Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Evil Possesions (a sharing based on Mk 5:1-20)

In our gospel today, we are told that the man was driven mad by an evil force which prides itself with the name of Legion. Indeed an appropriate name for such a terribly strong force—a legion—an atrocious army 6,000 strong!

I’m certain that we’ve had our own experiences of evil possessions. True, we may not entirely look like the contorted and distorted figure of Emily Rose (maybe not yet), but I’m sure we’ve had our own terrible experience of painful internal spiritual contortion and distortion. We’ve felt at some point in our lives how it is to be driven by unstoppable great evil forces beyond our strength? We feel (or at least we make ourselves believe that we are) compelled to do things we do not wish to do, and we do not do the things that we ought to do!

Such destructive spiritual legions lurking in our minds and hearts are what we often call "issues". We have experienced how it is that we have been at the mercy of our great issues. We have experienced how it to be chained to them. This is our evil possession.

God's word reminds us today that no destructive force can keep anyone from the wellness and wholeness which God offers to those who seek his help, to those who desire His mercy and love. Jesus, with his great compassion took pity on the man who was overtaken by a legion of evil spirits. He healed him and brought dignity to his being once again.

The Lord can do this, and He will do this for those who seek and accept His mercy and love. We know this profound truth from our sane and more prudent moments of our lives. What is disturbing, however is how we seemingly refuse to seek the liberating help of the Lord, or worse, just as the townspeople in the Gospel have asked Him to leave their neighborhood after seeing how powerful the Lord truly is, we seem to back track, get eaten up in the vicious cycle and say to our Lord to let us be, to just leave us alone.

Why would the townspeople not want Jesus to stay? Why do we find it so difficult to cooperate with His grace? Is it not disturbing that we know where to seek help and yet we run away from it? Perhaps the price for such real liberation from the power of evil and sin is more than what we want to pay, more than what we want to give up. We unknowingly echo the words of the unconverted Agustin, “Give me chastity, but not yet”. We rationalize and say, “Issue ko na talaga ‘yan! Sorry na lang.” (Sorry, I can't do anything with my issues.) We make ourselves believe that we really want to be free, and yet deep inside we have already made the fatalistic decision to remain imprisoned for life.

Our Lord is ready and willing to free us from anything that binds us and that keeps us from His love. That is certain. What is uncertain, my dear friends, is our willingness to part with anything and everything that might keep us from His love and saving grace?

“Lord, unbind us that we may love you wholly and walk in the freedom of Your way of life and holiness. May there be nothing which keeps us from the joy of living in Your presence. Amen.”

Of Faith and Prayer (Mk 9:14-29)

As I reflected on this morning’s gospel (Mk 9:14-29), I can’t help but go back to my own experience of prayer, specifically my own prayers of petition. As far as I could remember, prayers of petition have always been part of my prayers since I was very young, whether it be asking for high grades or asking for the healing of a loved one in pain. What is particularly striking to me now is how when I was younger, I guess when I was more innocent and less cynical, more childlike and less proud, my prayers were more passionate and desirous. Lately, I have noticed that my prayers are no longer as moving and as fervent.


It would have really been good if I could say plainly that the reason is that now I have become more spiritually indifferent than ever before. But honestly, this might not be entirely true. It seems that, as I have become older and “wiser”, I have also become too self reliant, too pragmatic, too hardheaded at times. In this way, faith has become superficial, and prayer, mechanical, worse, faith has become “prayer-less” and prayers “faith-less”.

Today’s gospel reminds us of how faith and prayer go hand in hand. They must never be divorced from one another, especially when we expect faith and prayer to strengthen and compliment each other. We see this, both in Jesus’ dismay with the disciples’ lack of faith and His concern to meet the need of this troubled epileptic boy and his anguished father. But, more clearly we see this in the Lord’s recognition of the fragility of the father’s faith and His challenge for him to pray boldly with expectant and hopeful faith. He says to him, “All things are possible to him who believes!” He says to us, "Pray and believe; believe and pray!"

That indeed was a wake up call. Not just to this father nor to the disciples who could not make the boy well. It was a wake up call for me, and I guess for everyone else slacking in prayerful faith and in faithful prayer. We simply cannot subsist with a faith that lacks prayer and a prayer that lacks faith. It leads nowhere. It brings no healing. It gives no life.

St Augustine rightfully reminds us then: “Where faith fails, prayer perishes. For who prays for that in which he does not believe? ...So then in order that we may pray, let us believe, and let us pray that this same faith by which we pray may not falter.”

Let us take this this reminder to heart as we continue with this morning’s celebration, especially as we move towards Lent. Let us approach the Lord and beg Him to help our unbelief. Let us plead to Him that he may increase our faith and trust in His saving power so that we may be given confidence and perseverance, especially in prayer, to bring His healing love and truth to those in need.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Putting It Together

After my novitiate batch ate our first dinner at Sacred Heart Novitiate, we were told by the novice-in-charge of us postulants to stay for a while in our recreation area. We had to spend some time with one another before we finally went up to our cubicles to sleep. Unlike some of my batch mates who almost immediately gathered together as they poured out the contents of a dilapidated box of a Looney Toon jigsaw puzzle set, I merely observed from a distance. I was not in any mood to mingle. My thoughts were still on the images of what happened a few hours before, when I finally left home to enter the Society of Jesus; questions were still running wild in my head. Noticing that I was the only one not “re-creating”, however, I simply decided to dive-in and join the fray.

Jigsaw puzzles were always interesting yet too tedious for me as a child, but I still secretly desired that I become good at piecing them together. It was always good, I thought, to have some kind of bragging rights over an accomplishment. Thus, as I grew a little bit older and quite more patient, I would learn to play with puzzle sets given to me as Christmas presents. I do not; however, remember them to have more than fifty pieces in a pack. It was only in the Novitiate where I was amazed to see a box of five hundred pieces. Sure the picture on the box was of childish Looney Toon characters but I realized then that this jigsaw puzzle set was no child’s play at all. It required concentration and dexterity. It called for a lot of free time and endurance.

There we were, sprawled on the floor with the tiny pieces scattered all around. The task, to my reckoning, was close to impossible. But none of my batch mates seemed to mind. One of us began to separate the edge-pieces from the rest of the jigsaw puzzle to begin building its borders. While he was sorting through the heap of multi-colored cardboard for the border-pieces, the rest of us almost instinctively classified the remaining parts into several piles of similar color or markings. Amidst the friendly banter and funny heckles of being obsessive compulsive in building the puzzle, we somehow realized that even when the “color-coding” scheme seemed wearisome, especially when we were all anxious to get started, it would indeed pay dividends further down the line.

After a while, a group of us began a second, more meticulous sort through the piles that had already been gathered. Someone said it would be easier for him to concentrate on fewer pieces of similar color because this allowed him to become more focused and discriminating. And so, the rest of us followed him. We all looked for specific designs that would somewhat indicate the ears of Bugs Bunny, the beak of Tweety Bird, the Tail of Duffy Duck and what have you. I, myself, decided to focus on building the head of Marvin the Martian!

Recreation time was soon over and we barely sorted all the pieces according to colors and design. We found ourselves glued to the puzzle; we did not want to go to bed without any marked accomplishment, but we simply had to stop and move back. In any case, we were delighted enough to see that the border of the puzzle was almost finished. This would be the framework of the following days’ labor.

As my thoughts drifted back and forth from the life I have chosen to leave outside and the new life I have decided to live inside, my batch mates and I went to and fro the same recreation room day-in and day-out. We went on putting the puzzle together for the entire week.

As each of us focused on a particular portion, it seemed to me that fitting the pieces together was going extremely slow. From time to time, I would even find myself getting upset because of my inability to find an exact piece for an exact space! Eventually, I was convinced that I was missing a puzzle piece. I could not seem to form the left eye of Marvin the Martian. It frustrated me a lot, especially as I saw how the others were progressing in their own segment of the puzzle. I was so tempted to pry into the piles of my batch mates in order to check if that piece I was looking for was there. I furtively searched under the couches of the recreation area, even inside the shoes of my batch mates, but I just could not find it. One tiny space was absolutely driving me mad! (Funny how one little piece in a puzzle could make me feel like exploding!) Maybe that piece was missing, for all I know. I was slowly becoming resigned to the possibility that I might never find that piece by the time the puzzle was done. It might have to simply be a missing piece.

As I was laboriously piecing my part of the puzzle together, I was also struggling to put together some of the pieces in my life as I entered the Society of Jesus. Pieces that did not make clear sense to me, pieces that I wanted to put into the empty spaces in my new found life. I was searching for a pattern in my past life that would lead me to a better understanding of what my true vocation was. I longed to see the complete picture and have everything fit neatly together, so that I might finally say: “This is it! I’m complete!”

It became quite obvious that I would not be able to find any of the answers to these questions if I had just stood around and waited for things to fall into places. Letting my days pass-by as an officer in a bank I used to slave for would have definitely paid for my bills, but it would not have unburdened me from the emptiness that I felt deep inside. I would have just remained in the worn-out box of my self-preservation.

After making an unexpected vocation seminar and seeing how I resonated with the stories of ordinary men like me finding meaning by risking and trusting in the Society, I knew I had to make the move. Indeed, I had to dive-in and join the fray, even if it meant leaving behind what I had gotten used to and sacrificing what I had once valued: my lifetime earnings, my career in the corporate world, my beloved family. And as I took the plunge, I saw how the vocation to a religious life was not at all child’s play. Here I was at its threshold, in the Novitiate, quiet and still, a bit childlike but not wanting to be childish at all.

I reconstructed the borders of my life much like the fitting-in of the puzzle pieces that formed the edges of the five-hundred-piece-jigsaw. Little by little, I saw how influences from my family and from my education had determined how I would lead my future. I grew up in a pious family which always recognized the presence of God and his blessings in our lives. I studied for sixteen years in a school where being a man-for-others was inculcated until it became second nature to its students. These, I figured, shaped the borders that would become my framework for my vocation discernment—my deepest desire was that of being one with my God in serving others.

Now that the borders have been set, I rummaged through the different pieces that were left unorganized and disconnected. I saw how several occasions of my life clustered as seemingly dark colors of my past: hedonistic experiences to escape the pressures of life. On the other hand I was able to collate as well a pile of light colored patterns: experiences of virtue and transcendence. These pieces, at a glance, did not seem to go together, yet, eventually; they would snuggly fit side by side, display a rainbow of colors and show a myriad of intricate images. By looking in more closely, more meticulously at the gathered pieces of my life, I found myself becoming keener and more discerning to the movements that had brought me to the decision to forego everything and enter the Society. To my surprise, as these pieces seemingly fell into place, nothing that had ever happened in my life was wasted. Good and bad experiences were all placed in their proper order as if to follow a greater scheme of existence to bring new hope, to bring new life, to bring new meaning.

And yet, even when the picture of how I had arrived at this house of formation had become more apparent, I was still left with a missing piece. It was the answer to the question: “Why would God choose me?” It was like that missing piece that would have completed the eye of Marvin the Martian in the jigsaw puzzle my batch mates and I were so engrossed to put together. That piece was nowhere to be found. I had searched high and low, even tempted to pry into the experience of the vocation of my other brothers to compare what they had gone through and what I might have missed out. Finally, managing to pull myself together, I brought myself to a conclusion that this perplexing missing piece was as mysterious and as puzzling as being loved and loving back in return. Love is unfathomable. I have experienced it and I am attracted to it, but I do not fully comprehend it. Why I, despite my rough edges and uneven borders have been chosen by God in His great love and mercy to enter the Society of Jesus and become a priest was the missing piece I was now willing to let go. It might have to simply be the missing piece.

Yet unlike the resignation that I felt when I could no longer find that solitary piece that would complete my part of the Novitiate puzzle, encountering this mystery brought me profound and consoling insight. I realized that maybe I did not have to find this missing piece at all—it was not necessary. (And thank Goodness I did not have to wait until the end of time to realize this.) I simply had to accept that this last piece was in the hands of the One who was piecing the puzzle of my life together. His eyes saw me whole and beautiful before I was put together. To Him the big picture of my life is set and clear. For all the days of my life were written in His book before any of them came to be.

In Him, I am complete. And that is it!

Ask me who I am.

Who am I?

Guillrey Anthony, that's the name I rarely use. My friends call me Ernald. And according to my parents, Ernald is simply a product of their names: Erlinda and Reynaldo. But according to some baby-name-book, which i discovered when I was no longer a boy, though not yet quite a grown-up man, Ernald comes from an old Germanic word which means NOBLE EAGLE.

It takes a little getting use to, as it can be a mild tongue-twister, Ernald, that is, but when one gets a hang of it, calling me by my nickname becomes second nature.

Some people who have known me only as a "true-blue-blooded" Atenean, born and raised in this bustling metropolis, and having worked tirelessly as a junior manager for a bank for almost five years after college may think that I'm pretty cold, stuck-up, dull, and too serious.

I'm really not that reserved, even when I dearly value my own privacy. I delight in the company of others as much as I enjoy prayer in solitude. I like being with cheerful people (even entertaining them with a song when necessary), as much as I savor private conversations with a confidant. I also like laboring for a cause with generous people as much as I am at ease with just being in solidarity with those who feel helpless and yet continue to hope. I desire to live a life outside my own cloister and be with those whom He has called me to serve; as much as I desire to be deeply introspective and come into union with Him who endlessly loves me to be, with Him who gives meaning to who I really am.

My name would have been an easy response, but we all know how that remains to be an incomplete answer. (Is it then a mystery that the answer to this perennial question remains to be a mystery?) Expressing my desires, however is a worthy insight in beginning to understand the richness of this mystery, of this reality of who I am. In time, hopefully, the question will be answered definitively. But for now, let my name, Ernald, suffice.