St. Joseph – My Other Father

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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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Reliving A Personal Miracle – God TRULY Answers Prayers

Let me tell you about a miracle I’ve had a few weeks ago.  I’ve posted this story before on my Facebook page, and I am telling this again, a longer version of the story, for other interested readers who believe in everyday miracles and how it can transform your life.  To friends who might have read that story and enjoyed, well this is the full length account of that story.

Months before my brother went to the hospital, I had already scheduled myself to attend a three-day retreat.  I had taken pains to save up for this event and file the necessary vacation leave at the office.  However, because of the workload at the office in that week leading to my brother’s checkup, I had to back out the last minute.

LAST MINUTE!  A day before my scheduled retreat!  Because of all the effort I made to get in the retreat, I felt pretty bad I wasn’t going after all because of a workload that I had to prioritize.  I had to call up the coordinator to cancel my schedule and sign up for another date.  That was in the morning.  I was sad about it but I offered this disappointment to God believing that there was a reason for that. By afternoon, I got my reason.  My mother accompanied my brother to the hospital to consult his eyesight which had grown blurred the past few days.  He never got out of the hospital and was ordered to take a complete physical exam.

Rushed to the hospital

During the course of the check ups, my brother eye was diagnosed to have a ruptured or damaged retina as a result of diabetes which he never knew he had.  Further exams also showed he had hypertension and a stroke.  It was a deadly combination of all of these diseases that had my mother and brother were detained at the hospital.  The cardiologist ordered an angiogram be done the soonest to check the condition of his heart.

Now my mother doesn’t have a lot of finances, ditto my brother who didn’t have a job.  They relied on me to help pay for the angiogram.  With the money I had from my paycheck, I paid for the angiogram.  The cardiologist gave us three possible scenarios: one was that the blockage wasn’t so bad that it could be remedied by medication; two, an angioplasty; three (the worst case), a bypass.  We were given a ball park figure how much it would cost.  I was praying for the first case scenario. I had given my mother a prayer card of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, St. Josemaria Escriva’s successor in Opus Dei who was about to be beatified soon.  I asked my mother to help me pray to him for help on the finances.  She said she would.

The results of the angiogram gave dismal news: a major vein was blocked which was why my brother had difficulty breathing normally (he thought the difficulty was because of his cough!).  But because he was young, an angioplasty was the way to go.  I said ok and the procedure was done after an hour.

And now came the hard part….

After the three day observation period, my brother would be free to go.  But then came the hard blow: the enormous bill!  I was completely stupified to see how much we had to pay, and because my mother and brother did not have any, my husband and I were expected to foot the bill.  How will we get that big amount money?

Now, my father-in-law had a friend who was very ill and whom we had extended some help in the past.  Despite her illness (she has cancer and a heart condition too), she helped me find a way to get financial support from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.  She, despite her illness, never left my side until I got the check.  It wasn’t that much, but if you get stuck with a bill that will keep you buried up to your neck, you’d be thankful with any amount.  Look at how a random act of kindness will go!

Still, we were considerably short.  Negotiations with the hospital had keep the amount controllable, but the fact is we couldn’t get my brother out without satisfying the bill.  Where else do we get the money?  I was getting depressed about it.

A Bible verse that seemed to “talk” to me

Now I’ve always had the habit of praying and choosing at random a Bible verse, leafing through the pages with my eyes closed and reading the verse where my finger points to. That particular day, April 10, was a verse in which Jesus asked a blind man: “What do you want me to do for you?”  The message was so clear!  Jesus was talking to ME and asking me what I wanted HIM to do for ME!

Down but not depressed, I wrote in my diary: “Lord, help me get my brother discharged already.”  This happened in the morning.  The picture you see below is the exact entry I wrote down in my diary.

The entry I had in my diary

The entry I had in my diary

I had forgotten it altogether when I received good news from hubby: “Your brother will be disharged today.”   The news came close to three o’clock, the hour of mercy!  God answered my prayer!

Truly, when you look with eyes of faith, you can never go wrong.  To our Blessed Mother, sweet Jesus, Bishop Alvaro, St. Pio and St. Michael (to whom my brother was a devotee), I praise and thank You all for helping us!

 

 

 

Going Up The Mountain – A Reflection

The prophets of the Old Testament did it, with Abraham sacrificing Isaac on Mount Moriah, Moses receiving the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai and later retired on Mount Nebo, and Elijah on Mt. Carmel….  Even Jesus did it when He took His forty-day fast.  And St. Francis received the stigmata while on a mountain retreat in the mountains of Italy.

Mt. Sinai as it is today (Source: Wikimedia)

Mt. Sinai as it is today       (Source: Wikimedia)

The Beauty of the Mountains

Why did the prophets go up the mountain?  The sheer height of the mountains–the feeling of “touching the heavens”–makes one feel close to the divine.  As one climbs up, there is the feeling of isolation as one separates himself from the rest of the world to come in close contact with God.  “The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth” (Psalm 97:5).  Coupled with a long and difficult hike that can be likened to our constant struggles in life, reaching the top is the pinnacle of one’s search to find God.

So I reckoned:  why not do my own journey, LITERALLY?  And what better day to do it than on my birthday?  And do I did, with the purpose of thanking God for the wonderful life and blessings He has given me in my forty years existence on earth.  But rather than search God, I decided that my purpose was to THANK God.  With the full support of my husband and son, sister-in-law and uncle, we headed off to Taal Volcano exactly a week ago.  More on this experience in my  Musings of A Village Rat blog.

Tossed by Rough Waves

We were met with a few challenges before we even began the trek.  We were met with a slight drizzle that early morning before we left Bacoor and was met again by a light rain shower in Tagaytay.  When we boarded the banca, the lake was pretty calm, but halfway in the trip the lake was tossing us.  Full of excitement, the 2 kids (my son and nephew) were squealing in excitement, but the adults weren’t too gung-ho about it.  The bumpy ride was over in about 15-20 minutes.  It seemed longer than 20 minutes though.

calm

Note the waters getting rough

Note the waters getting rough

Praying While Scaling Up

Horse rides were available, but we decided that only the kids would get a ride while we got up the crater on foot.  I had intended to pray at the start of the ascent but was met with difficulty as the volcanic sand (and later rocky terrain) had made it difficult for me to concentrate on my prayer.  I wasn’t an experienced mountain climber after all as my sister-in-law was, so I had to catch my breath a few times.  Everytime I started on a Hail Mary, I would be interrupted by a difficult step, a pause or funny chats with my companions.  No matter however.  As St. Therese of Lisieux had mentioned in her book, Story of A Soul, disturbances or interruptions are part of prayer and should not deter one from prayer incessantly.

The long way up

Nevertheless, by the time we reached the top I had already finished a few prayers in silence.  Nobody knew I was even praying!  The view at the top was breathtakingly beautiful.  Without shouting at the top of my lungs, I could only mutter to myself: “THANK YOU LORD! HOW GREAT ART THOU!”

A  view of the crater

A view of the crater

I had my sister-in-law to take a photo of me in an oblation pose.  It was my big hug to our Lord in the vastness of the sky.

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A Bird That Comforted Me

We stayed at the crater for about an hour to sink in the beauty before we made our descent.  Going down was just as difficult as going up, but I managed to say a few aspirations before we reached the shoreline.  By the time we crossed the waters back to Talisay, the lake had become very rough.  The banca’s bow would do a small nosedive everytime we were met by strong waves.  We had water splashed over us repeatedly.  Everybody was a little panicky and for a short time, I was too.  I made a small prayer to St. Raphael, the patron saint of travellers, and asked for protection.  Up in the sky that caught my attention was a swallow that was riding in the wind.  Then and there I remembered my uncle who was a captain who told me this: “If you see a bird ride up the sky, you are quite safe. If the bird was able to fly, then there is no reason why you cannot be ride the boat safely”.

Remembering this, I knew we were going to be just fine.  This bird did not leave our side until we crossed the other side, and when we unboarded it had already gone.  All I can say was “thank you”.

It was truly a special day for me.

Cafeteria Catholics: The Crown of A Lukewarm Faith

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Today’s Gospel talks about children and their eminence in the kingdom of God.  “… unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…. (Matthew 18:2-6).  What is so special about children that Jesus gives special mention to the little ones?

You fully guessed it!  It’s their child-like faith that makes the difference.  Their absolute reliance on an elder, their innocence and love, it can truly warm the heart.  It doesn’t matter if you are a parent or a brother, mentor or friend to a child.  Their love and admiration is great, almost to a fault.  And this is the kind of trust that our Lord looks in us.

But where are we now?  We live in a period where information is readily available.  Because we KNOW more, we QUESTION more.  And that is the danger there.  We doubt, we refute, we DISTRUST.

Not that questioning is bad.  In fact, seeking the truth should be second nature to us as thinking creatures.  But what if, in so seeking, you find something that you thought is true and begin to believe it as an authority, or something that works well for you?

Let’s talk about faith, our Catholic faith. More and more of us these days are what sociologists call “Cafeteria Catholics”, the kind of Catholic who chooses only the beliefs he wants to believe in and rejects the rest.  For example, you believe in the sacrament of marriage but do not believe in confession.  You pray regularly but do not go to mass.  You believe in the sanctity of family life but also believe that divorce is the way to go if a relationship tours sour.  And the list goes on.

This is one of the reasons why some Catholics leave and those who do stay become lukewarm.  And there is more danger in a person with lukewarm faith than one without any at all.  In a recent homily, Pope Francis warned that: “Lukewarm Christians, without courage … that hurts the Church so much because this tepid atmosphere draws you inside….”

We question and look for direction, but the direction we point to is sometimes skewered.  And what may be right to you may not always be the right thing to do.  How to beat the darkness of tepidness?

Ask for proper guidance.  Look for somebody who is knowledgeable and virtuous to give you advice.  Go to a priest or a religious who can give you guidance over questions bothering your head.

Pray unceasingly.  We are all guilty of this sometimes (or all of the time?).  But guess what?  Prayer truly helps even before you even say what you need.  In periods of confusion, I always pray the Rosary or some devotion that would lift my heart and mind to God.  Mother Mary and Jesus do it, the saints have done it.  We should also make the effort to imitate them.

Read to find answers.  Read the Bible or any pious book.  These are books to put you in the right direction.              

I’ve been a staunch Cafeteria Catholic in the past that almost led me to another religion.  Were it not for the prayers of my mother, I would have been lost to the faith.  I can very well say I am still in some way a Cafeteria Catholic, but I am resolved to know more about my faith and sticking fast to it.  The key to discovering the truth is not just to ask questions, but to discover the reason, the TRUTH, behind it.  I’ve been doing this for more than five years now, and though I am no closer to the truth than I did before, I can very well say I am deepening my roots in the faith. 

And by deepening my faith, I am becoming a child again in the eyes of Jesus. 

 

   

 

Getting Lost in the Season

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It will be the third week of Advent this week, and pretty soon it’s Christmas.  And it’s the time of the year when traffic is chaotic and unpredictable, in Metro Manila at least. Malls are filled with sales and goodies offering great deals. 

I try not to be harried by the Christmas rush, but there is no stopping Christmas, and buying little tokens to family and friends are a way of showing they are highly appreciated for all that they are and do for us.  And with the parties and other indulgence, it is  so easy to be lost in all of this seeming hoopla.

Remember Yolanda and what it did to families in the Visayas and I am back to my senses.  We’ve seen nothing but destruction and death the past few weeks, with families either displaced or separated from each other.  It’s been truly comforting to see the outpouring of support extended by other people.  The world has become a smaller place, not only because of technology but because of the kindness of strangers to give.  Nevermind the looting and politicking that we hear in the news.  Let’s focus on the positives. 

In all of these excesses, we must give.  Give what we can to people who need it most, to people who have lost a lot.  The beauty of this season is not in the taking but in the giving of what we have, whatever that may be.

It is so easy to just have fun with all the merry-making, losing the reason and cause of our celebrating.  

Slow down and savor the moment.  Reflect.  Beyond the twinkling lights and berriboned boxes, there is a child who was born to save us. He is, was, and always will be.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas in our lives.

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.