02 March 2018

I Love This Church

In the course of a half century, I have seen more Christian corruption than you have read of. I have tasted it. I have been reasonably corrupt myself.

And yet, I love this church, this living, pulsing, sinning people of God with a crucifying passion. Why?

For all the Christian hate, I experience here a community of love.

For all the institutional idiocy, I find here a tradition of reason.

For all the individual repressions, I breathe here an air of freedom.

For all the fear of sex, I discover here the redemption of my body.

In an age so inhuman, I touch here tears of compassion.

In a world so grim and humorless, I share here rich joy and earthy laughter.

In the midst of death, I hear an incomparable stress on life.

For all the apparent absence of God, I sense here the real presence of Christ.

Walter Burghardt, S.J.

04 February 2018

Important Connections

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
Readings:Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6;1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39

The Gospel story this Sunday tells us by way of details what keeps Jesus’ public ministry grounded and His mission on course. These are His important connections, and there are at least three of them.

Connection with Family and Friends. In the Gospel story, Jesus took time off his public schedule to stay as guest at the house of Peter and Andrew, with two more close friends, James and John. There he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Like the rest of us, Jesus too enjoys the company of family and friends.  In John 15,15, He turns this into a lesson: "I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”

Our family and friends are a gift from God. Children learn how to love from the way their parents love them. Best friends keep us grounded and are there for us through challenging times. Earnest lovers bring out the best in each other. What do we do to show how we value and love the important people in our lives? Or do we often take them for granted?

Connection with the Poor and those in Need. Jesus public ministry was purposive: He would like to reach out to as many children of Israel as His limited time allowed. The sick and the lost may have sought Him but it was He who sought them first. They are His mission. In Mt 25, 40 and 45, He taught His disciples that taking care of the poor and suffering is a basic requirement for salvation: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Have we connected with a poor person, or one in need, lately?

These days in Albay with Mayon Volcano erupting and thousands in evacuation centers, I am privileged to see so many of these connections unfolding. It is present in those who come in from other places just to help, in local businesses that offer their services at big discounts or even for free, in public servants that daily go beyond the call of duty, in church workers of different faiths working together, in volunteers and donors who ask for nothing but the opportunity to serve, and in evacuees who take care of those whose needs are greater than their own. There is another word for it: solidarity, the main stuff that resilient communities are made of.

Connection with God. Most important of all is Jesus’ connection with the Father. In several passages in the Gospel, He would go off to some lonely place to pray early in the morning or the whole night. In Mt 6,9-13 and Lk 11,2-4, when His disciples saw Him praying and asked Him how to pray, He told them to call God our Father, to seek His Kingdom and His will, to ask for daily blessing, and forgive as He forgives. In short, to center our lives to God.

Our connection with God purifies our loves and sanctifies our good works. In Mt 12,50, Jesus says: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” In Mt 19,21, when asked how to gain eternal life, He replied: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” How much time in the day do we devote to prayer and strengthening our connection with God?

One more insight about connection, I learned in the course of running our community-based rehab program for substance users. The author Johann Hari says: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection.” Meaningful connections and relationships are the key to healing and life-long recovery as opposed to the false joy and alienation offered by drugs and other addictions.

God offers fullness of life and freedom from sin, to attain them we need to value and sustain our most important connections.

27 August 2017

When Heaven Wept

English Translation of the Homily at the Funeral Mass for Kian Lloyd De los Santos
By Most Rev Pablo Virgilio S. David, DD, Bishop of Caloocan
Santa Quiteria Parish Church
Diocese of Kalookan
Caloocan city

Dear brother priests in the Diocese of Caloocan, especially the parish priest of Santa Quiteria Parish, Fr. George Alfonso, MSC, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart here present today, the other guest priests, the De los Santos family, brothers and sisters in Christ, thank you for joining us in this Funeral Mass for the eternal repose of KIan Lloyd de los Santos.

Every human being has parents, even if some parents might choose not to acknowledge them. Jesus too was a human being; he too had parents. He acknowledged Mary and Joseph as his parents.

It is normal for a son or daughter to bury a dead parent. What we are doing today is not so normal; it is the parents who are burying their child. It's a reversal of roles. It is not right.

It is not easy to condole with parents who have lost a child. You cannot just say, "I know what you are going through," if you have never lost and buried a child who is at the prime of his youth and is just learning to weave his dreams. In such circumstances, it is better to keep quiet.

But there is one mother who can truly condole with Lorenza today--the Blessed Mother Mary. She has the right to say to Lorenza, "I know what you feel; I also lost my son. Like your son, he was also arrested, beaten up, and murdered, even though he was innocent."

For us Christians, Jesus is not just a human being. We profess faith in him as a Son of God. And so even God the Father in heaven has a right to say to Zaldy today: "I know what you feel; I also lost a son. I gave him up, for love of you." That is the reason why I chose the famous John 3:16 for our Gospel today. "For God so loved the world, He gave us His only Son so that all who believe might not perish but might have eternal life."

That must be also the reason why it's not just KIan's family that is weeping today. Heaven too is weeping. The weather is dark and gloomy. The rain poured down very early this morning. All the agony and sorrow of heaven pours down whenever God in heaven loses a single one of His children.

Lorenza and Zaldy, you are not alone. We have here with us today the other parents who have also lost a son or daughter to the cruel drug war. Your son Kian was actually not the first among the very young victims of the drug war. Just here in our vicinity in Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas, I can cite more than a dozen of them:

1) Nercy Galicio, 16 years old, from Bgy. Tumana, Navotas. He was shot in head on April19, 2017

2) Arjay Suldao, 16 years old, also from Navotas. He was abducted and murdered on March 20, 2017

3) Alvin Preda, 19 years old. He was murdered at Kapak Liit, in Caloocan on March 29, 2017

4) Allan Lastimado, 18. He was abducted by masked men at Market 3, shot along R10 in Navotas on May 3, 2017

5) Raymart Siapo, 19 years old. He was abducted by masked men and shot in Bangkulasi, Navotas on March 29, 2017

6) Irish Nhel Glorioso, 18 years old. He was also abducted by masked men on his way to market 3, shot along R10 Navotas on June 8, 2017

7) John dela Cruz, 16 years old. He was shot by masked men outside their home along R10 near bus terminal Navotas on january 26, 2017

8) Liezel Llimit, 16 years old. She was Shot and killed by unknown assailants near Pescadores, Malabon on June 20, 2017

9) Troy Villanueva, 17 years old from Libis Nadurata, Caloocan, abducted and killed. His body was found floating at creek on June 6, 2017

The most gruesome cases happened to the former neighbors of the De los Santos Family: the Santor Family, who moved to Bagong Silang after the slumdwellers' shanties in their area were demolished. Ten masked men were in search for an alleged drug suspect named Jay-R Santor. Perhaps incensed that his friends and family would not betray his whereabouts, they murdered all of them. Here's the additional list:

10) Jonel Segovia, 15-year-old friend of Jay-R Santor, from Bagong Silang Caloocan City

11) Angelito Soriano, 16years old, also a friend of Jay-R Santor, from Bagong Silang Caloocan City

12) Sonny Espinosa, 16 years old and also a friend of Jay-R Santor

13) Kenneth Lim, 20 years old, another friend of Jay-R Santor

All four of them were killed by masked men at 9pm of December 28, last year, 2016. They were not done yet. They also killed Jay-R's mother Cristina and brother Ednel, and his pregnant sister Analyn, including the unborn child in her womb. They killed eight people in a few minutes; they did not even succeed in abducting their target dug suspect, Jay-R Santor. They played hit and miss after a few days. They killed two other boys named Jay-Rs; they were the wrong Jay-Rs. Not Jay-R Santor.

I do not know if Mrs. Luzviminda Siapo is here. Her name symbolizes the Philippines: a contraction of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao LUZVIMINDA. She too lost her 19 year-old son. She learned about it only on Facebook, and had to beg her employer in Kuwait to be allowed to come home to bury her boy. Raymart was a handicapped boy; he was clubfooted. He had been accused of peddling marijuana. His name was submitted and included in the Barangay's drug watch list by a neighbor who had a quarrel with him over something that had nothing at all to do with drugs. Two days later, they were visited by fourteen hooded men. Not finding him at home, they picked up someone from the barangay, covered his face with a mask, and asked him to identify Raymart--who was on his way home. They abducted him, brought him to a dark place in Bangkulasi, told him to run. The poor boy apologized that he could not run because he was club-footed. So they beat him up, broke his tiny legs, and shot him in the head several times. (An eyewitness had seen the murder and narrated it to the mother later.)

I still recall that day when I said the funeral Mass for Luzviminda's son. She wailed inside the Church. Her tears flooded the glass window of her son's casket. She looked at my direction. I thought she was talking to me; I realized her gaze was fixed on the icon of the crucified Christ behind the altar and she cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

I also witnessed on TV the wailing of Lorenza as she was being interviewed by the media. She was asked if the belated accusation by the police was true, that Kian was an addict and a drug runner. She said, "How dare you say your accusations against my son after you have killed him! He was not even in the drug watch list and had never had a police record. Prove your charges! And let's suppose that my son is indeed an addict and a drug runner. Is that enough reason to kill him in cold blood?"

That is why there are many people here now who are condoling with you, Zaldy and Lorenza. They are here not because of politics. They are here to silently express their solidarity with you and the many others whose children have also died because they allegedly "fought back". Many of them have not bothered to file charges, for fear that another one of their children might also be abducted and killed. There are many witnesses who have not had the courage to testify in court, for fear of reprisal.

But thanks to the outpouring of solidarity, you found the courage to pursue legal means to obtain justice for your son. Even your neighbors found the courage to stand as witness, to testify to what they had seen and heard. I also salute the young lady Barangay Chair for having the courage to submit the CCTV footages. (The families of other victims had demanded such CCTV footages in other barangays and never got them. Most of them were told that the CCTV were not functioning. Almost always, they would be functioning again after a day.) Even the city mayor had the courage to demand an independent investigation--which I was invited to, when he held a meeting of the Peace and Order Council of Caloocan the day after Kian's murder.

You can't imagine how many people you have touched with your courage to make a stand. I pray that through your example, the many other relatives and friends of the so many other victims will also come out, so that the souls of their loved ones who have been killed, either in a police operation or by masked killers, will finally be laid to rest.

The murder of Kian Lloyd was just part of the so-called "One Time Big Time" Police operation that began last August 12. They killed 32 in Bulacan, 25 in Manila, and ten in Caloocan within two days. And we were all shocked when we heard these words on TV: "I hear that 32 had been killed in a police operation in Bulacan. That's good! If we can kill another 32 each day, perhaps we can lessen what ails this country."

In this Mass, we would like to cry out to the authorities in government: Enough with the killings! Stop the killings, for heaven's sake! Let us please sit down and discuss reasonably as citizens of one country. Let us help out in addressing this problem of illegal drugs properly, but not in a manner that has no respect for the law. Not in a manner that almost treats addicts and pushers as vermin, as non-humans. Addiction is a disease; let us please address it as a health issue!

I don't know if you know that Kian was murdered in the evening of the feast day of the patron saint of our Cathedral, San Roque. This saint lived in the medieval times when Europe was devastated by pestilences and plagues which they did not know yet how to deal with during those pre-scientific times. Perhaps because they were horrified about contamination, some kings and governors during those times, employed the ruthless solution of rounding up those who had been infected by the disease, not just to quarantine them but to literally exterminate them like chickens. It was during those times that San Roque our patron defied the kings and went for the path of mercy and compassion by daring instead to nurse the infected victims, not minding the risk on his own life. Therefore he contracted the disease himself. But God spared him of death. The healer was eventually healed.

Maybe God took Kian on the feast day of San Roque because he has a message for us all. So that we would wake up and realize that extermination is not the right solution to the modern pestilence of addiction to illegal drugs. The addicts and pushers are not the enemies but the victims. The cruel and simplistic solution of exterminating them will not rid our country of illegal drugs. Thousands of kilograms of shabu will continue to flood our country if there is no systematic effort to trace the source. We are here to plead with the government: Stop the Killings! Start the Healing! We can work together for the healing of addicts through community-based rehabilitation programs. But more importantly, let us heal the divisions, the conflicts, and the exchanges of cruel words. Let us rid ourselves of anything that diminishes our humanity.

Zaldy and Lorenza, we are one with you in your grief. Even heaven condoles with you. Rest assured that Kian's life has not been wasted, even if it was cut short by senseless violence and cruelty. It is not wasted because it has served as a thorn that has pricked the consciences of our people and has awakened them from moral slumber.

May God in His Mercy grant rest and peace to Kian and to the souls of all other victims of extrajudicial killings. May God keep them in his fatherly and motherly embrace for all eternity.


11 June 2017

We Become Who We Worship

The Church deems it proper that, at least, once a year we celebrate and reflect on the most profound mystery of our faith: the Holy Trinity. I would like to begin by saying what the Trinity is not.

First, it is not a mathematical conundrum. 1+1+1=1 doesn’t make sense because the Trinity is not a math equation. Second, it is not a logical fallacy. For three persons in one substance may sound confusing but not an ontological contradiction, and with God nothing is impossible. Third, it is not a mere human construct. It didn’t start with the Council of Nicea and even less with the Roman Emperor Constantine – as claimed by some conspiracy theorists and non-Trinitarian sects.

1. We believe in the Trinity because this is how God chooses to reveal Himself.

First, God revealed Himself to us as Father: creator of everything, provider of our needs, liberator from oppression. Then Jesus Christ came as the fullness of revelation, teaching the people to call God as Abba, a personal Father, loving, forgiving, merciful, and faithful.

He overturned the popular notion of the long-awaited messiah from a folk hero-king to a suffering servant, a persecuted prophet (much to the disappointment and consternation of many) who dies but then rose again, conquering sin and death. He called Himself the Son and taught that He and the Father are one. Even His enemies recognized that anyone who claims to have the power to forgive sins assumes to be God.

When He was about to end his earthly ministry, He promised His disciples that He will send another Advocate, His very Spirit, who will lead them to all truth. He sent them on a perpetual mission to spread the good news to all the nations and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. And when the Spirit descended, the Church too was born.

St. Paul in 2 Cor 11,13 greets the early Church in Corinth: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you.” It is the same greeting said by the priest at the beginning of the Mass.

2. We are saved by what we believe in.

Revelation is salvation. In John 3,16, Christ said: “God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

However, this belief is not just about intellectual assent or understanding doctrines. It is accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, and following His way just as He followed the will of the Father. And then some. For faith in God is not just about believing and following, it is also about becoming. Or more precisely: we become who we worship.

If Genesis 1,37 says that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, then the Trinity also points to our true identity. So what does it mean to have faith in the Triune God?

To believe in the Father who is loving and just, merciful and faithful, means to strive to be loving, just, merciful, and faithful as well.

To believe in the Son means to grow in our concern for the lost and the least among us, to make friends of enemies, and to be willing to lay down our life for them.

To believe in the Spirit means to become seekers of truth and agents of transformation in our communities and the world.

This is how we are saved: by the saving power of the Triune God and by becoming who we worship.

HOMILY for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (A)
Readings: Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9; Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18