Monday, November 25, 2013

A Glimpse of Paradise Amidst Tragedy

Two criminals were crucified with Jesus on that Friday afternoon. Both of them were staring death at the face. Between them was Jesus on the Cross. To some, this Jesus who was crucified between them was a criminal so much like the others who were condemned to die. But to those who believe in him, this Jesus is the Son of David to whom the Lord said: “You shall shepherd my Israel and shall be the commander of Israel.” The Crucified One is the Shepherd who left heaven to search for the lost sheep. Here, he meets two lost sheep at the most decisive part of their lives – the moment of their death. Enthroned upon the wood of the Cross, Jesus is the Shepherd who segregates the sheep from the goats. His presence to them was an invitation to come to Him and find mercy and eternal life.

One of the criminals reviled Jesus: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Even at the moment of death, he could not see beyond himself. He could not see his fate as a just punishment for his crime. Failing to admit his guilt, he could not recognize his need for mercy. What he wanted was an escape from his predicament – the very predicament that he caused himself on account of his sin.
The other criminal looked at Jesus and saw the Lord as so much unlike himself. Jesus was innocent and yet he suffers the same condemnation of a sinner. The search for man began when Adam hid himself from the Lord who called out to him in the garden of Eden. This search finds its culmination in the mystery of the Incarnation in which God the Son assumed our human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. It was for this moment that He became human. He became man in order to suffer the condemnation of a sinner. The criminal looked at Jesus and saw Him as his last hope and so he dared to ask: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That was all he had to do. That was all he had to say and so Jesus declared: “Amen, I say to you, today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

He found the Lord when death stared at him.
It was the most unlikely of all places that he found Jesus. He found the Lord when death was staring at him. It was at the Cross when he found the Lord…or rather it was at the Cross when he realized that the Lord was there searching for him. The ending of the Year of Faith finds us in the midst of the most unfortunate circumstance. A powerful earthquake and a super typhoon of biblical proportions forced us to stare death at its face. Thousands of lives were lost and properties were destroyed. And yet, like the thief in the gospel, it is here where we realize that the Lord has been there all along searching for us. The calamities made us ask “Why? What is the sense in all these?” And it is in asking questions that we find the Lord. Pope Francis said to the Filipino community: “In these times of suffering, never tire of asking why, because you will attract the tenderness of the Father... We cannot explain why things like this happen; there are so many things we cannot explain. When children start to grow up they don’t understand and ask their mums and dads so many questions. Psychologists call it the “why age”, they don’t wait to hear the answer but continue with other questions. Children need to feel their parent’s love and attention; in that phase of insecurity they need the eyes and hearts of their parents... In these times of suffering, never tire of asking why, because you will attract the tenderness of the Father and his attention, just as children do when they ask “why”...In these times of suffering, prayer is of even more help"  (Pope Francis, Blessing of the Mosaic of St. Pedro Calungsod, Nov. 21, 2013) 

Storm surges may have washed away houses but not faith which was built on solid rock. And this we see again and again in pictures of people kneeling down in prayer amidst the ruins of their parish churches, in pictures of children salvaging pictures of our Lord from what remains of their houses, of mothers searching for their lost children, of people keeping vigil over their dead. We likewise see this faith in people giving and volunteering to come to the aid of those whose lives were challenged by this tragedy. This faith we see even in our own diocese when we have raised close to four million pesos from our collections for Yolanda victims, when we were able to send 5 trucks loaded with relief goods, when we are able to adopt communities and help them rebuild their lives. Indeed, adversity cannot destroy our faith. It simply makes our faith stronger. As the thief in the Gospel found our Lord in the most unlikely place of death and suffering, so do we find Him in the same circumstance. The tragedy that has befallen us made us examine our conscience and repent of our sins. It made us weep with those who weep. It made us sensitive to human need. It opened our eyes to see that the Lord is always there. It made us run to him for “in him, all things hold together.” In this moment when we are shaken by the enormity of devastated lives, we cry to him: “Jesus, remember us when you enter your kingdom.” And he assures us that he will bring us to paradise, but for now he will stay with us. And we realize that this is true. The Lord already has brought us a glimpse of paradise, yes, even amidst tragedy. After all, paradise is wherever God is present…and where charity and love is found, God is there. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

“Days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Jesus was speaking about the temple of Jerusalem that was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings. But upon hearing these words, how could we not think of the heritage churches of Bohol that were destroyed by a strong earthquake? How could we not forget the 400 year old Guian Church that was destroyed by Yolanda – not mentioning the other churches and buildings that were devastated by calamities as well? Images of ruined lives and properties continue to preoccupy both the international and local media even though a week has passed since the tragic event. Listening to the readings today, we are easily tempted to ask: Are these the signs? Is the end really near? And the Lord warns us: Do not be deceived. Tragic catastrophes have marked various points of human history. What age did not have its share of wars, famines, earthquakes, storms, and plagues? What our Lord said is true: Do not be terrified, for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.

These tragic events, even if they be of biblical or epic proportions, ought not to disturb nor paralyze us. For such is life: there is an end for everything. Humanity might pride itself of monuments that salute the human spirit. However, all will come to an end: all the proud and evildoers will be stubble. If the Temple, which is the monument built by the Israelites to the honor of God, collapses without leaving a stone upon another stone, how could other less dignified structures fair even better? All will come to an end. All of human history goes by this path. However, we must not be disturbed nor be terrified. Instead, our concern must be to give testimony to Christ by facing trials and difficulties, even if such be caused by those whom we loved like parents, brothers, relatives and friends. We must continue to work quietly like the apostles who night and day worked in toil and drudgery [nagpagal araw at gabi] so as not to be a burden to anyone. And is this not the witness that our countrymen are giving to the world? Anderson Cooper had these words about what he saw in Tacloban: “When everything else is taken away, broken and battered, so raw, stripped bare… you see things, you see people as they really are. This week in Tacloban, Samar and Cebu, amidst the hunger and thirst, the chaos and confusion, we've seen the best in the Filipino people. Their strength…Their courage: I can't get it out of my mind…Imagine the strength it takes a mother to search alone for her missing kids…the strength to sleep near the body of her child…We've seen people with every reason to despair, their right to be angry… instead find ways to laugh, to love, to stand up, to move forward. A storm breaks wood and bone, brings hurt and heartbreak…in the end the wind the water, the horrid wind is not the end of the storm. With aid and assistance, compassion and care... this place... these people... they will make it through. They already survived the worst. They're bowed perhaps, tired and traumatized, but they are not broken. Mabuhay, Philippines. Maraming salamat for all you've shown us. Maraming salamat for showing us how to live."

Our countrymen are presently suffering. But in their suffering, they are giving their valuable witness to Christ before all the earth. It is true that the whole world is giving them aid. But the victims of the typhoon are giving to the world a firm testimony of their faith in Christ. Their patience and long suffering show us how to live out the admonition of the Lord: “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Indeed, what the Lord assures us is worth our belief: “Not a hair of your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.”

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

SAMA SAMA TAYO: Prayer and Silence!

Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas is calling for 3 minutes of silence at 6:00 pm of Saturday, November 23, 2013, the eve of the Feast of Christ the King. Let us pray for the living. Let us pray for the dead. Let us pray for those who suffer from the effects of typhoon Yolanda.

Link: : Another call for prayer from incoming CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas SAMA SAMA TAYO! Archbishop Socrates B Villegas This...
The Pinoy Catholic: Prayer and Silence!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What death took away, the Lord returns

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

We are once again confronted by the harsh reality of death not only by the fact that November reminds us of our faithful departed but more so because of the super typhoon Yolanda which recently caused so much loss of life and property to so many Filipinos. The destruction of property can easily be confronted. What nature destroyed, we can easily rebuild. The resilience of the Filipino people, which is oftentimes compared to the bamboo tree, gives us enough hope to say that all is not lost. We will rise from where we have fallen. However, the loss of lives is another matter. We can rebuild that was destroyed but we cannot revive those who have died. This is simply beyond what human powers can do. It seems that all we can do is to bury our dead and move on in grief. Perhaps, we can always reproduce in order to replenish the numbers that we lost. But resurrecting the dead is simply beyond us.
He promised to resurrect...and so he did

It is in moments such as this that the Lord speaks a timely word to us: “Those who are deemed worthy…to the resurrection of the dead…can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” The Lord clearly speaks of the future resurrection of the dead. Our loss is not permanent but only temporary. Those who have been taken away from us by death will be brought back to us by the Lord on the day of the resurrection. God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”

It is the assurance of the resurrection that gave the martyrs the courage they needed to face death, even in its most tortuous forms. The courageous witness of the seven Maccabean brothers shows us that their tremendous courage in the face of death came from the certitude of the resurrection: “You are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again.” They were not even afraid to lose their limbs to torturers: “It was from Heaven that I received these. For the sake of his laws I disdain them. From him I hope to receive them again.”

Thus, in the face of the loss of lives, we are told by St. Paul: “You must not grieve as others who do not have hope.” [1 Th 4:13] The assurance of the resurrection makes a great difference in our lives. Pope emeritus Benedict wrote: “we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.” [Spe Salvi, 2.] We know that we have a future. We know that our lives will not end in emptiness. Death does not have the final say for us. We know for sure that beyond death is the resurrection. This certitude of a positive future helps us live the present as well. Yes, we may have lost the ones we love but we shall have them back. The Lord will restore them to life. We know that He will do this because he is always faithful to his word. He has risen as he said. Therefore, we are so sure that he will raise back to life our mortal bodies to be like his own risen body. Indeed, God “has loved us and has given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace…” Let us live for God and courageously face death “with the hope of being raised up by him.” “God is not the God of the dead but of the living” we will always live in him.

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.


Super typhoon Yolanda struck the Visayan region of the Philippines and has left unbelievable devatation. Bishop Socrates Villegas wrote this very touching prayer:

Lord we are in great need. Like infants we cry to you, do not abandon us in our distress. We kneel in disbelief! How could you, dear Lord, have allowed this to happen to us who call on your holy name? Have you abandoned us Lord? Are you punishing us for our sins against you?

We have been crying for days and our eyes have run dry but our grief is still very deep, our wounds keep bleeding and our hearts are confused and anxious. Our tears are not enough to wash away our sadness.

Tama na po! Hindi na po namin kaya!

Lord we believe in you and we trust in you in the midst of all these.

Today, we renew our faith and hope in you Lord. The super typhoon was strong but our faith in you in stronger. Houses have been blown away; lives have been swallowed by raging waters; winds have wrought us havoc leaving many orphans—but we will stand from the rubbles and change this nightmare into a new day of new hopes and new dreams and new visions.

You can command the winds and the rains to cease. Please, Lord, spare us from more typhoons and storms and earthquakes! We feel bruised from all sides, battered from top to bottom and beaten up inside and out! Please consider our sufferings more than we can face. Tama na po!

But if it is your will that we endure all these calamities so that we may be cleansed and strengthened as a nation, we bow down to accept you holy and mysterious will. The only grace we seek is for you to assure us—that you love the Philippines; that you will never leave us orphans. Your love is more than enough for us to face all storms. With you dear Lord, we will look at the face of death and remain steadfast and unafraid because love is stronger even than death. 

Amen. Amen. May your will be done. Stay with us. Amen.