The Healing Touch of Jesus

2 July 2006: 13th Sunday of the Year Mark 5, 21-43: Healing of Jairus’s daughter and the woman with a hemorrhage

The Gospel contains all elements of tragedy. Jairus’ daughter was at the brink of death and a woman was suffering from hemorrhage for 12 years. And Jesus healed all of them. Healing is part of normal Christian life. Since the kingdom of God is also here and present, we share in God’s overflowing power to heal wounds.

Why? Because our faith is incarnational. God cares as much about the body as he does the soul, as much about the emotions as He does the spirit. The redemption of Jesus is total, involving every aspect of the person --- body, mind, spirit. Everything in us. All of us. God employs an infinite variety of means to bring health and well-being to his people: doctors, psychiatrists, priests. Nowadays, we often compartmentalize ourselves, and assign someone to cure each compartment: for our bodies, the doctors; for our mind, the psychologists, for the spirit, the priests. But the ancient Hebrews regarded persons as a whole, a unity. He who cures the body, cures the mind, and the soul. He who cures the soul, cures the mind and the body, and so on.

And thus, the refusal to use medical means to promote healing may be a gesture of faith — but more often a gesture of spiritual pride. On the other hand, a total trust on medicine alone; may be a gesture of our rationalistic attitude — and then, turn to prayer only when everything else has failed. Normally, the aid of prayer and the aid of medicine should be used at the same time and with equal vigor, for both are gifts of God, both are His ways of healing. I have known several Jesuits who are doctors. One of them said that he wanted to totally heal the sick, but unless there is the aspect of the spiritual, his medical practice is incomplete.

A normal way but effective method is our touch therapy. We find it in scripture. It is called the laying of hands. It is a gesture of compassion. Jesus laid hands on the sick at Nazareth. Jesus laid hands on blind man at Bethsaida. Jesus’ took the hand of Jairus’s daughter and brought her back to life. The touch of Jesus’ robes cured the woman with the hemorrhage. Paul laid hands in people in Malta. (Acts 28). The laying of hands, our touch cures most effectively: it is a valid ministry ordained by God for the benefit of His community. Clearly show the importance of contact and transmittal with God’s grace.

The laying of hands in itself does not heal the sick—it is Christ who heals. By employing our hands, God gives us the opportunity to impart healing.

Based from Scripture we find these steps helping in healing.

First, listen to them: the step of discernment. Listen to people share their deepest need and listen to God to show the key to the problem. Often, the root of the problem is sorted out once people have let out steam, when they have talked and talked and talked. And often the key to the problem because clearer as one articulates their wounds.

Second, ask: knowing the key to the problem. Ask clearly from God what is needed without ifs, buts, and ands.

Third, believe: believe with the whole person. If not, say, “I believe. God help me with my unbelief!”

Fourth, give thanks: simple courtesy leads us to give thanks for what we have asked to happen. Gratitude heals. When we are overwhelmed with gratitude, we are filled with energy and vigor.

Today, we acknowledge our gift of healing and the importance of touch in our lives. If we would humbly seek our deepest desires, it is the desire to be embraced, to be touched and comforted, to be loved palpably. And when someone touches us, all wounds are miraculously healed. Let us not deny each other the importance of touch. We can heal. It is part of our Christian life. It is Let us not withhold our touch from those who need it.

Martyrdom to Sts. Peter and Paul

26 June 2006: Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul
The Martyrdom of Peter and Paul

Saints Peter and Paul are true martyrs. They have offered their whole lives to God, and they have lived their commitment to God. I believe, what made Peter and Paul great is not so much their spectacular martyrdom. Their being martyrs began when they said yes to Jesus’ call. They have faced death every minute of their lives which only culminated in Peter’s martyrdom of dying upside down on the cross or Paul’s death of being beheaded by a sword. Let us explore their lives to understand what is also demanded of our faith. From St. Paul, we answer the question: “What is the cost of Christian discipleship? And from St. Peter, we answer the question, “Why are we afraid to commit ourselves to Christ?

St. Paul urges us to offer our bodies ---- our very selves --- as a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1). This offering cannot be made in some abstract way with our pious acts. It must be rooted in the acceptance of the concrete details of who we are and the way we live. We must come to accept and even honor our creaturehood. The offering of ourselves can only be the offering of our lived experience, because this alone is who we are. And who we are --- not who we want to be --- is the only offering we have to give. We give God therefore not just our strengths, but our weaknesses, not just our giftedness but also our brokenness. Our duplicity, our lust, our narcissism, our laziness --- all are laid on the altar of sacrifice.

We must not deny or ignore the depth of our evil, for, paradoxically, our sinfulness becomes our bread. When in honesty we accept the evil that is in us as part of the truth about ourselves and offer that truth up to God, we are in a mysterious way nourished. Even the truth about our sinful side sets us free (John 8, 32).

There is, therefore, no need to repress, suppress, or sublimate any of God’s truth about ourselves. Full, total, unvarnished self-knowledge is the bread by which we are sustained. A yes to life means an honest recognition of our own evil, but it is also a yes to God, who in the midst of our evil sustains us and draws us into his righteousness.

Through faith, our self-knowledge leads us to a self-acceptance and a self-love that draw their life from God’s acceptance and love. God accepts the whole of us, and thus, there is reason for us to accept the whole of ourselves --- our goodness and our evil; our loves and our hates; our beautiful and the ugly sides, and even our gray areas.

One reason why we are afraid to commit ourselves totally is simply because we are afraid that we will not be able to fulfill our covenant, or our commitment with others. We may have made many commitments in the past that we were not able to fulfill--- perhaps a marriage or religious vow, or a promise to our children. Mga pangakong napapako. We have promised after an inspiring retreat, or a good confession, not to sin again. We have pledged our loyalty to God, but later on find ourselves not being able to fulfill it. As a result, we feel condemned in our hearts over these broken covenants. We feel that God condemns us ---- or more truthfully, we condemn ourselves. We feel bad about ourselves. We find ourselves unworthy of God’s love.

Remember St. Peter, who made promises that were too much for him (John 13:36-38). Remember St. Paul, who was among those who killed the first Christians like St. Stephen. God knows our weaknesses, our frailties and our shameful past. The lives of Peter and Paul teach us that God knows how to transform us into faithful and effective servants. Oftentimes our hearts will condemn us for things for which God does not condemn us. He is already pleased by our attempts to do His will. The promises and commitments of our hearts are not made in vain. God is working at our deepest desires. He has a way of bringing to pass the longings deep within---- after all, he placed those longings there in our hearts! Through Peter’s longings, we find vision and leadership. Through Paul’s desires, we find passion for mission. Through Jesus and their inspiring lives, we have our Church today.

False Prophets

28 June 2006: Wednesday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 7, 15-20: False Prophets

The Jewish people know what false prophets are. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Paul and Jesus encountered and warned against these prophets. False rulers and prophets were called in those days, wolves. Thus, Jesus says that He is sending out his disciples as sheep in the midst of wolves, and that the Good Shepherd protects his flocks from the wolves (Matthew 10, 6 & John 10,12). Paul warned the elders, “Fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20,29).

Chapters 11 and 12 of the Didache which appeared in 100 AD, contains certain regulations regarding prophets. It says that a prophet shall be honored and welcomed in one’s home. He can remain for a day or two, but if he remains for three days, he is a false prophet. He must never ask for anything, except bread; if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. They can claim that their preaching is from the Holy Spirit, but there is a clear test: their character. Every prophet claims to teach the truth; if he does not do what he teaches, he is a false prophet.

Reflecting on the Gospel today, I came to realize that I am a false prophet. If the acid test of a real and true prophet is his authenticity and his character, when he teaches what he preaches, then, I too am false. Because I know there are many things in my character that needs reform and I am still far away from being a perfect and authentic Christian. But the Gospel challenges the falsities and lies in our lives and in our relationships; and it invites us to get ‘real’ before God and to enter into an honest relationship with Him and with others. We must level with God from where we truly are and present to Him what we are really about. Our relationship with God --- and with others --- is above all a relationship that is honest. Even the fears, the angers, the disappointments that we find embarrassing to admit, are real; responding to God honestly keeps the relationship alive, and opens one to God’s further revelation.

In relationships, on the other hand, the friendship collapses when people try to behave differently from how they really feel. For example, there is this man who kept on saying that he wants to be free and he could not pray and bring himself to mass, until he was able to say to God and to himself that he was unfaithful to his wife, and had been justifying his sin for months. It seems that when we want things kept hidden --- from people and from God --- we spent much of our energy hiding and lying. Nakakapagod magsinungaling o magkunwari!

Yet, God loves real people, as they are, warts and all. God loves us as we are, with all our dark places and unworthiness as Jesus loves the sinful woman at His feet, Peter after his denial, the thief in the crucifixion, or Judas even after his betrayal. Relationships thrive on reality and openness. In prayer, we get a good advice: Pray as you are, not as you’re not; Pray as you can, not as you can’t.

Furthermore, I also believe that people love real people. It is no wonder that the Gospel speaks against those who are false, those who live out a lie. A real prophet has a real relationship with God and a real relationship with people. Sprite says, “Magpakatotoo ka!”


27 June 2006. Tuesday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 7, 13 & 14: The Narrow Gate

The excitement of life lies in its choices. In everything we do, we are always confronted with a choice. We might dilly-dally, evade making a choice, but we know that the world does not wait for our decisions, and when we think we are ready, it is too late. And thus, we live a life of inevitable choosing. The people of the bible know this by heart. Moses said, “See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil… choose life, that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30, 15-20). Joshua, when laying the leadership foundation of Israel, said, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24, 15). I have three points for reflection.

The Hard vs the Easy Way. Many of us want greatness the easy way. But there is no easy way to greatness; it is always a product of hard earned work. Henry David Thoreau said, “All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one... characteristic we must posses if we are to face the future as finishers.Emily Dickinson,Luck is not chance, it's toil; fortune's expensive smile is earned.” Moreover, even if a thing is done with the appearance of ease, it always comes with the price of sweat and toil. The greatest pianist has spent hours practicing; the basketball rookie has given up precious time in disciplined play in court. Nothing is achieved without discipline. Discipline is hard. Many of us have innate talents, but these talents need to be developed and honed. Paracelsus said, “For it is not God's design that the remedies should exist for us, ready-made, boiled and salted, but that we should boil them ourselves, and it pleases Him that we boil them and learn in the process, that we train ourselves in this art and are not idle on earth, but labor in daily toil.”

The Long vs the Short Way. It is rare that something may come out perfectly in a lightning flash. Virgil’s Aenied took ten years of Virgil’s life. The opening simple sentence in Plato’s Republic took 13 different versions: “I went down to the Piraeus yesterday with Glaucon, the son of Ariston, that I might offer up prayer to the goddess.” Thomas Gray’s Elegy written in a Country Courtyard began in the summer of 1742, and circulated in June 12, 1750.


Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth

A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;

Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,

And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere;

Heaven did a recompense as largely send:

He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,

He gain'd from Heaven, 'twas all he wish'd, a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,

Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,

(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)

The bosom of his Father and his God.

Fr. Fruto Ramirez SJ, composer of liturgical songs such as Purihin ang Panginoon and Si Kristo ay Gunitain, told me that when he composes a song, he would keep it for sometime, like wine aging in vats, and hear it again. If he likes it, it is probably a good song; if not, it goes to the wastebasket. No one does a masterpiece in 30 seconds.

Finally, something to remember: the easy and short way is always attractive and inviting at the moment, and the hard and long way looks intimidating. However, it is always good to see life not in the perspective of the present and immediate, but in the perspective of eternity. If you want to influence and inspire people, the road is incremental, long and hard. This is, in itself, the choice of the brave and honorable. Grover Cleveland said, “Honor lies in honest toil.

*my mom. She made a lot of choices for us.

Becoming Perfect

20 June 2006: Tuesday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 4, 43-48: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

The Gospel today presents to us a hard principle. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father who is in heaven … you must be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In other words, the mark of a child of God is our love our enemies. First, we look at God. By having the sun shine for all --- whether good or bad --- God shows His invincible goodness. He sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous, friend or foe. And thus, if we are to follow our Father’s love for them, then we too have to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. By having such goodness, we will be perfect as the Father is perfect.

But we know we cannot love as God loves --- perfect and unconditional. We know we are not God. Is Jesus giving us a principle that is unreachable to us? The Greek word for perfect is teleios used not in the philosophical abstract way, but functionally. The noun telos to which it is derived means purpose or goal. Each thing has a telos: a chair becomes teleios if it is used for sitting; a hammer becomes teleios if it is used to drive a nail.

Thus any object for that matter is perfect if it does or is used exactly for the purpose to which it was created. We are teleios if we are like God. Genesis tells us that we are created in the image and likeness of God. I believe, Jesus is giving us a goal, a telos. With a goal in mind, we are given guidance and direction. If we keep our eyes focused on the goal, no matter what way we use to get there, we still arrive at our destination. To move towards our telos is already being teleios. The person who tries to love much as Jesus loves is perfect: like our saints, our heroes, or even our parents and friends who have given their lives for us. To strive to forgive as God forgives and love as God loves already makes us move towards perfection as New Testament understands it. We are already teleios.

*Jesuit friends: Fr. Lester Maramara SJ, Mads Tumbali nSJ, and Jason Dy SJ.

The Lex Talionis

19 June 2006: Monday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5, 38-42: An Eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

The Lex Talionis is an ancient law that could be found in the Old Testament such as Exodus 21, 23-25, Leviticus 24, 19-20 and Deuteronomy 19, 21. It also appears in the Code of Hammurabai (2285-2242 BC), the earliest known code of laws. Today, the Lex Talionis is often associated with savagery. However, if one looks at its context, the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” is a step away from a rather more savage tribal law: if a person from a tribe injured another person from another tribe, then all of the members of the tribe of the injured are to take vengeance on all of the offender’s family or tribe. Thus, the Lex Talionis already limits vengeance only to the individuals involved in the feud. But our faith moves further away from vengeance towards mercy. The Old Testament for example embraces acts of mercy. Leviticus 19, 8 says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people” and Proverbs 25, 21 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”

However, Jesus removed all of the Lex Talionis because vengeance has no place in the Christian faith. For Jesus, the Law of Mercy or the Law of Love is above all. The Gospel gives us an example. He said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek also.” William Barclay explains that there is more to this example than meets the eye. He said that if we would like to slap the right cheek of another with our right hand, there is no way to do that but using the back of our hand. In Jewish law, it is twice more insulting to use the back of our hands than the flat of our hands. And therefore, Jesus is saying that even if we receive insults, we should not retaliate. He himself have been insulted: He was accused of being with tax collectors and prostitutes; He was called a blasphemous person; He was not respected in his own town. But He himself did not retaliated or sought vengeance. In his last hours, He would pray for forgiveness for those who have offended, tortured and killed him.

Today, the Law of love and mercy and non-retaliation as Jesus asks us to practice belongs to one of the hardest laws to do. Even when one does what is right, we still receive insults and intrigues from all sides. We cannot please everybody as they say. However, Jesus takes us away from the tendency of resignation. He encourages us also to take an active responsibility for those who hurt us. In another Gospel passage, we hear that if someone offends us, then we ought to settle it with the person concerned first, then if unsuccessful, to seek the counsel of church elders. Thus, the object is not anymore vengeance, but reformation of our enemies --- and of ourselves.

The Body & Blood of Christ and Fathers Day

18 June 2006: Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
Mark 14, 12-16.22-26

It is not at all strange that our life every week revolves around food and feasting. When I was a scholastic, I used to experiment on food. You see, Saturdays were called recollections --- when the cook is off-duty, we are left to re-collect all leftovers from the refrigerator. There is a sandwich I made which I liked very much. I have discovered it one hot summer afternoon. The refrigerator contained one ripe mango, an avocado and a red bell pepper.

First, I peeled and diced the mango and the red bell pepper. Added a siling labuyo and combined all of them with lemon or kalamansi juice. And I let stand. In cooking, when we allow some time often in room temperature, we allow the flavors to mix. I guess, this standing time tells us a lot about being in Sunday church and celebrating the body and blood of Christ.

You see, we are individually different. Some people are sweet like mangoes or hot as bell peppers or hotter like chili. Even members of a family are like ingredients in a cook book. You just can imagine how parents --- and dads --- feel when they have children with personalities they cannot understand. They struggle. They experiment. Worse, many of us are like left-over food: we stink with our sins and we are lazy like cold soup. But they Lord brought as together and hoped in us like a cook who believes that there is still something we can do with leftovers. But to do this needs sacrifice. The celebration of Corpus Christi means that every sacrifice, if we want to change or put some spice in our lives, is felt by our bodies. We are peeled, diced, sliced and perhaps like small bell peppers, our seeds and membranes have to be removed and finely chopped. Many of us here come broken and hurt and suffering. And here we are, marinating like meat, or like our simple salad, we are in our standing time. This is our pag-aalay: We are here to offer ourselves, our pain and our joys, together with our Lord Jesus, and He will make us holy. In other words, He will make us into sandwich.

Let’s go back to the sandwich. Then I found some bread slices and toasted them. I placed the avocado slice on top of it, and then placed leftover chicken or fish on top. Then I placed our salsa together. If you need some garnishing, chopped parsley will make it look delicious. I cut the sandwich into two and gave a slice to a fellow Jesuit. To bring people to eat together is what we do on Sunday mass. Or if you want to be theological, it is called table-fellowship. Or if you want to be in tune with our UP Parish fiesta theme, it is called pagbubuklod.

Now I make sandwiches for my housemates especially during rough times like the final exam period before the semester ends. The more you make more sandwiches, the more you bring people together. I think this is the reason why we have mass everywhere and in many occasions. Many masses are offered where there is pain and suffering --- for the sick, for the dead, for a country in crisis. Like my sandwiches during exam periods. I guess we realize that our faith gives us a lot of reasons to celebrate, the time when we have give our hearts some food in order for it to be strong when it bleeds. Take for example, coffee time or our weekly unwinding. It is a time when we anchor ourselves in the appreciation of our own dignity as God has given us, and then we develop that an appreciation of the aspirations, potentials and dignity of others. On the other hand, it is in risky business, in our painful and trying times, in the risks that we take, that we discover the abilities that we have and the beauty that we are. Here we must put to heart that our Christianity is not a gloomy religion but a happy one. A religion that knows how to celebrate. A religion that revolves around hope --- yes, around sandwiches made from leftovers. Our fiesta calls it, pagdiriwang.

I guess, this is why we celebrate Fathers Day --- or Mothers Day for that matter. Imagine, making sandwiches out of our eccentricities. All I know is this: I have brought my parents --- and my Dad --- pain. One Christmas, my Dad cried because I was somewhere else on his birthday. But he has made a good sandwich out of me nevertheless.

Oh, by the way, parenting has no cookbook.

*some or our Jesuit Juniors: Alvin SJ, Ronnie SJ and Charles SJ. They used to be my prenovices.

Salt, Light and a Cracked Water Pot

13 June 2006: Tuesday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5, 13-16: The Salt and the Light of the World

Note: Though I have a mass today, Rev. William Garcia, the deacon of UP will deliver the homily. But I have something from last year.

When we wish to praise someone’s worth and usefulness, we say what Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” When we wish to stress someone’s ability to inspire us, we say what Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” The Romans said, “There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.” (Nil utilius sole et sale).

First, salt is used as a preservative especially for fish and meat. It prevents food from going bad, and to keep putrefaction at bay. But the most important use of salt is to lend flavor to things. We all know that food without salt is tasteless and even sickening.

Second, light is first of all, something that is meant to be seen. It is used as a guide like the line of lights that marks the plane’s landing, the outline of the harbor or main thoroughfares.

Thus, if we bring these two images together, we can glean that Jesus tells us that our deeds should not only be good, but should reflect the goodness of God. Moreover, our deeds should lend flavor to life. There is a type of Christianity that takes all the vividness out of life, a Christianity that is dark and melancholic. We must discover the lost radiance of the Christian faith. We must show the joy of life, in a depressed world. We must be people of the Resurrection.

I have a story. A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”

“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leave out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it.

I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

We are all cracked pots. We are old, sick, and forgetful. We know our cracks and flaws. But there is indeed a lot of good in us. We can, like salt, make flowers bloom. We can, like light, be like beautiful wild flowers that guide other people’s paths. We can, like salt and light, grace our Lord’s Table.

I would like to believe this is precisely why we are all here: at sunrise, we all come together at morning mass to grace the Lord’s Table.

To Be Pure of Heart

12 June 2006: Monday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5, 1-12: The Beatitudes

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5,8)

One of the most difficult virtues to do is to be pure of heart. This beatitude therefore meets us at the very core of our being where we are asked to examine our motives. The Greek word for pure is katharos and it is used to describe many things such as clean laundry, chaff-less grain like rice removed of its husk, unadulterated wine and the elements such as metal, or a group of fearless soldiers or focused students determined to reach one goal.

However, we all know that we always come to the Lord with an “entangled mass of motives” as Richard Foster calls it. Even if we have done something good, in our heart there lingers some “self-approval” --- praising and crediting ourselves for doing such a good deed. A friend of mine puts it this way: “I am so proud I have been generous!” Or we catch ourselves publishing our good works. Moreover, whatever is in our hearts often reflects how we view things like colored sunglasses. We see what we want to see. There are those who are malicious, so they are accustomed to put malice on any gesture we do.

Aside from the examination of consciousness done before the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there are ways that would help us be “single-hearted” and help us focus our gaze on God. The beatitude is not just about what makes us unclean like sin, but tells us to develop an attitude that we have to work on. Once we are able to learn how to be sensitive to God’s working in our lives, we will be able to keep our hearts pure. John A. Veltri SJ in the first volume of Orientations, his 1979 collection of helps for prayer teaches us the following exercise to search and train our hearts to keep its gaze on God.

Thanksgiving: Begin by looking over the day and asking to see where you need to be thankful. Do not choose what YOU think you should be thankful for, rather, by merely looking over the day, see what emerges, what you notice, even slightly. How do you feel towards what is shown to you? Do you see the giftedness of your life? Allow gratitude to take hold on you and express this to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Ask for Light. This is a prayer of enlightenment from God not from your own analysis of the day. Therefore, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what He wants you to see.

Find God in all Things. Again look over the events of the day. This time ask the Lord to show you where He has been present in your life, either in you or in others, and what He has been asking of you. Look over your interior moods, feelings, urges, motives and movements, and see what stands out. Look for joy, pain, turmoil, increase of love, anger, harmony, anxiety, freedom, imprisonment, presence of God or absence. In what general direction do you think you are being drawn by the Lord? Have you been responding to these experiences or situations that draw you towards the Lord and inviting you to be more like him?

More particularly, what attitudes are manifest in these experiences? Remember that your experience helps you to discover the underlying attitude, and your actions and choices flow from these attitudes. Is there any one place in your heart or any one attitude that the Lord is calling for conversion? Is there any one area you are being asked to focus your attention on, to pray more seriously over, to take action on? This is where your energy needs focus instead of on the many other things you think are important.

The Gifts of Sorrow, Forgiveness and Gratitude. Seek forgiveness from the Lord for the moments you did not respond to His love. Do not be afraid to ask for the gift of an ever-deepening sorrow for not cooperating with Him.

Help and Guidance for tomorrow. Ask the Father for your needs of tomorrow such as to overcome something in your life like low self-esteem, to persevere and have courage at trying times, to love more, to let go of people and events in our lives.

By doing this exercise, we will be able to untangle the mass of motives that we have and train our hearts to be accustomed to see God in all things.

Ang Misteryo ng Pag-ibig sa Pag-uunawa ng Banal na Santatlo

11 June 2006: Ang Banal na Santatlo o Trinity Sunday
Deuteronomy 4, 32-34, 39-40, Rom 8, 14-17, Matthew 28, 16-20

Ang Misteryo ng Pag-ibig sa Pag-unawa sa Banal na Santatlo

Note: I used Filipino to explain the Trinity because I think the Filipino language is very poetic to articulate what is often a challenge to explain.

Pinagdiriwang natin ngayon ang Banal na Santatlo, Banal na Santisima Trinidad o “Holy Trinity Sunday”. Naniniwala tayong mga Katoliko sa Iisang Diyos sa tatlong banal na persona: God is one who is three Equal and Distinct Persons (Ama, Anak at Espiritu Santo). Hindi ko tahasang maipapaliwanag sa inyo ang Banal na Santatlo, nguni’t susubukan kong bigyan ng konting liwanag ang ating isipan ukol nito. Dalawang punto po lamang.

Unang-una, kailangan nating maunawaan ang kahulugan ng misteryo sa pag-uunawa ng ating Simbahan. Ang misterio ay isang hiwaga, kababalaghan, lihim at himala. Kapag sinabi natin na ang isang pangyayari ay isang misterio, sinasabi natin na hindi ito maipapaliwanag at isang kahangalan ang subukan itong unawain dahil hindi ito maaabot ng isip. Halimbawa: ang Sto. Niñong sumasayaw, ang Birheng lumuluha ng dugo, at si Judiel na nagiging karne ang hostia sa kanyang bibig.

Ngunit ang misteryo sa Simbahan ay hindi isang himala. Kapag isang misterio, sinasabi ng Simbahan na ang katotohanang ito ay walang pagkaubos na kayamanan. In a mystery, there is more for us to know and to understand; the reality is inexhaustibly rich.

Isa sa mga misteryo ng ating buhay ay ang misterio ng pag-ibig. Marami nang naisulat na tula, awit, libro at telenovela ukol sa pag-ibig, nguni’t hanggang ngayon hindi lubusang maipapaliwanag ang pagsapit nito. Basta nangyayari lamang. Ang isang tula ang higit na makapagpapaliwanag nito:

Sonetong Hindi Kailangang Nasulat

ni Cerilo Rico Abelardo (1987)

Hindi kailangan na nariyan ka

pero nariyan ka nga at nakangiti pa

Hindi kailangan na kilala kita

pero heto at naguusap tayo

Hindi kailangan na ibigin ka

pero ikaw lagi ang laman ng aking alaala

Hindi kailangang ipagtapat ang damdaming ito

pero ipagtatapat ko dahil totoo

Hindi mo kailangang umoo

pero tumugon ka sana kahit paano

May mga bagay na hindi kailangang narito

pero totoo at nasa harap ko

Kaya’t kailangang galangin

katulad ng pag-ibig ko sa ‘yo.

Samakatuwid, hinahamon tayo ng Banal na Santatlo na pagsikapan nating ipagpatuloy ang pag-uunawa sa ating pananampalataya. Dahil isang misterio ang pananampalataya, hinihimok tayong magtanong, magbasa, magmuni-muni sa mga bagay na hindi nating lubusang maunawaan upang lalung mapalalim ang ating pag-ibig sa Diyos. Masigasig na makibahagi sa mga bible studies, talks at katekismo. Sa Loyola School of Theology, binibigay ni Fr. Vic Salanga S.J. ang isang “Adult Catechism” sa mga nais maunawaan ang ating bibliya.

Pangalawa, sa misterio ng Banal sa Santatlo, masusulyapan natin ang isang katotohanang sa larangan ng pag-ibig: nagiging isa ang umiibig. Marami na ang nagsabi, na habang lumalalim ang pag-ibigan, ang dalawang nagmamahalan ay nagiging magkamukha. At habang mas malalim ang samahan, ang kanilang puso’t isipan ay nagiging isa. May mga mag-asawa akong kilala na alam nila kung may problema ang kanilang asawa, kahit hindi sinasabi. Basta alam nila. Kapag pupunta sa Department Store, alam nila kung ano ang magugustuhan ng kanilang asawa kahit hindi sabihin sa kanila. At ang pinakamalalim na pag-iibigan ay nakikita sa katahimikan: maaaring magsama na tahimik, walang kailangang sabihin, walang kailangang gawin. Doon iisa ang kanilang puso; iisa ang kanilang isip; iisa ang kanilang kaluluwa. [Hindi nakapagtataka na ang mga unang dates ay punong-puno ng kuwento at sinasabi. Ang iba pa nga’y nakaplano na. Kailangan ng text araw-araw. Sa ganitong larangan, ang pag-ibig nila ay mababaw at hindi pa ganap ang pag-iisang dibdib.]

Sa araw ng kasal, sinasabi ng magkasintahan: “Mabuting Ama, ngayon na kami ay magkadaupang palad, biyayaan mo kami ng isang magandang ugnayan na may isang puso at isang kaluluwa.” One heart. One spirit.

Samakatuwid, ang Banal na Santatlo ay nabubuklod ng pag-ibig, at nagbabahagi ng pag-ibig sa atin. Unang-una, bilang misterio, kailangang hindi tayo mawalan ng gana upang higit na makilala ang mga taong minamahal natin at ang ating pananampalataya. Sa gayon, higit na magaganap ang ating pagkabuklod at pagkaisa.

Pangalawa, upang lubusang makiisa sa misterio ng Banal na Santatlo, kailangan na ang ating pag-ibig ay kawangis ng pag-ibig at walang-hanggang katapatan ng pag-ibig ng Santatlo sa atin. Sa araw ng kasal, sinasabi ng magkasintahan pagkatapos isuot ang mga singsing: “Tanggapin mo Panginoon, itong mga singsing na tanda ng aming pag-iibigan. Nawa’y maging kawangis ng iyong pagibig at walang-hanggang katapatan ang pag-ibig namin sa isa’t isa.” Kaya, itanong natin sa ating sarili: Kawangis ba ng dakilang pag-ibig ng Banal na Santatlo ang ating pagmamahal?

*Mirador Jesuit Villa, Baguio City. 8-Day Province Retreat. May 2006.

The Image of Caesar and the Image of God

6 June 2006: Tuesday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 12, 13-17: The image of Caesar and the image of God

Jesus said in the Gospel, “Show me a denarius.” I think that Jesus did not have money, that is why He asks for a coin as a visual presentation. This shows that Jesus lived simply. Just a thought.

William Barclay gives us an explanation. A denarius is a coin, in which the image of the reigning emperor, this time Tiberius, was on it. All the emperors were called Caesar. Around the coin would be an inscription that the coin belongs to “Tiberius Caesar, the divine Augustus, son of Augustus,” and the reverse will say, “pontifex maximus,” the high priest of Rome. (Pontifex: just as the pope is called the pontiff or priest).

How do the people during Jesus’ time view coinage? First, coinage was a sign of power. When an emperor conquers a nation or the leader of a rebellion succeeded, the first thing that he does was to mind his own coin. Thus, the coin was an official symbol of kingship and power. Second, if the coin is valid, the king’s power remains good. The areas where the coins are valid show the extent of his kingdom. Third, where the king’s image or head are on its coins, the coins are held to be his personal property.

Thus Jesus lays down a very useful principle that preserves the relationship between the state and religion. We have three affirmations. First, the state as signified by its coinage is important. The laws of the state are needed to preserve peace and order. Each individual in a state feels secured. Without laws, we cannot live in peace and harmony or enjoy valuable services pertinent to existence. The Romans have a steady and safe water supply (thanks to the Roman aqueducts), transformation and communication systems (The Roman roads provided this), and its security organization. A valuable benefit during the Roman empire is the peace and security called the Pax Romana. Second, if we benefit from the state, then we have certain responsibilities to it like paying our taxes, following traffic rules, contribute to nation-building and leadership. Third, the coins also show boundaries and limitations. No one is above the law, even the emperor, the prime minister, or the president of the state. Outside the territory of Rome, the coin does not have any power. In the spiritual life, no one has the power over the souls of persons except God. And thus all of life ---- including the state ---- is under the jurisdiction of the divine.

There is a good image: the denarius of Caesar’s image on it, our present coin or paper money has the signature of our president, and therefore our obligation to our country should be held important. However, each individual person is more valuable than money, because the image of God is on him or her. Each person is created in God’s own image and likeness (Gen 1, 26-17). Above all, the Gospel leaves us to a very special crew and the principle: above all other state law is the human being, and thus human rights cannot be violated by anyone regardless of his or her position in government.

The Gospel today therefore tells us a very important lesson: our being Christians should help us become better citizens. Our Christianity should help us build our nation.

*Mirador Jesuit Villa, Baguio City. 8-Day Province Retreat. May 2006.

The Role of John

3 June 2006: Saturday of the 7th Week of Easter
John 21, 20-25: The Role of John

In the previous passage, we hear about Peter’s assignment of shepherding Jesus’ lambs and sheep. And we hear of Paul proclaiming the Gospels in Gentile territory. Today, we hear about John’s role in the Church. John was to be Jesus’ primary witness to many generations to come. The passage is quite clear that John must have lived long --- in fact, many believed that John will keep on living until Jesus comes again. Because of his long life, John can say to many generations, “I saw these things, and I know that they are true”. He authenticates the teachings of Paul and Peter and the other disciples as well.

For many of us today who are fired with the desire to know Christ and thus seek our vocations and our roles in the greater scheme of things, John’s claim remains true. Our faith is measured by the depth and quality of our personal and intimate knowledge of Christ. St. Ignatius of Loyola affirms in the Spiritual Exercises, that the depth of our knowledge of Christ moves us to love him more dearly and thus follow Him more authentically and closely. John’s claim of knowing Jesus springs from his love for Him --- he calls himself, the beloved. It is he who recognizes Christ. At the tomb in the Resurrection, he was the first to believe He has risen and at the Sea of Galilee, he first recognized Christ as he exclaimed to the disciples, “It is the Lord!” If we want to get information about a person, we ask those who love him --- his friend, his wife, his family. The best information comes from the primary witnesses to his life.

I have two points for reflection. First, our personal roles. Within our own general vocations --- whether as single-blessed, married, religious or priestly --- are individual roles cut out specifically for us. Peter was gifted with leadership and so he was given the role of shepherd. Paul was fired with an enterprising spirit and so he was given the role of a missionary. And John was one who loves much and so was given the role of witness. How about us? In the conglomeration of our strengths and our weaknesses, our unique personalities and quirks, we can glean God’s specific role for us in the work of the Kingdom. Each role is important. And there should be no rivalry or competition: no one is greater or lesser than the other. We are all called to serve the Lord as best as we can. Jesus said to Peter, Never mind the task given to someone else. It is your job to follow me. Our glory or our worth is not in comparison to others, but in the quality of service we have rendered to God as excellently as our capacity allows us.

Finally, an invitation to depth in our lives. Verse 25 says, “There are many other things that Jesus did, and if they were written down one by one, I think that not even the world itself would be big enough to contain them.” The Gospels tells us about particular episodes in the life of Jesus --- and not all of it. They are fragments and scenes. Many things have not been said like Jesus’ hidden years --- the period between 12 years old to his first public life. The readers are asked to connect the dots, to supply the unwritten part, to put flesh to the skeleton of the literary piece. I guess this is where prayer, studies and reflection meet. The written word becomes alive with our own personal experience of Christ.

We pray that the Lord may so deepen our knowledge and love of Christ and the ‘new life’ He offers us in this Easter season, that we may become a more authentic disciple of Him.

*Mirador Jesuit Villa, May 2006. 8-day Province Retreat.

The Life of Grace

1 June 2006: Thursday of the 7th Week of Easter
John 17, 20-26: The Life of Grace

Today we hear the prayer of Jesus for the Church to be: “It is not only for these that I pray, but also for those who are going to believe in their word of testimony to me. And my prayer is that they may all be one, even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, so that they may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.” In other words, he prayed that all of the members of the Church would be one as he and His Father are one. And here we define what we all call, “grace”. Grace is the indwelling of God in human life. Thus, when we share in the life of God, we are graced. When we are one with God, as Jesus and His Father are one, we are in the state of grace.

For St. Paul, the purpose of God’s creation is to bring all people into relation with Him, making all people His children by uniting them with his Son Jesus Christ. The grace of God effects an inner transformation that amounts to a new creation, a new presence of God to us. We are specifically Christians, united with the Father by and in the Son (Rom 6, 1-14; 2 Cor 5: 16-19). “We were buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4).

If grace unites us, what causes division is not grace. Sin moves us away from God. Thus if someone says that he or she is graced by God, but cheats or is uncharitable towards another, then the person is in the state of illusion and not of grace. Sin therefore is incompatible with grace.

Second, grace moves us into communion. It builds community. Thus if we are moved towards the love of a community, then you are indeed graced, the indwelling Spirit is in you. We are all given gifts by the Spirit (charism) and thus we are all charismatic. But only when those gifts are used in the service or the building of a community, can that service be called a ministry. Thus, if you participate at mass, because it is a community in worship, then you are indeed in the state of grace. If you help build a community through your works of leadership and charity --- as those who help build houses in Gawad Kalinga or teach children --- then you are indeed graced and you have a ministry. On the other hand, if you are a person who does not like community, who withdraws, who is divisive, who is very exclusive rather than inclusive, then you are not graced. We may have varied ideas, but when we are able to listen and somehow achieve unity in love, we are able to align our hearts and minds to the heart and mind of God.

A final word. But unity is something we still have to achieve. We have seen that the Christian church is very much divided. There are differences in the style of worship, their own exclusive churches and ecclesiastical organizations. In the Catholic Church itself, the belief systems are diverse and practices vary from culture to culture. There are Catholics in all parts of the spectrum especially on contemporary issues. Christian unity however transcends all barriers and joins each person together in love. It is when we authentically love each other that we can convince the world of the truth of Christianity and convince them that it is Christ --- not our personal lives, our rituals, our organization --- who is at the very center of our lives. When we are Christ-centered, we are in the life of grace.

*my amateur photo of flora in Mirador Jesuit Villa, May 2006.

On Eternal Life

30 May 2006: Tuesday of the 7th Week of Easter
John 17, 1-11: On Eternal Life

The Gospel today tells us the great understanding of eternal life in the New Testament. In Greek is is aiōnis. This word is not about the duration of life or what we know as life without end. The meaning of aiōnis is quality of life. And there is only one person to whom the word aiōnis can properly be applied, and that is God. Eternal life, therefore, is nothing other than the life of God. To possess it, to enter into it is to have an experience of it here and now is therefore an aiōnis, the experience of eternal life. To know God and to know Jesus is aiōnis, eternal life.

The Old Testament supports this definition of eternal life: Wisdom is “a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (Proverbs 3,18). Wisdom is “the root of immortality” (Wisdom 5, 3). The prophet Habbakuk’s dream of the golden age is that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God” (Habbakuk 2, 14). The Old Testament therefore understands that to know God is necessary for aiōnis, for eternal life.

But there is something else. William Barclay tells us that in the Old Testament, the writers use the word know for sexual knowledge. Genesis 4,1 says “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived, and bore Cain.” Ideally then the knowledge of husband and wife is the most intimate. The husband and wife are no longer two, but one flesh. In the “knowledge” --- as the Old Testament uses it ---- the sexual act is not the important thing, it is the union of mind and heart, of everything else that makes true love. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises says that love consists basically in the communication of the two lovers --- namely, in the lover’s giving and sharing with the beloved what he or she has or can command, and conversely, the beloved with the lover; so that if one has knowledge, that person gives it to the other who does not possess it; likewise, with honors and wealth and all other things. And therefore, to know God is to know him intimately; that our minds, heart and souls are attuned closely and dearly to God. This is eternal life.

And therefore if we participate in the life of God, we are already experiencing eternal life even in the present, in the here and now. For example, if God is merciful to you, because you have experienced God as forgiving of your sins, and therefore, you find yourself more considerate and merciful of other people’s shortcomings, then you are aiōnis. Blessed Peter Favre knew Jesus as the Consoler, and he too was very consoling to those who need it. These are the people who are in aiōnis or in eternal life.

Tonight, the Lord said that it is possible to have eternal life because it is possible to fully know God. To know God is to know Jesus, His Son, to whom the Father sent, and is now sending us. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his famous Spiritual Exercises asked those on retreat to pray that the Lord to grant them the grace to know Him more intimately, love Him more dearly and follow Him more closely. We shall do the same to experience eternal life here and now.

*my experimental photo of flora in Mirador Jesuit Villa taken during my 8-day retreat.