Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Wolverine" and the Quest for Immortality

“Immortality can be a burden especially when you have lost the meaning for living, when there is nothing or no one to live for. You may just become like a samurai without a master”.

The words of Master Yashida haunted Logan on several occasions. The offer was very attractive: mortality and rest after countless decades of fidgety existence. He had witnessed the barbarities of war and human struggles in history, recently the Nagasaki atomic bombing, where he saved Yashida’s life. He had lost his mutant friends. He had lost Jean. He has now become “a samurai without a master”. What will hinder him from accepting Yashida’s offer? Nothing. Just the curiosity of it!

What’s curious was the offer itself. And it’s coming from Yashida himself on his deathbed. Why would a dying man offer normal passing from life to death to an immortal mutant? Logan thought, why do I smell something fishy in it?

What was fishy became a shocking revelation in the end. Yashida himself (whose death was just a façade) was the one interested in transferring “mechanically” Wolverine’s immortality to himself. The motive? To protect and perpetuate the business empire he has built over the years.

The transmission could have succeeded had it not been interrupted courageously by Maroki, Yashida’s granddaughter. Finally, Wolverine found the reason for living. To Jean’s offer (in a dream) of joining her in the afterlife, Wolverine declined saying “I am a soldier”. He has ceased to become “a samurai without a master”.

Did you wonder what people could afford to do just to gain immortality? Wolverine is a film that depicts it. We see here another comic description of the truth of our being: man is created to endure forever. Confronted by the reality of death and the fear of extinction, he clings to his desire for immortality.

But oftentimes, man’s desire to be immortal does not correspond to his immortal constitution and to the eternal life he is called. The immortality he seeks is still bound to time and space while he is called to be eternal, to be in communion with the Author of time and space Himself.

In his quest for immortality, man clings to the things of this world. But God continues to remind him that true immortality consists in denying oneself of worldly and passing things and clinging to what is heavenly and enduring: a life in God.

Yashida spent his whole life in obsessively devising ways to obtain Wolverine’s immortality. Every man and woman does not have to invent extraordinary means to win eternal life. Christ already has procured it for us and offered it freely and readily for our reach. All we need to do is to turn to Christ.

“May we seek Christ; may we find Christ; may we love Christ”. And in finding Him, we shall obtain, not just immortality, but eternal bliss.

Finding your “little bone”

Homily: Capping and Pinning (Blessed John Paul II College of Davao)

          Allow me to begin this homily with a very cute tale of a dog that has found its bone (Ang Iro nga nakakita ug usa ka bukog). There was once a dog that found a bone of a certain animal lying on the ground. When the dog tried to grab it, it moved away from him (nakahigot diay ug nylon ug gibira sa wala mailhi nga tawo). So the dog chased it. The dog was barking while running to chase the bone. Another dog heard the first dog bark and saw it running. So this second dog also barked and ran after the first dog. A third dog did the same, and so a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and in a matter of minutes, almost 20 dogs were barking and running after the first dog. Among these 20 dogs, only the first dog knew why it was running and barking: it was chasing the bone. The other dogs were just running and barking without knowing why they are doing it!

          My dear nursing students, today you shall receive the pins and caps which symbolize the years of toils and the efforts you have spent in studying here in our Alma Mater. Like the dogs in our little story, we can say, you’ve been also “running” and “barking” – chasing your dream to become professional nurses. Perhaps, I don’t have to remind you of the importance of knowing the reason why you are “running” and “barking” all these years. I hope that you run and bark because you have found your bone! When you have found your “bone” – your purpose in life, your vocation, your mission – you go after it: chase it and never lose sight of it!

          A similar thing takes place in the Gospel that we heard today (Cfr. Mt 13: 44-46). Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is also like finding a treasure hidden in a field or finding the pearl of great price. The one who finds it would sell everything he has and would buy that field or that pearl. When we find the meaning of our existence, of all our life; when we discover the purpose and the direction of our life, we would not mind the difficulties. We could afford to lose everything for the sake of the treasure – the meaning of life that we found. The pinning and capping has this symbolism: it symbolizes that somehow you have found the direction of your life – that you have discovered the purpose and the mission of your existence: to serve as a nurse. May you never lose sight of this newly discovered treasure, this “pearl of great price”.

          But, my dear friends, there is a risk in selling “everything” one has to buy the field of hidden treasure, or the pearl of great price. What if after leaving everything, after “selling” your every possession, you come back with your money, ready to buy that field or that pearl, only to discover that the field or the pearl is no longer available? What will you do?

          If you notice lately, there is a dramatic drop of those who are taking up nursing nowadays. The demand for nurses locally and abroad has dramatically went down so that lots of students would rather take up other courses. What is this? The “field of hidden treasure”, the “pearl of great price”, has lost its value! You have sold everything, you have risked everything (gibaligya ang kabaw), only to find out that nursing has become unpopular! What will you do? Persist in your dreams. Believe in your capacity. As our theme states: “Persistence is easy when you believe”.

          My dear students, yours is the time for purification of intentions. During the time when the nursing course was the “in-thing”, thousands flocked to take up nursing even though it was not yet very clear to them that their vocation or mission in life was to serve the community as nurses. They took up nursing simply because it was the in-thing. It promised easy job and income. When you take up a course with this kind of motive or any motive other than right one, then, you are just like those dogs that run and bark without really knowing why they are doing so.

          But now that the nursing course has become less popular, and you are still here “running” and “barking” to chase your dreams, receiving today your pins and caps, we could say that you are really meant to become nurses: that you understand very well how important it is to have the right intention in choosing your career. You really have found your bone!

          Now that you have found your “bone”, do not lose it! Cling to it. Preserve it. Be good at it. Be professional nurses: nurses who serve; nurses who care; nurses who do their best in fulfilling their task with utmost professionalism; nurses who offer to God every effort, every fatigue, every stress, every smile even if the schedules are unbearable; nurses who try to convert their work and service into prayer by offering them for the greater glory of God, as St. Ignatius taught (whose feast we celebrate today). In a word, be professional nurses who know how to sanctify their work and themselves through their profession by working with professionalism, sincerity, loyalty and the right intention of glorifying God.

          When you do this, you will become intimate friends with God. And you will speak to God more often in prayer, just like Moses in the First Reading (Cfr. Ex 34: 29-35), who speaks with God with familiarity and intimacy as if he was just talking to a friend. When you pray often to God, your face will also shine (like that of Moses) with joy and youthfulness. And you will be able to give authentic smiles to your patients. And your patients will encounter God, Jesus and Mary through you. All of these started simply with the finding of your own “little bone” in life.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Why Catholics make the Sign of the Cross?

I don’t pretend to sound very original here for there’s nothing new under the sun. But I only wish to reecho for wide diffusion the points of Bert Ghezzi in an article published a few months ago in Our Sunday Visitor (3-25-2013) (See http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/9190/Why-Catholics-make-the-sign-of-the-cross.aspx).

According to Ghezzi, there are six ways “in which making the ancient sign opens Catholics to life-transforming graces”. In his book The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer (Loyola Press, 2004), the author shares how making the sign with more faith and reverence helps him experience its great blessings. “I did not think much about it, but after a year I noticed that I seemed to be doing measurably better in my Christian life. I was praying with more passion, resisting my bad inclinations somewhat more effectively, and relating to others more kindly”, he said.

So, here are the six oftentimes overlooked reasons why we, Catholics, make the Sign of the Cross:

First, the Sign of the Cross is a profession of faith. It is an abbreviated for of the Apostle’s Creed. Have you noticed the Trinitarian structure of the Creed that we pray every Sunday and on Solemnities? To profess our faith is quite urgent today when the society seems to disregard the place of God in our lives. “When we sign ourselves, we are making ourselves aware of God’s presence and opening ourselves to His action in our lives”, Ghezzi notes.

Second, making the Sign of the Cross is a reminder and renewal of our baptism. What happened in our baptism? St. Paul says that in baptism we died sacramentally with Christ on the cross and rose with Him to a new life (Cfr. Rom 6: 3-4; Gal 2:20). When we make the sign, we ask the Lord to renew the graces we received in Baptism. We also acknowledge that through Baptism we become one with the Body of Christ, the Church; thus, we are co-redeemer with Him.

Third, the cross is a mark of discipleship. Pope Francis, in his first homily, emphasized the importance of the cross to Christ’s disciples. He said, “When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord”. “By tracing the cross on our bodies, we are denying that we belong to ourselves and declaring that we belong to Him alone”, Ghezzi explains. As Catholics, are we going to deprive ourselves of this manifestation of our belongingness to Christ?

Fourth, if the Sign of the Cross is a mark of authentic discipleship, it is because it is a manifestation of our acceptance of suffering. Because Jesus chose to suffer for us, He is telling us that suffering – being a normal part of disciples’ life – has a new redemptive and redeeming meaning. Thus, when we mark our bodies with the sign, we embrace lovingly whatever physical, spiritual or moral pain that comes as a consequence of our faith. However, it is not embracing suffering for its own sake. Catholics are never sadists. We take joy in suffering because it purifies us and it unites us to our Lord.

Fifth, the Sign of the Cross is a moved against the devil. The devil thought mistakenly that he had won a great victory when Jesus died on the cross. “Instead, the Lord surprised Him with an ignominious defeat”, Ghezzi observes. The cross, therefore, becomes a symbol of the devil’s defeat and the Christians’ victory. I remember a saying that goes, “When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future”. Making the sign of the cross does not only remind us of our victory over the devil, it also reminds the devil of his ultimate defeat.

Lastly, making the Sign of the Cross manifests also our victory over the flesh. The flesh is the sum of all disordered inclinations that we experience within as a result of the original sin: envy, jealousy, sensuality, anger, etc. When we sign ourselves, we express our decision to “crucify” the desires of our flesh and to live according to the Holy Spirit. Ghezzi likens it to “tossing off a dirty shirt or blouse”. “Making the sign,” he says, “indicates our stripping ourselves of our evil inclinations and clothing ourselves with the behaviors of Christ (see Col 3: 5-15)”.

Knowing these reasons and keeping them in mind whenever we make the Sign of the Cross, either in opening or closing a prayer or in entering a church, is one step towards living seriously our spiritual life as Catholics. This Year of Faith could be the best time to start doing it.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

To be with and to be sent by Jesus

Homily: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

To be a Christian, to be authentic followers of Christ consists in two dimensions, like two sides of a coin: to be with Jesus and to be sent by Jesus. These two are interdependent: one cannot do without the other. In the Gospel today, the sending forth of the 72 disciples two by two to every town and place where Jesus Himself was to go took place after the disciples already had spent sufficient time with Jesus, listening to Him, observing His actions and gestures and learning to think, speak and act like Him – in short, to be like Jesus, who is “meek and humble of heart”.

In other words, if we want to be true Christians and authentic Catholics, it is indispensable that we establish an intimate relationship with Jesus first. What could be a picture of that intimate relationship that I am referring to? We shall borrow the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading. Describing the relationship that God has with His people, Israel, the Prophet said: “As a son comforted by his mother, so will I comfort you. At the sight of this, your heart will rejoice; like grass, your bones will flourish. For it shall be known that Yahweh’s hand is with his servant, but his fury is upon his enemy”.

This description of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel is more than just a promise to those who wish to have an intimate relationship with Jesus through prayer and the sacraments. Whenever we decide to be serious with our spiritual life, God’s promise to be comforted like a son comforted by his mother becomes a reality. Indeed, to be with Jesus is a true source of joy. You will have that sensation of being secure, that experience of being loved and being accepted despite who or what you are, that feeling of assurance that despite whatever will happen in life, Jesus is still the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. I think this is the reward of being with Jesus, of having an intimate bond with Him.

But this joy of being with Jesus is not incompatible with the presence of little crosses or trials each day. This is the reason why St. Paul, in the Second Reading, says: “For me, I do not wish to take pride in anything except in the cross of Christ Jesus our Lord. Through Him the world has been crucified to me and I to the world”. Your daily discomfort – the warm weather, that inconsiderate officemate of yours, the misunderstanding that you have with your housemates, the misinterpretation of people about your good intention (“Don’t say, ‘that person disturbs me’. Say, ‘That person sanctifies me’), that economic burden that you carry now, the physical suffering because of long-time illness, etc. – are little crosses that make us authentic followers of Jesus. That is why we need to embrace these crosses with a smile on our face. St. Josemaría Escrivá said: “If you accept difficulties with a faint heart you lose your joy and your peace, and you run the risk of not deriving spiritual benefits from the trial”. It may sound fantastic and unbelievable. But through our joyful acceptance of our daily trials, we become true disciples of Christ. We may grow strong in our relationship with God.

Do you want to know some signs or indications that our Christian life is doing well? Your life of prayer: How many times you pray every day? Do you maintain always the presence of God daily? Do you visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? Are you faithful in your daily Holy Rosary and other Marian devotions? Your personal battle against your defects and disordered inclinations: Do you fight to resist your bad inclinations? Do you control your anger or irritation? Do you dominate your tongue by saying only words that build and never words that destroy other persons? Your relationship with people around you: Are you considerate with other’s mistakes? Do you criticize their defects or blame them for their errors? Do you fight to protect the name of other people, especially when you hear that others are defaming them? If you think you are living – more or less – these three indicators of true Christian life, then, truly you are intimate with Jesus. Your intimacy with Jesus makes you apt and ready to be sent to do a mission, to do apostolate with other people by bringing them closer to Jesus.

If you notice, whenever we find something very enjoyable, our natural tendency is to share them with our friends, colleagues and family. If there’s something good and joyful that happens to you, the first one to know is your best friend. The same is true with our Christian life. Our apostolate, that is, our mission of bringing people to Christ, is actually an offshoot of our personal prayer life. We cannot give what we don’t have. We cannot share with others our experience of God if we have not authentically experienced Jesus in our daily tasks.

We call this “the apostolate of friendship”. Through working diligently if you are a professional or an employee, through studying well, intensely but calmly, if you are a student, or through fulfilling carefully your household chores, if you are a house mother and wife, you are also like the 72 disciples of Jesus. You are also sent on a mission: to bring people to Christ. You are also sent to every circumstance of life to precede Jesus. How we wish that whenever people will see how hardworking and kindhearted you are, they would say: “This person reads the life of Jesus. He or she is really a true follower of our Lord”. Through your cheerfulness and kindness, you will draw your friends to God.

But you cannot show cheerfulness and kindness if you lack peace of mind and heart. That is why, Jesus tells us in the Gospel: “If a friend of peace lives there, the peace shall rest upon that person”. God’s blessings come to us only when our hearts are ready for His gifts. If not, God will bid His time. And you will say, “God did not answer my prayer”. The truth is that you are not yet ready to receive God’s gifts. Who knows whether or not we are ready? God, who searches the heart of the sons of Adam and Eve.

Three things are basic if we want to do “apostolate of friendship”: better understanding of our Catholic doctrines (doctrinal formation), firm trust in God’s providence, and lots of sense of humor (cheerfulness). Jesus told His disciples: “Courage! I am sending you like lambs among wolves… When they welcome you in any town… say to them; ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand’”. We cannot preach or share our faith if we don’t study them and know them by heart. Besides, only when we are well-equipped with sound doctrines can we behave like meek lambs among the aggressive wolves that would like to sow confusion. “Set off without purse or bag or sandals; and do not stop at the homes of those you know”, Jesus continued speaking. Jesus wants us to trust solely in Him, not in our wealth, not even in our personal attachments to people, places and events.  Each of our three Readings suggests the importance of rejoicing and being cheerful. Joy is the typical characteristic of Christians: “Rejoice for Jerusalem and be glad for her”, says the Prophet Isaiah. “I take joy in the cross of Christ Jesus”, says St. Paul. “The 72 disciples returned full of joy”.  I am sure that with doctrinal formation, filial trust and sense of humor, we can bring people to God.

My dear friends, “the harvest is rich, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to his harvest”. Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to help us live these two dimensions of to be with Jesus and to be sent by Him. Amen.

"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.