Getting Intimate with God

Among the Beatitudes, the most often I remember is the one saying – ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.’

Poor is defined ‘as not having enough money for the basic things that people need to live properly.’ When it comes to this particular beatitude – being ‘poor in spirit’ is something we need to understand fully. It doesn’t refer to material wealth, but on things deeper and more meaningful. The other readings today tell us about God’s direction for us to embrace humility,

‘… God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.’ (1 Cor. 1: 28)

This ‘poor in spirit’ has nothing to do with economic or social status. It must be about spiritual status, and our inner core. There’s a certain hunger in everyone, a hunger that money or wealth can’t satisfy. It is something beyond, something spiritual. Yet the difference is in understanding how to fulfill and what we do to quench that hunger. Some may choose material things, pride, wealth, alcohol, etc. to loosen that demand.

Have you realized that you can also find joy in Christ, and eventually fill up that spiritual hunger? Have we reached that stage in life, that we can detach ourselves from the things of this world, and fully rely only on Him?

This is the danger of living in a material world. We run getting too comfortable in the wealth we have acquired, and therefore run the risk of setting aside God in the process. It can blur our sight and distract our vision of getting through this search for the meaning of our lives. This is our mission in the life journey: to seek an authentic and living relationship with God – a relationship that is to live in humility as His Sons and Daughters. This intimacy with God, this ‘poverty’ of spirit, is what fills our thirst that material things cannot. It is a spiritual grace, and this is that what makes us better people in every other aspect of our lives.

Let us then pray to seek intimacy with God, and this can only be made possible if we seek humility and spiritual grace. Attaining that level of closeness with God is the only way to make this life journey a fulfilling and remarkable one.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs! (Mt. 5: 3)

We Are Called to Follow Jesus!

Many years ago in the early stages of my career, I was posted in Nepal, a country that despite its long history and natural beauty, is still struggling from high levels of hunger and poverty. Yet, the people are gentle, loving and unpretentious. Only those Nepalis that have been schooled in the U.K., or elsewhere in Asia have the tendencies to take advantage of their fellowmen, or so it seems. After settling down and getting a backgrounder in Hinduism and Buddhism, the country’s biggest religions; I tried to talk about Jesus and the Catholic faith to the top managers of our local brewery there. It was something risky I was told, but I did try to do it as a follower of Jesus.

When Jesus called the first disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John; the fishermen left everything to follow Him right away. Jesus presence must have been so strong and powerful, such that they left their fishing business. We can’t read somewhere in the Gospel telling about their prior encounters with Jesus, but it is possible that they must have heard Him preach. Or they must have heard of Him from others, that we don’t exactly know.

In a deeper sense, there must be something in Jesus that moved their hearts and souls that made it hard for them to resist. When they responded to His invitation, they were fishermen and yet their identities didn’t change. They were given a peek of a deeper dimension of what it means to be a disciple and invited to embrace it.

Similarly, we are called to be His disciples. While not necessarily in the same league as the Apostles, we all have our responsibility in sharing the Gospel to others. We may not understand our roles in the Kingdom but we should not be afraid to ask the Lord, seek the Holy Spirit to grant us discernment so that we can understand ourselves and Jesus more intimately. In amazing ways Jesus will answer: the questions do not undermine our commitment, they deepen it. We just need to have that faith.

In these times of disunity, may we turn to the Lord in prayer, that He may heal us and bring new hope for the future. May we be reminded that we are called to follow Jesus Christ and share in spreading the Good News of salvation to others.

‘The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?’ (Ps. 27: 1)

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)