Monday, December 31, 2007

Thoughts for the Year's End

It's 7pm here in Manila, and already a good portion of the city folk are going crazy over the coming year. Kids as young as 3 or 4 years old are running along the streets with lighted fireworks in their hand, their parents idly watching by, and everyone who's anyone who wants to be someone is somewhere, anywhere, for the party of the year (end?).

As I look back at 2007, however short it was, I guess it would be healthy to remind myself of my faults as well. When this year began, I resolved to be more truthful and even brutally honest with myself; instead I still find myself, on occasion, living in a dream world that even Don Quixote would find absurd. I resolved to be a better person, but became grumpier, perhaps even less friendly. I resolved to finally take a stand about certain things in my life that have burdened me ever since I could remember, but only wound up more scared, more evasive, than I was before. Yes, 2007 was a great year for me, but simultaneously very trying as well. My dream to get into the Dean's List once more, sadly, fell short, a good portion of my study time being allotted instead to partying and an assortment of other miscellanies that don't always mesh well with academics.

I guess I should be angry at myself. My parents had always told me that I was too hard to please, and it is true that I am, and always have been, my biggest critic. But if there is one thing I learned in 2007 that is sure to stick with me is the thought that I am never alone. For all my gripes, my failures, my shortcomings and personal defects, I've found that God always sends His graces in the most 'crooked' way possible. If I didn't see it, it is probably because I wasn't really looking anyways. Life is simple, it's just that we sometimes have too many concerns to see this fact.

In the end, I have a lot of things to be thankful for. I am especially grateful that this blog, though admittedly still not part of the 'big league', has its own niche (finally!) in cyberspace. To all the readers of this blog, I humbly offer my deepest thanks. Blogging has decidedly played a far more important role in my life than I originally thought it would, and this is something that is very important, even touching, for me.

It is exactly four hours and twenty five minutes before we bid farewell to 2007. The New Year is practically just around the corner, so close that some of my neighbors are going crazy with their fireworks already. May our blessed Lord remind all of us that it is never too late to change, or to be forgiven.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It is such a strange thing that the ineffable, the boundless, the Almighty, would choose to take on the veil of flesh, and trod the earth with His feet-- that the transcendent, the Uncreated would deign to walk amongst His own creation and live among them. What was once but dust and ashes has been hallowed beyond all belief, what was once fallen was restored to the high places, the humble are exalted and the proud cast upon their faces to pray unto the winds. The birth of Christ-- God emptying Himself of the vestiges of power-- becoming as one like us. It is an event to make the earth tremble and heaven itself to sway in its firmament, an event to shatter the halls of pandemonium and all of creation to quake. We can never truly know the mind of God, but He comes to us now in the form of a babe-- so tender, so fragile, so undeniably human. It boggles the mind just thinking about it.

Christ is born today for us, and He lies in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Glory to God in the high heavens! Let it resound from the lowest depths to the highest firmaments! Glory to Thee, O God, for Thou hast shown us Thy great mercy!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mass of St. Josemaria Escriva

"You saw me celebrate the holy Mass on a plain altar— table and stone, without a reredos. Both Crucifix and candlesticks were large and solid, with wax-candles of graded height, sloping up towards the Cross. The frontal, of the liturgical colour of the day. A sweeping chasuble. The chalice, rich, simple in line, with a broad cup. No electric light, nor did we miss it.

And you found it difficult to leave the oratory: you felt at home there. — Do you see how we are led to God, brought closer to him, by the rigour of the liturgy?"

-The Way, Point 543

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Help Needed

I need a little help here.

This will be very, very short.

I need some Christmas carols, in Portuguese, to, uh, 'sing' (caterwaul, rather) at a Christmas party in our place about a week from now. A good friend of our family is coming home after almost a decade of living in Portugal. Can anyone suggest some good ones? Mi madre wanted something upbeat from us. Thanks in advance :) .

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Vichnaya Pamyat!

Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler
1910 - 2007

Please pray for the repose of the soul of His Eminence Alphonse Maria Cardinal Stickler, who passed away Wednesday. Here is the link to the news story, in German.He was a hero among men; let us pray that the saints of God may escort this holy man into the heavenly courts.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christ is Passing By

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Slavery of Liberation

There's hardly a question that liberation theology has been one of the most controversial theologies to have arisen in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Vilified by some, and yet vindicated equally by others, I think both sides can agree that the controversy generated by this world view stems from the fact that it is a theology greatly unhappy and discontented with the way things are-- so much so, that it is willing to provoke the change itself, regardless of means, and sometimes even of its consequences.

Influential theologians (you have to admit it) like Jesuit Fathers Jon Sobrino and Ernesto Cardenal, among others, speak of the so-called 'preferential option for the poor' almost as if it were prayer. On the converse side, its opponents speak of it like the plague. What is the average Catholic to think then of liberation theology? Should he shun it and avoid all contact with it, or should he embrace it, in order to be on 'the right side'? And for that matter, who is on the right side?

I don't subscribe to liberation theology, but let me offer a few points in the semester that I was acquainted with it. First: yes, it is true, the primary lens with which these theologians see liberation is Marxist-- that is, liberation from primarily sociological and economic malcontents. Second: liberation theology and its theologians seem to envision a world that is the 'Kingdom of God'; however, what is ironic is that this kingdom is one without a King, in the sense that they see a classless, absolutely-equal utopia as the icon of the heavenly kingdom. Apocalyptic would be a suitable word here. Corollary here would be the obligation binding on all the faithful to work for this utopia, even if it means a revolution (insert what context you may, here).

At least, that is their party line, political ideology. In retrospect, I guess I can see why liberation theology is becoming increasingly popular in the Third World. Latin America is home to a cornucopia of Catholic nations, but paradoxically, not all of these nations necessarily have Catholic societies. A socialist nation could literally be next door to a totalitarian state-- both are just not feasible options for me. Here in the Philippines, the gap between rich and poor is rapidly becoming more and more unbridgeable. I have been to streets where literally one end could lead to an upper crust suburban environment, while the other end is home to families poor as dirt, living in squalor and squatting by the streets as the SUVs of their suburban co-streeters gaily ride down the road. I have seen entire families, sometimes with up to ten members, eking out a living and barely surviving in makeshift shanty towns under bridges and garbage dumps. These are sights to wrench the soul of even the most hardened among us-- I've lived here all my life, yet I still cannot fathom the extent of the poverty of these people.

For all my bourgeoisie, I sometimes have to remind myself that I am but a part of a minority in this country which is increasingly suffering from the stratifications of language, wealth, and education. The only reason I can write, speak, and think in English like this is because my parents were hardworking enough to send me to the right places; the only reason I am not part of them is because I was lucky enough to escape. But in a population of at least 90 million, where only a handful can afford a semblance of 'life' (as used in the Western context), one simply cannot remain locked in his environment.

We can blame the government, our politicians, and even ourselves all we want, but that does not change the fact that we have too often neglected our charity to our fellow man. There seems to be a disturbing trend among many Catholics today to make an idol out of poverty-- we admire the poor for their simple faith, but the great irony is that there is absolutely nothing simple about this faith. This is a faith born out of many sleepless nights of hunger, of rummaging through waste bins and trying to find even the smallest scraps of junk food to last a family of ten for the next week; this is a very visceral faith. And let us not kid ourselves: we who grew up living in comfort would probably lose the faith sooner than touch a discarded piece of fruit covered in germs and all that 'good' stuff.

This is why I can never fully give my support to these liberation theologians, because the poor at least know one thing: poverty is a curse. Poverty is hell on earth. Imposed poverty can in no way ever be a blessing, because to do so would be practically the same as acknowledging a god that does not know how to love. But we have learned men in their polo shirts and Gucci loafers strutting around town proclaiming the good news of being penniless. It is indeed a great irony that even poverty is fast becoming a luxury of the rich, and that this egalitarianism is the sole oligarchy of a few.

However, this is not to say that sociological and economic liberation are entirely wrong. This would be swinging form one extremism to another, and as we know, this is precisely the rhythm in which heresy is born. There are Catholics out there who live as if one only needed the sacraments to enter heaven-- of course, from a theological perspective, this is true. But there is a marked difference between a true, proper sacramental life and a legalistic, juridical understanding of it (i.e., reducing the sacraments to transactions). There is a reason why there are clergy and laymen in the Church-- have we forgotten that our place is in the world, and not the altar? Many traditionalists today sadly believe that locking themselves in church would be the answer to all of life's problems; yet, from the lives of the saints, we know that demons are present even at Mass. I think it was Padre Pio who said that the church building is crowded with all the powers of Hell during Mass, only being vanquished at the Consecration.

Perhaps one of the greatest deficiencies in religious praxis today is the divorce between the mind and heart. To be properly called religious, one must shun all the things of this world and live as if time and life had not changed since five or so decades ago; let us make no mistake here-- this is nostalgia, plain and simple. At best, it could be a genuine desire to return to the simplicity of bygone days, but this will never completely solve all of our problems, mainly since the one pervading quality of life-- that is, its ability to lapse into sinfulness-- has not changed since the days of our distant ancestors. Similarly, while there is great virtue in living a life of service, it must always be grounded in Truth, and that is Jesus Christ. What makes joining the Red Cross so different from Christianity, then?

I think it's a great shame that things that were formerly expected of every good Christian now have to be lumped together under specific, but ultimately chaotic, theologies. How did it come about that love for fellow man got filed under liberal modernism? And how did it come about that sticking to the rules got filed under blind obedience? One has to wonder if we honestly believe in religion at all, given this mindset; for what it's worth, we are becoming more and more like dilettantes. Here, the paradox: the Christian must achieve absolute selflessness through maximum self-consciousness. The problem with liberation theology is that it imposes selflessness, not so much through honest assessment, but through imposition as well. And, as anyone can see, there has to be something to do the imposition. In that sense, it is really a luxury.

Christ said, ‘The poor you will have with you always’. What are you going to do about it?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Weird Emails

I don't know why, but I've been receiving strange emails from three individuals named 'God', 'Satan', and 'Teh Raptorzzz' for the past three days. The subject of the emails is almost always a variation or a play on a quote from Scripture (and really bad ones, too); for instance, the other day, one email's subject read: 'REPENT!!! The TYNE is at hand!!! WOOSH!'. Yes, the 'WOOSH!' part is real. The emails themselves are all blank, but contain a link to some site (I can't reproduce it here, since A) I have no idea what it is, and B) I have no control as to its content).

Has anyone else been troubled by similar occurrences? It's really getting quite annoying-- my Gmail, Yahoo and MSN accounts have all received these emails. Ah well. Time to get a new email address, mine's already getting old, anyway.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Prayers Requested

Please say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Jose Roberto 'Joey' Carlos, a freshman here at the university. He died in a car accident over the weekend. He was only 18. I never knew Joey; in fact I can probably say with all certainty that I would never have heard of him had it not been for this accident. But we went to the same school; he was my fellow student, and it pains me whenever something bad happens to a member of my community. I don't know what he looks like, but we probably passed each other more than once when moving from one classroom to another. I don't know how he sounds like, but I probably heard his laughter-- so full of mirth and life-- in passing the cafeteria. I don't know the guy, but I feel like I've lost someone I know.

He is to be interred tomorrow, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Again, I urge you all to pray for his eternal repose, especially at this time which is so near Christmas. Please also offer your prayers for his parents, that they may have the strength to weather this tragic loss.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

St. James the Great

OK, I lied. This is the last short post. Sorry, I just couldn't let the day pass without posting this.

Above, a picture of the posh St. James the Great parish church's high altar in swanky Alabang, one of the wealthiest districts in Manila. The particular suburb in which this church is located is home to some of the oldest, most venerable families of the country. It is a veritable playground of the Spanish mestizeria, the relatively few of them still remaining in the country. What's interesting is that this church was built only within the last decade, having been completed, to the best of my memory, in 1995, blessed by no less than Jaime Cardinal Sin himself. I estimate this retablo to be at the very least 25 to 30 feet high. It is certainly one of the most beautiful built in recent memory.

The usus antiquor was celebrated here on November 14. What a sight it must have been to see the ancient rite celebrated on such a slice of heaven as this.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


This will be the last short post in a long while, I promise :D .

So I was talking to my mate Kyle today. Back in high school he had a rather nasty reputation as a playboy slash bad/inattentive student, as well as a bit of the more naughty kids in class (he just didn't like listening to the lectures and amused himself with childish pranks). We didn't go to the same high school; he studied under the Jesuits, and although he wasn't the most religious person out there, Kyle still had the fear of God instilled in him. He was the type of person who would suddenly grow tense whenever the topic of Hell or death would be brought up, though he did not like to admit it. Anyway, Kyle came down with a very bad case of the flu last week. It was one of the worst illnesses he had ever gotten, which caused him to miss five school days.

In an effort to alleviate his fears, he contacted a Jesuit priest to give him anointing of the sick. Unfortunately, he was one of those students who preferred cutting classes and causing trouble more than listening and taking down notes, a fact which this Jesuit priest (who came from a socialite family) apparently never forgot. At his house, he surprised the priest by suddenly asking for the last rites (he apparently tricked the Jesuit, proferring another reason for his visit). Then the surprise came.

The Jesuit, clearly annoyed, suddenly blurted out, 'Tangina mo naman pala, eh', which in English is loosely translated as 'Your b*tch of a mother'. Said Jesuit relayed this without batting an eyelash, in crisp and accented Tagalog. Not knowing what to do, Kyle just laughed, and rather loudly at that, which the Jesuit clearly enjoyed. After giving him last rites, the Jesuit departed, but not without giving my friend a solid smack on the back first.

Ah, Jesuits. Sometimes I don't know if I should still be shocked by their antics. And worse, I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the incident.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Thank God for Nick Names

I was talking to a friend of mine earlier. This friend hails from a very old, very hidden family of Spanish descent. Unlike other mestizos, though, he was what we would call in modern parlance 'jologs', a term which has come to mean kitschy or down to earth or in bad taste or cheap (all of these things and yet none of them-- it's hard to explain. I think nouveau riche isn't accurate at all, but it somehow connotes a misplaced ability to prioritize... or something). The conversation gradually drifted into the subject of names, but somehow he didn't like talking about it.

'What's wrong? Don't you like your name?'

'I do. I have enough saints in my name that they're probably fighting in heaven as to who should be my patron.'

'But don't you think it's good to have many patrons?'

'Sometimes I think I'd rather have just a few'.

'So just what the hell is your whole name?'

'Jose Miguel Alessandro Sebastian Carlo Maria de Aranzazu Felipe Francisco Javier Alfonso Martin Ignacio del Santisima Trinidad, Alzogaray y Acuna.'


His nickname: Zazu, after the Virgin of Aranzazu.