Saturday, January 28, 2012

ZENIT - Papal Message for Communications Day

though a bit late, but it's never too late to share this
ZENIT - Papal Message for Communications Day

4th Sunday In Ordinary Time(B): LIVIN' AND LOVIN'

The Transfiguration Lodovico Carracci 1594

As one could surmise, the whole story presented in Bible is that of man searching for God, and that of God going out to meet man halfway in order to endow him with his grace. This, in other terms, is none other than the history of salvation. The First Reading of this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time shows this desire in man to meet God in a more intimate way. Within Israel is that yearning to see God face to face, to hear His word as it comes from His lips, and to know Him as He is. This knowledge, in the understanding of the people of Israel, is that which is precisely meant by salvation. But on the other hand, Israel knows that this sanctity of God is too much for them to bear; certain death results from gazing on His face, and that is how one could understand the importance of intermediaries in the faith of Israel: on who would speak the words of God to His people, one from whom Israel would feel the firm hand of the Lord. With this context in mind we could understand the God’s promise of a prophet through whom the Lord himself would address His people: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth. He shall tell them all that I command him. Whoever does not listen to the words that he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it”. The prophet, in the context of the history of Israel, is the one who communicates the word of God with respect to the actual situation; he is the one who makes known His will. But it is also known that between the message of God and His people, no other barrier exists but that of a hardened heart. Examples of how these walls impede the reception of the word of God and their sad consequences abound in the history of salvation, found in the Bible, and present even in our days. This is the reason why our understanding of the fact that it is God who speaks to us through His messengers and that we should Him is reinforced by what we have heard from the Psalm:  if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. This is indicative of that which we have already said a while ago: there is no barrier between God and man other than a hardened heart. A hardened heart is one that has not only refused to do what God wills in one’s life (which is always willed for the good); to have a hardened heart means to refuse to take heed and to accept the word of God. Here we can make two considerations: on one hand, the heart does not accept God’s word because it is hardened; on the other, since it refuses to listen, the more it gets hardened.

The prophecy made to Moses and through Moses in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel we see Him teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, and we see people being astonished by his teaching. People are taken aback by the richness that flows from his words, and by the authority with which he teaches. The power of his words are made evident by the fact that even unclean spirits do what they are told, when Jesus commands them to go out. Jesus is the one who teaches with authority. His words have life and power. This isn’t the only time in the gospels that we see people listening to him and drinking in his words. He is the cause for Mary’s preference to sit by his feet and listen to Him while at Bethany, in the house of Lazarus (cfr.Lk 10:38-42); we should remember that one of Peter’s most meaningful declarations was this: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”(Jn 6:68); in other parts of the gospels, we see the same disciples awed at the fact that Jesus speaks with such power that even inanimate nature listens to him, as was the case of the calming of the storm (cfr. Mk4:35-40 and other parallel accounts).

But Jesus does not only speak the words of God: he utters as someone who is not only sent by God, but he speaks as one having the same authority. When we listen to the words of the Master, when we heed his words, we heed the same order of the Father whose voice resounded over the heights of Tabor: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5). Accepting the words of the Son of God allows us to share in the very life of Jesus. This is the life that all of us share, by virtue of baptism, by the power of that identification with the Son of God, which is a prime effect of this sacrament.
What moral repercussion could this Word have for us? In the first place, this would lead to consider the importance of going back to God again and again: the life of conversion. We have hardened heart that could only be soften by the Spirit, whose action has been likened to the dew fall (as we may hear in the words of the Second Eucharistic Prayer of the revised translation of the Roman Missal), that wets and refreshes the parched earth. Only a heart made of flesh is capable of listening to the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Another consequence we can get from the admonition of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (the Second Reading). In a nutshell, in mentioning the excellence of the consecrated life over the married one, he was pointing towards the fact that the human heart was created to love God totally. Love could only grow deeper when it is always open towards the Other; our Christian vocation, which ultimately consists in loving God above all things and persons, cannot flourish and grow if it does not receive the Word. Our love should directed towards God, but this is not possible if we choose to remain deaf to His Word, obstinate with regards to His law, and hardened with respect to his Love. As a consequence, it would be very difficult to love others as God Himself would love them (as Openign Prayer of the Sunday Mass would say: Lord, help us to love you with all our hearts and to love all men as you love them…), which I think is the best way to love people: not even with the strength of our own love, but with the love of God Himself. The grace to love the Lord our God with an undivided heart: this is the grace that all of us have to ask!!!

May our struggles and efforts this week and in our live be directed to this end. AMEN.

FIRST READING: Dt. 18: 15-20
SECOND READING: 1 Cor 7:32-35
GOSPEL: Mk. 1:21-28

Saturday, January 21, 2012

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: SING A NEW SONG!

It’s a bit of a paradox that in my meager experience as a priest, that the words of one of the most popular and emblematic Mass entrance hymns exhorts people to sing a new song, and yet it’s the same song being sung for the nth time. I am of the opinion that the reform of sacred music would benefit priests in the first place; at least it would spare us from the agony of being the Mass to the tune of the choir singing a passable version of Sing a New Song. I’ve heard it a gazillion times I’m not even sure anymore if that’s actually the title of the song in question.

But joking and irony aside, this is precisely what the liturgy for this Sunday invites us to consider. Poets and the likeminded among you would agree with me when I say that our lives could be compared to a song. Each of us carry ourselves through life singing one tune or the other depending on the situation and the mood that we’re in at the moment. Some sing a tragic dirge, as if expecting the skies to come crashing down upon them at any moment, some sing a pleasant melody; others seem to float, borne through the strains of a love song. Others, however, live life so much that that they don’t content themselves to a single song: they are an orchestra in themselves, sounds blending into a perfectly harmonious whole. We have a special affinity to this type of expression, so much so that life and song are easily intertwined and lost in each other, life being exalted in song, song expressing life.

This is such, that a change of song would imply a change in one’s life. In our consideration the Christian message this Sunday, this turns our thoughts to the reality of our Christian vocation, which seen from a different aspect is none other than a life of conversion, of change. The first words of the Entrance Antiphon of this Sunday’s liturgy opens to our eyes the consideration of this reality: Cantate Domino canticum novum! Sing to the Lord a new song! The story of the conversion of Niniveh, which we hear in the First Reading, shows us two things: that the Lord always calls us to conversion, something which is always timely, and that it is never too late to come running back to God, and secondly, that obstinacy in sin will only cause us destruction. This is perhaps something that we take lightly these days, the notion of sin. We have exiled the consideration of sin from our society, banishing it as something that is purely a fruit of psychological malaise, as mere guilt. We have lulled ourselves into believing that banishing the fear of offending God effectively takes away the sad consequence of a life that is lived outside of His Law. St. Paul would always remind us that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23); no matter what it may promise us, the fact is that a life away from God’s law, from His love, always makes us become destructive, both for ourselves and for others.

One would thus comprehend the prayer that the psalmist says, which we have this Sunday in our Responsorial Psalm: Teach me your ways, O Lord! It is only in learning His ways that we are able to drink from that water that gives us life. In the learning process, listening is indispensable, and thus it is important that we take heed of the proclamation that our Lord Jesus makes in the Gospel: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel”.

Here evidently we hear the call to conversion, which is a central idea to the whole preaching of the Lord. The recognition of one’s insufficiency before God, that without God we are nothing, the confession that we have done evil precisely because we have preferred creatures over our loving Creator, whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us also as Father, is what conversion means on one hand. It means recognizing our own sinfulness and effectively making the decision to turn our backs on sin. On the other hand, being converted means facing the opposite direction: if now we have turned our backs to sin, it is because we have moved in order to face God, and discovering that our Father God has reserved his loving and merciful gaze for each one of us. Conversion means rediscovering who we are before such a gaze: children of God! See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are! (1 Jn 3:1). Repentance, conversion is the primary condition  in order for the Kingdom of God to take root in us.

Basically, the message that is being made out to us in order to apply to our minds is that we have to constantly respond to this call to change, to make up, to return, to start again. To realize that not everything is OK in our lives and that we have to start again, repair what is broken, acknowledge what is wrong, do what is good. To recognize that we need the Lord in our lives in order to be OK. To live not anymore according to the old coordinates that we’ve had in the recent past; to do what St. Paul in the Second Reading had admonished the Corinthians: not to live according to the spirit of this world, which is swiftly passing away, but to live according to the reality that never changes: God is love, and we are children of God, and that we partake of life truly in the measure that we live according to this Love that comes to us in Jesus Christ.

Have you changed your song?

Year B
First Reading: Jon 3:1-5, 10
Second Reading: 1 Cor 7:29-30
Gospel: Mk 1:14-20


I wasn't much interested in the developments concerning the petition made by members (and leaders) of the Neocatechumenal Way for their definitive approval, and the approval of some of their rites, particularly those of Christian initiation. But the news of Pope Benedict XVI's approval of the Way and the its rites of Christian initiation have caused a lot of joy naturally among the same members of the Way, and consternation and strong reactions among traditionalists. News of this approval on the part of the Pope had kept this latter group on their toes, for very obvious reasons. Much has been said about their liturgies, especially about their particular celebration of the Mass, more commonly termed by followers of the Way as the Eucharist, since it presents a rather striking departure from the liturgical laws and norms stipulated both in the common practice and legislation of the Latin Rite. I could sympathize with those who are lobbying for more decorum and solemnity in the Mass, who I guess would wince in seeing how the gifts would be prepared beforehand by lay people; I could imagine these same people (I refer to the traditionalists) rending their garments at the sight of people receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in their seats, drinking from the huge chalice passed around by the "lay ministers", which they have previously received from the presbyter. I myself couldn't stop thinking (and dreading) about the real and proximate danger of the Eucharistic particles falling into the floor.

Let this post of mine be a frank confession about how I feel about the Neocatechumenal Way. I've had close encounters with them. People would contact me, inviting me to preside or assist in their liturgical celebrations, mainly the Penitential celebrations. I've also been invited to preside in the Eucharist various times, even celebrating the Easter Vigil with them last year. I'm a stickler for the rubrics and things liturgical (I've said a lot of times that were I not studying history, another one of my passions, I would've been studying liturgy), and with a lot of people I avidly looked forward to the reform that the Holy Father had been effecting all throughout these years (somebody commenting on this article would find it opportune to place the proverbial parenthesis and bold comments in red after this lines, I surmise). I don't agree with a lot of the liturgical elements in the Neocatechumenal celebrations, especially with respect to the Mass, and there had been times that I really felt uncomfortable celebrating the Mass in a way that hasn't been laid down in the liturgical books. This was precisely the reason why I was at times hesitant to accept these invitations. I would confess that there were a lot of things that I didn't understand about them. 

And yet one would wonder at why the Pope, and this Pope in particular, one with the keen eye for liturgy and had done quite a job in bringing back the Tridentine Mass, and who had been stereotype as the stern inquisitor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. This was the same Pontiff who had at one point, in addressing the crisis of faith in this secularist society, which in turn is undergoing its own crisis in many fronts, had mentioned that the testimony of Faith was to be given by small faith communities. Perhaps this was what the Holy Father had seen in this movement. From what I've seen from my own experience among the Neocatechumenals, I've seen a lot of conversions, of people trying hard to live the universal call to holiness, each in their own way of life, according to their particular situation and condition. Ordinary people, trying to avail of the same life from the same means available to anybody who forms part of the Church of Christ, with their own struggles and stories to tell. Perhaps they are lacking in formation, and that is precisely why they are in the Way. A lot of people have come to know, practice and live their Catholic Faith through the Neocatechumenal Way; for them this was the instrument through which the Lord had called. 

The scene that I saw unfolding before my eyes, that of the Holy Father meeting the leaders and the followers of the Way and giving them the news of the pertinent approbations--specifically of the rite of Christian Initiation, and not automatically of the Eucharist (though I myself hope that the Holy Father would ask them to be more faithful to the common tradition shown in the liturgical books)--showed me the confidence that Pope Benedict XVI had placed in them as new missionaries who would work for the new evangelization. I would daresay that the Holy Father was very bold in saying that the Way was a special gift of the Holy Spirit in our times. From what I've seen, I guess he's right.

A further thought on the liturgical topic. There has been talk of an organic development, of a certain dynamism found in the liturgical tradition of the Church. If this is the work of the Spirit, then perhaps we have to have to have more confidence in the Holy Spirit to guide this new charism within the Church. The things that I have seen and read in traditionalist blogs (I keep asking myself why I persist in wasting my time looking at things that would merely serve to irritate me) have shown me how ossified people could turn out to be when deadly set in their opinions (place another parenthetical comment in red here please), even to the point of attacking the Holy Father and saying other things besides that place in doubt their true orthodoxy. Their attitude reminds me well of the lessons I've had about fourth-century Donatists and the seventeenth-century nuns of the convent of Port-Royal, who were "pure as angels but proud as demons". One's fidelity to the Successor of Peter is one clear sign of orthodoxy, and I guess for me this particular case functions as a litmus test to see where one's loyalty lies.

The history of the liturgy has shown us that the liturgy has developed throughout the ages: the only Mass of the Ages that we ever had was Jesus Christ himself in the Eucharist, I believe that anybody who makes a specific rite the center of his faith is grievously mistaken. The Mass had undergone an organic development throughout the centuries, from the simple fractio panis of the earliest Christians to the various rites in the different ecclesial traditions, to the splendor of the gregorian liturgy, of which the Tridentine Rite, merely one of the various rites within the Church, is heir. I could say that the liturgy that we have would still change and admit development. As what I've argued with a companion  last night at table, the liturgy that we have on earth, no matter how we have it, is imperfect; that perfect liturgy we would have seeing God face to face. With respect to the Neocahatechumenal way, I believe this is also the case. I could only personally wish that as time moves on, the Way could come up with the means of being faithful both to the liturgical tradition of the Church and and to their own charism.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Feast of the Sto. Niño, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: WE ARE NOT GOOD GUIDES OF OUR OWN SELF

This Sunday the First Reading relates to us the story of the call of Samuel. This is something which most of us are familiar with, most probably because in his vocation story, we see reflected within it our very own. Each story is unique; in the ordinariness of our life we have heard the voice of God inviting us to share His very life, that outpouring of love that holds nothing back of itself, which is none other than holiness. Like the story of the boy Samuel, who was already young as he was, dedicated to the service of the Lord in the Temple, we have heard His voice in the darkness of the night, in the silence of our dreams; in many cases, we may have heard the voice of God calling us to this or that special vocation with our hearts filled with so many noble aspirations to help and make a difference in the world in which we live in.  For many, this voice is heard through a personal experience of pain and suffering, either ones own or that of others: by this we may also understand what hearing God calling out our name in the darkness of the night means. But no matter what the circumstance of the call, the story of Samuel also shows to us one very important thing about answering God’s call, and this is very true for any vocation. One cannot answer the Lord’s call faithfully without mature discernment, and one cannot come to discern as he should without the valuable guidance of others, whose ministry it is to discern what God’s will is for them, being at their side. The role of the priest Eli was important in the boy’s reponse to the call. We could be able to perceive the weight of the words with which Samuel responded to the Lord’s invitation: “Speak, for your servant is listening…”, words which find a perfect echo in the words of the Responsorial Psalm: “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will!”   Who cannot fail to appreciate the generosity and the youthful courage that are found in these words? And yet, without the wise advice and discernment of the elder Eli, Samuel could never had imagined that a greater person than his mentor was calling him.

Our reflection on the Gospel reveals to us that we have a universal call to holiness that is expressed in each of our lives by living our particular vocation faithfully. Sacred Scripture is full of reminding us if this. The people of Israel were to have engraved on their minds and in their hearts the fact they are called to be holy as God is; something that Jesus Christ also admonished his disciples constantly. In his letters the Apostle Paul never tired of reminding the earliest Christians that the will of God was their holiness. We have to be holy, holiness, which according to the Apostle John, is none other than to be full of love, as he expresses in one of his letters. This is a arduous road, characterized by an equally strenuous struggle; one cannot climb to the heights of love alone.

The readings come to remind us the fact that we cannot be our own guides in this journey. This fact leads us to consider the importance of spiritual direction. Spiritual Direction has been a practice that has been present in the Church for a very long time, even from it humble beginnings, where we could see form the lives of the early Christians how they encouraged one another in the struggle to be followers of the Lord. This is a practice that has been adviced and encouraged, especially by the masters of Christian spirituality, such as St. john of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and Christian writers such as John Cassian. Its importance for growth in the spiritual life has been emphasized also by the teaching of the popes, such as Pius XII. To be more precise and ordered, one two-fold consideration we could get from our reflection this Sunday is, aside from the fact that we need to be guided, we cannot act as our own guides in this journey. This comes primarily because many times we do not see the things that we need to consider in ourselves in order to change for the better. This is very much the same as in the case of our need for a mirror, whenever we want to groom ourselves, and ourselves more presentable. A good spiritual director, or companion, is like a good mirror: through his prayer and his advice, he allows us to see what we need to change, to enhance—with the Lord’s grace—those good qualities that need to be enhanced, and to increase in the path of prayer and virtue.

In responding to God’s call, we have to have the humility to admit that we are not sufficient to ourselves, and that we need the grace of God and the aid of brothers and sisters, if we are to advance in the way of virtue. If we are to be true to the admonition of St. Paul in the Second Reading—and that is to live lives according to the will and law of God, one that shuns immorality and is a life in the Spirit of God—then we have to attune ourselves to His voice, which we hear also through the prudent counsel of those whose task and mission is to educate and to guide us on the way to holiness.

The Gospel presents to us the reality that first and foremost, this Master of the Truth is Christ Himself. The task of the director could be likened to that of John the Baptist, who did no more than to point to the Christ and say “Behold the Lamb of God”.  Jesus Christ is the true Master who teaches us the words of eternal life. The spiritual life is none else than going to see where the Master lives and staying with Him, listening to his words, living with Him so as to be transformed in Him.

This contact with God, this transformation in Him is made possible with our encounter with the mystery of God made man: the Incarnation is the key to our sharing of God’s life. In the Philippines, this third Sunday of January is the feast of the Holy Child, the Sto. Niño. With the Word made flesh, dwelling among us, we can hear the words of the Master, listening to Him with the humility and trust of a child. In the Opening Prayer of the Mass we have prayed that may we be able to follow Jesus with sincere hearts. Let us make this our prayer, that we may always be faithful to Him, and being faithful means being capable of listening to every word that the Lord speaks out to us.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Sto. Niño and the Black Nazarene: Two Icons of the Filipino's Faith

This Sunday the Church in the Philippines distinguishes itself once again with the feast of the Sto. Niño, a devotion that not only is typically Filipino, but that which is at the very core of the people’s identity and history as a Christian nation (here, as a parenthetical observation, despite of a certain percentage of Muslims and of the fact that the majority of the archipelago’s pre-colonial inhabitants were animists, it could never be said that in any point of its history was the Philippines an Islamic nor an animistic nation. The evangelization wrought by the missionaries of the Spanish Crown was a big factor in the building up of our identity as a nation; where there were petty kingdoms scattered throughout the archipelago, the colonization brought about a cohesive unity between the islands under the Cross and the Crown). No doubt by this time, millions of devotees and revelers have congregated at what could be the centermost metropolis of the Visayas—denominated the Queen City of the South—Cebu, both out of devotion to the Holy Child Jesus, whose image was the first Christian image to be revered in this part of the Far East, and also to celebrate in what has become the Philippine’s answer to Mardi Gras of Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. This multitudinous gathering comes almost a week after another one done as well during the first week of the year, though this one is marked more by devotion not lacking in fanaticism than by a reason for celebrating. This Monday’s feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo was marked by the usual confluence of millions jostling in order to touch the 17th century image (a remnant of trade relations by way of galleons between Manila and Mexico) with their handkerchiefs and towels in the belief of its healing powers, while accompanying it in a procession that lasted fourteen hours. The annual feast and its highlight—the grand procession back to its normal place in the Basilica of Quiapo—was celebrated amidst reports of a possible terrorist attack, one which the President himself made out in a rare press conference made before the date. This didn’t even make a dent in the devotees faith, resolved to fulfill their yearly panata or personal vow. Urged on by their resolve and personal need, the same millions braved the annual pandemonium around the carriage that bears the darkened image of the Savior on the way to Calvary.

The proximity of both feasts calls my attention as we celebrate another feast that is typically Filipino, and this I mean in two ways: in the first place, liturgically speaking, because both are rarities, and from a foreign point of view, one that could not be easily understood. Secondly, both as images and devotions they give us a view of what the identity of the Filipino Christian is all about.

Regarding to the first point, refering to the Black Nazarene, as a liturgical feast it stands out like a sore thumb, having just ended the Christmas season days before (this year, it was celebrated on the day where in some part of the Latin Church people were ending Christmas with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord). The feast of the Sto. Niño could raise some foreign liturgical eyebrows for the same reason, now that Christmas had ended. Secondly, it is truly Filipino because of the significance it has in the nation’s history. As I had pointed out earlier, among the numerous images venerated by Catholics in the Philippines, that of the Holy Child of Cebu is certainly the first that came to the islands, and consequently, not only is it the oldest, but certainly its devotion is among the most widespread among the Filipino people; at par with the Sinulog celebration in Cebu we have the Ati-atihan of Iloilo and the Pintados-Kasadyaan of Tacloban (the Sangyaw of the same city is a very recent invention). As historical records would tell us, the image was arrived to these islands as a gift made out to the premier wife of Humabon of Cebu by Ferdinand Magellan during the first expedition in march 1521. This first encounter between the Spaniards and the natives (which was to end tragically, for the Spaniards at least), though not enough to plant the Cross and the Christian faith firmly upon this part of Asia, was nevertheless the seed that was to grow with the evangelization of the islands, a movement that coincided with its political subjugation under Spanish rule, which was to last for three hundred years, form 1565 until 1898, the year that signaled the end of the Spanish colonial era. One merit of the this colonial rule was the unification of the islands under one government; where there was once a group of islands with petty kingdoms, the evangelization and colonization of what became las islas Filipinas under the Spanish crown brought about the a unified conscience, that was to grow and mature under the American administration, interrupted for two years during the Second World War with the Japanese Occupation.

The Image of the Nazarene, Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, came in the midst of a prosperous era marked by trade relations between Manila and Mexico. Ships would ply the route from the Spanish port in Asia—Manila—laden with goods destined for markets in Nueva Castilla (Mexico) and the old world. The same galleons would return from the other end in Acapulco back to Manila laden with Mexican silver and other goods. In one of those trips came the image of the Nazarene. No, better still, one could talk of images since there were two of them. I won’t elaborate on this here though, as I would be digressing from my point.

Both the images and the devotion that Filipinos have towards these representation of Jesus Christ in two instances of his life—both as a child and as a grown man, could say something about their spiritual life as a people. I have long wondered about the devotion that my people have towards the Sto. Niño and the Nazareno, a devotion that is seconded only by the Filipino’s love for the Mother of God (the Philippines, to use a well-known phrase, is a nation in love with Mary, un pueblo amante de María, and its love affair with the Virgin is as interesting as its strong devotion to the ones highlighted in this present reflection).

In the first place, I could well say that these January devotions reflect how the Filipino sees himself in relation to God. With regards to the Holy Child, the Filipino has always known himself to be small before God, a child in the arms of his Father. Without prejudice to people of other nationalities, I could say that the Filipino is instinctively religious. Of course religion as a human phenomenon could be given in man himself, but the Filipino has no qualms in praying in public; given the circumstances, he is at home with the spiritual, and this spirituality is one that is trusting, a spirituality in which surrender to the higher power occupies an important part. The Pinoy is accustomed to living surrounded by children, and is quite fond of them; anyway, who isn’t fond of a cute baby? The country’s population is relatively young, a promising one that could yield a veritable workforce, given the chance. Just as a child is desirable and lovable in the eyes of its parent, the Filipino, seeing himself as a child, also knows himself to be loved, and this love is that which makes him strong, even in the darkest of times, even in the midst of suffering. There is never any doubt that the Filipino finds his strength in hard times surrounded by his family and those who care for him most; however, one source of strength that he can dispose of as well is prayer, drawing from those deep spiritual reserves that find its roots in his Christian faith.

Speaking of suffering, everybody would agree that the present generation of Filipinos had never known a period of bonanza or prosperity as such; each turn of history would seem worse than the last. Philippine contemporary history, either lived out individually or as a nation, seems to pass from one crisis to another. The image of the Black Nazarene seems to be the incarnation of the image of the suffering Filipino himself; better still, I could say that the Filipino is able to recognize himself in the image of the suffering Savior on the way to Calvary, which is perhaps the reason why there he has so much devotion to the suffering Christ. This identification with the Nazarene, carrying the Cross on the way to Calvary, is perhaps the reason that lies at the root of its attraction for the Filipino.

The Black Nazarene is the image of a God who is never from the situation of those who suffer, never distant because he shares their suffering, and manifests it for all to see.

But there is another reason for its being attractive: though suffering and the perspective of certain death is evident in the black face of the Savior, within this sign, we might say, there is the glimmer of the final victory. The Filipino, though suffering and being accustomed to it, knows and recognizes the transient nature of suffering, and foresees in a certain manner the glory of the Resurrection. He knows that suffering will cease, and that life still goes on. This is something that lies at the heart of the Filipino psyche; this is the reason for the Filipino’s ability to smile, laugh and celebrate despite of the bad times; ever a musical people, Filipinos are known to express their pain even in singing, as they do in times of joy. This is the reason of the Filipino’s affinity to telenovelas, which show the long-suffering of the innocent protagonist, whose story always culminates in triumph.

The profound reason perhaps why these devotions have so much popularity among the Filipino people is because they see themselves associated with Christ himself. When the devotee gazes at the obscure face of the Christ bearing the Cross, he does not only see his own pain, he also sees his own resurrection. In the same way, when he celebrates and dances with the image of the Infant in his hands, he sees himself as a child loved by God, one who would never abandon him to his fate, as a popular religious Filipino song would say (hindi kita pababaya-an).

One last thing that this reveals about Filipino Christian religiosity is that it is Christological and Christ-centered. All of this identification with Christ that I’ve been talking about, about how Christ shows who and what God is, and how Christ shows man about man himself—these point to the fact that Filipino Christianity is in the right route. There is a lot of purification to do, of course, there is no doubt about this, the experience of the procession and the fanaticism of many of the Nazarene’s devotees are proof of that, but I guess that deep within, the Filipino has grasped one central concept of Christology, which is that of the Incarnation. This is one concept in which through the person of Jesus Christ, man is able to see and know—and even touch and caress—that who and which the invisible God is. Also, in the face of Christ, man is able to know more about who he truly is. In the case of the Filipino devotee, both in the Sto. Niño and in the Black Nazarene, he sees a God who has come down to man so as to be embraced and carried, in whom he knows himself to be loved and cherished. Here he realizes that he is not alone in his suffering, and that, despite of the darkness of the times, the gloom is not enough to snuff out the flame of hope that would inevitably lead to the bright day of the Resurrection. 

Friday, January 13, 2012


A year ago I was in the Queen City of the South in order to witness the solemn installation of Archbishop Palma as Archbishop of Cebu, succeeding Cardinal Vidal, who had faithfully served Cebu for more than twenty years. I posted the event, which could be found here. The accession of course left the cathedra of Palo vacant, and thus it remains to this day, a year after that apotheosic welcome and reception took place in the golden splendor of the newly-renovated Cebu Cathedral ("too much gold", our home expert in liturgical vestments and architecture commented). 

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who's looking forward to the arrival of the new Archbishop, whoever he may be. Like the first Christians who tended toward the final coming of the Lord in the Parousia, we were  certainly hoping that the Holy Father would choose on and reveal his name soon. New appointments were announced for other dioceses, the euphoria (well at least in many sectors, but not all) about Bishop Tagle's appointment to the nation's premiere Archbishopric came and went, and still no archbishop for Palo.

The wait comes right in the middle of the preparations for the Jubilee Year of 2012, in which Palo would be marking three quarters of a century since Pius XI erected the Diocese of Palo, separating the whole island of Leyte (including the nearby island of Biliran), from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Calbayog, which in those times comprised the whole island of Samar. Now, seventy-five later, the whole territory of Samar and Leyte is home to five dioceses and one archdiocese: the dioceses of Boronggan and Catarman, separated from the mother diocese of Calbayog in 1974 and in 1960, respectively, and that of Naval, erected by Bl. John Paul II in 1988. All of these dioceses form the ecclesiastical province of Palo, which is the metropolitan see. The other diocese within the island, Maasin, created in 1968, belongs to the neighboring ecclesiastical province of Cebu.

I've been told that the process of choosing the man for the job is painstakingly complicated. I guess it should be. To date I don't think not a lot of people know the true reason for the long wait. Nobody knows the reasons nor how long we have to wait. Bishops aren't made in a day, you know. 

while were waiting, the best thing to do is basically to pray. Pray for the new Archbishop, whoever he may be. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


14 weeks of classes and 17 days of exams. New dinner schedule. New subjects. A renewed interest and fresh vigor. These are the things that I have kept in mind as I began the first day of classes of the second semester for this school year. Yesterday I calculated how many weeks of classes and schoolwork we would be having, and I came with the result that I’ve stated above: fourteen weeks of classes, exempting Holy week and the Easter octave. In the end, within the examination period we would be having seventeen days. This morning I tried to stealthily campaign that we finish with the exams even before the last day of exams, something shared by the majority of the class except one, who insisted on spending the period to the full, with the last exam on the last day. I had a lively debate with the proponent of this idea, who comes from Brazil. The experience we had last semester was dreadful; we had to agonize until the last day of exams before being able to appreciate the cool breeze of the holiday cheer. I said to myself that I would keep everything in my power to keep this from happening again. Those who were well into thesis work were agreeable to the idea, since they would still have to prepare for the comprehensive oral exams in order to qualify for the licentiate title. The Brazilian was adamant but I hope he would succumb to the pressure of the majority. One thing that I noticed from returning from those days in Palafrugell was that I had learned to be more outgoing and forceful in conversations. By this I mean it in the sense that it is used here. Were I in the Philippines we would have “a heated exchange of words and ideas”, which actually means a quarrel; but we were not quarreling, actually. After the exchange I calmly and solicitously asked him how his vacation went. There are some things that the Filipino mentality won’t be able to get and stomach after a few tries.

Well it’s evident that with the new semester come new subjects, and new schedules. I would have to say goodbye to my stint as the Thursday chaplain in the university library, since I now have the first two hours on Thursday. I only have one free day, but even that is still not safe as we would still have to plan where to place the modules on the theological synthesis that we would have to make in preparation for the comprehensive oral exam to be done by the end of second year.

I have nine subjects this semester (last semester had a  subject less):
Teología Patristica Oriental. Eastern Patristic Theology, with Marcelo Merino. Here we’re bound to study the more important theological traditions of Eastern Church Fathers. It’s about time to get to know Irenaeus of Lyon, Origen, Basil of Cesarea, John Chrysostom and the rest of the merry company.
Iglesia y sociedad en la España del Siglo de Oro: here my assessor and professor Fermin Labarga would introduce us to the thereabouts of both Church and society of Spain during its Golden Age, during the Seventeenth century.
Historia del Papado: once again, one of my preferred professors, Carmen Alejos, would be leading us on a tour of the history, not precisely of the popes, but of the papacy as an institution; how it evolved through the ages. Special attention would be give I surmise to the relations, sometimes shaky, sometimes advantageous to one side or the other (a lot of times both) between the Roman Pontiff and monarchs.
Rasgos de la Sociedad Cristiana medieval: I’m not acquainted with Alvaro Fernández de Córdova, but they say he’s quite good at teaching. It’s basically Medieval Church History, but taught with a flair.
In the Iniciación Cristiana I am to be reunited with my old formator, José Luis Gutierrez (a.k.a. Don Pepelú), expert in liturgy. Part of a course in sacramentology it basically talks about the significance of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. Nothing about rites nor rubrics here, though of course they form an important part of the mystery, but here Christian initiation is considered as an existential introduction into the salvific mystery of Christ through rites of a symbolic nature. Had I not taken up history I would’ve chosen Liturgy as a specialization. Anyway, this is an optative subject, something that I chose on my own.
Finally there is the Practica de la investigación histórica; it’s very much like the thesis writing course I once had in college, and which I taught as a professor later on.

Anyway, with these I marched off resolutely to the Faculty. My first day of classes was…without classes! I don’t know what happened, but it seemed the professor who was supposed to push us into the ordinary round of life was not there; for all I know he may have forgotten that he ad a class. Anyway, after all, there is this Latin adage that says prima non datur, the first day of class is not given, so off I went again, trudging back home.

Lastly, another novelty that we had in Albaizar was that starting this Monday, dinner is to be served at 7:15, (19:00) instead of the normal 9:15. The reasons for this change are still unknown. But it serves me well personally. One sure thing is that we need to adjust with the schedule. I’m planning to be in bed by 10:30 at the latest, in order to rise fresh very early in the morning; as I may have commented somewhere, I don’t like dealing with heavy material before going to bed, so this space may as well be devoted to further readings. My day will have to end with a cup of tea and me either reading or writing something down, preparing for the Sunday homily, or coming up with another entry, like what I’m doing now.

So I still have fourteen weeks roughly (the countdown has started) and at least three more, until I finally get to tread and kiss native soil once again.

With this I start the second season of what I call Albaizar Abbey…jeejeje

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Run For the Finish Line

With the celebration of the Sunday of the Lord's Baptism in many parts of the Church, and with the Nativity scene of my residence under wraps, I'm getting set along with the others to enter once again into ordinary time, and by this I don't merely refer to the liturgical calendar, but to the normal stride of student life here in Pamplona. Tomorrow marks the start of 14 weeks of study, classes and work (not counting Holy Week and the Easter octave, during which we are still on vacation), and after those weeks, 17 days of exams. My next big event comes after a week's respite from the exams, when I finally get to go back to the Philippines for a vacation I'm very much looking forward to. Until then, I'm ready and eager to handle those weeks with gusto. BRING IT ON!!!

With this entry I'm also inaugurating the new look of this blog. I opted to make it's appearance more simple, and chose to make it brighter. 


Thursday, January 5, 2012


In a few days the relaxed pace of the holidays (hectic for some though) would give in to the normal bustle of ordinary time, in the liturgical sense or otherwise. I’ve passed the holidays in several places. I spent Christmas here in my residence in Albaizar, welcomed the New Year with my relatives in Palagrugell, and I’m set to celebrate the Feast of the Three Kings the way people celebrate it in these lands tomorrow. I’ve spent these days well and to good advantage (con buen provecho, as one would express it in Spanish). As soon as I returned home (that is, Pamplona) I felt the need to sum up the experience of these holidays, especially those that I have lived in Cataluña.

As I’ve mentioned, I spent a quiet but not less merry Christmas in the residence with the few who had remained, the rest having gone of to their destination of choice for the holidays. We had an elegant dinner and we had the traditional singing of Christmas carols (which I’m not too keen on, and which actually bores me, to express it frankly). Two days later I set of for Barcelona with another Filipino. I spent two nights in there, which has been my favorite of all the Spanish cities that I’ve visited ever since I first known it, many years ago. We got to know the city during that time with one of the most conventional ways possible: clamber up a tourist bus, which cost us about 25 euros each. The ticket serves for the whole day, and the cost is worth it. Since there are many routes to choose from, we chose one that would take us on a tour of most of the attractions that Barcelona is most famous for: Sagrada Familia, Agbar Tower, Park Guëll, etc. of these attractions, we chose to get to know more the basilica of Sagrada Familia, that masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi (who is on the road to beatification) and is one of the most emblematic landmarks of Barcelona (which in Spain is otherwise known as the ciudad condal, or the Count’s City. When he was still alive, the father of the actual Spanish monarch, Juan de Borbón, held the title of the Count of Barcelona). I went in, free of charge, since for priests entrance into a church is always free (here in Spain, churches are main tourists atractions, and the average tourist has to pay for the entrance), and I could conclude that Gaudi really was an artistic genius. Here one could see what happens when art, architecture, human ingenuity and faith meet. The result is an explosion of beauty. The artist who conceived the structure took inspiration in nature; the columns and the elements that are present in the whole structure are all inspired in those found in nature: shapes inspired by minerals, columns taken from stalks of wheat tree trunks and fixtures that look like gigantic buds. One enters the main basilica and has the sensation of walking under a forest canopy, since the ceiling so high above features forms that resemble the foliage of trees. 

It’s remarkable how Gaudi had achieved this fusion between animate structures with the coldness of stone. I say this because the whole structure is dynamic; it copies the style and ambience of a gothic cathedral without its coldness. Furthermore, the whole basilica is a vibrant expression of the Christian Faith: one could teach catechism with the structure itself, since I surmise that when Gaudi planned it, he planned it to be a catechism etched in stone. The finished building (which would be done by the year 2050 or so) would be having two great towers, the highest one, crowned with a huge cross, would be dedicated to Christ; the second highest, topped by a star with many points, is dedicated to His Mother. There would be twelve smaller towers, each for the twelve apostles. There are four more for the evangelists. The finished building would look like a porcupine or an exotic coral reef. The main altar tends toward the east; the church has two porticoes, one facing the north and the other facing the south. One portico features the Incarnation, the other is the portico of the Passion: all fourteen Stations of the Cross are there. From the portico of the Passion one enters the vast basilica through doors fashioned like the pages of the Bible, with words of the Passion account carved into them. I take it that it tends to signify that one enters into the Church through the words of the Gospel, especially the announcement of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. Anyway, I conclude that the basilica of the Sagrada Familia is a meditation on the life of Christ and of the faith of the Church expressed in stone. If you’re a priest and wish to see a plastic representation of the Faith, and you happen to be in Barcelona, a visit to this basilica is an obligation.
A map and tourist guide

a view of the Sagrada Familia from
our approaching bus

Talking about architecture, Barcelona is a must-see for any serious student in architecture and engineering. It’s undeniably one of the most well-planned cities in the planet. The new city (distinct from the old center) is organized in neat city blocks. One could stand in one main road and see the street stretch to infinity. The city has at least two main thoroughfares: the Paral.lel, which runs parallel throught the city, and the Diagonal (which by this is self-explanatory). The city in itself is home to a lot of structures that are modern marvels.
The streets seem to stretch far beyond
the horizon

The cathedral of Barcelona. The last time I was here--
and that was five years ago, they were working on the
facade. They're still not through with the restoration
of the edifice.

Despite of this, it’s the old quarter that I like most. This part is unlike the new city, which was conceived in the 19th century. The old city (or casco antiguo) is a disorganized lot of narrow alleys and streets, churches from different ages and of different styles, and old buildings and houses. The Rambla runs through this part. Stemming from the Plaza de Catalunya, this I think is the part of the city that has the most concentration of people, especially tourists. Streets and narrow alleys stream from this main road to give way to poor neighborhoods and quaint plazas.

I was sorry to see time fly so swiftly. i had to leave the city in order to go up north, to spend the remainder of my travels with another place beloved by me, Palafrugell, in the northern Mediterranean coast of the Iberian peninsula. But as the bus pulled out of the Barcelona Estacio Nord towards the coast, two hours away, I vowed to return soon.