Tag Archives: Philippines

Book Review: Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro

Conversion and reversion stories never fail to fascinate. Stories of how and why a person freely decides to embrace the Catholic Faith, or return to the Catholic Faith of his or her childhood after having freely rejected it, are intriguing. Such stories edify Catholics in their Faith, giving them more reasons to love it. For open-minded non-Catholic readers searching for truth, these stories open up more avenues for the search.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro tells a unique reversion story. Its subject matter is not a canonized saint or a famous apologist, but Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero whose writings played a major role in the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain during the 1890s.

Every Filipino learns in school about Rizal’s life and writings. Inevitably, we learn that at one point in his life, he studied in Europe, got exposed to Enlightenment philosophies, became a Freemason, wrote about the abuses committed by the Spanish friars in the Philippines, and was shot by a firing squad on accusations of treason against the Spanish government. His novels, which we also study as part of the basic education curriculum in the Philippines, present the Catholic Church in an unflattering light: lustful, avaricious, cruel, and power-hungry friars; caricatured depictions of superstitious piety of ordinary folk. Most of the heroes of the novels are free-thinkers; in one chapter of the first novel, one of them scoffs at the Catholic doctrine on purgatory and indulgences.

We also learn that before he was executed, Rizal signed a written retraction of his anti-Catholic writings, but historians debate his sincerity in signing it. Rizal’s admirers seem to think that retracting his anti-Catholic writings would reduce his greatness, and surmise that he signed the retraction only out of convenience – an odd position to take about someone whom one is presenting as a hero worthy of emulation (and which, for me, does not make sense because the retraction did not save Rizal from the firing squad).

However, it is documented that before he was shot, Rizal went to sacramental confession four times and contracted a sacramental marriage with Josephine Bracken with whom he had previously been cohabiting. In one of his last recorded conversations before he was shot, he serenely asked the priest accompanying him if he would go to Heaven on the same day if he gained a plenary indulgence.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly by Fr. Javier de Pedro traces Rizal’s spiritual journey from the piety of his childhood, through his estrangement from the Catholic Faith and his immersion in Enlightenment thought, to his return to the Faith of his childhood before he died.

The author, Fr. Javier de Pedro, is a Spanish priest who fell in love with the Philippines, having lived and ministered here for many years.  He has doctorates in Industrial Engineering and Canon law and, according to those who know him, is a Renaissance man like Rizal himself. Thus, he brings to the book a valuable perspective: that of a Spaniard who knows and loves the Philippines and Rizal a lot, who has done extensive research about his subject matter, and who, as an experienced priest in the confessional, frequently encounters the tension between sin and grace in souls.

Indeed, the book is detailed, well-researched, and reveals the author’s thorough familiarity with Rizal’s writings, which the author refers to as “mirrors” of Rizal’s soul.

The book presents not only the life and thoughts of Rizal, but also his historical context, including the intellectual trends in fashion in the Europe where Rizal developed his ideas.  Thus, the book is valuable not only as a source of spiritual edification, but also as a work of history. It avoids the common pitfalls of isolating Rizal from the historical context in which he lived, and of giving the impression that Rizal’s thoughts remained static and did not develop throughout his life.

The pastor’s perspective is another valuable element of the book. The author shares his insights and analysis on what contributed to Rizal’s estrangement from the Catholic Faith as well as what helped him find his way back to it. Thus, the book also serves as a cautionary tale on what may lead a soul away from the Faith, as well as a guide on how to help oneself and others regain the Faith when it has been lost.

I appreciate the author’s affection for Rizal even as the author points out Rizal’s missteps. In the Prologue, the author refers to Rizal as someone “for whose soul I am now raising a prayer, even if I am convinced that he received long ago the welcome of the Father to the house of Heaven.” The author understands Rizal and acknowledges Rizal’s legitimate grievances against certain clergymen that arose from Rizal’s real experiences. The author is careful to base his insights on Rizal’s spiritual journey on verifiable facts and texts, and emphasizes that in the end, Rizal’s spiritual journey is an mysterious interplay between his freedom and God’s grace.

The book is a compelling read. I especially like the narration of the last days of Rizal, where the author describes recounts details such as the parallel Christmas celebrations of Rizal’s family and the Spanish guards of the prison where Rizal was incarcerated (Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896).  That chapter is full of drama and humanity.

Unfortunately, the book is not widely available. As of now, the only place I know where it could be bought is the bookstore of the University of Asia and the Pacific here in the Philippines (inquiries may be made here).  In fact, one reason I reviewed Rizal Through a Glass Darkly was to change this by promoting interest in the book.

Indeed, the story in Rizal through a Glass Darkly deserves to be more widely known. It is of particular interest to Filipinos, but it is of interest, too, to everyone else. It is a touching story of a talented man with great ideals and who is credited for a lot of important things, who was at the same time a flawed human being who committed grave errors but eventually found redemption. Like every other conversion and reversion story, it is fascinating.

Marian Battle Plan for World Peace: Consecration and Salvation

Last year, I finished Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC’s book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.

I am sure some of you know about his book 33 Days to Morning Glory sold by the Marian Fathers. The Marian book talks about Marian consecration according to St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Pope St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta.

In The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, Fr. Gaitley talked about how they printed 1 million Spanish copies of the Marian book and gave 100,000 for free to Mexico.

This was very important because the drug war there led to a lot of killings. One reason why there were so many killings is because of their devotion to “Santa” Muerte, aka “Saint” of Death. The devotion is practiced by gruesome killings. They do this to gain power from the demonic spirits.

He said that this was very important because Marian Consecration in the US and Mexico is being promoted by their bishops etc to combat the killings and abortion. The Mexican bishops consecrated their entire dioceses to Mama Mary.

Does Marian Consecration work? Yes! How do we know? Let me give you two concrete examples in recent history.

Before WWII, Mama Mary got St Maximilian Kolbe to promote Marian consecration throughout Poland. Through this, she strengthened her children for the coming war. The Poles were heroically charitable and generous even in the midst of inhumane persecution and oppression. St Maximilian also went to Nagasaki, Japan to promote Marian consecration there. He also passed by Manila en route back to Poland. Notice anything about these places? Warsaw, Poland and Manila were the most devastated cities of World War II. Nagasaki was the site of the atomic bomb. Mama Mary sent him to prepare the places that would be most devastated by promoting Marian Consecration.

In more recent history; my country, the Philippines, received the best proof of this during the 1987 EDSA People Power Revolution.

In 1985, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines dedicated the year as a Marian Year. All throughout the country, there would be posters of Mama Mary. There would be conferences about Marian spirituality. Parishioners were encouraged to pray the Rosary.

This renewed devotion to Mother Mary was in the midst of Martial Law, Marcos’ dictatorship where thousands were arbitrarily abducted, tortured and killed.

From February 21 until 25, 1986, thousands of people congregated along EDSA street. In the face of tanks and soldiers, they prayed the Rosary, asking for Mama Mary’s intercession for peace in the land. They offered flowers to the soldiers. And miraculously, there was no bloodshed. The soldiers lowered their weapons and accepted the flowers. The dictator Marcos fled to Hawaii. Peace and democracy was restored to the Philippines.

Our Lady of EDSA (Our Lady of Peace)
Our Lady of EDSA (Our Lady of Peace)

It remarkable that EDSA is short for Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, “Epiphany of the Saints.” Yes, this was its name even before the peaceful revolution! The day that manifested the power of everyday saints and Mama Mary’s protection and intercession.

In the world today, there is much confusion and chaos. ISIS, Syrian war in the Middle East. Migrant crisis and economic uncertainty in Europe. Abortion and euthanasia in the United States and Canada. The genocide of drug suspects in the Philippines. In the midst of so much uncertainty, the only way the world can find peace is if it turns with trust to Mama Mary. If the Catholics throughout the world consecrated themselves to Mama Mary, her Immaculate Heart would triumph once more.

Remember that this was her promise at Fatima: that if Russia was consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, the world would find peace. St John Paul II accomplished this at Fatima on March 25, 1984. But now our Lord and our Lady are calling us to do the same. We can find peace and healing if we consecrate ourselves to Mother Mary, entrusting ourselves to her perfect care; she will bring peace back to the world as only the gentlest of mothers could.

So now as we near the 100th anniversary of Fatima, I encourage everyone to make take advantage of this special season of grace. Pray the Rosary and consecrate yourselves to Mama Mary. As she has shown throughout history, she can bring about peace in the midst of the greatest adversities. And should God permit us to suffer, she will give us the grace, courage and strength to love one another as Christ loves us on the Cross.

Images: PD-US

____

Leia Go is a Filipina law student. She graduated in 2011 with an AB in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on Literature and Philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University (Loyola Schools). Her patron saints are Mama Mary, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Faustina. She has been a lector and altar server in her schools’ campus ministry offices since high school. She also loves volunteering at the Good Shepherd Sisters baby orphanage and is discerning a vocation to religious/consecrated life.

Constructing Heaven on Earth

I became fascinated with old churches during my one-year stay in Europe. While I realize that Christ is no less present in a new church than in an old one, and while I have had meaningful spiritual experiences in churches of modern design, there is something about old churches that helps me pray more and better when I’m in them.

When I read the book How to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture by Denis McNamara, I learned that this is no accident. The features of traditional church architecture exist precisely to express religious sentiments, to represent theological concepts, and to facilitate worship. In traditional churches, truths as old as Christianity itself are literally set in stone for generations of Christians until the end of time. Every design element in a traditional church preaches volumes about the Catholic Faith.

I thus got excited when I attended mass for the first time in the still-unfinished new church of my parish, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish located in the southernmost city of Metro Manila, the Philippines. I saw that, when finished, the new church will have many of the features of the churches I have seen when I was in Europe – indeed, many of the features McNamara discusses in his book.

Mr. Ron Miranda, the chief architect in charge of the project, describes the new church as “Romanesque-Gothic”. “It’s a modern take of the Romanesque language of round arches and thick walls,” he says, explaining that “the arches were made pointed leaning toward a tame version of the Gothic design.”

DSC00346

 

Arches

 

DSC00336

 

He also points out that the floor plan is cruciform, a traditional design in the shape of a cross, as opposed to the regular rectangular shaped floor plan.

At the same time, the new church is also modern. According to Miranda, “what makes it modern is that the structure (skeleton) is designed essentially using poured in place reinforced concrete (shear walls), and the massive look of the columns is essentially cosmetic to make the proportions correct. Romanesque churches’ massive structure is due to the technology at that time”, he explains. Furthermore, the new church will have modern conveniences like electric acoustic systems and air-conditioning (which is necessary in a tropical climate like the Philippines).

The interior of the church will have twelve main columns supporting the structure. There will be column statues of the Twelve Apostles, symbolizing the role of the Apostles as the foundations of the Church.

For me, the most beautiful feature of the new church will be its stained glass art. The plan is to install stained-glass depictions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and St. Claude de Columbiere at the transept of the church, the eight Beatitudes at the upper transept, the twelve promises of the Sacred Heart at the upper nave, the twelve events in the life of Jesus at the nave, and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit at the back of the main retablo.

DSC00340

“[S]tained glass windows aptly symbolized the jeweled walls of heaven described in scripture,” writes McNamara in his book. “The book of Revelation described the walls of the heavenly city as composed of glorified human beings radiating the light of Christ from within. As light passes through stained-glass windows and the figures represented in them, the walls of the church take on the qualities and radiance of heaven itself.”

“In biblical language,” he further writes, “gems represent divine life, which is why heaven is described as composed of gems representing people. Since the church building is an image of heaven, radiant, gemlike stained-glass windows are intended to bring that reality down to Earth.”

As of the time of writing, 69% of the construction of the new church has already been completed. The parish aims to finish it in time for the evening of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this year. Raising much-needed funds for the construction of the new church is a project of the entire parish. Even schoolchildren from the free preschool organized by the parish have been contributing their precious coins for the construction of the church, according to the parish priest.

I cannot wait for the construction of the new church to finish. I may never have the opportunity to return to Europe, but I look forward to having heaven on earth just a few blocks away from my house.

You can help finish the construction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish by forwarding this article to potential donors.  They may contact the parish priest, Rev. Fr. Lambert Legaspino, at sacredheart.muntinlupa@gmail.com or the program coordinator Dottie Sibal at dottiesibal@gmail.com.

 

 

Lessons on “With-ness” from Pope Francis

By Benhur Arcayan (Malacanang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Among all the public appearances of Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines, the most moving was the one in Tacloban, Leyte with the survivors of typhoon Yolanda on January 17, 2015.

Another typhoon hit the place on the scheduled date of the Pope’s visit. The possibility of cancelling his flight to Tacloban from Manila was real. In the end, he decided to go on with the trip, with the pilot deciding to advance the scheduled arrivals and departures.

In Tacloban, as seen on TV and news photos, the skies were grey and the grounds of the Tacloban airport – where the gathering was held — were damp. The people wore raincoats and waited for the Pope outside in the rain. When the Pope met the people, he too wore a raincoat.

It has been said that a special raincoat had been set aside for him, but he wanted to wear one that was like what everybody else wore. It has also been said that there was a plan for him to say mass and deliver a homily inside a church and then for the mass to be televised to the crowd at the airport. But the Pope preferred to have mass at the airport with the crowd as originally planned, beneath a specially-prepared shed.

During the mass, he delivered a homily which moved most of his audience to tears. The following are excerpts:

… When I saw from Rome that catastrophe I had to be here. And on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you – a little bit late, but I”m here. I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord. And he never lets us down. Father, you might say to me, I was let down because I have lost so many things, my house, my livelihood. It”s true if you say that and I respect those sentiments. But Jesus is there, nailed to the cross, and from there he does not let us down. He was consecrated as Lord on online casino that throne and there he experienced all the calamities that we experience. Jesus is Lord. And the Lord from the cross is there for you. In everything the same as us. That is why we have a Lord who cries with us and walks with us in the most difficult moments of life.

So many of you have lost everything. I don”t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart. Many of you have asked the Lord – Why, Lord? And to each of you, to your heart, Christ responds with his heart from the cross. I have no more words for you. Let us look to Christ. He is the Lord. He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced. And beside the cross was his Mother. We are like a little child in the moments when we have so much pain and no longer understand anything. All we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and say “Mommy” – like a child does when it is afraid. It is perhaps the only words we can say in difficult times – “Mommy”.

Let us respect a moment of silence together and look to Christ on the cross. He understands us because he endured everything. Let us look to our Mother and, like a little child, let us hold onto her mantle and with a true heart say – “Mother”. In silence, tell your Mother what you feel in your heart. Let us know that we have a Mother, Mary, and a great Brother, Jesus. We are not alone. We also have many brothers who in this moment of catastrophe came to help. And we too, because of this, we feel more like brothers and sisters because we helped each other…

The Pope’s words and gestures to the typhoon survivors in Tacloban are relevant to me too. First, I have my own share of personal crosses, and while I dare not equate my own sufferings to those of people who have lost their homes and loved ones in a typhoon, just the same, the Pope’s words give me the necessary strength and wisdom I need to carry my own crosses with love.

Second, I often feel helpless in the face of other people’s sufferings. I often do not know what to do or what to say to ease others’ pain, and I sometimes use this as an excuse not to reach out. The Pope’s words and example showed me that whatever we do or say to help the suffering, what really consoles them is for us to be with them, just as Christ is with us in our sufferings. As Peter Kreeft puts it, “With-ness: that is all friendship wants.”

Being with others in their suffering does not always require riding a plane amidst a storm to where they are. It does take effort, though. For example, to listen to someone who needs a listening ear can be a big sacrifice for some people, including me. But it is something doable, and I have no excuse not to do it.

The Pope’s words and examples showed me not to use my inability to heal other people’s hurts as an excuse not to reach out to the suffering. Suffering people do not always expect others to alleviate their pain or to explain why they suffer. Indeed, suffering cannot be wiped out from this fallen world. But while we cannot take away others’ sufferings, we can accompany them – just as what Pope Francis did to those typhoon survivors in Tacloban, just as Christ does for all of us.

The Pope is Coming to My Country!

By now, most Filipinos already know the good news that Pope Francis will visit the Philippines from January 11-15, 2015. Here are my thoughts about what this means.

For My Fellow Filipinos

I still remember the excitement of World Youth Day 1995 when Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines. It is, indeed, a rare honor and a joy to host the pope in our own country, and no doubt we will spare no effort in preparing to welcome Pope Francis with the best of Filipino hospitality that we are known for world over.

Preparations for the papal visit should be more than the externals like coordinating the logistics or mastering the actions to the event’s theme song. Our attitude to the papal visit should be more than a fangirl’s anticipation of the arrival of a favorite celebrity. The papal visit is not just a chance to take selfies at the public gatherings to post on Facebook, although there is nothing wrong having fun.

The papal visit is an opportunity to be physically close to the vicar of Christ on earth, to be moved by his words and actions. It is, above all, a moment of grace, a moment to be converted. The best preparation for the papal visit would be to cultivate and till the soil of our souls to make it good ground for the word of God. Concretely, this means going to Confession to remove any obstacles in our souls to the working of grace; frequent, worthy reception of Communion; and doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Among the spiritual works of mercy is instructing the ignorant. Those of us fortunate to have experienced good religious education should share what we know with those who do not even know who and what the pope is. To do this effectively, we should deepen our own understanding of the papal office, as well as our awareness and love for the universal Church.

Finally, we must pray for the Pope and for ourselves, for the fruits of the papal visit. “Fruits” here means both spiritual and temporal, because a renewed spiritual life as a result of the papal visit would also benefit temporal society. Let us pray that the papal visit in January 2015 will benefit our country long after the headlines will have stopped reporting about it.

For the Rest of the World

The rest of the world should not feel left out. Although the physical presence of Pope Francis in the Philippines in 2015 will be a special privilege for the Filipino people, the words he will utter and the graces that God will send through him during those days will be for the universal Church.

Modern telecommunication technology gives us access to the pope’s words and doings wherever he is. We should take advantage of it to be aware of his concerns and his messages, so as to unite ourselves spiritually with the vicar of Christ on earth and follow his guidance.

We here in the Philippines also request the rest of the world for prayers for Pope Francis and for our country, for the fruits of the papal visit. In turn, we will take advantage of the moment of grace to pray for the rest of the universal Church. Every papal visit to any country, whether our own or not, is an opportunity to look beyond petty concerns and be united our brothers and sisters in  faith wherever they may be.

The news of the upcoming papal visit is a blessing to our country which has suffered a lot recently due to natural disasters and unfortunate developments in local politics. The joy that will from welcoming Pope Francis to our shores is not something we will keep for ourselves alone. We invite the rest of the world to join Pope Francis in spirit as he visits the Philippines bringing the word of God. The Pope will be in the Philippines in January 2015, but the moment of grace will be for everyone, everywhere.

Nothing Changes

By now, those who have been monitoring the events in the Philippines know that the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional the Reproductive Health Law except for eight provisions. In a nutshell, this means that state-sponsored, state-subsidized contraception remains in place. However, the nullification of certain provisions of the law means, among other things, that private hospitals are no longer required to provide “reproductive health care services”, and conscientious objectors would no longer be penalized for refusing to provide such services and for refusing to refer patients to willing providers.

Both sides of the debate, as well as the media, are not clear on who prevailed. Some consider it a blow to the pro-life movement in the Philippines, while others think that the nullification of the eight provisions render the law toothless.

 As for me, while I appreciate the concessions granted to religious liberty, it is clear that one of the last standing fortresses against Western-style secularism has been breached. I foresee major shifts in societal values due to the spread of the contraceptive mentality and the influx of the culture of death.

But the more relevant and pressing question for me is, “How should we live our Catholic faith in a post-Reproductive Health Law society?”

Upon reflecting on this question, I have concluded that nothing changes. Responding to the call to sanctity has always, and always will, demand heroism. Catholics have always had to, and will always have to, be ready to stick out like a sore thumb, be singled out and be persecuted for their beliefs. Catholics always have been called, and always will be called, to be salt and light in society, to preserve the world from corruption and to guide others, through word and example, out of the darkness.

The demands are great, but the means provided are no less effective. Christ has never abandoned His Church on earth and never will. He continues to empower us through His graces which he imparts through the Church, which have produced saints in every era.

I take inspiration from the first Christians. They were a small, hunted, and marginalized group, and yet, by living the Catholic faith in their personal circumstances, succeeded in transforming society. I also take inspiration from all the other saints who, throughout history, remained faithful to Christ and spread His message unceasingly even during the most difficult periods of history.

As for the pro-life movement in the Philippines, the fight goes on. Hopefully, with the lessons learned from this recent skirmish, the movement can regain lost ground.

In the meantime, we ordinary Catholics will continue striving to be saints, proclaiming the Gospel in season and out of season with a lot of hope.

Celebrating Christmas on the Streets

In the Philippines, while the well-to-do families feast on traditional ham, roasted suckling pig, steak, or turkey on Christmas Eve, many other people spend the night begging.

Way back in 2009, my friend Carlos had spiritual direction sessions with a priest famed for his work with the poor.  Carlos documented his own major spiritual experiences in writing and submitted it to the priest, who read it and said, “I am disturbed that despite living in a poor country, the poor scarcely have a place in your spiritual experiences.” Since then, Carlos prayed for a deep love for the poor and the opportunity to share his life with them.

God answered Carlos’ prayer by letting him work for two years in Tondo, Manila—the largest slum area in the Philippines—alongside a missionary.  There, Carlos encountered the worst kind of poverty, and started dreaming of ways to help the destitute celebrate Christmas.

In 2013, Carlos’ dream came true. With the help of his mother and his aunts, he spent the day of December 24 packing sandwiches, candies, chocolates, and juice. On Christmas Eve, his team went around in a van throughout several districts in the southern part of Quezon City seeking out small groups and families of poor people who were hiding in the street corners and expecting not to eat nor receive anything that night. His team gave food to a hundred people, referring to the food not as “tulong” (“help”) but as “handog” (“offering”) or “pamasko” (Christmas gift).

According to Carlos, his team were not the only ones that night doing it. As they drove around the streets, they saw some who had already received food from other passers-by and neighbours.  However, many more still received nothing and expected nothing. Carlos and his team gave food to these people.

“The most heart-warming to see were the smiles of the children,” Carlos says. “Simple “thank yous” also abounded, and these were more than enough. Most memorable for me were the startled eyes of a family that I gently woke up so I could give them some sandwiches.”

Carlos plans to repeat the project this year, and would like to spend more time with the loneliest families listening to their stories. He hopes more friends would join him in this project and that they could give food to more families. Above all, he hopes more people would, on their own, do the same thing next Christmas. However, he does not want that the project be “institutionalized.” “There is a place for institutional charity or mutual assistance, and there is also a place for small, spontaneous movements of kindness and sharing,” he said.

When I asked him for pictures of the project, he said he did not have any. Although he gave me permission to blog about the project, he emphasized that he normally does not speak publicly about his charitable efforts. Yet I believe that my friend’s story, and many other stories like it, deserves to be told—stories of ordinary Christians celebrating the birthday of Christ the way He would have wanted it.

With the Point of a Nail

I walked through the yard where they were collecting the bodies of those killed by the typhoon. They bring them in on trucks, collecting them from out of treetops along the beach, rubble piles in the city, drowned vehicles along the street. A body bag hides a lot about the person it contains, but it cannot hide the size. One old lady was swelled up so huge they couldn’t zip the bag, so they left her with the bag closed to her waist, one arm stiffened over her face, like she was trying to block out the sun.

One body bag had a pair of business shoes sticking out of a rip in the corner.

One body bag had only a single lump in it. A two foot lump in a six foot bag.

The juices oozed out of them and ran across the cobblestones. You cannot get sick from the smell. Death is not contagious.

Only two feet long.

They only had a few trucks left running. They needed them to haul bodies. They needed them to deliver food. So they used the same trucks to do both. Fortunately a weird, twitchy, ex-Pat guy who owns a pest control business donated his time, equipment and 300 gallons of boric acid to spraying out the trucks between uses.

They wanted him to spray down the cadavers at first. He told them it was a waste of time. Save the chemicals to protect the living.

Another lump was just about four feet long.

They do not have time to identify them. At first a few were found and identified by relatives, but by now the decomposition is too advanced. The National Bureau of Investigation is burying them deep in a mass grave, in single file lines, with layers of lime and dirt between each layer of bodies. Later, if they get the orders they may exhume them and forensically identify them.

I think the mother of that tiny lump would want to know.

Do you know how hard it is to get cadaver smell out of your clothes?

I asked God, why?

I think He means us to ask. I think He wants us to challenge Him for an answer. If we do not seek to know His mind can we really have any part in Him.

His answer came back like a fragment of a line of verse: “They died as they had lived, in the palm of my hand. Their mass grave was dug with the point of a nail.”

Thousands of Lives to Give: The Philippines

St. Lawrence Ruiz, First Filipino Saint, and Companion Martyrs
St. Lawrence Ruiz, First Filipino Saint, and Companion Martyrs

By now you probably have heard that a massive typhoon hit the Philippines last Friday. Named Haiyan (or Yolanda), the typhoon is reportedly the strongest ever recorded in history, with winds of 195 miles per hour and gusts up to 235 mph. Early reports coming out of the country say that as many as 10,000 people lost their lives. Countless more are reeling from the devastation in the storm’s deadly aftermath.

Although the rescue and recovery efforts are starting in earnest, the storm only compounds problems already existent in the Philippines. Just less than a month ago, the country suffered from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol. Additionally, the Filipino government recently has been trying to quell an Islamic-separatist uprising led by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the southern part of the country, particularly affecting Zamboanga City in Mindanao.

Although we must stand in solidarity with any peoples affected by disaster and devastation, I think Catholics in particular should acutely respond to the needs of our Filipino brethren. As a predominantly Catholic country, the gift of that nation to the treasured heritage of the Church has been immeasurable.

Discovered in the 16th century by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the Spanish quickly claimed the region as their own. They named it Las Islas Filipinas (“The Philippine Islands”) in honor of King Philip II. Many of the native inhabitants adopted Catholicism and the islands soon became a hub of the evangelization in Asia — and it still remains so to this day. One of the first saints from that country, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, whose feast we celebrated on September 28th, captures the forbearing, yet passionate heart of that people for the Gospel of Christ:

For example, when persecutors asked him, “If we grant you life, will you renounce your faith?,” Lorenzo responded: “That I will never do, because I am a Christian, and I shall die for God, and for him I will give many thousands of lives if I had them. And so, do with me as you please.” Although the Filipino people suffered much tumult in the past few centuries, with the nation changing hands multiple times and occupied by various conquerors, they have continued to bless the Church with rich examples of family life, many priests and missionaries, sisters and brothers, and even a few canonized saints.

Therefore, as they are in their need again now, let the Church universal respond in kind. As St. Paul tells us, “If part [of the body of Christ] suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Corinthians 12: 26). Furthermore, he writes in the Epistle to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).

Of course, sometimes when disaster strikes, and especially when it is on such a great magnitude, helping to make a difference seems impossible. We feel so powerless, do we not? But, through our faith, we know that this is not so. Blessed Mother Teresa tells us, while working amidst the unbearable poverty and seemingly limitless human needs in the slums of Calcutta, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.” Everyone in the Church, in our own way, can do something. What, then, can these be? I offer two practical “beginning” steps.

First, in his Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis assured the Filipino people of his closeness to them. In a particular way, he asked everyone in the crowd of St. Peter’s to take a moment to pray for our brothers and sisters. Prayer: this is the first response. For the Christian, when faced with evil, suffering, death, and calamity, the beginning response must be prayer. It is that cry to the Cross, where we look to our God who is not a distant god, but at One who desires to “suffer with us and to be with us in our sufferings.”

Prayer is the unshakeable foundation of a peace, a consolation, and a hope that the world cannot give. Indeed, the bishops of the Philippines, when faced with the impending storm, called upon all the people and priests to pray. Archbishop Jose Palma, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, reiterated this with a call today for a novena prayer and charity. For them, it was natural because “Filipinos seek God and take it as a part of life. They do not curse God; rather they ask help from God, and spiritual help from the Church.” What faith this is! How much this world can learn from a suffering people following a suffering God who still choose to pray.

Secondly, although we begin with prayer, we cannot end with prayer if it is within our power to do more. Our faith naturally must incarnate itself into concrete acts of charity. As St. James tells us, “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:18). That is, our faith should be translated into real-world solidarity. It should express itself in love. Thus, Pope Francis also encouraged us to reach out to those affected with practical help. Although not everyone can be a relief-worker or join a humanitarian mission, what we can do is support organizations that do that type of work.

As one of the largest charitable and humanitarian organizations in the world, the Catholic Church does much in the area of disaster-relief. I learned earlier this weekend from the Catholic News Service that two Catholic groups are currently accepting donations: Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based international network of Catholic agencies, and Catholic Relief Services, a Caritas network member in the United States. CNN also has compiled a helpful list of other organizations participating in the relief efforts. Supporting them is a concrete way now to get much needed help on the ground with the first-responders.

We know that money cannot ever replace the lives lost. It cannot make whole the anguish and suffering borne by the Filipino people. But it can help them in small ways to get their lives back together, to have a filling meal, a dry change of clothes, or to simply find warm shelter for the night. Although the saints never forgot, nor can we, that love and closeness are what people most yearn for, these can be some of the many ways that we show our love. In whatever way you are called to give of yourself, let us imitate St. Lorenzo and his companions. And although we, like him, may wish it so, we do not have thousands of lives to give to Christ; but we do have one and that is enough.