March 28, 2013

The 'womb-to-tomb' faith journey of Jesus

Article first published April 22,2011 on Ezine Articles

The Garden of Gethsemane, on the way to the cross, serves as venue of Jesus affirmation on his willingness to sacrifice as redeemer. There he wrestles with his humanity vis-a-vis the divine mandate. As recorded in the gospel, the scene in the garden portrays the last struggle. Jesus pours out his innermost thoughts and feelings to the Father. Reviewing the justice requirements and redemption scheme, he attempts to argue for other alternatives apart from the cup of suffering and death. In the end, he seals his commitment to undergo the last stage of redemption with this prayer: "Nevertheless, your will be done, not mine."

Thereafter, the culmination of his suffering takes place. The cross is only part of the "womb- to- tomb" painful experiences of Jesus. Hence, the old rugged cross is not the only thing we must cherish and exchange someday with a crown. Our salvation is not the product of the suffering of Jesus just on the cross. It is the totality of the life of Jesus that exemplifies the love of God for humanity.

From conception, he has already foretaste the cruel world system. The intrigues his earthly family encounters due to the controversial pregnancy prior to marriage. At birth, he has been exposed to vulnerable condition of the poorest of the poor, being born in a manager. His childhood experience is colored with the uncertain life of refugees to escape the persecution. Likewise, he has to adjust to the internal struggle in family relationship, as well as the immediate social environment as he keeps up the ideal living, even going against the norms.

Prior to his public ministry, he has to undergo the process of immersion. Living in a depressed community, he has seen the hypocrisy of leaders in the socio-cultural, economic and political structures. Their wanton disregard of the avowed mission to serve the people as ordained by God. How corruption and abuse of power has encroached the ideal immunity of the religious establishment. How religion has been used for business and profit. Yes, he has witness how leaders enrich themselves at the expense of the people they are supposed to develop.

Jesus also knows the struggle of well meaning people in the government and other sectors including revolutionary forces in effecting change. Their two pronged vulnerabilities- stereotype from victims and antagonism from the mainstream perpetrators. Aware of their conviction, he includes some of them in the core of his disciples, mainly composed of representatives from the basic masses.

It is in this context that our observance of religious events or even public holiday should be done in the totality of the life of the honoree. It's unfortunate that Christians have become selective in remembering the life of Jesus. Traditionally, there are only two most celebrated events in his life- Incarnation and Passion. Recent survey of the Social Weather Stations revealed that Filipinos consider Christmas as the most important of the two.

The other aspects of Jesus life are seemingly neglected, especially his manhood. Some sociologists and theologians view this as manifestation of cultural distortion or vested interests. We love to think of the baby Jesus and Crucified Christ. Their images evoke compassion. More importantly, less threatening as they reflect innocence and helplessness. But we are uncomfortable of the adult Jesus who confronts everyone without fear or favor, even turning the tables of those who make business out of religion. It seems, we want to evade the Jesus who challenges us to follow his example in service.

As one clergy observes, almost all church members can easily recite John 3:16. For it is comforting to know that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." But many do not know what is 1 John 3:16: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters."

March 22, 2013

Do I have to move mountains to prove my faith?

Exactly two years ago, this article was posted on this site. I still find its relevance today. Hence, the repost.

My sickness has given me sufficient time to rest, pray, meditate, read the bible, reflect and write. All the wonderful experiences  my previous hectic schedule deprived me. Among other things, I have been grateful to God for the subsequent  inner renewal taking place in my life. My faith has been strengthened every day.

During those extreme  moments when I was bed ridden, the bible became my constant companion. It continues to be, providing new insights and inspiration, no matter how many times I go over the books, chapters and verses. Literally or symbolically, the scripture has provided me relief, guidance, assurance,  and strength.

I  cannot count the times I revisit the Gospel. So much so, at times, I find myself on the actual scene of the encounters of Jesus with harsh realities of life. It is not difficult for me to realize his frustration with established, exclusivist religious structure and leadership and the skirmishes that follow. Likewise, the consequent effect of stirring the hornet of  exploitative system which takes its toll on his life and ministry.  I understand the jubilation of his followers and the tensions created by the triumphant entry leading to his crucifixion. The inevitable price of  advocating and standing for  the way, the truth and the life. I can easily identify with his concern for the poor, the deprived, the oppressed. My social work experience and involvement in the people’s struggle during the dark years of dictatorial rule in our country make me sensitive to the situation.    

Literally, I follow his teachings on forgiveness and love even the enemies. Though difficult it may be, I enjoy  its soothing effect to my soul. Even his exhortation concerning worries about the cares of the world including the daily needs  is feasible.  Although the expected provision does not always come on time, still I continue to follow his teachings. Whereas before, skipping daily maintenance due to lack of resources made me panic. Now, I take it as part of my healing process. Of course, at times my heart complains when deprived for weeks of the medicine. But I have to assure it that all things will work together for good and wait for the provision.

Yes,  I can attest that the teachings of Jesus are relevant, feasible and worthwhile.  But I stumbled on some things. Foremost, is his teachings on faith as recorded in  Mark 11:22-24.’'Have faith in God,' Jesus answered. 'I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, "Go, throw yourself into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

Its realization appears to be elusive. Many times, I try but  fail. I  cannot  not even move my health condition into another level, no matter how I  apply  suggestions on the power of faith or power of  mind or a combination of both. But always, I find refuge on the belief that the fullness of time will soon come. The delay is part of God’s preparation for ministry. At times, I reflect:  Do I have  to move mountains to prove my faith?  

March 20, 2013

Is suffering a virtue?

The lenten season has motivated me to repost reflections from my other blogs that are related to my faith journey. The following article was first published on PADAYON: Our Life Journey, April 17, 2011.

Much as I wanted to attend the 83rd Graduation Ceremonies of Central Philippine University last week, my health constrained me. But I got a copy of the commencement message of a brilliant young lawyer who is the only son of my mentor at the Department of Social Work. Addressed to graduates and respective families, the last portion of his speech inspires me. Subsequently, this series of Lenten reflections.

Atty. Peter Irving C. Corvera associates success with significance. For unless our success leaves any imprint on the lives of others, it remains a personal accomplishment. His contention is that success and significance are not dependent on material factors and the length of stay in this world, respectively. Hence, the challenge to make a difference now. He cited the case of Jesus the Christ, whose earthly life was short but significant. The impact of Jesus life on the world and the lives of people is eternal.

Emphasizing service, more than excellence or riches, as something that gives significance to life, he shares the story of his mother. This is where his message penetrates my soul. For I know very well Mrs. Ruth Ciriaco Corvera. How she spent the best years of life on her passion for service as pastor and social worker. Either in church or community, she consistently espouses her development slogan- empower people to reach their full potential before God. I have been a witness to her irresistible commitment. Nothing can stop her, not even problems, difficulties, illness, pains and sufferings. She has given all with seemingly nothing for her old age. Yet, at the age of 82, she was stricken with cancer. Now on the eighth year, six years of which were in stage-4, she continues to think of ways how she could be useful to others.

Every time I think of the life of Ma'am Corvera and others like her, I feel humiliated. Admittedly my wife and I have been devastated by what happened to me. More so, when in crises, we realized our folly of not saving for our own needs. Obsessed in service, we seem to give all. Worse, because one of the major causes of my suffering was principled voluntary work in community and church, especially for pastors. For a year, I continue to wrestle this issue. Now, I realized my experience pales in comparison to hers. Her condition is even worse than mine. Yet, she still has the time to periodically call me and inspire me to hold on and go on with life and service.

When I reflect on the life of Jesus, the more I am humbled in my sufferings. Despite being the only begotten Son of God, He was not spared from the harsh realities in life. Even if we combine all our pains in life, the product falls short to the sacrifices, persecution, betrayal, humiliation, and disgrace he encounters in the name of service. It is in this context that the lent must be viewed, as well as our sufferings.

March 11, 2013

Count your blessings, never the failings

Early this morning while doing a regular walking exercise, a friend sends me a text message. He was the one I referred to in my other blog who beyond my expectation volunteered to shoulder my magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan which has long been delayed due to lack of resources. However, since the hospital to which he addressed the cheque does not have the machine, I underwent a nerve study instead.

Here’s his message. Six things to keep in mind:

First, make peace with the past so it won’t screw up the present.

Second, what other people think of you is none of your business. You can never please every one.

Third, time heals almost everything.

Fourth, no one is in charge of your happiness except yourself.

Fifth, don’t compare your life to that of others and don’t judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

And lastly, SMILE. You don’t own all the problems in the world. Think positive. Tell yourself: It’s gonna be a great weekend. And I’m gonna make a difference in someone’s life today.

Much earlier, in my meditation, I resolved the nagging concerns about my actual condition which crop up every time I am confronted with health-related issues triggered by various circumstances.

Last month, a pastor friend shared his health condition through group email. How he underwent rigid examination in Manila by persuasion of his friend and the result of those tests. The angiogram revealed that there are seven blockages in his coronary arteries and thus needing a heart by-pass operation as soon as possible. He was advised to prepare almost a million pesos for the process. Few days ago, his wife updated us of the successful operation and the improve in his condition.

His case is significant to me because it was just last January when we came to know each other. He invited me to serve as one of the resource persons in a missionary training program under his supervision. I was impressed by his commitment and his deep seated faith in God while sharing our health condition.

At that time, he was so concerned with my situation and even encouraged me to take the food supplement recommended to him by another friend because of its healing effect. Then he also shared his heart condition which we took lightly compared to my own condition. Although I was about to advise him to see a cardiologist, his faith both to God and to food supplement overwhelmed me.

Thus, I was quite disturbed upon knowing the gravity of his condition and the subsequent medication. Inevitably, I compared my case which might have been worse than him based on the manifestations during our sharing. Unlike him, I did not have the privilege of undergoing rigid examination due to lack of resources.
We were drained out of resources because of my previous hospitalizations and daily maintenance to the extent that I let go of some recommended tests to rule out the root causes of my infirmities.

While entertaining such thought, the feeling of insecurities started to creep into my being. The same feeling every time I read from national dailies how government officials and their families easily spent millions of pesos for medication. The wanton spending of huge amounts by them which become scandalous and the subject of allegations and accusations. The wishful thinking that had I been endowed with such resources, I could have been healed earlier, availing myself with sophisticated equipment for diagnose and expensive process of medication that only the privileged few can afford.

However, when I was about to feel really bad, I remembered the comment of a friend after knowing my painful experiences. He was impressed on how lucky I have been for being alive despite all odds. He told me about the case of his other friends who have all the resources in life yet remained in the very delicate health condition.

Past events swiftly flashed back into my mind. How God snatched me from death and provided my resources during hospitalization and the subsequent crisis even until now. How just the time we almost gave up, came His answers to our needs. How the delay in the healing process has effected the inner renewal resulting to a new lifestyle.

I realized how fortunate I have been to experience healing without spending much amount. Then came the thought that if indeed my condition really need all those sophisticated diagnosis and expensive medication, would not God also provide the resources as He has been doing in our lives. Relieved, I thanked God for His grace.

Such was experience when I received the aforementioned text message while doing the regular walking exercise. I decided to encode the message, as well as my experience. Until I realized this is a good material for blogging. Thus, this blog to inspire others. Enjoy your day by counting your blessings, never the failings.

A repost from my  other blog  published on March 10, 2012 because of its relevance to our faith journey