15 November 2015

Firesetter at 37

Lord, I praise you for the strength
of mountains, the longevity of trees,
though I wish them not for myself.
Neither the urgency of streams,
predisposed to seek the lowest level.
Rather I pray for the patience
of bees, working together to share
the fruits of their labor in ways
even they can’t fully contemplate.

9 November 2015
Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee Farm
Bulusan, Sorsogon

02 April 2015

The Pact of the Catacombs

Shortly before the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, 40 bishops met on the night of 16 November 1965 in the Domitilla Catacombs outside Rome.  In that holy place of Christian dead they celebrated the Eucharist and signed a document that expressed their personal commitments to the ideals of the Council under the suggestive title of the "Pact of the Catacombs". It also goes by the title "Pact of the Servant and Poor Church". Among the bishops gathered was Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife, Brazil and icon of justice and freedom in Latin America. The statements' counter-cultural ideals and latent radicalism however might have limited its impact to only a dedicated few. Yet in the ensuing years, the little pact of minority bishops gradually caught fire, inspiring the rise of liberation theology, the orthodoxy of the Church of the poor, and the praxis of building basic ecclesial communities as agents of Gospel-based change in individuals and society in many parts of the world and beyond Catholic circles.

We, bishops assembled in the Second Vatican Council, are conscious of the deficiencies of our lifestyle in terms of evangelical poverty. Motivated by one another in an initiative in which each of us has tried avoid ambition and presumption, we unite with all our brothers in the episcopacy and rely above all on the grace and strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ and on the prayer of the faithful and the priests in our respective dioceses. Placing ourselves in thought and in prayer before the Trinity, the Church of Christ, and all the priests and faithful of our dioceses, with humility and awareness of our weakness, but also with all the determination and all the strength that God desires to grant us by his grace, we commit ourselves to the following:

1.      We will try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport, and related matters. See Matthew 5,3; 6,33ff; 8,20.

2.      We renounce forever the appearance and the substance of wealth, especially in clothing (rich vestments, loud colors) and symbols made of precious metals (these signs should certainly be evangelical). See Mark 6,9; Matthew 10,9-10; Acts 3.6 (Neither silver nor gold).

3.      We will not possess in our own names any properties or other goods, nor will we have bank accounts or the like. If it is necessary to possess something, we will place everything in the name of the diocese or of social or charitable works. See Matthew 6,19-21; Luke 12,33-34.

4.      As far as possible we will entrust the financial and material running of our diocese to a commission of competent lay persons who are aware of their apostolic role, so that we can be less administrators and more pastors and apostles. See Matthew 10,8; Acts 6,1-7.

5.      We do not want to be addressed verbally or in writing with names and titles that express prominence and power (such as Eminence, Excellency, Lordship). We prefer to be called by the evangelical name of "Father." See Matthew 20,25-28; 23,6-11; John 13,12-15).

6.      In our communications and social relations we will avoid everything that may appear as a concession of privilege, prominence, or even preference to the wealthy and the powerful (for example, in religious services or by way of banquet invitations offered or accepted). See Luke 13,12-14; 1 Corinthians 9,14-19.

7.      Likewise we will avoid favoring or fostering the vanity of anyone at the moment of seeking or acknowledging aid or for any other reason. We will invite our faithful to consider their donations as a normal way of participating in worship, in the apostolate, and in social action. See Matthew 6,2-4; Luke 15,9-13; 2 Corinthians 12,4.

8.      We will give whatever is needed in terms of our time, our reflection, our heart, our means, etc., to the apostolic and pastoral service of workers and labor groups and to those who are economically weak and disadvantaged, without allowing that to detract from the welfare of other persons or groups of the diocese. We will support lay people, religious, deacons, and priests whom the Lord calls to evangelize the poor and the workers by sharing their lives and their labors. See Luke 4,18-19; Mark 6,4; Matthew 11,4-5; Acts 18,3-4; 20,33-35; 1 Corinthians 4,12; 9,1-27.

9.      Conscious of the requirements of justice and charity and of their mutual relatedness, we will seek to transform our works of welfare into social works based on charity and justice, so that they take all persons into account, as a humble service to the responsible public agencies. See Matthew 25,31-46; Luke 13,12-14; 13,33-34.

10.  We will do everything possible so that those responsible for our governments and our public services establish and enforce the laws, social structures, and institutions that are necessary for justice, equality, and the integral, harmonious development of the whole person and of all persons, and thus for the advent of a new social order, worthy of the children of God. See Acts 2,44-45; 4;32-35; 5,4; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9; 1 Timothy 5,16.

11.  Since the collegiality of the bishops finds its supreme evangelical realization in jointly serving the two-thirds of humanity who live in physical, cultural, and moral misery, we commit ourselves: a) to support as far as possible the most urgent projects of the episcopacies of the poor nations; and b) to request jointly, at the level of international organisms, the adoption of economic and cultural structures which, instead of producing poor nations in an ever richer world, make it possible for the poor majorities to free themselves from their wretchedness. We will do all this even as we bear witness to the gospel, after the example of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations.

12.  We commit ourselves to sharing our lives in pastoral charity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, religious, and laity, so that our ministry constitutes a true service. Accordingly, we will make an effort to "review our lives" with them; we will seek collaborators in ministry so that we can be animators according to the Spirit rather than dominators according to the world; we will try be make ourselves as humanly present and welcoming as possible; and we will show ourselves to be open to all, no matter what their beliefs. See Mark 8,34-35; Acts 6,1-7; 1 Timothy 3,8-10.

13.  When we return to our dioceses, we will make these resolutions known to our diocesan priests and ask them to assist us with their comprehension, their collaboration, and their prayers.

May God help us to be faithful.


13 March 2015

The last shall be first

This much I know – the last shall be first,
the angry ones need love the most,
and the bigot, to be heard and understood

Share joy with the joyful,
be there for the sorrowful,
and sometimes just let the lost be

The helper first needs to learn
the poor already want to help themselves,
and victims wish they could but couldn’t

That there is no single rule,
no silver bullet, no theory of everything;
only one way, certain and narrow

01 January 2015

A Tale of Two Feasts

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God
1 January, New Year's Day

There are actually two feasts that we celebrate today: one is secular – New Year’s Day, and the other, sacred – the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. As our thoughts and wishes turn towards better prospects for the new year, the liturgy turns our prayer and reflection towards the humble figure of the young mother Mary.

Media organizations usher in the new year with a recap of the previous year’s big events and predictions for the new one. Individuals write resolutions to start doing better things and stop doing bad ones. For most people there is more to January 1 than just being a human construct that tracks the passing of time. It is by most accounts a milestone, the start of yet another period laden with possibilities – of reforms to undertake, giants to slay, and life-altering decisions to make. And then the Church wants us to start the year with Mary.

Far from being yet another face-off in the culture wars between the sacred and the secular, the melding of these two feasts may actually be providential. This particular Marian feast springs from the affirmation that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. Thus, it is only logical that Mary be called Theotokos (literally “God bearer”) in Greek, and Dei genetrix (“she who gave birth to God”) in Latin. In her womb, the mystery of the Incarnation first happened – God intervening in human affairs in the most dumbfounding way: by becoming one like us in all things but sin. The Incarnation is the ultimate melding of the sacred and the secular.

As we sit down for our annual ritual of making plans and writing down resolutions, we remember that God Himself set-out to accomplish a big plan which sought no less than the salvation of humanity. To accomplish such an enormous undertaking, His preparation spanned centuries and enlisted the help of prophets and priests, judges and kings. But at the final hour when everything was about to be brought to completion, He turned not to the high and mighty of the time but to a young girl in an obscure village in the outskirts of a sprawling empire, and made her decision to accept His offer a turning point in world history.

It was not at all far-fetched that the Chosen People would expect a Messiah who would come with political savvy and military might, conquering their known enemies and restoring their exalted place among the nations. After all they have been taught for generations that their savior would descend from the proud lineage of King David. Yet in choosing to save the world, God did not choose the way of the wise, the rich, and the mighty. Instead, He chose poor and simple folks to bear His Son, the most squalid condition for His birthplace, and one of the most dangerous times for His birth date.

This lesson is also found in the best modern-day allegory of the Good News. I am referring to the Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, including the recently concluded film trilogy, the Hobbit. Among the major characters in the series were the wizards Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White. 

Wizards in Tolkien’s novels were not really humans who know how to conjure magic tricks, they were more like angels sent to set things right for the inhabitants of Middle-Earth and to protect them from evil. Both of them started with wanting to protect Middle-Earth from the evil Sauron but they differed in their ways. Saruman wanted to use whatever force there is, including the very tools of the enemy, to fight against evil. Gandalf, on the other hand, believed less in confronting brute force with brute force, and more in building peoples’ capacity for goodness, even among those perceived to be the weakest among them.

Along the way, Saruman would be corrupted by power, co-opted by Sauron, and eventually destroyed. Gandalf followed a more tortuous yet victorious route, rallying the forces of good amidst their respective self-doubts and petty concerns into great feats of heroism and self-sacrifice. In the end, the combined forces of men, elves, and dwarves won not because they have the bigger army or the more fearsome soldiers but because of the self-giving and determination of two simple hobbits: Frodo and Sam.

In one memorable line from the Hobbit movie, Gandalf said: “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.”

And so today, the first day of the year, we turn our thoughts towards Mary and remember how simple acts of kindness and love can be transformed by God into events that change the face of the earth. Our poverty and limit experiences were never meant to stop us from succeeding in life or, more importantly, from spreading goodness, mercy and compassion. Rather, as the Gospel story and our own life stories would attest, God sometimes makes use of our poverty and limit experiences as enablers to growth in wisdom and grace.  

This bit of sacred insight is meant to kickstart our secular year so that we can let God turn our human affairs – from the loftiest to the most mundane – into rays of light that dispel the darkness in our lives and in those of the people we meet.

May the inspiration of the Blessed Mary Mother of God lead us to living a blessed new year and building a brighter future for all.