Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Family that Journeys Towards Jerusalem

The mystery of Christmas is the mystery of God becoming man... the invisible God becoming visible. And God became man in a family, in the family formed by Mary and Joseph. Thus, Blessed John Paul II asserts: “The divine mystery of the Incarnation of the Word… has an intimate connection with the human family.”

Yes, Christmas is a celebration of faith, but our celebration today, the Feast of the Holy Family, reminds us that Christmas will always be a celebration of the family.

And so, we ask: what can every family learn from the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph?

The gospel today talks about the story of the Lost and Finding of Jesus in the Temple. We can learn a lot from this experience of the Holy Family but allow me to focus on one.
The gospel tells us that each year Jesus, Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. Jerusalem is where the temple is. Jerusalem is the center of Jewish faith

If we are to imitate the Holy Family, then we must be a family ever willing to journey towards our own Jerusalem; the journey to Jerusalem is a journey of faith. We must be a family willing to enter into the path of faith. We must become a family willing to know more about our Catholic Faith. We must become a family that longs to grow into friendship and intimacy with God.

Later on, Jerusalem too, is where Jesus met his fatal condemnation. It is a place where he suffered and just outside its walls, it is where he died on the cross.

Oftentimes, it is through the cross that faith grows and matures. Dealing with conflicts and issues in the family is not always easy; asking and giving forgiveness in the family are not always pleasant; working for family reconciliation is always a demanding task. But it is precisely in facing these with openness, honesty and faith that families grow in unity, in genuine love and true friendship with God.

My dear friends, it is still Christmas, but lest we forget, a re-reading of the Story of Christmas reveals to us the shadow of the cross. In the story of Christmas, we hear about the rejection from the inn keeper, the poverty of the manger, the killing of the innocents, the escape into Egypt. All these reveals that from the very beginning, the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph has always known trials and difficulties but these did not stop them to be united and persistent in fulfilling the will of the Father

Let us not be afraid for our families. Let us not be afraid to journey into our own Jerusalem - a place where demands for sacrifice will be found, but it is also a place where a renewal of love and faith in the family awaits.

Let us allow the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to lead us. Let us allow the Holy Family to transform us to become holy, Christian, Catholic, families. Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Here is where the Lord is: My first pilgirmage to the Holy Land

In the grotto believed to be the place where the Annunciation occurred, the Latin inscription reads: verbum caro hic factum est (the word became flesh here). The gospel of St. John only says, et verbum caro factum est (and the word became flesh) but in that grotto at Nazareth, in that very place where the angel appeared to Mary, it proclaims HIC verbum caro factum est – HERE the word became flesh.

HIC practically characterized my pilgrimage in the Holy Land. In every place we visited, I cannot but say to myself HIC, “Here is where the Lord lived.” In Jericho, “Here is where Jesus changed the life of Zaccheus.” In Nazareth, “Here is where the Lord lived with Mary and Joseph.” In Mt. Tabor, “Here is where the Transfiguration happened.” In the Sea of Galilee, “Here is where Jesus walked on water.” In Jerusalem, “Here is where the Lord cast away the traders from the Temple.” In Calvary, “Here is where Jesus was crucified.”

Here is where the word became flesh, where God humbled himself to become like us in all things but in sin, where Jesus died, was buried and rose again. In the Holy Land, one cannot but be overwhelmed by the Divine Presence, the story of salvation and the mystery of God’s love.

But HIC is not an exclusive privilege of the Holy Land. By conquering death and sin, Jesus promised to be with his people until the end of time. Who can forget these assuring words of Jesus, “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name I am in the midst of them.” He promised to be the vine, where the branches will continue to have life. He promised to be the good shepherd, who knows his sheep and leads them with his voice. He is the bread of life, our nourishment and strength. He sent the Holy Spirit, the light and life of the Church.

My first pilgrimage to Holy Land is now a cherished memory, beautiful and unforgettable, inspiring and over the top. But the fruits of the pilgrimage remains real – the depth of God’s love, the lowliness of God becoming man, the dignity of humanity, the mystery of God’s will and ways. Now more than ever, wherever I am (even as far as 8,795 kilometers from the Holy Land) I say more confidently HIC – “Here is where God is.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We will see!

Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man answered, “I want to see.”

Pope Benedict XVI, in talking about faith, wrote that faith makes us see. Faith makes us see beyond the physical, beyond what we can touch or understand. Faith makes us see God, working in and around us. Faith makes us see Christ in our neighbors.

But sometimes there are obstacles to this faith. There are hindrances that blind us spiritually. Allow me to give three.

When we are full of ourselves – our successes, our achievements, our opinions – we begin to believe we are self-sufficient. We cling to the illusion of total independence. We fail to see what good other people offer us. We fail to see how much we need God. Then, pride blinds us.

When we are in pain and we allow it to close our hearts and to focus only on ourselves, making us withdraw from family and friends, then, we fail to see the giftedness of people around us. We fail to open up. Then, pain blinds us.

When we are too satisfied with how things are for ourselves, too comfortable, we become complacent. We fail to become sensitive to needs of other people and realize what we can do to make things better for our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Then, comfort blinds us.

Pride, pain and comfort; they can make us spiritually blind.

May kasabihan po sa Pilipino:
Mahirap gisingin ang nagtutulog tulugan.
Mahirap makakita ang nagbubulag bulagan.

We may be spiritually blind and not know about it, or we may know about it and we just don’t care. The gospel today invites us to “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” The Lord is calling us. He is calling us to see with the eyes of faith. But we need to take courage, to get up and to pull down the blinders. When we do so, we will see!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Trust in God

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The young man has a very valid question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? And the first answer of Jesus was obedience to the commandments. But the young man has done all that since childhood. And so, Jesus gave him a more personal, penetrating answer: Sell what you have and give to the poor, then, follow me.

Now, the question of the young man has been answered. Now, the young man knew what was necessary, what was needed to be done. But he went away sad for he had many possessions. The young man knew what was the right thing to do and did not do it. Why? For he did not trust Jesus enough. He trusted more his possessions; not the Lord.

I guess, in one way or another we are like the young man. We already know what to do. We know what is pleasing to the Lord. We know what is right, what is good. We have an inkling of what the Lord wants. We all know that we need to have faith, to serve, to help, to give, to share, to forgive. We all know we need to be honest, to be true, not to get what is not ours. We all know we need to turn away from sin, to overcome vices, to cast away pride, to conquer selfishness. 

We all know what to do. But, oftentimes, we don’t do it. Why? Because we rationalize; we justify. We say we are not ready. We say we still have time. We say God will understand. We say that it is not for me. 

But the bottom line is this: we do not do what we know we ought to do because like the young man in the gospel, we do not trust the Lord enough.

And so Jesus in the gospel today reminds us: “For human beings it is impossible, but nor for God. All things are possible for God.”

Do we trust him enough that when we say yes to him, he shall not abandon us? Do we trust him enough that when we surrender to him, he shall provide for us? Do we trust God enough?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Statement of the 27th National Meeting of Diocesan Directors of Liturgy



The celebration of the Year of Faith (October 11, 2012) was declared by Pope Benedict XVI to commemorate the 50th year of Vatican II. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (December 4, 1963) the first document of Vatican II, enshrines the basic principles of the renewal of the Church and her liturgy.

On the auspicious occasion of the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution on the Liturgy of Vatican II, we the delegates to the twenty-seventh National Meeting of Diocesan Directors of Liturgy, held in Bacolod City from September 10-14, 2012, join the entire Church in praising and thanking the Holy Spirit for the inestimable gift of liturgical renewal.

The spiritual life of the Catholic faithful in the Philippines continues to be immensely enriched by the reformed liturgy. This is indeed a time of rejoicing and for committing ourselves to keeping alive and active in our local communities the legacy of the council.

In the course of our meeting we reviewed chapter by chapter the provisions of the Constitution on the Liturgy and assessed how they have been implemented in our country. We see the gains of the council for the past 50 years in the Philippines although recognize the great challenges that are still open to us. Therefore,

1. We thank God for the gift of Vatican II. We thank the Church for implementing the liturgical reform of the council. Our Christian lives have been immensely enriched by active and devout participation in the liturgy and by understanding God’s word. We thank the council for giving the lay people the joy and privilege of sharing in the liturgical ministry of the Church. We pray that the council will continue to yield abundant fruit in our country and the world for the glory of God and the sanctification of our souls.

2. We thank God for Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy in which the council fathers set forth the directives on the reform of the liturgy. We thank Pope Paul VI who zealously and faithfully brought to fulfilment the conciliar mandate of the liturgical reform. We are resolved to uphold the conciliar decrees on the liturgy and to welcome with deep faith and cheerful obedience the changes that the Church has instituted after the council.

3. We thank Vatican II for retaining sound liturgical traditions, so that we will stay connected to the worship of our ancestors in the faith. We likewise thank it for opening the way to legitimate progress, so that the liturgy and the paschal mystery it celebrates will not remain detached from our day-to-day life experiences. We advocate Pope John XXIII’s conciliar principle of aggiornamento and his prophetic vision of a Church that sojourns in the modern world with mission to evangelize it. We are particularly grateful to Pope Paul VI for providing us with a renewed form of Holy Mass that we can understand, participate in, and hold as source and summit of our Christian lives.

4. We thank God for the bishops, priests, religious, and lay people that promoted the Liturgical Movement with pastoral zeal and often with great personal sacrifices. We thank them for the courage to call for legitimate progress in the liturgy on the basis of sound tradition. We thank the innumerable liturgical scholars and experienced pastors who generously offered their expertise in order to realize the aim of active participation. We pray that their memory will be etched in the pages of our liturgical history, as now they celebrate the eternal liturgy in the kingdom of heaven.

5. We thank Vatican II for active participation, which is our right and duty as baptized Christians. As liturgical assembly, we hold fast to it in accord with the liturgical norms of participation. We adhere to the discipline of the Constitution (art. 28) that “in liturgical celebrations each person, minister or lay who has an office to perform, should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to their office by the nature of the rite and the norms of the liturgy”. Lastly, we propose to qualify our active participation always and everywhere with deep sense of reverence and awe in the presence of the sacred mystery.

6. We thank Vatican II for restoring the Word of God as an integral element of the liturgical celebrations. We thank the Church for stressing the importance of spiritually enriching and socially relevant homilies, which explain God’s word to us. We give fuller value to the liturgy of the word when we have trained lectors and psalmists, when we use the proper liturgical books, and when we read from an ambo that reflects the dignity of God’s word.

7. We thank Vatican II for the use of the vernacular language in the liturgy, so that God may speak to us and we to God in a language we understand. The ultimate aim of liturgical translation is to promote active and devout participation by which our minds are nourished by divine doctrine and our hearts are lifted up in liturgical prayer. With Pope Paul VI we desire that the liturgical texts should be noble and beautiful as befits divine worship. With him we desire that they should be clear, unencumbered, and within the reach of all, so that every one, including children and the uneducated, may draw from the riches of the liturgy.

8. We thank Vatican II for restoring the authority of the local Ordinaries and the Bishops’ Conferences to regulate certain matters in the celebration of the liturgy in their respective dioceses and territories. We support our bishops in their exercise of such authority for the spiritual and pastoral good of the faithful entrusted to their care. While they maintain the unity of the Roman rite, they strive to make it understandable and meaningful to their people.

We thank his Excellency, Bishop Vicente M. Navarra, DD, his clergy, and the people for hosting this national meeting. The spirit of grateful remembrance with which we looked back at the 50 years of Sacrosanctum Concilium was strengthened by their generosity and hospitality. 

That in all things God may be glorified.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ephphatha! Be open!

St. Augustine, immediately after his conversion, wrote these beautiful words:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things that you created. You were there with me, but I was not with you.

The Lord promised to be with us always. And He is. This is what we learned from catechism: God is everywhere. He is with us. He dwells among us. He is present.

And yet there are times that we do not experience his presence. He seemed absent, distant, unconcerned. But this problem of presence is not with God, but with us. As St. Augustine said, “You were there with me, but I was not with you.” We do not pray that God may be present to us. We pray that we may be present to God.

Oftentimes our life is filled with graces and blessings and yet we fail to be present to them. We fail to see, to recognize and to experience the richness of our life. God is there, but we are not.

We fill our hearts with restlessness, tiredness, distraction, anger, jealousy, obsession, wound, haste, worries, anxieties and doubts, that we think that our lives are nothing but impoverished, dull, small-time, boring, monotonous, meaningless and hopeless.

All these things make our eyes shut. All these things make our hearts closed. And so, the Lord says to us in the gospel today, “Ephphata!” Be opened! Be open to God’s presence, to his blessings, to his grace, to beauty, to love, to life, to the richness of our life.

God is with us in the sacraments, in the Holy Eucharist, in sacred scriptures, in the Blessed Sacrament, in nature, in our neighbors, in our trials, in our joys, in successes, in our failures. God is with us. Are we with Him? Amen.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

It is not easy to be a priest...

Homily given during the celebration of the memorial of St. John Marie Vianney, patron of all priests, with priest-representatives from the different community of priests that belong to OLPP.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars and the patron of all priests. It was said that St. John Vianney almost quit on Ars. When nothing seemed to be happening in changing the ways of the people of Ars, in the middle of the night, St. John left his convent and was actually walking to get out of Ars. At the edge of the town, he found himself in the cemetery. He went through the tombstones and read the names of the dead. He asked himself, “If the priest of Ars leaves, who would take care their souls?”

This changed his mind. He started walking back to the town and decided to stay as the priest of Ars. He stayed there for 42 years and became the holiest priest Ars would ever have.

It’s not easy to be a priest.
It’s not easy to carry the responsibility of taking care of people’s faith, building communities, running a parish, running a school, doing formation, providing hope, comfort and consolation, challenging complacency, helping the poor, making sure that the world knows about Jesus and ensuring that He remains at the center of every Christians’ life.

And yet today we celebrate the gift of the priesthood.
This is one unique gift in our parish; this community enjoys the blessing of having several communities of priests whose mere presence gives witness to God’s faithful love for his Church. Today, we celebrate together this gift. We celebrate in gratitude; thanking the Lord for the inspiring hope that is engendered every time we see servants of the Lord who continue to offer themselves selflessly.

But we do not forget that this gift of the priesthood has not come without sacrifice. This has not come without challenges being surmounted and trials being conquered. Sabi nga ni Dolphy, “Hindi ko narating ito nang nag-iisa.”

We have not become who we are merely on our own efforts. We rely on the mercy of God. A young man does not become a seminarian on his own. A seminarian does not become a priest on his own. A priest does not become a good priest on his own. Behind every priest is the support and prayers of lay people like you. We need your support. We need your understanding. We need your prayers.

So that when things do not happen according to our plans, or according to our expectations, may we, like St. John Marie Vianney, never quit on God’s boundless mercy. That even when pushed at the edge, may we always find the way back to the ever-open embrace of a loving Father, an embrace that soothes our wounded hearts, in order that this heart may continue beating for you, God’s chosen people.

We may not find our heads served on a platter, as what happened to John the Baptist in the gospel today, but I am sure like John, we too will find ourselves being demanded to give witness to the priestly vocation that the Lord has entrusted to us. And when those times come, we have you, our community, to inspire us. We have you, our dear people of God, to keep us wanting more to offer ourselves. 

May you find in your heart the need to include priests in your prayers always. Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI on "For Many"

One of the hotly debated changes in the new English translation of the Roman Missal is the change of “for all” (Latin, pro omnibus) into “for many” (Latin, pro multis) in the last supper narrative as found in the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass.

The present prayer reads: Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven. Do this is memory of me.

While the new prayer reads: Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.

Although this change does not affect the response of the congregation, yet it touches on the meaning and significance of the self-giving love of Jesus on the cross, of which the Eucharist is a memorial. Didn’t Jesus die ‘for all’? Isn’t the Lord’s offer of salvation ‘for all’? Why replace it with ‘for many’?

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the German Bishops’ Conference dated April 14, 2012. In the letter the Pope expounds on the Church’s preference to use the literal translation “for many” rather than the interpretation “for all.” At the same time, affirming the value of “for all” in the complete understanding of “for many.” This write up is a humble attempt to present the highlights of this enlightening work of the Pope (for the full text of the letter see the archive).

The Pope starts by unequivocally asserting the fundamental faith of the Church that truly Jesus died for all; that his offer of salvation is for all. This is attested by numerous passages from the sacred scriptures. Allow me to cite a couple: first, from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans 8:32. It says, “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” God the Father has handed over the Son for us all. Second, also from St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians 5:15, it says, “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Jesus Christ indeed died for all of us. His offer of reconciliation and forgiveness is truly universal. Then, we may ask, why replace “for all” with “for many”?

When one goes to the original Latin text of the Last Supper narrative, one sees that the original text uses pro multis which in English is translated as “for many” and not pro omnibus which in English is rendered as “for all.” It is presupposed that the Latin text pro multis is a faithful translation of the original language of the New Testament which is Greek. The use of pro multis in the Last Supper narrative is found both in the gospels of Mark (14:24) and Matthew (26:28). This is not found in gospel of Luke, since Luke uses pro vobis, i.e. “for you.” While in the gospel of John, the story of the washing of the feet takes the place of a last supper narrative. Thus, in Mark and Matthew, Jesus described his self-giving love as expressed in the last supper, as “for many.” Why?

The Pope explains that Jesus during the Last Supper was aligning himself to the great prophet Isaiah. Jesus knew the Law and the Prophets. Several times in the gospel, Jesus commented on them. He even corrected interpretations about them in light of the coming of the Messiah. And so, in the last supper, in anticipation of the great sacrifice of the cross, Jesus was connecting himself to the prophesy of Isaiah, particularly the prophesy on the suffering servant of the Lord.

In Isaiah 53:11-12 we read: Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.

Without even going deeply into these words of Isaiah, one can easily relate this description to Jesus: through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear… he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked… he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.

In the Last Supper, Jesus was being faithful to the words of Isaiah. Thus, proclaiming that he is the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah; that indeed, he is the suffering servant of the Lord.

By using “for many,” Jesus respects the words of Isaiah. In the same way, by using “for many,” the Church is being faithful to the words of Jesus. The Pope calls this “double faithfulness.” By using “for many” the Church does not want to break this reverent chain of fidelity. Here is the heart of the Church’s insistence in using “for many.”

Yet, the Pope does not readily dimiss “for all” for in his mind “for all” is the correct interpretation of “for many.” Telling us as it were, that even though in the Holy Mass we hear the priest proclaims that Jesus offers his blood “for many,” in truth, he does so “for all.”

So, how should we understand “for many”? First, it is scriptural; “for many” is what we see in Isaiah, in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. Second, it is historical. When Jesus gathered his apostles in the Upper Room and offered to them bread and wine as memorial of his self-sacrifice, he used “for many.” Third, it is concrete; that in fact, in the last supper, not everybody was there, not all were there, Jesus was giving himself concretely “for many.” Lastly, it is missionary. Because the salvific love of Jesus is “for all” and Jesus was giving himself concretely at the last supper only “for many,” the “many” has received the mission to reach out and go forth so that the universality of Christ’s salvation may be fulfilled in “all.”

I admit that for the most part this “for many” in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Holy Mass can easily pass without anyone stopping and asking “why.” But for those who mind, for those who truly pray the Mass, for those who care for how the Church expresses the truth of her faith in the prayers of the liturgy, may these words of Pope Benedict XVI aid us in renewing our intimacy with the living God.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cullion... Leprosy... Blessing...

I just came from Cullion Island in Palawan. In 1906 it was declared as a leper colony. All Filipinos diagnosed with leprosy was brought there. It was only in 2006 that it was declared officially by the World Health Organization that it was no more a leper colony. There is now a thriving municipality in Cullion. 

Our visit to Cullion was not really planned. We were set to visit the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary but the weather did not permit us. We decided to see Cullion instead. It was a historical tour. We visited the museum that chronicled all the decades that it was a leper colony. We admired the dedication of all the volunteers, doctors, nurses, St. Paul sisters and Jesuit missionaries who served the leper colony. We visited the Catholic church built on the ruins of a 17th century fortress. Cullion was worth the long trip. 

 But what is so inspiring is when we met the first mayor of Cullion. He was a leper himself. Now cured, he was brought in Cullion when he was 8 years old. He talked about the pain, the isolation, the descrimination. But in the end he said leprosy was God's blessing to him. Our jaw dropped! How can leprosy be a blessing? He was an orphan. No mother to take care of him. No father to provide for him. Because of leprosy he found Cullion. The colony took care of him. The colony provided for him. He received education. He found a wife and became mayor of Cullion. 

Without leprosy, there would be no Cullion for him. Without Cullion, he would not be where he is today. God's way is truly mysterious!