Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Post-Christmas Family Gathering

I am here in Iligan for my post-Christmas holiday vacation. I came by motorbike three days ago, traveling 390 km in 8 hours. I am staying at the Redemptorist monastery.

Last night, I went to my sister's house for our post-Christmas celebration with my sisters and their families. I have three sisters here in Iligan - Nonie (the chemistry professor in Iligan Institute of technology), Myrna (a medical doctor) and Mely (an architect). We miss four of our siblings who are outside the country. Sam (an engineer) is in California, Angel (an architect) is in New Jersey, Agustin (a seaman) is on a ship somewhere in the Antlantic Ocean,) and Cely (a physical therapist) is in Kentucky.

I suppose, we are like many other Filipino families whose members are in diaspora in different parts of the world. They believe that there is not much future here in the Philippines and they have to go elsewhere to have a better life. Of course, they remit dollars and keep the economy alive. But at what price? I hope a day will come when it will no longer be necessary for Filipinos to go abroad to live a decent life.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Celebrating Christmas Amidst a Dark World: The Light that Shines in the Darkness

There were two Christmas vigil masses in our church last night - the first one at eight pm (in Cebuano language) and the second at ten pm (in English). In both masses, the church was packed and many had to stand outside while others brought their own plastic chairs. Thirty minutes before the second vigil mass, the seminarians had the christmas carol (a capella) which I conducted. Fr. Brendan Kelly, the new rector of the Davao Redemptorist Community was the main celebrant. Afte the mass, our community had our noche buena of ham, hungarian sausage with wine and whisky. It was already one in the morning when we went to bed. It was a very silent outside. There was no sound of firecrackers or fireworks. They are banned in the city.

This morning, I was the main celebrant at the nine a.m. mass. This is the homily that I preached:

The Light that Shines in the Dark

"The light shines in the dark, and the darkness could not overcome the light"

Is it possible to celebrate Christmas amidst suffering, poverty, violence, etc? Can we have a Merry Christmas when we do not have enough money? When we do not have enough food? When we are sick?

The natural response is no. But our readings tell us that Yes we can celebrate Christmas even in the midst of a seeming dark world, when we feel hopeless and helpless.

The Good News that the Gospel proclaims which we celebrate joyfully:
The Word was Made Flesh and Dwelt among us. God has entered human history, God is with us. He is near to us.

The coming of Jesus is the coming of light. The light shines in the dark and the darkness could not overcome the light.

Christmas is for people who are in the dark, for people who are suffering, for people who are looking for hope. Christmas tells us that God has given us the greatest gift -- his only Son who brings salvation into the world, who will overcome all evil -- all darkness.

What we have to do is to accept Christ as our light so that we ourselves become a light in this dark world.

The souce of our joy and happiness this Christmas is Christ himself. It is He that shine is the darkness, in the hopelessness in our life.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One-Man Band (Christmas Carol)

During the Christmas Party for the families of the Redemptorist Seminarians here in Davao , I performed as a one-man band. Here it is:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Underwater "Wedding" (More Pictures)

Here are some more pictures of the reenactment of the wedding of Oliver and Vannie underwater. The diver with the sleeveless divesuit and clench-fist tattoo is the diving priest -- yours truly. The real wedding was performed a day earlier at the Redemptorist church.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Underwater "Wedding"

Yesterday, I officiated the wedding of Oliver and Vannie which was held in our parish church. Both of them are scuba divers and they wanted to have their wedding underwater. But I told them that it was not permitted. They asked me if we can reenact their wedding underwater the following day. I gladly consented. So this morning we reenacted the wedding 15 feet underwater near Talikud island in a dive site called "coral garden." It was attended by 20 divers who are friends of the newly-wed. I wrote the question on a white slate and they gave their response through hand signal. Afterwards we went ashore and had lechon for lunch. When we parted I told the couple that I would be willing to officiate when they renew their marriage vows during their silver wedding anniversary. We can do it underwater. Their children will have to learn scuba diving.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Start of Misa de Gallo (Dawn Mass), My mother's death anniversary

At 4:30 this morning, I celebrated the Misa de Gallo with over three thousand people. Our church can only accomodate over a thousand, so there were more people outside - in the church grounds and the car park. Many of the young people stayed outside with their barkadas (friends). Many of the people outside brought their own plastic chairs. We put a large screen outside so the people could see the liturgy inside the church.
The theme for this morning's mass was: "The Family that Witnesses to the Truth." The themes for these nine days of preparation for the celebration of Christmas center on the "family."
After the mass, the people rushed to the booths outside to buy delicacies like puto bombong, suman and hot chocolate drink.
The beginning of the Misa de Gallo always reminds of my mother, Nichol, who was brutally killed 24 years ago during the last days of the Marcos dictatorial regime. She was shot in the head after coming out from a bank (We found out later that she was killed by a gang composed of military men). The period of the misa de gallo and our Christmas season was marred by this tragedy. We buried her a couple of days before Christmas. It was very difficult to celebrate Christmas amidst the grief and the seemingly hopeless situation of our country.
During this nine days of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, my heart goes out to those have been victimized by the culture of death and violence. I know how it feels to have a bleak advent and Christmas season. Still, we have to celebrate.
Tonight, to mark the anniversary of my mother's death, I went out for dinner alone at a Japanese restaurant.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Healing Proces for a Person with Cancer

This afternoon, Lydia came over with her husband Berting for another healing session. For the last the last four weeks she has been coming every Monday afternoon. I have taught her to meditate. I taught her some visualization exercises. I also asked her to do some walking exercises daily. I had also taught Berting some healing techniques that he can apply on Lydia every day.

The most moving session was two weeks ago when her three daughters also came. It was a moment of experiencing forgiveness and reconciliation for Lydia and her daughters. She also confessed a grave sin that she committed a long time ago which she tried to forget but which continued to haunt her conscience. She believed that her cancer was a punishment for her guilt. After receiving absolution, she felt a deep sense of peace.

So this afternoon, I asked her how she was. She told me that she had been meditating twice a day and could feel a flow of warm energy entering her during meditation. She also felt the same thing every time Berting prays over her every day. This was the same feeling she often experiences everytime I lay my hand over the different parts of her body. She said that she has noticed a lot of improvement. Her body now feels lighter. The pain in her back and stomach are gone. She feels stronger. She can now do more walking around the house. Her appetite has improved. She has also stopped thinking that she is dying. I noticed that she no longer feel pain when I touch the various points in her body.

After our healing session, I told her to continue her her daily healing meditation, visualization and walking exercise. We will still meet next week. I pray and hope that her healing process will continue. Of course, I told her to entrust everything to God. She said she is ready for anything - whether it be death or an extension of her life.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rejoice? Gaudete Sunday

Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for "Rejoice." The color of the candle and the vestments is pink instead of the usual violet. The main theme of the readings (especially the first and second reading) is, of course, "Rejoice."

Why should we rejoice? Is it really possible to rejoice in the midst of all these problems and shenanigans that continue to beset us? People are in no mood to rejoice. The economy is bleak, more and more people are financially hard up, the corrupt and abusive Arroyo regime and her allies in congress (or the house of RepresentaTHIEVES) want to change the constitution so that they can perpetuate themselves in power, the peace process has broken down and the armed conflict is escalating - the MILF and NPA have increased their tactical offensives and the military continue their operation and bombing, and the exta-judicial killings continue.

What is surprising is that in spite of this darkness in the land, people are still capable of rejoicing and celebrating. Last night I attended the party of the leaders of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in our parish, this lunch I attended the party of the Knights of Columbus, and this evening we had the party with the parish and house staff and their family together with the members of the Redemptorist community. Christmas is in the air and it is still 11 days away. I can see the smile in the faces of the people. They know how to enjoy themselves. Yes, those who suffer most know how to rejoice.
In today's Gospel. John the Baptist reminds us the source of this rejoicing - Jesus, the light of the world who conquers the darkness in our midst. No matter how dark the world seems to be, no matter how evil seem to continue to rule, there is always hope. We only need to recognize and accept the Lords presence in our midst and this is the source of joy because he is our savior. This is the good news that Isaiah proclaims in the first reading - the good news to those who suffer, to the poor and oppressed. Like John we need to proclaim and witness to the light. And we should never give up in our struggle against the forces of darkness.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Prayer and Fasting for Peace

Today I joined a group of Imam, Pastors and Priests for the Prayer and Fasting for Peace. There were also some Sisters and lay people who joined us. This was the closing ritual for the Mindanao Week of Peace celebration here in Davao.
An Imam read the Qur'an. Then a Protestant Pastor read the Bible. I was one of those who was asked to share my reflections, besides another Imam and a Pastor.
This is the Petition Prayer:
Leader: We offer, O God/Allah, our most sincere prayer for the integrity of heart and mind as a way to attain peace and reconciliation:
Unison: Lord God/Allah, hear our prayer for peace and reconciliation.
1. O God/Allah, we renew our prayer for the cessation of all hostilities and for the creation of a culture of peace where diverse voices can be confidently expressed and sincerely heard.
2. O God/Allah, we pray that the leaders of the GRP and the MILF be so guided that peace talks in whatever means or levels be reopened for the sake our present world and the future children. unison:
3. O God/Allah, we pray that kidnapping and any form of violence against families, against recourses and against the environment be stopped because these endanger the attainment of peace and development. unison:
4. O God/Allah, we pray that the struggle for self-determination, especially of the Bangsamoro and the Lumads be protected and assisted so that all peoples - Muslims, Lumads, Roman Catholic Christians , Protestant Christians may attain peace and reconciliation. unison:
5. We join the initiatives of many groups in holding community consultation, study groups and healing sessions, knowing that peace and unity are fundamental in the Qur'an teaching. unison:
6. We commit ourselves to take an active role in promoting community and sectoral dialogues to expand the constituency of peace, calling upon the resources of our social, religious and academic institutions to pray and work for peace. unison:
7. We commit ourselves to pursue authentic interfaith dialogues among our communities in order that we may find ways to face and overcome our own hurts, biases and prejudices on the way in order to overcome barriers and impasse in the peace process. unison:
8. We commit ourselves to open our eyes to the many religious, cultural, economic and political concerns and join the many who are working to make available roads, books and classrooms for our children and our families.
Unison: May God/Allah help us in our endeavors so that we may attain peace and reconciliation for our world and the world of our children. Amen.