The faith chronicles
Saturday, July 30, 2011
It's not how long you live that counts, but how how you live. Our Daily Bread
10% of life consists of what happens to you. 90% consists of what you do with what happens to you.
Oh my God, give me your grace so that the things of this earth and things more naturally pleasing to me may not be as close as You are to me. - Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
Carpenter of Nazareth, make us windows and doors of welcome and hospitality in the walls of our dwellings. Make us chairs for company, tables
for food, beds for rest.
Oh, Lord, grant that I may see the joke of things. The little things that bother now and then. Lord, grant that my sense of humor be strong, to weep a bit and yet smile again. Grant that there be a chuckle in each tear, to every trial, Lord, grant a funny half.
Once I knew only darkness and stillness. But a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hands that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the joy of living. Hellen Keller
Great gifts are not found in any store. They are stored in the hearts of great people. It is unlimited and bears no expiry date.
The things I thought were so important -- because of the effort I put into them -- have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered. Thomas Merton
Lord, catch me off guard today. Surprise me with some moment of beauty or pain. So that at least for the moment I may be startled into seeing that you are here in all your splendor, always and everywhere, barely hidden, beneath, beyond, within this life I breath. Frederick Buechner
Friday, July 29, 2011
Sympathy/Pity vs Compassion
ompassion only becomes genuine compassion when supplemented with action. Otherwise, it is simply pity, which is an emotional state one has towards the unfortunate. And pity comes a dime a dozen. Christianity calls us beyond pity. Compassion comes from two Latin phrase cum – with and pati – to suffer. Compassion literally means to suffer with.
In Matthew 14:13-21, the apostles pitied the hungry people. This is why they suggested that they be sent home to eat. But Jesus wanted them to transform their pity into compassion. This is why the Lord instructed the apostles “…they do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (16). Jesus was telling them to act on the pity that they feel towards they hungry people.
Fr. Joel Jason
It's true! Love is everywhere.
I haven't seen the Hollywood movie Love, Actually, but I'd like to, even if I'm mostly turned off by Hollywood movies (unintelligent, shallow, violent, vulgar, schmaltzy, Disneyfied, treats sex maliciously). I am attracted by its simple thesis: Love is everywhere if we but look around deeper. A rundown of my major stressors of late tells me that this is so.
The doctor who told me in a blunt, irritated way to relax and watch my diet was actually not annoyed of me. I forgot that I was seeking treatment (like Ed P. reminded me), not a major sermon, so I didn't see that he was actually concerned about his last (and distraught) patient for the day: me. Oh, I have a fault here, I remember: I didn't tell him I was having some withdrawal symptoms, and my hypertension could be one of them. Anyway, I rediscovered vegetables, even recreating the five-vegetable soup I enjoyed at Le Coeur de France, but this time adding lentils, which I discovered at SM Bicutan, and without MSG and too much salt. I have also rediscovered the joys of cooking, with all the common sense chemistry and aestheticism it demands. As for my deteriorating health, I should thank my body for giving symptoms, so I could do some repair work in time and not when it's too late. I should also thank God for these hard times because I am forced to learn what it means to surrender my life, each day and each moment. I am also thankful to have conversed with a friend (Cynthia), who is a stage 4 breast cancer survivor. The way she handled it all gives me strength. I told her I have a deathly fear of death (due to childhood traumas), and she told me that trusting God is a decision, a hard but doable one.
The gang members who pickpocketed my wallet containing cash and IDs and cards in Pasay Rotunda one stormy Friday night must have done it because they were desperate to feed their family, one of whom might be ill. No amount of neediness excuses them for their crime, but I can't also discount the possibility that they were so desperate they went for the easy way. Have they asked, I would've gave them some.
The taxi driver who refused me a ride at the same time was just protecting himself from the horrendous traffic going to my place. His refusal had nothing to do with me.
The Banco de Oro call center employee who gave me wrong info about blocked ATM accounts was honestly doing her job. She said, wrongly, that I could get my card in three days and I could withdraw my money over the counter any day. But she made an honest mistake by not asking what kind of card, because it turned out BDO cash cards that are issued as a corporate account are processed differently.
The HR people at the company were just committing an honest mistake too. They were not trying to annoy me on purpose when they said BDO needed two IDs for identification (I only had one left after the ordeal!) and claimed I had to wait for 10 working days for processing, only to make me wait for almost another extra week. It turns out they needed the extra week to update my account, so they could transfer the old balance to my new card. The HR guy on the corner wasn't being bitchy to me when he gently admonished me, "Sir, don't lose it again, please," so I need not retort that I didn't lose the card -- it was stolen from me in such an unsavory way.
My brother's refusal to lend me emergency money was not the unkindest cut of all that I instinctively thought it was. He was just being honest because he just gave everything to his wife over the weekend, and besides, he knew I had so many other options. He didn't mean to be mean to me. He just didn't know how to say it properly. Maybe he was irritated that I figured the third time in that kind of crime. Maybe he didn't realize at once that being a victim on the street wasn't the least of my ardent wishes as a commuter. It could also be that I misinterpreted him big-time and have cobbled together an already complex story that ensured me a lifetime of resentment. Anyway, what was I griping about when I had at least a hundred possible to borrow money from? Besides, he also exerted an effort in bringing home some wonderful meals like that homecooked curried fish dish (the exotic kanduli, a saltwater type of catfish species) with lots of turmeric bits. Now that was very, very delicious. (The last hard-to forget fish dish I ate is trevally (talakitok) in miso soup and Chinese mustard.)
The two friends who owed me a sum were not being insensitive louts when they were borrowing money from me at the exact same moment that I had just lost everything. Most likely, they were desperate as well and had no other recourse.
When another person who owed me a big amount just said "Noted" and didn't care to do a followup, it could be that he really didn't have cash on hand and must have been equally agitated at my sad fate. I am pretty sure I will hear from him in the near future, as I always have, and he will be profusely apologetic.
I couldn't fault the Paranaque branch of SSS either, when their people turned down my application for a new ID ever so casually. The guard said my official address is Pasay, and they only processed Paranaque residents and employees. Why should I assume they should know I wasn't feeling well and still traveled all the way from my place? At least the guard gave me two options: to reapply at either of two branches in Pasay.
The guard at the Pasay Taft branch was just doing his job when I found him too brash upon my inquiry. He was apparently just after order and discipline and security, and this applicant might be yet another swindler he had to swat like a pest. It's not about me -- it certainly is not, and I am not being sarcastic here (unlike before).
The clerk assigned to process new IDs was not being stupid and mean when he found my middle name on their database to be misspelled to Simin, so he demanded my birth certificate on top of the usual two IDs for verification. I know it was not my fault -- my middle name has been Simon all through those years that I've been an employee and regular contributor, but most probably the mistake was unintended, in their bid to revamp their system with the help of a new IT provider (as reported in the news). Good thing I had updated my birth certificate as well earlier.
The proponents of the Reproductive Health Bill, which I have always deemed evil at the outset, are vehement in their support because they really want a prosperous Philippines, a declogged Manila free from ugly squatter colonies and smelly and grimy streetchildren. They want to have a good life, for a change. They don't want to be burdened with too many children they couldn't afford to feed and educate decently. They are tired and don't wish to see misery anymore everywhere, like we all do.
The atheist freethinkers and secularists who hate my Church of imperfect people so much probably do it because that's how they see their side of reality: a bumbling, medieval, politically meddling, ignorant, antiscience church. What can I do when that's their most honest interpretation? In their own view, they are fighting for what they think is right and they are advancing a better world for it.
The gay priests and bishops (and all other erring clergy) who have embarassed the Catholic faithful to bits lately must not be doing it on purpose. It must have been their idea of loving that made them do it, although they probably didn't realize until it's too late that it's wrong. Like the rest of LGBTI, they must think they can't help it because "it's in their nature," no matter how I insist they are mistaken.
As for God, I couldn't accuse God of punishing me severely with this unfortunate string of 'misfortunes' either. He is allowing everything for His own mysterious purposes, I'm sure. I take it in faith that everything is for the best and for my own good; I know and believe that He loves me.
(Fr. Ate Mitz, Kuya Mel, Kuya Monching, Ian, Joop)
Hindi ka lugi kapag naging tapat ka sa Diyos. Tatapatan Niya ng higit pa ang katapatan mo.
Give your worries to the Lord, and He will take care of you. He will never let good people down.
The warrior never cries in the field of battle, but always cries in the ministry of prayer. Pray at all times. - 1Thes 5:17
No mother could snatch her child from a burning building more swiftly than God is constrained to succor a penitent soul. St Henry Suso
Although God requires that we reap the consequences of our sin, he loves us and wants to restore us to fellowship. Don't allow Satan to rob you of God's grace. He forgives, cleanses, and restores. Have you stumbled? Confess your sin and repent. He is faithful to forgive. Warren Wiersbe
We do not find our true self by seeking it. Rather, we find it by seeking God. For in finding God we find our deepest selft. David Benner
Not everyone is given the chance to grow old. So let us appreciate and thank God for every single day of our lives.
even if it's not perfect. Contentment is not the fulfilment of what we wish for, but an appreciation of what we have.
It is right to submit to a higher authority whenever a command of God would be violated. St Basil the Great
Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. William Jennings Bryan
Anxiety means that we believe in the circumstances more than we believe in God. Dr Richard Halverson
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Confucius
10 Things God wants us to remember:
I created you.
I will provide for you.
I will never leave you.
I will always listen to you.
I am always with you.
I will protect you.
I will intercede for you.
I will have mercy for you.
I always love you.
I died to save you.
Pride leads to destruction, and arrogance to downfall. Prov 16:18
I am happy because God is with me. Where I am, there he is. What I do, He sees. How I feel, He knows.
Two things define our success in life. 1. The way we manage things when we have nothing. 2. The way we behave when we have everything.
Tell God your 3Ps, problems, pressures, and plans, and He will give you His ABCs, answers to prayers, best favors, and courage to go on.
Beyond the uncertainty of life is the assurance that God cares and loves us.
When you see the goodness of everything around you, when you see the good side of every event in your life, you'll never run out of blessings to count.
Sunrise always brings us new hope, new light to a darkened dream. Most important, it tells us to forget the pain of the past and start a new life.
God answers prayers in a way he knows what you truly deserve.
A test of true Christian love: Do you help those who can't help you in return? - Our Daily Bread
We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering procudes endurance. Rom 5:3
Only Jesus can bring wholeness to a broken life. Our Daily Bread
One's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. Lk 12:15
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Txt msgs galore
Txt msgs from Ate Mitz:
Learning to forgive forces us to move forward in spite of our losses.
Release the regrets of yesterday, refuse the fears of tomorrow, and receive the peace of today.
Obey the Lord, be humble, and you will get the riches, honor, and a long life. Prov. 22:4
You do yourself a favor when you are kind. If you are cruel, you only hurt yourself. Ps 11:17
The highest place in the world is still down at the Lord's feet. Stay humble.
For the Lord gives wisdom. From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Prov 2:6
There is only one way to bring peace to the heart, joy to the mind, and beauty to life. It is to accept and do the will of God. William Barclay
You do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14
God cares for us more faithfully and fully than our earthly parents ever could.
When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord, and the Lord will pay you back. Prov 19:17
At the close of life, the question will not be how much have you got, but how much have you given. Not how much have you won, but how much have you done. Not how much have you saved, but how much have you served. Nathan Schaeffer
If you want to feel rich, just count up all the things you have that money cannot buy. Daniel Webster
Each time you view your circumstances as possessing value, regardless of the apparent confusion or hardship, you grow. Cherie Carter Scott
Today is a gift of life. Live it with gratitude and don't let the sun set today without seeing it, hearing it, and enjoying it. Tim Connor.
There is only one way to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it. Dale Carnegie
Let us recognize the fire in our hearts. The fire of the love of God
that can burn away all evil that is concelaed in our hearts.
Faith means taking our eyes off our troubles, our losses, our pain, our difficulties, and redirecting our concentration and focus toward the Lord. Harold Sala
One important thing about being a grownup is the realization that we're not here to please anyone. Rather, we're here to do something good, something that makes us happy, something that could define our life. Because the thing worse than death is a life without a purpose.
Hate has four letters, but so does Love. Enemies has 7 letters but so does friends. Lying has 5 letters, but so does truth. Hurt has 4 letters, but so does heal. Transform every negative energy into an aura of positivity. It's our perception that makes the difference in the way we feel.
Ang sinuman kung si Yahweh buong pusong susundin, buhay niya ay laging pagpapalin. Awit 128:4
Courage is nothing more than fear that said its prayers this morning. Adrian Rogers
When you have a problem, go out and be generous. When you give, you feel empowered, you feel blessed with possessions that you can give away. Why give more than receive? Because at times, we become too full of ourselves that we burst if we take in more and didn't give some away. William Gracian
If we are not governed by God, then we will be ruled by tyrants. William Penn
Faith is the simplest and plainest thing in the world. It is simplly believing in God. Hannah Whitall Smith
A new day like today is not just God's gift to us. We are God's gift to one another with the love we can give and the service we can do to others.
A patient man is better than a warrior, and he who rules his temper, than he who rules a city. Prov 16:32
Learn to live each day as if it were your last. Some day it will be. Billy Graham
It's not the heavy load that breaks us down, but the way we carry it. Stress is not the problem but the way we deal with it. Our Lord wants us to be still and allow Him to direct and lead us. (fr. Kuya Monching)
A little faith says God may do it. A bigger faith says God can do it. But a deep faith says Whatever happens God does what is best.
Love and kindness shown to another person are prayer in action. Terri Meehan
Even when life seems empty of comfort or joy, each day is full of reasons to praise God. It's when our cups are empty that God fills them up.
A stupid past will always be remembered but can never be changed. But a mistake can always be corrected and should never be repeated.
Even a turtle can win a race as long as he never gives up.
God is always true to his promise that whatever He started in you he will take it to completion because He perfectly loves you.
Nothing is hard if the heart has love, nothing is impossible when the heart understands, and nothing is heavy when God is in your heart.
I do not pray for al ighter load, but a stronger back. Philip Brooks
The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in giving oneself to others that we truly live. Ethel Precy Andrews
It's not what happens to you that determines how far you will go in life. It is how you handle what happens to you. Zig Ziglar
The biggest blind spot
The biggest blind spot of all is being outside the grace of God.
From negative to positive
You can turn anything negative by shifting your point of view from a worldly point of view to God's perspective.
Random quotes from Fr. Cres's retreat
Do not demand growth; simply allow it.
Allow the community to grow, but without strict man-made laws. Sometimes we get too focused on the quantitative.
Everything belongs to and is created by God. Note that animals are "good," but man is "very good"! Nothing completed and satisfied Adam but a fellow human, a woman.
A sanctified state is a state in life when we are in union with God. We are in total communion if we don't have sin (venial and mortal).
Are you sick? Don't complain. Look at St. Therese of Liseaux. There should be acceptance. Sickness is not a punishment. It has a purpose; it is called salvific/redemptive suffering.
In the body of Christ, if someone is honored, the whole community is honored, just like when a pair of beautiful eyelashes makes the whole woman beautiful.
Trust for today! Note that the Our Father says, "Give us THIS DAY our daily bread," not this week!
It's worth to 'abnormal' to the world. The reward is also abnormal.
Bonus: Just one of the jokes by Fr. Cres:
The natural emotional progression is from joking to serious to angry, so I first make fun of anything, so when it makes me angry, I will just turn serious instead. (Makes sense, right?)
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I, "the weak one"
There were several moments in my life that told me I used to be regarded as the weakling in the family.
- When I noticed it was always my younger brother who was the go-to guy in sensitive errands, whether in the neighborhood or in a far-away part of town. He was the one always entrusted with the family secrets and heavy concerns such as going to the market, asking neighbors for something, pressing those with debts to pay up, etc.
- When my mother mocked me angrily for being such a crybaby, for crying from the slightest pain and discomfort.
- When my parents didn't inform me of my youngest brother's (Johani) death at birth and my mother's delicate condition during hospitalization. Johani is said to have hydrocephalus. I never saw him.
- When I was informed too late about my Uncle Fely's sudden death from a tragic accident in which a jeepney crashed into the tricycle he was driving. I was in a faraway city studying at the time. I was informed by a neighbor a week or so after my uncle was buried. My parents said, or so I heard, that hey didn't inform me at once for fear that I might be disturbed in my studies.
To be fair, I got special treatment from being the weakling. I guess they were all protecting me from physical and emotional frailty because they assumed I wouldn't be able to manage. I think they were right. I was indeed of a weak constituency. I was not into sports, I was often ill than most kids, I didn't know how to say no, I was not the assertive type but a retiring, shy, and timid one. I can't blame them, really.
But could they be expecting some tradeoff, that's why they were willing to protect me? My academic standing was seen as a promising one for my and my family's future; could it be that they were protecting this promise? What happened when I didn't deliver? Do they see me now as a failure or a disappointment?
Whether or not I didn't win their love, God loved me, showing His care and tender mercies along the way in different ways. If I felt I lacked human acceptance at home, it's alright -- I found it in other people He sent my way -- in the many friends and brothers and sisters and mother and father figures I have had.
In hindsight, it's okay to have been regarded as weak when it was an act of love. What's my problem with weakness anyway? Everyone is weak in one area or another. Besides, in the eyes of God, human weakness is His strength; my weakness led to me depend on God and realize how limitless I can trust in His strength, in His omnipotence.
Accursed? No, redeemed!
Have you ever felt that your life was accursed even before you were born, that is why you feel trapped in the kind of misery you're having right now? That's what I honestly have been thinking about my life of suffering (and I mean long-time existential, emotional, psychological suffering). This toxic thought was somewhat 'confirmed' when I heard my folks talking about the past sins of at least two relatives who had mocked a person for her weakness and that person audibly issued a curse for all eternity. She allegedly said, "I hope you also have a child who's a lumbering maladroit." (They actually called me lupitay and langgong in our 'vernacular' of Pangasinan.)
I strongly suspect the curse to have fallen on poor me. (Or tell me I am wrong.)
Why did it fall on me? Why did God allow it? Is it because I am the bad one or the weak one? Or is it because God deemed I am the one who is able to bear the cross? Is it because God saw that I am the one who will willingly offer everything as a sacrifice (to help in saving my wayward kin)? It's a mystery that looks like it won't ever be solved in this life. Is this thought even Christian? Whatever happened to the washing away of original sin, including the sins of my own forefathers, at baptism?
I used to deal with this mystery with some bitterness. I had my dose of the usual, "Why me, God?" "What have I done to deserve this?" But since complaining didn't work, I tried a new tack, a new strategy. How about embracing my cross?, I wondered one day.
I found out that that is easier said than done. It was more like enduring, for no one who's normal will want to drink a bitter pill. That would be masochism or sadism to self, which is another form of sickness.
Maybe I have finally found the clarity I was seeking when I saw everything under a whole new light: Am I really accursed? And if so, did I get the curse because God loves me? Could He love me so much He chose me because He believed I will be willing to love beyond the self by sharing in the carrying of His cross?
Am I deluding myself or what? Am I being messianic? But am I not just being Biblical? Not everyone who suffers is being punished; not everyone who looks like being punished is a sinner, as in the Biblical examples of the crippled man and those who perished near the fallen tower of Siloam (?).
From another perspective, specifically from the theory of problems being our own creation, could it be that this 'curse' is really my own punishment for myself, for my own mistakes? Isn't this thorn on the flesh self-inflicted, like almost all of my problems are?
I am of the strong suspicion (call it the decision of belief) that, since God allowed it, and whatever He allows is for my own good, then this thorn in the flesh is not a curse but a blessing in disguise, God's roundabout way of loving me and for me to discover love and learn how to love right.
Well, even if I turn out to be the fool from this, I will never have shortchanged myself nor anyone from loving more than I know I can bear. Because in case my suspicions prove to be true, then I win three times over: a) I will be saved, b) I will be saved together with the people I love, and c) I will make God happy for acceding to His will by way of His weird roundabout and reverse logic.
I think I’ve met the most humble man in the world
I think I’ve met the most humble man in the world, and it is so humbling to meet such a man. It’s as though a mirror descended from heaven in the form of a tall 50-year-old man so I could see my sins more clearly.
That man is a priest named Fr. Cres Ubud, from a remote town in Cebu, the son (in a brood of five) of a poor couple living in the uplands. In a community retreat he gave, he told his life story in such a deceptively light and funny way that it cloaked some terrible truths, awful truths capable of shaking anyone deep within. He told us in vivid detail the terrible hardships he went through growing up, whether in the hands of his parents, family, relatives, political rebels, even the Church. He said he especially suffered from his mother, who was strict, punishing, and verbally harsh. He also said that he endured all sorts of ridicule from his kinsmen, all of whom were from a farming, unlettered background, who regarded Fr. Cres, as a young man, who was “a worm trying to reach heaven.” I am glad I heard him because he is exactly the kind of person who can expose my sins effortlessly, both old and new, which I wouldn’t have become more aware of had I not come.
A humble man is honest, not ashamed, because he doesn’t carry any psychological baggage. Fr. Cres reminded me of how ashamed I had been of my own background, especially the hardships in life I went through, although nothing in my experience can probably compare with Fr Cres’s sufferings. His honesty ironically gave him the confidence to tell his story without shame, because he was able to transcend all humiliations, as he allowed God to straighten everything that was crooked in his life.
A humble man takes whatever comes in life as part of the holy will of God. Not me. My favorite sin in complaining -- a lot. When it rains, I tend to say, “Oh no, it is raining!” And when the sun rises in midday, I’d say, “Oh no, it’s so hot and humid!” The reactions have become almost instinctive I forgot grumbling is a sin.
A humble man is detached from the world. In contrast, I have made an idol out of comfort. Trust me to complain of my lot in life whether I am stuck in traffic or I didn’t win the jackpot prize, instead of choosing to offer my privations and sufferings as a loving sacrifice.
A truly humble man sees everyone as equal and important (if not more important or better than him). Sometimes, I still fall into the trap of measuring my own worth (and consequently other people’s worth) in terms of the world’s (faulty) logic and (corrupt) standards.
A humble man has a simple (child-like) trust in God. Me? I tend to listen to false prophets outside until I become a prophet myself of anxiety, cynicism, distrust, despair.
A humble man loves his enemies, viewing them as God’s children too. I tend to hate my enemies, especially the detractors of the Catholic Church instead of engaging them in a more loving and peaceful way, because of my need to look good and my need to be right.
A humble man is deeply attuned to God. I tend to seek worldly knowledge instead of focusing more on the knowledge of God. It could be because I am more eager to please men than to please God.
A humble man is not easily misled. I can be quite careless with lies and untruths, especially those peddled by mass media. I tend to easily believe gossip, innuendoes, and half-truths as gospel truth, failing to see through the deception and hidden agenda.
There’s something about humility that disarms, especially the proud -- enough to expose things in that person, although in a gentle way, not in a condemning manner. I am grateful to have listened to such a humble man, for I was able to reassess how much Christianized I still need to become so far in my own journey of faith. After the quiet exposé, I was made sorrowful, but I was gladdened in no time by the knowledge that I was able to see my faults at all, and thankful that I was given a new chance to repent and atone. I know I still have miles to walk, but as the humble man of God has shown, I know the humble way is to put my trust in God, that God knows me far better than I know myself, and loves me more than I can possibly imagine. He will not condemn me so harshly and rashly as I do myself.
Monday, July 25, 2011
My (mis)adventures as a youth leader
One unexpected ‘diversion’ in my life is being a religious youth leader. Never in my wildest dreams have I ever dreamt of leading the youth to get closer to God and hopefully to be a good role model as well. Leading a communist cadre was far more likely a possibility for me, given my personal background (poverty-stricken), but I have surprised even myself to find me where I was led to: a very uncomfortable place I never intended to be in.
While I had a long history of being elected as a leader, I never liked leading; I enjoyed following better, i.e., I liked to be led instead, especially by a leader I found charismatic enough to look up to. Besides, the time I was called into it as a “young working professional,” I had the same ambition as other people my age -– to be successful in what I do and slowly but surely work towards a stable if not a bright future. But it seems that it was never meant to be. I got 'sidetracked' by youth service in Church, bringing me instead to directions I never ever thought existed.
I am not sure what people saw in me, but in hindsight, I was often elected as a leader even without waging a political campaign. Did they all mistake that silence for profound wisdom instead of the reality of my painful shyness? I was shy to the point of reclusive, lacked initiative, had poor imagination, had no vision, and certainly had zero desire or motive to lead. I was too self-centered to be a leader. Besides, I didn’t need to be a leader, for I was the firstborn in a brood of seven, so I really had no choice but to act at home as the eldest. I was more of a democratic kind of an elder sibling, though, never bullying nor being peremptory to anyone. I was the one being bullied by my younger brother (the one next to me) and an elder cousin.
In grade school, I escaped bullying mainly because of my status as a class leader in academics. In kindergarten, I was a shameless crybaby, but I topped the class, a fact I would repeat, effortlessly I think, in Grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. I fell to second place in Grade 5, with lots of eyebrows raising, especially my grandmother’s who didn’t doubt that my evil Grade 5 teacher Mrs. Paez practiced favoritism.
In high school, I graduated as the class salutatorian, so it was a kind of a failing for me. I must have felt that I didn’t live up to my name, but I was fine, to be fair, because I honestly thought that Jonathan, the class valedictorian who became a close friend, was fully deserving of the honor. Nevertheless, I couldn’t believe it myself that I started out as the class president (via election) in the first year (when only a handful of elementary schoolmates knew me), and was the class president of various clubs in succeeding years, including the Math Club, a club I had no right to be in because I hated the very subject. I also was a staffer of the school organ several times and even won writing contests in and out of school. (I never rose to editor, though.)
In college, I guess I lay low, for a change, not wishing to prove myself further because I didn’t have to; besides, I didn’t feel happy constantly proving my worth. The result was I lay so low I couldn’t remember any achievement, other than topping an exam in one algebra class, and that’s just by chance (and I’m not trying to be humble). The only other achievements were no achievements at all: being a member of the UP Biology Society (in which all I did was be a plain member) and the UP Student Catholic Action (both Baguio ‘chapters’). I wound up being the latter’s vice-president later, with responsibilities that were not that hard (sponsor Wednesday masses, go to an outreach for orphaned kids, etc.). Oh, in my fourth year, I do remember being elected as the batch representative of something having to do with student complaints (I couldn't even remember what it all was). A geology professor even exclaimed at me, “You’re popular!” You could say I got tired of the limelight in college, and being out of it was a pure choice, and when it hounded me again, it was too late: I was about to graduate in a few months. One fratman belonging to Scintilla Juris, in fact, told me, “How the heck did you escape our notice?” (But I was glad not to be hazed, thank you.) Alas, for that campus fraternity, I became popular again when it was time to say goodbye and move on to life after school.
I guess I didn’t like leading because there was quite a rebel inside of me that said I didn’t want to be responsible for anything. I wanted to be a normal kid – in fact, longed to be. I secretly wanted to be just like the rest: carefree, could afford to be irresponsible and still be loved and accepted. I must have been resenting responsibility because it was too heavy a burden for my young shoulders to bear. If I had agreed to any of them, it must be because I believed it was the way to court approval and win love.
It was, therefore, a ridiculous idea for me to be a servant-leader for the youth in a little transparochial lay religious community that I had joined in my desire to have a more enriching spiritual life.
I was thus a picture of incredulity when I was chosen to be among the servants under an existing youth leader. It should take no less than a miracle for me to even so much as say a hesitant yes –- and what did I know, it did indeed! God made sure there would be a miracle. Praying in the middle of dawn one day, I suddenly heard a loving but firm voice of an old man that said, “Resty, I want you to follow me.” I was stunned, though surprisingly not overcome by fear; I found myself not panicking, but I also found myself unable to say no to God. I would never forget that voice, and I learned from that voice that the entity I had been calling God was surprisingly fatherly, not a stern policeman. He's more of an Abba or Daddy. I cannot recall any experience like that nor have I ever heard God's voice that way again. (It was a very positive encounter, so I sure hope it won't be the first and last.)
Apparently, I doubted the first time I was assigned by a community elder (Tita Linda Vasquez) to the position. I remember asking God absentmindedly that I needed a proof of God’s will because I would never submit to anything created by human preferences. I didn’t expect God would grant this skeptic’s secret wish so swiftly. My yes, of course, would lead to a quaint personal history.
Being a servant-leader (emphasis on servant) for the youth broke new grounds for me, forcing me to really, really get out of my comfort zone just to level up with kids of ages 11 to 20 from mostly well-to-do families (relative to my background). I wish I could recall all the things I did, but maybe I just had to content myself with the highlights: planning and facilitating entire afternoons of activities including summer camps, giving talks of spiritual nature, meeting with total strangers as resource persons or consultants, acting in front of an audience in a short play, learning so many songs and group-singing in front of an audience (non-paying), helping produce and direct plays (it’s complicated work!), interacting quite intimately with children (and their parents and friends) from socioeconomic backgrounds several notches far removed from mine, bringing kids home to their parents late at night and to the southernmost and northernmost parts of the city (the most groan-inducing part; thank God I didn't know how to drive so we had to find one), going on outings to places I didn’t even know existed (the most thrilling part). One unexpected reward of all this is making friends with my fellow youth servants by going out on our own (you could say group-dating). These people are some of my closest friends up to this day.
I surely enjoyed all these mini-adventures but there’s always sacrifice involved, plus the constant heavy feeling of doubt (Why am I here? What am I doing? Why?). The worst part was I always had to forego something in favor of the service God called us to. For example, when a dear cousin came back to town from Japan after a few years of working, he was looking for me and I was far away in Laguna or Cavite conducting a summer camp for the kids.
Serving the youth, however, led me to this other, most unexpected adventure: the heartbreak, in my mind, of not being compensated by God for my effort. There were times I felt burnt out, left out because I spent the best of my youth serving total strangers and I couldn’t even brag about it because it was always a team effort and I was quite incapable and inadequate. I couldn't seem to do God's assigned work the best way possible. I often complained to God in frustration, “Where, oh where, oh God, are the people better equipped in this?”
Sometimes, I even lapsed into feeling resentful because, despite the sacrifice of service, I felt that I wasn’t rewarded nor was I even recognized. I was working in a job that’s not my dream job, I was still single, I had no savings and investments and properties, and worst of all, my health was beginning to be a bother for me.
After a long struggle with my self and God, I’ve finally found the courage to thank God for all these setbacks somehow, because they exposed the real me. I felt so naked for being such a charlatan all along, serving God with the unspoken desire to be amply rewarded –- in short, serving God with a selfish agenda. Maybe I was also quite incredulous that God would ask me to serve people I didn't expect to serve. Well, I was expecting to serve the least: orphans, marginalized, etc., but God's ways are so strange.
Growing up with the notion that love should be earned, at the back of my mind, I seemed to have expected God to do the same as I thought my parents did or should have done: honor me with rewards, of recognition, honor or adulation at least. Worse, the many I-could-have-beens made me regretful and wondering whether following what I heard from God was well worth it, whether I made the right choice or not.
It didn’t occur to me at once that whatever reward I would have would be given to me in the next life, and the happy twist, as we all know and believe, is that it would be eternal.
I now put my faith and trust in the Lord that this is true. After quite a long sabbatical after I’ve given up serving the youth to search myself, I am back in the little community again, ever-ready for new service, without the illusion that I would be hopefully ignored for the more challenging ones (i.e., the services I least like and expect, like serving the youth, haha).
In whatsoever case, I hereby choose at this juncture to be happy, peaceful, satisfied, and fulfilled, with whatever I have right now, seeing how I’ve been enriched another way. I choose to be of service even without recognition and reward, to anyone of God's own choosing, in the thought that having served is a privilege, not a burden.
After all, if God didn’t call me in this, what could I have done and where would I be now in my spiritual life? I might have been very successful in terms of career, but I would most likely be hopelessly corrupt as well, very far away from the will of God in my life. I may not have the best of everything, but He is taking care of me. I still have a job that sustains me. I have a borrowed roof to protect me from the elements. I have clothes and shoes to wear. The future? I entrust it to God.
I figure that God must have set everything up for me, after all, for my own good and not just the good of my wards. As the tired refrain in community says, “God is not to be outdone in generosity.” (He is a God of embarrassing riches, of an unending universe, for Pete’s sake.) After all, He knows best what my weaknesses are, what I can and can’t handle, and especially what is best for me.
Retreat reflection: God indeed writes straight with crooked lines
In my Catholic life, I have heard the Biblical definition of ecclesia perhaps a hundred of times that I am most likely tired of hearing it described as a human body, with some members being the head and some being the ears, eyes, nose, hands, feet, and so on. I tend to forget that a Bible passage should be reflected upon on three other levels beyond the literal. If this lazy Bible reader exerted so much as an effort (it's easy to use the alibi that I am no theologian nor exegete), I would most likely keep on reflecting the usual way: What is my role in the body of Christ? Can I pass for a mouth, to proclaim the truth of the gospel in my own small way?
I am thus very thankful for the retreat given by Fr. Cres (Cresenciano?) Ubud of ___ Parish, ___ town, Cebu, who flew over to Manila and traveled all the way down to Calamba, Laguna (at Rancho Elena) just to open our eyes anew and be enlightened and inspired in God's ever surprising ways. Reading the passage about the body of Christ twice a la Lectio Divina, I was slowly reminded how I have been before community and even while I was growing in community.
I grew up as the eldest in a family that I felt pressured to be like this and like that. That was the constant refrain in my young life: "Dapat active ka sa school (at kahit saan). Dapat ganito ka. Dapat ganun." That was, of course, my parents' and relatives' way of telling me they loved me that they expected so highly of me and that they wanted me to be the best I could be.
Alas, in my immature mind, I had read a different message through it: I thought I was a bad person, not good enough as I was, not deserving of love unless I earned it. This little thought slowly became one whole big story in my head and my heart until it got to mean other things like, "I should indeed do all that to win their love and acceptance." Worse, it bore much more bad, complicated fruits like, "Yes, indeed, if other people should be any good, they should be like what people around me say they should be: intelligent, achiever, competent, successful, articulate, not timid or shy, strong, the best in everything."
I carried this bad impressions with me unconsciously throughout as I joined community and slowly learned the Christian way of life. Without even knowing, I tended to look down on people whom I thought were inferior according to the world's standards. If I felt that someone was not as good as I was in grammar and spelling, for example, I would secretly look down on that person. Of course, it didn't help that I went to a school that expected its graduates to be the best in everything, although to be fair, it also constantly preached that all that gift should be in the service of the people. The worst part of my story is that, whenever I perceived that I had failed in other people's expectations, I would think of myself as a failure or a shame. This brought me into unnecessary anxieties and depressive thoughts and feelings, that I needed to seek all sorts of professional help outside.
For a time, I was quite effective in being what others want me to be, but in the end, I was never happy and satisfied because I was always buying love.
Rereading that passage in the Bible about the body of Christ reminded me of my old mistakes, but I am also thankful that I have grown and matured a bit from my juvenile impressions. I realize I now understand life and the world better: that it is okay to strive to be the best I can be, but it's also okay not to be perfect because no one is meant to be "perfect"; everyone is important in the eyes of God; each one of us is designed to complete the rest of the body of Christ. There is equality despite the dissimilarity, there is unity despite the diversity. It is now absurd to me to think of myself or others as superior or inferior when we are all children of God with specific roles and missions in this life and beyond. It's equally absurd to look down and envy or look up too highly of people to the point of idolatry of mere creatures. I realized how much I've been badly infected by the conventional but twisted logic of the world, but thanks to Fr. Cres' reminder, I realize I have risen up and grown from that cesspool of corrupt thought and am now
I am not surprised to hear a lot of members say how the latest retreat we had is the best. Well, not to compare, but all of our retreats have been simply the best in the sense that they each conveyed the message we needed to hear at exactly that moment. If we heard this retreat earlier, we might not have been ready for it yet.
From the very start of the day we were to have this retreat, I knew that indeed it would be very special. Why? Because the devil did double-time work in discouraging me and Kuya Monching and Ate Yay, with whom I joined the ride to Rancho Elena (together with Cris and Ate Zeny). There were at least three miscommunications about the travel directions along the way, including where to wait for their car. Nearing Calamba, we took the wrong part of the expressway and then we passed through an uncomfortably rough road with an "Indiana Jones type of bridge" (in the words of Kuya Monching) that scared us. It turned out to be the wrong road to take. But as Kuya Monching said, "Naligaw man tayo ng landas, nakarating din tayo sa tuwid at tamang daan." (We may have taken the wrong path at the start, but in the end we were able to reach the right one.)
It strikes me how Kuya Monching's quip (he's very good at spiritual metaphors!) somewhat sums up what we've heard in Fr. Cres' retreat. We each have our own distorted way of viewing life, God, the world, others and ourselves. It can't be helped, for we are all but human. But thanks be to the sanctifying power of God's perspectives as revealed in the truths of the gospel through the reminders of Fr. Cres's powerful testimonies told in deceptively funny jokes, I am confident that we are led to a much clearer path in terms of how to move forward in our Christian life. For us in community, we now have a template, as Kuya Mel Astovesa said, from which to craft a plan of concrete action, i.e., how to be specifically an effective "priest, prophet and king" to everyone in community and in the rest of our lives. I, for one, certainly feel refreshed and empowered, with my mind and heart and soul cleansed of their many cobwebs of corrupt thoughts and feelings.
Thank God I was able to join this retreat.
(based on the retreat given by Fr. Cresenciano Ubud of Cebu to the Risen Lord's Vineyard Community on July 24-25, 2011 at Rancho Elena, Calamba City, Laguna)
Title: Growing Together in Grace as a Body of Christ
I. Definition of terms
What is growth? Growth means change.
We don't like change, even though it's the only thing that's permanent in this world. Why? Because change involves loss, the loss of a comfort zone. We don't like change because we don't like its emotional impact: pain.
Growth --> Change --> Loss
But growth in Christ can only be gain. No pain, no gain.
What is grace? Grace is a gift of God that sanctifies (makes holy) us.
Since everything in creation belongs to and is created by God, everything is meant to sanctify us. Every person sanctifies us (even the bad). But everything that sanctifies us can also bring us to hell when we don't know how to handle blessings. Blessings can make us sinners if we are not careful. If we use everything for the body of Christ, then or blessings bring sanctification.
What is the body of Christ? The answer is in 1Cor. 12:12-30.
The body of Christ has four elements:
1. Every part is important.
2. Every part is working for the sake of others.
3. If one part suffers, the whole body suffers also.
4. If one part is honored, the whole body is honored.
Everyone in the body of Christ is other-centered.
To suffer for others means:
- accepting pain
- saying I'm hurt but I'm not blaming
- sharing the shame; continuing being a part of that person despite the shameful thing he did.
Being part of the body of Christ means being 'abnormal,' or transcending what is normal (or logical in the world's thinking). For example, no one claims his or her own personal honor, but claims the honor as a product of joint effort.
There is what we call the mystical body of Christ:
1. triumphant church - saints in heaven
2. suffering church - souls in purgatory
3. militant church - we the living
II. Being a Body of Christ
How do we work as a body of Christ? Answer: Through the three-fold offices of Christ: priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices.
Priestly office (1Pt 2:5,9-10) - the priestly office brings Faith.
Are we a priest of God, or a priest of Satan? (Satan is always present wherever God is, as in the Garden of Eden.) In any case, there are three basic functions to fulfill:
Priest of God vs Priest of Satan
1. Offers sacrifices* 1. Seeks comforts
2. Prays always (formal and personal prayer) 2. Works always
3. Loves sacraments 3. Loves human traditions (such as superstitions)
*Sacrifice means foregoing or setting aside something for God.
If you are a priest of God, trust in His blessings for today! (Don't we pray, "Give us THIS DAY our daily bread?") Make your plan, but the present portion of that plan is your responsibility, and the greater part should be entrusted to God. Worrying about the future is Satan's deception. If you pray, don't worry.
Don't be deceived by pain. After pain comes happiness.
What does blessing mean? Blessing means three things:
- thanksgiving, in recognition that the gift or grace came from God
- entrusting the gift to God because it is His after all
- committing to be a steward of the gift
What do we gain as a priest of God? The power of God!
Remember how St. Paul prayed through his work "day and night."
Satan has no power when we have no worries, fears, anxieties, for fear is the stronghold of Satan. Satan will be conquered when we are no longer afraid to die. Why fear death, when after we die, we live again, for eternity?
What if comforts in life are already there? The key is detachment. Don't be attached to comfort.
The twist is, once we sacrifice, there is comfort. Then we share the comfort. The key lies in setting the level of our contentment.
Prophetic Office (Gal 1:6-11) - the prophetic office brings Hope
Are we a prophet of God, or a prophet of Satan?
There are three functions to fulfill:
Prophet of God vs Prophet of Satan
1. Preaches good news* 1. Preaches bad news
2. Seeks divine knowledge 2. Seeks scientific knowledge
3. Tells the truth 3. Tells lies
*Preaching the good news means preaching out of love (1Cor 3), encouraging, unburdening.
Preaching bad news means making one anxious.
One practical way of telling the truth is turning gossip into sharing or testimony of one's own weaknesses.
What do we gain from being a prophet of God? Divine Inspiration (not human inspiration)!
Kingly Office (Lk 22:24-30) - the kingly office results in a Life of Love
Are we a king of God or a king of Satan?
King of God vs King of Satan
1. Serves the least* 1. Serves the elite**
2. Leads with humility 2. Leads with pride
3. Loves friends and enemies 3. Loves friends and kills enemies
*Aside from the obvious (poor and marginalized people), "the least" can mean the emotionally least or people we don't like. People who are least in status are easier to help because there is no emotional involvement.
**Likewise, "the elite" may mean not just the elite in terms of socioeconomic status, but also our favorite people or the people closest to our hearts.
Love is inclusive, not exclusive.
What do we gain from being a king of God? Lasting Happiness!
A loving person is always happy.
Joy after pain is true happiness. Joy without (before?) pain is shallow happiness and could end in lasting suffering.
Have a system of action in which you can be a priest, prophet, and king in community. Extend the application to family, workplace, bigger community.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
The past and the future
"It's good to value the past – just as Mary Magdalene and the disciples forever treasured their three years with Jesus and repeatedly told others about it – but we should also value what God is planning for the future, even if we don't yet know what that future holds. As scary or lonely as that future seems now, God will be with you, and he will be very good to you!"
Monday, July 18, 2011
"The servant-king suffered pain with joy." - forgot where I got this
There can only be one source of inspiration in the face of discouraging things in life: 2Cor.4:16-5:18.
Nouwen on being chosen
Nouwen has this great talent in uncovering and disrupting the orthodox or conventional logic of the world.
"Jesus is taken by God or, better, chosen by God. Jesus is the
Chosen One. From all eternity God has chosen his most precious
Child to become the savior of the world. Being chosen
expresses a special relationship, being known and loved in a
unique way, being singled out. In our society our being chosen
always implies that others are not chosen. But this is not true
for God. God chooses his Son to reveal to us our chosenness.
In the Kingdom of God there is no competition or rivalry.
The Son of God shares his chosenness with us. In the Kingdom
of God each person is precious and unique, and each person
has been given eyes to see the chosenness of others and rejoice
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Sharp atheism quotes
'"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." ~Pope John Paul II"
"If there were no God, then there would be no Atheists." ~G.K. Chesterton
"Thank God I am still an Atheist!" - An Atheist
"There are no atheists in foxholes."
"Don't like gay marriages? Don't get one. Don't like cigarettes? Don't smoke them. Don't like abortions? Don't get one. Don't like sex? Don't have it. Don't like drugs? Don't do them. Don't like porn? Don't watch it. Don't like alcohol? Don't drink it. Don't like guns? Don't buy one. Don't like your rights taken away? Don't take away someone else's."
God's creation of the world is all about us
This story reminds me of the Genesis story. This world is all about us, how God purposefully created each being, no matter how ugly or scary to us, for our own benefit.
Bible study notes
(from Bible study lecture by ____ Cavins)
Eve's birth of Abel is the first fruitful suffering, redemptive suffering. This prefigures Mary's birth of Jesus. Mary is the new Eve.
Jesus Christ, of course, is the new Adam.
The line about "the woman and the redeemer" is the first good news or protoevangelism.
Four levels of interpreting the Bible:
moral (application of the passage to you, the reader, right now)
anagogical (implications for the future, i.e., the coming Kingdom of God)
literal - passage about Jerusalem temple
allegorical - Jerusalem temple = Christ (who said, "Destroy this temple and in three days, I will make it rise again.")
moral - the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
anagogical - after this life is the New Jerusalem
Paradox of genesis
"Out of chaos, cosmos. Out of nothing came time and space, light and life, the filling of void, and rules to govern it."
Question: Where did God reside before He created time and space?
Answer: Nothing. He must be in a divine nothingness and emptiness.
Paradox of control
Man has this struggle to control life. But life is life, and we're just a part of it. Life must flow on through us. We are the avenues of life, not the source of it.
When we know that we can control life for so much, we know that we are not the ones who are really in control. When we know that we are not the ones who are really in control, we are free (from being such control freaks).
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The paradox of Christian service
Last Sunday at the community assembly (Kassel Condo Penthouse, Taft cor. Vito Cruz, Manila), our Music Ministry (MM) members were missing. The whole bunch of them was in Meycauayan, Bulacan, on a youth outreach, together with a few key leaders. This meant we were to sing a capella during Mass and worship. We expected a lousy Mass and worship ahead, but we were in for a surprise.
What happened was, as noted by Kuya Ed, everybody sang like a member of the Music Ministry, wary as we were of the gaping hole the MM members' absence left. Expecting to be crippled by silence, we sang our hearts out instead. Of course, we would much prefer that the singers and musicians were all there, but the Mass and the worship were no less solemn and uplifting.
I couldn't help but gush and be humbled. "Wow, we can survive without the Music Ministry!"
It dawned on me God doesn't need us. After all, He can easily replace the ministry, or any other service group for that matter, with other people.
Serving Him, I was reminded, is more a privilege than a sacrifice. If we think we give too much in service, invest too huge a sum or energy and emotion, we are mistaken. The service was made available to us, for our own good! Even when on the surface we are the one giving unselfishly, giving our all, we actually are getting something good and virtuous from the service, if only we look hard. For example, maybe had we not been in service, we could be servicing the world and the devil in many creative ways. Or we could be growing stale or rusty as half-baked Christians.
This opened my eyes to this unraveling pattern in the spiritual life, particularly the nature of Christian service. In accepting the call to serve, there is a secret, a surprise to anyone who dares say yes: we get more than we give.
How do I deal with depression and loneliness?
That's a question G. asked me over online chat the other day. Surprisingly, I found it quite easy to answer now. I hope I have answered him satifactorily, but if given another chance, I would answer this way:
First, be sure that the loneliness or depression is 'real,' that is, really emotional in nature. Certain foods and drugs can bring it about. Do you have food sensitivities? Avoid those food items. Have you been on medication lately? If you can't get rid of it, you probably have no choice but ignore it or at least avoid focusing on the feeling, although I know it's hard. You may need to surround yourself with positive people in a stress-free environment. Depression may also be caused by withdrawal from addictions, such as caffeine, nicotine, or legal and illegal drugs.
Second, if it is real depression (whether it be nonclinical or clinical), self-awareness is important. What made you feel lonely or depressed? You will want to know. This is the paradox of self-awareness: What you don't know controls you; the moment you know what's there, it is no longer there; you are instantly liberated. This takes time, though. Be patient with yourself, for in time, it will reveal itself through your subconscious/unconscious at the oddest hour, as when you are brushing your teeth or doing the laundry, i.e., moments when you are least guarded or least in the defensive mode.
The third point is even more crucial: We really can't control our feelings and emotions, and I am talking only of reflex reactions. It's only human to feel the four basic feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and happiness, and any of their combinations. What we have power over is our own reaction to the feeling: We can choose to
- endure it heroically, or
- wallow in it self-destructively, or
- find a healthy distraction (such as reverting to an old hobby), or
- find an unhealthy one, i.e., medicating the pain via an assortment of painkillers and analgesics and anesthesizers/anesthetics (sex, drugs, food, shopping, other addictions), or most preferably,
- act according to a decision (a positive, opposite one) despite the feeling.
As for "healthy distractions," what I do is to generally be kind to myself by treating me to something new, exciting, adventurous, or thrilling without being self-destructive. Of course, I mean new or old movies, plays, novels, museums, malls, food, travels, sounds, and so on.
If I find myself penniless, however, I listen to what a friend used to say: "Learn to sublimate the pain." After looking up the multisyllabic word in the dictionary, I got the idea in the form of another multisyllabic word: it means transcending the pain by perhaps not just looking at what is causing it on the surface but more deeply: Do I have certain needs that are unmet? What are these, and how can I address the problem concretely? In case I have no choice, how else would I react to the lack of it? What should my attitude be if I am to survive, to live with the constant presence of my major stressor?
At this point, it's good to take stock of one's life and reassess whether we are exaggerating or misinterpreting some things. For me, I always revert to the power of the archives or scrapbooks. I review my past writing entries or look over my old scrapbooks again to remind myself how I have been blessed. In this seemingly trivial exercise of self-therapy, I am always humbled to the point of embarassment whenever I see proof upon proof of how I was taken care of, how I was lavished by God with wonderful suprises beyond my imagination.
I was not exactly blessed by God in the usual way that most people are blessed with supermodel looks, fantastic family life, house and lot and a new car, terribly romantic dates, wads of cash, and so on, but I've realized I had een so much blessed in my chosen lifestyle as a writer. I realize I was gifted with the ability to enjoy a lot of things most people don't get excited about. I've realized I'm quite adventurous in so many little ways, that I am able to appreciate certain nuances about art and literature, writing, theater, film, food, travel, music, or even fields I thought I had zero interest in: birdwatching, anthropology, economics, sociology, psychology, language/rhetoric, medicine/alternative medicine/health, politics, law, criminology, history, and the junctions or lines transecting them.
I am also blessed with a lot of friends -- in various communities and support groups, in the schools and workplaces of my past, not to mention my big family and cabal of relatives.
I also revel at the spiritual blessings I've been bestowed with: the many, many sins uncovered that I would never have otherwise known; the many mind-expanding insights from retreats, masses, recollections, and spiritual books; and the little and big acts of charity and kindness I was privileged to do. I would like to believe that these spiritual investments, whose dividends are invisible to the naked eye, are forever, have eternal consequences, no matter how trivial and passing they may look at first glance.
Last but not least, I hold on to God as my ultimate joy and treasure, that with Him, I may have nothing but I have everything.
Whenever I remind myself of these gifts, I am reminded that I have lost the right to mope and wallow in the mire of self-pity. When I consider all that I have that money can't buy, I give the lie to my own claim that I am poor, lonely, and miserable. I've, in fact, gotten and been given so much in life! I have had a full plate despite my material poverty, so why am I sobbing again and being an altogether helpless crybaby?
Then again, it's also okay to cry whenever I feel like it -- after all, I'm no stoical robot, either; after all, tears also heal (at least the tears that make us feel good after). What matters in the end is what I do after all that shedding of tears is done. Would I sing about, paint, or write the greatest masterpiece about despair, like Kafka, or would I pick up the pieces, rise up from the ashes? The latter is a tired cliche, I know, but better a tired but truthful cliche than a treacherous and deadly copout or capitulation to satanic temptations.
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
The sacristans return from Manila
I've always wondered how it feels to be a sacristan. I've never been one because, when the one and only opportunity came, either I wasn't allowed by my parents outright, or I sensed their hesitation so I hesitated myself. It didn't help that my parents were not the typical active churchpeople. I must have envied my elementary school classmates who served in the Mass wearing immaculate white and perfectly pressed vestments that erased whatever impression of naughtiness they had outside the church.
My cousin D. was one of them -- his parents were the active churchy types, and I noticed he became fast friends with the other sacristans from the rival school. Among his new friends was R., who looked every inch a naughty rich kid whom I wanted to be friends with as well (because he was completely different).
I was an active Catholic at the time mainly because of my devout grandmother (father's side), but when our entire class had a two-day weekend retreat in a religious house in Calasiao town, I was unable to join. It could be that my parents frowned at the extra expense. After my classmates came back from it on Monday, they wouldn't stop telling each other over and over, including the sacristans, all that adventure of crying they shared. I felt a tinge of envy and regret for not going. Feeling left out, now I had to wonder as well how it felt to go through a religious retreat.
These events in my young life did not presage what was to come later -- for the wheels of fortune would bring things to a total reversal.
I've been an active charismatic Catholic for about two decades now, so I can say I am an active Catholic, serving the Church as a member of a lay transparochial community. One day, in one Mass sponsored by the community, I was accidentally asked to assist the priest because JR, the usual sacristan, was absent. Of course, I didn't come prepared with the required white vestment and everything. Needless to say, I was quite stressed, because I was so clueless I was afraid I'd do everything wrong. The poor priest must have sensed my anxiety, because he would gesture to me what to do next at each and every step. It was so embarrassing especially when I didn't know how exactly to ring the bell in time for consecration. I was afraid I might ring it like an ice cream vendor did!
As for retreats, well, there never was a year I didn't go to at least two retreats or recollections: Lenten retreat, Advent recollection, planning session cum retreat, Mass doubling as recollection, etc.
I wish I could say that I had my former sacristan classmates as inspiration, because the truth is, I came to like the quasireligious life on my own. In my college years up to early working life, I was deep in searching -- I wasn't contented with my life as a Sunday Catholic, the constant drive to achieve, being driven by ambition for myself and my family. Maybe I matured prematurely, but at that stage in my life, I already had a strong sense that the rat race was a corrupt, self-centered race to the top that would only bring me spiritual ruin and unhappiness. I guess I was searchng for balance. It could also be that that was the way God was calling me.
Sometimes, I wonder where my childhood friends are now in their spiritual life. There was a time I got disillusioned with them. One day, many months after high school graduation, I saw some of them around the corner in our old provincial town, and we traded stories about college life and how we each settled into the big city. I was dismayed to hear some of my closest friends exchanging conspiratorial laughs over their respective initiation into the notorious "beerhouses" (prostitution dens) of Manila. I was totally incredulous because, somehow, the strongest mental images of them I held on to was as sacristans in immaculate white and as euphoric weekend retreatants. I was shocked to see them transform from altar saints to stallions. "Ah," I lamented, "how people change."
Maybe I was looking too much for a model or a hero of the faith perhaps because I couldn't find it in me. But I wasn't able to find it in my peers either. Worse, I even mistakenly thought along the way that I should somewhat take after them because that how things are: boys will be boys.
Maybe I was looking at the wrong direction. Today, at least four of my friends admit to having an extramarital affair. At least one of us, R., is now divorced.
I hope everyone of my friends has found or are friends with God again, as I have found mine. Or in the reverse language of Christianity, I pray God would hound each of them, though I'm pretty sure He's always been, since we are always the ones who turn away from God. Maybe the right prayer is, "May they open their hearts to God again, in His own time."
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