Saturday, April 30, 2011

That Roman Summer, a visit to John Paul II, and a reflection on the meaning of a beatification

With the immediate countdown to the beatification John Paul the Great well underway, Rome has become once again the great meeting place of the world as its attention now shifts from London (which is now going back to its normal pace after yesterday's royal wedding fever) to the Eternal City, which some years ago was undergoing a veritable collapse during the funeral of this great pope. Now, a mere six years later, the city braces itself once again as it awaits the expected millions to converge for the tomorrow's event.

under the shadow of the night

Seeing images of the city which has become a real beehive of activity brings back to mind memories of my first trip to Rome during my ordination year. I was due to return to the Philippines after being gone for four years (though I took a three-month break after my second year) after successfully completing my theological studies at the University of Navarra in Pamplona (Spain). I was very eager to go home, and had enough of being away from home for so long (I secretly wished at that time that I never had to step back to the University again, a feeling which stays with me up until now, just to be honest) that I was thinking that this would be the only time I would be in Europe ever again, and come to think of it, this might as well the only time that I could be THIS close to Rome. So I really saw the urgent need to go to Rome before going back home. My classmate Fr. Marlon Cua (then a deacon like me, and who is currently assigned at the "laid-back" parish of V&G Subdivision Tacloban City) and I planned the trip which would eventually last for three days. The initial lap of the journey took us down to Barcelona and then a bit farther to Girona, where a plane would take us in a two-hour trip to Rome. We landed at the Ciampino Airport in Rome and since it was the feast of St. Josemaria, we went immediately to the Prelatic Church of Santa Maria de la Paz, in Villa Tevere, which serves as the headquarters of the Personal Prelature of the Opus Dei, and where the saint's remains are buried and venerated. We were housed at an extension of the Sedes Sapientiae seminary, which is managed by priest-formators of the Work.

The next day we went on a tour of the Vatican Museums, went to see the four papal basilicas, which was partly a tour and partly a pilgrimage, had pizza not far from the shadow of St. Peter's and gelato (a dream come true: to eat pizza and gelato sub umbra Petri). 

But that which really comes to mind most especially during these days was the time we were able to descend into the grottoes underneath the great basilica, the place where many popes were buried. I had always wanted to go to Rome to meet John Paul II in person, and here I was, about to fulfill another great dream. I would have wished to see him in person, with nothing else but the air between us, but with only a few feet, a cold, white slab of marble and layers between us it didn't matter. As I remember it, when I finally laid my gaze upon the slab that bore his name and which covered his remains, the whole grotto was hushed; pilgrims passed by, pausing a fraction of a second to whisper a prayer before moving on, allowing the next pilgrim to have his turn. The Pope had been buried for about two or three years then, and yet the line was still quite long and solid. I whispered a prayer, and then moved on to the tombs of other popes, who until then had only leaped up to me from the pages of the books and biographies which I ravenously devoured during the early years of my stay in the minor seminary: Pius XII, John Paul I, Paul VI. Upstairs where St. Pius X and Bl. John XXIII, all of them personal patrons of mine. Here they felt so alive, their presence so near. I didn't see them as distant figures I used to know from the pages of dusty books at the seminary library gathering dust and about which no one else cared about: here they were so alive. Right there, under the cool marble floor of the great basilica, standing upon the tomb of the Rock, in the dark silence of the Vatican grottoes, a place of hushed whispers, I had a glimpse of what it meant to belong to the communion of saints.

I guess this is what a beatification is also all about. Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Some people may look down upon the veneration of the saints and their relics as something medieval (hey, what' swrong with the Middle Ages by the way?) and out of touch with the times, but it's so because in their mind, they think we Catholics commune with the dead. Our Catholic Faith begs to differ. These people live, and they continue to influence us, to help us, inspire us, and push us deeper into that life which is the communion of saints, otherwise called the Church of God.

Blessed John Paul the Great, pray for us!!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

That Servant of God, John Paul II

With just two whole days to go before the Big Day of JP2's record-breaking beatification, one good way with which this blog could honor this great man is through this very simple photo-tribute. I won't write anything about him, because at this moment I think words won't do him any justice. Maybe I'll write more about him later on. Anyway, presenting the man himself:

as a young thespian in the Rhapsody Theater, ca. mid-1930's

Looking pensive as the Cardinal of Krakow

two great saints of the 20th century

pensive while listening to a speech

forceful and commanding

even old-age and facial paralysis couldn't render this face unlovable...

abreast with the new ways of communication

during the Mass of the inauguration of his ministry.

Habemus Papam!!!

the first pilgrim of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of our Redemption, 1983

"Though art Peter..."

the last time he was seen wearing lace in public.

His last Laetare Sunday, 2005

the young Bishop at his episcopal consecration, 1958

he simply rocks!!!
post scriptum: I've been invited as a commentator of the live radio broadcast of the beatification ceremonies at DYBR Tacloban this Sunday, something which would be a totally new experience for me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This is just a random personal thought. For months nothing was more heated a point of contention than the RH bill issue. People from both sides of the fence--the Church and Malacanang--have tried to be conciliatory by opening dialogue concerning this issue, surrounded by a cacophony of voices either calling out for its passage in Congress or its being scrapped due to moral considerations. The public reaction ranged from the impassioned cry either for its implementation as a law or as something identifying it as immoral and against life, to the indifference and apathy--and the general ignorance--of many citizens.

I believe however that the time for fruitful and peaceful dialogue concerning this issue has already passed. Much has been said by both parties that has caused irreparable damage to the notion of a productive dialogue. The mudslinging and name-calling coming from both sides has done much damage to the cause of a constructive meeting of minds. 

We are past the dialogue stage. I think that the only thing left for both sides to do is to stand by the convictions of each. In the case of the Church, which finds itself increasingly more alone in raising its voice against a bill which might as well be already a law de facto if not de iure, there is nothing left but to remain firm in its moral convictions, not trying much to convince, but rather to do something which it was told to do two millenia before and which it has been doing ever since, through thick and thin: to proclaim the Gospel of life fearlessly. As a budding student of history I could say that after two thousand years of difficulty and continued crisis, of mistakes and left-turns, the Church has always passed through virtually stronger. Though chastened, the Church always went out of every trial purified and shiny as ever. I would dare say that after two thousand years of experiencing every kind of evil man could possible do to himself and to others, the Catholic Church has nothing left to fear neither from the powers of the world nor from history itself.  Should the RH Bill be signed into law, are we to quake in fear and frustration at this sign that the all-powerful Catholic Church is gradually losing its clout in the Philippines, as her enemies would aggressively point out and predict? Far from it. Should we live through the misfortune of seeing its passage, nothing changes actually: it doesn't alter in any way the moral teaching of the Church concerning contraception, nor the truth about sexuality, nor the human person, nor marriage. Legality doesn't always point out the morality of a thing. Furthermore, things will only serve to make things clearer for us people: it will point out each one's stand, whether they are faithful to Christ's teachings transmitted by the Church or whether people live by accommodating themselves to the passage of the times, irregardless of what is true or not.

The time has come for the Church and her children to stand and be clear about their convictions, not seeking to please or to accommodate or to earn "pogi points", not seeking to convince even. No, not that. More importantly, we must stand to give testimony, to give witness. That's all.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

may pinagmanahan...

Got this old picture of my dad in his younger years. He's the one in the middle in the upper row.  Hehehe, may pinagmanahan talaga ako...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Beautiful Hands of a Priest

I just came home from helping out in Sto. Nino Parish, which is the biggest in our fair city of Tacloban. It's the last night before the great Triduum is about to begin and the place was swarming with penitents. The scene is replicated in many a parish Church anywhere in the Archdiocese, still without its shepherd, or all around the whole Catholic orbis for that matter. I came in to help in response to a request made by a brother priest.

Line after line of penitents came, all with the same burden of sin, and yet each burden personalized and unique. It was the same human load of weakness than unburdened over and over again I simply lost count of the penitents that knelt by me to get that weight of their chest (not that I was trying to count). I lost count of how many times I raise my hand in absolution.

It was in one of those times that I looked at my raised hand in an attempt to break the monotonous litany that came pouring in torrents over me and into my ears. I loked at my outstretched hand and realized that for many people how beautiful that hand was...not because it was MY hand (of course that my be the case heheh) but because of the pardon that it was imparting at that moment for someone who came thirsty to the well mercy. I had raised it a million times in exactly the same way but I  never mused on how beautiful it was at this precise moment. 
I straightened up, squared my shoulders, and braced myself to receive another penitent soul. Somehow the greatness of that seemingly insignificant and ordinary gesture provided me with the energy to go on with another line of penitents, each one eager to pour down the same fetid burden of sin before the confessional behind which I was seated.

We need them in life's early morning,
We need them again at its close;
We feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
We seek it while tasting life's woes.

When we come to this world we are sinful,
The greatest as well as the least.
And the hands that make us pure as angels
Are the beautiful hands of a priest.

At the altar each day we behold them,
And the hands of a king on his throne
Are not equal to them in their greatness
Their dignity stands alone.

For there in the stillness of morning
Ere the sun has emerged from the east,
There God rests between the pure fingers
Of the beautiful hands of a priest.

When we are tempted and wander
To pathways of shame and sin
'Tis the hand of a priest that absolve us.
Not once but again and again.

And when we are taking life's partner
Other hands may prepare us a feast
But the hands that will bless and unite us,
Are the beautiful hands of a priest.

God bless them and keep them all holy,
For the Host which their fingers caress,
What can a poor sinner do better
Than to ask Him who chose them to bless
When the death dews on our lids are falling,
May our courage and strength be increased
By seeing raised o'er us in blessing
The beautiful hands of a priest.