My New Year’s Celebration

Hello everyone! A blessed New Year to all!

As year 2012 ends, for sure, plans for 2013 will come up!

 

Let’s start with the first day of Year 2013 – “What are your plans?”

Photos and Family Memories

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In our Christmas celebration, we also celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph – is a model for every human family today. We are invited to a culture of life which life itself is nourished in every human family and animated by the Spirit of Love who willed that the Savior be raised into a family. And it even calls us to go out and search for the homeless and abandoned to let them live and grow in a family.

Last late night, I had the chance to pore through the family albums we had ever since I was a child – with the help of my Mama. I took time to reminisce those photos and recall those precious memories I had together with my parents, my brother and my relatives. There were photos of family bondings, our Holy Masses together, my first schooling, my first graduation, my bonding with my relatives, smiles and laughters with my brother, school recognitions, excursions and summer outings. I was actually smiling and laughing when I could vividly recall what happened for every photo I saw. At that time, my appreciation of my vocation journey comes with my vivid memory of my family ties.

Right now, I spend my Christmas vacation together with Mama and Michael, while my Papa is still abroad. How I wished Papa wouldhome to celebrate Christmas and New Year with us! Yet, I am still thankful to the Lord that we had a meaningful family bonding this year – Simbang Gabi together, Noche Buena together, and smiles and laughters together. We didn’t have much Christmas decorations in our house. We didn’t prepare much food. It was all celebration with simplicity at its best! We have the Lord as the source of our joy!

For the Year 2013, how I wish many families will go tochurch together, joining hands during the Our Father, and exchange of kisses and hugs during the Sign of Peace! How I pray that amidst a noisy world, I would still feel families praying together the Holy Rosary! How I pray that families sit and eat together – from breakfast to snacks to lunch to dinner (and to even midnight snacks)! How I pray that many vocations will spring from families animated by God’s love! And how I pray that our future Saints will come from strong and intense family ties!

May we all have a Christmas filled with the love of the Holy Family!

Life and Progress

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Yesterday, we commemorated the Holy Innocents who were martyred on the account of the Child Jesus. Yet that celebration calls us to a fundamental response which we, as children of the First Christmas and of the Easter Morn, have to revisit in ourselves.

Months ago, I recalled posting about “Intrigues of Progress: On Ethics in Advertising”. The point I made there was on how we perceive “progress” in terms of “development” in so many aspects. What is interesting is that the problems concerning our society nowadays seemed to have been rooted on how we perceive “progress”. It often leads us to ask the “why” of “progress”.

So? Personally, I observe that on the pursuit of achieving “progress” in our society, one fundamental question (even personal) is attached: “What’s in it for me?” Our ability to ask this question expects us to clarify and evaluate “progress”. Admit it – not everyone has the same notion of “progress”. That’s because we came from different contexts – period (we have to respect that). But what makes us reflect together about “progress” is because of the “why” (not only in the utilitarian sense of it) – together with the question “what’s in it for me?”

And I propose that upon hearing “breakthroughs” in our society, our participation would be to ask questions – clarify and evaluate. We are no longer passive agents of whatever’s-happening-out-there because as individuals, we are more concerned on the search for meaning in our lives – explicitly or implicitly. Then, another important question surfaces: “How can I be facilitated in  my search for meaning in my life?” Interesting!

Practically speaking, there is a need for us to sit down, listen and discern well. We are neither puppets nor robots for use in production mechanism – we are human persons formed “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14) to love and to be loved. Perhaps, this is an important criterion we adopt when we approach “progress”. There is more to love that facilitates the search for meaning than being mere puppets or robots of what’s happening. 

Then, does our notion of progress make us more humane and loving? Interesting!

Witness to Service

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Yesterday, I was supposed to write a reflection about the life of St. John the Evangelist. It turned out, however, that it may take me my whole life to discover a lot about this great Apostle, Evangelist, and above all, the Beloved of Jesus. Of all the Gospel writers, John’s narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry may generally be seen in “mystical eyes” all probably because of its deep theological context. But, among all Gospel writers, it was only John’s narrative that the “Washing of the Feet” was seen. What seems to be interesting here?

Undoubtedly, Jesus’ ministry was a life of service to God and neighbor. All Gospels point out Jesus’ reaching out to the least and the marginalized. All Gospels point out Jesus’ preference to the poor. But John’s narrative of the Gospel creates a kind of cognitive dissonance, so to say, because of the striking aspect in the “Washing of the Feet”. During their time and even now, our feet may prove to be the dirtiest part of our body since almost all dust accumulates first from our feet. Yet what Jesus did was to actually wash the feet of Peter and the rest of the Apostles. He even calls that act a kind of “inheritance”. Interesting!

Hence, for John, being a witness to total service is to reach even the poorest of the poor. Total service is one’s dedication to reach to people who are ignored, neglected, society’s voiceless, avoided, ostracized, despised, and even those who are hated. Love is not only measured by one’s capability to show love to those who are lovable, but also to those who are unlovable and hateful. By this, we begin to have a fruitful encounter of Jesus who brings life to everyone!

To give it a Christmas taste, our calling as Christians is to bear witness to the Child Jesus, bringing Him to everyone, even to those whom we know we would not be treated so nicely in return. It’s like bringing joy and peace to hateful people, to those who will say to us: “You’re crazy!” and to those who threaten us. Service is reaching out to the dirtiest and darkest aspect of human life and reality – and “bringing it into light” (John 3:20-21).

A service-filled Christmas to everyone!

Imagination for Holiness

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Here’s one model who brought imagination for good – St. Stephen.

Christianity had its difficulty being welcomed by the people during the time of the Apostles – just after the Resurrection of Jesus. This so-called “religious movement” was approached with much criticism, and to such extent, persecution. Christians had to struggle being accepted – socially, religiously and politically. In particular, religious authorities kept handing them over to trial – and also to challenge their religious views.

Stephen was no stranger to these. In fact, many religious authorities sought to challenge his views not only from Jerusalem, but also from other cities (cf. Acts 6:9). Or to hear his wisdom? To those who heard him speak, some were not so happy at all. They were disturbed because of his unchallenged boldness. Witnesses, like St. Luke, mentioned that it was “the Spirit” that prompted Stephen for such eloquence (cf. Acts: 6:10) But perhaps one interesting thing here this: how was Stephen able to be an effective recipient of this ‘wisdom’ as prompted by the Spirit?

My personal take on this is perhaps Stephen’s docility to let the Spirit use his imagination. As such, one cannot ‘proclaim’ something if that ‘something’ is not vivid to him. This might explain Stephen’s boldness which penetrated and disturbed those who heard him speak. Stephen’s imagination of the glory of God became so intensely real for him that it was so impossible for those disturbed to stop him, so much so that they had to drag him and stone him to death. Stephen’s vision of Jesus glorified made him numb with the furious reactions of the disturbed because he was already filled and preoccupied in reaching God for what he actually saw.

And yet, another remarkable act on how Stephen imagined God’s glory is observed in his prayer: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (cf. Acts. 7:59-60). At the brink of his martyrdom he mentioned these words – still filled with imagination! He might have imagined once more that God’s glory is when forgiveness reigns. That apart from what others consider God as a “punishing God”, his prayer again affirms a forgiving God.

Hence, Stephen’s heroic virtues remains relevant today, especially for the youth. We just saw how powerful imagination can bring. Those who were infuriated (opponents of Stephen) also imagined – but they imagined without a listening attitude, being noisy at all (cf. Acts 7:57). Such imaginations proved to be life-threatening and destructive. On the other hand, Stephen, who used imagination for good welcomed the Spirit, gave him the vision of the glorified Jesus, and even became a witness of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

And I am beginning to reflect that perhaps, Stephen was martyred at the very ripe of his youth. Even now, his heroism resounds to the youth. That’s why he is a model to the youth! Young people today are perhaps obsessively imaginative. But, what are their imaginations? Good to know. If we have the premise of searching a meaningful life, then we say that if we keep vividly imagining a meaningful life, then we have this sense of hope, fulfilling life. But if we vividly imagine a meaningless life, then it would be easy to have a hopeless, throw-away life.

In a similar way, one becomes either a saint or a sinner because of imagination.

Urbi et Orbi – Christmas 2012

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s Urbi et Orbi Message for Christmas, Year 2012:

“Veritas de terra orta est!” – “Truth has sprung out of the earth” (Ps 85:12).

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, a happy Christmas to you and your families!

In this Year of Faith, I express my Christmas greetings and good wishes in these words taken from one of the Psalms: “Truth has sprung out of the earth”. Actually, in the text of the Psalm, these words are in the future: “Kindness and truth shall meet; / justice and peace shall kiss. / Truth shall spring out of the earth, /and justice shall look down from heaven. / The Lord himself will give his benefits; / our land shall yield its increase. / Justice shall walk before him, / and salvation, along the way of his steps” (Ps 85:11-14).

Today these prophetic words have been fulfilled! In Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, kindness and truth do indeed meet; justice and peace have kissed; truth has sprung out of the earth and justice has looked down from heaven. Saint Augustine explains with admirable brevity: “What is truth? The Son of God. What is the earth? The flesh. Ask whence Christ has been born, and you will see that truth has sprung out of the earth … truth has been born of the Virgin Mary” (En. in Ps. 84:13). And in a Christmas sermon he says that “in this yearly feast we celebrate that day when the prophecy was fulfilled: ‘truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven’. The Truth, which is in the bosom of the Father has sprung out of the earth, to be in the womb of a mother too. The Truth which rules the whole world has sprung out of the earth, to be held in the arms of a woman … The Truth which heaven cannot contain has sprung out of the earth, to be laid in a manger. For whose benefit did so lofty a God become so lowly? Certainly not for his own, but for our great benefit, if we believe” (Sermones, 185, 1).

“If we believe”. Here we see the power of faith! God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh. His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him. Porta fidei! The door of faith! We could be frightened by this, our inverse omnipotence. This human ability to be closed to God can make us fearful. But see the reality which chases away this gloomy thought, the hope that conquers fear: truth has sprung up! God is born! “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67:7). Yes, there is a good earth, a healthy earth, an earth freed of all selfishness and all lack of openness. In this world there is a good soil which God has prepared, that he might come to dwell among us. A dwelling place for his presence in the world. This good earth exists, and today too, in 2012, from this earth truth has sprung up! Consequently, there is hope in the world, a hope in which we can trust, even at the most difficult times and in the most difficult situations. Truth has sprung up, bringing kindness, justice and peace.

Yes, may peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims. Once again I appeal for an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.

May peace spring up in the Land where the Redeemer was born, and may he grant Israelis and Palestinians courage to end to long years of conflict and division, and to embark resolutely on the path of negotiation.

In the countries of North Africa, which are experiencing a major transition in pursuit of a new future – and especially the beloved land of Egypt, blessed by the childhood of Jesus – may citizens work together to build societies founded on justice and respect for the freedom and dignity of every person.

May peace spring up on the vast continent of Asia. May the Child Jesus look graciously on the many peoples who dwell in those lands and, in a special way, upon all those who believe in him. May the King of Peace turn his gaze to the new leaders of the People’s Republic of China for the high task which awaits them. I express my hope that, in fulfilling this task, they will esteem the contribution of the religions, in respect for each, in such a way that they can help to build a fraternal society for the benefit of that noble People and of the whole world.

May the Birth of Christ favour the return of peace in Mali and that of concord in Nigeria, where savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians. May the Redeemer bring help and comfort to the refugees from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and grant peace to Kenya, where brutal attacks have struck the civilian population and places of worship.

May the Child Jesus bless the great numbers of the faithful who celebrate him in Latin America. May he increase their human and Christian virtues, sustain all those forced to leave behind their families and their land, and confirm government leaders in their commitment to development and fighting crime.

Dear brothers and sisters! Kindness and truth, justice and peace have met; they have become incarnate in the child born of Mary in Bethlehem. That child is the Son of God; he is God appearing in history. His birth is a flowering of new life for all humanity. May every land become a good earth which receives and brings forth kindness and truth, justice and peace. Happy Christmas to all of you!

© Copyright 2012 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

The First Christmas

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A blessed Christmas to all!

The First Christmas tells a lot about celebrating our faith in the Lord. And the reason why we celebrate this encounter is because of the Lord Jesus. In the First Christmas, we see the Lord Jesus born in the manger, with Mary and Joseph joyfully praising the Lord for experiencing His love for them and for humanity. Celebrating Christmas is celebrating our faith-experience in Bethlehem, where we see His coming among us in an unexpected way.

FAMILY – I was able to celebrate my Christmas together with my family, although my father is still working abroad. For many days now, I was able to stay with Mama and my brother and spent our time together. We went to attend the Novena Mass together, as well as the Christmas Mass in the evening. I prepared our simple Noche Buena by cooking spaghetti and ham. My Mama and my brother prepared barbecue and hotdogs. We had our special prayers together, thanking the Lord for the graces we received and the gift of family stirred by His love. We don’t have much, but for me it was a Bethlehem-experience – simplicity at its best.

FRATERNITY – Christmas would not be without brotherhood and charity. Part of my celebration of Christmas was to share the Spirit of Christmas through our Christmas Carols, Christmas Sharing with the children, Christmas Party with the youth, and Christmas outreach activity with the youth for the victims of the Typhoon Pablo in Mindanao. Celebrating Christmas opened me to be part of charitable works – with the intention of bringing Jesus to all through sharing. It was also my Bethlehem-experience because seeing the manger reminds me well of Jesus’ oneness with our poor and suffering brethren.

FAITH – My early vacation from the seminary last December 10 made me prepare a lot in celebrating the Simbang Gabi. For the Novena Mass (or Dawn Mass), I served in our chaplaincy – and for me it was meaningful because I was able to keep track of my reflections as I listened to the homilies of my chaplain. My Bethlehem-experience was the past Holy Masses I attended – and it was a meaningful encounter of the Child Jesus. Such Holy Masses reminded me of my true identity as God’s beloved redeemed. The Holy Masses brought me back to the experience of the First Christmas. For this, I am happy and joyful to celebrate this Christmas!

And for all of you, I have put here my Christmas card exquisitely-made from Adobe Photoshop.

“How about you, my dear friend: what were your Bethlehem-experiences this Christmas?”

Simbang Gabi Chronicle #9: SANCTIFY

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Dearest Friends:

Wishes of a happy Christmas to all of you!

I have now come to end my Simbang Gabi Chronicles by reflecting on Zechariah’s Benedictus. In  simple terms, benedictus would mean “blessing” or “sanctify”. Zechariah made such praise after giving the name of his and Elizabeth’s first born child as “John”. Even now, the Benedictus is being recited in the Morning Prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours. But in our simple ways, we can be and are called to become Benedictus to others.

Here in the Philippines, it is customary to address our elders with a “mano po sign. This involves one approaching an elder with the hand and then putting the elder’s hand into the head of the one asking for the blessing. It is one of our esteemed gestures which we treasure and would like to hand-over to future generation of Filipinos. It creates an atmosphere or cordiality, respect, humility, sense of culture and sense of love.

One striking experience I have is among my priest-formators. Before going home for vacation or after arriving from vacation, I see to it that I approach the Fathers and ask for their blessing or the “mano po” sign. To me, it is a treasure that I admire having most. To ask for blessing is a sign of humility and respect. It creates in me a confidence and trust that the elders would wish me well – much as being intercessors in prayer. Sometimes though I tend to exaggerate it, with one experience that reminded me – after one Sunday Mass, I approached the celebrant to ask for the “mano po” sign, but then he told me: “Isn’t the final blessing enough already for you?” I told him: “Ah, Father, because I want more blessings!” This may sound childlike – but I like to have it as part of my vocation journey.

I also experienced imparting the blessing of “mano po” with the children entrusted to me in the Apostolate. Most of them, out from the blue, would run and grab my hand and would ask for blessing. One Sunday Apostolate, I could not yet rest because of so many children who asked for my blessing. I am not certain what they saw in me, but I hope they saw in me Jesus who desires to reach to the children. On another experience, I was able to witness the Baptism of the two youths whom I desired them to have many weeks. From that time on, they would approach my hand and would ask for blessing. My return greetings then would always be “God bless you!” as I have done with those whom I meet.

In this Year of Faith and in this Christmas, we are invited to look upon our Baptism. As we are welcomed in the Family of God, so too we undertake our three-fold ministry: priestly, prophetic and kingly. But all these ministries goes down to one important reality: we are called to be holy and let others discover holiness in them. All of us are created in the image of a loving, holy God. And that is why we need to revisit our identity as beings formed in the holiness of God. Though imperfect, we can be sanctified and sanctify others as well. Sanctifying others does not limit itself on the sacraments (since it would be on the ordained who does them), but also on being a blessing to others in simple things. When we think, speak and act with pure heart and love – this is already a blessing to others. Let us then be a “blessing” to others, leading them to God!

“Do I take time to say ‘God bless you!’ whenever I end a conversation, a meeting, a dialogue or a cordial chat with the people whom I meet everyday?”

Simbang Gabi Chronicle #8: AFFECTION

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Dearest Friends:

Peace and glad tidings in the Lord!

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we were once more led into the narrative of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The whole episode of the visit also leads us reflect another aspect of “telling the good news” – affection. Mary’s meeting with her cousin is an episode of affection which is worth-emulating. The visit itself is a manner of affection which a pure joy shows in the person of Mary. Mary “proclaimed” the good news through her affectionate visit – which is also love.

Come to think of it – many people are in dire need of affection, yet we seem to ignore it like an “eat in the cafeteria”. We keep thinking of doing enormous charitable works which in fact sometimes, affection would be enough as charity itself. All of us are in need of affection, hence, all of us are in need of love. Yet, all of us are capable of “passing on” the affection by showing affection in simple ways. Our presence with a friend in distress is already love. Saying “thank you” to a stranger who helped carry your heavy bags is already love. A text message to a long-time-no-see cousin is already love. A flower given to a committed teacher is already love. A simple tap to a friend who lost a game is already love. All these things are simple, yet they create a cosmic difference – we showed love.

Mary has been “affected” by God’s love. Now, being animated by the Spirit of love, she goes out to “pass on” the affection through her visit to Elizabeth. This Christmas, we are called to be like Mary: when we receive the joy coming from the Lord, it is best not to keep it to ourselves alone, but let others know the presence of the Lord when we show affection. We do not have all the time to plan enormous activities of charity. We can be charitable in simple things. God does not count on accomplishments of big events. What counts on Him is the love we give in simple things. That is the wisdom of God.

“When was the last time I smiled to people I meet everyday?”

Simbang Gabi Chronicle #7: MAGNIFICAT

ImageDearest Friends:

A blessed Christmas to all!

For our seventh day of our Simbang Gabi Chronicles, we listen to Mary’s sweet Magnificat. Out from her pure joy and gladness as she received the Lord Jesus, we hear Mary’s outpouring of praise to the Lord, with her visit to Elizabeth. Such spontaneity makes it so unique and resounds to all of us today – her firm faith is seen in her joy when she exclaimed the Magnificat. It tells a lot about us today – and we are invited to become Magnificat to others as well.

Personally, I have been freshly attracted to the Magnificat ever since I entered the seminary. There have been over seven renditions of the song of the Magnificat composed by our Filipino Artists which I put in my MP3 player. I would always feel goosebumps whenever I hear the song every now and then. It’s like even the song would flow rapidly in my bloodstreams, and then my heart would beat fast. Even when I munch the words of our Blessed Mother, it feels a new breath and a sense of joy to live in. I wonder how Mary was able to put those words in harmony and perfection – both in lyrics and in her spontaneity.

What makes the Magnificat  so unique is that it springs from Mary’s spontaneity and pure joy as she felt the presence of God in her life. She is so full of God, and with God’s presence in her came the joyful song. It is God’s initiative which made her outpouring of her innermost love for God and for all humanity. Definitely, she was not a Pharisee, Scribe, or other religious leaders during her time. But definitely, she is so full of God – in her humility and simplicity!

What does the Magnificat lead us to? It leads us to recognize the presence of God. And in our recognition of Him, let our outpouring become spontaneous and pure. It happens when we stop worrying and preoccupying ourselves with lots of things, and then we let the Spirit lead us to where He desires. Frankly, it is called “faith” – but that faith is a joy-filled faith. Today, it calls us to celebrate faith – not to die trying hard to be religious and righteous (isn’t that the same with workaholism?). Many thought that to obey the rituals would be enough (many died bitter and regretful because of this). Celebrating faith means our celebration of our true identity and uniqueness – and therefore, it has to be Spirit-led spontaneity. We have our God-given talents: why not spend time to discover, enrich them, and let it be God’s hand to let others discover His love? It’s way more than we thought it to be. Worth-pondering.

“When was the last time I used my talents to praise the Lord for His love?”

Simbang Gabi Chronicle #6: TELLING THE GOOD NEWS

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Dearest Friends:

Wishes of peace and happiness!

Last December 21, we are invited to gaze upon the faith that Mary proclaimed when she visited Elizabeth. One aspect which caught my attention was the manner how Mary told the Good News to Elizabeth. That scene captured a heart-warming and touching experience of what it means to proclaim and to share the Good News to others, especially in our challenging times. As we approach Christmas, it has to be our attitude of sharing the Good News to the people we meet because Jesus, born among us, is for all of us!

What makes “telling the Good News” so unique? Take it from our experience: getting good grades from major exams, miraculously passing a board exam, sweet greetings from our loved ones, successful undertakings, good health, being praised and esteemed by friends, and many more – all of these are worth-telling as good news. Perhaps the reason why we share such tales of joy because we are people of Christmas – we multiply the joy we have. Every joy we experience demands being spread – and it’s so natural and most of the time, spontaneous.

Aside from being called “Children of Easter Morn”, we are also called “Children of Bethlehem”. Yes, it is through our faith-experience of Bethlehem that we come to appreciate the joy of Christmas. Perhaps, one of the greatest ironies that we can share in telling the good news is that “there is a King born in the manger”. This could be mind-boggling because it creates a paradigm shift from our usual understanding of a “king being adorned in glory and splendor upon his presence”. Yet, it creates a unique joy because it makes each one wonder what sort of King this might be – and we feel attracted to it.

Hence, our Bethlehem-experience leads us to Jesus himself. The First Christmas may not have been so extravagant and exhibiting, but deep inside our hearts, Christmas is a divine encounter of a hopeful desire in reaching the goal of perfect joy and happiness – amidst this challenging world we live in. In spreading the Good News of our Bethlehem-experience, like Mary, may it bring forth a breath of hope to the persons whom we know are suffering and undergoing severe crisis. Yes, telling the Good News is charity itself. And “being a Good News” to others is charity enough.

“Have I been a Good News to others lately?”

Simbang Gabi Chronicle #5: SERVANTHOOD

ImageDearest Friends:

Blessings of joy and peace to all!

Today, December 20, we are invited to reflect on the narrative of Mama Mary’s Annunciation in the Gospel reading. In particular, we are called to respond to our vocation like Mary’s trusting heart: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Hence, the reality of “servanthood” in a highly-technological world needs to be  reaffirmed and rediscovered during this Christmas season, and in the Year of Faith. Young as she was when her vocation was made known to her, she now serves as the example of the youth today – eager and excited to search for meaning in life.

To reaffirm and rediscover servanthood takes witnesses of service. But given a world permeated by technological developments, there is a need to have a renewed understanding of service. Today, our notion of service as equated with slavery gains a lot of resentment, irritability and indignance. If we are to understand service  with witnessing, I would personally look into it as a sense of legacy. Perhaps, we admire people because they inculcate a legacy which in turn encourages others to dream and have their own legacy to live. First of all, there is legacy because there is something worth fighting for and worth living.

Mary’s servanthood is characterized by her welcome of the Child Jesus in her life. She herself was immersed into the mystery of God’s presence in humanity – and she became a participant to it. Her legacy then was to bring God’s salvation to all when she answered, with a pondering heart, her generous “yes” to the Lord’s call. As evident in the Scriptures, Mary at first did not understand why she was the one chosen and why she, a virgin, have to bear God’s Son. This is the beauty of our faith – and makes us affirm it according to the Spirit dwelling in us. We just have to be open to Him and trust Him.

Perhaps, a good preparation for Christmas season is to open ourselves to the Lord. All of us are in the pursuit of what is meaningful in life. In my experience, I entered the seminary because I desire to have meaning in my life. This desire to pursue religious and priestly vocation would not have been possible if not with the help of the Spirit of God. Yes, it is God’s initiative to call me and lead me to a mission. But it is also His desire to let me see the meaning of my response to His call. I would always ask for it in my prayers to remind me that I have a legacy to live and to hand on to the future generations. Young as I am, I could really feel it. Now, Mary becomes an example to me. I wish I can be like her. I wish I can bring God’s love to people around me, just like how Mary proclaimed her joy to Elizabeth, to the shepherds, and to the Magi.

“When we desire to serve others, what is the legacy we want them to live?”

Simbang Gabi Chronicle #4: IDENTITY

ImageDearest Friends:

Greetings of Christmas to you!

Today, December 19, our Simbang Gabi Chronicle leads us to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in the Gospel. With “identity” as the theme for our reflection today, I cordially invite you to see and feel the presence of God in our lives – how God works in us in special and unique ways. Hence, we are reminded of the psalmist’s song in the Holy Scriptures: “I praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

With the Gospel today and the Psalm, I am reminded of the significance of my name. My parents named me after two great saints: St. John Bosco and St. Francis of Assisi. Up until now, they have been my examples on how I live my Christian faith. Even being named after them is already a gift and a blessing to me. In their lives, they remind me how God loves me so much – and I would love to proclaim it to everybody (amidst my lapses…). I could not just help but notice that this endeavor, a child being named after Saints, is gradually vanishing. It is a puzzle to me that many children are named according to celebrities (good if they serve as good examples) and other peculiar names. Now, what’s going on? What’s happening?

Perhaps, with the influence of social media and technology, we become attracted to what is “popular”, “tasty”, and according to public opinion, rather than on what is essential. We begin to identify ourselves with productivity more than our true identity. We confuse things between our needs and wants. We seek approval based on public opinion and not on the true and real. What happens now is a collapse of the search for meaning, which in turn would cause us to neglect recognizing our true identity as men and women in the image of God. This is catastrophic – and would be one of the greatest tragedies people would see.

But perhaps one of the greatest victories people would experience is to recognize our true identity as the beloved of God. Hopefully this Christmas Season, and the days to come, amidst a busy and noisy world, there would always be courage to stand for life identified in God’s love. This begins when we respect who we are – that we cannot just abuse ourselves and kill ourselves for the sake of getting more. There is more in respecting our growth, rather than in rushing our growth. Everything will fall in its proper place.

That is why if we decide not to screw up our identity by being absorbed by worldly dictates, it would be nice to always draw a demarcation line between what is necessary and what is extra. It takes time but it harnesses our will to search on what is meaningful in our life. After all, when we come to terms with God, He would not be asking us what were our accomplishments. Rather, He would ask us how we lived our life in His image. Christmas, aside from being a liturgical celebration, is also a celebration of human identity – for the humanity of Jesus (much the same with our humanity) was never an accident. Jesus’ humanity, as well as our humanity, has its purpose – and it is fearfully and wonderfully designed by God. We just have to search it.

“What have I discovered myself so far, in my search for meaning?”

 

Simbang Gabi Chronicle #3: ROLE-REFLECTING

ImageDearest Friends:

Peace and greetings to all!

For our third Simbang Gabi Chronicle last December 18, my interest focused on the homily of our chaplain. His homily caught my attention because of its relevance today among our multi-tasking buddies. Perhaps, it’s a good thing that in this Advent season, part of our preparation for the celebration of the Birth of our Lord would be to slow down and reflect what has been through our life in this year 2012 as it draws its conclusion. On this reflection, we draw St. Joseph as our model of “role-reflecting” in his silent and listening heart.

I couldn’t agree more when our chaplain said that most of us tend to do “rushed decision-makings”. I take it simply as reckless decision-makings. Just this: why do road accidents occur more frequently than we know it? Why do regrets come after someone posted his own nasty picture either in Facebook or Twitter that gained infamous remarks? Why do some research papers get rejected before getting recommended for publication? Why do some organizations keep on splitting up? Why do some peer relationships ended up bitter, regretful and hateful? And why do some persons of great ambition who almost reached their goal missed it and fell hard? Yes, it’s about recklessness – and sometimes, its consequences are irrevocable.

Think about our world today. Think about how we think. Think about how we act. More often than not, we are preoccupied with many things we thought we could get done in our way. But life is not all that. That is why people who consider themselves “multi-taskers” get stressed early on yet they have less in life. They could get things done in a short span of time, but if you would ask them whether they got the meaning of how they did it, I doubt enough that they would give you a meaningful answer. You’ll be surprised – they would just be dumbfounded. And if they keep on stressing themselves no matter what it takes, they just snap and fall, making reckless decisions in an instant and then regret the consequences. Admit it: we can’t own the world, and it’s time to stop the thought to control everything.

St. Joseph is an example to all of us. Aside from his simplicity, it is his “role-reflective” attitude which made him also great. He could have been overcome by the law and expose Mary to the public about her condition. But he took time – and in that taking time, he was revealed of his “role” or his “calling” which made him prepare well to receive Jesus. We can do that too. We just need to respect time, and discern well. It’s not on the quantity of finished works that we become great. Rather, it is on the quality that we put on our work that counts our greatness. And that quality is best accompanied with slowing down, taking time, and discernment. Our faith in the Lord requires that too. God respects our growth, so too we are expected to respect the process of our growth.

“Now, what are the things in life that are in need of us slowing down and taking time? In our discernment, what can therefore be our role in this life?”

Simbang Gabi Chronicle #2: HUMANITY AFFIRMED!

ImageDearest Friends:

Peace and glad tidings to all!

For the second day of our Simbang Gabi Chronicles, we have the theme: “Humanity Affirmed!” From this theme, we reflect on the Gospel which speaks of Jesus’ early ancestors, thus affirming the humanness of Jesus (except sin). As our Emmanuel, his presence among us has also to affirm his being human. And for us, we are led to recognize the face of the Word-became-flesh, bringing us hope, peace, joyful expectations, and gladness.

This would be my second day to attend the Simbang Gabi at the hospital chapel where I serve. Honestly, during the Gospel reading, I was craving to sit down because of the long narration of the ancestry of Jesus.  (and I guess, not all names narrated there are named among us, well, only few…). And given the early rise in the morning, I could not help but feel sleepy from time to time (not to mention the fact that I came home late the other day). It is no surprise that with the long list of names mentioned in the Gospel, one (and even I) would simply ask “What can I get from this?” or “Whatever it takes…” or “Is there a shorter alternative Gospel reading from this?” or “Duh? Come on!” or better still, “Ugh… when will this end?”

Well, the good news with these expressions is that our humanness is really there! It’s still a relief that we are not some kind of a floating spirit around, but with the presence of our very humanity. But there is more in the Gospel calling us to realize, and as well as our human nature would speak of. With the affirmation of Jesus’ humanity, one important reality is also affirmed: presence. Take an analogy of our best friends: apart from what my best friend would give me, it would be his/her presence which matters most to me. Nothing beats a friend who would always be there for me! In the same way, much as God loves us, so do He willed to send His Son to be among us, in our humanity.

Perhaps, there is a need for us to go beyond a mere “God-is-up-there” mindset, into recognizing and appreciating our humanity (where the Spirit of God is actually dwelling) – a gift that God gave us. God loves us and would not give up on us no matter how many times we fail Him or even become unfaithful to Him – because we are all His beloved. And perhaps, one good way to appreciate our humanity is to stop looking miserable and enjoy what He has given us. The Emmanuel became among us, and there are inestimable reason to celebrate life! Hence, it is actually a call for us to celebrate life as we affirm our humanity! However, there is a needed concrete response from us:

“How can we celebrate life in the ordinariness of days, not only during Christmas?”