Opening the Holy Door in the Jubilee Year of Mercy

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When Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, I must admit I had a lot of questions about it.  But I was curious at best–I wanted to know its special significance and the benefits attached to it.

Declared last December 8, 2015 (coinciding with the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) and to run until November 20, 2016 (the Feast of Christ the King), it has been called an extraordinary jubilee simply because it is something that is not scheduled or predetermined ahead.  What makes it more significant is its purpose:  the jubilee is seen as a special period for remission of sins and obtaining universal pardon and mercy from God.

Opening of the Holy Door

In every jubilee, the pope celebrates this by opening the Holy Doors in Rome.  People who pass through these doors gain a plenary indulgence among other blessings.  On this jubilee year, Pope Francis has decided to make the Holy Doors accessible to the faithful by allowing every diocese all over the world to designate a Holy Door in their area.

Remission of Sins and Gaining Indulgences

To Catholics, we are taught to understand that there are two kinds of sins: mortal and venial sins.  In any case, any kind of sin ought to be confessed to a priest with the recitation of certain prayers (the Act of Contrition and the absolution given by the priest-confessor).  We are absolved from these sins, but the effects (or scars) of our sins are not completely erased.  That is when the idea of gaining good works and indulgences come in.

And this is one big benefit of entering the Holy Door, it gains one plenary indulgence of one’s sins.  I will not go into detail about indulgences, but there are plenty of good links available about it.

The Holy Doors in Metro Manila

There are several Holy Doors designated in the country, but I am only familiar with the 6 churches within Metro Manila area:  the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros; Divine Mercy Shrine in Mandaluyong City; Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Makati; Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Church in Pasay City; Sanctuario de Santo Cristo in San Juan; and Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit one of the Holy Doors.  The picture above is the Holy Door from the Divine Mercy Shrine in Maysilo, Mandaluyong City.  You’d notice it right away from the notice on the side which says Portia Sancta (“Holy Door” in Latin).

What You Have To Do

When entering the Holy Door, you have to make the sign of the cross with reverence and contrition.  Pilgrims follow a certain procedure, recite certain prayers, and this varies from church to church.  Those who are really keen on completing the pilgrimage may also opt to buy a passport at any of the designated churches.  After reciting the prayers and going through the steps, those who opt to buy a passport should go to the parish office and have their “passports” stamped.  It is pretty much like the passport stamping done on pilgrimage to the Buen Camino de Santiago (“Way of St. James”) in Spain.  It makes the pilgrimage interesting and memorable.

Try to visit any of these Holy Doors, especially during Holy Week.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will enrich you spiritually.

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Second Sunday of Advent: Time for Preparing Amidst Chaos

It is a season of utter chaos: dreadful traffic, dried up wallets, stressful year-end reports.  When children come knocking at your door singing cheesy, out-of-tune Christmas carols you wish the holidays would soon be over and all this hysteria gone.

And yet we wait, we wait for Him who is to come.  Again.  It’s not like He didn’t come last year, but we wait again for Him this year–with the same anticipation as with the previous years.  When we lose sight of this, then we lose the real essence of celebrating Christmas.

It is the second Sunday of Advent, a time when we are still waiting for Christ.  As we wait, let us keep our hearts and minds focused on His arrival.  Let us get past the trimmings and merriment this season brings.  This is not what Christmas is just about.

Putting Ourselves in Their Shoes

Contemplate on the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem as they eagerly await for Jesus.  They didn’t have a lot of material things (probably just a few clothes and the mule as their prized possession!), didn’t have a lot of money or food to eat, but they were genuinely happy.  Or sublimely ecstatic as I would like to say it, because they KNEW what they had or were having was far more precious than all the world has to offer in this life.  So they got past the cold, long distance, isolation, and fatigue to do the will of God and have the Christ Child born in Bethlehem.  Even when they had to stay in a manger where the animals were kept.  They never complained!  So why should we when we have all the conveniences of this life?

And Wait We Shall….

Two more Sundays to go to await for Jesus’ coming.  Let’s never get tired of waiting and spiritually preparing ourselves for this event.  Even if the traffic wears us down forever.  Graces are always in store for those who wait in patience.

God bless!

The Advent Season and the Wreath: Preparing for Christ

wreath1

(Source: St. George Anglican website)

We are in the last week of ordinary time based on the Catholic liturgical calendar. In fact, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King today, a fitting tribute  to end the liturgical ordinary time.  Advent season kicks in next week. But even before that, we’ve been getting festive everywhere as the days go by. Christmas in the Philippines is practically celebrated just right after All Souls’ Day, when families start bringing out the decorations for the coming holidays which is still weeks away.

In our family, we prepare for Christmas by observing the time-old Catholic tradition of lighting the Advent wreath. This practice is still done in Catholic schools, where children light up a candle each week. Now there are four candles in the wreath representing the four weeks preparation prior to Christmas. There are three purple candles (signifying penance and sacrifice) which are lit first, and then a rose pink candle signifying joy.  In some wreaths, there is a fifth candle—a white one—which is lit on Christmas Day representing our Lord Jesus Christ. Accompanying prayers are recited each week.   Each time on a Sunday, my family and I converge and pray before our Nativity scene where the image of the Holy Family–Jesus, Mary and Joseph–are found. We have been doing this for more than five years already that it has become a family tradition to us. Our Christmas celebration is never complete without doing this and the Simbang Gabi (Christmas novena). But that is a different story altogether.

How to Recite the Prayers for Advent

There are plenty of available sources in the Internet to choose from. I used to get prayers from the Internet (Ignatian Spirituality offers great meditations and prayers for Advent). Since two years ago, we’ve started using The Advent Wreath Prayer Guide that I’ve purchased from the St. Paul Publications. Copies are still available there.

 

 

 

Never Go to Mass Empty Hearted, Empty-Handed

holy_massWe have the tendency to go to mass empty-handed–or rather, empty-hearted. How?

As Catholics, it is our spiritual obligation to attend mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.  But probably, it has become so routine for us that it has become just that–obligatory.  We do the sign of the cross, make the responses, fall in line for holy communion, do the prayers–then it’s done.  Our “job” is done for the week.  We have better excitement watching a movie.

But going to mass should be more than that.  We should always have that anxiety of meeting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  People have seem to lost that belief.  We must always have that intensity of finding Jesus in the mass, especially at the consecration when the host and chalice are raised.  In an apparition by the Blessed Virgin, she has requested people to offer prayers at the moment of consecration.  It is at this moment that our Guardian Angels offer to Jesus all our prayers and intentions.

Isn’t that beautiful?  Our guardian angel carries our prayers and intentions.  So whatever is our prayer and intention it goes straight up to Jesus, STRAIGHT UP.  So we should always have our attention focused on the main celebrant.

Bring with you intentions of your friends, for healing, for supplication, whatever.  Are they sick or in despair?  Are they people who terminally ill?  Do you have problems that need guidance?  Bring these at the foot our Lord during the Holy Eucharist.  He appreciates those that bring with them their hearts and good intentions.

Let me just replicate what the Virgin of Guadalupe said to St. Juan Diego:

Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother?

A blessed week to everyone.

St. Joseph – My Other Father

image

St. Joseph is my favorite patron saint side by side St. Therese of Lisieux.  My mother recommended me to develop filial love for this great saint, who is known to Catholics as the foster father of Jesus.  And since he has attained this status by no means without the grace of God, so do I refer to him also as my foster father. And this has never became more apparent to me than when my own father died during my high school period.

Fatherless at 16, I prayed to him for guidance. God is truly merciful to have given me a father figure in the person of my uncle, who, albeit an avowed atheist was a very stern but patient man who stood as my father. He was my mother’s brother, and would come over to our place or write to me to give me sound guidance. I learned so much from him and valued his directions. He loved to give me pop quizzes on grammar and trivia, which nurtured my love for reading and writing even more. More than ever, I never failed to thank St. Joseph’s intercession.

St. Joseph the Matchmaker (!)

As I finished school and began to work, St. Joseph took on a different level to me. My mother was worried I might end up with the wrong guy so encouraged me to make a novena to St. Joseph to find me a good man. I followed her advice and not ashamed to say it, asked to find me a responsible and God-fearing man. I was ready to play the field for a long time, even if I went pass the child-bearing stage. 🙂

True enough, on May 1, considered also as the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, I found myself in a relationship with a guy I had known since high school. He was a devotee of St. Joseph as well. We married 7 years later and are still married to this day.

St. Joseph as Our Family Protector

My affection for St. Joseph has taken a different turn now. He is now our family protector. As head of the Holy Family during his earthly existence, so do I call on him to protect our family home from danger. And there has never been a time when I did not feel his special protection.

Just recently, we took on a trip that others felt was a little risky because of the political situation (okay, it was in Thailand). I updated myself with the current situation in the area, and though social media reported it was fairly safe I wasn’t entirely convinced. So I started on a novena to St. Joseph, asking him to give me a sign that would put my fears to rest. A day before the flight, the answer came clearly–a lily that I saw in a flower shop. That was the sign I needed to give me conviction to take the trip. True enough, we enjoyed the trip with nary any hitch.

The Trains Closed After We Returned

But we did almost encountered a hitch. We were in a market to do some shopping one time. Because the heat had zapped all my energy, I told my husband that we should return to the hotel to rest. Just like that, my husband did not ask any questions. We took the train and was back at the hotel in 30 mins. Another 30 minutes later, we received news that the train decided to close operations after protesters got into a skirmish with the police. That would have meant us taking the bus and the horrible traffic below.

Had we taken more time at the market we would have been in a more terrible situation. But I believe in St. Joseph’s protection. The trip turned out to be a very enjoyable one for us. There was never a time when we felt our

St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus Christ

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Random (and Overwhelming) Acts of Kindness – A Postscript to Typhoon Yolanda

A house collapses during the Typhoon Yolanda storm surge.

A house collapses during the Typhoon Yolanda storm surge.

It’s been one week later after super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) ravaged the Visayas Region. Everybody has seen the devastation it has to this region, especially Tacloban City.  Relief efforts are painfully slow as the victims slowly begin to pick up the pieces and move on.  Some move on to greener pastures like Manila in the hope of starting a new life, but there are those who stay despite seeing a complete wasteland.  And those who do stay, either by choice or by force, are homeless, hungry, weary and thirsty.

Manila residents are fortunate to have come out of it unscathed.  Just a few months ago, we’ve been hit by heavy monsoon rains (“habagat”, as we call it), which, although nothing compared to Yolanda, nevertheless caused widespread damage.  Then last month, a strong earthquake hit Bohol.  But the damages from these areas are nothing compared to the destruction caused by Yolanda.

It’s all over now and everybody is back doing their day to day chores.  But in the midst of it all, everyone is all eyes on areas affected by the storm–young and old, local or foreigner.  Everybody wants to HELP–and help is sorely needed.

I admit I’m not in the frontline helping out in the distribution, although I want to be.  My limitations force me to stay at home with my family and at the workplace.  But it doesn’t mean I can’t help at all, and that is how most of us are in the workforce.  We help in our own little way.

Rescuers save a baby from the storm (Source:  Yahoo News)

Rescuers save a baby from the storm (Source: Yahoo News)

The Burning Desire to Help

You can’t really watch the news and not feel your heart simply wrenched by the pleas of families begging for food.  Finger-pointing’s no use in this period of urgency.  Families surviving the storm are now in one of the greatest battle of their lives, i.e. to simply live and pick up the pieces. As Christians, we are called to help and serve whatever way we can, be it volunteering for mercy missions or donating what we can shell out. Compassion compels us to offer what we can to alleviate the suffering of the other.

And these past few days I tell you, I’ve been overwhelmed by the acts of kindness I’ve received from the workplace.  These acts of kindness isn’t just among Filipinos but other nationalities as well.  You just have to watch the tv to see how foreign missions are flocking to Tacloban and nearby areas to pitch in and help in the aid distribution.

Unexpected People

There are some people I never expected to help out. Known as a terrible person, this was the sort of personality you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.  But out of the blue, this person was the biggest donor in our department, which to my mind was amazing considering the character!  Two other people unexpectedly gave huge amounts, much to my amazement.  More than that, they offered words of sympathy for the whole of us.  Truly overwhelming!

Seeing Christ in Every Person

God is truly wonderful.  In any human defects, He always manages to shine through in every individual. When we see Jesus in the heart of every human being, it changes our perception dramatically and makes the burden of serving easier.  It changes you and it changes the person you’re serving completely.  This is the effect of radiating Christ in our spirit.

Living With Atheism

(Source: Truth4Seekers.wordpress.com)

(Source: Truth4Seekers.wordpress.com)

Atheists, in the broadest sense, do not believe in the existence of deities or of God.  An atheist is, to quote the group American Atheists:

“… accepts that he can get no help through prayer, but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and to enjoy it. An atheist accepts that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help lead to a life of fulfillment.”

I had 2 uncles who I’d like to say reached the fulfillment of their lives–both intelligible, driven and successful in their chosen calling.  One was a ship captain, the other chose to be a gunsmith and farmer in the province.  And they were both atheists until the very end of their lives, despite prayers from us relatives.

The World From an Empirical Perspective

One of my uncles, the ship captain who I fondly called “Uncle Captain”, traveled to a lot of places in his heyday.  He was a non-practicing Muslim in his youth and did not believe in the existence of God at all.  It was his personal belief that if God was alive and existing, he should prove himself in the flesh and explain himself.  The very fact that there was evil in the world gave him the idea that God did not exist at all and that man was created by mere accident–a belief that evolution theorists espouse.

He found the adage “man disposes, but God disposes” greatly amusing.  He loved William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus, and was fascinated at being the “master of his fate” and “captain of his soul” His success as a captain and businessman he attributed to his own doing, never because of God’s infinite goodness.

He was a important part of my youth and gave me and my brother fatherly advice on a lot of things.  He was a bachelor till the very end and wanted us to remain single to have the liberty of moving around without thinking of other people being left behind.  This has rubbed off on my brother who remains a bachelor to this day, while I chose to get married and have a family of my own–much to his dismay.

Living on Their Godless Own

My other uncle, the farmer, likewise believed that God was an figment of man’s creation, sort of like Machiavelli’s idea of religion as being an opium of the masses.  After this life man had nowhere to go, so better enjoy life now.  Like Uncle Captain, Uncle Pinky (yes, he had a girl’s name for some reason) believed destiny was something you alone can determine.  There is no other being that determines that.  God does not exist.  Prayer is futile.

During their prime of their existence, both my uncles were idolized by many of their nephews and nieces (including me).  They were highly successful and had a lot of friends.  They were very smart cookies.  But every time we asked them to pray with us, they refused it.

(Source: jojogingerhead.co.uk)

(Source: jojogingerhead.co.uk)

In Twilight There Was Despair

But all things soon must come to an end.  Eventually, fame soon gave way to old age and retirement.  Despite their volatile temper, they soon had to be cared for by relatives separately.  Life seemed to be getting dark for both, and it scared them to expect what was on the other side.

My Uncle Pinky suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to walk around by himself.  We would pray over him to ask for his healing, but he pooh-poohed it and challenged God to heal him so he would finally believe in his existence.  He didn’t and went on to die angry at everyone and at God.

Uncle Captain had a similar fate years later.  He suffered from prostate cancer for more than a year, but what finally did him in was a stroke.  As he lay dying with my mother on his bedside praying, my mother said that my uncle was in throes of pain and could not help but shake his head over something that nobody near him could see.  He breathed his last with a picture of pain on his face, unable to utter whatever he was feeling or seeing at that time.  They did not practice any religion during their existence, but since they were originally Muslim, they were buried in Islamic rites.

Reflecting on their deaths, it was sad and dark to see them leave with despair on their faces.  I have seen some people die with a smile on their faces, but these deaths left us very heavy and sad.  Life is dark at the end of the tunnel in atheism.  Believe me, I have seen it in the way my uncles died.  There is nothing but despair.

Despite their passing we remain steadfast that somehow, God will hear our prayers to give them relief despite their rejection of His existence.