Plane crash…

The crash of a 6-seater plane yesterday in a slum-by-the-creek had claimed 16 human lives. Around 60 poor families were affected by this tragic incident. The site is only about 200 meters away from where we are residing. Not wanting to rush to the site yesterday, I took some time instead this morning to visit the area and the evacuation center and extend what little help we can. The ash-smelling site was full of irony – poor people made poorer by the tragedy. The more one behold those “empty houses,” the more one is turned silent. No sooner, the spirit of those who perished will roam around the place, perhaps in search of answers. Much like the deep curiosity of the living. But the dark remains of the fire will only keep the curious wait in irreconcilable silence. But no sooner too, structures will sprout from the ash-covered ground, from the very muteness of the place. Life is liturgy.


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.


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.”

Holy Week, Easter and Sexuality

Quite ordinarily and punctuated by hours of solitude even within the household, we observed the  Holy Week.

After Palm Sunday, I prayed for the Holy Spirit to make me more attuned to the transforming message and power of the Holy Week. By Wednesday, I found myself fuming with anger while praying at the Chapel of St. Pio. The taxi driver stealthily snaked us through a long route to the Chapel for us to cash out what could have been half of the metered rate. Ironically, we talked about icons all the way to the place :-).

Thank God the place was really silent despite the number of pray-ers. There was nourishing silence that hovers the place, magnified by the framed testimonies of prayers for healing answered attached to the wall, the hospitable readiness of a number of wheelchairs at one door, the neat lines of votive candles, images of Padre Pio and St. Francis of Assisi. Silence was extended to the garden outside the Chapel where life size statues of Padre Pio, Jesus praying at Gethsemane and the Blessed Mother join this chorus of silence.

I was still collared by the noise of anger. But like other pilgrims, there are more important people to pray and ask Padre Pio’s intercession for either silently or through the prayer requests pad provided by the Center. I need not settle my anger right away; it will go away within the week was my little hope.

At home, I have to be realistic. Having a 3-year old kid is not the best time to totally fast from TV. But at the same time, something admirable is going on these days especially with one local channel. It is the way it consciously provides time for religious matters. It is the way the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) is negotiating with media these days, is trailblazing, not to mention its own vocational promotions, religious programs for the viewing public. It is the way it highlights the healing power of the Eucharist through the kind, presidential presence of its main person in Fr. Gerry Orbos, SVD. I was glued to the Holy Thursday mass he presided and despite his charismatic though gentle leadership, the homily on self-forgetfulness was truly contemplative. On behalf of the clergies, he apologized for their misdeeds. It was my first time to witness the ritual of foot-washing beautifully altered: after he washed the “apostles” feet, the latter followed suit for each other. Beautiful symbolism!

I know there is a downside to televised masses especially for those physically able to walk down to the church. So we came down to the real community, more or less charged by this virtual offering.

Good Friday. Not quite good for a woman neighbor, 4-month pregnant, alone and had been trapped for 20 minutes inside their suffocating bedroom because the doorknob malfunctioned. We came to her rescue by sapping part of the wooden door frame with a knife. The thin phone card didn’t work out. Good Friday relief for her.

Pregnancy seems an ordinary sight. But I brought the image as well to the Easter Vigil after re-reading Fr. Lovett’s liturgical plea for the return of this rich, sexual symbol for Easter Vigil:

“It makes sense to talk of an emasculation of the symbolism because the 1956 liturgy was strongly sexual. Only thus could it celebrate the transforming power of creation in us. All the symbols came from the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis. The font symbolizes the womb of mother Church fertilized by the phallic form of the lighted candle which is plunged ever deeper with rising tones by the celebrant. When the candle had reached its deepest point, the celebrant was instructed to breathe on the water in the form of the Greek letter psi, first letter of the term for life, psyche. The symbolism is of fecundity and regeneration. The fertilization of the virgin Church is related to the fertilization of the primeval waters, the waters of chaos. We are given a creation story centered on Christ. The birth of new members, the catechumens, is linked to the birth of the universe.”

Why this sexual symbolism? Fr. Lovett also provides the answer:

“There is a connection between sexuality and death. The message of both is one and the same: we do not have our lives for ourselves, we are not our own…Our habitual trivialization of sexuality is the sign of our inability to accept its true meaning. We creatively live sexuality by accepting the truth of our mutual belonging and by accepting it radically, my flesh for the life of the world.”

Children seem are faring better with the symbolic fertility of the Easter bunnies. In darkness and through the chaos of our lives, we have just been “fertilized” by Christ through his resurrection. Happy Easter to you…

Reference: It’s Not Over Yet: Christological Reflections on Holy Week (Claretian Publications: Quezon City, 1990, p. 66-67)

Photo credit: sumcct

Christian Unity Week 2011

Last week, we celebrated Christian Unity Week with the theme:

One in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer (Acts 2:42)

This is a global celebration and in this small corner of the globe, we had an ecumenical worship at a big University chapel. Participants came from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, a number from the Methodist Church, 2 or 3 from the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, a pair from the Iglesia Filipiniana Independiente, and a large number from the ecumenical Catholic movement Focolare. None from the minority Orthodox Church, or the Philippine Episcopal Church.

The whole liturgy was youth-led, with the visible presence of Bishop Tobias of the Bishops’ Conference Commission on Ecumenical Affairs. The rest of the leaders in attendance were rather self-effacing pastors.

The liturgy went fine  – the prayers and songs. What moved me in particular was the interpretative dance of the youth, and the melodious voices of the youth choir. One pastor gave a 5-minute message about the event. I understand the mix of evangelicals in the group so that clapping after the dance, or the pastor’s message, for example was tolerable even if it reduced the gathering into a graduation program of sort. But to me, the most questionable segment was the 35-minute lecture on the Eucharist by a Catholic, Rome-trained priest in black Roman collar. The theological exposition was very dominating, and so was his presence at the podium that the participants were reduced to catechumens waiting, others dozing off, not really knowing the end of the lecture. In the context of a liturgy, a long lecture could easily deface the concept of koinonia or communion of believers which is what the liturgy is all about. Koinonia could simply be reduced into clerical control; space for the Spirit into authority of a priest (or anybody). It became more ironic or confusing because it was supposed to be an ecumenical service. I’m glad Bishop Tobias gave a very brief impression only at the end of the event.

And this priest was trained in Rome! It made me wonder his liturgical theology, or sense of ecumenism. And it brought me back to  George Tavard’s arguments on how Western Christianity lost this sense of koinonia because of its taken-for-granted theology of the Spirit, that the Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son. Tavard wrote:

Where the Spirit is believed to proceed from the Father and the Son as from one principle, the Church tends to underline the presence of the Second Person, the incarnate Word, in the community of disciples. And since this presence is signified through certain traditional symbols (sacraments and sacramentals), it tends to stress the centrality of these symbols in the Church’s daily life. Some of these symbols being identified with actual persons, the ordained ministers, the representativeness of ministry has been strongly underlined. Ordained ministers not only “stand in the presence and serve” God (as is said in the contemporary third canon of the Roman Mass). They also “act in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi) when they preside over the Eucharist.

Tavard contrasted this Western theology with the theology of the Eastern Church in which the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone:

Where the Spirit is believed to proceed from the Father alone, the Spirit’s presence and action confirm the memory of the Lord’s saving deeds and words. They also build up the contemplative knowledge of what the Word has done, said, and given. Whence the Church’s tradition is not only memory but also contemplation and reflection (gnosis). As the Father sent the divine Logos into the world through the incarnation, so does he now send the Spirit into the Church. The Spirit enables the faithful to live their multisided relationships in the world as indeed the koinonia of the disciples. Spirit is not more in hierarchy than in the communion of the faithful.

From here, Tavard argued that,

the distinction between priest and people  that is functional chiefly  in the Holy Liturgy never becomes a distinction between clergy and laity as two classes or castes in the people of God.

Pentecostalism is underway in global Christianity, perhaps less in Rome and more in Asian and African churches. One could trace this to the sense of equality that ordinary believers experience in every worship (freedom to dance or scream or sing) and claim to be the Spirit’s gift regardless if charismatic leaders easily morph into wealth-amassing individuals.

Come, Spirit, come!

Source: George H. Tavard, The Church, Community of Salvation, pp. 51-52


Cartoon credit: Catholic Convert

Praying with Henri Nouwen this Lent

O Lord, this holy season of Lent is passing quickly. I entered into it with fear, but also with great expectations. I hoped for a great breakthrough, a powerful conversion, a real change of heart; I wanted Easter to be a day so full of light that not even a trace of darkness would be left in my soul. But I know that you do not come to your people with thunder and lightning. Even St. Paul and St. Francis journeyed through much darkness before they could see your light. Let me be thankful for your gentle way. I know you are at work. I know you will not leave me alone. I know you are quickening me for Easter – but in a way fitting to my own history and my own temperament. I pray that the remaining weeks, in which you invite me to enter more fully into the mystery of your passion, will bring me a greater desire to follow you on the way that you create for me and to accept the cross that you give to me. Let me die to the desire to choose my own way and select my own desire. You do not want to make me a hero but a servant who loves you. Be with me tomorrow and in the days to come, and let me experience your gentle presence. Amen.

Henri Nouwen

A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee


Photo Credit: Cosmic99


12 Prayers for a Children’s B-Day Party

I was asked by a good neighbor if i could write some prayers and lead for her son’s 12th birthday. I want to encourage them to write their own. But as a sample of one way of doing it, i compose these prayers in Tagalog thinking and believing children could really lead in praying at a birthday party:

Isang Dosenang Dasal Para sa Kaarawan ni Neil

(Assign one kid per prayer )

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    1. Papa Jesus, salamat sa aming kaibigang Neil,
    birthday nya ngayon. Masaya kami ngayon kasama Ka…
    2. Papa Jesus, thank you po sa lahat ng mga magulang,
    lalong-lalo na sa lahat ng nagmamahal kay Pareng Neil…
    3. Papa Jesus, salamat sa mga oras ng paglalaro kasama si Pareng Neil…

    4. Papa Jesus, sa mga kaklase namin sa school,
    makatagpo sana kami ng mga tunay na dabarkads…

    5. Papa Jesus, sa mga kapitbahay namin,
    sana tuloy ang pagtutulungan…

    6. Papa Jesus, sa araw na ito ni Pareng Neil,
    pray ko po na maging healthy si Neil sa buong taong ito…

    7. Papa Jesus, sa mga halaman at hayop sa aming paligid,
    lagi sana namin silang igagalang…

    8. Papa Jesus, sa mga hindi namin makasundo at kagalit,
    patawad po…

    9. Papa Jesus, sa mga nang-aagaw ng mga gamit ng iba,
    bless Nyo po sila ng mga kailangan nila…

    10. Papa Jesus, pray ko po si Neil at sa sarili namin,
    maging masipag kami sa aming pag-aaral…

    11. Papa Jesus, sa mga panahon na binibigyan kami ng pera,
    gamitin sana namin ito sa maayos na paraan…

    12.  Papa Jesus, bless Nyo po kaming lahat ngayon na nandirito sa birthday ni Pareng Neil,
    na mag-enjoy ang lahat,
    sa pagkain at katuwaan.
    maraming salamat po kay Tita Vicky at sa kanyang ka-tropa
    sa paghahanda ng lahat.
    Salamat talaga Papa Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Palakpakan ka namin ngayon. Yehey!