Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nine Days of Dawn Masses in Philippine Villages Crowded with Young People

This selfie was taken during a homily, after I had asked the people to pray a Hail Mary
for a young mother who is having complications in her pregnancy after hearing the Gospel
in which St Elizabeth accepted the gift of life and mysterious pregnancy of St John the Baptist.
We sent the picture to her to encourage her and assure her of our prayers and our commitment
as a Church to be open to life.
It's 2:45am. Time to get up and go. First thing to do is to make sure the consecrated brothers, our choir leaders, are up and ready to go in a few minutes to the village.

We meet the sisters at the van. They are usually laughing with big smiles at 3am and making comments on what a beautiful morning it is. We start off in the van for a tiny remote village about 20 minutes from our base camp in Putiao, Pilar, Sorsogon.

On the way there we pray and get orientation for the day's Mass. I share with the ecclesial team my homily so we can have a consistency in the message that we present to the people, The brothers catechize the children, singing the Mass hymns and parts they will sing during the Mass. The sisters catechize the people. They are an energetic young Filipina, who is the vocation directress for SOLT here in Asia, a not-so young, yet just as energetic and full of poetic expressions sister, and a sister from Papua New Guinea. Meanwhile I hear confessions in the corner a half hour before Mass starts.

We arrive to packed little chapel in middle of vast expanse of coconut trees and rice fields. Most of the crowd are children and teenagers, who typically crowd the front and sides, immediately outside the chapel, which usually has bars instead of windows.

They are usually quite surprised and begin to laugh when they see an American priest speaking their local dialect, which only 10 million people of the Bicol region speak. I give the opening orientation of what will happen before the Mass, then we begin our ecclesial team evangelization.

An ecclesial team is a term from my religious community, SOLT, which means, priests, consecrated persons, and laity working together to bring people into communion with God. We all work at the same goal, sharing the gift of our specific vocation, gender, culture, and personality to make a complementary, unified yet harmonized voice to proclaim the Gospel.

In the Philippines, the Dawn Mass, Aguinaldo Mass, or Simbang Gabi, is a novena of masses of Our Lady to prepare for Christmas. It is traditionally held for 9 days before Christmas. Pope Urban IV gave a special indulgence to those who celebrate this novena, which has its origins in 6th century Spanish piety, and was exported to the Spanish colonies. In Mexico, the form you see is the Posadas, or in Venezuela the same.

What an amazing thing to see droves of teenagers at 3:30 in the early morning on the way to Mass! There is quite a bit of enthusiasm among the young people, which is why it is very easy to tap into their youth and joy and help them encounter God in a real and tangible way, that they become the authentic representatives to their generation of the new and very alive face of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. We usually have a few vocation inquiries after each Mass.

Afterward we either hurry off to another Mass at 5am or stop and have some coffee with noodles or bread for breakfast.

As I am not just a priest, but a formator of the seminarians, or future priests, that make up our ecclesial team, I usually ask them questions about things that happen during our catechesis and Mass, seeing if they can understand whatever God has desired to show us in these events and graces, doing whatever teaching I can so that one day they may be good priests and team leaders in the New Evangelization. I beg you to please pray heartily for them and for me.

Our ecclesial team is marked with a very intense joy, and it seems that 95% of the conversation is that holy humor, that builds up, and graces those with whom it comes in contact.

May Our Lady's joy prepare us all for the coming of Jesus Christ, to be born into our hearts in a new and powerful way this Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent Conversion: Assume you are a Pharisee - its the Only Sure Way to Prepare for the Word to Heal You

This is one of the most difficult but most healing sermons. Stop and pray for openness to the Holy Spirit before proceeding.

In today's Gospel, we read:

“By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” 
Jesus said to them in reply,“I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me,
then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. ...
So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” 
He himself said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Today, and really time Jesus in the Gospel for the day has interactions with the Pharisees try this: assume you are a hypocrite, the one who is contradicting Jesus' authority, the one trying to stop him from acting, from being God, the one opposing God.

Because guess what?


You are not perfect. Yet. God has a lot of work to do on you. It is therefore very safe to say that there is probably a high degree of self-delusion and opposition to God going on in your life. Right now.

Wait a minute!

I pray a lot. I pay my taxes. "Thank God I am not like other men, adulterers, extortioners, unjust" (Luke 18:10ff):....wait a minute, you recognize that self-justifying voice come up when I said you are a hypocrite?  That is the Pharisee who was praying next to the Publican. Guess which one went away justified. By the way it wasn't I who said it. Listen to the Word of God: "You hypocrite!" (Matthew 15:20; 22:18 etc etc etc).

Usually if a person accepts the authority of God it is because they have accepted his love. Only the Love of God can give you the real courage of love, which we call humility, to accept that there is anything that is not of God, hypocritical, deluded, blind, and in-need-of-conversion in us.

So, according to the Gospel for today this is what I do. I test God. I go to him and ask him why I have to convert. His Holy Spirit has been calling me for a while and is turned up the heat this Advent, but I still am attached to the safe hypocrisy that I know and am afraid to give up things that I am attached to that somewhere deep down I know my life would be much better if I would only make the step.

So I (we/you) test God. I challenge his authority to preach the Gospel to me, which demands a radical abandonment of my pride and everything I know to follow him to places I never have gone before.

His response?

I will answer your question if you answer this question, i.e. I will grant you the grace to convert and be happier, healthier, and holier, if you just accept that what I am demanding of you is in divine authority.  Let me be God and I will lead you.

But wait. It's too much. I cannot surrender that much. I am afraid I won't be protected if I assume that I am blind and hypocritical.

Are we at an impasse?


That is when it is time to go to Our Lady. She is the spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down. She obtains for us the extra graces, the special graces, the grace we don't deserve because we still cling to our blind hypocrisy, our foolish pride, or games and armor, and brings us to Jesus Christ in a totally new way.

When I go to Our Lady, seeking to find a cure for my blindness, knowing that I need conversion but might not yet want it, I know that she can obtain for the me the grace to want it, or at least the desire to desire to want it.

The sinless Virgin Mary never opposed God. Ever. She submitted wholly and fully to his Holy Will so much, obeyed him so perfectly that he obeys her perfectly. Anything she asks him God grants. This is the same with us. The more we stop opposing God's Will in our lives, when we ask him for graces and blessings, he will be more freely permitted to grant it to us because it will come from a person who is not opposed to him and therefore not asking him something that is displeasing or opposed to what is best for us.

Until I am deeply submitted to his perfect Will...I habitually place myself in the chair of the Pharisee, or rather move down to the floor and see myself as the broken woman who was washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. Unitl I know that is who I am before God, guess what? Yep that is right. I am the one opposing him.

May Our Lady obtain for us Light, Jesus Christ, our God and Lord to free us from our presumptive delusions, and may we see Jesus Christ be born in our lives in a new and profound way this Christmas.

O come O come Emmanuel...

Audio Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent: Mary's Immaculate Joy Prepares us for Jesus' Coming

Mass Readings for today

Here is my homily for Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent:

If you have trouble listening, click here.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Gaudete Sunday is a Blueprint for Consecrated Life

You could call the Year of Consecrated Life the Year of Consecrated Joy.  You could call the Mass and Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, or Gaudete, Sunday, the Blueprint for Consecrated Life.

Two SOLT Sisters on the day of their Perpetual Profession
When we look at the Mass for 3rd Sunday of Advent, we are overwhelmed by joy, by unceasing, soul-deep, grateful, in-all-circumstances, encouraging, fortifying, eternal, holy, consecrated JOY.

This too ought to describe the life of a consecrated person. Well, first let's stop there and answer the question of what is a consecrated person. They are "characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 944). There are new forms of consecrated life that address many different needs in the Church and in mankind: consecrated hermits, consecrated virgins, consecrated widows, secular institutes, and societies of apostolic life, and of course, religious orders. These all are consecrated persons who make some kind of commitment in an ecclesiastically authenticated, public way.

Pope Francis said in his Message for the Year of Consecrated Life:
"That the old saying will always be true: “Where there are religious, there is joy”.  We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness...None of us should be dour, discontented and dissatisfied, for “a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom”.  Like everyone else, we have our troubles, our dark nights of the soul, our disappointments and infirmities, our experience of slowing down as we grow older.  But in all these things we should be able to discover "perfect joy".  For it is here that we learn to recognize the face of Christ, who became like us in all things, and to rejoice in the knowledge that we are being conformed to him who, out of love of us, did not refuse the sufferings of the cross."
In other words, they should be deeply rejoiced, truly happy, fundamentally and profoundly joyful.

But why?

Because they are loved. This is the deepest identity of a consecrated person in the Church, a person who is overflowing with grateful joy at being so beloved to God, so personally and tangibly loved by Him.

Ever seen a wife who is deeply, passionately, respectfully, consistently, constantly, through-every-trial-life-can-throw-at-their-mariage, totally LOVED?

Ok they do exist. Contrary to popular opinion and its inherent cynicism about marriage, there are men out there who are not so damaged as to be able to make their wife know a shadow of God's eternal and unconditional love.

Well, a consecrated person, by their consecration is conjoined, covenanted, espoused, or mystically "married," to God. He is the best spouse anyone could ever want.

He always listens, always waits, is eternally patient, forgives before, during, and after offense a million times a million times. He sends tokens of love all day long every day, even in the middle of the night. He is the most exquisite provider and protector, defender and warrior fighting for love. The more he is forgotten, spurned, rejected, hated, misunderstood, falsely accused, misrepresented, misinterpreted, stepped on, and maltreated by his spouse, even for decades, the more zealous he is in chasing after and pursuing his beloved.

But wait, there is a catch. One who is espoused has to give up everything, everyone, even her very self, to the utmost depths of her being, radically abandoning herself to the beloved. You think this is easy? You think it sounds romantic? It will crucify her and make her look every day more like her Beloved Crucified Spouse. Yet, the more she surrenders to him, the more she becomes the best version of herself, the truest and freest version. The moment she surrenders and to the degree she allows herself to become one with Love Himself, even though she may go through every possible pain and torture, is the degree she becomes one with Pure Love, and is given the most sublime consolation: possession of Love Himself.

That. Is why consecrated men and women usually are so very happy.

Just look. Look at a consecrated person who is, by the grace of God, living their commitment, and you will find an icon of joy, a little piece of heaven, a person who has their being already participating in heaven's vision of God in some way.

When working with young people, I make a "bet" with them. I bet they cannot point out a moment when my countenance is not happy. I don't mean smiling, because when I lift heaving things, or have to deal with frustrating situations I might show stress on my face, but the background is definitely a deep unceasing joy. I've never lost that bet.

I remember the day I started smiling and have not been able to stop since. I was a novice. It was the moment, in a 15 day silent retreat where I discovered in a way that was, at that time and every moment since, beyond my comprehension, how I am tenderly, eternally, exquisitely LOVED. I honestly have not been able to stop smiling since that moment. It was when joy invaded me. It was a grace. It not an uncommon grace for a consecrated person. It happens simply by "living the life" and belonging totally to God alone.

Wait a minute! What happens when a consecrated person is not joyful, when they do not radiate the gratitude of being so loved by God?

First of all, if they are in training, I would say they might not have a vocation. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta would send them home. As a formator, so would I. So have I. Why? Because they don't really want to be there, or at least, not all of them is capable of being there, and they either have to go and sort themselves out and come back, or perhaps this is not the life for them.

The other possibility is that a person in consecrated life has lost their joy, their salt has lost its savor, and the have become deflated and dejected. Mid life consecrated crisis? The mission was too hard, or they experienced too much and too prolonged exposure to their own community's sinfulness? Whatever the reason, these people are a community's preferential option, their poor. Every consecrated family has them, just like every family has sick members, those that need special attention.

I have found that every single person in consecrated life, in community life, has a great deal of their own brokenness that they are dealing with that composes the daily cross that they carry. Now it can happen that a person may learn how to manage their weakness and comfortably protect it from the Holy Spirit, from the Gospel challenge of radical abandonement to Christ, and even stay that way for decades, immune from conversion, heavily protected by a disguise a superior can't seem to see around. Hey, don't think these people are so bad and horrible for doing it. St Teresa of Avila, doctor of the Church, model cloistered religious sister, said that she was like this for 18 years - 18 years to give us all hope that we can change, but also 18 years to remove the presumption that we don't need to change and we could possibly be deluding ourselves into thinking that we are pleasing to God, when we deeply need urgent conversion.

Thanks be to God, the Spouse who is so patient, kind, gentle, and persistent, like the waves crashing on the seashore working against the rock, he works to bring us to become totally His.

The Sacred Liturgy for the Third Sunday of Advent is a description of how a consecrated person lives in constant Adventus Domini, constant seeking (and therefore finding) the coming of the Lord.

Another way this liturgy reveals consecrated life is in the person of St John the Baptist. In every way, he is the perfect icon of a consecrated person.

He was chosen from before time began, consecrated in the womb.

His motto is "I must decrease and he must increase" fully recognizing the source of all joy, peace, and divine truth and charity, showing that of himself is nothing, knows nothing, and has nothing, but only is fruitful in God.

He "turns the hearts of fathers toward their children" by being a good child of God, thus revealing Abba Father in all that he does.

He prepares room for the Messiah in his example of prayer and penance.

He wears a garb that reveals God.

He is poor, especially in his appetites, wanting God above all.

He is celibate.

He is obedient to God, and therefore very aware of earthly authority's responsibility to truth, which gives him courage to speak the truth in every situation, even when faced with horrible hypocrisy within the chosen people. He is a reformer by way of holiness of life.

Finally, Gaudete Sunday reflects the Immaculate Joy of Mary, ever Virgin. Most of the Scriptural references in the prayers and the readings are also from the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, showing us that she is the model for all consecrated persons. 

Never has it been known that anyone ever reflected such perfect belovedness of God the Father. No one knew so deeply that she was loved like Mary, and therefore no one's joy has been greater than hers. She is enthroned and enshrined in the Father's heart like "a dove in the cleft of the rock."

She possessed Pure Love Himself: Jesus, not only in body as a Mother, but in Spirit as a disciple, or Mother in the spiritual order.

She became so completely one with God, the Holy Spirit, that by their union, the God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord was born of her. In her mystical marriage with the Holy Spirit, St Maximillian Kolbe applies the words of Genesis, so there are no longer two but one. 

They are fused together, although Mary is but a creature, therefore absolutely nothing in the sight of God, she nonetheless remains perfectly Virginally Consecrated to the Most Holy Trinity like no other. She is Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, beloved Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Let's look at the Mass and Readings:

Entrance Antiphon:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.

Opening Prayer:
O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.

First Reading
I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;

Responsorial Psalm:
My soul rejoices in my God.

Second Reading:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord...
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

We who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.

Communion Antiphon:
Say to the faint of heart: Be strong and do not fear.
Behold, our God will come, and he will save us.

Let us pray in this Year of Consecrated Life that each consecrated person may live their identity as a Beloved of the Lord, and that his holy joy overflow from them, watering and vivifying the Church in a renewed witness of holiness.

May Our Lady, consecrated in the Holy Spirit in superabundant Virginity, and model of each consecrated person, pray for us, that we may not fail to make this year fruitful for God's glory.

Friday, December 12, 2014

EXODUS Gods and Kings Movie Review: Why didn't I exodus from the theater like the other smart folks?

A priest friend and I went a few hours ago to see Exodus: Gods and Kings movie here in Naga City, Philippines, where movies come out a week earlier than in the States. About half way through a few people slowly started getting up and leaving. Why?

The opening scene shows a bunch of men sitting around with the pharaoh like any executives would at a board meeting, strategizing about war with the Hitites. They very well could have changed their clothes and been talking in the Pentagon, for it was a 21st century projection into ancient Egypt. At that point I actually said to myself, “Mental note: little regard for historical accuracy, quite sure the biblical accuracy will be even more muddled.” Yep. It was.

Christian Bale plays Moses. I honestly kept waiting for him to say in that raspy batman-like voice, “I’m Moses,” because Moses’ ninja assassin moves were a bit more advanced than the caped crusader. In fact if Moses met Batman in a dark Egyptian alley, Batman would probably end up like the other characters in the movie, dead or disabled on the floor.

The reviews showed that much and I should have expected that much: two warrior kings fighting it out. The Egyptian army and the Hebrew army going at it. Early on in the movie both Moses and Ramses II, who became Pharaoh later on, both received shiny swords. Moses never got his staff, and instead of plunging a staff that parted the Red Sea, you guessed it, it was the shiny sword.

There was no development of the Moses of scripture, the most humble man on earth, who had a speech impediment, and spoke to God face to face like a friend. Forget about an oppressed nation crying out to God for freedom, who sends a meek man to work God’s wonders, all the while abasing himself both before the Israelites, Egyptians, and most especially before the Lord.

Yes, Moses did speak to God face to face, but Yahweh appears as a little boy, a very spoiled and pouty little boy, whose fickle nature causes him to shout back at Moses, who was shouting at him. It was after this conversation that people began to leave the movie theater.

Basically this is an atheist trying to justify Scripture. It is full of rationalistic questions trying to come with scientific reasons for miracles and angry questions against God. Why is he so inhumane and cruel as to punish the Egyptians? There is never any notion that God had kept reaching out both to the Egyptians and to Pharaoh pleading for their conversion, but after rejection tried to humble them and bring the hard of heart the hard way back to reality.

It was almost like a sequel Noah II: More Atheists Rationalize Scripture. If you didn’t like that one, you won’t like this one. If you don’t mind poetic licence and the distortion of the beauty of God’s kind faithfulness to be an ugly vengeful spoiled little boy, go ahead and get your popcorn and 3D glasses.

A much better time would be spent with Yule Brenner and Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments, or simply sitting down with your family and ready the Exodus account from the primary source. There you will encounter the real Moses and the real God, two friends, who saved the Israelites and thus give hope to all who hear the story of how God saves us from slavery and death.

I ended up apologizing to the Lord Jesus for wasting 150 minutes of his time in my life. Worst of all, walking out of the theater I discovered that the third Hobbit movie was playing, which has much better themes of fidelity, friendship, honor, bravery, hope, courage, humility, littleness, conversion, mercy, and would have been a much better use of that time. We live and learn.

Do not let your heart be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who is here?

We all need to listen to the words of Our Lady of Guadalupe, spoken to St Juan Diego in what is now Mexico City, almost five hundred years ago. Listen to her words as if they were spoken directly to you. In them, may you find God's deepest consolation.

From a report by Don Antonio Valeriano, a Native American author of the sixteenth century (Nican Moppohua, 12th ed., 3-19, 21)

The Voice of the Turtledove has been heard in our land

At daybreak one Saturday morning in 1531, on the very first days of the month of December, an Indian named Juan Diego was going from the village where he lived to Tlatelolco in order to take part in divine worship and listen to God’s commandments. When he came near the hill called Tepeyac, dawn had already come, and Juan Diego heard someone calling him from the very top of the hill: “Juanito, Juan Dieguito.”

He went up the hill and caught sight of a lady of unearthly grandeur whose clothing was as radiant as the sun. She said to him in words both gentle and courteous: “Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all things live. It is my ardent desire that a church be erected here so that in it I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land and to those others who love me, that they might call upon and confide in me. Go to the Bishop of Mexico to make known to him what I greatly desire. Go and put all your efforts into this.”

When Juan Diego arrived in the presence of the Bishop, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, a Franciscan, the latter did not seem to believe Juan Diego and answered: “Come another time, and I will listen at leisure.”

Juan Diego returned to the hilltop where the Heavenly Lady was waiting, and he said to her: “My Lady, my maiden, I presented your message to the Bishop, but it seemed that he did not think it was the truth. For this reason I beg you to entrust your message to someone more illustrious who might convey it in order that they may believe it, for I am only an insignificant man.”

She answered him: “Humblest of my sons, I ask that tomorrow you again go to see the Bishop and tell him that I, the ever virgin holy Mary, Mother of God, am the one who personally sent you.”

But on the following day, Sunday, the Bishop again did not believe Juan Diego and told him that some sign was necessary so that he could believe that it was the Heavenly Lady herself who sent him. And then he dismissed Juan Diego.

On Monday Juan Diego did not return. His uncle, Juan Bernardino, became very ill, and at night asked Juan to go to Tlatelolco at daybreak to call a priest to hear his confession.

Juan Diego set out on Tuesday, but he went around the hill and passed on the other side, toward the east, so as to arrive quickly in Mexico City and to avoid being detained by the Heavenly Lady. But she came out to meet him on that side of the hill and said to him: “Listen and understand, my humblest son. There is nothing to frighten and distress you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who is here? Are you not under my protection? Are you not, fortunately, in my care? Do not let your uncle’s illness distress you. It is certain that he has already been cured. Go up to the hilltop, my son, where you will find flowers of various kinds. Cut them, and bring them into my presence.”

When Juan Diego reached the peak, he was astonished that so many Castilian roses had burst forth at a time when the frost was severe. He carried the roses in the folds of his tilma (mantle) to the Heavenly Lady. She said to him: “My son, this is the proof and the sign which you will bring to the Bishop so that he will see my will in it. You are my ambassador, very worthy of trust.”

Juan Diego set out on his way, now content and sure of succeeding. On arriving in the Bishop’s presence, he told him: “My Lord, I did what you asked. The Heavenly Lady complied with your request and fulfilled it. She sent me to the hilltop to cut some Castilian roses and told me to bring them to you in person. And this I am doing, so that you can see in them the sign you seek in order to carry out her will. Here they are; receive them.”

He immediately opened up his white mantle, and as all the different Castilian roses scattered to the ground, there was drawn on the cloak and suddenly appeared the precious image of the ever virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the same manner as it is today and is kept in her shrine of Tepeyac.

The whole city was stirred and came to see and admire her venerable image and to offer prayers to her; and following the command which the same Heavenly Lady gave to Juan Bernardino when she restored him to health, they called her by the name that she herself had used: “the ever virgin holy Mary of Guadalupe.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Priestly Ministry is NOT the easy yoke and light burden. What is?

This is the homily I gave this morning to priestly candidates in our SOLT Asia Pacific formation house.

If you have trouble listening, click here.

We read in the Program of Priestly Formation, the foundational document we use in the formation of priestly candidates:
"The basic principle of human formation is to be found in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 43: the human personality of the priest is to be a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the human race."
What does this mean, to be a bridge not an obstacle? Basically it means he is balanced, and thus capable of bearing the yoke of pastoral ministry squarely, joyfully, yet prudently on his shoulders:
"These qualities are needed for them to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. They need to be educated to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and, especially, to be balanced in judgment and behavior.”
Is this what Jesus meant when he said, in the Gospel for today:
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Does his yoke mean here the yoke of priestly ministry that young candidates to the priesthood like yourselves, would one day hope to carry?

NO! The yoke of priesthood is not easy. It is not light. It isn't a life of yippidy dippidy doo da I-get-to-do-whatever-I-want. It is a deep sacrifice, and if you place the very heavy burden of priesthood on a little boy's shoulders, the weight would crush him. That is why the Church documents on priesthood stress so much this idea of balance, or prudent judgment, someone who is able to really see things and people as they are, and respond accordingly, thus becoming in their very personality not an obstacle to Christ, but a living bridge, a means of communion with Christ. This is why our vocational screening of candidates has become so strict, why we think it is a success not a failure for someone to leave if they don't think they can handle the pressure, why we are not so carefree about our formation, why here in the formation house there is a very clear sense of discipline, duty, and responsibility. It is to emphasize to you as clearly as we possibly can, the weight of priestly ministry is not an easy yoke, or a light burden.

So what is Jesus referring to in the Gospel? What is he really talking about?

Well first lets take a step back and look at where we are. We are in Advent. Were you listening to the Office of Readings for today, when St Augustine says,
"God wanted us to be able to see the way in which his promises were redeemed when he began to discharge them. And so the time of the prophets was, as we have often said, the foretelling of the promises. He promised eternal salvation, everlasting happiness with the angels, an immortal inheritance, endless glory, the joyful vision of his face, his holy dwelling in heaven, and after resurrection from the dead no further fear of dying. This is as it were his final promise, the goal of all our striving. When we reach it, we shall ask for nothing more."
So what did God promise that Jesus is saying to fulfill in the Gospel for today? In Advent, if you have noticed, what is extremely common is to have a first reading that is fulfilled in the Gospel for the day. Today the promise God makes in the first reading of the prophet Isaiah is:
"He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.
Strength. Yesterday the word was Comfort, which from the Latin means com (expressing intensive force) + fortis (strong). Tomorrow's readings it says that God will grasp our right hands saying, "Fear not worm Jacob and maggot Israel." So it is strengthening week of Advent. The grace this week we should be very alive to is draw strength so that we can be open to the Lord's coming at Christmas.

What makes us weary? Sin! The spirit of this world is full of weariness, but that is only because it is full of sin and espoused to sin. The devil makes us weary because he entices us to sin. It is God that makes us strong. God makes us young and alive, giving us zest for life, real enthusiasm.

Pope Francis said to young people gathered for world youth day:
"When we look only for success, pleasure and possessions, and we turn these into idols, we may well have moments of exhilaration, an illusory sense of satisfaction, but ultimately we become enslaved, never satisfied, always looking for more. It is a tragic thing to see a young person who “has everything”, but is weary and weak.
Man was weary because of sin, because of the very deep burden of his own unredeemed humanity. So the Savior was promised to bring strength, comfort, and life.

So what is the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light? Love. Divine charity of God, St Paul says, "bears all things." Does he say that Joseph, Samson, or Christopher bears all things, or Fr Sam bears all things? NO! Love bears everything. What is so redeeming about the Redeemer is that he reveals that the only burden God wants us to carry is to remain in his Love. A son who knows he is loved by his father can do anything for him, even die on a cross for him bearing the weight of all sin. This was Jesus' strength. Remember right before this passage Jesus says, "I bless you one knows the Father but the Son and no one knows the Son but the Father and anyone to whom he reveals him"?

God the Father is what the Redeemer, what the little babe in Bethlehem came to bring. You can carry any weight if you have the Love of Abba Father. You can soar with eagles wings, run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. You can, God willing someday, carry the burden of priesthood solidly on your shoulders and it not a burden but the weight of joy. Every single day of my priesthood, even the most crushing, heavy, and difficult, have been pure joy! Why? Because I am so talented, witty, and good looking, because people love my homilies, because I am so physically fit? NO!! Because of my Father - because Abba is my Father, and if he is with me, I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Realistically, people love priests simply because they impart the Father's blessings and graces.

The places where we get this strength of love of the Father are:

1. Holy Mass. Never. Ever. Let a day go by without receiving holy communion, and never let a day go by as a priest without celebrating holy Mass, even if there is no one to celebrate with you. Mass is about Abba, primarily. It is about encountering the Love of the Father.

2. Blessed Mother Mary: This week of Advent, which we have dubbed strength week, began with the Immaculate Conception, and if there is anything that gives a man strength, puts heart into his heart and soul into his soul it is the Immaculate Purity of Our Lady. She makes strong men. Her Immaculate tender motherly affection can warm us up to the Love of Abba when life is difficult. She is consolation of the afflicted.

3. Confession. What is the biggest burden? You are! Or rather your sins will be the heaviest weight. Get rid of your sins. Go to confession every week. I go as a priest once or twice a week. i don't want the slightest thing dampening my joy and burdening my spirit. I want to remain in the Love of God that bears all things.

4. The Word of God: love reading the Scriptures, meditating and delighting in it, especially putting it into practice. The Gospel for the day is a bathing and washing in the Spirit and the Word.

5. Graced friendships: You meet Jesus and he brings you to all his friends. In seminary, you must learn to be good friends, not just good brothers, but good friends, loyal, kind, receptive, accepting, helping each other carry the burden of life together. This pattern of holy friendship will become the pattern of priestly, or pastoral, friendship with people, that you need to be able to make friends with others and learn how to listen, serve, and respond to them with magnanimity, hope, and active charity. But charity begins at home.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

God's Work in Advent is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” (40,1). We cannot be messengers of God's consolation if we do not experience first the joy of being consoled and loved by Him.
With these words, the Holy Father reminds us that Advent is a time of great comfort, a time when we are consoled by the Lord. Another consolation, the Holy Father says, is the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. He prayed on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
"Knowing that you, who are our Mother, are totally free from sin, is of great comfort to us.  Knowing that evil has no power over you, fills us with hope and strength in the daily struggle we have to face against the threats of the evil one."
Mary is, Comfort of the afflicted. We her children, having been consoled by her, become ready share her tender kindness with the afflicted, the poor, the distressed, and those who, for whatever reason, are lost and not capable of drawing near to the consolation that God gives. God seeks the lost sheep. In the Gospel for today we read:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.”
This is an Advent Gospel. It should be read differently than we normally read it. It is supposed to help prepare us for the coming of the Lord, so that Christ may be born into our hearts at Christmas in a way we have never known him before. If we work to level the mountains of our own self will, we prepare room for God to fill up our valleys.

One of the mountains in the Church today that needs leveling, is the spirit of triumphalism, the preaching to the choir, to cater to a select group who "get it" and spend our time patting ourselves on the back. It is not an exclusive club for the found, a place where we sit comfortably with the one found sheep. Pope Francis, speaking to a gathering for the diocese of Rome said,
"In this culture — let us tell the truth — we only have one, we are a minority! And do we feel the fervour, the apostolic zeal to go out and find the other 99? This is an enormous responsibility and we must ask the Lord for the grace of generosity, and the courage and patience to go out, to go out and preach the Gospel. Ah, this is difficult. It is easier to stay at home, with that one sheep! It is easier with that sheep to comb its fleece, to stroke it... but we priests and you Christians too, everyone: the Lord wants us to be shepherds, he does not want us to fuss with combing fleeces! Shepherds! And when a community is withdrawn, always among the same people who speak, this community is not a life-giving community. It is barren, it is not fertile. The fecundity of the Gospel comes through the grace of Jesus Christ, but through us, our preaching, our courage, our patience."
Pope Francis is trying to do this in the Church, to make it a Church for the lost, a home for the 99 lost sheep. Yet there are "found sheep" within the Church resisting, or perhaps we should call these what they are, unsheperdable goats. Are you a goat? Do you have a problem with the shepherd doing this? Got mountains that need leveling? This is the work of God right now in the Church, and he will never be able to fill up the rather huge valley where the lost sheep have strayed if the found don't get rid of their mountains of pride.

God is good, and in his goodness comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. We may be in need of a very deep shift of our attittude. It perhaps might be more than some of us can handle. This is true especially for those who struggle with hope, who have trouble seeing God working in the Church today, who think everything is falling apart. 

A survival reaction is to withdraw into a fortress, to regroup and take shelter in an attitude that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, so I want to distance myself from it, even distance myself from the lost sheep, or yes, even the "lost shepherds," those Church leaders who seem to don't focus on how lost everyone is or how bad everything is, but are trying different ways to comfort the many afflicted souls, the 99 lost sheep instead of the 1 who is comfortable in their fortress.

Let us hear God calling us to seek the lost. This is what can save the found, can redirect them, can humble them. When the Church focusses all its strength at doing what it is supposed to, to be a hospital for sinners, a refuge for the weary, and a consolation for the afflicted, it is then Christ can be born in her, placed in her like the poor manger that she is, fit to hold the King of kings, amidst the rejection, the coldness, the darkness of this world. There in spiritual Bethlehem, accompanied by Immaculate Mary, good St Joseph, and the host of angels, she shall sing a new song to the Lord, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those of good will."

May Mary, the Immaculate Conception, in her great gentleness, comfort the afflicted, and in her great gentleness, afflict the comfortable, that Christ truly may be born in the Church in a new way this Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2014

It is Possible to Stop Sinning? 5 Things to Help SinLess

For the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I asked Our Lady if I could stop sinning.

I am not talking about stopping from being a sinner, or not having the power of sin working in my heart that is on the road to redemption, nor am I presuming to be better than the just man, who, as Proverbs says, falls seven times a day (24:6).

What I asked Our Lady, was to get rid of the mindset of sin, the thick layer of error of the doctrine of the world, that crusts on my mind that becomes the background setting of things I end up having to confess in the Sacrament of Penance.

Martin Luther, arch-heretic, put it this way, "If you're going to sin, sin boldly, for the mercy of God is greater than your sin." Yeah that's the world talking. Not. God. Perhaps the Catholic version goes like this, "You can go to confession afterward, so you might as well enjoy for the moment." What a crock! So you forgot that sin wounds you? Why don't you just take a hammer and smash your fingers and then go to the Emergency Room?

Another way of putting it: everybody's doing it, so go ahead. Sin? Yeah it's normal. Those people that don't like it are weird. Again. Not. God. The norm of humanity, that we learn from Our Lady's Immaculate Conception is that, deeply, more deeply than we can understand, we were made for good. It is so deep in us that St Thomas Aquinas says that we cannot do evil unless it first appears to us as a good- which is another word for temptation.

In asking Mother Mary to stop sinning, I mean to ask her to be given a clear sight of the meaning and purpose of each act that I do, that I get rid of all other ends or goods, but the highest Good, God himself. Not what others are doing or not doing, not what is socially or ecclesiastically acceptable, but what God actually wants.

Here are 5 ways to accomplish what I am talking about:

1. Pray to Mary. A lot.
Ask. Don't just ask. Ask the one who when she asks God is not refused, i.e. knows how to ask. For most of this, it is just pure grace, which would explain why what I am saying will make sense, if you still don't quite get where I am coming from.

2. Place your death before you every day.
You were born yesterday and you'll be dead tomorrow. All you got is today. I mean really, I remember kindergarten like it was literally yesterday, and for the God to whom a thousand years are a day, well 30 years are not even a minute.

3. Ask where it will lead, to God or away, to heaven or to hell.
Why? Why are you doing that, saying that, thinking that? Is it going to bring you uptown or downtown, upstairs or downstairs, to heaven or to hell.

4. Go to confession. A lot.
I mean weekly, at least. Most of the time the errors of the world are in us because our conscience is rusty and dusty, and the sense of sin is non existent. If you writhe when I say, HELL, SIN, EVIL, and start making justifications, there is a good chance your heart needs a good cleaning. You wouldn't clean your kitchen once a month, and you have to cook there. Well you conscience is where most of your acts are cooked up.

5. Get rid of every possible occasion for grave sin.
Throw it out. Throw it away. Don't shake hands with it anymore. Don't play with it. Just get rid of it. If it causes you to sin, cut it off. Don't even attempt this one if you haven't 1-4. It will feel like you're cutting your arm off.

Here's the reason why I felt so emboldened to ask Our Lady for the grace to not sin again, the Sacred Liturgy. It is full of allusions to the Sinless Virgin helping us become sinless. So it is in fact the Church that leads us to ask Our Lady to become sinless as she is.

Opening Prayer:
Grant, we pray that, as you preserved her from every stain
by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw,
so, through her intercession,
we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence.

First Reading:
I will put emnity between you and the woman (Genesis 3:15)

Second Reading:
He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. (Ephesians 11:6)

Hail, full of grace! (Luke 1:26)

Prayer over the Offerings:
Grant that, as we profess her...
to be untouched by any stain of sin,
so, through her intercession,
we may be delivered from all our faults.

For you preserved the Most Blessed Virgin Mary
from all stain of original sin,
so that in her, endowed with the rich fullness of your grace,
you might prepare a worthy Mother for your Son
and signify the beginning of the Church,
his beautiful Bride without spot or wrinkle.
She, the most pure Virgin, was to bring forth a Son,
the innocent Lamb who would wipe away our offenses;
you placed her above all others
to be for your people an advocate of grace
and a model of holiness.

Prayer after Communion:
May the Sacrament we have received,
O Lord our God,
heal in us the wounds of that fault
from which in a singular way
you preserved Blessed Mary in her Immaculate Conception.
Through Christ our Lord.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary Magnifies and Glorifies Jesus Christ

Listen to my homily given to priestly candidates:

If you have trouble listening, click here.

Without Stain. Sin Macula. That is what Immaculate means. If you were God and you could make your own mom, I think you'd make her without sin too. That's exactly what God did. Jesus, true God and true man, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, saved his mother from sin, but unlike the rest of us, he applied the power of his Salvation at the moment of her conception. That is why we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary today, December 8th.

To make extra clear to all the faithful, the Church declared it a dogma. The most certain truths about Christianity are dogmas, the highest form of scriptural interpretation, i.e. what Scripture really means when it says, "I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman" (Genesis 3:15), or calling mary "full of grace" (Luke 1:28), in greek kecharitomene. Dogmas are things that we believe are not in any way the teachings of any man, but the teachings of Jesus Christ himself. The formula of this proclamation reads:
"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful." -Ineffabilis Deus by Blessed Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854
Why is celebrating this Solemnity so important?

Mary reminds us that we were made for God not for sin. If it is possible for one of our race to never sin, it is possible for all of us to become free of it eternally. It also makes clear that it is possible for us to never sin gravely. Ever. Again.

She overthrows the spirit of the world

Mary is a good Mother. If we are dirty she is going to give us a good cleaning, even scrubbing behind the ears. One of the errors of the world, one of its doctrines that is shoved down our throats constantly is that sin is perfectly normal, not only that it is ok to do, but that someone who does not sin must be quite abnormal. This is a lie. We are not made for sin, the same way the most precious treasure chest is meant to hold riches, not to be thrown in the mud.

A fish is made for water. A man is made for air. Mix them up and they die. We are made for God. Takes us away or substitute and we too will die. Eternally.

She frees from the spirit of the flesh

Mary's Immaculate Conception is a privileged mystery, or truth about Jesus' relationship with her, that is powerful in freeing people from the sins of the flesh. By showing us that we were not made for sin, for lust, for impurity, for fornication, adultery, or even the interior gaze of fornication or adultery of our spirit, she shows us how to not make provisions for the spirit of the flesh. She shows us to not permit excuses. 

Adultery and fornication always claim very good excuses. You are tired? Your work is exhausting? You feel lonely and maybe your wife doesn't quite understand you all the time? You think that is justification to go looking elsewhere? You don't feel good about your marriage? Or perhaps you are single, or a committed celibate? You feel lonely and your life is hard? Your prayer life is dry and no one really is there for you even though you are there for everyone else? There are always excuses. Mary's Immaculate Conception reveals to us that no excuse is ever justifiable cause for sin. Sin is abnormal, and you were not made for it. Got trouble? Quit playing with it, or fussing about it and GIVE IT TO GOD!

She liberates from attachment to sin

Her Immaculate Conception is the refuge of all those who are entrenched in sin, who need a deep shock, some powerful God voltage, to boost them up out of their sins. This is especially true for those who struggle with obsessions of any kind, those things which seem to make sin almost involuntary, the deeper kind of bondage that Our Lady breaks: depression, deep self-absorbtion, alcoholism, drug addiction, anorexia, self-mutilation or cutting, porn addiction, or any lust addiction, or any kind of thing that renders us incapable of freely giving ourselves to God and to each other in self-mastery.

She pushes back hell's rusty gates

She is also promised to be the one who crushes the head of the demon in Genesis 3:15. "She shall crush the head of the serpent." The foul vermin of hell suffocate at her Immaculate fragrance, and to approach Mary is to depart from their clutches, to embrace heaven, to be held in eternity's embrace.

The Immaculate Conception inspires great confidence in God's power

Never has it been known that anyone ever went to her and was left unaided. To ask her is to receive from God. She is so perfectly united with Jesus as his chosen instrument through which he prefers to bestow blessings that to go to Jesus without going through intercession is like the fool who claims to see the stars better without a telescope, to view cellular development without a microscope, or to walk rather than take the speed train. She said, "My soul magnifies The Lord" (Luke 1:46). This is a true description of what she does.

Her intercession engenders humility

You wouldn't ask an important person, like the president, prime minister, or the pope directly for a favor unless you were their favored assistant. Guess what? You're not, but Mary is. Yes you have immediate access to the Father through Jesus and all you need do is ask Jesus, but the problem is that our asking is full of sin, self-will, and often impure motives. Mary's is not. No one goes to the Father except through Jesus (Jn 14:6), but no one goes through Jesus except through Mary. Jesus is the head of the Church but Mary is the neck through which the whole Body relates to him. Jesus is the King, but he has raised up his Queen, "the Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and a crown of twelve stars," (Rev 12:1).

She reveals God's utmost tender kindness

Mama. You can't say it without thinking of a baby being nurtured and held, diapers being changed, or a baby crying out in need. That is who she is. She is your mama. God relates to us his power, especially through the power of Christ's Cross and glorious Resurrection, but it is the gaze of Mary, that we encounter the gentle invitation to discover God's sweet ineffable tenderness. Just take a look at any icon of Mary holding her baby, which seems to say, "Would you like to hold him?" Look at any image of Mary pregnant with God in her womb. The most obvious way of contemplating that the tinier and hidden God is in your life, even like a fetus, you would have to go through the Mother to communicate with the Son.

May Mary, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!

Embracing the Future, Hidden Glory, with Hope (3 of 3)

 Amidst a crazy storm, such peace, joy, and embracing the future with real hope.

The three aims of the Year of Consecrated Life, to look at the past with thanksgiving, live the present with passion, and embrace the future with hope, beautifully coincide with St Bernard's "three comings of Christ" from his Advent Sermon. This is the third of a three part series reflecting on this.

How do we Embrace the Future with Hope?

We read on Easter Sunday:
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Colossians 3:1-4
Notice how it begins in the past tense, "you have been raised with Christ," describing what grace has already accomplished, present tense,"seek the things that are above," on how to conduct ourselves in light of the past, and in future tense when referring to the fulfillment, "you also will appear with him in glory"?  The past, present, and future, are all "hidden in Christ with God." The way we have access to their meaning is Jesus Christ. He IS their meaning.

We can embrace the future glory with hope because we embrace Christ. A person reveals a lot about themselves when they reveal what they think the future holds. Want to know what the secular world thinks, just look at the wide array of dystopian noir films about how dark and dreary the future will be. Robots will take over the world and destroy it. Tyranny and erratic domination will eventually be the norm of future governments. Man will escape the control of his own capacities and it will ultimately destroy him. Really? Sad to be you if that's what you really think.

However sad this is, it is by far much worse when the prophets of the doom are actually not in the secular world, but in the Church. The forecasters of destruction often are lacking one simple thing: HOPE. They do not see the future hidden in Christ with God because they do not see the past or present that way. They do not see. As Pope St John XXIII said,
"At times we have to listen, much to our regret, to the voices of people who, though burning with zeal, lack a sense of discretion and measure. In this modern age they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin … We feel that we must disagree with those prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand."
Guess what? The end of the world is at hand. Jesus ushered in the end times, and there have been wars and rumors of wars, and nations rising against nations, great distress for the past two thousand years. What do you do about it? That is the real question. Of course we live each day as if it were our last, of course we live as if Jesus is coming back soon, hopefully very soon, but that doesn't mean that you sow seeds of discord, breed malcontent, and get busy hatin', or even go so far as attack the Holy Father because you think the Church is falling apart. Man has always been falling apart.

The good news is that God is alive and very active in his Church. This is the message that a consecrated person is supposed to broadcast with all of their actions and words, especially those on social media. They are to be prophets of the living Mercy of God, not prophets of doom.

The future: the priestly candidates I live with and serve,
the hope of the Church.
The good news that allows us to embrace the future in hope is especially visible in a seminary. Here newly professed consecrated men are discerning and preparing to become priests. Pope Francis gave a special message to young consecrated persons in his letter for the Year of Consecrated Life:
"I would especially like to say a word to those of you who are young. You are the present, since you are already taking active part in the lives of your Institutes, offering all the freshness and generosity of your “yes”. At the same time you are the future, for soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service and mission of your communities. This Year should see you actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation. In fraternal communion you will be enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by your own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism. In this way the entire community can join in finding new ways of living the Gospel and responding more effectively to the need for witness and proclamation."
The young have much to offer and much to teach us. There are a few men living in my house who are constantly sowing seeds of hope. By their idealism, their way of moving that reveals they actually believe that with God all things are possible, by their moral uprightness and desire for what is good, they cannot help but engender hope. The young are a gift of hope to us.

This is also true of young institutes and societies. I have great hope for my own community, for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity because it is so young, only 56 years old, and you could say that it can offer the Church the "freshness and generosity" while being open to be guided by older communities in the Church, "enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by [its] own energy and enthusiasm." 

God of course is my hope, which lies hidden in Christ with God, but he uses my community to be a living sign, to BE a tangible, incarnate embrace of the future with hope. I pray fervently for my community every day, that each and every single person, priest, consecrated person, and lay person may show the Church how to embrace the future with a living hope.

May all communities, young and old, bear great fruitfulness in the witness of the good things yet to come. May Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity bring about that communion of religious families for mutual enrichment and hope.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Typhoon Hagupit Leaves with Minimal Damage and We Invite you to Thank God with us

Thanks for your prayers. Though the winds still blow and rains still fall, the worst of Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) is over. No major trees down. Our electricity remained all the way through, which is somewhat of a small miracle considering it usually gives out in heavy rains. Most especially we are grateful that everyone is alright, that it has passed with minimal structural damage and minimal deaths considering Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) last year.

I do not wonder why, all of a sudden for no apparent reason, the storm decreased in intensity, or why 1 million people were inspired to evacuate, which drastically reduced the mortalities due to storm surges and fallen debris. Obviously this is due to the power of prayer. Although intercessory prayer is very powerful and crises have a way of rousing people to repent and seek God, equally or even more important  is the prayer of thanksgiving.

I invite you now to join our community in thanking God, through the intercession of she who is the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow, Monday, December 8, 2014.

May God be praised, adored, and glorified, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Living the Present, Calvary, with Passion (2 of 3)

The aims of the Year for Consecrated Life, to look at the past with thanksgiving, to live the present with passion, and to embrace to the future with hope, beautifully coincide with St Bernard's, "three comings of Christ" taken from his famous Advent Sermon. In this post (2 of 3) I will look at living the present, Calvary, with passion.

St Bernard says that the "intermediate coming," i.e. the present one, is invisible and more illusive than the other two. For this reason it is much easier missed, or expected to be a display of omnipotence rather than the presence of the Crucified Lord, recognizable only in the lives of those who believe:
"It is invisible, while the other two are visible...In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty."
Above you see typical Filipino children: joyful, poor, playful, in search of food as much as they are in search of adventure. I live at a seminary here in rural rice farming community of Camarines Sur, Philippines, and almost every time I go into Naga City, I encounter very young street children. They always have a way of waking and shaking me up, of calling me out of myself, and making me aware of the present situation.

The present situation is Calvary. God does not appear in glory as the just judge, not yet. He comes to us in disguise as a beggar, asking for our attention, for a scrap of love. The truth of the eternal and perfect unconditional love of God is not known, the face of the Kingdom Christ came to share is marred often beyond recognition.

In the Philippines, the bishops have declared, "The Year of the Poor." In the message for this year, "The Gaze of the Crucified Lord," we read:
"Behold Jesus, poor. No image of Jesus, poor, surpasses this one. Jesus hangs from his Cross stripped of his clothes, his dignity, his possessions, his power, his strength. He is fully one with the unwashed, the oppressed, the scorned, the powerless, the miserable, the outcaste. In the Year of the Poor, look into the eyes of the crucified Lord. There is no experience richer."
Jesus Christ in his disguise has to intrude into our lives in order for us to even be aware of the present. Yesterday I had two such little messengers on the street intrude. I felt my leg being flicked, and I didn't have to look down to know what that meant. I saw two smiling boys, brothers arm in arm, begging for food. They were there to remind me once again of the present moment, of my own present moment, of my own poverty, and responding in compassion was the only way I could truly reply, and still call myself a man consecrated to God. We were right next to a street vendor selling corn on the cob. I bought them one, broke it in half and said in their dialect, "Jesus loves you. Be good and stay out of trouble." Many of the street children sniff glue to blunt their pain or commit petty thefts. I looked up and there was a group of people smiling at me to actually see a religious taking care of the very ones for whom he ought have preference. It was a wake up shake up experience reminding me of who I am.

Living the Present in the Passion of Christ

Are you aware of what is going on right now from God's perspective (the only objective one)? In the Church, in the world, even in your soul according to God's grace? To say that you do, is to lapse into presumption. Because sin, not only divides us from God, from each other, and even from ourselves, not only are we truly not present to God, to our neighbor, but we cannot say that we are even really present to ourselves. We are not present to the present.

As the Advent collect reads, "since we have no merits of our own," we need the merits of Jesus Christ, that he obtained for us by his Most Sacred Passion, in order to be present to the present. It is also his glorious disguise of poverty, littleness, and vulnerability, that intrudes into our narrow scope of existence to wake us and shake us up.

A consecrated person, is a person that has woken up, that has been made aware of what is really going on, most especially made aware of the real crucified face of the love of God. The love of God in the present moment appears very poor, does not put on heirs, is not sophisticated and streamlined, but is the humblest thing beyond our imaginings. It is only a person who has truly woken up, that can, as Pope Francis is asking of consecrated persons this year, "Wake up the World!"

The other great wake up call that consecrated men and women have are their vows, particularly that of obedience. If I want to really understand my own situation I need to look at my obedience. What is God asking of me right now? What is he focussing me on? What is my daily bread, my daily sacrificial offering of my life entail? I should ask, what is my assignment?

Superiors really are THE prophet in our lives. They are the authenticated representative of God's providential Will, that mediate to us what God is really asking of us, and what he is not asking of us. Married people have this too, which comes from their vows to each other. In serving married couples, I ask them to be very careful of their wife or husband, of what they are saying, desiring, or asking of them, because there is no greater prophet who mediates God's will than the one they have been vowed to obey.

Granted, the deeper vows of our baptism that have bound us to the Most Holy Trinity are an even more primordial prophet that reveal God's ultimate Will, but the vows we have taken to obey the particular and specific present community, person, and circumstance, reveals the true cross that we have been asked to carry.

This is made even more clear when a spouse, or even a superior, God forbid, is unfaithful, or lacking in any way to their vows of baptism, for what they lack, we are asked to fill up in the beauty of true love's ugliness, i.e. its real sacrifice, the one we never thought of when we were first engaged, or in our novitiate, when love's discovery of the other was only in principle and novelty. Please don't misunderstand me, many times it is not a superior who is unfaithful, for they are usually chosen for being upright and level-headed, but they frequently ask of us to do difficult things, to reveal love where there is not, to bring fidelity where there is not, be hope where there is not.

This where we see the present, that it is really Calvary, and the demands of what love, true love, of which St Paul says, "bears all things" is asking us to carry. This too is where secondary causes such as superiors or spouses reveal the first and final cause, the Love of God, which obedience and the radical demands of this Love, are the only thing that can free us and reveal to us the reality of the present Calvary.

How to LIve the Present with the Passion of Christ

God's plan of consecrating our poverty to God will undoubtedly bring us to the Passion of Christ. The source, summit, and center of consecrated life is Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. There the treasure chest of merits of his Sacred Passion are wide open to us. There we appropriate the sufferings, joys, hopes, lights, and glories of our life into eternal life, where we truly realize the present moment with Passion.

The Sacrament of Confession too is where the merits of the Savior are applied to us particularly, where Jesus is present to our naked poverty, who we really are, men and women in need of his mercy.

The poor also are the living crucifixes, to remind us, to wake us and shake us up, that we make shake up and wake up this world, that is in most desperate need of God.

Community life! What a crucifixion, what a glory! It is the place where we can either be sucked dry or fanned into flame that was once given us. God is calling each community to go to the Passion of Christ collectively. It calls for consecrated persons to courageously enter into a frank and open dialogue with the members of their household and not fear to honestly and charitably make an examination of conscience, not pointing the finger, but lifting each other up with helping hands, as we encounter our brother's and sister's poverty through the lens of our own poverty, the invitation to respond in love, "for by bearing one another's burdens we fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).

Finally the Church, now more than ever, is experiencing its own poverty. Ecclesiastical crucifixions are ever so common, where circumstances in communities, particularly scandals against chastity, poverty, and obedience rock the foundations of the Church. Here we are asked to respond with charity's particularly mature prudence and a very firm resolve to not fail to be present to the Church. For the redemption the Redeemer is leading his consecrated people through at this point in history, could only be to wake up and shake up the world, as to its own desperate need for redemption.

May God grant us saints! That is what is needed now more than ever, that the grace of consecration, of public profession of the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

May Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, bring each consecrated man and woman to be on fire with Christ's Passion, and bring forth a harvest of holiness for the redemption of all mankind!