Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Day in the Life of an Occasional Hermit

I am living a solitary life for a month up here in the mountain of Busay and I am enjoying it. There is never a dull moment. I pray/meditate four times a day (early morning, noon-time, early evening, late night). I do some physical exercises (tai-chi, running or biking or walking, weight training). From mid-morning to noon-time, I do some writing - making final revision on my book project on ecclesiology (A Vision of a Renewed Church) and writing the draft of "Forming Basic Ecclesial Communities." In the afternoon I catch up on my readings. I only eat once a day (supper which I prepare myself). Evenings are spent in music (singing to myself or playing the violin or flute). These are the things I really want to do.
I live alone yet I do not feel lonely or bored. The times I spend in prayer and meditation makes me aware that I am not really alone - there is Someone present who keeps me company and who is the source of my energy and dynamism. All that I do put me in a state of flow - time passes so quickly.

I know that I cannot live my entire life this way. Being a hermit is only part of the rhythm of my life. I have to go back to my community and my ministry. But this period of solitude, contemplation and rest is what keeps me going.

Over thirty years ago, before I made my final vows as a Redemptorist, I was going through a period of discernment. I felt an attraction to the contemplative vocation after reading the works of Thomas Merton. I was seriously thinking of joining the Trappists. At the same time, I was also attracted to the life of an activist fighting for freedom and justice. I was able to come up with a compromise - continue being a Redemptorist and be both an activist and a contemplative. This means integrating the active and contemplative dimension of my life - daily and periodically. Being an occasional hermit on this mountain is part of this compromise.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back to my Hermitage

Here I am on top of a mountain overlooking Cebu City, living the life of an occasional hermit. I came up here this morning by bike and I am still trying to settle in. This is actually the rest-house of the Redemptorists which is usually used on Mondays by the Cebu Redemptorist community. I have the whole place to myself for the rest of the week.
I will be here for a month, living alone and spending most of my time in rest, reflection, prayer, reading, writing and running. I will be doing my own cooking (which is at night since I will only be eating once a day - dinner).

When I was a newly-ordained priest I made a promise to spend at least one month every year living as a hermit on this mountain. I have been able to do it except for the six years I was away for higher studies in Berkeley and Rome. On 2005, I spent 5 months of my sabbatical here.

I love living alone here even if it is only for a month. This is my sacred space. This is where I get re-charged or re-energized so that I can continue my ministry. This is what has kept me from burning out. This may look like a luxury, but this is a necessity for me. This is also where the contemplative dimension of my life is nourished. Of course, I try to integrate contemplation in my daily life, but I need to spend a longer period as a contemplative.

When I reach 75 years old and will no longer be active in the ministry, I would like to spend the remaining years of my life here. By that time, I will bring up the piano which I inherited from my mother's estate here. For now, I am content having the guitar, violin and flute with me. I can play music at night without disturbing anybody.

This will be the order of the day that I will follow starting tomorrow:

5:00 rise, wash-up
5:30 meditation, morning prayer
6:00 taichi
6:30 physical exercise/training (running every other day, biking the other days)
10:00 writing
12:00 meditation/noon-day prayer
2:00 reading
4:30 physical exercise (walking/weight-training)
6:00 evening prayer/Eucharist
6:45 prepare dinner
8:00 music hour
9:00 blog-writing
10:00 meditation/night prayer
10:30 bed

I am not complete isolated from the world. There is a cell-site nearby and I can be contacted by cellphone. For the first time, my netbook computer has access to the internet via globe broadband tattoo wireless connection (3.6 mbps). Well, I am a post-modern hermit.
I also go down on Sundays to join the community for dinner and to shop for supplies.

Friday, April 24, 2009

28th Anniversary of Priestly Ordination

Today is the 28th anniversary of my priestly ordination. On April 24, 1981, I was ordained priest by Bishop Fernando Capalla (assisted by Bishop Ireneo Amantillo) in Iligan City.

I received an email greeting from my classmate Fr. Claro Conde (he is now in England). I also received a text message from Minerva. At least two of my friends remembered.

I said mass at 6:15 this morning at the convent of the Missionaries of the Assumption sisters. I didn't tell them about my anniversary. No fasting today since it is a special day for me. I joined our confreres for lunch. I went out mountain biking for one hour and 15 minutes in the afternoon. Later, I went out for dinner and a cup of cappucino at my favority hang-out at Bo's coffee shop. No party this time since it is only 28 years. But still, I celebrate on my own. I still remember that time in Rome when I went out by myself to a bar and ordered capuccino to celebrate my 14th anniversary.

I'm just grateful that after 28 years, I remain a faithful priest. I am looking forward to my golden jubilee of ordination. Here's I poem I wrote for my silver jubilee.

Silver Jubilee

“Those who die in the congregation will receive a crown in heaven” – St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Twenty-five years ago
when my hair was thick and wavy,
and my tummy was firm and flat,.
I stood before the altar
with no one by my side.
I made a promise to the Lord
to be a priest forever
in the company of the sons of Alphonsus,
for better or for worse, in sickness and in health
until I receive the crown he promised.

Twenty-five years later
with no hair on my head
and an expanding waistline
I remain a faithful priest
in the company of the sons of Alphonsus.
I kept my promise all these years.
I slept alone and loved the Lord and the people
with all my heart and soul.
I preached the good news of the kingdom and worked for justice and peace.
I formed not my own family, but the family of God – the Christian community.

Twenty-five years or more from now
when not a single hair will grow on my head and I continue to look like a prisoner on death row,
when my tummy will be wider than my chest
when I can no longer bike
and a pretty nurse will push my wheel-chair
I will remain a faithful priest
in the company of the sons of Alphonsus.
I will keep my promise
until I receive the crown he promised.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Long-Distance Run: Galloway method

I went out for a three-hour long distance run this morning up in the hills of Waan and Tigatto. The last time I did a long run was more than a month ago. I was not able to run regularly for three weeks due to the cold. As usual I used Galloway's method (4 minutes run and 1 minute walk intervals). It seemed so easy. In spite of the heat and the hills, I didn't feel tired.
The walking intervals gave my running muscles some rest and enabled me to run farther. This also helps prevent running injury. Before, I usually would have knee pain once I run over 3 hours. I will be using this method for the marathon this November (but with 9 minutes run and 1 minute walking intervals).
Maybe, next year I can run-walk from Davao to Iligan across the mountains of Davao and Bukidnon (390 km in 8 days) using this method. It will be a solo run without any support vehicle, carry everything in my backpack. It hasn't been done before and I would like to be the first to do it. It's just a dream. I wonder if I can do it at my age. After biking around the Philippines for two months last year, this will definitely be a challenge.
My average heart rate during the run was 140 beats per minute. Immediately after the run I measured my blood pressure and as usual it was low (103/58). Amazing. Not even hypertension pills can have the same effect.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Commission on Human Rights meeting with witnesses and barangay officials

Yesterday, the Commission on Human Rights headed by Chairperson Leila de Lima listened to the testimonies of witnesses who claimed direct knowledge of the activities of the so-called Davao Death Squad. What they revealed confirmed the report of the Human Rights Watch which was released more than a week ago. What is clear in the testimonies is that there is indeed a death squad operating in Davao with the alleged support of some police and government officials at the city and barangay level. The witnesses are not yet ready to come out in the open and testify publicly out of fear that they could be targeted by the death squad. Besides, there is no adequate witness protection program in the country. Once they testify, they will have to go into hiding, leave their family and work behind, and live an abnormal life.

In the afternoon the Commission on Human Rights held a public inquiry at the Waterfront Hotel. The barangay captains attended. All of them denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad and insisted that the killings that took place in their respective barangay were just part of gang war. Incredible! What they said was similar to the testimony of the local government and police officials during the CHR public inquiry more than two weeks ago. They came to this conclusion even without a thorough investigation.

So this is where we are now. Everyone in Davao believes in the existence of the DDS except the local government and police officials. So how can the problem of the summary killings be solved when the authorities do not even admit that there is a problem? Perhaps, the killings are not a problem but a solution - the solution to the problem of criminality.

While they deny that there is a death squad responsible for the killings, they also justify these killings. They deserve to die because they are criminals - they are drug addicts, pushers, cell-phone snatchers and gang members. They are fair targets of assassination. It is necessary to kill them to deter them from committing more crimes. This is necessary to protect the people of Davao and to make Davao safe. This is necessary for peace and order. (Sadly, these justifications are echoed by newspaper columnists, radio commentators and city councilors. Many people accept these justifications).

What kind of peace and order is it when there are killings almost every day? The peace of the cemetery? Rest in Peace (R.I.P.)? They claim that the crime rates are low. But according the HRW report, the crime rate has gone up by 219% within a period of 10 years. This includes 890 unsolved killings - or serial mass murder.

Is it necessary to commit crimes to fight criminality?
Is it necessary to become criminals to fight criminals?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Vigil

I concelebrated at last night's Easter Vigil celebration. What I liked most was the symbol of the Paschal Candle which was lighted by the fire. The whole church was in darkness until each person received the light from the Easte candle and passed the light to others.
This is what Easter is all about. Christ is the light of the world. He has conquered death, sin and evil by his suffering, death and resurrection. We his followers have received his light and it is our mission to spread this light in the world. We are called to live in the light - to overcome the darkness of sin and evil and to live a renewed life.
This is the basis of our hope.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Black Saturday - Exercising while Fasting

Today is the sixth day of my fast. I woke up feeling refreshed. After doing taichi, I went biking for two hours and thirty-eight minutes up and down the steep hills of Magtuod and Langub. I found it amazing that inspite of the fact that I have not eaten anything for the last six days, I felt energized. I didn't feel tired, hungry or weak.

How is this possible? It is not because I am superhuman. I believe that the human body is capable of surviving without food for a long period of time. This is what our ancestors did hundreds of thousand years ago when they didn't have the luxury of eating three meals a day - they had to hunt for food and it could take days before they could catch one. Jesus himself was capable of fasting for 40 days.

So six days of fasting is no big deal. I am used to it. For the last forty days I have survived on one meal a day on weekdays and no food on Tuesdays and Fridays. I intend to continue this practice after the Holy Week.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday: Celebration of the Lord's Passion

I presided at the 3 pm celebration of the Lord's Passion in our parish church this afternoon. The parish youth group dramatized John's passion account which took 30 minutes to perform.

Good Friday: Seven Last Words (4th Word: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

(This is the reflection on the 4th word which I contributed to the Catholic Website:

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice: Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani?” which means, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.?”
Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him and to drink.
But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice and gave up his spirit.

Why have you forsaken me?
Thirty-six years ago, after I was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for seven months during the early years of martial law, I felt so alone and isolated. I felt abandoned by friends, by my family. God seemed so distant … even absent. It was the first time in my life when I doubted the reality of God’s existence.

I got a similar feeling twenty-four years ago, while I was alone on top of a mountain grieving after my mother was brutally killed, by military men.

It is natural that people who suffer so much often feel forsaken, abandoned.
The sick, those who are imprisoned, those who are poor, those who have lost their job or facing bankruptcy, children whose parents have gone away, or who is dying
They feel abandoned - by friends, their own family, by the government, by the church, and ultimately by God.

“Why have you forsaken me?”
This is the cry of those who suffer so much, those who feel alone, those who feel helpless. This is the cry of so many people all over the world, down through the ages.
This was also the cry of Jesus while hanging on the cross in Calvary.

Did Jesus really feel forsaken?
Perhaps he did. After being betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and deserted by his disciples as he was dying on the cross, Jesus must have felt forsaken. It was part of his being human. But Jesus was also echoing or reciting psalm 22 – a psalm of lament which expressed what he was going through. The psalm starts with these words:

My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? (v. 2)
So wasted are my hands and feet that I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. (v. 18-19

But the psalm ends with a different note:
… then I will proclaim you name to the assembly; in the community I will praise you. (v. 23)… For God has not spurned me or disdained the misery of this poor wretch
He did no turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out. I will offer praise in the great assembly (v. 25-26)

While this psalm begins with what seems to be an expression of helplessness and hopelessness, it ends with an expression of hope and confidence in God who never forsakes or abandons those who suffer.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This is not a cry of despair or hopelessness. It may be a complaint but above all it is a prayer of someone in pain, who is filled with doubt, yet who remains hopeful that God is the God who saves.

In times of suffering, pain and grief we question where God is. Is God present or is God absent? Has God abandoned us or is God still with us?
The Paschal Mystery of Jesus has shown us that ultimately God is with us as we suffer, and God will save us even if he seems so far or absent.
Easter Sunday follows Good Friday. Light triumphs over darkness.

Today, darkness continues to dominate the whole land. Sin and evil reign in the hearts of people and have penetrated the societal structures and institutions.
The culture of death and the spiral of violence afflict our people.
Many continue to suffer and die.
There is so much corruption at all levels of government.
Many of our people continue to wallow in poverty.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?”
This is our collective cry.
Yet even as we cry out, we do not lose hope for we know that God is with us. He did not abandon his Son in Calvary, he did not abandon us in the past, he will never forsake us now or in the years to come.
“I will never forsake you, my people” This is God’s assurance.

Thirty-six years ago, after surviving torture and imprisonment and doubting God’s existence, I was released from prison with a faith deepened by adversity.
Twenty-four years ago, after my mother was killed and I once again doubted God’s existence, and wondering if the time has come to leave the priesthood and join the armed struggle, a great miracle happened – the miracle of EDSA that showed that God has not forsaken his people. God will never forsake his people.

Good Friday: Via Crucis (Way of the Cross)

Over two thousand turned up very early this morning for the Via Crucis which started at 3:00 am, went around the parish. Estimated distance: 10 kilometers. That's longer than the original route that Jesus followed in Jerusalem! I couldn't wake up on time so I had to catch up with the crowd by jogging. I hadn't eaten for five days so I just jogged very slowly. I am just amazed by the size of the crowd and the composition - men, women, young and old, and even children. Nobody fainted. We finished by 7:30 am.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Holy Thursday - Mass of the Last Supper

This evening at 6 pm, I concelebrated at the Mass commemorating the last supper and the washing of the feet. Fr. Allen O'Brien was the presider. After the mass, vigil before the altar of repose started. Many people came for the traditional Visita Iglesia.

Holy Thursday - Chrism Mass

I attended the "chrism mass " at 7:30 this morning held at the San Pedro Cathedral. Over a hundred priests (diocesan and religious) concelebrated with Archbishop Fernando Capalla. Today is regarded as the day when the sacrament of holy orders was instituted by Christ. So all of us renewed our commitment to priestly service during the mass.
In his homily, Archbishop Capalla reminded us that we were ordained in the three-fold ministry of priest, prophet and pastor. Our ministry therefore includes the sacramental/liturgical ministry, the prophetic ministry, and the pastoral ministry. The archbishop gave special emphasis to the prophetic ministry in the light of the situation of the Davao - a situation where there is so much violence and injustice. I presumed that he was referring to the unabated killings in the city carried out by the Davao Death Squad. He said that he was glad that there were priests, religious and lay people who were not afraid to exercise their prophetic mission.
After communion, the olive oils used for baptism and for the sick were blessed. This was followed by the reading of the Oratio Imperata.
After the mass, I had a long conversation with Archbishop Capalla and Fr. Rico (Social Action Director) about the CHR public inquiry and the HRW report on the DDS. We will meet soon with several priests to discuss our next move.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Holy Week in Davao - Palm Sunday

The Holy Week began yesterday. Being Palm Sunday, the people came to church bringing their palms which were actually made of strips of coconut leaves. Before the start of the 6 am mass, the people gathered outside the church and Fr. Cruz Manding, blessed their palms. Members of the parish youth provided the choreography.
I was supposed to say the 7:30 mass but I asked Fr. Senen to take my place. I still have a cold and a runny nose. So I just concelebrated.
Today, the senior Redemptorist community had a recollection at the Sacred Heart Brothers formation house in Catalunan Grande. There are only five of us (Frs. Brendan, Abdon, Senen, Cruz and myself). The theme that we reflected and shared on is: A Spirituality of the Paschal Mystery. This is appropriate for the Holy Week.
I am on complete fast this Holy Week. This means not eating from Monday to Saturday. From Monday to Wednesday I will be subsisting on water, fruit juice and coffee. From Thursday to Saturday, I will be subsisting on water only. The next time I eat will be lunch on Easter Sunday.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

An Executive Session with the Commission on Human Rights

Yesterday afternoon, the delegation from the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE) had an executive session with the Commission on Human Rights. We really did not plan to attend the public inquiry or much less meet with the commission. We doubted whether this public hearing would accomplish anything. We just came on Monday afternoon to deliver the data and reports we had gathered which would prove the existence of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) responsible for the summary killings in the city. We did not want to participate in the public hearing with all the local authorities and the media present. But the commission asked us if we would be willing to have a close session with them and so we consented. We were convinced that the commission headed by Leila de Lima was indeed serious in addressing this problem. We will cooperate with them in the ongoing investigation.
We don't have any illusion that the public inquiry will stop the killings. In fact, while the hearing was going on the DDS killed 2 more people, bringing the body count to 892 victims. It was appalling to hear the local authorities and the police continuing to deny that these were cases of summary killings perpetrated by the DDS. How can the killings be stopped when those who are supposed to investigate and go after the killers continue to deny their existence?
I believe that the mayor and the police can stop these killings if they want to. The first thing that they need to do is to acknowledge that summary killings are indeed happening, to condemn these, and to go after the killers. Otherwise, the people will continue to suspect that they are behind these.