Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Catholic Way to celebrate New Year's Eve

Year End Vigil

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

Prostration at the stroke of midnight

Pictures thanks to Dennis Maturan

Both Christmas and New Year’s day fall on Sundays this year and I was surprised that the Mondays following them were not declared as non working holidays. I raised this up in a conversation and a lady said to me: Father, kahit yung January man lang sana ay ideclare na holiday. I wondered why the preference for Jan 2 over Dec. 26. The answer came: Father, mas maraming puyat sa New Year kaysa Pasko. The answer made me think: it seems that New Year’s eve is becoming more popular than Christmas eve. I could validate that by the fact that most of my staff would prefer to be home on New Year’s day than on Christmas. There seems to be greater excitement and activity in New Year’s day. In fact, more rituals are observed tonight than on Christmas night. On Christmas night, all we had would be the midnight Mass and the Noche Buena. Tonight, after the Mass would be the waiting for the actual midnight with the lighting of firecrackers, food, and all night partying. Of course, there would be the rules for tonight’s meal: round fruits on the table, fish, meat, no chicken (because the manok is isang kahig isang tuka). Clothes would definitely be polka dots, pockets filled with coins, jumping up and down at the stroke of midnight (believe me it does not work), house cleaned and brightened up…and many more. All these customs and beliefs meant to ensure a prosperous year to come. Yesterday, someone asked me: Father, ano ba ang magandang feng sei para sa year of the dragon. I answered: Hindi ako naniniwala sa feng sei. Ang Feng sei ay labag sa unang utos sa 10 commandments. She asked back: Bakit Father, di ba Chinese ka? And I responded: Kristiyano muna ako bago maging Instik.

I think, tonight is the night when we should give witness to our own Faith in Christ. We have been talking about faith during the days that led to Christmas. And we even heard the Holy Father saying: Faith in Jesus Christ is the way to arrive definitively at salvation. I think somehow, we accept the principle but what we do tonight will reveal if we really believe in Christ. On whom do you put your faith? If you truly believe in the Lord Jesus, then why do you have to subject yourself to superstitious practices? Para makasigurado? Are you not confident that the Lord Jesus is sufficient so that you think that by hanging oranges on your window or lighting fire crackers or eating fish would assure you of a better year? Remember that “when we believe, we freely accept the whole mystery of faith, because the guarantor of its truth is God.” (PF, 10)

How should Christians meet a new civil year? The 1st reading tells us to imitate the Israelites who go to the priests to be blessed in the name of the Lord: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let his face shine upon you And be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace. Mark what the Lord declares: So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites and I will bless them.

In the Holy Gospel we heard: the shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. The word of God tells us that we must imitate the shepherds to go in haste to the Virgin and St. Joseph because in their company we shall see the infant lying in the manger…that infant whose name is Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins.” It is not in the company of the 12 animals of Buddha that we can be assured of salvation. Only in Christ Jesus will we find this for only Christ is the Savior of the world.

Tonight, as in ever New Year’s night, I challenge you to make that leap of faith. Let go of those practices that give you nothing but false hopes. Come into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Entrust your past to his justice and your future to his providence. Hasten to Him tonight and declare that He alone is Lord and there is no other. There is no God but him. “With what attitude should we look to the New Year? We find a very beautiful image in Psalm 130. The Psalmist says that people of faith wait for the Lord “more than those who watch for the morning” (v. 6); they wait for him with firm hope because they know that he will bring light, mercy, salvation. This waiting was born of the experience of the Chosen People, who realized that God taught them to look at the world in its truth and not to be overwhelmed by tribulation. I invite you to look to 2012 with this attitude of confident trust. It is true that the year now ending has been marked by a rising sense of frustration at the crisis looming over society, the world of labour and the economy, a crisis whose roots are primarily cultural and anthropological. It seems as if a shadow has fallen over our time, preventing us from clearly seeing the light of day. In this shadow, however, human hearts continue to wait for the dawn of which the Psalmist speaks.” (Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace 2012)

Tonight, let us profess our faith. Let us wait for the Lord with firm hope because we know that he will bring light, mercy and salvation. And we will not hope in vain. Like the shepherds, we will glorify and praise God for all we had heard and seen will be just as we had been told. The Lord fulfills his promises.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Vesting of a Bishop

A wonderful post on vesting the Bishop in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite! Perhaps many bishops will hesitate to go through this ritual vesting. In fact, liturgical vestments have lost their meaning in the minds of many priests. Today, we don our vestments while chatting. We no longer say the prayers while vesting. Thus, it should not come as a surprise how the liturgical vestment is regarded simply as a uniform or a costume. Some priests are more delighted in wearing an academic gown than a liturgical vestment. How I wish we could restore the sense of the sacred with regards the liturgical vestments.

Follow the link The Vesting of a Bishop in East and West

The witness of Martyrs

The shepherds offered the Christ Child the gift of sheep. The Magi offered him gold, frankincense, and myrhh. But Herod, with his evil intentions, unwittingly honored Christ with the best tribute...he offered the Lord 30 children martyrs!

How glorious are you, O Christ, for to honor You, the army of children martyrs sang a carol written with their own blood! Glory and praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Blessed are the Pure of Heart!

St. John's writings enjoy pride of place in the Liturgy. His epistles are read during the Christmas Season. His Gospel and the Book of Revelations are read during the Easter Season. The Gospel on Christmas day, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday came for his Gospel. This only shows how the Church regards highly this Beloved Apostle of Christ.

Come to think of it, St. John seems to have the gift of being first to recognize the Lord Jesus. His prologue shows the St. John recognized the glory of Christ as the glory of God's only begotten Son, full of grace and truth. In the resurrection narrative, he was first to "see and believe" the signs of the Resurrection. When they were out fishing, St. John was the one who recognized the Lord on the shore: "It is the Lord!"

His purity enabled him to immediately recognize and believe in the Lord's presence. The Divine Office today repeatedly refers to the "virgin John". Did not our Lord say in the Beatitudes: Blessed at the pure of heart, for they shall see God!

The first to lay mortal eyes on the new-born Babe was the Blessed Virgin. The first to see the Risen Christ was still the Blessed Virgin. Second to the Blessed Virgin, the virgin John recognized the signs of the Resurrection.

How wonderful virginity is! God derives much honor from virginity! Among the martyrs, the virgin-martyrs are a specially beloved class. Consecrated virgins enjoy a special place in the Church. God is truly glorified by virginity because this is a manifestation of a person's total availability to God. Thus, Satan struggles to destroy it. The sexual revolution that opened the way to promiscuity in society was definitely the work of the Evil One.

Our gift to the Christ-child ought to be the revival of the culture of purity in our own homes. Worthy are you, O John, for in your purity, you have seen and heard the Word of Life!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Devotion

photo by Jay Arwin Espiritu

Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.). For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart.

This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – his goodness creates the true feast.

Benedict XVI, Homily for Midnight Mass 2011

Christmas and Violence

God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.

Benedict XVI, Homily for Midnight Mass 2011

His Light is Greater than the Darkest Night

We usually say that darkness is very deceptive because it is able to camouflage the real appearance of things. Beauty is easily simulated through a play of light and darkness. This is why we should never make definitive conclusions unless we see things in the morning light. It is at day time when the truth appears – with all its imperfections being exposed in the light.

The birth of our Lord, as we said last night, took place under the cover of darkness…in the secrecy of the night. Of course, the angels bathed the night sky with light but it is really under the light of day that we shall truly appreciate what appeared on earth last night. The prophet Isaiah spoke last night about the child born to us. He is called “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, and Prince of Peace.” But under the morning light, far from revealing imperfections that darkness could hide, the mystery becomes even more resplendent for the Divinity of the Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes is made manifest: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is the Son “whom (God) made heir of all things, and through whom he created the universe; who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.” This is the Son “who took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels, as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

It is true that we see a lowly babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying on a manger. But the light of faith makes us see underneath the surface. Faith allows us to see beyond what mortal eyes behold. It is this light of faith that enables us to see his glory, “the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” Yes, his glory is full of grace. He is able to make us “holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.” His glory is full of truth. There is no deception in him. He is worthy of our faith and trust. Our mortal eyes may behold the limitations of his human flesh. But his glory which is full of truth is even more reliable than what we can see and measure. His is the “Light that shines through the darkness.” His is the “true Light which enlightens everyone.”

Our faith is illumined by his Light. Thus, although we may walk through very dark and trying times, faith allows us to walk from glory to glory for before the Light of Christ, even the dark turns to light. “His Light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it.” The principalities of the air and water may have their way of ruining our Christmas by timing calamities close to it. But faith that allows us to see in the dark pushes us forward as we, by our lives, allow Christ to illumine the world. (I saw from the news that the survivors in Iligan and CDO ate sardines for noche buena. Some see sadness and misery here but I see faith. Isipin mo, mawalan na ng lahat pero they still celebrated Christmas in the way they could afford! If this is not faith, I don’t know what is.) Like John the Baptist, we testify to the Light so that all may believe in him. We received the Light so that we can give light. “Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 9). Christ is greater than even the angels. His light is greater than the darkest night. It is not faith in ourselves that will raise and sustain us. It is our faith in Jesus that will do this. Faith in Jesus will help us walk through the darkness. “Belief in Jesus Christ is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.” (PF, 3.)

Merry Christmas and keep firm in the faith.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI’s Midnight Mass Homily

The Holy Father's Midnight Mass Homily:
Pope Benedict XVI’s Midnight Mass Homily

The Food and Gift of Christmas

It was under the cloak of darkness that the birth of our Savior took place. It was so hidden an event that no one in that City of Bethlehem knew that the longed for coming of the Promised One was at last taking place. On account of the census, there were so many people in that city on that night so much so that “there was no room for them in the inn.” Our Lady and St. Joseph were forced into the stable not really because the innkeeper did not want them in. Rather, they took refuge in that lowly stable because of the privacy the Virgin needed in bringing forth her first born Son. So many people crowding the city and yet not one sensed that this particular night is not a night like any other. It was a silent night, yet a holy night – holy because the earth is blessed to receive its Savior.

But what is hidden has to be proclaimed on rooftops. Our Lord would say this later in his public ministry. Before this declaration was made, the angels took heed of it. On that night, the angels appeared to shepherds who were in the fields. Divine light broke the darkness of the night. An angel tells the shepherds of the good news that today, in the City of David, is born Christ the Lord. A huge multitude of heavenly spirits appeared as they sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. The secret cannot be kept. The darkness could not hide it. Truly Isaiah’s prophecy is now fulfilled: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone. The angels could not even wait for dawn. They had to dispel the darkness of this midnight clear. It was a joy which they could not keep to themselves: Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Angels sang of the beauty of this glorious night. No, it was not glorious because of the splendor of heavenly light. The beauty and glory of this night lay hidden in human flesh. This human flesh is further wrapped in swaddling clothes and even disguised in humbler form as this baby lay in a manger. Mortals like you and me could easily be deceived by the humility of its wrappings. We are easily attracted and deceived by appearance. Easily we mistake importance with pomp. The serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit which was enticing to the eyes. Who can be attracted to a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger? We may be deceived by what we see but not the angels. They know who he is: he is the Christ and the Lord. Isaiah foretold him and called him “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, and Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and for ever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice both now and forever.”

If only we see him as the angels do, we would immediately abandon the trappings and trimmings of the holidays and understand that this feast is not to be measured by the abundance of food and the affluence of gifts. The only food that makes this day significant is the one who lays on the manger, the one who is born in Bethlehem which means the House of Bread. The only gift that really counts today is the one that is wrapped in swadding clothes (Lk 2:7) to be unwrapped later on upon the wood of the Cross (Mk 15:24) and wrapped in glory in heaven (Mk 16:19). Let us rush not to our hearty meal but to the altar so that we may see the feast the Lord has prepared for us – the Body and Blood of the Son. Let us rush not to the Christmas tree but to the manger bed to see this heavenly Gift the Father has sent us: His only begotten Son. Let us kneel in adoration and keep silent in awe for tonight, heaven comes down to earth, God and man are truly one in this little child: the glory of God lay hidden in the humble flesh of a new born baby. When morning comes, let us proclaim from the rooftops what we have seen tonight. Let us go tell it to the mountains that Jesus Christ is born. Let us not hide the mystery in the cloak of a Happy Holiday. Let us call this day by its true name: Christmas. Merry Christmas…Christ is born today!

Aim at Faith (Simbang Gabi 9)

The long night of Advent ends with Zechariah singing: “In the tender compassion of our God, the Dawn from on high break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Oppressed by sin, all humanity dwelt in the shadow of death: for through the disobedience of Adam sin entered into the world and together with it, death. Tonight, the skies will be filled with light as angels would sing of the glory of God and proclaim to shepherds the birth of Christ. The Lord Jesus is that Light whose coming breaks the dark reign of sin. The impending birth of the Lord Jesus is truly the rising dawn. It is the end of the night and the beginning of the day.

But remember that Advent is not just a preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. This season also is our preparation for the end of time when Christ shall come to judge the living and the dead. This season speaks our joyful expectation of the end, either the end of our lives or the end of history. As we have said before, from the time the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles on that Pentecost day, the Church has been living in the end times. History presses forward. It inches its way towards that blessed day when Christ returns with salvation for his people. The Lord bids us to raise our heads and stand erect for salvation is at hand.

As we await for that blessed day, we are guided by the light of faith. Faith, as we have said in the past, helps us walk in the middle of darkness. We walk by faith and not by sight. There are many times when we feel disheartened by the difficulties and trials of life. Such difficult times leave us weak and discouraged. St. Augustine tells us: “Believers strengthen themselves by believing.” “Only through believing…does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard one’s life apart from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 7.)

Therefore, as we move through history towards the blessed day of the revelation of our Lord Jesus, let us go forth with confidence that God has sent us a mighty Savior who sets us free from the hands of all who hate us. Let us be confident that this Savior frees us to worship him without fear by making us holy and righteous in his sight. Our faith gives us knowledge of salvation by having our sins forgiven. This Savior who shines upon our darkness will guide our feet into the way of peace. Like a shepherd, he leads us to restful waters.

“Having reached the end of his life, St. Paul asks his disciple Timothy to ‘aim at faith’ (2 Tim 2:22) with the same constancy as when he was a boy (cf. 2 Tim 3:13). We hear this invitation directed to each of us, that none of us grow lazy in the faith. It is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us. Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world. What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many of the desire for God and for true life, life without end.” (PF, 13.).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rorate Mass in the Longest Night of the Year

Thanks to Dwen Marites Lumaque

Commitment to the Public Testimony of Faith (Simbang Gabi 8)

The messenger sent by the Lord to prepare the way before him is born of Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah. True to the words of the angel, his birth brought joy to people. The neighbors and relatives who heard of the Lord’s mercy shown to Elizabeth rejoiced with her. The birth of John the Baptist was not only the manifestation of the Divine Mercy to Elizabeth. It was likewise a manifestation of mercy towards Zechariah who, after 9 months of silence, was able to speak again – and he spoke blessing God. The restoration of Zechariah’s sense of speech was not only the lifting up of a punishment imposed on him personally. It was also the end of the Divine silence – for a long time, Israel was without a prophet. God sent no oracles. No one came up to speak in the Lord’s name. The silence of Zechariah was the sign of the long prophetic drought that beset Israel. Now, the promised voice who will cry in the wilderness is born as the voice of Zechariah is restored. God is once again in a speaking mood with his people.

“Faith in the heart leads to justification, confession on the lips to salvation” (Rom. 10:10) For the past days we have been looking at the Virgin Mary whose heart was constantly filled and led by faith. We heard the Holy Father say that “knowing the content to be believed in is not sufficient unless the heart is opened by grace that allows the eyes…to understand that what has been proclaimed is the word of God” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 10.).

But faith must not be kept to heart only. It must be confessed with the lips. “Confessing with the lips indicates…that faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him…Faith…demands social responsibility for what one believes.” (Ibid.)

The prophets of the past opened their mouths to proclaim the oracles of the Lord. We open our mouths today to proclaim our faith. “Today, as in the past, he sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19). Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today, too, there is a need for stronger ecclesiastical commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that never fades away. Faith grows…when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. (Faith) makes us fruitful, bacause it expands our hearts to hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness. Indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples.” (PF, 7.)

The Year of Faith will be a time for an intensified reflection on the Faith so that all believers in Christ may “acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing.” (PF, 8.) We want everyone to “feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times.” (ibid.) For some time in the past, we have been very timid in the profession of our faith. We shy from professing the faith because of a faulty sense of “respect” for those who do not share the faith with us. We thought that we should not offend non-believers with our open profession of faith. But isn’t hiding our faith the real offense? When we are timid about our faith, when we do not share the Gospel to others, we deny the non believers of the opportunity to encounter Jesus and be saved by him. Confession on the lips leads to salvation – both ours and the salvation of others. Let us not deprive humanity of the Savior. Yes, times are really changing. It is becoming more and more pagan by the minute. The spreading of pagan ideologies does not mean that the world needs the Lord less. It is even an indication that it needs the Lord more. Let us go before the Lord and pave the way for him. Let us “profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and with hope.” (PF, 9.)

An Oracle of the world to come (Simbang Gabi 7)

At the Visitation, the Holy Spirit inspires Our Lady to proclaim in song the praises of the Lord. The song contains very radical images: The Lord 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 empty away. Taken out of its scriptural context this would seem to be a communist propaganda song which advocates the inversion of the social order. And yet, far from provoking a class war, the song of our Lady is actually a declaration of the greatness of God. Mary, the Queen of Prophets, is inspired by the Holy Spirit to sing of the things to come at the establishment of the Kingdom of God. This hymn is a prophecy of things to come in the new order of creation which Christ and the Holy Spirit will inaugurate. It is a prophecy on the manifestation of the true values of the Kingdom of God. Our Lord will later bring this prophecy to fullfilment when he teaches the Beatitudes where the poor, the meek, the sorrowful, the hungry and thirsty, the pure, the merciful and the persecuted will all be called blessed. On that day, he shall lament about the woes of the rich, the powerful, the happy, the satisfied and the adulated. The Magnificat is a declaration of the order of reality according to the point of view of God.

Who are the poor, the hungry, and lowly ones refered to in the song of Mary? Who are the ones who will be satisfied and exalted in the Kingdom of God? The Holy Father writes: Visiting Elizabeth, (Mary) raised her hymn of praise to the Most High for the marvels he worked in those who trust him (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 13.). The poor, the hungry, the lowly ones referred to in both the Magnificat and the Beatitudes are those who trust in God. It is true that those who trust in God are bound to be the underprivileged in this world. It is difficult to trust in the Lord because those who trust in God are those hated by the world. The world hates them because the same world hated Christ first. The world hates Christ because he has proven wrong the very values extolled by the world. The world hates Christ because his teachings directly oppose the lessons taught by the world. The world which passes away in corruption refuses to look at Jesus who alone can give eternal life.

But even if it is difficult to trust in the Lord while living on earth, we still hold on firmly in faith because “Only in (Christ) is there the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love. The words of Peter shed one final ray of light on faith: ‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. without having seen him you love him, though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. At the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls’ (1 Pet 1:6-9). The life of Christians knows the experience of joy as well as the experience of suffering. How many of the saints have lived in solitude! How many believers, even in our own day, are tested by God’s silence when they would rather hear his consoling voice! The trials of life, while helping us to understand the mystery of the Cross and to participate in the sufferings of Christ (cf. Col 1:24), are a prelude to the joy and hope to which faith leads: ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Cor 12:10). We believe with firm certitude that the Lord Jesus conquered evil and death. With this sure confidence we entrust ourselves to him: he, present in our midst, overcomes the power of the evil one (cf. Lk 11:20); and the Church, the visible community of his mercy, abides in him as a sign of definitive reconciliation with the Father.” (PF, 15.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Faith Working through Love (Simbang Gabi 6)

Having heard from the angel that her aged cousin Elizabeth was with child, Our Lady “set out in those days, and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah.” There were no grand purposes but the simple intention of assisting an aged pregnant cousin. The Incarnation has just taken place, the Son of God has just arrived and now he is immediately on the go. Carried by his Mother in the womb, the Lord deigned to visit his precursor John. Our Lady simply intended to help her cousin. Little did she realize that her good intention was used by her unborn Divine Son to send the Holy Spirit to sanctify John the Baptist in his mother’s womb. The Virgin visits Elizabeth. The Lord visits John.

Yesterday, we saw Mary as a woman of great faith. Today, we see Our Lady being motivated by her faith to perform an act of charity for her cousin. What the Blessed Virgin did may be best described by St. Paul who spoke of “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Indeed, her charity is one driven by faith. St. James speak of the relationship between faith and charity: “What does it profit if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food and one of you says to them:’Go in peace, be warmed and filled’, without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone says, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works and I by my works will show you my faith.” (Jas 2:14-18).

The Holy Father writes: “Faith without charity bears no fruit; while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, (as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support), because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40)…It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbor along the journey of life.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 14).

Impelled by Christ in her womb, Mary hastened to assist Elizabeth. We know that it was her faith that worked through charity because Elizabeth herself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, acknowledged Mary’s faith: Blessed are you who believed that everything the Lord said to you would be fulfilled.”

The season of Christmas disposes us to be more generous to the poor. We are infected by the same generosity which disposed our Lord to come down from heaven to visit and assist us in our misery and poverty. Behind Mary’s visit to Elizabeth was Jesus’ visit to John. So also should Christ’s Charity towards man be the only motive underneath our charities. Let us give because we believe in Christ. Let our faith work through love.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Virgo Fidelis (Simbang Gabi 5)

At the very heart of the Simbang Gabi is this day, the day which commemorates the Annunciation. It is the fullness of time, 9 months before Christmas day, when God sent the Angel Gabriel to bring the news of great joy to Mary that she was chosen to be the most holy Mother of His only begotten Son. This is the moment of the Incarnation, the time when the Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Of this moment, the Holy Father exclaims: “The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offense received, and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfillment in the mystery of the Incarnation… In Him who died and rose again for our salvation, the examples of faith that have marked these 2,000 years of our salvation history are brought into the fullness of light” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 13.).

At the head of these examples of faith would be that of the Blessed Virgin. She, who is the Virgin most faithful (Virgo Fidelis), manifested great faith at the Annunciation: “By faith, Mary accepted the Angel’s word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God in the obedience of her devotion (cf. Lk. 1:38.)” (Ibid.) Mary obedience of faith stands in contrast to the disobedience of Eve. A fallen angel tempted Eve to mistrust the limits that God has set for human nature and so enticed her to take things in her own hands by eating the forbidden fruit. An Archangel invited Mary to trust and submit to the Divine Plan, “for nothing is impossible to God.” Eve wanted to become like God without God’s help…and lost everything she had. Mary saw herself as nothing more than the Lord’s handmaid…and was so exalted as God’s Mother and Queen of heaven and earth. Eve believed in herself. Mary believed in God. Faith was Mary’s way of life: “Visiting Elizabeth, she raised her hymn of praise to the Most High for the marvels he worked in those who trust him (cf. Lk. 1:46-55). With joy and trepidation she gave birth to her only Son, keeping her virginity intact (cf. Lk. 2:6-7). Trusting in Joseph, her husband, she took Jesus to Egypt to save him from Herod’s persecution (cf. Mt. 2:13-15). With the same faith, she followed the Lord in his preaching and remained with him all the way to Golgotha (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). By faith, Mary tasted the fruits of Jesus’ resurrection, and treasuring every memory in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), she passed them on to the 12 assembled with her in the Upper Room to receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14, 2:1-4)” (Ibid.)

It is only fitting that Mary, who is Christ’s Mother and the first of his disciples, should be a woman of great faith for those who follow Christ “walk by faith and not by sight.” “By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages…have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness to the fact that they were Christian: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministires to which they were called. By faith, we too live: by the living recognition of the Lord Jesus, present in our lives and in our history.” (Ibid.) Let us live by this faith most especially amidst the difficulties of our times. Even amidst our sorrows and pains, let us continue to say: Let it be done to me according to your word. “Man believes with his heart, and so is justified.” (Rom. 10:10)

Questiions on the Simbang Gabi take 2

As I was praying the Office of Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent (Novus Ordo), it just dawned on me that this particular Sunday does not have its own Office of Readings. Rather, the rubrics will direct you: Verse, readings and responsories from the office of the day. Also, the antiphon for the Magnificat is also taken from the office of the day. The Ordo for the Philippines directs that at the Simbang Gabi on the 4th Sunday of Advent, the priest wears white and the Gloria is sung. But the Readings and Texts for prayers will be of the 4th Sunday of Advent. Apparently, this is due to the fact that in nothing takes precedence over a Sunday of Advent. But my contention is that this is not so as indicated in the indult for the Rorate Caeli Mass during the Simbang Gabi. See sense of the sacred: Questions on the Simbang Gabi

If the Divine Office on the 4th Sunday of Advent gives way to the readings of the Office of the day, why can't the same principle be applied to the readings of Simbang Gabi?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

All that He reveals is true (Simbang Gabi 4)

St. Luke describes the couple Zechariah and Elizabeth in the most positive terms: “Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing the ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.” Advanced in years, they had no child until the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to bid him the good news that at last, their prayers were heard: a son will be given them and no ordinary boy will he be for “he will be great in the sight of the Lord…he will prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Perhaps he was already resigned to the fate of barrenness and so, although this news of an answered prayer was something he waited for so long, Zechariah responds to the angel: “How shall I know this? I am an old man and my wife is advanced in age.” Old age tempers the daring spirit of youth. While one is young, even the impossible is attainable – a person is driven to test life to its limits. But when advancement in age overtakes a person, he becomes more resigned to limitations: “to accept the things I cannot change.” There simply are dreams that cannot come true. Zechariah should have rejoiced that his prayers were heard – but there is simply one problem: the answer came in too late – I am old and my wife is advanced in age. The reality of limitations overcame him. It kept him from believing. He started to object.

Thus, the angel declares: “You shall be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fullfilled at their proper time.” The angel subjected Zechariah to silence. Perhaps it was because Zechariah was allowing his darkness to speak so much to him. With the plank of his human limitations before his eyes, he failed to see the fact that God is not subject to limitations. “To God, nothing is impossible.” Looking at himself, he failed to look at God. Even as the angel spoke, Zechariah wasn’t listening because the voice of the limitations of his old age kept interfering in his mind. And so the angel silences him until all these come to pass. Unlike St. Joseph who listened in silence to what the angel had to say in his dream, Zechariah was conversing with himself in his own mind: How can this be? I am old. It simply is impossible.

That is why he had to be silenced so that he may allow God to open his heart to give heed to what was said (Acts 16:14). The Holy Father writes, “Knowing the content to be believed in is not sufficient unless the heart, the authentic sacred space within the person, is opened by grace that allows the eyes to see below the surface and to understand that what has been proclaimed is the word of God.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 10.) When the angel announced himself as Gabriel who stood before God, he said: I was sent to speak to you, and to announce to you the good news.” He was assuring Zechariah that what he revealed was worthy of faith because his words were not his own but those of God who sent the angel to announce the good news. The angel’s words were worthy of faith because they were the words of God himself. Faith is the assent of man’s thought to the revelation of God who neither deceives nor can be deceived. “Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God. The giving of assent implies that, when we believe, we freely accept the whole mystery of faith, because the guarantor of its truth is God who reveals himself and allows us to know his mystery of love.” (ibid.)

Silence opens our hearts to this grace of faith. Faith enables us to recognize the trustworthiness of the word of God. When we believe we freely accept the saving mystery revealed by God. Because the guarantor of this revealed mystery is God, we adhere to it as we are sure that God will never deceive us. All that he reveals is true!

God Creates His Own House

Our Advent journey is almost done. The prophets have spoken about the coming Messiah and the Spirit who will renew the world. Preaching a baptism of repentance, John the Baptist points to the coming to the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now the time has come. It is the fullness of time. The time has come to send both Son and Spirit in a joint mission of mercy. The Father is now prepared to reconcile Himself with humankind.

In sending both the Son and the Holy Spirit, the concern of a dwelling place is brought up. Where shall he take his residence? King David offers to build a house for Him in thanksgiving for all that the Lord has done for him. But God sends word and asks: “Shall you build me a house to dwell in? …The Lord reveals to you that He will establish a house for you!” What house can we build that befits the Holy One? What Temple can we build to house the Word through whom everything was created and the Spirit by whose power all came to be? Can any human being build a house great enough, holy enough to befit the true God?

Knowing that none is worthy nor capable to create a dwelling for the powerful Word and the Creator Spirit, the Father Himself builds a house. He prepared the soul of the Virgin Mary as a dwelling for the Holy Spirit and her womb for His only begotten Son. So great was His desire to be merciful that the Lord Himself builds His own Temple.

Now that the temple is created, the Lord, through an angel, knocks at the door and begs to enter. He appeals to the Virgin that she accepts the dignity of being the Mother of the Most High. All she needed to do was to open the door of her heart and let God enter. All she needed to do was to consent…to say “Yes!” It will not be a violent intrusion but a gentle descent like dew from heaven above. Yes, He is God at whose word all things are made. But now, this All powerful God humbles Himself. He awaits the Virgin’s word. He awaits the Virgin’s consent. Will there be anything like this humility of the Divine Mercy? Has the universe seen anything like it? Will the universe see anything like it again? The Lord subjects His mercy to the Virgin’s will. Creation gasps in silence. All the universe appeals to the Virgin: Please be merciful to this weary world: Say Yes to Him who humbles Himself and asks for your consent. Your Yes will be the door that will let the Divine Mercy enter.

The Virgin responds: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” O gates lift up your heads, grow higher ancient doors: let Him enter the King of glory!

St. Faustina exclaims in her diary:

“Mercy has moved You to deign to descend among us and lift us up from our misery. God will descend to earth; the Immortal Lord of lords will abase Himself. But where will You descend, Lord; will it be to the temple of Solomon? Or will You have a tabernacle built for Yourself? Where do You intend to come down? O Lord, what kind of tabernacle shall we prepare for You, since the whole earth is Your footstool?

“You have indeed prepared a tabernacle for Yourself: the Blessed Virgin. Her Immaculate Womb is Your dwelling place, and the incoceivable miracle of Your mercy takes place, O Lord. The Word becomes flesh; God dwells among us; the Word of God, Mercy Incarnate. By Your descent, You have lifted us up to Your divinity. Such is the excess of Your love, the abyss of Your mercy. Heaven is amazed at the superabundance of Your love. No one fears to approach You now. You are the God of mercy. You have compassion on misery. You are our God, and we are Your people. You are our Father and we are Your children by grace. Praise be to Your mercy, that You have deigned to descend among us.” (Diary, 1745)

Thank you, O merciful God. Thank you, O Virgin of mercy!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Transformed by Faith (Simbang Gabi 3)

The Simbang Gabi is a novena to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the preservation of the Catholic Faith in the Philippines. Thus, we honor the woman of whom was born the Christ. However, let us not forget that beside the Blessed Mother is someone whom we could easily miss – the just man St. Joseph. I said that we could easily miss him because his presence in the story of the nativity is always a silent and a hidden one. He was always in the background, always silently giving his ever reliable support to mystery of salvation that unfolded before his very eyes. The silence of St. Joseph is so uncharacteristic of his high status. He should have been a celebrity. After all, the Scriptures never tire of singing his praises as the son of David. Yes, St. Joseph was royalty truly fit to be chosen by God to be the husband of the Queen of heaven and earth. When the Incarnation was to take place, the Lord saw to it that the virgin would be bethrothed to a man of the House of David. Authors have constantly commented that God could not have chosen a better spouse for Our Lady.

And yet, St. Joseph did not see things this way. In fact, when he found Mary to be with child by Divine decree, St. Joseph found himself unworthy of taking the Mother of the Messiah as his wife. He did not see himself worthy to take custody of the Son of God and of his holy Mother. His decision to divorce Mary quietly was not driven by any doubt about her integrity. His doubt was not about her worth, but about his own. He keeps his pain to himself and decides to fade away quietly.

But such is not God’s will. The Lord has chosen St. Joseph to be the custodian of the great mystery of the Incarnation. Through a dream, the angel reveals to St. Joseph the Divine plan which does not concern Mary alone but also included him. St.Joseph may have planned to maintain a respectful distance from the Divine plan of salvation but God wanted him to take part, a very important part: Joseph would give the Son of Mary a name – not just the name Jesus Son of Joseph but the exalted name of the Promised Messiah – Jesus, Son of David. The message of the angel was the Divine invitation for Joseph to conform his plan to God’s plan and not to be afraid of it. It was a message that dared him to believe. The Holy Father said: “To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never finished in this life. ‘Faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:20-29; 2 Cor 5:17)” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 6.) With his thoughts and will purified by faith, St. Joseph decided to do what is right: he took Mary as his wife and became a father to her Son. His life was transformed and made perfect by faith.

Fulton Sheen said: “In what does your life consist except in two things: (1) Active duties; and (2) passive circumstances. The first is under your control: do these in God’s name. The second is outside your control: these submit to in God’s name. Consider only the present; leave the past of God’s justice, the future to his Providence. Perfection of personality does not consist in knowing God’s plan, but in submitting to it as it reveals itself in the circumstances of life.” (F. Sheen, The Seven Words of Jesus and Mary.)

Without the Catholic Religion, Where will we be?

The Christian Faith transforms persons. The Christian Faith transforms society. The Christian Faith transforms history. Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical DALL'ALTO DELL'APOSTOLICO SEGGIO, promulgated on October 15, 1890, wrote about the good that the Catholic Religion has done for society:

"12. All know with what salutary effect and in how many ways the influence of religion penetrates society. It is beyond dispute that sound public and private morality gives honor and strength to States. But it is equally certain that, without religion there is no true morality, either public or private. -- From the family, solidly based on its natural foundations, comes the life, the growth, and the energy of society. But without religion, and without morality, the domestic partnership has no stability, and the family bonds grow weak and waste away. -- The prosperity of peoples and of nations comes from God and from His blessings. If a people does not attribute its prosperity to Him, but rises up against Him, and in the pride of its heart tacitly tells Him that it has no need of Him, its prosperity is but a semblance, certain to disappear so soon as it shall please the Lord to confound the proud insolence of His enemies. -- It is religion which, penetrating to the depth of each one's conscience, makes him feel the force of duty and urges him to fulfill it. It is religion which gives to rulers feelings of justice and love towards their subjects; which makes subjects faithful and sincerely devoted to their rulers; which makes upright and good legislators, just and incorruptible magistrates, brave and heroic soldiers, conscientious and diligent administrators. It is religion which produces concord and affection between husband and wife, love and reverence between parents and their children; which makes the poor respect the property of others, and causes the rich to make a right use of their wealth. From this fidelity to duty, and this respect for the rights of others come the order, the tranquillity, and the peace, which form so large a part of the prosperity of a people and of a State. Take away religion, and with it all these immensely precious benefits would disappear from society."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Faith in Christ transforms History (Simbang Gabi 2)

The long list of names which we have just heard is the family tree of the Lord Jesus. This line of ancestors shows us how God has prepared a human family into which his Son will be born. 42 generations became part of that long preparation for the coming of the Savior. Truly, this is history in a glance and simply looking at the names does not do justice to the entire story. It is only when we read the Bible that we shall appreciate the fact that every name in this list brings with it a unique and unrepeatable story. Each story might seem to be unrelated to the other and yet, when the names are listed in a genealogy, suddenly it dawns upon us that these stories tend toward the same goal: the birth of the Promised One. The entire family tree moves towards Jesus, the Son of Mary, the one who is called the Christ.

However, the story of this family does not end with Christ. It is true that Jesus never got married and never begot children of his own flesh. The irony of this is that it is Jesus who expands the family and brings to fulfillment the Divine promise to Abraham that he shall have descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens and as the grains of sand on the shore of the sea. How did our Lord expand this family? He did it by changing the manner of affiliation into this family. Before he came, the affiliation was by relationship of blood. A person enters into this family by birth to a legitimate member of this family. But the Lord Jesus changed this. In his new family, which is the Church, affiliation is by relationship of faith. A person enters into this family of Christ no longer by physical birth but rather by the Sacrament of Baptism, a birth by water and the Holy Spirit. The Church, the new family of Christ, the family begotten not by flesh but by the Holy Spirit, continues to our day and even beyond our days into the end of time, the story of this family of Abraham and the family of David. As in the Old Testament, the ancestors of Jesus pressed forward to bring the plan of salvation to fulfillment, so today, in the New dispensation, the Church, the spiritual family of Christ, “like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the cross and death of the Lord comes (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). But by the power of the risen Christ, it is given strength to overcome, in patience and in love, its sorrows and difficulties…so that it may reveal in the world, faithfully, although with shadows, the mystery of the Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light (Lumen Gentium, 8.)” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 6.)

The Year of Faith that we shall be celebrating next year will allow us to look at the Church in the very same way we now look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The Year of Faith will allow us to retrace “the history of our faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin. While (the mystery of holiness) highlights the great contribution that men and women have made to the growth and development of the community through the witness of their lives, the (mystery of iniquity) must provoke in each person a sincere and continuing work of conversion in order to experience the mercy of the Father which is held out to everyone.” (PF, 13.) (I really think that retracing the history of our faith is very much needed today considering the fact that as part of the crisis of faith today, there is a seeming denial of the contributions of the Christian faith to humanity. The Pope, for example, usually expresses his concern that Europe is now forgetting its Christian heritage. People have forgotten that European culture is basically Christian. We are not yet in this stage but we are going there.) Indeed, like the Old Testament family to which Jesus was born, “the Church, clasping sinners to its bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly a parth of penance and renewal.” (PF, 6.) And we are those sinners whom the Church clasps into her bosom. We are the ones in need of penance and renewal. In the coming Year of Faith, let us once again look at the history of the Church to discover how faith in Christ transformed the history of the world by trnasforming lives of men and women. In this manner, we shall understand that when we allow our Christian faith to transform us and conform us into the likeness of Christ, we give the Lord the occasion to transform the world we live in. Faith in Christ transforms people. Faith in Christ transforms society. Faith in Christ transforms history.

NYC: Nativity Scene at Central Park

The public display of the Nativity Scene is putting Christ back into Christmas. This recovers the true spirit of Christmas which, in the first place, is a Holy Day, a Religious Feast. Congratulations to the Catholic League!

NYC: Nativity Scene at Central Park

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Crisis of Faith (Simbang Gabi 1)

The longest Christmas Season in the world begins in our country today with the opening of the Simbang Gabi. Well, it is noticeable that the spirit of Christmas may seem to have come late this year. Even with December begun, many houses have tardied in setting up their decorations and lights. Is this telling of a spreading climate of secularism that has toned down our sensitivity to holy feasts? I have said in the past that the Simbang Gabi was instituted as a novena for the preservation of the Catholic Faith in the Philippine Islands. Thus, it would be beneficial that we take the last steps of this year’s Advent journey together with our Holy Father as he leads us to the Year of Faith which he intends to open on October 11, 2012.

It cannot be denied that times have so much changed that the lamp of faith seems to wane in many parts of the world today. The Holy Father observed that “it often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural, and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. (However) in reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but is is often openly denied. Whereas in the past, it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today it no longer seems to be the case in large swatches of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 2.)

A crisis of faith…this is a reality which we all have to recognize. But we should not accept this crisis with passive resignation. The Holy Father says, “We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt. 5:13-16). The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well , like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the sources of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn. 4:14). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the Bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn. 6:51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.” (cf. Jn. 6:27) The question posed by his listeners is the same that we ask today: ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God.’ (Jn. 6:28)” (PF, 3)

What must we do to be doing the works of God? What must we do to avert this crisis of faith? The Holy Father answers: “The Church as a whole with all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.” (PF, 2.) We, as Church, once again teach the AUTHENTIC daang matuwid: “Observe what is right, do what is just…” We must once again teach our children to “keep the Sabbath free from profanation, and hold to (God’s) covenant.” We must “bring them to (God’s) holy mountain and to make joyful in (His) house of prayer.”

Our last Simbang Gabi together opens with the Lord speaking about John the Baptist as a man who “testified to the truth” and who “was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his shining lamp.” We should be like John the Baptist: shining lamps. Let us not pretend to be the light because we are not the light. Only Christ is the Light. We are merely lamps and our faith in Christ is the light. Let us make this faith shine brightly for “Belief in Jesus Christ is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.” (PF, 3)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Awaiting for the Son and the Holy Spirit

St. John the Baptist attests to the greatness of the one who comes after him: I baptize with water but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me whose sandal straps I am not worthy to untie. This greater one who comes after him is the one who, in last Sunday’s Gospel, will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we celebrate Advent, we presume that we are preparing for the coming of Jesus, the Son of God. Thus, we presume that St. John the Baptist was referring to Jesus as the one “who is among you whom you do not recognize.” However, seldom do we realize that it is not only God the Son who was hidden and unrecognized in the past. So also was the Holy Spirit. The Catechism points out: “From the beginning until the ‘fullness of time,’ the joint mission of the Father’s Word and Spirit remains hidden, but it is at work. God’s Spirit prepares for the time of the Messiah. Neither is fully revealed but both are already promised, to be watched for and welcomed at their manifestation.” (CCC 702.) In fact, we should know that the mission of Christ and the mission of the Holy Spirit are inseparable: “When the Father sends His Word, He always sends His Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible Image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals Him.” (CCC, 689). The Prophecy of Isaiah reveals the inseparability of both the Son and the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.” The reason why Jesus is called the Christ, the Messiah, is because He is anointed by the Holy Spirit. Messiah means “Anointed One.” Jesus is the Anointed One and the Holy Spirit is His Anointing.

Thus, in the Old Testament, “Two prophetic lines were to develop, one leading to the expectation of the Messiah, the other pointing to the announcement of a new Spirit.” (CCC 711) Thus, the prophets of old did not wait only for the Messiah. They also awaited the Spirit who would renew the face of the earth. These two prophetic lines will be fulfilled by Jesus who does not come alone, but one who comes anointed by the Holy Spirit. He comes to bestow the Holy Spirit: He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. “The prophetic texts that directly concern the sending of the Holy Spirit are oracles by which God speaks to the heart of his people in the language of the promises, with the ‘accents of love and fidelity.’ …According to these promises, at the ‘end time’ the Lord’s Spirit will renew the hearts of men, engraving a new law in them. He will gather and reconcile the scattered and divided peoples; he will transform the first creation, and God will dwell there with men in peace.” (CCC 715)

And that time, the “end times” referred to, is now. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost inaugurated the end times – “By his coming, which never ceases, the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the ‘last days’ , the time of the Church, the Kingdom of God already initiated though not yet consummed.” (CCC 732) Isn’t this what Advent is all about? It is not simply a preparation period for Christmas, the annual commemoration of Christ’s first coming. It is also the preparation for Christ’s coming at the end of time. Christ has already come and by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, has delivered to us the Holy Spirit whom He promised. Now, as we joyfully await the glorious coming of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work to prepare us to face the Lord Jesus. How does the Holy Spirit do this? St. Paul gives the answer: “May the God of Peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” As the prophets cooperated with the Holy Spirit in preparation for Christ’s coming, so should we, in preparing for the Lord’s 2nd coming, cooperate with the Holy Spirit: Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks…Do not quench the Spirit…Test everything, retain what is good. Refrain for every kind of evil.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nuestra Senora de la O: the Expectation of our Lady

In the town of Pangil, Laguna is an image of the Virgin of Expectation which the people call as Nuestra Senora de la O. I have been intrigued by this title. I asked people about the title and they say that she is called Nuestra Senora de la O because she answers "OO" (Yes) to all petitions given to her. Well, that's folk religiosity for you! Anyway, further reading about this image of the Virgin is that during the Christmas Novena (simbang gabi), a peculiar antiphon is sung wherein the Virgin is addressed with the "O". I thought it was the "O Antiphons" of Advent until I stumbled upon an article by Fr. Z about the Spanish Veneration to Our Lady of Expectation, popularly known as Nuestra Senora de la O.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

St. Nicholas, Christmas Saint

Jolly Old St. Nicholas punched the heretic Arius because he could not take what the heretic was saying about the Lord! Wow! This makes St. Nicholas all the more a fitting Advent/ Christmas saint. More than just a symbol of generosity in gift giving, St. Nicholas is the Defender of the Divinity of Jesus Christ! Ho, Ho, Ho!

Canterbury Tales by Taylor Marshall: Saint Nicholas Allegedly Punched This Heretic in t...

Our Lady of the Annunciation

I recently acquired an antique image of Our Lady of the Annunciation just in time for the celebration of Advent. As Advent is the time of great expectation, the Annunciata is the fitting Advent image. At the New Liturgical Movement blog is an interesting article on the Annunciation in Art.

The Apocryphal Gospels as a Source of Imagery

The Immaculate Conception: the True Breaking Dawn

We will never recognize sin clearly without the knowledge which is given to us by Divine Revelation. Born in sin, we would have thought that sin is a “normal developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or simply the necessary sonsequences of an inadequate social structure” which we all have to live with in this imperfect world of ours. Were it not for Divine Revelation, we would not have known the sublime dignity that God intended for us who were originally created in His image and likeness. “God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating ‘of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ spells this out:’for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.’” (CCC, 396) Last night someone asked me: “Father, why did God create that tree of knowledge only to prohibit us from eating of its fruit?” The Catechism answers: “The ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom.” (CCC 396) The sublime dignity of the human nature is shown by the fact that “Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory.” (CCC, 398.) However, “seduced by the devil, man wanted to ‘be like God,’ but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.’” (Ibid.) This desire to be like God but without God is being popularized today by that famous “Twilight” vampire series wherein one can become immortal even without God – all you have to do is to be transformed into a vampire.

Thinking that they can become like God even without God, our first parents lost the grace of original holiness: “the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions…lust and domination; …visible creation becomes hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject ‘to its bondage to decay.’ And finally…Death makes its entrance into human history.”(CCC, 400) Not only did Adam and Eve suffer this loss on account of their personal disobedience, they transmitted to their children a human nature that is in a fallen state: a human nature that is deprived of original holiness and justice, a human nature that is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and a human nature inclined to evil (and sin). (CCC, 405) Original sin is like a very wealthy man who lost everything to gambling. Because of this, his children and descendants would have to be born in poverty. The nakedness of Adam and Eve shows us the abject poverty that sin has brought upon the human nature. Original sin consists in the fact that “all men…are deprived of the glory of God.” Thus, the whole world was plunged into darkness, into “captivity under the power of the devil who had the power of death.” (CCC407) “The whole world is in the power of the evil one.” (CCC 409.)

Thus, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is the true Breaking Dawn at the end of the long dark night of sin. Not deprived but rather “full of grace”, not naked but clothed in the garments of salvation and robed in a mantle of justice (Is. 61:10), “Mary benefitted first of all and uniquely from Christ’s (future) victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.” (CCC 411). Untouched by sin, this uniquely beautiful creature called Mary does not only show us the original intention of God for our humanity had it not fallen into sin. Mary the Immaculate Conception shows us that “Christ’s inexpressible grace gives us blessings better than those the demon’s envy had taken away.” (St. Leo the Great, CCC, 412.) The twilight of man’s fall led to a long dark night of the reign of evil. The Immaculate Conception was the breaking dawn that announced the end of the long night. “It was a breaking of light over a dark and wintry world.” Conceived immaculate, sinless and free from the guilt of our first parents, Mary was the dawn for Christ the day, the was the aurora for the Sun of Justice. She was the Immaculate Conception for Him the Son of God who will later on be her Son. Mary is God’s response to humanity’s plea for a renewal of creation. The Immaculate Conception is the beginning of the new creation.

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

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Divine Mercy and Advent

In a catechetical class about the long Old Testament preparation for the coming of the Messiah, a student once asked me: Why did it take God so long in sending His Son? We ask ourselves: Why the delay in the Lord’s return? St. Peter, in the 2nd reading, reminds us that what seems a “delay” to us isn’t really so for the Lord because “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” The length of time did not really matter to the Lord to whom past, present, and future is all the same. God dwells in the eternal present. Time does not matter to Him who is beyond time.

The seeming delay of that dreadful day of judgment, when everything shall be dissolved by fire, is actually an expression of the patience of the Divine Mercy: the Lord is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. It is not that the Lord is slow in coming. Rather we are slow to repent. It takes us so much time to realize our faults. It even takes longer for us to come to repent over what we have done. All we have to do is to look at the way we deal with our favorite sins. It takes long for us to admit our guilt. It takes so long for us to overcome it. We confess our favorite sins again and again because we keep on doing it. That is why it is called “favorite sin.”

Thus, the Lord delays in bringing us to justice. He gives us time to repent. Patiently, he awaits for our return to him because he does not want the sinner to die. Rather, he wants the sinner to repent and live. Thus, he gives us many opportunities to avail of his mercy. Look at the Gospel. Before sending His Son, he sends first John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord. Contrary to our stereotyping of John the Baptist as a fire and brimstone prophet, the man is actually a proclaimer of the Divine Mercy: John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His mandate is one of tender compassion: Comfort, give comfort to my people…Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated. Attracted by the message of mercy that the Baptist brings, people were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. Indeed, that dreadful day of judgment will come with the suddenness of a thief’s coming. But before that day, the Lord extends the limits of his mercy. He makes his mercy accessible to all.

Thus, we should take advantage of this time of reprieve. We should not hesitate to go to confession which is the tribunal of the Divine Mercy. Let us repent while we still can. Let us go to the priest and to him acknowlege our sins. Let us do this while the Lord allows his patience to delay his judgment. “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” To St. Faustina, the Lord said: “Before I come as the just Judge, I am coming first as the King of Mercy.” (Diary, 83.)

On the Sense of Urgency in our Advent Prayer

The Carpenters have a beautiful song which was recently used as title for a movie: “I wont last a day without you.” The refrain goes: When there’s no getting over that rainbow; when my smallest of dreams wont come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I wont last a day without you.” Romantic as it seems but the song reflects the sentiments of the Prophet Isaiah which sets the mood of the Advent Season we begin today. The prophet laments: Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? He laments that God has hidden his face and that he has every right to do so for “you are angry and we are sinful, all of us have become like unclean people, all our deeds are like polluted rags, we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” And because God has hidden his face, no one calls upon his name and none clings to him. Because of this, we have become even poorer, because we do not know what we are missing: You Lord are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”

Advent is once again upon us and unfortunately, it does not seems to have much impact upon our lives. Well, of course, there is that anticipation for the coming holidays with much gift, food, and merrimaking to expect. But the idea of waiting for the Lord’s return, which is the real spirit of Advent, seems lost to us. No longer to we see ourselves in the shoes of the gatekeeper whose task is to be on the watrch for the coming of the lord of the house. Nostalgic Christimas songs like Pasko na Sinta ko speak of a longing for a loved one who might be anyone, a spouse, a girl friend, anyone but the Lord. The holidays become very sentimental on account of the absence of people we love, but seldom on account of the absence of God. The Lord is definitely not sorely missed.

He is not sorely missed because we think that we can live without him. We presume that we can last a day without him. But that is not true for the Prophet Isaiah says: O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands. Even if you look through the paradigm of master and servant, as shown in the gospel, we still cannot miss the relationship of absolute dependence which we have with the Lord. The servant is dependent on his master for his livelihood. The clay is dependent on his potter for his existence. The child is dependent on his father for everything. In other words, “I wont last a day without you” is first and foremost true between the Lord and our selves.

And that is why we wait for his return. We watch for his coming. Although he is long delayed in coming, we still light our lamps and watch for his return. We patiently do so because the Lord Jesus has promised to return. And we hold on to his promise because “God is faithful.” And we are sure of his fidelity. But can we be sure of ours? We know how fragile our fidelity is. We know how easily we are swayed to mediocrity and compromises. It is on account of our awareness of our inclination to infidelity that we pray to the Lord with a certain sense of urgency: Return for the sake of your servants…Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down! Please Lord, return while we are still faithful. Return while we are still awake lest we drowse into sleep and be caught unprepared when you come.

St. Faustina wrote in her diary: “I am reliving these moments with Our Lady. With great longing, I am waiting for the Lord’s coming. Great are my desires. I desire that all humankind come to know the Lord. I would like to prepare all nations for the coming of the Word Incarnate. O Jesus, make the fount of your mercy gush forth more abundantly, for mankind is seriously ill and thus has more need than ever of your compassion. You are a bottomless sea of mercy for us sinners; and the greater the misery, the more right we have to your mercy. You are a fount that makes all creatures happy by your infinite mercy. (Diary, 793.)