Friday, December 16, 2011

The Flame and The Dry Bush (A Christmas Reflection)

December 14, 2011 at 4:06pm

The title is drawn from Khalil Gibran's Sand and Foam, one of this famed Lebanese American artist-poet's inspirational works which I have drawn many insights at different points in my life. The quote as completed goes this way, "I am the flame and the dry bush, and one part of me consumes the other part."

As the year draws to a close, with the frenzied rush for gifts, gadgets and the gamut of holiday madness, I have put away the tinsel and wrapping paper for the time being. I had taken San Francisco's aging BART, the line that spans Richmond to Millbrae, shivering from the frost and gusts of cold wind. The ride was uneventful, one that was like many, save for an event that lingered with its ironic images before I boarded for the ride home.

San Francisco is alive with the holiday spirit, with red bows on trees and lamp posts lining Market Street. The emporiums have a variety of Yule decor, enticing the pedestrian to spend their dollars on massive sales for gift giving, or hoarding. But I could not help but dwell on the irony of it all. San Francisco is a walker's paradise, with a wide array of historical buildings, quaint corners, squares and heritage sites. Before reaching my designated Bart stop at the Civic Center/UN Plaza, twin spires of gold caught the corner of my eye along 10th street, blazing under a wind swept afternoon sun. It was, I presumed a church, and unfamiliar with such a pleasant discovery and with time to spare, I started to walk towards it, as if drawn by a magnet. Being a Tuesday, I figured it would be just right for my regular St. Therese devotion in another "find" I was looking forward to unravelling.

The walk was like some of the strands that one sees in the city by the Bay. Hooded and huddled in some corners were denizens of the streets, ambulant and ambivalent. A Medical Cannabis Dispensary was a stone's throw from the church, and unlike chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the sidewalk had holiday cheer, courtesy of a well lit prescription no doubt. 

As I drew near to the statuesque edifice, lights were flashing on a bright sunshiny day. And the scene on the fenced in wooden doors of the Church was a stark revelation. The lights were from the San Francisco Police truck, as the remnants of homeless occupiers on the sidewalk were being dispersed from their refuge. The Church, as it were, was an abandoned hulk, a massive and elegant derelict with its grand imposing doors strewn with graffiti. Slow moving homeless hold outs were being asked to leave the area, with their precious possessions dismissed as junk on shopping carts, pushed aside. Abandoned lengths of cardboard and wooden cutouts were being loaded on the police truck to be hauled away, their use dismissed for disposal even as they may have served their owners well, as welcome mats for rest and sleep from the harsh elements. A police officer was patronizing and somewhat respectful of the slow lumbering pair, I saw moving away from their sanctuary, the well sculptured lines of a beautiful abandoned church the backdrop for this inconsequential event. Certainly, this perfunctory operation of the city's law enforcement brigade would not merit any headlines, or even the page 4 next to the obituaries. 

I could only dwell again on the sheer irony of this spectacle happening just after Gaudete Sunday of my second Advent season on the West Coast. A small place of sanctuary on a sidewald denied to the deprived and despondent, in front of a massive, unused, unmoving building that used to be a house of worship and solace. A later cursory Google search revealed that what I had thought was to be a monumental find, turned out to be defunct St. Joseph's Church. It is a sad remnant of the realities of the new millenium's socio-economic debacles, as it lies undeveloped after having been acquired by a developer who wished to keep the statuesque architectural gem intact within a planned redevelopment project as its centerpiece. But the earlier financial crisis before this present one had stymied it all. Hence, the former St. Joseph's Church languished, its perimeter strewn with discarded junk and derelict nomads the city deemed fit as inappropriately located in a business district of this city by the bay. 

A church that no longer served as one, named after my own patron saint, its golden domed spires a marvelous pantheon visible for miles around. Found and foraged for the memory that I would carry for this season. And so this is Christmas. Winding my way, weary and wondering, I was caught in the irony and the imagery of this December experience. And as in many of previous flights like this, it was the wellspring of Gibran that I chose to draw from, for reflection. And thus, the flame and the dry bush struck me as the most appropriate counterpoint to my encounter. 

Beneath all the blessings I have been fortunate enought to enjoy, and the many that I am certain will come my way in the days ahead leading to Christmas day, the fires of the season would also engulf the spirit that prevails all around me. I can only hope that those homeless brothers being thrown aside could find themselves solace, their "room at the inn" on another cold and bitter eve. Despite the hallowed halls of monoliths that no longer harbor lost and wandering souls, and frostbitten hardened bodies, and all the opulence of an otherwise libertarian government, there can only be dispersal, depression and destitution. Would we truly feel what Christmas means, with hardly a care or a commitment to live up to its true spirit? Coming home from this recent experience, I am consumed by it all. Still thankful to the eternal message of whispering hope and the call to the faithful. For in the city of David, a Savior is born. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a manger. Born of Virgin named Mary, safely secured by the strength and fortitude of an obedient Carpenter, named Joseph. A Saviour is born. Let us adore him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scientific Findings on the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

1. Ophthalmic studies made on the eyes of Mary detected that when the eye is exposed to light, the retina contracts, and when the light is withdrawn, it returns to a dilated state, just as happens with a living eye.

2. The temperature of Juan Diego’s tilma, made of a material that comes from fibers of the maguey cactus, maintains a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees, the same as that of a living
human body.

3. One of the doctors who analyzed the tilma placed his stethoscope below the black band at Mary’s waist, and heard rhythmic beats at 115 pulses per minute, the same as that of a baby in the maternal womb.

4. No sign of paint has been discovered on the tilma. From a distance of 3-4 inches from the image, one can see only the maguey cactus fibers of the material: the colors disappear. Scientific studies have not been able to discover the origin of the coloration, nor the way  the image was painted. They cannot detect vestiges of brush strokes or any other known painting technique. NASA scientists confirm that the paint material does not belong to any known element on earth.

5. When the material was examined under a laser ray, it was shown that there is no coloration on the front or the back of the cloth, and that the colors hover at a distance of3/10th of a millimeter (1/100th of an inch) over the cloth, without touching it. The colors actually float above the surface of the tilma. Isn’t that amazing?

6. The rough material of the tilma has a lifespan of no more than 20-30 years. Several centuries ago, a replica of the image was painted on an identical piece of maguey cloth, and it disintegrated after several decades. Nonetheless, during the almost 500 years of the miracle, the cloth with the image of Mary remains as strong as it was on the first day. Science cannot explain why the material has not disintegrated.

7. In the year 1791, muriatic acid accidentally spilled on the upper right side of the tilma. During the period of 30 days, without any special treatment, the affected fabric re-constituted itself miraculously.

8. The stars that appear on the Mantle of Mary reflect the exact configuration and positions that could be seen in the sky of Mexico on the day the miracle happened.
On the right side of the Virgin’s mantle, the southern constellations are indicated:

• At the top are four stars that form part of the Orphiuchus constellation.

• Below it to the left, one finds Libra, and to its right, at what seems an arrow point, is the beginning of Scorpio.

• In the middle are the constellations of Lupus and to its left, an end point of Hydra.

• Farther down, one can clearly see the Southern Cross; above it appears the slightly inclined square of the Centaurus constellation.
• On the left side of the Virgin’s mantle one sees the northern constellations:

• At her shoulder, a fragment of the stars of the Herdsman constellation; below it and to the left is the Great Bear. To its right is Berenice’s Hair; below it, Hunting Dogs, and to its left, the Thuban, which is the brightest star of the Draco constellation.

• Below the two parallel stars (which still form part of the Big Bear), one finds stars from another pair of constellations: the Auriga and at the bottom, three stars of Taurus.

• Thus, in their totality and proper places, the 46 most brilliant stars that can be seen on the horizon of the Valley of Mexico are identified.]

9. In the year 1921, a man concealed a high power bomb in a flower arrangement, and placed it at the feet of the tilma. The explosion destroyed everything around it, except for the tilma, which remained intact.

10. Scientists discovered that the eyes of Mary have the three refractive characteristics of a human eye.

11. In the eyes of Mary (only about 1/3rd inch in size), minuscule human figures were discovered that no artist could have painted. The same scene is repeated in each eye.

It's evident that these unexplainable things were given to us for a reason: To catch our attention.

Have they caught yours?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Life with Lolo Dency

Fr. Reginald R. Malicdem

            It is said that the first five years in the priesthood are crucial because they are the formative years in priestly life.  Thus I consider it God’s great blessing to have spent not only the first five but the first seven years of my priesthood with a good, humble, simple, and holy priest – Cardinal Gaudencio B. Rosales, whom we fondly call Lolo Dency. He ordained me on September 8, 2004 and, four months later, he appointed me his personal secretary.  What I thought was an assignment I would hold for only a few years, lasted for seven years, until his retirement. 
            My seven years with Lolo Dency made me discover the greatness of his person.  And as I pray tribute to him through this article, I wish to share seven things about Lolo Dency, some of which probably are not very much known.

1.       He always sees the good. 
Lolo Dency believes in the goodness inherent in everyone and in everything.  He always quotes Genesis 1, 26 to remind us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and because God is good, His goodness is in each one of us.  We are all good, because the good God created us. 
He always sees the good in people, in things, and in events.  I remember this one man who always goes to the Residencia even without an appointment.  He is very insistent on his advocacy.  At one point, I asked the Cardinal, “are you not getting impatient with this man?”  I was surprised with his reply.  He told me, “I admire the passion of this man.  He would really find his way to do what he wants.  If only all of us would have that same passion…” 
He also invites us to see the good in each other.  He always says: “There is so much good around us, much more than the evil.  Why then do we always focus on what is bad?  Why do we always see the fault in people and events?  See the good, and it will change everything.” 
2.       He loves his priests. 
He expresses his love for priests in various ways.  First is through his time.  He always gives time for the priests.  He always reminds us in the office that if a priest asks for an appointment to talk to him, we should always give top priority to the priest.  He also always assures the priests that we can go to the Residencia anytime, even without appointment. 
He shows his love through his concern.  He visits priests who are old, sick, and are confined in the hospital and stays with them for as long as he can.  He will always celebrate the funeral Mass for his priest who passed away.  He will be there to comfort the priest whose parent or sibling passed away, even when this meant going to the priest’s house outside Metro Manila. 
He loves his priests very much that he prays a lot for them.  Unknown to all, the Cardinal, in his private Mass, always says the Mass for Priests on ferial days.  Before every presbyteral ordination, he spends an hour in prayer for each candidate to be ordained (for bishops, he spends two hours!).  
He loves his priests so much that he always wants what is good for them.  In dealing with erring priests, he is not quick to condemn.  He will always ask, what can I do to help you?  There was one priest who was so displeased with the Cardinal because he was not given the assignment that he demanded.  One time, the priest came to the Residencia and talked to the Cardinal.  I was surprised that at a certain point the priest had already raised his voice at the Cardinal, but the Cardinal remained quiet.  The issue was brought up in one of our meetings.  Most of the priests in that meeting unanimously decided that because of what the priest did, he should be sanctioned.  But the Cardinal asked, “If we sanction him, will we be able to help him?  The issue I am concerned about is not that he shouted at me.  That is nothing.  What concerns me more is that he needs help and I want to help him.” 
For many years, the Cardinal also served as Chairman of the CBCP’s Commission on Clergy.  The National Congress of Priests was held twice during his tenure, the first in 2004 and the second in 2010.  And what I can consider as the “crown” of his service for the Clergy of the Philippines and a “memorial” of his love for priests is the St. John Mary Vianney Galilee Development and Retreat Center for Priests which he had built in Tagaytay. 
His love for priests also means his love for those in formation for the priesthood.  The seminary has a special place in the Cardinal’s heart.  As a young priest, he was assigned as formator, professor, and later, rector at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Marawoy, Lipa for 12 years.  He also served as rector of San Carlos Seminary in Makati.  He also chaired for many years the Commission on Seminaries of the CBCP. 
The Cardinal loves the priests because he firmly believes that the renewal of the Church greatly depends on the renewal of priests. 
3.       He loves the poor. 
The poor have a special place in the Cardinal’s heart.  He gives them special attention.  He listens to them.  He fights for them.  He firmly believes that if we want to enter heaven, we must do something to alleviate poverty and give the poor a decent life.  He always tells us that it is not true that it is St. Peter who stands at the gates of heaven to welcome those who wish to enter.  Quoting from Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25, he believes that it will be the poor who will welcome us to heaven. 
He visited the depressed areas in the Archdiocese.  I remember him walking through a dark tunnel in Pasay where he was moved to tears because of the inhuman situation of the people that he saw.  In the slums of Baseco and Quiapo, he listened to people, went into their homes, ate with them, and assured them of the Church’s concern for their welfare. 
One of the things I cannot forget is how the Cardinal fought for the rights of the Sumilao Farmers.  When the farmers finally reached Metro Manila after their arduous trek from Malaybalay, the Cardinal saw to it that he would be there to welcome them.  I personally saw how concerned he was.  Unknown to all, it was he who mediated until finally a resolution was reached.  In a press conference, one reporter asked him why he was so involved in the issue.  He said, “I will not answer.  Let them answer your question.”  And one of the farmers said, “He knows us.  He was our bishop.”  
He loves the poor so much and this is the motivation behind Pondo ng Pinoy.  This community movement is not just about the collection of 25 centavos to support programs for the poor.  It is also a tool for evangelization, a means of awakening our compassion and charity, a program of forming our humanity.  Through Pondo ng Pinoy, the Cardinal teaches us that poverty can only be alleviated through a change of attitude.   Through Pondo ng Pinoy, the Cardinal challenges us to make love our way of life.  Through Pondo ng Pinoy, the Cardinal reminds us again and again, anumang magaling, kahit na maliit, basta’t malimit ay patungong langit
4.       He loves people. 
He is a people-person.  He loves to be with people.  He loves to listen and talk to different people.  He is not afraid to be seen by people in public places.  And at times, I feel that he deliberately prefers to be seen by people so that he can interact with them. 
Every Holy Thursday, the Cardinal goes on Visita Iglesia of the churches in the Archdiocese. When people recognize him, they immediately flock to him, kiss his hands, and take pictures with him.  There were times I had to tell the deacons assisting him not to guard him too tightly because he loves to be with people.  
When we travel abroad, and the Cardinal sees Filipinos working in the airport, he would see to it that he has a little chat with them, asking them where they come from and how long they have been in that country.  Even inside the plane, how many times have I seen him talking with flight attendants and other passengers. 
He loves people, that is why he can easily be approached by them.  Even if one has no appointment, when the Cardinal sees them in the Residence, he would sit to meet with them.  
The Cardinal always says that we Filipinos are known for our personalism.  That is one trait I admire about him.  He relates personally.  He loves people. 
5.       He lives by his motto. 
Even as a seminarian, he already fell in love with John 12, 24: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single wheat; but if it dies it bears much fruit.  And by some stroke of Divine Providence, this is the same gospel pericope read on August 10, the Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon, the birthday of the Cardinal. 
When he became a bishop, he took this as his motto: Si mortuum fuerit, fructum affert.  And his whole life was governed by this principle, which he calls, the Paschal Mystery principle.  
Before he left for Malaybalay, the seminary community of San Carlos, of which he was the rector, tendered a despedida party for him.  He recalls that now Bishop Dong Lavarias of Iba, Zambales was the emcee of the program.  The community gave him a gift – a keychain made of sterling silver and on it is etched “John 12:24.”  And adapting the line made famous during the martial law, the seminarians said, “Sa ikauunlad ng Simbahan, Juan 12, 24 ang kailangan.” 
His whole life gives witness to his principle.  As bishop in Malaybalay, he admitted that he suffered a lot.  As a Tagalog, he initially found resistance from the priests and people of Malaybalay.  He had to learn many things, even the dialect, in order for him to be accepted.  In Malaybalay, he had to suffer the death of his priest because of their advocacy to protect the environment.  He had to deal with priests and religious whose leaning were more on the left.  He had to travel far distances, climb mountains, and cross rivers to reach the far-flung areas of the diocese.  He had to deal with rebels as well as soldiers.  He admits that his life in Mindanao was an experience of the paschal mystery.  He willingly underwent it.  And his experiences greatly shaped his person and his priesthood. 
Even as Archbishop of Lipa and Manila, he also suffered a lot.  He had to deal with erring priests, with problems in the Archdiocese, with people who misunderstood him.  In Manila, several times did the media paint a negative picture of him.  I know he was hurt.  But he chose to remain quiet.  During these times, he will simply tell me, “this is part of my paschal mystery.” 
This is the reason why in the vision of the Archdiocese of Manila, the underlying spirituality is that of the paschal mystery.  He insists that this is the principle that guides all human progress and social development.  Only a person who is willing to suffer, and only a people who is willing to be disciplined, has the right to progress and development. 
            And to his priests, he will always say that sufferings, trials, temptations, and even our sins are part of our paschal mystery.  They are our dying.  But if we learn from them, they become stepping stones to our resurrection. 
6.       He is very simple. 
I have never known a man so simple as the Cardinal.  His tastes are so simple and his wants are few.  To prove this, one only has to see his room.  What is there are only what are needed.  He sleeps on a single bed with no cushion, but only banig
He is so simple that he feels awkward when he is given special treatment and attention.  I remember one time when we were going to a town in Bulacan for a Mass.  The parish priest said that policemen would wait for us after we exited from the tollgate and escort us all the way to the church.  It happened that the policemen did not notice our vehicle when we exited.  I instructed the driver to approach them.  But the Cardinal, “never mind, let’s just proceed to the church.  There is really no need for escorts.”  And so we went straight to the church without police escorts.   

A few years ago, the Cardinal went to Lipa for a few days off.  He just asked the driver to bring him there and sent back the driver to Manila.  While in Lipa, he was told that his childhood friend died and the wake was in Batangas City.  Since he had no driver, the Cardinal decided to ride public transport.  He rode a bus, a jeep, and a tricycle to the wake of his friend.  The next day it was in the front page of the newspaper.  At first I thought it was not true.  Not until he himself told me the story.  He said, “What’s so surprising about the Archbishop of Manila taking public transport?” 
The Cardinal’s simplicity is rooted in his humility.  We all admire him for his humility.  He may be the “most powerful” churchman in the land, but he remains humble.  His simplicity and humility inspires all of us. 
7.       He wants us to forget him. 
At the press conference of the announcement of his retirement, one reporter asked how he wants to be remembered.  His answer was surprising.  “I don’t want to be remembered,” he said.  “Please forget me.”  That was no cliché for the Cardinal.  He was consistent with that.  He does not want any building, institution, foundation, even a room to be named after him.  He refused honors and recognitions.  People who do not know him cannot understand.  But that is simply how the Cardinal is.  He doesn’t want to be remembered.  He only wants us to remember Jesus. 
And that is what he repeatedly tells his priests.  As priests, we preach not our opinions and ideas, but Jesus.  We attract people not to ourselves, but to Jesus.  We minister not to promote ourselves, but Jesus.  So that, in the end, it is not us who will be remembered but Jesus.

He wants us to forget him.  But how can we forget him?  How can we forget the shepherd whose simplicity puts us to shame, whose commitment to service is outstanding, whose love for God and the Church is unparalled, whose holiness is shining?  How can we forget him who has become a sacrament of God’s love for us, who has shown us the heart of the Good Shepherd?  And how can I forget him who trusted me, who taught me a lot of things and brought me to different places around the world, who inspired me every single day, who shaped my priesthood and my person?  Who can forget Lolo Dency?  We simply can’t.  We will always remember.  I will always remember.  And I will surely never forget. I won’t even try. 
Maraming, maraming salamat po, Lolo Dency!

Monday, December 5, 2011

ERO CRAS: "Tomorrow, I will come!: The 'O' Antiphons

by Alvin Bautista 

This special period of Advent, the Octave before Christmas, spans December 17 to 23. which features the traditional recitation of the seven antiphons preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. 

As Advent should also be a spiritual journey of hope and anticipation, it will be fitting that the "O Antiphons" be part of what might be considered amidst all the celebrations of the Season.

The exact origin of the "O Antiphons" is not known, but historians have referred to them as early as the fourth century. And by the eight century, they were in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. Their use, particularly in monasteries, became widespread that the phrases, "Keep your O" and "The Great O Antiphons" became part of common parlance. Thus, they have found a special place in the great liturgical tradition of early Mother Church.

I found the beauty of the "O Antiphons" in the titles they ascribe for the Messiah, which are in their correct chronological order 

Each also refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the awaited Messiah.

Missionary friends from Detroit shared with me the history behind the "O Antiphons", in particular the Benedictine Monks who arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose and not arbitrarily. If one starts with the last title (Emmanuel) and take the first letter of each one, as in Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapienta, the Latin words "ERO CRAS" are formed. The incantation means, "TOMORROW, I WILL COME!", a great revelation that the Lord Jesus is promised and shall soon find fulfillment. So, through all this season of advent, the awaited Messiah , whom we have addressed in seven Messianic titles, now clearly speaks to us, "TOMORROW, I WILL COME!". And true to His promise and in fulfillment of the Sacred Scriptures, Emmanuel means “God is with us.”




O Holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy Law on Sinai Mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.


You have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

O Royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

Splendor of eternal light, sun and justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death

The only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our GOD.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)

GOSPEL: Luke 1: 26-38. The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 

And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

The Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

GOSPEL: John 1: 6-8; 19-29. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. 

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" and he answered, " No." They said to him then, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." 

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


The Fountain of True Joy

We are now in the third Sunday of Advent, and the theme is “Rejoice” Gaudete! But what is the source of our joy?

John the Baptist knows. The Israelites waited, but failed to recognize it. John the Baptist spent his days baptizing and preaching, pointing out to the people that He is not Christ rather the Christ is yet to come; there is a greater joy to be anticipated, to be ready for.

In today’s world, we are often ensnared by false joys, by the false wit of the world. We fail to recognize that the joy this world offers is temporary," panandalian lamang." We give in. Then we fall back. Then we get tired. It then becomes n a system. As soon as we experience that happiness, the sooner also that we lose it. Sometimes too, we know that it offers groundless joys- but still, we prefer to hold on to it. We settle for less. We reduce joy into a lost feeling, an untouchable emotion rather than a reality, an enriching reality. To answer the primary question, it is necessary to change the ‘what’ into a ‘who’. Who is the source of our joy? And God answers “I am”. Our joy does not come from something. True Christian Joy (hence, the hopeful Joy of Advent) is found in Jesus Christ, God and Man. Christ came to prove na kahit sa mundong ito, where everything is going to pass, true gladness is possible basta ba’t hugutin natin ito mula sa authentic at certified na pinagmumulan ng tuwa: ang Diyos! Hindi ang sale sa mall, hindi ang naguumapaw na Christmas Bonus, hindi ang fireworks sa kalangitan, hindi ang ano pa mang material na bagay. Hindi iyan! Walang material na bagay ang makakatumbas sa sayang inihahandog ni Kristo, ng Haring-Sanggol na isinilang sa sabsaban ng Belen, na namuhay tulad mo at naramdaman kung papaano ang matuwa, maging malungkot, maghinagpis, masaktan. Christ came to bless humanity, to bless human experience by his presence. He came to confirm human joy, to turn our bitterness into the sweetness of a constant affirmation that whatever happens, God-is-with-us, Emmanuel.

These coming days, brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves- am I looking forward to Christmas because of its material mirth? Or do I recognize God as the reason for this Yuletide Joy, above all else?

Manalangin Tayo: Maria, Birhen ng Nazaret, itulot mo pong sa Paskong papalapit, at sa bawat sandal n gaming buhay- ay maramdaman nawa naming ang iyong tuwa nang si Hesus ay nagkatawang tao sa iyong sinapupunan at nang siya ay iyong isilang. Ipanalangin mo po kami, na sana ay lagi naming piliin ang mga hangaring banal bago ang makamundong tuwa, na sana ay lagi naming magawa ang kalooban ng Diyos, na sana ay matularan ka naming lubos at kami po sana ay maging mapagmatyag sa oras ng pagdating muli ng iyong Anak, na ni anghel o tao man ay walang nakakaalam. 

Birhen ng Guadalupe, Birheng nagdadalang-tao,ipanalangin mo kami.

San Juan Bautista, ipanalangin mo po kami.

The First Sunday of Advent (Year B)

by Carolyn Tapel

GOSPEL: Mark 13: 33-37. Jesus said to his disciples, "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore---for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning---lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch." 

"Take heed; watch for you do not know when the timewill come."-Mark 13:33

In every celebration, we give time to prepare for it so we could make it a success. We even set aside other things to make the preparation something worthwhile and amazing. Today is the First Sunday of Advent. The word ‘advent’ comes from the Latin word 'Advenire', which means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. The Gospel exhorts us to be watchful for the Lord's coming. Be constantly on watch and stay awake!

Short Reflection:

Jesus invites us to be vigilant while waiting for His arrival. He says, "Take heed; watch for you do not know when the time will come."

How do we prepare ourselves for his coming?

(a) By staying awake.

(b) Being alert.

(c) Being watchful.

(d) By attending formations, retreats or recollecti0n and other Church activities.
(e) By praying always.

In every way and in every aspect of our lives, God manifests His unconditional love for all of us.

My Gospel reflection as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW):

As an OFW, there are lots of documents needed to be prepared, complete and fixed when we are applying for a job abroad. And it usually takes a long time to have your documents processed before you can submit them to the recruitment agency. There is a similarity between the procedures you have to go through during recruitment and what we celebrate today; the 1st Sunday of the Advent. Advent season is a time of intense preparation for Jesus' coming. We need to be prepared, alert and watchful always. For God will come to judge us according to our deeds.

Let's all pray and welcome Christ in our midst, let us make Advent a season of prayer and giving.

The Second Sunday of Advent (Year B)

by  Charlene Aguilar Escobal

GOSPEL: Mark 1: 1-8. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight---" 

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

The Gospel of our Lord begins with John the Baptist calling everyone's conversion; a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. From St. Elizabeth's conception of him, John the Baptist was blessed by God. And while he was in her mother's womb , Elizabeth was visited by none other than our Lord's mother, Mama Mary, who very humbly served Elizabeth until John was born. Yet John called himself unworthy of the Lord. Although he lived in the desert,and lived a hermit life,he was full of prayers and contemplations all his life. Still he felt unworthy of the coming One. Yet all John asked of the people was to be baptized and repent for their grievous sins. This Gospel only shows how Merciful God is upon His people. If John was unworthy of the Lord, what more are we, who sin every day, every minute, scarcely thinking about God. But still God sent us our John the Baptist's of today, our priests. Calling us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to Confession. Just like the people of Israel during John's time, God is always giving us second chance to be cleansed of our sins.

Lots of people think priests are unworthy to forgive them, being weak and imperfect at times too like the rest of us. But like John's example, we are all unworthy but GOD's grace and mercy are so abundant, it covers all our sins.

The One coming this Christmas, we will never be worthy of Him, but because He love us, He chose the lowly manger so that we will never be 'shy' to enter and give Him a gift...ourselves.

Serve with a Smile

by Fe Baguio

"I love Christmas!" yan ang sabi ng alaga kong 8 years old. And I asked her why she loves Christmas,and she said,"because I can receive presents from Santa Claus." Napangiti ako di dahil sa sagot niya kundi dahil bigla niya akong tinanong kung ano raw ang gift ko sa kanya.

Pinaupo ko sya sa lap ko, ang sabi ko, ang gift ko sa 'yo ay araw-araw kong ibinigay sayo."When you are upset I act like a clown to make you smile.We sing together when I bathe you.Whatever you want to eat breakfast, I serve one for you, and whenever you need my a spark of a lightning I stay with you. My special gift I could gift you is my time,you know why?" I said."Why", she asked . "Because I love you"...Tapos sabi niya,"Can you resign?" hehe na ang ibig sabihin pala ay to renew my contract.

We are all here for some special reasons.We should meditate on what our true calling is and how we can serve others better.Like Jesus, He came here to serve and to save us. To serve others,we can use and share our given gifts of SMILE to win their sadness, we can offer a warm hug to clothe their souls of comfort.A pat of affection that we really care for them. At ang tratuhin ang kapwa na may respeto at pagmamahal na maramdaman nilang they are loved.

Ito ang mga given gifts na kaya nating i- offer na di na kailangan pang gumastos. Kakambal na natin ito nung tayo ay isinilang sa mundo- gifts to share with purpose. Our purpose of being here on earth is to seek Jesus first and lead our friends to God in a way that they could feel that they are loved.And thanking God for renewing our life through Christ Jesus' life!

To celebrate Christmas is an event of Togetherness with
Christ-me-and-siblings in Christ!!!!! 

Maligayang Pasko po sa lahat!

Christmas Homesickness

by Darlene Joy San Felipe

My major homesickness happened when I was in my first year of stay in Abu Dhabi, UAE, a few months after my first Christmas abroad. I was not able to eat as I used to and I lost a lot of weight even without exercise! And I looked so sad. There was also an instance when I encountered a strong sandstorm when I went walking with a colleague one evening. I had severe dry cough because of that reason which was an added burden. I was asthmatic as a child so that could be the reason why it turned really bad.

I tried looking for another job through the net with a higher monthly compensation and something which has also humanitarian or social services.. It's hard to find those kinds of companies in UAE or I wasn't just lucky. Maybe it is not what God wanted for me. Then I found Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center (SKMC) Volunteer Services. SKMC is a government owned hospital in Abu Dhabi. I became a member after a series of interviews and orientation. I was made to choose which area I would prefer to work. My very limited free time was only on Fridays after the 12noon Tagalog mass at the church which usually ends at 1:30pm. They chose for me the Abu Dhabi Development and Rehabilitation Center since the unit is almost always open to volunteers at any time. I'm not sure with the complete name of the unit now but it is called ADRC. The patients there are mentally and physically not capable. You have to help them eat, drink, sit, lay down and some in play activities although usually, you just have to talk to them and touch them and even hug and kiss them and make them feel loved because that is all they need. Most of them were abandoned by their parents and families since most of them have stayed there since they were diagnosed to be retarded. They're just lucky to be supported by the UAE government. I made friends with the nurses who are mostly Filipinos. Only few volunteers like ADRC for obvious reasons, among others... One girl patient there always stayed close to me and would even hold my hand tightly and wanted me to help her eat although the nurses objected because she can do it with little difficulty. They have to do by themselves whatever little task they can as part of their coping activity. Whenever I say goodbye, she would always ask me to come back and I would smile at her since I'm not sure if I can. I went there for several Fridays and also went to visit the ICU for normal kids until such time that I became busy with some activities which also helped me cope with my homesickness which was also accompanied by depression. Then my life and emotions became normal. And I became busy and wasn't able to visit ADRC for a few months.

When I was about to spend my second Christmas in Abu Dhabi, I suddenly thought of making the 25th a special day so that I decided to visit my ADRC friends! I brought some chocolates for them and for the nurses as well. The nurses informed me those who are not supposed to be given any kind of food. I forgot her name but that same girl patient who kept holding my hand tightly told with me utmost clarity upon seeing me, "You came back..". I almost cried.. She was thinking of me all along.. That was one of the happiest Christmas gift that I ever had - the joy in serving the least, those who cannot give back. How I wish I'll have time to visit them once again.. Soon..

A Very Short Christmas Story

by Paul Cardenas

Christmas. Billions of people around the world celebrate it annually. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. The Philippines has earned the distinction of having the longest Christmas celebration, and everyone has a story to tell about it. I too would want to share this story which happened seven years ago.

It was a bright December morning, several weeks before Christmas, and I was out at our front yard. I saw children making rounds, singing carols. Numerous people, from garbage collectors, electricity and telephone bill collection agents, to people from different sects, were roaming around giving envelopes, hoping for a generous donation. But several things bothered me: business was down, and the scenario of not having a bright Christmas hangs over my head. I still haven’t done shopping for gifts, and I haven’t planned what to eat on our ‘Noche Buena’. The Christmas lights and lanterns need to be fixed, or worse, replaced. Things like these gave me a headache.....Christmas....

A boy suddenly appeared at the gate. He was thin and wore shabby clothes. He wore no slippers and he was holding a sack. He was a garbage scavenger. He asked if I have some plastic bottles or old newspapers to be sold to the junk shop. Even though I felt a little bit irritated, I was amused and jokingly asked him of what Christmas meant to him. He looked far away but said in a loud and joyous manner “Christmas is grace! Money! There’s plenty of money...because there’s so many garbage!!!”

I was surprised at his reply. Here I was, worrying and having a hard time while this boy was full of excitement and enthusiasm. I was so out of focus that I forgot the real meaning of Christmas. I equated it with gift-giving, food, more spending, while the boy equated Christmas with GRACE! I felt ashamed. I forgot the most important thing. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday! I forgot the most important message of all. I forgot about L-O-V-E........

As I was pondering on it, the boy stood up, starting to leave. I told him to wait, and grabbed the old tin cans, newspapers, plastics and other items I collected and gave it to him for free. He was surprised and was so happy. The sack was full, and I told him to go and sell it immediately. He didn’t bother to thank me but I didn’t mind. In fact, I was thankful, because it took another poor boy again, like the poor baby in the manger, to open my ‘eyes’ to remember the true message of Christmas.

As a conclusion to this story, let us remember the word of the great lyricist, the late Levi Celerio. We don’t have to wait for Christmas. We don’t have to pass the time to smile, to share, to repent, to forgive and most of all, to love. We can do it every day. And as we celebrate the season of Advent, let us be like the garbage boy, full of excitement and joy as we remember the birth of our God’s only begotten Son, and let us eagerly await for the second coming of our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. The story doesn’t end here. I know you have a Christmas story to tell. Merry Christmas -----

Nota Bene
The boy is now a young man in his 20's, still scavenging, but the author and the boy remain friends....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

“Pasalubong” (Isang Mensahe para sa mga OFWs) by Timothy Fajarda

BUHAY-BUHAY: “Pasalubong” (Isang Mensahe para sa mga OFWs)
by Timothy Fajarda
Ako si Jun. Anak ng isang bagong bayani.

Malinaw pa rin sa aking ala-ala ang gabing ‘yun December 23, 2010. Lasap na lasap ko na ang malamig na simoy ng hangin dahil magpapasko na. Nagpaplano na nga ako kung ano ang mga ihahanda namin sa noche buena dahil mula ng pumunta ng Saudi si tatay, ako na palagi ang nakatoka sa pagluluto. Pero iba ang kutob ko nung araw na ‘yun. Buong araw kasing hindi sumagot sa tawag at text namin si tatay. Isang araw bago ‘yun, nagpacheck-up siya sa pinakamalapit na ospital dahil na rin sa iniinda nyang pananakit ng dibdib. Kahina-hinala ang resulta ng ECG kaya pinayuhan syang bumalik kinabukasan para sa gamot at follow-up na check-up. Pero hindi namin sya nakontak buong araw. Inisip na lang namin na baka nasa ospital sya at naiwan sa bahay ‘yung cell phone nya. Mali kami. Nung gabi ding ‘yun, nabalot ng lungkot at hinagpis ang buong bahay namin matapos matanggap ang isang ‘di inaasahang tawag mula Saudi. Patay na po si Ka Lito…inatake sa puso…..
Hindi ko na maalala kung ano naramdaman ko nung oras na ‘yun. Naghalo ang gulat, sakit, at pagsisisi sa puso ko. Hindi ko inasahang mawawala sya dalawang araw bago magpasko at apat na buwan bago ako magtapos sa kolehiyo. Bigla kong naalala ang mga araw na halos iwasan ko ang mga tawag nya kasi busy ako, ang mga oras na halos magsawa na akong magsabi ng hello daddy, kamusta ka na? tuwing tatawag sya, at ang mga panahong mas pinahalagahan ko pa ang mga pasalubong na ipinangako nyang dadalhin nya pag-uwi nya sa ‘Pinas. Masakit…sobrang sakit.

Halos dalawang buwan kaming naghintay para sa bangkay nya. Makailang ulit kaming nagfollow-up sa DFA at OWWA para mapabilis ang pagdating nya. February 2011, lumapag na rin sa wakas sa NAIA ang mga labi ng tatay ko. Hindi ko akalaing ang mga tagpong napapanood ko lang dati sa TV ay naranasan namin nung mga oras na ‘yun. Kapit-kamay kaming tumungo sa cargo section upang salubungin ang isang mahabang kahong naglalaman ng bangkay ng tatay ko. Habang papalapit ng papalapit ang sasakyang nagdadala ng wooden casket, bigla kong naalala ang mga pasalubong na ipinangako ng tatay ko. Heto na ba ‘yun? Ito ba ang itsura ng balikbayan box na sinasabi nya? Pero imbis na saya, luha ng pangungulila ang lumabas sa mga mata ko.

Mahirap mawalan ng magulang at lalong masakit mawalan ng magulang kung sya’y OFW. Habang tinatype ko ang mga letra sa komposisyon kong ito, sabay ding umaagos ang luha ng pangungulila ko sa aking ama kahit isang taon na syang wala sa mundo. Kahit ilang taon pa siguro ang lumipas, hindi pa rin mawawala ang sakit na dinulot ng pagkamatay ng tatay ko. Ganito pala ang mawalan ng magulang. Habambuhay kang mangungulila sa mga payo, gabay, at pagmamahal nila. Miss na miss ko na po ang daddy ko. Sagad sa buto.

Naalala ko na naman ang salitang pasalubong na kaakibat na ng pagiging OFW. Simula ng mawala ang tatay ko, nag-iba na rin ang tingin ko sa pasalubong…..

Ok lang na wala akong mga imported na tsokolate, imported na mga gadgets, imported na damit, imported na sapatos, imported na sabon, imported na canned goods, imported na tooth paste, imported na bag, imported na cell phone, o kahit anong imported man ‘yan. Ok lang din sa akin kahit mahirap lang kami at nakakakain lang ng tatlong beses sa isang araw. Ok lang kahit walang mga pasalubong o balikbayan box basta nandito ang tatay ko….basta sama-sama kaming buong pamilya…basta masaya kami. Pero huli na ang lahat. Wala na ang tatay ko. Wala na ang bayani ng buhay ko.

Isang taon na ang nakalipas pero may kirot pa rin sa puso ko tuwing magbabalik-tanaw ako sa mga naranasan ng aking pamilya.
Tuwing makakakita ako ng OFW, naaalala ko lang ang mga pangarap ng tatay ko. Mahirap palang maging OFW kaya ganun na lang ang pagmamahal ko para sa kanila.

Ikaw? OFW ka ba? Kung oo, sana hayaan nyo po akong mahalin kita. Dahil sa pamamagitan nito, para na ring niyakap ko ang aking ama. Alam ko ang pinagdadaanan nyo. Malaki man ang mga ngiti nyo sa mga pictures nyo sa Facebook, alam kong may lungkot din na nakatago ‘dun. Ayaw nyo kasing mag-alala ang mga mahal nyo sa buhay dito sa Pilipinas. Sana huwag nyong kalimutan na hindi lang pera at pasalubong ang kailangan ng pamilya nyong nangungulila sa pagmamahal at kalinga nyo. At sa mga anak at kamag-anak dito sa Pilipinas, sana maalala nyo rin na hindi pinupulot ng mga OFW ang pera sa abroad. Hindi po sila factory ng pera kundi mga taong masaya man sa panlabas, sumisigaw naman ang kanilang mga puso sa sobrang pangungulila sa mga halik at yakap nyo.

Sa mga OFWs saan mang panig ng mundo, mahal ko kayo at saludo po kami sa inyo. Mabuhay kayong mga bagong bayani ng Pilipinas! Kayo po ang mga tunay na bayani sa puso ko. Sana’y dumating ang araw na hindi nyo na kailangang umalis pa ng bansa at tiisin ang matinding pangungulila. Hindi hamak na mas mahalaga pa rin ang OFW kaysa sa balikbayan box.

Magpapasko na naman pala. Miss ko na naman si Tatay.Wala mang pasalubong o balikbayan box, alam kong kasama ko pa rin sya.

Ako nga pala ulit si Jun. Ulila na sa ama pero mananatili pa ring proud na anak ng isang OFW.