Friday, 28 September 2007

La festa degli arcangeli

Nei nostri tempi abonda la letteratura sugli angeli—nei libri che si trovano nelle librerie dove ci sono grosse sezioni su questa materia, e anche sull’internet. Purtroppo tanta di questa materia che gira non viene dall’insegnamento della fede cristiana ma dal New Age. Comunque, tutto il mondo tocca questa realtà degli angeli.

Qual’è il significato della nostra festa oggi? Oggi non guardiamo qualche santo che ha superato sua debolezza per essere un vero discepolo di Cristo. Vediamo tre angeli—arcangeli—che non hanno avuto né debolezza né peccato: molto diversi da noi; molto lontano dalla nostra capacità, possiamo dire.

Allora, come ci troviamo con questa celebrazione? Ci insegna alcune cose. Prima, che esistono questi angeli come messageri di Dio, come i suoi strumenti portando la sua parola—sappiamo che la parola angelos vuol dire “messaggero”. Seconda, che questi tre arcangeli, specificamente, fanno una grande parte della storia di salvezza—Michele, come prottetore del popolo eletto, Gabriele che ha portato l’annuncio di Dio, Raffaele che ha portato guarigione al padre di Tobia.

Anche i nomi sono pieni di senso: Michele—“colui come Dio”, Gabriele—“forza di Dio”, Raffaele “Dio ha curato”. Sempre attaccati al nome di Dio. Le loro missioni dependono in Dio; senza di lui non possono stare solo. È impossibile per noi di essere angeli, ma siamo sempre con Dio e dunque, è sempre possibile dare tutti i nostri affari alla disposizione della sua missione. Quindi, nel nostro lavoro, nella nostra presenza si vedrà Dio che salva, che cura, che parla. Perché come gli arcangeli siamo chiamati di essere messaggeri di Dio.

--a homily of mine which I delivered at Comunità Don Bosco, the Salesian community in Rome where I belonged (2002-2004). I made it for the feast of the Archangels, September 29, 2003 when I presided over our Eucharistic celebration. I have not yet made a traslation of this; i'll supply one soon.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The Courage to Die a Thousand Deaths

“To die for the faith is a call to some; to live the faith is a call for all.”

I have known these words by heart since I was in Grade 6. They have passed on from short-term memory to long-term. Maybe it was because I reviewed well for the exams of Religion Class that time. (It was Fr. Rey Ranjo who taught us that subject.) The words were by Pope John Paul II who, four years before in his visit to the Philippines, had beatified Lorenzo Ruiz.

I was quite impressed by the story of our first Filipino to be raised to the altars. At my young age, I told myself that if ever there would be a film on this man, I would want to play his character. After all, like Lorenzo I am a chinito, am I not?

Yet more than this, it was how St. Lorenzo Ruiz suffered that continues to edify me until now. His words “If I had a thousand lives, I would give all of them up for the Lord” constantly make a deep impression on me.

Suffering for the faith may not be a common experience in our country, but living the faith and doing so with courage does make a lot of sense for all of us. Life may not be easy in the daily tasks that we do but it is our way of answering the call to live the faith.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

LIMITS

And I thought I was Superman… Last week was a deluge. (When was it not?) I always tell people that the work in my office never stops, that it is okay to interrupt me because I would never find myself idle whenever I am inside. And so, welcome, come in!

My whereabouts are predictable: inside the office—writing, preparing my lessons, reading a book or an article, signing documents, arranging files (in perpetual chaos!), working with the computer, checking test papers, essays or creative literary works, meeting students, teachers, parents and confreres; outside the office—in the playground chatting with our young people, or making some three point attempts, stuffing goals in table football; in the faculty room—taking coffee and chatting with our teachers; in the classroom—teaching our young Salesians, seminarians or high school students; in the Salesian residence—doing my laundry; or outside—saying mass, attending meetings or giving talks. What I do isn’t much really… or is it? I don’t really care, for I enjoy every moment.

Then came the trip to Cebu for the meeting of the principals and deans of the Don Bosco schools in the Philippines. Sunday came and had two masses, one in the morning (at Saint Joseph the Worker Parish, Canlubang) and the other in the afternoon at Enchanted Kingdom. Sundays are always busy days for me, days of work as a priest, but as always, I enjoy every moment of it.

But activism always has a price to pay, for after my late afternoon mass, I suddenly felt feverish and drained of energy. Fatigue. I did not cough, but I felt there was something to cough out. The night’s sleep (if ever there was one) was broken by chills. There was infection. Had to see the doctor, had to stop and rest. Now under prescription drugs.

And now I have to take it easy for a while, to relax and to realize that this God-given strength, the ability to do wonders has a limit and thank God, the price that I am paying is not the extremely high one. This is true for everyone. We have the duty to conserve our health for with it we can do even better. May our work be tempered by this thought.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Chillon

Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar - for ‘twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.
- “Sonnet on Chillon”, Lord Byron

These days as I struggle over jet lag, scenes from my two weeks’ journey flash before me. Naturally, what remains are the unforgettables, the high moments, so to say, the human experiences that really matter.

Last August 24, as we took a break from our Societas Ethica conferences, we the participants were taken for a tour in some significant places around Leysin. Our first stop struck me: a visit to Château de Chillon, near Montreux, Switzerland. Situated at the coast of Lake Geneva, the castle was a home to the Counts of Savoy and was quite prominent in this particular Swiss region.

The tour around the castle impressed me—with our amiable and entertaining guide, a bearded French Swiss gentleman who speaks very good English. He led us through the dungeons, the courtyards, the upper rooms, the walls and the tower. The whole experience—as I touched the walls, and peered though windows—once again revived my love for things Medieval.

In our walk through the dungeons of the castle, I got fixated on the name of the English poet Byron etched deeply on one of the pillars. It was haunting and our guide told us that he was one of the visitors of the castle who was profoundly struck by the story of the place especially, that episode of Bonivard, the most celebrated among the prisoners of Chillon, that he wrote a sonnet, and then a later, a longer poem.

And likewise I am struck by his act: not so much the etching of his name but the writing of poetry to celebrate emotion—in this case, anguish for the suffering of a prisoner. It was an act that has immortalized the place, nay more, that has proclaimed to the world the sanctity of the walls wonderfully lit by the sunlight reflected by the dancing waters of the lake. It was this kind of light that shone on all the prisoners that have passed Chillon, on all the visitors including Byron, and including my own poor self.

In every place, through every moment: let us leave a memory, an etched name—not on stone but in lucid eulogy—in rimes, in artifacts, or even in the kind act of sharing: in human hearts.

(photo: a quiet moment in one of Chillon's rooms)

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Dear Father...

It would perchance be the highlight of my two week European sojourn...

I left the country for a conference on ethics in a beautiful place called Leysin in Switzerland. Yet I saw that certain moments were much, much greater than the big event of the Societas Ethica.

One such moment I found ca. 2:45 p.m. last Tuesday, August 28, in Valdocco. I never expected that returning to Don Bosco would happen so soon. “Return to Don Bosco” is definitely the battlecry of the Salesians of Don Bosco as they prepare to celebrate the 26th General Chapter next year. I did not know that returning to Don Bosco for me would be this literal: to stand once again before his remains and touch the glass that protected the holy relics.

I have been in that very spot before; this last one was actually my third time. During the first, sometime in December 2002 (the year of my ordination), there was a tingling sensation in my spine, a sense of exuberance at the thought that I was there before the body of our Father, Don Bosco. The second was in May 2003 (tenth anniversary of my profession), when the pilgrimage to Valdocco was a personally planned journey of my faith and vocation. This last one is the most moving—for it is going back to the place of someone whom I have called “Father” in the past 25 years of my life, a return to Don Bosco in the literal sense.

Before Don Bosco’s relics I closed my watery eyes and prayed. I thanked God—for so many things. And to Don Bosco I entrusted myself, my confreres, my collaborators (you dear teachers!) and all the young people under my care.

Wasn’t it 25 years ago when I first stepped into Don Bosco Tarlac as a student? It occurred to me as I stepped into Don Bosco’s Oratory last Tuesday that this was from God, a gift gratuitous, a real human experience that yields a message so important. With this visit that I never asked for yet freely given, he has affirmed me once again that I stay with Don Bosco, that I remain the son of this dear Father.