Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Brutal Sport of Boxing - Or why I am not thrilled by Pacquiao's Victory

I watched a replay of the Pacquiao-Diaz match this evening. I only watched up to the fifth round, I found it too brutal, especially after seeing the bloodied face of Diaz. I didn't stay around and watch Manny knock Diaz down in the 9th round.

I know millions of Filipinos are filled with joy and pride after seeing Manny Pacquiao win the WBC flyweight championship. Many hail him as a national hero. Many claim that he is the only one that can unite the Filipino people. The President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo congratulated him and called his victory a masterpiece. "Once again he showed the sterling quality of excellence of a Filipino at his best," she said after watching the fight on TV while awaiting her flight back to Manila.The President said the whole country is rejoicing over the Filipino icon’s new feat.

I am probably one of the few who is not rejoicing over Pacquiao's victory. I am appalled at the sight of two boxers trying to hurt each other and knock each other down. I cannot stomach nor can I glorify violence. I am never impress by anyone who proves to be a better or more butal fighter in the ring.

Boxing is the modern day equivalent of the gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome. These fights among slaves were organized by the Emperors to entertain the masses so that they can forget their problems. Of course, boxers don't try to kill each other, but many have been maimed or have even died.

I believe that brutal sports such boxing has no place in civilized society. We should stop considering boxers as heroes. If the only thing we can be proud of is our boxers like Manny Pacquiao - shame on us. The kind of heroes we are looking for are the ones who are capable of fighting corruption, injustice, environmental destruction and poverty in our land. We do not want violent or blood-thirsty heroes, but those capable of working for peace.

There is more to national unity than Filipinos watching at the same time Manny Pacquiao fight his opponents on TV.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith"

This morning I went out for an hour's run in a nearby subdivision (Ladislawa). It was a very slow run, mixed with a lot of walking - 6 km in 1 hour! I used to run that in 26 minutes.

I have started my marathon comeback training. I have 8 months to prepare for the Philippine International Marathon which will be held along the long and winding Pasig river in Manila on the last Sunday of February 2009. This is not my first marathon.

As a young priest in the 1980s, I usually ran a marathon every year in Manila. I was able to run the 42.2 km distance in 3 hrs & 33 min. I was the original running priest. I promised myself that I would keep doing it annually up to my old age. When I was sent for higher studies in Berkely, I ran the California International Marathon in 1991. I ran my last marathon in Rome in 1995. Unfortunately, I injured my left knee during the race and had to limp the last 10 km before reaching the finish line in my worst time (5 hrs & 30 minutes).

It has been 13 years since my last marathon. I am 30 pounds over my running weight. I have tried several times to do a comeback, but I have not been successful. My left knee continued to bother me, especially when my training mileage increased. I was not able to keep the promise I made to myself to run every year. This time, I intend to keep that promise. I have to, since I already promised Fr. Robert Reyes - the running priest - that I will run with him next year in Manila.

While reflecting on the readings for tomorrow, these verses from the 2nd reading caught my attention:

"the moment of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4: 6-7)

This was my favorite passage while I was running the marathon over 20 years ago. I even planned to have these verses as epitaph for my tomb when I die.

For me this passage reflects not only my marathon running but my life - a life of fighting the good fight against evil in the world, remaining faithful and persevering until the end.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Do not be afraid"

I spent almost the whole day yesterday biking up to Lomondao and back. It was scary coming back, especially while descending rapidly on the wet road. It was drizzling. I still remember the crashes in Cateel mountains last month on the penultimate day of my bike-tour for peace.

While biking for seven hours I spent some time reflecting on the gospel and the homily that I will give in my BEC mass in Sto. Rosario last night and in the parish church this morning.

This is the content of my homily, based on Matthew 10:26-33 - "Do not be afraid"

Have you ever been afraid? What are you afraid of?
I have felt fear a number of times in my life.
Thirty-five years ago, one year after martial law was declared, I was picked up by military intelligence agents and underwent interrogation and torture. I was so afraid that they would kill me and dump my body on a deserted highway.
Twenty years ago, I was filled with fear when, together with the people of San Fernando, we formed a human barricade and faced the logging trucks and the military men who were fully armed.
Last summer, during my bike-tour around the Philippines, I was occasionally filled with fear.
I was afraid that I could have a heart attack since I was diagnosed of having myorcardial ischemia and atherosclerosis a year ago.
While biking alone across the Cordillera mountains I was also afraid. I knew that it was a dangerous place especially in Abra and Kalinga where there were inter-tribal violence and where armed encounters between the NPA and the military had been taking place. Some villagers warned me to avoid Lubuagan where a priest had been shot to death while celebrating the Eucharist the previous year.
During the penultimate day of my bike-tour, while biking across the Cateel mountains on my way to Compostela, I was again seized with fear as I went through the area where I saw fully armed men along the way and helicopters hovering over me. I crashed twice while descending on the steep and rocky roads.
What was I afraid of? I was afraid that I would die. Yet, in spite of the fear, I continued to carry out my mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life and peace.
What helped me overcome my fear?
The awareness that I was not alone - there was Someone who was accompanying me in my journey and in whom I put my trust.
I was also aware that if I die, death would not be the end but a transition to another mode of existence.

In our Gospel today Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid.
Jesus was anticipating that a time will come when his disciples would be persecuted like him.
Why should they not be afraid?
Because death could not completely annihilate them and that there is a God who lovingly takes care of them.
He tells his disciples that even in face of death, they should continue to fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the Good News to others and to give witness to it.

We all have our own fears. We are afraid of so many things. We are afraid of suffering, sickness and especially of death.
If we allow our fears to rule over us, then we won't be able to carry out the mission that Christ has entrusted to us. We won't be able to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel - the Kingdom message of salvation and liberation and fullness of life. We won't be able to denounce the evil in our midst - the culture of violence, corruption, injustice, the destruction of the environment.
We won't be able to transform society and work for peace and peace, and defend the environment. We won't be able to do good and avoid evil.

Everytime we are filled with fear, let us remember always Christ's words: "Do not be afraid."
Courage does not mean the absence of fear, it means embracing our fear, overcoming it and carrying out our mission.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Gathering of Imams, Pastors & Priests

For the last two days I have been attending the assembly of Imam-Pastors-Priests Forum (IPPF). This is a gathering Muslim and Christian religious leaders in Mindanao held in Davao to finalize the vision-mission and objectives of the group. This is a spin off at the local level of the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC). Archbishop Capalla, the co-chair of the BUC gave an inspiring talk this afternoon.

I am glad to be part of this group. This is a sign of hope - that Muslim Imams, Protestant Pastors and Catholic Priests can engage in dialogue and work together for peace in Mindanao.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Action and Suffering as Settings for Learning Hope"

Last night, I was the presider in the Novena-Mass in preparation for the parish fiesta. The theme chosen for the eight day was "Action and Suffering as Settings for Learning Hope." The themes for the nine days are actually taken from the recent encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI entitled "Spe Salvi."

This is my homily:

Many of us want to make this world a better place to live in. Many of us are engaged in action for justice, peace, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, to get rid of corruption. We want to get rid of the evils in the world.

Yet most often we realize that we are not accomplishing much. We experience so many failures and set backs. Despite of our efforts the evils in our society persist. What is worst is that we often suffer because of our actions. This can fill us with a sense of helplessness and sometimes we want to give up.

What keeps us going?

In his encyclical letter, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict reminds us that action and suffering are the settings for learning hope.
It is hope that keeps us going. It is hope that prevents us from giving up, inspite of the apparent failures, setbacks and suffering that we go through. We keep on hoping in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation.

What is the content of our hope? That in the end, good will triumph over evil, that the Kingdom of God in its fullness will triumph over the reign of evil.

Our actions and the suffering that we bear, no matter how insignificant and seemingly ineffective can make a difference to make the future better than the present.

Archbishop Oscar Romero once wrote:
“We simply plant seeds that will one day grow. Nothing we do is complete. This enables us to do something and do it well. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. We may never see the end results. We are workers, not master builders, servant leaders, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back to School

We started the new school year this morning with an opening liturgy at 6:45. Here is the homily that I delivered:
Formation for Mission
Homily for SAT Opening June 9, 2008

As we begin the new school year, it is fitting that we celebrate its opening with the Mass of the Holy Spirit.

The sending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples by the risen Lord is often understood in terms of empowerment for mission.
“Receive the Holy Spirit … just as the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”

It is the sending of the Holy Spirit that made it possible for the disciples to fulfill the missionary mandate.
However, the Spirit was given after Jesus had formed and trained them. This formation and training that the disciples went through was geared towards mission.

A few weeks ago I attended a commission meeting in Bangkok which revised the Vision-Mission and the Theology program of the St. Alphonsus’ Theologate.

One of the most important development that came out from that meeting was the emphasis given to mission.
The St. Alphonsus’ Theologate aims at providing theological, pastoral and missiological education for ministry and mission.

Formation for ministry and mission.
By the end of five years we expect you to be well prepared not only for pastoral ministry but for mission.

Formation for Mission is the thrust of St. Alphonsus’ Theologate. We expect you not only to be good pastors and ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
We expect you to become competent and dedicated missionaries in the South-East Asia region.

When we speak about mission we are not only referring to Missio Ad Intra – mission within the boundary of the Church, among those who are already baptized.

While this has been the main thrust of the Congregation since its founding up to now, we have to be aware that mission is also Ad Gentes and Inter Gentes – to those who are not baptized, those belonging to other religious traditions and with no religious affiliation.
This mission crossing boundaries, and going outside the borders of the Church.

“Just as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
In order to become effective and dedicated missionaries we have to be formed and trained for mission.
This is what the disciples went through with Jesus.
While we are empowered by the Holy Spirit in carrying out our mission, we cannot be competent missionaries without adequate preparation.

This is how we should see our time here at SAT.
This is a time of learning – a time of discipleship.
Before we can be apostles and missionaries – we must first be disciples.
And this is how we should see ourselves at SAT – a community of disciples preparing for mission.
Discipleship entails entering into a deeper relationship with Jesus – friendship with Jesus.
It also entails sitting at the feet of the master – of listening and learning from him.
It also requires walking with him and accompanying him as he carry out his mission.
This is what we want to happen during this period of theological formation as we prepare ourselves to become dedicated and competent missionaries.
After breakfast, we had a general assembly attended by the faculty and all the theology students. As dean of academics, I gave the orientation. Then classes followed at 9:15 am. This morning I taught Christology to the 2nd year students. I have four other courses to teach this semester: Fundamental Theology (1st year students) every Friday, Sacraments (4th year students) every Wednesday, Pastoral Leadership and Management (5th year students) every Thursday and Theological Synthesis (5th year) on Saturdays (every month).

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Multicultural Religious Community

Last week, I finally got back here in Davao. The theology students also came back after their summer vacation. The new students also arrived. We now have a big community composed of Redemptorists of different nationalities: Filipinos, Irish, Thais, Singaporeans/Malaysians and Vietnamese. For four days, starting last Tuesday, we had a retreat-workshop on inter-cultural community living conducted by Fr. Edgar Javier - an SVD missiologist based in Manila. Yesterday we ended our retreat-workshop and last night we had our "bienvenida." After a sumptuous dinner, each group presented something that reflected their cultural heritage. I performed a piece on my one-man band.

So back to ordinary life - religious, academic life. Classes will begin this Tuesday. I will miss the biking adventure.