Saturday, March 30, 2013

Resurrection: Searching, Finding, Loving

What was just a simple attempt to do a corporal act of mercy turned out to be the source of great joy!
When Mary Magdalene and other women went to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning (in our calendar) to finish what they had left undone the Friday before, they were heading for the great surprise of their lives. They could not find Jesus inside the tomb. Weeping bitterly, they wondered why Jesus’ torment was not yet over that even His torturers would still desecrate His dead body.
They searched for Jesus but they could not find Him. Is it because their search was not really that exhaustive? They immediately informed the disciples, especially Peter whom they now deem as the new leader of the group, they called the New Way. The disciples too searched for Jesus in the empty tomb.
We search for a lot of things in life: money, power, fame, work, human esteem, love, ambitions, etc. But in the wide array of things that we look for in life, can we find Jesus in the list? Many people could not find the true meaning and the authentic joy in their life simply because, in the first place, they didn’t include Jesus in their bucket list or wish list.
Magdalene wept bitterly upon losing sight of Jesus’ dead body. But what worries us more is the loss of our cellphones, iPad or other things that we consider so valuable. Do we also weep bitterly when we lose Jesus through mortal sin? “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. And all these things will be added unto you”.
When Magdalene found Jesus, she could not recognize Him at first. Has Jesus’ face changed? Has death modified His appearance? Oftentimes, it is our grief that obscures our vision from perceiving clearly the face of Jesus amidst our suffering. It hinders us from recognizing the hands of God amidst our storms. Hence, in our incapacity to recognize the face of Jesus, we must listen to His voice as it is proclaimed in the Church.
When finally Magdalene recognized our Lord, He said, “Noli me tangere” (Do not touch me). How privileged are we today, for not only we can touch Jesus, we actually eat His Body in the Holy Communion! Our encounter with the Risen Lord is deeper. It is Eucharistic. And being Eucharistic, it is transformative not because it transforms the Body and Blood of Jesus into our own self, but because as St. Therese of the Child Jesus said, “We are transformed into Jesus Himself as a drop of rainwater falls into the vast ocean”.

Peter encountered the Risen Christ upon seeing the empty tomb. John saw it also and believed. In order to encounter the Risen Lord, we must empty our hearts which have become like “tombs” to a lot of filthy things – our selfishness, pride and sensuality.
After confirming that, indeed, Christ has risen, Peter spoke boldly to the Chief Priests and the leaders of the people. He was not afraid anymore, unlike last Friday when he was asked by that powerless slave, “Are you one of the disciples of this Nazarene?” and he denied it. Now, Peter has become courageous, unafraid, but at the same time, loving and patient with the defects of others. It is because he too recognized his own defects. We can love better when we know how much we are loved. “He who has been forgiven much of his sins will love more”.
Hence, no one who truly encounters the Risen Lord could just stand there without doing anything. Authentic encounter with the Risen Christ naturally leads us to love and to serve others. This encounter spurs us into action: we will never be afraid of negative criticisms anymore for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom; we will never get tired of getting involved in the GKK or parish activities, in committing ourselves to the service of the Church. St. Augustine used to pray: “Lord, give me the love that you ask of me, and later, ask me whatever you want”. True encounter with the Risen Lord would make one more loving. And he who loves truly is willing to do whatever it is that the Beloved asks of him.
Let us, therefore, join the women – Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary, the wife of Cleofas – who went to the tomb in order to search for Jesus, to encounter Jesus, and to love Him more. With the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, I wish all of us: “May we search for Christ. May we encounter Christ. May we love Christ”. Amen. HAPPY EASTER TO ALL OF YOU!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Let’s defend traditional marriage

A “Dump Starbucks” campaign is circulating in the World Wide Web. The reason? Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in an annual shareholders’ meeting, allegedly “sent a clear message to anyone who supports traditional message over gay marriage: we don’t want your business”. Reports say that he told a shareholder who supports traditional marriage to sell his shares and invest in some other company.
If this is true (and I think the news reporter has no reason to be inventing), then we should also say to Starbucks here in Davao: “we don’t want your coffee”.
In the US Supreme Court this week, the legal battle over gay marriage reached its height as the highest court deliberated on two cases that – the Boston Globe says – “could dramatically reshape the debate”. The same source also noted that public support for gay marriage is “at an all-time high” with 58% of Americans favoring gay marriage while only 36% opposing it.
If the truth could be determined by statistics, then, the true meaning of marriage would eventually be modified.
But no statistics or Supreme Court pronouncement could change the objective truth on marriage. Since time immemorial, civil and religious laws alike are unanimous in holding that marriage, by nature, is between man and woman, even though, at times both laws do not agree on whether marriage should be monogamous or not. In maintaining this truth, these positive laws simply echo the truth on marriage contained in the natural law, which, in turn, is a reflection of the divine law. This is why, man, in trying to modify these positive laws, is simply going against nature, and eventually, is going against the will of God.
“Without the Creator the creature would disappear… When God is forgotten…, the creature itself grows unintelligible” (Gaudium et spes, 36).
Gaudium et spes, in this sense, is prophetic. When reference to God and to God’s design for marriage and family is taken away, naturally, human family would become unintelligible. It would very soon disappear. Everybody recognizes the morally, emotionally and psychologically harmful effects of divorce, parents’ separation and single parenthood to the growth of children. Can we afford to add the same-sex marriage to this list?
In the Philippines, we must sound the alarm! Not a few senatorial candidates maintain an explicit positive stand on same-sex marriage. Others, while not explicit in their opposition, are not really against it.
Advocates of gay marriage insist on their rights to marry and form a family. But is it also their rights to modify the long and widely held definition of marriage and deprive others, especially the young generation, of this truth? Our freedom (rights) ends where the freedom (rights) of others begins!
In his opposition to the Argentinian government’s support for a gay marriage bill, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) said: “Let's not be naive: this isn’t a simple political fight, it’s an attempt to destroy God’s plan”.
In defending traditional marriage from wicked attacks like that of Starbucks, we are actually defending God’s plan!

Friday, March 22, 2013

"There is no true peace without truth"

(The speech by Pope Francis to the ambassadors and to the world, including "those few countries that do not yet have diplomatic relations with the Holy See," like China)

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Heartfelt thanks to your Dean, Ambassador Jean-Claude Michel, for the kind words that he has addressed to me in the name of everyone present. It gives me joy to welcome you for this exchange of greetings: a simple yet deeply felt ceremony, that somehow seeks to express the Pope’s embrace of the world. Through you, indeed, I encounter your peoples, and thus in a sense I can reach out to every one of your fellow citizens, with their joys, their troubles, their expectations, their desires.
Your presence here in such numbers is a sign that the relations between your countries and the Holy See are fruitful, that they are truly a source of benefit to mankind. That, indeed, is what matters to the Holy See: the good of every person upon this earth! And it is with this understanding that the Bishop of Rome embarks upon his ministry, in the knowledge that he can count on the friendship and affection of the countries you represent, and in the certainty that you share this objective.
At the same time, I hope that it will also be an opportunity to begin a journey with those few countries that do not yet have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, some of which were present at the Mass for the beginning of my ministry, or sent messages as a sign of their closeness – for which I am truly grateful.
As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith.
One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure! After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.
But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the "tyranny of relativism", which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.
And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
One of the titles of the Bishop of Rome is Pontiff, that is, a builder of bridges with God and between people. My wish is that the dialogue between us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced! My own origins impel me to work for the building of bridges. As you know, my family is of Italian origin; and so this dialogue between places and cultures a great distance apart matters greatly to me, this dialogue between one end of the world and the other, which today are growing ever closer, more interdependent, more in need of opportunities to meet and to create real spaces of authentic fraternity.
In this work, the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people.
Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions, and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam. At the Mass marking the beginning of my ministry, I greatly appreciated the presence of so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world.
And it is also important to intensify outreach to non-believers, so that the differences which divide and hurt us may never prevail, but rather the desire to build true links of friendship between all peoples, despite their diversity.
Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up. But it is a difficult journey, if we do not learn to grow in love for this world of ours. Here too, it helps me to think of the name of Francis, who teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.
Dear Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you again for all the work that you do, alongside the Secretariat of State, to build peace and construct bridges of friendship and fraternity. Through you, I would like to renew to your Governments my thanks for their participation in the celebrations on the occasion of my election, and my heartfelt desire for a fruitful common endeavour. May Almighty God pour out his gifts on each one of you, on your families and on the peoples that you represent. Thank you!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Patience in adversity

            I have just finished the talk during the recollection I was facilitating with a small group of employees at the side chapel of the Sta. Ana Shrine Parish last Wednesday when I received a call from a seminarian who happened to pass by our house in Ma-a, telling me that our house was blazing in fire.
Immediately, I took the car and headed home. When I reached the place I could only see black smoke. (Later that day, a friend of mine jokingly texted me, “We are waiting for a smoke from the Sistine Chapel not that smoke from your house”). The fire had been extinguished. The house was completely burned. We may not have salvaged anything, but thank God, my mother, my auntie and my niece were saved.
            It was March 13, 2013, the 78th birthday of my father who passed away two years ago. We were about to visit his grave that day and have dinner with the whole family at the house. But that evening, we were so busy trying to compose ourselves and attend to the hospitalization of my mother who broke her left wrist. She slipped on the floor during the emergency. The doctor’s initial suggestion was an operation.
            Very late that night, as I was going to sleep (at around 2:00 A.M.), I received a call from Msgr. Paul Cuison. “Habemus Papam!” he excitedly informed me. We had to wait for an hour with our eyes fixed on the TV screen before we saw the newly-elected Pope emerging onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis of Argentina brought immense joy to my day. I forgot for a while my family’s predicament.
            In prayer, I began to grope for the meaning of all these. At the writing of this article, I seem to understand. Coincidence, says Albert Einstein, is God’s way of staying anonymous. Two striking data converge: my late biological father’s birthday and the election of my spiritual father, Pope Francis. God is telling me that despite the tragedy, He is still a Father to me. He will never let us down. We may have lost all our belongings but never the truth that we are God’s children.
            For this reason, we cling to Him more firmly and most especially in times of adversity. We have been stripped of worldly things for us to trust only in Him, in His loving, fatherly providence. Human heart can easily get distracted. Oftentimes, too much attachment to earthly goods could easily swerve our hearts from the path that God wants us to tread. Adversities can be God’s wake up call. But God is so faithful that He does not try us beyond our capacity Cfr. 1 Cor 10: 13).
            Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1: 21). We must thank the Lord for whatever happens in our life. We must always remember that God is a loving Father. If He allows trials, they are intended for our purification. God can write straight with crooked lines. We must learn to be patient in times of adversity as we are also grateful in times of prosperity.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why the RH law can never be catholic?

            Pardon my insistence of this issue. But there’s an erroneous thought that goes around today insisting on the compatibility of the RH law with Catholic doctrines. While I admit that the RH law issue is already irritating to tackle about, what is more irritating is the fact that RH law advocates, who could not make Catholics pro-RH, are now trying to make the RH law catholic.
            In clarifying this question, I am simply doing my ministry as a priest, that is, to “proclaim the message, in season and out of season” (Cfr. 2 Tim 4:2). It is because, today, as in the time of St. Paul, some “people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (2 Tim 4: 3-4).
            I don’t think the RH law only provides for “choice according to religious conviction”, as one intellectual claims, for two reasons: first, I don’t think laws only provide options or choices. The helmet law which took effect in Davao City recently does not only provide for a choice on whether or not a motorist would use standard helmets. The law prescribes it under penalty. Do you think the RH law only provides for a choice on whether an adult married Filipino couple would use condom or rhythm method? Tell it to the marines! If the law only provides for a choice, why the need to make it a law? Don’t couples already have a choice before the RH law?
            Secondly, I don’t think the RH law guarantees religious conviction when all it prescribes and promotes is the contraceptive mentality which is contrary to the religious conviction of the majority of Filipinos. By promoting the use of contraceptives, the law is insensitive to the religious conviction of the Catholic majority. Besides, it endangers the conscience of all Catholics who are striving to be good Catholics through obedience to the Magisterium. Is that the way the law guarantees the free exercise of religious freedom and conviction?
            Moreover, the argument of those who hold that the RH law is compatible with the Catholic doctrines simply because the law “provides for choice according to religious conviction” is seriously flawed and is completely missing the point. The point at issue here is not whether Catholics have or don’t have choices. The central point is that the RH law promotes contraception, something that Catholic teaching cannot tolerate.
While it is important to emphasize that people should have choices, it is equally important to analyze what kind of choices people should have. Freedom does not consist merely in having choices. True freedom is choosing the good. Evil choice is not freedom; it is slavery. If married couples are given the choice to use contraception, this is an evil choice. Hence, it does not make them free: it enslaves them.
Therefore, something in the RH law is intrinsically evil: the promotion of contraception. That alone makes it incompatible with the Catholic doctrine. Even non-Catholics with good will and who are lovers of life will surely reject the RH law. How much more a Catholic priest like me?

"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.