Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Take and Receive, O Lord

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I will try to make this post as short and sweet as possible.

There is a statue of St. Ignatius that I have always admired. It depicts the saint, kneeling in profound adoration, looking skyward in deference to Divine Majesty. The saint's eyes are fixed, enraptured, and seized by a childlike wonder. In his hands, a sword, gleaming silver, cradled like a fragile gift in his arms, ready to be put to the service of the Almighty at a moment's notice. As I child, I remember gazing up at this statue and thinking to myself: who is this man? Why does he have a sword? What did he do? Needless to say, I was captured by this image of the saint from the very moment I first laid eyes on it. At certain points in the day, when the sun would revel in all its glory, the sunbeams would strike at the saint's face and set fire to his sword. It was a glorious thing to behold.

The story of St. Ignatius and his First Companions is something most of us are doubtless familiar with. Born a nobleman in the Basque region of Spain, the saint's aspirations in life were as worldly as can be. He desired power and glory, conquests and military victories one ofter the other. Of course, that fateful day came when a cannonball hit Ignatius's leg, shattering it and his ambitions of becoming a celebrated soldier. But with it came the realization that he was being called to something far greater than he had ever imagined. I remember thinking to myself how this incident must have been unbearably painful; I recall getting shivers down my spine and my flesh quailing at the thought of being hit by a cannonball.

Ignatius entered the University of Paris, where he surely must have been the odd one out-- let us recall that he was a good fifteen years older than both Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, his first companions. As well, they excelled academically, and being roommates with Ignatius, were tasked to tutor him in these fields. A Jesuit Scholastic friend once joked, 'If Ignatius were in the University today, he would probably be the scourge of the Jesuits and be placed in Basic Math and Basic English'. So how did this nobleman with worldly ambitions come to found the most academically-inclined (but not necessarily orthodox) orders in the Church today? And what is it about Inigo that makes him such an enigmatic figure still?

I have met many people in my life so far-- good, bad, charismatic, melancholic, scholarly and facetious-- but I have never met someone who has had such a remarkable transformation. I have known former druggies who have become numeraries and seemingly pious individuals fall to the whims of the flesh. Is it impossible then in this present age to become a saint? With all the excesses and self-aggrandizing so prevalent in modern society, it is difficult not to lose focus. We are constantly being misguided and thrown off course by a combination of many things, chief among them our unshakable pride. I admit that I am too often a victim of such circumstances.

I guess it all comes down to the Cross. We have heard it said that the Cross is the source and summit of the Christian life-- to embrace the cross and bear it alongside Our Lord is the path that all Christians must ultimately take. The problem with many of us is that we deliberately choose to live as if the cross were never there, that it is something reserved for a select few while we go on with our lives and indulge ourselves in the grossest excesses possible. The first Jesuits were not immediately accepted by the established Orders-- they viewed La Campania as something of an anomaly, a strange, if heretical, admixture of the divine and the worldly. If you want to get a feel of how it must have felt to be a Jesuit back then, one only has to look, ironically, at this Order's own aggressive 'treatment' of Opus Dei. And unless we forget, many Jesuits have been martyred in the past.

The late Father John F. Hurley, wartime superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines, was almost killed when he defended a Filipina nurse from being gang-raped by a thrall of bored Japanese soldiers. If I remember correctly, they stabbed him several times with their bayonets (I'm not really sure; I'll check my sources and edit this if need be). Still another Jesuit, Father Ignacio Alzina, was criticized and mocked by his superiors for building a monstrance in some deserted, colonial outpost that was 'more fitting for a cathedral in Seville' than a 'rural barrio in the Philippines'. He replied, 'The God of the Filipinos is the same God of the Spaniards!'. But these are local figures: we need only to recall the name 'Francis Xavier', 'Edmond Campion', 'Robert Bellarmine' and a host of other names to be reminded of how much this Order has accomplished. And each of these saints have something in common: they all learned to embrace the Cross. It is an obedience silent and serene, and it is the only obedience worth following: it is obedience done out of love.

When I was growing up, my father always taught me to pray the immortal prayer of St. Ignatius. As I closed my eyes and folded my hands to pray, I would repeat after him these words, first spoken some five hundred years ago by a soldier with a broken leg who was not as academically gifted as his own sons: 'Take and receive, O Lord, my liberty; take all my will, my mind, my memory! All things I own and all I hold are Thine!' I pondered over these lines countless times, absorbing its rhythm before I ever learned to understand what it is all about. I guess it is only now that I am beginning to see what it is all about. It is, simply put, a prayer of surrender, a desire for 'annihilation', of being one with God, and becoming His alone. It is difficult to explain with words alone-- it is something far more visceral, more gut-wrenching than any theology could ever produce. Its irrationality is its own source of illumination and inner clarity, its rhythms the fount of conviction. It is the Cross, as expressed in words.

Our Lord said, 'If anyone wishes to follow Me, let him take up His cross and do so'. And lest we forget, the Cross is not easy to bear: it will wear you down, crush your bones, and be a cause of much ignominy and humiliation for the one who carries it. But it is the only path worth taking. Only by loving the Cross can we ever hope to follow Christ. And it is strange, impossible, even downright insufferable at times; we have but the face of Christ to prod us on in this most arduous of journeys. I imagine that is what St. Ignatius must have been looking at when he knelt down, and offered his sword for the service of the Church. He was looking at Truth.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Solve et Coagula

The Alchemist stood near the open window, his crooked, bat-like nose glinting like a slithering serpent under the pale of the moon. His eyes, gray and deep with age, glittered with feline cunning and reptilian calculation, while his long, bony fingers, like ghostly wisps of smoke, clung heavily to the ancient leather covering of the equally primordial book he held in his hands. A long, thin beard, shining silver in the darkness of the room, seemed to writhe from withered stalks, moving with an unnatural vitality that spoke of forces far beyond human comprehension.

Near him, the girl sat in fearful contemplation, seized at once by childlike awe and impending dread. She was young, not yet eighteen, but had the disposition of one beyond her young years. Her auburn hair shone like fire in the eldritch night. The chamber was cold, perhaps too cold, and it sent shivers crawling up her spine. Tears seemed to crystallize at the moment of their formation, and even the sweat on her brow began to chill with morbid complacency. She bit her tongue hard, blood trickling down her lips and flowing down her face like a livid river. It was the best she could do to stay awake-- to stay alive-- in that hour of abandon.

The Alchemist shifted from his contemplative posture, and moved towards the girl with the elegance and grace of a specter. His eyes bored themselves into her soul, as the volume he held in his hands began to throb, and beat, like a living, disembodied heart. The long, bony hands began to reach forward, clawing their way through the thick of the night air like a bat hunting its prey. The Alchemist's nails were long and yellow with age, cracking and manifesting a moribundity that seemed more supernatural than natural. His lips parted, and revealed two rows of yellowed, sharpened teeth, anchored in return to gums that dripped blood and were black with abuse.

The girl watched in horror as the long, bony arm began to reach for her. She silently prayed through clenched teeth that this ordeal might be over soon. In her mind, images of the past, of carefree days and halcyon youth, began to race in a fashion worthy of an epiphany. But it was not always like this; for there was once a time when the Alchemist, too, despite his embracing of his damnation and sinfulness, was once very much like her. He too was once a man; but where all traces of humanity and decency used to be now reside an implacable pride, surrounded by impregnable hubris and a criminal obsession for the good. And now she gazed at the Alchemist in pity, seeing his disfigured face, made more bestial by the soft glow of the moonlight, moved, top, to pity at the sight of his complexion, of which only the dead and the dying had a share. For indeed the Alchemist was grayer than stone, and the coldness in him was even greater.

"What is the Secret?"

The Alchemist hissed through his mouth, his saliva spraying from his foul maw like the hiss of acid. His eyes burned with a sick curiosity. There came no answer from the girl, silent and immovable as she now was. Her hands, bound by ropes, were now sore with blisters; she could feel her wrists being cut open and the blood leaving her fingertips, leaving them gray as the Alchemist's own skin. The old man moved closer to her. "What is it?" But still, there was no answer that escaped her lips. A reptilian smile crawled across the old man's withered husk of a face. Whether the Alchemist relished this moment or not, his cryptic smile would not tell.

In his mind, thoughts, countless and infinite, began to race and swirl with preternatural speed. Questions of the stars began to envelop the Alchemist's head, and the dim beating of drums and the ululations of primordial chaos began to dance in his mind. He began to descend into the spaces between seconds and traverse the eternal distance between the now and the eternal. Now, his face seemed to twist with lecherous glee into something far more horrible than a smile: a look of happiness. He reached forward again, this time cradling the girl's face in his right hand. He could feel her apprehension, the fear ripping through her like a knife.

"What is it?" His voice resounded throughout the vacuum of the room, reverberating with echoes each said differently: at once mocking and reverential, threatening and compassionate. It seemed as if the room were flooded by voices, legion and yet one. The girl stared back into the hard, cold eyes, and looked at them with her own piercing ones. In a move totally unprecedented yet seemingly anticipated, she put her quivering, tottering hand on the Alchemist's bony wisps masquerading as fingers. And she stared at him as intensely as she ever had before, or after, in her life.

As their eyes connected, her sapphire blues perceiving the coldness and distance of his silver-greys, there, in the intersection of time and space where each melded into the aether, and into each other, there seemed a spark of light, fleeting and ephemeral but bearing the wisdom of the ages, to dart between. She perceived his thoughts and saw through his eyes, as he likewise did. She saw how his pride had once consumed him: how, abandoned by his loved ones, he sought refuge in the arcane and the occult; how he sought the secrets of the stars, how he desperately wanted to tap into the ageless whispers of the firmament and the unfathomable deep below. She saw through his eyes how silver became gold, and gold became silver, and lead both, and understood the timeless craft through which this was brought to be. She understood the speech of the beasts and conversed with the rain and kissed the face of the sun.

The Alchemist, in turn, tapped into her thoughts. His mind, cruel and scarred by vicissitudes far beyond his reach, could not fathom the joy and light in hers. He saw through her eyes how, before rumors of the Great War had even been born, she would run across the corn fields and chase butterflies for her sisters, and, running barefoot through the rough and tumble, her feet were scarred and blistered. He perceived the simplicity of her life, the joy of being loved, the warmth of a hug, and the joyous annihilation of being one with the Other. He felt the rain washing down his face, and felt as if a lightning bolt had just struck him squarely in the chest. His mind seemed to melt into his heart, as his breathing became more robust, his chest heaving and sighing with an almost suicidal enthusiasm. The Alchemist wanted he scream, and scream he did: but no sound escaped the warbling of his jaws, the thunder that was building up in his throat crushed to deafening silence.

As the visions ended, both the girl and the Alchemist seemed to have aged a thousand years in the process. Though lasting but mere milliseconds, each felt as if they were locked in a never-ending now, an eternity of confusion, highs and lows, from the deepest depths of despair to he farthest reaches of serenity and beatitude. The weight of the visions seemed to crush them with invisible yet tangible force, as the moonlight overhead lent its twilight in the massing darkness below. His knees were weak and wobbling; he had not the strength to get up. He fell to his hands, still reeling from exhaustion. As he looked up, his eyes were met with a most wondrous sight.

Before him, the girl now floated in the air, seemingly suspended on the arms of an angel. She shone with such brilliance that flooded the whole room, and indeed the surrounding environment, with the light of beatitude. Her head, once naked, was now laurelled with a golden crown; her eyes flashed lightning, and her voice was like a silver trumpet. Her limbs moved with a gracefulness and delicacy that seemed to be given by God Himself. She was bathed in tremendous brilliance, flashing, transforming, captivating, and her haloed head rested majestically on her neck, tall and proud, as even then to the Alchemist her raiment—no longer the meek and humble woolen smock as before, but the glorious armor of the battle-scarred—radiated with fiery intensity.

He could feel his eyes melting away before so wonderful a creature. His heart, which, moments before knew not love nor warmth, was now seized by the most joyful pain imaginable, that of the realization that it had not known such a mysterious thing before in all its years of solitude. The Alchemist prostrated himself, and stretching his hands, sought to touch even the feet of the being now before him. And, just as before, when he finally found a reason, a purpose, an idea to devote himself to, the brilliance faded once again into darkness; luster turned to rust, as the light that shone brighter than the sun itself paled into the sickly light of a full and leprous moon. Before the Alchemist lay the girl, prone and prostrate. He scrambled to her, seeking with feverish madness to touch something of the wonder he had just beheld; but to no avail. The creature was gone, and the Alchemist was left alone, once more with girl: dead.

In the midst of it all, the Alchemist wept, and no tears came from his eyes, but instead a loud and powerful sound reverberated in his throat and erupted, with the sound like the shredding of mountains, into the cold and desolate night. Outside the high walls and impregnable towers of the castle, the war still raged on. Soldiers hacked at each other still, heads flying through the air with the grace and beauty of a ballerina; blood smoked in torrents, as the clang of sword upon shield, and the droning sea of war-cries, kettle drums, war marches and shouts of victory and defeat, continued unabated, perhaps never destined to end at all. As the Alchemist surveyed the scene from his ivory tower, his heart was moved to pity. And he left, just as soon as he had taken his first glance. In the midst of the battle, he had found his heart, and he did want to part with it anytime soon.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Today was a very unlucky day for me. I was playing baseball with my ten year old cousin Martin some hours ago. Feeling tired and crushed due to the bevy of tests I had to take yesterday, I thought it would be a refreshing change of pace to catch up with some fun and relaxation. During the game, I decided to take a brief break to let Martin practice his swing. He must have swung the bat for three minutes straight, and half the time it looked like he would just lose his balance and be thrown off by the weight of the bat. As I was drinking some Gatorade, there was a loud thud, an excruciating second of eternity, and the realization that the bat had just connected near the middle of my back. Ouch. I spat out my Gatorade in a fountain of blue that erupted with the force of a mini-volcano. And, as if that weren't enough, I was sitting near the edge of a somewhat tall mound (around 4 feet) where the diamond was located. So I fell, knocked off my prone position, tumbled across the grass, and landed in a puddle of mud. At least I missed the dogshit by a couple inches.

The moral? I don't think there's any, just that ten year olds should never be left alone, LOL. :P

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I took this photo almost a year ago. It is a picture of one of the chapels here in the university. Strangely enough, I've always liked it, in spite of how 'unchurchly' it looks. I guess it has something to do with the exquisite lighting and the warm blend of colors. My own preference for church architecture is somewhere in the intersection of High Gothic and wildly extravagant Spanish Baroque; thus, it would seem strange for me to like such a modern looking edifice. This photo always cheers me up, though. I wish I could take more like it (sadly, my crappy T7 shakes too much, and most of the photos come off with a lot of noise).

Monday, July 23, 2007

With A Sigh...

A post of somewhat personal nature :( . I tried to make it as short and sweet as possible, as well as edited out some parts which are too personal to mention.

I had my first girlfriend when I was fourteen. Anika and I were the cutest couple you ever did see-- she was a year older than me, had rosy cheeks that flushed every time she smiled, dark brown hair and a pair of puppy dog eyes that could melt even the hardest of hearts. We had known each other prior as friends, but it was only when we would up in the same tennis class that we really became close. She was my doubles partner who made sure to make up for my stupid backhand, a fact which she never forgot to tease me about. After the lesson, we would always go to a Starbucks near the place to grab something to drink, which is ironic, since she isn't really a coffee drinker. There, we would swap stories of every stripe and color imaginable; in fact, we even had our own unofficial corner in the back portion, where the baristas would sometimes ask us to tone down our laughter a notch.

The difference between the two of us weren't really remarkable-- she was a vegetarian, I was a carnivore; she liked ice cream and sweets, I liked them only after dinner. She was a naturally outgoing person to my shy and introverted self. Of course, we never really did anything 'serious' together (you know what I mean!), since Manila society is simply too conservative and frowns upon pre-marital affairs (the joke is that men here are so innocent before marriage but wind up having more than one mistress in the course of the marriage). Besides, all the girls I like come from conservative families, and she was no exception. Most of the time, we would just hold hands, snuggle every now and then, and just look cute: PDAs were a faux pas, as were groping and any of that sort. She always managed to make me smile in the most goofy way possible.

She was also a very talented ballerina. One time, she executed such a flawless pas de deux that drew tremendous applause and standing ovations from the audience; she later named it the
'Candy Corner Gumdrop Kadoodle',which was one of her nicknames for me. I still don't know where that came from. I on the other hand named one of my experiments after her (how positively... nerdy!). For two years, we were 'besties' and shared all our secrets together, some of which only my confessor knew (and in the privacy of the divine tribunal, no doubt!). In fact, there even came a point when I would make two confessions: one sacramental, and the other to her, which she kept with absolute silence and fidelity. Every two weeks, I would also give her a stuffed bear, and she must have amassed a massive collection by now.

One fateful night, a few months after I entered senior year in high school, she called me at the dead hour of 12 midnight to tell me it just couldn't work out between us anymore. I was devastated by the news, moreso because just two nights before, we went to see a movie, and there was absolutely no trace, no hint, of any trouble at all in her face. She still spoke to me with the same candor as when we first became official. She still gripped my arm when she was sleepy, and still jolted me back to reality when her grip tightened at every suspenseful moment. The day before she called me, she was as happy as ever, smiling and giggling in her usual way.

I eventually found out that there was another guy involved, but I was too defeated to even make a fuss out of it anymore. I silently wished that the other person would die the most horrible death-- I fancied myself shooting him execution style, setting him on fire, and other such diabolical schemes that a love-scorned mind could only concoct. I began to see her less and less; though we had broken up, we still talked to each other, however painful it was for me. All of that, those times spent chatting at Starbucks, seven hour long phone conversations, those heaps and heaps of bears, everything, seemed to have just dissolved out of the blue. That's two years down the drain.

In late 2006, after what seemed like eternity, I received an email from her. I was shocked to read it. It turned out that she had gotten pregnant since that time we broke up, and was about to give birth in a few months' time. Reading those words sent shockwaves of anger clamoring up my spine: how could she do this to me? But I was also filled with awe, and a certain sense of wonder and amazement, that the girl I used to guffaw and hold hands with was now about to give birth. I remember thinking that I should have just knocked her up all those years ago; that way, the child would have been mine, and we would not have come to this situation. Needless to say, my emotions, bottled up as they were, began to take hues and colors that I had never seen before, from the coldest and most distant colors to the flaming red of passion. I felt exhausted every step of the way.

Finally, the day itself came. On July 19, 2007, Anika gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, bouncing and crying his way to the world on his mother's arms. He had some of her features: her rosy cheeks, beautiful eyes, and even her hair. From his father's side, he inherited his bulky build (the guy wasn't fat, but neither was he skinny) and whitish complexion. In a way, I was also filled with happiness at seeing her, baby cradled in arms, becoming what she always wanted to be. In my heart of hearts, I knew she would become an excellent mother; else, how could she have made me feel all those years ago? I also reconciled with her boyfriend; it wasn't an easy decision, and my pride is still wounded, but it was for the best. It was simply time to let it go.

Today, I received something in the mail. It was a small box, wrapped in red, and tied with a pretty pink bow at the top. I opened it and discovered a small stuffed animal, a bear, holding its heart in its hands. I immediately recognized the bear as the same one I had given her on our last major date. Our names were still etched on the bear's heart: 'Candy Corner Gumdrop Kadoodle heart Kissycheek Bubblegum Dandylicious forever' (people in love come up with the weirdest names!). With the bear came a brief note, written in the same hand, by the same hand, in her trademark pink:

'It's time to give back the love. Love ya always, M. Never forget that. Thanks for everything, I knew it was difficult for you to accept what happened. I know I can never equal what you have done for me, and there is simply no excuse for that. Just know that you will always have a special place in my heart. Forever and a day, with the same hugs and kisses. -A'

As I read those words, I knew I found peace. I've not stopped tearing up since then.

On August 15, 2007, the feast of the Assumption, I will meet Anika, perhaps for the last time. I will see her child christened and initiated into the life of the Church, indeed a cause for massive joy. She and her boyfriend, I am told, will be married hopefully within the next four months, but that is something, sadly, I would not be able to witness, as they will be migrating to Canada in a few weeks' time. Thus, on that day, I will not only be a spectator, but I will also feel like a father, giving up her daughter to another man; only in this case, I will be giving it up to a rival. But those days are gone now. As she herself said, it's time to give back the love. I think to myself now what I would say to her soon-to-be-husband: would I be like a doting father and tell him to take care of her always? Would I be like the best friend and tell her how great a girl she is? Or would I be the frustrated-but-now-contented former boyfriend? Only time will tell. But this I know to be true: I can now honestly tell her that I love her, and that is the greatest gift I've come to realize in this affair.

Congratulations, Anika! Ad multos annos.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Beginning of Wisdom

I could tell he was intimidated by me, judging from the way his eyes shifted when I spoke to him. His voice was almost like a whisper, and his almost-four-foot height, supported by thinly nourished bones and covered by dark, sun-scorched skin, seemed to shrink the more I came closer to him. Kobe is six years old, and comes from a poor family: the elder in a brood of two, he is currently a second grade student in one of the more depressed areas of Manila, Payatas. This place has acquired a nasty reputation as a 'garbage city'; for Payatas is actually a landfill, where a significant part of the city's waste ends up in. And although Kobe's school is far from that fabled epicenter of garbage (it is so large that it is divided into four areas), the stench of rot and decay still clung to the air with magnetic intensity.

When I first got the news that we were assigned to the Payatas area, my heart sank. In the Philippines, ROTC has basically been reduced to an option; gone are the days of endless push-ups, marching drills, target shooting and the like. Instead, many universities are opting to substitute the NSTP (National Service Training Program) component in place of military training, a move which has drawn a lot of praise from several sectors of the society. I landed myself in one of the LTS (Literacy Training Service) sections; easy enough, I thought. After all, we would only be teaching kids, and I love kids. Of course, I never expected that we were going to handle entire sections, who, even though they were already in the first and second grades, have never been able to read.

Kobe is one such student. When I first met him, he was huddled in a corner of the classroom, drinking orange juice from a tetra pak. His legs were dangling and happily swaying in front of his chair, and he had two sharpened jumbo pencils to one side of his desk. His hands rested on an old ream of pad paper, which must have been several months old at least, judging from how yellow and crumpled it looked. I was assigned to teach two kids, but the other one, Jerry, was sick; thus, I was left alone with Kobe. This seemed to make Kobe even shyer than before. I introduced myself to him and shook his hand, which he accepted with certain trepidation. He must have thought I was one of those rich kids who looked down on his kind. Despite this initial shyness, however, I was pleasantly surprised at how well-mannered and disciplined he was.

After the introductions, I explained to him that we were there to teach them how to read. I produced a sample Dolch test from my folder, and put it in his hands. For those who don't know, the Dolch test is a classic test aimed to imbibe reading and comprehension skills to non-readers; it is basically a list of simple words, which, when repeated several times, is designed to impart the rudiments of functional literacy to the unlettered. He accepted it with trembling hands and a look of certain defeat on his face. I briefly went through the list, and decided to separate the words into several chunks to better facilitate the lesson. I pointed out the words to him, and I could tell he was severely conscious of himself. But more than that, he didn't seem to have a shred of confidence in him at all.

When we were running through the list, I was shocked at how little he knew; I am well-aware that illiteracy among the poor is fast becoming a prevalent condition here in the Philippines, but I never imagined it was this bad. I pointed at the words 'black', 'and', 'away', and several others which the toddlers of the rich would surely have memorized and comprehended by the time they learned to walk. But here was a six year old who still struggled with his letters; is this an 'i' or an 'l'? While he knew his ABC's backwards and forwards, he could never manage to string them together. Thus, 'brown' for him is merely 'b-r-o-w-n', and 'yellow becomes 'y-hello-wa'. I think it is safe to say that letters for him are basically just black marks on white paper, hieroglyphic and utterly beyond comprehension. There came a time when I was all too ready to give up on the boy.

But there is something about him that defies explanation. I do not know if it is the way his face lights up whenever I explain something new to him, or how his ears would perk when I read some English words aloud. When I gave him a treat for every correct reading of a word, his legs would sway back and forth for minutes at a time. There was a time when he led me by the hand, excited and enraptured, to meet his baby brother, who was only several months old then. And whenever I entered the classroom, he would never fail to show me his pencils, sharpened by knife by his mother (they had no money to even buy a pencil sharpener), which, by all accounts, were probably used by his own cousins or parents as well. Kobe knew he lagged behind the rest of the class; his partner, Jerry, while intelligent, was a sickly boy, and so had to drop out of his Saturday classes.

There is something, too, about the way he strings together his letters to form new and exciting words. When I told him that 'to', 'two', and 'too' were all pronounced the same (or similarly; the Filipino accent pronounces them entirely alike), his face lit up, as though he had just experienced something magical. And although most words to him were just a combination of different sounds, both guttural and ephemeral, smooth and chunky, he relished this 'power' over them. Each new combination, transposition and translation was like a whole new world being opened up for him. 'Kuya, para kang Diyos! Ang galing mo!', he said to me once (In English: 'Kuya, you are like God! You're awesome!'). I guess he was referring to how clever I must have seemed to him, what with all the tricks I showed him.

And Kobe prayed. He would always lead his class in prayer before the start of the lessons, urging them excitedly and bashfully to stand up, hold their palms together, close their eyes, and maintain absolute silence; if we are so noisy when we talk to God, how could He ever hear our prayers?, he said, to the delight of all in the room. But Kobe's prayer defied convention and limit, and reached out even to his daily life. I guess what I find most impressive about him is the fact that, even though he is academically not up to par with the rest of his peers, he never made a fuss about this. He was proud to admit it, and grabbed every chance to tug at my shirt and ask me to explain something he did not understand to him. His is a pure and simple faith, free from the delusions of self-proclaimed wisdom and false piety of many adults. He was the freest of men, and he used this immense freedom to freely admit his own shortcomings and failures.

We were once not too different from Kobe, but often with age comes hubris and hidden pride. In my eighteen years of life so far, I have gone from being the crybaby of our batch in first grade, to the rebellious problem child in third grade, the geeky know-it-all for the rest of my elementary years; the pious sportsman in my freshman year, the sulking 'emo kid' in sophomore year, and now, the still-not-so-diligent student-who-is-trying-to-get-as-much-A's this semester in the hopes of impressing someone (wink wink). But through it all, I've always managed to discover something new and hitherto unexplored about myself. I guess what I am discovering now is my compassionate side; no longer do I mind the gallons of sweat, the scorching heat, the irritating noise and the extra effort-- life is simply too short not to experience these things. Let everyday be ephemeral and fleeting, because it is only through this that we encounter what beauty is really like. It is the stepping stone to an immense mystery which lies at the very bottom of human experience.

In a way, the love of God has never shone so bright and clearly for me than now. As I gaze on a statue of the Nino Dormido-- the sleeping Child Jesus-- many details which I have not noticed before suddenly jump at me now. The Sleeping Lord is sucking His thumb, head resting on pillow, and on His face, a serene and peaceful expression, free from all thoughts of the terrible torment He will suffer in several years' time. What dreams might the Little Lord have had? Did He dream, perhaps, of some human memory? These are questions, not answers, and will perhaps always remain within the realm of speculation and miscellany. But for a brief time in the short history of the world, God slept, and rested His head on His Mother's chest.

Today, three weeks since I first met Kobe, I am still held in awe at how much wonder and beauty he is able to find, without even trying, in the most mundane of things. When I saw him awhile ago, he still had problems comprehending even the most basic words; 'today' for him is still a bauble of intelligibility, as are 'ranch', 'salad', 'three', and even 'paper'. But beyond the academics, the extreme shyness and lack of self-confidence, there is wisdom in him. It is small,fragile and fleeting, but beneath the dark exterior glitters a diamond in the rough, more splendid than all the jewels and treasures of the world. To this day, I do not know who is teaching whom.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


The day I dreaded most when I entered university was not the day I would have to take my Accounting finals (though it's pretty close), nor is it even the day I would have to take my oral exams at the ungodly hour of four in the morning. It was the day when my Theology class began. Unless you've spent the last forty years hiding under a rock, you will no doubt be familiar with the Sons of Loyola, and how that illustrious Order--once at the forefront of the Catholic vanguard against the deceptions of the modern world-- has virtually sunk with a near-pathetic whimper to the whims and wiles of modernity. Los Jesuitas son diablos, my grandfather used to say in his heavily accepted Spanish. Though a product of Jesuit education himself, he was never one of the aristocrats that otherwise made up the entire population of his class. He was accepted by pure merit of his intellectual capacity alone, which his mates never let him forget.

It is a strange and ironic fate that has befallen me: in my elementary and high school days, I was formed, through much rigor and stringency, by the Opus Dei, and now, in my tertiary years, I am being molded by the Jesuits. There is a marked difference about how these two groups (I hesitate to use the word 'Order' because La Obra is technically not one) conduct their business. Whereas the Work taught me the supreme importance of fidelity to the Magisterium, the sublimity of piety, and all that 'good stuff', Jesuit education stresses an entirely different spectrum of Christianity, chief among these ecumenism. It is entirely fitting and proper to describe this as culture shock, I guess. There is even a running joke among the people from Opus Dei schools studying with the Jesuits as regards the difference between the two:while a priest of the Work drives a Mercedes Benz, a Jesuit expects to be driven in one.

So it did not really shock me when our group was chosen to do a report on intra-campus ecumenism. One of the chief points we focused on was the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Protestant Fundamentalist theology; it sounds like a daunting task, and it is. Perhaps the hardest part of all was agreeing to shirk away from any theological debate; because, as our professor said, ecumenism is primarily a dialogue (uh huh), without unity-- the object of Our Lord's sacerdotal prayer in John 17:21-- could never be achieved. I dreaded the prospect as the days gradually flew away like leaves. And come it did, on Friday the 13th, no less.

There we were, seated in a badly-rendered semicircle. I was at the middle, while the rest of my mates flanked me on either sides. One was too busy sending text messages on his cellphone, the other was bored to tears. The only other person interested in getting the job done was a notoriously liberal Catholic. On the other side, huddled together like foreigners in a strange land, were our Protestant 'guests'. They fit the typical Fundamentalist image in the Philippines: one of them, a male, was twenty years old yet looked twenty five, and the other, a female, was twenty two years old, yet looked a day over fifteen. I remember examining the two of them with cold detachment: how they whispered to each other in barely restrained tones, how they were reluctant to say anything (at first) in the interview, and how they would practically stop and stare at each other whenever the name of the Blessed Mother was mentioned.

The girl, as it turned out, was raised in a Catholic family, but like many of today's youth, an increasing disconnection between her and the 'outmoded', 'outdated' Catholicism of her parents facilitated a change of faith in her. Says she: 'I just couldn't figure out Catholicism.' The boy, on the other hand, grew up in a Protestant family, one of the first, in fact, in the country, after the disaster of the Second Vatican Council. I noticed how their eyes would always evade mine, and I noticed how my eyes could not really look them in the eye. It was a befuddling situation; I could tell that none of them really looked forward to the experience. In my heart of hearts, I knew that I could never be swayed by their arguments, and doubtless, they held the same thoughts as well. Their words were even, calculated, and well-chosen; I picked the most difficult questions I could think of.

'Do you feel ostracized in the campus for your faith?'

'Do you honestly believe that all Catholics are going to Hell?'

'How do your parents feel about your decision to leave the Catholic faith?'

'Do you ever feel like you are missing out?'

'Is there any particular Marian dogma that you find 'repuslive'?'

'Are you aware that the 'Hail Mary' comes from the Bible? How does this affect your Fundamentalist beliefs, if it does?'

I must have fired off question after question for twenty minutes straight. I could not tell if it was the sadist in me, but I relished being given the chance to ask these questions out in the open. They, in turn, answered me with precision, never missing a beat, and with a ready apologetic for anything that might come into question. I had my TAN Books waiting to one side of my bag, ready to be picked up at the slightest provocation.

Looking back at this incident, I guess I am rally reflecting more on myself than on the Fundamentalists. Let us face it: modern-day ecumenism is largely a sham, designed for mere dialogue, but without any hint of catharsis or resolution at all. It is simply a bunch of bobbing, talking heads, repeating the same things which much of Christianity has always held to be true and sacred in the past. I am Catholic first and foremost because I was born into that Faith; I am a Catholic, because I know it to be true. To filter through my entire history, and how I arrived at the conclusion that the Church is the one, true Church founded by Our Lord, would probably take years and tons and tons of words for me to articulate. I am no St. Augustine, and neither am I Rahner. Ultimately, it all boils down for me for the simple fact that it was in the Church that I first experienced the primordial and the transcendent. It is true what they say about the Church being the birthplace of wonder; it is this conviction that has sustained me through all these years. I did not sit for hours under the gaze of San Baraquiel, sword in hand and eyes flashing with power majesty, only to dump this Faith in the end.

The devout Catholic in me would weep at the thought that a daughter of Holy Mother Church would leave the Mystical Body of Christ for a bunch of tambourine-wielding, tabernacle-dancing, slain-in-the-Spirit glossolalia aficionados. But were I placed in the same situation, were I pulled out from under the noses of the numeraries, I do not think I could still have the conviction of remaining Catholic. Fundamentalist rhetoric is simply a fool-proof, air-tight case against Catholicism to those who have never even bothered to learn more about their Faith. I too have many Protestant relatives, and even if they are technically apostates, they will probably still reach heaven first before I do, poor and wretched sinner that I am. However, this is not to say that this is legitimate grounds for leaving the Church; I can think of no reason why such a thing should ever be done. But then again, reasons are only secondary to the whims of the heart; if there is anything I have learned so far, it is that Christianity is more than just the sum of its rules and dogmas; to be a Christian is to become the Faith that has been handed down to us.

Perhaps this is why apologetics does not automatically make one a good Christian. It is simply a means to an end, although a symptom of the corruption our age is manifested in its being twisted to become an end in and of itself. It is a sad day when the whole of Christianity is reduced into a colloquialism of philosophy, a mere syllogism rather than God's presence in one's daily life. As a wonderful saint once put it, 'Go and preach the Gospel; use words, if necessary'.

In the end, as I shook the hands of the people we had just interviewed, I saw a brief, smile shy flutter in the girl's face, but like the flickering of flame, it was gone in an instant. I felt her hands, how warm they were, how 'alive', and I thought to myself that this must have been what it was like to shake the hands of the Magdalene, or to kiss the face of the Blessed Mother. I came away from the interview unconvinced of even the best arguments that Protestantism could offer, and I left with the knowledge that theirs is a sadly irrational position. I have no doubt that they left with their beliefs intact, and I imagined that they must have gone to their worship service more rejuvenated than ever. But if there is anything positive to come out of this experiment, I no longer saw them as the abstract 'enemies' as I once did; they were human again, with flesh and blood, and born with the capacity for great love and emotion just as myself. Somehow, in the midst of it all, and inscrutably enough, I had made friends.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Something Humorous

First, my apologies for not being able to update much lately. My Accounting subjects are proving to be real bitches, and it doesn't help that I have one of the most boring teachers ever (he talks with all the intensity and wonder of a dull, red brick). This has been a massive cause of migraine and stress for me, so much so that it (gasp) managed to make me smoke again.

So I decided to post something humorous. Weird things tend to happen whenever I enter the bathroom. First, there was the incident with rat; and now this one. After gulping down six tall glasses of iced tea, like any normal person, I naturally felt the urge to pee. Since the urinals were all being used, and since my bladder was being uncooperative, I decided to use the cubicle instead, much to my misfortune, since it still reeked of freshly popped... poop. I must have stayed at least a minute inside the cubicle. As I was about to flush the toilet, I noticed a small, white envelope placed on top of a small ledge immediately above the toilet, where people could place their things while attending to their 'business'.

The envelope was unsealed, and on its face were written, in big, red, bold letters, the words 'Pick me up and read me!!!'. It wasn't addressed to anyone in particular, so I assumed it was left there by the writer as an anonymous message to anyone who might come across it. Inside was a rather untidily folded piece of paper, full of ink smudges and slightly crumpled (I imagined some emo kid must have soiled it with his tears after hearing some pretentious MCR song). I couldn't stop laughing at what I saw. It was a love letter, written in black ink, with its marginalia glossed with images of broken hearts, bats, angels, and peppered with some pitiful song lines from MTV (How could this happen to me?!?!?! hahahaha). I'm not an expert on the subject, but the script suggested to me that the writer was a bit methodical and unsure of himself.

Here is the text of the person's 'letter'. The spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well as the bad poetry, are the anonymous writer's own doing.

Read me now!!!

This dark, torturing essence... these sultry shivers! I am tortured by the blackness. The light is dead... it is dying... bleeding!!! Feeding the world with its malevolence... Why!!!!! Why won't you leave me alone!!!!! Is it not enough that you rip my soul our for the sport of your ravens? Is it not enough to see my flayed by your icy stares! Why must you thrust this blade of sorrow into my wounded soul? Why am I being tortured BY YOU!!!!!! You, you who I loved with all my being! And now that being is gone... Consumed. Burned. Destroyed. And I must fade into the shadows... MY despair shall consume you all.

I HATE YOU!!! I HATE YOU!!! Die!!! I offered you the immortal blood of vampires... And you unleashed your garlic at me [WTF! This is just lame -Arch]!!! I exposed my neck to you... and slit my jugular to feed you... and you say you belong to the light? Where is darkness we once enjoyed? Are you leaving me now for this mortal? Answer me!!! I was once your angel, and you were once my nephilim... Now... GONE!!! My eyes which once burned for you can see no more... my nihilism is whole. My essence is gone, stolen, ripped, trampled upon by you...

I will not say goodbye.. But know this: I will ever watch you from my corners in the darkness... I will lurk in your shadow... and when the time comes... you shall drink my blood again... and we will be one.

-Night Angel

Man, that is just whacked. Were I on drugs, that would probably have made me see all sorts of weird visions. It would have been funny, too, had 'Night Angel' not taken himself too seriously. There is even a post script where he says that he wrote the dedication with his own blood, despite the fact that the 'red ink' suspicioulsy smelled like... ink. And since it was placed in the men's room, I think it's safe to say that 'Night Angel' is a guy, albeit a rather pathetic excuse of one at that. And he writes some of the worst poetry, too. Although in the end, I guess it's still better, or at least on par, than some of the lameness they peddle on MTV.

As I said, weird things tend to happen to me in bathrooms. At best, this letter was like that one time when a friend of mine dared a mutual friend of ours to scream 'Time to S--t!' at the top of his lungs in a five star hotel. At worst, it is like watching a David Lynch movie, where people never understand what's going on half the time but praise it as if it were a vision from God. In this case, Lynch's movies have finally met their match in the written word.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Timor et Tremor

"And when I had seen Him, I fell at His feet as one dead."
-Apocalypse 1:17

Stepping into the darkness of the ancient and venerable church, the unbeliever is confronted with an image he knows too well, the fount and end of all his fears, both the beginning of wisdom and unending despair. His eyes scour the ancient surface of the image now looming before him: an enormous, carved relief of the Last Judgment, with God and His saints surrounding the Cross of victory at the uppermost portion, the Ecclessia militans at the center, and the everlasting woe and fire unquenchable of damnation, bounded by serpents and demons and all manner of beasts at the very bottom. He is seized with wonder upon contemplating the serenity of the Divine hosts, and repulsed by the sight of the damned wallowing in their torments. Indeed, such a sight can make or break one's faith.

In fear and trembling, he examines the image now facing him. To the Christian, it is not just pious imagery that he is looking at, but also, in a mystical way, he is contemplating his own destiny. He knows very well that, at the end of this earthly life, he will either be in heaven or hell-- rejoicing forever with the angels and saints in the company of God, or condemned to suffer eternal loss, a heart that will never find rest and a soul perpetually gnawed at by the everlasting worm of regret, envy, and wrath. Scripture is quick to remind us: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

There comes a time in all our lives when we are seemingly thrust to the edge of a precipice, where everything in perspective dissolves and gravitates to a never-ending horizon, often one of uncertainty and doubt. At the bottom of this precipice await the jaws of Hell, gaping and ever gnashing its teeth, whilst on top, surrounded by a mystic haze of fog, beckon the angelic hosts, ready to snatch us away at the slightest sign of cooperation. This is the one question that has haunted the imaginations of countless men throughout the two thousand year story of the Christian religion: will I, in the end, be counted with the blessed, or be confounded for all eternity with the wicked? This fear of judgment, of one's sins being revealed to all of mankind at the end of time, has driven many of us to despair; and who would not be? Who would not be terrified at the prospect of seeing the living God in all His glory?

Our faith teaches us that salvation, though freely given by God, nevertheless remains a great mystery. Indeed, we have been taught that it is useless without our cooperation, worthless without our acceptance of this inconceivably sublime gift. Salvation, then, is not a one-time deal, but a continuous process; it comes to us with a great price and an even greater responsibility. In short, it would not be wrong to say that our salvation is not cheap. It is the history of the entire people of God, stretching all the way from the Old Testament through the Gospels, reaching even through time and space, indeed, almost as if eternity were being passed through a sieve, as a teacher of mine once put it (I still do not understand what exactly he means by this).

In the last five years, I have met all sorts of Christians, from born again Fundamentalists to ultraliberal Catholics, good ones and bad ones, all trying to vie for a front row seat to witness the glory and majesty of God first hand when the former world shall pass away, and a new one, unmarred by sin and death, shall come to be. And make no mistake; there is much pushing and shoving along the way. Too often has there been violence and bloodshed (whether literally or metaphorically), so much so that the horizon begins to be obscured by it. Perhaps this is the dark night of the soul that St. John of the Cross spoke so luminously and so eloquently of. It is not so much, I think, as sensing the absence of God in one’s life, but having an excess of it, if this were even possible (and it is not).

In this era of massive consumerism and abject pluralism, it is sometimes difficult to keep our eyes focused on the Christ. We are too distracted, and often our eyes wander to distant and exotic locations only to find emptiness and a biting coldness. After reading a few pamphlets off the internet, a formerly lukewarm, contraceptive-supporting Catholic could morph overnight into a fiery lioness, worthy of the guts of St. Barbara and the fortitude of St. Catherine of Alexandria. But this also has an adverse effect; it is all too easy as well for a lifelong Catholic to switch religions overnight after witnessing the wide-scale ‘cafeterianism’ that permeates the praxis of faith of so many people today.

We are all called to be holy, but real holiness is not bought so easily. It is earned, and ransomed with the price of our blood, sweat and tears. One may have read all the Catholic literature at TAN Books (if only that were me!) but still have no clue at all how to reverence a statue of St. Dominic. We can understand the theological problems of the Novus Ordo and condemn it as the bastardization that it is but remain utterly clueless about the ‘Tridentinist’ point of view that we so often equate with authentic, ageless Catholicism. For Christianity is structured in such a way that God is always at the head of the table, and how He intends to run the Church is not our business to whine and bitch about, but to accept, even if it grieves us. The ugly and the desolate, after all, can still communicate truths; the problem is that we never see beyond the ugliness.

I remember, as a child of ten, going to a certain church for the first time, and being struck by the beauty and majesty of this temple of God. I still remember how the light glinted off the immaculate gold candlesticks, how the Crucified Lord looked down at the faithful with His eyes full of mercy and compassion from above, how the fluttering of doves’ wings made such beautiful music in the church’s cavernous nave. Then, I remember being horrified when a large, dark man, bald and pocked by many scars, emerged from the sacristy holding a gas lamp. The man’s face looked beastly and distorted, and when he walked, he shifted in pain to the right. One woman sitting in the pew in front of me spoke loudly ‘What is this monster doing in the house of God? It’s a surprise the angels haven’t struck him dead yet.’ They were laughing to themselves privately, when some minutes later, the man emerged from the sacristy again, this time dressed in a white cassock, with a black fascia tied about his waist.

The man was a visiting priest, it turned out. He had concelebrated the Holy Mass with the parish priest, a friend of his from seminary days. Come communion time, the ladies who were laughing to themselves happened to have lined up in the visiting priest’s line. I still remember seeing their faces quivering, red faced and humiliated, after receiving the Body of Christ. They were apparently two of the most prominent hermanas in the parish, and I am told that that was their first and only time to receive communion in the hand. One would wonder what they might have thought had they seen Our Lord being carried down from the Cross, His body a weeping mass of wounds and broken, seething flesh.

It is only now that I realize how great a gift it is to see the world in all its ugliness and desolation. Doubtless, it is a repulsive sight; but it is better to see it the way it is than to pretend we are living in a world where everything is perfect. The prettiest roses, after all, are also the ones with the most thorns. Our lives are not meant to be lived according to our desires, but God’s, and God’s alone. It is not a question of why imperfection and wickedness abound in our world, but a question that asks, ‘What should be done?’ Humanity’s perennial problem has always been pride: it is then a good thing that we are humbled and thrown off our high horses that we may begin to see just how precious our lives are.

A venerable priest once preached in his sermon: You only begin to be virtuous when you no longer want to be a saint, when you feel as if the weight of the whole world were thrust down your shoulders, and when you begin to see how ugly life is for most people. Truer words have not been said: are all of our efforts at holiness, then, merely a thin veneer for simmering sanctimony? Is orthodoxy then merely a façade by which we hide to avoid the awful truth that we don’t have the faintest clue on how to be Christian? The biggest tragedy for the Christian people right now is not secularization, nor is it even pluralism and rampant atheism. The problem has been the same problem as it has been all these years: it is hubris. And it is this same hubris that deludes us into thinking ourselves the very progeny of the Doctors of Church, or on the converse side, the most sensible of Reformers. There is no bigger lie than for the Christian to claim he has the answers to everything, and no greater truth than the fact that God is infinitely beyond what we can ever hope to know.

Fear the man who would sooner die a martyr’s death than to suffer indignation; fear him who knows not how to fear. Flee from all promise of earthly and spiritual perfection, for these are too often masks under which impiety and disquiet lie. Cloud your virtue, confine it to yourself, let no one see it, save God, Who sees in secret. It is infinitely better to be fooled by the darkness than the light.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

La Pieta

"Why do the leaves fall?"

As a child of six or seven, I recall sitting under the shade of a lofty tree in my grandmother's garden, looking with delight at the numerous golden-hued leaves gently falling from their lofty perch, and gliding through the air with the care and ease of a child at play. I would smile whenever they hit the ground, but I also quietly wondered to myself if they were dead, of if they were ever afraid whilst they were falling. My parents worked for most of the day, so they hired a maid to take care of me. The maid would always be by my side, bored to tears at having to watch over me counting all the leaves that fell to the ground. I would always ask her for an answer, and she would always give me the same reply: they fall because God makes them fall, and that they were His gifts to me for just being alive.

We would also walk the entire length of the street for fun. I would always cover my eyes and ears when nearing the end of the street, because of the presence of a huge, festering sewer. To a child, it looked like the gaping jaws of Hell; now, whenever I see it, it looks small and unassuming. I did not have that many friends to play with: most of them were already 'big kids' and did not get off school until the afternoon. I, on the other hand, was still in the first grade, and we were dismissed the very minute the clock struck eleven in the morning. But I would always hear wailing and crying whenever I got home. It was not the melodramatic outpouring of grown ups, but the simple pleas and grunts of a child-- or so it seemed.

The sound, I soon found out, came from our next door neighbor. They were very good friends of my uncle, who used to hang out with Ronnie, who was the head of that family. They had known each other since the first grade, and that friendship would last until they had finally graduated from college. From the stories I heard, they were both athletes, and competed in a myriad of competitions, where they would always rank in the upper echelons. Strangely, despite spending a lot of time with my uncle, I did not really inherit his love of sport-- he excelled at everything he tried, from football to hockey to rugby to basketball, while I remain committed to at most, two.

The sound continued to bother me for some time: I earnestly thought there was an infestation of ghosts and monsters in that house, while my maid would just dismiss it with a wave of her hand. Nonsense, she said. But what if they were true? Then I would scare away the monsters and protect you from harm. This was her solemn vow, and I believed it. Eventually, on one of our afternoon walks, we saw a curious sight outside the house beside ours. There was a conglomeration of maids, all dressed in uniform, in the midst of which was an electric blue stroller, built more sturdily than any I had ever seen before, and bigger. A boy sat in the stroller; he was good-looking, with sharp mestizo features, bright gray eyes, and chestnut hair. But there was something wrong about the boy, something off about the way his tongue lolled lazily out of his mouth, how he could virtually not move at all, and how the maids would always look at him with pity and hopelessness.

The boy's name was Joshua, and he was suffering from a very severe case of cerebral palsy. He was already fifteen when I first saw him, but his actions suggested to me that he was about my age, despite the disparity in our sizes. I would often hear him talked about in our street: most were kind words of gentleness and compassion, whilst others were of a more venomous kind. A group of kids who had nothing to do would sometimes pelt him with grapes (this was the reason why he had so many maids looking after him); some bored housewives quietly snickered to themselves and said, 'Sayang abnormal, may itsura pa naman' (It's too bad he is abnormal, since he has been blessed with good genes). My own attitude to Joshua was that of wonder and excitement. I wasn't afraid to go near him, and my maid would often converse with his own, and join them in keeping an eye at the boy. Joshua, in turn, would look at me, and try his best to smile, despite the difficulties it involved.

Looking back at Joshua, I realize now how much I have been blessed. I myself suffered from seizures as a child: my parents tell me how, out of the blue, six days after my fourth month, I suddenly froze in my crib, and how they feared the worst for me. I was put on medication for six years, the bitter taste of phenobarbital clinging to the roof of my mouth and my tongue with surprising force. But none of that ultimately compared to Joshua's condition. There was a time before when I wondered why his parents still haven't given up on him, considering how the family was embroiled in scandal after scandal, all very private, but whispers of which were eventually bound to escape the confines of their home. They could have just confined him to an institution or sent him to live with their rich relatives in the fabled island of Negros, where he would be free to stroll the length and breadth of their farmlands away from the scrutiny of malicious eyes.

It is only now that I am starting to realize how much he has been a blessing to me. Indirectly or otherwise, I learned to be more thoughtful and compassionate, thanks to the mangled frame of Joshua's body. When drool poured from a corner in his mouth, his maids would scramble to wipe it away clean; when kids were taunting him, they would chase after them like a mother bear defending her cubs. And when old wives started to tell tales about him, his parents would tell him stories of knights and dragons, to which he would always respond with glee. His eyes would light up, and the faintest trace of motor skills would manifest themselves in a slight twitch of his arm, or a swagger of his leg, a cause of celebration for the entire household. For them, it was as it truly is: a miracle from God, no more, no less.

When I see Joshua, I am thankful for the many things God had given me which I would otherwise have taken for granted. I am thankful for my seizures, for giving me fresh eyes to see the world and its beauty, despite the ugliness many of us are wont to sow. I am thankful for my parents, for doing to best they can for me. I am thankful for my faithful maid, for always taking me on those afternoon strolls. These helped me realize that the world is far bigger than myself, and that it is far too beautiful to be marred by my problems. I am thankful for Joshua, for making me realize these things with exceptional clarity. They say that it is only in the small, the fragile and the broken that we begin to see God. In Joshua's case, his paralysis and loss of motor skills ultimately pointed me to God, a God that knows what it is to suffer and be ridiculed. It is this great mystery that lies at the bottom of the heart: where is God?

And I realize now what tremendous truth that answer always contained. He is in the leaves, He makes them fall, and He guides them and plays with them, and although they may be dead, they have been touched by God their Maker. In the broken frame of Joshua's body, I could see the hand of God, working through His 'defects' and keeping the people around him together. The leaves fall because God desires them to be a gift to His children, to make them see that there is still good in this world, despite the evil that men do and the darkness that surrounds it.

I have often wondered why people made a big deal about his features. Were he of more obvious Asian descent, would people still care? He is a child of God just as much as I am, and the kids who taunt him and the housewives who wag their heads in his presence. But now I see why there was such a big deal: it is because Joshua literally looked like our popular image of Jesus. Were he darker and had longer hair and a beard, he would look exactly like James Caviezel did in 'The Passion of the Christ'. This resemblance, though, does not rest on the purely superficial. Joshua's face, frozen in an expression if indecipherable agony and joy, resembles most the mute and grieving face of the Messiah, looking at us in pity from His perch on the cross.

The last time I saw Joshua was a few days after my seventh birthday in 1996. He was strolling with his maids again when I went outside to inspect the surroundings with my parents. I saw Joshua coming at us from a distance, and already I could see that his condition had gotten a lot worse than in the previous years. He could barely move anymore, and his communication, hampered as it was already, was now reduced to a babble of grunts and weird noises. I smiled at Joshua, and walked over to him. I picked up a leaf from the ground, freshly fallen from a withering branch above me, and placed it in his right hand. Then, for the first time in my life, and also the last, I saw Joshua smile-- not the pained, arthritic and suffering contortions as before, but a full-fledged smile that extended from ear to ear, his pearly white teeth glinting under the noonday sun. God had heard his prayers and bade the sun to stop.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

I Couldn't Resist Posting This

The following story is definite proof that I am still a kid, hehehe. I hope.

A few nights ago, I was at a friend's house along with four others for a project. There was Mario, the eccentric rich kid who had a bevy of cool stuff and who owned the place; Jorge, the group leader with a penchant for break dancing; Joaquin, the weirdo who was the only other one besides me obsessed with the Church; and finally, Marissa, who is THE prettiest and sexiest girl in the whole class. We were assigned to do a fifteen minute film on nursing homes for the elderly in one of my sociology classes-- with only an eight day schedule. Since none of us were exactly budding filmmakers, save Mario, who dabbled in freelance editing and special effects, those eight days were especially taxing and constricting.

We went over to Mario's place to do some last minute editing; we shot well over an hour and a half worth of interviews with many elderly men and women, abandoned by their families in the streets and the slums, whose stories were sure to make even the hardest hearts melt. But this post is not about their stories; that is for another time. This concerns something infinitely more light-hearted and insignificant. Unluckily, Mario lived in an area far from all our residences: the shortest travel time took at least forty five minutes, and that was Joaquin's place. But since it was a Friday evening, it could very well have taken at least three times that amount of time (Manila traffic is purgatorial, at the very least, and infernal at worst). So, we decided to sleep that night in Mario's place.

Mario's room was quite large: it had its own bathroom, a study corner, a small altar to the eastern side, and a huge Mac to the north. His bed was at the center. We all slept on the floor, much to Mario's delight; he just couldn't resist oohing and aahing at the sheer softness of his king sized bed. And, since Marissa was the only girl among our group, she was naturally segregated to the far corner of Mario's room (the guest rooms were all being renovated, the master suite was completely untouchable). Now, as I said, she was the prettiest girl in class, but surprisingly enough, she remained aloof and somewhat naive despite all the cat calls she gets in every class (she was raised in a very conservative family). It also did not help that her father was an army general.

We slept at 4am, after ironing out all the kinks and trimming the movie to its bare maximum, and it was a great challenge as well, since we wanted to preserve the profundity, pathos and gravitas of the interviews as much as possible. All of our interviews with the elderly people we featured were heartbreaking and moving, and tugs at the viscera as much as it tugs at the heart. Thankfully, we managed to feature all of them without sacrificing quality and depth. The boys were huddled to one side of Mario's bed, when I had a sudden urge to take a leak. I entered the bathroom, switched the light on-- and to my utter surprise, there was a huge, black-as-night rat coming out of the toilet. Being extremely phobic of rats, I screamed and panicked, surely waking the others up. They saw the rat coming at them, and all of them leaped and clamored, jumping at Mario's bed. He, too, was shaken, and screamed like a girl (that's what it objectively sounded like!).

So there we were, four guys who would surely strut their masculinity at otherwise any given time-- screaming on top of a king-sized bed, waving pillows and throwing them at the rat, who camouflaged itself expertly in the pitch black darkness. Marissa the girl was naturally worried: since she was nearest to the light switch, she quickly flipped it on, and, seeing the rat coming from under the bed, grabbed Mario's Airsoft rifle in the wall above her sleeping corner, and with expert aim, shot the rat straight at the eye. The rat was thrown backward, tumbled a couple of times, before landing with a sharp thud at the bed's base. Calmly, she threw the rifle to one side, and walked over to the dead rat-- and grabbed it by its tail!

'This rat? you're afraid of this thing?', she asked with barely-concealed laughter. She couldn't contain it any longer, and laughed loudly at us.

'Ratty ratty rat rat! Ratatouille-ratty-rat-rat! Hahahahahha!'

One by one, red faced and embarrassed, we tried to maintain composure and appear as calm as possible. Luckily, I hadn't screamed as much as the others, and indeed, I had a cold that night, which made me sound vaguely like Jorge. The others huddled among themselves, and were I of a more *flexible* persuasion I would have detected something tangentially homoerotic about the whole situation. As for Marissa, she opened the huge window facing her, and threw the dead rat into Mario's garden, where I am sure it eventually provided some sustenance for some cat or other creepy creature of the night (perhaps a snake, or some colony of ants). Then, out of nowhere, Mario's radio suddenly switched on, and strangely enough, the George Michael song 'Careless Whisper' started playing. Apparently, Jorge accidentally sat or stepped on the remote control.

And, as if that weren't embarrassment enough, Marissa just happened to have a camera nearby. She took a snapshot of us, still reeling from the incident, huddled on top of the bed, scared s--tless and panting and sweating and obviously restless.

'Pretty boys, you are!', she said with a loud laugh. Eventually, we all settled back to sleep; I didn't dare sleep on the floor out of fear that another rat might be present, so I grabbed some chairs outside and made a sturdy, somewhat-comfortable bed out of it. The rest of the guys slept on Mario's bed, while I am sure Marissa had happy, funny dreams that night. Proof of this was the fact that the normally placid, complacent and well-mannered girl woke us up screaming and laughing, throwing some black socks from Marco's closet in an effort to catch us at unawares again.

The project, thankfully, was finished. Although I am sure Marissa made some 'last minute adjustments' with it, perhaps even adding some 'deleted scenes' for the heck of it. Rest assured, I am going to find out tomorrow when we screen our short film to the whole class. LOL.