Reflection on the Lord’s Baptism

My first memory as a seminarian is of entering my room for the first time, tossing my bag on the bed, and walking over to the window.

From the window I could look into the lawn.

And there, I could see the Rector of the seminary, all alone, sweeping dry leaves in our lawn.

This made a big impression on me. I suppose I came to the seminary expecting that the Rector would be a dignified figure, high above us mere seminarians. But there he was pitching in with the chores just like anyone else. And it was the same all year long.

The rector swept floors, washed his laundry in our lavatory and scrubbed pots and pans with the rest of us.

He made it clear that he was one of us, and whatever we were doing; we were all in it together.

My second year as a seminarian, our Bishop gave us a new Rector (In our Diocese in Dipolog, we have reshuffling of assignment every 5 years)

Our formation year began with a weeklong silent retreat.

Then, on the 6th day, we had our house cleaning and manualia.

We were busy applying floor wax and scrubbing floors, wiping tables and windows, and taking out cob webs in the ceiling.

After the whole of day of toil, as we were catching our breaths squatting in our lawn, we saw our new Rector approaching bringing us 2 cellophane of assorted breads.

As it turned out, he was quite different from our old Rector.

Whenever work period rolled round, he was always occupied with other important duties.

Nevertheless, it was a nice gesture.

It seems to me that something similar is happening in our Gospel today. Jesus, to mark the beginning of his public ministry, is being baptized by John.

Now, John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance, and Jesus is without sin. He has nothing to repent.

John says to him, “I should be baptized by you, not you by me.” But Jesus insists, and John gives in.

Why does our Lord insist upon being baptized?

I think he is showing us, right from the start, that he is human. Though he is without sin, he is associating himself with the human need for redemption.

He wants to be fully identified with us, with those who are sinners, those who are marginalized, oppressed, pushed aside. In that crowd that came to follow John and be baptized, there were people of every class, every order, every nationality.

There were Gentiles, there were Jews, there were rich, there were poor, there were soldiers, there were peacekeepers — everyone — and Jesus comes to be one with them, and therefore, with all of us.

He is one of us, and we are all in this together.

We accept that Christ is divine, but it is equally essential that he be human.

Jesus lived, died and was resurrected from the dead so that we could be saved.

If he were not divine he couldn’t save us. If he were not human, it would not be us whom he saved.

Because he is a human being, what happens in Christ happens to and for us.

And it isn’t just a gesture on our Lord’s part.

Throughout his life he experiences, grief, fear, loss, hunger and thirst — all the tragedies, frustrations, petty humiliations and inconveniences that are characteristic of human existence.

All of this is a wonderful gift to us.

For I wonder if we would ultimately be able to worship a God who didn’t know what it was like to be one of us.

Motivated by boundless, immeasurable love, our Savior became like us, so that we might become like him.

 

the parable of the dishonest steward.

In most of Jesus’ parables, the main protagonist is either a representative of God, Christ, or some other positive characters. In this parable, the characters are all wicked – the steward and the man whose possessions he manages are both having unsavoury characters. This should alert us to the fact that Jesus is not exhorting us to emulate the behaviour of the characters, but is trying to expound on a larger principle, on the greater scheme of things, on the great theme of self-versus God and between two Masters and to whom do we serve.

Jesus is not telling us that we should become worldly minded, unrighteous, unfaithful or crooked. The manager is never being commended for his dishonesty, he is being commended for his cleverness.

Indeed we can learned good things from bad people. We can draw positive lessons from negative examples. Jesus was drawing a good lesson from a negative example. He commended the man not for his dishonesty but for his cleverness.

It is true that the sons of light, the servants of God, well intention as they are, often lack the wisdom of astuteness, of cleverness, to use what they have wisely, as shrewdly as the world uses what they have.

Sometimes, we, who aspire in life eternal are lacking zeal compared to those who aspire only to become a rock star.

They should not outshine us after having come to Jesus, responding to the call of denying self, and to look for God, we should make sure not to waste this life that God has given us, this opportunities we have in this present moment, knowing what we know about the future and all that it requires.

We should not let them out do us with the zeal for our greater cause.

The obvious fact here is that, sometimes we are put to shame by the zeal of the Pharisees. How zealous they were in making ways to glorify themselves.

And I think it is still the case.

Everyone needs to make a decision, and from this parable , even dishonest, worldly people know that in light of the coming account, of coming reckoning, of coming judgment, everything needs to be used for our disposal, cleverly, as best as we can, as to secure for ourselves a good comfortable future. Even the most worldly dishonest people knew that.

Why are we lagging our feet when Jesus invites us to be saved? The fact that Jesus draws a positive lesson from a negative example has an extra sting to it. Because even the dishonest people get this right.

We have an opportunity before us, to live for God’s kingdom, not merely for riches that perish and fade in this world, but for an eternal reward. And that is the opportunity we have in our response to the call of Jesus. And we will use everything we have in our disposal for this great end.

Last night while watching the Voice Philippines, I appreciated much how zealous the contestants were, they were undergoing demanding voice rehearsals, helping out the poor for publicity perhaps, tiring and depriving their selves with good sleep and they were so glued on maximizing their full potential to glorify oneself- to win the competition, so that they may have a better chance of a good, comfortable life in the future.

We Christians are asked to do the same. Yet far beyond than the cause of self, we are called for a greater cause, for the cause of God and others.

If only we have this equality of zeal to those who wants to be rock stars.

In the Gospel, Jesus said, “Use filthy money to make friends”, so that when it fails, God may receive us to his eternal dwelling. Use it all for God, now, for eternity. Jesus used a parable and bringing it straight to reality, moving straight to application.

It is not true that money is the root of all evil. What is the root of all evil is our love for it. Jesus is teaching us that our money can be used to enter heaven. In what way? To use our money not only for our benefit, but also for others. But as long as we are not yet generous, it only means that we are serving the mammon and not the Lord.

And then when money fails, when we die, riches rot and fail but not righteousness, we will have a good standing, there will be something for us to look forward to, because what we’ve been labouring the whole time with our money which not that which ends with money….but its more than just about money…

We are stewards, God has given stuff for us, money is part of the stuff that God has given us, What we are doing with God’s money, are we using it for God or are we using it for ourselves? Reflecting on these questions, we then realize that it is not just money that God has given us, but our life, our breath, our family, everything. God has given us everything.

Our life that we have is not our own and what are we doing with what God has given us?

If we are not willing to be faithful with that which is least- the unrighteous wealth- mammon, how then we be expected to be faithful with the spiritual things, more important than the things that fade?

But the larger issue is discipleship, the larger issue has to do with the heart… where is our heart at?  We are called to radical discipleship, to deny self and live for God. To check one’s heart is to check where one spend one’s money, where we spend our resources totally reflects where our heart really is.

One who is faithful with very little is also faithful in much.

One who is dishonest in very little is dishonest in much.

And if we are unfaithful to unrighteous wealth who will trust us with true riches?

Jesus is asking us the cause of our heart. Who are we serving? Are we taking the road of the Pharisees or are we taking the road that Jesus calling us to take- radical discipleship, for the cause of God’s greater glory, for the cause of serving others, in carrying our cross and self-denial.

Even the most worldly people, those who are dishonest know, that when the time draws near and decision is required, they have to use the present moment to ensure a good end.

Every single moment of our life is given by God, everything! What are we use it for? What cause will it contribute to? Will the Pharisees outshine us? Will the world outshine us? Will those who are dishonest outshine us? Why not used everything we have to the cause we are subscribed to?

Today, God is calling us to think with these things. A time will come that we will give an account to God…and like the steward, to take every advantage to every moment and every opportunity to ensure for ourselves a good end.

The steward had given us a good example to emulate. Like him we have to look forward to the things to come. Like him we should provide against the day that we will leave our present habitation. Like him we should secure a house in heaven. That we should use all means to provide for ourselves everlasting dwelling. To make use of every opportunity to secure an everlasting home. 

 

My baby Jesus who sleeps in the cloud

When I was about 5 years old, I started to accompany my mother every dawn to go to mass. Honestly I really do not want to come with her- the difficulty of waking up early, the bite of the cold water in my face, the toil of walking half asleep from our house to the church. Still, I need to accompany my mother every dawn. Since I am the only son, I would like to think that the responsibility of escorting her rested on my young shoulder.

Our church, built by the Jesuits, is very old. Then, I would just sit in the pew trying to catch some catnaps before the bell rings while my mother kneels and recites her rosary devoutly. Sometimes I would join her in praying the rosary but often I do not.

Then the altar boy rings the bell and the procession begins. My mother would slightly pinch my ear to wake me up.

My favourite part in the Holy Mass is when the priest starts incensing. I just love the smell of incense. When Holy Communion comes, I tag along with my mother receiving communion. I would stretch my hands to the priest imitating my mother, but the priest would not give me even a small portion of the Body of Christ. Back then, I do not understand why the priest would not give me a piece of “wafer”. Mamang told me that priests are generous and kind, I thought, that old priest was the exception.

After the Holy Mass, mamang and I will light candles and pray in the prayer room. Getting the wax and moulding it was my favourite part.

When I started to read, mamang and Lola Epang gave me “libritas” or prayer guide to exercise my reading. I remember having three libritas: a guide on how to say the Rosary, prayer to St. Joseph, and a prayer to St. Vincent Ferrer.

I remember when we were younger, we used to recite the family Rosary at 6pm after the big old bell sang the angelus. The whole children will be squatting in the banig during prayer. We all take turns in reciting the mystery to keep us awake. Clutching our rosaries, Manang and I will be squatting mate, while Lola Epang will be lying in her rocking chair and Mamang will cuddle our younger sister. I really don’t know why most of the time I feel so sleepy during the duration of praying the Holy Rosary but when it’s done, my sleepiness is gone and I’ll be so wide awake and alert.

My elementary years is spent in a government school. We pray before and after each class. We too have a crucifix hang in the wall and images of Jesus and Mama Mary. We have an old catechism teacher. She taught us prayers like Our Father and Hail Mary every Tuesdays.

One day, I remember when we, grade schoolers were playing in the park, a classmate of mine got a bruised knee and bled bold red blood, “hala mugawas gyud ang pari ana” (Hala, the priest will come out from that wound), a classmate told us.

The seed of my faith was nourished by my family especially with the examples set by my mother and Lola Epang.

I used to believe that baby Jesus sleeps in one of the clouds, and when it rains, baby Jesus probably pees while he sleeps. I used to believe too, that during thunderstorms God is very angry to someone.

We don’t go out at night, we were so convinced that monsters are roaming during the night.

I believed that sometimes God will go down from heaven and will be under disguised as a beggar or an old blind lolo with a walking stick. I often give my share of snack to a beggar near our school thinking that it was God.

As far as I remember, I grew up with lots of pets – a beagle, a strayed cat, and even a rat placed in a makeshift bed out of an old big Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder container. When one of my pets die, I place it in a wooden coffin built together with my friends and buried it. Then I sprinkled it with holy water. I then put a cross on it and me and friends said a prayer.

There was a time when mamang scolded me because I had emptied the matchbox. I made little crosses out of the matchsticks when a friend of mine had massacred an ant colony using a plastic lit in fire. I was so angry with him. I used to believe that animals and humans shared the same dignity.

A public high school education cannot be called a nursery for faith, except the negative sense. There were no signs around to remind one of first Fridays, oftentimes no prayers before the class, no teachers exhorting one to frequent Communion. If you did these things, you did them on your own, gaining merit thereby, perhaps. I cannot say I always did them. During these years I can only trust that the seed was sinking deeper and deeper and will someday result in the tree growing taller than a superficial planting would allow.

I remember that during this time, I begin to question the faith I have and finding “sense” in it. I still continue to go to mass and received Holy Communion despite of my doubts though.

I remember Mamang asking me to get some flowers in the carousa of St. James the Greater, she needed it to cure my younger sister’s illness. I told her why not bring her to the hospital instead. Mamang told me that Santiago is greater than any doctor.

In my entry to the seminary, the way I imagined God had changed. My primitive and imaginative faith had been challenged and patched up and my Jesus who sleeps in the clouds has now grown up, incarnated, walk and dine with sinners, and died on the cross and third day he rose from the dead and now seated in the right hand of the Father in glory and will come back again to judge the living and the dead.

I would like to think that nothing much have change with what I used to believe and continued to believe on. I still hold on the God of my imagination. I still believe in the power of my libritas, that flowers from the carousa can heal, and when it rains baby Jesus or a cherub pees.

 

 

 

 

 

I was once a beggar

I was once a beggar, though not an ordinary beggar, but a religious one, a beggar of the good Lord. Every Friday I used to tag along with some few brothers down to Carbon market in Cebu with a sack on hand.

And we would be singing Marian songs along the way and pray the Rosary too.

“Ave Maria, pwede mangayo? Ave Maria, pwede po bang manglimos? I extend my hand asking for a piece of meat, a vegetable, a spoonful of salt, a rotten mango, a kilo of rice.

Some vendors and stall owners would scold us, “Why beg, when you’re healthy and can work for a living…” For them we were silly persons wasting the strength of our youth into silly things- like begging.

Still there were some who generously give their share of paninda. “Brother, i-apil mi sa imong pag-ampo…Brother please include me in your prayers…” seeing in their eyes, their deepest need of God, the depth of their desire for God fuelled me and my Franciscan brothers of the Immaculate to offer all we have, all earthly matter we put behind, all that used to concerned us means nothing at all, our folly we forget, our history we put aside, our dreams and aspirations we sacrifice, we offer, all to God.

After the whole day of toil, of asking, of pleading, of begging, of praying, we would carry our sack in our back bound for home.

Most of the items we collected were leftovers. We would then separate the spoils into 3 basins according to their expiration, on how many days they would last: 1st basin for the food that would survive for a week, the 2nd for half of the week, and the 3rd to be transmuted into organic fertilizers, great for our vegetable garden.

I had been living for months in a Franciscan monastery at the top of the mountain – it was heaven for me; the long hours of prayer, manualia, recreation, the Friday begging, the supernatural stories my brother shared, the rosaries we’ve prayed even during washing dishes and other chores…my parents didn’t knew what was I’m doing in Cebu, I only told them that I’m doing research or writing a book.

Then it came. One day, a woman knocked in the old door of the monastery looking for me…she cried and told me I needed to go home now…that I was a week late for enrolment…that my friends and classmates were looking for me…that my dogs were missing me.

My mother felt my hesitation of coming home, she knew my thoughts, she knew what’s in my heart…and she told me: “Doy, you can come back here if you want, but you need to go home now…”

I bid goodbye as the sun in the distance sheds its feast of light on the horizon. I thought my saints-in-the-making-days were over…

So what’s my purpose of sharing this poor narrative of mine?

Well, every one of us wants to do great things for our Beloved – for God… like the two faithful servants in today’s Gospel.

I presume that there was a point in our life where we were so badly wanted to become a saint.

Reflecting on the Gospel. I sympathized the fearful servant. Indeed, how hard it is to be able to do so little.

In my hospital apostolate, there was a nanay, in her 50’s, wearing a duster with strips of white in between, with no family, no money and even no bag of blood for her operation. If only I’d bring some money with me, am willing to give it all to her.

We talked and I got glued with her warm stories -how industrious her parents were, how she first met her husband, the joy of giving birth to a son…especially with her optimism – she still hope that despite everything she’s been through, she will be alright, “Hindi naman ako pinapabayaan ng Dios”, she told me with a tinged of conviction in her voice.

At that moment, I realized I had been talking to a saint…in her there is an underlying tone, a hidden attitude common to the saints… in her there is a sense of optimism, a keen sense of faith and hope…that God didn’t abandoned her alone and in need…She has met Christ, and she knows that there is no way that her tears go unnoticed, or her troubles unacknowledged…

At first, I got irritated with the whole idea of the pastoral visit. I thought it was a silly question to ask “kumusta ka?” when I knew that the patient is not okay, when I can read from her yellow eyes the pain she has, when she supposed to be resting now, yet here I am, so insensitive wanting to ask her if she’s okay, and out of her kindness, she sacrifices her valuable time of rest for me.

Late I realized that “Kumusta ka?” was an inquiry not only for the sick patient…but also for me, “Kumusta ba ako?”

In order not be totally consumed with these paralyzing thoughts of mine, I kept on thinking that I am here to visit my Jesus in the face of the sick patients. This wasn’t easy and never was. During the whole course of the apostolate, there were lot of times that I went out from the ward, allowing myself to breath, to relax, to convince myself that I’ll be alright.

After the whole day of wrestling with my issues and woundedness, at the end of the day when I’d brought my pain into prayer, when I evaluated myself, I came to meet my wounded God. Indeed, He was all there with me. In my prayer, I began to appreciate my share of woundedness. Somehow, it is my sacred place where me and my God met. God then became so real to me.

As I gazed my Jesus nailed on the Cross, somehow I began to see the beauty of His cross, the beauty of His wounds. I then realized that to see the beauty of my cross, the beauty of my wounds, I must journey into my darkness. I must face the deepest of pains.  I must go where I fear.  And I am finding that this journey is hard, long and difficult… and I could never make it by myself. But I know, deep inside, that I am never alone, because my Jesus is traveling with me and will always be…

So to end this somewhat zigzagging reflection of mine… I would like to think that the reason why some of us are not inspiring to be saints anymore it is because, we’ve tried… and we failed, and now we are afraid to try it again. We are like the unfaithful servant who was consumed with fear… and fear crippled the love he had for his master.

But Love casts out all fear. If we love Jesus with our whole hearts, minds, strength, and soul we will find peace in the midst of the greatest of trials even within our greatest fear.

God so love us. May our hearts expand to contain His magnanimous love.

 

Enounter with my Wounded God

If there is one word that best describes my apostolate experience that would be “helpless”. The desire to help was chained with circumstances leading me to exhaustion. Somehow, Sundays became dreadful to me since I have to face again the reality of the apostolate, the chance of being contaminated again with the conglomeration of pain and woundedness.

The heavy burden laid upon my shoulder somewhat impede me to see, in the eyes of faith, the joy and liberation it gives if only I could transcend the whole experience. The task wasn’t easy, but still I have to face the music.

Influenced by the movies I watched in T.V., I was really afraid of being in New Bilibid Prison. My heart was pounding so hard that I could loudly hear it. I tied myself to my batchmates not wanting to be separated away from them.

As the jail guards began “checking” us, I felt uncomfortable coupled with fear and anxiety. Though deep within, there’s a part of me excited for the chance of “mingling” with the convicts. The thrill of seeing people who are marked by our society as criminals, murderers, rapists, etc. excites me. More than the excitement, I think the longing to see my Jesus in them pushed me to be there.

Then we went to the psychiatric ward, where we met several inmates who were mentally challenge.  The most striking was when a man sang a melancholic song. The lyrics of the song impregnated in my memory, (I could still see him clearly in my thoughts),went like this,

Hahalikan nalang natin ang kinabukasan

Ng buong loob at yayakapin pa

Tadhana’y medyo overrated kung minsan

Kung ayaw may dahilan

Kung gusto palaging merong paraan

 As he was standing face down and sang sheepishly, those words were like daggers slowly slicing me from within. A premature tear had escaped from my eyelids, the premature tear met a premature death. Wanting not to be consumed with sadness, I tried to fight the feeling away, but loneliness and pity had enveloped me suddenly.

I couldn’t believe how the prisoners, who are mentally ill manage to sing, pray, laugh, talk, and listen.They were squatting on the floor amused by our presence, though some were just sitting in their bed ignoring the whole scene. I could read in their eyes the loneliness they’ve felt. Was it really loneliness? Or maybe, was it just the projection of the feeling that I have, and continue nursing since the last month I decided to bid goodbye to my family?

I really do not know. I was off guard when reality slapped me.

In the afternoon, we had the chance to talk with the juveniles. As the course of our sharing advanced, my biases and prejudices about the prisoners began to melt away. Little by little I was freed away from my unnecessary fear and worrying. In my rude awakening, I found myself more tangled into my preconceived notion of the prisoners in Bilibid than these imprisoned young men. When I bade goodbye to me new found friends, I, too, bade goodbye to my prejudices. 

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Though I wrestled the feeling of helplessness in me, little by little, through prayer and series of reflection, propelled me to realize my giftedness, wanting to grow in giving of my giftedness, especially to the least, the last, and the lost in the society.

After the whole day of wrestling with my issues and woundedness, at the end of the day when I’d brought my pain into prayer, when I evaluated myself, I came to meet my wounded God. Indeed, He was all there with me. In my prayer, I began to appreciate my share of woundedness. Somehow, it is my sacred place where me and my God met. God then becomes so real to me.

I remember the Gospel passage where Thomas met the resurrected Christ: ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side’ (John 20:27). Reflecting on this passage, I realized that in my daily pursuit of finding God I’ll be wounded. My vocation is to find God and grace inside the wounds.

This realization was so humbling, so astounding, so healing, that I sat in a teary-eyed stillness.

As I gazed my Jesus nailed on the Cross, somehow I began to see the beauty of His cross, the beauty of His wounds. I then realized that to see the beauty of my cross, the beauty of my wounds, I must journey into my darkness. I must face the deepest of pains.  I must go where I fear.  And I am finding that this journey is hard, long and difficult… and I could never make it by myself. But I know, deep inside, that I am never alone, because my Jesus is traveling with me and will always be.

P.S. I am very thankful for the program for allowing to meet my wounded God.

Somewhere, the painful acceptance of our inability and inadequacy liberates us from the misconception of who we truly are.

Imagine yourself spending late nights studying, while some of your classmates are just chilling on an uncomfortable plastic chairs and updating their facebook statuses or wasting their time watching on “please be careful with my heart” in youtube.

You’re plunging yourself into boring books, gluing to every detail, making notes, highlighting phrases you think that will come out in the exam.

Then reality kicks you hard. As you get your examination result, you’ve got a lower grade compared to your classmates. You’re lagging behind though you spend much time in studying.

Arghh.

Life is so unfair.

Lord I met you today

Lord I met you today. You were there lying,

suffering from a bed sore,

breathing through a silly tube,

with a lose leg,

with an extra muscle in your face,

sleeping, tired, alone.

Lord I visit you today.

I talked with you. You listened to me.

smiled at me, consoled by my presence.

You shook my hand. You trust me.

You share your vulnerability.

pagaling po kayo