Through the Fire into Eternal Life

Thank you Tita Cory for bearing the fire of earthly purifications on our behalf. May I learn much from your example of humility before God, and sincerity of service for the nation. You will be greatly missed around. So long – woman of sacred fire…

His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through
an undeniably painful transformation «as through fire». But it is a blessed
pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame,
enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.

Pope Benedict XVI

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Photo credit: James Neeley

President Tita Cory Aquino

Graceful or disgraceful, who knows? We did not have internet connection for the past 4 days.

N.B. I need to make a few tweaks on this post for some communal reasons. I posted this one yesterday prior to visiting Reyna Elena, who is inviting bloggers to join a positive campaign for our beloved Tita Cory –Touch a blogger! Tie a yellow ribbon for Cory Aquino So, this entry is at the same time my show of solidarity with the ongoing mounting support both online and in the real world, praying for the next sacred path Tita Cory will take.

I hope you notice right from the title of this post: I did combine the legal and ribbon  political title with “Tita” (Aunt)  as the address of endearment to our former President Cory Aquino. It is not accidental that many of us of voting age continue to address Mrs. Aquino as President. I suspect the habit is largely not out of a legal post-term respect she deserves (we do the same for gentlemen Ramos and Estrada). It is more of sifting both consciously and subconsciously the ones exemplary leaders among us from the absolutely non-extendable ones, the present administration especially long muddled by unresolved bigtime issues of accountability and public mistrust. The hunger for a trusted leader couldn’t be more earnest than now; the preventive protest against any iota of term extension couldn’t be more urgent than now. The more the Arroyo presidency appears to maneuver (in the softest, tentative term) those extension possibilities, the more Madam Cory becomes a necessity of our beleaguered young democracy. Urgently, the obvious polar differences give us a sense on who really matters for the health and healing of this crisis country.

When Madam Aquino was elected president, I was only in my wild teen years, more preoccupied in confusion with those jittery testos and other heydays in high school. But I know that on the national scale, the Aquino presidency was more engrossed in taming the belligerent ambitious energy of the few officials in uniform. The restoration of democracy may be less palpable to my intelligence then, and only in retrospect by scanning newspaper clips, or by listening to the stories of social structures and of those old enough to grasp what restoration means at that time, have I arrived to a growing and weighty appreciation of a first woman leadership. Needless do I have to highlight President Aquino’s achievements and Achilles’ heel in this post. We all know what we want from a leader – personal integrity on top of some imagined Lincolnian political brilliance that realistically falls  short by degrees regardless of any circumstance. We all know Tita Cory has consistently lived up until now to the bar of integrity, and the thought of this leaves us with some waft of inner peace and contentment. It’s like personally retiring at the end of a busy day, too tired to say a long prayer but a little pensive in bed: “I did my best with the kind of honesty I was called for today. God, pardon my imperfections.

Yes, as a people, we are often overly demanding, impatient over people we trust to lead us. This is not politically capricious I assume. What turns out capricious is pretension on the part of those acceding to the public expectation to the point of faking the ideals, turning leadership into a show of the superhuman, the invulnerable, the insufferable beings always on the defensive side of proving powerful. Instinctively, it is very easy to develop either abhorrence or apathy against those “aliens” among us.

We get accustomed to calling the President our national Tita because she is human enough before our eyes. When she confessed hiding under her presidential bed during one of the 7 coup attempts, she made me remember how we crept in fear as a family under our hardwood table when the Typhoon Nitang of 1983 dislodged the roof of our house. For the widows in our midst, who couldn’t identify with the lifelong grief she transforms into a crusade for clean governance? For the mothers among us, patient and long-bearing the weight of prodigality beyond their control of their children, whose lips wouldn’t quiver in silent prayer like those of Augustine’s mother Monica? (Kris, rest assured I did have my prodigal moments, too.) Now, with the existential threat and pain of cancer she contends with, who among us in our existential pains couldn’t resonate by degrees with hers? President Aquino is human enough to mirror our own humanity and so we address her with some juvenile fondness as our Tita Cory; humanly embrace her we do with the sincerest prayer we could muster. Amazingly, this is holy leadership even in pain. Again – amazingly!

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Friend, anything that makes you pause as we rally around in prayer for a lovable human being and child of God?

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Photo credit: Joe Galvez

A Lung-bursting Compliment!

January is declared National Cancer Awareness Month, and in that part of easter-letterthe archipelago, Negros Occidental my birth province, a group of dedicated medical workers will highlight the week through a “Cancer Exhibit”. In response to ifm’s invitation to post something as a show of support for cancer patients, I am posting one of the sweetest compliments I ever received. It’s a short ‘thank you’ letter from a cancer patient dropped at the chapel’s prayer box after an ecumenical Easter worship I presided over in Houston. This letter has been part of a long manuscript I wrote; the first part is typed and the second, handwritten.

“As the Easter Service begins I sit amazed. Some patients arrive pushing their I.V. poles. A woman sitting close to me is crying softly. As I look around I know everyone is here to celebrate our risen Savior’s life but I also know everyone here is dealing with cancer as a patient or a loved one who has the disease. This is the Chapel at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. I have never attended an Easter Service like this. As the pianist plays “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” we rise to sing. The woman that was crying joins in singing. As the Chaplin (original spelling) gives us a call to worship he reminds us we are here to celebrate life over death, new joy, new hope, new possibilities. This is giving me comfort and hope. Kenny and I are starting a new journey. We want all of you to know how much we appreciate your prayers and support.”

Nan Bonette

In handwritten:

“Just wanted you to know when I attended a few services while my husband was a patient at M.D. I’ll always remember Easter at your service. I wanted to be home with my family but this was uplifting.”

To all our cancer patients and their loved ones, Jesus is alive. Allow Him to touch your deepest pain!

Gentle as a Rain

May the Holy One come down like gentle rain;
may the earth burst into blossom and bear the tender Savior. rain

This is one of the loveliest lines I prayed this Advent from my Breviary (Bro Utoy has a good post on this). My new Breviary, by the way, is a gift from my MSC friend. The past decade, I switched from the official Breviary post-seminary to the People’s Companion to the Breviary with a very inclusive language and beautiful readings ranging from Leonardo Boff to Mary Ruether, to the New Zealand Prayer Book. The NZPB has fished me out because of its beautiful and simple prayers in contemporary English. But lately in my “desert years,” there was this inner voice crooning on me to rejoin the choir of Catholic communion, millions of them, fingering the mazelike pages of the Breviary. More than ever, I develop an almost monastic discipline with my wife and son, surpassing even my seminary statistics. The minor swerves here and there – what can I say – have pulled me back to the Bible this time with a devouring hunger for the life-giving Word of God. At times, I would dwell on one Scripture passage for one week, wear it like my 24/7 shirt.

Back to the quote above, it is actually in contrast to the idea of Advent waiting of Paul and the early Christians. Waiting for this ragtag band of Jesus followers was waiting for the Savior who would light the final cosmic firecracker of the end time. Two-thousand years have passed and we remain humbled by the uncertain date of His second coming. But what is so endearing to me about the quote is how the Holy One can come down like gentle rain. How lovely, how gentle a presence! Nothing armageddon-like. It’s as gentle a voice that whispered King David: “Here you are living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.” From this voice gentle as a rain, David built God’s house. It’s as gentle an angelic announcement: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus.” I would love an angel speak to me under the starlights while listening to Jim Brickman’s same-titled piece. House of cedar. Tent. Womb. God’s presence gentle as a rain could pitter-patter in my pavement and dwelling and change the trajectory of my life and of those around me. It did upon a makeshift manger and still been showering. I want to catch it one Bible passage at a time, one prayer at a time, one small act of kindness at a time. Happy 4th Sunday of Advent!

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Photo credit: Burning Image

Playing With Death, Selling Death

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And these worrisome scenes get familiar and more familiar everyday. We need not go to Mexico or Mumbai to get horrified. Metro Manila is teeming with a burgeoning high school students billowing with pride their sticks slashed from their baon. The other alarming news is that “cancer is one of the greatest untold health crises of the developing world,”  said Dr. Douglas Blayney, president-elect of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “Few are aware that cancer already kills more people in poor countries than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined. And if current smoking trends continue, the problem will get significantly worse,” he added. Welcome the villain: tobacco smoking is the leading cause of cancer these days. Welcome more villains: tobacco companies are targetting the younger generation the way fast-foods are conditioning the young minds. So, this campaign is trying to slow down the trend:

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Draw the line? I think we can. I start simple by taking my time to blog this. Thanks Zimm for those simple nudges to try to blog for something bigger than ourselves and our comfort or discomfort.

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Credit in photo order: tv_viewer, Austin King, macoolit2006, Senan’s
Colourblind Photographer

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Local Cancer Care Resources

I am equally passionate about cancer care; in fact, this blog is created as partly my advocacy for cancer care. I have seen how it has devastated lives; I am also witness to the resiliency of the human spirit to soar with hope. I have been with families’ hearts torn apart; I have witnessed families mustering unity and strength as well.

Cancer, from a popular view, is still a “rich man’s burden,” very much Western of origin. This popular view, however, is eroding as cancer incidence in developing countries are now being documented as rising. The media is also playing a big role in this information dissemination, as TV stations now allot time for health programs, and foreign-trained cancer specialists guesting while trimming down the technical complexity of cancer into more understandable terms. As an opinion, there seems to be a rising mass consciousness of the disease plus the coping programs that go with it.

Partly through this blog, I’ll be exploring and featuring local resources for cancer care. Initially, I have contacted the Suntown Camp under the aegis of the Children Cancer Foundation to be my first feature. Camps for children and their caregivers with cancer, by the way, is also a fun-trend in the United States. Here’s a snapshot of what the Camp is all about:

SUNTOWN CAMP FOUNDATION, INC. brings together children who are either ill with cancer or in remission, children who have parents that has been diagnosed with cancer, and children with serious illness. The Camp allows the children to understand and accept their situation, express their feelings, and see that they are not alone in their struggles.  They spend time together with children sharing a similar journey, in a fun, healthy and loving atmosphere.  At the camp they make new friends and discover new interests within a community of caring adults who provide them needed attention to boost their self-esteem.”

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If you know of a child and family who deserves a quality, fun time to make the most out of life’s storms, then, you might want to recommend this fun-loving group. My co-blogger IFM just relayed to us that a young child had succumbed to cancer. Very sad as this is especially for her family, she nonetheless expressed her readiness to hold Jesus’ hands. IFM, Isabella is still in my mind and prayers.

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Photo credit: timetofly



Poetic Therapy for Cancer

Everybody hates cancer. But it seems there are always ways of embracing even playfully things that people really hate or are scared of. The following poem does. Hope you will enjoy it.

Eileen

Eileen has breast cancer.
The lump was removed last year.
It was chemotherapy and radiation
for the next six months.

Eileen lost weight.
Her skin burned.
She vomited every day.
Her hair fell out –
First wisps, then tufts,
then clumps.

Her daughter couldn’t stand it –
She was only thirteen –
Seeing her mother
out out her hair.
“I don’t care!”
Yelled her daughter,
“I don’t care!”

“Want to pull?” Said Eileen.
“Want to pull out some hair?”

At first she couldn’t do it,
But her mother cupped her face with her hands.
“I need you baby. Help me. Take a pull.”

So the daughter grabbed a strand,
and it came out easy.
So she grabbed another
and another
then a clump
and out it came.

Then they put on music
and danced
and grabbed hair.
They played Chaplin
and burlesque.
Hitler had a funny moustache.
They put sideburns on Jews.
Eileen became a billy-goat.
They bayed at the moon.
When Eileen became bald,
they laughed, then they wept.

Then the daughter
pasted patches in her armpits
and a tuft between her legs.
“Look Mom.
I’m a woman now!”
She said.

Up and down
the women jumped and screamed
until they were exhausted
and Eileen’s scalp turned red.

Then they laughed
and hugged
and went to bed.

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From: Finding the Words to Say It: The Healing Power of Poetry