Saturday, February 25, 2012

la iglesia de san martín

La imagen de la muerte vaga misteriosamente en nuestro derredor. La vemos misteriosa, , limpia, concreta, despojada de terrores, a lo largo de la escalera de nuestro ultimo baluarte. La dibuja claramente, a pesar de la oscuridad, una pareja de hombres que, sentados en un rellano, muy juntos, parecen dialogar en secreto. Es un cura de falange, y un soldado en confesión; aquel con un crucifijo en la mano, éste ha dejado el fusil recostado en la pared. A poco, el soldado besa el crucifijo y se aleja, y otro defensor de Belchite ocupa su lugar; y hay “cola” de penitentes en la espera de la absolución…¿cuál será el estado moral de ese sacerdote que se halla en idéntico peligro de muerte que aquel a quien confiesa? Solo el poder divino puede otorgarle la serenidad necesaria para cumplir en estos momentos su sagrado ministerio. Es tan hipotética nuestra liberación, y es tan posible la muerte de todos, que ese sacerdote no puede sentirse, como otras veces, mortalmente distanciado del ser que tiene abrazado en trance de morir. Esas veces que, en urgentes llamadas nocturnas, iba a despedirle consolador marcándole el camino del Cielo, para luego volverse a él a continuar su ministerio en la tierra. Ahora habrá de preguntarse, quizá sin alarma, quién de los dos será el que antes llegue a la otra vida, si a los dos tiene la muerte abrazados…

Emilio Oliver Ortiz, Emociones de un sitiado (Belchite Regina Martyrum)

First Sunday of Lent: SPEAKING OF THE DEVIL

The glory of these forty days (borrowing the words of a song well-known and sung during this season), aside from giving us more opportunities to live the Christian calling to holiness through interior conversion, resides also on the fact that it serves as a prelude to the great baptismal liturgy within the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday evening to the Easter Vigil),celebrated on the night before Easter Sunday. Lent has a baptismal aspect, because it prepares us to celebrate the event of the suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord, in which we all share in through our baptism. Celebrating this season with this in mind helps us to take better advantage of the graces that are offered to us during Lent.

“Do you renounce Satan and all his works?” Among the questions asked during the liturgy of baptism brings to mind the figure of the prince of darkness. Nowadays, the mention of the concept would bring about diverse reactions. People could be indifferent, or be vaguely (sometimes morbidly) interested, others cynical, while others would smile and would even imagine cute baby devils dressed in red and sporting cute little red horns (if there are cute cherubs, is it out of the way to imagine cute devils as well?) Speaking of the devil, I remember the late archbishop Fulton Sheen talking about a woman returning home after an afternoon of rather carefree shopping. When her husband saw the bill, he asked his wife rather testily: “The moment you tried on the dress, didn’t you tell the devil, “Get behind me Satan!”? The wife saucily replied, “Well as a matter of fact I did, and he told me it looked really good from the behind”.

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. This Sunday brings us to consider the figure of Jesus being led into the silent wilderness. In the course of his public life he would seek refuge time and again in deserted spaces in order to be alone with his Father. But in the gospel episode, not only is he alone with his Father; in the desert the first confrontation between the Christ and Satan takes place. Jesus is tempted by the Devil, though not like us, tempted even from within through our human weakness. The Lord perceives the subtle insinuations of the enemy from the outside.

The Devil. Satan. Beelzebul. Belial. Lucifer. On June 29, 1972, Pope Paul VI caused consternation among many when he said in a homily that “the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God”. Many people where puzzled at the mention of the archenemy, not only perhaps because the fact that the Pope would mention it at all was perturbing, but also because many people had relegated the figure of the man’s greatest enemy to oblivion. But the fact is, the Devil continues to be alive in this modern day and age, and not only alive, but also active, very active. Pope John Paul II made mention of this fact when he made a visit to the sanctuary of St. Michael in Gargano, Italy, affirming that the devil is indeed alive and at work in the world, and that the disorder that we see in society, and the internal division in man is not only due to the effects of original sin, but is also because of the dark and infesting activity of Satan, of this saboteur of man’s equilibrium (cfr. May 24, 1987, Sanctuary of St. Michael, Gargano)

As we ponder on the encounter between the Light and the forces of darkness in the gospel this first Sunday of Lent we are invited to consider that we ourselves have to wage this battle. Nobody is immune from the attacks of the Devil; in fact this was the reason why the Lord chose to be attacked by Satan, because He desired to be identified with all of us who are always attacked and tempted, so that we may be identified with Him who came out victorious from the fight. Our Lenten journey through the desert alerts us to the fact that the Christian struggle for holiness is also a struggle against the forces of evil, evil that is not a mere cosmic force, but who is a personal being, an intelligent and powerful one, who has many names and assumes many faces so as to deceive and destroy. The devil is capable of inflicting us harm in many ways, but normally and more efficiently he acts in this world inducing us to abandon the side of God, to cease in the struggle to be holy, to leave the life of union with God by abandoning the life of prayer. He is the Tempter, and it is through temptation that he deceives and drags more souls hellbound.

Temptation in itself is not a sin, as we know; but one has to keep well in mind that between temptation and sin there is a fine line. Being realistic as a Christian entails accepting that life is of temptations: life is never a straight line. Christians of the Middle Ages had marble labyrinths etched on the floors of the great cathedrals that they built, not for any magical or esoteric reason, but rather to enunciate this fact: it is a journey through countless twists, turns and dead ends, but that finally leads to the center, the end of a long and difficult journey.

We ought not see temptation as a mere invitation to sin, though effectively it is. In Jesus Christ, this becomes an opportunity to defeat the Evil One. St. Augustine of Hippo, himself not a stranger to temptation, writes thatno one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except after an enemy or temptations”. A temptation is not merely an invitation to go down and bite the dust, as Satan would have us do; aided always with the grace of God—and our common sense—it is an opportunity to trust in the power of grace over wickedness, and rise up.

Faced with temptation, no one is ever alone, though the Devil would have us believe that we are. Commenting on his own experience of grace, St. Augustine comments that “the one who cries from the ends of the earth is in anguish, but is not left on his own”(Commentary on the Psalms). Ages back, St. Paul had said in the same vein: “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more”(cfr. Rom 5:20). Always and in everywhere, the grace of God is ready for us, for as long as we ask for it in the opportune time. It is also very important of course to always avoid any occasion that could induce us to sin. If one plays with fire, as they say, expect to be burnt. Much common sense is needed for sanctity.

Finally, the episode of Jesus being tempted in the desert ends in victory; and this should be something that urges us on in the struggle. I would end by turning once again to the Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine: If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Here are some excerpts from the Holy Father's Wednesday audience yesterday, which also happened to be the first day of this season of Lent:

...Using an expression that has become customary in the Liturgy, the Church calls the season we have entered today “Lent”; that is, the season of 40 days; and with a clear reference to Sacred Scripture, she thereby introduces us into a precise spiritual context.  Forty, in fact, is the symbolic number that the Old and New Testaments use to represent the salient moments in the life and faith of Israel. It is a number that expresses the time of waiting, of purification, of return to the Lord, of knowledge that God is faithful to His promises. This number does not represent an exact chronological period of time, marked by the sum of its days. Rather, it indicates a patient perseverance, a long trial, a sufficient length of time to witness the works of God and a time when it is necessary to decide to accept one’s responsibilities without further delay. It is a time for mature decisions.

....This ambivalence, a time of special closeness to God -- the time of first love -- as well as a time of temptation -- the temptation to return to paganism -- we surprisingly rediscover in Jesus’ earthy sojourn; naturally, however, without any compromise with sin. After His baptism of penance in the Jordan -- when He takes upon Himself the destiny of God’s Servant, who renounces himself and lives for others and takes his place among sinners in order to take upon himself the sin of the world -- Jesus goes into the desert and remains there for 40 days in profound union with the Father, thus repeating the history of Israel, all the rhythms of the 40 days or years I mentioned. This dynamic is a constant during the earthly life of Jesus, who always seeks moments of solitude in order to pray to His Father and to remain in intimate communion, in intimate solitude with Him, in exclusive communion with Him, then to return among the people. But in this time of “desert” and of special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of the Evil One, who proposes another Messianic way, one distant from God’s design, for it passes by way of power, success, and domination and not by way of the total gift of the Cross. These are the alternatives: a Messianism of power, of success, or a Messianism of love, of self-gift.

...This situation of ambivalence also characterizes the condition of the Church as she journeys in the “desert” of the world and of history. In this “desert,” we who believe certainly have the opportunity to have a profound experience of God, who strengthens the spirit, confirms faith, nourishes hope and inspires charity. It is an experience that makes us sharers in Christ’s victory over sin and death through His Sacrifice of love on the Cross.  But the “desert” is also a negative aspect of the reality that surrounds us: aridity; the poverty of words of life and values; secularism and cultural materialism, which enclose people within the worldly horizons of an existence bereft of all reference to the transcendent. This is also the environment in which even heaven above us is obscured, for it is covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, also for the Church today, time spent in the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, for we have the certainty that God can make the living water that quenches thirst and brings refreshment gush forth even from the hardest rock.

The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


One evening a week ago I was entering the chapel at home at the end of the day when Alfonso, another occupant of the residence I live in and who’s taking up morals (that is, Moral Theology) in the same Faculty that I study, took me aside to tell me that he was planning an excursion that weekend. He had already talked about it with Ricardo, another housemate from Peru. There were no concrete plans yet as to where the destination would be. I readily said yes and some days later, as I was passing by the two in the corridor in between classes, Alfonso told me that the plan was to go to Belchite, a town located some kilometers south of Zaragoza, about an hour and a half drive from Pamplona. The town was known for being the site of a siege during the civil war between Spanish republican and  nationalist forces, which left great part of it in ruins. Months after the siege, when the town was back in nationalist hands, Francisco Franco while promising to rebuild the town immediately next to where the old town stood, decreed that the site of the siege not be rebuilt, as a memorial of what had taken place during those days between the last days of August and the first days of September 1937. The passage of time and the added pilferage of the townsfolk, who recycled building materials, made for the steady deterioration of the buildings. The old town gradually became abandoned and derelict, though people would come to visit the sight, be they tourists or sympathizers of either republican or nationalist ideologies.

Due to the bloody history of the place, it had become the mecca of some occult practitioners and experts in psychic phenomena. The town had emerged from obscurity at one time because of the audio recordings of bombs and planes, as well as recognizable and distinct human voices that seem to come from the actual siege, done sixty or seventy years after the event.

The prospect made me look forward to going there. We went, the five of us, Alfonso, Ricardo, Francis from India, Eugene (Philippines), and I, leaving Pamplona at nine in the morning and arriving at the place by eleven or so. I could observe the barren terrain that stretched for miles around the place as soon as we left Zaragoza. I surmised that it would’ve been very difficult to escape, seeing that there was nowhere to hide in, since the town was settled in a barren expanse of brush, sand and rocky hills, everything was so dry. As we neared the place I could see that nothing much was left of the old town. What the war had spared, time and the elements had shown no mercy. A few structures barely stood, such as the original entrance to the town, another arch at the other end, a handful of what used to be the important buildings of the town, and the three church buildings, their towers still standing, pointing to the heavens like accusing fingers, from where the most of the destructive bombs had come.

We had a guide, who told us about the history of the siege and began to point out certain key locations as we began to make our way through the ruins. The main streets of the town where still well marked.

I’m not psychic, but I fancied having a very feeling while I made my way through the streets. Belchite in its heyday was the second most important town after Zaragoza; its location made it an ideal setting for the republicans to prove to the international community that it had an army capable of carrying out an offensive. The attack was actually against the nationalist forces that were entrenched in the town. 

When the siege began on the 24th of August 1937, there scarcely 3,000 defenders in the town, against 30,000 republican soldiers who tried to penetrate and attack the town. For more than a week, with the death toll rising rapidly on both sides, the defenders tried to keep the invaders at bay, the latter trying to advance one house at a time. The town was practically cut of from the outside world, making the situation horrendous for the unarmed civilians within—men women and children, whom by the end of the siege would be dead by the hundreds. We came upon the town square where the guide told us that soon after the siege the survivors were faced with the grisly task of collecting the hundreds of corpses of the fallen, pile them up in the center and burn them. what had remained imprinted in the collective memory of the people who witnessed the spectacle were the streams of blood that ran down the street below the plaza. As the fire gradually consumed the cadavers, the blood began to be mixed with the streams of sizzling human fat that came from the burning pyre. It was would be an understatement that the stench could’ve been horrible. I was looking at the street were the blood and the liquids ran that day, and I shuddered.

We went through every place in the old town. It reminded me of pictures of Sarajevo (or Warsaw, as a Polish housemate commented after having seen the pictures). Eugene, a Scripture scholar, murmured something about the book of Lamentations.

Walking among the ruins of what was once a bustling human settlement was eerie, especially after knowing that a lot of lives were lost in this place, a lot of blood was shed, a lot of hate and violence unleashed. Like the blood that had stained its streets, whose stench is difficult remove, to the years had not erased the foreboding that still hung in the air, or at least it seemed to me. It appears that the place had been doomed forever to disintegrate slowly. I could imagine that the people who had lived through all of the hell of those days—which this blog entry had poorly tried to convey—had just tried to forget and move on, something which I think is virtually impossible.

The visit had struck us all, undoubtedly. Speaking for myself, it was an unforgettable experience, and I had gotten many things from it. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

NOW IS THE ACCEPTABLE TIME! Considerations at the start of the season of Lent

The words of the Apostle Paul stir us once again as we enter into the liturgical time of Lent. This is another of the means that the Church proportions to us as an aid in the work of our sanctification. This is one thing that we have to keep in mind as we begin this tiempo fuerte, as they say it in Spanish, this opportune time. It’s a fact that many people look to Lent as a time of penance, a time of sacrifice, self-denial, mortification and good works. A lot of us associate this season with meatless Fridays and violet vestments. All of these is correct, however, when we think that this all there is to this liturgical season, we would be giving more attention to the wrappings of the gift rather than to the contents of the gift itself. For truly, Lent is a gift given to us by the liturgical tradition of the Church; it is a time set aside especially so that we may live more intensely our vocation to holiness. Lent is all about sanctification; it’s about making oneself more beautiful, not merely through one’s effort, but also importantly with the grace that comes from the Lord, without whom we can do nothing, apart from whom we cannot bear fruit (cfr. Jn 15: 5).

Responding to the universal call to holiness is what Lent is all about: all of the traditional practices that we have have their root in this. We fast and abstain, not because we want to be hungry, but because we wish to atone for our sins, which are obstacles to the grace of God, and to disciple ourselves. we live mortification more intensely, not for any masochistic reason—because we love to inflict pain ourselves—but rather because we want to unite ourselves with the passion of the Lord on the Cross, which is the only way to holiness. We put more effort in living the virtue of charity, because in doing so we begin to be more like God, who is love (cfr. 1 Jn 3:14).

As St.Paul had expressed it, there is no better time in responding to this call to be holy than the present moment. In God there is no past nor future, only the present. As they say, God, for all of His omniscience, His being all-knowing, knows only adverb of time: NOW. Saying “yes” to God’s call to share His life, even while still here on earth (making our life a prelude to Heaven), means accepting it NOW. We have to respond positively to this invitation in the “now” of my daily, present condition, whether as a student, a banker, a teacher, a parent, a spouse, a priest, a policeman,  a politician: each in his or her own particular circumstance in life; concretely: in one’s dealings with other people, in one’s job, in how one uses his free time, in one’s conversations with others. But all of these will have their foundation in the most important relationship that he or she could ever have: that intimate relationship with the Lord.

I would wish to share with you certain insights that I myself have received as a fruit of prayer and reflection. Lent is a time so rich that prudent planning and much attention could allow us to live these Lenten weeks (there are five at least) to our best advantage, not only spiritual, but also (and why not?) human.

1.      As we begin to climb this sacred mountain towards the peak that is Easter, let us be aided by how the ancient Christians, as we could see from the teachings of the Church Fathers have understood Lent. Earlier on we have mentioned that everything is rooted in our struggle towards holiness. For Christians, back then as nowadays, holiness is none else but identification with Christ, and initially, there is no other time when the Christian is so much like Christ than in his or her baptism. Lent is the long journey that early catechumens (people preparing themselves for baptism) had to make before being baptized. One has to walk for forty days and nights through the hot and arid desert of repentance, before being able to be submerged in the waters of new life and grace, which are those of the sacrament of baptism. All throughout Lent, we walk under cover of darkness, until we come at last to the celebration of that morning that knows no end: Easter, when the whole person is bathed in the light of the Risen Christ. No wonder that the early Christians—especially those from the East—also considered it as the Illumination: one closer step into sharing the divinity of God. In baptism we have been inserted into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: we die with Him and we rise with Him to new life. Lent therefore is a time for us to be reminded of the promises that we had made (through the faith of the Church) in Baptism, which we have repeated in Confirmation, and which we renew in the Eucharist: to reject sin and to accept a life lived in God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To live as a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ that is the Church, and as the temple where the Spirit of God has His home.

2.     And talking about us being temples of the Holy Spirit allows us to be reminded also of the fact that God nearer to us than we to ourselves, according to that famous phrase of St. Augustine, that great lover of the Lord. This ought to encourage us to go to Him more often in prayer, most especially during this time: Lent is decidedly a time of prayer and for prayer. Prayer is nothing more than being with the One who loves as the most, paraphrasing the words of another great lover, St. Teresa of Avila. It’s not all about methods or techniques or formulas (though these may help): prayer is more about BEING; it’s saying “Lord, I’m here”! It’s imitating Mary our Mother who said “behold the handmaid of the Lord”. What better example of prayer could we have than our Mother, who was always there in the silence of God’s presence, listening, contemplating, in worship. It is a privileged time for us to talk to the Lord about our own struggles, of those whom we hold dear, of those who make us suffer greatly; a time to express to Him our dreams and our hopes, a time to ask for strength, to be invigorated. God’s presence always energizes, always gives strength. Didn’t he not say: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are burdened, and I will refresh you”? What heart could reject such an invitation? Lent gives us the opportunity to rest in God praying. It is always a good idea to take advantage of retreats usually given during this time: these are small pockets of prayer. With these, we could also establish similar pockets of prayer throughout our day: what are five minutes, fifteen minutes that we take off from our daily schedule? With five, fifteen or even thirty (depending on one’s condition and schedule) minutes with the Lord, we have nothing to lose; on the contrary, we have a lot to gain.

3.     Lent is a time for living the virtue of charity, especially with others, more intensely, remembering that charity covers a multitude of sins (cfr. 1 P 4:8). The Holy Father, as is his practice every start of Lent, has addressed to each of us a letter, in which he precisely encourages us to live these days of Lent concerning ourselves not only with our own needs, but also with those of the people who live around us. But this concern is not only limited to material needs; it is also important that we help each other out in our personal struggle to live our common vocation to be holy. It is not enough that we practice the corporal works of mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead); it is precise that we do the spiritual works as well (counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead). Pope Benedict XVI observed that “today in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters” (Message for Lent 2012). We have been inattentive of the fact that the brother or sister beside us is not only a body, but he is also an embodied spirit, a creature with a rational soul that needs to be placed in contact with God’s grace, a soul that also cries out for salvation. Whenever we try to bring not only ourselves but also our loved ones into the right path, always with love and affection, keeping far from an arrogant, know-it-all and holier-than-thou attitude; whenever we make it easier for others to encounter Christ, THEN, we could say that for one part, we are living well the spirit of Lent. That we excel in love is important, for what is a Christian without love? These days, here in Pamplona, we are having perfectly blue skies, but very cold weather, such that even the sun is incapable of warming us on the street. For a Filipino (as I have commented to a Spaniard friend), a sun that does not warm one up is unthinkable: so is the Christian who does not love. In what concrete way could I live more intensely this concern for others?

4.     One cannot talk enough, of course, of the fact that Lent is also a privileged time of reconciliation with God. When was the last time that you confessed? When was the last time that you hurled all that baggage that you’ve been carrying for so long, into the bottomless abyss of Divine Mercy? Nobody can cast that weight from you but yourself; nobody can heal your burdened heart than God Himself.

My prayer is that the end of this season of penance may find us with lives patterned after the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and with hearts that are pure so as to be able to celebrate with joy the feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord.
22 FEBRUARY 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012


As we begin our reflection for this 7th Sunday in ordinary time, it seems to me that a common theme could be observed all throughout the past Sundays in which we have reflected on the weekly Word that is celebrated in the liturgy. This theme we see once again in the Sunday readings. At the very heart of the preaching of Jesus was the coming of the kingdom of God. It was to be a kingdom unlike any other that the Jews, to whom his preaching was first directed, had ever known, but one that they have long been anticipating. It was to be a new era of peace, wherein everything that the people of Israel had lost would be restored, where all of the prophecies concerning the recovery of Israel’s former glory would be realized and even surpassed; it was one that would be accomplished by the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. The Jews were thinking that this restoration would come through external structures and through an epic revolution. This was one reason why they were greatly confused and scandalized when they understood that it was not to come from there. The basis of their hopes we could hear in the First Reading, where the Lord declares to Israel the renovation that he was to make of the present state of things: See, I am doing something new! In the desert I make a way; in the wasteland, rivers. This renewal is the sure step towards the salvation that God gives as a gift to man, for when before there had been a seemingly endless expanse of deserted land, now there is a way that limits it; where before everything was lifeless, now life is promised because of the waters that flow through it. It is important for one to be made new in order to share in this salvation promised by God.

This renewal, as people would learn, and as the Lord Jesus himself would announce in his preaching, was not to come from without: it was a renewal that would start from within, one that would only begin when the greatest obstacle to the coming of the kingdom has been removed, one that is none other than sin. From the onset, one realization that could be had from the Word of God today is that sin is a firm obstacle to this renewal. Basically, taking away this obstacle from our lives, in order to be renewed is nothing more than undergoing conversion. This is at the root of the Christian life. Conversion is nothing less than responding to this call of renewal that starts from within. It is taking heed to the imperative call that tells us to change the direction which until now we had been taking: before, we had been going our own way, much like sheep without a shepherd; now, heeding the call of Christ, we change course in order to follow Him more closely. Conversion, renewal is the prime law of the Christian vocation, for it means nothing else other than following Christ, and following Christ means rejecting everything that is not of Christ: sin. With this in mind, one could understand the urgency of the message of the psalm, which says: Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you!

As we may have pondered last Sunday, sin holds this destructive power over us; much like in the case of the paralytic of today’s gospel, it deprives us of the strength to do good and to live in freedom as we should. Only the merciful love of God can restore the vitality that we have lost by sin; it is a love that we see in the person of Jesus Christ, whom we come to touch most especially in the sacraments. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, give us the strength to live according to the love of God, because they bring us the gift of grace. Much like what the waters of a river do to an arid wasteland, grace revives and nourishes the person, proportioning him with the more strength to live according to the freedom of the sons and daughters of God

Furthermore, grace sustains us in the struggle to follow Christ always. Conversion is not a matter of the moment: it is the work of a lifetime. Every moment gives us the opportunity to face Christ, to start all over again if we fall down, and to renew our commitment to take up our own cross (whenever it slides off our shoulders due to our own lack of faith) and follow Him. The everyday struggle of following Jesus in our daily life should not make us lose heart at the sight of the difficulty that it poses to us. The Second Reading, taken from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, shows us that God is faithful, and that His fidelity is our guarantee that the means to victory over sin and death will always be at our disposal. After all, He has put his seal on us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a just installment.

These are considerations that could as well help us as we prepare ourselves for Lent, which is a specially indicated time for personal conversion, a daily struggle of a lifetime, in which the aid of God’s grace and the strength of the Spirit would never be lacking.

May the Lord Jesus be our constant companion and model as we continue to heed his call to be holy like the heavenly Father, a vocation that is translated into the effort of renewal and conversation in every moment of our lives. Amen. 

FIRST READING: Is 43:18-19; 21-22; 24b-25
GOSPEL: Mk 2:1-12

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Perhaps one of the most moving scenes of the Gospel—the narratives of the evangelists are full of them—is the one that we have this Sunday, the sixth in Ordinary Time. In the encounter between Jesus and the leper, we can almost feel the tension between the latter (whose name is not mentioned, but who is rather known through the condition that he suffers), driven by his need to be healed, and the Lord Jesus, who is moved by compassion. Were we to place ourselves in the skin (no pun intended) of the leper, we would be able to understand his desperate plea to the Lord: “If you wish, you can make me clean”. We are all aware what being a leper in biblical times means; the First Reading, taken from the book of Leviticus, which explains the laws by which the people of Israel would have to live by, shows how people stricken with skin disease—especially leprosy—are to be treated: he was to keep his garments rent, his head uncovered, and his beard muffled; he was to advertise the fact of his ailment to others, so that they would keep far away from him; furthermore, he was to live outside of the settlement, rejected, until he is healed of the disease (though if one were to be truly stricken with leprosy in those times, there was very little hope for that). In a few words, to be stricken with it was not merely shameful (the rent clothing, the shaved and uncovered head, the muffled beard—a sign of manly beauty—and the public advertisement of uncleanliness were all indicative of the public shame that the sufferer had to bear); the leper was actually regarded dead. True, the deformed and degenerated state of the sufferer merely reminded everybody that he was on his way to the grave. As I write these words, my eyes rest on a beautiful painting which captures the scene. At the feet of Jesus one sees the leper. Barely dressed in a shroud-like garment, he appears as if he rises from the tomb to new life.

New life. For the leper, this was what the Lord was for him when he happened to pass by. Everything seems doomed for the tomb until he prostrates himself before Jesus and makes his request, moving in its humility, and yet full of faith. Jesus, moved with pity, stretched out his hand, touched him and said: “I do will it. Be made clean”. The result was immediate: the disease instantly left him, and he was made clean.

The fact that the leper didn’t have any name invites us to see ourselves within the skin of the leper. Like him, we are also known for our weaknesses; before the Holy One, all of us stand as sinners: filthy, ragged, impure, walking carcasses. For all the glamour and attraction that it may use to tempt us into sin, the devil, the flesh and the world will always leave us like the leper: with garments torn, our heads shaven like criminals, and our own beauty marred, we are nothing more like the garbage and refuse thrown outside the walls. Sin makes us ugly; not only does it uglify, but it also divides. Not only does it divide, but in the final instance, it kills: it destroys the life that God has placed in our hearts, it disfigures His likeness in our souls, and thwarts the plan that he has for each of us.

And so, like the leper, we go to Jesus, who is always for us with a heart full of compassion and pity. Compassion and forgiveness has this power to rebuild what has been torn down. In the sacrament of Confession the Lord patiently waits for us. In a society bombarded by showy senate trials, one could appreciate that in the confessional we could find the only tribunal in the world wherein one’s sincere declaration of guilt acquits him of his crimes.

It is in the sacrament of Confession that Christ does what he did in the gospel: he stretched out his hand, touched and said to him, “I do will it. Be clean”. In this marvelous sacrament, the Lord extends his hand, the divine Healer touches us, and through His word, makes us clean. The forgiveness of sins is not done through mere wishful thinking. Through the ministry of the Church, the Lord grants us pardon and peace, as the formula of sacramental absolution reminds us. In the ministry of the priest—a sinner like all of us, in the same need of God’s pardon—Christ continues to touch, heal, pardon and strengthen. What more direct way could there be of knowing the Good News of God’s mercy, when we can hear the words of divine pardon through the mouth of the priest? Could there be any more direct way of making our confession, when we are really sure that we are heard, and we ourselves hear the words “I absolve you from your sins”?

In order to see this one precisely needs the faith that comes from God; the grace to believe in that forgiving WORD that has made itself flesh and that dwells among us, this time in the ministry of His priests, in the ministry of His Church. The confession of sins is a confession of faith, the same faith that pushed the leper to say “If you wish, YOU can make me clean”. It is precisely for this reason that it was the Lord’s will that the forgiveness of sins be done through the ministry of those whom He had chosen to continue His work on earth.

With Christ touching us through this sacrament, the life of grace is restored to us: we are brought back to life. St. Irenaeus once said, “the glory of God is man truly alive”. We cannot give glory to God while remaining in the death of sin. However, with lives animated by God’s grace, we could live according to the way St. Paul admonishes us in the Second Reading, in the letter to the Corinthians: whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

May the example of the leper move us always to go out and encounter Christ in the sacrament of Confession, so that in receiving the forgiveness of sins, we may be able to give praise to God with pure lives, and express the joy of salvation that lies in our hearts through works of love toward our neighbor. Amen.

FIRST READING: Lv. 13:1-2, 44-46
SECOND READING: 1 Cor 10: 31-11:1
GOSPEL: Mk. 1: 40-45.

"I am the Immaculate Conception"

These words, uttered in her day by an illiterate peasant girl from the south of France, caused a lot of commotion among the faithful merely four years after the solemn proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It seemed to be the heavenly confirmation of the article of faith solemnly defined in Rome in 1854, something of which Bernadette Soubirous knew absolutely nothing about. 
The apparitions of Mary at Lourdes would also seem to inaugurate, in more recent times, the frequent  pattern observed with respect to Marian apparitions of the Twentieth century: that the visionaries are either  women or children or both. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

In Commemoratio Mortis Pii XI


Pius XI died today, seventy-three years ago


his magisterium was very prophetic. 

One thing is certain today. Since the close of the Great War individuals, the different classes of society, the nations of the earth have not as yet found true peace. They do not enjoy, therefore, that active and fruitful tranquillity which is the aspiration and the need of mankind. This is a sad truth which forces itself upon us from every side. 

For anyone who, as We do, desires profoundly to study and successfully to apply the means necessary to overcome such evils, it is all-important that he recognize both the fact and the gravity of this state of affairs and attempt beforehand to discover its causes. 

This duty is imposed upon Us in commanding fashion by the very consciousness which We have of Our Apostolic Office. We cannot but resolve to fulfill that which is so clearly Our duty. This 

We shall do now by this Our first encyclical, and afterward with all solicitude in the course of Our sacred ministry

Ubi Arcano Dei


It might sound like an anachronism but yes, it took place during the first months of 2012: February to be exact. No, it wasn't exactly a war. But yes, it was an international event. Mexico, India, the Ivory Coast and the Philippines were very well represented in it, especially the last one, who had a lot more weighty representation.

Actually I was referring to the snowball fight we had this morning in the park near the residence. Pamplona, like the greater art of Europe, had been abetted for days by frozen winds coming from Siberia, and the winds brought heavy clouds with them, shepherding them like a huge flock of sheep above Europe. and these "sheep", once in place, let loose their precipitation. Snow fell heavy yesterday in many parts of Europe, but this morning snowfall was more than sufficient to leave Pamplona blanketed with snow, leaving us with a unique Sunday treat. I was supposed to have ordered my room today, but the enthusiasm of my companions, some of whom have never experienced snow, got the better of me and I headed out with them to spend the morning frolicking and throwing snow at each other. I received a good number of snowballs in the face. I never suspected that some could be so rabid in throwing things at others. I guess that's one thing that too much pent-up pressure causes in a person due to too much study. I was joking when I said that. 

But anyway, we were three Filpinos in the group. And where Filipinos are, there's always bound to be a camera. And Fr. Jim Cerezo had brought along his handy SLR camera, which produced a lot of good photos. 
No, this wasn't in our backyard, though I would've wished
 it could've been. I just kinda like the picture.

The belligerent nations

in action

Saturday, February 4, 2012

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: THE GRACE OF GOD'S TOUCH

Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?

Though this may seem like the status in someone’s wall in Facebook or Twitter account, it does express one reality of the life that we have on earth. As we enter into the readings this Sunday, the evident pessimism in the book of Job would strike us as something quite actual. It is true that life is beautiful and precious, but oftentimes this all the more seems to accentuate the also the fact that not everything in life is rosy. Yes, life is beautiful BUT…there’s always that “but” in everything that we could say about life. This shows how the ancient author of the book of Job knew much about life: the wisdom books of the Bible show us that the life we have here is not perfect, nor can it ever be; the perfection that we can ever perceive and contemplate in this plane of existence is finite, that is, limited and always flawed.

In a society that is governed by laws that are supposed to give to each his due, we have to accept the fact that full justice could never be served. In a world wherein all of us have made a common cause to fight against poverty and hunger, we have to be realistic enough that we could never end with poverty in this life; we could only try as much. The human mind can never be satisfied fully by the manifestations of beauty offered by the arts, nor man’s hunger to know more ever be fulfilled here in this life.

This is the reality that Job in the First Reading shows us. Contemplating this panorama is enough for us to wish for death, for truly enough, the contemplation of the harsh reality of life is an invitation to discouragement and despair.

But the liturgy, though wishing us to keep in mind this reality, suddenly changes its mood as we come upon the Responsorial Psalm. It seems to take us by the hand in order to direct our trustful gaze to the Lord, a trust that finds it full expression in the psalmist’s song: Praise the Lord, who heals the broken hearted! Broken hearted we may be for many reasons, not only because Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and we have no one to share it with (I’d say most of the time being alone on that day could be better), but there is never any reason that is good enough for the follower of Christ to be discouraged or be found lacking in hope.

We find the reason for this in the Gospel. Last week we have contemplated on how the words of Jesus affected people with its authority and power. This Sunday we are invited to look at the power and the grace that flowed not only through his words, but also through his touch. The Gospel presents to us a panorama of a suffering humanity: people afflicted with disease, possessed by unclean spirits, people burdened with their doubts, with their problems, with despair. In the midst of this crowd, Jesus passes and touches them. He takes Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and heals her; people bring him their sick, and they are made whole by his touch. By his very presence the possessed are freed from their demons.
Christ healing the mother of Simon Peter 
by Bridges, John (fl.1818-1854)

In scriptural tradition these wonders are indicative of God’s presence among his people: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the poor have the good news preached to them (cf. Is 35:5/ 61:1/ Lk. 7:22; Mt. 11:5). In Jesus Christ, God touches man and makes him whole; God, who created the universe out of nothing, and imprinting on it that goodness that comes from Him, restores a broken creation to its original goodness.

This is virtually the Good News of our salvation: God had touched us and we can touch God, in Jesus Christ, who is the perfect image of the invisible God (Col 1:15); he is the EMMANUEL! God-with-us! Despite of its imperfection, there is life and hope to had in the world; there is beauty, there is reason to be glad and to be hopeful, no matter how ugly things may turn out to be, because we have been embraced by God in Jesus, and in Jesus Christ, God’s face can be caressed by human hands.

In our life, this presence of the Lord comes to us in the sacraments, sacred signs through which the Lord enters into contact with us in a way that actually affects us. That is why it is important for us Christians to be constant in our reception of the sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist and Confession. These sacred signs, these sacraments, usher into our lives the very presence of Christ, source of all joy and peace, the firm rock upon which we may stand as we continue to walk through life with its storms and crises. Furthermore, of no lesser importance is the life of constant union with the Lord that we must have, which is no other than prayer. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us how important it was for him to be always united with His heavenly Father: Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed (Mk. 1:35)

Despite of the drudgery of life, God is with us! This is the Good News to which the Apostles, and then the first Christians, and through them, the Church—catholic  and apostolic—had entrusted their energies in preaching. In the Second Reading, This is why one could just understand St. Paul when he exclaimed: Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Cor 9:16). This news is too beautiful, too great to be kept personal. Paul—and the Church with him, both then and now—understood the wonderful novelty that this message presented, that it simply had to be shared.

This leads us therefore to reflect if we have recognized this presence of Jesus Christ, and have invited Him into our lives. Not only will his presence make us see things in a different light, but will move us to share it with others, not necessarily through our words, but importantly with our lives. “Preach the Gospel always” said St. Francis of Assisi, “if necessary, use words”.

May the life of Jesus Christ, that flows into use through prayer and in partaking of His own life through the sacraments, always be our strength to go on through life, and take part in the new evangelization of this world!


FIRST READING: Jb 7:1-4, 6-7
SECOND READING: 1 Cor 9: 16-19, 22-23
GOSPEL: Mk 1: 29-39

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Name two things you would most certainly associate with worship

Name the two things that you would most certainly encounter upon an altar, a Christian one, that is.

Flowers and candles.

Tomorrow would mark another turn in the liturgical calendar, as we would once again be celebrating the Feast of the Presentation. I am well aware of the significance that candles have for this feast, also known commonly as Candlemas, because of the ancient tradition of having candles blessed during this day, and of having these candles brought in procession at the start of the Mass (well, that would depend on the entrance rite that the priest would be chosing). The after the feast, these same candles, blessed the day before, would be used to impart another special blessing, now gaining popularity and usage, at least in the Archdiocese of Palo, I’m not sure in other places, in honor of St. Blase’s day: the blessing of the throats.

As I’ve mentioned, the candles have significance more with them lighted for the feast of the presentation. The candle flame brings to mind the words of Simon when he referred to the Child Jesus whom he held in his arms as the “light to the nations”.  In Butler’s Lives of the Saints the author explains that “we hold these lights in our hands to honor Christ, and acknowledge him as the true light, whom they represent under this character, and who is called by holy Simeon in this mystery, a light for the enlightening of the Gentiles; for he came to dispel our spiritual darkness. The candles likewise express that by faith his light shines in our souls: as also that we are to prepare his way by good works, by which we are to be a light to men”.

Today also we celebrate the World Day for Consecrated Life. I’m thinking that this was the day chosen especially for that due to the connection of religious consecration with the consecration of the Christ-Child at the Temple being celebrated in this feast. This brings me back to the question that I would like to pose in this entry: as symbols on the altar, common signs present in Christian worship, what do flowers and candles speak to us about consecrated life?

By consecrated life I do not only refer to that lived by religious, though they are precisely in the crosshairs of my reflection; I would rather include the reality of the priestly life (of course) and the Christian life as a whole, something that is also (and should be) consecrated to Him.

It’s quite late. It’s nearly eleven in the evening here as I write, my eyes are tired and I’m anticipating the arrival of the cold from that has come all the way from Europe just to bid us a good day tomorrow, with temperatures that could go way down below zero. So this means I’ll be concise. We know that it gives light, and therefore as such has an orientative aspect: the mission to show people not only the way, but also the situation that they’re in.  Between the flame and the darkness that surrounds it there will always be an antithetical relationship: one is to the other because it precisely isn’t what the other is. A consecrated life, while being in the world, isn’t of the world. Going further, the life totally consecrated to God points directly to the life that is to come; this allows us to appreciate why the Church has considered the religious life as one having the mission of the eschatological witnessing. In other words, the religious life—that  lived by the sister and friars (and by priests by extension with their priestly life and celibacy)—point towards the future life wherein the human person would be able to love God directly, wherein human loves would irresistibly drawn towards this Love, which simply irresistible for the heart that has been totally created just for loving.

Once a candle is placed upon the altar, it will serve no other purpose than that of giving light for the services. It has no other function in the cult but to give glory to God. During the first centuries when electric lighting was unknown and were churches were known for their cavernous interior, candlelight was a big help. In this time and age wherein the liturgy is celebrated amidst a blaze of light—the electric kind—candlelight is practically useless, a fact which all the more increases its meaning as an integral offering solely for the glory of God. A person consecrates his life not because it’s useful—he or she could be of use as a religious in the missions of course, but utility is not the first reason for one’s decision to follow God closely in poverty, chastity and obedience. One offers himself totally and exclusively (which is precisely what consecrated means) because he loves God, and in this he gives Him glory.

An ideal candle upon the altar is basically silent. Try celebrating Mass with a sputtering candle and you’ll see how annoying that is. The consecrated life is one that does not share the noise of the world: its distractions, its revelries. It is essentially a silent life, one that has been shaped by silence and is lived in silence, one that is not necessarily characterized by pursed and closed lips, but by a heart that listens, which I might say, could qualify as a good definition of what silence is: Silence is the prayerful attitude of the heart that listens.

Finally, no matter how bright the candle may shine with its flame, the time will always come when it will spend all of its wax and burn itself out. This is perhaps one of the greatest characteristics of consecration: sacrifice, through which the person offers everything to God, without keeping anything to oneself. I have never heard of a candle who had decided not to burn itself out; it was made to be that way. The consecrated soul never keeps anything to itself; once offered, it offers everything and never takes it back. This offering, this consecration is precisely that which assures that the candle continues to burn. The sister, the religious brother, the contemplative, the priest, shines as a light to the community, in the heart of the Church, because he gives and holds nothing back.

And what about the flowers? I jokingly commented to some companions that what people actually place on altars and offer to their loved ones where the reproductive organs of plants, something which is totally true, except that we prefer to regard them as flowers, and not as reproductive organs—or structures, whatever. It’s indicative of consecration as well. What does the offering of a flower mean for the plant? Certain death, since without its reproductivity it would surely perish, being incapable of reproducing itself. The meaning of consecration is not lost on the person who offers himself totally to the Lord; in contrast to the plant whose flowers are offered however, the person does not die, nor does his stock decrease and dwindle. On the contrary it increases exponentially. He becomes even more fertile than if he had withheld his fecundity for himself. This would direct our consideration to the truth that everything offered to God generously returns to us a hundredfold, as the Lord Jesus himself had mentioned in his gospel: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters, or father or mother, or children or lands for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mt. 19:29)

With this reflection, while getting ready to celebrate the feast, just thirty minutes away as of this writing, I doubt that I’ll ever look the same way at the candles and the flowers I see on the altar, and what this says about a life consecrated to God.

Happy Candlemas!!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I think the first encounter that I could remember that I had with this man was really unforgettable. When I was studying first grade in the Don Bosco Technical Institute of Makati I could remember that one day we were made to copy the most important points of the life of St. John Bosco from the blackboard. Nowadays the teacher would’ve just given us photocopies of the biography, which was very precise. I think that was the first lengthy writing exercise I have ever done in my life (perhaps a harbinger of thinks to come), copying the whole biography of that saint from the blackboard during Christian Living class. I remember the anguish that I felt upon seeing the teacher write more lines on the blackboard, and asking myself when this would end.

Of course I won’t write all about my childhood angst here in this short entry, much less against Don Bosco. But I think the experience I have just shared above was known to me alone until now. Children don’t like to be told to write long documents in cursive. As I’ve mentioned, nowadays teachers would’ve given the pupils photocopies (otherwise erroneously known as Xerox copies, at least in the Philippines) of the whole thing, but the question would be if the children would ever learn to write lengthily in their own hand if teachers would always be pampering them. So I think that Ma’am did things with a wisdom that surpassed my years and went beyond the complaints of my then puerile hands.

I remembered that because I realize that this saint has had such an influence in my life. This saint—Don Bosco—has caused a lot of ripples in this side of heaven (I’ve always liked to call this life as such). One of those ripples had reached up to me. I think his influence started from the day I was baptized. I was baptized precisely in the parish dedicated to his name, adjacent to the school were I spent my first years of education (which continue even until now, here in these lands of Navarra), at the Parish of St. John Bosco, given to the pastoral care of the Salesian fathers. I don’t remember much of any influence that I might have had during my stay in DBTI under the same salesians (except for some things, among them the temporal fear of copying long biographies from the blackboard), other from the fact that I positively dreaded facing the elementary department principal, a certain Mrs. Patrimonio, if I remember the name right.

But as a youngster, now gaining in years, I took pleasure in reading the stories about his dreams. As the years went on, I became more fascinated with his life, especially with the story of his vocation to the priesthood. This was true especially during my years in the seminary.

I didn’t mind him much when I finally became a priest, but recognizing him as a priest who dedicated his life to the youth has recaptured my attention. A few days ago I was doing my spiritual reading and came upon a passage that stated that aside from a firm and constant relationship with the Lord—prayer life—charity was the cornerstone of any pastoral undertaking. This man, Don Bosco, had no other pedagogical method in dealing with his youth other than love. This love as the capstone of dealing with the youth in the apostolate is well evident in the Office of Readings, which presents a letter from him, perhaps written and addressed to his sons in the Salesian order:

I have always labored lovingly for them (those whom he calls “his foster children”), and carried out my priestly duties with zeal.

I give you as a model the charity of Paul which he shared to his new converts…
See that no one finds you motivated y impetuosity or willfulness, it is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this is to be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger….

In serious matters it is better to beg God humbky than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listener, and have no effect on those who are guilty.

Excellent advice for a educators from a man who was a confirmed educator all his life…