When I know you love me

Bookmark and Share

His name is Joseph, father of three. I met him in one of the advent recollections I used to attend at St. Francis Church in Melbourne. He told me a story which I remember to this day especially every Father’s day.

Joseph’s eldest daughter had difficulty in school work. When Dianne was in Grade 2, he would review to her the lessons that they do in class. They have been doing sums for almost a week but Dianne showed no sign of getting it. Frustrated and tired from work Joseph flared up. He could see how it shook Dianne and the poor girl went to bed hurt and crying. He wanted to apologize but he could tell by Dianne’ eyes how he had hurt her. He felt so guilty and tried to think of ways he could make it up with her. He could not sleep that night. The following morning he still could not bring himself to Dianne’s room and decided to just make it up with her when he comes back in the evening. But before he could reach the door, Dianne came rushing to him, threw herself to him, kissing him and saying her usual “I love you, Daddy, please come home early” as if nothing happened the night before. Joseph said he did not just become a changed father after that. He became a changed man.

I think this was what happened to St. Paul. It was not just his faith in the Lord Jesus that fueled this apostle to the gentiles to endure hunger, shipwreck, and persecution to spread the gospel of the Lord. It was the love that he knows Jesus had for him that did. Paul couldn’t contain that love. He’s got to share it. This is our challenge: to be constantly aware of the immense love of God so that like Paul we can speak in the first person, HE LOVED ME.

There are people who find it hard to love but there are also those who find it hard to believe they are loved. Love changes everything, so the song goes. I think love changes us and make us want to be better persons not only because we love but because we know somebody truly loves us.

Know that God loved us first (1 John 4:19). This had always been the order of things.

(Map from http://www.ebibleteacher.com/imagehtml/ntmaps.html)


Rooting oneself in Christ

People would rather speak of love than of faith. I think this is because love is accompanied by some good feelings while faith, even the mind would rather not engage with it. Faith demands for the mind to make a leap, an action not supported by the society’s reprogramming of the mind in judging what is true. An incurable thinker I tried to decode the program behind this leap not because I do not believe in God but because I wanted to understand why I do.

In college I shop for different faiths. I went to lectures by some Korean cult preachers. I stayed in several of their lectures because they seemed sincere. I listened to Protestant pastors over the radio because they explain the bible in a very scholarly and logical way they almost convinced me. I could still remember the patience of the Jehovah’s witnesses who kept coming back to our house hoping that they could win me to their side one day. I subscribed to Health and Home magazine and bought even their back issues. It did not turn me into an Adventist but it made me a vegetarian.

I remember with fondness now, the debates I had with my INC (Iglesia ni Cristo) classmates. They always win when they start to ask me “how come you stopped going to your church?” Cornered, I would retort “My church attendance in high school was good for the next ten years. (Four of this ten years I earned from my perfect attendance to the Sunday and feasts of saints masses and thanksgiving masses for the sisters’ anniversaries; the one year for graduating outstanding catechist; and, the five years for wearing the Chinese-collared, long-sleeved, pleated, immaculate white dress in all these occasions!). My calculation was correct. Ten years later, I found myself ticking not only my mass attendance but also other practices of piety. I must have missed it so much I agreed to do all these without much protest although I did customize the template and developed my own system of recording. I always like to personalize.

The dictionary of theology defines faith as the revealed truth about God through the Holy Spirit. It is also our response to this Divine self-disclosure. Life has taught me that intimacy necessitates knowledge and acceptance of the truth of oneself and of the other. All these years my intimacy with God had always been a function of the extent to which I responded to His self-disclosure and my acceptance and consciousness of the truth that everything about me is gift.

Faith is a gift from God and the root of every good wrote Blessed James Alberione in the prayer To Our Lady of the Annunciation. Indeed love, patience, gentleness are just some of its sweetest fruits that many people need but are in short supply. The challenge then is to bear the fruits that are more in demand. But lest we forget that for a tree to bear good fruit it’s the roots that should be nourished, not the fruit. For what good is love if it is not rooted in the faith in Christ Jesus? What is patience if it is not for the love of Christ? What is gentleness if it is not the gentleness of the Lamb of God? Who are we if we are not rooted in Christ?

For some reason the good fruits I bear in abundance are those only a few finds sweet. Perhaps if they are served, as jams or marmalade. There are people who can’t imagine breakfast without it. Yes, if the fruit is not in demand, repackage it and find your market or create one. Paul repackaged for the gentiles.

PS. The best nourishment for the root are prayer and … study.

(Photos from the National Geographic)

Simple life

Last month, our librarian invited some of us to the Book Sale at SM Megamall. In the car, I casually mentioned that it was my first time to visit Megamall again since I came back from my study. One staff from our Art Section asked me “So to which SM’s do you go?” I said “I always go to SM City North.” She said “Dun lang?” (Just there?). Amused by the incredulity in her voice I readily supplied “Oh, I also go to the other side, in Trinoma”, feeling a little proud of myself [Trinoma is just opposite SM North and is considered to be more upscale]. “Ay ganun, napakasimple naman ng buhay mo” (Is that so? Your life’s too simple). I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to make of the sweeping assessment of my life. I was tempted to put her on the defensive, but I catch myself. I actually managed to convince myself the comment was a cliché so I sealed my lips. Of course I was also avoiding the follow up question “So, how often do you go to SM North?” and another possible follow up “So, where and how do you spend your weekend?”

In mathematics to simplify an algebraic expression is to express it in its most basic form. This is done by performing all the operations shown in the expression that has made it look complicated. The simplified form is still equivalent to the original expression. That is, the value of the original expression and its simplified form are equal. For example, the simplified form of the expression {5[2(2x^2)+3x] – 20x^2}/15 is the expression x.

The simplified form of an expression is easier to interpret. It also frees the mathematician to transform it into other expressions should there be other quantities and relationships that need to be represented. I think this is true not only in math but also in life. We hear the call of vocation only later in life when our experiences and choices have already made us a little more “complicated”. Vocation is God’s invitation for us to be simplified. Our yes to the call is our yes to the simplifying process. In our simplified form, God will have a free-hand of transforming us back to His original plan for us without having to deal with our protestations. To live out our vocation therefore is not just live out an aspect of our life. To live it is to live our life. Our vocation is our life.

Paul received his invitation to the simplifying process in Damascus. This encounter made him re-read his life. It transformed him to what he was called to be when he was still in his mother’s womb. He wrote in Galatians 1: 13-16

You have heard, I know, the story of my former way of life in Judaism. You know that I went to extremes … But the time came when he who had set me apart before I was born and called me by his favour chose to reveal his Son to me , that I might spread to the Gentiles the good tidings concerning him.

After the Damascus experience there was no stopping this apostle to the gentiles. It was now Jesus or nothing for the man. To live one’s vocation therefore is to live in simplified form. This will allow Jesus a freehand to fashion us in Him so that we can participate in God’s plan of redemption like St. Paul did.

If only the simplifying process is as easy as going to just the nearest SM branch.

(SM is a chain of shopping malls in Philippines.)

To be in thanksgiving mode

When I was writing my thesis, at least once a month on Friday mornings, I would go the FSP place in Camberwell and stay there the whole weekend to share in their apostolate and meals. Their community is composed of one Italian, one Filipino, and one Japanese, all of them very good cook. I love to stay downstairs with Sr. Grace, the Japanese sister because she’s the one who receives the books and CD’s from overseas. Every time I open the box, it‘s like I’m opening a Christmas present. I love to run my hands through the glossy cover of the books, wishing I have a copy of each. It will always take me some time to check the entire delivery because I would read the preface of each book first before I key in the title to the computer. At night, I would read some of these books, knowing we will never have those in the Philippines. It didn’t take me long to notice that most of the books speak or say something about Ignatian Spirituality. The books shipped from UK were almost always about the spirituality of the Celts. I’ve always been interested about spirituality but have always thought that they are all the same. Reading about Ignatian and Celtic spiritualities I remembered hearing about Pauline Spirituality myself from some of our retreats. So I asked Sr. Grace, don’t we have books about Pauline Spirituality? “It’s on display at the bookshop”, she said. I dropped what I was doing right there and then and rushed upstairs and proudly announced to Sr. Linda, “I’m thinking of reading about Pauline Spirituality tonight. It’s only proper I know something about it”. “It’s right at back of the shelf of Joyce Rupp books”, she said. Yes, Joyce Rupp’s works occupies an entire shelf!

There were about half a meter line of books about Paul’s letters there but I couldn’t find a single book which mentions Pauline spirituality in the title or even in the Preface. So I asked Sr. Linda if she could give me a title because all the books in the shelf were about explanations of the letters of St. Paul. She looked at me with puzzled eyes, and I looked at hers but I was sure hers was more puzzled. For the first time, it occurred to me, Pauline Spirituality has to do with St. Paul! How could I miss the Paul in Pauline? I was expecting it has to do with James Alberione or John’s gospel because Way, Truth and Life are in John’s. Your father is St. Paul says Fr. James Alberione. I never made the connection till that moment.

I picked one of the books in the Paul series and scanned it. The book is printed in very small prints, no questions for reflection, no suggested activities or exercise, no drawings, no stories or anecdotes and with a lot of footnotes which do not make sense to me because it was very different from the style I use for my paper. I never laid my hands to any of those books after that. “Surely, there are books that Primo Maestro used to write or explain Pauline Spirituality”, I asked the Italian sister manning the cash register (I couldn’t recall her name now, but she makes very good pasta). “I have some, I’ll put it in your room after dinner”, she promised me. For the first time in the many nights that I stayed with them, I slept past midnight eating almost half a kilo of assorted nuts while watching TV. The books neatly and lovingly arranged on my bedside table were all in Italian!

Of course, after that I made a conscious effort to understand something about Pauline Spirituality but without much success. The concept was simply very elusive. I seem to understand it when somebody is speaking about it but after that I’m clueless about it again. Sometimes, I’m tempted to consider it a mystery. But I have never heard or read that it’s a mystery. For James Alberione it was very real. He lived it and he wants people to live it so how can it be a mystery?

Last week, during the Pauline Family retreat facilitated by Sr. Elena Bossetti, a pastorella, I believe I finally got something I could hold on to. Our life, like that of St. Paul, should first be lived in thanksgiving and praise. Check out the letters of St. Paul. After the salutation, you would read “First of all, I give thanks to my God…”, “ I continually thank my God…”, “I give thanks to my God, …”, “I thank God always …”, “Praised be the God , the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, …” except of course in his letter to the Galatians. He was very angry to this lot to the point of calling them “foolish Galatians”. They say that you would know more about a man when he is fuming with anger than when he is calm. So go read and meditate on Galatians for a start so you would know why Blessed James Alberione chose Paul for your father. Of course, it was grace but I also think it was genius.