To Be Is To Love

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“I think therefore I am.”
With one simple statement, Descartes has spawned a new school of Philosophy
and the rationalistic and scientific culture we see dominant in the West today.
It also explains the intense individualism (“I am.”) we see today,
specially in the US.

A more realistic philosophy is “I co-exist, therefore I am.”
Martin Heidegger, a leading Existentialist, described our human existence
as “being-with-others-in-the-world”.
The Buddhist Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, has a name for this reality:
We are interbeings.

My being here is contingent on links to nature, people and God.
If nature were any colder, we would all be frozen stiff.
And if it were any hotter we would all be burnt to a crisp.
We need others to live as it takes at least a village to raise a man.
And finally, we need a Loving God who has made
this web and circle of life the wonderful experience that it has been.

Indeed, because of this Loving God, we can truthfully proclaim:
“I love and am loved; therefore, I am.”

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Pueblo Amante de Maria

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This morning we joined the Spanish Community in our Parish in las mañanitas for our Lady of Guadalupe whose feast day it is today. And at the end of this week, the Filipino community will have their turn with the start of the Simbang Gabi on the evening of the 15th.

I have always been struck by the similarities between our culture and religious practices and those of the Mexicans. In fact, our brand of Catholicism has a stronger Mexican flavor than a Castilian character. Among Mexicans, Dia de los Muertos is an important day of remembrance of their departed loved ones, very much similar in tone and character to out undas. And I was amazed the first time I cross the border in Tijuana. It was like I was immediately transported back to Manila as soon as we drove over into Mexico from the US. The sights, sounds and the streets felt eerily family, like a strong sense of deja vu.

In the highly secularized societies in the West (i.e. the US and Europe), more and more people are becoming agnostics and even atheists in their religious outlook. There has been a growing falling away from religion and a sense of a spiritual life. Many churches are empty and people now worship in sports arenas or in concert halls. They go on pilgrimage to theme parks in exotic destinations.

But where there are many immigrant communities, the churches are alive and robust. Many parishes in the US and Europe (including Rome), it is the migrant communities that keep them open and alive. In Rome, many of the the Generalate and Motherhouse of religious orders are managed and run by members from countries that used to be colonies of European nations.

Bishop Desmond Tutu was reputed to have said, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

It strikes me as ironic and indeed the mystery of God’s ways that we are now bringing back the Good News to those from whom we have received it.

Marian devotions are very strong in both the Philippines and Mexico. Bot claim and profess to be Pueblo Amante de Maria. And Christmas is a dear and holy period for both people. It is time of hope and waiting for the Promised Redeemer. In the deepest part of their soul, our peoples know that they have been resilient in many adversities because of this hope and faith in this Promised One.

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Forgiveness In The Time Of Advent

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Autumn leaves can be breathtaking in their explosion of wild colors. Somehow, falling leaves in Autumn remind me of the Advent hymn Rorate Coeli:

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down the Just One.

We have sinned and are become as one that is unclean:
and we have all fallen as a leaf,
and our iniquities like the wind have carried us away:
thou hast hidden thy face from us,
and hast crushed us in the hold of our iniquity.

Advent and the fall season remind us of our iniquity and the evil that lives within us. We are all in need of salvation. Advent is waiting for the coming of our Savior; just as Autumn is waiting for winter to come and usher in spring. Sinful as we are, we are in need of forgiveness.

The Second Sunday of Advent is about John the Baptist, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to prepare the way for the coming Savior. Jesus would later preach about God’s forgiveness. He reveals God as the God of second chances, as the Prodigal Father who welcomes back His prodigal son even after he has squandered his inheritance in a dissolute life. Jesus would also challenge His followers to forgive, not only seven times but seventy times seven.

The world today is in need of forgiveness. And we also need to forgive one another. There is so much evil and much of it comes from a vicious cycle of greed, hatred, anger and selfishness. Everyone who get offended demands his pound of flesh in retribution. The seeking for retribution, in a corrupted sense of justice, would ask eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Even the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you has been bastardized into the immoral practice of a preemptive strike: do unto others before they do unto you.

It is never easy to forgive. And some find it impossible to forgive. They nurture hurts and they nourish their hatred. The bile and the vitriol fester and then give rise to even greater offenses. The cycle of hatred and violence in many parts of he world often goes back for centuries because people would not forgive nor forget. In some places this anger and hate go back for millennia.

But there are people who have learned to forgive. They bring out the best in us. They show us that forgiveness is a sign of strength and not of weakness. Forgiveness is the ultimate sign and test of true love. Be it among peoples or between two loved ones. We are in need of forgiveness. God offers us unlimited forgiveness. In return, He desires that we also forgiveness does who offend us. This is the hope that Advent brings.

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The First Disciple

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Mary was the first disciple. She is also the model of perfect discipleship. I have learned the three essentials of discipleship from her. When the angel Gabriel told Mary of God’s plan for her, she asked, “How can this be since I know no man?” When Gabriel described to her what and how it was God’s plan for her was going to happen, Mary humbly said, “Be it done to me according to your word.” And at the wedding in Cana, Mary instructed the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

A Sense of Awe and Wonder: “How can this be?”
Life is awesome and full of wonders and surprises. One only has to look at nature or the universe to be filled with awe and wonder. So much beauty. So much diversity all around me. And in the scheme of things, I am not needed. The world wouldn’t be any better nor any worse if I had not appeared upon the scene. There is no compelling reason why I should be here. Yet, I am here. “How can this be?”

Life is unmerited, undeserved, unasked for and freely given. And here I am. It is so easy to succumb to the cynical and skeptical view that I do not amount to anything. In the vastness of the universe, I am but a tiny speck of organic matter. Yet something deep inside me keeps telling me that I am no random event. I did not come about by chance. I, in fact, matter. “How can this be?”

Everything is gift. I look back at my life and there are just too many delightful things that have happened and are still happening for me not to realize there is an Unseen Presence who directs and leads me in life. Early in life, I had some ideas on how I would like my life to be. But at every turn, things were not just meant to be as I would have wanted them. There is Someone who is writing out a better life story for me than I can imagine for myself. “How can this be?”

“How can this be?” There is a loving God who cares and looks after me. And He has directly involved Himself in my life.

Sweet Surrender: “May it be done to me according to your word.”
Yesterday, I wrote of the the miracle that has happened in the life of my friend Lambert. From what could have been a tragic story of a lonely and lost widower, God has wrought out an inspiring and touching story. As I was watching the story of Lambert unfolding, I would often catch myself saying, “No, this can’t be happening. It is too perfect to be true. It is not going to happen. It should not happen. It cannot.” And yet, there was God’s handiwork written all over it. He wants only what is good for us. And what is good by God is the best that could possibly happen to me.

In prayer and silence, I have often encountered this Ultimate Reality that is my Source. I have encountered Him in His threefold nature. As Father, He has blessed me with the gift of life and because I am alive, everything is possible. Then, I share in the brokenness that His Son endured for us. But I become a better person as I am renewed and strengthened by the indwelling of His Spirit in me.

Believing that God is directing and leading me in life, I surrender my will to His. And with Mary, I humbly pray, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Self-imposed Submission: “Do whatever he tells you.”
The People of God lived by the law as handed down to Moses. There were the ten commandments. And there was a strong emphasis on justice. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. No more and no less.

When God the Son took on our human form, He taught us the commandment of love. For God and for the neighbor. He did not abolish the law. But He brought it to perfection. The ten commandments were mostly prohibitions: Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not . . . .  Jesus instead asked His disciples to get into actions and do acts of love, kindness and compassion.

Jesus did not tell his disciples, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.” Or, “You shall not steal.” Instead, He told them “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. With the spirit of simplicity and poverty, one will never want for anything and thus will never covet or steal the possessions of others.

Jesus did not tell his disciples, “You shall not kill.” Instead, He told his followers “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Instead of waging wars or dealing hatred and violence, He wants his disciples to be the children of the God who creates and makes whole again that which is broken. He heals instead of kills.

So as a disciple of Christ, I do as Mary had done before me: I submit myself to God’s will for me. And I am strengthened by the promise of Jesus to His followers:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

 

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A Miracle

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Today I witnessed a miracle.

A good friend, Lambert, was ordained a deacon. And God willing, he will be ordained a priest in June next year. Nothing really miraculous there.

Lambert was my contemporary in San Carlos Seminary. He was, in fact, several years my junior. We were at one time both in the editorial staff of Contemporary Studies, the official publication of San Carlos. Then, we both left the seminary. We both got married. We both pursued corporate careers. But he lost his wife to cancer some eight years ago. And after serious thought, he made up his mind to go back to his roots and see if he could still be a priest.

Lambert was already made – in worldly terms. He had a successful career, both as an executive and an entrepreneur. He had a happy family. Even as a widower, He kept his family close-knit. He could have just spent the rest of his years in leisure and contentment. But there was this persistent voice that was calling him to his original vocation.

God writes straight with crooked lines. It was a long and circuitous road but Lambert is right there now where God wants him to be. There could be many logical or rational or psychological or even social reasons to explain his decision. It is no miracle at all that he is on his way to becoming a priest, today his diaconate being an important step towards that end. Any determined and accomplished person, like Lambert is, can and will be able to achieve whatever he puts his mind and heart to. No big deal. Surely, he is not the first widower to be ordained a priest; nor would he be the last. Nothing extraordinary there. Nothing spectacular nor beyond belief.

And there lies the miracle for me. Lambert had it made. And yet, he chose to do differently. Life is not all about money or success or fame or even the ability to be different and make a difference. There is an alternative lifestyle possible that is not defined by success nor measured in money. And Lambert has chosen that lifestyle now. There can be achievements that do not depend on the adulation and praise of others but on what is deeply embedded in one’s heart and spirit. No fame, fortune or success can replace the what makes one’s heart beat. There is another, perhaps deeper and more meaningful, way of living out one’s life aside from the all too obvious choices the world has to offer. His choice may not be mine. But I am delighted and inspired that Lambert has shown me that there are other choices possible. Always. Choices and possibilities are always miracles for me.

As long as there are choices, there is hope. In a world that is so easily given to despair, any flickering of hope should be welcomed as a miracle of life.

After all these years, Lambert finally fulfills a profound longing that has been gnawing at his innermost. Everyone feels this deep-seated longing. A yearning, often ineffable, but always there. Persistent. Unrelenting. This longing is what brings out the best in people. Like, when they love. Or, when they create. Or, when they serve. Or, when they make themselves less so that others may become more. This giving and this sharing is what brings out the best and the finest in human beings. Lambert is getting a handle on that yearning and giving it flesh through his choice. Whatever brings out the best and the finest, whether in ourselves or in others, is a miracle.

As long as there is that undying longing in the human heart, there will be a need for people who will give expression to this yearning. In a world going blind to values and virtues, it is indeed a miracle when anyone would stand up and fight for these.

Eight years ago, Lambert and his children were devastated by the death of Vilma. Loving wife. Dutiful mother. And now, the three children have again been asked to give up and offer their father for a greater good. There is beauty in Vilma’s death because it made their family stronger. There is grace in their offering their father as a priest for the community of believers because generosity can be such a rare commodity these days. The dying and the giving up are transformed to become beauty and grace. That is a miracle too.

For us to be able face death without fear and give without feeling impoverished, there will always be a need for priests who will guide us along the way. Indeed, the miracle here is when we finally realize that it is giving that we receive and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

 

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The Full Moon And The Fullness Of Time

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This weekend saw the biggest super moon for 2017 and the beginning of Advent. This serendipitous convergence is kairos time. Life is unfolding and attaining it fullness in time.

The other weekend, after Thanksgiving, was mostly chronos time. Thanksgiving, the taking time to be grateful and to thank people in our lives is kairos. But the madness that followed was definitely chronos. Black Friday is counting the minutes and the hours. The big deals begin at midnight of Thanksgiving Day. And the deals would expire at a definite time. Black Friday was followed by Cyber Monday. Again, there was a definite start and a deadline for the online madness. Then, as if to salve the consciences of people, Giving Tuesday followed. As if, there is an official start and an expiry date to being generous.

When I go to the office to work, that is chronos.
What time is spend with friends and family, that is kairos.

The time I spend making a living, selling to customers, managing the work of other people is chronos.
The time I waste with my friends or the time I spend unproductively with my family is kairos.

Worrying about month-end deadlines or year-end reports is chronos.
Taking stock at month-end or celebrating the year-end is kairos.

Chronos is not bad. We need that kind of time to be productive and effective.
Kairos can sometimes lapse into fruitless reverie. It must be tempered with what is important and meaningful for me and my life.

 

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Advent Is Kairos Time

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There are two kinds of time: kairos and chronos.

Each day we count is counted in chronos time.
We have used up twenty four hours and 1,440 minutes of our life are gone.
It is past and done. It will never come again.
Each sunset we watch is watched in kairos time.
The colors of a sunset are indistinguishable.
It is like painting the sky with a melted rainbow:
red, orange, yellow, pink, violet mixed in a wild melange of colors,
before turning into purple, then deep blue and black and finally the dark night.
Sunsets are not counted by minutes but by the colors turning into darkness.

Today is the start of the new liturgical year, the beginning of Advent.
The calendar year is reckoned in chronos time.
By December 31st, the year 2017 will be over and done with forever.
The liturgical year is based on kairos time.
Next year, Advent will come again to remind us that
even in the depths of winter, the seeds of a new spring are sprouting.
Nature never hurries and still everything gets done in the fullness of time.
Advent is not counted in days or minutes,
for Advent can take anywhere between 28 and 35 days to happen.
But in those days, the unfolding of the the new life that spring delivers
is surely taking place.

Chronos time is about my age, the years I have lived and the years I still have to live.
Kairos time is about my moments that I treasure and can make happen again and again.

 

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