Month: June 2014

Holiness–Even through them!

Only if a seed falls, dies, shall it bear life (John 12:24).

Today, the Church honors two of her seeds which gave way for many lives to flourish: Sts. Peter and Paul.

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The question which confronted Peter haunts us as well: Who do you say I am? Artwork by Br Paul Dungca, SDB

In one of his homilies, St. Augustine of Hippo noted that the two were not just some mere obscure martyrs. Make no mistake about them, they are not your run-of-the-mill technocrats who merely stayed in the comforts of their rooms to strategize their next move.

Indeed, they were luminaries in the early Christian community whose voyages helped expanded the Church’s boundaries beyond Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Evangelization is surely God’s work, but these are His great two pillars.

Since Peter saw himself unworthy to be crucified the same way as Jesus, at his own request, he was crucified upside down. Paul, on the other hand, owing to his being a Roman citizen could not be executed through crucifixion. Hence, he was beheaded.

The Bible is silent in this regard; these accounts were rendered to us by tradition.

Human, Divine

Our common Biblical knowledge about Peter makes us see him as the leader of the pack. For sure, Jesus’ promise to Peter (Mt 16:17-19) which we hear in our Gospel this Sunday, provides a certain preeminence over the other apostles.

Paul, on the other hand, became a missionary par excellence, who did not just preach the Word, but also dialogued with various cultures in order to plant the seed of Christianity.

Yes, these two may have great qualities, but their weakness is not something hidden from us. We honor them today—mindful of their sanctity and their weakness.

And yet, no less than Jesus Himself handpicked these two despite their imperfections.

Peter was an impulsive lot. When Jesus was to be arrested by a detachment of soldiers led by Judas, Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave (John 18:10).

It was the same Peter whom Jesus reproached when Peter walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31)

And worst of all, Peter betrayed Jesus at the very moment when the latter might have the greatest need of the former.

Paul, on the other hand, is on a par with Peter.

For one, he was once a zealous persecutor of Christ (Acts 9:4; Acts 22:7; Acts 26:14). He was even present when Stephen, reputably the first Christian martyr, met his death.

Second, he needed to tame his tongue; he lashed out to the Galatians “You foolish! Who has bewitched you?” (3:1). I mean, he heralds Christ; he is supposed to know better.

And finally, he may be a lettered man (owing to the many epistles he wrote left and right?) but someone from the Corinthians grumbled about him that “when you see him in person, he makes no impression and his powers of speaking are negligible” (Cor 10:10).

And yet despite these, Jesus went beyond their weakness and chose these two to lead His community.

Yes, today, we honor these two great saints whose pasts are tainted with frailty and sin. And yet the mercy of God prevailed that they merited a love which they do not deserve.

And perhaps, we are also being asked if we could extend our compassion and understanding to our Church leaders who are far from being angels, who have their own share of struggles, who are also, like Sts. Peter and Paul, imperfect.

That in spite of them, God may continue to carry out His work.

Even through them.

Thoughts from the Seed Bed

In between the chores of checking whether the sems (on this side of the Salesian world, this is how we call our aspirants and prenovices) are in their proper places, prepare lessons for my teaching stint in the college, take care of the gardens– among many others one of the most challenging duties of being a practical trainee in a formation house is the task of giving good night talks.

That is, at least for me.

Blame it on my stage fright, or perhaps to my distaste of public speaking, that when it’s my turn to deliver the talk for the night, I’d go into  solitude to reflect and compose a piece  so that I’d have something decent to offer.

But even before I knew it, the two years of my  practical training quickly came and went.

And one of the things that rub it in for me that that phase is now over is a compendium of delivered good night talks sitting quietly in one of the folders of my computer.

Those once loose talks are neatly compiled here.

Thoughts from the Seed Bed

Thoughts from the Seedbed Cover-Page Design by Br. Paul Dungca, SDB

They serve as a beautiful memento of my practical training now long gone and a reminder of that first fervor which I once had–and still wish to carry with me up–to that final moment when I am thrust back to the seedbed from where I came.

This compilation–in e-book format–will be launched tomorrow, Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Christ chose to love–He is love!

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which we construct our understanding of the whole, by just using a part of it. Here are some quick examples:

wheels” for a vehicle
ABCs” for the alphabet
headcount” to refer to people

Today, being the solemn feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are asked by the Church to entrust ourselves to the Heart of Jesus. But one would ask, why of all His biological organs, should we single out His Heart? Why not His most sacred hands? Or His most sacred feet, or his most sacred fingers?

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A HUMBLE PRAYER: Make me Jesus wholly thine/ Change this wayward heart of mine.                               Photo by Br. James Aro, SDB & Artwork by Br. Paul Dungca, SDB

In the Jewish context, the heart is believed to be the seat of the soul and the organ responsible for human thought. Hence, Luke waxed poetic when he said “And Mary treasured all these things in her heart” (2:19).

The reason of taking the Sacred Heart of our Savior as an object of our worship is not only because it is a part of His body, but because it symbolizes His love for all mankind. His heart symbolizes His great love for us.

In her vision, the 17th century visionary St. Mary Margaret Alacoque described the Heart of Jesus: It was heavily pierced and bleeding, yet there were flames, too, coming from it and a crown of thorns surrounding it.

At times, when we open our hearts, we run the risk, too, of being hurt, of being rejected, of being disappointed that after giving all our hearts to an endeavor, we end up as a failure.

It is in this perspective that we can say that Jesus, indeed is a perfect lover. He gave His love down to its final drop until He couldn’t longer give anything more that He breathed His last.

Yes, in a way, He was a big failure. But I think, He gladly lost because of His great love for us.

The love of Christ is not followed by the conjunctions because or if. It is always punctuated with a period.

The love of Jesus is not propelled by mere nostalgia or superficial sentimentalities; it is founded on His decision to die for our sins, to give glory to the Father. It is a decision that came from His free will. He could have opted to have a second option in exchange of His love. But He swallowed the bitter pill—and the rest is history. We are saved!

Albus Dumbledore, the former headmaster of Hogwarts, once said “Our decision, our choice, and not our abilities defines who we are.”

At times, we are presented with a difficult situation to love especially when the person in front of us does not deserve our love. However, we are provided with a good model of a lover.

Christ chose to love. He is love.

The best way to a man’s heart is thru his stomach

The movie After.Life opens with the female lead figuring into a deadly car accident.

She wakes up in a morgue confused—as she finds an embalmer preparing her ‘remains’ for the wake. Feeling still very much alive, she resists. But he insists that she is in a transition to the afterlife, and that she’s already dead. Trapped inside the morgue, her boyfriend comes to see her.

This above the context of the dialogue below:

Embalmer: She belongs here.

Boyfriend: Because she’s dead?

Embalmer: No, because there’s no life left in her.

Boyfriend: What do you mean?

Embalmer: Don’t you see? I’m the only one that can see all these corpses wandering around aimlessly. All they do is piss and shit, suffocating us with their stench, doing nothing with their lives, taking the air away from those that actually want to live. I have to bury them all. I have no choice.

The lead character in the movie may be likened to a zombie. Zombies terrify us; but what is more horrible about a zombie is not their empty but penetrating stares nor their disfigured physique but that they are an animated corpse, a walking dead and that they lead a life that is only half.

There is something in the above conversation that made me fall into a pensive mood—and has made me confront these questions head on: “Am I really alive?” “do I actually live?”

Pope Francis, in the celebration of Corpus Christi in Vatican last Thursday spoke of a reality of a universal hunger not just for food, but also, for life.All human persons crave for that which brings nourishment, satisfaction, and fullness. But more often, we go elsewhere to satisfy this longing. And yet, we know that there is still fundamental lacking.

In our Gospel this Sunday (John 6:51-58) Jesus spoke of a bread which brings life—“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). This bread is Jesus.

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JESUS CHRIST is the Bread of Life, the nourishment toward life everlasting. Artwork by Br. Paul Dungca, SDB

Pope Francis exhorts that we should “learn to recognize the false bread that deludes and corrupts, because it is the fruit of selfishness, self-sufficiency and sin.” Further, he adds that “If we look around, we realize that there are so many offers for food that don’t come from the Lord and that apparently satisfy more. Some are fed with money, others with success and vanity, [and] others with power and pride. But the food that truly nourishes and that satisfies is only that which the Lord gives!”

Two summers ago, I was assigned in an institute for drug-dependents. I was distraught when I met the patients whose ages range from as young as 7 to beyond 77. One time, a young man of about 25 years old asked me to pray for him because he was told that his papers are due to be out any time soon; but this also depends if he could maintain a clean record. One minor violation means an extension of weeks to several months. He shared with me that his stay inside the rehabilitation center humbled him and allowed his family to help him because he was already helpless. The drugs he was using became too much to handle that he’s now hooked to them, and without the external help, things could have grown worse. That which initially gave him satisfaction and brought him to high heavens led him to confront the reality of a gnawing emptiness within.

Jesus comes and proclaims that He is the living bread from the Father. And they who partake of Him will not just be satisfied, nor will be filled, but will have life everlasting.

The best way to a man’s heart is thru his stomach—this adage says what in essence the Solemn feast of Corpus Christi is all about.

Love which knows no barrier

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THE TRIUNE GOD: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–fused with the heart of the Gospel proclamation –bring to life the beauty of communion. Artwork by Paul Adrian Dungca, SDB.

Ut servum redímeres, Fílium tradidísti!

The line above is from the Easter Song Exultet. If you do not understand what it means, don’t fret, here below is the translation:

to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

I must have first encountered the song when I was 12 years old. That time, I was a newly minted member of the Knights of the Altar and, as it were, I became a staple server in practically all the Masses in the parish. But the first time I gave much attention to this song, and particularly to this line was when I was initiated to the study of theology.

It was our teacher in Fundamental Liturgy who directed us not only to the lofty theology found in Exultet but also the beauty intricately woven in its poetry. She particularly referred us to this line. How painful it must have been for a father to let go of a son in order to buy back a servant. And yet, we know that it’s not just a mere fiction for we know that it happened in real life.

Yes, God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son
that whoever believes in him
may not be lost,
but may have eternal life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  John 3:16

Today, we join the world in celebrating Fathers’ Day. And how fitting it is that the readings for the liturgy precisely lead us to recall how the Almighty Creator has so loved us that we are allowed to call Him with such closeness and familiarity: Father.

I love this anecdote about a father and a son.

One day, the son goes to the father and asks if he could go to a party. The father thinks for a while, nods his head in approval but gives a condition: “Be back before midnight or sleep outside.”

The son considers it and agrees right away. The son enjoys in the party. He almost does not notice that it’s already past 1 AM. He rushes back home; from afar he sees the familiar figure which he immediately recognizes to be his dad. His fear and anxiety grows further. When he finally reaches the house, his dad motions him to stay outside.

There is a long, eerie silence. The father breaks the awkwardness. “I don’t like to do this, son. But you breached our agreement.” The son replies “Yes, dad. I know. And I’m sorry. I’m ready to sleep outside … But, dad, why do you have two sets of pillows and blankets?

Son, our agreement is for you to sleep outside if you reach home late. But no one is to stop me from suffering with you.”

This story made me see in concrete how God—like the father in the story—painted a compassionate image of Him in the first reading (cf. Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9).

Just try to imagine. The Israelites worshipped the golden calf—this took place after their covenant with God was just sealed thru the tablets of stones. Witnessing this idolatry, Moses was blazed with anger that he smashed the tablets.

This betrayal of the Israelites alone could have merited death; after all, He is God, they should not have messed up with Him in the first place. And yet, wonder of wonders, God gave them another chance. His words echo, thus:

“Yahweh, Yahweh, God of tenderness and compassion,
slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy,
maintaining his faithful love to thousands,
forgiving fault, crime and sin…”

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I did not do well in Hebrew, but if there is one Hebrew word I do not allow myself to forget, it is this: Hesed. This word speaks of a “of faithful love in action;” a love that does not wait to be reciprocated in order to be realized, a brand of love which is freely given away—for no one merits it.

John writes ‘God is love,’ (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16). But “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC 221).

Barely three months after assuming the papacy, St. John Paul II spoke that “God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love” (January 28, 1979).

Just last night, a priest narrated to me that he came home from his blessing the remains of a father—and his daughter—who met an accident in Batangas. Last Thursday, when their family went to an outing, the daughter was washed away by a big wave while sitting on the breakwater with some friends. All of them were able to fasten themselves to safety except for the daughter. The father immediately went into the sea to save her. But the current was too strong, his mere human will to save her was not enough. He lost her, and in the process, he lost his life as well.

Stories like this naturally make me feel sad. But ironically, they also cheer me up for they make me realize how it is possible to go beyond the unthinkable, even to that point of risking our lives, in order to give life to others.

If anything, this act of the father in saving his daughter reflects the beauty of love emanating in the Most Holy Trinity. In it, we can find an eternal exchange of love which no death can even put a stop to.

 

 

I’m happy here! (A birthday speech)

Exactly a year ago when I delivered this birthday piece to my Seminaryo community.

My first year in the Seminaryo has been quite eventful and when I respond to the question how is your theologate? The answer “I am happy here” is simply an understatement.

I searched my heart why it is so, and let me, through this speech, count the ways the reason why.

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IN TRANSIT: Photo taken during my last renewal of vows in 2012 from Canlubang to the Seminaryo, my present home. Photo by Dennis Maleon.

First, I’ve been reunited with my FIN confreres who were once my seminary companions in Canlubang.

It was something I wished and prayed for when I returned back to the seminary—that there would be a chance for me to be with them again. With my being in the theologate last year, this dream has become a reality.

Second, I am blessed with a community that may be far from perfect, but endeavors to make room for everyone. Hence, having been thrust into such a big community last year, I found myself at a loss with names of confreres, but the familial atmosphere of the community made it easy for me to address each confrere a brother.

And then, it dawned on me, calling each one a brother is made possible by the father of the house, whose shining example of discipline, faithfulness, and love is at times more powerful than his vocal chords.

Fr. Pepe’s presence in the community is the third reason why I am happy here; and with his another term this year, with all conviction, I am proud to say I’m a lot happier than before.

Fourth, though I was not able to meet them in person, my theological studies enabled me to brush elbows with luminaries such as the Italian monsignor Romano Guardini, Cardinal Yves Congar, Scriptures expert Fr. Raymond Brown, Pope Emeritus Benedid XVI, among many others, who gently taught me to not just believe in order to understand, but also, endeavor to love what may be difficult to believe.

But more than them, I’ve been enriched by my interaction with the people I’ve met in the ministries be it the Wednesday catechism class or the weekend apostolate. These people have efficiently taught me that it’s possible to believe in, appreciate and love God without really knowing why Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land or accurately figuring out the Christology of the St. Mark.

The list goes on. But let me just give you the ultimate reason why I’m happy here. Perhaps ¡t is because of the presence of a God that comforts me when I am disturbed, who nonetheless disturbs me as well when I’m comfortable, w hose presence is so mightily powerful to disregard, who continuously showers me with His unconditional love and graces even if I am the last person to merit it.

I promised a short speech, and I’ll be true to my word. Thanks for your prayers and greetings. Have a great day.