Category Archives: Spirituality

Finding virtue in suffering

Article first published as The virtue is not in suffering on PADAYON: Our Life Journey.

While many tend to glorify suffering, people who experience it will surely disagree. Having tasted the worst in life, so far, I can attest to this.

Yet, the belief in the virtue of suffering has been embedded in the psyche of Filipinos for centuries. More so, that there are also efforts to perpetuate such conviction for reasons only known to perpetrators. Some take suffering as a pass to heaven. Others look at sufferings as trademark of the followers of Christ. There are denominations that associate or even expect their clergy to undergo the process inevitably. Church members fondly call their pastors manugpangabudlay. An Ilonggo term which connotes hardship and difficulties.

Countries with colonial past, where religion is used in conquest are most vulnerable to this fate. Like the case of the Philippines. Historians note how colonizers integrate religion into their subjugation scheme. From feudalistic to capitalist systems, religion plays a big role in domestication of the subjects. In the context of the Philippine, as pointed out by nationalist historians, while the sword was used in conquest, the cross pacified resistance. The blessedness of poverty, mourning, oppression and persecution as taught in the church make people accept their fate, with relief, expectant of the future reward.

Image Credit: freebibleimages.org

Image Credit: freebibleimages.org

The belief in the virtue of suffering is more evident during Lenten season. Most often, crucifixion and death have been given emphasis in the observance. This can be attributed to the prevalent notion that the cross has salvific power. Redemption has been closely associated with pain and suffering. While Easter is considered the cornerstone of Christian faith, in practice people put emphasis on crucifixion.

Interestingly, attempts have been done by church authorities to dissuade rituals of self-inflicted pain and suffering in holy week celebration. Clergy, of various affiliations, consistently highlights the significance of resurrection in Lenten sermons and teaching. Still, it has not penetrated yet to the Filipino psyche. Filipinos are very much predisposed to suffering, according to Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz.The Church can only do so much to highlight the importance of Easter among Filipinos because suffering and poverty as well as the love for children are already deeply rooted in Philippine culture,” he noted.

While working on this series of Lenten reflections, I remember the article of a Filipino Jesuit priest. It was published after the execution of three Filipinos abroad convicted of drug-related offense. Fr. Manoling V. Francisco contends that suffering is not virtuous, but love is. Suffering is not even redemptive per se. The love underlying the pain makes it salvific.

Does it negate then the impact of the sufferings of Jesus? Not really. Fr. Francisco qualifies his point: “Jesus’ physical torment and emotional anguish do not redeem us; his willingness to suffer for his convictions and out of love for us is that which saves.” You might be interested to read his article, in the April 3, 2011 edition of Philippine Star, When suffering becomes a virtue.

Advertisements

Faith conversation on scribbles of ambivalence

My post on scribbles of ambivalence has elicited faith conversations in social media. I shared the link on my Facebook timeline with the following comment: “Thereafter, I had that sort of mystical experience- an inner peace, a sense of security and confidence that when I resumed reading the bible, I got struck by Revelation 3:20 in its literal sense.”

Many liked it while others made comments. An intriguing one came from a friend and partner in development and volunteerism endeavors who is now based in the United States . Below is our faith conversation.

Arlyn:  Yes mystical experiences can never be questioned and I always take it with ambivalence.

Me: Thanks for your comment which has triggered more thoughts on ambivalence. It made me recall more of my faith journey in 1975. After the flashing effect of the literal interpretation of Revelation 3:20 on my psyche, which was sustained/fertilized by the insights from books on miracles by Pentecostal writers, I started to “walk by faith.”

Whereas before, I needed assistance to get out of bed, with the new found faith, I tried to walk out of the room after prayers of faith. And I succeeded. However, just when I thought it was a miracle and moved further and faster, I got exhausted and forced to lie down on bed for some days. But I got thrilled with the new faith experience and continued the “walk with faith.”

Until one afternoon, after much prayers and certainty, I decided to take a leap of faith outside our house carrying a wooden chair going to the river bank some hundred meters away from home to meditate and watch the sunset.(Of course, to the amazement or protest of my mother whose love and concern for me overcame all her ambivalence). Although exhausted, my faith had been strengthened by another success. Unfortunately, the weather appeared to be uncooperative. Dark clouds gradually enveloped the bright sky as if the forces of darkness wanted to mar the beauty of faith journey. Caught on ambivalent situation, I took it as test of faith.

Instead of retreating, I prayed to God to vanish the darkness. But the clouds appeared to be less threatened by prayers. I prayed more assuring God I won’t surrender my faith. The more the weather was agitated and shower started to fall. Undaunted, I held my ground with ambivalence, as raindrops keep falling over the leaves of banana and trees covering me .

And in the last ditch attempt to save my faltering faith, I closed my eyes and told God, “ I won’t leave this place. I know you hears and answers prayer and won’t fail me. Even it rains heavily, you will cover me with your grace.” As the sound of raindrops got louder, my meditation got deeper. And would you believe, Arlyn, despite heavy pouring of rain, not a single drop ever reached my head, as if somebody was shielding me. Amazed, I slowly opened my eyes. Guess what did I see?

Arlyn: What did you see?

Me: Dare to guess or your share your imagination?If you were in my place, what would you expect to see? Something that would strengthen your faith. Something that would convince you that, indeed, God hears and answers prayer.

Arlyn: You looked up and you saw big umbrella over your head…ah… it was your wife holding big umbrella up to protect you from rain…

Me: I was not married yet in 1975.

Arlyn: Then let’s change wife to Mom .

Me: This confirms my perception that you are a prophet. Yes, I was so engrossed in prayer that I did not notice my mother holding the umbrella. Seems funny but at that time, it did not matter much to me whether my mother or an angel was shielding me from rain. What was important for me was the fact that God answered my prayer, that my faith had stood the test of time and circumstances. I went home together with my mother with a happy and grateful heart believing it was a miracle. My faith was strengthened. That experience, including the literal interpretation of a particular scripture had contributed to my healing.

I cannot help but smile as I recall and reflect on that experience.God could have been amused with my child like faith and alerted my mother, knowing the impact on my heart condition at that time had my prayer not answered. I wish to recapture some elements of that past faith experiences to guide me in my journey.

Arlyn: You really made me smile Rev. Lariza. But thanks for sharing. Child like faith is sometimes funny as we look back but we know in the heart of our hearts that this faith has guided our journey like the “pillar of fire” during the night and “pillar of clouds” during the day.

_______________________

Article first published  on Faith Journey: On Higher Ground. The author is in the process of transferring posts from other blogs to  converge on this official website.

The challenges of holistic ministry Part 2: Relevance to disaster

But how do we relate the challenges of holistic ministry to the theme of your training for the past two days? 

I seem to find the answer in one of my favorite verses when discussing about holistic ministry. This is the last parable Jesus recorded in Matthew 25:31-46 loaded with the scenario of great surprises. In the final end, during the awarding ceremony, as the chaff is separated from the grain, sheep and goat divided, the result is beyond expectation. and the division of all the world’s people into the blessed, on the Right Hand of God, who are welcomed by the Father to inherit the Kingdom and eternal life, and the cursed, who are cast into the eternal fire with the Devil.

The division is entirely based on the acts of kindness and mercy done by people to their disadvantaged fellow people feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, visit the prisoners, clothe the naked, invite strangers to their homes. Yes, it is how holistic our respective ministries were and have been.

I have looked at and used this parable in many angles and various context. This time I have seen another one. It is in the context of disaster. For when do you see a person naked, hungry, thirsty, sick, and a stranger? Is it not in the midst of disaster?

The author delivering the Closing Challenge. Photo Credit: Ms. Henna Baclagon, Director, Development Ministries, CPBC

The author delivering the Closing Challenge.
Photo Credit: Ms. Henna Baclagon, Director, Development Ministries, CPBC

But let us not wait for the disaster to initiate holistic ministry. For even Jesus, the Christ , has made it clear in his inaugural address as public declaration of ministry that it is holistic: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favorLuke 4:18-19

Throughout his life, Jesus consistently preached, taught and acted on the socio-economic, political, environmental and spiritual themes of his ministry as he went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.In fact, he summarized his holistic ministry theme in the model of spirituality which he taught and exemplified in the greatest commandment and Lord’s Prayer.

The spirituality taught by Jesus is summed up in the greatest commandment: Love God and one’s fellow human as one’s self. This type of spirituality has two dimensions, personal and social or communal. This vertical and horizontal relationship is the essence of the Lord’s Prayer which is a Prayer for Development.

A2.Model Prayer

The first part pertains to relationship with divine, the last with humanity. “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” The use of plural words in the prayer – our, we, us – reveals the inclusiveness of Jesus in relationship.

The second part is model of relationship with humanity which comprises the three core values of development. “Give us this day our daily bread“. Bread represents basic necessities in life akin to life sustenance.

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors“. Whether it is a literal debt or sin as some suggest, the implication here is self-esteem. Because a person who commits sin or is burdened by debts, loses some kind of self-esteem. Asking forgiveness or forgiving others restore one’s self-esteem.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil“. Deliverance connotes freedom. Yielding to temptation is a prelude to enslavement to any form of evil. This evil manifests in both personal manner and societal structures.

(To be continued)

__________________________________

Delivered during the Closing Celebration of Training on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, September 7, 2013 at Highway 21 Hotel, Iloilo City. Organized by Asia Pacific Baptist Aid of Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, the 3 day training was hosted by the Development Ministries, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches.

Resurrection: A pay back?

Resurrection has been considered the cornerstone of Christian faith. Inexhaustible commentaries have been done about its relevance to our lives  with particular emphasis on respective areas or angles.

Two years ago, while still in the process of resolving the ambivalence in my life’s experiences brought about by critical health condition partly because of my  voluntary work,  I poured out my thoughts and emotion on  blogs to fight depression. In one of my blogs, I viewed resurrection  through the eyes of volunteerism. I want to share the following article that was  first published on PADAYON: Our Life Journey and Ezine Articles to solicit comments and discussion.

Let me propose this angle in addition to the unlimited significance of the resurrection of Jesus. Viewing resurrection as a reward to the greatest volunteer the world ever had. A precedence that may inspire millions of nameless volunteers worldwide. No matter how unsolicited this inspirational piece appears to some, though. Others may dislike this proposal. Volunteers will even protest the title. But certainly majority will agree with the claim that Jesus is the greatest volunteer. So, let’s start from this commonality and settle the differences later in this article.

Biblical writers have various description of the voluntary act of Jesus. But I like the Pauline version in Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV): “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

The Gospel records instances when Jesus insists on undergoing the voluntary process despite the supposed favor from people who know him as the messiah. When John the Baptist appears reluctant to perform the baptism ritual, Jesus prevails on him: “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 4:14-15)

Many times, Jesus rebukes his disciples in their actuations to seek redress to injustice and discrimination against his dignity. Unwelcome in his attempt to bridge the gap between warring cultures, he suffers discrimination in one Samaritan village. When James and John insinuate punishment to the humiliating experience, Jesus forbids them. (Luke 9:51-55). Jesus calmly tells Peter to hold peace, in the latter’s attempt to fight back against the savagery of his captors: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)

He washes his disciple’s feet at the height of leadership struggle position during the last supper. The lobbying of both John and James and their mother for position in the kingdom might have sparked the internal conflict. Hence, nobody appears willing to do the menial t ask which earlier they enjoy taking turns. Jesus volunteers.

Jesus consistently exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism in his lifestyle and teachings. He voluntarily follows all the requirements of the law, although in some instances, he deliberately skirt man -made unreasonable insertion and imposition to the requirements of God. He successfully passes the final challenge in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Subsequently, the divine justice expedites the awarding ceremony for the greatest volunteer in the world. St. Paul beautifully uses this clincher to the narrative of Jesus voluntary act: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. “(Philippians 2:10-11)

Those who are interested to join the Volunteers National Summit may visit this link.

Those who are interested to join the Volunteers National Summit may visit this link.

I am not advocating pay back mentality. Jesus even issues a strange rebuke to the perpetrators and perpetuators of this kind of mentality in Luke 14:12- 14. “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Certainly, volunteers do not expect rewards. The last parable in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46) confirms this with the scenario of great surprises. In the final end, during the awarding ceremony, as the chaff is separated from the grain, sheep and goat divided, the result is beyond expectation. But volunteers receive their awards.

Youth volunteers pose for posterity after the forum on volunteerism sponsored by ICON. An umbrella network of volunteers and development advocates, ICON allocates a day for volunteerism endeavors in the week-long celebration of NGO- PO Week in Iloilo.

True, volunteers do not expect awards. But who can question God’s divine justice to recompense the faithful? Is there something wrong in viewing resurrection as a payback for volunteerism?

Continuing injustices to Jesus

Exactly a year ago, the following article was posted on this blog . It’s still relevant for this year’s observance of the Holy Week.

The comment of  Charmaine “Sherry” Sorono on one of my Ezine articles has inspired me to start a series of Lenten reflections. Lent is traditionally observed as preparation of the believer for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection.

Charmane

Considered as one of the major liturgical seasons of the Roman Catholic Church, Lent is celebrated by other Christian denominations including Protestant groups like the Lutheran, Methodist,Presbyterian and Anglican. Lent, particularly the Holy Week, is one of the two most celebrated events in the Christian calendar.

The other one is Christmas. Results of survey may vary as to the perception of people on the most important between the two celebrations. Undeniably, however, these two events dominated the thoughts of believers in Christendom to the extent that the totality of the life of Jesus has been ignored.

Photo Credit: Photobucket

Photo Credit: Photobucket

It’s unfortunate that Christians have become selective in remembering the life of Jesus. 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

Oftentimes, the period in between birth and death have been neglected- his growth, manhood, the fight against harsh realities in life which could have been a model for living. How he withstood trials and temptations. How he did not give in to the pressures and enticement of power compromise and pleasures of the world. His willingness to offer himself for a great cause.

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

Prior to his public ministry, Jesus underwent  the process of immersion. Living in a depressed community, he  saw  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 had encroached the ideal immunity of the religious establishment. How religion was used for business and profit. Yes, he  witnessed how leaders enriched themselves at the expense of the people they were supposed to develop.

Jesus also knew 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 included some of them in the core of his disciples, mainly composed of representatives from the basic masses.

(to  be continued)

Development vis-vis- the Lord’s Prayer

Article first published on  Social Work and Development exactly 2 years ago.

lord's prayer

I have learned from the study of Social Work the three development objectives, namely: (1) increase the availability and widen the distribution of basic life sustaining goods such as food, shelter, health, and protection; (2) raise levels of living including, in addition to higher incomes, the provision of more jobs, better education, and greater attention to cultural and humanistic values, all of which will serve, not only to enhance material well-being but also to generate greater individual and national self-esteem; (3) expand the range of economic and social choice to individuals and nations by freeing them from servitude and dependence, not only in relation to other people and nation-states but also to the forces of ignorance and human misery.

The three core values of development by Michael Todaro have enriched my understanding of development. Foremost, is Life Sustenance. It is the ability to provide basic necessities. A basic function of all economic activity, therefore, is to provide as many people as possible with the means of overcoming the helplessness and misery arising from lack of food, shelter, health, and protection.

Self Esteem is next, which connotes being a person with a sense of self-worth and self-respect, of not being used by others for their own needs. All people and societies seek some basic form of self-esteem. Call it by other name, authenticity, identity, dignity, respect, honor or recognition, the essence is still the same. Its nature and form may vary from society, and from one culture to another.

The last is Freedom from Servitude. It means the ability to choose. This refers to the fundamental sense of freedom or emancipation from alienating conditions of life. It covers freedom from the societal servitude of men to nature, ignorance, other men, misery, institutions, and dogmatic beliefs. Freedom also involves the expanded range of choices and their members together with the minimization of external constraint in the pursuit of some of social goals, which we call ‘development’.

A2.Model Prayer

I have always associated these core values with the Lord’s Prayer in          Matthew 6:7-13, as referred to traditionally. Although, in the biblical context, the real Lord’s Prayer is found in John 17. What was recorded in the gospel of Matthew is a standard prayer. A model prayer, which if analyzed in the context of our discussion, a prayer for development and spirituality.

There are two parts of this prayer which summarize the commandments and reflective of the model of relationship. The First Part pertains to our Relationship with God:

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

The second part is model of relationship with humanity which comprises the three core values of development.

Give us this day our daily bread connotes the first core value, i.e. life sustenance.

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Whether it is a literal debt or sin as some suggest, the implication here is self-esteem. Because a person who commits sin or is burdened by debts, loses some kind of self-esteem.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil is akin to freedom from servitude.

From therapy to ministry: The wonders of blogging

Almost two years ago, I started my first blog, courtesy of a  pastor friend, Jonan Castillon.  He encouraged me to blog as part of my healing process. I was at the peak of leadership and  service  when attacked by chronic heart ailment, compounded by unusual nerve disorder. Such condition had constrained my active life of service. Most of my time was spent at home due to limited mobility, making me vulnerable to discouragement and depression.

Pastor Jonan’s  successful journey in on line niche was contagious that despite my skepticism, I  entertained the idea. However, I did not know how to start. Thus, despite his hectic schedule, Pastor Jonan took time to tutor me hands on blogging. Thereafter, I  experienced the gradual process of growth comparable to my healing process.

PadayonDubbed PADAYON: Our Life Journey, my first journal blog was an attempt  to inspire readers to continue the commitment in service, no matter what. PADAYON is an Ilonggo term which means continue. In deeper sense, it connotes moving/going on (or never give up) despite adversaries or adversities.

Social WorkMy friend’s advice worked. I found  joy in blogging. My interest in writing was revived. Rather than fretting over my limited mobility, I made use of my time in blogging. I poured out my thoughts and emotion into the blog and found relief.  Hence, I opened another blog to ventilate my suppressed commitment to the service of the people towards development. Its first name was  Networking-for-holistic-development. Later,  I changed the name to Development concepts, issues and concerns to broaden its coverage. Recently, however, it was renamed  Social Work and Development to give it a focus.

The inspiration continued. Hence, I created a sharing blog, Faith Journey,  serving  as forum for life and faith experiences of people who have survived the test of times and circumstances. Likewise, a venue for sharing and learning from one another  so that others would also find inspiration in their faith journey.

Faith Journey

Learning and enjoying the blogging world, I decided to maximize the beauty of web linkages and networking. Hence, another blog to provide an opportunity for others to share their resources. Dubbed Resource Sharing for Development, this blog is an attempt to widen my services to humanity through linkages and networking of developmental and service-oriented blogs and bloggers.

LarizaWith four blogs to maintain, my mind had been busy. Slowly, my focus was diverted. Instead of spending most of my time observing my seemingly deteriorating condition, I was obliged to give time to my blogs. My vulnerability to depression caused by the delay in healing process started to diminish. There was a paradigm shift in my mind and heart. The delay of complete healing became an opportunity to evaluate my life and faith. I have more time for self and family. More time to read the bible, pray, meditate, reflect, put faith into action in almost all aspects of life. All the wonderful things previously deprived of me due to very hectic schedule prior to ailment.

By  creating  a family blog i.e. Lariza. Website,  I tried to consolidate all my other blogs to continue my service and ministry. Hopefully,  to give  inspiration and restoration of self-confidence for those who are devastated by harsh realities of life in various forms.

NETS

But my blogging exodus did not end there. Before the resumption of my hectic schedule, I succeeded to create three more blogs.

Both are official web sites of the organizations my ICONwife and I helped put up. NETSnews  for   an independent inter-denominational  seminary based in Escalante City, Negros Occidental.   ICON Network, official website of the Iloilo Coalition of NGOs and POs- a network of non-government Catalyzerorganizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs) in Iloilo. And CPU Catalyzer, publication of the Department of Social Work, Central Philippine University.

The development in blogging and subsequent inspiration to me has been reflective in my health condition. While I have not mastered yet all the blogging technology, I feel contented to see the progress. Likewise, although I have not fully recovered  as far as my health condition is concerned, I appreciate any progress big or small.

Padayon KatipanHowever, my hectic schedule, especially when I resumed my work,  constrained me to update all my blogs. It’s good that  Christmas break has given me time to visit my blogs, review and evaluate them. Subsequently, I have decided to give each blog a  focus or niche and transfer respective posts to where they belong.  More so, that the alarming trend in our religious organizations has inspired me to create another blog that will focus on the Convention Baptist Ministers Association and Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches.  PADAYON KATIPAN  serves as reminder to  keep up the covenant, to continue the good things we have started, especially for the development of our pastors.

Henceforth, blogging will  be a ministry.