Friday, September 26, 2008

A Time for Everything

Why is it that, despite all our knowledge, we insist on doing things not worthy of our calling as Christians?

A few days ago, we read in Proverbs that "All the ways of a man may be right in his own eyes, but it is the LORD who proves hearts." (Proverbs 21:2)

We can easily be manipulated, misled, and misguided, if we do not set our hearts on Jesus.

I write this for myself, for I saw first-hand the things that I was capable of doing, and how far, remotely far, they are from God's plans for me.

I receive the daily readings in my Inbox and when I read this, I had to pause and reflect:

Eccl 3:1-8 (NAB)

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every thing under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

I ask for the grace to surrender to God's time, and not insist on what I think is right. God knows my heart more than I do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A New Commitment

I went to a school of prayer in an earnest desire to learn how to pray in a new way.  When the interviewer asked me if I was committing myself to this, I said, "with all my heart".  When I first met with my retreat companion last week, she asked me if I was willing to change my prayer pattern, I nodded vigorously, claiming in my heart that I was giving this my 100%.

Less than a week later, that commitment has been thrown out the window.  Or at least momentarily shelved.  I, eager student, was monumentally distracted, and I gave in to the distraction.  I was consumed by it.  Well, almost.  I realized that I had a choice, that I could rise above the distraction, no matter how painful and throbbing.

My SD said that the Spiritual Exercises are precisely that - exercises.  Just like when we're learning how to play a new sport or instrument, we have to exert effort.  This analogy struck me because just recently, for the first time in my life, I took my health seriously and got myself a personal trainer in the gym.  It turned out to be a worthwhile investment because I had a coach who encouraged me to lift weights when I thought I could no longer raise my arms, and who reminded me of our appointments with a dedication worthy of a soldier.  Many times I have been a difficult client - canceling at the last minute, being late for my warm-up, cheating on my diet - but for several months now, I have been going back to the gym.  I cannot fit into my dream dress yet, but it's helping me cope with stress and making me feel good about myself.

What pride I had, however, regarding my spiritual readiness for prayer.  Unlike in gym work, I thought I was well-versed in prayer, and I would adjust in no time to the new pattern being given to me.  I was dead wrong.  I was, for the past week, at times rebellious, indifferent, miserable, and anxious, and all these made for great excuses not to pray the way I was being encouraged to.

This morning, I tried again.  And I reflected on Jeremiah 29:11-14.  I had taken this passage to prayer during retreats and discernment periods in the past, but I dreaded to face it again.  

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare [2] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

What struck me about this passage was that the Lord was the one with the plan, not me, and it was a good plan.  This line alone merited a few minutes of struggle.  I asked Him what I had to do to cooperate, and the answer was, to seek Him "with all my heart".

Then I had a vision of me going to a room where I had hidden my heart.  Inside the room was a vault where my heart was kept under lock and key.  I saw an ugly creature holding something in its hand - my heart!  Somebody was trying to steal it.  Jesus Himself went to the room with me.  The heart-thief disappeared, and I cried in Jesus' embrace.  He gave me back my heart.

He had other promises, and I will try to trust them again one by one, with a new meaning, with a new hope.  My eyes too need to be reopened.  

It was a rough start in this chapter of my prayer journey, but it was a start.  I ended my prayer in surrender to God's saving work in my life.  I may not easily believe and obey as I did before, but I trust that the Lord Himself will bring me back.  For He said as much.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mission Trip to China

A university student read my previous post (see My Wandering Heart) and felt God urging her to share a few things with me using her gifts of prophecy and vision. I tell you, for someone who is begging God for the grace to receive His love, to be told by a total stranger that God's love for you is unconditional is quite a bewildering experience, especially before sunrise. I read her e-mail with awe and wonder.

She also shared her plans of joining a short mission trip to China this October. Since she and her sister are not from a Christian family, their mom doesn't want to support their trip financially. If you are moved by this and want to support two students in evangelizing our Chinese brethren, kindly email me at and I'll connect you to her. She's really looking for generous Christians who want to partner with them for this trip. It will be money well-spent, I think, though I have only exchanged a couple of e-mails with her. I can sense her faith and her love. Her email footer summarizes her purpose at this time:

“Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” - 1 Tim 4:12

Seldom do we find young people of this caliber so radical in faith and so willing to use their time in spreading the good news, vis-a-vis the passing pleasures so available to others of their generation. Let's pray for this trip being organized by their church group.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Wandering Heart

It is in all honesty and every ounce of humility that I admit that I am struggling through something so basic these days:  the reality of God's Love.

God's Love is the title of the first talk of the Christian Life Program.  I have heard it over and over again since joining a movement for young Catholics in college.  It is the most difficult to grasp.  I talked to a priest a few months ago about my addictions and he said that I fall into those because I seek God's love in all the areas except where He resides - in my heart.

Truth be told, I do not understand love.  How can it be selfless?  How can it be patient?  How can it be kind?  

It is not that I have not experienced Love.  It is more that I have not recognized it.  And so I am restless, always searching for something more; always worried that I did not deserve to be loved; always focusing on what I could do to deserve that love, despite another thing I've learned from community - that we are loved not because we deserve it, but because The One Who Loves chooses it.  

It would be tedious and complicated to write about the lengths I've gone just to petition God to show me a love that I would recognize.  I have run away from Him simply because I struggled to understand.  I have hurt Him countless times.  

This morning I read this beautiful passage once more.  I tried to recall the words and meanings I have learned from doing a Joy of Discovery bible study on it.  But even an intellectual understanding of what love means is not enough.  

I do not know how to be still and to just be loved.  I love this passage:

From 1 Corinthians 13 (ESV):

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, [1] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [2] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

What is that sound?  It is the familiar sound of my heart breaking, and the familiar voice of my conscience saying it is not too late to ask for healing.  For God loves me this much.  

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Food for the Hungry

I heard this on the radio this morning. The song caught my attention as I heard the part about "there was no food in sight". As my family knows, I want to feed the hungry. If I could, I would open a soup kitchen here in the Philippines. It was a secular radio station and I was pleasantly surprised to discover it on my way to work. Hope it inspires you too.

Five Loaves and Two Fishes
Corrinne May

A little boy of thirteen
was on his way to school
He heard a crowd of people laughing
and he went to take a look

Thousands were listening
to the stories of one man
He spoke with such wisdom,
even the kids could understand

The hours passed so quickly
the day turned into night
Everyone was hungry
but there was no food in sight

The boy looked in his lunchbox
at the little that he had
He wasn't sure what good it'd do
there were thousands to be fed

But he saw the twinkling eyes of Jesus
the kindness in His smile
and the boy cried out
with the trust of a child
he said:"

Take my five loaves and two fishes
Do with it as you will
I surrender
Take my fears , my inhibitions
All my burdens, my ambitions
You can use it all
to feed them all"

I often think about that boy
when I'm feeling small
and I worry that the work I do
means nothing at all

But every single tear I cry
is a diamond in His hands
and every door that slams in my face
I will offer up in prayer

So I'll give you every breath that I have
Oh Lord, you can work miracles
All you need is my "Amen"

So take my five loaves and two fishes
Do with it as you will
I surrender
Take my fears, my inhibitions
All my burdens, my ambitions
You can use it all
I hope it's not too small
I trust in you
I trust in you

So take my five loaves and two fishes
Do with it as you will
I surrender
Take my fears, my inhibitions
All my burdens, my ambitions
You can use it all
no gift is too small.

So you won't have to look for it, here is the song:

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A New Retreat; A New Life

I'm the kind of person who wouldn't know happiness if it hit me on the head.  I have been programmed to focus on tasks, goals, and aspirations, and to never be satisfied.  

No surprise then that when I became a renewed Christian, I applied the same struggle to conquer in my faith.  "Restlessness could mean a movement of the Spirit within us", said my parish priest to me just last week.  To not give up on this restlessness, despite the many ups and downs of my Christian walk, I finally said yes to an invitation given to me several years ago: I am going through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola through the Retreat in Daily Life given by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at the Ateneo de Manila.

Tired of running- towards God, away from God, towards an understanding of myself, and away from any thoughts and feelings that my true self was voicing out - I finally was ready to sit down through a three-month program of daily prayer and weekly direction, and to have a new spiritual director.

I attended the RDL launching today with clenched fists and a resolve not to participate more than what could be considered in law as "substantial compliance".  Gone were the days when I was always the first to respond to an altar call, or the first to volunteer for some obscure, undesirable service.  I was going to be pursued, if that was how it meant to discover my being.  

And God, who loved me in an unfathomable way, did not disappoint.  Pursue me, He did.

I had to sit through a day of recollection when every word was like a drop of water to my parched soul.  I had to shut out images and reflections too overwhelming to handle.  I knew I had to face my issues sometime; but to be on the brink of another cliff was not as exhilarating as it was when I was younger.

"Responsibilities take away the child in us", the speaker told us.  But he encouraged us to be creative in our prayer - to express it putting back our old, child's eyes, willing to dance, and to accept mysteries with joy; to be free in our prayer, and to cultivate the inner eye of love.

I wanted to "experience God in a  nearness and a graciousness impossible to confuse or mistake".  That was a promise made by Ignatius to retreatants, and I saw in that line a description of what I was thirsting for.

I had forgotten to discern the spirits.  I had been distracted by the many voices that mimicked my dreams, and whispered unknown desires, not all of which were from God.

I had deliberately shut out my heart, to Jesus whom I loved so much, and for whom I used to not count the cost of discipleship.

To see him, encounter him, be invited by him, be noticed by him - Jesus, the One I professed to follow since I could think for myself - was too much for me today.

To his invitation my only response was "Let's see where you are taking me."

No thunderous beating of my heart in anticipation.  No chorus of hallelujahs from the voices within me.  No promises to jump off cliffs and swim into deep waters.  Not this time.

I told Jesus, whom I love so much, "Thank you for loving me.  But I do not know how to be loved by You.  In this RDL,  I pray that I discover this, and much more."

I close this stream-of-consciousness reflection with a prayer that each of us who seek God may see Him, hear Him, believe Him, and follow Him... with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

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