Sunday, September 27, 2009

United in prayer

I am away to live with 2 families for 8 days in a depressed area of Manila called Navotas. Will continue to lift everyone up in prayer to God. Please pray for the many victims of the recent Typhoon Ondoy or Tropical Storm Ketsana. The worst flooding in the Philippines in 40 years.

Friday, September 25, 2009

At the Horizon of Hope

“The Lord takes delight in his people.” (Ps 149:4 - the response during Mass yesterday)

Last Sunday, my brother Jesuits and I visited the American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila which pays tribute to 36,285 US and Filipino soldiers who died in WWII. We were all drawn by a sense of peace and hope which the 152 acre place radiates. I was particularly struck that more than half of the graves where unnamed, for those lost at sea and known to God alone (like the one above).

Two days ago, my niece Monica Thuy Pham passed away. She fought bravely a rare form of brain cancer for almost two years. Her 21st birthday was celebrated less than a month ago. Human understanding and words fail to make sense of the mystery of her suffering and death. Why so young, O Lord? She is full of life, full of hope, until the end. Although it is quite typical for me to ask, “God, why take her so young?” my thinking does betray an expectation. I am socially conditioned to presume that we are entitled to 70-80 years of life. But if we see life as a gift, given each day and sustained each moment by the breath of God, then can we demand how long our gift of life is, which is known to God alone?

Three days ago, I asked God in prayer, “Please show me your response regarding Thuy’s suffering and our family’s ordeal.” After much silence and emptiness, something emerged from my imagination. I saw Jesus very close to her, sharing her pain and giving her strength to carry on. His face was sad and pained, yet it exuded a deep compassion and desire to ease her suffering. It is not easy for me to explain, for words fail to describe such mysteries. Praying for Thuy helped me turn my gaze on the Crucified One. I saw that Jesus was sharing her cross and she shared his. (I believe they are sharing much more than that now.)

Thuy left this world in peace, with family and close friends at her bedside. It’s good that God took her earlier to ease her pain as well as everyone’s. Tomorrow is the Mass of Resurrection to welcome her into new life. She left a deep imprint in my heart with the spirit of a fierce fighter and a faith that accepts with limited understanding and occasional doubts. She inspires many people, including Manna (her Dong Hanh-CLC group) and me.

The theologian Karl Rahner imagines God as the “Holy Mystery beyond the horizon of our knowing and loving.” God is more than what we can understand, love, or desire. God is beyond the horizon of our hoping. Thuy, you are known, loved, and cherished by God and many of us. Thank you for helping us turn our gaze to the horizon of hope. You are at horizon of hope now. Go with God & "Happy Birthday" in Heaven!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“I am Your Delight!”

These past two days I have returned to last Sunday’s Gospel and try to listen. As often in prayer, I do not “hear” anything. Just waiting; honestly, I am often distracted; it seems to be a “waste of time.” But today, something noticeable happened. I was led to imagine the child (as a boy) whom Jesus embraced and placed in center of everyone. I began to see, hear, and feel through the boy’s senses. What I experienced surprised and unarmed me. He saw Jesus looking and relating to him with so much tenderness, love, and unconditional acceptance. For the first time in his life, he felt what Jesus experienced at his baptism – God’s voice whispering: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (Mk 1:11). Embracing this truth, he burst into joyful tears and exclaimed, “I am Your Delight!”

Emboldened by his courage, I found myself embracing a similar truth about myself: “I am Your Delight!” Every time I allow the mystery of God’s love to touch me, I am transformed. I began to cry profusely, tears of joy. In my frailties, fears, hang-ups, past mistakes, present pains, God takes delight in me. With my flare ups of perfectionism, untamed passion, selfish desires, impatient gratifications, lazy contentment, God takes delight in me. Through so many people (listed in my prayer locket) I am blessed to encounter, God takes delight in me. To delight is more than just to put up with; it is to experience joy in the person’s presence. I am humbled by such love, tình Chúa qua tình người, God’s love beyond human love.

Eden means "delight" in Hebrew. In my prayer, the boy and I looked at one another and smiled. A glimpse of paradise, we nodded. The bedrock of our beings, before and beyond what we can, cannot, or fail to do. My day is no longer the same, what I see and how I feel take on a meaning and depth that only grace can give.

My friend, allow yourself the quiet and the space so that God can take delight in you, to experience yourself as God’s Eden. Listen to Switchfoot’s song “Let that Be Enough.” Let it be a good prayer-trigger for you. Imagine. What if we looked at one another, especially at our children, with such delight!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Receiving a child…

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mk 9:37)

Two days ago, I met with Fr Pierre Tritz who celebrated his 95th birthday. For the past 35 years, this French missionary and his committed staff have worked tirelessly to educate disadvantaged children in the Philippines. I had worked with his non-government organization called ERDA Foundation from 1995-1996 through their child scavengers and street children programs. It was a time of much grace. Meeting him and his devoted staff, many of whom have served together for 15-30 years, again inspires me. Fr Tritz recounted with clarity the moment when he felt God’s call to serve Filipino children. He met a 5 year-old girl who was jailed for taking some bread to help feed her family. He helped secure her release and for 35 years did everything he can to educate poor children.

The experience with Fr Tritz and his staff breaks open today’s Gospel for me. Jesus took a child, who had no social rights or power in first century Palestine, and urged his disciples to welcome him, indeed welcome God, as they welcomed the child. Fr Tritz and the ERDA folks consistently place children at the center of their lives of service. In the first two weeks of the Tertainship, my Jesuit brothers and I have been invited to reflect over our childhood and how we have been loved by God. It is as if we are called to create space for God by embracing our own childhood. It is as if I am invited to place poor children I met today selling sampaguita flowers and knickknacks in the streets at the center of my prayer and listen to what the Lord may reveal. These are the two ways I sense the Spirit is moving me. How might God’s Spirit move you today?

Oh, visit the ERDA website or ask me if you’d like to contribute to this inspiring work.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Historia De Un Amor

“Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper.” – Henri Nouwen

I spent the second half of today with Manny “Mao” Uy SJ, a close friend and Jesuit priest whom I have not seen for 8 years. We were solicited by three mariachis at dinner and Mao requested that they sing the song above, “History of a Love.” Mao shared that the song has much meaning for his family: it was the love song of his parents; his father sang it to his mother on his death-bed; their love shapes the entire family significantly.

I was struck by Mao’s simple sharing, by the song’s poetic verses and its haunting melody. (Click here for lyrics and translation). What if we allow God’s unspeakable love to be revealed through passionate yet incomplete human love? The chapters of my life I am reflecting these days can be considered my “history of a love” – the many loving relationships of my life bear the imprints of God’s love for me. My eyes glistened with tears as gratitude sweeps over me … at the thought of the many wonderful people God has placed in my life of ministry … at the thought of my friendship with Mao … at thought of Caritas - Tình Chúa qua tình người.

Listen to the song and think of the people who are signs of God’s love in your life … major characters in your own “History of a Love”…

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows: one who loves much, suffers much, yet magnifies & testifies to Love deeply.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Walking in a fog

 In the past few days I have been reflecting on the first part of my graced history – looking back at my childhood to see it as a story of God’s personal love for me. I recall an experience that reemerges again and again to reveal God’s abiding presence in my life. I was seven or eight years old at the time. As customary during vacations, my maternal grandparents would take their grandchildren to Bao-Loc, in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam (on the way to Da-Lat). Every morning they would take us to 4:30 a.m. Mass. That morning was covered with a very thick fog, so thick that one could not see past one’s outstretched hands. The path before me was veiled. I remember holding my grandmother’s hand. I did not know how she could see the way. I just held her hand tightly. Mysteriously, she led the way to the church. When Mass was over, the fog continued to be dense. The path home remained hidden. Yet, all I had to do was to hold my grandmother’s hand and she would guide me safely home. A similar event reoccurred on several occasions.

I remember this experience with much clarity and deep peace. It taught me to trust not only my grandmother, but to trust God. Recalling this memory invites me to trust again God’s guiding Providence, even when I cannot see the path ahead. It triggers awareness of God’s steadfast faithfulness to me all these years.

These first 12 days in Manila are still transitional for me. The monsoon rain is barely letting up. Prayer seems like a thick fog. I cannot see the path ahead. Remembering this experience of faith grounds me in grace. My grandmother has and continues to be a channel of grace in my life.

Who helps you to enter the East Australian Current (EAC)? Which experience with him or her helps you flow with God’s grace?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Flowing in the current: “You’re riding it dude. Check it out!”

This torrential rain makes life very difficult for the homeless of Manila and the residents of Navotas. Let us pray for these brothers and sisters. Without minimizing their plight, I cannot help but recall my favorite scene in the movie Finding Nemo:

Perhaps becoming rooted in grace is like swimming in the East Australian Current (EAC). As the scene depicts, it is rough entering or exiting this current. Times of transition or tremendous flux are similar. I often become impatient of myself or of others when the rhythm of life is a bit bumpy. I am also afraid that God has left me because I may not have been faithful, graceful, or deserving. An older brother Jesuit reminded me today to “enjoy the ride.” How wise and helpful he is, like the turtle Crush. And like the clown fish Marlin, I am often unaware that I am already swimming in the EAC – the flow of God’s grace and God’s dream for my life. Yes, there is much I need to learn and grow. Yet, by God's grace, I am already riding the EAC toward my life’s destiny (just as it took Marlin on a long journey to find his son Nemo, the love of his life). Realizing this is embracing the Good News of our faith: God’s love and grace has already liberated us (Rom 5:5-6). Embracing this truth helps us become who we truly are in God.

My spiritual director, Sr. Jane reminded me recently: “God’s power flows through people who let God touch their hearts.” Thank you “Sr. Crush.” Salamat sa Diyos! (Tagalog for “Thanks be to God!”)

Flow into me

Tropical storm Maring continues to pour nonstop rain in Manila. With so much rain, it can be depressing. I am tempted at various times to judge my Jesuit brothers from Belgium, India, Italy, El Salvador, The Philippines, Indonesia, Canada – for the littlest things like the way they speak English, eat, or convey different cultural perspectives. A week of continual downpour affects my mood.

Yet, amidst this deluge of water flow, I also find myself repeating the first line of a contemporary version of the Soul of Christ, “Jesus, may all that is You, flow into me.” I have a lot time to soak in how I am so loved by God and by the people God has placed in my path of ministry. Talking to people I have not seen for 13 years deepens this awareness. I feel so humbled by Love. Tears stream down my cheeks again.

 Saint Ignatius of Loyola imagines that God’s love flows lavishly like a fountain spilling forth its waters into an unending stream or like the sun bursting forth its rays - like the Ignatian sunburst in Loyola House Chapel (see photo on the left). I experience what he means concerning God’s overflowing love. As I pray for people by name, I am often overcome with gratitude.

I find myself alternating back and forth from preoccupation with my weaknesses and tendency toward judgment to attentiveness on God’s outpouring love for me. Perhaps this is an integral aspect of creating space: I cannot control water flow or dictate how sunrays shine. Allowing God’s life to flow into me requires patience and openness. Patience with my frailties, openness to receive whatever is given. As I embrace both patience and openness I let go of my expectations of what is to come ... and flow with grace. Jesus, may all that is You, flow into me.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Creating space

It is not easy for me to be rooted in grace. Often I want and only look for specific graces or blessings. I wanted to visit Jesuit friends I knew at the Ateneo previously, but they all were out of town. I wanted to exercise by jogging, but it has been raining almost non-stop for three days. I wanted to “be still and know that God is God” (Ps 46:10), but many people made noises outside the chapel along with the mosquitoes buzzing around me. Alas, perhaps I am called to “create space” rather than “get graces.”

Creating space involves clearing, uncluttering what I want or what I think I “should” focus today, and allowing what God wants to unfold, to flow through my consciousness. It involves a shift in focus … from “my” concerns and preoccupations to the 1-2 things that God desires to share with me today. A shift happened within me this morning. The Loyola House Chapel is very spacious which helped my spirit “make space;” I listened to the birds sing, almost in surround sound since there were several of them. I was honest with the Lord in prayer and said, “Ok, that’s what I wanted … what do you want me to focus on today, Lord?” I ended up helping a frustrated brother Jesuit fix his computer; it made his day … and mine. And Jesus smiled. Less clutter … more space for God to do what God does best: love us into new life!

The deaf-mute man in today’s Gospel did not ask to be cured. He did not seek healing or change. He was probably focused on begging to survive. He did not expect to be touched by God or to have his life changed. His friends did him a huge favor: they begged Jesus to cure him. How interesting that Jesus cured his hearing first and subsequently his speech. I feel like that man. For much of my life, my speech impediment has been (and still is) stuttering. But as I learned to listen to the Lord more and more (i.e. create space), not only do I stammer less, I am finding my voice. Like the birds this morning that sing in praise of God, I am learning to “be opened - Ephphatha” and to speak more clearly in giving Greater Glory to God.

The deaf-mute man had friends who did him a huge favor! They took him to Jesus and “begged him to lay his hands on him” (Mk 7:32). I’m learning to do the same, lifting up by name the 964 people on my prayer scroll to the Lord. I’m learning to create space … somehow God surprises me with so many graces through many of those whom I pray for by name.

Loyola House of Studies Oratory (Chapel) and Outer Hallway

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Begin with grace

Today I arrived in Manila to begin this Tertainship Adventure in Asia. I begin with grace. For me, this means to be grounded and rooted in grace – responding out of grace. God has been surprising me with so much grace this entire summer. I have been crying a lot in prayer, at Mass, with people: ecstatic when seeing young adults unfold and blossom on retreats at the renewed discovery of God’s personal love for them; amazed at the wedding of Kim & Kyle, whose Catholic and Lutheran families came together so beautifully; surprised at the going away celebrations; joyful at the 3rd Anniversary of my grandfather’s passing; enliven by hope when celebrating the Centennial with California Jesuits and welcoming young men into the Novitiate …

For me, to begin with grace is to live out of a heart-felt, gut-sense of knowing that I am blessed, loved, and chosen by God – just because. I am humbled by grace, by people’s love, by God’s gentle and often hidden presence each day. Embracing each day’s challenges from this place of grace makes life much richer and meaningful for me, even on very difficult days. Acting and building on grace allows me to “bear fruit and grow” wherever I find myself today (Col 1:10). Concretely speaking, I am visiting Jesuit friends on this campus and just sitting in the chapel before the Eucharist, both of which grounds me in grace as I begin to be at home here (once again) at Loyola House of Studies on the Ateneo University Campus...