Propter Amorem.

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4, 19

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“One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in 
the water. As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long 
roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the 
scorpion stung him. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he 
stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its 
poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.

At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted: ‘Hey, 
stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you 
know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?’

The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger’s eyes he said calmly, ‘My friend, it is the nature of the scorpion to sting. It is my nature to love. Why should I give up my nature to love just because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting?'”1

 

God commands us to love each other. However, this does not mean that he directly commanded us. God commanded us to love by making us first experience how does it feel to be loved. God’s example of loving us not only hopes but also gives us a command that will also move us to love others. We love because we experienced being loved. When we felt loved we cannot but love back regardless of how short or big it may seem from the love offered by the other. “Love is not known in the first place by our having loved God; rather, love is known by God’s having loved us.”2

From this viewpoint, one cannot deny the fact that the act of loving is a response to the love that moves or empowers the person to love. “God loves us, and it is the very love of God that empowers us to love. For love is enabling power, and those who have known themselves loved by God are empowered to love. Love – being loved and knowing that one is loved – empowers us to love.”3

However, let it be clear that all acts of loving are not just only responses to the love God had shown us first, but also and more importantly that loving is itself the very essence of God. “Love not only comes from God as from a source, it is itself the very essence of God.”4 And that the demand of love from the believer “is grounded in the nature and being of God himself as love and the source of all love.”5

Indeed, it is God’s nature to love. He is not influenced by anything outside of himself. His is pure love regardless of who the beloved is and what the beloved looks like.

God is manifested through our love for each other. “While no one has ever beheld God, the sure sign of God’s continued dwelling among us is our love for one another. God’s love for us does not depend on our love. Rather, divine love, matures among Christians by their love for one another.”6

Thus, loving God does not simply mean attending mass every Sunday or giving money to the collection box. It’s more than that. “We cannot claim a personal faith that involves only our relationship to God. God’s love will not tolerate such limits. Only those who give themselves for the well being of others can claim to love God.”7

The whole context of the passage quoted from the First Letter of John shows that such love is explicitly demanded. “The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbor or hate him altogether. St. John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”8

In the anecdote I quoted above, true indeed, why would one give up his nature to love just because of other else’s nature? God is always like that – He never ceases to love even if we continue to reject his love over and over again. He remains loving despite our misgivings and infidelities. He keeps on forgiving us no matter how many times we have turned our backs from him. He constantly dies in loving just for us to have life over and over again. This is the love that compels one to love in return through other people, especially to those who were loved less.

Who then is he not to love in return after realizing how good and loving this God is? Who can resist a loving God whose only weapon is to love unceasingly? The God whom I wrestled with is the same God who loves and embraces me. The more I wrestled with Him, the more He lets me feel His unfailing love. I have experienced this God during the long retreat.

This is God’s love. It is always abundant. He is always abundant.

JULIUS HABANA (san jose seminary)


2 The New Interpreter’s Bible. Volume XII. p.430.

3 Thompson, 1-3 John, p. 129.

4 Brown, et al., The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 411.

5 Smalley, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 51, 1,2,3 John, p. 237.

6 The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XII, p. 430.

7 Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John, p. 271.

8 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, Origins 35(33): F2 2006, p. 547.

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Love over Law

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. (John 9, 13-14)

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We hear stories of Jesus healing people of their sickness. The usual dispute between him healing and the Pharisees were its occurrence on a Sabbath – a day intended solely for prayer and rest.

 

In my visits to the patients during our Clinical Pastoral Education at the Philippine Heart Center, several patients whom I visited would share that they didn’t want to get sick or being in the hospital because that hinders them from working or from doing things they usually do. Moreover, they didn’t want to be in that condition because they didn’t want to consider themselves as burden to the family. They didn’t want to look at themselves as pabigat.

 

The man born-blind healed by Jesus in this account of the Gospel of John was likely feeling the same thing for years already. Having been born blind would perhaps mean missing not just something but a lot. Something is lacking. Being the man in the family – one is expected to be the provider of the family. Having an illness must have been very difficult to imagine. Having no use o walang silbi must be a terrible reality to face. It must be very painful for that man to be in that condition. It must have been very hard. Yet, people hardly noticed. The Pharisees hardly felt for him. They would even stick to the observance of the Law. They put much importance to the observance of the Sabbath day than being compassionate to the situation of the paralyzed man. They were blinded by their duty to observe the Law rather than to show compassion, especially to the man who was born blind.

 

Yes. True indeed, laws are important to put order on things – to give us direction. However, one is to remember that laws are made for man’s advancement and not for the law itself. The spirit of the law is always mindful of the well-being of man, and is life-giving.

 

In this account, the Pharisees treated the law – the observance of the Sabbath day – in itself. They regarded it as an institution that should be followed and respected no matter what. That is why they were furious at Jesus. They were perplexed as on how to deal with him after gives sight to the man born-blind. They investigated the event judging the action as the one coming from the evil.

 

While the Pharisees tried to preserve the institution over the human person, Jesus showed us that above any institution, the Law of Love must always be the basis of things – the human person must be seen above all things – the human person before and above the observance of Sabbath. Perhaps, this is what he is trying to tell his disciple when he told them in verse three that “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed.” God’s work of loving mercy might be revealed.

 

Perhaps, this account in the Gospel of John is challenging us to look back on how have we tried to preserve our laws, traditions, or even practices even at the expense of our brethren – colleagues, associates, co-seminarians, brother priests, neighbor, or even to ourselves?

 

This has been the practice for years already. Just follow it and stop complaining!/ Kabagobago mo palang dito. Ano ang karapatan mong questionin at palitan ang nakaugalian na? / Hindi ikaw ang superior o superiora dito. It’s as if napakamakasalanan mo na once you try to question things.

 

How about with our enemies, with those people who don’t agree with our ideas, who are against our principles and on what we believe in? How have we tried to put our traditions and practices forward?

 

We, catholics, at times, would even preserve the institution even at the expense of cursing and condemning other people. We, at times, call ourselves as “pro-life” but when we treat those we also tag as “anti-life” as if up to the point of stepping upon their person and being, we even come to the point of seeing and calling them evil and very bad people. By doing so, are we not also becoming “anti-life” in a sense? We tend to put our beliefs forward instead of showing them our compassion.

 

How about with our own personal beliefs and practices? How have we tried to preserve them even at the expense of other people?

 

Even playing dirty just to win the basketball game? Doing anything just to be at the top of the class? Complying other people to follow what we think is right?. That instead of showing them compassion, we put our personal beliefs and practices forward. We put them before other people. Complying them to follow.

 

Jesus in this account is showing us that showing compassion is more noble than the observance of the law, than pushing our practices forward. He is telling us that while it is necessary to put order on things we must always be mindful that it should always be for the advancement and well-being of man. It should be seen in the spirit of love – of compassion.

 

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was moved by this compassion that she braved all odds in order to take care of the many poor and sick people who are marginalized in the society. The same is true with St. Camillus de Lilies who was called to minister to the sick.

 

As St. Paul puts it in his letter to the Church at Colossae, “May you be established in love, that you may obtain all the riches of a full understanding and know the mystery of God, Christ himself.” He tells us that the basis of a full understanding of the mystery of God is the law of love. Any law that enslave a human being and does not promote its welfare is not life giving and therefore far from the will of God.

 

May we always show compassion toward other people, and that may we always see the love Christ has for each one of us.

JULIUS HABANA (san jose seminary)

 

God’s Initiative

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.’ Then he went and washed and came back able to see. (John 9, 6 – 7)

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What I find remarkable in this scenario is the compassion Jesus had shown to the man born-blind. Jesus meets the desperation of human need with an understanding compassion. He sees the blindness of the man as an avenue so that God’s works might be revealed.

 

At times, we thank God when he hears our prayer. We praise him when we realized that he answered our prayers. We asked God what we want and we are happy when he gives it to us – when he grants it.

 

In this account in the Gospel of John, the man born-blind did really nothing that moved Jesus to heal him and make him see. It was not because of his own doing.  He didn’t even ask Jesus. It was purely God’s initiative. It was Jesus who spat on the ground and made mud with his saliva and spread it on the man’s eyes. All those series of actions were only his.

 

Isn’t it wonderful to realize that God is reaching out to us even without us asking him? He sees our desire. He sees our deepest desire. He always reaches out his hand ready to help and give us sight.

 

His was a gesture of humility – a mark of a very humble man, who would not ask any credit for himself but as John accounts it, what would reveal God’s work.

 

When we think of God abandoning us because of the difficult situation we find ourselves in; when we think of God punishing us through our sickness; when we think of God being distant with us because he seems not to care about us and our loved ones who are in grave situation, this account in the Gospel of John is telling us that most often than not it is God that takes the first move to spat on the ground and made mud with his saliva and spread the mud on our eyes, (on our hearts) so that we will come to see, we will come to our senses that it is only in him that we can find refuge, comfort and consolation from whatever burden we are carrying in our lives.

JULIUS HABANA (san jose seminary)

 

BAKIT MINSAN MAHIRAP MAGPATAWAD?

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If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” JOHN 20:23

Forgiving those who have hurt us is not easy. The bigger the hurt the more difficult it is to forgive, and for many people also, the longer it takes to forgive.

But how much should one forgive? To forgive is something serious, humanly difficult, if not impossible. One must not speak about it lightly, without realizing what one asks of the offended person when one requests him to forgive. Along with the command to forgive, one must also be given a reason to do so.

When I was in the minor seminary, there was this distorted way of practicing seniority. Instead of being good seniors and be the models and servant-leaders of all, our seniors were sometimes the exact opposite. They took advantage of their being seniors. When it was time for movie viewing, the seniors were the ones seated in front. When it was time for meals, the seniors were the first to get the biggest ration. When it was time for recreation, the seniors were the first to use the courts and sports facilities. They were like bosses. They were playing Gods in their own distorted rights. So when it was our turn to be the seniors, this pattern continued and even worsens. The mentality of wanting to get even creeps in deeply into our system.

Until one day on my second year, we had a 5-day retreat to culminate the school year. We started with confession and the retreat mood was set. On the evening of the second day, there was an activity for all called Circle of Love. Before the activity, the facilitator gave a short input on forgiveness and gave the mechanics of the activity. The mechanics was just simple: There were candles in the center of the court. If you feel like you have offended someone in this community, wittingly or unwittingly, get one and give it to him. You may or may not say a word. Then the facilitator signaled for its start.

Then came a very long silence. Nobody stood up in the first twenty minutes. After thirty minutes, the facilitator urged the seminarians to take courage in asking for forgiveness. Then one person stood up. The facilitator had to say something again after how many minutes. Then more and more stood up. The last memories I got there were: there were hugs and sobs; there were exchanges of forgiveness; there were exchanges of sorrys. It took us almost four hours to finish the activity.

When you are in a group of more than a hundred minor seminarians, who experience that kind of forgiveness, it changes the group and unites the group in a new way. But the fact that the facilitator had to ask and urge them to forgive again and again shows that it is not easy to forgive. Someone must have seriously hurt the other person or vice versa.

Indeed, forgiveness is a decision. It really takes a lot of courage to find and give forgiveness. It takes time as well. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that none of us is perfect, so when we point out the faults of others, we should be prepared to hear about our own. Christ himself emphasized the importance of being reconciled with our brothers and sisters.

JAMES B. ABELLA (San Jose Seminary)

Taugh. Caught.

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony… They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.” (John 4: 39, 42)

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We were told that learning is either caught or taught. We learn things because we were told so. We learn things because we discover them, or get upon or get across with them.

The Samaritan woman told them.

The Samaritans from that city first learned about this Jesus when the woman told them about him. They believed in the woman’s testimony. They found it true.

What made me ponder upon their belief to the testimony of this woman is her credibility in telling what she told them. First consideration is that she was a woman. During that time women had no voice in the society. They were considered nothing but less than men.

Second consideration is that she had no husband at that time or living with a man out of wedlock as Allan Culpepper would describe. A woman who had no husband might add to his lower status inthe society.

Given the two considerations, how were those Samaritan people believed in her testimony about the messiah whom even the Pharisees found it difficult to believe? Perhaps, they had found something in the testimony of the woman that speaks about the truth in the messiah –Jesus.

Nowadays, speaking about Jesus is an awkward topic to the youth or more specifically among men of my age. Speaking about Jesus or something related to goodness makes one soft, girly, foppish or sissy. What makes one in or manly are topics on sex, pranks, or one that would make one appear bad guy – the more one becomes a villain the better.

Speaking about Jesus is only for priests and women. Going out barhopping is more attractive than being into a prayer meeting or into church services.

That Samaritan woman spoke about Jesus even if people might not believe her. She told them about their encounter and what Jesus told her. The Samaritan people in that city believed her. They believed in her testimony.

Perhaps, it is but a good inspiration for us to continue proclaiming Jesus to other people despite the sinfulness and weaknesses we see in ourselves or despite the prejudices people have on us. We must never be afraid of telling and proclaiming the Lord in other people, even if it’s unpopular or unmanly.

They have heard for themselves.

We learned later that the Samaritan people invited Jesus to stay with, and he stayed there for to days. Now, they believe not because of what the woman told them, but because they have heard for themselves, and that they know that He is truly the Saviour of the world.

The joy in learning about Jesus from other people is amazing but it is even more amazing when we come to be with him even for two days. Perhaps, the joy that the Samaritan people experienced when Jesus was speaking with them was incomparable. It must be a grace-experience that they even confirmed, “this is truly the Saviour of the world.”

It is beautiful to preach what we learned about God to other people. As many of us would always do – preaching Jesus to other people with high and big words, not even connecting to experience and concrete realities. Although, it is beautiful to preach what other people think about God, but we must remind ourselves that preaching is not just simply saying or repeating what other people have already said. Preaching is about touching other people’s lives that would move them to conversion. This will only be made possible when we preach the God whom we encounter and who already made significant changes in our lives.

Perhaps, this is the reason why seminary formation would take ten or more years. We are given the opportunity to encounter and know this Jesus that we will eventually tell and preach to other people. We are given the venue to build a deep relationship with this God whom we are going to proclaim to other people. However, I must say that ten, eleven, twelve, or fifteen years may not be enough. For an encounter with Jesus is a constant invitation every single day. It does not end when we graduate from theology or when we get ordained. This is a lifetime commitment of encounter and friendship. This is a lifetime commitment of establishing and nurturing our commitment with this God whom we must invite to stay with us like those Samaritan people.

In the end, I think it doesn’t matter whether we learn many things about Jesus from other people or in deep encounters with Him in prayer. The invitation for us perhaps, is how will our knowledge about this Jesus move us to proclaim Him to other people and be living witnesses of His words.

JULIUS HABANA (san jose seminary)

Light in Shepherding: The Challenge of Mutual Knowledge Between the Sheep and Shepherds of Today

 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10,14-15)

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When I wasyoung, not yet in grade school, light for me would signal life – the rising and sleeping.

I grew up in a farm, in a hacienda. When I was a kid the only source of electricity was the power generator for the whole households in the neighborhood. There was even a man assigned to operate and to make sure that it was operational simply because it signals light and life to the people. It would operate from 4:30am until 5:30am signaling households to prepare for breakfast, to have some coffee. After which, people gather at the plaza where everyone would know their possible work for that day, and would again operate at 6 o’clock in the evening – when everyone was expected to be home, eating supper, watching television, studying, and be switch off at 9pm where everyone was expected to sleep by then. The light signals life. It signals human activity.

Let me start this reflection on John 10:14-15 using the image of light posted on Mark 4:21-22 – a lamp has to be placed on a lamp stand.

* With light, we see things clearly. When we light our lamp we will not only see ourselves but also we come to see clearly the things around us where the light of the lamp reaches.

We could not see the things, which are not beyond the light’s reach. Makikita lang natin ang mga bagay na naaabot nang ilaw.

Lighting our lamps means having the desire to see others clearly. Seeing the truth in them. Allowing ourselves to see them in different ways.

Before the end of January until the first week of February we had our peer evaluation. We placed our lamps on lamp stands. We looked at our BEC mates. We look at them mindful of their betterment. We lit our lamps aware of guiding them back on the way – with the help of the formation goals of the seminary. Benedict XVI, in his Lenten message last year, challenged us, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Seeing others in the evaluation means encouraging them towards growth and wholeness.

The same is true with Jesus. He took our form – being emptied, in order not just to look at us, but also to be with us. It is God’s initiative, mindful only of our sakes. No wonder he told his disciple to place a lamp on a lamp stand. Perhaps, he wanted to tell us to also look and see others clearly apart from ourselves. As Teilhard de Chardin said, “The more one looks the more one sees. The more one sees the better one knows where to look.” With light, we see things clearly.

* With light, we are called to be witnesses, authentic witnesses. When we place our lamp on the lamp stand we also allow others to see us. Putting our lampon the lamp stand means allowing ourselves to be seen by others – to be vulnerable? Maybe. But more so… To be authentic. To be true.

Upon lighting our lamp and placing it on a lamp stand we let others see us first before we come to see them. In other words, placing our lamps on a lamp stand would mean allowing ourselves to be seen and allowing others to see us. This would mean transparency and accountability.

Any relationship starts from one disclosing himself/herself to the other and not by demanding others to disclose themselves first. I used to think of the latter. I thought entering into any relationship or friendship the other has to make the first move. Let her/him open herself/himself first before I open myself. I was a proud man. I thought being the first to initiate was only for the lowly or for the desperate ones. I used to believe that disclosing myself would make me vulnerable. Hindi naman pala. Kelangan pala ako ang unang tumaya. I have to allow myself to be seen by others before they come into the light. Kapag nakita nila ako sa maliwanag they will also come nearer to the light.

In the priesthood, what attracts people to the Church are those priests who allowed themselves to be moved by the message they preached – becoming living witnesses to what they proclaim. They don’t get attracted to those who preach blankly. We ought to remember that the lamp of truth is something to be held aloft and not concealed in the interests of a cowardly safety. People come out to the light because they see us living also in the light.

In the life of Jesus, people get attracted to him simply because he was living a life of example. He was a witness to his words – when he preached about compassion he showed it by being compassionate to a tax collector, to an adulterous woman, to a grieving mother, to mourning friends, among others. When he preached love he showed it – giving up his all – his life in total surrender to the Father. He walks what he talks.

Of course the invitation for us is not whether to hide the light or put it on a lamp stand. Nor to simply put our lamp on the lamp stand and that’s it. But rather, the invitation for us perhaps, is “after putting our lamps on the lamp stand what shall we do next? Are we going to hide ourselves from light and watch others pass by? Or remain in the light and walk with others and live in the light of truth? With light, we see things clearly. With light, we are called to be authentic witnesses.

* The Sheep knows the Shepherd because the Shepherd allowed himself to be known and seen when they pass through the gate. The Shepherd knows the Sheep because he sees them passing his way everyday when they enter and get out of the sheepfold. Not even counting being with them everyday as he pastors them.

Between them grows a relationship because they allowed themselves to be known by each other. Not only the Shepherd knows the flock but also (in some way) the flock knows him.

There will only be mutual knowledge when one takes the risk of being known by the other and eventually by being willing to also know the other. Jesus asthe Good Shepherd shows us how this mutual knowledge is possible. He even laid down his life for us. He protected us from the fangs of wolves and treacheries of thieves. He did this because of his love for us. Thus, knowing precedes loving. It is because of the knowledge of the Shepherd for the sheep that he even gave His life for them.

Perhaps, this shows us that when we become shepherds of our own flock (in the ministry), it is but necessary that we establish relationship with them. Relationship that is set by mutual knowledge between us and those we will minister. It is but important that we also allow them to see that indeed it is Christ himself that we’re preaching and we live it everyday so that our words would be credible enough for them to follow and heed our voice.

Jesus is the light that we carry in shepherding. He is the light we carry that we come to see our flock, and the same light that helps them see us clearly and thus follow our way.

            I am the good shepherd; I knowmy own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10, 14-15

JULIUS HABANA (san jose seminary)

Walang utang na loob

                 Alan Culpeper notes that the protagonist in this passage, the man at the pool, is one of the most enigmatic in John’s characters.   He only appears in this scene and his response to Jesus is something unusual. 

                What is noteworthy in the passage is the attitude and form of the healing of the man in the pool.

                 First, it was not the man who initiated the healing but Jesus, “Do you want to be well” (5:6).  The only replied to Jesus’ inquisition. Second, Jesus rebuffs the request but the man is evasive. “Sir I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.” (5:7)Third, Jesus gives instructions that will grant the request. “Stand up, take you mat and walk.” (5:8) Fourth, the other person complies with Jesus’ order, and the sign is accomplished. “At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”(5:9).   Fifth, the sign is verified by a third party. “So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “it is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.  Then lastly, there is a response in faith.  “The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.” (5:15)

                The man’s healing shows Jesus authority to heal even if it against the law.  It is clear how Jesus shows the greatest law of all – that is to love.   But what I find problematic in this passage is the attitude of the man being healed.  I think is ungrateful.  “Wala siyang utang na loob”.  – that after had healed him he did not even say a single word of gratitude.  Instead, he repeatedly blame Jesus. 

                 When the man evades at first to be healed, however, Jesus initiated the process of healing.  He offered.  Yet, still the man was reluctant by blaming others and he could not get into the pool, yet Jesus healed him.  After he is being healed, and when the Jews charged the man for violating Sabbath, again the man put the blame of his action to someone else, to Jesus.  And then again, when Jesus asks him to sin no more, he reported Jesus to the Jews as the one who healed him at Sabbath.   He blames Jesus so that he would not be in troubled. And it turned out Jesus is the one who is in trouble. 

                I find the man being healed “walang utang na loob.” Yet, in spite to the man’s ungrateful attitude Jesus did not blame him.  Instead, Jesus continuously healed him and showed to him the greatest love of all.

 manny amanence, sj