PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Thursday, February 28, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 17 - Everybody's salvation as motivation for deep conversion

pp. 62-

How true this observation is, though it's easier said than done. When you view any given situation as to whether you are helping advance your own salvation as well as that of others, that's a tectonic shift in thinking. It has deep conversion as prerequisite. It has advanced spirituality written all over it. It has sainthood, no less, as its destiny. 

Why? It takes metanoia, an entire mind-shift, paradigm shift, to adopt such kind of viewpoint. For someone to achieve that at all, one must have reached a degree of selflessness, transcending one's egoism in favor of God's POV. One must have reached kenosis, the emptying of the self. Psychologically speaking, one must have reached wholeness, one must have graduated from brokenness, one must have gone beyond, sublimated, the self, or self-actualization, by considering other people's welfare and how God would have liked things to turn out.

By emptying the self, God can enter freely. By emptying the self, we can follow God's will more freely. With blocks cleared out of the way, we can listen to God's "small voice" more readily, which God, ever the gentleman, delivers as a kind suggestion, through a period of time that only divine patience is able to endure. 

Wow. I hope I can achieve that kind of spiritual POV in any given situation I find myself in, instead of being clobbered by blindness or narrowmindedness and egoism. I wish I could always see and listen to things as God would: through his mercy (that is unfathomable) and love (that is undefiled and bottomless). I pray that, in a given situation, my line of thinking will always be: "What would Jesus do? Would this be beneficial for my own salvation? for the salvation of my family member/friend/officemate/fellow community member/country/fellowmen?" Tough call, but worth it. After all, everything is meaningless if we are not saved in the end.

This is all so basic, yet still refreshingly beautiful.

 

Quote

"The beauty of aspiring to be a saint is that I don’t have to be like anyone else." - Stef

This statement strikes me deeply. In the faith walk/spiritual journey, ultimately, we go it alone. Mentors, role models, 'idols,' are a big help but their walk is not our walk.   Our walk is not their walk either; it is ours. Alone.

Unless you are a child that needs constant direction, you work on your own salvation, you pull yourself by your own bootstraps. This is not about our needing others in the journey (we do indeed need to be strengthened), and neither about our duty to reach out to others and tell the good news (we should share God's blessings and witness to God's love); it is about our being faced with no choice but to do the very act of choosing. I guess it's the 'curse' of being gifted/graced with free will.

In the end, in every moment we are faced with a moral decision, it's always our call, it's us who make the choice. No one else can make that choice for us, for it's us individually who are answerable to God. The only thing the rest can do for us is perhaps intercede, intervene, but we always have to face the consequences of our own actions. We are to render an account.

We came to this life and we'll leave it alone. It's a lone-ly life, a lone-ly world, but that's how it is. It seems sad this way, but it is not. There is deep joy in this freedom, in the ability to choose between good and evil in the extent not given to angels.

While it is said that, when God saves, He saves entire families/communities, it's a comfort to know that God deals with us in our own unique circumstances. It's our own terms against His own terms. Like a father and mother to their child, we can be assured to be "met right where we are.," and be dealt with truly fair justice. While it's true that His truths are absolute and His standards the same across time and space, He alone knows, He alone is cognizant of the 'mitigating factors' of our lives. He alone knows our heart fully.

Thus, to one, He seems harsh, while to another, He seems lax. We on earth, poor sods who only have a very restricted perspective, viewing reality from a narrow window of time and space, can only trust in His wisdom, in the divine motivation of love that's totally free and without conditions.

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 16 - Happy life as motivation for deep conversion

pp. 58 (cont'd)-60 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA58&lpg=PP1&hl=tl&output=html_text

These part reminds me why i joined Catholic charismatic community in the first place. I am reminded that I joined not just because I was so lonely in the world, trying hard to practice the ways of God but hardly with anyone else wanting to do so as I did, at least not in the zeal that I had. I joined because I wasn't happy with the world. After I got what wanted, it immediately proved to be empty and unsatisfying.

I wanted to experience happiness, real, unfading happiness, or as spiritual writers say, joy. I got what I wanted, finding it in charismatic community, but the euphoria soon subsided. I learned that I had to work on it. After being afforded the grace, I need to do my part, that part that's, to quote the Bible, I hope not inaccurately, "lacking in Christ's salvific/redemptive act."

I am still trying to sustain that difficult balancing act of "living in the world but not of it."

In short, I came to community not just because i wanted to be in heaven someday, but also because i wanted to have a foretaste of heaven while on earth. For I didn't like what I saw in the world -- heartless competition, ceaseless, unfulfilling toil, selfishness/egoism all around, the vacuousness of worldly ambition, the general dearth of love in the hearts of men and the ways of the world.

Thankfully, i saw that heaven on earth was possible. It came with a price, though, which I must pay. I can't have it both ways, the world and heaven. I needed to see everything through another prism and perspective, that of the eternal. I am still trying so hard to make shift, for the the lures of the world can be wily to the point of falsely mesmerizing. it is easy to lose my focus if I am not alert.

It's good to be reminded, in this major way, of what i really wanted. It's even greater to be reminded of what I certainly didn't want: the reverse of heavenly ways. I keep on discovering what these are. In the recent years, i began the deepening of my faith by digging deeper psychologically. i discovered that I was so wretched within with a wretchedness that covers my pure core with a multiple layers of sin/darkness. It's good to discover that I also didn't want those things inside of me that I wasn't cognizant of before: denials, defenses, hidden angers/resentments, rationalizations, sub-./unconscious fears/anxieties, dread, insecurity, and so on.

I don't want sin. Sin is ugly. It has far too many consequences. Just on a personal level, it brings about guilt, shame, lack of peace, consequences, the uneasy feeling that I am to be punished anytime. Sin begets sin, which if left unrepented, begets a multitude of sins,and with them, a multitude of troubles. I will give everything just to have peace of mind.

I wish to go on with my earthly journey, but hopefully this Lent and beyond, I would delve more on my core, my real self, the wonder child, the divine spark that longs to be with God here and now,  thereafter, and forever and ever. After discarding all the dross, I wish the one real spiritual journey to begin. That way, i could begin to truly say I am treading the path to saintly grounds.

No, wait, I can be a saint right now, where I am seated and stuck in the mire. No excuses!

Prayer:

Continue to make me singlehearted for You, Lord. Give me an undivided heart that will sustain me throughout the difficult journey of ups and downs. I want to have a happy life here and now.


 

Nouwen on Deiphobia

I realize I have this fear.

Letting Go of Our Fear of God

We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our "horror vacui," our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, "But what if ..."

It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God's actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let's pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

 

"Beautiful in My Eyes"

This is unexpected, but this is what the Lord is telling me lately.


 

Nouwen on spiritual discipline


Creating Space for God

Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance.

Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 15 - "Sin obscures sight."

pp. 55-58 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA58&lpg=PP1&hl=tl&output=html_text

This online retreat is heating up, as I find myself poring over the pages breathlessly beyond our 3-page-a-day limit. Fr. DuBay's topic is so gripping that I just have to quicken my pace. Little did I know I was already hitting page 60 and beyond, and I had to curl back up to the intro.

Having cleared that out of the way, let me proceed by focusing on the line I chose for my title today:

"Sin obscures sight." - Hans Urs von Balthasar

This quote grabbed me instantly. I was able to connect to it immediately because I understood it at the gut level. For indeed, many are moments in times past that I don't trust myself fully with regard to judgment on spiritual/moral matters when I know I have not fully surrendered to God at the moment, when I am holding back something -- maybe a little grudge, an unexpressed anger, envy that festered into doubt for God's love for me, and so on.

In times like these, when I am away from God's grace by choice, whether conscious, subconscious or unconscious, I am extra-careful, learning from experience. It's as though I know I have drunk too much so it means that I must not trust myself too much in walking my way home, so to speak.

And how sad that moment always turn out to be, because I know I am not living my life fully, the way God willed it to be. Fortunately, I also know, from experience, how to turn things around right then and there: ask forgiveness from God with an embarassed immediacy, as though I was woken up from a nightmare, then ask for His grace, for Him to intervene. I always revert to one song I learned in charismatic community, whenever I find that my sinfulness has clouded over my better (Christian) judgment:

"O Send Forth Your Light"

O send forth Your light and Your truth.
Let this be my guide.
Let them bring me to Your holy mount
To the place where You abide.

Then I shall go to the altar of God
My joy and my delight
And offer Your praise as a sacrifice
My God, my light, my guide!

From my utterly corrupted state of mind, whew, what a sweet relief it is to be back in the loop, back in the circle of God's influence, back inside God's mind.

Monday, February 25, 2013

 

Quotes

Prayer is union with God.

Prayer is offering to God every action.

Praying is not taking time out of one's job; it is putting in quality time in one's activity.  It's the intenton or motive for an act (that counts).

- Bishop Precioso D. Cantillas, SDB, DD

Prayer is nothing but an intimate conversation with a friend whom you know loves you very much, according to the very down to earth Saint Teresa of Avila.

Blooming ka kasi love transfigures.

- Teresa R. Tunay, OCDS


It is the Cross that allows the Resurrection to take place. All who behold and embrace his cross is healed, made whole, and gains eternal life.

On the Cross, Christ went not so much against natural human inclinations -- the inclination toward life and self-preservation -- but He transcended these and got to the core of being human.

We must not kill desires and passions but reorient them, redirect them in service of God and others, in the service of God's mission for us.

- Fr. Tito Caluag

Believe. Whatever the problem, we must continue believing that there is a reason, there is a mission, and there is a plan. Furthermore, we must believe that there is a solution. Problems should strengthen our belief in God, belief in other people, and belief in our selves.

May I come to understand that blessings are everywhere, that my attitude will affect outcomes, that CHALLENGES ARE OFTEN GIFTS IN DISGUISE. May I come to trust that most things can get better, with time, that my instincts and gut feelings have value, that a positive attitude makes things go smoother. May I come to see that I have many skills and talents I can use, that I am a positive influence on many people, that there are those around me who wish me well. May I come to value that today is a blessing to be enjoyed, that each person is unique and important, that each moment of my life has meaning.

- Fr. Jerry Orbos

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 14 - Velleity

pp. 50-55 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA53&lpg=PP1&hl=tl&output=html_text

"Velleity: a mere weak desire that leads nowhere"

Now I'm worried. I wonder whether I'm normal because I had to think hard to visualize the many ways I exhibit velleity at present, as Fr. DuBay defines. I almost immediately was able to understand what velleity means, but my memory is also immediately brought to the past, instead of the present.

Maybe I am having a hard time because my zeal for God is not that weak, no longer that weak as before, but as I have discussed in Day 13, my resistances to deep conversion are far more subtle, because they all have to do with self-acceptance as well as the acceptance that God loves me unconditionally, even when I sin, even when I can't deliver what I think I should.

Voila! Maybe then that's where my velleity struggles lie, after all: my weak desire to believe in God's unconditional love for me. Oh. Where, oh, where do I start to strengthen that desire? I don't know.

What I know is that I was able to instinctively identify with this next line that Fr. DuBay highlighted in neon colors, so to speak: "What we know has very little effect on how we live."

I, for one, know, theologically speaking, or profess to believe that God loves me unconditionally, even if I turn my back on God. But my body can't lie; my body -- my anxieties, my bouts of panic -- tell a different story: the truth is I doubt God's unconditional love for me, for why does my heartbeat betray me, betray what I say I know and believe?

Oh, God, help my unbelief. Heal my congnitive dissonance. I want to transcend my velleity. My problem seems to be far more basic, for how can I obey You, if I have fundamental issues with belief?

 

No more Lenten drama (but instead Lenten mortifications in its place)


Each time it's Lent, I have this running drama with the Lord that I probably thought would match St. Teresa of Avila's well-quoted complaint ("Lord, it's so hard to follow You (or something to that effect), that's why You have very few friends."). My own Lenten grumbling goes this way: "Lord, I am already carrying a lot of little and big crosses, must you ask me to refrain from some major things as well? That hurts!"

You see, for the longest time, I have been suffering from multiple food sensitivities, which deprives me of so many finer things in life. I have been avoiding chocolate, most mushrooms, bread, pasta, oats, flour/wheat noodles, and anything with flour/wheat/oats in it because I palpitate, feel tired for no reason, and look horrible, my eyes turning puffy and my skin turning the color of mud. They say these are symptoms of gluten sensitivity, which I avoid having by avoiding gluten-laden foods. It makes me sad sometimes, especially when I have to give in to satiate a little craving. I also avoid teas and coffee in general because they give me palpitations as well, unless these are diluted or decaf.

At present, I find myself suspecting new allergies: eggs and most fish. So come Lent, asking me to avoid meat, which has become my comfort food, can be too cruel. Sometimes I resent God for it, afraid to carry my cross on top of old crosses. What I do for Lenten mortification in place of meatless meals is avoid other things that can be avoided like watching TV or reading books and watching movies that are purely for entertainment.

With my panic attacks, I am unable to satisfy my usual diversions: intimate conversations with close friends at cafes, malling, taking longish walks, going to the movies, and part-time reviews of restaurants/hotels/resorts/travel destinations I am assigned to. This makes me feel so deprived and often drives me to self-pitying that I almost forgot that these things can be seen as well as golden spiritual opportunities; I can choose to take up my cross and offer it to God for whatever His purposes, trusting fully in His wisdom (which to my mind can seem wickedly funny and darkly cruel) -- or not.

Stef has unwittingly reminded me how important these mortifications are in the spiritual journey. I hope God would find merit in the little sufferings I've been going through and have recently gone through. These are the latest additions:

1. The sofa breaking in two, due to old age, with no replacement in sight (yet).

2. Three points in the ceiling leaking from the rains.

3. The bathroom drain being clogged. (Recently solved, thank God!)

4. The beautiful hanging lamp in the dining area crashing down on the glass table due to age. (I am just thankful, though, that the glass table did not break into pieces, despite the weight of the biggish lamp.)

5. The neighborhood cats boring three holes through the window screens.

6. The peeling paint on two different parts of the wall.

7. The decaying part of the front of the apartment.

8.  A kitchen cabinet window giving way.

9. The plate dispenser (?) falling off the wall.

10. The desktop PC conking out.

11. The old bed crying out for a brand-new replacement.

12. The TV showing signs of old age.

13. The ref conking out for an unknown reason.

14. The grating drone of jumbo jets flying overhead from time to time.

Gee, I am amazed how I have compiled this list not out of complaint. How much different I am this time of Lent!

It is my heartfelt prayer, though, that God would deliver me from each thorn one by one, in His time, as I hold on the belief that it is His will as well to make me happy and live a full life (John 10:10).

Dear Easter: Oh, how I am longing for you even this early. I know you will come, as you have unfailingly come through the years after Lent. Meanwhile, I should enter more fully into the spirit of Lent, by doing away with the drama of times past and choosing mortification.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

 

Deus ex machina: Miracles I failed to see while they were happening and even years after they did

There are many miracles in the life of my family that I (or we collectively) have failed to see as such.

1. How my first brother got his second job at ____, after running into bad luck at ____, i.e., after being a union officer who was terminated for participating in a major strike. (He happened to run into a former workmate who was now in the new company.)

2. How my second brother was able to finish a third course (a third course!) after he failed in the first and found no work despite his second. I can't imagine how I was able to put him through all that.

And how he wound up in his job today, thanks to my first brother's suggestion/idea.

3. How my third brother was able to finish college -- in an exclusive Catholic school at that -- through my cousin and the kindness of his priest-friend, finishing BS Computer Science against all odds, and how he was able to find a job indirectly through the same priest. 'Accidentally' the dean or so interviewing him had the said priest as his previous mentor. That was too much, too suspiciously coincidental!

4. How I, with the help of two other elder siblings, were able to send four more younger siblings to college despite our combined finances.

5. How my two sisters were able to finish college at all, the first with the help of a scholarship she won, thanks to a rich Japanese couple as sponsors (again, through the same cousin and priest as above), the other through the family's combined effort in the face of her personal misfortune (she got pregnant at age 19).

6. How my father was saved from a great misfortune after a total stranger intervened who turned out to be a distant relative of my mother.

7. How God brought me to the series of jobs I had. Except for the first two, which I found in newspaper ads, the rest of the opportunities practically lay themselves on my doorstep. In comparison, all the other alternative potential jobs I pursued huffing and puffing ended up to be all for naught.

8. How my brothers and I survived the days of having just one pair of shoes each, the others just one ugly pair of old shoes each, but now, God changed all that, to the point of giving us a number of shoes we don't actually need.

9. How my parents, both jobless for a very long time, regained their dignity, little by little, by finding some livelihood on their own (with some financial help from us kids, of course).

10. How I was able to reach certain places and enjoy the luxurious life through heretofore unimaginable (because totally unplanned) means.

11. How I was able to purchase my much-needed laptop without an effort through an offer and payment arrangement (two years to pay) that's impossible to resist.

12. In the face of the paralyzing/debilitating nature of panic disorder, God found me a way to survive. He brought me ambulant vendors who plied me with vegetables, fruits, snacks, and other little household needs right at my doorstep. Amazing! Unbelievable!

13. How God sustains me in these times of 'famine.' Miraculously, God brings a trickle of clients my way, one at a time, exactly as needed, just in time when my wallet is emptied. Even though I am not comfortable with the arrangement, much preferring a more secure alternative, I am nonetheless amazed at how God answers my day to day needs. I can even afford to be the giver in our share of household expenses, instead of being the recipient. Amazing! Unbelievable! (I just wish He would bring more! Haha.)

(I am also thankful I have a younger brother to depend upon when all else fails.)

14. For being freed AT ALL from certain addictions/compulsions/sins/bondages.

15. For the innumerable stroke-of-genius moments, as when I prayed for this certain brother that he'd become a community member even though it seemed too unlikely, for a friend who used to be atheist to come back home to the Church, for this part of the city to witness urban renewal even when I would no longer be working near it, etc., prayers that I knew I wouldn't really benefit from.

In each of these events, I see God's mysterious hand, for the odds were stacked against us. In each case, there was unforeseen intervention while we were sleeping off the agony, as though in a play that employs the deus ex machina literary device.

Knowing how God's work is this subtle, who knows what other surprising tricks are up His sleeves?

Forgive me Lord for my ingratitude. Thank you for reminding me of these one by one. They could have been lost forever in the ungratefulness of my short memory.

 

Spam comments alert

This blog is suddenly awash in spam comments. Let me figure out how to get rid of all that. I'm afraid this blog will have to be on Moderated Comments mode. :(

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 13 - My subtle ways of spiritual resistance

pp. 47-49 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA47&lpg=PP1&hl=tl&output=html_text

I'm no engineeer, but when I think of resistance, I think in term of ohms and those electirc wiring color codes to indicate electrical resistance. It never occurred to me that there is such a thing as spiritual resistance, and in the context of this retreat, the resistance in the form of willed venial sins despite the profession of loving God 100%

I have mixed thoughts on this topic, and I don't know where to start. For one, I am not comfortable with Fr. DuBay's earlier quoting of the oft-misinterpreted Biblical line, "Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect." From the lecture of the Biblical scholar Fr. Celestino 'Jun' Lingad, a graduate of Gregorian University in Vatican City (?)/Rome, I learned that this line should not be interpreted literally, or serious Christians would be on the verge of paranoia, if not a nervous breakdown, en masse. Taken in the context of the whole passage, what this kind of perfection demands is perfection in terms of the ability to forgive our enemies. In this passage, Fr. Lingad said, we are being demanded by God to be better than the pagans who, after all, share our ability to love those who love us; God is asking us to go one step higher, in fact a quantum leap, by loving our enemies. This is one of the most revolutionary statements I've ever read, among a unified cluster of such disturbingly 'illogical' statements, thus my enduring attraction to Christianity.

Fr. Jun said that God won't be so inconsiderate as to demand literal perfection from man, whom He knows only too well to be oh-so-fallible. Even in case of papal infallibility, the perfection is restricted to ex-cathedra pronouncements. In fact, even the pope is given a leeway for being human, for falling into sin, for what's the use of having a spiritual director/preacher and confessor for himself?

But I understand where Fr. DuBay is coming from. I believe he is not talking about that kind of perfection either, but perfection in terms of doing something more for the Lord, progressively routing inconsistencies, or conflicts within the self, between what we profess and what we actually do. I think what Fr. DuBay is really saying is this: There should be discernible growth in ascending the ladder of spirituality. For what's the point of repeating the same sin again and again? We might as well not bother with growth. Like a good father, God does not mean to be that foolish by being lax with us or unconcerned with our spiritual growth and more preoccupied with humiliating us again and again with our helplessness with ourselves and dependence on Him. Instead, the reverse is true: As in that fearsome Biblical account, committing the same sin over and over after having been forgiven of it results in more intensified possession by the demons, i.e., worse and worse sins.

At this point, I am reminded of those famous/viral memes about What other people say I do vs What I say or think or feel I do vs What I actually do, which strikes me as a profound illustration of how man is so fallible, so prone to error in everything especially in describing reality, always confusing and conflating cold fact from emotion-tinged fiction, with everyone guilty of it, to the point that other schools of thought think everything is relative, which has unfortunately evolved into the great modern sin of RELATIVISM (a subject that Pope Benedict XVI relentlessly discussed in his papacy).

I know I can never be perfect, even with my best effort. I will fall, I will sin, as inevitably as the next man. But since I am in community precisely to be a better Catholic/Christian, I am expected NOT to be like the next person, but to be not so much a superior human being but a more serious lover of God.

As to my own form of resistances, I am hard put to think up of willed venial sins because most of my behavioral problems are not in the realm of willed but more in the form of compulsive weaknesses. To illustrate, I grew up with various cultural and familial baggages about myself ("you are dark and ugly," "you are poor," "you are the intelligent one in the family, but the useless one in other fields," "you come from a formerly colonized, Third World and thus inferior civilization," "you are a nerd," "you are a klutz," and so on), which affect the way I react to certain people and situations. These are my great struggles, the source of my spiritual 'resistances.' These do not belong to willed venial sins, as I have pointed out, yet routinely lead me to sin nonetheless. The Lord, in His goodness, is so kind as to give an allowance in this case, but there's also the great temptation to stay stuck in the past, to use the past as alibi. God knows I do my best to never rationalize anything, but if I stumble, I ask for His patience, declare my hope and trust in His unconditional love for me, and move on from there.

Because of my anxious 'nature,' this thought is unfortunately always accompanied by a tinge of anxiety that my repetitive faults will be met with a corresponding punishment, not so much because God enjoys punishing or disciplining me as His son as because that is how the cookie crumbles, that is the nature of sin: it is its own punishment in that it has unavoidable consequence, in effect making any sin and its 'punishment' my own creation/responsibility.

Anyway, this (the cache of psychological baggages) is where my resistance majorly comes from, but it is not the sole source. There is also the tendency towards overscrupulousness. I know of several faults wherein I tend to linger on whether or not I have offended a person and by extension God with what I said or did. I know that God appreciates the paranoia somewhat for behind it is a sense of fear of offending God, even though it's an unhealthy one because it must be a fear that comes from the fear of His 'wrath' or 'punishment' (more accurately, my own projected wrath/anger/self-hate). On the other hand, I also know that I offend God by presuming too much that I can be perfect and that He is not gentle/kind/understanding enough to allow me to be wrong. I have learned that the real issue is one of humility; overscurpulousness is an indication that I think too much highly of myself, that I presume I can do no wrong. This fault is serious because I tend to mistake myself for being God, and because of that, I presume, wrongly, that God is a rigid Deity, I confuse God for the strict fatherhood (both at home, in school and elsewhere) I grew up with. What I resist, to be more specific about it, is God's goodness, God's love, and when I resist God's love/forgiveness/understanding, I resist God Himself, who we all know to be all-loving. One significantly sad consequence of this is that I will find it hard to forgive myself.

I can't believe I've gone this far in discussing the subject of spiritual resistance. Thanks Fr. DuBay, for provoking all these reactions.

Prayer:

Lord, you know how I can get so helpless with my host of weaknesses. May all forms of spiritual resistance in me be transformed into readiness for Your grace. May I learn to empty myself, taking to heart the concept of kenosis, so I can step into the realm of metanoia, and with it, real transformation, depth in conversion, and spiritual 'perfection' as You have commanded it.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 12 - Celibacy, poverty, obedience

pp. 44-45: http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA44&lpg=PP1&hl=tl&output=html_text

(These pages turn out to be just a continuation of the same section. My reflection will therefore be based on the specific subtopic tackled.)

Celibacy, poverty, obedience -- three three words weigh heavily on me, not because they are too ideal and only for contemplatives, but because I recognize that I too am called to this triumvirate, and I know, in all honesty, that these things are achievable, though it's always a mix of grace + nature, God's grace building up on my better nature.

I know I am not as consistent with chastity as I wish, especially since my mind is quite imaginative. In my best moments, though, I know how it is to have a chaste heart, to the point that "nothing can be considered impure." I know chastity is possible, because I've seen it happen.

Prayer:

Lord, continue to wash my heart clean. Excise anything that should not be there. Always remind me of your Biblical injunction on chastity (1 Timothy 5:1-2) that I may treat all older women are like my mother, all older men as my father, all fellow men my brothers and all women my sisters in Christ. This, I believe, is an effective shortcut for me or anyone else in keeping the heart pure. May I keep at it.


As for poverty, well, I came from a relatively poor family, and I know that growing up feeling deprived can possibly be a great enemy (at least, in my case before) because it can make you feel even more attached to things and persons and achievements precisely because of the preconceived notion that you've been deprived. This contradiction (the poor being lustful of things) fascinated me for long, until I noticed how some of my friends from well-to-do families puzzlingly didn't exhibit such an attachment as I did. I realized that poverty, spiritually speaking, is not about the 'lack-ness' of things but about contentment when you're economically poor and detachment when you're economically blessed.  I understood how St. Paul felt when he said (in his letter to the Philippians) how he is able to be content with whatever circumstances life throws at him, need, want, hunger, pain, excess, being full, comfort...

I am touched by how God sees through the heart, especially His ability to see through a 'poor' person's and 'rich' person's heart. True poverty and true wealth lies in the heart. In the end, as Fr. Suarez the healing priest once said, no one is rich or poor in the eyes of God, for everyone is poor in that everyone is needy, needful of God.

Prayer:

Lord, may my state of relative/perceived poverty always remind me that my true wealth is You. And even if I attain what I want, may I not be so rich as to forget my spiritual neediness. May I never be trapped into the folly of irrational acquisitiveness, to the point of thinking myself poor when in fact I have a lot to give away, especially so much invented 'unmet needs' I have accumulated and those that appear to me as trash that other people will consider treasure. May I always be mindful of that.

In connection, I wish to thank You Lord for showing me, in Your marvelous, secret way, your means of demonstrating generosity to me, a man of poor faith. I still remember the several instances you rewarded me unexpectedly for giving away some unneeded things to victims of fire, flood, and poverty with surprising rewards that only You know I will enjoy and love. You succeeded in amazing me. Truly, you are a sweet God who never allows Himself to be outdone in generosity. I've never seen a human being like that, not even the folks closest to me.


As for obedience, I am still of a somewhat divided heart. I know in my heart that I have always sought the Lord's will in all my major decisions in life -- no, even in the seemingly little things. My problem right now is questioning God's choice for me at this point, the lingering doubt of whether I should be where I am right now. I know God seems to be smiling at me in His gentle, understanding way -- that is unless He is not frustrated with my lack of trust. You see, I grew up being a consistent achiever, a fierce competitor, always aiming high, always chasing after higher and higher glory, be in in school or at work, so it is such a great letdown for me to be here: a seeming failure, a seeming loser, with almost nothing to boast of -- or at least that's how I see myself at this point (although the reader must beware of how much I exaggerate oftentimes) or how I project my fear of what others (especially my parents and peers) will think of me.

I question God on that regard, sometimes blaming Him for where I am, sometimes doubting if He really loves me as He says, sometimes suspecting He is punishing me for something I did in the past. I think this is the source of my major stressors, my depressive moments, and possibly even my illness. This is not, never, a stage I envisioned my life to be at this point.

Then again, maybe I am being worldly again in my thoughts, what with my preconceived notions on what God should do. Maybe God, in His wisdom, is up to something, something better, and certainly not out to harm me. Maybe God has a mysterious way that I still have not an inkling of. Maybe I have yet to plumb the nonlogical wisdom of God.

Maybe He is testing me for some future assignment. If that is the case, may I pass the test with flying colors.

Prayer:

Lord, continue to break my will, in case it is not broken yet. Forgive me for doubting You every so often, for being frustrated, for being sad to the point of being despondent for my perceived failings, envious of others for their perceived achievements and states in life. Help me submit to your wisdom. Help me learn to trust in Your love for me. I choose to hope against hope in You. I have no other recourse anyway but You. May you not leave me feeling all those negative feelings the great psalmist has listed down in the book of Psalms. I have become uncomfortably too familiar with all the psalmist's lamentations. May You also grant me some joy in this life, some reprieve that I may learn to obey You with joy, instead of much sulking.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 11 - Call to be heroic


pp. 42-44
http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA41&lpg=PP1&output=html_text


"We are all called to be saints."

How simple and true, yet too daunting. But I am taking the challenge.

Suddenly it dawned on me with a clarity that wasn't there before that my current set of circumstances in life is calling me to suffer, to be patient with suffering, and most importantly, to join my suffering to that of Jesus. Jesus is calling me to be intimate with Him.

The problem, as usual, lies in me. I am afraid of suffering. I have a distaste for it, especially the notion that I can offer it to Jesus not just to atone for my own sins but perhaps for others' as well. My mind tells me, "Let others atone for their own sins."

I am more like, "Lord, Jesus, didn't You tell us You already suffered for the salvation of mankind, and that one-time suffering is more than enough for all, for eternity? Why should I suffer? Why should I suffer like You?"

I lived my whole life with some kind of suffering, both superficial and bearable and intense and unbearable, thus my acquired distaste for suffering. I am not unfamiliar with suffering intensely.

I should be at home by now, you could say.

I think my current situation is one of the worst I've ever been, though I haven't fallen into depression yet, for I had learned to grope my way around it. But there is a big 'but' here, which I have already mentioned in this series in passing. While it's true that my panic attacks have debilitated me with very few choices apart from staying put at home, I am, in contrast, totally free to embrace my cross or not. It is easier not to embrace it, it's easier to ask for instant healing, for a miracle, so it is therefore heroic to say yes, Lord, I will embrace my cross.

Maybe it's the one decision the Lord is asking me, has long been asking me to take since September of last year.

May I then have, or be graced with, the heart to say yes with a firmness I didn't know I have in me.

Come, holy Spirit, I need You! Let me take this suffering as an exciting new opportunity of adventure with the Lord. I am not sure for what purposes I am being called to suffer, but please give me that heart now, not tomorrow, but now.

 

Sounds of Healing by Julie True

Someone recommended this music for me. I am grateful.


 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 10 - Peering at the mountaintop

pp. 36-39 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA36&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

[Note to Stef: p. 40 is missing online. And, oh, I know, I know, this is an advanced post, because I have no kids. :D]

Whew! That's all I can say upon finishing these four very engaging pages. Why very engaging? Because these pages detail the ideal, no less, which is the aim of this retreat.

I wonder whether I will launch into another round of self-flagellation/crucifixion or the other extreme, self-congratulation.

But as usual, I see myself in both extremes, or at least in the middle most of the time. Judging from the four cardinal virtues of Christianity -

Justice
Strength
Prudence
Temperance

...I am left awed, not because I am nearly in possession of all four, but because of the awesome beauty of the things I have been and I am aspiring for. These are all worth fighting for, I figure, and it excites me no end to be in the middle of a "great enterprise," to borrow a word from my mentor of old, Tony Vasquez.

But let me not humor myself too much. Let's get down to business: If I judged myself here and now, can I see myself as being patient, humble, peaceful, and gentle? Hmm...

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. That's as honest an answer as can be. For I know I am irritable when I can't sleep or I didn't sleep well, or after I ate bread/pasta/wheat or flour noodles/oatmeal, or when I am palpitating or in the middle of a hypertensive attack or have a very high blood sugar or in the middle of a stressful situation.

I am certainly not humble when I am tempted to boast of my achievements and what I know.

My peace is almost always disturbed whenever I encounter offensive columns and slanted news reports or barefaced lies being peddled.

I can be gentle, I know, but sometimes, overly gentle, so as not to offend, so as to please everybody, including the buffoon that needs to be told off. At times, I can be violent in my thoughts, or in my writing itself. I know I have offended a lot of people by mocking/making fun of/unintentionally misrepresenting them in my words.

Fr. DuBay says furthermore that the saints and martyrs of the faith are characterized by their:

- intensity of love
- regret for venial fault
- being prompt in what needs to be done
- finding all of the above easy not only when convenient but also when in difficult situations
- living heroic holiness in cheerful joy

From this list, my one big fault sticks out like a sore thumb: In the middle of a trial, I certainly do not "live in heroic holiness in cheerful joy." I'd rather grumble, groan, complain, doubt, question, sulk, rebel, bargain with God, be discouraged and distrusting, feel guilty and think of myself as being punished, and generally provoke His anger.

By the time I reached this line, I just have to stand up and applaud, so to speak, for it rang so true in my ears: "Saints are moral miracles: their goodness and beauty far surpass the natural capacities of human nature."

If envy can ever be holy, then I am mightily envious of them saints. I wish that, in the middle of this difficult trial I am going through right now, I can also be sustained, not by my own strength, but by the divine power that makes saints holy and sainted.

That is my prayer for today. So help me God, amen!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 9 - Call to the heights

pp. 32-35 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA32&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

I need not be a saint right-away, I realize (maybe latter-day saint? ;p), to taste how possible it is to be "called to the heights" in my day to day life as a struggling Christian. I notice that I've always been called to that whenever someone or something offends me, and they are legion.

For instance, I remember how I hated the place I live in for its narrow sidewalks that are occupied by people and things that shouldn't be there. Maybe I got exhausted complaining, but I never expected I am capable of going beyond hate and cursing; I was in fact capable of forgiving the situation, not so much in helpless resignation as in understanding why my place ended up this way, with the hope that things will eventually get better. I surprised even myself when I found myself praying for the place instead, specifically for an overhaul, an urban renewal.

I also remember how I used to despise the workplace in the BPO industry, how I used to feel being abused, taken advantaged of, with all those long hours, superhuman quotas and speed demanded from day to day. I proved to be just as capable of forgiving the companies I thought to be monstrously greedy in my estimation, to be understanding of the nature of the beast. I never expected I had the capacity to open my mind wide enough so as to be grateful instead for the opportunity, so as to blame myself for being part of the problem, for allowing myself to be taken advantaged of because I needed to be the victim, my parents for their perceived failings, the sibling with whom I felt rivalry, and so on.

The list of the things and persons I was able to forgive out of my own decision, in conjunction with Gods grace, is quite long: the boss who fired me, the boss who didn't keep his word, the palakasan system of hiring in government agencies, the oppressive society and poor family I was born into, etc. etc.

Each act of forgiveness was special to me because each involved a hard struggle, with the self, my hurt feelings, my desire for vengeance. But with every unimaginable hurt coming my way, God  was expecting no less than the heroism of forgiveness. I thought I was incapable of forgiving certain souls and situations, but in the face of God's goodness, everything is forgivable, starting from the macro (alleged abuses of the colonizing Spaniards and Americans, the horrific wartime atrocities of the Japanese, the failings of present-day politicians, and the weaknesses of the Filipino people) to the micro level (a colleague who maltreated me, a boss who took advantage of my kindness, an in-law who had the gumption to threaten me with legal case, my own defects and failings, the friend who still owes me a big amount, et al.). (I opt to include historical, social, and institutional sins because they also wound me deeply.)

It's hard each time I face the dilemma, but it is made easier by the thought that I am forgiving for my own sake, my own peace of mind, my own health. It sounds selfish this way, the way I put it, but the thing is, I was able to decide to forgive at all, again and again, if necessary, when it is so much easier, even enjoyable and satisfying, to take revenge, never mind that God says, "Vengeance is mine."

Another thing that makes it easy for me to forgive my offenders is the reminder that God is exactly like that to me, as easily and repeatedly forgiving, on and on and on, each time I fall. Surely, I too, have a long line of people I have offended, knowingly or unknowingly. This second consideration never fails to make me sober each time I am incredulously angry at someone's capacity for evil (as the abortionists, mass murderers/terroists, drug addicts, sex offenders). I like what Diana U. said in this regard: "Don't hate other people for sinning differently than we do."

This is not to align myself with the saints -- far be it from me to do so. When saints say, "I am wretched," they most probably meant, "I shortened my prayer tiime to just 15 minutes." On the other hand, I am not trying to be falsely humble when I say I am wretched, because it really means I am.

But I can clearly see by now that the all-or-nothing call to sainthood, though it seems unrealistic and unachievable, is really designed for our own good, because where else do you think complacency will lead us? So for me, in any situation, my motto should now be: Sainthood or bust.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 8 - Degrees of depth of conversion

http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA29&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

I'm beginning to really like this retreat material we are using titled Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer by Thomas DuBay because I'm learning new things. For instance, I didn't know there are degrees of holiness to be pursued in the spiritual life, at least not in Fr. DuBay's categorization. He says these categories are:

1. Basic Conversion: "Freedom from mortal sins"
2. Advancing Level: "Giving up of willed venial sins"
3. Consummate or Perfect Level: "the totality of heroic goodness, going all the way with God, loving without limits"

My initial reaction to this list was to be tickled pink. It tickled me to think that I might have moved on to a higher place of spirituality, judging from too much familiarity with #1 and #2 and an emerging acquaintance with #3. You want proof? Alright, let me convince you, I mean, myself, even more: When I finally got to read Therese of Liseaux's famed autobiography, upon somebody's recommendatioon, I was blown away, not only by the knowledge that my spirituality was lightyears away from the young French nun's when I was hitting 40, but also because of the realization that her degree of faith was in fact so simple that it is achievable, by anyone anytime, anywhere, such that there's really no excuse for the rest of us because, after all, that's what Christianity demands. Christianity, I am reminded of now, thanks to Fr. DuBay, is an all-or-nothing thing in this regard. It's either I strive to be a saint, or not, because when I am half-hearted, I risk hell, I risk acquiring the identity of an future demon.

But I'll be honest by saying I find myself mostly treading the three categories at the same time. That's right: I feel more like I'm going through the three degrees of depth simultaneously. No, to be more accurate, the movement may not be linear, but it is more of spiral. If I fall down hard, I strive to rise up quickly, and if I fall down again, I rise up again.

While I may have forsaken serious sins and certainly have resolved never to reject God or volunteer some travel time to hell, I know that sinning seriously is still possible, at least a threat, if I'm not careful, what with great opportunities to sinning offered by the world right where I am hunched and right outside my window. With just a click on the mouse, a lingering gaze that's unseemly, a stray malicious thought entertained upon reading an article, a closed mind upon hearing a report of gossip, and so on, it's so easy to be a willing prey.

As for venial matters, I can't be too complacent either. It's easy for me to give in to fear, insecurity, anger, doubt, vanity, gluttony, discouragement, lust, rash judgment, recklessness, curiosity, if I let loose these evils inside of me.

Despite these struggles, however, I also can't deny the fact that I, too, am capable of diving into the deeper waters of conversion, especially since my present circumstances (joblessness [so suddenly and right in the middle of serving God 101%]  and illness [hypertension, panic attacks, including some hypochondria]) force me into it. Yesterday, I encountered this Henri Nouwen 'saying,' which I found 'coincidentally' apt:

The Basis of Our Security

What is the basis of our security? When we start thinking about that question, we may give many answers: success, money, friends, property, popularity, family, connections, insurance, and so on. We may not always think that any of these forms the basis of our security, but our actions or feelings may tell us otherwise. When we start losing our money, our friends, or our popularity, our anxiety often reveals how deeply our sense of security is rooted in these things.

A spiritual life is a life in which our security is based not in any created things, good as they may be, but in God, who is everlasting love. We probably will never be completely free from our attachment to the temporal world, but if we want to live in that world in a truly free way, we'd better not belong to it. "You cannot be the slave both of God and of money" (Luke 16:13).

Just like Nouwen states above, intellectually, I know I am counting on God for everything, but why did I panic at the mere thought of losing my job, my health, my few personal things and my very life (as when a fire engulfed the neighborhood next to ours recently)? Shouldn't I panic at the mere thought of losing God instead? My mind is telling me the right thing, but my body can't lie: it's telling me a different story.

My somatic reflex reaction is very telling, and for me that's more than enough to convict me of who I really am deep inside. I am a ball of nerves because I am really placing my sense of security in what the world dictates should be my identity: success in career, titles, advanced education, material acquisitions, stability, normalcy (a typical life with a wife and kids), and so on. If push comes to shove, these are my real gods/Baals/idols even though I profess to believe in and love God.

With my recent illness and bad 'luck', I was forced to confront the question: Will I still embrace God despite losing almost everything (save my life)?

From this otherwise sordid episode in my life, I've learned that, yes, there remains a choice in moments like this, despite my inner conflicts. After clarifying what those conflicts are, I've found that, if push comes to shove, even if, God forbid, my 'entire house burns down' as in the story of Job*, I will choose to believe in His unconditional love for me, "I will joy in the Lord, my God," to quote a charismatic song that is based on this Biblical passage (Habakkuk 3):

17 For the fig tree shall not blossom: and there shall be no spring in the vines. The labour of the olive tree shall fail: and the fields shall yield no food: the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls.
18 But I will rejoice in the Lord: and I will joy in God my Jesus.
At this point, I am reduced to prayer.

Dear God,

May You be my true and only treasure. May You be more than enough to me. May the prayer of St. Teresa de Avila be my prayer too: "Solo Dios basta." (God alone suffices).


---------------------
*Alright, I'm exaggerating. No, I don't really mean Job, for I still can write this, thus I am still able to work, and I still have my parents, siblings, relatives, Catholic community, and friends.

Monday, February 18, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 7 - Routing egocentrism

pp. 25-28 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA25&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

Haha! Never thought a retreat reflection like this would elicit a hearty laugh from me. But encountering egocentrism, I just had to laugh because, if I must have a Ph.D. other than the one on Internet Stalking, this would be my other specialty.

Seriously now, I have been guilty of this particular defect to the point that it permeated every aspect of my being. I may sound melodramatic here, but I that's how dark my past was. Thank goodness I have improved a lot that I can now afford to write this reflection by using the past tense.

Since I write a lot, it's only natural that I focus on the egocentricism that is evident in my writing, especially my writing of old. I don't know how I evolved into being a 'writer' or hallucinating that I can write at all. It wasn't my original dream. Forced to dream my dream job as a child, I answered "doctor." I thought the medical field would be it for me, that's why I took up B.S. Biology. But life circumstances intervened. I had to find work; advanced study was not an option. And among the odd jobs that were available to me, it was in this field that I found an opportunity. I couldn't believe it myself when I got accepted in Innodata as an abstractor, for I hardly wrote anything that impressed even me back in college. Although I was a staffer in the high school organ, kept a silly diary with the dullest entries, and had a history of winning essay writing contests in school, I never entertained the thought that someday I would be writing, not just as a hobby but as a profession.

When that job at Innodata convinced me that I could write, at least technically, the idea probably went into my head. But it would take me years to develop a taste for writing on my own, just to humor myself. And still more years to get envious enough at young people who got published in the glossy magazines and the paper and give writing-for-pay a try.

If I may sound self-deprecating, I have a good reason: Until now, I commit a lot of grammatical slips and other errors while writing. The writing process always humbles me this way, even as it satisfies my ego. But when I actually enjoyed writing professionally (for publication), I got unstoppable. Little did I know how writing could easily be an extension of my ego, which was considerably big, that is to say frail, so I didn't know that I wrote and wrote with this unconscious act of ego-tripping.

It took certain people to make me realize, unwittingly, how my writing was infected/afflicted with, in the vulgar term of the world, dickieness. I remember my officemate Mimi who once told me, "I like the columnist Mike Tan's writing, because I can follow him without running to the dictionary." With that remark, she opened my eyes, although unwillingly, to the fact that I loved to use big words to impress. Although I can rationalize that I simply love words, and I love a big word when that word happens to be the most appropriate in a given cluster/constellation of words, the bottom line is: Was I guilty of trying to impress? Was I writing to entertain, or please others so they would like me?

I couldn't answer that with a straight face at the time. I surely would have hemmed and hawed with rationalization till kingdom come. I could explain away by saying, "Actually I was just trying to imitate O. Henry." But I would then have to explain why I wanted to sound like O. Henry when I wasn't O. Henry.

Another evidence came my way through a talk in community. I still remember how Louie C. lectured about humility and the various ways we violate it, as when we quote certain books we haven't actually pored over. When I heard him use that example, I was convicted then and there, for I certainly had essays that quoted authors whose books I actually had never read; I cherry-picked those quotes by big-name authors from somewhere else to impress big time.

By the time a fellow writer-friend demanded to know why I was fond of using foreign words and phrases, especially Latin (and especially when inappropriate, he might have added), I was a bit more honest: Because I wanted to give my words the gravitas they lacked. (Or maybe the more truthful answer was something too shameful to admit: Maybe I fancied being thought of as someone erudite and learned, seated on an academic high horse, so as to be inaccessible to the common, ordinary folk.)

From these little gems of experiences, which were painful to countenance at the time, I have developed a parallel habit of checking on my own self, particularly my fallen self, my dark shadow (Jung?), my sinister side, in my writings. Am I trying to impress again with this information, this side discussion, this little quotation? Why? Why should I?

Do I lie or take necessary information to keep up appearances? To show off? Did I properly cite borrowed ideas or pass off anything as my own? What for?

If I take another look at my topics, will these be all about me? Does everything redound to...myself? Of course, my blog is meant to be a diary, so it's expected to be all about I, me, and myself, but will it at least interest the reader? Does it contain anything helpful that the reader can take away from?

(If the answers to the questions are not very affirming, the whys need to be explained separately in a latter discourse.)

Little by little, I learned to tone down my ego-tripping, saw through how childish and cheap, nasty and dark all that subtle subterfuge can be, and developed a writing style that I hope would be as ego-free as possible. This has become so important to me, because I think the reader can sense by instinct when a writer is ego-tripping. As a writer, I can't afford shortchanging or deceiving the reader. People aren't born dumb; they can smell a dead rat  if one is lying around the corner. They can sense masturbatory writing from afar anytime.

Volunteering to double-check myself for the sin of egocentrism is liberating. It saves me the embarrassment of other people pointing it out for me in so charitable a manner as to avoid hurting my delicate sensibilities.

One unexpected fruit of all this is that I have a heightened sensitivity for spotting a fellow egotist.



Sunday, February 17, 2013

 

Ratzinger on metanoia

"Man is oriented, not to the innermost depths of his own being, but to the God who comes to him from without, to the Thou who reveals himself to him and, in doing so, redeems him. Thus metanoia is synonymous with obedience and faith; that is why it belongs in the framework of the reality of the Covenant; that is why it refers to the community of those who are called to the same way, where there is a belief in a personal God, there is horizontality and verticality, inwardness and service are ultimately not opposites."

- Principles of Catholic Theology, Cardinal Ratzinger (1987, pp. 55-67)

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 6 - Civilization of service

Note to Stef: I had to limit this reflection to just this two-page section because the succeeding section talks about a new topic: pp. 24-25 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA24&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

This brief consideration on the literary artistry of God is too mindblowing for me to let pass. It's not because I also consider myself an artist or writer with pretense for literature, but that I have my own conversion story to tell when it comes to Bible readings/passages that are deemed to be the best that literature can be. And the passage happens to be the one where Jesus washed His apostles' feet, to the consternation of the apostles:

I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet. So you also should wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example. You should do as I have done for you. - John 13:14-15

I was already deep into charismatic community work at the time, serving the YA (young adults) or youth ministry of the community, when something in the day's gospel reading touched me during mass. I was also deep in the middle of office life back then in the secular world, my job being an 'abstractor,' a technical writer writing summaries of engineering magazines and journal articles. These two hats I wore in life seemed to be always in conflict with each other. They had their own demands, and so I always heard two divergent voices at the back of my mind. One said, "Follow Me or My own agenda, serve others even against your own preferences." The other said, "Follow your own ambition, carve a path for your own success in the world. Be the best you can, so you rise up in the corporate ladder."

Sometimes, the demand of the office to work far beyond the eight hours was directly at loggerheads with the demand of the ministry to be all-out especially during Saturdays and Sundays when everybody was free. Even though we community members were taught to offer or view our work in the secular world in terms of Christian service, treating our bosses as though we were serving God and His people, the corporate setup was generally disheartening to me. I was turned off by the superhuman demand of turning in the day's work quota, with me at the end of the day panting from so much mental exhaustion, but with only such a minimal pay to show for it, or so I perceived. There's always a surfeit of work and the dearth of compensation, or maybe it's the relatively sky-high cost of living in Manila that's the problem. Besides the temptation to always complain in terms of work burden and seemingly unjust compensation and inadequate benefits was the inherent eat-or-be-eaten culture of the corporate workplace.

At work I felt like I always had to be on the lookout for potential threats. I felt like I had to protect my job and defend my position in the pecking order. I needed to keep my eyes open for opportunities to grab, for my own advancement. (Actually, my real hidden agenda was to be the savior of my family, who was at the time depending on me as the sole breadwinner -- another story worth recalling, for I perceived it as a separate story of abuse, unintended though it might be.) The corporate law of the jungle was so pervasive, that I felt working life to be so nauseating. Every coworker was a competitor, a potential frenemy. There's this 'toxic should' of looking at everyone as a threat, whom I should keep distance from with a healthy suspicion. I couldn't rely on just anybody to share what he or she knew, for any given person surely had the same fear of losing his job to another, to 'someone better.' I, too, was perceived as a potential threat, a competitor.

Note that being a member of a covenant community didn't make me immune from the temptations of what came off as an unending episode of the TV show Survivor, with its deceptive games of outwit-outsmart-outlast. What happened was I got swallowed in it from time to time, but in case I succeeded in getting to the top and acquiring what I wanted, I always ended up asking, "For what?" It was a question, I found, that always drew a blank for an answer. That ("For what") and the other latent question "At whose expense?"

I knew in my heart that success in the world (achievement, recognition, prestige, comfort) and material satisfaction wouldn't make me happy for long, because I would tend to want for more and more of the same, because come to think of it, nothing satisfied me enough after I got what I wanted.I was some sort of a drug addict.

Given this highly toxic background in the real world, which ran in stark contrast to my parallel universe of selfless service in community, I was torn internally. I wanted out, as far as the world is concerned.

It was, therefore, such a great 'coincidence' that I would encounter that Gospel reading in which Jesus Christ deigned to wash His tired apostles' feet after a long dusty journey to somewhere. The passage was so simple, yet it touched me so profoundly. It was probably my first encounter with Jesus' divinely crazy illogic, my first encounter with paradox, for why would someone (who claimed to be God, no less) preach about downward mobility in action, unless he was a stupid sadomasochist? But deep in my heart, Jesus made so much sense; it was the voice of reason I was so harkening for, no matter how much it seemed irrational. I didn't expect it, but I shed a lot of tears when I realized how much, given the choice, I would prefer the civilization of love that Jesus was proposing to the world over the tempting options which the world offered. "I want this, Lord," I remember praying through a vision clouded over by tears but enlightened by unexpected clarity. "I prefer a life lived in love and in service of one another."

"You are always surprising in Your ways, but what a lovely, loving, lovable God you are!" continued my train of thought.

I try to keep this distant memory alive whenever life confronts me with the dilemma of choosing between self-interest and selflessness.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 5 - The radix of radicalism

pp. 21-24 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA21&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

It's a good thing Stef, my co-retreatant this Lent (a friend online and fellow Catholic blogger/writer/prolifer), goes into the etymology of the word radical (from the Latin radix, meaning root), which is a word I used to dread or regard with suspicion.

Coming from a thoroughly secular background -- barely-practicing parents, public school education from kinder grade to college -- I would view 'radical' from the mainstream viewpoint, which is suspicious of the left. Radical, to me, would mean troublemaker, akin to a revolutionary given to violence, if not cold-blood murder to attain what he wants: a drastic change in society, an overhaul of the 'rotten' system. Synonyms of radical would be militant leftist, communist, nonlegit left, atheist -- in other words, people warped by their misplaced idealism, to my mind.

Since I had a UP (University of the Philippines) education, I was constantly exposed to this voice, which always came off as the voice of UP, being the noisy voice, certainly an unfair generalization, because UP has so many other voices. It was not unusual for me, too, to have professors who professed a leftist ideology without batting an eyelash or confessed to being an atheist with nary a trace of embarrassment, guilt, or apology.

I wasn't totally blinded by my prejudice, though, for I would also recognize these people's idealism. Their love of country and care for society's downtrodden, though I perceived to be excessive, was quite genuine: I saw the proof in their lifestyle, their bags of choice (the pasiking of the Igorots), preferred hankies (the tubao of the lumads of Davao), their writing (patriotism in pure Tagalog), their eschewing of American establishments (the colonizer at the time), etc. Patriotism, idealism, love of fellowmen -- these are three things I shared with these radicals, even though we were coming from different, say, paradigms.

I only regained my respect, if not reverence, for the word when I rediscovered Christianity on my own -- or should that be Christianity found me and met me where I was -- and was convinced that Christianity was even more revolutionary and radical, if not the most, than all of the ideas I had been exposed to in class (I took all the required units, after all, in philosophy, psychology, and the social sciences). I thought Christianity was truly revolutionary because it constantly upset man's line of thinking yet it always emerged far more commonsensical and always, always in a unified way. When I recognized how Christianity or Catholicism was, in fact, the coolest idea I had ever encountered, I joined UPSCA or UP Student Catholic Action instead, preferring it to the other orgs on campus. (I did join UP Biology Society too, though.)

Little did I know that my journey into radical Christianity had barely started. I would revisit radicalism only at around age 26, long into my working age. This time, I was searching for an anchor in a world that felt increasingly rebellious. I found solace in a Catholic charismatic community, thanks to a newly arrived officemate who glowed with an otherworldly aura that I instantly coveted. Being in such a community brought me into a host of new spiritual sensations, particularly of the evangelistic bent. I was yanked out, way out, of my comfort zone, in ways I never ever expected. It was a euphoric time in my life.

After the euphoria had died down (yes, it did; not even the praise and worship charismatic songs could sustain the addictive high on the level of my "first fervor"), that's when the real deepening, the real radicalism took place, because it meant confronting the hardest front of all: not social ills, not other people's defects, but the hidden ills, darkness, demons deep inside myself.

I got my first taste of this radical surgery in the recollection held by Bishop Ted Bacani in Don Bosco Church, Makati. There, he talked about transformation and mentioned a curious Greek work, metanoia. Even though he explained what it meant (a radical change of heart and mind), I felt like I had yet to grasp the concept more fully.

I took me decades to understand what metanoia really meant, from an experiential viewpoint. For a fuller understanding, I would have to thank the field of psychospirituality. I am not sure who to recognize first, but there was surely a progression of Mass sermons, retreat masters, and spiritual thinkers who proved to be influential in my life as a Christian radical-wannabe.

Before this talk gets boring, let me end it abruptly by saying that this part is where the really wild ride happens. I am not sure how to detail it because it is currently ongoing. It is a new road that forked this way and that, leading to various strains I never envisioned would someday, um, crosslink: encyclicals and papal writing, counseling, psychotherapy, communication, developmental psychology, human ecology, Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, meditation, silence, even that secular thing called Landmark Forum, and most recently, an encounter with the lectures of Anthony de Mello (I know, a controversial Jesuit). Lest I get misconstrued that all this is nothing but navel-gazing and self-absorption, let me clarify that, yes, the forked roads also led me to some sociology, some anthropology, and a familiarization with the Church 's social teachings. I found out that the more I studied and understood my true and false selves, the more I studied and the better I understood society as a whole. This part of the journey is a punishing but exciting enterprise. That's all I can say for now lest the lone reader of this post gets a spiritual indigestion (tee-hee!).

Friday, February 15, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 4 - I found God in a coral reef.

pp. 18-20


I simply love this part of the retreat because it reminds me that I am not just a nervous wretch, after all (afraid of God, if not angry at Him). I may have originally turned to God out of fear for his wrath, but I also got convinced along the way of His beauty and goodness.

I know I risk sounding like a broken record each time, but I will never tire recounting this, for what convinced me that God exists, thanks to the challenge of my first atheist, a college roommate who was a Geology major, was a beautiful coral reef somewhere in Balaoan, Luna town, in La Union province. It was one of those field trips we students needed to join for our college marine biology class. Of course, it’s not a coincidence that I was also taking up botany and zoology subjects at the time, which opened my eyes to the fact that science still had a lot of basic things about 'life' that it couldn't answer.

It was my first time to visit a coral reef, and what I saw while snorkeling overwhelmed me. I already knew how beautiful nature can get (if it is not being scary at times, that is), so I needed no further convincing. But nothing prepared me for what I saw: purple fingerlings, soft pink corals fanning out, seagrass dancing with the current, rainbow-colored creatures I couldn’t identify, all moving gingerly trying to make a living one way or another. How they maintained balance, how everything ensured that everything was perpetuated despite the seeming eat-or-get-eaten law of the jungle operating in the reef, escaped me. To think I was studying all of it in class, for I was taking up an ecology subject as well at the time.  Which only meant that I went to the reef already marveling at how everything, from the minutest aspect of nature up to the most gargantuan, had its own rightful place, the omission of which would upset the delicate homeostasis or balance of nature.

Then one question stunned me. Why such beauty? The sunrise and sunset, the whispers of the wind, the movements of the sea, and nature’s manifold creatures:  why are they all so beautiful?

Did all the fishes, which incidentally had a pair of eyes like me, saw beauty in it, too? I doubt it. What’s apparent to me is that, since I was the one appreciating it all, that beauty must have been meant for me, for every human being like me.

Call it a self-centered vision typical of a human being, but I went home spiritually re-invigorated. You see, I grew up fearing the sea after a family outing incident at around age 7. But despite my fear of the water, I couldn’t contain myself on the way back to Baguio. I’m sure I slept praying to God at home that night, thanking Him for making me feel Him, for being such a good Deity, and not only good, but extremely intelligent too (as an engineer and audiovisual designer), and what’s more, utterly beautiful as well. Through Balaoan’s coral reef, God convinced me of His divinity, not just in my intellect, but deep down: in my instinct. 

Today, I'm not a diver or even a swimmer, but I can always claim I found God in a coral reef.



 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 3 - Quick history of my big-time conversions

pp. 16-18 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA16&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

Since this section of the material is about the big-time conversion that big-name people have gone through, I am coaxed into reviewing my personal history. What were the big-time conversions that I had through which eventually led me down to the path of the day-to-day struggle to be a good Christian?

As far as I can remember, I never seriously doubted my faith. I don't know why that is so. My big sins were more like apostasy born of a rebellious heart. Anger at God, to be exact, mostly from my interpretation of God not giving in to my way or my requests. Childish reactions, in retrospect, but very human.

There was a time I stopped going to Mass, maybe because most everyone in our street didn't, particularly those inside my own home. My parents were no role models in terms of observing the sacrament, and I was swept away with them. This was less of a rebellion and more of plain laziness. I returned going to Mass by way of pure horror: only after meeting an accident, after I insisted on learning how to drive my friend's motorbike. My friend and I both ended up in a roadside ditch, with the bike visibly damaged. My friend seemed okay, while I was lucky to get only a sprain in my finger and a little cut and some bruises on my face. I admit this conversion story is a lousy one, for I was going back to God on account of fear; I feared God, as I interpreted the accident as His punishment for my rebellion.

My fear of God has a long history of its own: For the longest time, and totally unaware of it, I made the mistake of thinking that God was maybe like my own father, who I thought was harsh in his words and way of disciplining us his children. It was certainly a big turnaround to finally make the distinction that God is not my father, and it's also unfair for me to expect my father to be God, although it's but natural for children to model God after their own fathers. It's a great deal for me to have overcome such a misinterpretation, or to realize it at all. It means I have forgiven my father and have released him from my own expectations, even as I forgave myself for my own reaction, that of a child and his limited mind. It felt so good to forgive by enlarging my mind.

I had other serious sins (which I don't wish to reveal here) that I had also managed to overcome, thanks to the grace of God. With these defects, all it took me was the desire to change, the decision to be a good person, and God eventually honored that desire by granting me the grace of a turnaround, to the point of seeking the solace of confession, an idea that I grew up thinking to be something so scary.

It's good to recall these big-time conversions, for they are necessary in my faith walk.I wouldn't have come to this point of focusing on the little things if I was too preoccupied with overcoming the big things. The little things can prove to be harder to overcome, but I am joyful in the knowledge that I am no longer constantly fearing hell as my destiny (although I still have that fear time and again); I am mostly gunning for at least purgatory, where at least salvation is assured.

But what I'm really aspiring for is to learn to love God better, not out of fear, but out of authentic fondness for His way, out of real love. Trusting that God the Father understands well my background of brokenness, may He teach me to love Him back the right way.


 

God's message

"All of us are poor in the eyes of the Lord." - Fr. Fernando Suarez

Thursday, February 14, 2013

 

God's message for today

"Pick up your mat and walk."


 

Power in the present

"Past is history. Future is mystery. Now (present) is a gift. There is power now." - Fr. Fernando Suarez

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

 

Happy people vs Grateful people

"Happy people are grateful because they got what they like.
Grateful people are happy because they like what they got."

- Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB

 

A Trappist prayer

"Who loves me? God. What do I need? Nothing. What do I have? Everything."

- Trappist Fr. Jacob Raud


 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 2 - Aiming for higher excellence


pp. 13 (continuation)-15 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA13&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

God knows the depths of wretchedness I had gone down to, so it's a comfort to know that, at this point in my life, I am aiming not so much for worldly excellence as for moral excellence, which is the more challenging goal, I've found.

I once had a reflection on how my desire to be on top of it all as a child -- just because I wanted to please my folks -- damaged me spiritually (see http://restyo.blogspot.com/2003/09/run-lola-said-run.html). Because I always got the top honors in school, I thought I was special, a cut above the rest, and so on. When I realized how it made me vain, conceited, prideful, looking down on my 'inferiors' as people who didn't deserve my time and attention, I had a major change of heart.

Nonetheless, my sorrow for sin didn't lead me to a really deep conversion until I began to realize that whatever talent God gave me was not for myself, or for my own enjoyment, but for others. To this day, I sometimes still figure out whether I am using for the benefit of the world whatever knowledge and skill I have and have developed or for my own vainglory.

As a son, a big brother, a single man of advancing, no middle age, a charismatic Catholic community brother/member, a long-time BPO worker, and a struggling writer, how could I be of any use to the world? Other than being an editor-proofreader of drafts of my very few clients (mostly friends), I feel like I have nothing else to offer. Maybe it's because I'm the middle of a great trial -- being unemployed (I suddenly lost my bread and butter job) and suffering from hypertension (as alleged), especially the drug's many side effects and panic attacks (I dread going out in the sun and traveling alone for fear of getting dizzy or fainting) now and then. Surprisingly, though, I am generally not depressed, despite the circumstances. Maybe it's because this is not the first time that I've been through such a hardship; maybe it's because I have improved somewhat in faith.

Well, in terms of excellence in the worldly sense itself, I know I can still serve the world through my writing and, in a much humbler capacity, through my editing of draft memos, paper, theses, office documents, etc. Although I have lost my taste for awards and recognition, I know I still can do something better. One telling sign is that I remain unsatisfied with my work, in that I wish I have made a more significant mark, or at the very least, have written a book that many people would enjoy. That remains my dream -- to entertain and hopefully touch many people through my writings. This time, though, my standards have shifted: I am relying on my own standards, not social approval, in conjunction with the Lord's guidance and the desire to please God in others more than I please myself. To lay it on even more thickly, I want to have a legacy, not so much as something to remember me by as something to give back for everything that God has blessed me with. (Yes, I have been given a lot of suffering, but a lot of good things too!)

In the higher, moral sense, I am still very much a student of life. I feel like I still have a long way to go in terms of selflessness, because as writers and other artists go, I can be as selfish and egocentric as the next guy. I know how sinister my dark shadow is, and and I'll be fooling myself to deny it, but one good thing is that I am aware of it, more or less. Moreover, thanks to illness, I have slowed down a lot; I am less restless and less driven than before.

I know it will take a lot more work for me to banish my ego to nothingness, in order that Christ might live more fully in me.May this retreat help me a lot in this regard.



 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 1 (continued)



The paradox being tackled in the initial pages is the seeming conflict between big sins and small sins. Why is it that big-time conversions seem easy compared with small-time ones? 

At first I was taken aback; I had to pause to consider what the paradoxical passage meant. But as I went along throughout my day, Ash Wednesday, the statement struck me as containing truth. I was convinced that big-ticket conversion may have a spectacular backstory, but indeed proves to be easier in the long run compared to the little day to day conversions necessary for someone to be adequately called a Christian.

I say this as a beneficiary of about three years of counseling, the wonderful process of which I haven’t yet shaken off my system. This is because the lessons I had learned from working with mentors continue to be helpful in rooting out hidden sins, especially sins born of unresolved issues of the past. 

For example, there were many times when I didn’t even know I resented/got angry with/looked down on somebody in my distant past, until a particularly stressful event forced me to consider where the negativity was coming from. In such times, and with my memory properly jogged, the synapses (or neural connections?) in my brain suddenly connect the dots, connecting the past to the present, particularly to how I continue to resent, get angry with, or look down on someone in the present.

What joy when little realizations like this do come! I am always brought to tears of gratitude because I know what will come right after, like a reflex reaction: acknowledgment of the past, acceptance of what happened, forgiveness for the situation and persons involved, including myself, and thus liberation.

Incredibly, for the little hidden sin to be rooted out, it took me years, even decades to root out. Little sins are not little, in retrospect.  Paradox.

To be really, really honest, I am surprised at how much hidden sins I have, and have had, considering all the things I have rooted out. And I feel that I still have a long way to go. At my most pessimistic, I sometimes feel like someone possessed by a legion of demons. At my most happy-clappy, I am just so thankful I have discovered these sins at all. It's a lot easier to live and die in the 'bliss' of ignorance. And far easier indeed is the 180-degree turnaround from the more obvious, more serious, because mortal, sins (killing, at least by words, stealing, and the like).

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