Friday, January 18, 2019

New Year 2019: Counting our days aright

DECEMBER 31, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

It is the last day of 2018 and as the clock moves slowly towards midnight, people all over the world will be engaging in countdowns. There is revelry everywhere because there is something about the passing of one year to another that captures the excitement of people. Of course, we are celebrating something that is secular because the transition involved civil years. That is why the celebration all over the world has a worldly, secular character. People will be dining and dancing the night away on to a new year.

But for us who follow Christ, tonight’s countdown has a special significance. It reminds us of the way we look at time with the eyes of faith. To us, history is not just a meaningless cycle of events but a journey from a definite point of time to another definite point. History is the human journey from Creation to the end of all time, the second coming of Christ. And at the center of this human historical journey is Christ, the Lord of history, the Lord of time. That is why we divide history into two: BC (Before Christ) and AD (the year of the Lord). Pope John Paul II, in the celebration of the great Jubilee Year 2000, made us aware of this once again: the birth of Christ is the center of all human history. The Incarnation is the definitive entrance of God into human history and this momentous event changed the course of man. Before he came, all of us were on the way to perdition. But God entered history, the Eternal One entered time and space, in order to change that course. He has put a stop to this slippery descent of man and brought it to a path of redemption. Being born in time, Jesus transforms it. No longer is time a countdown to punishment. Through Jesus, time has become a countdown to redemption. That is why at the beginning of Advent, the Lord bids us to stand erect and raise our heads, for our redemption is at hand.

And that is why we count time. We pray the Psalm: “Lord, teach us to number our days aright, so that we may gain wisdom of heart.” (Ps. 90:12) We ask for the grace to number our days aright. Yes, we number our days because our days are numbered. Time for us is not an unlimited commodity. It is something given to us in a limited way. As I have told you in the past, every year, every month, every week, every day, every hour, every minute, every second that passes brings us closer to the end…and that end is not something dismal, but something we long for because this end is our grand meeting with Jesus who will return in glory. The limited time given to us is a time of grace and mercy, an opportunity offered by the Lord to us to work out our earthly life in keeping with his divine plan and decide our ultimate destiny. (CCC, 1013) And this time which keeps going forward will never return. Once it passes, it is gone forever. There is no replay. There is no take two. You miss it…move on to the next. And remember, it is running forward faster than you think. This is why we must take advantage of every second, every minute to advance in grace and holiness. St. John Bosco said, “Do good while you still have time.” Yesterday, we saw Jesus advance in wisdom, age and favor before God and men. As 2018 is passing, can we truly say that we have advanced? Surely, we have advanced in age. We have become a year older definitely…and nothing can stop this. But have we advanced in wisdom? Did we learn from our mistakes? Have we become more understanding and more loving? Have we matured in thought and action? Have we become more discerning of the ways of the Lord? Or are we still gullible to the devil’s deceptions? Have we advanced in favor before God and men? Have we become more pleasing to God? Have we become more respectable before others? Am I a better person today than last year? Am I holier now than before?

Tonight is the time to sit in silence and reflect before God. How much time I wasted tinkering my gadgets and missing out on the people around me, the people who love me? How many opportunities to deepen my relationship with God have I wasted? How many opportunities for love and communion have I passed? For this, let us beg forgiveness. Lord, I can never take back the time passed. I am sorry.

Tonight is the time to sit before the Lord and ask him: Lord, how can I rectify my ways? How can I make up for lost time? How can I do better? This is what Resolutions are all about. Make your resolutions and seriously take them to heart. Do not immediately abandon them because you do not know if you will still be here next year. Make every second count and you will be wiser. “Lord, teach us to number our days aright, so that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

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

Raising children for God

DECEMBER 30, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

The issue of parental upbringing came to the fore with the bully video that went viral before Christmas. People began to ask: What happened to the kid that he grew up to be an arrogant bully? Public attention went to his parents. They began to ask: What kind of parenting did he receive? In fact, in a TV program, the bully’s father, apparently fed up by all these questions, texted the host: “Huwag mo akong turuan kung paano ko palalakihin ang aking anak.”

When Mary reproached (sumbat) Jesus for staying behind in Jerusalem without their knowledge, she gave Jesus the opportunity to teach about parenting. She said: “Son, why have you done this to us? Did you not know that your father and I searched for you with great sorrow?” Jesus said: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I have to be in my Father’s house?” Contrary to what many parents think that their children are theirs and that these are raised according to their own liking, Jesus, in these words, is telling Mary and Joseph: “I am yours but also not yours. I belong to you but also not to you. I belong to the Father and I must be found in my Father’s house. I must do what the Father sent me to do.”

Parents must always remember that their children are theirs but not totally theirs. They belong to the Father in heaven. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.” God entrusted his children to them. Therefore, parents fulfill the role of stewards. They raise children not for themselves but for the Father. Dear parents, you are raising sons and daughters for God. Therefore, you do not raise your children to become like yourselves. You raise them to become like Jesus because Jesus is the Son of God and therefore, he is the model of all Christian children. Most parents want their children to grow up resembling themselves. No! Let your children grow up to resemble Jesus. Your ultimate goal is not to lead your children to a successful career. Your goal must be to help them become saints. If you really love your children, you want them to go to heaven for all eternity. Therefore, teach your children to do the Father’s business. Help them discern the Father’s will at all time. “We keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment us this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us.” In the end, when you bring up God-fearing children, you will have loving children.”

Bring your children to the temple as Hannah did to Samuel and offered him to God’s service. Bring them to the temple as Joseph and Mary did to Jesus. Teach them to worship God and they will be blessed: Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord. Teaching them to love God will eventually lead the way to real obedience to you. Jesus went down to Nazareth and was obedient to them because he understood that his obedience to his human parents expressed his obedience to his heavenly Father. When children are raised up to become like Jesus, they grow up like him: advanced in wisdom and age and in favor before God and men.

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

Christmas Mass of the Day 2018: The Gift of Divine Filiation

DECEMBER 25, 2018

JESUS, I trust in you!

Christmas mornings for me are times of awe and wonder. My fondest childhood memories are those of Christmas mornings. I woke up with great expectation because I knew that I would find gifts beneath the tree and gifts from Santa who paid a visit the night before. I continue to wake up on Christmas morning with that same childlike wonder. I do hope that you would do the same.
Oftentimes, we say that Christmas is for children…and I believe it still to be so. It is because only by remaining like a child can we truly appreciate the great mystery that happened today. Of course, we may be overwhelmed by the “adult” concerns like the expenses that we must put up with in order to celebrate Christmas. But such should not deprive us of the joy that Christmas should give us. If I were asked, “What do you associate Christmas mornings with?” I would immediately answer: “The gifts.” And it is true: we associate Christmas mornings with gifts. It is the time when families open their gifts to each other. But we must not forget to open the best gift of Christmas…and that would be the gift of God’s only begotten Son born to us this day.

“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God…” This is the child we find in the manger. He is the Son “whom God made heir of all things and through whom he created the world.” This is the Son who is “the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.” He comes wrapped in swaddling clothes and lain on a manger. Do not be deceived by the wrappings. The world underestimates him because he seems too small, too powerless. What can a child do? How much can he give? “He was in the world…but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.”

Do not underestimate him because of his humble appearance. Accept this gift of the Father because “to those who accept him, he gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation, nor by human choice, nor by a man’s decision, but by God.” He transforms us and makes us like himself. He makes us children of God. This is the gift which no one but Christ could ever afford to give us: Divine Filiation. This is the richest gift because through it, we become heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, and heirs of heaven. Nothing can be more precious. Nothing can be more valuable than this. “From his fullness we have all received, a grace in place of grace…grace and truth comes through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.”

Today, we see that Son who is at the Father’s side. Today he comes to us and dwells among us. He reveals to us the Father whom we do not see. He gives to us the inheritance we do not have. He made himself poor…and because of this, we are rich. What a gift on Christmas morning! He is the gift that only God can give.

Merry Christmas! 

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

Christmas Mass at Midnight 2018: Silent Night, Holy Night

DECEMBER 25, 2018


If people ask me about my favorite Christmas song, I immediately answer: “Silent Night.” My mother told me that on my first Christmas on earth (December 1968), I cried whenever a caroler sang “Silent Night.” The same happened whenever it is played over the radio. Until today, the song haunts me in a very special way. This is the reason why wherever I am assigned, I always insist on singing “Silent Night” as entrance song for Midnight Mass. Apart from sentimental reasons, this song was really composed for the Midnight Mass. The story goes that in the Church St. Nicholas in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, the organ broke down and it was impossible to repair it in time for midnight Mass. The priest, Fr. Josef Mohr. inspired by the peace of the surroundings, wrote a poem and asked Franz Xaver Gruber to compose the music for it. “Silent Night” was first sung on Christmas Eve of 1818…exactly 200 years today.

The song captured the atmosphere of the night of the Savior’s birth. Bethlehem was teeming with people because Caesar Augustus declared a world-wide census. Everybody had to return to their homeland to comply to this decree. St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin went home to Bethlehem just like everybody else who came from the Clan of King David. The situation there might have been chaotic but let us not forget that the census was made possible because the whole world was at peace. As there was no room in the inn, Mary and Joseph were forced to take shelter in a cave where animals were made to rest during the night. It was the ideal place for the birth of the Savior because it was away from the bustling hotels which were filled for the night. It was a very private place…a quiet place…for animals really rest at night. We humans have the tendency to disturb the silence of night time…but not the animals. At night, they simply kept silent because that is how they really are. The background of silence was the best context of the birth of the Word of God on earth. For when can the Word be heard most if not in the middle of silence?

It was a silent night. It was a holy night. Silence does not necessarily imply holiness. Sometimes, silence is imposed by threats (dulot ng banta). Bugbog o dignidad? Threats like this oftentimes condemn people to silence. (tumutulak sa mga tao na manahimik na lang) People keep silent because they do not want to get involved. Ayaw madamay. Others keep silent so as not to further aggravate the aggressor. (lalong mayamot) Tumahimik ka na lang para di ka masaktan. Fear also forces people to be silent. Wag kang kikibo kung ayaw mong masaktan.

But the silence of that night was not caused by fear. Rather, it was caused by love: Son of God, Love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace. The Son of God appeared on earth tonight. He shines in the middle of darkness as Light from Light. But this light is not invasive (mapanghimasok) like the flash light of an arresting police officer. This light is the radiance (kariktan) of God’s face, a face that appears not to condemn (magparusa) but to redeem. It is not a light that hurts the eye. But rather, it is a radiance that attracts, a countenance (mukha) that invites contemplation because it is a loving and gentle (maamo) countenance. This holy infant, so tender (mayumi) and mild (maamo), sleeps in heavenly peace. Thus, we come to him in silence not because we do not want to startle him (Magbiro ka na sa lasing, wag lang sa bagong gising.) but because we want to whisper to him our love and affection. We love him because he “appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age…” Now, we are at peace because he is our peace with the Father and with one another. On this night of his birth, the only song that pierced the silence of the night is that of the heavenly multitude that sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Jesus himself told us that when we enter a house, we should say: Peace be upon you. And he said that if a peaceful person lives them, that peace will rest on him. Tonight, he entered our world and the angels greet us “peace on earth.” Are you a peaceful person? Are you at peace with God? Are you at peace with each other? Are you at peace with yourself? If you are at peace, then God’s favor rests on you. It means that you live within the scope of the silence of that holy night.

Tonight, let us approach the new-born King in silence. Let us beg him: O Prince of Peace, with humility you come to us. In similar humility, we come to you and beg you: let your peace come upon us tonight. Where there is hatred, bring us love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Prince of Peace, Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace. Grant us your everlasting peace.

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

Simbang Gabi 2018 9: The Dawn before Christmas morning

DECEMBER 24, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Simbang gabi ends today. We have been coming to Mass for 9 dawns already and the novena fittingly ends with a clear reference to the dawn: “In the tender compassion of our God, the Dawn from on us will break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet on the way of peace.” (Sa kagandahang loob ng ating Diyos na magpapadala sa atin mula sa kaitaasan ng isang araw na sumisikat upang liwanagan ang mga nakaupo sa kadiliman at sa lilim ng kamatayan , upang ituwid ang ating mga yapak sa daan ng kapayapaan.)  Advent commemorates that long wait for the coming of the Savior. It was a waiting in the darkness of error and sin. St. Peter spoke of it: “We also have the message of the prophets, which has been confirmed beyond doubt. And you will do well to pay attention to this message, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (Sa gayon ay tumitibay ang sinasabi ng mga propeta: mabuti ang inyong gagawin kung mamasdan ito, na gaya ng isang ilawan na tumatanglaw sa dakong madilim, hanggang sa pagbubukang liwayway at sa pagsikat ng tala sa umaga sa inyong mga puso.)  (2 Peter 1: 19) The world waited in the dark with only God’s revelation, his word of promise, as a lamp to look at until the dawning of the promised day and the rising of Christ, the morning star in our hearts.

John the Baptist was born and his birth puts an end to the long silence of God. For a long time, God sent neither prophet nor prince to his people. It was as if God got fed up with the constant adultery of his people that he decided to give them the “silent treatment.” The nine month silence of Zechariah was a sign of this. Remember that Zechariah was made mute by the angel who appeared to him before John was conceived. And when the child was circumcised and was named “John”, Zechariah’s tongue was loosened. He began to speak in prophecy. At last, God speaks to his people. At last, he has sent a prophet to them. And the purpose of the sending of the prophet was to prepare the way for the coming of the Word of God himself: “You, my child, shall be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” (Ikaw naman, sanggol, ay tatawaging propeta ng Kataas taasan, sapagkat mangunguna ka sa Panginoon upang ihanda ang kanyang daraanan, upang ituro sa kanyang bayan ang kaligtasan sa kapatawaran ng kanilang mga kasalanan.)

The birth of John was the sign that the long wait is about to end. “The night is far spent and the day draws near…” so would St. Paul say. Soon the darkness will be over. The night will give way to the dawn. The Light of the world will be born and he will dispel the darkness of error, sin, and death. And when the day comes, we shall all see what was hidden from us under the cloak of darkness. When the darkness of sin is lifted up, we shall see how beautiful the world was meant to be. We shall see how wonderful is the life that God intended to give us. On that day, we shall realize how much the devil has stolen from us and what he has deprived us of.

Dawn is the beginning of day. It is a fresh start, a new beginning. Tired and weary, we rest our bodies in sleep. We wake up fully refreshed at dawn. Whatever mistakes we have done, whatever filth we have incurred, all these will pass away together with the darkness that is dispelled by the first streaks of the light. The Lord allows us to rise to a promise. Dawn is the opportunity to start all over again.
And this is the dawn of Christmas morning. Most of us have wonderful memories of childhood Christmas mornings. I have my own. When I was a child, I woke up on Christmas mornings always with a sense of awe. I was awed by the gifts beneath the Christmas tree and by the goodies left by Santa on the socks I hang on the wall. I hope, that tomorrow, on Christmas morning, all of us will awake with child-like wonder. Let us be like wide-eyed children as we behold the gift on God beneath the Tree of the Cross: his only begotten Son who will be born of the Virgin. When you behold him, pray to him and ask him to take away your sorrows and wipe away your tears. Ask him to dispel your darkness and drive away your fears. Ask him to forgive your sins and bring you to forgive others as well. Soon, we shall see the promise of Christmas morning. Tonight, let us go to sleep with hope in our hearts. Whatever darkness you are going through, it will come to end. The dawn from on high shall break upon us!

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

Simbang Gabi 2018 8: The Messenger who goes before the Lord

DECEMBER 23, 2018
Jesus, I trust in you!

Advance party…this is the most appropriate description I can give of the birth of John the Baptist. If there is any significance in this birth, it is not that he was sort of a miracle baby born to aged parents. It is also not that his father’s tongue was loosened on the day of his circumcision. The significance of this birth is described by the prophet Malachi: I will send my messenger before you to prepare the way before you.”  This baby is no ordinary messenger. He was likened to the Prophet Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets. He had to come in the spirit of the greatest prophet because the one who will be born after him, the one whose path he must prepare, is the Almighty God. “Who can endure the day of his coming and who can stand at his appearance? He is like the refiner’s fire and fuller’s lye; he will sit as a refiner and a purifier. He will purify Levites like gold and silver.” Obviously, the preparation needed is more than just planning parties and banquets. It would involve much more than gifts and decorations. Because the one coming is Almighty God, preparing for him will involve purification from sin so that the worship we shall offer to him will be truly pleasing and acceptable to him.

The advanced party is now here…it only means that the Lord will follow soon. In fact, in (2) a day’s time, it will be Christmas morning. Are you prepared for it? You have probably made a list of things to do and of people to send gifts to. Have you made your list and checked them twice? But with Noche Buena and gifts prepared, can you really say that all is set? How about your soul? Are you purified enough? Have you gone to confession? Malachi said: “He shall turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” Have you mended broken relationships? Mga kabataan, may atraso ba kayo sa inyong mga magulang? Nakahingi na ba kayo ng tawad? Parents, have you neglected your children? Have you made up for your neglect? Bully boy whose video went viral definitely was the product of parental neglect. For if it were not so, then how did he grow up filled with so much hatred? Obviously money is not the only element of child rearing. More important than money would be time, attention, and discipline. How is your family? Is it prepared to welcome the Lord? Are you now reconciled and at peace with each other? Perhaps, if you have been concerned with external preparations and have neglected the spiritual and relational preparations, you have the last two days to fix things and so be prepared for the Lord’s coming.

“Look up and see: your redemption is at hand.” It is only when we are spiritually prepared that we can recognize the great gift the Lord bestows upon us. And believe me…the Lord has shown us so great a favor. It will be just so sad to miss it simply because we were not prepared to see it. Ask the Lord to silence your heart so that you may hear his voice. Ask him to open your eyes so that you may recognize him who comes. Ask him to purify and humble your heart so that you may welcome him with great joy.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Simbang Gabi 2018 7: A Young Girl's Prophetic Song

DECEMBER 22, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

The Magnificat is an impressive song which oftentimes is unappreciated because when it is sung, we seldom get past the first verse. Of course, Our Lady acknowledged that God has done mighty things for her and therefore, all generations will call her blessed. But the song is not just about what God has done for her. It was also about how God intervened into human history and inverted its paradigms: “He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty handed…” What is wonderful about this song is that it was sung by a 15 year old girl. Such concerns were way beyond the comprehension of a 15 year old. It was clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit himself…for how else could a 15 year old sing of these? I am of the opinion that the Magnificat is a clear reflection of the Beatitudes that were declared by our Lord himself: the Lord himself declared the blessedness of those who are accounted as negligible by the world.

A 15 year old girl singing a prophetic song…shouldn’t this be the model of our young people? The Magnificat is an invitation to all the youth to elevate their concerns beyond trivialities like fashion, gadgets, and other self-centered issues. Look around you…are you satisfied with what you see? Do you think that hunger and misery amidst a throw away culture is really right? Do you think that it is right to get your way simply because you are powerful? Apparently, the notorious bully of Ateneo thinks that his taekwondo skills gives him the right to impose himself on everybody whom he perceives is weaker than him. Is it right for a young 14 year old like him to be abusive of the little power that he and his family has? Young people, what are your concerns? Do these transcend your little world of comfort? Are you capable of going beyond yourselves so that you can see the misery of others? Say not that you are young…because the Kingdom of God is your concern. You must contribute to the building of the Kingdom of God by using what you have and who you are to make the world less miserable, less unjust, less cruel. Your youthful idealism must drive you to seek for a better world and in the end, “HUWAG KAYO PAKAKAIN SA SISTEMA.” Youthful idealism will end up meaningless if we begin to “dance with the world” by compromising principles for pay-offs or for a little bit of fame and power. Hindi lahat ng bagay ay nabibili…kasama na diyan ang prinsipyo at ang paninindigan. Hindi lahat ng nabibili ay nagpapaligaya.

Dear young people, let your idealism make you hunger and thirst, not for success, fame and fortune, but for the Kingdom of God. Be hungry for righteousness. Mourn for the prevalence of sinful structures in society. Work for justice by being just and fair. Work for peace by being peacemakers and by resisting temptations to be violent. Be compassionate to the poor. And live simply so that you can always have something to share. Huwag lang panay ang sarili ang isipin natin.
As for the mighty and powerful, balang araw, babagsak din sila. Just wait and see. The Kingdom of God, which is built with blood and sweat, this alone will remain standing for ever.

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