Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Shameless Plugs: Public Service Announcements

I have been following the daily mass readings for more than a decade now. These Easter readings are filling me with hope and nourishing my soul. Jesus said in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

This gives us Christians an unshakable foundation in the midst of the controversial news these days involving a pandemic threat from swine flu, a convicted rapist being set free, and many other issues that could lead to hopelessness and even despair.

It is in this spirit that I write these posts. I believe that there are people who have been given material blessings and who have big hearts and are willing to help those in need. I present to you some of the ways wherein you could give back to the Lord:

1. A volunteer catechist, with whom I have served for almost four years now, wants to pursue a college degree, A.B. Theology. She has very little means to do this and is counting on the Lord's provision. She wasn't able to finish college because she helped send her younger siblings to school. If you want to help her raise the funds she needs, kindly get in touch with me through galadriella2007@yahoo.com.

2. Youth Alive, the youth ministry of the Missionaries of God's Love and the Parish of Saint Benedict, is on its third year. More than a hundred teenagers flock to the parish three times a week to receive teaching, sing in praise and worship of the Lord, and join sharing groups. There are games and picnics too that make the Youth Alive Summer Program a must for everyone from 14 to 21 who live near our parish. We are accepting donations in cash or kind for their daily snacks. For donations, kindly email me or post a comment below.

3. There is a multipurpose hall being built at the back of our parish church. The building shall include meeting rooms for the different parish ministries, a baptistry, an adoration chapel, and accommodations for the priests. Donations in cash or in kind (building materials) are accepted. Kindly get in touch with me for more details.

I hope some of you are moved to give. It does not have to be big, if it comes from the heart. We will pray for you and will become your prayer partners for life. Thanks.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Stone Has Been Moved

They were saying to one another,
"Who will roll back the stone for us
from the entrance to the tomb?"
When they looked up,
they saw that the stone had been rolled back;
it was very large. (Mk 16: 3-4)

Talk about an answered prayer! Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome were worried about who would roll back the very large stone for them so they could anoint the body of Jesus very early on that morning of the first day of the week. To their amazement, not only had the stone been rolled back for them by someone, the tomb also turned out to be empty!

The first Easter must have been majestic, glorious, fantastic, amazing, and I could go on and on with my superlatives, but I believe that Easter for us at this time is equally special because we have the benefit of two thousand years of appreciation of what actually happened.

I would love to see the Risen Lord and to kneel before him and to kiss his hand, so joyful am I to see him! I attended the Easter Vigil with my parents. There was darkness at first, and then light. Then there were all the readings, the history of our salvation, sung by the priest, the choir, and the congregation. The repetitious motions of standing up, sitting down, listening, and singing, were getting to the people and some were starting to doze off, while some were restless.

When the bells started ringing, however, and the choir started singing Hallelujah, everything happened all at once. Altar ladies stood up to put the altar cloth on the table. The Knights of the Altar removed the purple cloths covering the crucifix and the images of Our Lady, St. Benedict, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Risen Christ stood under an arch of beautiful white flowers. People brought in baskets of flowers, and my heart rejoiced. I could not explain why but I felt a whisper inside my heart that Easter had finally come again. Tears threatened to fall, but I stopped them. I failed to stop my eyes from glistening, though, and unfortunately, the kid in front of me noticed. (It's typical, every time I cry at church, a child sitting on the pew in front of me would stare at me.)

I was just so happy during that glorious moment. It was like a glimpse of heaven, a wonderful reminder that God has promised us salvation, and that Jesus will come again, and we will behold His face, and there will be angels singing, bells ringing, and souls rejoicing eternally.

The moment passed, I went home and carried with me that light from the Paschal candle, and the baptismal vows that I renewed tonight. Something has changed. Light has come back into the world.

The stone has been moved. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen! Hallelujah!

Happy Easter, everyone.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Day That Changed the World

My title was inspired by the EWTN Holy Week theme, "The Week That Changed the World".

I belong to that group of people who still choose to remember what was so Good about that Friday. I believe I need to hear what happened when "that Man" died on the cross, again and again. When my father handed me the novel "The Little Prince" when I was a freshman in high school, he told me that it was a book I would love to read repeatedly, for each time I would open it, I would gain a fresh new insight and thus would appreciate it more. What was true for the novel was even more significant for the Gospel.

Each year, the Church goes through Lent, and does not jump to Easter, and a lot of people wonder what is the point of reliving something that had happened in the past. So what if somebody died by crucifixion? Tons of men went through that during Roman times. So what if Jesus rose from the dead, and His teachings, which He spread in a matter of three years only, have stood the test of time? What does that mean for me?

A friend of mine commented on why I was fasting from certain things for 40 days, and said that I was being so "old school" (if you're reading this, I'm sorry for using this as an example, but your comment stayed with me for several days, and this blog is kind of my response to you). To have less of the world, and have more of the Lord? That should never be old school; at least not for a Christian. Hearing about the passion and death of Christ is not just meant to instill guilt on my already worrisome nature, but I do it in order to remember what He has done for me. He is the one who changed my life in a moment (pardon the reference to that popular song-turned-movie). By dying on the cross, He gave me an opportunity to conquer the sin in my life, and to be with Him, and the Father, in paradise.

It may sound so grand and fantastic, but in real terms, pondering about Christ's sufferings shows me that there is nothing impossible for God, and one who loves that much cannot withhold anything good from me. Staring at Christ's image on the cross instills in my heart that there is more I can do for the world, more love I can give, more time I can spare, more resources I can share, than what I already am doing. Good Friday reminds me that the world does not revolve around me, and my destination is not just this world, but heaven, where I can be with Jesus, The One who shed blood, endured mocking, and embraced suffering for my sake.

Unless I have a personal encounter with Jesus this week, I will always be a spectator of this magnificent story. I will remain distant and choose to be unaffected by the lashings and the beatings that He went through. Now, after attending the Lenten Recollection, Time of Confession, Mass of the Lord's Supper, the Seven Last Words, the Veneration of the Cross, and the Good Friday procession, my soul's thirst is quenched, enough to last me through another year. Knowing that my Lord and Savior came down for me, as promised, and broke the bondage of sin and death by rising on the third day, works to strengthen me for my own crosses and challenges.

I thirst and I cry, like our Lord on his last hour. How he must thirst for our presence, when we enter the church this week, cross ourselves, and leap outside almost instantaneously. How he must love God the Father, that even amidst His suffering He cries out to Him, knowing that He is near, and is able to hear His cry.

I ask also that in my life, suffering be eliminated. I am always said to be living in my dream world, wishing for perfection before allowing myself to be happy. But since Jesus drank the cup, I shall accept and embrace what is being offered to me now, because I have seen Jesus triumphant, fulfilling everything that was promised from the beginning. What then, could cause me to doubt and fear?

It is easy now, when all is silent, and temptation is far away, but I also know that once back in the normal routine of life, I would be beset by struggles, and I would doubt. Therefore I need faith. Therefore I need to remember. Therefore I need to believe.

When I went to confession last Wednesday, my confessor asked me whether I would choose to live a life worthy of my calling, or whether I would choose a life of sin. I looked beyond him, to the cross in front of us, and made my yes to Jesus. "Yes, Lord, I will choose you." I had said that before, as my confessor knows, and yet I did sin again. But after this week of remembrance, I remembered that through the Holy Spirit, I would not have to give up, and I could hope to be free from suffering and sin.

Easter Sunday, a day of chocolates and eggs for some, becomes the fresh morning that erases all my dark nights, because I walked with Christ through Lent, especially this Holy Week. His coming bursts forth within my heart. His sacrifice, and His triumph, is more real, more tangible, and more accessible for me.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. I choose to go with the seasons, for the fruits, when properly ripened, are simply much sweeter.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Distance Between Us

Sometimes I consider myself a shadow of my former self, at least spiritually. Whereas before my days and nights were spent on prayer, service, sacraments, scripture, and fellowship, now what occupies my time is work, work, and more work. Instead of dwelling on it too much, however, I just try to do my best every single day and long for a time when I can pay more attention to my spiritual life.

I took a leave off work today to rest, and thus was able to spend a longer time praying, go to mass, and attend bible study. I knelt at church and talked to Jesus, and felt just how much I had missed Him, like I missed other people. I realized that He was always there for me, even during my busyness, and I was the one causing the gap between us.

I was the one rushing through morning prayers. I was the one saying no to service. I had let go of most of my service opportunities because of something that was bothering me to the limits of my faith. Somebody asked me to pray over her yesterday and I replied that I did not feel worthy. I ended up praying for her, despite my own struggles, and being blessed by the words that came to me through the Holy Spirit. The other day, Fr. Brian asked me to give a talk for the youth leaders' training, and I wanted to say no, because I did not feel worthy. But when was I ever worthy? a voice inside me asked. Wasn't everything I did for the Lord brought about by His grace and power, and not by anything that I had done? Besides, what I was being invited to talk about was very practical, and I knew I wanted to do it. So I said yes.

Without my knowing it, I had slowly been hardening my heart towards Jesus. I had let doubt and fear rule me, instead of faith and trust. I had forgotten how He wanted to be a major part of my life, and had shut Him out, like a file I could go back to when I was good and ready. As I was staring at the cross earlier and telling Him that I did not understand where my life was going, Fr. Steve, who was leading the bible study, said, This is what you do when you don't understand: you move on.

He was referring to something else related to the Gospel according to Mark, but I was struck by what he said. Instead of over-analyzing, again, a situation that had been baffling and, admittedly, paralyzing me the past few months, I should just move on.

I do not know how to move away from this burden. But I do know that I want to move towards Jesus again. I am thankful that it's almost Holy Week. I need this time to rest. For no matter how far we distance ourselves from God, it only takes one step to go back to His embrace.