Friday, December 18, 2009

What’s happening in Maguindanao?

Over a month of literary slumber (I have not written for a month in my column in The Davao Catholic Herald, named Cogito) is shaken and awakened by the horrors of Maguindanao carnage, of such repugnance that it could even make a mute shout.

In these last few days, everyone here in Pamplona (those who know that I am from Mindanao) is asking me, “¿Qué está pasando allí en tu tierra?” (What’s going on there in Mindanao?). Full of embarrassment, I simply answered with a deep sigh and asked them to pray hard for my land.

Everybody’s question is: how is it possible for man to plan and execute such a barbaric act? Looking at every detail of it – from the way the victims are abused (especially the women), tortured and killed up to the manner of trying to hide the crime, dumping them on shallow improvised graves – one could make an idea of the abysmal darkness that lurks in the concience of the mastermind.

How is it possible? It is only possible when God is absent in that concience. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, when God is absent in human horizon, not only does man vanish but also he turns against himself; he becomes autodestructive and turns into a beast for his fellowman.

I am one with those who explicitly condemned these brutal killings. I joined the voice of those who cry for justice in behalf of the victims, whose blood – like that of Abel – is clamoring to heaven. Filled with indignation, I also contemplate painfully this heartbreaking incident.

But with a firm grip on my Christian faith, I know “God can write straight with crooked lines” and that, if God allowed this to happened – as He could never will evil things to occur – in the words of St. Paul, “Everything works for the good of those who love the Lord”.

As faithful Christians, what are we to do aside from condemning reasonably the crime and demanding rightly justice? Let us cling to God’s mercy and grab God’s hand more firmly, knowing that all our hope is in God alone. But in saying this, I am not suggesting a certain kind of passive reaction – a mere shrugging of shoulders. Prayer is more efficient and powerful than action.

Let us not content ourselves with condemning this evil act – let us condemn all evil of this kind! I am saying this because it is very scandalizing to hear people and institutions condemning the Maguindanao massacre, yet would not even raise a voice against the rampant abortion happening around the world. I am not diverting attention here, just widening our perspective of what is evil.

Besides, let us not be contented with condemning the evils outside of us – we should not forget to condemn also the evils that we carry within us. Because the evils that we see around are mere reflections of the evils that man – by keeping himself away from God – has succumbed himself to.

We denounce rightly this evil in Maguindanao. But don’t you think we need also to denounce our own personal evils – our sins – in the Sacrament of Confession? Perhaps, in doing so, God will have pity on us and will put an end to these exterior evils. Only when man is purified from his interior evils can the evils of this world be eradicated!

And you might rightfully say, “The perpetrators, the criminals should be the first to purify themselves – confess their crime and suffer the punishment!” That may be the ideal thing. But it is not a matter of who’s to do it first! What’s important is that everyone does what corresponds to him: condemn evil – outside and inside of him.

Perhaps, it is the “straight line” or the “good” that can be gleaned from this horrifying crime. One day, Jesus asked His disciples, “Do you think those people Herod decapitated are more sinful because they have fallen into such a sad fate? Of course, not. But if you will not repent, you too will experience the same.”

Never do we think that the Maguindanao victims are more sinful than us because they suffer such fate. But yes, we agree that what occurred to them is a frightful evil, as frightful as our personal sins. The only true evil, says St. Augustine, is moral evil, that is, our sins. How I wish I could feel as dreadful towards the horror of my sins as I do towards this heinous crime!

Why this heinous crime? The answer is neither too impersonal nor too enigmatic. Heinous crimes are always possible for people who have let God slipped off their concience, who have denied God a little room in their heart, who have never felt any repulsion towards any minimal offense against God. A heart that has no room for God is never neutral – it is always filled with evil. St. Augustine says, “We are all capable of all heinous crimes in the world. But thanks to God’s grace we are preserved from them”.

Friday, October 2, 2009

“What is the Gospel for today?”

“What is the Gospel for today?” The question seems to be very simple and easy to answer. But if I tell you the context, you’d understand my bit of surprise when I was asked this question.

It came from a woman pilgrim, who came from London – with two other Irish women friends – to do the “Camino de Santiago”, the famous pilgrimage by foot to Santiago de Compostela where the tomb of St. James, the Apostle (the Older) lies. Prior to this question, I asked them who was the last person in the queue going to the camarín (an altar that contains the statue of the Apostle which pilgrims embrace upon their arrival at the Cathedral).

Perhaps, the British woman recognized that I am a priest. So she immediately dropped the question that almost caught me off-guard!

* * *

Did it happen to you that sometimes you can’t recall the Gospel of the day that you heard in the early morning mass, especially when you are asked about it at the last hour of the day? That was what almost occurred to me!

I said “almost” because – thanks to my guardian angel – I immediately recalled that the last part of that day’s Gospel (it was a Thursday) was the topic of the priest’s commentary during the Bible sharing we had at midday: Herod wanted to see Jesus out of curiosity.

Remembering the priest’s sharing has saved me from shame! So immediately, I started to narrate to the lady the Gospel passage. I carefully distinguished this Herod from the other one who – during Jesus’ infancy – wanted to see the Child to kill Him. This Herod in the day’s Gospel wanted to see Jesus because he thought Jesus was the same John the Baptist whom he had decapitated.

* * *

“Who is Herod today?” the British lady interrupted my narration. “Excuse me?” I didn’t get, at first, her question, engrossed in my narration. “Who is Herod today?”

I understand, the lady did not only ask for the Gospel reading: she was also asking for a homily! We were already in the middle of the long queue. In a few minutes, we were about to ascend to the Apostle’s camarín. (It has to be short homily, I said to myself!)

“Herod,” I began, “can be everyone of us”. I could immediately perceive how wrinkles began to form in the women’s forehead. “You and I, we also want to see Jesus. That’s why we are here in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.” The wrinkles slowly vanished.

“But our attitude, our motive of wanting to see Jesus must be different from that of Herod’s”, I continued, inspired by the effect my introduction has produced. “He wanted to see Jesus out of curiosity; we want to encounter the Lord because we believe and are convinced that only in Him can we find true happiness that we are searching for.”

Had we not reached the camarín and had not the three women started to go up, I should not have known how to end my “homily”!

* * *

What this experience taught me is this: be always prepared! I mean, we, priests, have to make good use of every opportunity presented to us to talk to people about God, about the Good News. And this requires good preparation.

I couldn’t imagine what could have been the end of that encounter had I answered “I forgot” to the question “What is the Gospel for today?” It could have been very embarrassing especially if the inquirer is someone who looks up to priests whom he or she expects to share some reflections about the Word of God.

In my experience, the Gospel for the day can easily be forgotten if it is not meditated seriously (especially before the celebration of the mass) and proclaimed attentively during the celebration. Giving a short homily helps the priest a lot in internalizing the Gospel’s message.

As a young priest, once again, I admit there are still a lot of things to learn in the priestly ministry. Experiences like this teach me lessons that even the seminary could not impart!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Elegant service

“Encomiéndeme, Padre, por favor, que estoy pasando mal” (Father, please pray for me; I am having a hard time).

With her accent, I was almost sure she is from Equator, South America. Besides, she was well-dressed, so no one could suppose that she’s one of these modern beggars, who would deliberately appear grimy so as to move generous philanthropists into pity.

But she was smiling while she shamelessly presented to me her simple petition: to pray for her. We almost bumped into each other on the street. As I was coming out from the Police Headquarters, renewing my residence ID, she made her sudden presence out of nowhere.

It called my attention for I seldom see people who are having a hard time wear such a patient smile on their face. Besides, I seldom get petitions for prayer on the street from total strangers.

* * *

How did she know I am a priest? By the black clerical suit that I was wearing. Indeed, people nowadays need to see concrete and visible symbols of Christ’s presence on the streets, especially in times when they feel the world is going upside down.

We understand well why when there is a high level of insecurity in the city – after, perhaps, a terrorist attack or a bomb explosion – police officers would immediately make their presence felt. We see military and policemen around. And we feel safe (or agitated, depending on the person’s interpretation of the scene).

In the same analogical manner, why can’t we, priests, make our presence felt in a society where there is an increasing level of spiritual uncertainty and confusion? Perhaps, through visible signs like the simple wearing of clerical shirt, people may be reminded of the presence of God in their worst moments.

* * *

“Why would a priest not wear clerical shirt as strongly recommended by the Church?”

It came to my mind a very lively discussion I had with my Peruvian priest-friend last year regarding this topic. He said, priests who refuse to wear priestly garb lose this great opportunity of evangelizing people through these visible signs. But I argued that there are also instances when not wearing clerical is preferrable.

There are persons who are too anti-clerical (especially here in Spain) that, by simply perceiving a coming clergyman, would immediately begin to bawl using foul language. Effectively, the visible symbol of God’s presence – the priest – turns out to be something that provokes their antipathy. My friend was speaking in general terms; I was focused on a particular case. But like him, I too believe that even in this smallest detail, we, priests, need to give testimony to who we are. Yet I refuse to mean to be too rigid in this aspect. Prudence still remains a better option.

* * *

“No se puede parar de trabajar cuando uno anda por la calle en ‘clergyman’” (A priest could not cease to fulfill his ministry whenever he walks on the street in priestly garb), commented one priest here in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. (I’m here for a week of priestly formation). He referred to his experience one morning, when he and another priest were trying to reach the entrance of the Cathedral. Some groups of pilgrims approached them for various motives: to ask for a blessing of religious articles, for some information, or even to ask for confession.

Indeed, our priesthood does not end at the door of our parish church nor does it cease as the parish office closes. We still remain priests even if we put on T-shirt and basketball shorts. Yet we seem to enjoy stories of convent boys, extra-ordinary ministers of communion or even a simple parishioner of another parish mistaking us for a priest’s driver simply because they see us wearing sleeveless shirts even during office hours.

I think we owe it to our parishioners and to the lay faithful in general to maintain an elegant look that is asked for by justice and by the dignity of our vocation. To them, we represent Christ. For them, we are “alter Christus” (even “ipse Christus” especially in the celebration of the sacraments). As Vatican II affirmed, our ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. I think, it is our duty to serve the lay faithful as elegantly as possible.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A life well-lived

Reading a very thought-provoking book of our professor, a Spanish philosopher Alejandro Llano, entitled “La vida lograda” (A life well-lived), I could not help but dedicate a few moments digesting his ideas. I thought I might as well provoke you, my dear readers, to think, so I decided to share these thoughts with you.

* * *

“Examinar qué es lo que me hace crecer en cuanto persona y qué es aquello con lo que yo mismo me puedo dañar y malograr mi vida” (Examine what makes me grow as a person and what is that which harms me and turns my life into a waste.)

It’s another way of expressing what Socrates declared long time ago: “An unexamined life is not worthliving”. It is part of our human nature to keep ourselves away from harm and to cling to what keeps us whole and fulfilled. Yet, the difficulty nowadays is that most harmful things present themselves under the guise of what is pleasurable and comfortable.

* * *

“Es joven toda aquella, todo aquél, para quien el futuro presenta mayor interés que el pasado” (Young is he or she to whom the future is more interesting than the past.)

The old ones say: “The problem with the youth is that they always talk about their future – their dreams, plans, ambitions, fantasies, etc”. Then, the youth replied: “The problem with old people is that they keep on remembering their past – adventures, achievements, etc.

If you think the past (especially your past) is better than the future (especially your future) and if you keep on saying that the days past are better-off than today and that tomorrow will be worse (especially when you say it with the certainty of the sun shining every morning), then, I’m sure you are already old.

* * *

“Para saber lo que debemos hacer, hemos de hacer lo que queremos saber” (In order to know what we should do, we should do what we want to know.)

It may appear like a word game. But its message is very simple: let’s put into practice what we know (or want to know). “By nature, man desires to know”, says Aristotle. And man wants to know only the good (at least, what is good for him) for, as the same philosopher says, “no man willingly does wrong.”

However, it’s useless to know anything if our knowledge does not lead us to action, if our knowledge does not tell us what to do. “In order to know what we should do, we should do what we want to know”.

* * *

“Lo decisivo no es sentir; lo decisivo es pensar” (What is decisive is not to feel but to think.)

If only the majority would base their life’s decisions on what they have thought of rather than what they felt, a lot of problems (especially emotional and relational ones) would be avoided or solved. But most people today make decisions based on feelings, not so much on rational deliberations.

Worst, the movements of one’s emotions (which are fluctuating) are interpreted as a sign of the right thing to do, the guide of one’s decision-making. “What’s important is I feel good,” said one friend of mine over the net. And I responded: “To feel good is the least; what’s important is to be good.”

* * *
“Hay que discutir las ideas y no criticar a las personas” (We should discuss and criticize ideas not persons).

People will not be motivated to correct their errors if criticisms are directed against their person (we call it “argumentum ad hominem”) rather than towards their errors or mistakes. A student is better motivated to study more if you tell him: “Your answer to this mathematical problem is wrong because the formula you used lacks one element”, rather than “Bobo ka kasi!” (You’re stupid!).

In our politics, in our movie industry, even in our neighborhood, in our workplace, we can observe a lot of “argumentum ad hominem” in our comments on one another. What is worst, we get used to it to the point that we could not distinguish anymore an argument (or a criticism) against an idea from that which is against a person. When our friend tells us that we are wrong in saying that Noynoy Aquino is running for president, at times we immediately react saying: “Ibig mong sabihin sinungaling ako?” (So you think I’m a liar?)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Take care of the Mass!

“Pambansang Buwan ng Katekesis” is September, says Word and Life’s “Patnubay sa Misa”, a mass guide in Tagalog that we are using in Tarragona Filipino Catholic Community (TFCC) for the past seven months. And taking advantage of this theme, I started giving short catechesis to the mass-goers, using Powerpoint presentations, before the Final Blessing of the Eucharistic celebrations.

(I hope liturgists – and other liturgy “experts” – would not react against this method, for I deem it opportune the time before the final blessing to give a little catechesis – in lieu of announcements – because, for the moment, it’s hard to gather an audience after the mass. As soon as I give the final blessing, everyone would disperse.)

There’s an urgent need to impart catechesis – not only the opportunity to celebrate masses in Tagalog – to OFW’s here, because without it, it would be hard for them to appreciate the liturgical celebrations. Without due appreciation and reverence towards the Holy Eucharist, the Mass would just be – in the words of Bishop Rimando (Auxilliary Bishop of Davao) – like “ordering food in a restaurant”.

* * *

“We will dedicate at least five minutes in silence before starting the mass”, I said, as I took the microphone and interrupted the growing uproar among children running to and fro in the Church alley, among mothers exchanging beso-beso and the latest craze in town, friends sharing experiences, etc.

“Whenever we have visitors at home, we always make sure that the house is orderly and we make some basic preparations. It’s the same with the Holy Eucharist: we have to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus in our heart,” I explained. Immediately, a deafening silence ensued. The same silence took place right after communion when over the microphone, I invited everyone to spend a moment of silence, thanking God for the Holy Communion that we received.

It’s amazing how we, Filipinos, still conserve a great deal of docility even in other countries! I can’t find any reason why this can’t be observed in our parishes there in the Philippines.

* * *
“Had Vilma Santos been here in front, I’m sure all of you would be vying for the nearest bench, to be seated near the actress,” I noted. They all laughed, thinking it was a joke. “But Jesus is here in front of us! Is He less important than Vilma Santos?” I saw some of those who understood transferred to the front pews.

Before the Mass started, I noticed that most mass-goers preferred the seats near the door, so that the front pews are left vacant. Perhaps, we only wanted to feel more comfortable, that’s why we prefer seats located near the door and far from the altar. But is there a place more comfortable than that which is near Jesus?

* * *

“For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2: 2-4)

As these words of the Second Reading were proclaimed, suddenly a man, wearing shorts and with no shirt, entered through the door and walked right in front of the altar, kneeled at the first pew and started to weep. “How well he understood my analogy about Vilma Santos,” I thought to myself. I made a gesture to others to take him out. They persuaded him but he refused.

After the proclamation of the Gospel and before giving the homily, I personally asked the man, who – I immediately perceived – is drunk, to leave the church out of respect to the on-going mass celebration. He resisted at first, but when he noticed that various Filipinos are surrounding him, he gave in. Reaching the door, two local police officers accompanied him to we don’t know where.

I don’t think it’s depriving him to pray in the church or making distinctions, like the Apostle James has warned us against. It’s simply a question of showing respect to the Holy Eucharist that we should wear, at least, presentable clothing during the Eucharistic celebration. In the same way that we wear our best attire when we meet an important person, why can’t we do the same in meeting Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? And of course, it’s totally disrespectful for someone drunk to meet Jesus in the Eucharist!

* * *

If we really want to celebrate September as “Pambansang Buwan ng Katekesis”, I think, we, priests, need to place more emphasis on some aspects of our faith that are already given less importance, neglected or taken for granted, like some important details in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Negligence, ignorance or simply our lack of sensitivity in these things could affect so much the solemnity of the celebration.

And who else than the priest himself could well remind the people of the importance of these things?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fornication is a mortal sin!

“¡No hay derecho! Me siento decepcionada. Ha sido una violación de mi derecho de tener relaciones sexuales con mi novio sin tener que estar embarazada. Tengo todavía muchos planes en mi vida. Además, este niño no es deseado. Ya no puedo estudiar bien.” (It’s unfair! I feel disappointed. It was a violation of my right to have a sexual relationship with my boyfriend without getting pregnant. I still have many plans with my life. Besides, this child is unwanted. I can’t study well.)

Listening to this declaration coming from a 25-year-old lady on a morning Spanish TV program (one that deals with social complaints), I was quite stunned and – I guess – had a little of nausea. She was complaining against the doctor who gave her a prescription of contraceptive pills. She’s finishing her course but living in the house of her boyfriend and his parents.

What made me sick – besides the foolish idea of living with her boyfriend while still studying and having many plans in life – is the fact that she believes that to have a sexual relationship with her boyfriend is a basic right!

Just when is fornication considered a basic human right? Fornication is a mortal sin! See 1 Corinthians 5: 1ff.

* * *

“Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile” (Mk 7: 14-15).

When Jesus, in this Sunday’s Gospel, made this affirmation, He is trying to rectify some erroneous mentality of His time. Today, I think, we need to voice out in the open a lot of rectification of this kind. It seems that our silence on this matter is doing a havoc especially on the young minds.

Fornication is a sin NOT ONLY because the Bible says so. The Bible says it is a sin because it goes directly against God’s will and design regarding sex, love and marriage. God wills that “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Besides, He ordered that they “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28).

In other words: sex (becoming one flesh) is a sacred gift from God – a gift with a double dimension, both complementary and inseparable: union in love (“unite with his wife”) and procreation (“fruitful and multiply”). And it is given within the context of marriage ONLY (“a man…and his wife”). Fornication or pre-marital sex (including sex outside marriage, meaning with non-spouse) goes directly against this divine will.

* * *

Another erroneous mentality of our time: Condoms are an effective instrument to prevent AIDS.

Pope Benedict XVI has been very clear and bold in declaring that THIS IS FALSE: “The condom does not prevent AIDS. Only responsible sexual behavior can address the pandemic," he said. But the international press was scandalized at hearing this truth.

Now, a scientist and expert on AIDS prevention, Edward Green corroborates the Pope’s affirmation. Green explained that scientific studies point out a phenomenon of human behavior called "risk compensation," whereby a person "feels protected and thus exposes himself more." When one believes condoms protect him, he would indulge himself more in irresponsible sexual activities; thus, elevating the risk of being infected.

Dr. Green asked: “Why has an attempt not been made to change people's customs?” “The world industry has taken many years to understand that measures of a technical and medical character are of no use to solve the problem,” he added.

Now it’s time for people to change their mentality: in the same way that “nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile”, nothing from the outside can protect the person from AIDS but the things from within: abstinence and fidelity.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A priest in love

“Ganyan ba talaga kayo magsalita? Quote kaagad ang Bible o di kaya isinasali kaagad ang Diyos? Di ba puwedeng magsalita ng normal tulad naming mga secular?”

Words of my lady friend as they appeared line by line on the chat box of Facebook. Although surprised by the sudden change of topic of our chat, I surmised that these words were provoked by a favorite quotation that I sent her: “God can write straight with crooked lines”. Perhaps, she didn’t expect such profound truth as a comment on a petty human experience like cooking dinner for the family.

Well, what caught my attention was the thought behind these words – a thought that represents succinctly what I would call a common secular mentality today. Besides, there’s more to it than what appears! Let me explain.

* * *

Firstly, I can sense a perplexity at the fact that priests (as I am) would immediately refer to God things (or topics) that apparently have less or no direct connection to Him. In other words, that we (priests) would “inject” a divine perspective on “secular” (as opposed to the ‘sacred’ – a sense employed by my friend) events and experiences is something that still raises eyebrows today. Some would consider it off-tangent. Others, deeming it less considerate to the listeners’ sensibilities, would even reprimand it.

As Christians, I think, it is our responsibility to infuse society and the world today with a divine perspective. No reality in the world – for very “secular” as it may seem – is immune from the capacity to be impregnated with the sense of the divine. It’s because all reality is God’s work. And baptized in the name of Jesus, we are expected to leave a Christian imprint even in the most ordinary reality of our existence.

The Gospel calls it “lifting up the Cross of Christ in the midst of the world”. Jesus said: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32). I think, it is looking at the world and human existence with the eyes of God – something that is slowly forgotten today!

* * *

Secondly, I can perceive in the preceeding questions a certain role bias. It sounds that only priests are expected to talk about God, to quote the Bible, to have a ready-made, God-ridden, touching and inspiring words for any given circumstances. And this role has somehow distinguishes us from the “normal” and “secular” people.

I am glad that priests are associated with such role. What would be unfortunate (for a priest, of course) is when a lay faithful could talk about God and quote the Bible with more ease than a priest. But I am not at ease with making a biased distinction of roles: “priests normally talk about God while the ‘secular’ normally talk about earthly realities”.

What is normal for all Catholic Christians – clergy and lay faithful alike – is to talk about God even in the most ordinary (or ‘earthly’) circumstances in life. Although we usually distinguish the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’, we cannot afford to shun away the sense of the divine from any wordly reality.

* * *

“Di ba normal lang sa mga in-love o mga nagmamahal ay pag-uusapan ang kanilang minamahal?” I asked my friend. She replied, “Depende.”

Any person who has fallen in love can attest to this: not only a person in love tends to think about the beloved all day, but also, he or she tends to talk to others about the beloved, about the beloved’s great virtues, the things the beloved does, etc.

If this is true in human relationships, why can’t it be true in our relationship with God? A person who is truly in love with God and with all that God loves, would naturally and normally – without even being aware of it – talk about his or her beloved. If this is true with any person in love with God, why shouldn’t it be MORE TRUE with priests?

If “priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus” (as St. John Mary Vianney said), then all priests should be the first to be in love like crazy with Jesus – with God. Hence, it should not cause bewilderment when priests talk like crazy about their beloved every now and then. The contrary should!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vida de Cristo en nosotros

(Homilia sobre las lecturas del XX Domingo del T.O.)

Las lecturas de hoy destacan el carácter realista de la Sagrada Eucaristía: de que no es solamente una doctrina fascinante o un dogma de fe atractivo – una idea impresionante. No! Nos encontramos con un acontecimiento real: una Persona que nos da realmente su Cuerpo y su Sangre para salvarnos, transformándonos en su misma persona. Aunque tal realismo sólo lo vislumbramos desde la fe.

Hay personas que están dispuestas a dar su vida por una ideología, aunque a veces, a pesar de ser una ideología equivocada. Otras están dispuestas a quitar la vida de otros por defender su convicción o por promoverla. La enseñanza cristiana NO ES una ideología: una ideología es un conjunto de ideas que pretenden transformar al mundo. Lo que Cristo nos enseña NO ES un mero conjunto de ideas transformadoras. Nos da su propio ser: su Cuerpo y su Sangre – no sus ideas – son los que nos dan vida y transforman el mundo.

Si es posible dar la vida por una ideología o una convicción, con mucho más razón tenemos que dar la vida, o mejor, vivirla por una Persona: Cristo, Quien nos la ha ofrecido para que vivamos en Él.

La Primera Lectura del Libro de los Proverbios resume el proyecto de Dios para nosotros al darnos su Hijo Amado. Dios, al querer salvarnos, “ha edificado una casa” – la Iglesia – y “ha labrado sus siete columnas” – los siete sacramentos a través de los cuales recibimos con abundancia la gracia salvadora. (9:1)

Con vista de darnos el verdadero pan del cielo – no como el pan que comieron los Israelitas en el desierto y murieron (Cfr. Jn 6:58) – el Padre “ha preparado el banquete”, “ha mezclado ya el vino”, y ha enviado a sus criadas a anunciar en lo alto de las colinas de la ciudad: “Venid y comed de mi pan, bebed del vino que he mezclado; dejaos de simplezas y viviréis, y dirigíos por los caminos de la inteligencia” (9:5-6).

“¡Gustad y ved que bueno es el Señor!” canta hoy el Salmo Responsorial. Y con más urgencia nos dice San Pablo en la Segunda Lectura de su Carta a los Efesios: “Por tanto, no seáis insensatos, sino comprended cuál es la voluntad de Señor” (5: 17). ¡Cuanta insensatez perder el tiempo en muchas otras cosas menos en la mesa del Señor donde Él nos proporciona el “verdadero pan de la vida”!

“Si no coméis la carne del Hijo del hombre, y no bebéis su sangre, no tenéis vida en vosotros” (Jn 6: 53). Es tan real como lo ha dicho Jesús que los judíos discutían: “¿Cómo puede éste darnos a comer su carne?” Ellos entendieron bien el realismo de las palabras de Cristo. Pero no entendieron que el Señor se refiere al gran milagro – mucho más grande que la multiplicación de los panes: hacer que el pan se convierta en su Cuerpo y el vino, en su Sangre en la Sagrada Eucaristía.

Nosotros tampoco lo entendemos del todo lo que llamamos “transubstanciación”. Pero creemos firmemente porque no hace falta entenderlo del todo para creer. (De la misma manera que no hace falta que la ideología se haga realidad primero para que los fanáticos den su vida por ella.) Creemos en la transubstanciación porque Cristo nos la revela y la aceptamos. Es más, damos nuestra vida por Cristo: o mejor dicho, vivimos la Vida de Cristo dentro de nosotros.

Es así como Cristo quiere salvarnos: transformarnos desde dentro dandonos su vida, cambiar desde dentro nuestro modo de ser, de pensar, de hablar, de actuar, de amar, para hacerlo parecer a su modo. “El que come mi carne y bebe mi sangre, permanece en mí y yo en él” (Jn 6: 56). ¿No hemos notado que cuando recibimos a Cristo fielmente en la comunión, nos duele cada día más nuestros pecados y los del mundo, pensamos más en hacer cosas buenas al prójimo, tendemos a ser más comprensibles y amables con los demás, somos más alegres, más esperanzados?

Pues, ¡ésta es la Vida de Cristo en nosotros! Pidamos ahora a la Virgen que nos ayude a vivir esta Vida de Cristo y a ayudar que los demás la vivan también.

Friday, August 14, 2009


To tell a woman to be PRO-CHOICE is to play the role of the serpent in Paradise, in his dialogue with Eve – the result of which is the Fall of Man!

Let’s be clear about it! “PRO-CHOICE” is a vague concept popularly understood as “I have the right to make a personal choice; no one should dictate me what to do”. Applied to the issue of women’s rights, it is translated as the woman’s right to make her own decision of what to do with her body.

Under such right, the woman can do whatever she wants to do with her body. “It’s my body,” she says. Hence, if she wants to abort her baby, nothing or no one should interfere with her rights to choose, to decide for herself.

This mentality carries with it a number of VAGUE IDEAS:

(1) Is the baby inside the woman’s body a member of her body (like an appendix, a lung, a heart, etc)? If the answer is YES, then,

(2) Are we morally justified – under the pretext of human right – to cut off whatever member of our body, just because we don’t like it, or because it hinders our well-being?

If we want to avoid another Fall from Paradise, we need to study the following CLEAR IDEAS:

(1) Women have rights to choose. Personal choice is part of human freedom.

(2) Women have rights over their own body and can do whatever they want for as long as it is within the bounds of morality (You don’t just cut your thumb because it is fashionable!)

(3) BUT THE BABY INSIDE THE WOMAN’S BODY IS NEVER A MEMBER OF HER BODY. It is another human being and it has its own rights and human freedom like the mother herself.

(4) Besides, because it is inside her body, without being her body, the woman has the responsibility to protect and to take care of it until it is born. AND THE MORAL LAW DEMANDS THAT SHE SHOULD DO SO!

(5) THEREFORE, to affirm the rights of the fetus is never a violation of the rights of the woman. Instead, it is an affirmation of her responsibilities towards her baby: the FOREMOST OF WHICH IS TO LET THE BABY LIVE!



IT IS LIKE THE DEVIL SAYING ONCE AGAIN TO EVE: “Take this fruit and eat it, and you will become like God.” To all women, before making yourself PRO-CHOICE, think again!

“Father, can I have a confession?”

“Father, puwede ho ba akong mangumpisal sa inyo pagpunta n’yo rito sa Tarragona?” The voice was so soft and pleading. A mixture of timidity and determination to do what she longs to do for a great number of years could be perceived in it. “Oo ba. Sige, pagdating ko d’yan, bago mag-umpisa ang misa”, was my response.

I go to Tarragona twice a month this summer (July and August) to celebrate Tagalog mass with the Filipino community there. Before the mass starts, I always make an announcement encouraging those whose wanted to make a confession to approach me or the community officers. But oftentimes, I get no reply.

This time, the reply comes through the phone. And the lady is calling from Tarragona to Valencia, in a parish where I stay this summer. Indeed, when I arrived in Tarragona two Sundays ago, I had three penitents waiting in line. Praise the Lord!

* * *

What a change of reaction! I remember in my two years as newly-ordained priest in Davao, how I have greatly desired to receive the faculty to hear confession immediately after the ordination. But out of obedience, I had to adhere to the bishop’s custom of delaying the grant of such faculty to newly-ordained. After a few months, I received the faculty to hear confessions only of little children.

Then, as I was assigned in the seminary, I was given permission to exercise such faculty to all the faithful in the archdiocese. I remember how I stayed hours, together with other young priests, hearing the confessions of retreatants from colleges and universities, teachers and students alike, of religious sisters, etc. And with the long lines of penitents, how I had wished it would soon be finished.

Indeed, a priest needs supernatural sense to feel immense joy at the sight of endless queues of penitents. I had prayed hard for this grace because the immediate human reaction is to say “Oh God, how long it would take me to finish this!” And the physical and psychological fatigue was unbearable. But now, what a joy to find even three penitents!

* * *

When I was a seminarian, I observed that in every parish a signboard reads: Confession, every Friday, 5-6 PM, (or other day, depending on the parish) or upon appointment, which means, as the penitents call on a priest for confession. Yet I noticed – now as a priest – that a few penitents follow this last one. Those who really have the custom to confess regularly would prefer to follow the given schedule.

Now, when they would present themselves on the given parish schedule, hardly they could find a priest in the confessional. Where’s the priest? “In his room,” the sacristan may answer. “Just call him if someone wants to confess”, he would add. “Why would I stay in the confessional if no one wants to confess?” would be a seemingly justifiable cry of the parish priest. Besides, he has a lot other parrochial concerns: meetings, reports, invitations, emails, homily preparation, etc.

I think, the priest’s presence inside the confessional is a great encouragement for penitents (especially those who are still in doubts if they’d go or not, or those who are timid to ask the priest who is still in his room) to finally decide to receive the sacrament. I have proven it myself recently.

* * *

This summer, in one parish I am helping, I usually come 30 minutes before the mass. In other days, I would stay and prepare for the mass at the Adoration Chapel. But one day, it occurred to me something different. I put on an alb and a violet stole. Then, I sat in the confessional. There were only five persons in the church.

As soon as I have taken my seat, one old woman approached, kneeled down and started her confession. She was followed by two others. At other times when I was at the chapel, it seldom happened that one would approach and request for confession. How much more if I were confined in the comfort of my room!

* * *

One last consideration: the use of confessional. Aside from the fact that this is the prescription of the Church as the ordinary place to dispense grace – the court room of Christ’s mercy, I think the use of confessional is both prudent and catechetical.

If psychologists and psychiatrists, medical doctors and dentists attend to their patients in designated places – have you seen a doctor operating a cancer patient outside, even if the operating room is just nearby? – and whenever we want to open up some intimate truths to someone, we always go a private place, why can’t we do with more reverence whenever we dispense God’s grace in the Sacrament of Confession?

Besides, it is the penitent’s right to be confessed privately. If he wants anonymity, he should not be denied of it. How many people I know who are inhibited to confess because they are ashamed of their parish priest!

Confession outside the confessional is done only in extra-ordinary circumstances. But I think, in a parish, not having a confessional is not an extra-ordinary circumstance where it is very possible to construct one or two.

On this Year for Priests, we are told how St. John Mary Vianney spent up to 18 hours hearing confession. But we should not forget that before he reached this mark, he also spent hours inside the confessional without hearing the words: “Father, can I have a confession?”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jesús es nuestra fuerza

(Reflexión sobre las lecturas de hoy, domingo, 09 de agosto de 2009)

Nos cuenta la Primera Lectura que el Profeta Elías estaba cansado y desesperado en el desierto después de tanto caminar, huyendo de la persecución. Pero Dios envió un ángel que lo despertó para darle comida. Y “con la fuerza de aquel alimento caminó cuarenta días y cuarenta noches hasta el Horeb, el monte de Dios” (1 R 19: 8).

¿Cómo no vemos en la imagen del Profeta nuestra situación de peregrino en este mundo? Nosotros, los cristianos, caminamos día y noche hacia la Patría definitiva – el Monte de Dios: el Cielo. Muchas veces nos vienen el desaliento y la desesperación. Tal vez, por alguna persecución del ambiente que poco a poco se vuelve hóstil a los principios cristianos.

Cada vez que proclamemos estos principios, sobre todo, afirmando nuestra convicción acerca de la importancia de la vida, de la libertad religiosa, del verdadero significado del matrimonio o del derecho de los padres en la educación de sus hijos, nos sintimos perseguidos por parte de los que no los comparten con nosotros. Como Elías, no sólo que estamos caminando fatigados, sino también peregrinamos perseguidos hacia la patria celeste.

O tal vez, el desaliento proviene de nuestro propio cansancio espiritual. Es que el pecado poco a poco absorbe la energía del alma hasta dejarla muerta. ¿No es cierto que después de enfadarnos nos sintimos tristes, débil y sin ánimo? Por experiencia sabemos que la amargura, el odio, la envidia y cualquier pecado nos quita la paz del alma. Por eso, dice San Pablo en la Segunda Lectura: “No entristezcáis al Espíritu Santo de Dios, con el que fuisteis sellados para el día de la redención. Toda acritud, ira, cólera, gritos, maledicencia y cualquier clase de maldad, desaparezca de entre vosotros” (Ef 4: 30-31).

Pero el Señor nunca nos deja en estas situaciones: Él nos envía un alivio – una prueba, una vez más, de su infinita misericordia y gran amor para con nosotros. Prueba también que si nos alejamos de Dios, no es porque Dios nos ha dejado sino porque hemos decidido nosotros mismos alejarnos de Dios. Porque el Señor siempre nos anima, nos empuja a seguir caminando como diciéndonos: “Ánimo, hijo mío. Que estoy contigo.”

“Levántate y come, porque el camino es demasiado largo para ti”, (1 R 19: 7) nos dice el Señor también a nosotros. Y nos ofrece su Cuerpo y su Sangre en la Sagrada Eucaristía como alimento en nuestro caminar. La Sagrada Eucaristía nos da fuerza para realizar el viaje de vuelta hacia la casa del Padre. Por eso se llama también “Viático”.

“Yo soy el Pan de la Vida”, dice Jesús en el Evangelio (Jn 6: 48). Jesús es el Pan que nos da fuerza. ¡Jesús es nuestra fuerza! Su Cuerpo y su Sangre que recibimos en la Sagrada Comunión nos da vida. ¿Cómo se realiza este milagro? ¿Cómo nos da vida la Eucaristía?

Los Santos Padres de la Iglesia nos proporcionan la respuesta. San Juan Crisóstomo nos dice: “Nos unimos a Él y nos hacemos con Él un solo cuerpo y una sola carne”. El gran papa San León Magno también lo afirma: “No hace otra cosa la comunión del Cuerpo y la Sangre de Cristo sino convertirnos en aquello mismo que tomamos”. Pero San Agustín es más categórico: “Yo soy el Pan para los fuertes. Ten fe y cómeme. Pero no me cambiarás en ti, sino que tú serás transformado en Mí.”

Este es el efecto propio del Sacramento: transformar al hombre en Cristo de tal modo que pueda decir con San Pablo: “Vivo yo, más no yo, sino que vive Cristo en mi” (Gal 22, 20). Con la Sagrada Eucaristía, nos vamos pareciéndonos cada vez más a Cristo en nuestra manera de pensar, de sentir, de actuar, de hablar, de amar… ¿Cómo piensa Cristo? ¿Cómo habla? ¿Cómo ama Jesús? Así serémos también nosotros.

Pero es una verdad lamentable que hoy, hay personas que se alejan de Cristo: que no quieren parecerse a Él. Es más, rechazan la manera de ser y de actuar del Señor. No aceptan sus enseñanzas. Es más, las atacan. Se sienten fuertes y suficientes en su caminar que ya no necesitan ni a Cristo ni a la Iglesia. Es más, los consideran como istorbo. Viven como si Dios no existiera. ¿Qué sería de nosotros, de nuestra vida, de nuestra familia, de nuestro país, si nos alejamos de Cristo?

Pidamos ahora a la Virgen, cuya Fiesta de su Asunción al cielo en alma y cuerpo celebraremos el sábado que viene (15 de agosto), que nos acerque a su Hijo. A Ella que ya ha llegado antes que nosotros al Monte de Dios, pidamos que nos otorgue la gracia de poder caminar con esperanza hacia la patria celeste. AMEN.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

La Transfiguración de los cristianos

¿Qué significa que el Señor se transfiguró? Simplemente que tras su figura se veía otra realidad: su ser Hijo de Dios – su Divinidad. Su cuerpo deja de ocultar el verdadero sujeto. Su Humanidad deja traslucir su Divinidad como una vidriera que transparenta la luz. Nosotros los cristianos, tenemos que dejar ver también lo hay tras nuestra figura: nuestro ser hijos de Dios. Como vidrieras, tenemos que transparentar la vida de Cristo dentro de nosotros. ¡Necesitamos también una verdadera transfiguración!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“Acláranos la parábola”

(Reflexión sobre las lecturas de hoy, Martes, 28 julio 2009)
Ex 33, 7-11; 34, 5b-9. 28; Mt 13, 36-43)

Jesús se fue a la casa y allí sus discípulos se le acercaron para pedirle un favor: “Señor, acláranos la parábola de la cizaña en el campo.”

En primer lugar, podemos ver la cercanía que los discípulos gozan con el Señor. No sabemos de quien fue esa casa, pero la escena de una casa con Jesús y sus discípulos evoca una cierta sensación de intimidad. Encontrarse uno en la casa del Señor – más bien, estar en la casa con el Señor – es tener una relación íntima con Él.

Esta intimidad, en segundo lugar, que los discípulos (el Evangelio no dice “apóstoles”, que es un grupo aun más íntimo) tienen con el Señor se hace más patente en el hecho de que ellos pudieran acercarse a Él, sin titubeos, y pedirle un favor: “Señor, acláranos la parábola”.

A veces, la vida nos resulta llena de enigmas y dudas que nos quitan la paz. A veces no entendemos bien las cosas que nos pasan y la solución de nuestros problemas parecen nula. Necesitamos hablar con alguien para desahogar un poco y el primer interrogante que nos sale es: ¿por qué me pasa esto? ¡Cuánto nos gustaría decirle al Señor: “Señor, por qué permites que me pase esto?”!

Es una manera de pedirle un favor: “Señor, acláranos la parábola”.

Pero, ¿a dónde irémos para pedirle ese favor? A la casa del Señor! En los tiempos de Moisés, esa casa se llama “Tienda del Encuentro” donde él “tenía que visitar al Señor” y sólo él podía hablar con Dios “cara a cara, como habla un hombre con un amigo”. El pueblo se quedaba en la entrada de sus tiendas en el campamento. Los israelitas que veían la columna de nube a la puerta de la “Tienda del Encuentro” se levantaban y se prosternaban mientras Moisés hablaba con Dios.

La “Tienda del Encuentro” es una figura de la realidad de esa otra “tienda” en la que encontramos al Señor y podemos hablar con Él “cara a cara, como habla un hombre con un amigo”. En el Sagrario, todos y cada uno de nosotros – no sólo el sacerdote – ya tenemos acceso al Dios-hecho-hombre para entablar una relación íntima con Él, pedirle cualquier favor y hablar con Él sobre cualquier cosa que nos pasa.

Al entrar en una iglesia, podemos observar muchas personas que se quedan de pie delante de las imágenes de los santos, moviendo los labios, dirigiéndose a las imágenes de piedra o madera. Sabemos que estas imágenes simplemente nos recuerdan a los santos a los cuales mantenemos una piadosa devoción. En el Sagrario, lo que encontramos no es una imágen que nos recuerda al Señor: es Jesús mismo, en su Persona – en su Cuerpo, Sangre, Alma y Divinidad – que se hace presente bajo la apariencia del pan. Los santos no se hacen presentes bajo la apariencia de las imágenes de piedra o madera. ¿Por qué no hablemos con Jesús cuya presencia es real y sacramental en el Sagrario? Sólo Él nos puede ayudar a dar sentido verdadero a la parábola que es nuestra vida.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A priest’s testimony

“Llegas muy temprano”, (You’re too early!”) was the sacristan’s greeting as I closed the door upon entering the Assumption church here in Carcaixent, Valencia. It was 7:20 PM and the weekly mass is at 8:00 PM. I purposedly came earlier for I intended to make the usual 30-minute afternoon meditation there before the mass.

“José, why is there no electric fan in the chapel?”, I casually asked him, as I was heading towards the Blessed Sacrament chapel, with my backpack full of groceries (I bought some provisions earlier). Outside the church, the temperature reached up to 38 degrees Celcius and I was sweating like a pig.

“Es que tampoco no hay nadie que viene a estar allí” (Because nobody comes and stays there) was José’s less apologizing but poignant reply. What follows was his comment that left me pensive since then until the writing of this reflection:

“Casi no hay nadie ya que entienda lo que hay allí. Piensan que es un cajón, un ‘armario’ donde se guardan las ‘hostiacillas’ para la comunión. La gente reza delante de las imágenes y no delante del Sagrario porque ya no entiende qué es aquello” (Almost nobody understands what is inside there. They think that it is just a box, a kind of “container” of the hosts for communion. People pray before images (of a saint or Jesus) but not before the Tabernacle because they don’t understand anymore what is it).

* * *

It is very sad to think that people do not understand nor believe anymore that inside that “box” we call Tabernacle is Jesus Himself, in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It is Jesus Christ in Person, under the especie of bread. Jesus Christ – the same Lord and God that the angels, saints and all heavenly powers adore – is sacramentally present in the Tabernacle. He, Whom no angel would dare to look at directly without absolute reverence, is there inside the Tabernacle, ignored by people.

When we say sacramental presence, it simply means Jesus is really present, but under the mode of presence (appearance) of the bread. The “bread” is not anymore bread in its essence but only in its appearance. Its essence (its “whatness”) is the Body of Christ. But neither it is a symbol of Christ’s presence, like some Protestants claim: it is Christ Himself present, alive. He looks at us; He listens to us.

We may not perceive Him with our physical eyes (like we see the person next to us), but His presence there in the Blessed Sacrament does not depend upon our perceiving Him. “Blessed is he who believes even without seeing.” Our incapacity to perceive His presence physically does not negate such presence. Only he who has the “eyes of faith” can perceive Christ’s Real Presence in the Tabernacle. “For what is essential is invisible to the eye” (The Little Prince).

* * *

We, priests, should be the first to give testimony to this truth – not so much in words as in deeds. To give witness to Christ’s Real and Sacramental Presence in the Tabernacle, no argument is more convincing than the living testimony of the parish priest who visits frequently the Blessed Sacrament Adoration Chapel. Once again, St. John Mary Vianney is exemplar in this respect.

I can’t understand why a parish priest would construct an Adoration Chapel, adorn it marvelously and yet, is seldom seen praying inside it. Frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament during the day is not only a pious practice strongly recommended by the Church, but something that the priest should feel the need to do if he aspires for an efficient and meaningful priestly ministry.

I think, every pastoral activity – seminars, constructions, visitations, social care, etc. – should take its go-signal after various consultations with the Lord in the Adoration Chapel. After all, every parish project or activity does not – if we come to think of it – belong to the parish priest. It is the Lord’s initiative, don’t you think?

* * *

Of course, I am not insinuating that, perhaps, we are not praying for the success of our parish activities. What I am trying to say is that the order we are following is a mistake. Most of the time, we proceed with the activity; then, we pray for it. We should reverse the order: we consult first the Lord in prayer; we even offer sacrifices to ask for the His enlightenment; then, we proceed with the activity or project. (Prayer, sacrifices, action).

I’m sure, for whatever parish project or activity, the Parish Council is consulted. Why not consult the Lord also in the Adoration Chapel a talk to Him personally? An activity or a certain parish project alone already entails frequent visits to the Adoration Chapel. If we want parishioners to believe in Christ’s Real Presence, we, priests, should be the first to give testimony to this truth and show our conviction through our action.

* * *

José’s last comment struck me like a lightning: “Es que tampoco los sacerdotes aquí vienen para estar allí. Nadie da testimonio. Por eso, la gente no sabe con quien pueden identificarse” (Because our priests here neither come to stay there. No one gives testimony; so people can’t find an example to emulate).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sembraré mientras es tiempo

“Disculpa, lo que dijiste ayer en la homilía que ‘el que camina en la mano de Dios, cuando se cae, se cae en la mano de Dios’, fue muy bonito” (Excuse me, what you said in the homily yesterday that “He who walks in the hands of God, if he stumbles, he stumbles in the hands of God” was very touching).

The one speaking was an old woman who sat beside me at the Blessed Sacrament chapel, while I was doing my 30-minute afternoon meditation, just before saying the Mass. Oblivious of the possible disturbance she might have caused in other persons present, the woman proceeded with a comment that encouraged me more to do what is not customarily done in weekday Masses here: give a short homily.

She said: “Ya soy vieja, pero así aprendo poco a poco cada día más” (I am already old, but, in this way, I learn a little more each day). I said to myself, if we, priests, would cease to give even a very short but substantial exposition of the Gospel reading, then, old women like her, would be deprived of learning ‘a little more each day’.

* * *

However, a short but substantial homily is easier said than done. Especially if the presider is not well-prepared, though he has fervent desire to shed light upon the readings of the day, he could just be ‘roaming around the bush’. As a result, instead of learning ‘a little more each day’, old women would grew more confused.

I remember the recommendation my professor in Pastoral Theology gave us regarding homily preparation. He said, if we are to deliver a 30-minute homily, we should prepare it for three days; a 15-minute homily, one week; a 5-minute homily, two weeks.

Exaggerating a little, his point was clear: the shorter (and, of course, substantial) is the homily, the more time is necessary for its preparation. The reason is quite easy to comprehend: to impart substantial truths needs painstaking preparation. Metaphorically, it’s like the case of a young suitor (who is truly in love), who takes a great deal of time searching for the exact words to express his affection, and even rehearsing it many times in front of the mirror.

* * *

But the real time for preparation is not the days or weeks allotted when the priest’s turn to preach comes. The preparation starts in the seminary when the candidate to the priesthood begins to immerse himself in the meditation of and living the Word of God. We cannot give what we don’t have. What we preach in the homily is (should be) truths that – at least – we, priests, are struggling to live by.

That is why more often I preach to myself. Or at least, I am reminding myself of some truths that, if silenced, would be neglected. As I listen to myself preaching, (I hope priests reading this understand what I mean), the Gospel presents itself to me in a new light. Better said, I begin to see anew my life and my priesthood – a new vision or perspective – in the light of the Gospel.

In this sense, the practice of giving short but substantial homily during weekday Masses is beneficial not only to daily Mass-goers (here, a dozen of sexagenarian and some octagenarian women), but also to us, young preachers. I, for my part, am also learning ‘a little more each day’.

* * *

Taking advantage of the fact that during funeral masses, the church is almost full, I begin to prepare a 3-minute homily, planning carefully what to say, considering the occasion, but always trying to slot in – like the prophets of old – the call to conversion, expressed in modern language. Most of the time, I have the sensation that my words simply fell on deaf ears and I am like a ‘voice in the wilderness’. But the Lord knows how to cheer me up discreetly. Sometimes, He would use an unsolicited comment of an old woman as an instrument.

Nevertheless, with or without results (usually we don’t see the results of our efforts so as to keep us from getting proud), I resolved to keep on sowing few seeds as I walk along this field or that vineyard. One day, I got inspired by a line of a Spanish hymn that we usually pray in the Liturgy of the Hours, which goes: “Sembraré, mientras es tiempo, aunque me cueste fatigas” (I shall sow, while it is still time, although it would cost me weariness).

Proclaim the Gospel of Life

Jesús and Amparo, a Spanish couple from Alicante, were like our parents during our seminary days in BIDASOA. When we were still deacons in 2005, Fr. Eugene Hechanova and I stayed in their house for three days, before going back to the Philippines. It was a gesture of deep gratitude towards this generous couple for the support – not only economic but especially spiritual – that they have extended – not only to us both, but to the entire BIDASOA International Seminary – even until the present.

Just recently, they attended the ordination of 14 new deacons (only one from the Philippines) of BIDASOA last April 25. During their stay in Pamplona, Fr. Eugene and I had the opportunity to accompany them and relive the old times together. Both are pharmacists, who used to own and manage a pharmacy in Alicante.

We’ve learned that a few years ago, they have decided to close the pharmacy. The motive? Every year, they receive complaints from clients and suffer a lot from court battles. The reason? Quite easy to understand: the clients complain simply because the pharmacy does not sell contraceptives (like condoms, “morning-after” pills, etc.). And the law requires that pharmacies should include these products in their list.

As good Catholics, trying to live coherently their faith, Jesús and Amparo decided to follow their conscience, a clear echo of what St. Peter said to the Sanhedrin: “It is better for us to follow God than to obey men.” And in doing so, they simply fulfill Jesus’ exhortation in this Sunday’s Gospel: “Go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.” In other words, they become living witnesses of the Gospel of life.

* * *

How many Jesuses and Amparos could we find in our neighborhood right now? In our parish, in our archdiocese, in our beloved City of Davao, can we still find Christians and Catholics who would prefer to have their pharmacies closed rather than help propagate an anti-life mentality by selling anti-life products? (Effectively, “contraception” is a contraction of two words: “contra” – against – and “conception” – engender life; hence, against life).

Speaking of anti-life mentality, one day, a Spanish friend of mine, nicknamed “K-sus” (real name is Jesús), asked me candidly why the natural method of family planning that involves doing the marital act during infertile periods if the couple does not want to have a baby, could not be considered an anti-life mentality. Simple, I said.

It cannot involve an anti-life mentality, although the couple does not want a baby, because, in the first place, it’s the natural law itself (as expressed in the fertility cycle of the woman) that does not grant the possibility of engendering life. Since God’s will is made manifest in the natural law, we can say that during infertile periods, it is God’s will that no life yet could bloom. And the couple’s desire not to have a baby is only secondary to God’s will. They simply cooperate in God’s design, so to speak.

* * *

In the use of contraceptives, this cooperation in the will of God cannot be found. Why? Because there’s no decisive consideration of the natural law (the woman’s fertility cycle). What is decisive, instead, is not reason but the sexual appetite that tends to dominate the couple, robbing them of the opportunity to exercise their will through self-control. In the use of natural method, a person exercises his reason and will. In doing so, he becomes truly human and rises above and has dominion over his animal instincts. In the use of artificial method, a person is dominated by his lower appetites; thus, is more likened to animals than to humans. What makes man truly human is the exercise of his higher faculties (reason and will).

It does not mean suppression of the lower faculties (like sexual appetites) but dominion over them, thereby integrating them into the person’s own good. The irrational exercise of man’s sexual appetites, for instance, contributes to his dehumanisation. When I say “irrational exercise”, I mean, the use of sexual faculties for mere pleasure, without considering its two inseparable objectives – expression of love (unitive) and procreation (procreative), and its fundamental context: marriage. All sexual acts done outside these parameters are simply “irrational exercise” of one’s sexual faculties, hence, degrading to the person.

* * *

My friend, K-sus, once again insisted with his question: “Are we not separating the unitive and procreative dimensions, in the case of a couple who does not want a baby yet, and performs the marital act during infertile periods?” Of course not, for a very simple reason: they don’t have an anti-life mentality.

As we can see, what the Catholic Church teaches is not simply a set of prohibitions – a list of DO’s and DON’T’s – but a pro-life mentality. I cannot understand why some people – especially those who promote contraception to curb the population, those who support the RH bill and even those who want to establish RH clinics in Davao – would prefer an anti-life to pro-life mentality. I cannot understand WHY THESE PEOPLE PREFER DEATH TO LIFE.

“Choose life and not death”, Moses said to the Israelites before they set out to the promise land. The Church is now exhorting us in the same manner: She is proclaiming the Gospel of salvation, promoting a “culture of life”, and condemning an “anti-life mentality”. She does this to fulfill the command of Jesus: “Go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.” Catholics and non-Catholics alike – if we prefer life to death – why not join Her voice?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Alone but not lonely

“Get used to it for it is just a foretaste”, was my priest-friend’s short but substantial advice as I shared to him my situation during the coming two-month vacation here in Carcaixent, Valencia, Spain. For the months of July and August, I am staying in San Antonio de Padua Parish, one of the three parishes that constitute the town of Carcaixent. Together with another two valenciano priests, my pastoral assignment consists simply in celebrating the Holy Eucharist in three churches and the Confession.

With the word “foretaste”, my friend, Fr. Carlos, a Peruvian priest (who is going back to Perú this month as he has finished his licentiate in Philosophy already), was referring to the fact that I am residing alone in the parish. I have to do my own laundry, cook my own food, do a few household chores and follow my own schedule.

As a visiting priest, I am not given pastoral responsibility like Catechism, etc. Besides, activities in the parish here are reduced during summer due to various reasons: less people come to the Church (as many are on vacations in other places), the scourging summer heat (one day it reaches up to 40 degrees celcius), etc.

* * *

“Most of the time you will be alone. This is our life,” Fr. Carlos added. And I agree. A priest’s life, although it is a public life (which means, it is a life directed towards others, a life for the service of the community), is basically a life of solitude. And by solitude, I am referring to the practical existence of living alone. The deeper this truth is understood, the better it is embraced and lived.

In the first place, solitude is not synonymous to loneliness. Hence, the famous saying “Alone but not lonely”. Why? Because solitude here is simply physical and apparent. Being alone here simply refers to the fact that physically, I have no other human being to interact with.

But I can always evoke the presence of God in my aloneness. I can always talk to Him and, although I can hardly feel physically His presence, by faith, I am sure He is with me (as He promised He would). Therefore, never I am all alone. My solitude is simply apparent.

* * *

Besides, loneliness is a matter of choice, in the same way that one is happy is he chooses to. Loneliness does not spring necessarily from being alone. There are people who enjoy being alone that with others. Moreover, there are lonely people who are surrounded by lots of company.

I’d say loneliness is a temptation, and as such, it is an opportunity. When one experiences a heavy heart upon realizing that he or she is alone, or upon reminiscing some joyful experiences in the past, he or she is given two options: (a) let oneself be weighed down by such sadness, or (b) employ such affection as a means to do something good.

In my experience, I have learned to employ the feeling of loneliness and melancholy (that sometimes haunt us without desiring it) as an “alarm clock”. For instance, the melancholic feeling of missing my friends could be a reminder for me to pray for these persons. One “Our Father” for that friend, or a “Hail Mary” for this fellow, not only would help me ease the loneliness, but also gave me the joy of having prayed for them.

I call it human industry, not just a defense mechanism. The feeling of loneliness and melancholy is simply temporary and does not actually linger for a long time. Hence, we can make good use of them as our “alarm clock”. Whenever they occur to us, we are given the opportunity – we are reminded – to evoke the presence of God, to pray for the people for whom we want to pray, and to realize that, in fact, we may alone but never lonely.

Love for priests

“¿Nunca te pasó esto en Filipinas?” (Never did it happen to you in the Philippines?) There was a tone of surprise in my Peruvian priest-friend’s voice. “No, nunca. Gracias a Dios,” I said. (No, never, thanks be to God.)

He was referring to what happened just a few minutes before he made such query. The two of us were walking towards the Polideportivo (gym) of the University of Navarre, to greet some friends who attended the Eucharistic celebration on the Solemnity of Saint Josemaria Escriva, the founder of the said university, last June 26.

As we approached the underpass, we heard a loud scream coming from the approaching car opposite to our direction. Four young men howling at us with foul words like “Hola, curicas, hijos de p…” (Hey, priests, sons of a b…!).

At first, we did not pay them attention. But not yet contented with the first, they made a U-turn and came near to us uttering more four-letter words. We could only sigh in pain at the thought that here in Spain, some young people have reached the point of even insulting priests that they see on the streets. On what grounds? We never know!

* * *

But what we know is that something seriously wrong is going on in this country. And as I was sharing to this companion of mine, in the Philippines, I’ve never heard (yet) of similar case. (Although, of course, I’ve heard of a politician insulting a priest on TV. But of a priest being insulted without apparent motive on the streets is, to me, something new and very unfortunate.)

Yet to us priests, insults and experiences like this should never catch us in surprise. Why not? If Jesus Himself was not even spared, why would we, His priests suppose that we’d be exempted from such affront?

I remember one priest-professor of mine in the university who was about to deliver a speech during an academic gathering. After an impressive introduction, he immediately commented: “I don’t know what I have done to deserve this ‘mistreatment’ (he was referring to the excellent compliment) because if our Lord and Master had been criticized and condemned, why would I – His unworthy disciple – deserve such a brilliant presentation?”

* * *

Little by little, modern society loses the admiration of the grandeur of Christ’s priesthood. It is a logical consequence, parallel to the “loss of the sense of sin” that years ago, Pope Pius XII denounced as “the greatest sin of this generation”. Once the society loses the sense of sin, it loses the sense of God. It does not need Christ and His salvation anymore. It does not need priests. That explains the devilish delight of those who like to insult priests, whether on the streets, on TV or any other arena.

I think, the loss of the sense of sin is a consequence of the loss of the sense of love – true love. Sin is nothing else but failure to love. Not just any kind of love, but the love that we – creatures – should have towards God – our Creator.

When God created us, He has willed that we live in eternal communion with Him. But such communion requires that we “know and love” Him freely. To know and love God means to do what pleases Him and to avoid what keeps us apart from His will. If we really love someone, we are more than willing to do whatever pleases that person and avoid whatever causes him or her pain, or whatever separates us from him or her. It is the same thing with God.

* * *

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Letter to the Priests, emphasized that "the priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus". Pointing out the relationship between priesthood and love, the Pope – I believe – suggests that at the core of our priestly ministry we find love as the motor and the guiding principle of every activity.

In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, the Church’s document on the formation of priests, Pope John Paul II says: “By virtue of this consecration brought about by the outpouring of the Spirit in the sacrament of holy orders, the spiritual life of the priest is marked, molded and characterized by the way of thinking and acting proper to Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the Church, and which are summed up in his pastoral charity” (PDV, 21).

I think, this Year for Priests is an opportunity for all of us to renew our “love for priesthood” – that is nothing else but our love for the Heart of Jesus. It is an opportunity for us, priests, to rekindle once more our pastoral charity, and for all members of the Church to revive once again that love for the grandeur of priesthood – that love for priests – that our society today is found wanting.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Priest

They say that the first five years in the priesthood is crucial because it is a period of adjustment and of “going into the bottom”, that is, discovering the deepest meaning of priestly life and ministry. Others also say that it is like a “honeymoon” stage, in which a newly-ordained, full of idealism and enthusiasm, relishes the joy of serving the Lord.
Just a week ago, I was looking at my priestly ordination photos in the computer and sharing some with my priest-friend from Perú. Two things caught his attention: the beautiful garden-altar of the St. Francis of Assisi Parish Church and a pool of water on both sides as I lay prostrate in front of the altar during the Litany of the Saints.

Viewing these photos brings into my introspection, not only the joyful memories of that blessed day of December 2005, but the various experiences that transpired during these first three and a half years of my priestly life – very poetically described in the song, The Priest by an unknown author.

* * *

“To live in the midst of the world without desiring its pleasures…”

The first part is easier: to live in the midst of the world. But joined with the second, it becomes radical and demanding; difficult but not impossible, because the strength comes from above. To be in the world without being of the world is a great challenge for a newly-ordained. But Jesus’ prayer is consoling: “Father, I pray not that You take them out of the world, but that You preserve them from evil.”

“To be a member of each family, but belonging to none…”

When a man takes a bride, it is said that his parents never lose a son: they win a daughter. When a son is ordained priest, his parents never lose him either: they discover their long-lost relatives! Literally, it happens. But in a deeper, more spiritual sense, a priest becomes a member of each family because the family is a “domestic church”. But “belonging to none” simply means that in the heart of a priest, everybody has a place. No one owns it exclusively except He to Whom it is offered wholly. But to a newly-ordained, it is a gift and a tough conquest.

“To share all sufferings, to penetrate all secrets, to heal all wounds…”

It is not for mere empathy. Neither it is for sheer solidarity that a priest is called to share all sufferings. But to experience it himself – in flesh and blood – the crown of thorns, the nails, the cross. Little by little, because God is not a sadist. But He does not exempt either, for He did not even spare His own Son. Only when a priest becomes one with his Master in suffering can he truly penetrate all secrets – even the mystery of suffering itself, caused by wounds of sin – and then, he can truly bring about healing. In the Sacrament of Confession, God revealed the mystery of His mercy and the greatness of His love: the instrument that He employs to heal is itself in need of the same. What a consolation for a newly-ordained!

“To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers…”

What a great joy for a newly-ordained to be able to celebrate his First Mass! But what a great responsibility also because he is bringing all the petitions of the people. In the name of the Church of God, he stands before the throne of the Great Majesty. But he could not have stood it, had he not received first the dignity of being alter Christus, ipse Christus (other Christ, Christ Himself). In reality, it is Christ Himself offering these prayers to the Father through the instrumentality of the priest.

And for the first time, a newly-ordained does it: what an honor! That’s why, he prepares well for it: he thinks about it the night before, he imagines it with excitement and nervousness, with great sense of unworthiness. He prays a lot, even goes to confession before saying his First Mass.

The time comes and he follows the rites with great care, not even adding a word or two because he respects the rubrics – because the Mass is not his: it is the Church’s, that’s why he should not add or omit anything at his own caprices. He follows every rubric: with great sense of reverence he executes every movement and gesture. Every genuflection is genuinely done with adoration.

But little by little, this fervour – if not well taken care of, if not fomented with daily prayer and devotion to the Holy Eucharist – will soon die down. And the daily masses of this newly-ordained will simply become a fulfillment of canonical obligation. With lots of reason, Blessed Mother Teresa exhorted all priests to celebrate the Mass “as if it were your First Mass, your Last Mass, your Only Mass”.

“To return from God to men, to bring pardon, peace and hope…”

How can a priest return from God to men if, in the first place, he has not been to God or with God in his daily meditation and prayer? How can he talk about God to people if he himself has not talk with God first? He is to bring pardon, peace and hope but “he cannot give what he doesn’t possess”. To bring pardon, a priest has to experience repentance and conversion first (regular confession) and to give peace and hope, he has to receive the same first (in his regular spiritual direction). A newly-ordained might think that in returning from God to men, he brings God to them: God is already present in them. But by showing that he is in communion with God, he lets them discover God’s presence in them.

"To have a heart of fire for charity, and a heart of bronze for chastity..."

These are not two different hearts but one human heart: the same heart with which we love our parents, our friends -- all our loved ones. It is same heart with which we love God. Charity and chastity are two sides of a coin. One does not exist without the other. Pastoral charity, for a newly-ordained, is understood as an effort and a fervent petition to God "to make all our human affections pass through the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary". It is because the heart, if not guarded with seven locks, would tend to attach itself to human affections -- attachments in things and in persons. And if a newly-ordained is not careful, these attachments would tend to detach himself from God.

"To teach and to pardon..."

Apparently, these are two different aspects of a priest`s life: the prophetic and the sacramental dimensions of priestly ministry. Indeed, a priest is a teacher. But more than just "mere teaching" Catholic doctrines and dogmas, a priest gives testimony. Pope Paul VI rightly noted, "modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses".

In the Sacrament of Penance, the priest pardons. But in reality, it is Jesus Himself - through the instrumentality of His minister -- who gives pardon. The priest`s instrumentality becomes more profound if he himself experiences from the bottom of his heart the same pardon that God has bestowed on him for his own sins. A priest who experiences in his flesh and bone God´s pardon can readily and more meaningfully bring the same pardon to other souls. The priest should teach how to pardon. And he teaches it by giving witness through his own experience.

"To console and to bless always..."

A blessing is always a consolation. Oftentimes, out of humility (perhaps), a newly-ordained would refuse to extend his hand when an elderly woman would try to take it to ask for a blessing (pagmamano). The priest thinks he is too young or too unworthy to do so. But he should think that when people ask for a priest´s blessing, they are actually asking Christ´s blessing, not the priest´s.

And Christ´s blessing brings consolation. The channel for such blessing, for such consolation, is the priest. But oftentimes, it is the priest himself that longs for such consolation. He can only be a channel if he himself enjoys such divine consolation. But such consolation can only be experienced through an intimate relationship with Jesus. Yet, as St. Teresa of Jesus once said: "search not for the consolation of the Lord, but the Lord of the consolation."

"My God what a life, and it is yours..."

A priest does not belong to himself anymore, but to Christ and to His Church. Hence, his personal plans and projects in life are geared not towards himself, but towards Christ. His plans are the plans of Christ. His projects are the projects of the Church of Christ. His life is not anymore his, but God´s.

Priesthood is never one´s personal life project: it is Christ´s plan that is unfolding in every moment of a priest´s life. Everyday in a life of priest is an unfolding of such divine plan.And the most that a priest can do is to say YES to every moment. Everyday is an opportunity to say YES to God. It is an everyday YES: Serviam! (I will serve).

"Oh, priest of Jesus Christ! Oh, priest of Jesus Christ!"

The greatness of priesthood! St. John Mary Vianney could only describe it in these words: "O, how great is the priest! ... If he realised what he is, he would die. ... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host". Pray for the sanctity of all priests!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Philosophy and DDS

Cogito, DCHerald

April 27, 2009

Perhaps, a scarry combination! But if Aristotle is right when he said: “No man willingly does wrong”, the only reason one takes the law into his hand is because he thinks it is right. He considers to be good subjectively what is truly and objectively evil. We could say, it is his moral philosophy or the lack of it.

I have wanted so much to forget this very sad experience, but news about the continued extra-judicial killings in Davao City remind me of an unforgettable and horrible incident that happened more than two years ago. As a newly ordained priest, I was assigned as spiritual director and philosophy professor in our pre-college seminary. One afternoon while the seminarians were doing their usual manualia (house cleaning), I received a phone call from a resident of NHA Village, Ma-a, informing me that the brother of two of our seminarians was dead. More shocking was the cause: he was gunned down by an unidentified man in motorbike right infront the rented house of my elder brother.

I waited for my companion formator to arrive before both of us could divulge the painful news to the two seminarians – one (the younger brother of the victim) was my student in Catechism in the pre-college; the other (the older) was in the major seminary and, at that time, was in his pastoral apostolate. The first could not contain his tears upon learning the news, the second was thunderstruck. The whole pre-college community was drowned in confusion, fear and sadness. The last topic we discussed in the class that day was: “If God is so good, why does evil exist?”

* * *

Evil exists, I suppose, because man misuses his freedom. Instead of exercising his freedom to do good, he employs it in doing evil. But it leads us back to the aristotelian principle: “No man willingly does wrong”.

Evil exists, then, because man, by judging erroneously what is objectively evil to be good (subjectively), employs wickedly his freedom. We see clearly here that in order to exercise well our freedom, we need to judge rightly what is good and what is evil. And this requires perception of the truth by the intellect.

In order to exercise well our human freedom, we need to see the truth clearly. This is what Pope John Paul II called the “fundamental dependence of freedom upon truth, a dependence which has found its clearest and most authoritative expression in the words of Christ: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32) (Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 34).”

* * *

Taking the law into one’s hands, as what occurs in these extra-judicial killings, is never a right exercise of one’s personal freedom, although no doubt it is a free act (in the sense that it is done freely and consciously, hence, the agent is culpable). On the contrary, it is an act of enslavement. And this, in two ways: with respect to the perpetrators and with respect to the society.

The right use of freedom always uplifts human dignity. But the act of killing a person or murder is an offense, not only against the human dignity of the victim, but also of the murderer. The assassin loses his moral dignity. Hence, he is enslaved.

Moreover, if he is simply obeying orders or simply doing it for pay, the assassin is also enslaved by his own fears that one day he might be the next victim. How sure is he that the one who directed him to execute someone (without due legal process) would not ask another assassin to liquidate him? And this would go a long, long way until the last axe falls on the mastermind’s head. Could we imagine the terror that it sows in the society?

* * *

This may appear like sheer philosophizing, an academic drill and – as what most people think – philosophy has very little usefulness in life! (That’s why, very few study it). But the very fact that philosophy is useless (in the sense that it should not be used for functional or ideological purposes) is what makes it sublime and noble. And for being so, philosophy can dignify life and human persons.

Of course, one need not take up licentiate or doctorate in philosophy to learn how to respect the dignity and life of a human person. It is a mandate of our being human. In the film “Horton, Horton”, it is affirmed that “a person is a person no matter how small”. It simply means that every person has dignity no matter how wicked his actions may be – including the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings.

If the DDS thinks that taking the law into its hands is morally right (even for whatever good intentions it may have), I think, it should reconsider its “philosophy”!

"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.