Called to be Extraordinary

Last August, our family received an unexpected, extraordinary blessing–my husband, Peter, was invested as a Lay Eucharistic Minister (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) at Christ the King Parish.

lay minister

My husband, the youngest in the group (also the one with the least amount of hair, go figure).

The invitation came subtlely enough–after noticing Peter in line for Confession before Sunday Mass, one of the existing ministers approached him to ask if he would like to serve as a Lay Minister. A thought he never really entertained before, Peter politely thanked him for the invitation and said he would have to check his schedule, or “try” to make it to the monthly formation sessions, or some other vague answer to mask his decline. Luckily, Brother/Kuya Robert was gently persistent, regularly texting and emailing my husband, inviting, encouraging, reminding.

As the weeks, months, wore on, Peter found himself having a change of mind (and heart) on the matter. A clincher was when Kuya Robert happened to mention in one email that one of the things that prompted him to approach Peter in the first place was the impression that he was a good father (as he would see how Peter was with the kids during Sunday Mass). This comment came just a few days after we had learned that I was again expecting, meaning that we (I more than he) were in the middle of all the emotional struggle that went along with the news of yet another pregnancy.

It was a confirmation in more ways than one.

And Peter, to his surprise, found himself blessed beyond expectations. The monthly formation sessions were more than enlightening (touching on such topics as confession, Mary, and angels, among others), and the brotherhood he found with these (mostly more senior) Catholic men is heartwarming. Just the other day, I was introduced to Kuya Jerry, and was touched when this complete stranger told me that he has been offering his daily rosary for the healthy and safe delivery of my baby.

A Holy Fraternity.

A Holy Fraternity.

As a single woman who had discerned if marriage was the vocation for me, I remember having prayed for a man after God’s own heart, one who would love Him and serve Him, one who would really lead our family closer to Christ and His Church. After 8 years of marriage, I see how God continues to stay true to His promise. And what I said to Peter all those years before still holds true today–that falling in love with him (everyday) just makes me fall in love with God even more.

I honor you, Peter, for always being grateful for the gifts God has given you; for honoring Him with your time, talent and treasure; for keeping Him at the center not just of our family but also of your career; for allowing His Spirit to move in your life, molding you into the Christian servant you are; for answering His call to give more, do more, be more; for inspiring our kids, and myself, to do the same.

What a wonderfully fitting way to celebrate the Year of the Laity!

The Year of the Laity, as declared by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, for the Liturgical Year 2013-2014

I’m sure the kids all agree with me–you are our hero 🙂

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So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 3

(Finally, 3 months later. If you need to hit the refresh button, revisit related posts here, here and here.)

Around a decade ago, our community conducted a Life in the Spirit Seminar at a retreat house run by the Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation. During the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (a communal prayer in which we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit–which we received at our Sacramental Baptism–to be stirred up in us in a real and renewing way), the very hospitable sisters obliged when we requested for the Blessed Sacrament to be present for this activity.

Now, if you know what communal prayer means for charismatics, you’ll know that it is anything but silent. There is singing, raising of hands, spontaneous praising, speaking in tongues…people kneeling, standing, prostrate on the floor. Even back then, I understood that not everyone was comfortable with this kind of prayer, and no doubt some would raise eyebrows over the fact that this was how we prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. Not wanting to offend the sisters who were our hosts for the weekend, I asked a fellow servant at that retreat to call the sister to come and bring the Eucharist out of the room at my signal. I wanted to make sure that when she arrived, we would more or less have settled down after the climax of praise.

But for some reason, things didn’t go as planned, and Sister entered the room right in the middle of high praise. There was laughing, crying, praising, singing–everyone was just drunk with the Spirit, with the Eucharist right at the center of it all. As the one leading the worship that time, I couldn’t help but glance sideways at Sister by the door: oh no, oh no, oh no, what could she be thinking? Finally, the praising slowly faded into silence, I led them in prayer, then in song, then we all bowed down before our Lord.

We waited for Sister to make her way to the center of the room, but she remained frozen where she was. I thought, Oh no, was she that bothered, that scandalized by what she witnessed? After a few more minutes (which seemed like eternity), she carefully walked over and reverently retrieved the Blessed Sacrament.

When the retreat ended later that afternoon, I made it a point to go and thank Sister personally for having us, and wanted to explain (although I didn’t know how I was going to do it) what happened during the Baptism. As soon as she saw me approaching her, she gave me the warmest smile and, to my surprise, gave me a big hug. “You pray so well! I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to stay there and listen to your songs. It was like there were angels singing!”

And I just hugged her right back with all my might.

One of the stumbling blocks to a harmonious Church, at least when it comes to liturgy, is the notion that one has to choose sides–those that champion a more vertical orientation (traditionalists, orthodoxy) and those that fight for a more horizontal one (let’s call them progressives). One reader, after expressing his opinion that widening the horizontal reach should be considered more important, in the same breath admitted that the Church would cease to be relevant if it neglected to point us to a higher standard. After vacillating to and fro, his conclusion was no conclusion–that this tug-of-war will ultimately hit a deadlock every time, and that the only solution was compromise (which he argues, isn’t really a solution as it entails some degree of giving in from one or both sides).

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. –G.K. Chesterton

I agree, compromise isn’t the solution. But perhaps another “middle-ground” word better fits the bill: BALANCE. To realize that both orientations are able to teach us something, to have that openness to the possibility that we may not have all the answers. To ensure that in every celebration and in every occasion for worship, careful attention is given to BOTH the vertical and the horizontal. No, not a vertical that alienates nor a horizontal that tolerates, but one that challenges and embraces, respectively.

To be so open to the Holy Spirit that we are able to see and recognize worship that is pleasing to our Lord. Whether it be this–

Or this–

A Church that is both vertical and horizontal, teaching each other, and learning from each other. Giving the Father always what is best, what is true, what is sacred.

So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 1

Last week, I wrote a post about the dilemma of Liturgy being either too vertical or too horizontal. I must admit, I was a bit nervous over how some of my readers from the West–mostly Catholic bloggers themselves and mostly (if we’re naming them) veering towards the right side of the liturgical spectrum–would react. I’ve read enough from their blogs to gather that there is much disdain towards radical changes in Liturgy, and though some won’t say it, over a lot of the changes brought about by Vatican II. I deeply respect these readers and writers (and not just because *cough, cough* they follow my blog), which is why what they’ve written had me struggling with my own faith expressed through Liturgy. It was an honest searching I was led to, and am still on. And while I cannot say I already have the complete picture (there should never be an end to learning), I feel the instance I shared immediately prior to this post was a milestone for me, as far as knowing where I stand is concerned.

So with a deep breath (and a Hail Mary), I clicked on the publish button. And waited if anyone would unfollow me.

To my surprise, no one did (as far as I know…do those show up in notifications?). What’s more, I saw a number of those bloggers actually like my post (I don’t get a lot of those). Well, well, pat on the back, well done, Pauline!

Until some FB contacts messaged me to say that they liked it, too. And, since we’ve already named them, suffice to say they most probably belong to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Hmm, a post that managed to please everybody. Can only mean one of either 2 things: that I’m a really, really good writer…or a really, really spineless one.

So, for the record, here is where I stand.

I love Liturgy. I love that what we do every Sunday has ties to rituals that date as far back as the early Christian communities. I love how it is so rich in symbols and poetry, and that it is the beautiful marriage of Scripture and Tradition. I love that, no matter where you are in the world, even if the mass is celebrated in a language you do not speak, a Catholic can still follow what’s going on, know when to kneel, sit or stand, and receive the same extraordinary grace being offered at every mass across all nations. And not to forget, that apart from all these, the mass is the Mass–Christ’s Sacramental giving of Himself to all those who hunger and thirst for something bigger and beyond anything this world can offer. If only for this, I love the Mass.

And because it is Sacrament–a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace–it is but fitting that we give our utmost in ensuring that the Liturgy we follow is appropriate, is commensurate to the Sacred Mysteries being celebrated. And this is how we must see efforts to elevate the celebration in its vertical orientation: while we can never truly give God the kind of heavenly worship He deserves, it won’t stop us from trying to get as close to that level of worship as possible.

And that is how, even though I was born pre-Vatican II, I feel I can appreciate the beauty of the Latin Mass, and Sacred (Latin) music. It is called sacred for a reason–it is a language, music and way of doing things specifically set apart for this purpose. And when done reverently, deliberately, devotedly? Wow. Chills down my spine.

And this is how I choose to think of these staunch defenders of the “traditional way”–they are pushing us, not letting us give anything less than the best, the highest we can give (thank God for that…and for them).

Now, here’s where the “however” comes in.

We must not forget why we set these rules, these standards in the first place. We do so because we want to leave little room for halfhearted, empty worship. But we must also realize that we do not have the same vantage point as God’s, who “does not see as human beings see…but looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). Who are we to say that this worshiper singing the Our Father with her hands lifted up is not singing from the heart, or that this penitent touching the feet of Christ’s image on the cross is not desperately seeking His pardon and healing? Our eyes can only see what the body does, and our ears can only hear what the mouth speaks. Perhaps for most of the time, this perception is sufficient to spot those who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far away from Him (Isaiah 29:13), but for a certain remainder of worshipers, we cannot see what the Lord sees, and therefore cannot tell them that their worship is not fitting, not pleasing to the King.

Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up. –Luke 18:10-14

Don’t. Be. A. Pharisee.

There is a place for rules in Liturgy. But when it comes down to choosing between the rules and the person–the heart that is worshiping–choose the person. Consider the heart.

I really didn’t expect this to be as long as this. But, to reiterate, there really is so much to be said. Hope to see you soon for Part 2. But till then, here’s something you might want to read. I actually found myself echoing the sentiments I’ve already written about here.

A Heart Full of Love

In the parish I grew up in, a gigantic image of Christ the King looks on lovingly from behind the altar. A design which I presume is more modern than older churches, there is only Christ: no other images of saints in retablos, no ornately gilded beams or frames (at least back in the early ’80’s; they’ve added a few things since then), just clean lines showing off the magnificent, majestic King of all kings.

the altar at Christ the King Parish, Greenmeadows

I used to love singing from the choir loft because the elevation allowed me to just gaze lovingly at His face. And standing above everyone else made me feel separate from the crowd below, as if it was just the two of us talking, loving, beholding each other.

Something I loved even more than staring at Him from the loft was walking down the center aisle to receive communion. I would usually stare up at the huge image, reverently walk on the red, sometimes green, carpeted floor, and feel giddy at the thought of receiving Him into my body. The perfect anthem for this procession was Manoling Francisco’s “Sa ‘Yo Lamang,” (Yours Alone)–

Sa ‘Yo lamang ang puso ko,
Sa ‘Yo lamang ang buhay ko.

My heart is Yours alone,
My life is Yours alone.

Each step, a prayer: I’m coming, my Love! I’m coming to receive You!

But it was during my college years when I discovered something that I loved even more. This time, I found it in the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, U.P. Diliman

I can still remember the first time I ever heard mass there. I had heard a lot about this church, boasting of having had 5 national artists collaborate on its construction and design. I was quite excited to see the Stations of the Cross encircling it, each panel a genuine Manansala. But once there, I found so much more to admire: the “open” round design, the dome constructed to facilitate ventilation (quite an important feature after walking around campus under the sun), and Abueva’s double-sided crucifix (Christ crucified and resurrected) suspended from the ceiling. All magnificent spectacles to behold.

But none as memorable as the experience of receiving communion there. A circular building, there was no center or main aisle leading to the altar. Pews emanate out from the central altar like spokes on a wheel (thus the double-sided crucifix makes sense because one can see either one of the images, or the profile of both, depending on where you’re seated). I began to wonder, where do people fall in line to receive communion? I was seated facing the crucified Christ, meaning I would have to walk a considerable distance to the “front” side of the church.

The altar at the center and the communion rail encircling it.

Then, as the priest made his way down the elevated platform, mass-goers started kneeling around the periphery of the altar. The railing wasn’t just a fence bordering the altar, it was a communion rail (the church was built in the 1950’s, therefore, pre-Vatican II). The priest then made his way around the platform, giving communion to parishioners waiting patiently on their knees.

As the communicant in front of me stood up, I knelt down and took my place. Just as I usually did, I stared up at the cross, praying and preparing to receive Jesus. But as the priest’s outline entered my peripheral vision, I once again started getting giddy with anticipation. But this time, He was coming to me. He’s coming! My Lord, my Love is coming to me!!

A giving love, a sacrificial love. Sometimes, I marvel at the way it is so easy to draw near to Him, being so full of His love. Indeed, the most logical response to experiencing such overwhelming love is to love Him completely and with abandon. Other times, when I feel that my sin has taken me so far from His grace, and I cannot bring myself to take that walk towards Him, He is the one who comes forward, meeting me where I am, loving me there, holding me there.

O Sacred Heart, O Love Divine.

What a giving love this Sacred Heart has for us! It will never be outdone in love, in sacrifice, in giving of itself. Even if I were to give my whole heart, my whole life, His Heart would still have given miles beyond what I have to offer.

To the Sacred Heart of our Lord, Jesus Christ, I give myself and I consecrate my person and my life, my actions, pains and sufferings, so that I may be unwilling to make use of any part of my being other than to honor, love, and glorify the Sacred Heart. (from the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus)

Sa ‘Yo lamang. Yours alone. Always, forever.

Are you ready for Conclave?

With just a few hours left till 115 holy men garbed in crimson will lock themselves up in probably the most historical and currently most watched chapel in the world, the question that must be asked of every believer surfaces and lingers in the air: Are you ready for Conclave?

Me? I’m not a cardinal, what do I need to prepare for? It’s not like I’m casting a ballot or anything.

Of course I’m ready! The sleeping bags and pillows are on deck in front of the TV, I’ve got my microwave popcorn stocked up, I’m already tuned in on the Vatican news coverage this early. As soon as that white smoke billows out the chimney, my gadgets are charged and ready for my Facebook and Twitter frenzy. Habemus papam!!

One, two, three…just like counting sheep, er, shepherds.

While the duty to elect a pope lies on the shoulders of the College of Cardinals, this period of waiting, praying and celebrating belongs to all of the faithful. In my 34 years of existence, this is only the 2nd conclave I’ve lived to see. And as I was airborne during my 1st one in 2005, this is my first real chance to dive into this beautiful, holy tradition.

So what can we do? Quite simply, we can join the Cardinals, and the rest of Church, in a solemn spirit of prayer.

Last night, I caught a discussion being aired over EWTN about the preparations for Conclave. Some of the more interesting details that I learned included the availability of confessors for the Cardinals throughout the process. And for sure, put together 115 Cardinals in a room, you can be certain that the Eucharist is celebrated. With such a monumental task ahead of them, the Cardinals realize with humility that they will need all the help they can get. So they turn to the sacraments which, according to the Diary of St. Faustina of the Divine Mercy, possess infinite value as miracles of mercy. As if pleading in behalf of the whole universal Church, the Cardinals are praying “Lord, have mercy on us,” teach us, guide us, be with us, as we take on this task of choosing the Vicar of Christ. If you haven’t yet for this Lenten season, go to confession. And try your best to go to mass in the coming days. I don’t doubt that these acts of unity with the Church will ready our hearts to rejoice when the new Pope steps out onto that balcony.

Perhaps the reason why they were so holy.

Another detail that surprised me about the Conclave was that the actual casting of ballots was to be conducted mostly in silence. All speeches, discussions and points to raise have been said during the pre-conclave meetings. And now, having already heard what human lips have to say, it is time to listen intently to what the Spirit’s still, small voice is whispering to each heart. As much as we can, let us join in this spirit of silence as well–not so much by ignoring all those trying to converse with us, but to maintain an atmosphere of prayerful silence every chance we get: turning off the radio while stuck in traffic, perhaps even lessening the amount of “idle” surfing on the net. The less we let in from the noisy, busy world around us, the more room our inner self has to be filled with grace.

And if we were to bring emptying ourselves even further, I would make this suggestion: start a fast. Allow yourself to feel that hunger and dependence on God (with regards to this election, and with everything else) not just internally, but physically as well. Just as any bride and groom who ritually avoided seeing each other right before their wedding day will testify how absence does make the heart grow fonder, after all this you can certainly look forward to a feast in every possible sense of the word.

All of the above–sacraments, silence and fasting–are ways and means to equip us for what we all really should be doing: prayer. To pray for the Cardinals, that they may approach the Conclave with humble, reverent, listening hearts, that they may be protected from all physical and spiritual harm. To pray for the Church, that we may put aside whatever agendas or personal hopes we have, and raise above everything else God’s hope for us. To pray, just as Jesus did, that we may all be one as He is with the Father. To pray for the new pope, whoever he may be, that he may embrace this call to be servant to the servants of God.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus!

With just a few hours left, prepare yourself to watch and wait with our whole Catholic family. Beg for grace, be silent, be hungry, and pray. And be part of the rejoicing that is imminently to come on earth, as in Heaven.

Worship: Our Heavenly Occupation, Part 2

(Read Part 1 of Worship: Our Heavenly Occupation here.)

Weeks ago, while getting ready to sing for mass, a sister from community and I were chatting about the guidelines for liturgical music of the Archdiocese of Manila, particularly at this time of transition into the new English translation of the Mass. As we were discussing rules that would affect us music ministers most of all (just like that, more than half of our regular roster has been deemed unacceptable), someone in the group commented in frustration how such rules were overly rigorous, missing the point of heartfelt worship. Scrap the “ooh-ing” of this song, don’t let the tune go up higher on this word or that–as long as you’re singing from the heart, therefore in essence praying twice (to quote St. Augustine), what does it matter if you sing “sins” or “trespasses,” “test” or “temptation?”

Beautiful!! But…we can’t sing that anymore.

Yesterday, I caught the finale of the first ever Asian version of the Next Top Model franchise (and just in case some are curious, no, I don’t faithfully watch the series…although I won’t deny that when I chance upon the show while channel surfing, I, er, linger). Tyra Banks flew in to be present for the final episode, and as part of her critique of one of the finalists, she lectured that she had to model H2T–from head to toe. Whether she was walking down the runway, or posing for the camera, every inch of her body had to know, feel, that she was modeling. The arch of each toe deliberate, every step and sway packed with meaning.

Since I’ve started using the Daily Roman Missal last year, I’ve come to appreciate even more how the celebration of the Eucharist is worshiping H2T–standing to take part in community prayer and professing our faith, kneeling down to show reverence for the Holy Presence that comes and gives Himself to us, bowing our heads as we acknowledge our sinfulness, striking our breasts as we own our sin (through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault!). Every pregnant pause, hands raised and hands clasped, hands making the sign of the cross. Jesus desires that we worship in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24), and as our spirit resides in a body, so must the physical engage fully and completely in worship. Each gesture and “Amen” deliberate, every note of every song bursting with meaning. Head. To. Toe.

Liturgical guidelines such as those set for music are meant to involve every element of the mass in our offering. Our bodies, our songs, even our attention to details are brought to the altar, that as we pray for God to accept the gifts that we bring, we may know in our hearts that we bring nothing less than everything, nothing less than our best.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.

Not to justify getting lost in the details (where the devil is, after all). Sacrificing passion for protocol is the temptation we must guard ourselves against, the very same trap Christ warned the Pharisees about millennia ago. Is getting rid of or outright ignoring these rules the answer to avoid falling and failing in this regard? If something’s got to give, what must change: the rules, or our hearts?

Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. –Matthew 5:17

We involve our body in worship. And we do it together because we are One Body–coming before our God who deserves so much more than we can ever give, even the best we have to offer.

Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His holy Church.

Accept our sacrifice, our efforts, our hearts, and in so doing, may we be ready to receive You–Body and Blood, in Spirit and in Truth. Amen.

This is my Body, which will be given up for you.

Blood and Tears

High School, Junior year. They were renovating the school chapel for the nth time, and all class masses (held per section once a month) were to be held at the mini-theatre which was across the hall from the chapel. Being the only inducted acolyte in my class, I automatically became the assigned server for all our class masses.

Mass at the mini-theatre, in the long and short of it, wasn’t really that much different from mass at the chapel. Except, perhaps, for the fact that the altar was placed atop a stage where we’ve held plays and fashion shows. But as far as I was concerned, the only new thing I had to worry about was making sure I didn’t fall off the narrow stage.

It was after communion, and I had gone through my altar server duties with nary a hitch when, during ablution (the part where the priest cleans and assembles the chalice back together), the priest motions for me to come closer. He gives me the following instructions: “Since I have to walk all the way down the corridor to return the consecrated host to the Tabernacle (which, naturally, could not be transferred to the mini-theatre), I need you to finish cleaning the chalice for me–drink what’s left, wipe it clean, and…you know how to put it back together, right?” If I had nodded, it must have been the weakest and slowest nod ever.

It was all I could do to keep my hands from shaking. But, trying my best to remember what we’d been taught in altar server training, I proceeded to do what I had been told. I poured a small amount of water into the cup, carefully swirling to catch any consecrated particles on the sides of the chalice and, to my whole class’ surprise, I drank. Bottom’s up.

(Note: Now, more than 10 years later, I realize how that priest should not have left me to perform the ablution for him–this task should be carried out only by an ordained priest, or at the very least, a deacon. But the missteps of our clergy is not the focus of this post; we will reserve that for another discussion.)

Instantly, I felt a warmth all over my body. Arguably, I was a 16-year-old who just gulped a mouthful of wine, at high noon no less, but I don’t think it was the alcohol. Nor was it the faces of 40 girls, mouths agape at what they had just witnessed. It wasn’t even the hot, humid weather.

It was His Blood, taken into my body.

Corpus Christi

As soon as I marched to the back of the room at recessional, I went straight to the tiny prayer room beside the chapel. There, I knelt, bowed low, and wept. So much of Him, I had just received so much of Him! How could I have been found worthy…no, He chose to give Himself to me, worthy or not.

As we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi this Sunday, let us remember how blessed we are to receive Him into our bodies. This is not just a wafer, and definitely not just a symbolic gesture–this is Christ Incarnate, making Himself available to us, for us, to be with us. As we receive Him, may our hearts be a suitable dwelling place for a King. May our bodies be empty enough (do not forsake the Eucharistic fast!) so as to make us hungry enough to long to receive Him desperately, reverently, lovingly.

The Eucharist is GIFT–the most beautiful, powerful gift Christ has given us. Do all you can, physically, mentally, spiritually, to be consciously ready to receive Him.