Bearing and Birthing: Starting the Year with Mary

Apologies for the tardy post–I’ve been disconnected from the blogosphere for more than a month, and it took a bit of time for the creative juices to start flowing again.

New Year’s: the holiday (and holy day) celebrated by everyone around the world regardless of race, religion or ruling government. (As an aside, I found myself writing “Merry Christmas” and never “Happy Holidays” on all my cards and gifts…just because I can.) The New Year refreshes us with hope (things are bound to be better!) and enlivens us with resolve (I am going to be better!) for the year so pregnant with promise and possibilities.

While the rest of the world gets psyched with lists of best habits and techniques to get to that “better YOU in 2014,” the Church, as She does every year, invites us to start the year with Mary, the Mother of God. That this feast falls within the liturgically jam-packed Christmas season speaks much about its importance–that it lands squarely on the Octave of Christ’s Nativity makes it as holy as Holy Days get.

I find it interesting to note that the title “Mary, Mother of God” is the oldest of all Marian titles and feasts. It was first used after the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, which was convened to address the doctrine of Nestorius who asserted that Christ’s human and divine natures were separate. As the council proclaimed Jesus true God and true man, it followed that Mary was not just Christotokos (Birth Giver of Christ) but Theotokos, Bearer (or Birth Giver) of God.

Before she was the Immaculate Conception, or Queen of Heaven and Earth, or Our Lady of [place name of virtue or apparition site here], she was firstly a mother, the Mother.

Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception. For this reason the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 that Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb: “Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.” (CCC#466)

2013 saw me battling with a darkness I’ve started calling the SELF–propelled by inordinate self-love and self-pity, needing (demanding) repeated validation of my perceived self-worth. Darkness spreads as far as we’ll let it, and soon every aspect of my life seemed covered with this self-indulgent depression. The only time I didn’t feel gripped by despair was when I was with my children–playing with them, laughing with them, hugging them, kissing them–I seemed to forget whatever sorry state my soul was in. I was needed, I was loved…not because I had done anything to merit such affection, such devotion, but simply because I was their mother.

Darkness spreads because I let it…because in some twisted, self-indulgent way, I like it.

This is the first of all Marian feasts and titles because, while every other aspect of her person inspires us to be like her, her divine motherhood is reason enough for us to love her.

And in the sacred place of a mother’s arms, Theotokos calls all her children to follow her example–to bear witness in the world to Christ’s love and mercy, to let Him be birthed into our lives–that those who live in darkness may see Light, may be Light. Suffering, trials, tribulations? Well, you can’t give birth without experiencing labor pains.

At the start of the year, our Mother guides us thusly:”Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) Mary, Mother of God, and our mother, pray for us that we may respond with the very words you uttered: “Let it be done unto me as you say.” (Luke 2:38)


Happy 2014!

Finally putting an end to the silence!

Did you miss me? 

I know, it has been well over a month since my last post. And no amount of business (or pleasure) could have justified such an act of neglect on my part. Not to worry–resolving to write more in the coming year, so be sure to check back with us again soon for more Catholic By Choice.

Happy New Year!

Let Us Save Them From Shameful Things

I cannot imagine what it was like, what it has been like, for the regions slaughtered by the super typhoon.

Watching the news, listening to the stories of people gone and gone missing…it all sounds like a bad dream–

– the man seen carrying the lifeless body of his 6-year-old daughter, drowned by the water that rose too fast inside an evacuation center.

– the teenaged boy standing over his father’s dead body atop a mound of rubble, unable to carry the body on his own, waiting for kind passers-by to help him.

– the news reporter who breaks down upon recounting the moment she thought was the end, as the ceiling of the cathedral under which they had sought shelter was peeling and collapsing right before their eyes.

– the mother, herself injured and in a daze, explaining that she had been holding her daughter’s hand when a surge of water violently tore them apart.

– the woman, distraught, trying to get a message to relatives in Manila: I’m the only one left. Mother, father, my husband, my children, they’re all dead. Tell (—) he has no children anymore. No need to come here, everyone is gone.

– the airport’s head of security, lamenting that he was able to save 2 fellow guards at his post, but was not home to save his 2 youngest children. His eldest son is still missing.

Even the newscasters, usually criticized for their shameless sensationalizing, seem almost speechless. This is something else, this is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

And something else we haven’t really seen before: looting. Through every calamity, we Filipinos surprise even ourselves in the way we come together to the aid of our brethren, in the way only we Filipinos can (just like a commercial says, there is no English translation for the word bayanihan). Sure some politicians take advantage of the crisis to herald their “generosity,” but other inappropriate behavior is rarely seen in the general population.

Photo by EPA/Francis Malasig

Until now.

Tormented typhoon victims scour for food

With no home, no food, no water, no shelter, and no access for relief good distribution, it is every man for himself, for his family.

This excerpt from the above article sent chills down my spine:

Wearing nothing but a pair of red basketball trousers, the father-of-four and village councillor apologized for his shabby appearance and for stealing from the dead.

“I am a decent person. But if you have not eaten in 3 days, you do shameful things to survive,” Gualberto told AFP as he dug canned goods from the debris and flies swarmed over the bodies.

Others, as you may have heard in the news, have taken to more drastic measures–looting supermarkets, restaurants and malls for food, water and medicines. Some seem ready to forgive the looting of basic necessities, but cry foul when they see some of the survivors arise from the chaos carrying electronic appliances (TV sets, washing machines, airconditioning units), restaurant equipment, even remote-controlled toys.

Sure, it’s wrong (not to mention, it doesn’t make sense–a lot of good electronic appliances will do you in a makeshift shelter with no electricity). But I cannot say they are merely taking advantage of the situation because I wasn’t there, I don’t know what they’ve been through. I haven’t lost everything and everyone–go ahead and expect me to behave with dignity and patience and respect. But if you’re the only one left in your family, if you have no way of knowing that people are doing their best to get relief goods to you, if all you see around you is chaos and destruction…

Like Gualberto said: You do shameful things to survive.

This is a very deep wound, that will surely take a long time to heal. Go out there, make like St. Francis, and be an instrument of peace. Let us exhaust all means to save our brothers and sisters from starvation, devastation, and desperation.


A Survivor’s Story

Amidst so many heartbreaking tragedies, there are still stories of hope. Truly, now is not the time for pointing fingers, but for opening our hands and our hearts to our brethren.

Color My World (charly's blog)

Lieutenant Colonel Fermin Carangan is the Commanding Officer of TOG 8, the Air Force unit tasked to provide air support for the islands of Samar and Leyte. On the morning of Friday, November 8, he and his troops were in their office near the Tacloban Airport on red alert, having been informed of an incoming Super-Storm named Haiyan (local name: Yolanda). Here’s how he narrated his ordeal to Lt Col Allan Taguba, as Haiyan unleashed her fury on the city of Tacloban on that fateful Friday morning.

We were out of the office at 6 am Friday observing. Winds brought by Yolanda were already strong around that time. We (the Air Force troops in Tacloban) were prepared for the possibility of rescue missions days before the expected landfall of Yolanda. Just before 7 am, the rains started to pour, so we took shelter.


Around the same time, we noticed that…

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STOP CHRISTMAS SHOPPING! (and other different ideas to help Typhoon Yolanda victims)

Whoever you are, wherever you are, there is something you can do, something you can give.



Coming from a weekend retreat, I only recently saw footage of the utter devastation wrought by Yolanda. For a good hour, my wife Pauline and I were just silently watching, with a hand on our mouths. I’ve never seen this kind of footage from Ondoy, Habagat, or even the recent 7.2 Bohol earthquake.

It was heartbreaking.

I have some friends with families in the regions affected who still cannot call to confirm whether or not their loved ones are alive or not.

It was also particularly shocking to see our countrymen resort to looting. I think this is the very first time I’ve heard of this happening, even if we seem to be hit by a disaster every quarter. This is one proof for me why Yolanda is unprecedented.

(this morning’s Inquirer headline confirmed this: The Worst Disaster To Hit PH)

I don’t think we’ve ever been hit this way…

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Help for Victims of Super Typhoon

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, lacking clothes and clothe you? When did we find you sick or in prison and go see you?” And the King will answer, “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”

For ways to send financial help, please click on the link below. Please continue praying for the Philippines.

How you can help.

from Manila Bulletin (




Praying for (Forgotten) Saints and Sinners

All Saints’ Day weekend is big in the Philippines, big enough to call a nation-wide non-working holiday for the sake of those who annually visit the final resting place/s of departed loved ones. To be honest, I think there are more commercial establishments closed for the 1st of November than for Holy Week. (Does this mean it is more acceptable to suspend a day’s revenue to remember the dead than to do the same to remember Christ’s Passion and Death? Hmm, let’s ruminate on that for a second…)

While November 1 isn’t a Holy Day of Obligation in the Philippines (I checked), my mom always stressed that going to mass for the intentions of our dearly departed was the best thing we could do for them (actually, she told us it was a Holy Day of Obligation, but moving on…).

…day and night they never stopped singing: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty; who was, and is and is to come. (Rev 4:8)

Attending mass on those 2 days (Nov. 1&2) was enlightening, to say the least. Firstly, I was reminded that the Feast of All Saints was not just a blanket commemoration of all the saints, but in particular, a remembrance of all those who lived holy lives and yet have stayed under the Church’s radar. If we were to use any blanket statement, it would be this: on this day, we honor all souls in Heaven. But with canonized Saints and their respective feast days, it feels right to take a day to remember these unsung heroes.

Secondly, I learned that on All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2), the whole Church takes on the task of praying specifically for the intentions of the souls undergoing purification in Purgatory. By offering our prayers and the Mass, we believe that we are helping them–whether in the purification process or in giving them consolation.

And who can bear the thought of a loved one suffering amidst a cleansing fire? We like to think of our loved ones resting fully in Heaven, and so we offer what we can to hasten their getting there. As I glanced around the crowd at mass that day, I recognized some neighbors and co-parishioners whose stories I was privy to–she who lost a brother in his 30’s to a heart attack, she who lost a daughter to cancer, he who lost a father, a son, a wife…so many stories. And as I saw them, and prayed with them, I secretly blessed them for faithfully remembering.

And then I remembered Patient X.

Patient X was a man who came into the ER unconscious. All signs and tests seemed to point to a massive heart attack–his chances were grim. I was the resident-on-call when he was admitted to the ICU that night, and on seeing his vitals, I asked if I could speak to the family–to explain the situation, and to present the parameters of the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form should they want to sign it.

A good chance he wouldn’t make it till morning…

To my surprise, there was no family member present. I discovered that a woman–his second wife? his mistress? I won’t pretend to know the whole complicated story–had brought him to the hospital, but had left abruptly when they needed to contact the patient’s “legal” family as listed by his HMO. And from what the nurses from the ER told me, it took a whole lot of explaining to even convince the man’s family to come.

Hours later, a girl who looked about my age came in–Patient X’s daughter. As soon as I started to gently explain the situation to her, she raised her hand to stop me. No need to discuss all these with me, she said, I don’t need to know, I don’t want to know. Just give me the papers that need to be signed.

Even though I was taken aback, I insisted on delivering my briefest DNR speech ever. Rather impatiently, she nodded her head at each resuscitative measure to be withheld. After we had gone through all the paperwork, she asked us one last time if there was anything else we needed her for. I told her that was all for now, and we would just contact her again once Patient X had expired.

With a look of exasperation, she asked if that was really necessary. I’ve already made arrangements for the body to be taken cared of, if that’s all that needs to be done, then I don’t need to come back here anymore. 

Shocked, I watched her walk out of the ICU. She didn’t even look into her father’s cubicle.

Wow. What kind of hurt did she have to go through, I wondered, for her to shake the dust off her feet like that? And what kind of life did Patient X live to end up dying alone in a hospital bed?

Did he deserve this? Does anyone deserve this?

In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them. (CCC#958)

I come to tell you that they suffer in Purgatory, that they weep, and that they demand with urgent cries the help of your prayers and your good works. I seem to hear them crying from the depths of those fires which devour them: “Tell our loved ones, tell our children, tell all our relatives how great the evils are which they are making us suffer. We throw ourselves at their feet to implore the help of their prayers. Ah! Tell them that since we have been separated from them, we have been here burning in the flames!”…Yet how quickly we could empty purgatory if we but really wished to…We must say many prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, for one must be so pure to enter heaven. –-St. Jean Marie Vianney

Because there are souls with no one to pray for them, some of them forcibly forgotten, we also remember them. The 2nd of November is a special day in that priests are allowed to celebrate more than the usual number of masses permitted in a day, as we the faithful are  likewise allowed to go to mass (as well as receive Holy Communion) as many as 3 times. Indulgences are attached to visiting a church as well as visiting a cemetery, all merits gained for the sake of these suffering souls.

What a beautiful tandem of feasts: one to remind us of our Heavenly aspirations, and the other awakening in us the reality that, to reach Heaven, we need all the help we can get.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.