Tuesday, October 22, 2013

“Faith in the midst of ruins”

“Faith in the midst of ruins” was how The Philippine Daily Inquirer put its headline the day after a 7.2-magnitude hit Central Visayas and left severe damages in Bohol and Cebu. The news focused on two statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary that stood “without any blemish—amid the ruins of two churches in Maribojoc and Loon towns”.

“It was enough for residents to raise their hopes that life will get better”, the news said. It could not be better said!

Truly, God can write straight with crooked lines! God is so powerful and so wise, He could even allow natural calamities to happen knowing He can get some good out of them.

Just as in the Book of Genesis, when the first devastation in human history took place – the moral devastation of sin – and everything that God gave man seemed ruined (preternatural gifts, original holiness and justice), God did not abandon man. Instead, He promised redemption and restoration through a woman – the Woman (See CCC, no. 385-412).

So it is in Bohol and Cebu today! God does not abandon His children. He promises them restoration of their livelihood, rebuilding of their homes, and reestablishment of their lives. And, I believe, God does it through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I also saw on TV one image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus unscathed despite the rubbles. Immediately, what dawned on me was the message that despite the fact that everything around us collapses, God remains our refuge and strength. At times, God allows the downfall of the things that we consider our security and shelter in life so that we may trust in Him alone.

Indeed, “Faith in the midst of ruins” is not only a fitting description of the plight of our brothers and sisters in Central Visayas. It could also be an appropriate call for Filipinos all over the country and abroad. The earthquake and ruins in Bohol and Cebu can also be figurative of the political and moral “earthquakes” and “ruins” that our country is experiencing today with the “pork barrel” scam and other corrupt practices.

Amidst all these, let us raise the eyes of our faith and look for the image of Our Lady, our Blessed Mother. Her motherly assistance and intercession would be enough hope for us that life will get better.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gratefulness makes us happy

A certain Brother David Steindl-Rast once said, “In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but (it is) gratefulness that makes us happy”. Today’s liturgical readings put more emphasis on the importance of gratitude. Being grateful is so essential for human beings that even Jesus expects it from us and is even close to demanding it.

In the First Reading, we see Naaman, the general of Syrian army, returning to the Prophet Elisha to thank him personally for the miraculous healing from leprosy, and offering the prophet lavish tokens of thanksgiving. When a person realizes the greatness of the blessings received, he becomes grateful and more generous. When we realize that we have received lots of blessings from the Lord, we become more generous to Him and His Church. Those who are stringent in giving are those who recognize very little God’s gifts.

St. Paul, in the Second Reading, reminds us that even if we are unfaithful to Jesus, our Lord “remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself”. Even if we are less generous to God with our time, talent and treasure, God continues to show us His abundant generosity by giving us what we need every day. Even more! Even if we are sometimes ungrateful to God, He remains faithful in bestowing His unconditional love for us. We see this in the Story of Ten Lepers in the Gospel.

Ten lepers came to meet Jesus and asked Him to cure them. Perhaps, Jesus knew that most of them would be ungrateful. Yet, He still cured them all. Only one, a Samaritan, came to thank Jesus. St. Luke emphasized that “this man was a Samaritan”. Perhaps, the Evangelist wanted to highlight the fact that in life, oftentimes we get good things from unexpected people. Hence, we should put aside any bias and all the prejudices we have with the people we meet every day.

Why would God want us to be grateful? Seneca said: “Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart”. He even observed that “A man is ungrateful who denies that he has received a benefit; more ungrateful is he who pretends that he has not received it. But the most ungrateful man of all is he who forgets it”. Three reasons, perhaps, why we must be grateful would be worth-pondering.

First, to give thanks is a sign of wisdom. According to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “There are three things that show whether or not your mouth is full of wisdom: one, if you acknowledge and profess your own sinfulness; two, if from your mouth come acts of thanksgiving and praises; and, three, if from your mouth come words that edify others”  (Various Sermons, 15). You see, to be grateful is to be wise because in recognizing the good things received, you also recognize the Giver. In gratitude, we see the truth about God and about ourselves. We recognize that everything is meaningful because everything is a gift. For this reason, Melody Beattie observes that “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend”.

 Secondly, acts of thanksgiving to God are an anticipation of the praises that we shall sing to Him in heaven. To give thanks, therefore, is to practice our life in heaven. What does heaven consist in? Of course, it consists in loving God and our fellow citizens in heaven. But it also consists in eternal and non-stop acts of praise and thanksgiving. If you want to enter heaven, then, you must rehearse that life here on earth. St. Augustine once wrote: “The subject of our meditation in this present life should be the praises of God; for the everlasting exaltation of our life hereafter will be the praise of God, and none can become fit for the life hereafter, who has not practiced himself for it now” (Expositions on the Psalm 148, 1).

Lastly, he who recognizes the benefits received shall receive more. Our human experience tells us that we love to give more to people who are grateful for our gifts. To the ungrateful, we never give them anymore. God, who remains generous even to the ungrateful, multiplies the gifts for those who are grateful. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said: “To whoever recognizes humbly the benefits received and is grateful for it, reasonably will receive more benefits. To him who is faithful in what is small more will be given. But who is ungrateful in what he received is unworthy of new favors” (On Psalm 50).

Commenting on today’s Gospel, St. Bernard observed that “What causes God not to grant our prayers is His finding us lacking in gratitude. After all, perhaps it is even an act of mercy on His part to hold back from the ungrateful what they are asking for so that they may not be judged all the more rigorously on account of their ingratitude… [Thus] it is sometimes out of mercy that God holds back His mercy…” If you think God is not granting you your heart’s desire, perhaps He sees that you lack enough gratitude. Wallace D. Wattles has a point when he wrote: “The grateful mind is constantly fixed upon the best. Therefore it tends to become the best. It takes the form or character of the best and will receive the best”.

My dear friends, if we are grateful to God and to each other by being generous in sharing our time, talent and treasure, we will grow in wisdom, we anticipate our life in heaven and we shall receive more blessings. We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary the graces we need to be more grateful so that we may become happier in life, for indeed, it is not happiness that makes us grateful; it is gratefulness that makes us happy.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

“Increase our faith”

We have a Filipino saying which goes, “Wala ka ngang ginawang masama, wala ka rin namang kabutihang nagawa”. It describes an attitude of “mediocrity”. Mediocre is what we call a thing that is lacking exceptional quality or ability. “Lukewarm” is the term used by the Book of Revelation: neither hot nor cold.

Perhaps, the apostles felt that their faith has become lukewarm, or that they have become mediocre already in following the Lord. That’s why they asked Him, “Lord, increase our faith”. The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you”. Do you know the size of a mustard seed? Just look at a point on the end of a pencil. That’s about the size of a mustard seed. A lukewarm and mediocre faith is even smaller than that.

How do we know that our faith is lukewarm and mediocre? St. Josemaría Escrivá has enumerated some symptoms. He said: “You are lukewarm if you carry out lazily and reluctantly those things that have to do with our Lord; if deliberately or ‘shrewdly’ you look for some way of cutting down your duties; if you think only of yourself and of your comfort; if your conversations are idle and vain; if you do not abhor venial sins; if you act from human motives”. Maybe, it is good to examine ourselves today: Is my faith lukewarm? Pope Francis once sent a message in Twitter: “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness”. In the Book of Revelation, God will vomit the lukewarm out of His mouth.

Lukewarm faith manifests also in constant complaining about the discomfort in life. In the First Reading, we heard Habakkuk complaining about the delay in God’s intervention to set things right in the world. “Yahweh, how long will I cry for help while you pay no attention to me? I denounce the oppression and you do not save. Why do you make me see injustice?” Oftentimes, when we encounter difficulties, injustices, sufferings, and discomfort in life, it is easier to complain than to abandon ourselves in God’s hands. Pope Francis also twitted: “Even in the midst of trials and tribulations, the Christian is always joyous, never sad. A Christian, who constantly complains, on the other hand, fails to be a good Christian”.

A mediocre Christian is like that servant in the Gospel who has done no more than what is expected of him. “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do”. It may be true that we never complain when faced with difficulties. But it is also true that we never do more than what is expected of us. We don’t put extraordinary effort in doing our ordinary tasks. The “Little Way” of St. Therese of the Child Jesus consists in this: “doing ordinary tasks with extraordinary love”. But only those whose faith is like the size of a mustard seed can transform their ordinary tasks into extraordinary acts of love. Faith can move mountains.

That is why we need to heed the call of St. Paul to Timothy in the Second Reading. He said, “I invite you to fan into a flame the gift of God you received”. Your faith, my dear friends, is a precious gift from God. But like any gift, it will die and fade away if it is not nurtured, if it is not “fanned into a flame”. How do you cultivate your faith? How often do you pray every day? How frequent do you receive the Sacrament of Penance (Confession)? How often do you read and meditate the Bible? Do you consult and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church? How do you put into practice Christian charity? Do you regularly help the needy? Do you perform your work well? Through prayer, charitable acts, doctrinal formation and doing apostolate, we slowly but surely “fan into a flame” the gift of God, our faith.

What are some symptoms of an increased faith? Your faith is deep if you are not easily discouraged by failures in life. Instead, you look at failures as opportunities. As Henry Ford says, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”. You have an increased faith if you put the same diligence in doing small and great tasks, because, for you, there is no difference between small or big tasks. The difference is in the little or more love in doing them. Lastly, your faith is increased if, despite your weaknesses, you continue to move on, knowing that God can make use of your defects as “fertilizers” to your holiness.

Brothers and sisters, I know, you and I, we don’t want to be lukewarm in our faith, in our spiritual life. We don’t want to be like the unprofitable servants. We want to do our ordinary tasks with extraordinary love. But we are also confronted with our weaknesses. Hence, we hear the advice that St. Josemaría gave to his spiritual children. “Fight against that weakness which makes you lazy and careless in your spiritual life. Remember that it might well be the beginning of lukewarmness”.

With the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, like the apostles in the Gospel, we also pray to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith”. 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.