I am really helpless without Your mercy.

I know the importance of hope, of believing that while I breathe, I hope. But supposing, just supposing, that this is it for me - knock on wood, then I don't want to be a victim of false hopes, either.

I choose to live holding on to Your grace for the moment, a grace which is renewed moment by moment. What if, indeed, You have willed that this is the end of the road for me, will that make a difference in my role as creature and Your role as Creator? Will it diminish Your omnipotence as God of the Universe? I think not. I am really nothing in anybody's reckoning, unless You say it isn't so.

Lord, all I'm asking You now is to give me that kind of faith that even in material deprivation, I can proclaim that I'm rich; even in physical or emotional pain and sickness, I can say that I am well and strong; and even in my seemingly hopeless situation, I can be assured that I am loved. Give me that kind of faith that even if life would be like this till the end of my days, I would still be serving and loving You and believing in You as my Father, Lord and Savior. Then I stop worrying.

6.5.2001


 

Soliloquy on servanthood


So you are to serve the Lord. What if your heart is not in it? What if you were assigned to a service you never expected to be in?

I strongly advise you to obey. Because "obedience is better (or more pleasing to God) than sacrifice." Remember that it's God's work you're doing, it's God whom you are trying to please, not men. You do not serve in order to please yourself or profit from it, although there's nothing wrong if you end up liking what you're doing, - and earning, too. (But if you're earning from it, then it would cease being purely a service, but a career as well. A career in the Lord is a full-time affair; are you ready for it?)

So you feel inadequate, under-equipped for the service. What did the Lord tell you about your incredulity? "I do not call the qualified, I qualify those whom I call." Were any of my twelve apostles qualified? One betraying me, another denying me three times; one a publican, the others fishermen.

You're desperate to flee from the awesome responsibility so you raise the issue of age. But you can't say you're too young either because God will surely quote from Paul's Letter to Timothy. So you resort to "I'm too old for this."

Really? Then you've made a terrible blunder in logic. You're all the more qualified for it if you're looking for a legal qualification! Because you supposedly have already gained so much wisdom, ripe enough for the picking, delicious enough to be shared and served.

Come on, accept the service. Give everything to the Lord. After all, it's His idea. He'll be walking with you. You won't be alone.

He will prove this to you in ways you do not expect. Trust the Lord to do it His way. To remind you that it is not your work but His. To remind you that you're just an instrument, just a lowly worker in His vastvineyard. To make sure that no one may boast, and if anyone should boast, he or she could only boast in the Lord.

Your seeming success later on would surely make you feel accomplished but "do not trust the good feeling". It's not you.

And when you're done with the job, do not expect to be congratulated. Praise and thank the Lord yourself. Present to Him the fact that your mission has been accomplished and that you have only done what needs to be done, that you are just an unworthy and inadequate servant. (Remember? You're not qualified.) The Lord's work is so gargantuan, your contribution is but a drop in the bucket, or the ocean, so keep your feet on the ground. All honor and glory belongs to God.

Say yes even when you're under the cloud of doubt and hesitation. If you say no now, the Lord might not come back to you again and you'll regret it for the rest of eternity. Or that He might get back to you later without letup. Do not prolong your agony. Just do it. And hope for the best.

Trust in His wisdom. Never ask "why?" or "why me?" He knows why and you don't, so trust him instead of listening to your fear. Work. Work hard. Pray. Pray for His provisions, for your health, for His direction, and most importantly, for a generous heart: "Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as I should: to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do Your will." (St. Ignatius of Loyola)

4.24.2001


 

Guilt


Whenever we feel guilty for having done something wrong against God, we always have this unsettling feeling that something sinister is going to happen to us anytime. It could be a lightning striking us in the most statistically implausible manner, or our car losing its brakes in the middle of the skyway, or a button of our shirt we have unknowingly left unfastened on our way to work and not discover until during a presentation with clients, until it’s too late.

A guild-ridden conscience is a conscience that is not at peace. Suddenly our guardian angel seems to have gone on an indefinite leave, the Holy Spirit seems to have distanced itself like a little boy sulking in one corner after we haven't kept our word with him. We're hanging to the flimsy thread of metaphysical unease, fearful that it might break anytime soon. We worry a lot. We conjure up worst-case scenarios in our mind. We couldn't sleep well. We wake up in the middle of the night with our hearts throbbing. We get nightmares.

We're anxious about the ten thousand things that could possibly go wrong in life. A cancer gene activating. Our entire savings withdrawn by somebody else. An entire skyscraper toppling on us.

Our subconscious knows we're not prepared for any bad news coming our way. We know we'd break at the faintest sound of bad tidings. We sap our bodily energy for it, the strength we need to carry on. Our knees wobble as a result. Suddenly it takes an effort to laugh. We couldn't eat well. We resort to all sorts of psychological crutches - alcohol, cigarettes, sex, drugs. Yet ironically we couldn't enjoy life.

"These are signs that we've grieved the Holy Spirit'" said my spiritual director. It's a time when God seems to be less of a Loving Father and more of a Punishing One, a Supreme Court Judge.

When we feel guilty, we are not just nervous. We are also ashamed, behaving as though we have something to hide, we have something to atone for. We could not perform our tasks with confidence because something is maliciously casting doubts on our self-esteem. We can't hear the voice of God because a noisy clatter has taken over, accusing us "You're a sinner! You're a sinner!" like a broken gramophone record.

What are we to do when we're guilty as sin? The only way out, it seems, is to stop being a fool and own up to our sins: Confession or saying sorry, nay, asking forgiveness. What I’ve learned is saying sorry doesn't necessarily mean a recognition of wrongdoing; it could only mean vacuous empathy for the party we've hurt. In asking forgiveness, the recognition of one's fault is implicit. [Protestants prefer doing this exercise directly.]

Humbling ourselves before the Lord is the only way to regain dignity. God is compassionate to the humble. He is attracted to an admission of one's wretchedness. His divinity is tickled pink when there's a need to save a soul, for someone to show mercy to, especially undeserved mercy.

Isn't it annoying that whenever we sin, we know we have been triumphant doing things our way, but in the end, we are not at peace, we are anxious? It's because the deadweight of guilt catches up on us and, indeed, weighs us down.

But it simply doesn't pay to remain guilty. Thankfully, God's brand of peace has no price. It is for free, never to be bought by any form of bribe. The only bribe valid, if ever, would be a repentant heart ready to repair what has been broken, willing to promise not to sin again.


4.20.2001


 

Don't give me that face


There are two great lessons for me as far as my experience at this point in my life are concerned. One is that people change, God never. The second is never, ever allow yourself to willingly fall into, or wallow in, sadness.

Experience had taught me that depression attracts the devil more, instead of God. God is merciful, yes, but the requirements of mercy are repentance and faith. Repentance is the acknowledgment that we are always unworthy of God, that perhaps it is our sins which ultimately cause our sadness. Faith is the belief that we are forgiven, the belief that God's love and mercy are boundless and He can forgive us anything.

If we need to be sad, then we should be sad with the Lord. And it should only be a sorrow for sin and the absence of God in our lives. We may call this holy sadness; as for the rest, we can call it "the devil's grimace."

"While I breathe, I hope." This is how God wants His children to behave - strong, joyful, at peace even in the middle of trials. This is martyrdom in small scale. It is martyrdom because there is a sizable decision-making involved, a "leap into the dark." Those who do it are rewarded greatly. Those who are victorious in trial get so overwhelmed by pleasant surprise.

I used to love being depressed, revelling in it, believing that it would bring art into my life. I was wrong. It brought not art but infection, not beauty but the devil's grimace. It's not true what they say: Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone. The truth is, despair is infectious; it leads others to despair. What's more, you are not alone because someone is behind it, one who wants others to share his despair.

Those who wallow in self-pity can then expect their self-inflicted punishment: a multiplication of their ills, a personalized Pandora's box. Their cache of viruses infects themselves all the more and other people as well as it multiplies fast in any host that is hospitable.

Any rendering of sadness for sadness' sake, be it in prose, poetry, painting, sculpture, or anything will only be of good use if couched in not in cynicism nor nihilism, hope and trust, in the belief that things will ultimately get better, more so now that they have reached rock-bottom.

One mark of a true Christian is joy - one coming from the wellspring of inner peace, the belief that we are loved, that we can be secure in God's love no matter what. The joy that cannot be extinguished because it comes from a wellspring of child-like trust.

When stricken by the blue funk, I suggest reciting the "Jesus I Trust in You" prayer. I don't know about Buddhism and its "nam-myo-ho-re-nge-kyo" or Hinduism's "auhm" but mantras really work. Lift up your troubles as oblates of atonement. Or play good music. Read the psalms. Dance. Still doesn't work? Talk to a friend. Or write down what's bugging you, though oftentimes you don't know what it is. Do something, anything that would force you into staying out of the pits.

The most noble thing to do, they say - and I agree - is to stop focusing on yourself and start reaching out. More than looking at the brighter side of life which gets clouded over in times like these, look at other people's misfortunes and find how you can draw from your own pains together with theirs, how you can share in others' pain with authenticity (you've personally been there, that's why). Try to go out of your way to reach out to people in need of more urgent help than you do. Perhaps that's what holy sadness do. Grieving with the Lord can only bring about compassion, communion, solidarity.
2.23.2001


 

Christianity phobia


The fear of embracing Christianity

Those who commit themselves to live a Christian life unwittingly commit themselves to a higher level of morality and accountability. Probably this explains the hesitation of those who are able to discern this fact at the outset - they are people who are the hardest to evangelize because they are the most intransigent. They pretend they've seen it all and need not see or hear any more.

People fear that “surrendering to the Lord” means goodbye to all the joys life has to offer. They are wary of what's in the store for them in the new life. Don't they say that it is always the good people who die early? Can I still go to parties? Wear my favorite clothes? Hang out with my friends? People are also afraid to let go of their favorite sins.

They are afraid that they might fall again. What if I still fell from grace while enjoying God's abundant mercy?

Of course giving God a chance means giving up certain things, in fact a lot of things if one has been really swallowed up by the world. But from my experience I realize that all these fears are unfounded. God won't allow Himself to be outdone in generosity if we are generous enough in parting with our attachments. I learned that God repays a thousand-fold for everything that is submitted under His Lordship. In fact, the Bible is a book of awesome promises, especially for those who are brave enough to take the risk. "Submit your heart to the Lord and He will grant you your heart's desire." "Not a bone of those who serve Me shall be broken." To state but a few.

Parties? Every Christian fellowship is a party! Friends? God will replace your bad company with true friends. Indulgences? God will show that getting high on Him satisfies the most. Whims? Ah, you haven't tasted how God loves to give little and big surprises! Ambition? What will top God's direction? Your favorite sins? What can possibly replace God's brand of peace?

All the things God is asking you to give up are bad for you in the first place. God enters your life to deliver you from the devil's work, so there's no reason to fear God and everything to fear the devil (or what it can do). All of life's negativity are not from God but from the enemy. God is the one who gives anything that is truly nice, sweet, enjoyable, pure, exciting, noble.

Three of my greatest rewards for submitting my life to God are: deliverance, detachment and direction. They're the greatest surprises of my life. I didn't expect that it would be like this. He has delivered me, and continues to, from destructive habits and behavior. He has given me the grace to detach from worldly cares, re-channeling my former attachments to the one attachment that endures, that matters most: the hope of eternal life and His presence in the present life. Lastly, I didn't expect God directing me to the true desire of my heart, thus freeing me from unnecessary distractions and wasteful experimentation. I had thought I'd become a doctor, a teacher or even a priest and it would have been disastrous had I chosen my will for myself.

Life is a risk and submitting to God is one major risk. But it's the only risk worth taking. The challenge is, once you have accepted God, how far can you allow God to be God? The answer is obvious - a life in God has that singular prerequisite: faith. But one must deal with the fear first before ever going into faith.


Pride, or is it denial

Pride, in the form of constantly denying God's gentle whispers of invitation, is another challenge. It’s when someone somehow knows that he or she is being called but because of stubbornness, the call seems to be just not loud enough.

While it's possible in the case of hesitant souls that their time has not yet come, the other probability is the reality of denial. If one's time is not now, then when? Spiritual deafness and blindness is such a risk. God might not come knocking back.

The thing to exploit in cases such as this is the fact that most people are really good, most people love God and are willing to serve. It's just that they are being sidetracked by obstacles known only to them and to God.

The greatest of these obstacles is pride, especially one that claims knowledge in the face of partial understanding, divine wisdom in the face of fractured notions, openness in the face of a closed mind.

I know whereof I speak. If I recall the times I had been spiritually deaf and blind, I am ashamed to admit that there were a lot. Looking back, I realize I was first being called at the time when movie stars known for a drug-and-sex-crazed life began talking about their improbable conversions on TV. Then there were those overzealous born-agains claiming they have seen God. At the time, I saw plain gimmickry in the name of self-promotion through media mileage. I saw nothing but pure rebellion against the Catholic church, I saw nothing but falsehood and demagoguery. Worst, I saw the devil behind it, orchestrating a vast conspiracy to destroy an entire faith and an entire people. I failed to see it could be the Spirit animating God's people in whatever faith they may be professing. I failed to see it could be the Paraclete slowly descending on the world that the world may be renewed in a Second Pentecost.

Now that the tables are turned on me, all I can do is pray and persist in witnessing despite the incredulity and strong opposition that may come my way.

12.14-16.2000


 

The devil's dirty tricks


Those among us who have stumbled and managed to pick ourselves up again and again surely have had a taste of one of the enemy’s subtler ploys, i.e., when he plays dirty little tricks with our tendency to envy others, particularly those who seem to prosper in spite of themselves.

To us who live in a fashionably materialistic world, the temptation to envy others is simply irresistible. It's a time when the world seems to gang up on us, poor fellows, deprived of the joys of the world. A time when the Lord seems to withdraw His favor and decides to look the other way.

Of course we know that the only thing that would console the deprived is the hope that there are riches greater than today’s creature comforts. But admit it, we wouldn't mind having these things either, given the chance. If it were our turn to receive, we would readily call them gifts from above, blessings. What's wrong with having a prelude to eternal rewards, right?

Tricky? I've heard the smartest argument on this matter from Fr. V. A. Confronted with the parishioner's gripe, "Why do people who don’t seem to care about what’s and what’s right do seem to have it better than we do?", Fr. V. answers, “Of course, Satan won’t mess up with those who are already in the dark!"

“The enemy won't waste time conquering the vanquished. Rather, he reserves his time for those who are faithful to the Lord so that in their moment of weakness they might trip and join the fold. Why waste time on the easily hoodwinked when Satan can work double-time on those who are not?”

Envying others is very easy and how it zaps the zeal of the devoted! But we who have traversed the narrower road with enormous calluses know better, thank God: God knows how to give back awesome surprises in His time. Only those who persevere in the end knows what joy, what speechless joy, means when those precious times come. The funny twist to this game is that they stand to end up being the subject of much envy - even hatred - themselves.

It’s not good being envious even when your chips are down. Who, what, is your greatest treasure? Where does your heart lie?

1.23.2001


 

Secret ingredient to a successful recipe

No, I won't bother you with recipes that include "a cup of devotion and a teaspoon of honesty." But listen. Have you ever noticed how food tastes so much better if it given by somebody else (presumably out of kindness or goodwill) as compared to when you're the one who have prepared it? Amazing but true. Try cooking spaghetti and devouring it all by yourself. Even if you're a glutton, see how you couldn't even touch what you've cooked; whereas if somebody offered you so much as two to three spoonfuls from his or her own cooking, you couldn't get enough of it. In food, as in life, love appears to be the essential ingredient.

Maybe it's only psychological, but I'd rather believe it's not. Love is the one ingredient that spells the difference between an elaborate dish in a fine-dining place and a simple one prepared in a humble setting.

Rev. 9.19.2000


 

Who are you?


(The Do-It-Your-Own Multiple Personality Test)

A newspaper columnist asked, "Whose mask are you?" Another stated it in a more straightforward way: "You are not you." No matter, they talked about the same thing We go through a sudden personality change every time someone else is close by, or depending on who is close by. Honesty is indeed such a lonely word because everyone is so untrue.

Who are you? Are you really you? Or are you yourself only when you're alone? To give an honest answer to these, I suggest an experiment that is quite impossible to carry out. Have someone install without your knowledge a hidden camera near the phone to document the way you change in personality depending on who's on the other line. Make a checklist similar to this:

If it is your mother, do you suddenly modulate to a sweet, comfortable tone? Or is it to a contemptible one? If it is your father, do you suddenly turn serious, respectful, even fearful? or defensive? If it is your boss, do you grovel like a dog? If it is your colleague, do you suddenly act your age? If it is your friend, do you suddenly splutter greetings, mock insults, or some other wicked expression? If it is your girlfriend or wife, do you switch into a tender, amorous tone? If it is your suitor or admirer, do you turn coquettish? If it is your husband, don't you run the gamut, from solicitous to contemptuous? If it is your house help, do you transmogrify into a peremptory, condescending figure? If it is a child, do you down-talk to him/her endearingly? Or are you in your honest best because you break down your usual wall of defense? If it is an acquaintance from the past or a long-lost friend, do you feel disoriented? If it is your grandmother, don't you sound too considerate or even patronizing? If it is a crank caller, do you splutter with crisp four-letter words? If it is a priest, don't you suddenly feel having a halo and a pair of wings? If it is your bully of a cousin, don't you sound just as obnoxious or make faces while sounding nice? If it the BIR or the Citibank, don't you sound too reserved, circumspect? If it the president of the Philippines, do you find yourself whining or do you become a scared stiff? If it is the company you're applying for, are you giving your best foot forward? If it is your favorite movie star, don't you slobber, sound giddy, or turn into a speechless dweeb? If it is the DJ on FM radio, don't you blabber with equal nonsense? If it is Ernie Baron, don't you sound like a lazy researcher or a taunt? If it is the police, do you panic? If it is the Abu Sayyaf, aren't you choking on your words? If it is the doctor checking on you, don't you sound like you have something to hide? If it is your boring sister talking about her crush, don't you border on being phlegmatic? If it is a ghost, can you still catch your breath? If it is God, aren't you harrumphing with guilt? If it is your rich relation, do you suddenly kowtow or act like one of them?

Through all instances, do you consider the fact that others are listening?

Now, compare all these when you find yourself actually talking face-to-face with them. Compare all these when you find yourself talking in front of a large crowd. Observe the dynamics of your own personality changes, the nuances of tone, pitch, loudness, etc. in your voice, the twitches in your facial muscles, and other barely noticeable aspects of body language.

The next question that begs to be asked is, how many persons are trapped in your body?

Are you a Janus-faced two-timer? Or perhaps aspiring to be the Holy Trinity? Or could it be that you're the seven-headed beast of the apocalypse? Are you a multicolor chameleon? Or perhaps a versatile actor like James Duvall or Steve Buscemi, but the difference is that you're not making any movie because your life is one make-believe episode after another.

Who are you? When you look at yourself in the mirror, are you finally you?

The time you find it impossible to face your own reflection should be the scariest day of your life.

8.10.2000


 

Correction/admonition


One genuine sign of true friendship - or true love, for that matter - is gentle admonition. This is also called "correction." I have proven this for myself because I've seen first-hand how it is done; how it's a necessary, though not a necessarily nice thing; and how its absence can be very disappointing and can even be a serious ocassion for sin, a grave sin of omission.

Correcting an errant brother or sister (in a Christian family or community) is not a choice. It is a command from God, it is every Christian's duty. If the erring member listens, you win him back. If he does not, then you can sleep well. You will not be held accountable any longer for doing what you had to do.

Who can correct whom? An elder in faith often does the correcting, but I think anybody can, as long as the situation calls for it. Understandably, a member correcting a leader carries with it a greater burden of shame on the elder's part, but community members may also correct elders even though elders have the authority over members. Of course, this is ideally carried out with due respect and sobriety.

Correction, it seems, is best done sober. But then, read the Bible and see how St. Paul addressed his members with a furious, "You foolish Galatians!" The right reaction must really be calibrated according to the situation.

Correction is a bitter pill. It is unpleasant to both parties. But it is undeniably necessary. It is a way of showing to one and all that we care for one another in community, that Christians are accountable to one another.

Correction is not easy. It can be a fine art, as illustrated by the preceding. So how do we carry out correction the right way? How do we correct someone who directly assaulted us, for instance? How do you tell a brother he has hurt you and thus owes you an apology? Normally, you cannot, for if you did, you'd end up a murderer. One practical solution is to allow time for things to cool down, but the danger here is that the issues at hand might be clouded over by the delay. Another is to use a third uninvolved party.

But God's grace can work wonders if we but ask for it. These are moments that call for tough love, for strength under control - both of which are a grace, a gift. Besides, there's nothing like direct communication - no extra doors are opened for misinterpretation.

Yet if you must need a medium, then choose someone you can trust, someone who has no agenda, doesn't twist facts or withhold vital information.

Still, the key word to most corrections is "gentle". Correction should always be carried out in love. As much as possible, correcting a private sin should be made in private, and it need not be a straightforward one-on-one behind closed doors. One can correct in public if it's a public offense, though it would be prudent not to humiliate the person in the presence of everyone. One can issue a general statement in this regard.

I have observed closely how the leaders of one community execute this area of Christian life with expertise, especially during lighthearted moments when anyone among a huddle may slip without meaning to. I would always hear M., for instance, issue his correction in a very casual but unambiguous tone which the erring brother immediately recognizes and says sorry to or shuts up atoningly. These brothers never pass a chance at correcting someone if correction is indeed in order. But they don't overdo it by appearing like a policeman, constantly on the lookout for violations. Everybody knows they are just doing what they should as serious Christians, lest a greater Admonisher do the corrective action Himself - which is always a scarier prospect. They know that, after all, everyone without exception is accountable to the same God.

Correction does not end with the correction itself. The erring member must always ask for forgiveness. The offended party, in Christian magnanimity, should also assure that forgiveness is given.

Never take it lightly when someone admonishes you in the aforementioned manner. He is just being a true person. He is a true friend. And he is hard to find.

***

Now, what if someone corrects us out of spite or anger? We would feel very bad, indeed. But we still have a reason to take heart, though we are taught that this kind of correction has no place in Christian dealings. Nevertheless, this confrontation allows you to, you know it loud and clear if someone is angry at you, right? The "unkindest cut of all" (as Mark Anthony said in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar) is when somebody broadcasts your mistakes to everyone behind your back, then hugs you or kisses you on both cheeks like a long-lost friend upon seeing you.

8.2.2000


 

Laughing at death


It's funny how death reunites the living. Note how wakes and funerals become impromptu family reunions, when relatives from all over the world come together. We know that no amount of words or money can ever console the bereaved; only our presence would convey our condoling wishes best or more effectively. "Get here if you can," like the song goes.

My case was even more comic, bordering on the hilarious. During the wake for someone I haven't even met alive, I found myself, together with the new group I have identified with, attending an intimate Mass with people we've had a most bitter falling-out with. The cause of our split with the latter was so bitter that at the moment, it's best for everyone not to see each other face to face for a long while.

But someone's death intervened, thus the ensuing comedy of errors. T., the deceased, was sister to the two parties that happened to belong to the warring groups. Everyone was apparently having a hard time trying to keep a civil conversation lest a deafening silence stepped in and blurted out the more realistic line or exchange for all of us: "Don't you dare talk to me".

Mercifully, the priest, Fr. J.L., who was about an hour late, finally came before everybody got to be in stitches at the sheer hilarity of it all. Fortunately for him and for all of us, he was an extraordinarily brilliant speaker. The wake easily became a crash course on death, a crash course so biting as to remind us that, in the face of death, nothing matters, not even the bitterest of quarrels. Listen.

1. At the start of the Mass, we sang a short song of joy. In his homily, the priest commented, "It was ironic but it was right," implying that if we really believed in what we we've been professing to believe, it's but proper to rejoice, instead of grieve, at a loved one's death (because he or she is finally home, to put it straightforwardly).

2. "We always say 'Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.' Oftentimes, we see death as the end of it all. True, death is an inescapable part of life. As the joke goes, 'When a child is born, there are only two things sure - taxes and death.' But the thing is, God is with us. God Emmanuel. When we receive holy communion, what do priests say before you get to say 'Amen'?"

"The body of Christ," we answered.

"Can you imagine one's reaction if the priest says, "The corpse of Christ"?

3. "Death is like a take-home exam. At the end of life, we all have to submit to the Father our answers of faith and good works to the test of earthly life."

4. "Death is like an airplane. We all need to take off in order for us to be able to fly towards the loving embrace of the Father."

5. "Death is certain, but when it comes, it always comes as a surprise because we don't want it, we deny it, we don't like thinking about it. It's a beautiful thing, then, that God made sure we don't know the time we're going to die. If we do, we would all be neurotic," constantly worrying about that red-letter day on the calendar.

"Anybody here who wants to go to heaven, raise your hand." (Everyone raises his hand.) "Who wants to do that now? Who wants to die now?" (You get the picture.)

6. "T. speaks to us loud and clear today: In death, nothing else matters, not titles, degrees, or awards. Death is a great equalizer. Like St. Augustine said, 'It only takes a coffin and a body to point out the whole meaning of life.'"

When the "Our Father" and "Peace be with you" parts came, the crowd's anger for each other hopefully melted a little. I think mine did, if only for just a little. Ms. T., the deceased, must have had set us all up. I could hear her laughing at all of us.

7.7.2000


 

Ashes


Through the course of our lives, people come and go and it's next to impossible to find very many people worthy of our trust. My address book is now nearly tattered and crying for a replacement. It is crammed with names of people I've encountered along the way: relatives, former classmates, former officemates, acquaintances in my church organization, etc. As I contemplate on purchasing a replacement, I noticed how most names are now begging to be stricken off my book because they couldn't stand my anger. Most names don't mean anything to me anymore, not just because of changing circumstances, but largely because people have done something against me that I find very hard to forgive and forget. People have done certain things that make them stop being the endearing persons they were to me. People do things like betrayal, things that say people can't be trusted at all - oftentimes, if not all the time.

I know I can be found wanting in that regard as much as the next person but still, I am disillusioned by the fact that loyalty is rarer in this world than the rarest bird, the rarest rara avis. Your being loyal and trustworthy to the next person doesn't ensure receiving the same amount of loyalty and trust.

Losing a friend, my cousin R. once observed, is always painful, but only when you lose him as a friend. If you lose your former friend as a newfound enemy, there's hardly ever a feeling of regret; in place of regret, you only get great relief.

This cynical view makes sense when you're in the middle of being mad. Beginning a spanking-new address book won't automatically mean starting a new leaf either. Most likely, it's essentially starting a new book of names that will only be traitors of the future. What's the use of having a new one then? I thought I should always make do with the people I've got now, as much as they try to make do with me, because most of us will always be most of us.

"Do you ever have a best friend?" two people once asked me point-blank.

"I have none," I replied, not counting my little nephews, who are not yet contaminated by the plague of disloyalty.

"Why?" they wanted to know.

"Because I don't trust people," I said curtly without batting an eyelash. Clearly it meant to them, "Not even you," - to which they certainly took offense.

I was offensive but at least I was honest. "Sorry I simply don't trust you" hurts so much more than a simple rejection. Like they say, to be trusted is a far greater compliment than to be loved.

I guess all of us are naturally changeable, disloyal, untrustworthy, attributes that will be more likely a constant, owing to our fallen nature. We have to accept that fast or we live an illusory version of reality of human affairs. Other people take to adopting animals for pets and keeping them as kids and friends in place of people and, tragically, screeen off humanity from their sanitized world altogether.

All is not hopeless, though. Thank God I happen to believe in God, the only being I can trust. And I happen to believe in miracles, i.e., finding the rare person or persons whom I can trust if I choose to be worthy of trust myself. I think the universe has a way of rewarding you for the good things you decide to do.

If you have found at least one person whom you can trust, count yourself extraordinarily blessed. But if you're an atheist and your sense of morality is based on "Treat people nicely because they might be of use to you now or in the future," (I've actually met someone with this philosophy), then the world is a scary place for you.

I know I am just being so pessimistic because a lot of people have hurt me so much. Maybe I should remind myself this oft-quoted line as a solution to this universal plague: "People will always be untrustworthy. Be trustworthy anyway."

5.20.2000


 

Pride


The apple of discord... the yeast of delusion...

Pride and envy are the deadliest of all sins. It's how Lucifer fell, we are time and again reminded. Pride has a way of making us all puffed up, thus making it easy for the wind to blow us away, for fire to ignite us, or - in case we're underwater - for water to cause us to float and pull us down, toward the falls.

Pride causes heartbreaks and breakups. One man's pride can result in stubbornness. Pride can cause the confusion of many. Pride may bring about unbelievable scandal right where it shouldn't be - amidst God's people and in His church. Pride causes buckets of tears to fall and so many knees to wobble in anger and profound dismay. Pride causes many sleepless nights.

How powerful pride can be! Like yeast on dough, it directs all our major actions in life. It underpins all our attitudes and motives. It has a way of hiding itself in a cunning way; we couldn't detect if we are afflicted by it simply because we're too proud to accept that we are conquered by pride, that we are green with envy. Yeast is quite tasteless and invisible yet look at how it raises the dough.

Pride and envy take their roots in insecurity. Here, we see how dangerous for a child not to feel loved, not to feel the security of being loved, because this could be the ultimate cause of all his subsequent behaviors in life. An insecure child will always find every way to prop up his ego, every way to make him recapture the sense of security he needs, to the detriment of authority, other people, the community.

While this aspect of pride calls for understanding and forgiveness, there's something unforgivable about blind self-delusion, about denying that we are insecure. Proud people, like the devil, will never admit their inadequacies. They tend to defend their pride until their last dying breath. Hell hath no fury like a wounded pride!

To a proud soul, it matters much what other people will say. Things like public opinion, the esteem of peers or society, debt of gratitude, social prestige, etc., matter a lot to them and they spend a lot of time sprucing up a personal world revovling around pride.

While the root of pride calls for understanding and forgiveness, there's another thing unforgivable about it, in that a proud person usually resorts to twisting the truth just to defend his pride. There's nothing so misplaced as pride, especially when it leads to pure deception: making what is right appear wrong and wrong seem right.

Satan dangled the apple of pride in Eden and look at us: rotten fruits of sinful pride, Adam's apples all!

There's nothing more dignified than being humble. It's okay if we admit or find ourselves being looked upon as imperfect, plain, inadequate, lacking, unpopular, mediocre, penniless, ordinary, ignored, also-ran. It's not the end of the world if we find ourselves humbled, defeated, unsuccessful, a dismal failure in the eyes of the world. The proud soul will never understand all this.

For when we are humbled and when we humble ourselves, we invite our Creator to come to our rescue. He is humble of heart Himself and nothing attracts Him than a humble, repentant soul. When we are humbled and we humble ourselves, we gain the peace and strength of our Creator, making us boast of nothing but Him.

It's alright to admit we're insecure or envious; pride never admits insecurity or envy. But let's not allow our envy or insecurity rule over us as to make us suffer the wages of pride and its reverse: inferiority complex and low self-esteem.

Let's come and seek refuge in the arms of our true security. Let's all worship and bow down to our one and only true pride.

5.12.2000


 

Repentance


(T.B.'s recollection on repentance. 4.12.2000)

Repentance means (1) a change in our thinking, (2) a change of heart, and (3) a change in behavior.

Repentance is metanoia, roughly the Greek word to describe the change that encompasses all three changes.

So how do we change our way of thinking? First, we should be honest. We should acknowledge sin for what it is; a wicked fun thing. We get something from sin and it feels so good doing what is forbidden.

The hardest part in bringing a person to repentance is when the sinner is in a stage of denial, i.e., he doesn't acknowledge the presence of sin in his life.

Only when we change our way of thinking can we be able to initiate a change of heart. Now, how do we have a change of heart?

The key, it appears, is personal decision. T.B. said, "See, mortal sin is not easy. It, too, involves decision-making." Not to mention the fact that the sinner should have full knowledge of the sin and full control of the situation for him to commit it.

Here, the sacrament of reconciliation is deemed important. In confession, we acknowledge that we have done wrong and we want ourselves to break off from the misdeed.

But because of our fallen nature, we know that we will fall again, we will sin again. How then do we change in behavior?

Love, serve and obey God by striving to (1) practice the sacraments (Mass, confession, etc.); (2) have a regular prayer life; (3) know God more intimately through His words, the Scripture; and (4) find encouragement and support in a Christian community.

In the Christian life, we can never make it on our own, even though the decision to repent and believe is necessarily a personal choice. After all, as T.B. quotes St. Therese of Lisieux, "Everything is grace, including our resolution to have a change of mindset, heart, and behavior."

4.14.2000

Addendum:

The fruits of repentance:

- forgiveness of sins
- the Holy Spirit dwelling in us
- faith in God
- inner peace
- promise of eternal life


 

Why pray?

What is prayer? Why do we pray? Why should we? Let's review what we learned in the CLP.

Prayer is not about the words one says to God but rather about the leading of the Holy Spirit in us. Essentially, it is a praise, an act of contrition, an expression of gratitude, and a supplication. It is summarized as ACTS (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication).

Why do we need to articulate our praises when God is self-sufficient, i.e., He doesn't need us; He is glorious just by Himself?

Why should we tell Him what He already knows, i.e., when He is omniscient? Why do we need to ask forgiveness when He knows our sins? Why do we ask for His help when He knows our needs? Besides, we did not choose to exist in the first place.

Why do we need to pray? Well, it is because we were created precisely for this purpose. Praying to God and praising Him is our main vocation, our reason for being, and should be our goal in life.

3.11.2000


 

The pond

Going to Mass at the open-air Greenbelt Chapel in Makati is like going to an outdoor concert or something.

One time, I opted to stand outside the chapel to hear one late-morning Mass. I choose the walkway near the four-meter (or so) green-glass-and-concrete cross which I gather to be the work of sculptor Ramon Orlina. It has never occurred to me that communing with nature while hearing Mass would have its unique advantages. It's the closest thing the church has to environmentalism.

From where I stood outside, I could observe the white dome-shaped structure of the chapel which looked like the upper half of an eggshell floating, which found its way on a pond. The chapel is one of those few churches (St. Andrew in Makati and the UP Diliman chapel) wherein the altar is located at the center of the church and parishioners cluster around the priest during the rites. One feels like attending an important barangay gathering, a community affair.

But what makes it all the more interesting is that the chapel seems to float on a pond. Yes, it's literally a watering hole for overworked spirits in the Makati business center, an oasis in a sea of concrete and steel.

I propped my sleepy self on the metal railing of the walkway and wait for the choir to break into a hymn of praise. Immediately, praising seemed easier no matter how the soul was saddled. The lector reads the day's passage aloud. Outside, the "cedars of Lebanon" at once become more tangible, what with all the hardwood trees towering just at the periphery. "The birds in the air and the grass in the fields" suddenly become not too far removed as metaphors intended for urban life. "Living waters" can not be more evocative a phrase, what with the wind causing parts of the pond to lap gently. Koi fish swim to the surface for some air every now and then, sending waves of concentric circles that tickle the floating lilies and "kuyapo" (a floating water plant). Fish. Isn't fish a symbol of Jesus Himself?

The female lector, in a gentle voice, begins to read from the book of Sirach: "The Lord...hears the cry of the oppressed... The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal." A patch of pond water reflects the clouds above like a mirror. I am stooping but I find myself staring heavenwards! It's as if I was being told to be steadfast in my petitions, to press in through the clouds so that my laments will reach the throne of God in heaven.

The choir sang the responsorial psalm. The old priest stood up for the sermon. His voice is commanding, even jolting, despite his age, reverberating in the arcs of the hollow dome. In his sermon he speaks about life and death, especially death, which he himself finds comfortable to discuss. A giant orange carp about a little more than one foot long passed by underneath, scaring off the gouramis (small fishes) huddled under a patch of 10:45 AM sunlight. Brown sparrows fluttered around the glass-and-cement cross. The small, dark unidentifiable fishes feeding on green algae thriving in profusion at the base of the cross were alarmed by the twittering. Snails attack the once-rotund leaves of lotus.

The priest also speaks about sin. I couldn't quite make out what's far beneath the ripples on the pond's surface of the pond, the depths where all the murk is. I could identify with all that: the darkness, the depth, the dankness.

But "the Lord will rescue me from every evil threat..." Suddenly my eyes were drawn to that lone bright-pink lotus flower, emerging afresh and victorious from the murky gunk. I noticed the trees around me, towering and proud in the strength of the Creator.

A wave of light rippled and reflected from the pond, making an ephemeral canvass of the inner white wall of the dome -- "op art" in its natural, uncontrived form. The visual treat was complemented by the choir. I've always considered the gothic-style in churches the most heavenly architecture because they inspite the eyes to meditate skywards as they trace the direction of the pointy spires. Now I'm certain I was kind of wrong.

The priest raised his hands in benediction. "Peace be with you!" Boys and girls kissed their father and mother, young couples gave their babies a smack on the lips. I smiled my honest best to total strangers. All of creation seem to revel in the thick, sicky air of peace, filial piety and love.

"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall ever be in my mouth." The faithful walked off carrying these parting words home.

1998

Note to self: Check for consistent tenses.


 

Proofs


F. once asked me, "What made you stay put in community?"

Without much thought, I said, "It's because I've seen, heard, and felt God in community."

Seen. I have seen how holiness glows on the face of each member, the beautiful face of a freed, forgiven soul. I have seen how the faces of members are transformed after surrendering themselves to the Lord. I have witnessed physical healing. I have seen how sorrow and worries were transformed into joy and peace. I've been witness to exorcism of the possessed, deliverance, and other forms of spiritual warfare and victory.

Heard. I have heard senses, prophecies, Scriptural readings that jump out of the pages, personal testimonies, speaking in tongues, singing in the Spirit ­ all of which send shivers down my spine the first time I encountered them.

Felt. How would I describe what I've felt? Words are pretty useless. It's an experience you would rather feel first-hand than read about. Let me just put it this way, as one of our members has put it: "It feels like a prelude to heaven."

To sum up, I have experienced the "convincing proof of the Spirit" in community. That is enough for me. Where else can you find such proof but in communities such as ours? One wouldn't need apparitions (as in Lourdes and Medjugorje), bilocation (as in Padre Pio), transubstantiating hosts (as in Lanciano, Italy and Naju, Korea), incorruptible corpses (as in St. Vincent de Paul and St. Catherine of Sienna), and the dead rising back to life (as in Lazarus), though.

I wouldn't mind it too much, though, should God choose to be more than gracious (why limit what God can do).


(1998?)
Revised 2.2000


 

Honoring


Honoring is a community practice that I am very fond of. It's just like "roasting" somebody, putting him in the spotlight and telling him directly the things that make him such an endearing person; the only difference is that the latter is done in a twisted way, i.e., telling things that embarrass rather than upbuild a person being put on the spot.

We are all familiar with what they do in this popular noon-time TV show. It's the closest thing I can think of resembling an honoring. However, the circumstances being showbiz, one wonders whether everyone is sincere enough or whether the whole thing is only meant to elicit copious tears from the hapless "special guest" - and tug at viewers' hearts and the ratings as well.

By contrast, in community we have no TV viewership ratings to concern about. We don't have the hidden agenda of fame and making the right connections.

Viewed from a real-world perspective, honoring is weird, even embarrassing. It's just not acceptable in our culture and in this day and age to honor someone aloud.
In school or in the workplace, even the most formal of greetings is wrapped in sarcasm if not outright insult. When someone of same stature addresses you, "Sir," it is loaded with much teasing or condescension; if the greeting comes from a subordinate, it may be merely a form of groveling.

If you're quite chubby or too thin-framed, people will take to calling you all sorts of names. Of course you are supposed to grin or laugh it off. The more smart thing to do, however, is to retaliate with an insult that's equal if not exceeding in intensity. After all, you're just expressing your affection toward each other; you're just using your respective terms of endearment.

Not in a Christian honoring. The honoree's good points are emphasized in a parade of touching testimonials from those who've had a personal encounter with the honoree.

Honoring is just one among many counter-cultural things I've come to love in the Christian community life.


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