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)

Just Like Making a Great Brew, Advent Needs Patience

Getting to meet the Lord needs special preparation and readiness. The Holy One, the Perfect One, without blemish, deserves the best preparation, the best Advent. Before Jesus birth, righteous men and women lived by faith and awaited His coming. As the Catholic Church prepares on the Third Sunday of Advent, the mood becomes one of rejoicing, and hence this Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday. Unlike the previous two Sundays, this one is more joyful, more rejoicing in mood. As faithful followers of Jesus, we are challenged to be His face to others: to make the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, and then make the mute sing. The readings are rich with exhortation, wisdom and promise:

‘The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.’ (Is. 35: 1-2a)

This year, the fruit harvest in Mindanao were not as bountiful as in previous times, brought about by the extended dry spell. When the rains came late, most plants were already in the flowering stage such that when the downpour was heavy, most young flowers were cut off and wasted. Yet, despite this weather, there were still many fruit plants that survived and most of us were still able to taste its richness and bounty. There was still enough for everyone.

Aside from the earth’s rejoicing, God also promised to,

‘Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: ‘Be strong, fear not! (3-4)

In these times of turmoil and noise, one must be able to see beyond the haze and the darkness. The Prince of Peace is coming soon! He will come with hope and rejoicing. As if to extend our patience, He has reassured us again, and His promise will not fail to save us.

I’ve been asked countless times if we can make beer faster, say in a day. A day? Wow, that’s so fast indeed! For now, I haven’t figured out how. But suffice it to say that the brew that we enjoy takes a precise and definite time to make. After brewing in kettles and conditioning, we let the brew ferment with the yeast doing its own task, unmindful that it (the yeast) is making possible for fermentation to proceed. The mellowing process follows and then some finishing steps and packaging before we get to enjoy one of the world’s best beers. See, it takes some time, and we have to be a little patient for the flavor and aroma to develop and manifest. Sooner we will be able to get the idea of how to make it faster, but for now, let us savor the process of waiting in joyful anticipation.

St. James in his letter tells us to ‘Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.’ (Jas. 5: 7). He urges that our patience be like that of the ‘…farmer patiently waiting for the precious fruit of the earth, until it receives the early and the late rains’. We can get impatient, but Jesus does things at precisely the right time. There is a time for everything and just like the brewer, we need to wait a little so to speak.

John the Baptist, like most of the Jewish people of the day, have their own template of who Jesus is. He may be somewhat impatient of things that have to happen fast, but Jesus was quiet. Yes, He can perform miracles in an instant, but the promised salvation of mankind is going to undergo the process and will take time. John, his followers, you and me, need to be patient. Actually, that is easier said than done. This time of year often results in impatience. We can’t wait to finish our Christmas shopping, send our gifts, and put up our decorations. In fact, we were quite anxious even as early as October. The malls and shopping centers are full and often we skimp over Advent, forgetting what it is about and want to jump right into Christmas Eve. We want Christmas to be here, right now! Without our knowing it, Advent becomes about us, and less about the Lord.

Let this Advent therefore, allow us a little more patience, like making a great brew. Take this Season to turn off the noise, take time to hear His voice in Confession. Take the time to get outside, to speak to the boys watching the cars in your Church, and listen to them. Christ is there, all around. He is within you: allow Him to use you to show Himself to others.

May this Advent Season bring out the John in us, as we wait in patience, so that in our own way, we may be worthy to bring glad tidings to the poor.

‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ (Mt. 11: 10)

Prepare the Way of the Lord!

The grasses are the dominant plants growing in many habitats and if only contiguous, these perennial species cover about 31% of the Earth’s land mass. It is one of the most widely distributed and abundant group of plants, and is found in almost every continent, absent only in Antarctica. Grasses include Poaceae or Gramineae, which also covers the cereal grasses, and bamboos. Their structures are unusual in that the meristem is located near the bottom of the plant; hence, they can quickly recover from cropping at the top. They just sprout endlessly, year in and year out in a seemingly unending cycle of cutting and growing back.

The book ‘The Gene’ written by S. Mukherjee is quite an interesting read. It tells about the history of genes and genetics from Charles Darwin’s time up to the present state of knowledge and science. What amazes me so much is that while scientific investigation has revealed interesting insights about how messages and codes are encrypted in the DNA through protein sequencing (rather than exact ‘messages’), the ultimate reason for its complexity and uniformity is obviously the flawless intelligence of the Almighty God. The patience by which scientists and researchers have done these studies is remarkable, having crossed many generations and boundaries in a time span of a century and a half. Needless to say, this tells how difficult and challenging it is to comprehend the human genome. Even with that, mankind has gone a long way since then. This journey has been both productive and messy. Productive, because Man has made significant progress in civilization and technology; and messy, because there are instances in history that Man was reckless and disobedient to the will and plan of God. Man hasn’t changed much on that respect, actually.

Despite this, God is patient. Very patient.

Throughout salvation history, we can see that God’s people have been cut down by forces of evil and destruction, though much of these are due to their own errors and doing. Even today, this is happening, as chaos and confusion brought about by years of indifference and hopelessness have affected the way people think about the world at large. This is partly due to failure of leaders in the past, who have abused and deprived them of their share of God’s wealth and blessings.

Yet through these years, God’s design has been there: worked, tested and validated to work in the present and in the future. In Jesus’ time, Israel has been cut down to a stump, looking hopeless, with no sight of unity forthcoming. They’ve been divided and it seems that there’s no chance this will be corrected. Especially that they were then under the Romans, without legitimate leaders as the Pharisees and Sadducees have abused and depressed them all the more. But they were a people hopeful that the Savior long foretold by prophets will finally come and liberate them from this situation of perplexity.

Thus, God showed that the stump of Jesse isn’t dead. As the Prophet Isaiah said,

‘On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.’ (Is. 11: 1)

This shoot would not only rejuvenate Israel, but also spread and rekindle the world as well. When Jesus came on that first Christmas night, salvation sprang into action. No matter the circumstances and hardships that cut us down to size, if we fix our eyes on Jesus, life can shoot from us too. The choice is ours to make.

Let a new life spring from our spirits this Advent Season, that in doing so we rekindle the dying embers of our relationship with Jesus. We need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to make this a reality. Before a grain of barley (an important grain in making beer) begins to germinate, there is a certain time that is awaited — called the dormancy period. It differs from variety to variety, and is affected by weather conditions. Just like the seeds that are germinated and grown in due season, we shouldn’t allow our own dormancy to make Jesus wait longer, or else Advent will be another lost opportunity to renew and revive our loving relationship with Him.

As St. John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord, let us also prepare for His coming. Let us seek His forgiveness and listen to Him in prayer and reflection.

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ (Lk. 3: 4, 6)

Crossing Barriers

Amidst all the strategic planning and goal setting, the HEART for implementation is an essential element to a successful outcome. You won’t last if your heart is not into it. And communication is vital in making sure that the purpose for doing so reaches everyone.