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.


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


Fr. Arevalo: Father of Asian Theology

Filipino Catholics and non-Catholics, especially those in the clerical and religious circles are over-familiar with Fr. Arevalo either as a teacher, a conference speaker, a writer, a spiritual guide, or simply, as a servant of the Church. By God’s sheer grace, I have known him in the late 90s in the classroom – his theological mind sharp as a samurai sword and the calm abiding of his demeanor – silencing. Pause. I don’t intend to write a long tribute. But for those who are beginning to be curious about him since his homily during Tita Cory’s funeral mass, your curiosity must at least begin with the Man named Jesus. It’s a prerequisite for him, and he will only make sense to you within this given. By the time you listen or read him again, expect to be silenced, be awed, by the simplicity and depth of God criss-crossing through our broken lives. Be open: his words will prick your soul, more if it’s long been basking in complacency while carrying the Christian ID.

Here’s a little chizmax: if St. Ambrose once pricked the spiritual brilliance in St. Augustine, Fr. Arevalo had lullabied the same brilliance in the now globally glowing Bishop Chito Tagle. If you are Catholic and haven’t heard Bishop Tagle talk, you might want to start as his Facebook fan.

It is no surprise to me that the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) had recently honored him as the Father of Asian Theology. Still, I celebrate within, understanding theology not so much as an academic degree or expertise but as an ever-growing curiosity and acceptance on how God is so deeply involved in all facets of our lives. Salamat po, Fr. Arevalo for weaving those stories of God’s involvement!

Tita Cory and the Ever-Ancient Beauty

Should we say the euphoria over Tita Cory is settling slowly  to a normalcy we can now catch upmountain with our human breaths? It seems so while simultaneously exalted her to the saintly pedestal and judge our human hocus-pocus or moral motions from there. At Tita Cory’s funeral, we had a foretaste of a sacred human banquet, or a “Transfiguration moment,” for there is no way measuring monetarily the free fellowship of the affluent and the less moneyed, the dignitaries and the destitute pouring their hearts out in gratitude and awe over this ordinary-turned-extraordinary woman. From the pedestal of simplicity that was Tita Cory, we now have the closest and credible reference upon which to judge whether the decision of PGMA to dine for $20,000 in New York was reprehensible to our sensibilities and to the leadership that she represents. On the Cory standard alone, we have a chorus that it was.

As I perch back with the perfunctory grind of living, trying to come to rest in my little village after that mountaintop experience, I bring with me the charge of vision and vigor to view my political and inner life from the Cory perspective and be willing to be continually changed from there. Tita Cory’s non-imposing call for such an alchemy of simplicity and servanthood must not end at her heart-rending funeral service. God allowed this “transfiguration moment” in our national life except that we cannot perpetually make our huts there because the Jerusalem of our purifications down below awaits you and me.

I have to go down, bringing only the glimpse of the Beauty that gripped Tita Cory’s life, holding her within the hammock-swing paradox of vulnerability and womanly vitality. This Beauty becomes the measure – searing at times into the fiber of our follies, grating into the glut of our materialism, painfully probing of our prideful self-exaltation. But yes, drawing this Beauty is, an “Ever-ancient,” ever-attractive one because it is the very soul of our being. It is the soul of our compassion, of our simplicity, of the courage to self-empty no matter what the circumstance is. We are drawn into Tita Cory because we glimpsed of this non-consummable Beauty in her. And we are led into awe witnessing, joining while groping for the “right” words for the sacred moment because softly, we had a glimpse of our potential authentic selves.

So, we react with some repugnance over the prodigal dinner, over Willie Revillame’s insolence because we see more self-preoccupations than self-oblations. In a way, we are saying we would rather be like the self-sacrificng Cory than the self-indulged Willie, Willie being a reminder at the same time of our coarse, overbearing side of course. The 4 honor guards were Cory-like in their act and no wonder we honor and admire them. Theirs was the best we can be in 8 hours of endurance and respect.

Let Beauty speak in our midst. Let Beauty pierce through our vanities!


Photo credit: wanderingnome

My Barrio Siete Tribute to Cory

Friends, if you have time, you may want to visit Barrio Siete and take time to read the burning tributes to our beloved former President, including mine hehe – Cory Aquino: Woman of Faith and Freedom.

Believe we have so much beauty in us Filipinos, too dehumanizing and un-Godly to waste away while we are still alive…

This “global country” officially mourns for 10 days for the passing of a great leader and human being. In 10 days or more, I would sense more the outpouring of gratitude than the darkness of grief, of the lonely feeling of missing a friend more than human being’s tendency to deny death of a loved one. After all, we sensed it was forthcoming amidst prayers for healing miracles. Tita Cory died with dignity equal to how she lived her life with the dignity of a child of God and country. Let’s put it bluntly – what better death will there be than one surrounded by families and friends and the passageway to the eternalsphere cleared by millions of prayers? Tita Cory taught us all the way to the freedom of dying. Freedom is a spiritual concept and force, grounded in the belief and conviction that all, yes all, are created in the image of God, children of God. Oppression happens the moment one sees and treats from a haughty superiority another person less of a child of God or human being. Freedom is also the ultimate realization that I will depart anytime from my human body and fly back Home. It takes faith to appreciate true freedom.

I am witnessing waves after waves of gratitude for Tita Cory as one ‘gifter’ of freedom for us Filipinos and for the rest of the world to see. It is expected. It has long been etched in our national consciousness. It is fitting the sustained adulation, the endless queue of those near and far from her casket who want to say to ‘thank you’ for the gift that is Maria Corazon Aquino.

“Live your life from your heart,
share from your heart,
and your story will touch and heal people’s souls,
said author Melody Beattie.

From President Aquino who lived up to her name, I have seen and felt a different kind of political leader who merged faith and freedom. Many of her former aides attested political games had never been Tita Cory’s turf. She never had the political and economic acumen from the start of her term, only a tried family and soul long cast into the sea of suffering. Political naivete aside, she stood up to the challenge of the moment, trusting neither her American education nor the wealth of her clan but her heart. Sincerity, that is, freedom from pretensions, or as purity of heart, she said is what she can offer for the Filipinos. From Tita Cory, the issue of duplicity, or the influence of the shadowy self is irrelevant.

Now hearts speak to heart as we the living continue being misty-eyed moved into some heroic nostalgia of EDSA I, and the endless thoughts of her. Imperfect as she was personally and as a public servant, I am still moved by such inner purity, inspired by her leadership by heart. If only she could keep going. But then again, my gratitude for the life she lived trumps over my wish for her to live longer under the shadow of a stage IV cancer. I am grateful because Cory embodies even if inadequately the best in us – freedom as a spiritual force and our hunger for it. You be the judge whether the many-faced freedom remains our poverty…

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!


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


Photo credit: Joe Galvez

Cotabato Bombing: Archbishop Quevedo Clarifies

One chilling news from Southern Mindanao is haunting us again: 5 killed and many wounded at a bomb blast in Cotabato City during the weekend. The blast and the Cathedral were correlated in the news; it closed the homily of Archbishop Quevedo, former president of the CBCP. Such a correlation triggered some knee-jerk reaction from me, and most likely to many a viewers. Afterall, Catholic and non-Catholic missionaries have been in those thorny and perilous situations, their  presence sustained only by their vision of the possibility of some genuine inter-religious dialogue and no doubt – by their faith. Colonial leftovers extended indefinitely.

But this time, Bishop Quevedo is trying to correct me and the media, by asking to deal with facts instead of an instant replay of those colonial mental cacophony. Here’s what he says courtesy of Mindanews:

The bomb was planted in a lechon house and not in the cathedral or in cathedral grounds, where many cars were parked. To say that the attack was intended against the Cathedral and against churchgoers would be stretching the facts to the limit,” says Quevedo.

And end with this:

“ Indeed, innocent civilians are the victims of such bombings. Even if it can be argued that a church or its worshippers may not be the direct target, to place a bomb near a church where people are worshipping God would be doubly heinous and must be condemned by all people of good will,” he added.

Indeed, cathedral or a lechon house – I still imagine and pray for peace for this Land of Nailed Promises.

Eat Bulaga’s Excellent Student Award 2009

There are TV shows that simply insult our moral intelligence. But there are ones that heighten, inspire, lift us high and soar with our innate moral beauty. Eat Bulaga’s last Saturday honoring of 30 poor, achieving students from all over the country stood tall among the rest. It was tearjerking to watch I tailed until the closing of the curtain with a deep breath of contentment. The longtime, noontime show is celebrating its 30th year in the industry. Again, here’s Eat Bulaga’s poetic reason for skipping a glitzy anniversary:

“Sa ika-tatlong dekada ng barkada…

Walang magagarbong costumes…
dahil katumbas ng bawat yarda ng tela,
pangarap ay mabibigyan ng katuparan.

Sa ika-tatlong dekada ng barkada…

Walang magagandang set at props…
dahil katumbas nito’y tulong
sa mga nangangailangan.

Sa ika-tatlong dekada ng barkada…

Walang makikinang na ilaw…
ngunit ang hatid ng Eat Bulaga ay
liwanag ng kinabukasan
para sa marami nating kababayan.”

I teared up. I was grateful. It was one proud moment as a Filipino, witnessing school1hands and hearts reaching out to the underprivileged. I was proud as a Filipino watching the light of compassion being passed on to a younger generation, “multiplying the loaves,” and believing that there is always enough for everybody in need. Thank you Eat Bulaga for this Godly example! With 30,000 pesos of yearly allowance for 4 high school years, these persevering students will no longer go to school on tattered uniforms or study under some candlelight. Likewise, these  school2persevering students from Benguet to Zamboanga carry their own light for our small, dark corners of despair. Here’s one beautiful thought from Joyce May Gildoy of Lucena, Quezon:

“Kahit gaano kami kahirap, kaya ko pa rin po iahon ang sarili ko kahit po sa pag-aaral na lang.”

To use Reyna Elena’s catchwords, these students carry their own Barrio Siete, hard-earned credentials. For the full roster of their faces, names, places of origins, and stories, watch here and be inspired again and again by the power of perseverance.