Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the church of San Nicolas, at seven in the evening.

The church was largely empty save for a handful of people situated here and there in the darkened nave. The day had been freezing; it was clear that the autumn chill was gradually metarmophosing into the biting cold of winter. The coming winter promised to be brief but hard, according to the weather forecast. But the outside chill failed to leave their damp mark on the stones of the old church; the velvet darkness of the nave made it even more cozy. 

The young priest standing at the far back was grateful for this. He was grateful for the semidarkness, which seemed welcoming to him, and which increased the silky silence which seemed to ooze form the stones of the church, built in the eleventh century. He was silently grateful for the warmth that embraced him; he wasn't particularly fond of the cold, like some of his companions. Coming form the tropics--he considered himself a "tropical creature", una criatura tropical,--he preferred the humid heat of his country of origin than the dry climate of the place in which he was in. He stood there for a while, his gaze resting on the simple reredo on the other end of the nave, where the sanctuary was. It was a simple crucifix, a large one, resting on a field of scarlet framed in gold. Somewhere within the shadows of the church someone was taking pictures; he could here the crisp click of the shutter. The silence hung in the air, nevertheless. An elderly priest--young priests seemed to be so few here that they were easily noticeable--came in and peered at him questioningly. The younger one returned his gaze calmly for a few moments, a gaze that was neither timid nor challenging. He had not chosen to wear the distinctive   white plastic band around his neck when he went out of the house; it grated on his neck. It was the only thing missing in his vesture nonetheless; he was dressed in clerical black. He returned his gaze to the distant sanctuary, where the sacristan had just collocated a rather huge monstrance upon the altar. The cleric welcomed the thought of spending sometime in the church. He walked through the side nave, passing through the stone pillars and the images softly illuminated by votive candles. He slowed a bit when he came before the chapel of the Our Lady of the Pillar, a very popular Spanish invocation of the Virgin Mary: nothing could be more Spanish than the Nuestra Señora del Pilar. He had precisely come on foot, almost in pilgrimage, in order to pray before this replica of the Virgin's image, venerated in Zaragoza. Many times before he had come as a seminarian, when, beleaguered by homesickness, by temptation, by the horrifying prospect of approaching exams, he would pray before the image, while enveloped by the familiar darkness of the church. He had come again, this time as a priest, pushed by the silence and the need that had been troubling his heart, secure in the thought that he would be heard.

He sat down on the pews, in front of the Pillar chapel, where the gorgeous and diminutive image held court amidst a baroque explosion of silver and marble, not facing it as he had when he entered, but this time facing the altar, awaiting the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. He had expected a priest to come out to expose the Sacrament, but was mildly taken aback when the same sacristan, now vested in an alb, took it out of the Tabernacle and deposited the white Host in the monstrance. The minister genuflected, and went for the censer, and having incensed it, went into the sacristy through the side door. All of this took place to the roar of the pipe organ for which the church was also known for. The lack of priests made everything quite possible in these Spanish lands, and though he was not always personally in favor of what he witnessed and heard about the liturgy here, he could not but just apply the balm of understanding. 

With the final blast of the pipe organ dissipating in the air, silence began to descend once again upon the gloomy interior. He had spent the whole day seemingly prostrate and helpless: he found it very difficult to concentrate, whether in his books and notes (the final exams scarcely a couple of weeks away)or in his prayers. He had feared that once again he had nothing to offer the Lord at the end of the day. Speaking without words, he directed himself to the Presence on the altar.

He had come once again with nothing to offer. Well, at least, he could offer what seemed to be the dried branches of what could have been a day filled with fruits of study and prayer. But everything seemed dry as the metaphorical branches that he had to offer. The cold day seemed to have sucked everything dry. He had come within a year of turning thirty; from his friends he had heard them talking about the crisis that comes at about this time. Others would have approached it with dread; he had decided a long time ago to confront whatever crisis would come with common sense, and with humor. But grappling in an inner darkness, at this point he seemed to be suspended and uncertain. His mind seemed to grow blank, his heart a gaping hole. 

And yet, little by little, as he began to pour out his soul and his heart, first in trickles, then in torrents, light seemed to pierce the darkness which seemed impenetrable that day; he could feel the old vigor returning, supplanting the dangerous languor he could feel in his limbs, paralyzing his mind. Everything came from the realization that the answer to all seemed to throw himself once again before that luminous darkness before him. When the soul tends to dwell only upon the sins of its youth, it tends to succumb to sadness like hapless deer sinking into quicksand, swallowing him up with every desperate movement to extricate itself. He looked back and immediately saw with clarity all of his failings, the thousand infidelities to his vows, both great and minute, his usual vanity and the smug confidence that he had of himself. He felt himself tearing apart as he gazed at it, and realized how much he was attached to his past, how he had clung to the minutest detail of his sins of pride and passion, unwilling to let go. Prostrate before the Presence he was shouting from within that he be cleansed of them, as they were causing him pain, and were the real reason for his melancholy.

He opened his eyes and rested his gaze on the monstrance. Its reflection played on the brown curve of his pupils and dazzled him. An elderly man was leading the Rosary from the podium. The silence was broken by the murmured responses of the faithful who had gathered for the Mass after the Benediction. 

Grateful for this moment of grace, he stood up.Looking at his watch he noticed that he had spent half an hour absorbed in prayer, and he was thankful for that. He was grateful for being in that church, where he had first said yes in front of so many people, that day when he was ordained a deacon. The memory had aided him well. He turned towards the heavy doors, and as he stepped outside into the crisp, cold air, he was well aware that from that silent "yes",  new life continued to grow, and with that the grace to make others grow as well.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


This Friday we decided to have some fun in order to celebrate those who had their birthdays and their ordination anniversaries this blessed month of November. A singing contest was organized, reminiscent of American Idol or Pinoy Idol or whatever (this type of contest has had so many editions one doesn't know what to call it to be exact...)

REVERENDOS is actually the name of the disco just down the corner from
our house...

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Ricardo (Peru) and Allan (Philippines)

Francis George (India) and Guido (Ecuador)

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Arnold (El Salvador)  the Sanctuary guardian (Philippines)
and Jaime (Mexico)

The drinks...there was nothing left of the food..

Master showman Eugene (Philippines)

Jim the photographer (Philippines)

The judges: Roberto (Ecuador) José Manuel (Spain) and Marcelo (Chile)

Jaime explaining the rules of the show...

The first contestant: Dimitri (Ivory Coast) 

The judges having a hard time (?)

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Another contestant: Enrique (Spain)

Ricardo from Peru

Everybody had a good time: Jaime, Marcelo, Eugene, Ricardo, me, and

Saturday, November 26, 2011


With this reflection we enter fully into this season of expectation, which is the season of Advent. Not only is the spirit of expectation characteristic of this time, but also along with expectation comes another attitude that always goes along with the long wait, which is that of preparation. We all know that this season is a preparation for Christmas, when the somber violet of the liturgy gives way to the resplendent white of the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, who assumed our humanity and “pitched his tent” among us (to relay the Semitic sense of the term “incarnation”). But along with this we must also keep in mind that we are preparing to celebrate not merely the yearly feast of the Lord’s coming in history among us as man; with this season the Church raises its eyes to the horizon of time, waiting for the Lord to return in glory. Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, as we profess in the Creed. Thus, Advent is a time of expectation and preparation not only for Christmas, when we celebrate the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh and dwelt among us, but at the same time it raises our eyes to the fact that the Lord will come again at the end of history, both our personal history (when we die and close our eyes to this temporal life) and that of this world (or that which we would call the Second Coming, the Parousía).

For the coming of such a great guest, we see the imperative obligation to prepare. We see in the First Reading, taken from the book of Isaiah, that the coming of the Holy One of Israel makes evident to us our own unworthiness and sinfulness. We are able to recognize that in our present state of heart we are unworthy of receiving the Lord into our midst because of the hardness of our hearts, because of our sinfulness, because of the filth that we have brought upon ourselves in deciding to stray away from him like so many sheep.  O that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they have not heard of from of old. This distance that we have from the Lord due to our sins makes our human heart clamor all the more for His coming, knowing that it is restless until it rests in the Lord. This cry for the Lord’s presence is echoed in the Responsorial Psalm: Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved!

At this point it is evident that the purification of our lives is in order, if we are to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming. Among the early Christians, who looked forward with expectation for the Lord’s return, there was the consciousness that it was partly their sins that delayed His coming; this made them all the more conscious of the need for the purification of their hearts through penance and good works. This is something that we have to imitate and live in our day, especially this season of Advent. Aside from just looking forward to the parties and the bonuses that we would inevitably receive, the parties we would attend, the gifts we may receive, the expenses we would have to make in this generous season, over and above all we have to live this desire for purification, through penance and good works. Advent recollections made during this time of the year are good opportunities for us to live and increase this desire for the Lord’s coming in us; going towards the encounter with the Lord in the Sacrament of Penance is a great help, if not a must, for the Christian who wants to prepare himself or herself well. On the other hand, the practice of good works allows us to go beyond ourselves and our selfishness by living for others, combatting one of the greatest temptations that this season has for many of us: the secularist Christmas (if there is really such a term, it being a contradiction) insists that THE way to pass this season is to spend and indulge and to “live everything to the max” without a thought of what the mystery of the Incarnation really means: God divesting himself of glory before our eyes, so that we may be clothed with the richness of His mercy. It is part of the Christian’s ascetic struggle to combat this secularist and materialistic view of the season with one’s own struggle to respond to the perennial call to conversion and holiness.

In responding to this call one needs another quality of which the Lord in the Gospel for this Sunday exhorts us to have.  Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the Lord of the House is coming. The Lord exhorts us to be perseveringly vigilant. One cannot separate these two concepts of vigilance and perseverance. One has to watch without losing heart, without ceasing. This is what it means to have a prayerful heart. A heart that prays because it loves does not desist from looking out into the horizon, expecting the object of its affection to come at any moment. St. Paul in the Second Reading, taken from the first letter to the Corinthians, assures us that it is the Lord himself who sustains us in the struggle to be watchful, prepared and expectant: in Jesus Christ we have been “enriched in every way…not lacking in any spiritual gift as we await for the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. To top it all, Paul says: he will keep you firm to the end.

So let us live this season of Advent, not with heads lowered to the things that keep us pressed to material things, but to stand up with raised heads, like what the Gospel says, awaiting the Lord’s coming into our lives, allowing His presence to purify us, strengthen our families, make justice flourish in our society. Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Friday, November 25, 2011


The term no doubt is not a stranger to all of us. In my own experience since elementary this season has always been explained to us as a season of expectation, of hope, of waiting for the coming of the Lord. This meaning would inevitably resound those first days of the season that is fast approaching. Because, as its very name would indicate, the term “advent” (from the Latin  adventus or coming) points to the fact of the Lord’s approach.

It’s very easy to identify this coming with his historical coming, which we celebrate at the culmination of the season, at Christmas, with the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord. We deck the halls, as the popular song suggests, we busy ourselves in drawing up Christmas lists, we spruce up the tree, and we prepare ourselves to celebrate the feast with family and friends, all in good cheer. To think of the expense of the Christmas feast and the cost of the gifts in kind and in cash would be another thing. Everything is done in order to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, and make present liturgically the birth of the Word of God, made flesh in the virgin womb of Mary Immaculate.

But this is not all there is to Advent however. This is may have been taught to us catechism class or it may have been mentioned to us in homilies and advent recollections, but the season does not only look back to Jesus’ coming in history. The other part of this “advent” is that in this season, we are looking forward to another coming, which will take place at the end of history, when everything reaches its fulfillment and completion. Advent also is about the definitive coming of Christ, who will come no longer in the humility of the flesh, but will return with that assumed humanity glorified; he will come as King and Judge. This is the counterpart of the adventus or coming: in this season we also look forward to the parousía (or “presence” in Greek).

These characteristics could be seen in the historical development of the liturgy (yes, liturgy develops and progresses in its form of expression, while remaining the same in its very heart). It is held that the celebration of a preparatory period to Christmas took form towards the end of the 4th century en Spain and Gaul. It had an ascetic character and lasted for six weeks, very much like the advent observance of the Ambrosian Rite proper to Milan, Italy (which is not only known for fashion and the opera). There wasn’t anything like it in Rome until the 7th century. That which pertains to our consideration is that in the liturgical texts of those centuries—the precursors of the Roman Missal that we have at present—entitled Prayers of the Advent of Our Lord, were formulated not to prepare the faithful for Christmas, but rather reminded them of the final coming of the Lord in the end times.

As such, Advent, before becoming a period of preparation for Christmas, commemorated the Parousía, or the Last Judgment, if you may. This being so, one may not find it strange that in these ancient liturgical prayers had Christmas as the first day of the liturgical year and the weeks of Advent as the last days. On one hand, when did Advent become a period of preparation for Christmas we do not know, but on the other, it is very much possible that the celebration of the expectation of the final coming of the Lord was combined with the historical wait for the coming of the Messiah in the Old Testament. The fact is remains, however, that Advent in the Roman Liturgy, in other words, that which is commonly celebrated in a greater part of the Catholic world, is characterized by these two meanings: the reminder of the final coming of Christ and the preparation for Christmas.

Considering these two things as we begin Advent would help us better in preparing ourselves for the Christmas feast. I believe that, considering the quality in which our present culture usually celebrates the season, preparing oneself for Christmas while being mindful that the Lord will come again allows us to celebrate the feast more fruitfully.

One doesn’t need both eyes in order to notice how, in more ways than one, the Christmas feast and it preparation has been transformed into one big consumerist festival. It’s as if Christmas is all about buying things, and enjoying things; it’s about eating and drinking and partying. It may make sense when one thinks that the birth of “Baby Jesus” is reason enough for all the celebration. Quite right. But the celebration is not supposed to be the end in itself. We have easily transformed a festival of God’s humility into a raging orgy of consumerism and shallow feelings. But the feast of the Incarnation and the Nativity is more dense than that. Christ came, he achieved our redemption, he ascended to the Father’s right hand, and there he will come again, and when he does, he will come as Rex tremendae maiestatis, the King of awe-inspiring majesty, as the liturgical sequence for All Soul’s Day reminds us. When he comes, he won’t be the cute Baby who could be cuddled and kissed and played with; he would be the Judge before whose gaze our shallowness and frivolity would be embarrassingly made evident. He would be the same Jesus, though.

I’m not making a point against partying on Christmas, but that which I would like to express is that the eschatological consideration of Advent (or, that Advent also brings to mind the certainty of Chrsit’s second coming) ought to help us realize that Christmas is more than just partying; it’s more than just beautifully wrapped gifts or pretty decorations and lights: Advent (and Christmas) is about being prepared to receive the Lord when he finally comes, remembering that the first time that he did he was rejected already by men.

This element of the second coming, sobering as it is, gives the Advent and Christmas the weight that it may have otherwise lost: this season is not so much about the excess of shopping and consumerist pursuit, but the inner cleansing of our hearts through penance and prayerful expectation.

This is one ascetic challenge that I think all of us should accept as we enter Advent: to see it as it really is, a time of preparation, through inner penance and prayer, for the celebration of the feast of Nativity, while anticipating the coming of the Son of Man who will return in glory, of which we know neither the day nor the hour.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Migraine with aura?

I was frightened out of my wits this morning during Mass. Right after the good homily delivered by our celebrant for this solemnity of Christ the King, I began to notice that the chapel began to be brighter and I began to feel a bit disoriented and everything seemed grainy. This was particularly noticeable in the left eye. I began to feel a bit afraid and worried, especially when I began to note that I was having to exert effort in order to focus reading on the concelebration booklet that I had in my hands. I didn't seem to make out some letters right. The brightness continued to increase, and I was really aware of the fact that everything was bright. I fought the temptation to rush out of the chapel in my vestments. After Mass anyway I immediately went to the bathroom to check on my eyes, particularly the left. There was nothing out of the ordinary, until I resorted to testing my peripheral vision. I placed my index fingers of both hands before me, and moved them from before my face to my sides. I was terrified to note that my left finger disappeared before the right one past from my line of vision. I steadied myself on the sink, fearing for the worst. Then I went out and sought out Don Ramiro, who had celebrated the Mass this morning and who is at the same time a medical doctor. I told him that something was wrong with me. We did some very simple ocular tests then and there; by that time the blind spots had disappeared and the brightness had lessened. By the time I reached the dining room for breakfast, everything had almost returned to normal, though I continued to feel shaken by the whole experience. I've had an encounter with migraines before, but I never had an experience of migraine auras. Well, at least I hope that that was a migraine aura, and not something else worse. I'm not making a definite diagnosis (because I'm not a doctor anyway). However, the pain that I had on the right sight of my head seems to confirm this hypothesis. A friend advised me to have a checkup. That's not a bad idea. I'm well enough to post this experience as I enjoy my Sunday plan today, solemnity of Christ the King, as is obvious. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Solemnity of Christ the King: A KINGSHIP UNLIKE ANY OTHER.

I was looking for an image to place in this reflection/homily for this solemnity, which as we all know by now marks the end of the present liturgical cycle. Normally at this time, as people begin to observe this feast in the Internet, specifically in social networking sites, pictures of Christ the King begin to pop out everywhere. The traditional portrayal of Christ in this feast of the Lord with a crown on his head, arrayed with a red cape and wielding a scepter, while seated on a throne. However, I wanted something out of the ordinary, and so I came upon a close-up of the central figure of that immortal work of Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, which shows a young and ageless (mark the contradiction of terms) Christ, masculinely beautiful and powerfully built, with his right hand raised in blessing, but which at the same time is a powerful gesture that unseats the impious and topples them down in supreme confusion. He is not clothed in anything remotely kingly, in fact to the prudish he isn’t clothed at all; the majesty of Michaelangelo’s Christ come as judge and Lord is deduced from many things except from what he wears.

This does well for me because it expresses the first thing that comes to mind when we enter into the reflection of what this feast says to us. Christ is King of the universe, of all creation, but in what way is Christ king? We would remember that standing before Pilate he was asked whether he REALLY was king. “My kingdom is not of this world” he says (cfr. Jn 18:28). This is precisely the reason why I preferred Michaelangelo’s Christ to the crowned King of the Universe of pious representation, which doesn’t mean that it’s bad at all. This is so because his kingship differs radically from any worldly notion of power. “My kingdom is not of this world”.

In the First Reading, taken from the book of Ezequiel, the oracle of the Lord establishes the relationship between the Lord with his people Israel as that of a shepherd with his sheep: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they are scattered when it was cloudy and dark”. We are familiar with this figure in the Sacred Scriptures. It is a figure that evokes the image of a selfless protector who is ready to give life and limb for the sheep; on the other hand it also manifests the dependence of the sheep upon the unselfish care of the shepherd. Who among us has not been moved by the 23rd Psalm, which we have today as our responsory? The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.

This tells us about what the kingship of Christ is all about: it is not about power or domination in itself, though yes Christ has power and dominion over all things, as we read in the reading from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians: Christ has “put all things under his feet”. The power of Christ is that which has been given to him out of love by the Father. This is a power that he has shown and gained through his passion and death on the Cross and by his holy Resurrection. The kingship of Christ is inseparable from the love that he has for his Father and for us, a love that has its highest manifestation in the Cross. It is on the Cross that Jesus Christ shows himself most as the Shepherd who gave us everything so that we may want for nothing; hanging on the Cross he has drawn all thing to himself , has placed all enemies under his feet, the last of which is death. The Cross is the throne from which Christ reigns. Finally, gazing upon the Cross, purpled by the blood of the Son of God, we realize that this is the supreme act of God’s mercy for man.

He is the King most merciful of our weaknesses, and as a merciful king he comes at the end of time—in glory—to judge both the living and the dead. This inevitable scene is brought to us by the Gospel this Sunday, in which we hear the Lord himself telling us about the Son of Man coming in all his glory. “And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The Lord is merciful and at the same time just. St. Augustine, commenting on this passage, in which the sheep were separated from the goats, says that the criteria used by our Lord was the mercy: “Those who were willing to show mercy will be judged with mercy. For it will be said to those placed on his right: come blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. And he reckons to their account their works of mercy: For I was hungry  and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. What is imputed to those placed on their left side? That they refused to show mercy…”

Regnare Christum volumus! We want Christ to reign! But in order to have Christ reign in us we also have to bear his mark in our hearts: this is none other than the mercy of Christ. How do we live this mercy in our daily life? It may be no more than a smile, a word of encouragement to someone next to us who is undergoing difficulty, a kind word, going the extra mile for a companion. With this we have the Shepherd’s love beating within our hearts in our concern for those who live next to us. Let us be merciful, so that we may be able to receive mercy, as the Beatitude states. And then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (cfr. Phil. 4: 7). Amen

Sunday, November 13, 2011


How do I live my Sunday? Virtually like any Christian should: resting and giving praise to God. It's quite liberating to consider the fact that even rest gives glory to God. I need to rest not only for religious reasons, but even for the most basic of human reasons: we all can use some rest every once in a while. Concerning Sunday, of course the consideration of the obligation to go to Mass is very evident (for the Catholic, by the way, we don't just go to worship: we go Mass. The Catholic doesn't go to "Sunday service" but to Mass. People would whine that it's the same. No, it's not. Let's not play with terms nor should be relative about them. Words mean something. As that character in Bertulocci's film once said: 'If you don't say what you mean, you will never mean what you say', or something like it). 

I was pondering on this as I was doing my usual Sunday morning jog. I've somewhat varied my route. I used to do a circuit of the Ciudadela, which is an old fort (reminiscent of Fort Santiago) that they have transformed into a park. I now run towards the Taconera park through the old fortifications, into the old city quarter of Pamplona and towards the Cathedral and back. This morning it dawned on me that it would be a good idea to go on this route on Sundays since the cathedral bells (which have been newly restored) ring incessantly (to the chagrin of the neighboring district). It's great to hear them, and the ringing is so loud that it could be heard from quite a distance. Up close it's a show in itself. I was listening to a requiem as I was running to keep up the pace and with all that clamor I felt transported back in time.

These photos were taken in various points of the route that I took this morning. This one below was taken well into the old quarter, drawing near what seems the wet market.

This one below was taken as I was running along the walls leading to the rear of the Cathedral.

I was running behind the cathedral when I took this shot:

The Archbishop's Palace is located next to the Cathedral, coming down from the pathway above the old walls of the city. I doubt it if the Archbishop lives here still, but it seems that he still does (I believe that some bishops don't anymore)

Another part of the city:

The bells were ringing again when I passed through the Cathedral. I took this shot as I was running away. Several people were looking up at the belfry as I passed. The bells are still rung the old-fashioned way, mind you. In fact I saw the bell ringer pulling the ropes while standing quite close to the bells.
This used to be an old college or something before it became the Museum of Navarra. I don't think that in the church next to it the liturgy is still celebrated, since it was closed when I passed by. The rest of the churches were open for the Mass, it being Sunday.

The church of St. John the Baptist. I got to know this by looking at the facade. That was very evident.

This is the entrance to the Taconera

A view of the city walls

Just to prove that it was I behind the camera and the photos...

Some people in the environment that I live in might not agree with me and in what I plan to do with my Sundays, but I think this is a time for me to take a break from the six days of work that I normally have. I prefer not to touch my books on Sunday nor work on anything related to my studies. What plan do I have for Sunday then? First among them is of course, prayer: the Mass, time dedicated to the Office of Readings and Lauds in the morning. Then I go out and jog, and after taking the shower either I read a novel or I work on this blog or prepare the homily for the next Sunday. I could watch a movie, either something related to history or a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with it. I have a siesta (which here seems to be spoken of in whispers) and I don't have anything against it. It's Sunday for God's sake! Sunday for me means to things: Prayer and Rest, as such, the Sunday Liturgy and the siesta go hand in hand!

Friday, November 11, 2011


Right here in Pamplona where I’m based, despite of the appearance of tranquility, things have begun to heat up in terms of our studies. People are beginning to work double time on requirements and papers that they would have to submit, on arranging and finalizing their notes, all this because the first semester is about to end, and when November does its graceful exit, it ushers in the inevitable period of exams, which take place here in December.

Somehow the thought of the ends makes one think more soberly of things and allows one to view things in perspective. Among the first things that one realizes with the end in mind is that one doesn’t have the luxury of time, and that the consideration of time as something borrowed would do him better than live as if he had all the time in the world. In these last weeks of the liturgical year the readings and the liturgy place our gaze on the end, and basically admonish us to be prepared for this eventuality.

The First reading tells us about the vanity of believing that everything will always remain the same, and that of attributing permanence to things that are actually fleeting. The Book of Proverbs presents to us the image of the perfect wife, who is the sensible woman whose chief quality is prudence, that virtue which makes one prepared and occupied with the eventuality of things. Women are known to be vain and preoccupied with their looks—nobody would begrudge them for that—but this woman knows that charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting. Everything passes, and the wisdom of this woman of whom the book of Proverbs speaks of is to be commended, because she feared the Lord enough to see through the vanity of this world and place importance on what really matters. The Responsorial Psalm echoes this beatitude: Blessed are those who fear the Lord.

What does it mean to fear the Lord, within the context of the end? All of us have been students (I still am) at one point in our life, and everybody remembers quite well how the approaching exams make us live positively in dread of the time that we would have to prove how much we have absorbed from our classes (or how little we have learned). This apprehension pushes us to make use of the time to review and study and prepare. Pretty much the same happens when we talk about the fear of the Lord with the end in mind. God is love, that’s true, but He is also just, and it is perfect justice that we render an account of what he has given us in His goodness.

This brings us to consider the Gospel that we have this Sunday, which is about the parable of the talents, one that is very familiar to all of us. It reinforces the message that we have been talking about: when the time comes we would have to render an account of everything that he has given us. St. John Chrysostom, commenting on this parable, observes that the Lord refers already to the future resurrection; he doesn’t talk of a vineyard, but rather of servants who must give an account of what they had done with what they have received from their master. Those who have made profit from the talents received the highest accolade from the Master, and are called to share his very joy. The last servant, however, having done nothing with it, is condemned to the outer darkness. He is called wicked and lazy, and is thrown to the darkness outside, where there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

What was the fault of this servant in particular, who did not touch was what not his? It was that he had not invested in what was given to him to increase. The parable of the talents does not only tell us to make good use of our talents and capabilities; in fact, our meditation on the Gospel should not end in this, otherwise we would be making a very shallow reading of it. The mere cultivation of our talents does not necessarily lead us to God, as experience has showed us. With the parable of the talents we ought to be moved, relying on the grace of God, to bear fruits of holiness in our life, to invest and to render more than what we have received. At our baptism we have received the seeds of Faith, Hope and Love: these are the talents that we have to cultivate so as to make them bear fruit. “In the evening of life, you will be examined by love”, said St. John of the Cross; the cultivation of all of these talents bears fruit in the love that we have for the Lord, as we have lived it also with our neighbor.

Considering this, the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians makes perfect sense:  “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep, as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober”. We cannot live as though there won’t be a time wherein we would have to give an account of what we’ve done with the gift that God has presented us. The day of the Resurrection has already started for us, though it has yet to be realized fully in a future which we still do not see; we cannot live as though in darkness.

The challenge to be awake is that of living an upright life, characterized by faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, that is shown in our works; moved by the hope of Heaven, and most of all, by love for God.

Let me end with this admonition from St. John Chrysostom: Let us hearken then to these words. As we have opportunity, let us help on our salvation, let us get oil for our lamps, let us labor to add to our talent. For if we be backward, and spend our time in sloth here, no one will pity us any more hereafter, though we should wail ten thousand times. He also that had on the filthy garments condemned himself, and profited nothing. He also that had the one talent restored that which was committed to his charge, and yet was condemned. The virgins again entreated, and came unto Him and knocked, and all in vain, and without effect. (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 78). AMEN.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Retreat in Urriza

Here are some pictures of the retreat I've had days ago in a house near the village of Urritza, about 26 km away from Pamplona, going towards San Sebastian
what greater way to situate a retreat house than on the crossroads of a "busy" road.
 Isn't that descriptive of a retreat: be at the crossroads?

The front of the retreat house (o casa de convivencias, as they name it here.
The architecture is typical of this northern Spanish region.

The topmost floor. Our room is on the right side, looking at the picture.
I was made to share the room with two others. This is definitely the last time
that I am going to share a room with
anybody else during a retreat..

The tiles are quite cool...

Rustic architecture

Evidently, the Chapel

Down the pathway outside the house there is a stream...
and a bridge, naturally..

The highway passes over the private pathway
that eventually leads to a soccer field

The stream/bathing hole.

a view of the house from the bridge.

another view of the brook

from the Archdiocese of Palo (Philippines).
from the left: Fr. Paulino Cabahit, yours truly,
Rev. Raymun Sotto

A cool photomontage