Sunday, October 4, 2015

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: HIGH FIDELITY

"But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female."

Responding to a question posed to him by the Pharisees, who intended it as a trap, Jesus reiterates the original plan of God for marriage, and reveals the beauty of man's primordial vocation to love. He exposes how the hardness of the human heart could obscure the beauty of the blueprint established by the Creator, and therefore makes the encounter between him and his detractors into a platform to affirm the perennial truth about marriage, the distinction and complementarity between man and woman, and the blessing of family life.

Jesus remits to the account of the book of Genesis, and starts with the distinction between man and woman, a distinction which was meant to lead to complementarity between the two, and which leads to both becoming one flesh. Implicit within this is man's vocation to love: "It is not good for the man to be alone". Loved into existence by the Creator, the human person is a being which would always need to be affirmed fulfilled by the other in love. He and she is called to love, and marriage is a beautiful avenue in which this vocation is fulfilled. In marriage, we see two unique individuals, distinct yet complementary in their masculinity and femininity, precisely because of this, and also out of love, decide to become one flesh. As one flesh, they live for each other. FIDELITY is one characteristic of this unifying love, and it is this fidelity to each other which makes both fruitful in their marriage, allowing them to grow as persons, and allowing new persons to be formed as a fruit of their love. The family therefore becomes something that is founded upon the fidelity of the love between man and woman. 

The readings however do not merely point to the truth of marriage, of what God had intended for marriage to be.  As a reality, married love furthers our understanding of how God himself loves us. In Christ, married love was meant to be a sign of a higher reality: that of God's faithful love for man. As a sacrament, a sign of grace, marriage between man and woman becomes a manifestation of the love of a faithful and loving God towards man. It is a love which is not defeated nor vanquished by man's repeated infidelity or ingratitude. God loves and saves, and he will always do so, because he is faithful. This faithful love has been shown to us in Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, He “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone, as the Second Reading for this Sunday states. Tasting death, Christ therefore opens the gates of paradise to man, who by his infidelity and sin had caused them to be closed shut. God's faithful love, manifested in Christ and in his redeeming sacrifice on the cross, restores us back to life, so that we, who were made never to be alone (as stated in Genesis), would live always in the loving company of God. This is the blessing of which the Responsorial Psalm speaks when it says "May the Lord bless us all the days of our life". We are blessed when we live our days in the company of the one who loves us. 

To end, this Sunday therefore reveals to us not merely the Savior's teaching about the truth of married love, but also how this love between man and woman ought to manifest to us how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. It is a faithful love which is not diminished by our sins, but one which rather calls to remain in the embrace of a God who is loving, merciful and ever-faithful. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015


An immediate reaction that I had upon reading this article was to consult the Catechism and present the official teaching of the Church concerning euthanasia. But on second thought, I could see that here I could do better than just dish out a set definition from an important source. Aside from eliciting the wave of sympathy and support for Jam Sebastian in his bed of pain—something that he really needs, and which we really should give to him at this moment—his plight opens a very good opportunity for us to discuss certain important things related to suffering, death, and the value of life.

I could really try to understand what Jam is going through. All of us have been sick at some point; some of us have been seriously ill, and so we could sympathize and try to understand with what he’s feeling. It’s understandable that such a young man, at a point where life is full of promise and growth, could be left to undergo such suffering and pain. His suffering should be such as to let him ask for death as a final act of mercy.

I salute the courage with which his loved ones, especially his mother, is facing this challenge in their life as a family. There is no doubt to the fact that they also share his pain. I am edified and touched by his mother’s faith and by the strength of her hope, in refusing her son’s request.

One of the concrete consequences of our faith in God and in the Christ whom he sent is our respect for the gift of life, as well as the value with which we hold for it. It is a love for life in all of its stages—from conception to old age, in health and in sickness, until natural death. We know that, whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia (which consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons) is morally unacceptable (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277). This is perfectly clear for all of us. A true Christian understanding of life’s worth would show us that we are not masters of this gift, but stewards. We don’t have the power to create it, to give it…neither is the decision to take it away. What is in our hands, though, is the decision what to make of our life, and thus be able to give an account of it at the end. In our hands is the power to make of our life something beautiful, something worth celebrating, something which is full of meaning.

The issue of euthanasia goes beyond the categorical rejection of thinking that it is okay to decide when life ends, with the intention of being merciful in ending one’s suffering.  It should allow us to consider deeper realizations connected with suffering, with meaning in life, and thus enable us to discover our vocation with regards to the sick, to those who suffer, to those who have not been as fortunate as us with terms of good health.

Inasmuch as we would all choose to be happy, suffering nevertheless is a reality of life. With eyes enlightened by faith we could see that this is a consequence of sin; setting ourselves apart from the source of life, we opt for death, and in choosing to love ourselves than in accepting God’s love, we shrivel up. It’s very easy for us to think that suffering is meaningless. This is not hard to understand, considering that we are in a society which seems to place well-being, comfort and pleasure as its highest goals, the gauge with which true happiness is measured. But the fact is, suffering DOES have meaning, and this is something which people with faith are able to see and appreciate.. Faith in God isn’t something palliative; it’s not supposed to take away the pain. Contrary to that famous statement of Karl Marx, is not supposed to be an opium, a powerful narcotic used to make one oblivious that life is far from perfect. Far from closing our eyes to the realities of life (both pleasing or otherwise), it opens us to see meaning in everything, even in suffering and pain. For us persons, this is important. It is possible for us endure suffering in life, to put up with pain, to learn how to live with it, and even embrace it; however, we cannot live without meaning. We can live with suffering, but without meaning, our life is worthless. It is precisely because we find meaning even in pain that it becomes bearable, and even a path to salvation.

Our faith in Jesus Christ allows us to stand precisely in times like this. Pope Francis, speaking from the heart to people who are no stranger to loss and suffering at the Tacloban Airport during his latest papal visit, pointed to the image of the Crucified saying “Jesus is Lord, and he is Lord on the cross!” Having undergone that painful experience, and being a survivor myself, one could just imagine how comforting it was to learn that Christ had gone before us, had already experienced what we were going through, and so he could save us from a meaningless existence, which could just have ended up in disappointment and futility. There is meaning in suffering because we can never say that we suffer alone. The people whom we love, healthcare workers may even abandon us, but the Lord who had passed through suffering and understands what it means to suffer, to be rejected, to be alone, to be afraid—and even die—will always be by our side.

Furthermore, when we rest our gaze on the Crucified, we realize that even pain and suffering could help us get up. Suffering with the Crucified Lord is redemptive: it always leads us to life. To suffer with Jesus on the cross means to accept the invitation to open ourself up and abandon ourselves into the loving arms of our Father. It means rejecting the temptation to close in on ourself, becoming prisoners of our own pain, a prison from which no salvation will come.

Another thing that Jam’s suffering—and those of many others—should allow us to realize is the important role of those who accompany the suffering: the loved ones of the patient and healthcare workers. I think those in pain, those who are sick need to face two fears: that of meaninglessness on one hand, and abandonment on the other. “Why have you abandoned me?” was the eloquent cry of Jesus on the cross, addressed to his Father, and this is the same cry that is present in the heart of those who suffer. The families and loved ones of the sick and the ill, as well as those who are handicapped, are called to be present to them, to be with them. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are asked not to deny to their patients the gift of the human touch. Inserted with tubes, probed and prodded and subjected to other indignities, patients also yearn for the balm of the human touch, of sympathy, of love. The sick yearn not only to be well, to be relieved of their suffering, but in all things, the deepest yearning is that of knowing that they are loved, embraced and held. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was known for holding the dying in the streets until they gave up the ghost, embracing them until they died. At least, she reasoned, they died knowing that they were loved. What gave them real dignity was not that they were healed (something which was humanly impossible), but that they were loved, at a time and in a place wherein they were subject to gross indignities. Not all of the sick could ever hope of being healed, but all could be loved. Pope Francis once mentioned that more important than bodily healing was the salvation that comes from God, and salvation is nothing else than being held lovingly by the Father.

What a great vocation it is to care for the sick! To be there for them, to be present with them, to hold their hand! I am fond of telling nurses and doctors that theirs is the privilege not only of caring for the sick, but also of being able to touch the Body of Christ in the guise of the suffering. Their work is very much like that of a priest at Mass: the priest touches the sacred Host reverently placed upon the white corporal; doctors and nurses touch and care for the bodies of the sick lying upon hospital linens. Remember: “whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me!” (Mt. 25:40).

These reflections come to me as we are nearing the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is also the celebration of the World Day of the Sick. To defend, value, and love the gift of life in all of its stages: this is the way for every Christian who believes in God and in the Christ whom he had sent; to open our eyes in faith so as to see meaning even in suffering, and to realize that we have the obligation to those who suffer, to become real angels of mercy. These are things which the suffering of Jam Sebastian could very well teach to all of us.

Friday, January 2, 2015


In the Filipino culture, Christmas doesn't only evoke images of gifts and the cheer afforded by Christmas carols. The Filipino also looks forward to celebrating--and hopes to complete--the traditional nine-day pre-dawn Masses celebrated before Christmas. Popularly called the Misa de Gallo, or the Misa de Aguinaldo in Spanish, and Simbang Gabi in Filipino, these Masses basically form a novena of grace in preparation for Christmas. Marian in character, in some places (particularly in the Archdiocese of Palo) they are also celebrated in honor of Nuestra Senora de Belen (Our Lady of Bethlehem). They not only serve to prepare the faithful for Christmas, but in a way it also anticipates it already: white vestments are worn, the Gloria is intoned, and the celebration is joyous, not already in the expectant austerity of Advent.
Here are the reflections that I have shared in my Misas de Gallo, which I celebrated in different parishes  and churches all throughout those nine days before Christmas. I have tagged them as #painit, reminiscent of the hot drinks and food which are sometimes served after these Masses to the people. in truth, as we await in the darkness of faith for the coming of the definitive Christmas, it is also the Word of God that makes us warm and ready for the journey, aside from the gift of the Savior's Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

December 16: PAINIT #1: Today we start the traditional nine-day pre-dawn masses, the Misa de Gallo ( or de Aguinaldo, Simbang Gabi). With these masses we pray as a people that the Christian Faith may continue to burn ardently in our nation. The pre-dawn silence and chill contrasts with the warmth we find the churches all throughout the archipelago, filled with people (especially the young), brightly lit and festively decorated in anticipation for the coming Christmas feasts. The interplay between light and darkness, of the chill and warmth, and the anticipation of the coming dawn teaches us something about our own life of faith. In our present situation we may find ourselves walking amid the gloom of a a cold world. Keeping the faith is struggling to stay awake even though there may be many reasons for us to succumb to sleep, to shine brightly even when we fear that the darkness might engulf us. It means keeping our eyes fixed on the light who is Jesus Christ, to whom John the Baptist gave testimony to. His light pierces the darkness of our world. May the fire of our faith in Jesus Christ keep our communities warm, especially with regard to the more unfortunate, as we look forward to the dawning of the new day of grace. 

December 17: PAINIT #2: The genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of God and Son of Abraham, introduces us into the story of CHRISTMAS. The Lord's family history shows the just side by side with those whose names are notorious in Bible history. This draws us into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation: when God came among us, he chose to enter into human history, not only marked by grace and goodness, but also tainted by human frailty and sin. The Lord did not spare himself from the ugly details of our human reality. He did so in order touch us, and in doing so, save us with his grace. But this touch wouldn't have been possible without the simple "yes" of a humble virgin from Nazareth.
In CHRISTMAS we celebrate the touch of God, of how the embrace of God heals and gives us life. Imitating the "yes" of Mary opens us to this life-giving embrace of the Lord, and cleanses us, no matter what our history has been, despite of what we may have done in the past, in spite of the fact that we are all capable of evil. The Lord enters into our history, let us go out and meet him!

December 18: PAINIT #3: "Fear not, Joseph!" The annunciation to Joseph by the angel about of the condition of his betrothed was a turning point in his life. In the Gospels, Joseph is described as a just man, but the hidden plan of God would've come as a big surprise this holy man, if not a complete shock. Trying to follow the will of God, and living a life pleasing to him does not shield us from doubt and the uncertainty that comes as a part of our present condition as pilgrims on this earth. Joseph's response nevertheless is the one that we have to imitate: it was one of complete trust and docility, one of faith. He may have made plans for his life, for Mary, for the family that he was planning to have. Yet when he came to know that God had other plans for him, like Mary, he gave his "yes" to the Lord. 
The adventure of our life consists in discovering the plan that God has for us, one that is a fruit of his wisdom and love. He will always want what is best for us, and his plans will always surpass our own expectations. Just as God's plans far surpassed what Joseph had thought of for himself, so will the fruit of our unconditional faith and trust in God allow us to see wonders that will go beyond what we have dreamed for ourselves. With St.  Joseph, we learn that wonders are in store, when with our total "yes" to God we place ourselves in his hands, even when we find ourselves surrounded in darkness. Let us learn to trust like Joseph and Mary!

December 19: PAINIT #4: Zechariah is struck mute because of his unbelief in the face of the angel's incredible news, that he was to become the father of a son that he had always wanted. His wife, elderly as he was, was to conceive and bring forth to the one who would announce the coming of the promised Messiah. This old priest was one of those who had waited for the fulfillment of the Lord's promise to his people, the faithful remnant of the Lord's poor. But sometimes, human as we are, even the faithful can get tired and lose sight, to lose hope that such promises would be fulfilled. Perhaps the cause of his unbelief was this fatigue, aside from the seeming impossibility of the angel's message. 
Hope is something that sustains us in the long wait for the Lord's coming. It makes us optimistic and young at heart. Hope does not disappoint, and a youthful heart--of no matter what age--makes us open to the marvels worked by a God of surprises, it allows us to believe in a God for whom nothing is impossible. Our present situation makes hope a necessary virtue. Let us always strive to live it in our daily life, for it drives away useless anxiety and allows us to believe in the power of a loving and merciful God. 

December 20: PAINIT #5: "How can this be?" In contrast to Zechariah, Mary does not challenge the plan of God that was revealed to her through the angel. Zechariah and Mary seem to ask essentially the same question, but they differ from each other: while the priest in the Temple asked for how he and his wife could have a son in their advanced age, the humble virgin from Nazareth inquired of the angel so as to be able to cooperate with the plan of God. "How can this be?" How can I realize this plan that God has for me in my life, seeing my own  circumstance, condition and means?  Mary, though not yet comprehending to the full extent the repercussions that the angel's message may mean for her, totally accepts what the Lord has had in mind for her: "be it done to me as you say!"
We may not fully understand what the Lord wants for us in our life; we may still be uncertain and seem to grope in the dark at times with regards to what God wants of us. At times it may seem that the only thing that we know is that God wants this or that of us, and we may be left without a clue as to how we could accomplish what he wants in our life. THE FIRST STEP IN DOING THE WILL OF GOD IS TO ACCEPT IT WITHOUT RESERVATION, entrusting ourselves fully to his loving providence and mercy.  He will take us by the hand, and guide us step by step, just as he did with Mary. And just like Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord, we shall begin to see the Lord making wonders in us and through us. Let us learn how to accept what the Lord has for us with a trusting heart, confident that he will lead us by the hand! Do not be afraid!

December 21, 4th Sunday of Advent: PAINIT #6: "Do not be afraid, Mary!" Before the great mystery of God's plan of salvation, Mary experiences the fear of the unknown. It s natural for us to be afraid of what we do not know. But Mary, at the words of the angel, steps away from this, and allows herself to fall into the loving hands of God. Despite of the fact that she doesn't comprehend much of what may happen to her, she nevertheless chooses to accept wholeheartedly the plan that God had in mind for her. As the words of her cousin Elizabeth may reveal, she is blessed because she believed and trusted.
We encounter darkness and doubt at many points in our journey in life. These are very much a part of our human reality. But instead of allowIng ourselves to be buried in our doubts, may we learn to see them as springboards to an encounter with the Lord who never abandons us. May we not allow ourselves to remain in doubt, but rather choose to step from it into knowledge of the truth; may we move from darkness into light. Inspired by Mary's faith, may we learn to conquer our fears and the difficulties that beset us, and use these to make us stronger in the Lord!

December 22: PAINIT #7: "My soul magnifies the Lord!" Mary's hymn of praise, done in response to her cousin Elizabeth's greeting "Blessed are you among women!" is a hymn of praise that comes from a humble heart. Mary has been especially touched by God; time and again she has been a witness to the wonders that the Lord has done in her favor. Yet far from being puffed up by so many singular graces, she discovers that her greatness consists in doing everything so that God may in all things be glorified. "Not to us Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory"...these words from the psalms find an echo in Mary's own song of praise.
When we experience the mercy of Go
d, and when we know ourselves to be loved and embraced by his grace, we are able to see how little we are before the Lord. Yet, touched by his power and grace, we also realize that our greatness consists in being little before God, so that his greatness may be made manifest in our smallness. Mary's life is a very valuable lesson in the true meaning of humility: our true greatness consists in being small before God. Only when we are small do we allow the greatness of God be made manifest in us. May the example and powerful intercession of the humble handmaid of the Lord help us to live our littleness before our great God, and thus allow his grace to work in us and through us!