The 11th of July is the feast of St Benedict. Three years ago on this day, I had a chat with him (in my prayer and reflection) and posted it in my Faithbook. I am re-posting this conversation today to remind us of this great saint in the 5th century, whose example, legacy and spirit, are still of great relevance for us in the 21st century.
Junjun Faithbook: St Benedict, it is indeed a great privilege for me to have this opportunity of chatting with you. It is always very affirming to my faith to be able to have a glimpse of someone who lived out the gospel in a more real, personal and practical way. Could you please tell us something about yourself?
St Benedict: Certainly. Well, I was born around the year 480 at Norcia in Italy. My parents were in a manner of saying coming from a distinguished family. But enough of that. I was born just four years after Romulus Augustulus, the last of the emperors of the Western Roman Empire was deposed in 1976.
Junjun Faithbook: Wow! You are indeed part of the great moments in our human history.
St Benedict: By the grace of God, yes.
Junjun Faithbook: Anyhow, could you tell us about your Educational background?
St Benedict: Well, I was on my teenage years when I was sent to Rome to get ‘liberal education’, that included literature and law, and you won’t believe this, I was accompanied by my own ‘nurse’ or perhaps you would call it now ‘a housekeeper.’
Junjun Faithbook: Fancy that! You’re spoiled! And how is it like being in Rome?
St Benedict: It wasn’t really that consoling.
Junjun Faithbook: What do you mean?
St Benedict: I don’t like the influences around me. My companions were living in such a low moral standard, that I decided to leave Rome for good.
Junjun Faithbook: How did you get out of there?
St Benedict: With the help of my ‘housekeeper’ or ‘nurse’ I escaped without telling anyone.
Junjun Faithbook: And where did you go?
St Benedict: We went to the village of Affile, in the mountains about 30 miles from Rome.
Junjun Faithbook: Did you find peace there?
St Benedict: At first yes. Only because I thought then that if I could get away from the temptations of Rome, I would be alright. However, I realized I was called to something deeper.
Junjun Faithbook: You felt you have discovered your vocation then?
St Benedict: Sort of. So I went alone to a much higher place, on the hills of Subiaco.
Junjun Faithbook: And did you found peace in that wild and rocky country at last?
St Benedict: Not that immediately, I would say. I met a monk there by the name of Romanus. I told him everything my heart desired. I also told him then that I wanted to live a life of a hermit.
Junjun Faithbook: Did he help you in discerning about it?
St Benedict: Absolutely! He assisted me. He even ‘clothed’ me with a sheepskin habit and led me to a cave in the mountain. There I lived on my own.
Junjun Faithbook: So the monk Romanus left you on your own since then?
St Benedict: Not really. For three years, he was the only one who knew my whereabouts. He kept it secret from anyone.
Junjun Faithbook: And how did you get your daily sustenance?
St Benedict: The monk Romanus brought bread to me daily who drew it up in a basket let down by a rope over the rock.
Junjun Faithbook: That’s what I would call fraternal dedication and concern.
St Benedict: Indeed! And I am always thankful to God for that.
Junjun Faithbook: And so, you must have enjoyed the solitude there?
St Benedict: At the beginning, yes. But people started coming to gather around me. Their reason was that as they confided to me, they were attracted by my holiness and by miraculous powers.
Junjun Faithbook: Saints always shine indeed. And you just can’t deny yourself of that privilege so to speak. By the way, who were these people who came to you?
St Benedict: Some of them were just wanting to flee from the world. And some were solitaries who were living among the mountains.
Junjun Faithbook: Did you gather them then as one community?
St Benedict: I tested them if they would obey me. I asked them to settle in ‘twelves’ into a twelve wood-built monasteries, and assigned a prior to each of those monasteries.
Junjun Faithbook: So you didn’t really have to oversee all of them?
St Benedict: No, except those monks I have trained especially for something, so they were under my direction.
Junjun Faithbook: So in that way, you’ve established your monastery there as a firm and stable community?
St Benedict: In a way, yes. But I actually just set things in order.
Junjun Faithbook: What do you mean?
St Benedict: When I saw it certain that they could manage, I withdrew from Subiaco to Monte Cassino.
Junjun Faithbook: Why there?
St Benedict: It is a solitary elevation on the boundaries of the Campania, commanding on three sides, narrow valleys running up towards the mountains.
Junjun Faithbook: It really sounds very convenient for solitude.
St Benedict: Certainly! In fact, I initiated the building of the two chapels there, around which lay the foundation of a great Abbey.
Junjun Faithbook: And what year was this built?
St Benedict: Around the year 530.
Junjun Faithbook: You must have been in your middle age by then? And you must have enjoyed being a hermit there?
St Benedict: For a certain time, yes, but then people who wanted to follow my lifestyle started coming to Monte Cassino too.
Junjun Faithbook: And you welcomed them?
St Benedict: I couldn’t turn them away. So I gathered them together in one community, appointed a prior over them and deans as well. Yet they still looked up to me for general supervision.
Junjun Faithbook: And besides your disciples, did you also take other people into your Monastery? As guests perhaps?
St Benedict: Yes, hospitality is one of our major works. And indeed, it had become necessary for us to build more guest rooms to accommodate those people?
Junjun Faithbook: Are they basically lay people who were attracted to your simple and well-ordered lifestyle?
St Benedict: There were also dignitaries of the Church who would come and ask advice at times.
Junjun Faithbook: People would come to you because of your reputation of holiness, wisdom and even miracles. Have you realized that?
St Benedict: I just did what God wants me to, and I was just being myself as a channel of God’s graces.
Junjun Faithbook: How about the famous Rule of St Benedict that is being followed now by Benedictines and Cistercians around the world, did you compose that around your time in Monte Cassino?
St Benedict: Around that time yes.
Junjun Faithbook: It really had made such an impact to people. The people in your time then, especially those who were living in the surrounding country would testify that you cured their sick, relieved their distress, distributed alms and food to the poor, and even said that you raised the dead on more than one occasion, did not all these make you proud of yourself?
St Benedict: It is God who made all those things to happen through me. So what am I to be proud of?
Junjun Faithbook: How about the story that you even told your disciples your imminent death six days before it actually happened to you, and thus you asked them to make a grave ready for you?
St Benedict: Again, it is God’s doing.
Junjun Faithbook: Let’s praise God for his great love revealed in you St Benedict. Thank you so much for your life and example. Through your famous Rule, we have learned so much how to balance prayer and work, charity and moderation, and how to make these basic elements of our life, a way for our sanctification. And please pray for us always that like you we may end up in heaven too.
On the last day of St Benedict’s life, he received the Body and Blood of the Lord. With the help of his brothers in the monastery, he was able to stand up in the chapel, with his hands uplifted towards heaven, and breathed his last on the year 547. In 1965, Pope Paul VI declared him Patron Saint of Europe.
St Benedict of Nurcia, pray for us.
Homily for All Souls Day 2014
All Saints day and All Souls Day are two big days in the Philippines. Millions of Filipinos would take a break from our normal work, or studies and take time to go to the Church and to the cemeteries offering prayers for our departed loved ones. I remember the first time I went to the cemetery with my family on All Saints Day, I was really amazed. I was amazed to see many people gathering around the graves of their loved ones praying and lighting candles. It was just fascinating to see people, young and old, boys and girls, gathering around the graves praying for the dead. Another thing I found amazing there was the way some people pay respect to their dead relatives. Some of them not only offer prayers or light candles or lay flowers. They would also put something on the tombstone or over the grave something that remind them of their loved ones, such as the favourite food of the deceased, favourite beverage or drink, etc. Seeing that, the kid in me kicked in. I just wanted to wander around the cemetery and satisfy my curiosity about the way people honour their dead relatives. However, I had to suppress my curiosity because my father would want us to go and visit each grave of our relatives, spend some 15- 20 minutes in prayer for each of the grave. And because I come from a big clan, I could still remember we literally spent the whole day just moving from one grave to another, praying and lighting candles. And I didn’t have so much fun in that. In fact, I thought then, this is one downside of having come from a big clan. And I could only ask myself: ‘Why bother praying for the dead? They’re dead anyway? I don’t think they really care!’
That was my childhood curiosity.
However looking back at it now, I realized I was being ignorant, because praying for the dead is indeed a big part of my being a Christian, and a Catholic at that. It is in fact part and parcel of our faith. Praying for the dead is one noble act that we can do to help our departed loved ones especially those who are in purgatory.
I’ll just insert in here a small Catechesis about this particular doctrine of Purgatory we Catholics believe in.
Purgatory or purification is a “state [wherein lay those– my own word] who die in God’s friendship but who still need their personal sins to be expiated (through the merits of Christ) and who should grow spiritually before enjoying the beatific vision” It is to be admitted though that this doctrine of purgatory however has no clear biblical basis, as Richard McBrien would suggest, but as McBrien would add “this is not to say that there is no basis at all for the doctrine.” There is rather a hint of this in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus pointed out that there is no forgiveness of those who sin against the Holy Spirit either in ‘this age or in the age to come’ ( Mt 12:32). Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict VXI) when asked about the doctrine on purgatory answered; “My view is that if Purgatory did not exist, we should have to invent it… [because] he said, “few things are as immediate, as human and as widespread- at all times and in all cultures- as prayer for one’s own departed dear ones.” This doctrine therefore is not just an invention of the Church. It is in the Church’s practice of prayer and penance therefore that we can trace the real foundation of this doctrine. This is affirmed by the teaching of Lumen gentium in speaking of communion of the whole Mystical Body of Christ. The Council taught:
The Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honoured with great respect the memory of the dead; and because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins (2 Mac 12:46) she offers her suffrages for them.
In saying this the Council expresses the truth that even after death there is still a possibility for the forgiveness of sins. The purgatory then serves as the cleansing, purifying and sanctifying process for the dead ones who have decided for God yet not very consistent in living out with their commitment to God. It can also be said that purgatory is God himself purifying, cleansing and sanctifying us with the fire of his love. This doctrine is definitively taught by the Church in the Council of Trent asserting that “there is purgatory and that the souls detained there are helped by the acts of intercession of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.” (End of Catechesis)
This then lead us to one of the powerful ways we can offer in praying for the dead- i.e. Offering a Mass or Holy Masses for them. There is no other prayer that can benefit more to our departed loved ones in the state of purification than the Holy Mass. If I can only share with you the beauty of the Mass and the benefits it has for us and for all the dead, that would be a great grace. But there’s no word that can best describe the mystery of the Holy Mass. All I can say is that it is so beautiful and that I am so humbled to be able to celebrate it. St Thomas Aquinas said: ‘The Mass, obtains for sinners in mortal sin the grace of repentance. For the just, it obtains remission of venial sins and the pardon of the pain due to sin. It obtains an increase of habitual (sanctifying) grace, as well as all the graces necessary for their special needs.’ This is only a glimpse of the beauty and the benefits of the Holy Mass. Pope St John Paul II even called the Eucharist, and I can’t agree more, as the Church’s most valuable treasure. In his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (#9), St John Paul II wrote: ‘The Eucharist, as Christ’s saving presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history.’
So let us thank God for the gift of the Holy Mass. Let us thank God for his generosity to give us his life-giving and soul enriching love for us through the Eucharist. At the same time to observe this month of November as a month to remember in our prayers our departed loved ones, let us make the effort to attend Mass and offer Mass for them.
I invite you to pray with me for all our deceased friends and relatives.
Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our brothers and sisters who have died, in the sure and certain hope that, together with all who have died in Christ, they will rise with him on the last day.
We give thanks for your blessings which you bestowed upon them in this life: they are signs to us of your goodness and of our fellowship with the saints in Christ.
Merciful Lord, turn toward us and listen to our prayers: open the gates of paradise to your sons and daughters and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and with our brothers and sisters forever. Amen.
 Gerald O’Collins and Edward Farrugia, A Concise Dictionary of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 217.
 Richard McBrien, Catholicism (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1994), 1143.
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985),146.
German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults. Ed. Mark Jordan (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 347.
 Vatican Council II, Lumen gentium, n. 50.
 German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith, 347.
 German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith, 347.
 J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th revised edition (New York: Alba House, 2001), 2310.
Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary time A 2014
For those of you who have used or still using Nokia phones, you might remember that every time you switch it on, you’ll see its slogan ‘Connecting people.’ I really took this slogan quite seriously when I got my first mobile phone. I established contacts and made more friends. And of course even if I don’t have any important thing to say to my friends, I still tried to make them know I remember them by sending them quotes of any kind, good ones basically.
I liked sending love quotes, especially to those whom I was trying to impress.
I’ll share some with you.
‘Love is like a rosary full of mystery.’
‘Love is like a Rubix Cube, there are countless numbers of wrong twists and turns, but when you get it right, it looks perfect no matter what way you look at it.’
‘Don’t fall for someone who won’t be there to catch you.’
It’s amazing how many definitions and descriptions we have about ‘love’. It’s no surprise because as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observes: ‘Today, the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings.’
Love indeed, can be defined, expressed and described in many ways.
Jesus in the gospel today (Mt 22:34-40) would describe love, particularly love of God and love of neighbour as we love ourselves as the greatest motivation, the force behind and the summary of all the commandments of the Law and of the Prophets.
Jesus in here answered the question posed by the Pharisees as to which of the commandments they have learned as a Jew is the greatest. The Jewish people were given 10 commandments by God through Moses. But perhaps for them, the commandments are so general and somehow vague that they’ve made particular and specific commandments or laws out of them. They came up with 613- 365 of which are prohibitions [the same as the numbers of days in a year] and 248 are ‘laws of direction’.
So obviously, it would really be confusing as to which of them has greater weight. They came to Jesus using this ‘confusion’ to set a trap for him, to find an evidence against him, to know if Jesus really takes all the commandments of Moses seriously which is an expectation of all the devout Jews.
But then again, and this is one reason why I love Jesus so much. Just as he loved us first before we could love him, he would catch us first before we could catch him. In the gospel he caught the malice of the Pharisees before they could catch him.
To sort out their ‘confusion’ Jesus reminded them of two things: First, the law is not the end in itself. It is only one way to God. Second, there is more to the law than what is being written- the spirit of the law- the motive behind the law, the deeper meaning of the law- that is ‘To love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.’ Here Jesus reveals to them the key to follow the commandments seriously and faithfully.
I hope Jesus would say this same thing to the extremists and the Jihadists creating havoc and terror in many parts of the world today. I hope Jesus would say to them and this is my prayer that they’d listen to God speaking: ‘If you really love your God and are doing his commandments, show it by your love of one another, not hate or murder, or persecute those who don’t share your faith and your sentiments.’
I hope, like St Paul, we would have the courage and the conviction to stand up and tell this extremists: “Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbours: that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.” (Romans 13:10).
I hope and pray they’d hear St James saying: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” (James 2:8)
But why do many people today fall short in loving God, more so in loving with our neighbours, and even fall short in loving ourselves?
One is that we make God in our image and likeness, when it should have been the other way around. This could also be applied to our relationships with other people.
God is love, and we are supposed to be mirrors of his love, created in his loving image and likeness. I was caught up with this too. Years ago, I entered a raffle promising P1 million pesos as the grand prize. I was really hoping and praying I’d win. I even tried to make a bargain with God. I promised I would help the Church, give some money to the poor and needy, etc. In other words I tried to control God. I tried to make God in my own image and likeness. Of course, I didn’t win, thanks be to God, otherwise, I would never have become a priest. Who would like to if you’re an instant millionaire?
Another reason is that we take God and others as a threat to our lifestyle, to our security, to our power. This is what happens to Jesus. His presence who is so loving, caring, understanding of the sinners, made the people who are supposed to be learned of the law, uneasy. So they tried to get rid of him.
This is evident in the Church today too. Pope Francis has been doing many wonderful things, very human way of doing things, soul-enriching yet very challenging to some leaders in the Church. Because what Pope Francis is doing opens up the eyes of the people and thus creating an expectation that ‘If the Pope could do that, why can’t we?’
Another reason why we fall short to loving God and our neighbour is that we are too comfortable with where we are and what we do, and not taking the risks to love. ‘Love is the greatest of all risks’ says Jean Vanier, the founder of L’arche community that was founded to help people with disabilities.
Of course, we can never love perfectly as human as we are. That’s why we still fall short in loving God and one another.
But this is not an excuse not to love at all.
Today we ask God, the God of love, to give us loving heart like his, a heart that loves by taking so much risk, a heart that beats for others and beats for the needs of others. We ask God to help us grow in love, and stay in love.
A way to grow in love is to keep these words of Mother Teresa in our minds and in our hearts. Mother Teresa said:
“At the end of our lives we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by: I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.
Hungry not only for bread— but hungry for love.
Naked not only for clothing—but naked of human dignity and respect.
Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks— but homeless because of rejection.
This is Christ in distressing disguise.”
Love is a thing that connects people. Jesus has shown us the way to love and he has commanded us to be loving ourselves. If we are serious of our Christian identity let’s love one another as Jesus loved us.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est (On Christian Love) encyclical # 2