Viva Señor Sto. Niño!

I spent my college life in Cebu, and joining then in the Sinulog festivities in honor of the Sto. Niño de Cebu is something that just became easy and common. I am blessed with classmates whom I call ‘brothers’ whose love and devotion to the Holy Child I immediately embraced. Things have changed; it isn’t easy now to attend the Sinulog, but my devotion hasn’t waned a bit.

Career life brought me out of Cebu and into the world. When I got posted again in the Queen City a few years back, I just discovered the ‘wave’ and realized that it is a Sto. Nino original. Though I’ve spent several years way back then, it was only in this last assignment that I discovered people waving to the Sto. Nino in the Basilica where it holds court, during the Traslacion and throughout the Sinulog procession. Something that I think and feel is really unique and intimate. Something that is borne out of deep love and respect for the Christ Child. And this is even earlier than the ‘wave’ popularized by a noontime show!

(As a backgrounder, on the last day of the Novena, a dawn procession is held wherein the icon of the Our Lady of Guadalupe is taken from its shrine and moved to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu. After the procession, it will stay for a while in the Basilica. Then, the images of the Santo Niño de Cebu and the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Cebu are brought to the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City, in a procession; to be reunited with St. Joseph (thus completing the Holy Family). This transfer, which is also done across the Philippines, is called Traslación.)

For now, as much as possible, every visit to Cebu is not complete without a visit to the Basilica del Sto. Niño. To the uninitiated Christian, the Holy Child indeed looks fragile, powerless, even voiceless. Yet to us, the Christ Child is undoubtedly very powerful and miraculous. One just has to ask every devotee going to the Basilica and surely you’ll be told countless stories of answered prayers and miracles. People from all walks of life embrace the dedication to the Holy Child that speak of intimate devotion and prayerfulness. Every personal crisis or every problem seems easy, especially when one’s love affair with the Christ Child is deep and indefatigable. I also have stories to tell about the countless favors, miracles and answered prayers that the Sto. Niño has been granting me and my family for so long as I can remember.

Yet, every devotee and faithful follower of Sto. Niño should endeavor to spread the Gospel values that emulate the Child Jesus, who ‘advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.’ (Lk 2:52). Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, D.D., Head Convenor, Visayas Clergy Discernment Group, has exhorted that ‘…every family should provide the solid basis for Christian formation. Here, the young people can be strengthened and be trained for family, social and apostolic life, to build a new world where true democracy, equality, love, justice and peace reign.’

In this Solemnity, we express gratitude to Jesus for choosing to become our Sto. Niño. In the Christ-Child we see God caring, loving and constantly providing for all our daily needs, both material and spiritual.

Viva Senor! Viva Sto. Niño!

Come Join Us!

Soulbydesign, Inc. opens its doors to those who have attended a one-day “Code of Champions” seminar in it’s “Code of Champions Certification Program”

To be facilitated by the author himself, Fr. Armand D. Robleza, SDB together with his friends from SoulByDesign, Inc. on February 17 & 18 @ 830am to 5pm at the Conference Room, 3/F Don Bosco Provincial House, A. Arnaiz St cor Chino Roces, Makati City.

For further inquiries and other concerns, Please call/text Madz 0917 5034378 or send an email to soulbydesign@yahoo.com

We look forward to welcoming another champion in you!

The Oxygen of My Soul

As the Christmas Season ends, the Gospel talks about the visit of the Magi from the East, who came to pay homage to the newborn Jesus. They searched when they saw His star at its rising, and have come to adore Him. In the First Reading, we are reminded of the coming of the light,

‘Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.’ (Is. 60: 1)

This foretelling made by the Prophet Isaiah centuries before, was confirmed during His public ministry when Jesus said,

‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (Jn. 8: 12)

Who is Jesus Christ to you?

A few days ago we were horrified with the news of the death of an eight-year-old girl who was left inside the car that her family borrowed for a night out at a mall in Pasay City. She died of suffocation, carbon monoxide poisoning her system and starving it of oxygen. Without oxygen we die, as it is an essential gas; at sea level it’s about 20.9% but the higher in altitude, the less dense the air becomes so there is less oxygen. For example, in Lhasa City, in Tibet, at an altitude of about 11,975 feet above sea level, the oxygen content is around 13.2%. People that live in areas higher than that can get used to even less oxygen, although productive work and cognitive skills go down with the reduction of oxygen available to the body and brain. Higher than these, when riding a plane for example, up to 10,000 feet (~14.3%) no additional oxygen is required since there is not much activity anyway, as passengers are just sitting comfortably.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), determined the optimal breathing range to be between 19.5 and 23.5 percent oxygen. Serious side effects will occur if the oxygen levels are outside of this ‘safe’ zone.

At levels at or below 17 percent, our mental abilities become impaired; at 16 percent or below, noticeable changes to our beings while levels under 14 percent will cause extreme exhaustion from physical activity. At levels below 10 percent, we may become very nauseous or lose consciousness. Humans won’t survive with levels at 6 percent or lower.

On the other hand, higher-than-normal oxygen levels aren’t as harmful to life, however there is an increased risk of fire or explosion. With extremely high concentrations of oxygen though, in the breathing zone, humans can experience harmful side effects. Very high levels of oxygen causes oxidizing free radicals to form. These free radicals will attack the tissues and cells of the body and cause muscle twitching. The effects from short exposure can most likely be reversed, however lengthy exposure can cause death.

Without oxygen, just like the little girl, we will die. Obviously, my answer to the question refers to the Lord Jesus Christ as THE oxygen of my soul!

When asked of the same question, Lord Alfred Tennyson, the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign, answered: ‘What the sunshine is to the flower, the Lord Jesus Christ is to my soul.’

How about you, who is Jesus Christ to you?

‘Lord, every nation on earth will adore you!’ (Ps. 72: 11)

Accreditation Program

Inviting those who have attended a one-day “Code of Champions” seminar.

Become an accredited facilitator of the “Code of Champions program” on February 17 & 18, 2017 / 830am to 5pm to be facilitated by the author himself, Fr. Armand D. Robleza, SDB together with his friends from SoulByDesign, Inc. at the 3rd Floor CYM Conference Room, St. John Bosco Parish, Makati City.

Please register by calling or texting Madz at 0917 5034378 or send an email to soulbydesign@yahoo.com. We look forward to welcoming another Champion in you.

To Jesus, Through Mary

The other day while driving on the way to the hotel, I gave way to a group of pedestrians trying to cross the traffic. There’s something special though, as there’s this couple, with the woman most probably in the seventh month of her pregnancy. You can see her cautiousness and her great amount of care in walking about. Concerns that only mothers or would-be mothers like her know.

Our Blessed Mother Mary most probably have felt the same way when she was raising Jesus, especially knowing that this baby is special, though at that time it wasn’t clear to her the fullness of it all — yet. She just knew based on what the Angel Gabriel told her. She carried Jesus in her womb, raised Him up well, though she knows God in a way that no one else does. Though it must have been more difficult for her as for us now in understanding what she was undergoing through at that time.

‘Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart’, the Gospel proclaims to us. She tried to make sense of the mystery underlying the events that were unfolding upon her daily. She must have been solving this puzzle every single day, slowly putting together the pieces, maybe even feeling uncertain what it really meant. She was into the process, and Mary was patient in understanding salvation history as it is revealed, and not instantly like magic. She was never impatient. She had deep trust and faith in God.

Reflecting on the theme of the Gospel today, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; let us put into our minds the need to think and reflect on our own experiences. We’re encouraged to make sense of our own lives, so that we can connect with Jesus, and find the meaning and significance of it all. Mother Mary was human like us, but she had deeper reflections and insights on the experiences as part of the process. Despite the difficulties, she was also focused on the big picture, that is, her role in Christ’s life as her own mission too. She stayed the course.

Through our devotion to Mary, we can be assured she can feel and understand us, as only a mother like her could. She’ll understand the hurts, the pains and the struggles we’re going through, for she has experienced more suffering than we can ever experience. When we’re happy, she also feels it. When in need of help, she’ll run in haste just like what she did to assist her cousin Elizabeth, even sacrificing her own safety. She knows and loves us that much, just like how Jesus loves us, in a way like no other mother could.

This New Year 2017 is a good start to offer ourselves to Mary and Jesus. Instead of another resolution, why not vow to devote more time to Mary in prayer? Let us do this in haste!

‘May God bless us in His mercy!’ (Ps. 67: 2a)

Let Us Open Our Hearts to the Child Jesus!

Just like lovers officially declaring their engagement, Fr. Ely, our Mass celebrant during the Christmas Eve Mass, “It’s official! Jesus is here!”

The most awaited annual event have finally come! The wait though actually pales in comparison to the wait the prophets, holy men and women of old did. His coming was an event foretold and awaited for hundreds of years. And yet, it wasn’t an easy feeling that Mary experienced about two thousand years ago. She was in an unfamiliar territory, not even a house — but in a place for animals, a barn to be exact. She has given birth to her firstborn — but the angel told her this is the Son of God — and not just an ordinary baby. Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Word incarnate, in flesh and blood. He is true God, true Man; as a baby, totally helpless and dependent on her and Joseph. Mary was cradling God, the Light, the Truth, for all humanity!

The idea of the Incarnation, of God coming down from Heaven to save us from our sins, Mary and Joseph couldn’t comprehend at that time. The baby, for all the prophecies about Him, needs their special care and attention. They just knew He is special.

Fast forward to the present: people still can’t comprehend the vastness of His power. How He created the universe, all life forms, everything from nothing; is just mind-boggling. But let’s not attempt to explain it, we just accept God’s truth. He is the Word-made flesh, He is everything, but in His might and power, He came down from Heaven to bring hope, mercy and grace. Today, we celebrate His birth and His humanity, becoming one of us, in the flesh.

This Christmas, let us open our hearts to Jesus, create a new beginning in our lives, light up others in the same way that He lighted our paths. While we open gifts and presents, what is more important for Jesus is we open our hearts to Him. Let us open ourselves to the light of His grace, His goodness, and cultivate it, so that by doing, we become His light and hope to others in this crazy, busy world.

Have a happy and blessed CHRISTmas!

‘Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth!’ (Ps. 96: 1)

God Is Here – Yesterday, Today and Forever!

Looking back at Church history, we note that Easter was celebrated by the Church earlier, in reference to St. Irenaeus (c.130-c.200) writing to Pope St. Victor I, while commenting on the celebration of Easter and the differences between practices in the East and the West (Eusebius, History of the Church, V, 24). On the other hand, while it is unknown when exactly the period of preparation for Christmas that is now called Advent first began – it was certainly in existence from about 480. As we can see, the development of the Church naturally would begin with the Easter experience, when our Lord and Savior rose from the dead. God’s style of organizing our Faith is different from how we would do it. The story of the Resurrection would be the basis after which the witnessing by the disciples in their missionary journeys would push Christianity out of Jerusalem and into the ends of the earth.

As the Church organized the narrative, St. Paul’s exhortation would fit the needed opening statements, as in the Second Reading:

‘Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Rom. 1: 1-4).

Through these and the succeeding verses, St. Paul wanted to establish the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God Incarnate.

To assure us of strength and staying power, the Lord wants to make known His presence felt in our lives. The First Reading takes us to the Prophet Isaiah, who spoke about the Lord, exhorting Ahaz to ask for a sign from God. However, just like us sometimes, we are stubborn and have our own back-up options in case God won’t answer back. But God is faithful, He will keep His promise.

When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he acted in accordance with the cultural norms and expectations of society then: he decided to divorce her. But he was compassionate, deciding to divorce her quietly so as not to create a scandal, even though he must have been hurt, deeply hurt. When he awoke, Joseph’s faith must have enabled him to grasp that the meaning of Emmanuel – God is with us – applied to him and Mary as well. Yet, he may not have fully understood the significance of Mary’s child, and what the angel told him, ‘For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her’. (Mt. 1: 20) But he knew that God was with them, and that was what mattered the most. Similarly, when in similar confusing situations, we just take on God’s promise that He will be there. Knowing Him being present in our day-to-day lives is enough.

Joseph was living quietly until he was put in a challenging and a radically uncomfortable situation. He had already decided on a course of action to take but a dream changed it. It may have been probably the best option to take, but in matters of faith and God, making decisions is about trusting Him completely.

As leaders in our families and in our jobs, we use reason and logic borne out of our God-given talents and skills. However, there are times wherein we experience discomfort even when there seems to be a good basis for making a particular choice. Joseph may have experienced this while pondering on what to do. He was pushed to the limit, but he passed with flying colors: Joseph trusted God without a doubt. Thus God entrusted him with the two most important persons in all of Christianity.

While in Church waiting for my turn at Confession, two ladies were talking about their plans of completing the Misa de Gallo. They both said that they’ll complete it, just like in Advents previous. However, the other lady said that on Christmas, she’ll not be able to hear Mass, as she’ll be travelling to her home province on the day itself.

Sad. While she’ll be able to complete the nine-day Masses, she’ll be missing the bigger celebration: Christmas Eve Mass itself! Remember, we too may be so anxious about many things, and risk losing Jesus out of the crib: He is the reason for Advent and Christmas!

As we go through the remaining days of Advent, may we not miss our own preparations to meet the Lord. Unlike the TV stations that even scarcely mention Advent, let us undergo the process of preparing wholeheartedly for His coming.

‘Let the Lord enter; He is King of Glory.’ (Ps. 24: 7c, 10)

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