29 June 2009

Faith in the Time of Influenza A(H1N1)

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13; 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mk 5:21-43

The readings this Sunday provide a timely opportunity to reflect on God and our experience of life and death, sickness and healing. Recently the Influenza A(H1N1) has been declared a global pandemic, though the panic seems to be subsiding now due to reports of low death rates, the creation of a vaccine, and the generally mild and manageable flu cases.

1. God is the God of life.

The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom begins with the assertion: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wis 1,13). And still further: “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him” (Wis 2,23).

This is not a denial of our universal experience of death and dying as realities in the cycle of life, in the rhythm of nature. Nor is this an exaggeration. That God formed man to be imperishable is a statement concerning the place of death in the greater scheme of God’s plan of salvation.

A faithless understanding of death considers it as the end of everything, the beginning of nothingness. This nihilistic point of view leads to too much fear of death and a sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness. But this is not so for the Christian. A Christian understands death not as an end but as a bridge to eternal life.

In the Gospel story, Jesus speaks of Jairus’ daughter as “not dead but asleep” (Mk 5,39). Indeed, death for a Christian becomes the sleep of our physical body, while our spirit earns the reward (or further purification) after a well-spent life, while awaiting the fulfillment of the resurrection of our body, and life everlasting. Thus, with much faith and hope, we can confidently say: death does not have the last word, for our God is the God of life. In a non-modalistic way, we call the Father, the Creator of life; the Holy Spirit, dominum et vivificantem, Lord and giver of life; and the Son calls Himself: “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14,6).

2. God heals and restores our broken lives.

The Book of Wisdom ascribes to the devil and sin the entry of death and sickness into the picture: “But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it” (Wis 2,24). St. Paul also says: “death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned” (Rom 5,12).

And how does God figure into this reality of death, sickness and sin? Let me share with you the opening lines of the song “Pag-ibig Ko” by Fr. Charlie Censon, SJ:

Hindi ka kailangang magbago,
Kahit ito’y ibig ko...
Hindi ka kailangang magsikap ng husto
Upang ika’y ibigin ko...

The first time I heard these lines, my immediate reaction was: “Is this really what God wants? That we need not strive to change for the better?” And then it also struck me: “Who am I to question what God wants? What right do I have to define the limits of His love?” Indeed, St. Paul says: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5,8).

The God of life goes about restoring our broken selves so we may live our lives fully – even when we are still sinners, even when we are still blind or confused or lost because of sin. God loves us no matter what we do or how sinful we are. The miracles of healing in the Gospel of Mark are not just proofs of God’s power, but more so proofs of God’s love.

What then is our proper response to this graciousness of God?

3. Submit yourself to God’s power at work in you.

It only takes so little from us to tap into this great healing and restoring power. The woman, who suffered from hemorrhages for 12 years, came up behind Jesus and touched His cloak. And she was healed.

It only takes so little from us to pray, to avail of the sacrament of reconciliation, to earnestly confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, to seek God's will. We are already loved. God's grace is already the operative principle of our lives. And yet...

Here’s a common complaint whenever we or a loved one get sick: “Lord, nata ako pa? Why me? Nata su agom ko pa o su aki ko pa?”

We like to hear stories of healing. They give us hope. They restore our faith in God. The Bible and history have many stories of sickness and healing:
• Naaman, the Assyrian general who was healed of his leprosy through the prophet Elisha, and whose healing saved Israel from destruction;
• Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who became mute, but became God’s mouthpiece right after his voice was restored when he sang his benediction about the future of his son and of Jesus;
• St. Paul was blind for a time, during his conversion experience.

What if no cure happens? What about stories of terminal cancers and illness that led to death?
• St. Paul suffered all his life from a “thorn in the flesh”. (Today nobody knows exactly what this means.) His ministry and letters, which many find inspiring, were in a way informed by his personal experience of pain and suffering.
• St. Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes and St. Therese de Lisieux, both died of illness at a young age, despite their sanctity and the miracles attributed to their intercession. Yet so many have their faith restored or strengthened because of the witnessing of these two, and many other, saints.

There are some saints, founders of religious congregations, who found their conversion and calling while convalescing from wounds incurred in battle: St. Camillus de Lellis, St. Ignatius of Loyola, even St. Francis of Assisi.

So, what happens when we submit to God’s power? We do not face our suffering and problems alone anymore. We have God’s power at work in us. We become instruments of God’s power so others too may experience it. Which brings us to the last point…

4. Lead others to the God of life.

In the Second Reading, St Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to be gracious and charitable since Jesus Christ has been gracious to them. Once we recognize and feel in our whole being the joy, love and healing of the God of life, the next natural thing to do is to share this knowledge and love to others as well. How are we in sharing God’s gift of life and love to others? How are we in leading others to the God of life?

Here’s a story… In a class reunion, three long-lost friends were comparing their achievements so far:
Friend 1: I’m a doctor but I’m also a lay minister of the Eucharist, that’s why in the hospital where I work, people also call me “Father”.
Friend 2: I’m running a business but I’m also the head of our Catholic charismatic community. I also preach. And lots of people call me “Bishop”.
Friend 3: I’m just a simple sales rep but in my line of work, people call me “Diyos”.
Friend 1 & 2: Why? How come?
Friend 3: You see, when I knock at my customers’ house, they open the door and exclaim: “Diyos ko, ikaw na naman! Ang kulit mo talaga…”

Friends, in the same way that Jairus brought Jesus to his dying daughter and to his home, so we too are encouraged to lead others to the God of life. God’s gifts to us -- life, love, healing, strength, and especially, His Good News -- are meant to be shared with others, so they too may live in His life and find joy in it.

25 June 2009

How Firm is your Foundation?

Homily - Thursday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: Gn 16:1-12, 15-16; Ps 106:1b-2, 3-4a, 4b-5; Mt 7:21-29

The Gospel today has the account of Jesus advising His disciples to be careful about the kind of foundation upon which their house (their life) is being built. So, what is your foundation made of: sand or rock? (I could almost remember the Christian action song on the same theme that we used to sing in grade school.)

To add more particularity to our reflection: our faith in God is the foundation upon which we should be building our life.

There are several things that weaken ever so deceptively this foundation, that makes us mistake rock for sand:
Faith without love;
Worship without sacrifice;
Prayer without encounter with Christ;
Preaching without witnessing;
Belief without study;
Spirituality without community;
Religion without passion...

Fr. Jboy Gonzales, SJ, in his Facebook account and blog (http://faithofacenturion.blogspot.com), points to a memorable and oft-quoted scene from the movie Fiddler on the Roof:

Tevye (the husband, nervously asks his wife, Golde, this unusual question): Do you love me?
Golde: Do I what?
Tevye: Do you love me?
Golde: Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
and this trouble in the town,
You’re upset, you’re worn out,
Go inside, go lie down.
Maybe it’s indigestion.
Tevye: Golde, I’m asking you a question: Do you love me?
Golde: You’re a fool.
Tevye: I know--- But do you love me?
Golde: Do I love you?
For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes,
cooked your meals, cleaned your house,
given you children, milked your cow.
After 25 years, why talk about love right now?
Tevye: Golde, the first time I met you was on our wedding day.
I was scared.
Golde: I was shy.
Tevye: I was nervous.
Golde: So was I.
Tevye: But my father and my mother
said we’d learn to love each other.
And now I’m asking, Golde, do you love me?
Golde: I’m your wife.
Tevye: I know!
Golde: Do I love him?
For 25 years my bed is with him, starved with him.
25 years my bed is his. If that’s not love, what is?
Tevye: Then you love me?
Golde: I suppose I do.
Tevye: And I suppose I love you too.
Golde and Tevye together: It doesn’t change a thing,
But even so, after 25 years, it’s nice to know.

Our faith is lived in love. And love is expressed in service, in words but more so in deeds (St. Ignatius of Loyola). Such is the firm foundation of our life.

24 June 2009

Ten propositions on being a theologian

by Kim Fabricius

1. Actually, there is no such thing as a theologian, anymore than there is such a thing as a Christian. Theologians are not solitary creatures. Theology is the outcome of good conversation, the conversation of friends. Though – the rabies theologorum – you could be forgiven for thinking the opposite! Which is why, in the interest of world peace, it is probably wise that theological conferences are held infrequently. Theologians are like horse manure: all in one place and they stink to high heaven; they are best spread around.

2. “Theology is not free speech but holy speech” (John Webster). The theologian is a servant of the word: in multi-logue with other theologians, she thinks about what God has told us in the Bible. Thus – but only thus – is she also a servant of the church, creatura verbi Divini. The theologian tests the church’s preaching and teaching, and the work of other theologians, to keep them honest, i.e. to ensure that they are about the love and grace of God.

3. The theologian, therefore, is not an academic but an ecclesiodemic. He may work in a university but he is not of the university. He must be multilingual, but he must remember that his hometown is Jerusalem, not Athens. So he must hang loose to criteria of academic respectability. Submission, for example, to the idea that theology must never be homiletical, or that a theologian should not begin a lecture with prayer, suggests a Babylonian captivity. To switch biblical geography, the theologian must not hanker after the fleshpots of Nile College.

4. Can a theologian be an unbeliever? Don’t be ridiculous! Theology is fides quaerens intellectum: no fides, no intellectum. Furthermore, one can speak about God only as one speaks to God. Prayer is the epistemological precondition of theology, which to issue in pietas must begin with invocation. A prayerless theologian is an oxymoron; indeed a prayerless theologian is a moron – which is not to say that God cannot use the braying of Balaam’s ass.

5. Since the 12th century the notion has been around that the theologian is a speculator in ideas, and since the Enlightenment that he is a specialist in certain distinct areas of enquiry. We must lament “the disappearance of the ‘complete’ theologian, the theologian who is also a saint” (Hans Urs von Balthasar), and insist that theologians are “[none] the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our hearts” (John Owen). And the notion that the theologian can be biblical, historical, dogmatic, pastoral without all these disciplines encroaching on each other is a cloven fiction indeed.

6. Theology (with Aquinas, Calvin, Barth) is thus a very spiritual matter, and a very practical, very ethical matter. In fact the theologian, as a student of the humanity of God, is the quintessential humanist. She will have in her sights not only God but also the good, God in his perfections and humanity in its perfectibility, i.e. she will be concerned with human flourishing. And as humans can only flourish in community – in the polis – a question that one should always ask about a theologian is: How does her theology politic?

7. All good theology is always contextual theology. Which is not to say that the context sets the agenda of the theologian, because contexts never come neat, they are not self-interpreting: the theologian must be an exegete not only of the text but also of the context. Rather it is to say that the theologian works at the interface of text and context, and seeks to address specific text to specific context. The letters of Paul – all occasional, none systematic – are the paradigm for the theologian.

8. The theologian will be a person who, off his knees, can think on his feet. He will be a bricoleur, engaged in ad hoc “selective retrieval and eclectic reconfiguration” (Jeffrey Stout). If the Holy Spirit is a dove, the theologian is a cuckoo, free to squat in any nest – and steal the eggs. Incorrigibly kleptomaniacal, while the theologian may not long for Egypt, he may certainly rip off the Egyptians.

9. Strictly speaking, all believers are theologians, because all believers, willy-nilly, think about God. The only question is whether we think well or poorly. It is not the theologian’s job to think about God for us, it is the theologian’s job to help us think about God better, so that we may believe, pray, live and die better. Dorothy Sayers said that “Christians would rather die than think – and most of them do.” The theologian is out to make Ms Sayers a liar.

10. Ultimately, of course, theologians do not know what they are talking about. So they should exercise meticulous word-care – and not talk too much. I often think that books of theology should contain occasional blank pages, to signal the reader to pause, in silence and wonder. There will be no theology in the eschaton. Before the divine doxa, we will confess, with St Thomas, “All my work is like straw.” Karl Barth famously said that when he gets to heaven he will seek out Mozart before Calvin. Quite right – and presumably he spoke to Calvin only to compare errors. Me – I’ll be heading for the choir of angels, to find Sandy Koufax, to see how he made the baseball sing.

22 June 2009

The God who is Greater than our Fears

HOMILY: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Jb 38:1, 8-11; Ps 107:23-24, 25-26, 28-29, 30-31; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-41

The Gospel today narrates one of Jesus’ miracle stories, one that was especially dear to the early Christian communities. When the original audiences of the gospel were reading and listening to it, the communities of believers were suffering many storms: rejections, violence, persecutions, false teachers. They found in the story both a situation they could relate to and a message of hope amidst their fears.

Here’s a story I picked from Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD: "The story is told about a bear, a lion, and a pig who were contesting who, among them, was the most feared of all. 'I growl,' said the bear, 'and the forest trembles.' 'I roar,' said the lion, 'and the jungle shakes.' And what did the pig say? 'I sneeze, and the whole world panics.' Swine flu =)

Here’s a question: What is the opposite of happiness? If you say sadness or loneliness, you’re partly right. But the real opposite of happiness is fear. Fear keeps us from fulfilling our dreams, from getting that which will make us truly happy. Fear keeps us immobilized amidst the storms in our life. And there are just so many fears afflicting people: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of criticism…

I would like to propose then 5 Steps to Overcome Fear.

1. Acknowledge your fear but avoid negative self-talk. It is important that we recognize the things we are afraid of, so we may be able to respond to them adequately. But nothing is more self-defeating than you telling yourself you won’t amount to anything, that you just don't have it in you to do the things you wish to do.

2. Take small positive concrete actions. Take small easy steps that assure you of little victories. List down the things you need to do in order to achieve your goals. List down too the things you need to stop doing. As your confidence builds up, take bolder steps, dream bolder dreams.

3. Hold on to your motivations, goals and dreams. Remember what it is you want: Is it securing a better future for your family? Having your dream house? Getting the girl of your dreams, or Mr. Right? Serving the people through the noble pursuit of running for public office? Helping build God’s Kingdom on earth? Remember: your dream is greater than your fears. So don’t let your fears stifle your dream.

4. Be willing to accept change. Sometimes it’s not reality that’s making life extra difficult for us, it’s how we view reality. Sometimes what we need is simply a change in perspective. When we change our attitude towards a problem, the whole situation also changes for the better. In the movie Coach Carter, there is one scene where the coach pep-talked his low-morale players:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We are all meant to shine as children do. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Thanks to Fr. Ipe Sinco for sharing this quote.)

5. Surrender to the God who is greater than all your fears. This Sunday’s Gospel story tells us, at least, two things: (1) God is more powerful than the storms of our life. (2) God does not sleep on us.

Today is also Father’s Day. I would like to honor my father by sharing this snippet of himself. Since 1997, when he was among those retrenched from his company during the Asian financial crisis, my father no longer got employed in another company. But we never experienced want in our basic needs: food, shelter, health, education. He did it, and is still doing it, by sheer hard work, dedication and total surrender to God. He even found time to devote himself as lay minister of the Eucharist in our parish, and as president of the combined urban poor homeowners’ association of two barangays. Among the things I found inspiring in him is his daily ritual of getting up early and reading the bible. He would read the gospel text for the day, reflect on it and pray. His witnessing has also helped me during times when I have not been very faithful at prayer. He told me not just once how, time and again, God has always manifested that He has not abandoned us. "Dai man baga Niya kita pipabayaan."

St. Teresa of Avila famously wrote:
“Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee;
All thing pass; God never changes.
Patience attains
All that it strives for.
He who has God finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.”

God never changes. He who has God finds he lacks nothing. Jesus did not promise his disciples that their journey through life would always be smooth sailing, that the water will always be calm and reassuring. Far from it actually. But no matter how many or strong, the storms and rough seas we have to go through life, we know we can overcome, because He is always with us. He is more powerful than the sum of all our fears.

15 books

i was tagged with this meme by a facebook friend:

"Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose."

i'm posting here my comments alongside each book,
because they may (or may not) looked too presumptuous on fb.

1. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) - my first Sherlock Holmes book, got it from my father's collection. Read all Sherlock Holmes stories thereafter.

2. Sophie's World (Jostein Gaarder) - light and entertaining intro to philosophy. I also read 2 other books by Gaarder, they were not as good as his first.

3. Lost in a Good Book (Jasper Fforde) - my first Thursday Next novel, got me hooked on the series. I have yet to read "First among Sequels" though.

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (JK Rowling) - and the rest was history...

5. Nine Horses (Billy Collins) - my first (& only) Billy Collins book, the rest of his poems I scoured on the net

6. Introduction to Poetry (Edith L. Tiempo) - has yet to set me on the path to writing poetry

7. The Next American Essay (John D'Agata) - forever influenced the way I write

8. Dead Aim (Conrado de Quiroz) – best commentary on recent Philippine history and politics

9. Rizal Without the Overcoat (Ambeth Ocampo) – got me through teaching 3 semesters of Rizal, without boring my students (hopefully)

10. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey) – life-changing …and I’m not usually into self-help

11. Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) – set me to reading popular science again, & Tipping Point, & Outliers, & the next Gladwell book definitely

12. The BIBLE – first read it from cover to cover in high school. For some it was Tolstoy’s War and Peace that was their monumental high school read, for me it was (almost naturally) the Bible.

13. Laborem Exercens (John Paul II) – my favorite social encyclical in college

14. Catholicism (Richard McBrien) – my personal definitive guide to Catholic doctrine & history

15. Virtues for Ordinary Christians (James Keenan, SJ) – changed my view of moral theology, besides the author being my professor and friend.

couldn’t resist adding…
16. Heroic Leadership (Chris Lowney) – what would the world be without the Jesuits?

10 June 2009

Psalm 139 (a double tanka)

Yahweh, I know you are near
even when I don't
care, when I let the concerns
of life overwhelm
my pray'r, O God, you are here.

When I need you, you are here
by my side, to guard
me against the demons I've
made - could have been lost
but for You, Lord, who are near.

06 June 2009

The Three Hermits

'Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.' For my homily this Trinity Sunday, I am including a shorter narration of this short story by Leo Tolstoy, itself apparently a retelling of an old legend in the Volga District of Russia.

'And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.' -- Matt. vi. 7, 8.

A BISHOP was sailing from Archangel to the Solovétsk Monastery; and on the same vessel were a number of pilgrims on their way to visit the shrines at that place. The voyage was a smooth one. The wind favourable, and the weather fair. The pilgrims lay on deck, eating, or sat in groups talking to one another. The Bishop, too, came on deck, and as he was pacing up and down, he noticed a group of men standing near the prow and listening to a fisherman who was pointing to the sea and telling them something. The Bishop stopped, and looked in the direction in which the man was pointing. He could see nothing however, but the sea glistening in the sunshine. He drew nearer to listen, but when the man saw him, he took off his cap and was silent. The rest of the people also took off their caps, and bowed.

'Do not let me disturb you, friends,' said the Bishop. 'I came to hear what this good man was saying.'

'The fisherman was telling us about the hermits,' replied one, a tradesman, rather bolder than the rest.

'What hermits?' asked the Bishop, going to the side of the vessel and seating himself on a box. 'Tell me about them. I should like to hear. What were you pointing at?'

'Why, that little island you can just see over there,' answered the man, pointing to a spot ahead and a little to the right. 'That is the island where the hermits live for the salvation of their souls.'

'Where is the island?' asked the Bishop. 'I see nothing.'

'There, in the distance, if you will please look along my hand. Do you see that little cloud? Below it and a bit to the left, there is just a faint streak. That is the island.'

The Bishop looked carefully, but his unaccustomed eyes could make out nothing but the water shimmering in the sun.

'I cannot see it,' he said. 'But who are the hermits that live there?'

'They are holy men,' answered the fisherman. 'I had long heard tell of them, but never chanced to see them myself till the year before last.'

And the fisherman related how once, when he was out fishing, he had been stranded at night upon that island, not knowing where he was. In the morning, as he wandered about the island, he came across an earth hut, and met an old man standing near it. Presently two others came out, and after having fed him, and dried his things, they helped him mend his boat.

'And what are they like?' asked the Bishop.

'One is a small man and his back is bent. He wears a priest's cassock and is very old; he must be more than a hundred, I should say. He is so old that the white of his beard is taking a greenish tinge, but he is always smiling, and his face is as bright as an angel's from heaven. The second is taller, but he also is very old. He wears tattered, peasant coat. His beard is broad, and of a yellowish grey colour. He is a strong man. Before I had time to help him, he turned my boat over as if it were only a pail. He too, is kindly and cheerful. The third is tall, and has a beard as white as snow and reaching to his knees. He is stern, with over-hanging eyebrows; and he wears nothing but a mat tied round his waist.'

'And did they speak to you?' asked the Bishop.

'For the most part they did everything in silence and spoke but little even to one another. One of them would just give a glance, and the others would understand him. I asked the tallest whether they had lived there long. He frowned, and muttered something as if he were angry; but the oldest one took his hand and smiled, and then the tall one was quiet. The oldest one only said: "Have mercy upon us," and smiled.'

While the fisherman was talking, the ship had drawn nearer to the island.

'There, now you can see it plainly, if your Grace will please to look,' said the tradesman, pointing with his hand.

The Bishop looked, and now he really saw a dark streak -- which was the island. Having looked at it a while, he left the prow of the vessel, and going to the stern, asked the helmsman:

'What island is that?'

'That one,' replied the man, 'has no name. There are many such in this sea.'

'Is it true that there are hermits who live there for the salvation of their souls?'

'So it is said, your Grace, but I don't know if it's true. Fishermen say they have seen them; but of course they may only be spinning yarns.'

'I should like to land on the island and see these men,' said the Bishop. 'How could I manage it?'

'The ship cannot get close to the island,' replied the helmsman, 'but you might be rowed there in a boat. You had better speak to the captain.'

The captain was sent for and came.

'I should like to see these hermits,' said the Bishop. 'Could I not be rowed ashore?'

The captain tried to dissuade him.

'Of course it could be done,' said he, 'but we should lose much time. And if I might venture to say so to your Grace, the old men are not worth your pains. I have heard say that they are foolish old fellows, who understand nothing, and never speak a word, any more than the fish in the sea.'

'I wish to see them,' said the Bishop, 'and I will pay you for your trouble and loss of time. Please let me have a boat.'

There was no help for it; so the order was given. The sailors trimmed the sails, the steersman put up the helm, and the ship's course was set for the island. A chair was placed at the prow for the Bishop, and he sat there, looking ahead. The passengers all collected at the prow, and gazed at the island. Those who had the sharpest eyes could presently make out the rocks on it, and then a mud hut was seen. At last one man saw the hermits themselves. The captain brought a telescope and, after looking through it, handed it to the Bishop.

'It's right enough. There are three men standing on the shore. There, a little to the right of that big rock.'

The Bishop took the telescope, got it into position, and he saw the three men: a tall one, a shorter one, and one very small and bent, standing on the shore and holding each other by the hand.

The captain turned to the Bishop.

'The vessel can get no nearer in than this, your Grace. If you wish to go ashore, we must ask you to go in the boat, while we anchor here.'

The cable was quickly let out, the anchor cast, and the sails furled. There was a jerk, and the vessel shook. Then a boat having been lowered, the oarsmen jumped in, and the Bishop descended the ladder and took his seat. The men pulled at their oars, and the boat moved rapidly towards the island. When they came within a stone's throw they saw three old men: a tall one with only a mat tied round his waist: a shorter one in a tattered peasant coat, and a very old one bent with age and wearing an old cassock -- all three standing hand in hand.

The oarsmen pulled in to the shore, and held on with the boathook while the Bishop got out.

The old men bowed to him, and he gave them his benediction, at which they bowed still lower. Then the Bishop began to speak to them.

'I have heard,' he said, 'that you, godly men, live here saving your own souls, and praying to our Lord Christ for your fellow men. I, an unworthy servant of Christ, am called, by God's mercy, to keep and teach His flock. I wished to see you, servants of God, and to do what I can to teach you, also.'

The old men looked at each other smiling, but remained silent.

'Tell me,' said the Bishop, 'what you are doing to save your souls, and how you serve God on this island.'

The second hermit sighed, and looked at the oldest, the very ancient one. The latter smiled, and said:

'We do not know how to serve God. We only serve and support ourselves, servant of God.'

'But how do you pray to God?' asked the Bishop.

'We pray in this way,' replied the hermit. 'Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.'

And when the old man said this, all three raised their eyes to heaven, and repeated:

'Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!'

The Bishop smiled.

'You have evidently heard something about the Holy Trinity,' said he. 'But you do not pray aright. You have won my affection, godly men. I see you wish to please the Lord, but you do not know how to serve Him. That is not the way to pray; but listen to me, and I will teach you. I will teach you, not a way of my own, but the way in which God in the Holy Scriptures has commanded all men to pray to Him.'

And the Bishop began explaining to the hermits how God had revealed Himself to men; telling them of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

'God the Son came down on earth,' said he, 'to save men, and this is how He taught us all to pray. Listen and repeat after me: "Our Father."'

And the first old man repeated after him, 'Our Father,' and the second said, 'Our Father,' and the third said, 'Our Father.'

'Which art in heaven,' continued the Bishop.

The first hermit repeated, 'Which art in heaven,' but the second blundered over the words, and the tall hermit could not say them properly. His hair had grown over his mouth so that he could not speak plainly. The very old hermit, having no teeth, also mumbled indistinctly.

The Bishop repeated the words again, and the old men repeated them after him. The Bishop sat down on a stone, and the old men stood before him, watching his mouth, and repeating the words as he uttered them. And all day long the Bishop laboured, saying a word twenty, thirty, a hundred times over, and the old men repeated it after him. They blundered, and he corrected them, and made them begin again.

The Bishop did not leave off till he had taught them the whole of the Lord's prayer so that they could not only repeat it after him, but could say it by themselves. The middle one was the first to know it, and to repeat the whole of it alone. The Bishop made him say it again and again, and at last the others could say it too.

It was getting dark, and the moon was appearing over the water, before the Bishop rose to return to the vessel. When he took leave of the old men, they all bowed down to the ground before him. He raised them, and kissed each of them, telling them to pray as he had taught them. Then he got into the boat and returned to the ship.

And as he sat in the boat and was rowed to the ship he could hear the three voices of the hermits loudly repeating the Lord's prayer. As the boat drew near the vessel their voices could no longer be heard, but they could still be seen in the moonlight, standing as he had left them on the shore, the shortest in the middle, the tallest on the right, the middle one on the left. As soon as the Bishop had reached the vessel and got on board, the anchor was weighed and the sails unfurled. The wind filled them, and the ship sailed away, and the Bishop took a seat in the stern and watched the island they had left. For a time he could still see the hermits, but presently they disappeared from sight, though the island was still visible. At last it too vanished, and only the sea was to be seen, rippling in the moonlight.

The pilgrims lay down to sleep, and all was quiet on deck. The Bishop did not wish to sleep, but sat alone at the stern, gazing at the sea where the island was no longer visible, and thinking of the good old men. He thought how pleased they had been to learn the Lord's prayer; and he thanked God for having sent him to teach and help such godly men.

So the Bishop sat, thinking, and gazing at the sea where the island had disappeared. And the moonlight flickered before his eyes, sparkling, now here, now there, upon the waves. Suddenly he saw something white and shining, on the bright path which the moon cast across the sea. Was it a seagull, or the little gleaming sail of some small boat? The Bishop fixed his eyes on it, wondering.

'It must be a boat sailing after us,' thought he 'but it is overtaking us very rapidly. It was far, far away a minute ago, but now it is much nearer. It cannot be a boat, for I can see no sail; but whatever it may be, it is following us, and catching us up.'

And he could not make out what it was. Not a boat, nor a bird, nor a fish! It was too large for a man, and besides a man could not be out there in the midst of the sea. The Bishop rose, and said to the helmsman:

'Look there, what is that, my friend? What is it?' the Bishop repeated, though he could now see plainly what it was -- the three hermits running upon the water, all gleaming white, their grey beards shining, and approaching the ship as quickly as though it were not morning.

The steersman looked and let go the helm in terror.

'Oh Lord! The hermits are running after us on the water as though it were dry land!'

The passengers hearing him, jumped up, and crowded to the stern. They saw the hermits coming along hand in hand, and the two outer ones beckoning the ship to stop. All three were gliding along upon the water without moving their feet. Before the ship could be stopped, the hermits had reached it, and raising their heads, all three as with one voice, began to say:

'We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again.'

The Bishop crossed himself, and leaning over the ship's side, said:

'Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.

And the Bishop bowed low before the old men; and they turned and went back across the sea. And a light shone until daybreak on the spot where they were lost to sight.

02 June 2009

Oratio Imperata for the Promotion of the Culture of Life

Dear People of God:

Peace in the Risen Lord!

We have received urgent and reliable news that Congress will most likely vote on the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill very soon. Further, there are still other bills pending that threaten the sanctity of life, especially in its most vulnerable stages, the integrity of the family and the values of our nation, especially the young. Thus, we need more prayers and expressions of opposition to these anti-life bills.

In this connection, I am requesting our parishes and communities to include in all the Masses the recitation of the “Oratio Imperata for the Promotion of the Culture of Life”...

Bishop Administrator of Legazpi
Diocesan Circular no. 13, s. 2009
28 May 2009


Loving Father, creator and protector of life,
we implore Your aid at these trying times
when in our Congress there are bills that threaten
the sanctity of life, especially, in the womb,
the integrity of the family, and
the morals of Your people, especially, the youth.

We beg You to send your Spirit of truth
to enlighten those concerned to choose
the culture of life over the culture of death,
resist the influence of the contraceptive mentality, and
inspire and strengthen us in our struggle to promote life.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Your Son,
through the intercession of the Blessed Mother,
Nuestra Señora de Salvacion. Amen.


Mamomoton na Ama, kaglalang asin parasurog nin buhay,
minahagad kami nin tabang sa dificil na panahon na ini
na kadakul sa Congreso an mga kaisipan na nagtatao nin peligro
sa kabanalan nin buhay, lalo na kan ipapangidam
asin sa buhay na ipinangidam na,
sa integridad nin pamilya, asin
sa moralidad nin Saimong banwaan, lalo na nin mga jovenes.

Nakikimaherak kami na ipadara Mo an Saimong Espiritu nin katotoohan
nganing paliwanagan an mga nanonongdan
na piliion an buhay ki sa kagadanan,
labanan an kaisipan na kontra sa buhay,
asin pakusugon kami sa laban sa pagsurog sa buhay.

Ini hinahagad mi sa ngaran ni JesuCristo, samong Kagurangnan,
sa pag-ampon kan samong Mahal na Ina, Nuestra Señora de Salvacion. Amen.