Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Year that was, and the Years that are to come

ROME (Italy). It was such a sunny and very hot day.  The day was Friday, 11th of June, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Closing of the Year of Priests. We were told, there were 15,000 priests in attendance. By far, the largest Mass ever concelebrated.
                We were already in line at left side of the colonnades facing the facade of St. Peter's Basilica as early as 8:15 in the morning.  I've never seen so many priests, save for the Philippine National Congress of the Clergy last January. I didn't know anybody except for the priests that I saw days earlier. But in that line, I just felt very happy and very much at Rome. We're in Rome and we're in the company of priests, bishops, Cardinals, and the Holy Father. It was family and it was home!
                The security check was not waived.  At 8:45 a.m., the bells were tolling. And we were still in line.  9:15 a.m. passed.  Finally, were made to enter near the Aula Paulo VI.  We were told to leave behind our bags.  Our bags!  Then, all had to take out their bottles of water, digital cameras, and everything that could fit in the pockets.  The entire Aula was filled with bags.  I just thought it would take a miracle of St. Anthony if I were to find my bag after the Mass.
                As we enter the Piazza di San Pietro, the sun was smiling. Nay, the sun was laughing! It was just too hot. I kept on praying that I'll make it throughout the Mass without fainting nor having my blood pressure shoot up.  Anyway, I thought, I took all my medicines that morning.  It's the Closing of the Year of Priests, and it is just a small sacrifice.
                Bottles were being handed out as we passed. Oh, one last bottle I saw.  I had it in my right hand. Yehey! My trophy. Then there was another hand. Non c'e piu'? An elderly religious nun. Obviously, there was no more at that moment.  Oh sister, I just closed my eyes, and gave it to nun.  And I just didn't look back.  No more water...
                Then I saw two Filipino priests. We were literally running to the available seats.  Let's take the seats near the aisle, I exhorted them. The Holy Father will pass by here, and so I hoped.
                And yes, seminarians came in and they were bringing along the much-needed bottles of water. In front of me was a Filipino priest, at his side was a Peruvian and two Chinese priests. At my side were Italian priests. And at my back were Polish priests. That is how universal the Church is. But the Chinese came more prepared than us. They had a blue umbrella with them. The Italian priest at my side was preparing for the long sunny morning. He poured water into his cloth hat and placed it in his head. I thought it was good. But I was saving my bottle of water to drink.
                Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Mercedes Tuason texted me then. Bring out your blue umbrella so I could see you.  She was, of course, seated along the diplomats sopra delle Collonade. Oh, the umbrella that she lent to me earlier on was left inside the bag that was now in the Aula and that which I did not if ever I would find it again.
                The Swiss guards then came to their assigned positions. The Holy Mass was about to start. Then, the very beautiful Litany of the Saints.  And the Holy Father started the Entrance Procession.  He was in the Pope Mobile, but without the bullet proof glasses. He seemed very happy seeing the thousands of priests.
                Viva il Papa! One group shouted.  Another group shouting Benedetto!  Followed by five rhythmic claps. There we were the Catholic priests, in the midst of the scandals engulfing us, we have chosen not be engulfed by this world's madness and utter sense of discouragement. It was not a celebration of priests, it was a celebration of the Priesthood!
                On the facade of St. Peter's was the tapestry bearing the image of St. John Marie Vianney, very serious looking. As if beckoning to us priests that we take our priesthood more seriously and with more dedication.
                The Holy Mass has begun, it was not the usual Penitential Rite, instead there was the Asperges. The sprinkling of the Holy Water calling to mind that from the wounded side of Christ gushed forth blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life.
                After the Homily of the Holy Father, we renewed our priestly vows. It was such a wonderful scene and an unforgettable experience, the thousands of priests responding three times to the three different tasks of the priesthood, and all were in unison. Volo!  I do.
                At the end of the Holy Mass, the Holy Father was kneeling before an icon of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani, Salvation of the Roman People.  He led in the Consecration and Entrustment to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
                Once the Mass was ended, riding the Pope Mobile, he went around the Piazza.  And thankfully, he passed in front of us.  And no, I failed to take pictures, I was just elated to see him pass by just in front of me.
                And off we went to the Aula Paulo VI, would I find my bag?  I really didn't care then, I was just happy to have attended the Holy Mass marking the closure of the Year of Priests. I went to the spot where I thought I laid my bag on that particular part of the floor. And it was not there.  
                The Year of Priests might have ended but the coming years are to stay in and be in love with the Priesthood of Christ that we simply share in continues on.
                My bag was no longer at the pavimento. Somebody probably took pity on the bag that was just being kicked around and trampled on. He placed it on top of one of the seats.  And there I found it, with nothing missing at all.  I thought I lost it for good, but it was there.
                I thought it is also like the priesthood.  We, His priests, and the Priesthood itself, may be kicked around and trampled on, but Christ will elevate it all the more.  It's His, after all. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Fullness of Life

 AT the height of the debate on the Reproductive Health Bill, I met so many new friends and allies and met a good number of foes too.  I have to be honest that it was one of those times that I felt personal pain when you read in the blogs, and hear and see in the media so many detractors of the Church’s official teaching, and yes even among the members of the Church.

                I would have chosen a more “quiet and tranquil life.” But then again, when I see the countless faithful—lay, religious, and clergy alike—that are heroically defending the Family and Life, I feel a more nagging pain.  I need to be a part of this warfare.  And the beauty of it all is that as I wage a personal warfare in my soul, you just feel you’re part of this bigger, cosmic warfare; and God has actually already won this war.  We are simply following through His victory on the Cross.

                We vividly recall how the Apostles were gathered at the Upper Room, waiting for the coming of the Paraclete.  St. John describes them to have been full of fear.  Then came the Holy Spirit.  He gave fortitude, wisdom, and strength.  They spoke, they preached, they performed miracles, and they even laid down their lives for Christ.  That is the Holy Spirit. That is the fullness of life. Not a life of comfort, but a life spent for others, for the Kingdom of God!

                Soon we shall be having a new set of national leaders.  The hibernating RH Bill would certainly be resurrected again, propelled by the same people, support by the same foundations, the same NGOs, the same funding agencies. They would return with vengeance. They were so close in passing it in the last Congress.  We have to brace ourselves.

                But our aim is not simply to weather the coming storm.  As in any warfare, we have to be equipped, foreboding, insightful, clothed and armed.  We do not have their material resources and vast network of people.  Ours is more of a guerilla warfare; never in the offensive, holed-up in our trenches, protecting our bastions, defending our enclaves.

                For how long could we fend off the enemies?  I honestly do not know.  I share the optimism of Cardinal Rosales, I also share the militancy of Cardinal Sin.  We have to have both.  We cannot give-in to discouragement but we should always be in the look-out.
                St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila, as she is better known) advises us to be ever-protective of our interior castle.  We have to fend off the enemies while they are away from the walls of the castle.  That is what we have to do.

               That is why for the many that think the RH Bill is simply a contraceptive-promotion bill.  Better think again.  It will be the Trojan Horse in our national morality.  From contraception to abortion. From reproductive health education to sexual concupiscence. From population management to total population control. We shall reap what we sow.  Sow contraception and we shall be harvesting abortion.

              Giving the benefit of the doubt is one thing, complacency is another.  We cannot afford to be complacent at this time.  I would not wish to be a prophet of doom and gloom, for certainly our people have always been God-fearing and family-loving people.  But I would not be true to my priestly ministry if I would not state it now. We cannot take things for granted.  We cannot be engaged in a guerilla warfare all the time. We cannot be tepid and lukewarm when it comes to Family and Life values.  Family and Life should always be our primary concern.

                Time and again, I have written and said in many fora, the first battle waged in world was the battle between the Woman and Her Fruit on one hand, and the Serpent in the other (cf. Gen. 3, 15) and the last battle to be waged would be between the Woman and the Fruit of Her Womb on one side, and the Dragon, the same ancient Serpent, on the other (cf. Rev. 12).

                It was and will always be defending the Woman and the Child in Her Womb.  Life is a gift from God and the Serpent will do anything to end that transmission of life.  Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, defending Family and Life is not just an advocacy, it is an issue among so many.  It is a spiritual warfare, in the fullest sense of the word.

                In the wake of the very first bad news, that is the falling into sin of Adam and Eve, the very first good news (that is why we refer to it as the Protoevangelium), is the promise of the Woman.  This Woman who said yes to Angel Gabriel.  This same Woman who mediated to Her Son for His very first miracle at Cana.  The same Woman faithful at the foot of the Cross. This Woman clothed with the Sun.

                In the wake of this Warfare, to this Woman we have to have recourse to.  This same Woman was present at the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1, 14). This Woman, ever present at the critical junctures of the salvation of mankind, is present at this final battle.

                May, Mary, Mediatrix of All-Grace, obtain for us the strength, the wisdom, the fortitude to constantly defend God’s gifts of Family and Life.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The tale of two Cardinals

I was in high school when I first saw the late Jaime Cardinal Sin. I believe it was sometime in 1986 after the People Power Revolution. I just felt very happy to have seen him pass by us students as we were made to stand along the street to welcome him and the late Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Torpigliani.
I wrote him after some months and told him how much I admire and respect him. He was gracious enough to respond back and even sent me an autographed picture of himself which I faithfully keep to this day.
What followed were the tumultuous years during the Aquino administration, so many coup attempts and natural disasters. Cardinal Sin would regularly call on the people to pray or even to rally at the EDSA Shrine to protect the gains of the EDSA Revolution, and I would always be there. How I loved and admired Cardinal Sin.
When I was a seminarian in the Eternal City, he would come to visit Collegio Filippino and although I did not reside there, one of the resident-priests there, Fr. Greg Gaston, facilitated my meeting with him. It was sometime in 1995. And how he was so gracious to converse with me for almost an hour speaking about so many things.
In January 2002, the anniversary of EDSA II, I was accompanying the International Pilgrim Virgin Statues (IPVS) of Our Lady of Fatima and were at the EDSA Shrine. Cardinal Sin was then very weak. I am not sure if he still recognized me, but I remember him looking at me intently. I was too “shy” to get close to him and speak with him. It was the last time I saw him alive.
To this day, I remember him with great admiration and emulation even. He was such a prophetic pastor.
March 2002, I was in a personal retreat in Lipa Carmel. During one of the “break time,” I conversed with the late Prioress, Mo. Bernadette. During the conversation, she mentioned and encouraged me to see the then Archbishop of Lipa, Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales. And I did see him. He was so gracious to speak with me, although there was no prior appointment whatsoever, and he didn’t even know me beforehand.
Then he became the Archbishop-Cardinal of Manila. Last 02 May 2010, we had the Mass for the Filipino Family and the Covenant Signing for the Protection of Family and Life. We requested His Eminence to preside over the Holy Mass and deliver the Homily. Even with such a short notice, he gladly accepted. And the Homily was such a beautiful and very timely one.
After the Holy Mass, I approached His Eminence if he was willing to meet the secular media and he did, graciously accepting the request an interview. It began at around 2:00 in the afternoon and ended almost at 3:00. I was there all throughout the time of the media interview.
His Eminence was so insistent on his being optimistic on our country and on our people, and yes, even on the electoral process. It was in that context that he was asked that if there would be fraud, as many were foreseeing then, if there was a need for a reprise of People Power. He answered that he didn’t hear any of these “prophets of doom” (my words) speak. But if there were, he does not agree since there constitutional and legal recourses. Only if all these are exhausted should we have recourse to People Power. It was also at this point that Cardinal Rosales said there were no parallelisms to the Philippines in 1986 to the Philippines in 2010. Hence, at that point (02 May 2010), he sees no need for People Power. HE DID NOT SAY WE SHOULD NOT DO ANYTHING IF THERE WOULD BE FRAUD. He simply said no need for People Power, as of yet.
Hence, it pains to see and hear other Catholic clergy and religious reacting against Cardinal Rosales. There are so many forces that wish to portray and would wish to put a wedge between Catholic leaders. I hope and pray we do not fall into their trap.
That is why among the Catholic faithful, many would like to compare and contrast the two Cardinals of Manila. That one apparently is so active and militant, the other is passive and less passionate. I really have to disagree.
The Church in the Philippines needed a Cardinal Sin during that time, and God gave us Cardinal Sin. The Church in the Philippines needs a Cardinal Rosales now, God gave us Cardinal Rosales. Each with their own prophetic role to play, each with their own charism and style, and I dare say, Cardinal heroically lived up to that role and Cardinal Rosales heroically living up to his.
I shall always remember the words of my own bishop, Bishop Florentino F. Cinense, when one time in our serious conversations, he said, when God (through the Church institutions) sends a bishop to a particular diocese at a particular time, it is because that bishop—with his style, character, spirituality, wisdom and strengths—is what is needed at that particular time. When the time comes, and God sends another, it is because in that time, that particular bishop fits in God’s plan.
I always struggle to see things in God’s perspective, at least to approximate it; that is to say, to discern God’s Will. And in the end, despite how tempting it is to look and consider things from a purely human point of view, we see the greater, the deeper, and the bigger picture when we strive to look at things supernaturally.
Cardinal Rosales—with his own particular character, wisdom, and strengths—is what the Church in Manila and what the Church in the Philippines needs now. And I most lovingly and joyfully bow down to God’s Will. There will be another that will succeed him, and we are sure, it is him that would fulfill God’s Will for that particular time. I believe it is what they refer to as the Grace of Office. And I believe that, I hope you do as well.
In this month of May, this month dedicated to Mary, may we pray more fervently for our Bishops, and for all priests as well. We lovingly consecrate all our endeavors to Mary, Mediatrix of All-Grace, may She, in turn, offer them to Her Son. Ave Maria!

Monday, March 29, 2010

In the middle of the world

ST. JOSEMARIA would always say we are called to be saints, contemplatives even, in the middle of the world, to seek sanctity in the very place we are in right now, at home, at the workplace, at the school, or even at the hospital as a patient or as the one caring for the sick.
At times, however, (or should I say that is often the case), the “world” would be very hostile, as it did reject Christ, and as His followers, we can expect no less.
In this world that is growing steadily to be a militant secularist and anti-religious environment, we are faced with a number of choices—to shirk from the challenges to stand up for the Faith so as to avoid “confrontation,” or to “dialogue” and compromise so as to make our Faith still relevant to the present, or to be firm and be labeled as “fanatic,” “closed-minded,” “antiquated.”
I remember even one saying and writing that although there are official Church teachings, one can read, understand, and interpret them in a “liberal” or “conservative” manner. I imagine some to be “moderates” in their interpretation of the Church. I never thought there are groupings within the Church. There is only one Church embracing many charisms therein. One Body of Christ with different parts but never diverging teachings, one undermining the other.
We in the Philippines have been spared, at least from the time being, from the engulfing flames of scandal and intrigue plaguing the Church in Europe and America right now. With most of us so engrossed with the upcoming national elections and other domestic issues, we have been insulated from these ugly talks right now.
Most certainly, in the entire history of the Church, we have seen the many sinners and saints within her bosom. She remains holy not because of her members but because of her Head who is Christ. There were several instances when the Church was at the verge of collapse but she never did because Christ sustains her.
Indeed, there were and there are many abuses in the Church, but it does not “stain” her. The Church was already “stained” by the Blood of Christ and the blood of martyrs, and that makes her holy and perfected.
What cover-up is to the secular media is the prudent judgment of the Church on her members. She does not pass judgment and imposes penalty in a public manner. She does so silently, as a good mother does to her erring children.
What I find unacceptable is what some secular media abroad are doing, forcefully linking the person of the Holy Father to these scandals, claiming his inaction and cover-up during his time as Archbishop of Munich (Germany).
Then immediately in this one very famous international cable channel, repeated newscast or documentary on so-called Church abuses. The same documentary over and over again, and suddenly, an interview with a supposed philosopher but admitted atheist asserting that we should do away with religion in finding our moral compass. Such assertions I often see in the blogs and commentaries of some of our countrymen, to do away with “organized religion,” what counts is one’s personal belief in God, they opined.
I do not blame them, probably we in the Church are also at fault. But the Church is more than her members. The mistakes of her members and leaders ideally should not affect the Church, but we live in the middle of the world. And in this world, whether we like it or not, human imperfections turn off and scandalize many.
But whenever there are crises in the Church, it is when the Lord raises up many saints among the Church’s leaders and members. For indeed, as St. Paul rightly asserts, where sin has abounded, grace has abounded all the more. Christ will never abandon His Church. She was founded upon the Rock who is Peter, human like us, a sinner like us, but a saint in the end. Like St. Peter, we live and struggle and will be victorious in the middle of this world.
This will be the first time that I consign this into writing. A grave sinner I was and a grave sinner I am. I remember in February of 1997, when the Philippine Bishops had their ad limina with the Holy Father, then the Servant of God, the Great John Paul II. I was able to accompany my Bishop since I was a seminarian then in Rome. When it was our turn to greet the Holy Father, I had the opportunity to speak to him a little. I then said, Holy Father I am a poor and sinful seminarian, but I offer my life for Your Holiness and for the Holy Mother Church. He then briefly gazed at me and blessed me.
I hope, in our hearts and in our prayers, you would join me in that filial love towards the Holy Father, Sinful and miserable that I am, Holy Father, I renew my offering of my life for Your Holiness and for the Holy Mother Church.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


LAST February 12, though already a little bit late in the evening, we took some time off to visit the Carmelite nuns gathered together at the Mater Carmeli Monastery in Sta. Ignacia (Tarlac). They represented the nine Carmelite monasteries belonging to the Federation of Stella Maris—contemplative nuns belonging to the ancient Order of Carmel.
It was a sight to behold the happy, and I should say, angelic faces of the Carmelite nuns. I feel extremely happy that there are still young women willing to sacrifice all and be a part of a contemplative congregation.
I always recall with sentimentality that during the dying days of my mother, she asked me to write a letter to her Carmelite friend in the Carmel of the Holy Family in Guiguinto (Bulacan) to ask her for prayers. We did not receive any letter-response then. But a decade letter, I would just be surprised by the Lord and by Our Lady, that a Carmelite Monastery would be built in our Diocese in Tarlac and the Foundress-Prioress turned out to be my mother’s friend to whom we wrote a decade ago.
A solace and a refuge, that is how I will describe Carmel. When the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima came over in 2003/04, we were able to visit a number of Carmelite Monasteries both belonging to the Order of Carmel (O.Carm.) and to the Order of Carmelite Discalced (OCD). We went as far as Laoag Carmel, Baguio Carmel, Burgos Carmel, Sta. Ignacia (Tarlac) Carmel, Subic Carmel, Lipa Carmel, Zamboanga Carmel. And I was personally able to visit Jaro Carmel and Guiguinto Carmel.
And both my retreats in preparation for the diaconal and presbyteral ordinations were done in the Tertiary House of Carmel in New Manila.
I have yet to see a Carmelite Monastery in which there is no one silently kneeling and praying or someone offering a votive candle.
I have come to equate Carmel to peace and tranquility, no, not a place to run away from the world and seek a momentary peace. It is a place to encounter God and Our Lady, to find strength to face and confront, and change, the world. It is not fuga mundi, to run away from the world, but to face the world with the strength of God and the joy of Our Lady. This is Carmel.
For some, perhaps, monasteries, are vestiges of the past, relics of the medieval times, artifacts of history. I just wish that somewhere, sometime in their life, they would try to sit or kneel or just be silent in monastery, and there in that silence, to encounter God and to know their true selves.
For sure, within the monastery walls, there will be struggles as well. No one is exempted from that. Yet the prayer and silence of Carmel or of any other monastery assures us we are not alone in struggling for sanctity.

It has been often said that monasteries are like the powerhouses of the Church. That the silent prayers and sacrifices of the contemplatives sustain the Church and all her apostolate. And this is very, very true.
I often envy the contemplatives, their smiles, their gentle words, their gentle gestures, betray what really is within, it is not superficial non-noisiness, it is the silence of God.
Before leaving Mater Carmeli Monastery that evening, we also paid our respects to the prioresses of the Federation two of whom, were Spanish old nuns but with gleaming smiles and shining eyes of young women. The nuns seem not to age. I guess love defies aging.
From Mater Carmeli that evening we travelled to Lipa Carmel. That’s another story and another journey. Suffice it to say, we all have to find our own Carmel—where the human and divine meet, where men and women encounter God, the God of love, the God of peace, the God of silence. May this Lenten Season lead you to Carmel. Ave Maria!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Vita Mutatur non Tollitur

DEATH and tragedy seems to be the order of the year. If we were superstitious, the recent calamity in Haiti bodes ill for the entire year. But as believers and followers of Christ, no gravity of tragedy or senselessness of death can separate us from Him who is the source of all happiness and grace.
The tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the floods in Southeast Asia, the devastating earthquake in the Caribbean—all these natural phenomena make us think twice not only of how volatile human life is on the face of the earth but more importantly, these make us look, no, search for a somehow higher power and being.
And in this seeming despair, when somehow we are cornered either to lose hope or grasp the idea of any higher good, it is then that we have to “invent” the idea of God. To comfort ourselves perhaps or to console our weary and tired hearts?
Perhaps. Who then is God? Are we no different from our ancestors that when they were confronted with unexplainable phenomena of nature, they simply turned to nature and adore it as god? Perhaps we have just gone more articulate, more sophisticated in our verbosity yet essentially re-inventing the same old idea that since we cannot explain it, let’s call it “god,” and adore it and attribute to it anything and everything that will make our lives on earth more bearable and palatable.
Quite tempting isn’t it? It’s easier to be “philosophical” rather than to be “dogmatic” about things. It’s a lot easier to ask and doubt rather than ask and search, for when we eventually find what or who we seek, there are no excuses not to believe in nor give our commitment to that discovered truth.
And so alas, in the tragedies of this passing world, are we to discover God? And insist that God does not turn a blind eye when His people suffer? Or are we to follow the other extreme and think that indeed this world is left to its own, and that we are to tend to ourselves with only ourselves to help us? Or to consider even that it is just senseless to think more than what we see and experience, that these are tragedies and that is all, no deeper explanations, no deeper sense, no higher meaning, and no higher Being to speak of?
Last Christmas Season, I had the grace to stay at the bedside of a dying man. He was rich and powerful. I thought for a while that death was a great equalizer between the poor and the rich, the weak and the mighty. That since death is inescapable, at least in death, we are all equal.
Yet I was deeply wrong. I saw this man, in the utter weakness of his mind and body, drew strength from God and from Our Lady. In his last evening of earthly life, he exhorted us to pray the Holy Rosary. Upon reaching the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, he summoned any strength that was left of him and led the praying of the decade, and with fifth Hail Mary, he begun to sing the prayer.
Sickness and death are not the great equalizer, God’s grace is. Conversion is for everyone, the mighty and weak, wealthy and the pauper.
Gathered together around him the next day, we sung the Hail Mary, with the repetition of this Marian hymn, he breathed his last. With the statue of Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All-Grace guarding him in deathbed, it was the true Lady who accompanied him to his heavenly home.
Tragedies do not equalize us. The grace of God does. God’s love does.
St. Augustine has these beautiful words to say:
Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You, man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that You resist the proud, — yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You…
And those who seek the Lord shall praise Him. For those who seek shall find Him, Matthew 7:7 and those who find Him shall praise Him. Let me seek You, Lord, in calling on You, and call on You in believing in You; for You have been preached unto us. O Lord, my faith calls on You—that faith which You have imparted to me, which You have breathed into me through the incarnation of Your Son, through the ministry of Your preacher.
Faced with life and eventually death, the Prayer of the Church solemnly assures us, for God’s faithful people, life is changed, not ended. Vita mutatur non tollitur.