Thursday, December 16, 2010

How I Met My Dr. House

I rarely watch TV these days so my friends get frustrated when they want to discuss the politics of West Wing or the mysteries of Lost or the latest showbiz buzz and I give them a blank stare. However, there are a few shows, and characters in particular, who interest me.

One of those characters is Dr. House, pictured above. I like him because he is brilliant, cranky, and decisive. He is like a sharp-shooter when it comes to diagnosing patients with conflicting symptoms. The relief on the faces of the patients and their families each time he detects their mysterious illnesses and cures them is something that never fails to move me. He appears to be tough but he cares about people more than he wants to admit. I think I just described my ideal man, but I digress...

I think I may have met my Dr. House yesterday here in Sydney, Australia. Yes, something meaningful and life-changing has happened to me during this vacation, even with all the occasions my family is celebrating, and in the midst of the city's frenzy over Oprah's visit. My elation after this particular doctor's appointment even eclipsed my excitement at watching U2's concert the night before.

I have a medical condition, detected in 1994, which is not life-threatening, at least not yet, but which has caused me much grief over the years. I will not tell you what it is exactly because this is a sensitive topic for me. What I want to share is how God answered my prayer to be taken off my medication which has side effects that were driving me, and, consequently, the poor people around me, crazy.

For the past 15 years I have taken many blood and ultrasound tests that I did not welcome and consulted many doctors who have given me different ways of taking the same medication, which had become like the bane of my existence. Increasingly, I experienced vertigo, nausea, migraine, depression, mood swings, and weight gain. I once consulted a Chinese doctor in Shenzhen who told me that Western medicine always came with side effects. He prescribed a bottle of pills that cost me my entire stipend for that business trip, but it was worth it. For the next three months I was healthy and happy. Unfortunately, I could not read the label on the bottle and was never able to purchase it again because I could not remember the place and did not get the name of the doctor.

It came to a point when I refused to see doctors anymore about this condition. I also stubbornly resisted having another ultrasound test. I went to God in prayer and asked Him to heal me on many sleepless nights. I shed tears, saying that I knew there were millions of people with more serious illnesses, but I could be a better person if He healed me. I thought God didn't hear me at all. I was wrong.

Last year, my sister who is based in Sydney told me that she was referred to a specialist who diagnosed that she had a medical condition which was related to my condition. She was all praises for this doctor, whom I shall call Dr. House, because he was a pioneer and world-class and professional and brilliant. Dr. House apparently told her that her siblings with similar symptoms should take the same test she took and be given the medication he had prescribed her. That sibling was me and my sister practically nagged me to get my behind to a specialist and to take that test. I tried and tried but that test, as Dr. House described it, did not seem to be available in my city, or at least out of my reach.

In the meantime, the migraine attacks and other side effects became more debilitating for me, so I saw another doctor, supposedly a specialist, who increased the dosage of my medicine. I became very sleepy as a result, and was unproductive for the months that I was on that increased dosage. I finally had enough and self-medicated by lowering the dosage.

Then I went on this trip to Sydney for a holiday. My family conspired to make me go to Dr. House. I was resistant, naturally, for I saw him as yet another doctor who could not tell me something I did not already know. Plus I was tired of relating my medical history over and over again. I went to mass and prayed hard for a quiet heart. I lifted up to God my consultation and the results. I put my trust and my hope in Him.

First, I had to take his famous blood test. A note on this, my veins are very thin so it takes more than one try to get a test tube full of blood. For this test, 6 tubes were taken from me, from four different veins, in a span of two hours. The blood collector assigned to me, an Asian, was thankfully very good, but still she had to use the butterfly needle on my hands several times just to get enough for the test. I was weak and hungry by the time I left the clinic, and had to sleep several hours to recover from the experience.

The day of my consultation came and I did not want to be late for my mother and I had Googled Dr. House and had seen how widely known and respected he was in his field. I waited for an hour, and this would have normally ruined my mood, but I did not mind. As I told him later, he was worth the wait.

When he called me by my first name I felt important and recognized, like a little girl picked up by Santa Claus from the crowd. So I followed him to his office and sat down. He went over my account of my medical history. He knew, for his nice secretary told him, that I did not have Medicare and had to pay a lot to get his required test done. Then, he began to explain my test results and what my real condition was. I listened to his every word. He used PowerPoint slides, which endeared him to me. THAT was the way I wanted my doctor to explain to me. Scientific, accurate, and authoritative.

He told me that two things could worsen my condition: the medication I was taking (I was sooo right about that!), and stress. The first one was easy as he prescribed for me the cheapest brand of the right medicine I should have been taking. I asked him what to do about the stress part because it was an occupational hazard for lawyers, and he said I had to see a pscychologist for that, as he had advised all his professional patients. He answered patiently after my every question. I interrupted him when I did not understand. He even anticipated my questions because every time I would start to frown due to incomprehension, he would go back a slide and explain further.

He painted my road to health for the rest of my life in the most convincing manner that it was as if a bright light had enveloped the darkness in my mind. I felt tears starting to form in the midst of our consultation and I fought them back. I invited him to come to my country to lecture to at least the 7 doctors who had misdiagnosed me and to all the doctors in that field, not to disparage them, but because his findings were amazing. He said I should understand that those doctors were concentrating on a different area, not realizing that it was related to another area of my body. Some of them also went the easy way out of addressing the symptoms and not the cause. I asked when he started publishing his findings and he said 1998. I said I wished I had met him then, for I felt cheated of 12 years of my life. I told him some of the things the other doctors had said to me and he replied that if those were done in Australia, the offending doctor would be facing a lawsuit already.

He also had a sense of humor. He measured my height but I forgot that I was wearing my sunglasses like a head band. He said, "Take those off! You're cheating. Like a lawyer." Laughing, I removed my sunglasses and restrained the urge to give Dr. House a bear hug. He informed me so much of my body that I felt like I saw and appreciated it for the very first time.

I was reminded of Helen Hunt's character, Carol the Waitress, from the movie "As Good as It Gets", when she could not stop thanking Jack Nicholson's character, Melvin, for sending the right doctor to her house to heal her sick child. She was so grateful for the miracle that Melvin got embarrassed. If I had the chance I would pour those words of gratitude to my Dr. House. But I did not want to embarrass him.

He gave me a huge discount, considering my situation of not having the Australian government pay for his professional fees. He also showed me a slide that said something like all I needed now, after diet, exercise, and the medicine he had prescribed, was to wait for the right man. I said, "Could you please prescribe one for me, and also send me to the right warehouse where I could get a discount?" He laughed out loud and said I could call him anytime and he would be happy to talk to me, free of charge, if I had any questions about my condition and his prescription. That was generous of him. His professional fees were worth a transatlantic trip. My sister said that I bonded with Dr. House more than she did.

After thanking him and his secretary profusely, I left the office. Every step I took became lighter than the previous one. I had to stop in the middle of the bus station to thank God for this answered prayer. So He was acting, after all. So He was going to save me from my sufferings, after all. So there was an end to my crying, after all.

I celebrated by buying myself a healthy tuna sandwich on wheat with ranch dressing from Subway. I missed the bus by doing this but I did not mind. I decided that MY doctor was indeed a cross between Dr. House and Santa Claus. Most of all, I recognized that he was sent by God, through my family.

If this is my Advent, I am sure that Christmas will be even happier.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mass at St. Patrick's Church

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. I was able to attend mass at St. Patrick's Church in The Rocks for the first time.

Although the mass is the same everywhere, I am making a pilgrimage around Sydney's Catholic churches this season of Advent.

The priest wore rose vestments to signify that Advent is drawing to a close and the Lord Jesus is coming soon!

I prayed for greater focus because I had many distractions. There have been movements in my heart but I have not had the opportunity to pray about them as much as I would have wanted.

This was even made more manifest when I got distracted by two little boys' whining during mass. They cried nonstop. I prayed for the grace to restrain myself from giving the boys' parents dagger looks. I was, after all, in the house of God and was supposed to be participating at mass. I thought the boys were disturbing the whole congregation, but after mass I asked my father if he noticed the noise, but he said he did not. Papa must have been praying while I was complaining.

I related it to the way I looked at the week ahead. I came to mass with much anxiety about an upcoming checkup and an event I did not plan to go to. I was so consumed by all my fears when I should have been grateful for the opportunity to be seen by a world-class doctor and to meet new people at the event.

Even up to now, I still hold on to the worry button when I should be filled with gratitude, appreciation, and excitement. I have to consciously clean my thoughts so I would look at the blessings instead of the challenges.

So I asked God to give me the grace to believe in Him more so my fear would give way to joy.

I saw this sign at the store: 12 more shopping days until Christmas. For a Christian, this sign should read: Twelve more days until we remember the first Christmas!

I wonder where I will attend mass next week. I am certain that by then I would be reporting all good news for the things I prayed about today. For I am well into Advent, the season of Hope.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Now Showing: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I highly recommend Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I found it was much, much better than Prince Caspian, as I fell asleep while watching the latter on HBO, despite the boy-next-door charm of the lead character.

In the third book to be made into a movie, Lucy has grown up and is no longer the innocent and cute little queen we have loved from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. In this film, she struggles with her self-image issues and battles with her insecurities. Edmund is still haunted by the White Witch somehow and deals with his baggage about always playing second fiddle. And Caspian... what can I say about Caspian? If I were a teenager I would be swooning over him. He has transformed from prince into king splendidly.

I watched it on 3D so the special effects were more magnificent. I thought I would be seasick but thankfully, I did not. The film was so realistic I momentarily thought I had water on my 3D glasses.

The movie's Christian theme, injected in a few lines all throughout, came to a glorious end with the appearance of Aslan. Somehow, it made sense that he did not come early to rescue the young people from their battles. They had to go through them, to fight the darkness inside them and to face their fears with courage.

The faith and hope that the characters had was contagious. By the end of the film I too wanted to believe that I must not shy away from adventure, that I had all the tools and weapons to fight my enemies, and I would happily meet Aslan, but by the Name He is known in this world.

This movie is for God's children, for them to be in Narnia again so they can go back to the real world knowing that God is real. He is there for all His children.

I have to refrain myself from adding spoilers here. Please watch it and believe again.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A New Church Every Week

This season of Advent, one of the blessings I have received is the opportunity to visit a different parish every Sunday.

Last week, I attended mass here:

This was at St Peter and Paul's, Wisdom St Garran, ACT, where 17 priests from the Missionaries of God's Love concelebrated the mass. It was their 25th anniversary and also a time when brothers made initial vows and promises.

Then yesterday, I was in Lane Cove, Sydney. I heard mass with my father at the church where my sister got married:

Next week, I will post another photo. And maybe my advent reflections too. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Growing Back

I feel there is a movement in my heart. The journey I have temporarily abandoned is becoming more real and possible. I can see my resistance and pretend indifference. But I am sufficiently intrigued.

After finding myself in a place, with people, totally outside of my plans last weekend, I saw God's hand in everything again. It made me laugh and cry.

I am on vacation in a faraway place. Hence, the clarity.

I hope to come home a changed person.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A New Beginning

I find myself on the receiving end of blessings right now. Life is a wheel and there are times when all I see are challenges and difficulties. I am grateful for the chance to recognize God's gifts. Perhaps it is my heart that changes perspective.

I went to our parish to serve as Lector at mass, conscious that it would be my last chance to serve this year, since I am going away on vacation. I knew that it was also going to be my last Sunday mass at that church for 2010. That it happened on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time for the liturgical year seemed significant for me. It was a solemn Eucharistic celebration and I felt, I sensed, something. I felt God moving my heart, and opening it up for the new things that lie just around the corner.

Next week, a new liturgical year starts with the first Sunday of Advent. And I will not be hearing mass here. I will be in another place, not part of my plan but a huge blessing nevertheless, to be with the Missionaries of God's Love's 25th anniversary and to witness a friend's initial vows.

I will also have a golden opportunity to celebrate many birthdays and occasions with my family. I am looking forward to everything, not just the planned trips but also the lazy afternoons with my favorite niece (I have only one). I am going to a once-in-a-lifetime concert event (U2!) that I have never even dreamed possible for me to attend. I will also be with my siblings and parents whom I have missed the past year.

I will leave my workplace and my home temporarily to come back to them refreshed. I will meet new people and hang out with old friends. I will visit new places and rediscover favorite haunts. I will take photos and write in my journal. The last vacation like this that I had was five years ago. Exactly five years ago.

I have forgiven, I have loved, I have given, I have received. My heart is light. Work is hard but I am still able to find joy in it. I have found who my real friends are. I have redefined my service and purpose in life. These were my thoughts during mass. I thanked God for them all. My heart seems to have expanded.

I cannot fully express what is happening, because so many things are happening. One thing is for sure, this is all God's plan unfolding. And I am genuinely surprised.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Distance Between Us

I like this quote from an unknown source:

If there is distance between you and God, guess who moved?

So apt for my current situation.

Friday, October 01, 2010

What Does It Mean to be Catholic?

I will begin by saying this post is not an attempt to answer the question raised in my title. The raging discussion on the Reproductive Health bill has made me ask, however, how I will stand up for my faith.

The Church has threatened, although I heard that the statement was later on taken back, of excommunicating President Noynoy Aquino if he does not change his stand about giving artificial contraceptives to the people. As my friend has posted on Facebook, this is not helpful in promoting a productive dialogue between the Church and the government regarding this. Even though the Church can choose to do this, stating it now is not a wise move, for this will just raise more voices of protest, as it indeed has.

The Church is being blamed for going back a hundred years to the days of Jose Rizal, when there was no separation of Church and State, and the Spanish friars meddled in the affairs of the government. This led the famous tour guide Carlos Celdran to don one of his costumes and interrupt an ecumenical service inside the Manila Cathedral by carrying a placard carrying the name of the most notorious friar in Rizal's novels, "Damaso", an obvious, but effective, pro-RH bill publicity stunt, and to allow himself to be incarcerated to elicit sympathy for his cause. He reportedly will post bail this afternoon and has this to say to P.Noy: "Be strong, man. If you will be excommunicated, sabay tayo" ("I'll join you.").

I am one integrated whole, not compartmentalized into 1 part Filipino, 2 parts lawyer, 3 parts woman, and 5 parts Catholic. I am a Catholic Filipino woman lawyer. But my views are personal to me, and I do not want to impose them to those who do not agree with me. C'est la vie.

I believe that sex should be confined within the bounds of a Catholic marriage, that it has a pro-creative purpose and thus, I do not support the use of artificial contraceptives. Abortion is abhorrent to me as it is a form of murder - life begins at the time of conception. There are areas that are within God's jurisdiction - everything, actually, but in some areas His control is more obvious and complete - and creation of life is one of them. I believe in restraint, that there is a time and place for everything.

But, as a lawyer I can see that there might be a question of jurisdiction. What of non-Catholics? What of atheists and agnostics? They do not care what the Church thinks. They do not think they are bound by it, for they deem themselves outside of the Church. Hence, the spate of protests, and the persistence in being given the choice to use artificial means of contraception. Would it be possible to limit the distribution to these non-Catholics alone? Is this an option?

And what of the Catholics who wish to use them? I think this is a personal matter, one between the couple and their God. If they were members of a Catholic community which seeks to make a clear united stand, then they can be corrected. Otherwise, it is up to them if they want to confess or if they want to keep doing it. I cannot judge them, not being married and not having faced the problem yet of not wanting to get pregnant or not being able to support another child.

So many questions, all of which I can get passionate about. I pray for sobriety in resolving this matter. The state governs the whole nation - not 100% of which is Catholic. The Catholic Church, however, intends to make its stand and to stop this now, lest the gates be opened to other evils like intentional abortion. I hope that the Church makes its stand not in the way the world would, though.

No matter what they decide, I know what I personally believe in, and I have jurisdiction of my mind, my body, my thoughts, my decisions. In my life I am a Catholic. A Filipino. A lawyer. A woman. My choices are governed by who I really am.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Of Dragons That are Princesses

This is my 1,001st post. I have not written anything new for months. When you write for a living, and when you don't seem your private thoughts worth reading, you run out of words for blogging.

I may have borrowed these same words before, but I find they speak to me now, and of me:

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses?
Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.
Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
So you mustn't be frightened, if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do.
You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.
(From LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET by Rainer Maria Rilke)

As always, I do not attempt to interpret beauty. I will let these words envelop you, as they have done for me.

There is a voice inside my head whispering this. It is Vincent, from the soundtrack of "Beauty and the Beast: Of Love and Hope."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Call to Prayer: For Priests and All Catholics

It is an interesting time to be a Catholic. The Church is on the news everyday.

As in all things heartbreaking, however, I had been unable to write about the spate of sexual abuse scandals, until now. Up until recently, the allegations of pedophilia had mostly surfaced in other parts of the world. I had the luxury of not knowing the accused. To my chagrin, I saw a familiar name in the news a few days ago.

I will not elaborate on that particular news item, as the Church authorities are taking steps to address the problem already, but I have been moved to express my thoughts on the recent scandals that are rocking the Roman Catholic church.

I won't be one to point an accusing finger. I know that I'm a sinner and that I belong to a Church which is run by men, not angels, and thus sinners like me. But I will not use this as an excuse for the transgressors' behavior. Despite the pain it has caused me and millions of faithful around the world, I have to thank the media for relentlessly exposing these issues because in doing so, they have forced the Vatican to review how they accept men into the priesthood, what kind of support they give to the priests, and what changes they must institute in order to insure that the abhorrent acts committed to children will not happen again. This includes the radical moving away from the silence and secrecy policy, when such is unnecessary.

Everyone's suddenly become an armchair critic, naturally. Some Atheists even want Pope Benedict arrested. Journalists, bishops, and priests have applied pop psychology and given their own opinions as to the source of the problem, whether it be homosexuality, or celibacy, or pornography. Non-practicing Catholics and people of other faiths and religions have blogged and commented lambasting the Church, the Vatican, the Pope, and the priests. For the past several weeks, I have tried to absorb as much as I can through Google Reader.

The faithful have defended the Holy Father, saying that contrary to accusations, he had taken concrete steps to address the problem of pedophilia. Many Catholics have defended why they have chosen to remain, and I laud all these efforts at finding solutions, and accepting the criticisms.

The timing is perfect, really. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of the Priests from June 2009 - June 2010, and at our parish, we pray for the sanctification of priests. Everyday. What we lay people must do is to continue to pray for them, for we should not forget the power of prayer. It cannot be a coincidence that just when we are stepping up our intercession for the priesthood, the enemy decides to go to the next level in attacking the church. In this fight, we know Jesus is on our side and that we belong to the victor.

Let us also pray that no more children be victimized, and no more women abused, by the very shepherds that are supposed to guard their flock. For all the victims, may they find justice, peace, provision, and healing.

This is what we recite everyday at the Parish of St. Benedict

Daily Prayer for Priests

O Almighty, Eternal God, look upon the Face of Your
Son and for love of Him, who is the Eternal High Priest,
have pity on Your priests. Remember, O most compassionate
God, that they are but weak and frail human beings.
Stir up in them the grace of their vocation which
is in them by the imposition of the bishop’s hands. Keep
them close to You, lest the enemy prevail against them,
so that they may never do anything in the slightest degree
unworthy of their sublime vocation.

O Jesus, I pray for Your faithful and fervent priests;
for Your unfaithful and tepid priests; for Your priests laboring
at home or abroad in distant mission fields; for
Your tempted priests; for the lonely and desolate priests;
for Your young priests; for Your dying priests; for the
souls of Your priests in purgatory.

But above all, I commend to you the
priests dearest to me, the priest who baptized me, the
priests who have absolved me from my sins, the priests
at whose Masses I have assisted and who have offered
me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion, the
priests who have taught and instructed me or helped
and encouraged me, and the priests to whom I am
indebted in any other way.

O Jesus, keep them all close to Your Heart, and bless
them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.

I have asked the priests in our parish what they think about this. I know them to be faithful and prayerful priests, who struggle to remain faithful to their vocation. The priests in the news may give the priesthood a bad name, but let us not forget the thousands who minister to us and serve God sincerely and honestly. The priests I have talked to said that it is time for the Church to heal and grow, and we should weather this storm using prayer as a weapon, and we must put our trust in the Lord.

I think it is pointless to find someone to blame, for We, the people, are the Church. It is not just the Pope, or the Vatican, or the bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians. We are as much a part of the solution. I join you in prayer, my brothers and sisters - for the grace to overcome these scandals with God's truth, justice, mercy, forgiveness, healing, and love.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What I Did For Love

Sometimes, I still want to do it all over again. I still want to do God's work full time. It's still in my heart. The desire is still alive, after everything that has happened.

Regular readers of this blog know that chapter in my life when I quit being a lawyer for a while to serve full-time in Lingkod. But that only happened for a period of two years, after which I felt the need to go back to practice my profession and earn a living.
Five years after making that decision, I am now involved in various ministries, albeit not on a full-time basis. What time I used to give to my trans-parochial community, I now give to our parish. Although still able to pray in the charismatic way, I now spend time in silence before the Blessed Sacrament more often than I used to. I continue to read spiritual books. I observe the liturgical calendar more closely because of my parish involvement, and have grown to draw peace and strength from these observances.

A friend from Lingkod pointed out that I am still a missionary at heart, and what brings me joy is to do God's work. In being part of the Lectors and Commentators, attending Scripture study, going to the BEC seminars, giving talks to the youth, counting the mass collection, participating in the prayer meetings, or talking to my co-servants in the parish, I have reached a different level in my spiritual journey, and I am grateful for where I am now.

This is the year of pruning and disciplining for me: less of the world, more of the Lord. Circumstances in my life prevent me from going out too much, or living a lifestyle of a single young professional without a care in the world. With more responsibilities at home and at work, my free time is best spent doing what I love the most. And I have discovered that going to parties, hanging out in noisy bars, and wasting time on frivolous (to me) matters no longer appeal to me. At least, I cannot afford to do them.

In my prayer time, I feel God calling me more deeply into a relationship with Him. Everything I do now is in pursuit of that. As for the people and events that do not fit my present situation, I believe there is a proper time for everything. Friends, if they are true, will understand and eventually go with the changes in tastes and preferences. Opportunities, well, they will come as long as I give my best to my job. I am not at all afraid of losing out or being left behind, just because my calendar is filled with work, errands, service, or sleep.

I can still do it - one day. But for now, I live each day with God, walking with Him, waiting for Him, listening to Him, and encountering Him in the people that I deal with, whether they are aware of it or not. This is another step in trying to please my Audience of One, and no longer the whole world. I am happy to note how love grows through time, and how in knowing myself more, I can love God more.

What I did for love, I can still do now, wherever I am, with whomever I choose. I am more confident in this, after the first experience of a radical lifestyle. I'm a little subdued now, maybe, as a factor of age. But guess what? I am so much happier.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

On the Third Day, He Rose Again

Bells have been silent since midnight of Holy Thursday, only to burst in jubilant praise during the Easter Vigil when Catholics commemorate Jesus' triumph in the resurrection.

I walked with the Santo Entierro last Good Friday, together with my parents and friends from the parish. We did it prayerfully and joyfully. After hearing the Seven Last Words and attending the Celebration of the Lord's Passion, the one and a half-hour walk was invigorating, bringing into action what my heart was saying in response to the Love that God had shown. The procession was followed by the Tenebrae (the Office of Shadow and Darkness), where the priests chanted a memorial service for the Lord, and the lights in the church were turned off one by one, until all that was left was one candle symbolizing the hope that Jesus would rise again on Easter.

And indeed, He rose again on the third day. A chorus of hallelujahs burst from the earth, echoing the heavenly song as God fulfilled His promise of a Savior, who willingly died for our sins, and rose again to show victory over both death and sin.

In the coming days, I hope I could write what took place in my personal retreat during this recent Easter Triduum. I was moved to pray in a deeper way and to appreciate the depth and the breadth of God's Love for me.

Happy Feast of the Resurrection! Let us rise again because we have no more reason to stay in the darkness. Jesus' light is shining on us. It is a beautiful day. It is Easter Sunday.

Friday, April 02, 2010

By His Stripes We Are Healed

It is a Good Friday to remember what He has done for us: by His stripes we are healed.

Who would believe what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
1 He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.
2 He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
3 Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.
Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away, and who would have thought any more of his destiny? When he was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for the sin of his people,
A grave was assigned him among the wicked and a burial place with evildoers, Though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood.
4 (But the LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity.) If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.
Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Sitting with Jesus in the Garden

It is Holy Thursday, the start of the Easter Triduum.

I bow my knee.
I still my heart.
I read God's Word.
I contemplate His Son's Love.

There is no music that captures this time for me,
Only silence.
I know He is within me,
And my concerns are in His hands.

I lift up my eyes to heaven
and remember.
The sacrifice, the love,
My salvation, from Above.

Everything else is noise,
Distraction, unwelcome.
For now I remember Jesus' passion and death
And hope in His rising again.

He is inviting me
To sit with Him for at least one hour.
Jesus went to the garden,
and I will go with Him.

(Photo from this site.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Raising the Bar

Good Friday or Easter Sunday? It would feel like one or the other for the 5,903 bar candidates later, once the list of passers is released.

Since I now work for the Supreme Court, I have the honor and the privilege of returning the favor of checking the names of my friends from the list. Kind souls did it for me 10 years ago. I did not have the courage to go to the SC until I knew for sure that my name was on the list. So somebody else had to check the list for me.

I have friends from the office, Lingkod, my alma mater U.P., and the school where I teach, Lyceum of the Philippines University College of Law, who took the bar examinations last September 2009. I am excited for them. I think I will cry if some of them do not make it.

My own bar saga is in this blog here, here, here, and here.

I lift my hands and pray for those who are waiting. I know the feeling. God bless.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

For the Good Girls (and Boys) Out There

I recently came across a few book titles that had bothered me. One was entitled "Why Men Marry Bitches." Another one was "Good Girls Finish Last."

If the titles reflected the books' contents, then something inside me begged to disagree with the respective authors.

This topic would require a longer discussion on what I meant by "good girls", including whether I believed they were always the opposite of "bitches" (pardon the language), and why I was bothered enough and could not disagree more with the implications of the world's logic as summarized in said books and similar publications.

As a person who had tried to do the right thing all my life yet still failed miserably after having to confront my own palpable weakness (read: sinfulness), I wanted to prove the opposite - that "good girls" in effect actually finished "first". The problem was that it seemed, based on the world's standards, that here on earth, the good girls always turned out to be the losers.

Then yesterday, I came across this word from the Lord: "But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5:19b)

I heaved a sigh of relief. I was reminded of my conversation with a good friend a few months back, when I brought up this matter with her. She said that I should write a book entitled "Good Girls Finish in God's Time."

Ah, but I do no the time yet. I also need to research on and compile stories of real-life "good girls" (to be defined in full in the yet-to-be-written-book) who saw the fruits of their labors, and experienced how it was to choose God's way and to emerge victorious. These were concepts that were drilled in us in Lingkod, but my friend and I agreed that they had to be re-stated in more practical terms so that the doubt would be resolved in favor of obedience to God's will, over the pull of competing desires and wants.

For God's ways are not my ways. I know that. But do I always believe that? Have I actually experienced it? Am I willing to put my full faith in Him, despite my apparent successive failures and massive losses in the eyes of the world (and sometimes my own)?

The answer is not always yes. The book, once written, could be a powerful reminder of what it means to belong to God and to entrust my life to Him.

For I have not always been good.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Road to Freedom

Sometimes, we surprise ourselves. We do things that are "out of character." We know what we're doing is wrong and yet we do it again. We can't help it, is our excuse. We are "good", we tell ourselves, so we don't believe what we are actually capable of doing.

Probably. But we always have a choice. We can choose to say no to the habit, or the addiction, or the sin, or the person. We can distance ourselves from the source of our misery bit by bit.

Our friends and family can only remind us so much. But we have to see it for ourselves - the mistake, the destruction, the wrongdoing. Only when we own up to our actions and face the consequences do we become free.

And then we'll see the light. Our loved ones were right. We have stepped out of the darkness, and we look back and say, "What was I thinking? Why didn't I listen to them? What took me so long?"

The season of Lent is a time of grace, especially for those among us who want to get rid of something that is bad for us, and to change our lives for the better. Let us walk in faith and grab this opportunity being given to us to walk in the light and to be free.

Our lives won't be perfect instantly, but we can become better people, giving up one bad habit at a time. Let us pray for and support one another in this quest.

We can heal faster than we thought. We can move on better than we thought. We just have to follow the example of Jesus - His obedience, perseverance, faith, and love. It may sound difficult but this is our call, and we will surprise ourselves at our progress.

Forty days of Lent. Forty days of grace. Then our Easter will truly be victorious. By God's grace, we can do it.

P.S., If you succeed in this endeavor, tell me about it. Write it down and share it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grace and Mercy

This has been a most challenging day for me, the kind that we all get once in a while.

During my prayer time this morning, several passages struck me, including the Gospel today, where Mark wrote this about the Lord: "He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, 'Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.'"

And this from the letter of James, which became my FB status for a while:

"But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind." (Jas 1:6, NAB)

Ask in faith. Don't seek a sign. I repeated this to myself over and over on my way to work. During the day, I had to face consequences of past mistakes, and to put myself at the mercy of others. If the letter of the law were to be applied, I would probably have been made to suffer more for my actions. I agonized over it the whole day, even as I went about my work and fulfilled my duties. I reminded myself to ask in faith, and to believe, not doubt. The wind would attempt to toss me about but I should remain steady.

Yet, guilt and fear gripped me. I was hard on myself, meting out the sentence already in my head. Then one word kept repeating in my head, as if whispered by a silent voice: Mercy. With mercy, I would not have to suffer the fate I was resigned to according to my own set of strict rules. I needed God's mercy. I needed to ask other people for mercy.

What did I do? I asked God for a sign. I always resort to this when my faith is at its thinnest, like it was earlier today. I begged God for assurance that He would show His mercy upon me and spare me from further pain.

He didn't have to do it, but God granted my request. I heard the word "mercy" from a friend tonight. I was shocked, and let the shock work through my little faith.

I would not know how to explain grace and mercy, but I have experienced it in my life. So many times, I deserved to be punished for misbehaving, but instead I had received nothing but kindness, goodness, and generosity.

Guess what, upon my return home and to FB, I saw this posted as the Word Among Us status:

How many are your mercies, O God - mercies yesterday and today, and at every moment of my life, from before my birth, from before time itself began! I am plunged deep in mercies - I drown in them; they cover me, wrapping me around every side. -Venerable Charles de Foucauld

This described my whole experience today. I was amazed; simply amazed. Despite the word not to ask for a sign, I still did. Even with my recidivism and habitual delinquency, I received pardon and mercy. The pill was not as bitter as I thought it ought to be.

If we were to use our human standards to judge ourselves, we would all perish. But God's grace is enough for us. Jesus' sacrifice has saved us. His mercy is from age to age; everlasting; abundant. These are not words I recite from memory, but are so real to me.

I do not deserve this, but I thank you, Lord. Thank you for letting me personally experience your grace and mercy, and for working through my little faith. Help me to remember all these tomorrow, and to focus on faith, grace, and mercy instead of fear, guilt, and pride. Amen.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Preparing for Lent 2010

I have found a good link for Lent 2010. It is quite comprehensive in information and links, enough to get one started early, and hopefully, properly, this year.

Not just because the Church says so, but I have found that Easter becomes more joyful whenever I go through Lent seriously, as in to the best of my abilities. During those years when Lent just passed me by without making certain decisions for more fasting, praying, and almsgiving, I did not experience the same triumphant personal rising at Easter as I did during my "good years".

So this year I will plan ahead a bit, and have less of the world, so I can have more of the Lord.

I will share with you my simple decisions for the season of Lent:

1. Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (again, not just because it's "required", but it is good for the soul. Fasting is one meal and two snacks, according to our parish priest.)

2. Wake up 30 minutes early and incorporate more meditation/ reflection/ journaling into my prayer time.

3. Daily mass as often as I can.

4. One hour of adoration a week.

5. Go to Confession.

6. Revisit my spiritual book supply and read those I have postponed reading for one reason or another (not ready; no time; lazy; afraid).

7. Continue attending weekly bible study and serving in various ways at the parish.

8. Go on a personal retreat.

9. Join a Lenten recollection or day of prayer.

10. Do random acts of kindness to strangers and lovedones alike.

Sharing this makes it clearer for me and reminds me to be more conscientious in my decisions. How about you, my dear readers? What would you like to do this Lent, to know Christ more fully, and let Him more into your life? Feel free to post your comments. God bless!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Here I Am, Lord.

I staged a personal strike against God last week. I deliberately toyed with a plan that I knew went against His will for me, because I felt like pushing it. I wrestled with God. Guess who won.

Some kind of spiritual virus I might have caught somewhere caused me to think that I could go ahead with such plan, and that God would still bless me for He cannot help Himself. And then, the classic elder son syndrome crossed my mind, "After all, He blesses even the disobedient, the sinful, and the selfish. I just want this little thing. It's harmless. Surely I don't have to be obedient and proper all the time."

Never mind what my plan was. I hardly had time to hatch it! I was still trying to justify why I wanted it in the first place, when I received an invitation to a healing mass followed by a concert. I found myself saying yes even if I wasn't sure what it was going to be about. When I got there, lo and behold, it was a concelebrated mass. And God spoke to me there.

He showed me that I was just setting myself up again for heartache and failure. He showed me that He wanted to prevent me from getting hurt again, and that He was not withholding anything good from me. He reminded me of His personal love for me as His daughter. It took me a while to process what He meant.

So He spoke again. I went to mass the next day, and the priest spoke about obedience. I looked up to the ceiling and told God, "Yes, Lord, I can hear you. I will obey you." During communion, the choir sang an old song - Here I am, Lord. It always speaks to me about responding to God's call. I had to smile despite myself. I can run; but I can't hide.

Yesterday, being a first Sunday, was my turn again to be Lector. I read during my prayer time what was assigned to Lector I. There I saw Isaiah's words, where the song came from, and where my lifelong response came from:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!” (Isaiah 6:8, NAB)

I just don't know how to get there. My will is not yet in accord with His will. The How, I believe, shall be revealed in due time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Can't You Stay With Me for Forty-Five Minutes?

Forty-five minutes. I can do a lot in 45 minutes.

I can walk or jog around the UP Oval. I can watch an episode of Glee. I can sing 12 songs on the videoke machine. I can bake lasagna. I can lose myself on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I can read a few chapters from a good book. I can get a foot spa.

The mass I attended yesterday ended 45 minutes later than usual, but instead of focusing on the blessing and grace present, I was mentally ticking away the clock and things I could have done with the "lost" time.

It was the weekly Sunday mass at our parish, which also happened to be a Charismatic mass. The priest led us in the renewal of our baptismal promises and blessed us all with holy water at the start of the mass. Then, after communion, Fr. Brian encouraged us to approach the altar if we wanted to offer ourselves to God and to receive a special, personal blessing.

Usually, altar calls would yield a few willing souls who would stand up in front and be prayed over. To Fr. Brian's and the congregation's surprise, almost everyone in church lined up while the choir was singing the song meant for our reflection. Fr. Brian said, "Bear with me, I will approach you all and pray for you."

In hindsight, it must have been the Nazareno season. Filipinos celebrated the annual observance of what had simply been known as the Fiesta of the Nazareno last Saturday, with over two million people flocking just to see and touch the image of the Black Nazarene.

It could have been the start of the new year and the desire to receive a prayer, a blessing, a new "baptism", that led people to the altar. It could have been the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts and minds of my brothers and sisters in the parish.

Whatever the reason, I was not immediately grateful for the long wait to be prayed over. Fr. Brian could have said a generic blessing for everyone and whisked holy water on us all. But no. He prayed over each one, and when my turn came, I understood what it was about. I looked at Fr. Brian's smiling face and tired eyes, and received the prayer. When he placed his hands on my head and prayed for me, specifically, I felt like I was being blessed, like my sins were being washed away, like God was getting me started for a new mission for the year.

I regretted all the impatient thoughts that ran in my head while waiting for Fr. Brian to get to my end of the line. While the choir was singing "STILL" by Hillsong, I was restless. I was thinking of the lettuce I wanted to buy to go with our steak for family lunch. I was tempted to get the baskets of offerings and to start counting the money donations so I could slip away quietly and quickly to cook the steak. I felt the heaviness of my bag and regretted all the unnecessary things I put in there. I wanted to sit down as my legs grew tired of standing and waiting.

Waiting. We all know I am not good with that.

Fr. Brian thanked us all for our patience and I felt all the more that God was smiling down on me. After mass, I expected Fr. Brian to be exhausted and regretful of his decision to offer to pray for people. Instead, he was exuberant and rejuvenated. He said that they (the MGL fathers who were in charge of our parish) had always wanted to do that - to offer individual prayers. He was very happy that a lot of people responded to the altar call.

My heart was put in its proper place. I realized that God wanted to bless me, and I must have been a sight, thinking of all the things I had planned to do "after mass". Half the people had left the church by the time mass had ended, but those of us who waited were in for more blessings. It was not for God's benefit that we were asked to stay. It was for our own personal time of prayer and reflection. It was for us to be prayed over and to be baptized, just as Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, which was the Gospel for that day.

I am a latecomer in terms of spending an hour with Jesus in the blessed sacrament. It is something I want to do more often, if not regularly, starting this year. The experience of waiting in line was not empty waiting at all; it was waiting with Jesus, and waiting for Jesus. I am glad that God took away my blindness to His grace.

I am readier to face the challenges and to embrace the triumphs of the year. Thank you, Lord.