Saturday, April 1, 2017

worship at the cathedral 6 - the veil

This Sunday when you enter the cathedral you will feel a little bit spooky and you begin to wonder whether the parish priest decided to celebrate halloween a day after April Fool's. No, its not halloween.  This Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Lent is Passiontide Sunday, the Sunday we begin using the Preface of the Lord's Passion.  From here on, the gospel according to John will recall the growing tension that would mark the relationship of Jesus and the Jewish authorities until it culminates in Good Friday.  And as an added feature of this Sunday, all crucifixes, all sacred images (except the stations of the cross) are veiled with a purple cloth.
The veils have a purpose and some of them will be explained in the homilies by our mass celebrants, I presume.  So I won't dwell on all those reasons.  (Otherwise you won't listen anymore to the homilies.) Veils may make the already spooky cathedral spookier (I remember a high school seminarian who told me that when he was very young, every time he entered the dark cathedral he held tightly his mother's arms because he felt so afraid of the big statues staring down at him from above their perches.), but they are placed there for a reason, two reasons.

psalm 106 - they exchanged their glory - 4th week lent thursday

Two things from psalm 106 our responsorial psalm.  First when Israel worshiped the golden calf the psalm says, "they exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bullock.  They exchanged their glory."  When we commit sin we do not debase God, rather we debase ourselves.  When we hate, when we take revenge, when we kill, we do not debase God, we debase our humanity, we are making ourselves less human.  This is the effect of sin.  Sin does not harm God, we harm ourselves by sin.

psalm 30 - the oscillation is important - 4th week lent monday

Today we reflect on our psalm, psalm 30.  The fathers of the church see in this psalm the joy of Easter.  In fact this psalm is traditionally entitled as "Christ gives thanks to the Father for his glorious Resurrection.”  So early on, while still in the middle of lent we are already given a glimpse of the joy of Easter. We can see this in the contrast presented by the psalm, "For his anger lasts but a moment; a lifetime, his good will.  At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing. You changed my mourning into dancing;  O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks." The mood oscillates from the terrible and crushing experience of defeat to an experience of liberation and joy of victory.

psalm 23 - "Lord at my side" 4th sunday lent

Today we reflect on Psalm 23, the most famous psalm, the all-time favorite psalm.
If you are keen in studying this psalm you will notice that in the first part the psalmist speaks of God in the third person – "the Lord is my shepherd, he gives me repose, he leads me to restful waters, he refreshes my soul, he guides me."
Then right in the middle of the psalm, the psalmist changes tone and begins talking to God, instead of talking about God.  And so the psalmist says, "for you are at my side, with your rod and your staff; You spread the table before me; you anoint my head with oil."  If you notice the shift happens when we reach that point which says "for you are at my side" "for you are with me." This Hebrew phrase is exactly at the middle.  If you count the Hebrew words before this phrase the total would be 26 words.  If you count the Hebrew words after this phrase, the total would again be 26.

worship at the cathedral 5 - laetare sunday

This Sunday is Laetare Sunday.  So many things had been said about the color and the antiphon of this Sunday and so many still will be said about them today, and so I would like to be excused.  Instead I would like to write something that I just discovered about this Sunday and I hope it would add another level of meaning to what we already knew so well.
Unknown to many and to me, this Sunday is also called "Dominica de Rosa" or Rose Sunday.  It is not referring primarily to the color of the vestments which is old rose (Not pink, ok! [which is the reason why some priests may not be so at home with the color or wearing it, they elicit some smiles from the faithful] By the way, my professor in liturgy once told us in one of his classes that universally, pink is the male color and blue is feminine [in the Philippines, it's the other way around], which explains the Virgin Mother's color.  Is this true?). 

psalm 95 - our shadow lurks - 3rd sunday of lent

Today in this 3rd Sunday of lent, in the middle of lent Psalm 95 a royal psalm is read to us.  This psalm is familiar to all of us since this is usually the first psalm recited in the morning.  If you notice in the psalm there is a call to praise, yet there is an admonition, a reprimand; there is worship and honor and also there is the reminder of temptation and failure.  In Israel, these two are combined - celebration and castigation; joy and penitence; praise and admonition.  It is a reminder that even though the water, the life-giving water of which our readings today are replete today, even though the saving waters of baptism are given us, life is still at best a struggle – good but not yet; holy but not yet; devout but not yet; saintly but not yet.  

psalm 103 - talking to yourself about god - 2nd wk lent saturday

This is one psalm, psalm 103, where David is not talking to anybody in particular.  He is not exhorting people to join him in praising God.  No, he is not.  David is actually talking to himself.  He is telling himself, "Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."
We are also doing this, talking to ourselves about people, about a situation and even like David, we talked to ourselves about God.  Probably this is what most of you have done today, talking to yourself about God, talking to yourself about your situation, about your stay here in this seminary.
It is said that “no one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.” (Paul Tripp) We often talk to ourselves and because we often talk to ourselves we influence ourselves more, we persuade ourselves more, we stimulate ourselves more, we motivate and change ourselves more than any other people can and are capable.  Why?  Because we talked to ourselves more often.  So, let us stop pretending blaming what other people made us do. 

psalm 103 - hesed and rahem - loyal love and womb love - Family Day St. Joseph School

Today we reflect on psalm 103 and in this psalm there are two words which describes God's relationship with us. 
First is the Hebrew word hesed. Hesed means loyal love, it is faithfulness, it is unchanging love, it is love which knows no seasons.  Hesed means he is true to one's promises, she is true to her word.  Remember the time we were small when adults would tease us telling us ay hala mo, wala na si mama mo, ginbayaan ka na ni papa mo.  And we would cry or at the very least we would frantically seek them out if only to be reassured that they are still there.  That is why hesed is a word that can be found in psalms that are usually said as morning prayers. Why so?  Because we have survived the night, we have gone through darkness, and at dawn, when light can be seen again, and all can be seen clearly again, hesed is praised, hesed is recognized. We were not abandoned, nobody left anyone, people are loyal, people are faithful. It is steadfast love, a love that does not fail, as sure as the sun shall rise in the morning.

via crucis - he leads the way of the cross - DOI 2017

One of the thoughts that gave me strength when I was in terrible pain because of arthritis was not the thought of a powerful God, or of a miracle working God.  Rather it was the simple belief that God too was in pain when I was in pain, that God too was crying with me when I cried in my frustrations, that God was also angry as I was angry because of my disability.  God may not have healed me but he was with me in my pain.
This is also the kind of God we meet on our way of the cross.  It is not a God who will carry the cross for us so that we can live a life of convenience.  It is not a God who will not allow us to slip or fall so that we won't bruise our legs.  It is not a God who will miraculously save us from crisis and trials and pain and suffering.   This is not the God we will meet today.  Instead we will meet a God who leads the way of the cross - he stumbles with us, he is pained when we are pained, he is grieved when we are crying, he is burdened when we are burdened.  Put in mind what St Paul says, when we have died with him we shall also live with him.

psalm 50 - go for real food - 2nd week of lent Tuesday

In Psalm 50 our responsorial psalm in this mass, God accuses Israel of becoming superficial in their faith.  They recite his statutes and profess his covenant with their mouth and yet they cast behind their backs the word of God.  In a single word this is what we refer to as hypocrisy.  Lain ang hambal, lain ang ginabuhat; palasimba pero palalibak man; naga-hatag limos sa nagakinahanglan pero wala nagahatag sang nagakaigo sa nagatrabaho. Our actions do not coincide with what we believe; our decisions are not informed and formed by our faith.  There is a dichotomy, a separation between belief and deed.  There is a wide gap between faith and action.
Psalm 50 therefore reminds us of the dangers we encounter in our effort to become religious, in our effort to become godly and nowhere is this danger so manifest and so rabid than in lent, in the practices of lent.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

worship at the cathedral 3

My take on abstinence...
Abstinence is an act of doing without, a giving up of something good.  It is done in the spirit of sacrifice. As Catholics we are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent. 
First, this abstinence from meat works on the presumption that meat is good.  Precisely it is a sacrifice because it is good.  We don't sacrifice something we don't like in the first place. 
Second, abstinence from meat works also on the presumption that meat is always associated with fiestas and celebrations.  Thus, even today, we often overhear people say in celebrations, "baw, grabe nga fiesta lima gid ka lechon," or "nag-ihaw gid sila duha ka baboy ka isa ka baka," which can only mean that the celebration is grander.
Third, it also works on the presumption that meat is luxury.  Meat cost a bit more.  Thus, to abstain from meats means to eat only the less expensive and simple food.

psalm 34: remembering - tuesday 1st week lent

Our psalm today has two parts.  First there is the exhortation to remember together the good that the Lord did for us.  Last week if you can still remember, I invited you to make and fulfill your panaad to the Lord as a reflection on Psalm 50 which exhorts us to fulfill our vows to the Lord. A panaad is a vow made to God when you were in trouble.  It is not to bribe God.  It is not to pay God his salary for doing his work on us.  Rather, a panaad is simply fulfilling your word to God.  It is going back to the time when God helped you when you were in deep trouble.  It is remembering.
Today as we reflect on our responsorial psalm, psalm 34, the psalm also invites us to look into, to examine once more, to relive as it were the personal goodness of God to you, to each one of us.  Many times, we easily forget God's loving care for us when he answered our prayers.  So, in first stanza of today's responsorial psalm the psalmist tells the people of the time when, he sought the LORD, and the Lord answered him and delivered him from all his fears. Thus, he asked the people to come and Glorify the LORD with me, let us together extol his name.  Remembering in the bible is very important.  In Greek the word used is anamnesis.  Anamnesis is not just a mental exercise of remembering.  It is not just a remembering in one's head, using just one's memory.  Rather anamnesis is making present what has happened in the past.  Every prayer we make is an act of remembering what God has done in the past so that God will continue to do what he has done in the present.  That is how important remembering is in our relationship with God so much so that Jesus every time we consecrate the bread and wine in the mass will tell us to do this in remembrance of me.

psalm 51: shame and a broken spirit - 1st sunday lent

I would like to continue where we left off in our reflection last Ash Wednesday as we reflected on psalm 51, our responsorial psalm.  Let me recall first that this psalm is David's prayer after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan when he committed the sin of adultery with a married woman by the name of Bathsheba, and this adultery led him to tell lies, and these lying led him to commit murder.  So it's a sinfulness that spiraled out of control.  And David wanted to hide it.
Two things about sin.
First, whenever we commit sin or make a mistake our tendency is always to hide or to deny, not to admit or at least to rationalize, to reason out in order to lessen the impact of our fault or to avoid full responsibility.  David would have wanted to put his sins behind him, to hide them thinking that nobody would know.  He thought it was a perfect crime.  But the prophet Nathan confronted him and once again put his sin before him – um ari ho ipanginwala pa da, tago-tago-on mo pa. And so what did David say?  Psalm 51, "have mercy on me O God in your kindness...For I acknowledge my offense and my sin is before me always."  In this psalm, David acknowledges that his sin is before him always – he committed adultery with Bathsheba whose husband he murdered so that he could cover up his adultery.  But with the confrontation of the Prophet Nathan he had to learn to admit his sin, to humbly acknowledge his frailty, to even shamefully admit his mistake.

worship at the cathedral 2

The first noticeable sign that lent is here, aside from the ashes on our foreheads, is the conspicuous absence of the "alleluia" in the mass and in the breviary (that is, if you are praying the breviary).  Alleluia is a Hebrew word which means "praise the Lord."  Aside from the trisagion or the sanctus of the mass (holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of host...), the alleluia, the bible says, is the song sung by the choir of angels praising God before His holy throne in the kingdom of heaven.  Singing this song is eschatological, that is, we are already looking forward to the day when we shall join our voices with the angels in heaven.  (That is why I always advise people in the mass that if they plan to go to heaven, they better sing these songs while they are still here on earth, so that when they reach heaven the songs are already familiar.  And by the way, those who do not sing have no plans going there!)
So why suppress the alleluia? 

psalm 51: a misplaced heart - ash wednesday

Today we reflect on psalm 51, our responsorial psalm.  This is the psalm we pray every Friday morning.  This psalm is entitled "A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba."  That’s the title.  I believe you know the story – David had an affair with a married woman Bathsheba which produced a child.  To cover up the sin, he persuaded the husband Uriah to sleep with his wife.  But after several failed attempts to convince Uriah to do so David panicked and had him sent to battle where the fighting is fiercest so that he would surely get killed.  With the husband dead, he married Bathsheba.  This is the trademark of sin – it leads one deeper and deeper into the abyss.  Adultery led to lying and cover-up which eventually led to murder. David’s conscience however bothered and haunted him.  And because God loved David so much, God did not want him to be destroyed by this hidden sin.  And so one day the prophet Nathan confronted David of his sin and in great remorse psalm 51, the great psalm of mercy, was composed.

psalm 50: attitudes for worship - tuesday 8th week

We continue our reflection on our responsorial psalm, psalm 50.  In this psalm God gathers all the people of Israel to indict them.  In Psalm 50 God is the accuser, he is the judge and he is even the witness.  And what was Israel's fault?  What was God's accusation?
This is Israel's fault – It is not for making and offering sacrifices but the mindset that accompany their sacrifices to God.  And what was the mindset – that God needs the sacrifices that I offer him.  Israel then was offering animal sacrifices and so they thought that God needs these sacrifices because he was hungry, because he needed to drink the blood of these animals and to eat their flesh.  The point is, to offer worship to God because they thought that God needed this worship.  This was the wrong mindset in their prayer, the wrong mindset in their worship.  Ang ginahimo naton amo nga daw ang Dios ang ginapa-utang naton agod to kon may kinahanglanon kita sa iya dapat niya sabton.  Amo ni kon kaisa ang danger sang mga novena.  I will complete my aguinaldo masses so that in effect I can put God into my debt, I can oblige God to listen to my prayers.  Psalm 50 is against this mentality.  Instead it offers us the right attitudes for worship.  And what are these.  I will just cite two.

worship at the cathedral 1

With this issue I start this column on the prayer and worship activities of the parish.  I was told that this is part of my work as the Special Assistant for Liturgical Affairs.  I have still to clarify whether this column is something that I have to do weekly or every other week or whatever.  Suffice to say, to begin this column at the beginning of Lent means this will be an added penance on my part.  How opportune indeed!
Filipinos are known for our many lenten practices, practices that are unique, colorful, and frankly, quite off-the-wall at times.  We don't put long faces on lent.  I suspect, we even enjoy it.  Our foreheads may be prominently marked with ashes but just the same we eat our burgers with gusto unmindful (or perhaps forgetful) that these activities don't mix.  Our visita iglesia can also become a question of who cooks the better bibingka as rows of makeshift ovens lineup the facade of every church we visit.  On Good Friday, our saints are dressed in glittering livery, richly embroidered, some with gold threads as they soberly and solemnly accompany our almost naked Lord hanging on the cross.  And quite frankly, on a personal note, I like the food better during days of fasting.  And I believe seminarians would agree with me too.  Special food is always looked forward to during lent.

psalm 1: whom do you allow to influence you - thursday 7th week

There is something curious in our responsorial psalm, psalm number 1.  Instead of simply saying do not be wicked it says instead, Blessed be the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked.  Instead of simply saying do not sin, it says Blessed be the man who does not walk in the way of sinners.  Instead of simply saying do not act like the insolent, do not mock God, it says instead do not sit in the company of the insolent.  Why not just say it directly, why not say it plainly? 
Well, it can't and this psalm chooses not to, because this psalm is not talking about committing sin, it is not about being a sinner.  Instead it asks the question whom do you allow to influence you?  Whom or what do you allow to shape your life?  To whom do you give your attention to?  If you notice the contrast in the psalm is not wicked versus righteous, sinner versus saint, ungodly versus godly.  Instead the contrast centers on listening to the counsel of the wicked, walking in the way of sinner, sitting in the company of the insolent versus delighting in the way of the Lord, meditating on is law, day and night.  It is about whom do you allow to influence your words, thoughts and actions; whom do you listen to when you make decisions; whom do you consult when you make judgments?

sikomoro thesis defense

Once again we have (for many) completed this two-day thesis defense, a partial but crucial requirement for graduation.  For the class sikomoro, they can finally breathe a sigh of relief now that the tension filled weeks are over.  It is however my hope that it will not simply end as an academic exercise we are too happy and too eager to get over with.  It is my hope that discussions like this continue.  It is only through exercises like this that we can promote a new kind of politics, a new way of doing things. 

psalm 37: greatness is service - tuesday 7th week

I would like to continue reflecting on our responsorial psalm today - psalm 37.  This psalm addresses a problem that bothers us even to this day.  And what is this problem – why is it that those who do evil seem to prosper while those who do good suffer?  This is a question we encounter from time to time, isn’t it?  In this psalm this questioning is condemned because it is accompanied by resentment and envy -  how is it that the wicked seem to prosper, how is it that evil people seem to get the good things in life, while I who go to mass every day, while I who observe his commandments, suffer or at the very least have to do with less?  Isn’t God unjust?
Psalm 37 is a prayer encouraging the good not to be envious in the face of such paradox.  Specifically it tells us to do three things:  First we need to trust in the Lord – God is in control and whatever God does, God has a purpose.  So trust him.  Second the psalm tells us to take delight in the Lord, to find fulfilment in God, to find your happiness in God and not in the things this world can offer.  And lastly, it exhorts the good person to commit his way to the Lord despite the seeming triumph of evil, to commit oneself in doing good because in the end the good will be vindicated, the good will triumph and evil will be defeated.