True Worship

30 August 2009. 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 4, 1-8; Psalm 15; James 1, 17-27; Mark 7, 1-13

Note: This homily appears in the English Sambuhay today. Sambuhay is a publication by the Society of St. Paul.

For the devout Jews, the Law was the Ten Commandments, and in an expanded form, the Pentateuch which contains several detailed regulations and instructions, and series of moral principles which one ought to interpret and apply for himself. In the 4th- 5th BC arose a class of legal experts called the Scribes who took upon themselves the expansion, amplification, and break down of these principles into thousands of little rules and regulations called the Oral Law of the Elders. The elders were not the officials of the synagogue, but the ancients like Himmel. In 3 AD, all of these little rules and regulations were compiled in a book called, “Mishnah” containing ways to wash hands, vessels, kettles, etc.

In other words, the essence of religion for the Jews is legalism: rules and regulations, rituals, ceremonies. The issue about the washing of hands was not about health or hygiene or even propriety, but about ceremony and ritual.

It is true that rules and regulations govern our worship and our identity. They are our “ways of proceeding” creating community and a shared culture with a set of values. These set ways and rituals that protect these values give palpable and external identity to the community. However, the essence behind these rules and regulations should not be forgotten or overlooked. Or else, they become empty and meaningless gestures. The essence does not change, but how things are done can be adapted and changed.

This is important for those who ‘perform’ the ceremonies and those who witness them. There is a danger for many of us to be pharasaic (like the Pharisees and scribes). For the priests, the altar servers, the Eucharistic ministers, the choirs, we should not remove our gaze on the reason of all our actions at mass and in other liturgies. This includes an intelligent approach to ritual performance: getting to know the meaning of the mass, the logic of the structures of liturgy, the specific roles one plays as a choir or as a lector, the meaning behind the symbols and gestures we use. To be pharasaic is to be like many rigid liturgists who are concerned about the externals, and often are too extremely disturbed by mistakes at the altar, and eventually forget true worship. We should not forget that people assimilate our actions more than our words. They imbibe our ways of doing things and our thinking. If we are more concerned about the performance of rituals but do not take time to explain the reason behind these gestures, the people might begin to value ritual and ceremony over and above the values of charity. No wonder many Catholics come to mass mechanically.

And for those who witness these liturgies, it is also your duty to be educated Catholics --- to grow from a devotional practice of faith to an informed and intelligent observance of our beliefs. I am not denying the importance of these rituals, but I am insisting that the meaning of these gestures should be taught; or else, our religion will be more of form than content. There must be a marriage between substance and medium. And in the event that our symbols are slowly being eroded (eg. the cross is now worn as a fashion accessory), it now extremely important to regain them before we also lose their meaning.

As I continually discover the meaning and profundity of our symbols and gestures as a priest in liturgy, I often find myself dreaming of explaining each to people. Because, when one begins to see how reasonable our faith is, how beautiful the essence behind these rituals and ceremonies, we begin to genuinely love the Church and experience God.

Are You Preparing for an Exam?

28 August 2009 Memorial of St. Augustine
1 Thessalonians 4, 1-8; Psalm 97; Matthew 25, 1-13

Matthew is the only evangelist to have preserved this parable of Jesus. Weddings in Arab villages proceed this way. After the day has been spent in dancing and other entertainment, the wedding feast takes place at nightfall. While the guests are entertained at the bride’s house, the bridegroom’s coming is repeatedly announced. Finally, after a long delay, the bridegroom arrives towards midnight to fetch the bride. He is accompanied by his friends, who light his way with burning torches, and is received by the guests who have come out to meet him. The wedding entourage then sets out, always in a flood of light, in a festive procession towards the house of the bridegroom’s father, where the marriage ceremonies will take place. The bridesmaids also carry lighted torches made of rolled cloth and bathed in olive oil, and upon reaching the venue of the wedding, performs several round dances until their torches burn out--- the longer, the better. Thus, each girl must bring large quantities of oil, so that she will be able to perform her duties of lighting up the procession. The foolish bridesmaids thus are excluded because they have neglected to prepare themselves adequately.

There are things which God only knows: such as the time of our death, or the end of the world. And if it is indeed true that God only knows these, then, our whole life is a preparation for the inevitable. And we should be ready. We celebrated yesterday the memorial of St. Monica, the mother of today’s saint, Augustine. When Augustine was young, he was a wayward child, and as a mother, Monica prayed for the conversion of his son. Augustine returned to the Church and contributed to our faith. Monica prepared her son for the inevitable. Augustine who converted late in his life would write, “late have I loved Thee.”

At this point, we take our insights by looking at exam preparations since this is the time of the bar exams, or some are also having their midterms. It is true that just as wedding preparations entail a thousand small details that are apparently disconnected, we too feel in the fever of the last finishing touches, how everything seemed to be disjointed, disorganized, and how we feel that our minds are full of all sorts of data and information, that they all seem to be just that: a jumble of facts. We feel we have studied, however, we also feel that our preparation is not enough. There are too many things we are afraid we don’t know that would turn out useful in the exams. Our brains are like a tapestry seen from the wrong side. What appears is a bewildering jumble of threads crisscrossing without rhyme or reason. But the other side of the tapestry reveals the outline of the pattern in all its beauty. Often the outline appears when a problem has been given, and judgment has to be done fairly and reasonably. In other words, we feel we are like those foolish bridesmaids who ran out of oil. Our lamps burn by the continuous feeding of little drops of oil.

Nevertheless, the exams come inevitably, like the bridegroom who comes at an unannounced hour. The day of reckoning finally is here. And we act like the bridesmaids doing their last finishing touches, doing their retouches. For those who are preparing for special exams, for example, some have resorted to age-old tradition: a pink candle for St. Jude, blessed pens and a thousand eggs to the Monastery of St. Clare. Some have made a pact with God: let me pass the bar or the board exams and I will be forever grateful. Some have made sudden shifts: their behavior turns almost angelic and holy. Some have resorted to final cleansing like a day at the spa or a confession and daily attendance at mass before the celebrated exam. The frenzy is indeed real and thorough. Like all those who are preparing for an exam, our lives often becomes like this: at this time, we do not know where our studies are going, where it will lead us.

The key prayer is this: Trust in God. St. Teresa of Avila said: “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing affright you. All things are passing. God only is changeless. Patience gains all things. He who has God wants nothing. God alone suffices.” It is true that we have prepared our brains, but often not our hearts, the lamp might run out. Before we take any large endeavors, remember all those whom you love for whom you dedicate life. These are the people who give us much strength and much courage. They fill our hearts. They are the drops of oil that will feed our minds, and eventually our lives. Because we, as Christians, believe in hope. That indeed, all things shall be well.

There is Work in Heaven

26 August 2009: Wednesday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time
2 Thess 3, 6-10, 16-18; Psalm 139; Matthew 23, 27-32

Indira Gandhi tells us about her grandfather. Her grandfather said that there are two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take credit. He told her that she should try to be in the first group because there was less competition there.

The readings today tell us about Indira Gandhi’s kinds of people. First, those who work. In the first reading, St. Paul said that he himself worked for a living in order not to burden any of the Thessalonians and at the same time, give them an example of the dignity of labor. He said that if anyone who was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.

Second, those who take credit. The Gospel tells us that Jesus referred to the Pharisees and scribes that they looked like white-washed tombs that looked good from the outside, but the inside of them contained bones and filth. Those who take credit are like them: they would like to be praised about work they have not done. Or, they are concerned with how they look from the outside. They are filthy because they are, as Jesus called them, hypocrites. All they wanted was the pleasure they get from being praised, but do not like the pain and patience that goes with the work. Many students experience this especially in group work. In a group of five, you have two to three students doing the bulk of the work, while the rest gets the credit. Think of the politicians in our country. On every infrastructure, their names are written in big bold letters: A PROJECT OF MAYOR so and so. Isn’t it their job to do it, paid by our own sweat? I have a story about those who like pleasure but hates working.


Smith died and regained consciousness in the next world. He looked out over a vast expanse of pleasant country. After resting comfortably for a while in a delightful spot, he began to get a little bored. He called out, “Is there anybody here?” An attendant, appropriately dressed in white, appeared and said gravely, “What do you want?”

“What can I have?” asked Smith.

“Whatever you want.”

“May I have something to eat?”

They brought him delicious dishes, even the things he liked best on earth. Smith was having a wonderful time eating, sleeping, and calling for more good things. But presently, he wanted something more. He called for games. They came in profusion. Then he called for books and read with excitement and pleasure. He called for anything that struck his fancy and received it in abundant measure. But at last the boredom caught up with him, and he shouted, “I want something to do!”

The attendant appeared and said, “I am sorry, but that is the only thing we cannot give you here.” By this time, Smith was frantic for something to do and in his terrible frustration cried out, “I’m sick and tired of everything here; I’d rather go to HELL!”

“Where do you think you are?” asked the attendant.


I am not surprised why St. Paul, the great saints, and the greatest heroes all worked their keep. The recognition they got is a product of hard labor. Great people are those who value their work and put everything they’ve got into what they do. John Ruskin said that the highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get from it, but what they become because of it. No one became truly great by taking credit for something they did not do. But even if people deceive themselves by believing that they really worked hard for it, the satisfaction remains empty. It is hell to carry a great lie.

Are Catholics for Show?

25 August 2009. Tuesday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time
1 Thess 2, 1-8; Psalm 139; Matthew 23, 23-26

It is not rare that Catholics have been accused of being ritualistic. The impression is not entirely false. In an age where we can watch world events as it happens, people can see our liturgies live. I remember how Catholic masses fascinated people with its pomp and pageantry especially during the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the recent World Youth Day masses of Pope Benedict XVI. The danger lies in our very strength: that we become focused on performance than the essence of the celebration; on the externals than the essentials.

The Gospel today is part of Matthew’s seven woes of the Pharisees (Luke has six). These woes are Jesus’ criticisms of the Pharisees, Scribes and Teachers of the Law. Teachers of the Law includes those who instructed children in the law, who wrote legal documents for others and those who took upon themselves the role of interpreting the law according to the teachings of earlier Pharisees. There are two strong words in the Gospel today: He called the Pharisees, “Blind” and “Hypocrite”. To be a hypocrite is to be a fraud, a deceiver, a fake. He puts on a show. They have concerned themselves with the minute interpretation of the law (50 volumes!), but they neglected the more important matters of faith as justice, love of God, and mercy. In their mistaken passion for the law, they lost sight of God and the purpose of the law.

Jesus first example is in verse 24, “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” Leviticus 11 said that if an insect fell into one’s drink, they should be removed from the cup before it dies, or else it contaminates the drink. But any animal smaller than a lentil (eg. Garbanzos, chickpeas, etc.) like a gnat (common name for non-biting flies, looks like a mosquito and comes swarming like flies) are exempted. Although for many of us, we do not want a dying insect in our drink! The point of Jesus was that the Pharisees concern themselves with the smallest detail of the gnat, but did not mind swallowing a camel. The camel was explicitly unclean under biblical law (Leviticus 11, 4), but were the largest animal in Palestine. By focusing too much on minute matters, they neglected the weak and the needy. With all the rules and regulations they put unnecessary burdens on others while neglecting charity. The essence of the Law is love, justice and the mercy of God. The law without love is empty. In other words, they missed the mark.

Someone who misses the mark mistakes the externals as the most important than the human heart. Like giving more attention to the outside of the cup than its insides. Like fashion. Michael Bergin mentions in his book, The Other Man, how he felt like a commodity in the fashion industry when he was starting as a model. What matters is what they want to get from you, and not who you are. The photographer took a picture of his abs without even looking at his face. American author and social columnist, Fran Lebowitz said that “All God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable.”

Presentable means how we look. We judge by what we see. The clothes we wear. How long the reader’s skirt should be. And just as the environment contributes in the promotion of values, the commercial culture promotes this tendency to be Pharisaic. Is our religion for show?

Quite the opposite with God. It is desirable that what people see externally is a reflection of who we are. There is no pretension when what we are and how we appear are consistent. Like mothers who see the truth in us. Psalm 139 reminds us that God knows every single corner of our very selves, even that part which we still do not know. Thus with God, there can be no pretension. We can deceive others by our behavior or a photo of us piously in church, but God can see our hearts. Him, we cannot conceal the truth.

You've Got to Choose!

23 August 2009. 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Joshua 24, 1-21, 15-17, 18b; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5, 21-32; John 6, 60-69

The readings today are very challenging to explain. But all of them tell us about decisions about whom we ought to serve. In the first reading, we hear remnants of an ancient liturgy for the renewal of the covenant at Shechem. It is believed to have originated from a covenant between the earlier inhabitants of Shechem and the Israelite invaders. The earlier inhabitants worshipped El-berith. The Israelite invaders worshipped Yahweh. The ancient liturgy dramatizes a choice made by both parties. Their decision is to worship Yahweh, the God of the invaders. The readings tell us, “Choose this day whom you will serve?” In the Gospel, the Twelve were confronted by Jesus with a similar choice, “Will you also go away?” --- in other words, choose: will you be with me or not? And the response is from Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, just as the people of Shechem decided to serve Yahweh, the Twelve disciples decided to stay with Jesus and to serve Him.

Let’s illustrate this in particular terms. In Christian marriage, what does it mean to stay with Christ? The second reading from the Ephesians helps us to understand Christian marriage and the roles of husband and wife. What is exciting about the second reading is that it is prone to misinterpretation because it says that, “wives be subject to your husband.” Does that mean that the wife therefore is the slave of the husband? Let us see. The literary form of the passage gives us a pattern:

Household code of the Ephesians -- Relation to Christ and the Church

22 Wives, be subject to your husband -- 22 as to the Lord

23 The husband is the head of the wife -- 23 as Christ is the head of the Church

24 [Wives, be subject to your husband] -- 24 the Church is subject to Christ

25 Husbands, love your wives. -- 25-27 as Christ loved the Church... without blemish

28 Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself...

29 A man loves and cherishes his own flesh -- 29 as Christ does the Church 30 we are members of his body

31 Citation of Genesis 2, 24: For this reason, a man leaves his father/mother, and joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. -- 32 interpreted mystically of Christ and the Church.

Therefore, the marriage relationship changes: If viewed from the Ephesians household code (left, in orange), the wife is simply subjected to the husband without qualifications. If viewed with the Christian column (right; in blue italics), it changes in which the husband is to devote himself unreservedly to the love of his wife, without blemish, as Christ loves his Church. Thus, the household code of the Ephesians is turned upside down --- the emphasis rests no longer on the duty of the wife to the husband but on the husband’s love for his wife; as Christ loves the Church, his bride. How does Christ love the Church, His bride? --- Unconditionally, faithfully, purely, and selflessly. Christ has proven His love for His Church --- even dying for us, even giving his life for us.

The Christian view of marriage is not merely a study of marriage as a human institution, but in relation between Christ and His Church. Just as Christ serves the Church, so too, we should choose to serve Christ; as husbands serve their wives, so too, should their wives choose to serve their husbands. Today, husbands and wives are seen to be equal in marriage and in decision-making. The teaching does not contradict equality: as both assume the role of decision-making, in dialogue and love, both of them assume the responsibility of their final decisions. Their choice is still for the best of the family they are raising --- yes, just as Christ raised the Church, the Family of God.

Today, we are asked to make decisions. As Joshua asks his people, “This day, choose whom you will serve” and as Jesus asks, “Are you leaving me too?” What will be your answer? Will you go or will you stay?

Do You Suffer From Low Self-Esteem?

18 August 2009. Tuesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
Judges 2, 11-19; Psalm 106; Matthew 19, 16-22

Generations have passed since the death of Joshua, and the Israelites continue to cleanse the Promise Land of its native inhabitants. In the succeeding years, there were intermarriages between Israel and the Canaanites who worshipped Baal. Eventually the younger generation began to take Baal worship, and thus turned away from Yahweh. Seeing the possible chaos which the Israelites bring down on themselves by their disobedience, Yahweh sends temporary leaders called Judges to save them. But once the leader dies, Israel reverts back to idol worship, and unfortunately, become worse than before.

The first reading is the calling of Gideon, a humble man, who led the Israelites to victory from the Midianites. Gideon tears down his father’s altar to Baal and called the scattered Israelites for battle. To prove that Yahweh is the hand behind their victory, Yahweh needed a smaller number for battle. The selection process is strange: he leads the men to a river to drink. Those who cup their hands to drink are sent home; those who lap the water with their tongues, as horses drink, are chosen to lead the battle. Spying on enemy lines, Gideon overhears a Midianite soldier’s dream: a small loaf of bread is able to capture Midianite tents. Taking the cue, Gideon with God’s army, surrounds the tent and confuses the Midianites with loud trumpets and broken jars. Because of the noise, the Midianites slay each other and flee. Euphoric of this victory, the Israelites wants Gideon to be king, but Gideon refuses pointing to Yahweh as the true and only king, who fights with them and ensuring victory.

The author of the first reading took pains in pointing out Gideon’s status. Gideon answered God, “Please, my Lord, how can I save Israel? My family is the lowliest in Manasseh, and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house.” But the Lord assured him with only these words: “I am with you.” With God on our side, how can we lose? God’s protection assures victory. But many of the judges are plagued with an insecurity: the feeling that they are always marginalized and oppressed. A large part of this low self-esteem is practically Israel’s status: they are not natives of the land of Canaan. The judge Ehud is left-handed, but because of this, he is able to kill the Moabite king with a sword strapped on his right thigh. Deborah and Jael are women, but they succeed against the Canaanites and Sisera, the Canaanite king. Jepthah is a son of a prostitute, but he led Israel against the Ammonites. But amidst their violent surroundings, God is able to lead Israel into victory through people who think that it is impossible to lead their nation with their weaknesses, disabilities or low stature. The Gospel reminds us therefore that with God, nothing is impossible. St. Paul reminds us that our weaknesses highlights the work of God. Not that we don't have to do anything: Gideon and Paul worked hard but trusted the Lord.

A large number of people suffer from low self-esteem. We get to know how low our self-esteem when we see ourselves blaming others. We don’t own up or assume responsibility so we are saying that we are victims of circumstances. Second, we deny our hurts and negative feelings. We do not want to feel our feelings. We deny the truth of ourselves. Third, we depend on others to accept us: we feel good if we are affirmed. If others give us negative feedback, or when we think that we have been ignored (usually it is not maliciously done), we feel bad because we find ourselves rejected. The more we suffer from low self-esteem, the more we will not be able to see our own strengths and at the same time, we will not believe that God can make us leaders.

The story of the judges is supposed to inspire us to heroic leadership. Many groups now initiate projects that build communities. They dump the idea of waiting for top leaders to move. We have those who build houses and infrastructures. Those who offer their time in volunteer work such as the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines who do their part in the transformation of our corrupt society, which the judges of old have been doing during their time. Are we up to do some things that are larger than ourselves?

Check this out: About the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines

What is Eternal life?

17 August 2009 Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
Judges 2, 11-19; Psalm 106; Matthew 19, 16-22

In the Gospel, the young man asked Jesus, “What good must I do to gain eternal life?” Let us first begin with a clear understanding of “eternal life”. The first thing that comes to our mind is that eternal life means a life that is forever. Why? The Greek word for eternal is aionios, meaning “lasting for ever”; it is eternal because God himself is eternal. Thus eternal life is life as God lives it; as befits God, as is characteristic of God. To attain eternal life is therefore to live as God lives; to love as God loves.

Jesus first asked if the young man has kept the commandments. And he enumerates those that pertain to the love of one’s neighbors namely:

“You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And the young man said that he has. So Jesus said, that he has to give up everything: his riches, his possessions and give all of them to the poor, and follow Him. But the young man couldn’t do it and he went away sad.

If eternal life is life as God lives it; then the answer of Jesus is for him to follow God who is selfless and utterly gracious. As love Himself, God always thinks of the other. And the quality of His love is utterly all out. God so loved the world that He gave us His Only Son.

St. Ignatius of Loyola taught us a principle: AMDG, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. For the Greater Glory of God. It means that we give glory to God when we mirror a characteristic of God in the things that we do. When we create a thing of beauty such as a painting, a song, a poem, a photograph, a lay-out, an interior design, etc, we mirror God’s beauty. When we study and acquire knowledge and begin to appreciate the world around us, we reflect the knowledge and wisdom of God. When we become kind to people and easily forgive others, then we show the kindness and mercy of God.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius said that we must pray for a magnanimity of heart, a heart that is total in its giving and serving others. It demands from us all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our minds. At the end of the retreat, Ignatius would ask those on retreat to pray for the grace to be able to surrender everything and follow Christ. This is the Suscipe*, known as the “Take and Receive.” The appropriate response to a love that is all encompassing and totally giving is a heart that is molded the same way as God’s.

And why do we do all these things? Because it is what God does. It is how God lives. And this is how to live eternally.

*Ignatius of Loyola’s Suscipe: Take, Lord and receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. Whatever I have or hold, You have given to me, and I return them all to you wholly according to You will. Give me only your love and your grace and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more. Amen.

**An example of actions that does not give glory to God. Incidentally, Conrado de Quiros posted his article in Filipino, at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, saying that Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has given a face to greed; she has spent less than a million in Philippine currency in a high end restaurant in New York, while the Philippine nation was in mourning for the loss of former President Corazon Aquino who was known for her simplicity of life.

Is There a Change After You Take Communion?

20 August 2009. 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 9, 1-6; Psalm 34; Eph 5, 15-20; John 6, 51-58

A student once asked me about transubstantiation or the encounter of the mystery of Christ becoming truly present under the appearance of bread and wine. He observed that the sacred species look exactly the same after the consecration as they did before the consecration. But Catholics know through their faith that there is a world of difference. After the consecration, our Lord and Savior is truly present in our midst as our spiritual food, or as the Gospel tells us, as our bread of life.

There is however, a big but: those who receive communion do not look different than before the joined the communion line. A few minutes later, they remain the same people we know, having the same behavior and manners that ruffle our feathers. Take for example government leaders whose photos grace newspaper headlines. Sometimes they appear in dailies taking communion with their eyes closed in an attempt to look earnest. But we all know that these are the same persons who take 800 million from emergency funds for foreign trips. Did they change? The first Christians to the present parish communities, which John Paul II called, “Eucharistic communities” (Christifideles Laici, Dec 1988), the Eucharist has always been an integral part of Christian living. During the time of the first Christians, they gathered in the “breaking of the bread.” Today, we gather at the Eucharistic table every Sunday; and for some with a deep devotion to the Eucharist, they come to church every day. Do all who gather change?

We believe that through transubstantiation, bread and wine cease to be bread and wine but truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus, even though all physical properties, such as size, taste, appearance, and composition, remain the same. We cannot see the difference, but we accept this teaching through the vision of faith. But the sacraments effect an analogous change. A baby girl after baptism looks exactly the same as she did before, yet she is now a child of God and a member of the Church. Some believe that after baptism, she already can travel protected by God. A young man, after his ordination, looks the same as before the ordination, but can now consecrate the Eucharist and forgive sins in God’s name. After confessions, we look the same, but we have had our relationship with the Lord restored and renewed, and we feel light and happy. In all cases, we look the same on the outside, but at the core of our being we’ve radically changed. However, just as we benefit from food’s nutrients --- only if we digest the food well --- we benefit from the grace of the Eucharist only to the extent that we effectively “digest” this spiritual food, this bread of life.

How do we change? Let’s take the dictionary meaning of “digest”. Physically, our body breaks down food in the stomach and intestines into substances that can be used by it. It therefore nourishes and sustains our lives.

Spiritually the idea is the same: by a period of reflections in our lives and knowledge about Jesus, we begin to understand and assimilate this new information or the significance of them. Again, one at a time, like the passages in the Bible. Convinced, we operate in the world according to the principles and values we believe in. But these values are also shared by a community; people who also believe that these values are right; that is why the first reading from Proverbs describes the acquisition of knowledge is done in the context of a community. Every idea has been contributed by many men and women in the past or present. When strongly agreeable to the principles, our external behavior or outlook will reflect them.

The next step in transformation is another dictionary meaning: to digest means to arrange something in a systematic or convenient order like a digest of laws. Thus the sum of all the things we understood and the significance we put on them will form us into a different person. Ideally, we develop, mature, improve as we assimilate more knowledge. That is why we have a “hierarchy of values” or “a system of laws and principles” that we follow. For example, St. Ignatius of Loyola prays in the Spiritual Exercises: To know Jesus intimately, love Him more intensely, and so to follow Him more closely. Lovingly so dearly that Jesus will now determine our outlook, our mode of behavior, our culture and lifestyle. When we happily agree to have God determine ourselves, then we acquire a life in God. In fact, we hope that we would actually approximate Jesus Himself.

Assumption of Mary

15 August 2009 Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary
Revelations 11:19, 12:1-6, 10ab; Psalm 45; 1 Cor 15, 20-27; Luke 1, 39-56

Let me first explain the celebration today. For Catholics, the Assumption of Mary flows immediately from the belief in her Immaculate Conception. First of all, we believe that death is the consequence of our sins. In his letter to the Romans (6:23), Paul said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Since death and sin are the fruits of Satan, thus Mary’s freedom from the original sin of Adam frees her from the consequences of sin also: death. The second reading verifies this: “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” Since she would not experience death like us, then her assumption to heaven is thus a result of God’s gift.

Second, the Immaculate Conception is a belief that through God’s grace, Mary was conceived without sin. If Mary was conceived without sin, then she would not experience death --- like us. Her assumption into heaven is thus a result from this freedom from sin: immediate union of her whole being with Her Son is given her at the end of her life. From the apocryphal treatise, De Obitu S. Dominae, in the 4th-5th century, the Assumption of Mary has been celebrated. In November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared infallibly ex cathedra: “Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.”

We do not know the exact time, date and manner of how she died. The same thing with Our Lord. December 25 is not exactly the birth date of Christ. But what then do we celebrate? We celebrate the belief that Mary was assumed into heaven; as well as on December 25 we celebrate the truth that Jesus was born on earth. It is like this: My mom’s birth date is January 24, but when it falls on a weekday, we celebrate it not on the day itself, but on the nearest Sunday. The essence of the celebration is still present.

Let us reflect on a certain aspect of the Assumption. The belief on the Assumption of Mary gives us a sense of our destiny. Through the grace of God, all those who are obedient and faithful to God will also be united with Him like her. We were meant to be united with God. To us, death is not an end or an extinction but a transition to a better life. And second, Mary becomes an example to be imitated. If a human being, like Mary, is able to be faithful and obedient to the will of God, so can you and I. The life of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ (the saints) is evidence to this belief. The lives of many of the faithful who believed in the Assumption are testimonies of this. You get to see the truth in the lives of people. Just as the truth of love, which cannot be empirically tested, is verified by the lives of lovers.

Does your life attest to a truth? If you were asked to give a statement that would embody your life, what would it be? For example, some people adhere to the truth that “Family is first.” So, in conflicting schedules, they decide in favor of family time. They put primacy over coming to Sunday mass with the family, dinner together at home and finding time to pray together. They mark with a special celebration important events like birthdays and anniversaries especially of family members.

Similarly, what truth in your faith do you live by?

Defining Moments

13 August 2009. Thursday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Joshua 3, 7-17; Psalm 114; Matthew 18,21 - 19,1

Every person is given an opportunity to be great. Tom Cruise for example was propelled to stardom in the 1983 comedy film, Risky Business. Kate Winslet was unforgettable in the historic movie, Titanic. Lydia de Vega’s star shone bright when she won in the Southeast Asian Games in the 1980s, becoming the fastest woman in Asia. Lea Salonga won the Tony Awards for her role in Miss Saigon, the first Asian to win the prestigious award. President Corazon Aquino’s defining moment was the peaceful revolution in 1986. Aung San Suu Kyi made her an international icon of democracy when she fought against the government of Myanmar and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Jose Rizal’s death in 1898 pegged his heroism. Andres Bonifacio led the KKK against the Spanish government in the Philippines. The saints in their martyrdom. Jesus in his crucifixion.

The first reading defined Joshua as the fitting successor of Moses. The passages intend to exalt Joshua in the sight of all Israel. But Joshua’s success mirrors Yahweh’s greatness. At Joshua’s leadership, the conquest shows that the living God is the Lord of the whole earth, who is responsible for bringing Israel into the land. With the ark of the covenant leading the procession, it shows that the Lord is powerful. And just as the Lord brought the exiled people in Egypt, Yahweh can bring anyone who are lost and “exiled” back home. The ark is a sign of the Lord’s presence; the distance that the people keep from the ark emphasizes the respect and deference they must show the Lord. Holiness therefore prepares us for a Divine intervention; an experience of something extraordinary. Thus purification rites, abstinence, fasting, prayer have always been part of these preparations. In addition, just as Moses divided the waters of the Red Sea for the people to cross, Joshua performs the same thing at the Jordan.

The greatness of every Christian is defined by the person’s ability to forgive repeatedly. Not just once, but seventy-times-seven as Jesus said in the Gospel. The number seven has a special significance: it indicates infinity. Thus, seventy-times-seven is more than just infinite. Meaning: as many as people hurt us; as repeatedly as people wrong us; as often as they insult us. Think of the people whom we have highly esteemed. Tom Cruise was bullied in school; his deep regret is his difficult childhood with his father. Kate Winslet in her younger years with a man 12 years her senior and her deep insecurity and dread of being thought an “arrogant young actor.” President Aquino has to deal with the murderers of her husband, Senator Ninoy Aquino. Aung San Suu Kyi with those who convicted her to house arrest. Pope John Paul II forgave the person who attempted to assassinate him. Church leaders asked for forgiveness for the sins of the past. Jesus pardoned those who nailed him to the cross. To authenticate our love for our enemies, we must possess the character that enables us to forgive repeatedly. By doing so, we become peacemakers. And Jesus said that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. And should we forgive? Because God forgives. When people say, “AMDG, for the greater glory of God” they sometimes miss the point: we give glory to God when we mirror His character.

It is almost often that opportunities of greatness come our way. Unfortunately, we usually miss them --- because we stoop to less dignifying acts. These are the times when we are challenged to become better than who we are today. Temptations are tests: they are to help build our character by not yielding to them. When somebody does bad things to us, the greatest revenge is to become better than them --- better in character and skills. It is the time when our lives have to show that there is a higher moral plane where people with dignity belong. Below this level, lives a specie of a less sophisticated character.

Constancy and Change

12 August 2009. Wednesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 34, 1-12; Psalm 66; Matthew 18, 15-20

The death of Moses ends the Book of Deuteronomy. It consists of his final blessings on the twelve tribes of Israel before he takes his last breath. In the blessing, Moses gathers the tribes of Israel. Though the tribe of Simeon is missing, they are still twelve: Joseph’s tribe is divided into his two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. Every blessing is different in form and content for each tribe, but they are brought together as an end to Deuteronomy. The tribes celebrate together the Kingship of Yahweh and the gift of the land.

After the final word of blessing, Yahweh shows Moses the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all their descendants. Moses gazes upon the vast lands on Mount Nebo, in the land of Moab. There, the great leader dies. He is buried in the “ravines opposite Beth-peor” but the reading said “to this day, no one knows the place of his burial.” One thing is worth mentioning. It is written that “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated” (34,7). Just as the Israelites celebrate Yahweh, Moses did not lose his gaze upon Him.

Heraclitus once said that change is the only thing constant: “Nothing endures but change.” Moses’ remarkable life is a series of constant reinvention: from an Egyptian prince to a murderer; an ordinary shepherd of the Midian desert to an extraordinary pastor of a nation. It is not a challenge to imagine the physical changes that he has to face: a diminishing energy and the emotional turmoils of leading a “stiff necked people” as he aged. But at the end of his life, what remains constant is what makes him a great person: His faithfulness to Yahweh. He gazes upon God, and because of this great love, his vigor and passion does not wane or vanish.

How do we emulate Moses? I think we need more than just a shallow reinvention of ourselves, like the present trends of make-overs and image change. It is not just an intellectual or a practical improvement or a professional recycling. It is not only about the stages and the life cycles we all undergo as we grow and carry out our activities. We must get into our depths. At our core is the Spirit that is constant, but seeks to adapt itself in every possible way to the environment. It means that there is first, a constant dedication, wherein our “inner eyes” are fixed on God, and we put all our efforts into a renewal of our spiritual, intellectual and practical lives. Our renewal will enable us to grasp and respond to the new realities of a world that is constantly changing. It will enable us to transmit the Word of God to the people of this particular and specific time --- the here and now. This is how we become relevant to the times. The process of being adaptability while being faithful to the Spirit is called creative fidelity.

It is through this deepening that we are able to integrate ourselves. In a deeper way, it is the message of the Gospel, that we have to reconcile not just with people who have been alienated to us --- or whom we have alienated --- but also to gather, like the twelve tribes of Israel, our broken pieces into a different wholeness. Hannah Arendt in her book, The Human Condition, said that we reconcile with our past through forgiveness. Forgiveness is needed for the undoing of mistakes of the past. In the perspective of death, we are able to let go of our lives easier when we know we are whole again. It is when we are faced with the reality of death (such as attending wakes & funerals, having life threatening experiences like a terminal illness) that we begin to think about what is important and what remains constant. In a wake, what people celebrate is what matters: as family, friendship and faith.

I love Jesuit funerals. When the cortège leaves the church, Jesuits would line up and clap as the coffin passes them. It is not just in praise of a remarkable life, but also to glorify the Lord who guided their life. The same thing when the coffin of President Corazon Aquino is being brought out of the Manila Cathedral, the congregation cannot help but give her a very long standing ovation.

Learning When to Step Down

11 August 2009. Memorial of St. Claire
Deuteronomy 31, 1-8; Deut 32; Matthew 18, 1-14

Those who wrote Deuteronomy prepares us for the death of Moses. They do not peter down his significance in the history of Israel. For he is more than a hero; a significant figure in Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He guides them in their sojourn in the desert and brings them to the Promise Land. But why does Moses die before he reaches the Promise Land? I don’t know. There are speculations such as it is a punishment: all that is granted is to see the land from a distance. Maybe. In the epic story of the salvation of Israel, the primary figure is Moses. With his death, we are asked to refocus on the true mover: God. Israel’s future will move on, despite the death of a great leader. Its journey will continue with Joshua, the new leader. Moses’ role in the life of Israel will be taken over by him. He will be the leader in Israel’s crucial settlement in Canaan. Moses’ portion of the plan is over. It is time for another to take his place.

But the change of leadership is not the issue in today’s readings; but who remains constant. The spotlight should zero in on Yahweh: He still sets history. He will continue to be faithful to Israel, as the torch of leadership is passed on from judge to judge, from king to king, from prophet to prophet, from generation to generation. Yahweh is forever.

Therefore, Deuteronomy poses to us all, as Moses encourages Israel, to choose life. Life under the auspices of the Divine. Life is a blessing. Death is a curse; it is without God. The issue therefore is not Yahweh’s graciousness and faithfulness. The issue is Israel’s faithful response; and in extension, our response. That is why Deuteronomy contains all the commandments, blessings and curses, and appeals to obedience. The Deuteronomic stipulations guides Israelites in their appropriate response to God.

To a present-day leader, what then can we learn from the readings? It tells us that part of leadership is continuity. To know when to stay in position and when to step down. To care for possible successors and to train them to take over. To realize and accept that the future is not in our control, but in God’s. That what we do is not only our project, but God’s work too. When we care for continuity, we deflect attention from ourselves to others.

Unfortunately, many organizations are personality-centered. It revolves around the charism of those who are in power. For example, when founding members die, the organization dies with them. Included in leadership is the skill to put up structures that ensure continuity, even if the leaders change. It is to know how to enshrine the goals and values that make the organization in their manner of proceeding. The leaders see to it that these values remain constant, as they discern whether the manner of carrying out these values is to remain, modified or changed in the course of history. Leaders should therefore know what is constant and what can be changed. There are many leaders who do not want to rock the boat, even if the activity is already too archaic. They just mimic what has gone before because they are afraid that they will not be able to please others. They protect themselves, and not the values. They enjoy the perks, that is why they hold on to their positions with their dear life. When they do that, they show that they are leaders whose main concern is I, me and mine.

I believe the readings tell us that we should not be stuck. It tells us that we should be dynamic. How? By focusing not on ourselves but on the welfare of our children, as Jesus pointed out in the Gospel. As an alumnus, we should learn to be open to changes and to entrust to the younger leaders our organizations. As present leader, we should learn to keep the vision alive while discerning what activities enrich and promote the values on which generations of old have promoted with their lives. To be dynamic, one has to love our children. And thus give them even the opportunity to lead and to decide for themselves. When we think of them, we will know what values would make them good and what activities would promote these values better than the ones we once had. After all, it is God’s not ours.

Ang Wika ay Pagkakaibigan

Ika-9 ng Agosto 2009. Homilya para sa Buwan ng Wika
Ang Wika ay Pagkakaibigan
Church of the Gesu, Pamantasan ng Ateneo de Manila

Note: August is dedicated to honor the Filipino language. Since the Philippines has many dialects, Filipino has been proclaimed the national language. To further promote Filipino, all schools particularly focus on Filipino; but the medium of instruction has always been English. Sorry I don't have time to translate the whole homily for all English-speaking readers. In a gist: Language is Friendship: Language per se and the use of language.

Isang kaban ng alaala ang nabubungkal tuwing buwan ng Agosto dahil ito ang buwan ng wika. Noong mga araw, isang linggo lang ang ginugugol para sa pagpupunyagi sa wika; pagkatapos nito, balik uli sa dating alituntuning “speak English in class”. Sa linggong ito, Pilipino lamang ang maaaring gamitin; kung hindi, mababawasan ang iyong bulsa ng piso sa bawat salitang hindi Pilipino. Ngunit, pagkatapos nito, huhubugin ka uli bilang isang Inglisero: kapag lumabas ang anumang wikang hindi katutubo sa iyong bibig, piso din ang bayad. Sa naiipon, nakakabili kami ng floorwax at walis sa paglilinis ng silid-aralan. Nagbabago rin pala ang panahon: hindi na linggo, kundi ngayon isang buwan. Gusto kong isipin na ang dahilan ay mas pinapahalagahan ang wika ngayon dahil mas mahaba-haba ang panahon para sa iba’t ibang proyekto upang ipalaganap ito. Ang tanong, pagkatapos ng Agosto, ano na ang mangyayari? Babalik pa rin ba tayo sa dating gawi: mas mahalaga ang Ingles dahil mas alta-sociedad, mas praktikal?

Iba’t iba ang makikita natin bilang sagot sa aking tanong. Mas nanaisin ko ang mga sagot na yari sa gawa at hindi sa salita. Dahil maraming madakdak, pero wala namang gawa; o iba ang pinapakita sa isinasalita. Mas higit, wika ni San Ignacio, na ipakita ang pag-ibig sa gawa kaysa salita. May mga taong purista: Pilipino ang lahat-lahat; walang bahid ang wika ng salitang dayuhan. Sa Ateneo, silid-aralan; hindi maaari ang klasrum. Sa Ateneo, paaralan, hindi iskul. E, paano ang computer? Paano ito pipili-pinuhin? May mga taong iginugol ang buhay para sa ganitong pagtingin. Sabi nila, nang magturo si P. Roque Ferriols ng Pilosopiya sa Wikang Pilipino, purong-puro; salin sa Griyego. Ngunit ganito ba talaga ang itinuro niya? Alam nating lahat na nagbabago ang wika, kasama sa daloy ng panahon. Nahahaluan ito ng salitang banyaga. Tulad ng isang kaibigan: binubuksan nito ang puso upang tanggapin ang pagkakaiba ng isang bagong kaibigan. Ang salita ng isang kaibigan nagiging wika na rin ng kapwa kaibigan; ang dating pagkakaiba ng minumutya, nagiging pagkakaisa ng magkasing-irog.

Ngunit, meron bang wika na walang halo? Sa aking pag-aaral, wala: lahat ng wika may etymology, may pinanggalingan, tulad ng lahat ng taong gumagamit nito. Isinasalamin ng bawat wika ang kasarinlan ng mga nagsasalita nito. Kung anong salita ang namumutawi sa bibig, nalalaman natin kung saan ka galing at kung ano ang kulturang kinagagalawan mo. Kahit pare-parehong ang kategoriya, lilitaw pa rin ang tunay mong kulay. May Ilonggong Ingles: subukan mong kausapin sila, umaakyat bumababa ang punto. Hindi mo alam kung galit na, kasi malumanay pa rin. May Bisayang Ingles: hindi mo mawari kung [e] o [i], [o] o [u], [p] o [f]. Wika ng maraming iskolar, may dakilang dahilan ang pinagtatawanang Bisayang Ingles: dala pa rin nila ang Alibata, ang sinaunang alpabeto ng ating mga ninuno na galing din sa ibang bayan. Ganito din kung Pilipino: iba’t iba ang pagsasalita dahil mayroon tayong sariling tribo, isla, kultura, at pinanggalingan. At dahil dito, ang ating pagkakaiba ang siyang nagiging sanhi ng isang mayamang kulturang gumagalaw sa kasalukuyang panahon. Isang bagong anyo. Ayon kay Rizal, ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makakarating sa paroroonan. At ano ang pinatutunguhan natin: ang pagkakaisa ng buong mundo. Kung sa pananampalataya, tinatawag itong Kaharian ng Diyos. Lahat magkakapatid, nagmamahal sa iisang Ama. Hindi mo maaalis ang siopao o pansit sa wikang Pilipino: nakadikit sa atin ang sinaunang pagkakaibigan ng Intsik at ng ating ninuno. Ang sinaunang pagkakaibigan nagiging magpakailanman. Kung walang pansit o siopao sa hapag-kainan, magiging Pilipino pa rin ba ang handaan?

Sabi pa ni Rizal, ang di magmahal sa sariling wika, daig pa ang malansang isda. Ngunit sinasabi ko, ang hindi rin marunong mahalin ang ating kultura, kasama nito ang ating mga panitikan, awit, sayaw, kuwentong-bayan, isang taong hindi alam kung sino siya; kung ano siya; kung para saan ang kanyang buhay. Walang personalidad. Dahil walang anyo ang kanyang sarili. Isipin mo ang isang taong walang pinag-ugatang pamilya (sino ang magmamahal sa kanya). Isang taong hindi alam kung sino siya, kaya hindi niya alam kung ano ang gusto niya at ano ang gagawin niya sa buhay. Lagi siyang nakalutang; parang bula na hindi mahalaga kung nariyan o wala.

Simple lamang ang nais kong ibahagi sa inyo. Unang-una, dakilain natin ang ating wika at kultura. Huwag ikahiya ang pinanggalingan. Maging mapuri sa iyong pagiging Ilokano, Bulakenyo, Pampangueno, Tagalog, Bikolano, Ilonggo, Cebuano, Davaoweno, atpb. Ikuwento mo ang kagandahan ng iyong lugar; ibahagi ang mithiin mo para sa iyong lalawigan. Huwag mahiyang gamitin ang iyong sariling wika. Alamin ang iyong kultura at ang iyong kasaysayan. Ang pagdiriwang ng wika ay isang pagpupunyagi sa ating sariling kultura. Ganito din sa pag-ibig: alamin mo muna ang iyong sarili, upang alam mo kung sino at ano ang inaalay mo sa iyong iniibig. Walang nais mag-alay ng bula; at mahirap magmahal sa isang guni-guni lamang. Nagsisimula ang pag-iibigan sa pagkakaiba.

Pangalawa, sa lahat ng ating pakikitungo, dakilain natin ang wikang nauunawaan ng lahat. Wika ni San Ignacio: magkasing-katawan ang pakikipagtalastasan at pagkakaibigan. Lumalalim ang ating ugnayan kapag nakikipag-usap, nakikibahagi, nagbibigay-alam sa isa’t isa. Ito ang kahulugan ng Komunyon. May mga bagay na nagbibigkis sa atin, dahil binabahagi natin ang sarili sa isa’t isa. Pakiramdaman ang sitwasyon; alamin kung sino-sino ang mga naroroon. Pagkatapos, gamitin ang wika na mauunawaan ng lahat. Kaya, maaaring Pilipino, kung galing sa iba’t ibang dako ng bansa tulad ng mga estudyante sa dorm; maaaring Ingles, kung galing sa iba’t ibang dako ng daigdig. Ganito ang pagpapastol, handang makibagay upang ang lahat mapaglingkuran at walang ini-itsapuwera.

Balik tayo kay P. Roque Ferriols na dinadakila natin. Naging estudyante ako ni P. Ferriols sa Pilosopiya; at bilang isang Heswita, kapatid ko siya sa Kapisanan. Wika ni P. Roque sa amin: kung masasalita mo sa Bisaya ang itinuro niyang Pilosopiya, gamitin mo ang Bisaya. Kung Bikolano, gamitin mo ang wika sa pagsusulit. Sa mga misa niya, Ingles ang ginagamit niya. Ngunit may prinsipiyo: kung Ingles, Ingles ang buong pangungusap. Kung Pilipino, Filipino lahat. Walang Taglish, Bislish, Ilokanolish at iba pang lish-lish.

Kung tutuusin, ito din ang Jesuit way. Pinapa-iral nito ang pagmamahal. Sa pagsasalita sa ganitong paraan: nirerespeto natin ang pagkakaiba nating lahat. At dahil nakikita ang ating pagkakaiba, pinagsisikapan ang pagkaunawaan sa pamamagitan ng paghahanap ng wikang makakatulong sa pagkakaisa. Dahil dito, sinasabi sa aming mga Heswita: pag-aralan ang lengwahe ng lugar ng iyong misyon. Bikolano ako: “Diyos mabalos saindo gabos.” Ngunit itinapon ako sa Cagayan de Oro sa Mindanao bilang Heswita: “Daghang salamat sa inyong tanan.” Sa pamamagitan ng pag-aaral ng iba’t ibang wika, nauunawaan natin ang isa’t isa. Hindi ba’t ito ang nangyari sa Pentekostes: nagkakaunawaan ang lahat ng mga taong galing isa iba’t ibang dako ng daigdig?

Ito din ang sasabihin ko sa inyong lahat: pag-aralan kung may pagkakataon ang iba’t ibang wika natin. Mas magaling ang isang taong maraming alam na salita: magkakaroon siya ng maraming kaibigan at hindi siya mawawala saan man siya pumunta. Dahil ituturing siyang kapatid sa anumang bayan.

Can You be a Bread of Life?

9 August 2009. 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19, 4-8; Psalm 34; Eph 4, 30- 5,2; John 6, 41-51

In the Gospel, Jesus said that He is the bread of life that came down from heaven. He who partakes of it will have eternal life. This bread is for the life of the world. What does He mean to become the bread of life?

A simple and true story:

Late in the 15th century, two young wood-carving apprentices in a tiny village near Nuremberg confided to each other their desire to study painting in the Academy. But such study would take money, and both Albert and Albrecht were poor; they were brothers of a large family of eighteen.

Finally, though, they had a solution. Let one work and earn money while the other studied. Then, when the lucky one became rich and famous, let him in turn aid the other. They tossed a coin and Albrecht won.

So while Albrecht went to Venice, Albert worked as a blacksmith. As quickly as he received his wages he would forward money to his brother.

The months stretched into years --- and at last Albrecht returned to his native land, an independent master. Now it was his turn to help Albert.

The two men met in joyous reunion, a dinner prepared by the Durer family, but when Albrecht looked at his brother, tears welled from his eyes. Albrecht rose to drink a toast to his brother for the years of sacrifice. His closing words were, "And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nürnberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you."

Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks and said, "No, brother. I cannot go to Nürnberg. It is too late for me. Look...look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No, my brother...for me it is too late."

Only then did he discover the extent of Albert’s sacrifice. The many years of heavy labor in the blacksmith shop had calloused and bruised his sensitive hands. His fingers could never handle a painter’s brush.

In humble gratitude to his brother Albert for his years of sacrifice, the artist, the great Albrecht Dürer, painted a portrait of the working hands that had labored so faithfully in order that he might develop his talent. He presented this painting of praying hands to his devoted brother. It has since become familiar to millions of people. It is also called, "The Hands of the Apostle."

When you have seen this painting of praying hands, remember the story behind it. When Jesus said that He is the bread for the life of the world, He meant that His sacrifice will nourish us all.

We are like Albrecht, and Jesus is like Albert. Behind our lives is someone who labors for our salvation; so that like Elijah, we will be able to do God’s mission --- by being bread to others. Just as Albrecht made a portrait of Albert's praying hands, we too should make something good in gratitude for Jesus’ calloused, bruised and praying hands.

Homily at the Requiem Mass of Philippine President Corazon Aquino

5 August 2009 Requiem Mass of President Corazon Aquino
Homily of Fr. Catalino Arévalo, S.J. delivered at the Manila Cathedral

Note: I am reprinting Fr. Arevalo's homily for the edification of all of us, Christians or not. We can govern people through integrity and a deep faith.

If I may first ask pardon for what might be an unseemly introduction. In the last days of President Cory’s illness, when it seemed inevitable that the end would come, the assignment to give this homily was given to me. By Ms Kris Aquino, in fact. She reminded me that many times and publicly, her mother had said she was asking me to preach at her funeral Mass. Always I told her I was years older, and would go ahead of her, but she would just smile at this. Those who knew Tita Cory knew that when she had made up her mind, she had made up her mind.

What then is my task this morning? I know for certain that if liturgical rules were not what they are, she would have asked Congressman Ted Locsin to be here in my place. No one has it in him to speak as fittingly of Cory Aquino in the manner and measure of tribute she uniquely deserves, no one else as he. Asked in an interview she said that the address before the two Houses of Congress at Washington she considered perhaps the supreme shining moment of her life. We know who helped her with those words with which she conquered America. These last few days, too, every gifted writer in the press and other media has written on her person and political history, analyzed almost every side of her life and achievement as our own “icon of democracy”. More powerfully even, images of her and of EDSA UNO have filled hour after hour of TV time. Really, what else is left to be said?

So, Tita Cory, you’ll forgive me if I don’t even try to give a shadow of the great oration that should be given here this morning. Let me instead try to say some things the people who persevered for hours on end in the serried lines at Ortigas or here in Intramuros can (I hope) more easily follow. This is a lowly tribute at one with “the old sneakers and clothes made tighter by age, soaked by water and much worse for wear” of the men, women and children who braved the rain and the sun because they wanted to tell you, even for a brief and hurried moment, how much they love you. You truly ”now belong among the immortals”. But these words are for those mortals who with bruised hearts have lost “the mother of a people”. Maybe less elegantly than the seminarian said to me Monday, they would like to say also: “She was the only true queen our people have ever had, and she was queen because we knew she truly held our hearts in the greatness and the gentleness of her own.”

One of my teachers used to tell us that if we really wanted to know and understand a position held, we would have to learn it from someone fully committed to it. Just as only one who genuinely loves a person, really knows him or her also.

So to begin with, I turned to three real “experts on Cory”; to ask them where for them the true greatness of Cory Aquino lay. My first source thought it was in her selflessness, seen above all in her love of country - surely above self; yes, even above family. Her self-giving, then, for us; what she had received, all became gift for us. The second, thought it was in her faith her greatness lay, in her total trust in God which was also her greatest strength. And the third said it was in her courage and the unshakable loyalty that went with it. It was a strength others could lean on; it never wavered; it never broke. . . . . . Cory’s selflessness and self-giving; her faith (the Holy Father just called it “unwavering”); her courage, her strength. -- May I use this short list to frame what I will say? O, let me name my experts now, if I may. They were three, all of them women close to her: Maria Elena Aquino Cruz, whom we know as Ballsy, Maria Aurora Aquino Abellada, Pinky to her friends; and Victoria Elisa Aquino Dee, Viel to the family. Kris and Noynoy are the public figures; they can speak for themselves. I hope they will forgive me that I did not ask.

First, then, her generous selflessness. For us this morning what is surely most to the point is her love of country. When her final illness was upon her already, she said, -- most recently at the Greenmeadows chapel (her last public words, I think) --that she was offering her suffering, first to God, then for our people. I heard that grandson Jiggy asked her why first for country and people, and she said that always the priority line-up was God, our country and our people, and then family. On radio, the other night, the commentator asked an old woman in line why she stood hours in the rain to get into La Salle. “Ito lang ang maibibigay ko po sa kanya, bilang pasasalamat.” “Bakit, ano ba ang ibinigay ni Cory sa inyo?” “Di po ba ang buhay nya? Ang buong sarila nya? At di po ba ang pagasa? Kaya mahal na mahal po namin siya.” Early on, on TV, they ran many times the clip from a last interview. She says, “I thank God, and then all of you, for making me a Filipino, for making me one of you. I cherish this as one of the truly great gifts I have received.” A few weeks from her death, she could say that; without put-on or the least insincerity. “I thank you, for making me one of you..”

Her selflessness, her self-gift. Pope Benedict likes to say that the God whom Jesus Christ revealed to us, is Father. A Father who is wholly self-gift; the God “whose nature is to give Himself” – to give Himself to us, in His Son. And, the Pope says, that is what is the meaning of Jesus and the life of Jesus, and, by discipleship, what the Christian’s life is meant to be. We Christians too, we must give ourselves away in the self-giving of love. “Ang buhay po nya at sarili. Kaya po mahal na mahal namin sya.” In the last days, when finally and reluctantly still she admitted she had much pain, I kept thinking that only a couple of weeks before, for the first time publicly, she said that she was offering it up first of all for us.”

Secondly, her faith. Pinky says, it was her mother’s greatest strength; it was what was deepest in her. Her faith was her bedrock, and it was, bedrock . Frederick Buechner the ordained minister and novelist likes to say that through his lifetime, he’s had many doubts, even deep doubt, daily doubts. “But I have never really looked down into the deep abyss and seen only nothing. Somehow I have known, that underneath all the shadows and the darkness, there are the everlasting arms.” I think Cory’s faith was like that, not in the multiplicity of doubts (even if. in a life so filled with trial, there surely were doubts too), but in the certainty of the everlasting arms. More than once she told me, “Every time life painted me into a corner, with seemingly no escape, I always turned to Him in trust. I knew He would never abandon us if we trusted in Him. And you know, somehow, He found a way out for us.” And so Pinky says, “Mom was always calm even in the most trying times. She trusted God would always be there for us, She was our source of strength. She made this world seem so much safer and less cruel for us. And now that our source of strength is gone, we have to make our faith something more like hers. But we know in our hearts that in every storm she will watch over us from heaven.”

Within this faith was her devotion to Mary, the place Our Lady of Fatima and the rosary held in her life. All we can say on this, this morning is that Our Lady truly had a special, living presence in her life: Mary was, for Cory, true mother and incomparable friend; as we say in the hymn, - vita, dulcedo et spes, - life, sweetness and hope. No, Mary was not the center of her faith, but its air, its atmosphere; and the rosary, her lifeline through every trial and crisis. In the long harsh months of her illness, Sister Lucia’s beads almost never left her hands. She was holding them, as last Saturday was dawning and her years of exile were at last done, when we know her Lady “showed unto her, the blessed fruit of her womb.”

Lastly. Her courage, her strength. Her children tell us that their father was only able to do what he wanted to do, because her loyalty and her support for his purposes was total, so she practically raised them up as a single parent. Ninoy himself wrote, again and again, that he endured imprisonment and persecution, leaning so much on her courage and love. And after his death, when she could have withdrawn in a way “safely”, to her own life with her children at last, she stayed on her feet and fought on in the years that followed, through the snap elections and what went before and after them, through her presidency and the seven coup attempts which tried to bring her down. Even after she had given up her rule, could she not have said “enough”, and we would all have understood? But with not the least desire for position or power again, whenever she thought the spaces of freedom and the true good of our land were threatened, she went back to the streets of struggle again. Once again she led us out of the apathy we so readily fall into; once again she called us out of our comfort zones to the roads of sacrifice.

Here, even hesitantly, may I add one trait, one virtue, -- to those her daughters have named? One day Cardinal Stephen Kim of South Korea asked if he might visit her. Through Ballsy, she said Yes. It was a day Malacanang was ‘closed’; they were making up the roster of members of the forthcoming Constitutional Convention. Someone from the palace staff ordered us turned away when we came; it was Ballsy who rescued us. Stephen Kim, hero and saint to his own people,--perhaps, along with Cardinal Sin, one the two greatest Asian Catholic prelates of our time,- = spent some 45 minutes talking with her. When we were on our way back, he said, “I know why the Lord has entrusted her with power, at this most difficult time. … It is because she is pure of heart. She has no desire for power; even now it is with reluctance she takes it on. And she has done this only because she wants to do whatever she can for your people.” He said, “she truly moves me by the purity of her spirit. God has given a great gift to your people.”

With this purity of heart, in the scheme of the Christian Gospel, there is joined another reality which really, only the saints understand. It is suffering. How often (it is really often; over and over through the years) she spoke of suffering as part of her life. Much contemporary spirituality speaks of suffering almost as the epitome of all evil. But in fact for all the saints, it is a mystery they themselves do not really understand nor really explain, Yet they accept it quietly, simply as part of their lives in Christ. There is only one painting she ever gave me. Kris said then, when her mom gave it to me, that it was her mom’s favorite. The painting carries 1998 as its date; Cory named it “Crosses and roses” There are seven crosses for the seven years, seven months and seven weeks of her beloved Ninoy’s imprisonment, and for the seven attempted coups during her presidency, and many roses, multi-colored roses all around them. At the back of the painting, in her own hand, she wrote a haiku of her own: “Crosses and roses/ make my life more meaningful./ I cannot complain.” Often she spoke of her “quota of suffering.” When she spoke of her last illness, she said: “I thought I had filled up my quota of suffering, but it seems there is no quota. I look at Jesus, who was wholly sinless: how much suffering he had to bear for our sakes.” And in her last public talk (it was at Greenmeadows chapel), the first time she spoke of her own pain: “I have not asked for it, but if it is meant to be part of my life still, so be it. I will not complain.” “I try to join it with Jesus’ pain and offering. For what it’s worth, I am offering it up for our people.” Friends here present, I tell you honestly I hesitated before going into this, this morning. But without it, part of the real Cory Aquino would be kept from view. Quite simply, this was integral to the love she bore for her people.

At this point, may I, following the lead Mr Rapa Lopa has given, just speak a word of thanks to President Cory’s children, who shared so much of her service and her sacrifice. They have almost never had their father and mother for themselves. For so many years, they have been asked to share Ninoy and Cory with all of us. And because of the blood and the spirit their parents have passed on to them, they too gave with generosity and grace the sacrifices we demanded of them. – Ballsy and Pinky, Viel and Kris, your husbands and your children, and Senator Noynoy, may we thank you this morning from all our hearts, and may we offer also the gratitude of the hearts of a people now forever in your debt.

In have used up all my time, some of you will say, and I have not even approached the essential: her political life, that she was our nation’s unique icon of democracy, that Cory Aquino who, throughout the world. was TIME magazine’s 1986’s woman of the year, she who led the ending of the dictatorship that had ruined our nation, the bearer of liberation, of freedom, and of hope for a prostrate people. So, by your leave, may I add one item, along this line at last. In October 1995, Milano’s Catholic University, conferred on her the doctorate honoris causa in the political sciences (incidentally, only her twenty-third honorary degree). This was only the fifth time this particular one had been given since the university’s inception: the first time to an Asian, the first ever to a woman. She wanted, at the end of her lectio magistralis, to spell out, perhaps for the first time with some explicitness and completeness, her personal political creed. She listed seven basic beliefs which, regarding political life , she said she tried to live by. Then she spoke of one more, “one more I may not omit.” Perhaps the paragraph which followed is worth citing here, even without comment, because it has something to say to our present hour.

(We cite her words now.) I believe that the vocation of politics must be accepted by those who take up the service of leadership as a vocation in its noblest meaning: it demands all of life. For the life of one who would lead his or her people, -- in our time as never before, -- such a life must strive for coherence with the vision aspired to, or else that vision itself and its realization are already betrayed. That vision must itself be present, in some authentic way, in those who seek to realize it: present, in the witness of their example; present, in a purity of heart vis-à-vis the exercise and usages of power; present, in an ultimate fidelity to principle, in a dedication that is ready to count the cost in terms of “nothing less than everything.” It is Cardinal Newman, I believe, who said that in this world, we do good only in the measure that we pay for it in the currency of our own lives. For us Christians, there is always the image of Jesus, and the price his service demanded of him. And for me there has been, as a constant reminder, the sacrifice my husband offered, and the word that it has spoken, to me and my people.” (Cory Aquino, end of citation)


With all this said, I am done. Ma’am, tapos na po ang assignment ko. It has been so hard to do what you asked. But I comfort myself that these so many words really do not matter. What counts in the end is really – what all this week has been; these past few days’ outpouring of our people’s gratitude and love; what will come after all this today; what we will do, in the times ahead, in fidelity to your gift. I received a text last night from a man of some age and with some history behind him. “She made me proud again, to be Filipino.” Maybe that says it all., Cardinal Sin used to put it somewhat differently. “What a gift God has given our people, in giving Cory Aquino to us.” The nobility and courage of your spirit, the generosity of your heart, the grace and graciousness that accompanied you always. They called it “Cory magic” – but it was the truth, and the purity and beauty, clear and radiant within you, that we saw. And the hope that arose from that. And when the crosses came to you and you did not refuse to bear them, more to be one with your Christ and one with your people and their pain. “Blessed are the pure of heart; for they shall see God.”

Thank you Father in heaven, for your gift to us of Cory Aquino. Thank you that she passed once this way through our lives with the grace you gave her to share with us. If we give her back to you, we do it with hearts of thanksgiving, but now, oh, with breaking hearts also, because of the greatness and beauty of the gift which she was for us, the likes of which, perhaps, we shall not know again.

Salamat po, Tita Cory, mahal na mahal po namin kayo.

1. Thanks to Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB). Comments may be sent to

2. Videos of Fr. Catalino Arevalo SJ delivering the homily.

How to Enjoy Obedience

7 August 2009. Friday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time
Dt 4, 32-40; Psalm 77; Matthew 16, 24-28

Why is it very difficult for us to obey? I guess obedience needs so much effort from us because we are trained to obey out of fear. When we were young, obedience meant following our parents at the brink of anger and threatening us with pain --- a whack on our behind, a withdrawal of affection, a curtailment of freedom, or a limited allowance. We were also trained to obey God in this manner. If we did not behave, God would punish us in one way or the other. Moreover, obedience meant not getting what we wanted; what we believed was good for us. Thus, it was almost automatic that any mishaps, misfortune or failure was always associated with a sin committed against God. Obedience was always associated with reward and punishment.

But not without blame. The material in the first reading was included in Deuteronomy during the Exile (587-539 BC). The situation forced Israel to reflect on their relationship with Yahweh. They concluded that their exile was Yahweh’s punishment for their infidelity and disobedience. When Israel disregarded the commandments of God, disaster followed. If they did not keep the covenant, they were exiled. God did not tolerate infidelity, such that when Israel was disloyal, His wrath was proportional to His love. Thus, a large part of Deuteronomy were statutes, laws, commandments that when followed ensured Israel’s long life on the Promised land. If they did not, they would soon experience defeat and death.

However, a close reading of Deuteronomy gives us a different picture. The Collegeville Bible Commentary tells us that:

“The Book of Deuteronomy as a whole...speak of the fundamental loyalty that is essential to Israel’s unique relationship with God... Once Israel realizes what befalls those who are unfaithful, repentance is possible (v. 29-30). Finally, the compassion of God does not allow Israel’s infidelity to end the relationship between God and Israel, since God remains faithful to the promises made to Israel’s ancestors (v. 31). As disastrous as was Israel’s disloyalty, it still did not mean the end of its relationship with God.”

Thus, obedience is about being faithful to a God who loves. A God who continues to care for us no matter how we have turned away from Him. Breaking from God is our decision, not His. In fact, He does not let us go; He clings to us. He wouldn’t allow it. This image of God is consistent with the father who waited for his son to return; with God who sent His Son to restore us to Him. Thus we obey God because we know and trust that what He wants from us is what is good for us. That whatever misfortune and failure we experience is not from God, but a result of our lapses in judgment and action. Or, we are victims of other people’s bad decisions. A failure in our exam tells us what we don’t know or how we studied. A corrupt government is the result of several decisions based on greed. Natural calamities are attributed to climate change brought about by the destruction of the environment. Sometimes we accord to God what we humans usually do: the enjoyment of having people who bid our every word comes from our egos and our penchant for power-tripping. But God’s ways are not ours.

And thus, what would enable us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus? What would make us give up our lives and obey God? Obedience entails self-denial because it demands a surrender of our will. To obey means to feel the pain of denying ego gratification. To follow means to willfully decide to have someone else stretch out our hands against our will as Jesus reminded Peter. It means to freely and consciously decide to be determined by God, and not by ourselves. To have our lives and our schedules revolve around someone else, usually by people we respect and love.

I guess it would be easier to obey if we are deeply and truly convinced that whatever God desires is good for us. And what proof is there to know God’s goodwill? Take the responsorial psalm: “To remember the deeds of the Lord.” They are engraved in Scripture and in history. We obey as a result of our debt of gratitude. A deep thanksgiving for all that the Lord has done for us. St. Ignatius of Loyola said that gratitude to the Lord is a fundamental grace: all other virtues will spring from it. We forgive because God has forgiven us. We humble ourselves because God has chosen to be one of us. We do our work well, because God has created us better than what we thought we are.

It is true. I have with me a scrapbook that traces its content to the very first letter of acceptance I received in high school for a Jesuit vocation workshop. From then on, I have pasted memorabilia from people who have been my support system throughout my life. Once in a while, I flip its pages, especially when things are difficult and challenging. I flood myself with memories of how the Lord showed in various ways His steadfast love to me. It is this gratitude that makes us stronger and obedience easier, and believe it or not, enjoyable.

Simple. Think of a person you love. When your beloved requests something, you happily do it without protest or a heavy heart. We actually find doing something for our loved ones a source of joy. And for those who deeply love, even a cause for excitement.

Can You Transfigure like Jesus?

6 August 2009. Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
Deuteronomy 7, 9-14; Psalm 97; 2 Peter 1, 16-19; Mark 9, 2-10

The Transfiguration was one of the greatest hinges in Jesus’ life. From this point, He went out to Jerusalem and thus straight to the cross. Before this event, He asked His disciples who He was, and who they believed Him to be. Peter’s answer was, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” But then just as anyone who would make a decisive step in His life, Jesus sought the confirmation of God. A friend of mine entered into a discernment retreat. He would like to seek confirmation whether his decision of entering the seminary was the right thing to do. The same thing with Jesus: He would never take any step without the approval of God.

So Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. Mountains were believed to be the nearest place to God; a place where the greatest men and women went to meet God. In the Gospel, Moses and Elijah, two great men of the Old Testament appeared in dazzling white. The evangelist Luke suggested that the Transfiguration was a fruit of Jesus’ prayer. Prayer preceded an important event.

I have three points today.

Foremost point: Prayer transfigures us. It awakens us about who we are. It was during His prayer that Jesus was transfigured. Likewise, saints had often transfigured in their prayer and adoration. This is not surprising: prayer is an encounter with the Father. It configures us to God, at least spiritually if not physically, as in the case of Jesus and the saints. If we remain faithful in prayer, it is certain that God will communicate to us in this life something of His peace, joy and love.

Moreover, if prayer awakens us, how are we awakened? Life has full of things that makes us conscious.

First is sorrow. When our heart breaks from a relationship, we suddenly become aware of relationships and its importance. We get to see how our behavior and attitude contributes to the separation. We become aware of the other person; and how different they are from us. Disagreements magnifies this. We realize that we are unique and relationships mean respecting this uniqueness.

Second is love. Two people fall in love. One looks at the other, and the other returns the look. Then suddenly life becomes colorful and new. Love makes us see our similarities and thus relationships mean sharing what we commonly love.

Third is the sense of need. Often we have lived our lives like walking on clouds. But when we are suddenly beset by problems, or face a very unsettling question, or have been overmastered by temptation, we change. Some of these experiences are painful, such as terminal sickness and a debilitating disease. Some regain their faith when they is no one to turn to but God. The illness awakens one to God. These struggles makes us realize that we are God’s children who are totally dependent on Him. And thus, our relationships are about finding when and where we can collaborate viz a viz our similarities and differences

My final point: All that enables us to be transfigured --- prayer, sorrow, love, the sense of need ---- should enable us to face our Jerusalems, our crosses and our sufferings in ordinary life. After the Transfiguration, the disciples once again finds Jesus in His ordinary appearance, and normal life resumes its course. Only after the Resurrection did they again see Jesus in His glory.

The same thing for us. After great consolations, beautiful liturgical celebrations, uplifting retreats and prayer sessions that fill us with fervor, we find once again the grayness of ordinary life. This is the image in most retreats: we go up the mountain to pray and after the retreat, we return to ordinary life.

A final note. I believe it is not accidental that Filipinos love pictures. Any event --- birthdays, outings, deaths --- merits a camera and a flash. I believe we do not just collect photographs, but we collect memories that transfigure us. A picture of a father and a son reminds the son of being “his father’s child”. A picture of a family reminds a daughter of what she is, a child of two wonderful parents and a sister to her siblings. A picture of two friends, reminds one of what he is: a friend of another. Filipinos collect memories. It is not surprising that those who work abroad hold a picture of their families close to their heart. It is that same picture that becomes the source of strength in their loneliest nights or in their harshest jobs. They are memories that transfigures.

So what transfigures you? What are the events that inspire or build you up? What are the things that strengthen you? If we persevere in Jesus’ company despite the crosses we encounter, then we will assuredly find Jesus some day. This is an intimacy far more fulfilling than the one we sometimes experience on earth. We too will undergo a transfiguration which will last all through eternity. We pray that our Transfiguration experiences enables us to face the future with much courage and with the greatest hope.

Compassion Fatigue among Ministers

3 August 2009. Monday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time
Numbers 11, 4-15; Psalm 81; Matthew 14, 13-21

The readings today focuses on Moses and Jesus who have been called to care for God’s children. Both of them experience frustrations and heartaches as they minister to people. Imagine Moses, the great leader of Israel. He goes through a lot of “going out of himself” throughout his ministerial job. Imagine having to do something that is outside of your personality. He has to shepherd a great number of people, and yet his background is questionable. Think of being given an enormous responsibility and we find ourselves unworthy. Moses is a murderer (remember the Egyptian?). He is old (around 80), not an ideal age for a leader. In our time, his retirement is long overdue. He doesn’t have a secretariat and an entourage to do the little details. And he has a speech impediment; he stutters. That is why he needs Aaron, his brother, to speak for him in front of the great Pharaoh. Now, the very people whom he serves are complaining again and again. God rains manna and meat for them, but they are not satisfied. They miss Egypt and the food they ate. They remember the fish, the cucumbers, the leeks, melons, onions and garlic. And in the first reading, we hear Moses complaining to the Lord; letting out all of his frustrations. Moses might have doubted whether he did the right thing.

The Gospel speaks in a few sentences Jesus’ MPD (May Prosesong Dinadaanan. Eng: He is undergoing an inner process). John the Baptist has been beheaded. His cousin has died. His closest who prepared His way has been politically killed. The Gospel tells us that when he hears of John’s death, he withdraws in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The shock and the pain must have been unbearable that He needs time to breath and collect Himself. He wants space so that He could go through the process of mourning and bereavement.

But both of them realize that the world will not stop revolving around their personal issues. They still have to do their jobs. Moses have to continue leading the stubborn and annoying Israelites. Jesus have to feed the five thousand. There is no way for these ministers to slow down and put a halt to their work to tend to their broken hearts. They cannot apply for a leave of absence so that they could go to a therapy session on anger management or a counselor who could process their loss. They just have to continue the work God has given them, despite their inner turmoils.

In our lives, this is true. We cannot bring to work, our personal problems. We just have to live with the fact that we are paid to accomplish certain tasks whether we feel like it. We just have to live with the daily disappointments and domestic disturbances. In other words, we have to function well despite the storms we are weathering. Even if we have friends, we cannot expect them to rush to our side as soon as we need them. They too have their own concerns. Even if they are our friends, they have to work out their schedules so that they will be able to attend to our emotional distress.

Nevertheless, we too have to take good care of our ministers lest they succumb to burn out or compassion fatigue. People who suffer from being burned-out are those who undertake very caring and nurturing work which includes trauma workers. Eventually, their performance will deteriorate, relationships will be affected and they become irritable. Jay Kesler, author of Being Holy, Being Human, was quoted by Charles Swindoll. He said that “Ministers out there are dying because the congregation expects them to walk on water. ‘I feel like a cow that’s been milked too many times.’”

Once we find ourselves complaining like this, it is time to take a vacation.

Or, if you hear your priest saying this, it’s time to send them some pizza. Unless they complain too frequently: if they do, don’t give them anything. There is what we call abuse and a donor fatigue.