Thursday, August 28, 2008


An Experience of God through Lectio Divina

Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, But stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.( Jeremiah 17:5-8)

Heart and Mind in Tandem

Lectio Divina suits my personality fine. I can bask under the warm glow of feelings for as long as I want. I can also bathe in the refreshing waters of novel insights born of a more mind-based reflection. There is abundance of the heart and free-flowing cooperation of the mind in this ancient process-prayer that puts the heart and mind in a dynamic mode of cooperation. As a basically heart person, trained, for the most part, to be a thinker, lectio divina is an experience that brings me more in touch with my strong feeling component.

A passage from Jeremiah quoted above, part of the responsory in the Office of Readings for one of the last weeks of ordinary time is what I base this reflection on.

Nature as Nurturing Mother

I love nature. I can spend hours gazing at a stream, and lolling on the grassy embankment. I am spiritually energized every time I go up mountains and trek by gorges and heights. In the countless foot journeys up mountains I have done in life, passing by refreshing rivers, gurgling and glinting under the sun, after a long, dry spell of seemingly endless, thirst-inducing trek, has always been a welcome treat. It has always led me to think about God as present in nature, a God who cares for weary trekkers like us, who could use a refreshing, reinvigorating time with mother nature.

Jeremiah’s image of a tree planted beside water is one that I found myself very much at home with, for actual and existential reasons.

Falling Leaves, Faltering Hopes

It is nearing autumn once again (even if I live in the torrid tropics!). Four years ago, when I was deep in further studies in Baltimore, Maryland, me and my siblings, along with a great many relatives and friends, buried an older sister, the second in our large family, taken away at a relatively young age at 56, by a cruel and unforgiving disease called cancer.

Not long after that, it was once more “autumn” in my life. Just when I thought we were just getting started on our downhill trek towards recovery, the shattering news came that another sister, younger this time, has a similar cancer … and then another, still more recently … third in a row!

To shift metaphors, I am once more on the uphill climb, up towards a barren, dry, and hot, lava-seared landscape that reminded me of a mountain I climbed 19 years ago. I am once more struggling and groveling up the lava waste of an experience that saps away hope, that dries up tender saplings of trust in God-nurturing-mother who seems to have walked out on us, on me, once again.

My sisters’ and the rest of my surviving siblings’ own “Goldengrove,” in allusion to Manley-Hopkins’ poignant poem addressed to the young Margaret, “grieving,” is now once more “unleaving.” The falling leaves speak not only of both actual and potential losses. They speak to me of unwanted endings. They remind me of “hope growing grey hairs,” of what the same Jesuit poet refers to as an experience in which “all I endeavor in disappointment end.”

What No Mind, Nor Thought Can Express

The prayer experience proved to be, as usual, an oasis for my thirsty soul. “As runs the thirsting deer to find where cooling waters flow, so rush the wishes of my heart to come before you Lord,” was a refrain of an old, old song back in seminary days that I kept on repeating. Jeremiah’s prophetic utterance could not have come at a better time. I dwelt on it. I mulled over it for a long while. I allowed images of me actually peering over the crater of a hot, smoking volcano (something I actually did in that climb 19 years ago), and then running down for dear life to the safety and refreshing coolness of regurgitating waters further down refreshing me. “What no mind, no, nor heart expressed, ghost guessed” … the possibility that I could actually be not that kind of tree Jeremiah may be speaking of.

Searing Pain, Healing Word

The rhythm of the prayer, with its four stages, that allowed me to rock back and forth lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio, brought up to me images of a nurturing mother lulling her child to safety and warmth. The pain I felt was real and deeply searing. But the prayer experience, based on the Word, came out as a healing experience. More than that, it offered me reassurance. And even more than that, it gave fresh insights. Hope falters when love’s conviction alters. When one is far from the life-giving waters; when one is not rightly planted near where grace flows, hope shrivels at the root.

Searching and Finding

I have always wondered at the internalized object I have been associating with God all this time. I have always wondered how best for me to think of God and how best to relate to this internalized object-image I learned from when I was a child. My search did not go in vain, at least as far as this prayer experience is concerned. The experience convinced me, more than ever, that my internalized object-image of God has always been that of a parent, a caring, nurturing mother, to be exact. Although thinking of God as father was not entirely distasteful to me, I realized I could “taste and see the goodness of God” more if I imagined Him as a provident parent. No wonder I always found it easier to commune with Him in and through nature. No wonder images of deer running to the water always strike me. No wonder, too, that Francis Thompson’s poems delight me, particularly his “God and the Child,” and “The Hound of Heaven.”

Fearing No the Heat When It Comes

I am afraid of the worst for my two other siblings just as I had been eight years ago. I am afraid of so many things, including what the future has in store for me and the rest of what used to be a big family. The realization that our genetic make-up is not that resilient to disease comes to me as one “long dry spell of searing heat,” placing me in a situation where I can “enjoy no change of season,” as Jeremiah wrote.

But it is precisely at times like these that prayer becomes more meaningful. It is only when one’s faith is sorely tested, when one’s love is forcibly “altered” by both pleasant and unpleasant circumstances, that one’s hope shines. Earth is, indeed, “crammed with heaven, and every bush is afire with God,” as Elizabeth Barrett-Browning so nicely puts it. But “only he who sees takes off his shoes and worships.” Only he who sees far beyond … Only he who sees can understand the meaning behind things and events, including a bush – nothing more and nothing else, but a manifestation of God.

I still do not understand the “heat” that has once too often come into my life. But prayer at least helps me to accept what is unfathomable and what is unacceptable. It, at least, helps me gain back precious perspective. Most importantly, it shows me who I basically am, someone who may need to draw closer to the stream, someone who may need to remain planted beside the waters, if I want to be, and remain a tree that “fears not when the heat comes, and whose leaves stay green.”

Saturday, July 12, 2008

CON-SPIRING WITH THE SPIRIT: Grace and Nature at the Crossroads

In-Spiration and Con-Spiration Right from the Start

The image of God breathing on “chaos” (“formless wasteland” in NAB), is seen as God creating human life and calling to existence all the rest of creation. The account makes use of a fundamental meaning-laden metaphor in biblical creation theology. This first account of creation refers to “a mighty wind [that] swept over the waters” (Gen 1:1-31). The second account, equally poetic and symbolic, refers more directly to this creative In-Spiration (breathing act) of God: “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground, and blew his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7).

Divine In-Spiration, however, was not a one-sided event. Right from the start, God wanted his first living creatures to have a complementary role in the ongoing process: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28); “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 2:15).

Borrowing Haughey’s terminology (Gillespie, 2000), this Divine-Human con-Spiracy can be said to have begun at creation, and is a process that goes on till now.

The Call to Life as Process and Partnership

Scripture is clear about the nature of human life vis-à-vis the rest of the created world. Life is a gift that needs to be unwrapped, a call that needs to be answered daily. For humans, the world remains a place to be taken care of. Countless mysteries about life in this world still have to be “named,” and solutions to the riddle of sustainable and ecologically sound development of the earth that is our only home still await discovery. Unfortunately, now as before, humans have often been less than responsible, creating a mess of what Messer (1992) refers to as “world-havoc” instead of putting into place a “world-house,” engaging in wanton disregard of the breath of God that still “in-Spires” life from chaos, both natural and man-made. The original call to caring was replaced by selfish “possession.” The invitation to “mastery” turned out to be, in many cases, “abuse.” Self-less cooperation and partnership turned out to be sinful collusion, instead.

Re-appropriating the Tradition

Despite this, however, God continues to in-Spire order, truth, and wholeness into everything that is broken, chaotic, and sinful in our human lives as individuals and society. In and through Christ, the call continues and gradually becomes reality in the new life his dying and rising have wrought in us. Re-appropriating this creation spirituality leads us once more to the path of cooperation, as against the path of collusion; to the way of social responsibility, as against the way of selfish gain; to the way of solidarity in the good, instead of solidarity in evil.

From Selfishness to Solidarity

This call to con-Spiracy, understood as engagement with the world and with others, and the Holy Spirit’s continually in-Spiring humanity to walk in solidarity with creation, with others, and with the Trinitarian God, leads to some disturbing realizations. For one, anyone deeply steeped in a spirituality characterized by cooperation, partnership, and solidarity, can never revert to a one based on personal, private, and selfish concerns. The Biblical injunction to “subdue the earth” no longer has connotations of wanton abuse of the earth’s resources without a corresponding sense of social responsibility. One realizes, furthermore, that everyone is called to cooperation. All are called to take part in this divine con-Spiracy toward personal and social transformation.

Beginning from the Home Front: Grace Building on Nature

In a very literal sense, the earth and the created world comprise a household given to our care. The same, however, is true with regard to my personal ongoing process of salvation in and through Christ. What is true for society is also true for me as an individual. For both, life is meant to be an on-going task-in-partnership. Christ’s call to “fullness of life” (Jn 10:10) is both a gift and a task to do in union with him. The grace of salvation needs to be met with human cooperation. This delicate interplay between God’s and man’s effort is partly what spirituality is all about.

This spirituality of partnership and collaboration leads me now to confront certain elements within me that stand in the way of full cooperation with God and with others. As an introverted personality with some narcissistic features (as do many of us clergy and religious), who still grapples with some self-esteem issues, collaborative ministry (Sofield & Juliano, 2000) is something I still need to develop. The grace that comes from ordination to ministry, understood as springing from, and flowing back to the community, finds a reluctant partner in me. Nature, thus, poses an obstacle to efficacy in ministry. The full flowering of the in-Spiration from the Holy Spirit cannot take place with said unredeemed parts of my nature still holding sway. Grace cannot build on a nature that continues to rebel, that continues to hold on to a misguided appropriation of a tradition that sees holiness and ministry as merely personal pursuits. Becoming a con-Spirator with the Spirit, and with other Spirit-led people, gets stalled, unless I allow grace and nature to come to a healthy interplay as they meet at the crossroads that is my life here and now, and in the days to come.


Gillespie, C.K. (2000). Spiritual conversation groups: Con-Spiring with the Spirit. In Wicks, R. (Ed). Handbook of spirituality for ministers: Perspectives for the 21st century. Volume 2. New York: Paulist Press.

Messer, D. (1992). A conspiracy of goodness: Contemporary images of Christian mission. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Sofield, L. & Juliano, C. (2000) Collaboration: Uniting our gifts in ministry. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.

USCCB & NCCB (1987). The new American bible. South Bend, IN: The Green Lawn Press.

Friday, March 28, 2008


N.B. I had the singular grace of being invited as guest of honor at the OSJ College of Philosophy Graduation Ceremonies yesterday, March 27, 2008 in Lipa City, Batangas. I thank my OSJ friends and former students who made the day for me. Below is the text of what I shared with the batch of 10 graduates.

“His itaque transactis factus est sermo Domini ad Abram per visionem dicens: ‘noli timere Abram. Ego protector tuus sum et merces tua magna nimis.” (Gen 15:1)

These are words that could not have been better chosen by the graduating class of this politically, socially, and morally tumultuous year 2008 … words that speak of hope, of confidence, and steadfast faith in the Lord for all of us, just as they did for Abraham of yore. Ego protector tuus sum … I am your protector, your shield … The images conjured by these words of assurance from the Lord is one that is more commonly associated with a struggle, with warfare, with persecution. These words connote care-giving concern for somebody considered the underdog, helpless, and powerless, at least compared to someone else seen as almighty and powerful. The picture presented is one that the whole of Scripture is replete with … God’s mighty hand coming to the rescue of the weak, the feeble, and the voiceless.

The Latin vulgate puts the tense in the present … it is not ero, but sum … “I am” instead of “I will be” … But I was told that in the Hebrew original, there was no verb used at all, which linguistically really means much more stronger than “I am.” From the original, therefore, what really comes out is that there is identity between God and being protector. It is important to note, at the outset, that the reassurance from the Lord is preceded by another, perhaps, more foundational exhortation: “noli timere” … do not fear, Abraham …

My talk, therefore, will revolve around three main ideas. First, I will have to deal with the Fear Factor ... nolite timere. Second, I will have to deal with the Big Brother
aspect of our lives as believers … ego sum protector tuus. Big Brother is not only watching out for you. Father God cares for you and loves you, more than big brother can. Third, I will have to delve on the Wheel of Fortune element of our Christian lives. The reward that awaits us all is out of this world. For this is what “nimis” is all about in Latin – exceedingly great, great beyond expectations, great beyond dreams, far beyond Ramiele Malubay’s great dream of being proclaimed this year’s American Idol.

And now for the Fear Factor … As a priest over the past 25 years, I will have to tell you that life has not been exactly a bowl of cherries. Having been a teacher and educator since 1977, a total of 31 years, I will have to tell you that fear, along with discouragement, have figured in with varying shades of intensity in my life and work. I don’t have to recount to you the details, but fear took center stage in my life on two separate occasions: first, when I was given a death threat a few days after the 1986 snap elections, and, second, when I was held hostage by NPA rebels in the foothills of Mt. Apo in 1989. On those two occasions, I knew how it felt to suddenly realize in the prime of my life as a young priest, how easy it was to die, how my life suddenly hung by a flimsy thread that could easily have been snapped, or cut to oblivion, by people who seemed never to fear anything, nor anyone, not even the God whom I naively thought everybody would at least respect, if not me. I never prayed so much in my life. But fear is the close sister of discouragement and disappointment. I remember how on Dec. 1, 1989, as I feared the worst as the country was being battered by one of the worst, unlamented coup d’etats in our recent history, I was up in the antenna tower of Don Bosco Technical College in Mandaluyong City, observing the progress of the coup at Camp Aguinaldo General Headquarters. I remember how much I cried for my country, brought down almost to its knees, when the Tora-Tora planes started swooping down on the heart of the country’s last bastion of defense. I cried and I prayed … I don’t know at this point which came first, or which I did more of, but I know I was discouraged.

Allow me to share with you this discouragement that my favorite poet Gerard Manley-Hopkins expressed so movingly in words that I’d like to make my own:

Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: quare via impiorum prosperatur? (Jer 12:1)

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build -- but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

I quote this poem and prayer for the simple reason that the feelings espoused therein were feelings that I espoused time and time again. These days, even as I talk to you, fresh fears and new disappointments cloud the air. Robinson (2004) speaks about how our times are enveloped in “contours of hopelessness” all over. Hopelessness characterizes our days and times like the air we breathe. From the human point of view, when we see how the rest of our neighbors in Southeast Asia have overtaken us, and gone light years ahead of us economically and otherwise, there seems to be no escaping the possibility that, indeed, we are fast becoming, if we have not already become, an accident in the highway of history. With so much politics of the dysfunctional kind providing telenovela-like entertainment in our media-crazed culture, whose centerpiece seems to be “wowowee” of massive cheating notoriety, hope seems to “grow grey hairs” for us. We are filled with a lot of trepidation and fear for the future – fear that translates itself, among other things, into a massive migration mentality. As many as four thousand Filipinos a day vote with their feet, more than 59 per cent of them women, who seek for greener pastures in 95 out of 130 sovereign countries all over the world. Our fear, our disappointment, and our discouragement, along with our dreams for a better tomorrow, goad us on to become the new denizens of the world. But it is precisely in this context, that I would like to remind you … like unto Abraham, the Lord tells you and me today, “nolite timere.”

And now, let us move on to Big Brother. I am fortunate to have been ordained a priest under the watch of Pope John Paul II. When he was elected Pope, I was in my second official year of teaching, as a 22 year old wide-eyed and underweight cleric, teaching young seminarians college English and a smattering of basic Philosophical subjects. When he was installed and given the pallium as Bishop of Rome at the open-air solemn liturgical rites at the Piazza di San Pietro in 1978, his message that came from a solid, stentorian voice of a then very young Pope Wojtyla boomed and resonated for all the world to hear: “Do not be afraid … Be not afraid of God … Be not afraid of man … Be not afraid of yourself … Be not afraid of the Church.” Young as I was then, I thought that that message was prophetic. I held on to it. I treasured it in my heart. One year after, in a talk in Puebla, Mexico, before the Conference of Latin American Bishops, Pope John Paul II repeated basically the same message: “Do not be afraid.” Years later, in 1994, when he wrote “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” the same Pope reiterated what appears to be one emerging leitmotif of his pontificate – hope and courage – twin virtues that he showed with remarkable heroism until the very end of his days, as the whole world now knows.

My dear graduates … you are young … you are idealistic … you are hopeful … you are full of dreams … but I know that you are also filled with not just a few traces of fear and uncertainty in your hearts. Take courage … It is the Lord … not Big Brother, but the greatest Father who is in heaven. In the name of the late Pope John Paul II, I tell you … “Do not be afraid.”

And now, for the third element in our to-do list for today … Wheel of Fortune! Yes … part of our fears and uncertainties really come from what the rest of the Filipino people really feel deep inside. I speak of the Filipino culture of insecurity. Deeply ingrained in our culture through no fault of our own is that nagging feeling that there might not be enough for all of us. Many of us are entertaining fears about the possible shortage of rice, for example, most of it fueled by irresponsible politicians to gain the usual media mileage. A country that used to export rice to all the world is now reduced to literally begging to be sold rice by countries that we trained, countries that we taught how to produce the best rice varieties on earth. You are afraid … you ask questions like “what will become of me? … Will philosophy put food on the table? Should I continue on in the congregation, will I really be fruitful and will I be able to help my family tide themselves over? Am I possibly wasting away my time and inner resources in this congregation?” Many of us long to have the gadgets and the lifestyle that now mark the lives of even the most impoverished among our people. Many of us entertain dreams of making it big somehow, or at least, rising higher than what our parents reached, hoping to become better copies of our own fathers, legitimate dreams undoubtedly. We dream of big and small things, and sometimes the fear that we will become unnamed, unheralded, uncelebrated heroes working ourselves to death in some forlorn parish, in our little corner of the world, can frighten us. At a time when heroes are created at will by the powerful mass media, when so-called “criminals” are tried and condemned by publicity, we feel frightened about being left on the sidelines, being unknown, and not being validated by fame, fortune, and power.

I know how it feels to be frightened of an uncertain future. I have been there. But as a priest and formator for so long, and an educator for much longer, I have something to tell you … By being a religious priest, by being a teacher, preacher, and pastor, the material reward is measly. Sometimes the congregation and the church that you love can make you even miserable – unfairly and unjustly treated by the very institution that you would like to call “mother.” There is not too much money to go around, nor too much fame to spare. There is not much in terms of human consolation, especially when, as you grow older, the individuals you grew up with, begin to follow separate ways, and chart separate destinies. One day, you wake up realizing that the people you laughed with, the individuals you thought were your friends, no longer think as you do, and no longer see things the way you do. You may feel alone, misunderstood, rash judged, and maybe even envied in some way. Most of my former students, including those whom I thought were the most promising ones, have gone their many different and separate ways. Formation work was, and is, a thankless job. At the end of the many years I spent training them, teaching them, and guiding them, they all end up thinking they did it themselves … that they pulled themselves from their own bootstraps … that they pulled it off all by themselves, with perhaps a few exceptions, who, like the ten lepers, can boast of only one grateful returnee. But I can tell you one thing as I look you straight in the eye … I have never regretted any single moment, day, week, month, or year. It was all worth all the effort. And after all those years, given the choice, I would do it all over again. And this for the simple reason that we live, not by sight, but by faith. And our faith tells us, that what we do for the kingdom, will all one day lead to reaping copious fruits that are beyond imagination. What no eye has seen, nor ear heard … The rewards are absolutely out of this world. This is the wheel of fortune I speak about … treasures that no moth can eat, nor rust can destroy.

As you can probably guess, I am trying to lead you towards something important. It is important enough for the present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to be writing the whole world about. Fear Factor, notwithstanding; Big Brother nevertheless; and Wheel of Fortune aside, the challenges of our lives boil down to three things: love, faith, and hope. Benedict’s first encyclical surprised us all. He spoke of something as basic and simple and foundational as love. We need to value our human loves, eros and philia. The former is what he calls “ascending love.” Through ascent and purification, we are called to transcend and reach the level of agape, “descending love” – love like unto God, love like that of God. But as the song that follows would remind us, there is something else we need to do; there is something we all need to know – and invest in:

We all say that love is a good thing
Something we’d all like to know
We don’t understand that it’s easy
To make friends wherever we go.

Tomorrow is something we dream of
But there’s something else we can do.
Let us live now, for tomorrow
Believing our dream has come true

For tomorrow belongs to the children
The children belong to us all
So let us bring love out of hiding
And live like tomorrow is now.

Children/ So let us be friends like the children
They know / there is something to learn from them all
They know the secret of living
They live like tomorrow is now.

For tomorrow belongs to the children
The children belong to us all
So let us bring love out of hiding
And live like tomorrow is now.

For tomorrow belongs to the children
The children belong to us all
So let us be friends like the children
And live tomorrow is now.

The second letter of Benedict XVI is another milestone that would merit our attention as you go forth to your own respective dream and meaning making. Just a day before Advent of Year A, he came out with Spe Salvi. I will have to tell you that I have read the encyclical three times and each time I read it, I cried. Call me a cry-baby, call me sentimental, but I cannot deny the fact that the letter touched me deeply. It gave meaning to all that I have been doing over the past 25 years as a priest, and 31 years as an educator. I would like you to be touched by it as I have been. And I have been touched on account of the riches of hope that the letter offers to a world enveloped, as we said, in the contours of hopelessness.

Among many other things, the Pope refers not only to informative, but to performative hope. It is hope that is active, hope that sets out to achieve what it longs for, a hope that makes real here and now, what we nevertheless await in its total fulfillment. This hope is not based on wishful thinking, but on the solid conviction of faith. This is the reason why he speaks about faith itself as hope. It is ultimately based on the foundation of our solid attachment to a personal God, not just any god, but the God who had a human face, a God who came – and stayed – with us.

The foundation of our hope is that which ought to be residing deeply inside us – our attachment to a personal God who showed His human face in Christ His Son. This is the merces magna whereof Scripture speaks. This is the pearl of great price, the treasure buried deep in the field of our Christian consciousness. This is what is exceedingly, wondrously abundant because it comes from the bosom of God. This is promise par excellence, and fulfillment to the hilt such as only a God of promises and a God of fulfillment can give us. And it is there inside of us in germ, in potentiality, waiting for us to unravel like a precious gift that needs to be unwrapped.

Abram, whose name God changed to Abraham as befits the dignity and utter magnanimity of the gifts that he received, now looms in the horizon of your personal and collective hope as an icon, a beacon, a lighthouse that shows us the way. And what is that way? You are all called to rise up to the challenge of these confusing times, and, claim the riches that are already within you – your faith, love, and hope in God. Like unto Abraham, our father in faith, God now tells you graduates the same thing: EGO SUM MERCES TUA MAGNA NIMIS!







With riches so great as our God is, why settle for something small? Why call yourself a rivulet when you could be a mighty river? And why think of yourself as a chicken when you can really soar like an eagle? With God behind Abram, now called Abraham, who would choose to remain in Ur? Armed with the obedience of faith, along with the boldness of love, and the audacity of hope, Abraham went forth to forge God’s dream and turn it into reality. That dream spanned the skies, and went beyond merely numerous. No … they were uncountable, as many as the sands on the seashore. Such was the greatness of God’s dream for him and his descendants forever. Pippin, as the song we just heard, reminds us, was called to reach out for his corner of the sky. With riches such as God has given, and continues to give you, it is not just a mere corner of the sky that you are called to pursue. No … you are destined for greatness like Abraham was. And God now gives you His famous promise: “EGO PROTECTOR TUUS SUM ET MERCES TUA MAGNA NIMIS!”

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


N.B. This article was originally written for the souvenir program of a concert by guest priests of the Diocese of Cubao, held in December 2007.

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:1-7).

Macintosh had for long expressed what people already knew by intuition and experience for far longer. In its revolutionary GUI (Graphic User Interface) technology of yore, now taken for granted by everyone all over the world, the once cryptic statement understandable only to the early generations of computer geeks of times past, has now become more than just a standard feature, but also almost a doctrine-like mantra that actually says more than it seems to suggest … WYSIWYG … What you see is what you get.

It turns out, on closer look, that more than just computer graphics is at stake here … “What you see is what you get” stands for more than just superficial representations of what is behind the shapes, sounds, colors, and shifting images that make up the actual cyber reality of our time and age.

What you see is what you get … I have it on the authority of cognitive therapists, especially schema therapists, that one’s vision shapes one’s reality. What one “sees” in the mind is starting point of what becomes, and what takes shape in the real world. An architect first has to “see” in his mind’s eye what eventually takes shape in a three-dimensional world of material reality. What one conjures up in the inner world of one’s thoughts, stands at the basis of what one tends to actualize and concretize in the external world marked by height, width, weight, and depth. What one convinces oneself of, tends to become some kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, known once-upon-a-time as the “Rosenthal effect.” Schemata – the type of thoughts that fill our mind – are the very realities that we tend to live out. What one can “see” is something that most likely one can also somehow “do.” What you see is what you get.

But I read more in this almost prophetic statement of Apple.

I would like to suggest that it stands for more than just what our “new age” crazed world of infotainment seems to suggest. I would like to suggest, too, that something more than just the superficial “law of attraction,” popularized by the equally popular book entitled “The Secret,” is being referred to here.

What you see is what you get … No, I don’t speak of ions that build up in the atmosphere, and which, eventually form an energy mass that “attracts” the reality that one’s mind is trying hard to think about. No, I don’t speak of the so-called alignment of planets that follow the much-vaunted laws of the “age of aquarius,” that represents and constitutes favorable conditions for harmony and understanding to reign in the world.

I speak of better things here. I speak of a deeper vision … I speak of seeing not with so-called “soft eyes” made popular by The Celestine Prophecy of more than 15 years ago.

Bishop Anthony Bloom can help us here. He wrote many years ago that too many people live in only two dimensions in a world where there are actually three. People live like reality has to do only with the “here” and with the “now.”
People who behave like reality is only the here and the now, to use St. Paul’s terms, live only by sight. They see only what is palpable, quantifiable, and measurable.

To see only rottenness and sordidness in this world of corruption is to live by sight. To see only the rapid degradation of our society in every aspect is to live only in two dimensions. It means to see with “soft” uncritical eyes. It means seeing the “right things” but not necessarily “seeing rightly.” It means seeing, and being numbed by what one sees … being co-opted by what seems normal, legal, moral, and convenient, like as if all the said terms were on equal footing.

To live by sight alone is to see reality as flat, as drab, as lacking in depth, as lacking in perspective. It actually means to see less, not more.

The conditions of our times are rife for us all to see less and less. We see less of what is right, and more of what is personally and materially convenient. We see less of what is moral, and more of what is legal and advisable, and materially rewarding. We see less possibilities to aim for the better and the nobler, and more of opportunities and potentialities to work for the higher, the greater, and the more. We see less and less of God-at-work in history, and more and more of man intervening in history.

To live by sight alone is to see less, not more.

You have in your hands a kind invitation to see more, not less. The mere fact that you are reading this is proof enough that, deep inside, there is a very deep and very real longing in you to see the right things, and to see them rightly.

In our faith tradition and history, there was a man named Paul who saw the right things and saw them rightly. He saw pain staring him in the face. He saw and felt unalloyed joy at the sight of his beloved people in the various “churches” that he personally formed and evangelized. Paul saw suffering, shipwrecks, hunger, cold, heat, lashings, and gashing wounds of all kinds. He saw the love and dedication of his followers. But he also saw divisions, disunity, squabbles, and disharmony among the people he so dearly loved. He saw all the “right” and “real” things – enough to make anyone dejected and depressed.

But Paul saw more, not less. He had perspective. He had vision. And what he saw was what he got. He lived by faith, not by sight.

The men who made it possible for you to be reading this here and now, I would like to assure you, are men with a vision. Having journeyed with them in a humbling experience of reflecting together with them about faith, life, and priestly ministry last August 2007, I can vouch not only for their worthy dream, but also of their lofty vision that is not far different from Paul’s great vision.

They live in three dimensions. Thinking of the “here” and the “now,” they have planned and worked hard to regale you with songs that speak of their dreams – dreams that have to do with very real earthly concerns – the same concerns that you and I, as human beings, have – and ought to worry about in some way. But thinking, too, of the “hereafter,” their performance aims at bringing you closer towards another dimension that we all too easily tend to forget – the dimension of eternity. They are, after all, priests of the Roman Catholic Church, serving now the needs of the Diocese of Cubao. They have gathered here this evening, not only to regale you, but to sing with you the “songs of Zion,” to sing for you songs that remind us all that, indeed, we live in a world that opens to “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined – what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

There are times when we are tempted to do as the exiles in Babylon did … hang up our harps by the rivers and sit down and weep (cf. Psalm 137). Times there are, like now, when we’d rather see and focus solely on all the rottenness and the corruption around us, and then worry ourselves sick and wax angry at all that we see.

But these men that you have come to see perform tonight – in varying shapes, sizes, and ages – offer you an alternative vision. Allow them, I ask you, if only for a couple of hours, to remind you in less formal and less ecclesiastical circumstances, of the same old message that Paul spoke about two thousand years ago – that we are called to “live by faith, not by sight,” and that we are all called to “see more, not less.”