A Joyful Sad Christmas

DSCN5413.JPG

Anabelle and I spent many joyous Christmases in this house. Christmas is a time for joy for many people. Gift-giving, often lavish and extravagant, helps to make the season bright. Yet, the first Christmas was very simple and literally poor. It was about women (Mary, Elizabeth), poor carpenters and shepherds, no room at the inn, manger for a crib – all considered austere and at the outer fringes of Jewish society. But it was a joyous occasion celebrated by angels and wise men (not kings) from afar.

For all the joys of Christmas, most of my Christmases have always been tinged with a bit of sadness. But this year’s is turning out to be the saddest one yet. Yesterday, I saw the movie The Two Popes twice and in a very surprising way, it gave some perspective.

Christmas is the celebration of life. It is about the birth of Child. Life is the most precious gift we have received and we often take this fact for granted. But being alive alone should already be a boundless source of joy. And the child that is born today is a special child – he is God become human. God with us. He gave us life and he has come to assure us that he is always with us. We are not alone.

Here is the dramatic part. Pope Benedict in the movie pours out his heart how in his youth he was clear about what God wanted of his. And he was very assiduous and dedicated in following what he believed was God’s will. Now in his old age, there is only darkness and confusion. The faith he had in God is severely tested by the challenges coming his way. He laments, “I believe in God. I pray to him. Silence!”

Yet, there are simple joys in our daily lives. We can cling to the assurance that God is indeed with us. And we come to realize this when, in remembering and considering our life, things do work themselves out in the end. And Cardinal Bergoglio responds by telling his life story: how he was banished from his high position to serve in a remote rural parish, how in that desolation of his banishments he saw himself being molded and transformed by the abiding presence of God.

It is may be sad Christmas now. I remember and am grateful for the many joyous Christmases in my life. The Lord might seem silent and absent now. But I put my trust in his plan for me and trust the journey. His abiding presence will eventually bring me to my destination.

 

Posted in Discipleship, Spirituality, The Good News | Tagged | Leave a comment

The New Day Dawns

DSCN2466.jpg

It’s Christmas Eve and tomorrow the new day dawns. For the first time in my life, I am missing all the joy and excitement I have always associated with Christmas. I can still see all the hustle and bustle of Christmas around me: the decors, the carols, the lights, the parties, the get-togethers, and of course, the shopping. And yet, Christmas this year is not the same for me. It may be of my age. But it is something I can feel also in the air and it seems to be happening worldwide. Christ has been taken out of Christmas!

Christmas is now a global holiday, even in countries that are totally secular and in non-Christian countries. And yet, Pope Francis himself recently declared that Christendom no longer exists. He said, and I read his words with a lot of pain and sadness in my heart, “Today we are not the only ones who produce culture, nor are we the first or the most listened to. Christianity, especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West, is no longer an obvious premise of our common life, but rather it is often denied, derided, marginalized or ridiculed.”

I find it even ironic that when the Filipino practice of the novena of the Misa de Gallo in preparation for Christmas has gone global, Christ has been slowly yet surely eased out of the celebration of his birthday. Santa and his reindeers have largely replace the Baby in the manger. Without Christ, there cannot be Christmas. If he is not in it, then it is an empty Christmas, which is the reason for my feelings.

We need to reclaim Jesus and put him back in the manger.

Maranatha!
Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Posted in Faith, The Good News | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Special Child

IMG_20190113_125538

 

At Christmas, the child born in the manger is special.
Thus, Christmas is a special time for children.
During Christmas, children are the focus and center
of our special attention.
This Christmas, I think of special children.
Or children with special needs.
If God can become man, as he did on that first Christmas,
why couldn’t have made every child perfect?

In his novel The Clowns Of God, the second book in his Vatican Trilogy, Morris West poignantly explores this difficult question. Why does God allow children with imperfections of handicap to be born? West, through one of the characters in his novel, suggests three reasons.

First, special children touch our hearts and awaken the humanity in us. It is indeed heartbreaking to see an innocent child blighted with a defect or handicap through no fault of his own. The unfairness of the situation stirs what is deeply human in every person. Even the hardest of hearts starts beating in compassion.

Then, such special children evokes in us a strong desire to do something. Faced with such a disquieting situation, we are specially moved to want to do something. We cannot just stand there and not do somethings. Pitiful as the child may be, it motivates us to show some tenderness and kindness and to do something good.

Finally, such children are the signs of God’s special presence in the world. These children and totally pure and will never be touched by evil. They remain in their pure and pristine state, just as they were when they left the hands of God. Their spirits still has the smell of heaven in them.

A Blessed Christmas to children with special needs.

Posted in Children, Generosity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

On Sleep And Dreams

IMG_6804

 

 

Sleep in heavenly peace . . . . 

 

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream . . . .

 

 

The Gospel readings during the Christmas season are replete on stories about sleep and dreams.

i always find something mysterious and salubrious about sleep. Nothing is more refreshing and invigorating than a good nap or a good night’s sleep. In fact, many health problems are caused or exacerbated by chronic lack of sleep. Regular sleep is part of any healthy lifestyle.

When I am asleep I may be dead to the world; but I feel it is the time when I am most alive. My consciousness (or my soul, my spirit) is what makes me human. It is life an iceberg. My conscious self, which is what I am more familiar with, is just the tip; the bulk of the iceberg being my unconscious. There is also the subconscious which is the area between my conscious self and my unconscious, that area between sleep and wakefulness.

Strange as it may seem, I feel I am most myself in my unconscious, like when I am asleep. It is the area where all my defences and masks are down. It is the area where all my deepest memories and fondest dreams remain alive. Many of my actions and motivations which I often cannot explain not understand come from my unconscious and subconscious. It is where I can truly meet God; for somewhere there I still know where I came from and whom I came from.

These days, I see my sleep time as sacred time and a sacred place. In my last wakeful moments, I tell the Lord that I shall be meeting Him in my unconscious, in my sleep. I ask him where he would be taking me tonight and what will we be talking about. And when I awake, I immediately try to recall what “happened” in my sleep. I often wake up rested; but I also feel that I did a lot during my sleep. My dreams become clearer; my plans get hatched; my ideas get a better and bigger perspective.

Yes, I believe I truly encounter God specially in my sleep. And yes, he comes to me in my dreams.

 

 

Posted in Discipleship, Encounter, Presence, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Hail, Mary!

 

Our usual image of Mary is that of a calm and collected lady.
But I would imagine her otherwise during those days surrounding the birth of Jesus.
Here was a young maiden betrothed to a man who was probably much older than she.
Then, there was this mysterious apparition where
an angel told her she would become pregnant.
Her betrothed was of course shocked and was ready to break off with her quietly
to save both of them from the scandal and embarrassment.
They probably had a fight or big misunderstanding.
And she flew off to visit her cousin Elizabeth in some distant part of Judah.
After a few months with her cousin, her husband came to fetch her.
Apparently, he has had a change of mind.
But it was mainly because there was an imperial census mandated
and they had to register in his town of origin.
And there her due time arrived and she would deliver her baby.
But there was no room for them in the inn.
The only place they could find to stay was a stable.

This story sound so different from the Christmas story we are familiar with.
The reason for the bi difference is the faith of Mary, as expressed by her ‘Fiat’.
It is also the reason behind Joseph’s gracious acceptance of Mary’s condition.
Faith transforms even the most difficult situation into a celebration.
There is lot we can learn by saying ‘Fiat’ like Mary,
to life and to God’s will, to whatever may come our way.
Faith makes the difference.

 

Posted in Discipleship, Faith, The Good News | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Child Is This?

DSCN2099

The Infancy narratives are among the most beautiful and moving of the stories in the Gospels. One can actually feel the peace, joy and love while reading them. These stories serve as the reason for the joy and happiness we feel during the season of Christmas.

But I wonder. Instead of peace and joy, I sometimes wonder that people in the Christmas story must have felt fear and anxiety. Consider Mary. A young girl barely in her teens and mysteriously pregnant, not by her betrothed. And now about to give birth in a place far from her comfort zone. In the remote town of her husband, which she probably is visiting for the first time. And there is no room for them to stay anywhere. And Joseph must have been bewildered. All these strange and mysterious things that have been happening to him and his betrothed. And all these strange dreams he has been having. I can imagine him being totally clueless. Then there were shepherds who dropped by, because the stable where the couple were staying must have been probably theirs. They trembled with fear at the sight of the strange apparitions of the angels. Was the joy (or even bewilderment?) they experienced at seeing the baby in their manger enough to overcome their initial fear?

The Infancy narratives, I understand, were actually the last parts of the Gospels to be written. The Gospels were in fact written backwards. The earliest versions of the Gospels were stories about the Passion, Death, Resurrection of Christ. They were the results of the post-Resurrection experience of the first and earliest disciples. As more people joined them, the new comers wanted and were hungry for more stories about the Resurrected Christ. What he did. What he said. How he lived. Where he came from.

The Resurrection, a life-changing event for the early Christians, is rooted in and had the beginnings in the Incarnation. And in telling and re-telling the story of the Risen Christ, it was a matter of finding the beginnings of the Empty Tomb in the Manger for the Gospel writters. Thus, the Christmas stories were born. Just as the mystical and life-changing Resurrection experience prompted the early Christians to go forth and proclaim their Risen Lord; so they found inspiration in this Lord first becoming human in the Incarnation in the Little Town of Bethlehem where “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” And that became part of their proclamation as well.

The Man on the Cross is the same beautiful baby lying in the Manger.

Posted in Change, Discipleship, Encounter, Presence, The Good News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Thinking of St. Joseph and Tatang

IMG_20171124_162528153_HDR

Today is the birthday of my father. It is strange that I have grown closer to him now in my old age. I often think about him and have felt myself be closer to him than ever. I have come to appreciate him better. I now understand his silences, his quiet moments. I am grateful for his love for learning which I see alive even in my grandchildren. He was the first in his big family to go to college. He inspired several nephews and nieces to also love learning and excel academically as well. I even understand now how and why he would sometimes explode when things simply got too much to bear. But he was a charmer, always ready with his very disarming smile.

Often lately, I wish I could have done more for my father when he was still areound. I tried to show my love for him when he was alive. But being where he was then and I being his age now, I realize there were a lot of other things I could have done for him. If indeed we get to choose who our parents would be, I have chosen well choosing my Tatang and Ima.

In a lot of ways, Tatang reminds me a lot of Saint Joseph. Joseph was a man of few words. He appears only in the Infancy narratives of the Gospels. And there is not a single word that he was quoted as saying. Tatang was also a man of few words. But I knew he was deep.

Joseph was a dreamer. He got his instructions from God in his dreams. When I was a kid, I would often catch my father staring at the ceiling lost in his daydreams. There were times, he shared with me some of these dreams. I was not really listening then, engrossed as I was with my games and toys. Now, in my old age, I try to recall and reconstruct those half-remembered conversations with him.

Joseph was a carpenter. Tatang came from a family of carpenters. He grew up to be a teacher -the only professional in their family. And guess what he taught. Building Construction, which is a glorified title for carpentry skills. He also taught himself drafting skills and was accepted as an architect among his peers.

I sometimes wonder in my prayers what traits did Jesus acquire or inherit from Joseph. His decisiveness? His perseverance and persistence? Definitely his goodness and kindness.

I am deeply grateful for the gift of life I have received through Tatang and Ima. I find inspiration and affirmation that I have been instrumental in bringing life to seven other beings into this world. Our three sons, we were able to plan and prepare for to a certain extent. Our four grandchildren were totally beyond our control. Nothing I could think of or imagine has prepared me for the joys and fulfilment they have brought into our lives. Indeed, everything is grace. Everything I have received and gone through is gift. Undeserved. I have done nothing to merit what I have been given as gift and grace.

Posted in Discipleship, Family, Life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment