17 November 2012

Who's Afraid of the End Times?

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - 18 November 2012

Readings: Dn 12:1-3; Ps 16:5,8,9-10,11; Heb 10:11-14,18; Mk 13:24-32

The readings this Sunday talk about the end times. In fact, the readings of the second to the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar and the First Sunday of Advent (the first Sunday in the calendar) both have eschatological themes. In between them is Christ the King Sunday. Christ is indeed the Alpha and Omega. But let's reserve the reflection on the significance of these dates next Sunday.

Around a few years ago, a supposed prophecy from the ancient Mayan calendar was all the rage. It allegedly predicted the end of days by 23 December 2012. Hollywood even came up with a movie  in 2009 to cash in on this very premise. Present-generation Mayans had to come forward to debunk the end-of-the-world-myth surrounding their calendar, which they say refer to the end of a lengthy era, not of the world.

The end of days has captured the imagination of many Christians through the centuries, especially those who choose to interpret the Bible in mostly literal sense. A slew of vocabularies were built up around this imagination: rapture, Armageddon, anti-Christ, millennialism, etc.

Consistently though this has never been part of the Catholic imagination. The Church fathers, among them Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Pseudo-Dionysius and especially, St. Augustine, rejected a literal reading of the various apocalyptic literature in the Bible. They affirmed what Jesus in the Gospel this Sunday says: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mk 13,32).

What then is the proper understanding of the end times or the second coming of Christ?

1. We believe in the second coming of Christ as an article of faith.

In the Creed, which we will recite after this homily, we affirm our belief that Jesus Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead". The longer Nicene Creed adds that "His Kingdom will have no end".

2. We look forward to it with hope.

It is supposed to be a good thing. In Daniel 12,3 in the First Reading, when the end of days happens "the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever".

It is what we look forward to when we pray "Your Kingdom come" in the Our Father.

The Gospel this Sunday uses the imagery of the blossoming of the fig tree which ushers in summer, a time of growth, fruit-bearing, harvest and abundance. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus likened it to the coming of the bridegroom which brings much rejoicing to those waiting for his coming.

It is a graced time when God will gather into the promised unity His creation separated by space and time, sin and death. It is a happy reunion of the human being's body and soul, of the entire human family and the rest of creation, and most of all, of humanity and God.

If this is what the end times is all about, why the gloom and doom? Perhaps, the fear and trembling that hounds many when thinking about the end times arise from the feeling of inadequacy and unreadiness at the prospect of facing God's judgment. Which brings us to the third point...

3. The most important time in the end of days is NOW. We need to fill it with love.

How we live our present determines how our future will be. There is this sage line from the movie Kung-Fu Panda: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present."

One final story...

A lonely and miserly old man died and immediately found himself in the midst of hell. He then started to cry aloud to God unceasingly, pleading to be delivered from the torments of hell. God heard his cries and asked him what good he had done while still on earth. He tried to remember with great difficulty any good deed he had done, until finally he remembered: he once gave a string of onions to a beggar.

Surprisingly God said: "Alright, for that single act of kindness, you will get a chance to escape hell." He ordered His angels to make a cord out of the onion string and lower it to him.

As the angels lowered the cord, the man desperately grabbed it. Then the angels started to lift him up. When his companions saw what was happening, they rushed and held on to his feet. The more he tried to kick and untangle his feet from them, the more they held firmly, until finally the cord snapped, and they all plunged back to hell.

One of the angels told him: "Had you been more generous and well-disposed to share your blessing to others, the cord would have grown stronger. The more that you thought only of yourself, the more that the cord weakened." His habit of thinking only of himself caught up with him even in the next life.

There is more to now than just preceding the future. A saying goes: "Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Still afraid of the end times? St. Paul advises in Galatians 6,9: "Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up".

16 November 2012

A Prayer on Turning 34

As I turn 34, I found advice in an old truism:
I acquired courage and sought to change the world.
I acquired wisdom and sought first to change myself.

And transformations are defined
more by the things I need to let go,
than the ones I need to acquire.

And so today Lord, as I turn 34,
I beg for the grace of a
passionate humility.

I pray for a consuming passion
to serve and to learn, to work and to listen,
to not be discouraged, especially
when dreams are too far to completion,
and inspiration is hard to come by.

I pray for a contrite humility
to confront myself, to break free
from self-deception, to suffer fools gladly
(aware that many times I play the fool myself),
to find glory in honest defeats
and redemption in mercy.

Through Christ, Good Shepherd,
living sign of passionate humility.

9 November 2012
Chancery, Diocese of Legazpi

31 October 2012

Mga Pagirumdom sa laog kan Campo Santo sa pagcelebrar kan Todos los Santos asin Dia de los Muertos (Nobyembre 1-2)

An fiesta kan Todos los Santos sa Nobyembre 1 pagcelebrar niato kan gabos na santos sa langit - su mga nasa opisyal na listahan o canon kan Simbahan na minidbid bilang mga banal, kaiba man idtong mga dai nasa canon o dai gayo midbid kan kadaklan alagad nasa langit na kaibahan an Kagurangnan. An fiesta kan Dia de los Muertos o Todos los Muertos sa Nobyembre 2 aldaw nin paggirumdom asin pagpamibi para sa gabos na mga gadan, orog na an satong mga mahal sa buhay na naenot na satuya. An sunodan na duwang aldaw na ini popular na pigcecelebrar kan mga Katoliko Kristiyano sa paagi kan pagbisita sa saindang mga gadan sa mga campo santos.

An campo santo o cementerio sagradong lugar. Kaya sa satong pagbisita, manteneron ta tabi an pagkasagrado kaini. May nagkapirang mga bagay na dai dapat paggibohon sa laog kan campo santo:

  1. Bawal an pagdara nin mga inumon na nakakabuyong asin mga bagay na nakakagadan siring kan badil o matarom. 
  2. Bawal an pagsugal, pakipag-inuman, asin an makusog na pagpatugtog nin radyo.
  3. Bawal an pagtapok asin pagwalat nin basura sa laog kan campo santo.
  4. Bawal man an epal sa laog o palibot kan campo santo. Boot sabihon, dai tabi maglaag nin mga streamers o posters na amay asin bako sa lugar na nangangampanya. Kun may mga kandidato na naggibo nin siring, isabay an gibo nindang iyan sa saindong paghurop-hurop kun maninigo sindang botohan pag-abot kan eleksyon.
An pagpamibi para sa mga gadan, sarong magayon na gaweng Kristiyano. An pagpa-responso sa simbahan iyo an paghagad kan pamibi kan bilog na komunidad nin nagtutubod sa pangenot kan saindong mga padi sa parokya para sa saindong mga namomoton na gadan. Nin huli sa kadakul na nagpapa-responso sa mga aldaw na ini, an saindong parokya pwede ser magset-up nin mga lamesa o tents sa mga campo santo kun saen pwede magdolok an mga boot mapa-responso. An saindong atang o offering mapasiring sa pagpadagos kan misyon kan satong Simbahan.

Kan mga nakaaging taon may mga naaraman kitang mga nag-aprobitsar kan magayon na tradisyon asin kafiestahan niato para sa saindang sadiring interes. Kaya tanganing dai magin biktima nin mga paralansi asin mga maraot na elemento, mag-ingat tabi kita sa mga minasunod:

1. Mga naglilibot sa mga harong-harong na naghahanap nin mapa-responso, kung minsan may sobre pa na may pangaran kan parokya. Dai po magtubod sa mga ini, lalo na kun dai nindo midbid o dai kamong nadangog na igwa nin siring na anunsyo sa simbahan o nasiguro sa paagi nin pag-apod sa opisina kan parokya. Sa satong pagkaaram, dai man nin parokya sa satong diyosesis na naggigibo kaini.

2. Mga naglilibot sa laog kan campo santo na nag-oofrecir na ipangadie asin bendisyonan (minsan may agua bendita pa) an saindong mga gadan, dangan mahagad nin donasyon o love offering. An pag-ako nin mga responso asin love offering gigibohon sana sa mga lamesa o tents kan parokya na mahihiling sa prominenteng lugar sa campo santo, asin binabantayan nin mga opisyal na volunteers o staff kan parokya. Kun gibo ini kan dati nang mga parapanganam sa may luwasan kan simbahan, girumdomon na pareho man sana an pamibi ninda sa kun kamo na sana an magpangadie para sa saindong mga namomotan na gadan. Asin an offering sainda mapasiring sa sainda man sana, bako para sa misyon o mga programa pastoral kan saindong parokya.

3. Mga maraot na elemento siring kan mga mandurukot asin snatchers na minagibo kan saindang krimen sa mga matawo asin surusuan na lugar.
Pakireport tabi tulos sa saindong padi, o mga midbid nindong aktibo sa parokya, kun may nahiling kamong naka-sutana na naglilibot sa laog kan campo santo asin naghahagad nin donasyon katukal nin pamibi asin bendisyon. Dai tabi iyan gigibohon nin tunay na padi o seminarista - sinda pwedeng mahiling nindo na maglibot sa campo santo asin magwirik nin agua bendita sa gabos, alagad dai mapondo sa manaro-sarong lulobngan para maghagad nin donasyon sa mga nakabantay. Kun makusog an saindong suspetsa na may nag-iimpostor na padi, maghagad nin tabang sa mga pulis na nakabantay sa campo santo, dangan ireport an sitwasyon sa saindong parokya.

Sarong matoninong asin makahulugan na selebrasyon kan Todos los Santos asin Todos los Muertos satuya gabos.

08 September 2012

What can you do for the Church?

Transcript of the interview done with the late Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini on 8 August 2012, his last interview before his death. The interview was conducted by a fellow Jesuit, Fr. Georg Sporschill, SJ,  and freelance writer Federica Radice, and published in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera. This particular translation was done by Fr. Joseph Komonchak from dotCommonweal. 

How do you see the situation of the Church? 

The Church is tired, in prosperous Europe and in America. Our culture is out of date; our Churches are big; our religious houses are empty, and the Church’s bureaucratic apparatus is growing, and our rites and our vestments are pompous. Do such things really express what we are today? ... Prosperity weighs us down. We find ourselves like the rich young man who went away sad when Jesus called him to become his disciple. I know that it’s not easy to leave everything behind. At least could we seek people who are free and closer to their neighbors, as Bishop Romero was and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador? Where among us are heroes to inspire us? We must never limit them by institutional bonds. 

Who can help the Church today? 

Fr. Karl Rahner liked to use the image of embers hidden under ashes. I see in the Church today so many ashes above the enbers that I’m often assailed by a sense of powerlessness. How can the embers be freed from the ashes in order to rekindle the flame of love? First of all, we have to look for those embers. Where are the individuals full of generosity, like the Good Samaritan? Who have faith like that of the Roman centurion? Who are as enthusiastic as John the Baptist? Who dare new things, as Paul did? Who are faithful as Mary Magdalene was? I advise the Pope and the bishops to look for twelve people outside the lines for administrative posts [posti direzionali]–people who are close to the poorest and who are surrounded by young people and are trying out new things. We need that comparison with people who are on fire so that the spirit can spread everywhere. 

What means do you advise against the Church’s weariness? 

I have three important ones to mention. The first is conversion: the Church has to recognize its own errors and has to travel a radical journey of change, beginning with the Pope and the bishops. The scandals of pedophilia are driving us to undertake a journey of conversion. Questions about sexuality and all the themes involving the body are an example of this. They are important for everyone, at times they’re even too important. In this area is the Church still a point of reference or only a caricature in the media?

The second is the Word of God. Vatican II restored the Bible to Catholics. ... Only someone who receives this Word in his heart can be among those who will help the renewal of the Church and will know how to respond to personal questions wisely. The Word of God is simple and seeks as its companion a heart that is listening. ... Neither the clergy nor Church law can substitute for a person’s inwardness. All the external rules, the laws, the dogmas were given to us in order to clarify the inner voice and to discern spirits.

For whom are the sacraments? They are the third means of healing. The sacraments are not a disciplinary instrument, but a help for people at moments on their journey and when life makes them weak. Are we bringing the sacraments to the people who need a new strength? I’m thinking of all the divorced people and couples who have remarried and extended families. They need a special protection. The Church maintains the indissolubility of marriage. It is a grace when a marriage and a family succeed. ... The attitude we take toward extended families will determine whether their children come near to the Church. A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion who is concerned for her and her three children. The second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not only the woman, but her children, too, will be cut off. If the parents feel external to the Church and do not experience its support, the Church will lose the future generation. Before Communion we pray: “Lord, I am not worthy...” We know we are unworthy. ... Love is grace. Love is a gift. The question whether the divorced can receive Communion would have to be turned upside down. How can the Church come to the aid of complex family situations with the power of the sacraments? 

What do you do personally? 

The Church is two hundred years behind. Why is it not being stirred? Are we afraid? Afraid instead of courageous? Faith is the Church’s foundation–faith, confidence, courage. I’m old and ill and depend on the help of others. The good people around me enable me to experience love. This love is stronger than the feeling of discouragement that I sometimes feel in looking at the Church in Europe. Only love conquers weariness. God is Love. 

I have a question for you: “What can you do for the Church?”

07 September 2012

Wineskins and Spiritual Integrity

Friday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time - 7 September 2012
Gospel Reading: Lk 5, 33-39

In using the analogy of wine and wineskins, Jesus teaches us that following God means maintaining a spiritual integrity. Simply put, we need to be consistent between what we believe and what we do, between our interior life and the external manifestations of our faith. Otherwise, it would be as foolish as ruining new clothes to patch up old ones, or keeping new wines in old wineskins.

Further, the road to spiritual integrity entails a journey from the old self to the new one. We call this process conversion. If we are to really live in Christ, we need to change our mind (literally what metanoia means) and align it with God's will. First, we need to open our minds to God's Word. (This is where the detractors of Jesus failed.) And then, we need to commit to walk in His Way.

I would like to suggest a breakdown of things in our journey towards spiritual integrity this way:

1. Just do it. And put all things in.

Sometime ago somebody asked me this question: "How does one become a good Christian?" I remembered saying, "Just do it." Not very original. Then again, is there a better time to start - or restart - truly living the faith than now?

To my original reply, I would like to add this one: "Don't forget to put all things in". Christ died for us. He gave His life for us. Isn't it just fair that we give our whole self to Him as well? Being a disciple of Christ demands that we take the plunge with Him.

2.Consider not just what needs to be done. Equally important are those that we need to stop doing.

In committing to change for the better, it is equally important to both know how to move forward and what to let go. Otherwise, we will be like birds with wings but with feet tied down to the ground.

I believe in keeping lists. So I suggest listing down the things we need to start doing, and the things we need to let go.

3. Small change is the currency of transformation.

This is one of those lessons I learned from the spirituality of St. Ignatius. It may be a wise thing to dream big dreams, to set visions that are as yet far from our reach. But wiser still is knowing that reaching them means taking the steady, sometimes boring, small steps.

Epic breakthroughs do not happen overnight. They are the accumulation of small victories and hard-earned lessons from various defeats along the way. 

4. Do it with others.

Simply put, God doesn't intend that we carry the burden by ourselves or that we journey alone. The whole history of salvation has always been within the context of a God-founded community. Find friends who will support you, seek kindred spirits. Share your faith with others. They too might just need a dose of unexpected witnessing. Better yet, join a Christian community - a BEC, a charismatic group, a youth group. Or if you are already in one, appreciate God's gift to you of a faith community, even with all its imperfections.

And if ever we find ourselves at one point alone and in an unfamiliar place, know that we will never be truly alone. For God is with us. We may speak about the great journey of faith, but really it is about discovering the God who has always been here with us. That is why we need spiritual integrity, so our eyes may see clearly and our hearts discern freely God's presence and love already embracing us even when we were/are still sinners.

06 September 2012

Fishers of Men

Thursday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Reading: Lk 5,1-11

In the Gospel passage today, we hear the story of the call of Peter as narrated by Luke. Here the call is best summed up by the words of Jesus: "Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men".

There is something down-to-earth beautiful with the analogy of the disciple of Christ as a fisherman or fisher of men. The craft of fishing has many parallels to the mission of evangelization.

1. Fishing takes a lot of patience.

Any serious fisher - whether as a livelihood or recreation - would tell you that is not a craft for the impatient. Fishing involves a lot of waiting, as well as learning where to find and lure in fish. And learning to be a good fisher takes time and patience.

No one becomes a good disciple of Christ overnight. Thus, God does not expect from us immediate perfection but openness to growth. Patience is required as we strive to practice the virtues and deepen our knowledge of the faith. And then as we grow from being evangelized to becoming evangelizers, we need to be patient with others as well. Each one has its own pace of growth.

2. Fishing involves creativity.

Fisherfolks use baits, lures and nets, and various strategies to catch fish. Sports fishers even use different types and designs of lures and baits for different varieties of fish. Add to this the collaboration of fisherfolks who work as a team to haul their catch for the day.

Evangelization involves creativity as well. I remember an advice by our professor in pastoral theology: "your homilies, your message, should not only be nutritious, they should also be delicious." It is not only the content of our teaching that matters, but also how we deliver it. How many times have we heard many people get turned off not so much by how difficult the teachings of the Church are, but the manner by which some Christians deliver those teachings? In this regard, I remember a saying often attributed to Pope John Paul II: "Faith must be proposed, it must not be imposed."

Thus, as with fishing, it is not only the good intention that matters, it is also how through our witnessing people may come to be edified with the Christian message, not turned off by it.

3. Fishing requires us to trust in the Lord.

Inasmuch as fishing is a human endeavor, it is also subject to many uncertainties and circumstances beyond human control. Even as fisherfolks need to grow in the skills of fishing and study patterns of seasons, the weather, fish migration, their behavior, and the likes, they also recognize that their success largely depends on the generosity of the God who provides.

In the mission of being fishers of men, the fundamental principle that we need to grasp is that the salvation of men and women is primarily God's work. We are but His collaborators. We work for Him and with Him, and find joy and meaning in our labor of love. Sometimes there may be some tough questions to answer, sometimes the view ahead may be unclear, sometimes, as in the experience of Peter and friends, we may labor for a time and end up without any catch to show. It is during times like these that our faith is both tested and perfected. We have faith that the God who calls us will also provide the fruit of our labor and the means to sustain it.

And then when we are able to catch men and women, the Lord Himself will turn them into yet another generation of fishers of men.

One last story...

A young man felt the vocation to become a monk and spiritual leader to many, and responded to it. He went to a monastery for years to be formed and trained. Eventually he became a monk and slowly built a reputation as a wise and holy one. Now, twenty years have passed since his initial response, and he couldn't but feel somehow disappointed with the way his ministry turned out. For through the years he was able to gather and form only a few who were seeking for a deeper way of life.

One afternoon, the monk was walking along the beach when he chanced upon a young boy throwing something into the sea. When he got closer, he saw that the boy was picking and throwing starfish into the sea. "What are you doing?", he asked. "I am saving these starfish by throwing them back to the sea", came the reply. He pressed further: "But there may be hundreds or a thousand of them scattered all over the beach, you can't save all of them. How does it matter to you?" The boy picked one starfish from the sand and threw it to the sea, and then told him: "For that one, yes, it would matter much to him that he was saved."

We need not go very far, or seek a wider audience (although we could already do that too, given the wide range of media available in our time) in order to become fishers of men. The people around us, those close to us, those who know us - they are the men and women to fish for God. Let us pray that they may find us worthy of the calling that the Lord has entrusted to us.

15 July 2012

We are Disciples of Christ

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 15 July 2012

The Gospel reading is Mark's version of the story of how Jesus sent His chosen disciples on a mission. Today we -- all of us Christians, not just the bishops, priests and religious -- are the successors of the Twelve and the rest of the disciples in Jesus' time.

1. We are disciples of Christ.

The word “disciple” has become an all too familiar word that it may have lost already much of its impact on us. Disciple, "μαθητής" (mathetes) in Greek, discipulus in Latin, means a student (of a teacher), a learner, a seeker of knowledge and wisdom.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus sent the Twelve on a mission. This is not yet the so-called "great commission" when they are sent to all the world. That event happened just before Jesus' ascension to heaven. This one was more like a teacher, magister, sending his students, discipuli, to an apprenticeship in mission. Before sending them off, like any good teacher, He gave His disciples a set of instructions. And the story ends with the Twelve performing wondrous deeds same as Jesus.

The first invitation of the Gospel reading this Sunday is to rediscover the meaning of being a disciple, so we may live up the better to it.

To be a disciple is to seek the wisdom and will of one’s teacher and apply them in life. Discipleship means, first of all, seeking God's will for us, and then making it the rule by which live our lives.

To be a disciple is to bring others to Christ, the great Teacher. Being a Christian disciple is more than just striving to be good or holy. It is those things and more. It is also about sharing the joy of Christ's life to others, so that they too may have the joy we have.

2. We are always preaching the Good News.

A story is told about an international conference of young Christian missionaries. Young people hear talks and shared experiences on how to evangelize today. Some speakers extol the advantages of the radio, the media and the internet as powerful tools in evangelization. Some shared their experience knocking on doors, doing house visits, others talked about preaching on the streets. One girl from Africa had perhaps one of the most memorable sharing. She said that if her church wish to evangelize a village, they send a Christian family to live with them thereby letting the villagers see how Christians walk, talk, engage their neighbors, and live their lives, without any active direct preaching, at least not yet. Soon they would have new converts.

In preaching the Gospel, we revert to the beloved, oft-repeated line attributed to St. Francis of Assissi: "Preach at all times, when necessary use words."

Whether we talk or keep silence, get involved or stay on the side, proclaim in public or work silently -- we are preaching the Good News. Whether anybody listens to us or not, or even when nobody seems to care -- we are preaching the Good News.

St. Paul in 2 Tim 4,2, urges us just as he encouraged his friend Timothy: "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether in season or out of season; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching". Some translations have it: "proclaim the word, whether convenient or inconvenient..."

As disciples of Christ, we are always preaching the Good News all the time, because...

3. The world has a constant need for the Good News of Christ.

What is this Good News we keep saying? The word comes from the Greek εαγγέλιον (euangélion) and the Latin evangelium, which both means, well, good news or glad tidings.  Its root usage as a figure of speech goes back to the Roman Empire. When news of a Roman military victory or significant event were to be officially transmitted to the public, it would be introduced with the formula: “the good news of (this and that victor), from (this and that front)…” No wonder that St. Mark began his gospel with: “the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ!” He was transmitting to the rest of the world the news of a great victory: Christ’s victory over sin and death, over the forces that oppresses humanity. He was proclaiming the triumph of Truth over lies, joy over false hope, true love over selfishness.

In the end, there will always be a hunger for the one transforming Truth amidst a sea of information, not a few of them lies. There will always be a search for the kind of happiness that really satisfies.There will always be a wanting for true love, the one that turns us into the best that we can be and makes every trial worth it. When that inevitable hunger or yearning for something greater than ourselves, for something more than this life could offer, manifests in people, won't you be glad when they could see Christians witnessing to the Good News?

We are disciples of Christ, committed to preach the Good News at all times, to a world who has a great need for it. 

You have just rediscovered your mission. Now, Jesus sends you.

09 July 2012

Full text of PNoy's new Mining E.O.

Hereunder is the full text of Pres. Aquino's much anticipated new Mining Executive Order. Personal comments and stakeholders' statements in my next post.

03 July 2012

Faithful Thomas

Homily for the Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle
July 3

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. It is rather unfortunate that historical consciousness has distilled his memory to a moment of doubt. Whence came the expression "doubting Thomas". Yet he is without a doubt a man of faith, whose witnessing has subsequently inspired and strengthened the faith of millions throughout history.

The prominent accounts of St. Thomas in the Gospel of John always seem to lead to the most enduring and powerful affirmations who Jesus Christ is.

In Jn 11,16, responding to Jesus' decision to attend to His friend Lazarus who was ill and later found to have died a few days already, in spite of great risk to His safety, Thomas would say: "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." His willingness to follow Jesus even unto death led to their witnessing of Jesus' manifestation of His power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead, and of His self-revelation: "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" (Jn 11,25-26).

In Jn 14,5, Thomas' wish for a clearer teaching from Jesus led him to ask: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” To which Jesus promptly replied: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn 14,6).

In Jn 20, in the account of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, Thomas' famous line earned him his infamous distinction: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (20,25) But it was also used by Jesus to teach the world the great truth about Himself through the very confession of Thomas: "My Lord and my God!" (20,28).

St. Thomas becomes for us a companion in our journey of faith, a journey that always seem to have moments of doubt and fear. The faith and trust in Jesus that he manifests, especially when things are unclear and uncertain, is not unlike the faith and trust that the Psalmist and Job manifest even as they cry unto the Lord; in the end they would affirm the goodness and faithfulness of God, not based on some vague hope for a future that would eventually get better but on eyes and hearts that have actually seen and felt God's undeniable providence and love.

St. Thomas, strengthen our faith and open our eyes to the reality of God's love so that like you, we too may become faithful and passionate bearers of the Good News who is Christ Himself and the salvation He won for us. Amen.

14 April 2012

Building Communities through Renewed Evangelization

A Pastoral Letter on our Diocesan Pastoral Plan (2012-2016)
 “Arise, a long journey lies ahead of you.” (1 Kings19,7)

Dear People of God:

Last year in November we held our First Diocesan Pastoral Assembly (DPA). We intended it to be the major ecclesial event in our diocese ten years after the First Diocesan Synod in 2000. Starting in 2010, for a span of a little more than a year, we have conducted extensive consultations and research, organized commissions and study groups, and involved every single parish, as well as church-based institutions and organizations in the diocese.

In the end, we were able to produce a comprehensive Diocesan Pastoral Plan for the next five years. In it we have defined our new vision and mission statements, reorganized our administrative structure to better reflect our pastoral priorities, and crafted goals and action plans for each of our eight pastoral commissions: Worship, Christian Education, Social Concerns, Temporalities, Ecclesial Communities, Family and Life, Youth, and Clergy and Religious (WESTECFLYC).

All these goals and plans may be summed up into two pastoral thrusts: building Christian communities and renewed integral evangelization. It is for the purpose of explaining these pastoral thrusts and articulating our hopes and dreams as a local Church that this pastoral letter is written.

Building Christian Communities

Church as Communion. One of the great themes that emerged from Vatican II is the reaffirmation that the Church is a communion, first with the Triune God, and then with each other in the sharing of the great mystery of God’s love. 1 Jn 1,3 expresses it most succinctly: "that which we have seen and heard, we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ".

Community of Disciples. The spirit of communion is expressed in the concrete in our being a community of disciples. “In community a Christian grows in faith. We are called as individuals, and each one must give a personal response. But Christ calls us to form a Christian community. He wants the Church to be a ‘communion of life, love and truth’ (Lumen Gentium 9), a ‘community of faith, hope and charity’ (Lumen Gentium 8).” (PCP II 89)

Structures of Communion. Thus, our first pastoral thrust is the building up of Christian communities. To accomplish this, we have instituted structures of communion. The Diocesan Pastoral Council is created and tasked to direct the implementation of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan. It is supported by an embedded Oversight Committee and the Pastoral Assistance, Research and Development Secretariat (PARDS). It is further complemented by two more bodies: the Clergy General Assembly and the Diocesan Council of the Laity, which serve as crucial mechanisms for generating ideas and feedback from both clergy and laity. Similar structures shall also be instituted in every vicariate, parish and barangay or sitio.

Communion of Communities. We further envision our diocese as a communion of communities. More than ever we put priority in the effort to build Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) or Saradit na Kristyanong Komunidad (SKK), and promote other established and emerging ecclesial communities and movements.

The rationale behind this is simple. The Christian community is the most effective setting for fostering the growth in faith of individuals. Here they find unconditional acceptance of who they are and encouragement to grow into the persons God called them to be. Here they learn the art of loving one another and dying to oneself. Most importantly, here they encounter the person of Jesus in the living Word and Eucharist, and in their gathering as the Body of Christ. However the parish community has grown so large and impersonal that it is no longer able to sustain the building of intimate and caring relationships among many of its members. Thus, we recognize the need for smaller communities of faith where deep friendships are more easily bonded, and individuals are more intimately familiar with their companions in their Christian journey, without however forgetting that these communities are part of the parish and not autonomous entities.

From our common experience and discernment, the “kapilya model” emerges as an effective model for BECs in the diocese. This is why the WESTECFLY configuration of commissions in our pastoral councils – from the diocesan level down to the barangays and sitios – is based mainly on the structure of BECs. However this does not mean that we may no longer explore other options and search for better ways of being Church. Nor should this mean that we limit our idea of small faith communities only to BECs.

We have to recognize too that in recent times, some ecclesial movements have emerged and proven themselves effective in providing conversion experience and spiritual nourishment to their members. They too are works of the Holy Spirit and just as important as the BECs in our local Church. Having said this, we also cannot deny the apparent tension among the varied orientations present in the people in our parishes, BECs and ecclesial movements.

However, an initial survey of active members in our BECs and other ecclesial communities indicates that their combined membership comprises not even 10% of the entire Catholic population in the diocese. Parish attendance at Sunday Masses has also been estimated at less than 20% of our Catholic population. There is just so much to be done, so many to reach out to, and too little point for competition. A better system of collaboration among our Parish Pastoral Councils, BECs and ecclesial movements will not only attract more members to our faith communities but also realize what has always been the hallmark of unity in the Church: unity in diversity.

Renewed Integral EvangelizatION

Formation as Evangelization. Our second pastoral thrust is pursuing renewed integral evangelization. Communities are not only built, they also have to be sustained. An effective and systematic formation program will keep our faith communities centered in Christ and passionate in mission. And the starting point and overall character of any Church formation program is evangelization, which basically means proclaiming the Gospel following Christ’s command in Mt 28,19-20: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you”.

Integral Evangelization. It is also the lifelong process that includes initial faith proclamation, catechesis, and on-going formation in Christian living. This means that the Gospel is “directed to stirring a person to conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist, and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit” (Christifidelis Laici 33).

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) in 1991 describes this essential function and mission of the Church as “integral evangelization.” Taking the spirit and letter of Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (9), PCP II understands the proclamation of the good news of our salvation from sin in three ways: 
  1. integral liberation: liberation from sin and everything oppressive to man;  
  2. total human development: progress in all human dimensions, personal and communitarian; and  
  3. renewal of society: promotion of justice, peace and integrity of creation. (cf. PCP II 192) 
Renewed Evangelization. Another recurring theme since Vatican II and PCP II, and in our Diocesan Synod in 2000 is "renewed evangelization".  John Paul II, in Novo Millenio Ineunte (29), spoke of a “program for all times”, centered “in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem”, but which “must be translated into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community”.

Thus, our Diocesan Pastoral Plan appropriates the timeless mission of evangelization into particular pastoral initiatives such as developing catechetical modules and formation programs for all ages – children, youth and adult. They cover the areas of liturgy, doctrines, spiritual renewal, social teachings, family and life, and Gospel values, among others, and employ available tools of information and communication technology. The efforts may seem diverse and disjointed at present as each commission aims to develop a formation program pertinent to its area of concern, but in time we hope to consolidate them into a comprehensive, integrated and developmental program of formation.

Crucial too in evangelization is our witnessing in terms of our stewardship and accountability in the administration of resources, finance and power, not to mention our concern for the poor and the renewal of society.

Preferential Options and Directions

While community building and renewed evangelization are directed toward all, we have also identified particular groups for whom we would like to exercise our preferential option: they are the family, the poor and the youth.

We would like our families to become life-giving domestic Churches; the poor to become empowered, able to exercise their rights and chart their own destinies; and the young to become effective evangelizers and dynamic servant-leaders.

It is providential that on the first year of implementing our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has declared this year the Year of Mission, and Pope Benedict XVI has already announced his plan to proclaim a Year of Faith starting this October. These celebrations add further motivation to move forward and the assurance that we are on the right track.

With God’s grace and under the protection of our Mother of Salvation we will see our plans accomplished, our diocese renewed and our mission pursued ever more faithfully. We are grateful for our being called to share in God’s grand plan of salvation. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

Given this 5th of April 2012, Holy Thursday, at the Diocesan Chancery in Legazpi City.

Bishop of Legazpi

PASTORAL LETTER NO. 03, Series of 2012

Rev. Fr. Rex Paul B. Arjona 

07 April 2012

An Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday

The Lord descends into the abode of the dead

From the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

25 March 2012

An satong mga Tadâ

A Pastoral Letter on TADÂ, a program for the benefit of the poor in the Diocese of Legazpi

 "Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works." Heb 10,24

Pope Benedict XVI reflected on this passage when he wrote his message for Lent this year. He spoke about our common and constant duty to be responsible toward our brothers and sisters, especially those suffering from various forms of poverty – spiritual, moral and economic.

The Pope’s message brings to mind the call of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines to become a “Church of the Poor”, which means embracing the evangelical spirit of poverty and practicing a preferential option for the poor.

In response to this call, the Church in the Philippines has instituted the traditional Lenten practice of the ALAY KAPWA Program to raise awareness on the plight of the poor, and help them in their needs through different forms of support and assistance, mainly through almsgiving and donations.

This year 2012, following the directions set by our recently concluded First Diocesan Pastoral Assembly, I am inviting every member of the Diocese of Legazpi to join a modified form of ALAY KAPWA, which we shall henceforth call TADÂ, and which will continue as a diocesan project beyond the season of Lent. In other words, TADÂ will be a year-round program for the poor of the Diocese of Legazpi.

Tadâ – a Bikol word that means crumbs or leftovers – is based on a very simple rationale. In everyone’s life there are things that may be considered leftovers, things no longer needed. These things are oftentimes taken for granted, even discarded, because they no longer have that much value to us. But they can still be of some value, they can still be of use, to others – especially those who have very little in life. These are the tadâ in our lives. Let us gather and bring them together. For sure, if we do, they can help the poor in some form or other.

Immediately, we discover, for example, that there are many monetary “change” that we do not mind anymore: P0.05, P0.10, P0.25, even P1.00. Let us collect these in plastic bottles (which you can get from your respective parish rectories, or you may very well come up with your own!) and bring them to church, preferably on Sundays, and offer these at the offertory procession during the Mass. We will collect them and whatever amount gathered will be set aside to assist the poorest among us in their various needs – medical, nutritional, educational, and others. I am certain that the little tadâ that will come from each of us, like the five loaves and two fish that Jesus used to feed five thousand, will become plentiful enough in order to feed those who are hungry and help those in need.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his Lenten message: “Each part should be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Cor 12:25), for we all form one body. Acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters – as expressed by almsgiving, a practice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent – is rooted in this common belonging. Christians can express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor.”

The invitation to offer our tadâ is by no means an encouragement to be mediocre in generosity or be miserly in charity. The needs of the poor are big and many, and we cannot supply them all, at least not by our strength alone. But by God’s grace anything can be accomplished.

Starting with our tadâ means starting small, but with a view to a bigger end. We start by opening our eyes to the reality of poverty and our capacity to empower the needy. We proceed with instilling a habit of giving in everyone in order to form our hearts to become ever more generous with our gifts and ever more trusting in the Lord, the Giver of gifts.

Once again from the Pope’s Lenten message: “Responsibility towards others thus means desiring and working for the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodness and its demands.”

In this regard, I have asked our Diocesan Social Action Center (SAC) to develop a formation module and train the Commission on Social Concerns in our parishes, so they in turn may be able to provide their fellow parishioners the necessary catechesis that will make this program properly understood, appreciated and owned by all in the local Church of Legazpi.

Thus, I would like to ask our Parish Priests to send representatives from their respective Parish Commission on Social Concerns for orientation on TADÂ, and allow them with more or less five minutes to explain to our people what TADÂ is all about during designated Sunday Masses.

Our SAC people will also be doing the rounds of schools to share this project with them, as well as to those communities of the faithful – associations and movements – that may be interested to participate in this worthy endeavor of our local Church.

May the Lord of the poor and His Blessed Mother bless this effort of ours and make them successful according to His Most Holy Will!

Given this 22nd of March 2012 at the Diocesan Chancery in Legazpi City.

Bishop of Legazpi

Rev. Fr. Rex Paul B. Arjona

Pastoral Letter No. 2, Series of 2012