Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saying "Yes" to God

Solemnity of the Annunciation

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is one of those beautiful feasts I love.   There are two events we are celebrating in this one Gospel passage: the Mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made Flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and the maternity of Mary.  The Pro-life movement chose this feast for its Patronal feast day and the reason is I think pretty obvious.  I like this feast not because of the vision of angel or supernatural light.  In fact, there is nothing in the Gospel which explicitly tells us how the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.  For all we know it may not have been a visual encounter but an internal locution or apprehension.  All we can be sure of is that "God had sent his angel to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the House of David, and the virgin's name was Mary."  I like to imagine Mary exactly as she is portrayed in the photo above- in the midst of the ordinary.  God comes to us in the ordinary events and circumstances of life.  Without fanfare and fireworks.  Just in the ordinary, right in the familiar and everyday.  It is in this cloak of the ordinary which makes us sometimes miss Him.  But Mary, who ponders all things in her heart, and in silence waits lovingly for the promise of the Messiah like all the women of Israel in her days, recognized the moment.   And when she recognized the presence of something special, she was afraid.  But only for a short moment because the one who is full of grace was open to all possibilities.  Her doubt was not the expression of unbelief but a sign of openness to what was being spoken by the angel.  What was announced to her was still an invitation, and she was free to choose.  

The lesson of the Annunciation is the "fiat" which Mary uttered.  "I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me as you have said."  These are the words we try to live by everyday of our lives.  This "Fiat" is the word we not only say once in the big moments of our life, but in the everyday, ordinary events of life.  It needs to be renewed at every moment because God makes His Will known to us at every moment and we are asked to respond.  According to Caryll Houselander in her book "The Reed of God" saying "yes" does not so much mean that we agree to do something for God.  It is more that we agree to have God do something in us.  Transform us, make us more like His Son, live His life again in us so that He can continue His mercy and works in the world.  It is complete abandon to the merciful designs of a loving God who knows what is best for us.  When I am faced with a choice, I think of the Annunciation, and try to work my way from fear, to doubts, to resignation.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Transfiguration

"Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. He was transfigured before their eyes. His face became as dazzling as the sun, his clothes as radiant as light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them conversing with him. Upon this, Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, how good it is for us to be here! ...He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them. Out of the cloud came a voice which said, "This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him." When they heard this the disciples fell forward on the ground, overcome with fear. Jesus came toward them and laying his hand on them, said "Get up!Do not be afraid." When they looked up they did not see anyone but Jesus...."  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

St. Bernadette and the Story of Lourdes

 The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11th, is close to my heart.  The first Saint I was ever aware of was St. Bernadette and the movie which made me keenly aware of the presence of Mary was The Song of Bernadette.  It made such an impression on me that I joined the Children of Mary with their white dresses and blue sash.  I read lots of books on Bernadette, my favorite being "Saint Bernadette Soubirous" by Abbe Fancois Trochu, and "A Holy Life" by Patricia McEachern.  Renee de Laurentis also wrote delightful books on St. Bernadette.  Among the many virtues of the Saint, it was her humility, simplicity and modesty , which spoke volumes to me.  I believe that Mary is drawn irresistibly to these virtues and is very close to those who possess them.  The story of Lourdes is closely linked to the story of suffering and February 11th is designated as World Day of Prayer for the Sick.  It is no wonder that St. Bernadette was chosen since she was the perfect model of bearing our sufferings with patience, faith and love.  Her life bears witness how God confounds the proud and lifts up the lowly.

Friday, December 30, 2016


January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Of all the titles of Mary, her motherhood is the title I like best. I love to collect photos of Mary showing her with the Child Jesus. There is something in that mystery that draws me. Of course, it gives me much delight to know that I was also born on the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome - August 5th. The Basilica is the largest basilica in the West dedicated to the Mother of God. It was erected, as the story goes, at the site where Our Lady of the Snows appeared.

A great heresy in the Church, promulgated by Bishop Nestorius, claimed that Mary was not the Mother of God, but the mother of the man, Jesus. He proposed that Mary could not have borne God since he is God, but bore only the man. In saying this, he was actually denying the divinity of Jesus. This heresy was put to rest in 431 at the Council of Ephesus when the Greek Fathers of the Church, headed by St. Cyril of Alexandria, defined the maternity of Mary. It was on this Council that the title of "Theotokos" or "God-Bearer",was first used.

It is interesting to note that Mary's motherhood is presented to us by the Church calendar at the beginning of the year. This maternal role actually began at the Annunciation when Mary agreed to be the Mother of the Son of God. But because the Church wants to put the spotlight on the person of Jesus, the Emmanuel, Mary sort of faded into the background. Now that the climax of Christmas is somewhat over, Mary is again brought back on stage. It is also fitting to celebrate this feast at the opening of a new year because it brings to mind the reality that Mary is the dawn and Christ the Rising Sun. She is the one that leads us to God. She opens the way so that we can follow the path of true discipleship. The document "Lumen Gentium" says that Mary is the first of Christ's faithful disciples.

It is unfortunate that this motherhood of Mary is rejected by many, Protestants and Catholics alike. By Protestants, because of a misunderstanding and fear that she will take away from Jesus the honor and worship that he solely deserves. By Catholics, because they have reduced Mary solely as an object of empty and silly devotions, the heroine of mythic proportion. Saint Therese of Lisieux one day complained about the manner in which priests of her days talked about Mary in their homilies. "They talk of her imagined life, not her real life. Why can't they talk about how she doubted like us, that she suffered like us."

Of all the insights about Mary, one I ponder the most, is our late Pope John Paul II's words in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater that Mary is blessed BECAUSE SHE BELIEVED. It was her faith alone that we can all strive to imitate. Her other attributes of the Immaculate Conception and Divine Motherhood are attributes that will never be ours. But her faith, her trust and surrender, are virtues we can all imitate. Woman of Faith.. Mother of God... Mother of Mine.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Reflection

Christmas is my favorite liturgical season.  The joy of anticipation and the joy of realization, when the Child Jesus is finally in our midst, creates a feeling of both wonder and nostalgia.  I realize the    fact that Christmas can mean different things to different people.  For our elderly residents living in the Home it is a moment of loneliness and pain.  The loss of physical independence and the loss of family and friends, both because of distance and death, could bring about feelings of depression.  For most people, Christmas can mean work, lots of head-spinning work- unavoidable circumstances entailed in one's means of livelihood  or other duties and obligations called forth  by one's state in life.  It could mean a string of customers to satisfy, employees to be thanked, and friends to show love and gratitude to.  But despite all these, when the dust finally settles and the last box of gifts is wrapped, and when the soul finally gets itself down to adore and listen to church-bells ringing, the full reality of the hustle and bustle is brought home to consciousness- it is Christmas, a Child is born, Jesus.

Then our hearts begin to quicken and our eyes open to the awesome gift given to us.  We begin to have an understanding, limited as it may be, of the wonder and miracle of love.  Love is the fuel that keeps Christmas burning.  It is the love of God from the very beginning of time, the love of the Son who came to fulfill the Father's wish, the love of Mary who accepted the call to be the vessel of the Incarnate, and the love that burns in our hearts for those we hold dear.  That is why we endure the discomforts of work and toil, that is why we forgive and forget wrongs done to us, why we patch up tattered relationships - all because we love.  The love shown us by the Father and the Love made Incarnate, is the same flame of love that burns in our sinful hearts.  Imperfect as this love may be, tainted as it may seem, we share in the Divine Sonship.

As I behold in love and muted wonder the crib in my cell, my heart expands at the thought that this Child, celebrated by Kings, Popes, Saints, and all people alike, came just for me.  Here in my cell, He and I alone, exchange intimacies of the heart, hidden from all others.  At the sight of Him lying in this crib of hay, the wonderful Pandora box of promises is opened - Peace, Surrender, Sacrifice, Joy, humility, new beginning, eternal happiness-  all promises of a New Year.  Whatever was in our life's slate this past 2016, the promise of 2017 opens wide.  Yes, the darkness has now passed, the rays of dawn had cast its full light, the Morning Star of our lives, has finally come.  Oh what joy! What gift! The whole world is grateful!  In the inner recesses of our hearts- we are speechless.  We can only accept it with loving disbelief.

Lord Jesus, as you have given us much, grant us the joy of giving you something this Christmas and all the days of our lives.  Bring to fruition all the good desires you have inspired in us.  Just as you gave yourself to us because of your inestimable love, help us to extend ourselves to others.  Just as you were Gift to us, undeserving as we are, let us be gifts for others, undeserving we may think them to be.  As the New Year opens wide its door, let us enter confidently, hopefully and joyfully with full expectations realizing that we can always begin again.  Help us to hold on to the joys and graces of these days.  Imperfect as we are, you know that we love You and desire only to follow You, all the days of our lives.  "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life!"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent, Mary and Woman

Advent is a time of expectant longing. The prophet Isaiah expresses it beautifully when he says: “ Return for the sake of your servants!” or “ No ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen, any God but you, doing such deeds for those who wait for him.” One senses an air of impatience, of calling out with insistence that God would come back. During Advent, we find expression of this longing in the way we celebrate this season. We remember those we love, we buy and give gifts, mend broken relationships and ponder the state of our inner life. God has planted that longing in our heart. He created it in us so that like Isaiah, we may cry out in a loud voice the desire for a deeper kind of fulfillment.

The mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus is God’s response to this cry. It is as if leaving heaven, God assumed a body and entered the realm of time to satisfy this longing. It was an act inspired by love for the sake of those He loves. This was the greatest manifestation of God’s power, but more so, His greatest manifestation of Love.

Our longings are about to be fulfilled in the coming days as we await the great day of Christmas. But before we bask in the glory of the coming of the Lord, let us focus our attention on Mary, the woman of the hour. The story of Christmas is intimately linked to Mary. Her presence dominates the scene. The spotlight is on her as the drama of the Annunciation unfolds. What vigilance she practiced! What vigilant expectation! What anticipation she manifested as she waited for the realization of the words of the angel. What deep faith she had as she allowed the light of the event to illumine her response and her actions following her consent. She was focused to go beyond the trappings of this great event of revelation: the vision of the Angel, the words proclaiming her greatness, and focused on the reality of a life offered to her. As the story of the Incarnation progresses, we shall see how Mary recedes into the background to give way to the presence of the Child- her Child- the Emmanuel. In this instance, I seem to hear the echo of a voice- that of the Baptist- who said “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Isn’t this the story of every woman? And in particular of a woman with child? Isn’t this the ethos of woman, to conceive within her the reality of God and in due time, according to the degree of our cooperation, give birth to the Son of God in the realm of grace? Aren’t the qualities inherent in woman- her nurturing instinct, her maternal solicitude, her intuition, her self-sacrificing ability for the sake of others- present precisely because of this reality? These qualities are never effaced whether one chooses a life of natural motherhood or single state of life as a lay person or as a consecrated woman.
The reality of spiritual motherhood is as real and deeper. A woman with child is reliving the mystery of God made Man. If we believe that we are temples of God, then we must agree that a woman pregnant with her child is pregnant “with God.” Can she like Mary, be vigilant so that the mystery does not pass her by? Can she look beyond the trappings of physical inconvenience, added responsibilities, added expense, added burden, and focus herself on the mystery being unfolded within her? Can she, like Mary, be joyful in the faith that tells her “she is blessed among women because she believes?” Believes in the power of LIFE? Believes in her dignity as a woman, a vessel of life? Can she, like Mary, sing in refrain the Baptist’s cry “He must increase” because the life within her is of God? And that she must decrease because she must forget herself with all her supposed needs?

The Season of Advent is a time of conceiving and giving birth. To conceive in faith desires that transcend ourselves and giving birth to them by the help of God’s grace thus transforming ourselves, our lives and those of others. We wait... Wait for what? For the Good News promised to us that God will come to be with us. As the Psalmist exclaims “God delights in his people!”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Saint John of the Cross: Doctor of Love

Doctor of Love
Feast Day: December 14th
Carmelite, Mystic, Doctor of the Church

The Carmelite Order celebrates the feast of Saint John of the Cross on December 14th. Saint John is first of my favorite male Saints, with St. Francis De Sales, as my second. Humanly speaking, his life was a story of poverty and sufferings but spiritually, it was a story of love between a creature and the Creator. To know Saint John we need to know some basic facts about him.

Juan de Yepes was born June 24, 1542 in Fontiveros, Spain. He had two brothers, Francisco and Luis. Luis died as a small child after his father's death. His father, Gonzalo De Yepes, belonged to a noble family of silk merchants. His mother, Catalina Alvarez, was an orphan girl who was raised by a local family and earned her living as a weaver. The two met when Gonzalo was on a business trip. Gonzalo fell in love with this attractive young woman and the two married "out of love" without the blessing of the Yepes family. Gonzalo was disinherited and the couple raised their family in hard work and financial straits but full of love and dedication. When Gonzalo died, Catalina was left to care for the boys. Life proved to be very difficult for her and the small family of three lived in abject poverty. Catalina assumed the heavy responsibility of feeding and raising her children. She was forced to move from place to place to look for a good paying job that would help her to meet even the bare necessities of life. This childhood experience of self-sacrificing love will form John and he would develop this subject and used it as a structure in his explanation of the Divine love of God and the standard of what our own response to God's love should be. His sayings of: "Where there is no love, put love and you will find love," "Love is repaid by love alone," "In the evening of life you will be examined in love," "When you experience something unpleasant, look at Jesus Crucified and be silent," are all sentiments formed by his own experience of self-emptying love.

Catalina was described as a very devout Christian woman who brought up her sons "with the greatest Christian spirit, and encouraged them to be devoted to the Mother of God." Years later, Saint John would recount a story of his childhood. He had fallen into a pond and a very beautiful lady appeared and stretched her hand to him in the motion of helping him. Young Juan refused to extend his hand to her because he did not want to get her dirty. A workman with a pole eventually fished him out of the pond and rescued him. Saint John often said that it was for this reason that he was very devoted and fond of Our Lady.The Shepherd Boy

We cannot speak of Saint John without mentioning Saint Teresa of Avila. The two met when St. John went back to Medina del Campo to celebrate his First Mass after ordination. He had entered the Carmelites but felt unhappy thinking he was called to a more austere life of the Carthusians. St. Teresa had founded a reformed Carmelite community of nuns in the same town and was beginning a process of finding men to join her reform for the friars. This was to be a providential meeting. They met and talked and St. John confided to her his plans. St. Teresa for her part convinced John to join her reform and assured him that whatever he was looking for with the Carthusians, he would find in the Reformed Carmel. John agreed provided that he did not have to wait long.
John and Teresa suffered much for the reform of Carmel. It resulted in St. John being held prisoner for 9 months in a Toledo cell by his fellow Carmelite brothers. True to the practice of the times, he received the beatings and penalty imposed on a "renegade " religious. He was in a solitary confinement, deprived of any kind of mental or physical activity, in the cold and dark prison cell with a very small window to allow a little bit of light to enter. When the time ordained by God came, he escaped and made his way to a monastery of Reformed Carmelite Nuns in Toledo. They barely recognized him for they found him emaciated, confused and looking barely alive.

St. John's experience in imprisonment brought with it a purification of the purest quality. It would bring out the sparkle already in the diamond that was St. John. It produced the most beautiful poetry Spain  ever had, the 'Spiritual Canticle." John of the Cross would serve the Discalced Order in a spiritual way. He is considered to be the co-founder of the Order along with Saint Teresa of Avila. He died in Ubeda December 14, 1591 from a blood poisoning originating from a gangrenous ulcerated leg sore. He was beatified by Pope Clement January 25, 1675. His canonization occurred 50 years later on December 27, 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. He was declared a Doctor of the Universal Church by Pope Pius XI August 24, 1926.
Personally, I love Saint John because he is a true voice of Truth. He is dependable because he doesn't water down the demands of the Gospel. He points to what is true and necessary and does not mince words to soften the blow. He challenges but at the same time he comforts with his words of love and understanding. He demands but at the same time understands the frailty of human nature. He holds up an ideal but makes room for human weakness. He feeds us with the solid meat of the spiritual. He is austere but at the same time poetic and eloquent. He speaks of mortification and detachment but always in the context of loving. He reminds us that we are special and loved by God. He reminds that we have been bought by the blood and death of Jesus and that nothing - no suffering, no trial, no persecution- can ever make us repay what He did out of love. Except to love Him back.

Saint John wrote his major works of The Dark Night, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Spiritual Canticle and Living Flame of Love. He also wrote some prose, prayers and Counsels. We have some surviving letters he wrote.

Saint John of the Cross is known as the Doctor of the Dark Night. That is an inaccurate description. His dark night was only a means to the greater end of transforming union in love. He is a Doctor of Love. Only if we see him in this light, will we cease to be afraid of him and his doctrine.

What is St. John's relevance in our modern day and age?  I believe first and foremost that he, like John the Baptist", is the voice that cries in the wilderness, "make straight the way of the Lord!"  his voice bears the impact of conscience.  Our lives can become filled with so many needs, longings and wants, ambitions and plans.  We find our plates full , and yet, still go away hungry and thirsty.  We find ourselves in a world of options and freedoms, and yet, find ourselves enslaved and limited.   We find ourselves soaring so high in our spiritual adventure, and suddenly, find ourselves on a rapid descent and sometimes ending with a fatal crash on the ground of life.  What does John of the Cross say to all these?  "On the way to the mountain, nothing, nothing, nothing. And at the top of the mountain, still nothing."  (Ascent of Mount Carmel).  God is much greater than all the goods of this earth.  Much greater than the loftiest of our spiritual experiences.  Much greater than our mind can conceive.  He teaches us that the ascent to union with God is accomplished in darkness and nakedness.  He teaches that God is not found AFTER the darkness passes, but that God is IN the darkness, and to embrace this darkness is the surest way to find God.  Faith, Hope and Love, the three things that last.  In the end, these are the surest guides we can depend on. We are living in these times of faith-crisis.  We look for signs and miracles.  We exalt grand spiritual experiences and gravitate to what our intellect can understand.  We are confronted by worldly idols and created some ourselves.  We put out our hands and frantically grab whatever makes us happy, only to be disappointed because they all make us feel empty.  In short, we look for God in all the wrong places.  St. John invites us to journey WITHIN.

Saint John of the Cross, pray for us!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mary of Guadalupe

Feast:  December 12th

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a beautiful feast appropriately celebrated during Advent.  Just as the message of Guadalupe was a message of light piercing through the darkness, so is the message of Advent that of Light dawning upon mankind.  The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is beautiful in that it once again shows us the tenderness of Mary as mother, appearing to a humble native named Juan Diego on the hills of Tepeyac, to offer consolation and hope to a world wrapped in ignorance and darkness.  She appeared heavy with child, anticipating the beautiful event we are to celebrate Christmas night, when the Child to be born of her comes to save His people.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Third Sunday of Advent

“I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul. For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice...” We call this prayer the “Magnificat” almost always used in reference to Mary. But this prayer can also be applied to John the Baptist. John was certainly a man singularly blessed by God to be the precursor of the messianic age. He was God’s mouthpiece announcing the dawn of a new age. His was the message of repentance, forgiveness and justice. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him because God anointed him to send glad tidings to the prisoners under the bondage of sin, to announce the year of favor from God. Interestingly enough, this was the passage used by Jesus for his own credentials when John, from prison, asked Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come or do we wait for another?” This same message was played out by two different personalities. One with a loud voice in the desert and an unyielding reed standing by the banks of the Jordan. Another with the power of love and service, a lamb who opened not his mouth, a bruised reed.

John knew his role in the salvation drama of Israel. He himself acknowledged that he is only the voice in the desert announcing the coming of the Lord. He is fully aware of the words of the prophet Isaiah. What struck me the most with him was his deep self-knowledge and his being fully rooted in the truth about himself. The questions (more like proposals) that were addressed to him were unhesitatingly answered with what he knew to be the truth. “I am not Elijah or the prophet or the Messiah. No, I am only a voice... Someone mightier is coming after me.... I am not worthy to untie his sandals....”

Only in our knowledge of the truth can we truly deliver the message of God. Only in knowing ourselves can we fully serve God without the danger of losing our souls. The “proposals” we can encounter in the service of God can become a wine that intoxicates us. We can easily forget that the message is more important than the messenger. We can easily forget that we are not the Elijah’s, or God forbid we have the illusion that we are the Messiah, of our world with subtle agendas. We are only voices in the deserts of this world, witnessing to the reality that there is One, more powerful and more important who will accomplish the impossible which we cannot do ourselves. John was important in the plan of God, and so are we, but only to the extent that we remain in the vine, rooted in the truth of who we truly are on the chess board.

John the Baptist never witnessed the fullness of God’s revelation. He never saw the fullness of God’s intent to save his people. He never witnessed the victory of the Resurrection. And yet, God needed him to prepare the way of this ultimate victory. We may never witness the ultimate victory in our fight for justice. We may never reap the harvest of our labors but God needs us to proclaim the Good News of His Son. We may never see the end to abortion, euthanasia, social injustice, poverty and sufferings in this world. But we should be firm in our faith and hope that One who is mightier will come and will make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.

I believe that only if we truly make this our conviction that we can rejoice always and pray without ceasing as St. Paul exhorts us to do in the second reading. I believe that if we can seek out the good from the bad can we retain what is good. Only then is it possible to be thankful in all circumstances. Only then can we be found blameless until the coming of the Lord. For as St. Paul says, God is faithful and He will accomplish His plan present since the foundation of the world.