Why Do We Commemorate All Saints and Souls?

1 & 2 November 2010 All Saints and Souls

Why do we commemorate All Souls Day and All Saints Day? We often visit cemeteries without actually knowing why we remember the dead. Media commercializes these two important practices by putting in the Western season of Halloween: Television shows and various commercial establishments wore Halloween costumes as themes, and many of us associate November 1 & 2 to horror stories of ghosts. I shall therefore embark on an explanation of these two feasts using three perspectives that are easy to memorize.

First, the perspective of hope. When I visit the grave of my father whenever I find the chance to be home, the first thing I encounter is the reality of forever. At the grave, I talk to him about my life believing that he listens to me and he is present. Memories of him flood my mind, and in the remembrance of the times he spent with me and my family, he becomes present to me always.

Death therefore as faith has it is never an end. In the Preface for Christian Burial, it is said that life has not ended, but changed. The same thing with me: whatever challenges I face, I am always reminded not to lose hope, because in the end, there is life forever. And the proof is my father’s presence to me wherever I am, never anymore limited to physical presence. My father is with me always, all the time, wherever I go.

After grief and sorrow, I find myself feeling a deep joy: that I am happy for Daddy, that he is home in the arms of God. In Season 4 of Supernatural, one of the reapers of souls named Thessa, assures Dean that those who die are in a better place.

Oftentimes, our grief is about ourselves who are left behind, but that is a different story. We are also taught that Christians should be happy for someone else’s triumph --- the remedy for our envy and jealousy. And right at the grave, we are asked to go out of our own self-absorption and be happy for those who have gone ahead of us. That their life speaks about forever, about hope, about God.

Second, the perspective of love. Closely connected to the reality of forever, we are reminded that all our love, all our life finds meaning, direction, and goal in the desire to finally come home to the arms of God. It is not surprising therefore that true lovers promise to love each other until the end of time.

This theme one finds in our literature, in our songs, and even in theater. “Hanggang sa Dulo ng Walang Hanggan” or West Side Story’s “Somewhere” speaks of a state in one’s life where no one would threaten one’s love. For lovers, the fulfillment of this state is in the afterlife. We have known this reality since time immemorial. At the grave of those we love, we have found the meaning of love. My love for my father thus is beyond the grave: not even death will bring us apart.

Moreover, the grave reminds us of the things that are really important. Often we are swept with trivial things that do not last: temporal things that have become the source of our pride. These are our economic status, our educational background, our achievements, and our titles. If we look more closely, we are in a twisted world.

Scripture teaches us that all of these temporal things are to be used for service, in the love of others. Case in point: when we reach the highest educational attainment, post-graduate studies for example, it is expected that our expertise will make us great educators. But tragically, many of those with PhDs are the most boring and horrifying teachers or astutely proud individuals. Our faith admonishes us that the more we have, the more responsible we must become of others. Great service is remembered forever beyond the grave; while the others end at the grave. Proof: we remember the sacrifice of heroes, and are inspired to continue their legacy.

In addition, those who visit us when we die are the recipients of our love. They are the ones who matter. They are the ones whom we should dedicate all of our lives. This is the direction of all our courses of action, our decisions, and our sacrifices. The grave redirects our lives to the right path.

Furthermore, I find myself connected with my ancestors. At the side walls of the 17th century church of St. John the Baptist in Camalig, Albay are the niches of my ancestors who have contributed to the construction of the church. I was baptized there. I played the Kawai organ there in high school. And my vocation grew there. I would not be a priest without that church built by my great ancestors.

In the cemetery, my mother would give me a tour of all the people there. She would tell me that her mother used to sing at church, and her father used to play the organ at mass. Today, that is precisely what I do. All these ancestors of mine contributed to who I am now. When I visit the cemetery, I find myself connected to generations of familial love and service to the community. My home will always be where my ancestors are. I will always find myself if I return to my roots.

Finally, the perspective of faith. Every Sunday, the creed is recited to remind us of the basic tenets of our faith. In the creed, there is a phrase that is the source of the practice of commemorating the dead: the “communion of saints.” Just as I am connected with my ancestors, we who are pilgrims here on earth are connected with those who are still being purified and those who are already with God. And all those who are with God are holy people: they are saints, whether known or unknown.

And their presences are manifestations of God’s personal love for us. By their lives, we are guided. We are assured that we are never alone. I know my father is a saint: his life has been a good example to me and my family. His being father when I was a child was my first encounter of God’s fatherly love; and it continues to be until now, and in the future.

As we visit the graves of our loved ones, let us make our visit meaningful by keeping them in mind. And at the same time, re-evaluate our lives in the perspectives of hope, love and faith. And maybe ask just one question: what would I like people to remember me by when I die or what could be my contribution to the people who will succeed me. As we commune with them, we pray for them that they too pray for us.

The Conversion of Zacchaeus

31 October 2010 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 11:22 - 12:2; Psalm 145; Thess 1:11 - 2:2; Luke 19:1-10

Jericho’s location is strategic. It made itself very rich and significant. Located at the Jordan valley, people pass through it on their way to Jerusalem. By crossing the river, it also gives access to other places east of the Jordan.

Jericho is called the “City of Palms” because within it is a beautiful palm forest and many of the balsam exported around the world are grown there. The Romans exported the dates and balsam for trade and fame. It also has gardens of roses. Think of a well-scented room of balsam and roses spread far and wide! Josephus, the famous historian, calls it “The Divine Region” and the “fattest in Palestine.”

Because of this, Jericho has become one of the greatest taxation centers of Palestine. And thus makes Zacchaeus one of the wealthiest tax-collectors.

But, as we all know, money cannot buy happiness. Zacchaeus, despite his wealth, is lonely. As a tax collector, he is pro-government. In his time, Rome ruled Palestine. And so he is regarded by many Jews as a traitor and thus, an outcast. He also has cheated many people, as many tax collectors do, and so many people do not like him.

However, Zacchaeus is determined. His height never deters him from seeking what he is looking for or curious about. It is this determination that salvation has come to his life.

When he heard about Jesus, he does not think about his status. He climbs a sycamore or a mulberry-fig tree that grows on the wayside. Its trunk is short and sturdy; its lateral branches spreads in all direction. Thus it is a good tree for wayside shade, like our acacias that gives relief to many travelers. So Zacchaeus, because of his courage, climbs the tree to get a view of the famous Teacher.

When we are desperate, we would do all sorts of things to quell the emptiness. Desperate people muster a lot of courage and nothing will stop them from seeking what is lacking. Often, we find what we are looking for because of this determination.

Second, little acts of kindness and affirmation change lives, no matter how small. Jesus sees Zacchaeus and invites himself to his house! Who has the gall to tell someone, “Today I must stay at your house” but Jesus? But it is perfect for Zacchaeus! He knows that by inviting Himself, He is showing Zacchaeus that He is at home with him, no matter what people say. A great way to offer friendship.

In addition, Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name! When someone ‘famous’ acknowledges you by name, it means that he personally knows you. And we all feel good and important! But in a good way. Don’t we feel this when someone famous adds you as a friend in Facebook or comments on your tweet?

And so conversion happens because of small acts of kindness. Zacchaeus finds his happiness which is worth more than his wealth. He shows this to the community by making a decision. A half of his goods to the poor, and ½ to make restitution for the frauds he has committed. His restitution went far beyond what was legally necessary.

What was legally necessary is this:

a. Robbery with a deliberate and violent act: 4x the amount.
b. Robbery and the original goods were not restorable: 2x the amount.
Robbery with voluntary confession, voluntary restitution: value of the original goods were repaid, plus 1/5.

We pray that those who have bled our country, through systemic corruption, will do what Zacchaeus did.

Should Wives Be Subordinate to Their Husbands?

26 October 2010 Tuesday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 5, 21-33; Psalm 128; Luke 13, 18-21

The first reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians is one of the readings suggested for weddings. If a couple chooses this reading, I do not recommend it because you need a lot of explaining to do. So I am explaining the first reading now.

Codes of conduct for the household is found in many books in the New Testament, especially 1 Peter. They were adapted by New Testament authors from Greco-Roman popular philosophy as a moral instruction for Christians. And thus, the passage has two dimensions: the household codes and the Christian qualifiers that were added to it. In other words, the codes where Christianized.

The Greco-Roman code especially here in Ephesians treats relations between husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters as relationships of subordinates to superiors.

However, in this passage, Christian motivation to follow these imperatives are introduced and thus the whole code has been tweaked. The code still show the Christian household as a hierarchical social unit. So it will look like this:

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands .... as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife ... just as Christ is head of the Church, He Himself the savior of the Body.
So wives should be subordinate to their husband in everything ... Just as the Church is subordinate to Christ.
Husbands, love your wife .... even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife, loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it... even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his Body.

For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

If one looks closely at the Greco-Roman code, the hierarchical structure is based on power, authority and social status. And thus the code can justify abuse. And it is, in fact, often interpreted this way until today. (Thus the reason why I have to explain this.)

However, if one analyzes the qualifying phrases (italicized), the foundation of the code is not anymore power but selfless love. With Jesus and His love as a model, the hierarchical structure is reversed.

First, the head becomes the servant of all; as Jesus, the Head, serves and sacrifices His life for the members of the Church. The wife who should be ‘subordinate’ to her husband, becomes obedient only when it is of the Lord: thus when it is good, correct and right. She is not morally obliged to obey if it is otherwise.

Second, the husband loves his wife, as Christ loves the Church. When one loves another, the beloved, the “significant other” becomes more important to us than our lives, than our bodies. Thus, the husband’s love for his wife should be greater than his love for himself. It is a selfless love like Jesus’ love for us, for the members of His church.

It is therefore important to know that the Greco-Roman code of conduct has become Christianized. And we, who read and interpret it now, should not turn a blind eye on the qualifying phrases that makes Christian married life more a bond of love and unity, a relationship of equality in dignity and honor, and a regard for our own uniqueness and distinctive roles in a relationship.

No wonder, Christianity teaches that when a man and a woman, who genuinely love each other, are joined in the Sacrament of Marriage, they truly become one.

A Tribute to Richie Fernando SJ

Note: When Richie Fernando's body was brought to the Philippines, I asked permission from my rector if I could attend the funeral in Manila. I was denied permission; but it was granted to another. Fourteen years passed since Richie died in October 1996, and I was never granted the opportunity to speak about him from my personal experience. I am very honored to be here with you today. Thus, my gratitude to Sch. Matthew Tan SJ, who invited me to preside over the mass on Richie's death anniversary here at the Arrupe International Residence. It is more an honor to have with us Richie's family. This is my personal testimonial incidentally on Mission Sunday. (17 October 2010, Commemoration of Arrupe International Residence's Martyrs: Sch. Richie Fernando SJ in 1996 and Fr. AT Thomas SJ in 1997)

Richie's Defining Moment

Bob Greene once said about celebrities: they are people of talent who work to create something--- something written, something painted, something sculpted, something acted out--- and that something is passed on to audiences. These people of talent become popular and famous because of their bodies of work. From legendary musicians, artists, cooks, civic leaders to philanthropists, celebrities contribute to the world’s culture. But today, there are people who become famous, not because they have worked on something, but because they just be, like celebrities of reality shows such as Survivor or Big Brother. They become famous not for doing something of value to civilization but for being.

I believe Richie Fernando SJ became famous by being someone of value. When he protected his students from a bomb in 1996, this defining moment was not something that Richie imagined to ever happen in his entire life. Protecting his students had become his nature; it was who he had become when he joined the Jesuits.

I first met Richie in 1990 when he entered the novitiate. If you watched the video, “Conversations: Jesuits on Jesuits” which we labored to produce when everything was still analog, or the video on Richie himself after his death titled, “Far Greater Love”, you would see me with Richie. I was his angel and he was my soul. In the novitiate, the second year novices adopted a neophyte. They became their personal guide for at least a few weeks at the beginning of Jesuit formation. The secundus was designated the angel; the primus was the soul. I was Richie’s angel, not because of my immaculate being (I was never immaculate), but because it was a task given to me.

It was easy to be Richie’s angel. Because all you had to do was answer some of his questions about this and that; but generally, he liked discovering things for himself. He didn’t want people to take care of him; he liked taking care of people instead. He was a good friend to a select few. The criteria was simple: his friends were those whom he could share his dreams and desires with. His closest friends were those who were able to be with him in his struggles. To him, the solution to an issue was easy to know, but personally challenging to do. And thus, all he needed was a companion in the journey.

It was in 1990 that he shared the initial missionary seed to his closest friend, Fr. Totet Banaynal SJ, who now lives both his and Richie’s desire to serve in Cambodia. For Fr. Totet, to share one’s deepest desire to serve a people outside of one’s country was something we share not to just anyone, but to one’s closest.

In Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City, Richie began his community life. To him, community was about establishing friendships beginning with a few, until one’s circle explands to include everyone else. As his life in the Society moved to different stages in formation, his inner circle grew bigger until it included the students in Cambodia when he was a regent. And because the students were into that core circle of his being, to protect them from harm was not something he planned to do or acted upon like a role in a stage play in Juniorate. It was primarily an instinct from a heart who loved them. In Fr. Ferriol’s Filipino philosophy, his act was simply his “pagmemeron” -- out of what he was.

After his vows in 1992, Richie transferred to Loyola House for his Juniorate and Philosophy. There I knew that I was in his inner circle. During the long academic haul, I would study longer than him. He was extremely intelligent; taking on the most difficult subject like eating fishballs and barbecue and downing them with a liter of Coke. Literally, that was what we did. We took study breaks. Richie and I would go down to Barangka to buy a liter of Coke from the corner store, spend whatever allowance we had on hawker’s fare: barbecued innards, chicken blood and pork large intestines. Isaw was something Richie enjoyed eating. Sometimes we would bring isaw to Dagani House, our small community, and gorged on them with leftover rice.

Richie was never hesitant. If he liked something, he would tell you. My mother would vividly remember what Richie requested when he came to my hometown and stayed at home. He loved chocolate for breakfast. And he would repeatedly request tablea chocolate until the last day of his stay.

This was what we shared: eating was something we found pleasurable. Eating was not something we had to do; it was what we liked to do. It was, simply put, just us.

Thus, when Richie was alive, it was something we did, not because we were tired, but because we liked eating. Because even if we were not tired, we would still enjoy cheap food from street corners.

My room in Loyola House was three rooms away from his. Then Pierre Uytioco, Ike Tarabi, and I would gather in my room, and Richie would bring food there. We would convert my room into a drinking venue; alcoholic beverages were sneaked out of the Father’s recreation room. At that time, it was forbidden. It was a cheap thrill we all enjoyed---and kept it a secret--- for the sake of friendship. Anyways, we did not disturb anyone: all of us occupied the rooms of the 3rd floor!

When Richie died in 1996 at the young age of 26, I was teaching at Xavier University High School. We were both regents then. I remembered hearing the news about how he died: by a hand grenade released by a student in the Jesuit Refugee Service technical school for the handicapped near Phnom Penh. I was in shock. Tears were not enough to express my deep sadness.

But I tell you this now: after recovering from the experience of loss and tragedy, I remembered what I was and what I was meant to be. I was a Jesuit regent. I was meant to become a priest. And a Jesuit priest should die for the sake of another. What Richie died of, died from and died for was not in vain. The spirit of that dying epitomized what I should be. The Lord said that we had to die to ourselves so that others may live.

Years later in 2003, I became Assistant Secretary of the Provincial. There I personally saw papers from people all over the world requesting to start a movement for his sainthood. One life given for the many, now multiplied. People from all over the world gained inspiration from what he had lived for and died for.

Here is what Richie wrote years before his death:

I wish, when I die, people remember not how great, powerful, or talented I was, but that I served and spoke for the truth, I gave witness to what is right, I was sincere in all my works and actions, in other words, I loved and I followed Christ."

Living the Lord’s tenet is not something that happens once and for all. It is not what Andy Warhol called "15 minutes of fame” like B1 celebrities of the 21st century who became famous simply by being in the right place at the right time. To Richie, it was something he prepared to do from the very beginning. It was a long process of transformation. So that when that one moment came that defined his life, he took it without second thoughts. A bomb will not give you time to think! But because it was what he had become, his instinct is to be himself. To protect the students is to take on Christ. St. Paul puts it like this: when we die, it is Christ who lives!

This is the same with one’s vocation. What you do now will tell you who you will be in the future. A medical student who does not study, will definitely not become an excellent doctor. A musician who does not practice will eventually lose his talent.

We can glean from one’s current behavior what kind of person one will be in the future, unless a change occurs. There are things we can predict. To the Jesuit scholastics here:

Try not to have friends in the community; try not to study; try not to live out one’s vows; try not to pray; I bet when the right time, the right place, and the right hour comes, when a bomb is thrown at your class, the first you’ll do is to get out of there!

And newspaper headlines will shamefully print in bold letters: “32 students killed by a bomb blast; Jesuit teacher survived unharmed!”

Keep Praying!

17 October 2010 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 17, 8-13; Psalm 121; Tim 3:14 - 4:2; Luke 18, 1-18

You have two characters in the Parable of the Corrupt Judge and the Widow. The judge is completely unscrupulous. He is neither guided by divine or human law: to him, he is the law. The widow on the other hand is just asking for what she truly deserves as her right. Jewish law from Deuteronomy (24, 17-22) tell us that the widow is one of the special and helpless citizens of their society that has to be given priority.

The judge however refuses to act. He may have several reasons for being so. He may be lazy. He may have looked down on her status and thought that she is not worth his attention.

Finally, he is moved to act on her behalf and do her justice because he is afraid of the consequences of her persistence.

In the Gospel, the point of the parable is a contrast that Jesus makes. If a corrupt and insensitive judge will act after persistent requests, will not God answer our persistent prayers?

This then is the topic of the Gospels and the readings. It is a parable about persistent prayer, like the parable of the man who wakes up his friend in the middle of the night (Luke 11, 5-8). The parable encourages us to pray. It comforts us in our lives when it is easier to give up after waiting for so long for God to answer our prayer. It tells us: keep praying. Don’t lose heart!

The attitude of prayer is that of Moses in the first reading: one who outstretches one’s hands during the battle of the Israelites against the Amalekites. When we pray we stretch out our arms to the Lord.

The gesture of stretching our hands in prayer is a gesture of vulnerability. We become open to the elements: our hearts and our vital organs are exposed. In prayer, we put our lives on the table and allow God to guide us. We say in the Our Father, “Your will be done.” Not my will, but God’s. We are not to twist God in the arm. But we let God do what’s best for us. Whether our request is granted or not, it will be responded to.

When Jesus prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane, hoping that His Father would lift Him from suffering, the answer He got was a “no.” Jesus prayed: “If you will, take this cup away from me.” But the “no” from God was for the best: if He had given in to His Son’s request, we would not have been saved and God’s plan of salvation would have been thwarted.

Think again of the battle scene in Exodus: as Joshua and his men were engaged in battle, Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ hands, one on one side and the other on the other hand, so that the hands remained steady till sunset.

This I think is a good image on a Sunday: all of us come to the Lord with great needs. When we come to Sunday to worship with our community, we can think this way: that we are both Moses who prays for victory and/or Aaron & Hur who supports him as he persists in prayer.

In the bigger picture, the battle scene is life itself. We can find ourselves also in battle every single day. And we also find those who love us, praying on top of the hill for us, every single day until sunset. They are our support systems: to me, that is my mother.

Either we take find ourselves in the situation of Joshua or the place of Moses, we pray again and again and again until forever.

Sometimes I realize the point is not so much the result of prayer: but prayer itself. In prayer, we have God. So whether the outcome of Moses’ prayer was victory or defeat, to be with God is the reward itself.

However, Scripture tells us that Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword! That to me tells me that when we persistently prayer, the result will always be victory.

Woe to the Unthinking!

14 October 2010 Thursday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 1, 1-10; Psalm 98; Luke 11, 47-54

The entrance antiphon from Psalm 130 has a far deeper connection with the Lucan Gospel of woes. It says: “If you, O Lord, laid bare our guilt, who could endure it? But you are forgetting, God of Israel.” Let me therefore use these two statements for today’s homily.

Statement 1: “If you, O Lord, laid bare our guilt, who could endure it?”

In the Gospel, Jesus exposes the guilt of the scribes and Pharisees. The result of which, as the Gospel ends, is animosity. The scribes and Pharisees begins to be hostile to Him, plotting to catch Him too in His own words.

First, Jesus unveils pretensions. During the time of Jesus, to erect monuments of great prophets was fashionable. So the scribes and Pharisees put up these marks as if they were avid fans. But in truth, their ancestors were the murderers and persecutors of these religious heroes. A prophet’s job was to become God’s spokesperson. When they pointed out what’s wrong about a system, a leadership or a way of life, they performed the role because they were missioned by the Lord. Many great people in the Old Testament like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah were hesitant to take on the role, but because they were of the Lord, they obeyed.

In our lives, we usually shun the people who are gadflies in our lives. We do not like them because they disturb our present comfortable zones. They point out what’s wrong with us. They shake us with our truths so that we will stop being complacent. Socrates said that the intellectuals are supposed to work like gadflies in society. Gadflies swirl around a beast; pestering it continuously despite being shooed away by the animal’s tail. One of the Jesuits who trained me was Fr. Alfeo Nudas SJ. He was a prolific writer and professor in literature at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. He said this about writers: To provoke people to think is a great service. We have to make people think! They have stopped using their brains! Scientific studies supports this: only a small percentage of our grey matter is being used.

In biblical times, the scribes and Pharisees were the scholars. They were learned. And yet, they stopped thinking. When they taught their disciples, they quoted previous scholars of the law. They didn’t have their own stand which required thorough study and discernment.

They loved creating little laws, but forgot the essentials and the foundation on which laws are built: example, justice and charity. Take for example the tenet that one cannot work during the Sabbath. So, if a family’s sole source of livelihood, strays, they cannot do anything about it. And so when the disciples have taken food during the Sabbath, He irked the scribes and Pharisees. If the scribes and Pharisees used their brains, they would see how reasonable Jesus was.

Today, having an education does not guarantee critical and informed thinking. They lost the ability to think not just outside of the box, but also within the box. They will hate people who would disturb their comfort zones.

Case in point: how many have turned a blind eye to this commandment of Jesus because it is disturbing: love your enemies? Jesus is radical. He is never complacent. He says to us: woe to you who are lazy to think!

Notice that the point is about thinking. Whatever the result is not our concern in this homily; it is another issue. Some people, in a controversial issue, would rather judge you as having this stand or that stand. Black or white. If you challenge them to discuss, dialogue and discern, they will label you right away as either this or that. By doing so, they prevent people from precisely doing what Jesus wants us to do: think!

Statement 2: “But you are forgetting, God of Israel.”

But God is indeed forgiving. He ‘forgets’ our sins.

So let’s apply statement 1: we have to use our brains. If God is forgetting (meaning: erasing from memory), why does Jesus remind the scribes and Pharisees to remember their guilt? By pointing out their folly, Jesus does not “forget” but brings their sins and stupidity into the fore.

Forgiveness, therefore, means that we will be free from our hurts; that our decisions will not be determined by the pain. The word “forgetting” does not mean how we presently understand the word ‘forget’; in the first place, it is an English translation from Latin. The original will tell us that it does not mean erasing the event from memory.

Case in point: Our short-term memory of oppression has detrimental effects. In our personal lives, the people who abuse us, continue to do so. In our country, the people who have milked our economy stay. By saying, forgive and forget, they say: let this corrupt system continue. We’re used to it.

Why Do We Pray the Rosary?

7 October 2010. Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary
Galatians 3, 1-5; Luke 1, 69-75; Luke 11, 5-13

As we celebrate the memorial of our Lady of the Rosary, allow me to talk about the rosary personally. If you were to ask me why I pray the rosary, I would probably answer you this way.

1. The rosary is a devotion in Catholic life. The rosary reminds me of the history of my faith. It was like St. Paul in the first reading who narrated the history of his conversion. You see, my family was not the very pious type; with members belonging to one or more religious organizations. My father was not particularly a devotee; it was my mother who convinced him to pray and to attend mass regularly. He was one of those dads you see outside of the church during the homily. My brothers and sisters were members of choirs. But we were not raised up doing long novenas and reciting chants in latin. But if there was one thing I remembered about my family’s love affair with God, it was the daily night rosary led by my mom. Every night, the whole household stopped for prayer. No matter who dozed off (usually it was me and my Dad), it did not matter. The practice continues until today. The rosary was the staple personal prayer of the whole family.

2. The rosary is scriptural. The rosary was the stuff of our grade school and high school faith-life. We remembered the living rosaries we held every October. A large part of the recitation of the rosary was mechanical: repeated Hail Marys and Our Fathers, and the mindless blurting out of the Three Mysteries (it was still the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious during my adolescent life). But if there were things I learned about the repetitions it was these: I memorized some parts of Scripture. The Hail Mary is taken from Luke 1, 28 from the words of the Angel Gabriel and from Luke 1, 42 from the lips of Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary; the Our Father is in Luke 11 and Matthew 6). Moreover, the Glory Be is a prayer to the Trinity. And more importantly, I memorized the Life of Christ. Memorize all of the Mysteries of the Rosaries, and you basically know the life of Christ. This is not far from history. During the Middle Ages, education was a privilege of the monks. A large number of the populace were uneducated. In order for them to know snippets of the Word of God, the monks taught them the Hail Mary, the Angelus, the Pater Noster (Our Father). The first part of the Hail Mary was preceded by different petitions which eventually led to the 2nd verse of the oral prayer. The rosary was an educational or a catechetical tool.

3. The rosary is a meditation of the life of Jesus. The rosary led me to appreciate the life of Jesus. I prayed the rosary more often during travels. Admittedly, it was a good way to while away time. Often it could get me to sleep. But what I like the most about the rosary was its flexibility. There were many ways of praying it. You could go through all of the mysteries, or you can pray just one decade and meditate on a particular aspect of the life of Christ, or you pray it so that you know that the last thought you had before you sleep was God. It was good to sleep in the embrace of God.

If I were to pattern my life to Christ today, I must meditate on His life repeatedly. There is one thing that we have to make clear: we do not worship Mary --- we worship only the Blessed Trinity. But we give Mary the highest honor. In many of Mary’s icons, each gesture mean something. One of the gestures we see about Mary is that she points to the Child in her arms. She tells us that the proper way of Marian devotions should lead us to love Christ. It is not an accident that we call the rosary, a devotion. Devotions increases our love, loyalty and enthusiasm for a person, an activity or a cause. This time, the devotions should increase our love for Mary’s Son.

4. We repeat to remember; we remember to repeat. If asked why the rosary is a repetition, well it is about real life. There is a pervading culture that loves change. Anything that is repeated is boring. But look again. Many new things comes from repetition. A scientific discovery traces its source of repeated experimentation. An additional idea comes from repetitious studies. An improvement in our skills comes from discipline. A deepening of love comes from consistent repetition of both the words, “I love you” and a various ways of showing it: the everyday meal our mother prepares for us, the daily text messages, the regular dates and celebrations are all repetitions. Change does not happen unless something is repeatedly done. If one would like to love Jesus, then repeat and repeat and repeat His life. You just don’t form a habit, you actually become the habit. Pray the life of Jesus, and eventually you become like Jesus. That’s the rosary to me and my family. And this is why I still pray it until today.

Pananampalatayang Walang Hinihintay na Kapalit

3 October 2010 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 94; 2 Tim 1:6-8. 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

Note: This appears in today's Sambuhay, a publication of the Society of St. Paul in the Philippines.

Ang pananampalataya natin sa Diyos ang itinutukoy ng mga pagbasa ngayon. Makikita natin ang iba’t ibang aspeto ng pananampalataya sa ating buhay.

Una, nakaugat ito sa pagtitiwala sa Diyos. Sa unang pagbasa, pinapaalala ng Panginoon kay Propeta Habbakuk na tutuparin Niya ang kanyang pangitain. Bagaman hindi pa panahon, kailangang magtiwala sa salita ng Diyos sa gitna ng mga karahasan, hidwaan, kasamaan at kahirapan. Kailangang ipagpatuloy ang pakikibaka para sa kapayapaan, at ipasa-Diyos ang kahihinatnan nito.

Hindi na ito bago sa atin. Sa State of the Nation Address (SONA) ng Pangulong Noynoy Aquino noong Hulyo 2010, inilahad niya ang gugugulin nating mga Pilipino mapaunlad lamang ang ating bansa. Kailangang umahon sa ating pagkalugmok, ngunit hindi ito mangyayari kaagad. Matagal bago maganap ang ating pangarap o pangitain ng isang maunlad na Pilipinas. Ngunit huwag humina ang ating loob: nasa atin ang Panginoon. Wika ng ating Pangulo: “Ang mandato nating nakuha sa huling eleksyon ay patunay na umaasa pa rin ang Pilipino sa pagbabago. Iba na talaga ang situwasyon. Puwede na muling mangarap. Tayo nang tumungo sa katuparan ng ating mga pinangarap.”

Pangalawa, galing sa Espiritu ang kapangyarihan ng pananampalataya. Sa pangalawang pagbasa, pinapaalam ni San Pablo kay Timoteo na kapangyarihan, pag-ibig at pagpipigil sa sarili ang ipinagkakaloob ng Espiritu. Wika ng Pangulo, “Akin pong paniwala na Diyos at taumbayan ang nagdala sa ating kinalalagyan ngayon. Habang nakatutok tayo sa kapakanan ng ating kapwa, bendisyon at patnubay ay tiyak na maaasahan natin sa Poong Maykapal. At kapag nanalig tayo na ang kasangga natin ay ang Diyos, mayroon ba tayong hindi kakayanin?”

Pangatlo, isang paglilingkod kay Hesus ang pananampalataya. Habang magkasama tungo sa Jerusalem, hiningi ng mga alagad na palakasin at patatagin ni Hesus ang kanilang pananalig.

Nakaugat sa pakikisama natin kay Hesus ang ating pagkakilala sa Kanya. Tulad ng mga alagad ni Hesus, hilingin natin ngayon na lagi tayong sumama kay Hesus sa pamamagitan ng pagdarasal at pagninilay sa Kanyang buhay. At tulad ng isang pagkakaibigan, ang malalim na samahan ang siyang batayan ng ating paglilingkod. Sa ating mga salita at gawain, laging iniisip natin kung paano tutugunan ni Hesus ang pangangailangan. Para sa atin, mahalaga ang pakikiisa sa puso’t isipan ng Panginoon. Ang uri at kalidad ng ating paglilingkod ay sumasalamin sa uri at kalidad ng ating pagkakilala sa Kanya. Wika niya, “Sino ba ako para sa iyo?”

Pagmasdan natin: Makikita sa iba’t ibang gusali nakasulat ito: “Proyekto ni Mayor __ ang gusaling ito! Ipinagkaloob ni Cong. __ para sa bayan ng __ !” Kung tutuusin, hindi utang-na-loob natin sa kanila ang gusaling kanilang itinayo. Sa halip, isang pagpapakita ng utang-na-loob nila sa atin ang kanilang isinagawa. Isang biyaya at karangalan ang isakatuparan ang kanilang mga pangako sa atin. Iniluklok natin sila sa halalan. Dahil dito nangaling sa atin ang kapangyarihan.

Tulad ng Diyos, isang karangalan ang tawagin Niya tayo upang isakatuparan ang kanyang kalooban. Nakalaan sa isang partikular na misyon ang ating buhay. Maaaring maging isang mabuting magulang sa mga anak, isang magaling na mamamayan sa ating bansa, o isa sa mga nagsusumikap protektahin ang dignidad ng buong sanlibutan. Ano mang ginagampanan natin sa ating buhay ay iginawad na malaya at galing sa pagmamahal ng Diyos sa atin. Ibig sabihin, kapag ginagampanan natin ang tawag ng Diyos, hindi dapat ito tingnan bilang isang utang-na-loob ng Diyos sa atin.

Nasanay tayo na kapag may ginawa tayong mabuti sa isang tao, magkaka-utang-na-loob siya sa atin. Kaya kung panahon na natin na humingi ng tulong, inaasahan natin na ganoon din ang gagawin niya bilang bayad-utang. Malinaw na sinabi ng Diyos: galing sa Kanya ang misyon natin. Ang pagtupad ng kalooban ng Diyos ay isang tugon sa Kanyang pag-ibig. Ito ay isang biyaya, kaya, dapat ding gampanan na walang hinihintay na kapalit. Manalangin sana tayo na wala din tayong hihingiin na pabor upang gawin ang dapat talaga nating trabaho.

Response to our Unanswered Questions

1 October 2010 Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus
Job 38: 1,12-21; 40:3-5; Psalm 139; Luke 10, 13-16

Let me take the homily today from the first reading because Job is my favorite character. The first reading is what we call the first part of three Yahweh speeches: it is a response of God to Job’s “accusation” that the world has no plan, direction or providence in the world. Why was this Job’s “accusation” of God? Let’s back track.

In the Prologue (Job 1:1 - 2:13), we hear about a story in heaven. Satan challenges God’s claim that Job will remain faithful to Him. Satan replies that he will definitely be loyal to Him because He gave Job everything he needs: a beautiful family and a secured life with property. Definitely, he will remain loyal to the hand that feeds him. But God stands His ground and challenges Satan to take all that Job has. So the wager in heaven begins, and the just Job is despoiled of everything.

In the succeeding parts, Job bitterly laments his lot. And three friends arrive to console and at the same time defend God. The underlying question is universal to all of us: Why do innocent and good people suffer tremendous pain and tragedy? Job struggles to understand God’s justice in the midst of his broken experience.

In the midst of this broken experience, Job’s view of the world is obscured by his own personal experience of injustice and tragedy. Just as his inner self is in chaos, so he interprets the world as without order, plan or direction.

So God responds for the first time to Job’s query. The first step is to bring Job outside of his “little world” and see the bigger picture. So Yahweh speaks out of the storm. In the Old Testament, God appears in strong storm terminology (Exodus 19, 17-20; Psalm 18:7-17). So Job is led by God to experience the mystery of the cosmos from its beginning. Job sees the primordial chaos which was brought to order by God, like a parent who is able to discipline a difficult child. And then Job sees that even the chaos within creation like the snow, hail, wind, and rain are all being “controlled by God” and managed by Him. Thus God’s concern is larger than Job’s humanity-centered preoccupation.

And thus Yahweh disproves Job’s claim. In fact, God now has shown Who is in charge of the natural cosmos, order, structure and regular operation; He will not revert creation to chaos. Centuries later, Albert Einstein discovers this architecture from the formulas that already govern nature since the beginning.

And thus, Job’s response was awe and wonder. All he can do was a deferential gesture. He has been caught up into the mystery of God and the universe. It is a stance acknowledging one’s “smallness” to God’s immensity.

Chaos is also experienced within our selves. It is experienced as disorder, confusion and personal turmoils, whether identified or not. Sickness and any form of death is an experience of disintegration. What has been whole, as health, is now being threatened. In the larger context, we experience lawlessness, anarchy and war. And in the midst of this, we are like Job who cry out in despair; accusing God that there is no plan or direction to the world.

But when we experience God in some awesome way, we are brought to a reverential silence and respect. Despite questions, as the suffering of the innocent, find no concrete answer, we begin to trust the Lord who is larger than our lives. We trust that the Lord has a resolution to our dissonance.

However, we discover in the process of asking and proceeding with our lives in spite of our unanswered questions is a response of God outside of our expectation. Instead of a reply to the “whys” of our lives, He responds, “Me too. I suffered. I was crucified. I too died from the hands of the people I love. I too asked that question.”

In other words, what satisfies us in the midst of turmoil and death is not an argument or an explanation. But someone who empathizes with us: when someone’s heart speaks to our heart; when our heart finds the heart of God; but more appropriately, when God’s heart find ours.