Sunday, August 31, 2008

Forgiven, and Able to Forgive

I don't go to confession weekly, although that would probably be ideal. I know some saints actually went daily. I go monthly, but it's not set in stone in my planner like visiting my orthodontist or working out with my trainer. I let my conscience tell me when it's time to seek reconciliation, and having a daily prayer time allows me to listen closely for the right time.

I walked to church today with a scheduled consultation, but when I prayed about what I was about to consult, I felt in my heart my anger surfacing towards certain people who had hurt me in the past. It was a delayed and denied anger that was triggered recently. I justified it as righteous anger, for indeed I was a victim of wrongdoing, yet seething and fuming on my seat at church later on while waiting for the priest, I realized I was harboring unforgiveness as well, and for that I felt ashamed before God.

To my and the priest's surprise (for I said I had something to consult about service), the words came tumbling out of me in unfinished sentences, the anger, resentment, envy, and bitterness that I had been carrying in my heart, which hindered me from experiencing God's presence more joyfully. I begged for His forgiveness, surprised at my own willingness to hold on to the anger and unwillingness to forgive. The priest gave my penance and absolution and I immediately felt my heart quiet a little. I still had questions, but a peace that surpassed all understanding washed over me.

I walked home in the middle of a thunderstorm, praying about what God was asking me to do, and did not notice that I was soaked from my head down to my suede shoes. The rain also washed away the negative feelings in my heart. Indeed, when I got home and sat down to reflect on what to do regarding the people I wanted to erase from my life (a sheer impossibility), I found myself not anymore as angry towards them.

I was forgiven for my sins (and I had many), and I felt the grace to forgive welling up inside me. Despite the lack of knowledge from these people that they had sinned against me. Despite the lack of apology from the people who had hurt me. I no longer had the unwavering desire to lash out in anger (a regrettable action, I know). I could sit in my room and pray for them, actually. No way could I have managed that on my own. Jesus in my heart, He alone was the one who could do that.

I was able to laugh with a friend about my own dramatic tendencies afterwards. I was able to dream of a life beyond my situation and not dwell on the past. I was able to acknowledge that I was blessed, gifted, and loved, by God who forgave me no matter how selfishly or childishly I acted. And yes, saying my sins, confessing them, to a priest who was given the authority to forgive by Jesus, made it all the more better. It made me more sincere in my confession, and made the forgiveness more concrete, as it was said out loud.

The blessings I received after my confession are a foretaste of heaven. To think it took all of ten minutes, although the words came out of my gut and my memories of pains from a distant past. It took a walk to the church and a walk in the rain. I don't know what took me so long. I should seek confession more often and not hold on to sin. Even if I sin repeatedly, I should confess repeatedly.

After all, I brush my teeth even if I know that I will eat and dirty them again. If I prioritize a fresh mouth, all the more should I prioritize a fresh, clean soul, as often as it takes.

I thank God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a door to an outpouring of His grace.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Restless in Love (Remembering Augustine)

Today is the Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. I have posted this before, and remembered it today, vividly and painfully, for I read it more passionately in July 2006. Now it is simply a prayer from a saint, and not something my own heart is able to echo, given the burdens I carry. Someday my heart will beat like this again. For love. For love of the Lord.

"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

I also remember St. Augustine well for the opening of his Confessions, for he truly described the state of heart of those who have given their lives to the Lord:

God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Friends in and Feet on High Places

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like Hind's Feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine High Places –Habakkuk 3:19

I am reading "Hind's Feet on High Places" again. It is the bestseller written by Hannah Hurnard about Much-Afraid, who comes from the family of Fearings but works for the Chief Shepherd. Much-Afraid had a limp and was, well, terribly afraid of her relatives, the Fearings. The Shepherd offered to change her name and take her to the High Places, where she does not have to marry her detestable cousin Craven Fear, and where her relative, the cunning and confident Pride, could not taunt and belittle her.

The condition was that she had to go through a perilous journey with Sorrow and Suffering (in the flesh) as her silent companions, in order for her to develop hind's feet. She could not see the Shepherd all the time, but she only had to call him and he would be by her side, immediately.

Once, she had to make a Detour in the Desert. Much-Afraid asked her beloved Shepherd why the path seemed to be leading her away from the High Places, and she refused to budge. One gentle look from the Shepherd melted her, however, and his question echoed through the empty hollows of my heart. He asked, "Will you follow me, Much Afraid, even if there is a seeming delay in my promise, and there is a detour into the desert? Will you trust that I love you and that I will fulfill my promise after this?"

As you can see, this book is not light reading. I have to put it down and meditate after every paragraph. It speaks to my relationship right now with Jesus. Have I forgotten His promise? Have I waned in my faith? Have I been listening to pride, and fear, and the other negative emotions that take away my hope and my joy? Perhaps it is not too late to take up Sorrow and Suffering's hands again and to continue my journey.

Last weekend, I went to a high place, because of a friend who lent us his family's rest house. I had a fantastic view of the mountains and the seas. I saw goats and sheep, and reflected on their existence based on the themes of the book I'm reading. Yes, the Lord took me to a very restful place with beautiful companions, and I was recharged.

I will go through a different kind of retreat in the next few months. It is something that is directed and programmed, but also something that I have been avoiding for some time now. I am tired of running. I don't have hind's feet to sustain it yet. But I know they will come, in time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When the Wind of Envy Blew

When the Wind of Envy Blew

By Ella © 2008

Just by straining its blades to see the other side of the field,

The little patch of grass turned green.

The brown-skinned doe idolized the albino,

While the pale white rabbit rubbed mud on its fur.

The orchids asked the roses for thorns,

And the soaring eagle wished it had the guppy’s gills.

No one stood still.

From where he was observing everything, the Lion King sighed.

For in his eyes, everything was as it should be.

And then the wind died.

And everyone was happy under the tranquil skies.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Today's Readings

"Can you read?"  That's what Fr Steve asked me in response to my question on what the qualifications were for lectors, or people who read aloud the scriptural passages during mass.  Fr Geoffrey had asked me to serve in the then newly established 10 a.m. charismatic mass at our parish, and I wasn't sure if I was allowed to read without proper training from the diocese.

Once again, Fr Steve reminded me of what was truly essential in life.  I had served as lector before but only in Lingkod.  I was anxious without being grateful for being called to serve.

I bought a few white blouses and a couple of white skirts that I felt suited my personality, and I wore them every fourth and fifth Sunday (my assignments), for more than a year.  Recently, however, I decided to conform and to have a uniform made based on the usual cut I saw in the other lectors - short-sleeved tops and simple A-line skirts.  

I wore the uniform today for the first time.  I woke up early to have my prayer time and was consoled by the assigned readings for the day.  I was excited to go to mass.

A few parishioners had told me before that whenever I read, it was as if they could reflect more on the Scriptures.  Some lectors, they said, merely went through the motions of reading, and the message did not come out clearly as a result.  During our last lectors' training, Fr Steve exhorted us to pray more and to seek the Lord in a personal way.  This was what we ought to focus on, and the rest would follow.

I believe that every lector's first duty, more than wearing the proper uniform, is to pray and reflect on the mass readings daily, and to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.  We serve not because we are worthy, or we speak clearly, or we are holy, but because God wants to use us to speak to His people.  It has been said that Catholics do not know Scripture, but if we would only listen closely during Mass, we would know God's Word by heart and live it out a little more passionately.

The occasional lisps and slurs are normal, but what matters is to speak slowly and prayerfully, and to speak to the congregation, not just to the microphone.  It does not matter if I lack sleep, or feel like crying for some reason, or am guilty of being late, when I stand up the Spirit Himself shows me where to pause and  where to speak more emphatically.  

This morning, I had goose bumps while reading because of the sheer joy I felt at God's promise to provide food for the hungry.  I saw how good He was, and how true to His promises.  The responsorial psalm quieted my heart and planted more hope.  By the time I got to the second reading, I was smiling inside and thought, Was I allowed to smile while reading?  I could not help it - as I was saying that nothing could separate us from the love of God, my heart was leaping with joy, and I had to share it.  I hoped all of who were there could hear what God was saying, how unconditional His love was, and how eternal.  

It was probably the state of my heart that allowed me to be more open to God's message of love.  Today, I felt His healing and His blessing.  His promises are true.  I not only read it, I also witness it in my life.

Let's go the readings once more and be delighted at the immensity and the certainty of God's love for each and every one of us.

August 3, 2008

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary TimeReading 1
Responsorial Psalm
Reading 2

Reading 1
Is 55:1-3

Thus says the LORD:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18

R. (cf. 16) The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The eyes of all look hopefully to you,
and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Reading II
Rom 8:35, 37-39

Brothers and sisters:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? 
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? 
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us. 
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

It was thus with much joy and hope that I listened to the Gospel and to Fr Brian's homily afterwards.  Surely we all have felt like the disciples at some point, faced with limited resources and unable to fathom solutions to our problems.  On those days we would do well to remember what happened when Jesus fed the five thousand.

Mt 14:13-21

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. 
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. 
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. 
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.” 
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.” 
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” 
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. 
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds. 
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full. 
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children. 

And to all of that, I say, this is the word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God!