Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Overheard During Simbang Gabi

"Simbang Gabi" is a beautiful Filipino Christmas tradition.  It is a novena made up of nine dawn masses from the 16th to the 24th of December.  As our parish priest noted, some people who do not go to mass for the rest of the year make their only  appearance at Church for these "misa de gallo" or "Simbang Gabi".  He said it had  magnetic powers he could not fathom.  Every year I have observed it drawing people from all walks of life, energizing people to get up really early and packing the church with so much anticipation.

But alas, it is hard to quiet down the Simbang Gabi crowd.  Teenagers show off their cellphones to one another.  Lovers cuddle due to the cold December mornings.  Little children run all over the place.  Vendors selling taho, rice cakes, and all sorts of food roam the parish grounds.

In an attempt to lessen the noise level and maintain the solemnity of the mass, our parish council flashed an announcement on the projector screen this morning, in Tagalog.  It said something to this effect:

"Pakiusap, tayo po ay magbigay-galang sa Banal na Eukaristiya.  
Atin pong iwasan ang magkwentuhan sa loob ng simbahan at 
ilagay po natin ang ating mga cellphone sa silent mode."

The minute the announcement was flashed on the screen, I overheard a row of teenagers sitting not far away from me saying loudly to one another:

"Ano raw?
Ano yung Eukaristiya?"

It was a few minutes before mass started and I could not believe my ears.  All along I thought that they were noisy during Simbang Gabi because they did not care what was going on at the altar, Who was being offered, and what the significance of the Sacrifice was.  It dawned on me that it was possible that they did not know.

That was a totally different problem, and I informed our parish priest about it.  He could only shake his head.  He said, "Imposibleng hindi nila alam iyon".  He has his job cut out for him, all right.

In addition, during the recitation of the Apostle's Creed, I heard someone saying, 

"Nang may ikalawang araw ay nabuhay mag-uli"

In English, this meant, "On the SECOND day he rose again"...

It was quite interesting.  Either her Tagalog was rusty, or something else was.  

The choir put up a commendable effort in singing so bright and early.  The people hardly joined them, due probably to lack of sleep.  Or so I thought.  Until...

While I was going back to my seat after receiving Communion, the choir sang "Christmas in Our Hearts" by Jose Mari Chan. It was a song I hardly thought would be appropriate for mass, but one well loved by Filipinos.

So much so that I heard the whole church singing along, like a public karaoke session, belting out at the top of their lungs,

"Let's sing Meri Krismas, and a happy holiday (sic)
This season may we never forget the love we have for Jesus
Let Him be the one to guide us as another New year starts
And may the Spirit of Christmas be always in our hearts!"

I looked up, at Jesus on the Cross, and felt a smile growing in my heart.  For all our flaws, Filipinos do love Jesus, and we love to sing.  Who was I to judge people's faith for their mistakes, when, of all races,  Filipinos truly have Christmas in our hearts?  I was just sharing with a balikbayan friend last night that she had been to the US and Canada, and there was no "spirit of Christmas" until December 24, whereas here we started putting up lanterns and lights as early as September.  I had spent Christmas in Sydney and it was really different. 

In our parish, they served salabat (fresh ginger tea), coffee, pan de sal, and lomi after the mass.  The world may be having a financial crisis, but for the Filipinos, Christmas will always be celebrated in our hearts.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Advent Recollection Reflections

Trust Ella to turn a blessing into a struggle. Just a year and a half ago, I was praying for God to lead me to a workplace where I could serve Him with my skills and talents, and which provided a Christian setting so I would not have too much difficulty adjusting after a year and a half of full-time mission work.

God's answer, as I have shared before, was two-fold. He said, "Do not worry, I will not bring you back to the world." I was relieved, for I knew that in a corporate setting I could lose myself again and become what I had fought tooth and nail against, which was to be a corporate (law firm) slave. "You will know when the job is from me", the Lord added during my discernment period. I held on to His promise and so I gave up some offers that did not sit well with me, and waited.

To make a long story short I was led to CD Asia, my present company. I celebrated my first year as a full-time employee last November. It was time to evaluate myself. I saw where I needed to grow and pushed myself to do better on my second year.

I started preparing for my 2009 department plans in September, thinking it would ease my load for December, the scheduled time for presenting the plans to the Board. I wanted perfect plans gathered from perfect data with guaranteed perfect results.

Given all that so-called preparation, I still found myself cramming, and requiring my staff to work doubly hard, by the first week of December. I also had a good problem - the provincial employees were flown to Manila for the first time and I, as one of the proponents of that move, had to come up with a proper Training Program for them to make it worth their while.

In short, for this past week, I had department evaluation, report preparation, Board presentation, and staff instruction. Include one morning of Simbang Gabi sponsored by our zone in the parish, endless Christmas parties, gifts to wrap, humongous traffic, outreach programs, family and friends to think about, and the result is exhaustion. I lost my voice, felt hunger like I had never had before (no time to eat), ignored text messages, had no online presence, and prayed for the grace to survive the week.

I took some measures to ensure my physical and spiritual health. I tried to keep my regular prayer time. I kept my RDL appointments with my SD. I drank 1000mg of Vitamin C. And I slept every moment I could, which included those precious minutes while stuck in traffic in a taxi, no matter how dangerous that was. Sadly, I could not keep my gym schedule, so guess what's definitely in my new year's resolutions list - a reconciliation with my personal trainer!

This morning, I had to wrap gifts for some friends I would be seeing, and was late for work (as usual). As I left our house hurriedly to hail a taxi, I almost slipped. It was a very minor misstep, and I did not lose my balance at all, but it was enough for me to hear a voice telling me, "Slow down, Ella. What's your hurry?"

I paused in the middle of the street and answered back, "Lord, You know me so well. Give me responsibilities and I will deliver. I long to spend more time with You. Show me how to do that amidst my busyness. I am at a loss how!"

Good thing that our office activity for today was an Advent Recollection given by Lampstand Inspirations, a ministry ran by brothers and a sister from the Ligaya ng Panginoon community. My good friend Atty. Bobby Quitain was a speaker. I was pleased to see Mandy, Bogart, and Nerren too.

The Lord immediately used Bobby to capture my attention. He asked us all to slow down. I was struck at the lengths I had gone to supposedly do God's work - in the parish, in the office, in my family, with my friends - and yet I had diminishing time spent in silence, in rest, and in prayer.

It was a Spirit-filled recollection. We were of different religions, but the same God. All of a sudden, our small office pantry was transformed into a foretaste of heaven. People started laughing at the jokes. Then they fidgeted during meditation time. They rejoiced at the games. But point by point, video by video, Scripture verse by Scripture verse, the CD Asians slowly felt God's invitation to claim Heaven in our Hearts. It was a sight to behold.

God asked me to put down my official hat and to just be a daughter to Him. I needed to worship. I needed to sing. I needed to tell Him that I loved Him, that despite my many activities and worries, He was and will always be the Center of my life. That I long for Heaven as an ultimate destination and as a possibility here on earth.

So yes, I am glad that my officemates had a wonderful day of recollection, but I was even happier that I too was able to set aside my many concerns and to experience God in the workplace. I did not realize how much I was thirsting, longing, yearning, and hungering for God until I sang "Our Hearts Will Rise", "Heaven is My Home", "I Give You My Heart", and "How Great is Your Love" again today. What used to be weekly prayer meeting songs became cries from my very tired heart.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job (now), I love my company, and I love my responsibilities. They are blessings and I am grateful for them. Not every company has an official advent recollection, charity event, Sportsfest, teambuilding, and company raffle this year. It's just that they are not enough to satisfy the hole in my heart.

I have to accept this: that, as St. Augustine said, my heart will not rest until it rests on God alone. Since I am still not in heaven where I can see Him face to face, I have to seek the glimpses of heaven here on earth, and to embrace them as they come.

With an Advent like this, Christ's coming has more meaning. He is coming in my heart. :)

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Katinas: A REAL Worship Experience!

I just attended an awesome worship concert at the Araneta Coliseum with my friends from the parish, and I was just floored with the music and the ministry of The Katinas!

I admit that I was not so excited to go.  I had been to previous worship concerts featuring Christian artists and they had seemed to be more focused on their performance rather than on prayer.  

As soon as The Katinas played their first song, I sensed something was wonderfully different with this group.  They were attuned to God, and it showed.  They were in harmony.  They were uber-talented, and it was inspiring to see them sharing their gifts to proclaim God's word.

I was probably the most jaded in our group, but I tried to hide it.  I had prepared myself to just enjoy the night and to participate in some songs.  I had just prayed the rosary with my parents before leaving for the concert, so I was at my most Catholic best and not really in the mood for a noisy concert that pretended to be about praising God.

I was mistaken.  Everything written about The Katinas was true, and they were even better in person.  Those five brothers who were born in Samoa, an island in the South Pacific, showed me once more how powerful music was in spreading the good news.  Almost everyone sang, danced, jumped, praised, and worshiped with them.  Their personal testimonies about how God had moved in their family's life were simply amazing.  Their music was what they called "rock and soul", which was rock with a little  bit (I'd say a lot) of soul.  They could dance, play musical instruments, and sing, sing, sing.

Their versions of popular worship songs got the crowd lifting their hands in praise.  The whole coliseum declared Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and we felt free to run and dance, to jump and clap, to sing and pray.  The quiet moments moved many to tears, as we listened to their short anecdotes about God's marvelous ways.  

What was a bonus was that they brought American Samoa with them, through videos and songs that gave the audience a feel of how their people worshipped God.  I liked their use of technology to maximize the worship experience.  They connected to the crowd instantly.  I had heard foreign artists attempt to say a few Tagalog words (I was a Menudo fan in my childhood), but it was the first time that I heard this said in a worship concert - "Astig kayo!"  When they announced that they were all married already, a chorus of sighs was loudly heard across the coliseum, mostly from the women.

My feet hurt from all that jumping and dancing, my voice cracked after all that screaming and singing, but it was worth it.  I felt one with other Christians.  I felt closer to my brothers and sisters from the parish.  They sang one Christmas song and I closed my eyes to their beautiful version of "Oh Holy Night".

Everyone in our group was happy after the concert, and it renewed our desire to proclaim God's word through music in our parish and in our community.  We felt so blessed to have been given free tickets to this wonderful concert.  It was a real worship experience for all of us.

Katinas, Astig kayo!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Answer is Yes, Lord.

Another week passed in my retreat.  I was asked to contemplate on Jesus' invitation to follow Him.  Part of my meditation was the Nativity.  I also contemplated on the Hidden Life of Jesus and dwelt on the Incarnation.  

Those were very beautiful and deep passages, but I only had a few minutes a day for "formal" prayer.  As advised by my SD, I walked the rest of the day in prayer, continuing what I had started in the morning through the Scripture verse assigned.

I was grateful that this time, the invitation to follow Jesus did not elicit fear in me.  I just said "Yes, Lord, you know everything, and you know that I love you."  I received the grace to be open, to surrender, and to wait on what the Lord will reveal to me at this point in my life.  This Yes followed a series of responses I had made since I had given my life to the Lord in 1993, and even before that.

This grace enabled me to weather painful news that the younger brother of one of my closest friends was diagnosed with cancer.  I was shocked but gradually came to realize just how much the Lord had enabled my friend and her family to face this crisis.

My response to Jesus' invitation to follow Him also allowed me to choose to be where I am right now, and not to resent it.  I have heard Him calling me to stay and I have decided to willingly stay.  I am able to embrace it because I know Jesus asked it of me and that means He will be with me every step of the way.

All of a sudden, the restlessness building up inside me dissipated.  It might come back but I have this to hold on to - that I have accepted who and where I am, and given the option of leaving vs. staying, I was invited to stay, and I gladly said Yes.

This gives me the freedom now to look at my life with more hope and confidence.  I can take stock of my roles and take them on with renewed strength.  

Jesus truly meets us where we are.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Invitation for All Catholics

I found a very beautiful and powerful commercial produced by CatholicsComeHome.Org for all Catholics.

It is an invitation to see our faith for all that it has contributed to the world. It is an invitation for all Catholics to come home.

For more details please visit and go to the link to the Epic TV commercial.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Choices During This Retreat

This past two weeks of RDL have been the hardest as I saw the extent of my unbelief in God's love and mercy.  

My SD invited me to make certain choices, because we are all given the gift of choice.

  1. I will choose to believe that God, in His infinite goodness, does not withhold anything good from me.  If he delays, or if he declines, after my prayer, it means that that is what's best for me.  Period.
  2. I will choose to stay in my current situation and I will embrace it with acceptance.  Things are no longer thrust and forced onto me if I make a choice to stay and to accept.  
  3. I will choose to be grateful for my many blessings and not resent them or take them for granted.
  4. I will choose to love even if it hurts.
  5. I will choose to obey because I trust Him and have seen His mighty saving power.
  6. I will look more deeply into the life and teachings of Jesus, and this time when I follow it will be with a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with Him.
  7. I will choose to understand where people are coming from and not blame them anymore.
  8. I will choose to receive love.
  9. I will choose to look at myself first, if I am still okay, before performing my duties and imposing new and impossible ones.
  10. I will pray for the grace to patiently wait on the Lord.
Afterwards, I had dinner with a friend who brought a book for me to read, about Waiting.  The Season of Advent has started early for me.  

It is in the choosing that I respond to God's Love.  I choose Love above everything and everyone else.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Masses, Then and Now

Attending Holy Mass on Sundays in the Philippines has changed slowly but significantly since my childhood days.

I remember when I was a child, my parents would gather us five children, make us wear appropriate Sunday clothes, and take us to Church first thing in the morning, every single Sunday.  Whatever activities we had in mind, like going to our favorite restaurant, attending our classmates' birthday parties, or eating ice cream at home, would only come after the mass.

I was often told by my parents to stop fidgeting and fixing my dress during mass, and to learn the mass songs by heart.  They did not allow us to act up a storm at church, no matter how much we wanted to buy balloons or cotton candy from the vendors waiting outside.

That was when we lived in a small city within a province.  When we moved to Manila, we were shocked that masses were held inside shopping malls, children ran around the church throughout the Eucharistic celebration, and mass-goers wore anything from spaghetti-strapped tops to micro mini skirts.

I am not generalizing, in fact I have attended the most solemn masses in churches and communities within Metro Manila.  I am just thinking of ways how we could get our parishioners to participate more actively during mass in this day and age.  

Some people are in the habit of coming in late, and I know there are legitimate reasons for that, especially for big families, but some latecomers also choose to sit at the front pews, thus distracting the rest of the congregation and disrupting the solemnity of the mass.  I sit there thinking of how to share with them what we celebrate during mass, and who is in front - not the priest, but our Lord Jesus - but I know that is too self-righteous and holier-than-thou of me.  I pray that at the right time people would re-learn to genuflect when they enter the church, and to offer their hearts in gratitude and reverence to the Lord.  I cannot sit there and judge what is going on in people's hearts anyway.  But I wish they would show it with more zeal and passion.

Come offertory time, people who are seated in front do not even attempt to get the collection baskets, even if in our parish we do not have a ministry assigned to do this specifically, in order to encourage participation among the people.  If the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, I hope that we as his disciples and followers could imitate him.

We need to get our act together as we are a young parish.  We need to build the proper structures for all our ministries, and I do pray that the obstacles that hinder this would all disappear soon.  We need to set the tone during Charismatic Mass by preparing the choirs to lead the time of worship through music, and I have volunteered to help in this area.  We need to prepare the lyrics so that everyone can sing.  The parish pastoral council is doing a lot of marvelous work, and I am not complaining.

I pray that in our parish, we would all learn to pray together as a community, and to please God who deserves all our love and service.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Blessed are the Brokenhearted

I do not want to write when I am broken.  I want neat and happy endings to my entries.  Who would care to read about someone else's heartaches anyway?

I do not want to give in to my crying.  I suffer from migraine as a result, but I choose the pain rather than the tears.  Who would want to look at me when I am sad and lost?

I have an interior life which I try to face through a more intimate prayer time, and it's bringing me to a point of recognition of my brokenness.  It is so different from my physical world - of friends and family surrounding me everyday.  It doesn't show much, I hope, that I am walking through all my internal struggles, in search of a firmer relationship with God.  That is my ultimate goal that's why I'm enduring this retreat instead of quitting after it got too uncomfortable.  I'm keeping my daily routine.  I work, I relate, I chat, I eat.  I cannot sleep that much and I prefer long periods of silence.  

When alone, I talk to God and bring to Him all of my deeply-buried questions.  But the answers are too difficult.  I cannot cry even when I'm alone anymore.  It's as if I feel it is a waste, and a sign of weakness.  I used to be able to cry unabashedly before the small altar in my room.  These past few weeks of RDL, I have stopped myself after a few tears.

Is this normal?  Am I being too depressed by these reflections?  I should be lifted up and should experience peace and joy, right?  How come, even with all my efforts, I still feel the enormity of my discipleship, the loss of what I did not have, the challenge of my uncertain future?  The answer might be that I need not try too hard, I know.  But what I know and what I experience are two different things right now.

As an expression of faith I will declare here that I believe that God will lift me up at the right time, and that this journey through the dark valleys of my heart is just a part of it.  I will spread my wings, lift my head, and soar again someday.  

Tonight I will admit that I am ashamed of my own brokenness, and I depend on God to make me feel whole again.   

Tomorrow is one step closer to that day of flight, of freedom, of love.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Prayer for Reconciliation

This prayer was given to me for two consecutive weeks by Sr. Reylie for my RDL. I found it timely for my world, and the other parts of the world, this fresh morning. I am praying for all of us.

Prayer for Reconciliation

Lord Christ, help us to see what it is
that joins us together, not what separates us.
For when we see only what it is that makes us different,
we often become aware of what is wrong with others.
We see only their faults and weaknesses,
interpreting their actions as flowing from
malice or hatred rather than fear.
Even when confronted with evil, Lord,
you forgave and sacrificed yourself
rather than sought revenge.
Teach us to do the same by the power of your Spirit.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Resistance to Prayer

After I met with my Spiritual Directress last week, I began to feel the dread for the coming theme, "God is Faithful, but I am not Faithful".

This is an invitation to have a deep felt understanding of my sin and the disordered tendencies in my life, that I may feel shame and confusion, and so turn to Him for healing and forgiveness.

What disordered tendencies?

The week was to consist of reflections upon my sins, weaknesses, and failures. Not my favorite topic. Not the easiest, either. My natural reaction was to resist praying. To sit in front of my prayer corner and to tightly shut my heart, my mind, and my journal.

Then I read my spiritual article for the week, "Exploring Resistance". In it I learned that "resistance" is the spiritual term for "avoiding prayer". It is not bad and is often a sign that there's some growth, something new that wants to emerge in my life, some change coming on the horizon, and which I resist as a protection from the potential difficulty of change.

I prayed about how long I had been avoiding prayer. The answer was a surprise - for I had been doing it for almost two years now. I would go in and out of my prayer time and my prayer life, afraid to be too close to God, afraid to hear Him, afraid to respond to Him, afraid to face Him.

I tried to see what image I had on my resistance to prayer, and what surfaced was an image of an erupting volcano that I had been attempting to cover with my bare hands, to hide from God and from others. I could see that my hands were getting burned and sooner or later I would have to let my heart explode, and be exposed.

Deep inside, I was not seeing the good changes, only the bad. There were so many attachments, false treasures, areas of vulnerability, and sins that I had allowed to accumulate over those years of resistance. I saw this past week the patterns and dispositions of my heart.

My prayer guide invited me to shift the focus from my own sinfulness to my Heavenly Father's forgiving love. If only I could learn to see that despite all these imperfections, my God still loved me, in whole and not in parts.

I will see Sr. Reylie tonight. Sometimes the lessons just crystallize when I tell her about them. I tried, and I will share about the movements of the Spirit in my life. I cannot say that I enjoyed this week, but it is obviously necessary. RDL is supposed to bring out my issues and lead to my healing. I cannot resist that which I asked for.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Today I Received an Icon

Clearly, this is one of the most magnificent things that I have ever received in my life.  I was awestruck when I received it.

There was a note that accompanied the gift, so I already knew what I was going to receive.  It was an icon, prepared by a person who was praying for me, among others, while he was making it.

The most familiar icon to Filipinos is that of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  Icons are largely from the Orthodox or Eastern Christianity, but to a certain extent it is allowed for Roman Catholics (read more here).  

This looks like the icon that was given to me:

What a lovely way to end my day, to pray with gratitude and trust that all shall be well.  This is another reminder for me about the depth and the breadth of God's Love, that He sometimes sends through human messengers.

I am loved by God.  And I bask in it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

This is It!

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24, ESV

I reflected on this verse during prayer time this morning to prepare my heart for this day. I had known for several months that a dearest friend already bought his ticket out of the Philippines for October 30, but somehow my heart still did not learn to cooperate.

God had revealed to me in prayer that He had great plans for my friend, and there was much reason to rejoice and be glad. For my friend was coming home, where his community, family, and ministry were waiting for him. He had done a good job as God's servant and missionary for almost six years on this to him a foreign land, with a culture he could not fully accustom to, a language he could not fluently speak, and a diet he could not happily relate to.

I should be happy for Fr. Geoffrey Coombe, mgl for he had so much in store for him back in Australia. Fr. Brian texted me yesterday that Fr. Geoffrey was packing already and asked me, "Why is he doing this to us?" Fr. Brian and I then planned to sob together during the final despedida last night. He would miss his brother and friend. I would miss my spiritual director and friend.

I texted back to Fr. Brian about Fr. Geoffrey's leaving. I said, "I think God is doing this to us." He replied with a chuckle that this was one of the times he could truly say that God's ways were not our ways.

For this parting was painful, but necessary. Even if we knew that we would survive. Fr. Steve would find more hands to help him in the parish. Fr. Brian would assimilate more into Filipino culture. The young people would find new mentors. Ella would learn new things from her new spiritual directress. Fr. Geoff had to leave, most likely, for all of these to bear more fruit.

Still, for today, I am experiencing the pains of parting. At least I have said all that I wanted to say, and done all that I had wanted to do, to show my appreciation for this wonderful gift of a person. I have given him a bone-crunching hug and bought a gift he could use for his studies and his ministry. I have spent quality time with him at every opportunity and, together with my family, have given a special send-off piano recital for him.

I could also tell from the series of send-off parties that he had given all that he could to this country. Among the many fruits he would be leaving behind were my family's return to performing classical music, the Knights of the Altar's greater appreciation of their service as to God and not to men, the livelihood project, Carlite ministry, PowerPoint presentations on Youth Alpha and Catholic Apologetics, sports as part of spiritual health for Christians of all ages, and all the expressions of art in his faith and his ministry.

Instead of crying all day, I will be grateful to have been cared for spiritually and loved by a rare and special priest. I have to let him go so that more people will be blessed by him.

So I am a bit emotional today. It comes with honesty and freedom, and in loving God with all that I am.

To all who, like me, are sad today because of this leaving, I hope we could all rejoice at what God will do in us and through us because of this.

Bon Voyage, Fr Geoff. See you soon. God bless.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Walking the Same Path, This Time with Wonder

Going through a retreat within the context of my usual daily life is an arduous task akin to climbing a mountain. I embarked on the journey thinking I had brought just enough supplies but after reaching only a short distance, I felt the heaviness of my load and needed to stop to catch my breath. I had to take these stops frequently, until I realized that I had overpacked as usual and would have to let go of some of the "essentials" I could not start the journey without.

After unloading some heavyweights that I did not need, my steps became quicker and the climb took off. Due to my haste, however, I slipped and slid, and found myself back to a place I had stopped to visit before. It was getting dark and I was scared.

And then I saw that there, standing beside a small fire, was Jesus, waiting for me. I put down my backpack and rushed to His embrace, and He quieted down my sobs and asked me to tell Him everything about my journey. At that moment, I saw that nothing was wasted - neither the precious things I threw down the mountain to ease my aching back nor the time it would take for me to re-take the steps I had already taken before, because I was learning a new form of prayer, a prayer of deepening and enrichment.

I was introduced to the Ignatian review process of "repetition".

Repetition is a method of returning to those points where I have experienced "greater consolation, desolation or greater spiritual appreciation". I look for a movement of inner connectedness, or fear or anxiety, and I return to these moments for fruit.

It is not repeating the material for prayer as I repeat a study assignment for thorough understanding. It does not mean that I have to do it again because I did not get it the first time.

By means of Ignatian repetition, I am being invited to go to greater depth in a mystery I have already contemplated or a truth I have considered. It is a matter of focusing.

During last night's session with my Spiritual Directress, she confirmed that I was getting a firmer hold of myself, that despite the highs and lows of the past week, I was able to focus more on God and how He is moving in my life. I was again seeing the inner connectedness of my daily life through the eyes of my retreat. I had to recognize that it was through the choices that I made that I had reached that point - that I was open and vulnerable to the Spirit.

She said that the gifts of the Holy Spirit came in bunches, and it would be good to return to my past month for a greater recognition of those gifts, and a deepening of my response.

Last Week's Theme was spiritual freedom - which was something I gained when I was seized completely by the love of God that all the desires of my heart and all the actions, affections, thoughts, and decisions which flowed from them were directed to God my Father and His service and praise.

In order to achieve this, the grace I begged for was a deep sense of appreciation of what it meant to be a human being created in God's image and likeness and called in freedom to become fully human, fully alive, and unique like Jesus Christ.

After the past week, I saw what hindered me from accepting that I was at the center of God's creation (cf. Psalm 8). I had already dulled myself into thinking that God loved me in a generic way, as in love for all mankind, and not in a personal, particular way (cf. Psalm 139) and that He did not care what I did with my life.

I saw that He gave me unique gifts and that He loved me personally. He answered my prayers daily. He listened when nobody else did. He sent me beautiful people to love and be loved by. And when someone I loved deeply said something that hurt me again, He was there to hold me tight and to assure me that there would be better days.

Loving God in this way certainly requires much openness and vulnerability. Instead of being a glob of emotions like I was before, or, on the other extreme, a dull, lifeless mannequin going through the motions of daily life, I saw how I could reach some balance between the tempestuous waves of emotion I was experiencing and the calming shores of God's love that were available for me.

I trudge on, seeing my journey through new eyes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Virtual Thank You

Typical. Something astounding happens and I have writer's block. But this piece has to be written. I've poured frustrations and heartaches in this blog, so now I think my God deserves some credit for the wonderful blessings He has bestowed upon me and my family.

Last Saturday, four members of my family performed in a piano recital held in our living room as a special gift for our priest-friend who is going back to his homeland after six years of mission in the Philippines. Eight people aside from our family were invited. My siblings watched us online from three countries (more like continents) - Australia, US, and Germany.

It was a spectacular, fantastic, and intimate night, a celebration of music, family, and friendship. This post will not do the event justice, I am sure of it, but it needs an entry here, after all that's been said and done here through the years.

It all started when I asked Fr. Geoffrey what gift I could give him for taking good care of me pastorally for the past four years. A few weeks later, he told me that he had given it some thought and he wanted a piano recital, with me performing. I laughed at his ridiculous idea, and even told my mother about it.

My mother, THE piano teacher, asked me, "Why not? Why don't I play for him too? I will ask your nephews if they want to join."

Now, my mother had been teaching piano for almost 44 years, but had not herself performed publicly after graduation, except for the occasional duet with a student, due to the rigors of raising five children. Instead, she concentrated on teaching her students and preparing them for their annual recital. Last year, she slowed down and became semi-retired. Thus, with more time on her hands, she was able to review her pieces from when she was at the Conservatory of Music. She also read somewhere that playing the piano helped to avoid Alzheimer's disease. With Mama's playing, we could tell she was in no danger of contracting the disease.

My nephews, as blog readers would remember, are gifted children. Videos of their recitals have received thousands of visitors on YouTube. They are multi-talented and handsome, and anything that they do would be much appreciated.

I was the weakest link, being out of shape and out of practice for more than a decade. BUT I was the link, and I knew I had to play my part. With barely three months to prepare, I reluctantly chose four pieces I could play decently and practiced as much as I could, given work and other responsibilities and excuses.

I grew to enjoy the preparation, nerve-wracking though it was. My parents and I made up a very short guest list. Together with my brother and sister-in-law, we planned the little party's details, adding our signature touch to everything from the Programme to the live webcast. I particularly loved practicing a Mozart symphony arranged in four hands, with my mother.

As the date drew closer, I was as excited as a kid who prepared a surprise for her dad on Father's Day. I gave the guests, and the guest of honor, hints as to what was ahead, but could not reveal everything lest they raise their expectations. It was better for them to think that they would politely sit through a family's puny efforts at entertaining, than to look for world-class performances from a tiny living room.

I was looking forward to the night because I wanted to listen to my Mom's playing, and wanted to see other peoples' reaction to it. She was our family's secret treasure, and it was high time that her gift was shared to others. At 66 years old, my mother could still play brilliantly. She chose pieces we grew up with, and so it was like playing our family classical soundtrack album.

When the day came, I prayed to God, thanking Him for the blessing of music, family, and friends, and asking Him to help us all perform as much as the talents He gave us could allow. I prepared for dinner with a nervous-excited air. My sister-in-law took care of the kitchen as my mom and I were conserving our energy and honestly could not think of anything else than our pieces.

When our eight guests arrived, they looked normal. I wanted to say, "You have no idea what's in store for you! " Mama and I could hardly eat. It took a while to set up the live webcast to the three continents, but once the last country (Team Australia) went online, we were in business.

The first performer, Miko, was running a fever. A few hours before the "show", he had a nosebleed. He decided to forego the dry run in the afternoon and stayed in bed. He said that the show must go on.

After greeting all our guests both local and international, I gave a brief introduction to the recital cum despedida, and then Miko stood up to play. This is the flow of the program. The kids did not play simplified versions, but the real thing.

Canon in D Major (Pachelbel)
Miguel del Rosario

By the Sea (Posca)
Miguel del Rosario

Symphony No. 5 (Beethoven)
Luis Gabriel del Rosario

Sonata in C Major (Mozart)
Luis Gabriel del Rosario

Rondo alla Turka (Mozart)
Luis Gabriel del Rosario

First Waltz (Durand)
Atty. Laura C.H. del Rosario

Two-Part Invention No. 8 (J.S. Bach)
Atty. Laura C.H. del Rosario

Two-Part Invention No. 13 (J.S. Bach)
Atty. Laura C.H. del Rosario

The Poet's Harp (Mendelssohn)
Atty. Laura C.H. del Rosario

Symphony No. 41/ Jupiter (Mozart)
Mrs. Lourdes del Rosario and Atty. Laura C.H. del Rosario

Liebestraum (Liszt)
Mrs. Lourdes C.H. del Rosario

Romance (Rubinstein)
Mrs. Lourdes del Rosario

Malaguena (Lecuona)
Mrs. Lourdes del Rosario

Autumn Leaves
Mrs. Lourdes del Rosario

Etude (Chopin)
Mrs. Lourdes del Rosario


The audience said that Miko made the sound of waterfalls on the piano. In my opinion, the night for Luigi was a career high, for he looked like a little virtuoso pianist, without any awkwardness or stage fright. I was the nervous wreck who made a mistake every other measure. I could see the guests on my peripheral vision and it did not help at all. I kept telling myself to relax, that it would soon be over, but my fingers acted as if possessed and just had a mind of their own, reacting to my palpitating heart. I was only able to breathe when my duet with Mama started. Somehow I was able to break into a smile, finally, and to enjoy the night.

I briefly introduced the next pianist as "And now, My Mother."

When she started playing, the audience was stunned into silence, one could hear a pin drop. I beamed as I panned their faces - jaws were opened, eyes were widened, and tear ducts were activated. Such is the reaction when the unexpected happens, when people encounter true beauty. Talent and skill combined into an artist's level is a reminder of the Divine, the Creator of music and all that is grand. My mother played the piano like she had never done during all my years of existence. She was an angel of music, with finger strength just as she had when she was a teenager, attacking every piece with the emotion that it was due. My father did not know whether to sit or to stand, he was so beside himself with joy.

The burst of applause was defeaning. People stood up to hug her, thank her. I could hear "Bravo!" "Fantastic!" and "Encore!" everywhere. Our living room was transformed into a little piece of Heaven. What a moment.

We played one piece each as an encore, Mama and I, and both were written by Filipino composers. The air turned from simple to majestic, from ordinary to divine. I was no longer myself, and we were no longer in my house. We were transported into a land of creation, a garden of Eden, where gifts are poured out in grand proportions, and where hearts respond to receive them in full.

We had to end that recital, and resume talking and eating, but we all were glad to be part of something so special. We cannot upload the videos at Mama's request. In time, who knows, people might convince her to play for a bigger audience.

That night gave me strength to face the ordinary, simple, and routinary life that awaits all of us. It is a life seasoned with occasional magic that reminds us, reminds me, that there is something greater than all of us here. Somewhere, there is a God who ordained everything to be beautiful and perfect, and we will get there. We know because we have fantastic glimpses of Heaven once in a while, and we take what we can in our empty cups, and try to drink from them, only to find out that the water never runs out.

We are not ordinary. We are not the same. We are children of a Loving, Generous, and Present God, no matter how old we seem, or unworthy we feel.

For everything is Gift.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Give God a Chance

I could not share immediately after the conclusion of my second Week of RDL. I needed to let the conversation sink in for a few days before writing about it.

For the second Week of my retreat, I begged for the grace of "awe, wonder, and gratitude at the experience of God's love, goodness, care and faithfulness to me".

After sharing with my SD my reflections on this and the Gospel passages for the Week, I must have looked so forlorn that she, joyful and blessed being, encouraged me by saying that the desolation was part of it, and that nothing was lost in my prayer.

She said something that struck me. "Give God a chance," she said. For holding on to the issues and to the past blocked the grace of God that needed to work in my life. I have focused too much on the injustices I thought I had suffered that I have forgotten who God is and what He can do.

I have found some light in one of the handouts given last Sunday to all the retreatants, "Contemplating Scripture" taken from "God and You: Prayer as a Personal Relationship" by William A. Barry, S.J. I read that if I feel nothing while reading a psalm that would normally evoke gratitude (the example used was Psalm 103), "perhaps it is not the day for that psalm, or perhaps my reaction will alert me to a need for some healing from God. I can tell God how I feel and ask him for some balm and some perspective for the fight. The point is that reading the psalm has opened a door to a conversation with the Lord."

I am there now. In that fight, needing that balm, and restarting my conversation with the Lord.

This is a week of events at work and at home yet part of me wants to go to a place where I could bask in the beauty of creation and talk to my God.

Oh, I beg for the grace of gratitude for all of my blessings, since Sr. Reylie reminded me that I am richly blessed. It does not feel like it due to a very stupid and stubborn heart.

It has been a slow week but I keep trudging on. I hope to fix my eyes on God more and entertain the distractions less and less.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I am Bartimaeus

During the RDL Prayer Workshop, we learned more about the Ignatian or Gospel Contemplation method of prayer.   Fr. Cel said that contemplation was "a long loving look at the real".  It was a look using our whole being - using our mind and our imagination, our senses and our passions.

In contemplation, I simply see.  Love is the eye.  I try to be as passive as possible and to let the scene unfold.

So I went into a contemplative attitude and entered into my interior reactions to the Gospel passage that was given.

We were asked to contemplate, "just as if we were there", using Mark 10:45-52.  You may read it here.  I will wait.  It's important that you read it before going further.

So many times, I have read and meditated on this passage.  Always, I was outside the scene.  I could not relate with the blind man.  I could not ask Jesus what my heart was yearning for.  I could not enter into the scene.

This afternoon, as I was in an environment conducive to contemplation, I had a differet experience.  All of a sudden...

I was Bartimaeus.  I was blind, although I was not born so.  I remembered scenes and images, but they had slowly faded away into a blackness and a darkness that surrounded me.  

I had lost everything and I had had to beg in order to survive.  I could not bear the pain any longer.  I had tried different healers, and different masters, but continued to be poor and blind.

Just as I could not see anyone, I felt that no one could see me.  No one could hear me.  I longed to see the light again; to be set free from darkness.

One day, I heard a commotion.  There was so much buzz about Someone who was coming to town, and who was passing by the road where I usually sat to beg.  People said that He was here:  the Master.  Son of David.  Jesus.

The titles and the name held meanings to me from a past life, but I could not recall them anymore.  I could not understand them.  I knew, though, that He was Someone who could help me.  

People were pushing me and stepping on me.  I called out his name.  "Jesus", I said softly, tentatively, but the din of the crowds following him drowned out my voice.  I spoke louder and shouted, not sure if I could be heard, but needing to cry for help, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!"

I felt Him hear me.  I felt Him stop in his tracks, turn around, and call for me.  The crowds were amazed.  They parted to make way for me.  Bedraggled beggar in tattered clothes.  Smelly sinner, unwanted by society.  For this Man, I was important.  All of a sudden, I mattered to One, and I mattered.  Someone said, "Take heart.  He is calling you."  I tried to stand up but I fell.  I was so excited.

I was brought to Him, for I could not walk.  My knees were wobbly.  I could not see my way, though I could sense His presence calling out to me.  

When I was finally brought before Him, I heard Him asking me, "Ella, what do you want me to do for you?" He had asked me this question countless times before, but I was unsure then how to respond. This time I no longer hesitated.  I had been waiting for a long time for Someone to ask me that, and finally, He had come.

"Please, Master, let me see again," I begged Him.  In saying this I was interiorly asking Him to let me live again.  I was asking for Him to let me breathe again, and to walk, and to be finally free of the darkness that had imprisoned me for so long.

He paused and regarded me for a moment, and then He told me to "Go forth", or to go my way,  because my faith had saved me.

I could have run the other direction to go back to the land of my birth, as I had always yearned to do.  That would have been "my way". Instead, I felt an invitation to open my eyes, and I saw Him.  Jesus, standing before me, with a kind, inviting look in His eyes, waiting for my response to His act of setting me free, of saving me.  He had a loving look in His eyes.

I started to wonder, "Who is this man who heard me, answered my prayer, healed me, moved me?"  I don't want to leave him.  I want to follow Him.  To take one foot in front of the other, to see the world again, and to see it with Him by my side.

I was no longer a blind beggar.  I was Touched.  Healed.  Loved.

And I chose to follow Him - my Master.  Son of David.  Jesus.

Still with my bare feet, tattered clothes, and shabby appearance, my eyes that used to be blind and unseeing welled up in tears.  My heart overflowed with gratitude.  

I am Bartimaeus.  I am Ella.  And my Savior, whom I love, is Jesus.

Friday, October 03, 2008

On Love.

The theme for my RDL this week is God's love. There is no escaping this now. I could write about it, and not run out of words. I hope by the end of this week, I would be more accepting of God's Love for me. I hope to grow in faith in this area, the most important gift there is, and the one I have mishandled most often.

The thing that makes this different is that human love always gets in the way. I imagine God's love to be something akin to how I have seen, and expressed, love, thus I always get entangled in a confusing web of emotions I attribute to God, but which are not consistent with His character.

The concept of unconditional love, though deeply ingrained in me since my First Confession in 1983, is something I always forget. I often fear God's immediate judgment, as if he were a policeman with a bat ready to punish me, or a judge with a gavel willing to sentence me to eternal doom for every accumulated sin.

My assignment is to look at His creation and to see the beauty that comes into every flower, every tree, and every cloud that I see. Perhaps in being still and in absorbing beauty, I would relax in my concept of a harsh God, and see once more that He could be...

A friend.
A teacher.
A Lover.

I think now of the people whom I know love me. How do I know they love me, when they don't tell me everyday? I just know because of the way they talk to me, take care of me, believe in me.

I think of the people whom I love. It's very hard for me to say "I love you", but I think everyone knows my deep capacity for love. I show love in different languages - in acts of service, in words of affirmation, in giving gifts, in physical touch, and in quality time.

But these two do not compare to God's Love. It is at once powerful and gentle. It is invisible yet tangible. It is real, constant, and permanent.

It is so hard to embrace it. To simply accept it. To be in awe of it (as I am being encouraged to pray for).

The Psalm reading for today is apt. Psalm 139 speaks about God's love for us from the time we were formed in our mother's womb, and how we cannot escape this love.

Psalm 139
Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

139:1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. [1]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain! [2]
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts! [3]
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! [4]

I will not stop wondering, reflecting, and writing about love. At least not this week anyway. I know I'll never be worthy of this love, but at least I should believe in it in a deeper sense as I grow as a Christian and move on in my journey.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The First Week of Retreat

I have finished the first "week" of my retreat.  It took twelve (12) days, but it was a worthwhile journey.

I thought I was the only one who noticed that every time I had a scheduled session with my spiritual directress, heavy rains and floods would come.  During the first session, I was late due to flash floods.  On the second session, I had to cancel as traffic was at a gridlock caused by the sudden torrential downpour.  Last night, my friend who had finished this retreat texted me that she prayed that it would not rain today so I could go to my second SD session.

I woke up to news that there was Storm Signal No. 2 in Metro Manila.  I inwardly smiled at the Lord. Were my issues so bombastic that they had to be processed with a stormy background?  When I arrived at the Cenacle, my SD greeted me with an observation that blessings must be pouring upon me because the rainy season was truly upon us.  

I shared with her my struggles at beginning a new prayer pattern, my feelings of unworthiness, and my recurring distractions.  I admitted being unable to accept that it was I that God desired.  I was not sure if my desires were aligned to His.  I could not move to follow Him.  I could not open the door to my heart.  I was slowly beginning to realize the things I had set aside from my decade-old personal relationship with Him.  

SD said I am being honest and being myself.  Just me.  These things I bring with me are the waters where Jesus and I would swim during my RDL.  This is the forest we would travel through, together.  Despite the things I want to hide from Him, He still loves me.  What could be more profound and unfathomable than this love?

I had other loves.  Other desires.  Other dreams.  Yet I struggle now precisely because at my very core are values which God had firmly planted, and I want to clarify them and fight for them.  Yes, despite the other pulls and tugs within my own rebellious and indifferent heart.  What I really want is to be united with God, who is Love, bringing with me all my shadows and imperfections, all my sins and indiscretions.

SD gave me something beautiful - that RDL is a School of Freedom.  For only when I am free of this old image of God that I have been holding on to would I create space for His love to grow as He wants it to, today.  She said that if I let Him, God will set me free in this journey.  

I thought I did not do well at all during the past week.  But to be told that it was alright, that I could move to the next week, and that I was on the right track, left me pleasantly surprised.  Excited?  Not really, for I know the depths I have to dig through to uncover the things I had hidden even from my God.  

Yet, maybe just a little bit hopeful.  That I will find God if I seek Him with all my heart.  Find Him again.  Find Him knowing who I really am.  Find Him, who never really left me, but from whom I have been running away.

NB:  I am going through the Retreat in Daily Life.  See previous posts for details.  I will be writing reflections on the themes of my retreat for the next three months.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Time for Everything

Why is it that, despite all our knowledge, we insist on doing things not worthy of our calling as Christians?

A few days ago, we read in Proverbs that "All the ways of a man may be right in his own eyes, but it is the LORD who proves hearts." (Proverbs 21:2)

We can easily be manipulated, misled, and misguided, if we do not set our hearts on Jesus.

I write this for myself, for I saw first-hand the things that I was capable of doing, and how far, remotely far, they are from God's plans for me.

I receive the daily readings in my Inbox and when I read this, I had to pause and reflect:

Eccl 3:1-8 (NAB)

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every thing under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

I ask for the grace to surrender to God's time, and not insist on what I think is right. God knows my heart more than I do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A New Commitment

I went to a school of prayer in an earnest desire to learn how to pray in a new way.  When the interviewer asked me if I was committing myself to this, I said, "with all my heart".  When I first met with my retreat companion last week, she asked me if I was willing to change my prayer pattern, I nodded vigorously, claiming in my heart that I was giving this my 100%.

Less than a week later, that commitment has been thrown out the window.  Or at least momentarily shelved.  I, eager student, was monumentally distracted, and I gave in to the distraction.  I was consumed by it.  Well, almost.  I realized that I had a choice, that I could rise above the distraction, no matter how painful and throbbing.

My SD said that the Spiritual Exercises are precisely that - exercises.  Just like when we're learning how to play a new sport or instrument, we have to exert effort.  This analogy struck me because just recently, for the first time in my life, I took my health seriously and got myself a personal trainer in the gym.  It turned out to be a worthwhile investment because I had a coach who encouraged me to lift weights when I thought I could no longer raise my arms, and who reminded me of our appointments with a dedication worthy of a soldier.  Many times I have been a difficult client - canceling at the last minute, being late for my warm-up, cheating on my diet - but for several months now, I have been going back to the gym.  I cannot fit into my dream dress yet, but it's helping me cope with stress and making me feel good about myself.

What pride I had, however, regarding my spiritual readiness for prayer.  Unlike in gym work, I thought I was well-versed in prayer, and I would adjust in no time to the new pattern being given to me.  I was dead wrong.  I was, for the past week, at times rebellious, indifferent, miserable, and anxious, and all these made for great excuses not to pray the way I was being encouraged to.

This morning, I tried again.  And I reflected on Jeremiah 29:11-14.  I had taken this passage to prayer during retreats and discernment periods in the past, but I dreaded to face it again.  

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare [2] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

What struck me about this passage was that the Lord was the one with the plan, not me, and it was a good plan.  This line alone merited a few minutes of struggle.  I asked Him what I had to do to cooperate, and the answer was, to seek Him "with all my heart".

Then I had a vision of me going to a room where I had hidden my heart.  Inside the room was a vault where my heart was kept under lock and key.  I saw an ugly creature holding something in its hand - my heart!  Somebody was trying to steal it.  Jesus Himself went to the room with me.  The heart-thief disappeared, and I cried in Jesus' embrace.  He gave me back my heart.

He had other promises, and I will try to trust them again one by one, with a new meaning, with a new hope.  My eyes too need to be reopened.  

It was a rough start in this chapter of my prayer journey, but it was a start.  I ended my prayer in surrender to God's saving work in my life.  I may not easily believe and obey as I did before, but I trust that the Lord Himself will bring me back.  For He said as much.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mission Trip to China

A university student read my previous post (see My Wandering Heart) and felt God urging her to share a few things with me using her gifts of prophecy and vision. I tell you, for someone who is begging God for the grace to receive His love, to be told by a total stranger that God's love for you is unconditional is quite a bewildering experience, especially before sunrise. I read her e-mail with awe and wonder.

She also shared her plans of joining a short mission trip to China this October. Since she and her sister are not from a Christian family, their mom doesn't want to support their trip financially. If you are moved by this and want to support two students in evangelizing our Chinese brethren, kindly email me at and I'll connect you to her. She's really looking for generous Christians who want to partner with them for this trip. It will be money well-spent, I think, though I have only exchanged a couple of e-mails with her. I can sense her faith and her love. Her email footer summarizes her purpose at this time:

“Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” - 1 Tim 4:12

Seldom do we find young people of this caliber so radical in faith and so willing to use their time in spreading the good news, vis-a-vis the passing pleasures so available to others of their generation. Let's pray for this trip being organized by their church group.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Wandering Heart

It is in all honesty and every ounce of humility that I admit that I am struggling through something so basic these days:  the reality of God's Love.

God's Love is the title of the first talk of the Christian Life Program.  I have heard it over and over again since joining a movement for young Catholics in college.  It is the most difficult to grasp.  I talked to a priest a few months ago about my addictions and he said that I fall into those because I seek God's love in all the areas except where He resides - in my heart.

Truth be told, I do not understand love.  How can it be selfless?  How can it be patient?  How can it be kind?  

It is not that I have not experienced Love.  It is more that I have not recognized it.  And so I am restless, always searching for something more; always worried that I did not deserve to be loved; always focusing on what I could do to deserve that love, despite another thing I've learned from community - that we are loved not because we deserve it, but because The One Who Loves chooses it.  

It would be tedious and complicated to write about the lengths I've gone just to petition God to show me a love that I would recognize.  I have run away from Him simply because I struggled to understand.  I have hurt Him countless times.  

This morning I read this beautiful passage once more.  I tried to recall the words and meanings I have learned from doing a Joy of Discovery bible study on it.  But even an intellectual understanding of what love means is not enough.  

I do not know how to be still and to just be loved.  I love this passage:

From 1 Corinthians 13 (ESV):

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, [1] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [2] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

What is that sound?  It is the familiar sound of my heart breaking, and the familiar voice of my conscience saying it is not too late to ask for healing.  For God loves me this much.  

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Food for the Hungry

I heard this on the radio this morning. The song caught my attention as I heard the part about "there was no food in sight". As my family knows, I want to feed the hungry. If I could, I would open a soup kitchen here in the Philippines. It was a secular radio station and I was pleasantly surprised to discover it on my way to work. Hope it inspires you too.

Five Loaves and Two Fishes
Corrinne May

A little boy of thirteen
was on his way to school
He heard a crowd of people laughing
and he went to take a look

Thousands were listening
to the stories of one man
He spoke with such wisdom,
even the kids could understand

The hours passed so quickly
the day turned into night
Everyone was hungry
but there was no food in sight

The boy looked in his lunchbox
at the little that he had
He wasn't sure what good it'd do
there were thousands to be fed

But he saw the twinkling eyes of Jesus
the kindness in His smile
and the boy cried out
with the trust of a child
he said:"

Take my five loaves and two fishes
Do with it as you will
I surrender
Take my fears , my inhibitions
All my burdens, my ambitions
You can use it all
to feed them all"

I often think about that boy
when I'm feeling small
and I worry that the work I do
means nothing at all

But every single tear I cry
is a diamond in His hands
and every door that slams in my face
I will offer up in prayer

So I'll give you every breath that I have
Oh Lord, you can work miracles
All you need is my "Amen"

So take my five loaves and two fishes
Do with it as you will
I surrender
Take my fears, my inhibitions
All my burdens, my ambitions
You can use it all
I hope it's not too small
I trust in you
I trust in you

So take my five loaves and two fishes
Do with it as you will
I surrender
Take my fears, my inhibitions
All my burdens, my ambitions
You can use it all
no gift is too small.

So you won't have to look for it, here is the song:

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A New Retreat; A New Life

I'm the kind of person who wouldn't know happiness if it hit me on the head.  I have been programmed to focus on tasks, goals, and aspirations, and to never be satisfied.  

No surprise then that when I became a renewed Christian, I applied the same struggle to conquer in my faith.  "Restlessness could mean a movement of the Spirit within us", said my parish priest to me just last week.  To not give up on this restlessness, despite the many ups and downs of my Christian walk, I finally said yes to an invitation given to me several years ago: I am going through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola through the Retreat in Daily Life given by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at the Ateneo de Manila.

Tired of running- towards God, away from God, towards an understanding of myself, and away from any thoughts and feelings that my true self was voicing out - I finally was ready to sit down through a three-month program of daily prayer and weekly direction, and to have a new spiritual director.

I attended the RDL launching today with clenched fists and a resolve not to participate more than what could be considered in law as "substantial compliance".  Gone were the days when I was always the first to respond to an altar call, or the first to volunteer for some obscure, undesirable service.  I was going to be pursued, if that was how it meant to discover my being.  

And God, who loved me in an unfathomable way, did not disappoint.  Pursue me, He did.

I had to sit through a day of recollection when every word was like a drop of water to my parched soul.  I had to shut out images and reflections too overwhelming to handle.  I knew I had to face my issues sometime; but to be on the brink of another cliff was not as exhilarating as it was when I was younger.

"Responsibilities take away the child in us", the speaker told us.  But he encouraged us to be creative in our prayer - to express it putting back our old, child's eyes, willing to dance, and to accept mysteries with joy; to be free in our prayer, and to cultivate the inner eye of love.

I wanted to "experience God in a  nearness and a graciousness impossible to confuse or mistake".  That was a promise made by Ignatius to retreatants, and I saw in that line a description of what I was thirsting for.

I had forgotten to discern the spirits.  I had been distracted by the many voices that mimicked my dreams, and whispered unknown desires, not all of which were from God.

I had deliberately shut out my heart, to Jesus whom I loved so much, and for whom I used to not count the cost of discipleship.

To see him, encounter him, be invited by him, be noticed by him - Jesus, the One I professed to follow since I could think for myself - was too much for me today.

To his invitation my only response was "Let's see where you are taking me."

No thunderous beating of my heart in anticipation.  No chorus of hallelujahs from the voices within me.  No promises to jump off cliffs and swim into deep waters.  Not this time.

I told Jesus, whom I love so much, "Thank you for loving me.  But I do not know how to be loved by You.  In this RDL,  I pray that I discover this, and much more."

I close this stream-of-consciousness reflection with a prayer that each of us who seek God may see Him, hear Him, believe Him, and follow Him... with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Forgiven, and Able to Forgive

I don't go to confession weekly, although that would probably be ideal. I know some saints actually went daily. I go monthly, but it's not set in stone in my planner like visiting my orthodontist or working out with my trainer. I let my conscience tell me when it's time to seek reconciliation, and having a daily prayer time allows me to listen closely for the right time.

I walked to church today with a scheduled consultation, but when I prayed about what I was about to consult, I felt in my heart my anger surfacing towards certain people who had hurt me in the past. It was a delayed and denied anger that was triggered recently. I justified it as righteous anger, for indeed I was a victim of wrongdoing, yet seething and fuming on my seat at church later on while waiting for the priest, I realized I was harboring unforgiveness as well, and for that I felt ashamed before God.

To my and the priest's surprise (for I said I had something to consult about service), the words came tumbling out of me in unfinished sentences, the anger, resentment, envy, and bitterness that I had been carrying in my heart, which hindered me from experiencing God's presence more joyfully. I begged for His forgiveness, surprised at my own willingness to hold on to the anger and unwillingness to forgive. The priest gave my penance and absolution and I immediately felt my heart quiet a little. I still had questions, but a peace that surpassed all understanding washed over me.

I walked home in the middle of a thunderstorm, praying about what God was asking me to do, and did not notice that I was soaked from my head down to my suede shoes. The rain also washed away the negative feelings in my heart. Indeed, when I got home and sat down to reflect on what to do regarding the people I wanted to erase from my life (a sheer impossibility), I found myself not anymore as angry towards them.

I was forgiven for my sins (and I had many), and I felt the grace to forgive welling up inside me. Despite the lack of knowledge from these people that they had sinned against me. Despite the lack of apology from the people who had hurt me. I no longer had the unwavering desire to lash out in anger (a regrettable action, I know). I could sit in my room and pray for them, actually. No way could I have managed that on my own. Jesus in my heart, He alone was the one who could do that.

I was able to laugh with a friend about my own dramatic tendencies afterwards. I was able to dream of a life beyond my situation and not dwell on the past. I was able to acknowledge that I was blessed, gifted, and loved, by God who forgave me no matter how selfishly or childishly I acted. And yes, saying my sins, confessing them, to a priest who was given the authority to forgive by Jesus, made it all the more better. It made me more sincere in my confession, and made the forgiveness more concrete, as it was said out loud.

The blessings I received after my confession are a foretaste of heaven. To think it took all of ten minutes, although the words came out of my gut and my memories of pains from a distant past. It took a walk to the church and a walk in the rain. I don't know what took me so long. I should seek confession more often and not hold on to sin. Even if I sin repeatedly, I should confess repeatedly.

After all, I brush my teeth even if I know that I will eat and dirty them again. If I prioritize a fresh mouth, all the more should I prioritize a fresh, clean soul, as often as it takes.

I thank God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a door to an outpouring of His grace.