Friday, October 31, 2008

Missiology Seminar (Alphonsian Lay Formation Institute)

For the last three days, I have been conducting a seminar on missiology to the trainees of the Alphonsian Lay Formation Institute here in Iligan. This year, there are 6 young men and women who are undergoing formation. These are the topics that we discussed:
1. Mission in General, Mission ad Gentes, Mission ad Intra
2. Biblical-Theological Foundation of Mission: Trinitarian Source of Mission
(The Father's Plan of Salvation, Christological perspective, pneumatological perspective)
3. Ecclesiological Foundation of Mission
4. The Goal/Paths of Mission
5. Dialogue and Mission
6. Inculturation
7. Explicit Proclamation, Witnessing
8. Building up the local Church/Christian communities, BECs
9. Human Promotion and Development
10. Redemptorist Missions: Historical Overview and Missiological Analysis

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Side effects of Centering Prayer/Meditation

After waking up early this morning I checked by blood pressure with my wrist blood pressure monitor. It was high - 148/100, although the heart rate was low (57 beats per minute). I then started meditating - using the centering prayer method. I gazed at the icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in front of me, I breathed slowly and deeply as I became aware of the Lord's presence. I repeated silently the word "Shalom" (peace). I felt so relaxed and at peace. After 30 minutes, I ended my meditation with a thanksgiving prayer and then checked my blood pressure again. This time it went down to a normal level: 130/83, with a heart rate of 52 beats per minute.
I do this three times a day - upon waking up early in the morning, at 1:30 in the afternoon, and before going to bed at night. Since doing this method of prayer regularly, my blood pressure level has gone down. I have stopped taking my daily maintenance pill for hypertension. Doctors often tell patients that the only way to treat hypertension is to take medication for the rest of their life. But I have learned that hypertension can be treated with regular meditation. Meditation, not medication.
Physical healing is one of the effects of meditation/centering prayer. It is good for the body, as well as the mind and the soul. Besides developing intimacy with God, centering prayer puts my mind and body into a deep state of relaxation. Without this, I can easily burn out - especially with the pressure of my work and the tense situation around me.
There are a lot priests, religious and lay people who are too busy with their work and the apostolate that they neglect to spend time in prayer and meditation. I have been guilty of this at various times in my life. But I have come to realize that prayer is a necessity. It keeps me in touch with the Lord who is the source of my vitality and dynamism. It is what energizes and heals me.
I cannot continue to be a man of action unless I am also a man of prayer and contemplation. My ministry, my preaching and my work for peace and justice cannot be sustained unless I am able to spend time regularly in prayer. Thus, I always find time for prayer and meditation daily, a monthly recollection and a longer period of solitude and prayer in my hermitage in the mountain of Busay annually.
I like the symbol of the Yin and Yang which is at the basis of Tai-chi. For me, it represents the integration of action and contemplation.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Church's "Involvement in Politics"

This morning I jogged for three hours. I came back in time for the 10:30 mass. This is what I preached in our church:

29th Sunday A
Mt 22:15-21

There are politicians and commentators who are annoyed by the Church's vigorous opposition to House Bill 5043 (Reproductive Health Bill). They see this as, once again, the Church's unwarranted involvement and interference in politics - a travesty to the principle of separation of church and state.

"Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God."

This is the favorite text of those who think the the Church should mind its own business and not be involved in political matters.
President Marcos used to appeal to this text when Church leaders denounced the abuse of power and corruption of his dictatorial regime. When I was arrested, and imprisoned during the early years of Martial Law, this was the text that my interrogators quoted to me while torturing me.

In our Gospel today, Jesus did say these words. But to interpret the text in reference to the separation of Church and State is misleading. Neither can it be understood as a prohibition against the Church's involvement in "political matters."
Let us remember that Jesus was asked by the Pharisees who wanted to trap him whether Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. If he answered yes, he would be accused of collaborating with the Roman occupiers. If he said no, he would be accused of subversion.
Jesus does not give a direct answer. When Jesus says that one should render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God, what Jesus is saying is that while a person can be respectful of civil authority, the ultimate loyalty and obedience is due to God alone.
Caesar and God are not co-equal. Nor can the world be divided into 2 spheres: that religious and political sphere. God is greater than Caesar. No civil authority can arrogate to itself what belongs to God. "I am God and there is no other." This is what our first reading reminds us.
The members and leaders of the Church are called to be good citizens. And everyone should obey that laws of the state. But this does not mean that we have to agree with all the policies and laws that are to be imposed on us, especially when these are against our conscience and against the law of God.

The Church have often been accused of interfering in politics and violating the principle of separation of church and state But the separation of Church and state simply means that there should be no official state religion and that the state should respect and guarantee the free exercise of religion for all. It does not mean that the Church has no right to oppose or criticize laws and policies that are harmful to the common good.
The Church leaders cannot dictate to its members who to vote for and what laws to pass. Nor can it take over the function of civil authorities. But it is part of the Church's prophetic mission to proclaim the message about the sacredness of life, the rights of all - including the unborn, about justice and peace. The church is called to be the conscience of society. When political issues become moral issues, then the Church has the duty and obligation to speak out. It is part of the Church's prophetic mission to denounce evil - especially the culture of death, of violence and corruption, of injustice. When the Church does so, it is not to protect its vested interest or to prove its power but out of service.
Those who oppose the Church's "involvement in politics" should remember EDSA I and II could not have happened had the Church remained silent and stayed in the sidelines.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Celebrating the Gift of Life - 54 years and counting

I woke up at 4:30 this morning for meditation. By five pm I walked around the church grounds and then did Tai-chi. I celebrated the Eucharist in the church at six in the morning. After the mass, the organist and some of the choir sang Happy Birthday.
Later in the morning, I went by bike to a beach resort in Samal Island where my fellow Redemptorists were having their recreation. After lunch I biked back to the monastery. At four pm, I began cooking "kare-kare" (oxtail and tripe cooked with vegetables and with peanut sauce). It has been a while since I cooked this dish. The friends of the community arrived bringing some food - the usual potluck for birthday celebration. Everybody liked my "kare-kare" and there was none left after a while. After dinner we had some singing. I accompanied the various singers on the piano.
By nine, with the party was over, everyone went home. I brought some of the cake to the seminar house where some of the young people were practicing the choreography of the e-operetta "Reluctant Saint." During the break they finished the cake.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Homily for 27th Sunday A: The Parable of the Murderous Tenants

1. Introduction:

One of the problems that has beset Philippine society is the land conflict:
conflict between the landlords and tenants,
conflict between large corporations and farmers who claim that they have been dispossessed,
conflict between native Lumads/Muslims and Christian settlers in Mindanao
These conflicts have often turned violent.
At present the spiral of violence has escalated in Mindanao (between the MILF and government troops) - attrocities have been committed by both sides and the collateral damage - Muslim and Christian civilians caught in the cross-fire continue to increase.

2. The Word of God

In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that it is God who is the owner of the land, of the vineyard, and leaders and people of Israel are the tenants. The prophet denounced the leaders and people of Israel because they produced wild, sour grapes:
I looked for justice and found violence
I looked for righteousness and heard the cry of distress
According to Isaiah God was displeased by the injustice and violence. Israel failed to bring about justice and peace – a violation of the covenant.

In our Gospel today, Jesus echoes the prophet Isaiah and compared the leaders of Israel to the unproductive and murderous tenants who violently rejected the servants of the land-owner including his son.
Like the prophet Isaiah, Jesus condemned the leaders for the injustice and violence that prevailed during his time. Jesus also predicted that he would have the same fate as the prophets who were rejected by the leaders of Israel in the past.
The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed would be like a vineyard that will have a bountiful harvest – the kingdom where love, justice, peace and righteousness will reign.

3. Challenge for us Christians

Our readings remind us that God is the real owner of the world’s resources – the air, the seas and the land
All of us are tenants – stewards of God’s creation.
No one can claim absolute ownership of the world’s resources.
God has created of all these that all humankind – the present and future generations --will share and benefit from the bounty of creation
God expect everyone to make sure that there is a bountiful harvest that bring about progress for all – not for a few – that justice and peace will prevail
We should stop thinking about what is mine, mine, mine – rather about what is ours to share.
“there is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed”

“I looked for justice and found bloodshed
I looked for righteousness and heard the cry of distress”

Isaiah’s lament continues today in our land.
The armed conflict continues –
between the Government and the NPA
between the Government forces and the MILF
that could turn into a conflict between Christians and Muslims

It is our duty, our responsibility as Christians to act as good tenants, good stewards and work for peace and justice, and make sure that the resources in our country will be shared by everyone – Muslims, Lumads and Christians.
This is the harvest that God – the landowner –wants from us.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Celebrating Eid'l Ftr with Muslim Friends

Yesterday, I went over to the house of Ustadz Mahmod Adilao to celebrate the Eid'l Ftr - the end of the Ramadhan - with his family. His wife Norayah and daughter Nor Asiah were there, together with their grandchildren. There were also two members of the Focolare movement who arrived later.

Ustadz Adilao is the head of the Ulama League of the Philippines-Southern Mindanao chapter. He is also a member of the Bishops-Ulama Conference. We became close friends seven years ago when we worked together to organize the Caravan for Peace from Davao to Cotabato during the height of the all-out war declared by President Estrada in Central Mindanao. Since then we have occasionally met during consultations, meetings and prayer rallies. His daughter Nor Asiah is also a close friend. We are part of the Silsilah dialogue movement in Davao.

I am so glad to celebrate the Eid'l Ftr with them after expressing my solidarity with the Muslims in Mindanao by also fasting during the Ramadhan - my own version of Duyog-Ramadhan. I have been on a complete fast every Friday, and during the other days I have been eating only once day.

Even if Ramadhan is over, I will continue my Fast for Peace every Friday and will continue to eat only once day during the other days. I am doing so because there is still no peace in our land. With the end of Ramadhan, the fighting has escalated. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) units continue their attack as the Government forces continue their military operations supported by bombing operations. Muslim and Christian civilians have suffered from this ongoing armed conflict. In other parts of Mindanao, the communist New People's Army (NPA) have also increased their tactical offensives and the Government forces have also countered with more operations. Sadly, the Arroyo government has adopted a more hardline, militarist approach.