The Cross

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The cross has always been the primary symbol of Christianity. From the earliest times, Christians were identified by the cross. The cross was the most cruel and most ignominious penalty in the Roman empire. It was so humiliating Roman citizens were exempted from it and it was reserved only for their slaves, non-citizens and conquered people. It was a slow and painful death.

Christ transformed the cross from a symbol of utter defeat to the symbol of ultimate victory. The early Christians, facing unending persecutions by the Romans, knew that following Christ meant certain death on the cross – like their Master. And the Master’s call has always been for his followers “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Even as He went around preaching, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, inspiring and giving strength to the crowds; He constantly talked about His coming passion and death. Suffering was to be a condition that His followers were to accept.

Today, we have almost forgotten the roots of our faith in the cross. We have been so enamoured by the gospels of prosperity, we have forgotten Christ’s call to take up our crosses daily. We constantly pray for blessings, as if God owes us more than the gift of life we have received. We feel entitled to God’s graces and blessings just because He brought us to existence. There is something about that attitude that does not sound right. It is so selfish and too self-pre-occupied.

Didn’t Christ promise us happiness and eternal joy? Yes, He did. He said, cryptically, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  So, do we pray for the cross instead of blessings? If we really listen to our Master, I think we should.

Sufferings are painful and take us out of our comfort zone. But it is the trials and tribulations that we face that determine where and how far in life we advance. I would love to avoid pain and suffering. But looking back, I am grateful for all the crosses I have borne successfully.

Our life is not our alone. We share our lives with others. We can pray that we be allowed to take on suffering of others. We can pray that we be allowed to suffer in place of a loved one who is going through difficult times. Or, we can ask to share in the pain of a dear one suffering from a debilitating disease. Or, we can offer our positive attitude towards suffering as a counterforce to all the negativity there is in the world.

The cross makes us aware of our basic emptiness. We often try to fill this emptiness with materials things and physical possessions. We look to pleasures of the flesh as antidotes to the pain we feel inside. Our emptiness makes us more predisposed to allowing God into our lives. A seed germinates in darkness under the ground. God works His wonders in our lives when we go through our suffering in emptiness. When we take us the cross, He makes us stronger. And when we lose our life for His sake, that is when He raises us up.

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God’s Ways

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It is appalling how the love triangle of a young matinee idol with two pretty young actresses is getting more media mileage that the sedition charges against the bishops, the VP and other opposition figures. There is definitely something amiss or misplaced with our priorities and sense of values.

The economic indicators and numbers are positive and give reasons to be optimistic. But ordinary folks have to struggle daily in the face of monstrous traffic jams, water shortage, rising prices and it is the poor who have borne the brunt of the government’s drug war and the incursion of the Chinese.  In the face of it all, we Filipinos have handled all of these with our proverbial patience and forbearance. We are muddling along again, as usual. We are so used to muddling along; it is easy for one to succumb to being pessimistic and negative about possible outcomes and one would be most probably be right.

Faith is our great gift as a people. Churches are still full on the weekends. I find crucifixes in most cars and even motorcycles. I would often observe people making the sign of the cross when passing by a church or holy place. I see people saying grace before eating in public places. And, in the face of all these adversities, the constant refrain I hear is “Ipasa-Diyos na lang natin lahat.”

And at this particular point in our history when bishops are hailed to court for trumped up and fabricated charges, today’s Gospel takes on added significance: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

After declaring this, Jesus talked about his coming Passion and Death, to which the newly appointed Peter, the Rock, objected saying, “God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you.” 

And I feel the same way right now. Believers in Christ should not be going through what we are going through. We have praised and prayed to the Lord, He is our Good Shepherd. I am sure he will protect us from the wiles of the the Evil One.

The reply of Jesus to Peter should give us pause and something to really think and pray about, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Indeed, for how else will the Resurrection come about?

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Reasons Or Emotions?

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For all the pretensions and claims to rationality, man remains irrational for the most part. Like, the markets drive most of the world’s activities today. The markets rise on vague ephemeral hopes and they tank on unfounded fears. Emotions, more than reason, drive many of our daily decisions. I see emotions as the bubbles that surface and pop on top of boiling water. I need to go deeper and understand the source and reason for these bubbles. Deep down in the water is peace and quiet. It is there that I will find the source and reason of all the bubbling emotions on top. This is the reason and the emotion (motive) for my quiet time every morning.

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Waiting For Another Dawn

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The 1986 EDSA Revolution started at the start of the weekend. And I remember clearly that the Gospel reading for that Sunday was the story of the Transfiguration. And those four days in February were for me a Transfiguration experience for the nation. The words from the Gospel describe how I experienced those days: his face changed in appearance . . . . his clothing became dazzling white . . . . appeared in glory. I felt walking on clouds as I traversed the length of EDSA and the abutting White Plains Avenue. There was tension all right; but there was also a palpable feeling of peace, love and kindness in the air. People huddled in prayers and shared whatever they had. Food was overflowing. But we did ourselves proud before our own eyes and before the eyes of the world, EDSA being the harbinger of other peaceful people power revolutions that toppled autocratic and despotic governments. But the Transfiguration is but a Prefiguration of the Resurrection. Calvary is yet to come. Christ still had to go through his passion and death. Even as he was being transfigured, he was talking with Moses and Elijah about his exodus.

And it seems now that we are going through the passion and dying slowly as a nation. All the peace and love and kindness seem to have evaporated in the noonday heat. I am left aghast by the vitriol in the anger and hate that pervades the atmosphere, by the flippant viciousness of the lies and calumnies that are bandied around. It is unbelievable how low we have sunk from the heights of EDSA to the depths now of the West Philippine Seas.

The Transfiguration was supposed to prepare Peter, James and John for the horrors that were to come in Calvary. But when Calvary came, they still scampered away. And even now, with EDSA but a distant memory, I am afraid and often given to feelings of despair and hopelessness.

But persevere I must in my faith, hope and love. I love this country. I love this land and her people. I force myself to see the nobility in ordinary people and their lives, struggling to raise their families in love in a sea of hate and anger. I keep focus on friends and their various faith communities, binding wounds and healing the broken spirits around them. I peer into the darkness and see flickering lights of hope in young emerging leaders who are proving themselves to be totally different from their elders. I strain to hear the words of forgiveness and compassion above the din of all the insanity and irrationality around me. I pray I make it to the light at the end of the long dark tunnel we are going through. I look forward to the braking of the dawn.

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The Beatitudes and the Commandments

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The recent spate of shootings in the US, happening now almost daily, have been so heart-breaking and senseless. Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton. Lives and communities are being devastated by the grief and senselessness of it all.

People are at a total loss on how to face this situation, even just where to start. There are the usual calls for gun control and stricter laws, the blaming of a divided and fractured communities for the anger and the hatred, the breakdown of morals in a consumerist and materialistic society. And then there are the faint voices of faith and hope.

The Ten Commandments, except for the third and the fourth, are all expressed negatively in a passive aggressive manner “Thou shall not…” Christ summarized the Law into two simple commandments and expressed these positively in an active caring manner: “Love God. Love you neighbor.” Religious practice during his times emphasized rites and rituals. Jesus emphasized relations and community. Such shift in emphasis and perspective was not simple semantics for it is what finally got him crucified. And when he proclaimed the Kingdom of God, he did so with the Beatitudes as the norms of conduct and behavior. “Blesses are the poor, the peacemaker, those who mourn or are persecuted, . . . . ”

As certain as evening augurs the end of day and dawn heralds the morning, so is the love and care of God for us. And yet very often, the gathering shadows of night make me miss the last rays of a glorious sunset or in the deep darkness of the night, I miss the beautiful silhouette of the pale moon or in the depths of depression I fail to catch the glimmering dawn of a new day. There is gloom and even a sense of doom over these spate of senseless shootings; yet flowers still bloom in wild abandon and life is renewed and becomes more beautiful for many. There will be acrimonious debates and recriminations over all the hatred and violence; yet families and friends will still gather together to share a meal to find joy and laughter in their togetherness. There will be intense sadness over some life-stories coming to such a tragic end just a new one are just starting to blossom. Throughout his history, man has been weak and feckless, yet there have also been many moments of greatness and heroism.

I pray for a stronger and unwavering faith: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

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Wealth Impoverishes

 

P1390609There is nothing more impoverishing that wealth and riches.
I have heard it said rich people will make better public servants
because they will not steal anymore like an ordinary person would.
Our recent history has proven this false
for it is those who already had millions in their bank accounts
who have shown themselves to be the most rapacious grafters.
I myself have not been immune to the greed bug.
I sometimes mask it as wanting a comfortable life
but it all boils down to wanting to have more than my fair share of worldly possessions. It is easy to be generous out of one’s abundance.
It takes real character and deep generosity
to be able to share out despite one’s feelings of scarcity.

“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

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An Abiding Sense of Awe and Wonder

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There is a saying that no knight is a hero to his valet.
Often, the routine of daily living dulls one’s sense of magic and mystery.
People love children because it takes so little
to stoke in them a deep sense of awe and wonder.
Alas, all too soon people lose that sense of wonder and call it growing up.

If we are able to keep that sense of awe and wonder,
we will see magic and miracles in the most ordinary things.
I wake up every morning always enthralled by the sunrise
streaming through my window which faces the east.
And then I imagine the sun’s light traveling millions of miles
and bathing the entire earth with life giving energy,
making possible the greens of the trees and the blues of the seas.
It is amazing how plants and other living things absorb and store this energy,
each in their own unique way.
We eat plants and meat to give us the energy we need to keep alive.
It has taken men centuries to understand and clarify this cycle of life
– from the sun to our cells.
It is taking longer, or faster, for men to see how God’s grace also permeates all of creation ,to make it whole and holy.
Longer, if one only believes in the sciences.
Faster, if one chooses to see with the eyes of faith.

The travails and humdrum routine of one’s life often deaden
this wonderful sense of the magical and mysterious.
Yet, there is something magical and mysterious in our routine and ordinary activities.
I love doing regular physical exercise for I can see the results
in stronger muscles and a sturdier body.
I also need regular spiritual exercise to keep alive that sense of wonder
that made me lovable as a child,
to truly appreciate my interconnectedness to people around me;
to see the beauty that suffuses every day of my life;
and to remain in the Presence that makes all of this possible.

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