Wednesday, August 24, 2016

even nature praises God - psalm 96 - 21st week tuesday

We continue to reflect on the psalms, this time psalm 96.
Psalm 96 has several things to teach us.  First.  It is not just the people or the nations that are praising God.  Nature is also praising God, the very fabric of creation praises God. The sky, the earth, the seas, the field are all commanded to praise the Lord.  In the bible nature, the things around us, has sacred meaning.  For example, the mountain because of its height and grandeur symbolizes the place of divine encounter.  The rain symbolizes God's care for the earth.  The oceans speak of God's immensity and vastness.  The waves of the ocean and the roar when it reaches the shore or smashes on the rocks and outcrops, these waves speak of God's power and might.  The clouds speak of God's presence, as light also does, as its opposite, darkness, speaks of God's absence.

inner beauty - psalm 45 - assumption

I have been reflecting on the responsorial psalms of the mass these past few months now and I would like to continue doing so today on the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Today we reflect on beauty, specifically on the beautiful bride praised exceedingly by the equally dashing bridegroom in psalm 45. 
I believe I have enough credentials to speak on beauty.  For one I was exposed early in life to the beautiful.  After all my elementary years were spent in Assumption with so many beautiful classmates and schoolmates.  I was also voted last year as outstanding teacher in Philosophy.  I am teaching Aesthetics, the Philosophy of Beauty.  And I would always tell the seminarians that if ever they leave the seminary for good they should show me at least the reason why, so that I could judge whether she is indeed worth leaving behind the priesthood.  After all I am an authority on beauty.
Seriously now.  Since I am surrounded by some old boys, and old girls mostly, who are in various degrees in their struggle to remain beautiful – many can still do so with some degree of efficacy but others are simply a struggle in futility – and since this is so, you would prefer rather that we reflect today on inner beauty.

love god's word - psalm 119 - 19th week tuesday

Today we read Psalm 119.  It is the longest psalm with 176 verses, and therefore it is also the longest chapter in the bible.  In the bible length is always an indication that something is very important.  If you have listened carefully in the reading of the psalm you will hear different words but always referring to the same thing - decrees, laws, commands, promises.  These words refer only to one thing - God's word, as we read these in scriptures, in our bibles.  And the words used to describe the feeling that accompanies reading or hearing God's words are – they are riches, delights, precious like gold and silver, sweet to the palate, sweeter than honey, they are my inheritance, the joy of my heart, to yearn for it with open mouth.  This psalm is praise of God's instructions, a praise of the torah, a praise of God's word. 
Let's do some reality check:  do you long for God's word like the psalmist who describes his desire for it as a yearning with open mouth?  When you came to mass today is it with the thought nga, ano na man ini ayhan ang word ni Lord para sa akon?  Is listening to God's word valued as precious as gold and silver, that I have to pay attention to it less I lose it, less I miss a word or a thought?  Is there a craving for God's word like craving for sweetness as you look at those cakes in a refrigerated counter even and especially if you have diabetes?  Is there a craving?  Do you allow God's word to affect you more than you allow newspapers to affect you?  When you need advice or counsel do you also consult what the bible has to say?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

crosses - 18th week friday



Jesus tells us to take up our crosses and follow him.  What are the crosses that we need to take up daily?  The cross is not a difficulty.  Whether we like it or not, Christian or not, life will always be difficult.  But to take up the cross means to die to something – to be willing to put to death your plans, to put to death your desires, to set aside what you want for the sake of following Jesus.  
If you want to become a priest you better get used to dying to what you want.  As a priest formator I entered the seminary in 1997.  I stayed here until 2008.  For the meantime I was temporarily assigned in the cathedral.  I applied to become parish priest somewhere in a rural area – I really wanted to be assigned in a rural area – tak-an na ako sa ciudad.  But instead I was assigned back to the seminary.  I pleaded to the bishop pero wala – go to the seminary.  Again after 5 years I applied again.  And again he said, stay in the seminary.  That's what cross means – you want something but you have to set it aside because you are asked to do something. 

the greater gifts - 18th week wednesday



St. Vincent Ferrer explained this gospel by telling of a good soldier well-loved by the general.  This soldier went to the general to ask for an apple, a sweet apple.  But the general did not give him the apple but instead gave him a fortress.  And still the soldier asked for the apple but the general gave him a big and beautiful war horse.  The gift was received but the soldier kept insisting on the apple.  Again the general ignored him and gave him a beautiful armor.  Again the gift was received but the soldier asked for the apple.  Finally, the general gave in and gave him the apple.  Lesson:  if the apple was given immediately upon the request of the soldier, the soldier would not have the other gifts because he would have stopped asking.  He would have no fortress, he would not have a beautiful and powerful war horse and he would not have a beautiful and strong armor.
This according to St. Vincent is the lesson of our gospel today.  If Jesus would have given immediately what the Canaanite woman asked she would not have faith stability, humility, and love.  She would have stopped asking.

selflessness even in prayer - psalm 102 - 18th week tuesday


We continue to reflect on our Responsorial Psalm – this time Psalm 102.  The description given to Psalm 102 is “A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint before the LORD."  Here we can therefore sense that the person who prayed this psalm was in great difficulty.  And what is the affliction about?  What is the source of his difficulty?  At the beginning one can sense that the affliction is somewhat physical, probably a sickness.  But as one goes along in the psalm, the affliction seems to be not just physical and it is not even personal but a national affliction – it was something that affected the country, something that brought distress to God's people. "The nations shall revere your name, O LORD, when the LORD has rebuilt Zion, when he has regarded the prayer of the destitute, and not despised their prayer." 

jesus will catch us when we fall - 18th week tuesday



Peter was invited by the Lord to walk on the water with him.  Peter did.  But in the middle he doubted and when he doubted he sank.  Many times we doubt.  I remember I doubted twice whether I was meant for the priesthood or not.  The first doubt was after college.  As I was about to leave some seminarian friends who were there already in theology invited me to go to pastoral with them.  I really enjoyed the pastoral and the seminarians were very supportive.  So siling ko, bisan budlay gali magproceed sa theology damo man ako friend nga magabulig sa akon.  So I proceeded to theology.

loving god's word - psalm 119 - 18th week monday



Today we read Psalm 119.  It is the longest psalm with 176 verses, and therefore it is also the longest chapter in the bible.  In the bible length is always an indication that something is very important.  If you have listened carefully in the reading of the psalm you will hear words of almost identical meaning repeated – statutes, law, word of truth, ordinances, decrees, and verbs like teach, instruct, pay heed.  And if we continue further we will have words like keep, understand, learn, meditate, observe.
This psalm is praise of God's instructions, a praise of the torah, a praise of God's word.  The psalm prays to God that God will instill in our hearts a love for his word, a love for the bible, a love for reading, studying, understanding the bible. A love for observing, taking to hearty, doing what the word of God instructs us.  I remember when I was in high school during that time when study period was really very, very strict – you cannot talk, you cannot stand, you cannot even lean to borrow something, whenever I feel bored from studying I would take my bible and read.  And I notice then that when I read my bible I get good grades during exams.  Of course I studied my lessons.  But whenever I read the bible after studying my lessons, I notice, I get better grades.  I don't know why but I think Psalm 119 is pointing to something here.  You will be blessed when you make God's word a priority.  You will be happy when you have the word of God in your heart.  You will feel secure in God because of the assurances of his words.  I do not know if some miracle was at work them, but probably if I have to explain it scientifically I feel confident facing the exam whenever I read God's word.  I approach the exams more secure, more confident, more upbeat.

me, me, me - 18th sunday C seminary sunday



Two brothers were fighting over inheritance.  One of the brothers went to Jesus in the hope that Jesus would probably side with him or at the very least act as a go between in order to settle things amicably.  But Jesus would have none of it.  Instead he told them a parable.
Now there are 3 very curious things about this parable.  First, there is only one person in the parable.  Not even his family is allowed in the picture, not even the workers.  Not even God.  If God appeared in the story God appeared at the last part to pass judgment.  The point is, the man is all alone. 
Second, this one person in the parable talks to himself, he dialogues with himself.  He asks a question which he himself answers: He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’  And he answered his question saying, ‘This is what I shall do." Strange man, isn't he?

And the third curious thing in this parable is, in everything . . .  in what he thinks, in what he says, in what he decides, he only uses the first person pronoun "I".  If you notice there is no he, she or it, there is no they.  He only uses I, my, myself, and if there is a you, a second person pronoun he is actually referring not to another person but again to himself.  “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”  Do you notice that?

to suffer for seeking god's glory - psalm 69 - 17th week saturday



Psalm 69 is a prayer of David as an afflicted man, a man suffering tremendously because of the cruelty of his enemies.  He describes his pains like that of a man overwhelmed because he is sinking in mud, or drowned by floodwaters – "Let not the flood-waters overwhelm me, nor the abyss swallow me up, nor the pit close its mouth over me."  But David was not suffering because of his sins or because of some injustice that he has done in the past.  No.  Rather he is suffering because of his zeal for the glory of God.
It is different when suffering is brought upon you because you did not study for the exams, or you defy your superiors, or you are obese which consequently brought upon you high blood pressure, difficulty in breathing beside being ugly, because you cannot control food.  Psalm 69 is different – it is a cry of someone who suffer so much because in his life he only sought the glory of God.

seminary sunday 5 years after



The Seminary Sunday of the Parish of Our Lady of Candles of Jaro started 5 years ago, in 2011, at the time when Most. Rev. Gerry Alminaza was still our parish priest, and Frs. Macky Sortido and Marvin Tabion were his assistants. I had just finished my term in the Parish of Jaro then and I was starting my term as Rector of the St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary. To be very honest, it was one assignment that did not give me any excitement at all, not only because I thought serving the seminary for more than 8 years already was long enough and serving the cathedral for a full second term was already too much, but also because a rural parish was a lot more appealing. Except for a 6-month tenure in Pototan, all my assignments were in the city, and I wanted to experience then the simple and uncomplicated life of a country priest.  This is one experience I would not like to miss, and life is short!

stubborn praise - psalm 146 - 17th week thursday



Sometimes we ask, how can I praise God in the midst of calamity, in the midst of so many pains?  How can I praise God when I have so many problems, when I am aware of so many inadequacies in myself?  Siguro if I am bright, and handsome, and my parents are rich, and I have no problems, then I can praise God.  But in the midst of suffering and fear, how can I praise God?

Here now is the lesson of psalm 146.  Be stubborn in your praise.  Even if you find difficulty in praising God because of what is happening in your life, nevertheless praise God.  Even if you feel angry, even if you feel a failure, even in sorrow, even if you don't feel like it, praise God.  Praising God is an act of discipline.  

no tears, no rainbow - psalm 59 - 17th week wednesday



This psalm, psalm 59 was composed by David when Saul was King.  Saul at one point became jealous of David and in act of anger and perhaps envy he sent men, evil men to surround David's house with the command to kill him. "Rescue me from evildoers; from bloodthirsty men save me. For behold, they lie in wait for my life; mighty men come together against me."  David described them as howling dogs prowling looking for food, and when they do not get their fill they growl. 
David must have been in despair, afraid, hopeless and helpless. Saul was powerful but David was powerless.  Saul was king but David was a mere shepherd.  Saul had men ready to obey his orders, but David had no one, no one but God.  And so what did David do?  David sang.  "I will sing of your strength and revel at dawn in your mercy; O my strength! your praise will I sing; for you, O God, are my stronghold."

the dwelling of god - psalm 132 - 17th week tuesday joachim & anne



In this memorial of St. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Mother and grandparents of Jesus, the liturgy proposes to us Psalm 132 for our prayer and reflection.  Today we are reading the second part of this psalm but to understand it fully we need to go back a little to the first part.  There we can see David's prayer as he expressed his deep desire to build a house for the Lord.  David as king was living in a palace, in a comfortable home but God was living in a tent, and in his love for God he felt he cannot live with that thought.
But God answers David in our psalm today.  Instead of building a house of stone and bricks, God promises David that he would make "a house" in flesh and blood in the line of David.  God will be immanuel – he will dwell among his people, he will make his dwelling among us.  And since time immemorial the church uses this psalm (132) to show us that God fulfilled his promise by sending us his Son Jesus.  "For the Lord has chosen Zion, he prefers her for his dwelling – Zion is my resting place forever, in her will I dwell, for I prefer her."  Zion is the church, the people of God, and among his people God through his Son Jesus.

the iniquities of the past - psalm 76 - 17th week tuesday



Since last month I have started my reflection on the responsorial psalm of the mass.  It is my way of telling everyone that I am already too long in my present assignment – I have finished reflecting on the gospel, I have finished reflecting on the first and second readings of the mass.  Now I am reflecting on the responsorial psalm.  If after some time my superiors still will not transfer me, then you will know because I will be reflecting with you the alleluia verse.
Seriously now.  We neglect to reflect properly on the psalms though we pray it everyday.  The book of psalms is the prayer book par excellence – a prayer book without equal because in the psalms we pray using God's word and we pray with the heart, the emotions, the feeling of God.
We reflect on our responsorial psalm – psalm 76

why pray - 17th sunday C benediction



Today the disciples of Jesus approached him with a request, asking him, Lord, teach us how to pray.  They asked him to also teach them because they saw John teaching his own disciples how to pray and they too wanted to be taught by Jesus whom they have just seen praying.  In fact they often see him praying.  Why would Jesus need to pray, St. Cyril of Alexandria asks?  Jesus is God, he does not need anything.  Didn't Jesus say, "all that the Father has is mine?"  SO why did he feel the need to pray.
St. Cyril replied to his questions saying, "It was to teach us not to be slack in this matter, but rather to be constant in prayers, and very urgent."  If Jesus prayed constantly, if Jesus would stay late in the night or rise early in the morning it was because he wanted to teach us that prayer is important.  If Jesus went alone by himself to a place away from the crowd, if Jesus had to allow his disciples to go ahead even without him as he stayed behind alone, it was to teach them the value of prayer in their life.

the sparrow and the swallow - psalm 84 - 16th week saturday



Since last month I have started my reflection on the responsorial psalm of the mass.  It is my way of telling everyone that I am already too long in my present assignment – I have finished reflecting on the gospel, I have finished reflecting on the first and second readings of the mass.  Now I am reflecting on the responsorial psalm.  If after some time my superiors still will not transfer me, then you will know because I will be reflecting with you the alleluia verse.
Seriously now.  We neglect to reflect properly on the psalms though we pray it everyday.  The book of psalms is the prayer book par excellence – a prayer book without equal because in the psalms we pray using God's word and we pray with the heart, the emotions, the feeling of God.

delighting in god - psalm 36 - 16th week thursday



This psalm speaks of God's goodness and mercy as a stream, a fountain, a river whose water flows.  In the hot, dry desert, streams, rivers and fountains are a delight - the greenery in the otherwise harsh landscape, the plants and bushes that give shade and fresh air in the midst of overwhelming heat, the food and drink and the fruits too that refreshes, and the coolness when one bathes and immerses oneself in water.  It is a delight.  In fact the word delight in Hebrew is Eden – and praying this psalm recalls the garden of Eden where three rivers flow – to be in paradise.
The psalm is an invitation to delight in the Lord – to immerse oneself in the Lord just like immersing oneself in a cool swimming pool on a hot summer day.  To delight, to find happiness in the Lord.

gowing old joyfully - psalm 71 - 16th week wednesday



Psalm 71 is the psalm of an old person.  Old age brings with it difficulties and even frightening thoughts: an old body now more susceptible to illness; the waning of physical strength; feelings of uselessness; little by little loved ones are lost, dwindling incomes which may no longer be enough for medicines; loneliness, and the fear of dying and death.  But the old person in Psalm 71 though in the midst trials and problems is a joyful person who is able to focus on the Lord.  Why is he joyful, why can he focus in the Lord?
First, because he has personal knowledge of God, he knows God.  When he prays he does not say "God, whoever you are, wherever you are please help me."  No. Instead he says, "In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.  On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength."  He is one who is familiar with the assurances and promises of God in the bible.

being honest to god - psalm 85 - 16th week tuesday



Today we reflect on the Book of Psalms, the book of prayer par excellence.  We have read today the first part of Psalm 85.  It is a prayer of a person in crisis who feels confuse and, perplexed by what is happening in his life, and he brings this to the attention of God in prayer. 
In a not so distant past, the years of exile, of living in a foreign land was finally ended and they were restored back to their own land.  People were full of hope then, there was happiness in anticipating a brighter future – God has forgiven us, God has restored us, he has covered all our sins.  But then going back and rebuilding the city destroyed by war and ravaged by time proved to be more difficult and the people are disheartened - Restore us, O God our savior.  Will you be ever angry with us, prolonging your anger to all generations? 
The psalmist seems to say in all honesty to God, "you know God, you were a lot nicer before, daw kaayo man sa imo sang una." You favored the land, you restored the fortune of Jacob, you forgave the sins of your people, you pardoned their offenses, and because of this we were raring to go full of anticipation of the better life ahead of us.  But now it seems that this is no longer happening.  Life is becoming difficult and we could no longer feel your kindness as of old.