Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Imitating Papal Altars: Why Not???

Candles on the Altar
I have heard some liturgists argue against putting candles on the altar (that is in spite of the fact that the General Instruction on the Roman Missal allows this). They say that candles should not be placed on the altar because our altars are not Papa Altars. To this reason, I say that if we were not to imitate Papal altars, then we should have our altars pushed back to the walls. According to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who late became Pope Benedict XVI), 

"The controversy in our own century was triggered by another innovation. Because of topographical circumstances, it turned out that St. Peter's (basilica) faced west. Thus, if the celebrating priest wanted - as the Christian tradition of prayer demands - to face east, he had to stand behind the people and look - this is the logical conclusion - toward the people. For whatever reason it was done, one can also see this arrangement in a whole series of church buildings within St. Peter's direct sphere of influence. The liturgical renewal in our own century took up this alleged model and developed from it a new idea for the form of the liturgy. The Eucharist - so it was said - had to be celebrated versus populum (toward the people). The altar - as can be seen in the normative model of St. Peter's - had to be positioned in such a way that the priest and people looked at each other and formed the circle of the celebrating community. This alone - so it was said - was compatible with  the meaning of the Christian liturgy, with the requirement of active participation. This alone conformed to the primordial model of the Last Supper. These arguments seemed in the end so persuasive that after the Council (which says nothing about "turning toward the people") new altars were set everywhere, and today celebration versus populum really looks like the characteristic fruit of Vatican II's liturgical renewal. In fact, it is the most conspicuous consequence of a reordering that not only signifies a new external arrangement of the places dedicated to the liturgy, but also brings with it a new idea of the essence of the liturgy - the liturgy as a communal meal.

"This is, of course, a misunderstanding of the significance of the Roman basilica and of the positioning of the altar..." (J. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 77-78.)

My argument is this: the repositioning of the altar so that the liturgy may be celebrated facing the people was based on the imitation of the position of the Papal altars in Rome. If this were so, why are we now arguing that we should not put candles on the altar because we should not imitate the arrangement of candles on Papal Altars? I simply could not see the consistency of the arguments. We allow a change (positioning of the altar) in imitation of Papal altars and then disallow another practice (putting candles on the altar) because doing such would be applying to non-papal altars what is allowed on Papal altars. How can the standards change from one argument to another. This, to me, is simply whimsical preferences of some being imposed to all.

The Scandalous Mercy of God

The Magdalene who loved much because she was forgiven much
Jesus, I trust in you!

Simon the Pharisee underestimated Jesus for seemingly not knowing the kind of woman who was touching him: “If this man were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman this is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Apparently, many people today are like Simon who thinks that God does not want to be touched by sinners. While it is true that God finds sin repulsive, Jesus today shows us how he allows himself to be touched by the repentance of sinners.

In the first reading, the prophet Nathan reproved David for very grievous sins: adultery with Uriah’s wife and then plotting the same man’s murder. “Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight ...You have despised me!” The evil nature of David’s sins was enough to separate him from the Lord and yet, when David realized the gravity of his sins, he confessed: “I have sinned against the Lord.” That was all Nathan had to hear in order to assure David of Divine absolution: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”

We often do not understand how God could easily forgive David when in fact his sins were so grave. How could the Lord Jesus allow the woman to touch him in spite of her many sins: “… her many sins have been forgiven.” We do not realize that the mercy of the Lord is really very scandalous. It offends our sense of justice, or rather, our desire for retribution. Shouldn’t David be punished? Shouldn’t the sinful woman be publicly humiliated? Shouldn’t that criminal be hanged? What about the victims? Do we not care that they get justice? Pope John Paul cautioned us about how justice is easily distorted by spite, hate, and cruelty. “In such cases, the desire to annihilate the enemy, limit his freedom, or even force him into total dependence, becomes the fundamental motive for action…It is obvious, in fact, that in the name of (an alleged) justice, the neighbor is sometimes destroyed, killed, deprived of liberty or stripped of fundamental human rights.” (Dives in Misericordia, 7.) Pope John Paul concludes: “The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions.” (Ibid.)

Mercy defines the love of God. “All the subtleties of love become manifest in the Lord’s mercy for those who are his own.” (DM, 4.) God’s mercy is more powerful and more profound than his justice. “Love is ‘greater’ than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love conditions justice and justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice are revealed through mercy.” (Ibid.) Jesus himself said to St. Faustina: “Let the sinner not be afraid to approach me. The flames of mercy are burning me – clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon souls.” (Diary, 50.) Thus, those who were at table with Jesus rightfully asked themselves about Jesus: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” This, indeed, is Jesus: he is the One who forgives sins. He was sent by the Father as expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

The Fountain that Cleanses Sins

Blood and Water from the Pierced Heart of Jesus
Jesus, I trust in you!

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus said, “The Son of Man must endure many sufferings.” I say, “So what?” So what if he has to suffer? Do we not all have to endure suffering? Even Gautama Buddha acknowledged this and made it one of the central truths of Buddhism: “All life is suffering.”

Jesus also said, “He must be put to death.” I say, “So what?” All of us have to die one day. This is the way of all flesh, so the Bible says. And so if he dies, we also will die.

What makes the suffering of Jesus so unique? What makes his death so different? The prophet Zechariah gives us beautiful words for our first reading: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one who mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a first born.” Who is this only son? Zechariah is definitely referring to the Lord Jesus. At the River Jordan and at the Mountain of the Transfiguration, God the Father introduced Jesus to all: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Jesus is the Only-Begotten Son of God and our Lord.

Who is this first-born? Again, the prophet is definitely referring to Jesus. St. Paul said that Jesus is the first-born of all creation. He is also the first-born of the dead. It is ion knowing that the prophet was referring to Jesus that we appreciate the prophecy even more: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” When our Lord Jesus died on the Cross, a soldier pierced his side with a lance. And out of that wounded side flowed Blood and Water. From the pierced Heart of the Savior came forth in abundance Blood and Water. Thus, the prophet said, “On that day, there shall be open to the house of David and to the other inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.” That fountain that purifies sin and uncleanness is that opened side of Jesus, his pierced heart from which flowed Blood and Water. This fountain of Blood and Water purifies us from sin. This fountain of Blood and Water empowers the Sacraments so that they may have the capacity to bring about the forgiveness of sins. This is why we go to Church. We acknowledge that we are sinners and we wish to draw close to the purifying fountain of our Savior’s heart. This is why I simply scratch my head at people who accuse churchgoers of self-righteousness: “Pasimba-simba pa kayo. Akala mo kung sinong malilinis, eh panay makasalanan naman pala.” “Yang pari ninyo, pamisa-misa pa. akala mo kung sinong malinis, eh makasalanan din naman pala.” Excuse me? They are badly mistaken. The reason why we go to church, the reason why I offer mass is not because we feel righteous but because we acknowledge our sinfulness and so we need to draw close to the fountain of mercy which is the Savior’s heart. To accuse us of self-righteousness is like saying to a person who takes a bath: “Paligo-ligo ka pa. Akala mo kung sinong malinis, eh marumi naman pala.” The reason why we bathe is because we are soiled. When I tell someone to take a bath, the person oftentimes smell his armpits and say, “Father, I don’t smell bad.” Thos who refuse to take a bath are those who think that they are clean. Those who refuse to take a bath are those who think they don’t stink. In like manner, those who refuse to go to church are those who think that they are righteous enough that they don’t need to go.

And so we ask, “Why does the suffering of Jesus forgive sins? Why does his death take away sins? Why do the Blood and Water flowing from his wounded heart wash away sins?” The answer is given by the Gospel reading: Jesus is the Messiah of God. The Lord asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “The Messiah of God!” 

Indeed, You, O Lord Jesus are the Messiah of God. That is why your sufferings bring to us forgiveness of sins. Even if we were to endure all the sufferings that the world can offer, none of us could obtain for the world forgiveness of sins.

You, O Jesus, are the Messiah of God. That is why your death takes away the sins of the world. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Even if we were to die a million times, none of them could take away the sins of the world.

You, O Jesus, are the Messiah of God. That is why the Blood and Water flowing from your opened heart wash away our sins and purify us from uncleanness. Even if we were to wound ourselves and bring out all the blood and water that would bodies can give, none of us can purify the sins of the world.

You, O Jesus, are the only Begotten Son of the Father. You are the first-born of all creation. You are the first-born of the dead. You are the Messiah of God. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us and on the whole world.

O Fountain of life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty yourself out upon us. O Blood and Water that gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you!   

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Celebrating amdist the Desecration of the Blessed Sacrament???

I was saddened with the news that yesterday, the Blessed Sacrament was stolen from the Adoration Chapel of my former parish. It happened on the eve of the parish fiesta. I could not understand how the theft took place. There was a security guard on duty and the Blessed Sacrament was kept in a glass case which was under lock and key. Apparently, the one who had custody of the blessed Sacrament forgot to lock the case. During my pastorate, I was the only one who held the key to this glass case. Nobody could open nor close the case except me. I felt that as the pastor, I was the one responsible for the security of the Blessed Sacrament.

Throughout the day, there was nothing in the social networks about the theft. Instead, I found the pastor posting picture of the parish community eating a banquet during the parish fiesta. He even posted that the bands kept playing and the food kept coming. It was as if nothing happened. The fiesta had to go on.

I told this story to the priest who is a guest of our parish. He looked at me intently as I told the story. Then, he said: "It is like a birthday celebrant being kidnapped and yet the party has to  push through because the preparations were already made."

For the life of me, I could not understand how a parish community could still celebrate the parish fiesta on the day immediately after the desecration took place. Should not an atmosphere of sorrow and penitence take over the festivities? "The Lord has been taken away. We do not know where they have placed him." "When the Bridegroom is taken from them, it is then that they will fast."

I am sad also about the fact that the International Eucharistic Congress has just taken place and we were part of it. I thought that the International Eucharistic Congress was supposed to ignite fervor in our Eucharistic devotion. Then, why this indifference to the desecration? Why is it that it seems that the theft never took place?

In one of my former assignments, I was called to anoint a dying person during Christmas time. I had barely finished the confection of the sacrament when the relatives around the death bed started to wil. She died at that moment. Then, I saw two toddlers approaching the Christmas Tree. They turned off the Christmas lights and started taking down the decorations. The children understood. Grandma just passed away. It was definitely not time to rejoice over the holidays.

If these children were sensitive enough over the impropriety of merrymaking during a time of grief, why can't we have that same sensitivity? Have we lost our faith in the Real Presence? Do we no longer believe that the one that got desecrated was the Body of our Lord?

To me, the issue is very simple: The Lord has been taken away! Let us be sad because we do not know where they have placed him!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Ash Wednesday in the Year of Mercy

Jesus, I trust in you!
Let us hasten to the Inner Room to meet the Father

We once again open the Lenten season with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. During this season, we engage in acts of penance and piety. We fast, we pray, and we give alms to the poor. We go to Church today in the age-old tradition of receiving ashes on our heads as a sign of sorrow for our sins. In the Old Testament, people wore sack cloth and put ashes on their head as they fasted and prayed. We do the same today. Let us remember that the ashes on our heads are signs of true contrition for our sins. Publicly, we acknowledge that we have sinned and by acts of penance, we want to take responsibility for what we have done as we seek the forgiveness of the Lord.

On this Year of Mercy, let us listen to God’s Word which invites us to return to the Lord: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God!” The prophet Joel emphasizes the importance of interior conversion: Rend your hearts, not your garments! Even the Lord Jesus teaches us of the primacy of the heart, that “inner room” where we should go and meet the Father who sees everything in secret.  We do not need to put up a show, to make an elaborate production number to entertain judges. All the Lord wants us to do is to fast in secret, to pray from the heart, and to be sincere in our charity. This is what it means to rend our hearts and not our garments.

But why do we return to the Lord? What is the motive of our interior conversion? We return to the Lord because the Lord has revealed himself to us as a Father who is rich in mercy: “Return to the Lord your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” St. John Paul II said that when Israel broke her covenant with God by worshiping the golden calf, “The Lord himself triumphed over this act of breaking the covenant when He solemnly declared to Moses that He was a ‘God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’ It is in this central revelation that the chosen people…will find, every time that they have sinned, the strength and motive for turning to the Lord to remind him of what He exactly revealed about Himself and to beseech His forgiveness.” (Dives in Misericordia, 4.)

This is exactly the reason why turn to him in spite of our sins: the Lord Jesus revealed to us that the Father is rich in mercy. Kaya nga malakas ang loob nating humingi ng awa ay sapagkat sinabi niya na mayaman siya sa awa. Kung walang awa ang Diyos, matatakot tayo at mag-aatubiling lumapit sa kanya. Kung walang awa ang Panginoon, walang sinuman sa atin ang aamin sa kanyang pagkakasala. Kaya nagtago sina Adan at Eba noong sila ay nagkasala ay sapagkat labis silang nahihiya sa kanilang ginawa at hindi nila naisip na kaya at gusto ng Diyos na magpatawad. Lumalapit tayo sa Diyos dahil madali siyang lapitan. Humihingi tayo sa kanya ng awa dahil mayaman siya sa awa.

Let this confidence in the Mercy of God accompany us in our Lenten journey. Let our return to the Lord be done with quick and joyful steps. Let us not walk like convicted men led to their execution. Rather, let us be like children who race to return to the Father’s house. Make your steps light by fasting. Let go of your baggage by alms giving. Let us be quick to enter that inner room to meet the Father who sees everything in secret. He waits for you there. Do not delay your reconciliation to him. Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Becoming fishers of men

St. Andrew the Apostle
I was ordained a priest on the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. I consider it a great honor to be ordained on this feast because St. Andrew was one of the first to the called by the Lord. As he walked by the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the Lord Jesus saw the brothers Peter and Andrew casting their nets. To them he gave the invitation: Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men. I like those words "fishers of men". The Lord called them and myself to become "fishers of men." The work of fishermen is really very simple. All they had to do was cast the net into the sea and haul into the boat whatever is caught in that net. I realize that my job as a priest is simply to cast the net and haul in what is caught. The Lord called me to be a fisher of men, not a member of a screening committee. All I have to do is to keep the Church door open and welcome anyone who enters through it. It is not my job to screen people and decide who should be deemed worthy to enter the Church and who should not. When a person finds his way to the Church, he has not done it on his own, Rather, it was the Father who called that person to approach his only begotten Son. It was the Holy Spirit moving in his soul. The fisherman simply casts his net and does not determine which fish should be caught in it. He hauls into his boat whatever the net catches. My task as fisher of men is to welcome those who find their way into the Church. It is not even my task to convert them or to touch their hearts. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Only the Holy Spirit can convert hearts. Only He can change lives. Only He can sanctify sinners. Only He can deify men. And I am not the Holy Spirit. I can only cast my net by preaching. Whatever happens to those who listen to what I preach is not within my control. I can only cast the net by celebrating the sacraments. Whatever happens to those who receive the sacraments is no longer my turf. Moving hearts, converting lives, sanctifying sinners, deifying men...all these are the work of the Holy Spirit. I can only cast the nets and nothing more,