Cardinal Tagle’s Message to the Synod of Bishops

Archbishop Luis Antonio G. TAGLE, Archbishop of Manila (PHILIPPINES)
“A young girl asked: “Are we the youth lost or has the Church lost us?”. Her question expresses a longing for a Church where she can be found by Jesus and where she can find Him. But for the Church to be the “space” of a faith-encounter with the Lord, she must learn anew from Jesus in whom we meet God. The Church must learn humility from Jesus. God’s power and might appears in the self-emptying of the Son, in the love that is crucified but truly saves because it is emptied of self for the sake of others. The Church is called to follow Jesus’ respect for every human person. He defended the dignity of all people, in particular those neglected and despised by the world. Loving His enemies, He affirmed their dignity. The Church must discover the power of silence. Confronted with the sorrows, doubts and uncertainties of people she cannot pretend to give easy solutions. In Jesus, silence becomes the way of attentive listening, compassion and prayer. It is the way to truth. The seemingly indifferent and aimless societies of our time are earnestly looking for God. The Church’s humility, respectfulness and silence might reveal more clearly the face of God in Jesus. The world takes delight in a simple witness to Jesus- meek and humble of heart.”

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First Sunday of Advent 2011

There is something more disturbing these days aside from the political chaos that the case of the now under-arrest former President and now Congresswoman Gloria Arroyo has created. It is linear thinking that seems to operate even in Church circles and is playing safe on the side of legalism. When the Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima “defied”  (in virtue of her intuition that the Arroyos will eventually seek political asylum in other countries) the Supreme Court order to allow the Arroyos to leave the country for “medical emergency reason,” the staunchest critic of de Lima’s executive arrogance is no less the respectable Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Jesuit, lawyer and former Dean of the Ateneo Law School. The venerable Cardinal Vidal also voiced out his opposition to the “defiance,” followed by the new Archbishop of Cebu Jose Palma. Clerics and laypeople also jumped into the fray, mostly fearful of the possible Constitutional crisis the “defiance” could trigger. Indeed, de Lima’s decision was very polarizing. But clearly, those who denounced de Lima’s very unpopular move of barring the Arroyos from leaving the airport castigated her for doing a perilous, illegal encroachment of the power of the Supreme Court whose 8 justices were ungraciously appointed by Congresswoman Arroyo a week before she stepped down from power.

With due deference to our well-intentioned bishops and Fr. Bernas, it is understandable where they were coming from – from the logic of the law. De Lima’s call shocked the nation’s common sense because it was almost unthinkable that a lone woman could almost singlehandedly blur the autonomy of both the Executive and the Judiciary. To make sense of the unthinkable which appears very dangerous to our “Constitutional survival,” basic human psychology would dictate us to anchor on a safe ground. This safe ground happens to be the logic of the law which is the law of linear thinking, the striving for consistency of one’s syllogisms, or the clarity of one’s arguments.

But linear thinking easily grinds against intuitive thinking, which was the main operational mode of De Lima’s intransigence. If linear thinking likes to play safe within allowed borders, intuitive thinking is more adventurous. If linear thinking is more closeted, boxed-in, intuitive thinking likes to venture into open seas.

This difference is not something new. More relevant for this blog, it is the same sea of difference between the Benedictines and those dominated by linear thinking (coincidentally, De Lima graduated from the Benedictine San Beda College of Law; ironically, the cleric-Dean of the College also joined Fr. Bernas), the difference between the medieval scholastics and the medieval monastics; the scholastics (whose spirit continues to dominate Roman Catholic theological schools) being the champion of linear thinking, whose commentaries for example on the Canticle of Canticles were doggedly written as clear and precise as possible, its doctrines stringently addressed to the intelligence; whereas monastic commentaries were addressed to the whole being; its aim is to touch the heart rather than instruct the mind.

“Scholastic commentary is almost always complete; it explains the entire “letter” of the sacred text. Monastic commentary is often incomplete; St. Bernard, in eighty-six sermons composed over a period of eighteen years, had reached only the beginning of the third chapter.”

The medieval monastics were more at home with incompleteness, with the open-ended meanings of sacred texts. The linear thinker among the scholastics, under the method of quaestio and disputatio, liked it secured in conclusive and convincing arguments at the expense of disregarding an essential component of one’s being like intuition or common sense. It was the medieval monastics openness’ rather than their rigid stance before sacred texts (Bible, Church Fathers, and the classics) that transformed them into the moral fiber of the medieval period, a period of unparalleled masters of waiting, men and women who in their desire for the truth grounded in the Holy, were less enslaved by the “letter” of the texts than by  its capacity to shock-to-transfigure. Their holiness apparently went beyond human beings’ capacity for linear thinking, no matter how valuable learning was for them.

Advent. Seems to be the “real time” for contemplative waiting and open-mindedness rather than for discursive, logical thinking for the coming of the Messiah. The medieval monastics used to be where we are now.

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Leclerq, J. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture (Fordham University Press: New York, 1982, pp. 84-85).

Photo credit: malasiquibaptist

Between rituals and ceremonies…

“I feel the term ritual should not be squandered or loosely applied to inconsequential and habituated behavior. There the better word to use might be ceremony. Authentic ritual enactment concerns itself with transition and transformation; ceremony with the awarding and preservation of status.”

Bani Shorter, Susceptible to the Sacred: The Psychological Experience of Ritual (Routledge: London, 1996, p.30)

I’m tired of going to his mass, not that I’m tired of going to mass. Who is not (unless one doesn’t really care about the distinction above) when even in the closing of the Church’s liturgical year capped by Christ the King, all one hears during the homily is the perfunctory, repetitive, information-driven reminder of how a liturgical year looks like, the major seasons and its distinctive assigned colors, not to mention of the pending projects like the multipurpose building and the covered walkway aimed for the coming advent dawn masses and Christmas. I found it very anti-ritual, shallow, devoid of the kind of substance that a meditative homily is potent to transform the landscape of attention of the listeners. One could argue that perhaps more from among the congregation still need those information. But isn’t this spiritual consumerism at the expense of the depth of a ritual, Eucharist for this matter, where a homily is an opportunity to plunge deeper into the mystery of Christ’s humility, rather than get caught up in the pragmatics of liturgical legalism? Isn’t it theologically commendable that a homily part is where worshipers can “take off their sandals” as flesh and spirit plunge more deeply into Ember of the Unknowable?

“Brought to the crossroads, where creative freedom is a choice, at the juxtaposition of human and divine energies, space is required for contemplation of the mystery of revelation. This space will be imbued with symbolic presence and respect for that presence determines the outcome. For the symbol does not disguise; it reveals over time. Attentiveness is needed during the process of its unfolding, a certain patience and the willingness to relate to it as something more than oneself though belonging to oneself. Meaning follows.”

“Ritual is the name we give to what happens in that hazardous space, gives witness and pays homage to an encounter between human and divine forces, an exchange that involves a sharing of attributes, though not of essences. Precisely because of this what happens can only be expressed  in imaginative and metaphorical form.” (op.cit. p.119)

Are our liturgies too modern in losing a sense of “sacred space,” turning homilies into announcement boards, rituals into ceremonies, mythos and the symbolic life into the verbosity of the human logos?

I suspect that if people keep eating the bread of rituals and symbols, the multipurpose building follows by a “different route” like the Magi.

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Photo credit: mattstone

Gibran and his 7 self-reprimands

Seven Reprimands

by Gibran

I reprimanded my soul seven times!

The first time: when I attempted to exalt myself by exploiting the weak.

The second time: when I feigned a limp before those were crippled.

The third time: when given a choice, I elected the easy rather than the difficult.

The fourth time: when I made a mistake, I consoled myself with the mistakes of others.

The fifth time: when I was docile because of fear and then claimed to be strong in patience.

The sixth time: when I held my garments upraised to avoid the mud of Life.

The seventh time: when I stood in hymnal to God and considered the singing a virtue.

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The Best of Kahlil Gibran. Book Palace: New Delhi, p.71. Gibran wrote in two languages: Arabic for Lebanon, Syria and the Arabic world; English for the West. Gibran’s mother was the daughter of a Maronite priest. The Maronite Church uses Syriac, or Aramaic, in its liturgy, the same language spoken by Christ. While his feet “were stumbling on the stones of Nazareth, he decided to write his book Jesus the Son of Man.” On the Church becoming feudal during his time and bishops and priests used their position to advance and enrich friends and relatives, he wrote 2 famous stories: “Kahlil the Heretic” (a novice tries to convince the monks to distribute all their possessions and to go preach among the poor)  and “John the Madman.”

“Life is not only merriment; Life is desire and determination.” K. Gibran

The fierce landscape, the “cedars of God,” the mountains of Lebanon that Gibran grew up with, the Wadi Qadisha that has a “mighty force that compels the mind to dwell upon the words we have for eternity.”

“Original Sin Through Easter Eyes”

A different Lent, a special Lent no similar from the previous years.

There is something so subtle about the spiritual life that could bring one to the edge of terror and fear, but at the same time, deeply profound in the sense of strength it offers and the equanimity it assures. At night time, or early morning, I would wake up with the simple resolve: “I can walk on the water!”

Within one week, I happen to join a retreat and a 2-hour Lenten ritual of reconciliation. The Parable of the Prodigal Son both stood out in these two separate activities. Both activities were moving, guided by 2 holy priests, one a Diocesan clergy, and the other a Belgian missionary. I wondered what wounds have they struggled with in their lifetime of ministry to come to a point of some seductive simplicity in words, and honesty over the human condition, including the lies we “comfort” ourselves with, or shield with from the truth. They were truly God-sent this Lent.

During Lent, sin is handily a favorite retreat theme, its “blackness” seems as attractive as the red of poinsettias of Christmas. Ash Wednesday is a proof – churches simply overflow with ash-askers, some serious about its call for repentance, while most seem to view it as a mere initiation into the season. But then, the call to repentance will be shelved for a little while between Ash Wednesday and the week before the Holy Week. Like a TV soap opera, the Lenten drama resumes at its penultimate, then gets quite morbid, literally in some places, and in imageries in its ending. The long laundry list of sins get recycled Lent in and Lent out. The world, in most of its parts remain very violent and destructive – corruption, domestic violence, addictions and compulsions, genetic manipulations, wars, corporate greed, environmental destruction, intellectual arrogance! Whatever happens to the divine offer of a new world order out of the death and resurrection of the Christ? Perhaps, the message has really never been understood and accepted except by the saints in our midst. Perhaps, we have never really understood who we are before these divine gifts? Perhaps, the way we understand sin, confession, repentance, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, death have something to do with the way we receive the divine gifts. Or distort those. The Diocesan priest for example, began his emphasis on the meaning and significance of  confession not with “sins” but with some verses from the Deuteronomy 7:6-11, on God’s choice of us as a people peculiarly his own. Yes, this peculiarly chosen people sinned and keeps sinning. But somewhere, the sacrament of confession need not be turned into a washing machine, diluted with the many acts or intentions of sinning. The sin is the refusal to believe in this divine choice also known as Love and the sacrament is but a way to encounter again this Love. It was no coincidence that after the retreat’s confession, the next ritual of reconciliation I attended was more silent. We need more silent rituals of reconciliation where this Love in stillness is more audible. Articulating one’s list of sins may still be important at times for self-clarification but it could also hinder one from the transformative act of beholding this Love in silence through a minister. Grace often happens through one’s humble and repentant silence before this Forgiving Love, as humble as the prodigal son’s admission: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

I am currently reading and reflecting on James Alison‘s groundbreaking book The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. It is his published dissertation with an introduction by Sebastian Moore. The book speaks about who we are, and the kind of violence we do to ourselves and been projecting to God to radically miss the whole point of God’s offer of salvation and continues to offer. The book challenges our framework on sin, on original sin especially where we take God’s offer of salvation as a band-aid, turning our relationship with the Holy into escapades to our own cybercafe. Salvation is nothing but a pantry of what we only need and get what we want. Then relegate the pantry into some dark corners of the house until we need it again. No wonder, Alison argues, that we remain so involved in violence and lies and take death with ultimacy and continue to project it not only to human bodies but also to the life of bacteria and animal genes and minerals: humans-marked-unto-death. The original sin, its breed of sins including the often mislabeled concupiscence get recycled over and over once we keep missing the point of God’s death and resurrection in Jesus – which is that Jesus’ death was our sinful “congenital involvement with death” but turned our identity as humans-marked-unto-death into an unnecessary identity. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, God showed how indifferent God was over our compulsions and violence and lies and engagement with death; He had nothing to do with it! Alison is recasting the doctrine of original sin in this way:

The doctrine of original sin is the doctrine of the un-necessity of death. Its epistemological possibility is the discovery that the forgiveness of sins reaches further than the forgiveness of actions and intentions; it reaches into who we are as constituted in and by death.”

The resurrection of Jesus “reveals that death is not only a human reality, and one inflicted by sin, but that the human reality of death itself is capable of being forgiven.” The Resurrection is the greatest sign of God’s forgiveness, rectifying at the same time where we got it wrong about God and about ourselves – that death is but an accidental projection of all our fears and violent compulsions and rivalistic tendencies.

It is quite impossible to capture Alison’s insights using French thinker Rene Girard’s anthropological framework in a blog post. But sufficed it to say here that our traditional understanding of original sin and salvation as God’s patchwork over our human desires turn sinful and violent truly needs recasting.

The book was published in 1998 and seems inaccessible in the Philippines. Almost a decade ago, I read what to me is a Holy Week applications of Alison’s insights by the Irish Columban missionary Fr. Brendan Lovett in his 69-paged book published in 1999- It’s Not Over Yet: Christological Reflections on Holy Week. Fr. Lovett’s book remains to me the most profound reflection on Holy Week, especially on the theme of human violence written in the country. I inquire again from the Claretian Publications and it”s price remains affordable at 109 pesos. Fr. Lovett was a Lonergan Fellow in Boston College, got his doctorate from Munster University, specialized in linguistic analysis, and a longtime missionary and mentor for many Filipinos.

The Lenten journey continues…

Prayer of Intercession

Two thousand years of Christianity, yet listen to how we pray those prayers of intercession during masses and other verbose liturgies: we keep someone in mind, mention the predicament or problem to the Listener of our prayers, and then here’s the verbosity – getting into the specific of how we should see the result, on how exactly the Listener must respond to the problem framed according to our human understanding. “Lord, my mother-in-law is terribly sick. She must have been stressed out while meddling with her grandson’s choice of a preschool against her own choice. Help her clear her minds from being too controlling. Ease all her worries, especially from financial ones. Most importantly, may she learn to adjust to the changing culture of the new generation. Amen.” Verbose I believe!

Personally, I’m changing the way I intercede for others thanks to Maggie Ross (see Maggie Ross’s The Space of Prayer here) who taught me to unlearn the many years of my education in praying. It’s as simple as the following pointers:

  • Keep the person/s in mind and despite knowing the problem, avoid framing the specifics within the prayer moment.
  • When you enter a prayer moment, keep in mind that God was ahead in the place and space. Acknowledge that the time and space is already a space of prayer.
  • Fall as freely as you can into silence by avoiding words like asking for specific results. Simply breathe the silence, keeping in mind that God understands better the problem than you do.
  • By simply lifting up the person without getting into the specifics, and by falling into wordless intercession, you actually create a space for God to act, decide, resolve over those needs and problems more complex than we usually thought. God can readily enter into our complex lives and personalities to simplify it beyond our expectations.
  • A prayer of intercession I believe is one way of loving our neighbor unconditionally by simply allowing the person to slip from our mental remembrance into the more silent, loving space of God.

The following is a prayer of intercession I wrote for a grad school of business.

Reader: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” Let us offer the following prayers, resting on the assurance that the Father and Mother of us all wants everyone be saved. For every petition, we say:

God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the urban poor in our midst, those who live under bridges and in sidewalks, karitons and esteros, riverbanks and overcrowded areas (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the Church as institution and unity of believers, those invested with the authority to lead, and the flock being served, for all our weaknesses and brokenness that tend to disrupt the joy and promises of our missions and visions (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For all faces of exploitation in our society – of child labor and deprivation of basic social goods, of women in global trafficking, pornography and the trap of domestic violence, of workers paid cheap, of fooled movers of the underworld of narco-politics and gambling (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the government leaders of our country, and for all their human tendency to amass wealth, power, and impressions at the expense of their own peace and of the many (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the intellectually disabled in our midst, living in care centers or in their homes, showing us the way of joyful powerlessness and less complicated living and thinking (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For all of us in the academe and higher education, with the resources at our disposal to improve the many  faces of poverty and moral decadence in our midst, and the nagging call for us to respond creatively (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the non-verbal beings in our midst – the soil, the rocks, the trees and many others, often ignored or trampled simply for their not being human (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

Prayer: God who saves all beings, save us from our belief that we are eternally excluded from your act of salvation, and that others, especially the last, the least, and the lost are in the same situation of damnation. May we embrace more often your love and promise of joy more than we cling to our controlling desire for our own comfort and security. All these we pray through Jesus Christ, the One who trusted you fully. Amen.

Happy Lent 2010 Everyone!

Quite ironic a greeting from a country known worldwide for long Christmases, Holy Week processions and actual crucifixions right in the land of  those-who-drool-for-power Pampanga (a national symptom only).

Seriously, should one deserve to be happy during Lent? I guess so if one has to bracket for a while those moss-covered beliefs that Lent is essentially more about human wickedness and the busy activities of whisking them off through self-denial (i wonder if most still understand what self-denial is because it sounds archaic to me with all its psychological overtone; a better term nowadays is self-forgetfulness or self-emptying); that Lent is essentially more about flagellating ourselves (even if only imaginatively) than about going deeper into our inner fields of alienation from ourselves, from our neighbors, from Creation, and ultimately from God and dwell from there, yes, happily, serenely, confidently more than miserably. I take it from Paul:

“One of Satan’s angels was sent to make me suffer terribly, so that I would not feel too proud. Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. But he replied, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am. Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:8-10 – Contemporary English Version)

That Lent is about taking stock of the human condition with all its fragile, broken, wounded, ash-covered, dilapidated, debris-mantled, fear-driven, control-freak-populated landscape – yes. That Lent is about staring at our own mortal programming – yes. That Lent is more importantly about being silent and serene with my own weaknesses in order to allow the wounded God to meet me from there and raise me up – this, i hope will be the cause of my rejoicing this season. So, there’s actually a reason to be happy this Lent, ain’t it? Otherwise, i’ve got a lot of explaining to do with Paul.

Happy Lent to you again…

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Photo credit: bighug