“Shine forth, Lord!”


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Today, we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus!

Just what a “star” means to each of us? Stars may mean the celestial bodies of the universe, the celebrities we like and imitate, a symbol of award or trophy, and many meanings. Stars catch the attention of a viewer, and it means something to that viewer. Stars may be used to decorate apparel or home furniture. It is interesting that with these given meanings on what a “star” is, we may have a common attitude about it after all.

First, a star makes us look up and look forward. Literally, it’s true. You know it is a star when you look towards it. When we look towards it, our heads are titled upwards, not downwards. For those who have wild imaginations, they would even use hands to “touch” it, as if it really can be reached. Some would even jump like a kid, wishing that kid had a spaceship so that he or she can get it.

Second, a star evokes feelings of joy, excitement and ecstasy. Seeing a shooting star for the first time creates joy. Being able to handshake or tweet or have a picture with your favorite celebrity creates esteem. Being pinned with a star on a medal, or given a certificate or trophy with star on it feels being awarded and recognized. Scientists, astronomers and geophysicists feel amazed and awed what stars can do to a solar system.

Third, a star makes us do something. A shooting star makes us wish for something we like to have. Your favorite celebrity, especially when he/she is in a film, makes you look, act, speak and think like that celebrity (hard core fan?). Receiving a medal or certificate with a star on it motivates you to do more and better. The brightness, size and heat that the stars create made scientists launch probes and space missions to study them.

Just exactly what were the attitudes that the three Magi or wise men had when they saw the Star? I bet it’s the same with the observations we have above. And that Star did something wonderful: it drew the attention of people who care so much about its message. To some, it was mere coincidence or an astrological event. And that Star did something more: it has evoked faith! The star revealed something great! The intensity of the Star attracting the Magi and the shepherds was great yet sublime, especially for those who hoped for the great Anointed One.

God must have been really awesome to put that Star above in that “silent night”, shine its best, and lead others to see the Child Jesus – and pay homage to Him. Even now with faith, that Star evokes imaginations of a Bethlehem-experience, thereby creating an intense devotion to the First Christmas, and shares it to others through charity.

 

A blessed, Christ-filled Christmas to everyone!

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!

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 #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 #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?”