Thursday, October 12, 2017

I Am, Therefore I Blog

My blog is about my own personal thoughts and experiences and no one has the right to tell me what to or not to write on it. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally against blogs that deliberately write misconstrued or totally fake news. We are  not journalists, but I believe bloggers have the responsibility to write the truth in the best way they know how. Truth, yes, can be very subjective, but it is my belief that there is one Truth, which will come out no matter how much one tries to hide it.

I posted an article here that was originally meant for a website that I sometimes write for.  Unfortunately, our head did not approve my writing, for the lamest of excuses.  I try to write from the heart and write from my own experiences, no matter who they may be, in the hope to uplift and bring light to what others may not see.  But my piece was considered to be biased, a political issue in the sphere of what was supposed to be religious or spiritual. I took the rejection lightly, but I told the person that requested for the article that I would post it here in my personal blog, where no one has the authority to tell me what and what I cannot post.

For the most part, blogs are meant to entertain, educate and/or inform.  There is a lot of entertaining going on, but we have to be wary of whether the information given is based on truth, half-truths or total lies. To readers of blogs and other internet sites, discern well your authors and their sources. learn to distinguish between fact and opinion, ask the author for their references if you need to. Take a more active role, always with the end goal of finding out the truth. In a world that tries to capture your attention, make sure that you don't get caught in its web of deception.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Back to the Basics - With the Help of St Josemaria Escriva

I’ve been so busy being an Admin of another account that I’ve failed to make updates on my own social media accounts and blogs.  Though many thoughts have wanted to escape and be acknowledged in writing, it is just now that I’ve given it more priority. Again, here I sit, needing to sort out my thoughts, chaotic as they are.

Let me begin with the basics. I just recently began reading again “Friends of God, Homilies by Josemaria Escriva” When I first picked this little book up, he was still holding the title Blessed and it was only in October 6, 2002 that Pope John Paul II canonized him and now joins the communion of Saints in our heavenly kingdom.

I really needed to read and put to heart St Josemaria’s words, so deep and yet so practical that it hit me as if the words were really meant just for me at this particular point in my life.

I’ve blogged in the past that I’ve been part of the lingkods of our parish. I joined for several reasons, mainly I guess because I felt I had a calling to become a useful part of our Church, to use the talents that God has given me.  Another reason was in the hope that through my service, I would become closer to God, to grow in my spiritual life.  My first goal I believe I’ve achieved as I’ve made contributions to the ministry by providing them not only my time, but with my knowledge and skills.  The second though I have failed miserably and instead I have come to the realization that serving as a lingkod has made me more cynical, more judgmental and in the process felt more distant from God. Ironic how it is, that I serve so close next to the Besa Manto, seeing her beauty and hearing more than one mass every Sunday and witnessing the consecration and yet, being so distracted that I do not feel the presence of God or of Mother Mary. Ironic and yet very, very sad.

I’ve thought of leaving many times. Actually, this is one of those times that I’ve considered it seriously.  If it’s not good for my soul, then why should I stay, right?  And yet these words from St Josemaria Escriva hit me:

“Allow me to insist. You think your time is for yourself? Your time is for God! It may well be that, by God’s mercy, such selfish thoughts have never entered your mind.  I’m telling you these things in case you ever find your heart wavering in its faith in Christ.  Should that happen, I ask you – God asks you – to be true to your commitments, to conquer your pride, to control your imagination, not to be superficial and run away, not to desert.” (Friends of God, page 72) 
“There are no bad or inopportune days.  All days are good, for serving God. Days become bad only when men spoil them with their lack of faith, laziness, and their indolence, which turns them away from working with God and for God.” (Ibid, page 76)

This was part of St Josemaria’s homily on “Time is a Treasure” where he meditates on several parables including the foolish virgins and the laborers in the vineyard.

To toil in this vineyard that God sent me to, I was never promised it would be easy.  We work with people from different walks of life, some saints, but mostly sinners. We have all come for different reasons which God only knows and it is not for me to judge.  We do our share of work, not asking for recompense or even praise.  If we were to abandon it, God will surely find ways to replace iyr unwilling service with one that is more deserving.  I still struggle on what choice to make, but reading and meditating on this book has helped me, at least for now, to continue to toil in God’s vineyard and not to waste of this precious gift of time and talent that He has given me by His grace and mercy. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Confession of an Amateur Photographer

I’ve got a confession to make, but no, it’s not one that I need to approach the confessional box to ask for penance.  I’ve been given a privilege to be a part of the photographer team for the Multi-media ministry in our parish.  Photography has always been one of my passions, even before the time of digital cameras, and I remember going through roll after roll of film and having to wait, back then, for a couple of days, for the pictures to be developed.  There were a few memorable shots, but most ordinary and even some wasted.  I would carry a camera on most occasions and on the ones that I failed to, I would be disappointed seeing a scene or occasion that would have been wonderful to capture and immortalize.

Long before I became part of the Multi-media ministry, I would love taking pictures of events especially religious processions, some of which I’ve posted here in previous blogs.  I love seeing the people, their expressions, the beautiful images of Christ, Mother Mary and the other Saints, and the scenes and circumstances that surrounded these events.  All of this I did to satisfy my passion to capture these images and share them with others.

But being, in a way, an official photographer of our parish, I feel an added weight on my shoulder.  I am still very amateur and far from being an expert in this field.  I purchased my first SLR just less than 3 years ago.  Many times, it’s shoot-and-miss. Some turn out great, others not so.  What my eyes and mind want to capture is not always what comes out upon reviewing my shot.  (Thank God we’re in the digital age and taking practice shots do not cost anything).   I still have the same basic lens that came with the package, which definitely has its limitations.  I’ve learned to deal with these limitations, coming closer to my subjects to make up for the lack of zoom function and learning to weigh aperture, shutter speed and the use of flash in dark settings.  (Recently, I have learned to use what light is available, example, light from the street lamp post, or someone holding a candle, or even another person’s flash.)
A definite missed shot. Had the perfect position, but the lighting. I've had trouble with this before. It's dark but the image of our Lady of Lourdes is filled with light. The result, Mama Mary coming out too bright and missing out the details of her beauty.

But when I do go back and download my shots, many times I am disappointed.  I see many beautiful pictures of the image of Mother Mary.  There are many images of our Mother and all of them beautiful in different ways.  Her beauty mesmerizes me at times, a beauty that truly heaven had a hand with.  I look at her with my eyes,  then look at her through my camera lens, then try to make the needed adjustments to my camera and then click to take the shot.  I look at my captured picture and I sigh.  I try again and again and again.  There are some that I feel satisfied with and I pass on to be posted to our Social media accounts, but too many shots are left on my camera and laptop as a personal reminder that I can do better.

So this is my confession…that I cannot do Our Mother Mary justice with the pictures I take of her.  Your beauty, dear Mother, is beyond me; is beyond the pictures I can capture with my camera.  As we can only experience a minute glimpse of what heaven will be like, just so we can only view a minute part of the beauty the image of our Mother Mary represents.  Your beauty is beyond me, dear Mother.  And I know that no picture will ever be good enough.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lingkods - Servers of God and of Mother Mary

A year ago I would arrive at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes (or Lourdes church as we commonly call our parish) and see the decorations ready for the Feast day. The church would be all decked with the long trail of blue and white, banners hung from on high and with a bounty of flowers behind and all around the altar.  It was an awesome sight, and I looked at wonder how the church could be transformed magically from the last time I saw it the previous Sunday.

This year was different.  Yes, it was the same long trail of blue and white cloth running from the end of the church to the front, and yes, it was the same banners that hung on high. But this time, they had their own stories to tell.
Beautiful view of the church from the choir section during one of the novena masses.
Photo credit to Hubert Villamiel.
For more pictures, like and follow the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes' FB Account
There is a term in Filipino: Lingkod, which means servant; a person who gives or offers service.  And there are many lingkods in our Church, people who give willingly and voluntarily of their time, talents and even their treasures. They all have different stories to tell of what brought them to serve in the church, and specifically the church many of us have called our second home, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

It has been a privilege to be a part of the family of lingkods in our parish. It has almost been a year since I began my service in the Multi-media ministry and the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes was the biggest celebration that I was able to witness and be a part of.

As a lingkod, we witness the behind-the-scenes; we become more than an audience “enjoying the show”.  As a lingkod, we are part of the production crew; setting the stage, making sure that everything works smoothly for the grand celebration.  In this case, the celebration is greater than the greatest show on earth for it is the celebration of the most Holy Mass and the maringal na pag-alis at pag-balik ng Mahal na Ina ng Lourdes.  And, as a lingkod, we wish nothing but perfection for this holy and heaven-sent day.

I was in the parish one evening working on the Powerpoint presentation for the mass and testing our livestream, and it was during this time that some members of Mother Butler Guild were working hard to put the blue and white material up on the second floor. They had a tougher time this year since our Multi-media booth was enclosed and they tediously put a straw string in a narrow crack between the walls to secure the cloth. It was late in the day, but these ladies had been working the whole day. Sweaty, tired and dirty from the heat and dust, they kept working to push the straw so it was long enough to be pulled from the other end.  When they finally did get the material tied, they pulled on the straw string, and at times we were afraid that the straw would break from the weight of the material and the rough crack of the wall. Yet these ladies continued with their work, silently exhilarating when the heavy cloth finally went up, a small victory for these lingkods who do their share of the magnanimous work that goes into the novena masses and Feast day celebration, all for their love and devotion for our dear Lady of Lourdes.

This is just one, short story behind the work of just a few lingkods of our parish, but It was a busy time for the parish as a whole; a busy and tiring time for all the lingkods of the different ministries and organizations; and, literally, sleepless nights for some.  There was one night, when there was a choir practicing their songs for the novena and feast day, while the altar servers were downstairs repeatedly practicing for the high mass, and other people setting up the equipment for the new electric fan, and still other lingkods arranging the flowers, all in one night, at the same time, in different places around the church. Still there were others whom we do not see, but who make their own important contribution to the parish.

So those long trails of blue and white material, banners, flowers, lights, music, etc,-   did not appear magically nor easily.  There were many hands, feet, eyes, ears, sweat and even tears that brought them there.  The lingkods are like the many parts of one body, working individually and yet in unison for a common goal, a common love.

When the Pilgrim image of Our Lady of Lourdes made its way back to the church after nearly three hours in procession, we all felt overwhelmed with a deep emotion that is hard to explain, as we were brought back to the reason why we were all there in the first place. "Naiiyak ako" was a sentiment I heard more than once. Our sweat and tears from the tiredness, late nights stress and frustrations were turned into tears of joy. Thank you dear Mother, ang aming Mahal na Ina ng Lourdes. Thank you Lord God for giving us a loving Mother who listens to the prayers of our hearts and continues to intercede for us. Salamat po Mahal na Ina ng Lourdes, mahal na mahal ka namin!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Excitement Behind the Wrapped Gifts

A little late for a Christmas post, but hey, there's 346 days 'til Christmas 2017 so there is ample time for your next Christmas shopping spree.  If you are like our family, there are different groups of family/friends that are part of our Christmas gift-giving list. Our kids have their school friends/teachers, we ourselves have our own group of co-parents and their children, then we have neighbors, our group in church, and family from my side and family from my husband's side, etc. etc.

For most as I've observed, it is more convenient to just give monetary gifts and here in the Philippines it has become quite a tradition, where kids line-up to receive their aguinaldo and depending on whether you're a close relative or an inaanak (godchild), you may even receive more than the others.

Lining up for their aguinaldo

I didn't grow up with this tradition. When I was younger growing up in Canberra, our extended family were my mom's co-workers in the embassy and their children. I remember receiving a gift from each of those families, around 10 or more. We, in turn, would also give gifts to each Tito/Tita and each of their children.  It was always exciting to open up the gifts and I admit I had taken a peek with a small, concealed rip to see what was inside the Christmas wrappers even before Boxing Day came (Christmas 26, for those who are not aware of this special occasion that the Aussies inherited from the British).

Now that I'm the Mommy and have the "privilege" of buying gifts, I have kept the tradition of my childhood and much prefer giving wrapped gifts rather than the ones found in the envelopes.  Sure it takes much more effort especially on our precious time, but this choice was reaffirmed just this last Christmas.  Most of the time we give the gifts before Christmas itself and the gifts aren't opened 'til Christmas day, so we never get to see the reaction of the recipient.  But on my husband's side of the family, we have our annual reunion on New Year's eve and day and that is when we get to give them their gifts.
Here are my kids back in Christmas 2011 when they started opening their gifts under the tree.
They wonder why now they don't get many gifts anymore and I try to explain that the red envelopes are the gifts.

I got to witness the reaction of the younger kids when they opened their gifts.  Even if the gifts were simple and may not be that expensive, these younger kids' eyes just opened wide and the little boy smiled and started playing with his new toy motorcycle and the little girl exclaimed "wow" at her new pajamas.  So, don't get me wrong, those red envelopes with the ampao are very much appreciated and are sometimes more practical, but I really love seeing the expressions on the kids' faces when they open up those gifts.  It is a gift not only for the receiver, but definitely, for the giver.  This tradition will definitely be one that I will not do away with, even at times especially when trying to think up of gifts for teenagers, that it really becomes quite a chore.  It is the thought and effort that counts anyway.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Panata to the Black Nazarene

There are many times when I fear for the safety of my family. I guess it's only natural being a mother and wife. But there are 2 particular days in a year that my nerve system doubles its usual rate, today January 9 and the other on Good Friday.  It is on these two days that my husband joins the multitudes in their devotion or panata to our Lord.

Image may contain: 5 people, people standing, crowd and outdoor
Photo credit: Anthony Rufo's FB page. View his page for other artistic pictures of the Translacion 
Today, being the annual Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo (I heard earlier that this isn't the correct title, but this is what we commonly call it so I'll let it be), my husband just came back from his panata, feet blackened by walking barefoot and being trampled by other devotees. He was gone for at least 4 hours and while he was gone I would catch a news coverage of the ongoing Translacion and wonder where he is in that crowd, and again, my heart would race realizing he is actually part of that crowd.

Of course, I don't go with him,although many women dare to be part of the male-dominated procession. If I were to go one of these days, it would be to satisfy the photographer in me, to try to capture the drama of the event.

Image may contain: 13 people
Photo credit: Bench dela Rosa's FB page. Can't seem to get a decent picture of this.
Will try to this year, if my nerves will allow me.
The other date that I somewhat dread is the Good Friday Giwang-giwang, the annual procession, which is similar to the Translacion of the Black Nazarene, but the image is that of the dead Christ in a coffin and the streets are that of the narrow streets of the bayan of Binangonan, Rizal. I've blogged on this back in 2008 (Giwang-giwang). The Giwang-giwang goes by my husband's cousin's house and we get a good view (and a good whiff too - the heat and smell from the combined bodies of the men can be physically felt and smelt as they pass us) of the Sepulkro and the devotees as they make their way back to the church. This tradition we have witnessed for the past 14 years. My kids have gotten used to it, although my daughter when she was old enough to understand actually cried when she saw her dad being "carried away by the crowd".

So this is the confession of a wife who waits anxiously for her husband's return, not from a war, but from a devotion that I still sometimes fail to fully comprehend. People pray in different ways, others choose to join these processions and offer up their sacrifices of sweat, discomfort and pains to the Lord, while others do it in a more quiet manner. Mine today is for the safety of all those who make this devotion. Bless them and us, Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno.