Good morning champions!

Please see below assignment of speakers for the Champoree on May 9-12 in Caliraya, Laguna:
Day 1 – May 9 1. Intro – Selina Cipriano
2. Who is a Champion – Fr. Ian Rosal, SDB
3. Loser / Winners – Luchi Martinez

Day 2 – May 10 1. Cultivate Character – Fr. Ding Cortez, SDB
2. Have A Heart – Muffet Flores
3. Aim For A Mission – Olive Ilagan

Day 3 – May 11 1. Maintain Balance – Abet Balin
2. Prioritise the Spirit – LeeAn Rosal
3. Stay The Course – Alan Sienes

Confirmed to attend on April 26 TTT in Don Bosco Canlubang: (Please be at Don Bosco Provincial House around 745am)
1. Selina Cipriano
2. LeeAn Rosal

Confirmed to attend on April 27 TTT in Caliraya, Laguna: (Please be at Don Bosco Provincial House 7am)
1. Alan Sienes
2. Abet Balin
3. Olive Ilagan

Walkthrough of the agenda is on April 26 in Canlubang because the 10 brothers from Canlubang are joining us. While the April 27 is in Caliraya.

It will be better if you can attend on April 26 for you to figure out the sequence of the program, but if you want to attend on April 27 instead, it is also okay.

However, on April 27, apart from agenda sequence, we will be more focused on the activities and where they will be conducted in the area.

See you….

God’s Mercy Endures Forever

During the war, my grandmother would share stories about how they travelled from place to place to flee from the invading Japanese. They would be joined by other neighbors whose descendants also eventually became our childhood friends. My lola told us that life then was difficult especially that they were uncertain what would happen next. Unlike today when news is fast and spreads quickly, people relied on radio and word-of-mouth for stories of events that happened during World War II.

Today’s Sunday Gospel tells us of a similar situation amongst the disciples of Jesus. Imagine, they must have been troubled, distraught of what has happened to them lately. The pains and aches that they are feeling inside is such that it’s so heavy and difficult. They have lost their friend, teacher and mentor. Just a week before, they entered Jerusalem triumphantly; the crowd cheered, and palms were laid on the street making the way for them. And then, fortunes changed as Jesus was crucified, and died on the cross. They have received all sorts of threats and stories; it couldn’t get worse than the fears and anxieties they are going through now.

And yet the disciples came together, perhaps sensing that in moments like these, they have to be together. Just like us — whenever we experience sorrow and pain, being with family and friends become important and everything else is relegated to the background. Thus in our state of brokenness, when with community, we can become closer to the Lord. We have no other one to run to, thus; our only alternative is to strengthen our hope and faith in Him. We can learn much from the first believers, who “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” The community is like an oasis in the desert, it affords us refuge and strength in times of hunger and thirst for the Word.

Today’s Divine Mercy Sunday celebration reminds us that Christ’s suffering is repeated over and over every time we fall. Yet, God’s love and mercy knows no limits. It only takes our humility to accept our own weaknesses and ultimate submission to Christ’s will for our lives. Obedience requires acceptance of the challenges and trials that make us who we are. The story of Thomas clearly articulates our own challenge: we are being reminded by St. Peter in the First Reading that we will suffer through trials so that the authenticity of our faith may bring us salvation ready to be revealed in the final time. (1 Pt. 1: 5) Because of this faith that we are called to, we’ll believe and love Him even without seeing. (v. 8) For us believers, the faith that is handed down to us starting with Peter, John, Thomas and the rest of the disciples, is enough. They are our witnesses that Jesus is truly risen. For this, we are among those who are “blessed” because we believe even without seeing.

“Have you come to believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me? says the Lord; Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe!” (Jn. 20:29)

The Empty Tomb

Every time I attend the Easter Vigil, I await with eager anticipation the portion of the Mass when the Litany of the Saints is sung. Reflecting on the lives of these great saints never cease to amaze me; it’s always a hair-raising experience. Here in the Litany are men and women of faith, who through it all, have survived the most difficult of challenges. In this Prayer, one can’t fail to notice the prominence of Mary Magdalene; in her simplicity, she has shown that it doesn’t need something really great to show Jesus how she loved him.

The first sentence of today’s Gospel according to St. John says,

“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.” (Jn. 20: 1)

In this narrative, Mary Magdalene showed that her mere presence in the tomb is enough proof of her profound love for Jesus. We also note that she is a very courageous woman; have you imagined yourself going to the graveyard very early in the morning while everyone’s still asleep? Her love was so strong, she has to rise, get dressed, and go to the place where Jesus was buried, while it was still dark. Have you been to the cemetery at night? Isn’t it creepy and eerie? And yet, Mary Magdalene’s deep love for Jesus was above and beyond her fears.

More than her courage, we also reflect on the sadness that must have engulfed her as she walked towards the tomb. Events that have transpired in the past few days happened so fast, culminating in the crucifixion and death of the Lord. So many may have lost hope; how can the Savior suffer a traumatic death? However, Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus never failed, she was so steadfast. Most probably though, a mix of disbelief, shock, and conflicting emotions may have engulfed her as she arrived and saw Jesus body is gone. Where is Jesus body? She must be crying as she ran to tell the disciples to see for themselves the empty tomb. Peter and “the other disciple whom Jesus loved” ran to the empty tomb as fast as they could, to see what had happened. They examined the empty tomb, the empty burial clothes; Peter may have doubted, but the other disciple “saw and believed”.

During the crucifixion, they have lost all their hope in Jesus, but in this moment, perhaps there was a small ember of hope ignited by the empty tomb. In the midst of all the seeming sadness and hopelessness, something in the empty tomb begin to envelope them with hope, joy, and a newfound lease on their faith in Jesus. “The other disciple” had to open his heart for Jesus to come in and transform his life.

As Easter people, our joy lies in our being hopeful, that there is more to life than all the problems we may have now. To live in faith, hope and love is a decision we have to choose, not a set of emotions that pop up spontaneously. Like Mary Magdalene, we will appreciate the meaning of the resurrection if we ardently follow our Lord in faith, even in the emptiness, even in the darkness of our lives.

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.” (Ps. 118: 24)

Obedience Even Unto Death

It took me time to get into the St. Francis Parish churchyard as it was already parked full when I arrived. The guard has to pull down the gate bar to ensure order inside the parking lot. While waiting, I can see people bringing palms with them to Church, buying these from the vendors surrounding the gates. It was half past ten and the sun’s heat was nearing its peak. Everyone was in a struggle walking under the sun, as they seem to hurry to minimize the scorching heat, despite their umbrellas. I wasn’t exempted; later when I got down from the vehicle into the Church, I have to bring my own weather protection as well.

With the heat we are experiencing these early days of summer, I couldn’t imagine what our Lord Jesus experienced on that first Good Friday:

On top of the hill in Calvary, Jesus is hanging in the Cross, winching in pain as His frail body sought to tear away from the nails pierced on His hands. He is sweating both in blood and in water, as His earthly life flickers away. Jesus is not a criminal, but He is crucified with them. He hasn’t sinned but He chose to suffer and die for us sinners. All the cruelty, torture, agony and humiliation He has endured for you and me, for all mankind. Yes, for all of us.

Back to the present time, as you go about your Sunday, you could be away in a retreat, at home, in the mall, or even in a distant beach relaxing the time away, nothing has changed much. Yes, there’s a lot of difference in as far as conditions are concerned. Technology has brought us a lot of cheer, comfort and convenience. But sin just appeared in different forms, perhaps looking more decent than the way it looked then.

Since we came into this world, there’s always been a lot of inherent goodness in each of us. We started as little angels and grew up as apples-of-the-eye of our parents and grandparents. Slowly though we have experienced evil and distractions that lured us away from this goodness. As a result, this scene in Calvary is repeated: every time we commit sin we mock, torture, humiliate, and scourge Jesus. Every hour, every day, when choices are made, He suffers the same Passion and Death experienced more than two thousand years ago.

On this Palm Sunday, we celebrate the fullness of our faith. It is not by coincidence that at the Procession with Palms we are read the Gospel wherein Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, where the crowds cried out and said, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” (Mt. 21: 9)

At the Mass that follows, however; the Gospel reveals the forthcoming Passion and Death. The soldiers arrested and brought Him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. There they spat, struck and slapped Him. In front of Pilate, the crowd shouted “Crucify him!” Even if the governor didn’t find anything wrong with Jesus, and even with his wife’s pleas, knowing that he wasn’t succeeding at all, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Today let us reflect whether we are part of the crowd that shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” or part of the crowd that shouted “Crucify Him!”, or even both, betraying Jesus at the last moment, unsure of our faith. As we begin the Holy Week, let us journey with Him, let us talk with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in the midst of noise and clutter of life. Maybe we will be able to understand better His cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” (Phil. 2: 8-9)

Like Lazarus, We Will Rise

Having a foretaste of Jesus’ own passion and death seems to be the theme of this Sunday’s readings, which talk of death, resurrection, and God’s forgiveness and mercy. We are being invited to reflect on Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life in today’s Gospel according to St. John, which recounts (another miracle) the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

As can be read from the earlier verses, we read the growing hatred of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus. People have been asking Him to declare that He is the Messiah, though Jesus have been telling them to look at His works (Jn. 10: 37) which testify to His coming from God. Only a few believe however, and some even tried to stone Him for blasphemy.

Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Thus when word was sent by the sisters that Lazarus was sick, Jesus said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” But Jesus extended their stay for two days, and when He announced their journey to Judea, the disciples feared for His life. Thomas even declared that he and the other disciples should go to die with Jesus.

At Bethany, what happened next is more intense, if not, a sad one. Martha went to meet him and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yet she remained confident that God will grant whatever Jesus asks. Their conversation grew deeper until finally Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Martha’s sister, Mary, comes to Jesus with the same confidence, saying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus was deeply troubled at the sight of Mary and the others weeping, and asked where they have laid him. They showed Him the way. “Jesus wept.” (Jn. 11: 35)

Before Jesus raised Lazarus, He prayed, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.”

In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus shows His power over death so that when He dies on the Cross a couple of Fridays from now, we might remember Him with hope and trust. As in today’s First Reading, God’s promise through the prophet Ezekiel is fulfilled in Jesus opening the graves that we may rise, put His Spirit in us that we may live. (Ez. 37: 12-14) This is the same Holy Spirit that St. Paul refers of in today’s Epistle. (Rom. 8: 8-11)

As a result of the Lazarus miracle, many of the Jews who had come and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in Him.

As long as we believe in Jesus like Martha and Mary, even if we die, we will live.

May we therefore have the strength and courage to proclaim, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Son of God.”

“With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” (Ps. 130: 7)

Let Jesus Find You

Imagine being born blind, and then gifted with eyesight later in life. Things which were just described before can now be seen in their true colors and vivid reality. There must be some disorientation before the man in the Gospel can appreciate the experience, perhaps one of the best moments of his life.

However, his happiness must be short-lived since instead of sharing his joy, the people and the Jews’ skepticism caused him trouble, as the Pharisees were trying to find fault on Jesus for doing work on the Sabbath. To the thinking of the Jews, being blind is a sign of sin though even when his sight was restored, they still continue to label him as such. They didn’t believe in his story and found it difficult to trust him, so they threw him out. Gifted with eyesight didn’t remove the previous identify that he has.

Being born blind must be one of the most unfortunate attribute one can ever have. You can miss the beautiful scenes of the mountains, the colors of clothing as well as man-made structures, even the animals on land and fishes in the seas and oceans. Yet the Gospel tells us that gaining sight can also disorient, just like the man. What the others did to him may have confused him all the more.

Yet, “when Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, He found him.” (Jn. 9: 35) The Lord must have looked for him then! To complete his conversion, Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” After verifying who the Son of Man is, he said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. (v. 38)

The Gospel themes are now getting heavier as we move closer to the Holy Week. Like the ending scenes of an epic movie, the intensity heightens, the plot thickens. As in my own personal experience, whenever we find some insights that we thought people will appreciate, there will be disagreements and discord; other’s postures will get us more confused. Yet, with all that’s happening around us, just like what Jesus did to the man, let us just allow the Lord to find us. He will be glad to, and we will be at peace. And we will be all right.

“I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.” (Jn. 8: 12)

Sustaining the Flow of Living Water

There was a time in my younger days that the idea of selling water for drinking is unlikely, even absurd. Clean drinking water then was plentiful; water wells were oozing with supply. Today, we have to shell out money to buy clean water for drinking. In this Sunday’s Gospel, we are reminded of the significance of water both in our physical and spiritual life. We drink water to quench thirst and to sustain bodily functions. It is used for agriculture, for cooling and heating, and is referred to as the universal solvent; as such it is widely used in industrial processes and in cooking and cleaning. Much of the world’s fish and marine life are sourced from major seas and oceans. Trade uses water to transport commodities and manufactured products through waterways. Water is also a venue for many sports and other forms of entertainment.

Jesus was asking a drink from the Samaritan woman, and struck a conversation with her. The discussion was getting deeper and the woman eventually asking “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (Jn. 4: 15) The Lord speaks about water that gives “eternal life”, a spring of water that flows continuously.

As water is the major component of beer and beverages, we always appreciate its contribution and significance in the final product quality. There was a time that cities became famous due to the beers that were produced there, as a consequence of the water quality that flows out of its aquifers. (A good example is the popular Pilsen Beer, deriving its origins from a city in the old Czechoslovakia which became the model for the category of beers under the same name.)

Similarly, Jesus speaks of the markers that the gifts of the Holy Spirit – knowledge, understanding, counsel, wisdom, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. These in turn bears the twelve fruits of the Spirit, according to Sacred Tradition these are: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1832).

Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them. (Mt. 7:17-20)

This passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel helps us understand the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are manifested by people who have allowed the grace of the Holy Spirit to flow in their lives.

As we come deeper into Lent, let us be reminded that we shouldn’t stop trying to achieve holiness. Let us continue nourishing ourselves with the living water that following Jesus can give; in so doing, we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. Let us continue to exercise fasting, alms-giving and immersing ourselves in prayer, not only this Season, but as a continuous practice of sanctification.

“Lord, you are truly the Savior of the world; give me living water, that I may never thirst again.” (cf. Jn. 4: 42, 15)

Be Transformed

We’re now going more real into our spiritual preparations as it is already the Second Sunday of Lent. Have we already started purifying our hearts, observing fasting and abstinence, almsgiving, and prayer? Going by our age and experience, we should already be past starting these. However, we should continue to ask ourselves those questions, as it’s getting nearer now. In a few weeks, we’ll be going deeper into the redeeming Passion and Death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

During this Holy Season, there should be transformation in us, mentally, spiritually, physically. The Holy Mother Church is guiding us through this trek into the desert (or into the mountain, whatever you like more). In the Gospel, the journey to the mountain may have been arduous and tiring, Peter, James and John may have wondered why go there in the first place? What the heck, why bother? It is a test of patience and endurance. The disciples have the idea that Jesus is not a typical person; they think He is unusual. That’s why when they were asked to follow Jesus into the mountain, they followed. Similarly, we may also have asked, “Why a Lenten season?” Maybe time spent in Boracay is “much better” than spending it in Church.

This Lent, like all the previous ones we’ve been through, is a spiritual journey that will enable us to understand better its meaning and relevance. As Jesus may have said to Peter, James and John, “have patience, we’ll get there soon”, so it will be for us. We go like we are journeying up a mountain trail deep into the Sierra Madre or the majestic Mt. Apo. It is rugged, it is tough, the ascents are narrow and sharp. As the days continue, we keep fasting, praying, sacrificing and giving. Each time we fast, each time we abstain and sacrifice, each time we pray, each time we sacrifice and give more of ourselves, is a step up that mountain, bringing us closer to the Father.

In God’s grace and compassion, we will be blessed with a transformation as the culmination of all the preparations we’ve made. For all the difficulties and challenges in the journey, it is hoped that the commemoration of Lent aid us comprehend deeper the necessity of it all. Even though we’ve experienced several Lenten seasons already, we may still be having difficulty comprehending its meaning. We’re learning slowly, as evidenced by our stubbornness and inconsistencies in living the Gospel message.

Persevere. Never mind if the steps hurt. Never mind the various times that we’ve fallen. I know that as the Holy Week draws near, some of us may be tempted to give up all the sacrifices we’ve done seemingly failing in bringing us closer to intimacy with Jesus.

But don’t give up, be in it. Let Lent strengthen you. Embrace the challenges and eagerly await being transformed. In the end, all will make sense. There’s the Light waiting for us at the end of the journey and for some moments, we are allowed a small peek into it, as if to encourage us to hang on. Just as Peter, James and John experienced it many centuries ago.

Let us therefore soak ourselves into the meaning of the journey, and allow Jesus to draw us closer to Him. To transform us some more. Trusting that we can draw on His strength and power to overcome our frailties and weaknesses, so that on the last day, He will bring us to rise with Him.

‘A bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud the Father’s voice is heard: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’
(Mt. 17: 5)

Christ’s Redeeming Love

In this sensation-hungry world, stories of failures are more often highlighted in the news than success stories. People seem to be more interested in bad rather than the good stuff. It would have been better if the news that bring more positive energy rather than grief and sorrow are given more attention. And yet, when it’s their turn to commit mistakes, the same people get defensive and make lots of excuses.

The readings this First Sunday of Lent talk about the fall of Adam in the garden in Eden, Christ’s redeeming suffering, and Jesus’ overcoming the temptation in the desert.

Thinking about it, we realize that temptation and the way we handle it is not a one-time deal. Every day of our lives we are bombarded with trials and every time we fail, we repeat every whip, every thorn, and every nail pierced on the Sacred Body of Christ.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (Mt. 4: 11) Despite He’s being the Son of God, Jesus wasn’t spared temptation; the difference though is He didn’t surrender but rather overcame it. The Spirit of God is in Him, and because of His obedience and devotion to the Father’s will, became victorious and triumphant. Similarly, when we surrender and give ourselves to God, with faith and prayer we can draw on the marvelous power of Jesus to resist temptation every single day of our earthly journey.

In this holy season of Lent, let us reflect on our capability and strength to handle the temptations that we face each day. Let us fortify our spirits through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, so that we will emerge victorious and triumphant. In the event that we stumble let us pray for the humility and audacity to accept our shortcomings and failures in front of God. Let us go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we purify ourselves and become at least worthy of Christ’s love. This undying love is the one that made possible the redemption of unworthy sinners that we are. (Rom. 5: 17). Our efforts at overcoming sin will never be enough: we need Him to pass through. He will deliver, as promised. What is needed is a pure heart with a sincere, deep, abiding love for the Lord.

‘Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me.’ (Ps. 51: 3-4)

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