Close Encounter with Pope Francis

It was a typical day.The sun was just up rising above the mountain range that stand guard to our little barrio, Balian where there was a time during my childhood when everyone knows everybody.

All of a sudden, a man in a white robe and skull cap breezed into the sala from nowhere. Of course we knew he was coming. But to literally enter our home was a heavenly experience. Time stood still for a moment as we stood there staring at him in awe, as we share the same space and breathe the same air. We were Pope-strucked!

As I came back slowly to my senses, which seemed like ages, I inched toward him, bowed down, took his hand and kissed it in the traditional way that we, Filipinos, do the “Mano po” to pay our respect.

His hand seemed huge. And I said to myself, this is the big hand of a generous man who has likewise a big heart.

It was quick. The next moment, I saw him sneaking out through our back door. Then everything was vague after that. But every moment with him was vivid.

Then I woke up. It was the day before his arrival in Manila. And I was 7,367 km away here in Bahrain. And I was dreaming!

The following days, much has already been said and done of the papal visit. as I watched the entire Filipino nation welcome Pope Francis wherever he went; as TV cameras focused on each and every face that radiated the joy Pope Francis shared; as I saw my fellowmen wiping their tears at the mere sight of him as I tried so hard to hold back my own- I couldn’t help but remember the dream that I had and how the Pope made me feel. So I empathized. And I understood. I was overwhelmed. I have to write and share.

For five very special days, for Filipinos everywhere in the world, it felt like heaven was within reach.

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Pope Francis rekindled our faith in God, in Jesus who he represents on earth, in the Spirit dwelling amongst us. Pope Francis awakened the innate generosity of our humanity as Filipinos that has long been put to sleep because of social injustice brought about by corruption and greed disguised as government. Pope Francis reaffirmed the sacredness of family and its importance in spreading the Word of God. He reminded us that in order to follow Christ, we should follow His example.

Be a beggar. Be a child. Think well. Feel well. Do well. Be quiet. Cry. Dream. Love. These were notable reminders from the Pope that we will cherish in our hearts and minds long after his departure.

But the real essence of our encounter with the Pope is Jesus. In our generation of materialism when our daily goal had become to make more money, he reminds us that there is something more important in life. That despite how the world has gotten ahead of itself in terms of technology, humankind in fact is getting poorer in terms of the quality of lives of the majority of its population.

It is therefore imperative for us to look back into that five days (six days for me) when Filipinos were elevated to holiness because we came face to face with who we really are and what we should always be. And we are a merciful and compassionate people filled with God’s love. Let not the absence of Pope Francis in our midst once again diminish us to self-centered, self-righteous and self-sufficient people that we are not. God created us in His image and likeness. Let us live up to it.

Let us continue to pray for Pope Francis with grateful hearts. Let us pray for each other as we live not for ourselves alone. We need one another. So let us tell the world of His love. Like Pope Francis joyfully does.

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Doing the Math

John answered and said “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” John 3:27-30

I was never good at Math. I disliked it. In fact, I feared it. I cringed at the thought of it.

After high school, I wanted to be an architect. As a child, I fancy recreating home scenes especially with mahjong tiles. I remembered waiting patiently for my Mom and aunts for their mahjong breaks when they had coffee and snacks. I would build rooms upon rooms with matching furniture and appliances, all of mahjong tiles. Imagine how amazed I was with the introduction of Lego.

So I was determined. I would design houses. Much to my Mom’s disappointment. She wanted me to take up AB English. She believed I would be a fine journalist or a great teacher. But then no, I was a stubborn girl. I followed my heart’s desire.

But reality showed its ugly face… I flunked College Algebra, then Analytic Geometry and more. I loved designing, but I refused to see that I have a weakness. Because I thought I can do anything, reach anything, achieve everything. Then slowly my dreams fell apart, like mahjong tiles that were stacked up in a rather crooked manner. It took two grueling years to wake me up from my most dreaded nightmare. The dream was gone. I would never be an architect.

There is nothing wrong with having to dream. In fact, it is the stuff that success stories are made of. But if our dreams cause us to be insanely proud and self-righteous, then we are doomed for disaster. If our dreams become the vessel that separates us from the innate kindness and innocence from within ourselves, then our definition of success is meaningless.

Yes, I should have listened to my Mom. My case is one example when the statement “Mothers know best” holds true. It is too late for me when I have proven that. I was young. I was proud. And I was a fool.

I was raised Catholic. I studied in a Catholic school. I prayed. But I never really acknowledged God’s presence in my life. All along He was there. Patiently waiting to catch me the moment I fall from my own folly. But I was too busy looking at myself proudly. Not because I was seeing the beauty of God’s creation. But because I was blinded by the vision of a false image of success. I was blinded by myself, I failed to see Him.

It didn’t stop there. My journey was a series of unfortunate events. It is a painful process. But if it would take that to keep my eyes open, then I would take the painful path over and over again.

We are not kings of our selves. The Creator is always greater than His creation. Only God rules over us. He knows the way, because He is the Way. And if Jesus Christ humbled Himself as a man to show His perfect love for us, then why can’t we, in our lowliness, be humble like Him?

Our pride and ego are formidable structures that are difficult to break, a potent combination for self-destruction. So it is truly essential that we keep our feet on the ground while reaching for the stars. Lest we shoot for the moon and get burned by the sun. We must decrease. Jesus must increase.

Labor Pains

“Martha, Martha” the Lord answered, “you are upset about so many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

It’s the first day of the new year!!! It’s time to write a new book in our life’s story.
But first let me remember how I got this far.

If asked to describe 2014 in just one word, I choose “meaningful”.

From day one of 2014, the scene in our home where we just moved just days before, was absolutely chaotic. Except for that spot where we sat for the obligatory family photo, everywhere we look at were boxes upon boxes of stuff that were yet to be unpacked and sorted out. It took us about a month to put order into our new home.

Since I grew up where New Year’s Day is the gauge to which the whole year could be predicted to become, we made sure that on every New Year’s Eve, there was bountiful media noche; a clean house down to each cabinet drawers and shelves; pockets full of coins and bills; among other handed down traditions that somehow shape the way we think and live.

But traditions or not, regardless of the disorder in our New Year’s dwelling, 2014 was one that’s full of trials, challenges and difficulties. A year which one with a weak heart and spirit could not endure. The pain was excruciating to say the least. Though not physically, the pain nevertheless pierced each and every part of my being to the very core. But then with each surge of pain, there was always an anticipation so great it momentarily made me forget I was hurting.

Like I was in labor after months of carrying, not a bundle of joy, but a load too heavy to bear. I finally heaved a sigh of relief when a couple of days before Christmas of 2014, my prayer was answered. God once again gave me a gift of hope, like on that first Christmas when Jesus is the “gift” for our salvation.

I cannot recall ever praying so hard like I did those dark days in 2014. And when I saw the light in my answered prayer, the more I felt God’s presence in the here and now. Nothing compares, even those two times I gave birth to my children. The labor pains I had to endure became flickers of memory. The pain disappeared into the wonderful sight of a baby. Now into the sight of a rebirth to a second chance.

It never stops at giving birth. We had to nurture the life that was entrusted to us until it grows into its own fullness in Christ. So should I not stop after receiving the gift of answered prayer. This new year 2015 and for the rest of my life, I have the responsibility to follow through my promise to fulfill the will of God in me; a humble way to express my endless gratitude and praise for His unconditional love for me. I don’t expect the labor pains to go. I’d probably give birth to a new hope over and over again until I grow into full spiritual maturity. Until then, I look forward to this journey to more New Years to come with the Lord in my heart. As that first way of Jesus to the Cross, the pain would be worth it.

So please do not be discouraged. All of us has battlefields to go through at some points in our lives. God will never leave us, if we only let Him fight our battles for us through constant prayer. We have to acknowledge our weakness and believe in His power over all things and in all things.