Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday, 2nd Week: Prayer and Solitude Help Us Listen to God

"This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” – Luke 9:35
"You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." – Luke 3:22

Many voices vie for our attention. They can be placed in two camps. One is for us; the other is against.

The first and louder kind says, "Prove that you are a good person," or "You'd better be ashamed of yourself," or “Nobody really cares about you," or “You are a nobody because you don’t have anybody,” or “You’ve done THAT! God can no longer love you!” or "The more you become successful, popular, and powerful, the more you will be accepted and loved.” This kind of voice is so ingrained in us and permeates our social climate that going against it involves a struggle against the mainstream current. It involves a kind of suffering.

Yet, beneath all these often very noisy voices a still, small voice whispers, "You are my Beloved, on whom my favor rests." That's the voice we need to hear most of all. To hear that voice, however, requires serious willingness; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. It may take time to get past those deafening voices telling us that our worth is directly proportional to how well we perform or to what we possess.

This is the invitation to listen to God’s chosen Son, Jesus, who reveals to each of us our belovedness. The journey of Lent involves listening to that gentle voice, in a deeper way.

That's what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls, "You are my Beloved." And to treat others as God’s beloved.

"Lord, help me to devote time for prayerful solitude. Help me to listen to your voice within.”

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday, 1st Week: God Loves What is Irritable

“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

A Jesuit priest friend of mine has a challenging saying: “You are as Christian as how you treat the most irritated people you know.” It is easy for us to love those with whom we are comfortable, those who are nice to us, and those whom we deem good. We seldom consider loving those who irritate us; at best, we tolerate or endure them. This betrays our misconception that love is primarily a feeling. However, love is a choice. A choice: a reaching beyond ourselves to nurture the spiritual growth of ourselves or another.

Consider someone who irritates, annoys, or angers you. Ask yourself, what does this irritation tell me about myself? Could it be that the person is manifesting a defect in yourself or pointing out something in your life you are refusing to see, or not living up to the expectation that have been programmed into you by your upbringing? It is difficult for us to love the person because of the inner agitation that arises in us. Loving the person would involve accepting and even embracing parts of ourselves that are “ugly” or “unlovable.” Loving the person would involve a reaching out beyond our negative feelings. Yet, such reaching out expands our hearts and makes us more receptive to the One who is Love.

“Lord, help me to reach beyond myself and accept irritable people or parts of myself today.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday, 1st Week - Forgiving Is a Healing In Our Own Hearts

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” - Matthew 5:23-24

How can we forgive those who do not want to be forgiven? Our deepest desire is that the forgiveness we offer will be received. This mutuality between giving and receiving is what creates peace and harmony. But if our condition for giving forgiveness is that it will be received, we seldom will forgive! Forgiving the other is first and foremost an inner movement. It is an act that removes anger, bitterness, and the desire for revenge from our hearts and helps us to reclaim our human dignity. We cannot force those we want to forgive into accepting our forgiveness. They might not be able or willing to do so. They many not even know or feel that they have wounded us. Yet, when we reach out through forgiveness, we move forward toward inner healing and peace. We also invite those we seek to forgive to a similar conversion.

The only people we can really change are ourselves. Forgiving others is first and foremost healing our own hearts.

What forgiving have you delayed? Can you do it now, with God’s grace?

adapted from Henri Nouwen

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lenten Reflection 2010

In the past, I have sent a short, daily reflection each day during Lent. (My apologies for being late this year due to sickness).

These reflections on the Scripture of the day are meant to be a help for a daily 5-10 minute reflection or prayer. Some of these reflections are adapted from Henri Nouwen; others will be written by someone else or me. If you feel moved to write one or two, please let me know.

Let me I suggest the following format for each reflection:
1. Place yourself in God's presence, perhaps with a prayer like: "Spirit of God, please pray through me, draw me to you, sanctify, and create me anew."
2. Read the reflection slowly and be attentive to what stirs within you.
3. Speak to God or Jesus about whatever is on your mind and in your heart.
4. Listen to God's response or simply rest in God's presence with an open mind and a receptive heart.
5. End with the "Our Father" or another favorite prayed slowly.


Thursday, 1st Week: God Always Gives More Than Enough

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” - Matthew 7:7-8

Jesus reveals a God who promises to answer those who earnestly call out for help. Moreover, God doesn't give us just enough. God gives us in abundance. More than enough, more food than we can eat, more love than we dare to ask for. But if God is a generous giver, then why do many of our prayers remain unanswered?

Queen Esther’s prayer of deep reliance gives us a clue: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you.” - Est C:14 We can only see and enjoy God's generosity when our hearts and minds are unclouded and unfettered. When we are full of demands or attachments, we narrow our vision only to those peoples, things, and conditions that we think will make us happy. When we focus on what we did not get, we miss God’s blessings, disguised in other ways. We remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance. Moreover, we close ourselves to God when we, as individuals or societies, consume more than what we need, thereby restricting others access to God’s bountiful gifts. The journey of Lent involves recognizing when our sense of entitlement, self-preoccupation, or fear keeps us from experiencing God who wants what is best for us. And seeking help for conversion of heart.

Lord, help us to live gratefully and simply, so that others may simply live.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sharing one’s story...

A rare picture of Até Vergie who “hates” to take pictures, seeing herself as not photogenic

Since the beginning of February, I have been living in Navotas, one of the most depressed areas of Metro Manila. I am drawn back to this place because I have a strong sense of God’s presence, with the people. I am blessed to be here among God’s poor.

My first host mother is Até Vergie, a widow with four children. (“Até” means “older sister”). Her house is too small, so we stayed with her older brother and his family. One afternoon, she took much effort to share with me her story. It’s no small feat for one who never had a chance to study beyond the 6th grade. Yet, her command of English makes it possible for her story to touch my heart.

Até Vergie turns 47 this year. Her father died in an accident when she was only one year old, and her brother was two. Her mother soon remarried and had to shift care toward her new family. At twelve, she had to quit school to work as a house servant for 60 pesos a month, an equivalent of $1.30 USD. She eventually married. But her husband suffered from diabetes and kidney failure; and because they did not have money for treatment like dialysis, he died five years ago, leaving her with four children, ranging from 3-19 years old. Since then her difficult life became even harder. Cleaning, cooking, selling, making clothes were her constant work and unceasing worry. The long life of hard labor, exacerbated by intensified anxieties in recent years, took a toll on her health. Two year ago, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and a bad shoulder. Doctors advised her to lessen her work and worries.

Fortunately, her brother intervened. He invited her and her two youngest children to live with him, to help out around the house to lessen her stress level. Soon after, she joined a prayer-based group, a non-profit organization called PPF (the acronym stands for “Offering of the Heart”). At first, she had great reluctance to share her story or her faith. For one who had to rely on herself for many years in order to survive, “to be open and vulnerable - to let God and others in - is very difficult” she admitted. Gradually, through the help of this group, her heart became “more tender and receptive.” She now looks forward to sharing and learning more about God’s love.

She pointed out a surprising reversal of roles. Whereas before women in her prayer group were the ones who helped her, now she is the one who is God’s instrument to help them. Smiling with her missing teeth, she tells of a joke she uses to console others experiencing hardships. She would respond to one who is financially overstressed, “You have no money, but you still have honey. I have no money and no honey.” After the laugh, she would continue: “It’s not helpful for me to hug my problems. I try to give my problems to God. Then I have no problems, just challenges. Trusting in God’s help, I don’t hug my worries and anxieties as tightly.”

She ended her sharing to me by thanking God. “Everything is gift,” she said. She is thankful for her brother and people in PPF. Two years ago, she could not imagine being open to share her story. There are days when she is even grateful for her hardships. Her eyes became misty with tears at this point. She asked me to pray for her and her children, for her oldest sons to have the means and finish technical school in order to find a decent job. Gratitude and hope flowed into tears.

Hearing her story and being around her for a week, I catch her trusting spirit. One that is quietly contagious. Her story and living witness becomes for me (and others around her) a gateway of grace. As she opened her heart to me, I find myself caught up in a sense of connectedness, of being one. One with my mother, who is also a seamstress and hard-working woman; one with my deceased grandmother, who died after seven years of dialysis; one with several young women I know who are currently overburdened by life’s challenges; one with Jesus, poor and humbled, who offers his gentle yoke in solidarity, as the resting place so we can un-hug our problems (Mt 11:28-30) …

Até Vergie’s story transcends the barriers of language and others of cultural, socio-economic, and personal circumstances. Her sharing not only invites me to engage my own story and connects us in a deep way. It also joins us with the larger narrative of God’s love for each of us, for all of us. It invites us into the communion of love which is God.

Take the risk to share your story, take the time to listen … to be drawn into this communion of love …

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

“Seeing into the heart…”

“Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” - 1 Samuel 16: 7

After King Saul fell from grace, God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel among the sons of Jesse. Jesse presented his seven oldest sons, who were “lofty” in appearance, stature, and talent. Samuel was impressed. But one by one, he said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen him.” For God sees beyond human appearances; God “looks into the heart.” Surprisingly, God chose David – Jesse’s eight and youngest son.

We cannot anticipate the choice of God. How God ordains a person for this or that service, or how God allows earthquakes to strike an already suffering people like those in Haiti is unfathomable. God works in mysterious and often incomprehensible ways. Yet, through faith, we glimpse of a God who chooses, blesses, purifies, and transforms particular persons to fulfill specific divine intentions.

In the past month, my Tertian brothers and I have been studying the Jesuit Constitutions and other documents foundational to our way of life. In the process, we have been reflecting on how our choices and habits have taken us toward or away from this pathway to God. In varying degrees, we are humbled to a similar realization, that our limitations, weaknesses, and sinfulness leave us wholly inadequate to the ideals of our Jesuit vocation.

“I am not worthy or deserving …” It’s an admission I hear often from people. Often this awareness comes at the threshold of something beautiful or great, before the unconditional love of God or the radical acceptance by another person. “It’s too good to be true … I am not up to it,” we often react in recoil. We are caught between a desire to say “yes” to this greater offer of love and freedom and a resistance to run away out of fear.

I find myself going through something similar. Although a deep part of me wants to take another step of commitment to my Jesuit calling, another part of me just wants to freeze or flee. I often say to young people: “Don’t focus on whether you are worthy or deserving. It’s the wrong question. When it was announced that she would take a key role in God’s saving plan, Mary did not answer if she was worthy. She already knew her lack. Rather, she answered the question: ‘Will I say “yes” to God?’” In these days, I am challenged to take my own advice.

It seems like the same old lesson: learning to embrace my poverty and trust more. Yet, there is an element of newness, perhaps because I am more in touch with my own fragility and unfaithfulness. It involves another level of risk-taking in God’s mysterious design. I am consoled at Mass when I respond with everyone gathered: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word …” Without this insight and grace, any step forward seems like death rather than a leaping into life. Receiving the Body of Christ, I hope to see deeper into the heart of things …