Monday, 30 July 2007

Hearing without Listening

Last July 26 I was reflecting on the Gospel passage for the day which was about Jesus' explanation of the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:18-23). The pericope reminded me of the time when we, as college seminarians tried to catch other seminarians off-guard as to whether they listened to the gospel reading in the Mass that morning. We just rang off with “What is the Gospel for today?” Then those who did not know it (those who either forgot or did not listen at all) would meet the one asking with a sheepish look. That made them more aware and thus be more attentive the next time the Gospel was read.

The parable reminds me of a famous song by Simon and Garfunkel: “The Sound of Silence.” It has the lines: “And in the naked light I saw/ ten thousand people, maybe more/ people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening…”

Yes, indeed, it is possible for people to hear without listening. And sad to say, this is what often happens. At school we give announcements often—surely, everyone hears them but not everyone really listens. Hearing is involuntary; listening, voluntary.

But heed this: listening opens to us a lot of possibilities. I teach music to our 3rd and 4th year high school students. Last week, I asked them to listen once more to the Medieval Music that we have discussed in the past. I asked them to write anything that came into their mind (feelings, memories, imagination, entire stories) as they listened to the selection of music. I was impressed with many of the essays. The product of listening is a work that is profound.
This is one task that we should not give up on: that of moving others not only to hear but to really listen. May this not fall on deaf ears, nay more, on ears that do not listen.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The Teacher as Instrumental, as Inspiration

Platinum, Ten Filipino Stories; The God Stealer and Other Stories; Po-on; Tree; My Brother, My Executioner; The Pretenders; Mass; Viajero; Ben Singkol—eight books by the same author, and counting! His productive output is far greater than this shortlist, for what I have enumerated are only those volumes of his that I have read.

Any student of literature would immediately recognize that these are the works of F. Sionil José, the foremost Filipino novelist in English, a personal favorite. Once I had the chance of attending a lecture of his on the subject “The Novel as Autobiography.” Ben Singkol had just come out of the press and after a short chat with him, I asked him to sign my copy.

At about this time last year, I found myself at Solidaridad, Sionil José’s bookshop at Padre Faura. For more than an hour I was browsing through the different titles. I bought two of his books, collections of essays—Heroes in the Attic, Termites in the Sala--Why We Are Poor and This I Believe: Gleanings from a life in literature. At lunchtime the day I bought the books I began reading This I Believe and managed to go through half of the book in that sitting. The dedication page reads: “To the memory of Soledad C. Oriel, Paz Latorena, and Juan Labrador.” Who were these persons? They were his teachers. Sionil José often mentions them as the ones to whom he is indebted, those who made him fall in love with literature. Soledad Oriel, in particular, was his Grade Five teacher who introduced him to authors like Rizal, Willa Cather and the great Miguel de Cervantes.

Sionil José is a literary giant not only locally but in the international scene as well (he is translated into 24 languages!). This skill for writing and this passion for literature was awakened in him by teachers who saw his gifts—teachers like those I encounter everyday. Long live the educator!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Steps and Leaps

Sometimes, it does help to look at things which we oftentimes take for granted. In my office I am keeping a copy of the Bosconian’s Daily Guide (more popularly known as the Student’s Diary). The importance of the Daily Guide cannot be questioned--it serves as the link between the school and the home; it includes a lot of features that are valuable especially to each student who bears a copy. I myself found it thus when I was a student. However, the copy that keep in the shelf of my office is meant simply to instruct others how to use it or to serve as a ready reference with regard to the student guidelines.

Two days ago I was idly browsing through the pages of the Diary. July 20 read: “1969. Humankind first landed on the Moon. Neil Alden Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins were aboard the space shuttle Apollo 11 for this historic lunar mission. At exactly 10:56 p.m. EDT, Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the Moon.”
I was not yet born when that great event was seen on live television. History tells us that on becoming the first person to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong declared: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Our lifetime has seen a lot of steps—and leaps—in terms of space exploration, inventions, and other scientific achievements. Our generation never imagined that we would get this far so quickly. This is true not only in science but in other fields as well. There is a revolution not only in the world of action and inventions, but also in the world of speculation. Precisely, what we see manifested in the outside is what is happening in the human person. It is a revolution of the mind. Philosophical movements have never been so many at a given point.

The field of education where I find myself right now is exactly moving in the same direction. There are a lot of innovations, not only in terms of being able to use modern means in delivering the same lessons, but also in the process itself--in the mechanics: from planning the lesson to the delivery itself. At this point, let me say as I encourage all those in the teaching profession: the efforts that you exert in this line may be small steps to your estimate, but they are giant leaps after all. Yes, sometimes it does help to look at things which we oftentimes take for granted.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Where You Belong

It is interesting that the top two TV stations in the country try to win viewers to their side by making the latter feel that they indeed belong—via the words kapamilya and kapuso. Yet this strategy is not unique in them. All the other advertisements have this element of relationship in them. It is what is promoted in a myriad of ways via words of belonging: kaberks, katext, kainuman, kabayan, and so on.

We all desire to belong to a group. We belong to a family, to a school, to a class; we seek to be part of associations and organizations. As early as when I was in grade school, I had wanted to be part of as many groups as possible and so I joined the Knights of the Altar, the Boy Scouts, the Junior Journalists Club, the Junior Aspirants’ Club, the choir.

This is indeed one of the aims of the youth groups and sodalities whose formation we give utmost importance in our school. Membership in a group gives one a sense of belongingness, of sharing with others. In a group, one will not be lost in the crowd because he is seen more as an individual who is capable of sharing time and talent.

Don Bosco himself gave importance to this aspect of life. He encouraged sodalities—meant for the smooth running of the Oratory, but also the venue for camaraderie and formation.
In our school, we continue this wonderful Salesian tradition because we believe that in the group, young people become more aware of their responsibilities. In their own way they can make a difference—among themselves, in the school, and even in the Church and the society.

Finally, the youth group is a wonderful venue where the young person will be able to exercise leadership. In Don Bosco’s time, the leaders of the groups were later on invited to join him in his work. Aye, the youth groups are a great source of vocation. And this I would like to affirm because being part of a group and leading it was a happy memory that made me more open to God’s call for me to become a Salesian.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Lessons from the World Cup Final 2006

It was around this time last year that saw the world football fanatics (me included) glued to the television screens, save those who saw the World Cup Finals in the stadium in Berlin. The spectators were treated to a feast of football as France and Italy played for the title. It was won by Italy via penalty shootout after a score of 1-1 after 90 minutes of the regular playing time and another 30 minutes of extension.

I have rooted for France, and so I lost in the “bets” I made with friends who cheered for Italy. Anyway, this championship match gave me several thoughts to ponder:
1. Leadership matters a lot. One of the highlights of the match was Zinedine Zidane getting a red card for the head butt he gave to Italy’s Marco Materazzi. His ejection was the turning point of the game: the French players lost their spirit; from that minute they crumbled and made the Italians force the deadlock to the end. His leadership and presence mattered a lot.

2. The last act will always be remembered. It is true, Zidane’s greatness will be forever etched in football history—his skills, his leadership, his sportsmanship. I can even say that he deserves the Golden Ball award that he got as the best player of this tournament. Yet, it could have been sweeter without that head butt.

3. In a winning team, everyone delivers. Italy is a clear case of this. They made twelve goals in all—from 10 different players! It was all so well distributed that no one really cared if there were superstars or not. They just had to win as a team. Part of the picture was the superb performance of their goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon who conceded only two goals and neither was scored on the run of play.

Dear friends, these lessons can be adopted in whatever vocation or profession we are in. In a good number of ways, we exercise leadership daily. Our inspiring presence means a lot--to our family, to our colleagues. Our deeds create a deep impression in the lives of the people we encounter and we have to preserve the beauty of this happy reality. Together with the people around us, we work to be a winning team.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

The Age of Chivalry

Throughout the years, ever since I acquired this insatiable passion for reading, I have accumulated books enough to build a modest library. This library I have enshrined in our humble home (first at Tarlac and now in Angeles). The classics dominate the collection, beginning with the first novels I read—Oliver Twist, Don Quixote. The Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid are not to be missed. Later on, philosophy and theology books joined in to fill another section.

One book that I have opened more than once or twice was Bulfinch’s Mythology—and it was not only because of the classical Greek and Roman Mythology beautifully recounted by Thomas Bulfinch. Rather, it was more because of the second part of the trilogy: The Age of Chivalry.
This part recounts the tales of kings and knights, particularly, the legend of King Arthur. What drew me to these was the sense of the heroic that was very much present even in the non-fictional counterpart of these tales—the Middle Ages.

I love dwelling on this portion of history as it is truly rich in so many aspects. Literature in this stage teemed with so many productions, most of them, epics; philosophy had St. Thomas Aquinas at the fore; architecture yielded the castles whose majestic remnants continue to captivate tourists; the paintings were not pompous but were powerful. And its music: from the ubiquitous Gregorian chant to the wandering music of the minstrels. It was the bridge from the ancient to the gifted flair of the Renaissance.

It is this brand of music that I am presenting these days to my students in Music 3 & 4—Gregorian Chant, Old Roman, Arabic-Byzantine, works by Richard the Lionheart and others. It is the deep breath before we plunge into the more popular periods—Baroque, Classical and Romantic.

In our discussion, I asked my students what they can say about the quality of Medieval Music. They produced many adjectives that may be summed up into two: serene and deliberate. This is what draws me to the Age of Chivalry: it is not a shallow whim. May our lives be a reflection of this wonderful era where nobility and honor reign supreme.

Friday, 6 July 2007

The Color Yellow

Twice, and twenty years apart, the color yellow has made an enduring dent on my memory—and for different reasons, events literally and conceptually far apart. 1983 saw Ninoy Aquino lying in blood, dead on the tarmac. But the days that followed were covered neither by red nor black. It was yellow that swept the scenery: in flags, shirts, headbands, confetti, not only in the funeral but beyond, onto the EDSA revolution.

However, that is altogether another story different from what I wish to develop now. Allow me to be less profound today (yet equally fervent) as I write about the color yellow 20 years later—in 2003. Today, I take on the shoes of a spectator as I join many others in watching a spectacle (via TV), in witnessing a display of heart and endurance in the world’s most prestigious cycling event: the Tour de France. In July of 2003, as I did my French course in Angers, I was taken up by this sporting event that I went to Nantes (the birthplace of the writer Jules Verne) just to see Lance Armstrong retain his yellow jersey and assure himself of winning against his closest rival Jan Ullrich who took a spill in that stage. It was in that stage that I personally encountered Ivan Basso, the winner of the white jersey (best young rider) the year before and subsequently 2nd runner-up in 2004 and 1st runner-up in 2005. However, it was the yellow jersey won by Armstrong that made me a fan of this sport as it is a showcase of what the human spirit can achieve even after a fall. One should note that Armstrong was a cancer survivor before winning the Tour seven consecutive times. I was also viewing recently on youtube one of his most memorable stage wins: the climb to Luz Ardiden (also in 2003; see Such tremendous determination! And in the end, the yellow jersey to savor. May our personal struggles see the color yellow in the end. (photo shows Fr. Joel with Ivan Basso at Nantes)