Our Ignorance, Our Failure – Manileños and Threatened Heritage

Our shallowness causes us to see no alarm in what is happening at a national shrine.  Photo by Joel Leporada/Rappler

Our shallowness causes us to see no alarm in what is happening at a national shrine. Photo by Joel Leporada/Rappler

What do you call a people ignorant of its heritage?

How do you approach a society that is apathetic on things related to its culture and history?

R. Hidalgo is a good example of how urban life in Manila has degenerated due to countless factors. This street used to be the poshest residential street in the country before. Now it is a den of thieves, criminals and countless urban dwellers.

R. Hidalgo is a good example of how urban life in Manila has degenerated due to countless factors. This street used to be the poshest residential street in the country before. Now it is a den of thieves, criminals and countless urban dwellers.

You get shallowness, materialism, poor taste – you have stupidity. In the metropolis we live in, the general daily human experience has evolved into a deeply banal routine bereft of any immersion or exposure to a living cultural heritage. Traffic, pollution, billboards, the inanities of local TV and radio shows, our lack of parks, open spaces, our dead river and polluted bay, why even our language and practices (especially our malling culture) – these all contribute to the “bobo-fication” of our people.

Our parks are inhabited, unsafe and smell of urine and feces.

Our parks are inhabited, unsafe and smell of urine and feces.

Wala na ba tayong ginawa kundi mamili? Kumain ng ramen? Manood ng sine? Makinig ng contemporary music?
Wala na ba tayong nagawa kundi pag-usapan ang traffic at ang MRT? Wala na ba tayong nakita kundi mga nakahubad na katawan sa EDSA?
Will we live our lives continuously seeing the same celebrities’ gigantic smiling faces on our thoroughfares?

What could have been a postcard-worthy vista of Ermita Church is now an impossible dream due to the buildings.

What could have been a postcard-worthy vista of Ermita Church is now an impossible dream due to the buildings.

What is the key that will break us free from all these symbols of our kababawan?

Culture. An appreciation, an embrace of our cultural heritage, integrating it into our urban planning and our public policies will break the chains of our ugly metropolitan experience.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater, the jewel of Philippine Art Deco, is now in squalid condition. What used to be the site of many plays and parties is now a scary place to go to at night.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater, the jewel of Philippine Art Deco, is now in squalid condition. What used to be the site of many plays and parties is now a scary place to go to at night.

These recent weeks, however, Manila’s cultural heritage has again been making news not for anything positive but because of various threats that continue to deride its important place in society.

The grand Manila Central Post Office is now threatened with closure. Lord, help us if we demolish this neoclassical masterpiece.

The grand Manila Central Post Office is now threatened with closure. Lord, help us if we demolish this neoclassical masterpiece.

We have lost so many countless structures and art works due to wars, poor urban planning and natural calamities. But we have also elected/selected persons or patronize organizations and companies that proactively destroy or alter our heritage as a people. What is more distressing is the passivity of the great population! Alas, we have entered into the vicious cycle that will be so difficult to break.

What will be the chances of our city saving its heritage structures when you have a generation of citizens born into a city with no sense or indication of heritage?

There is hope, there is inspiration. The Padilla Mansion, which has recently been restored and opened as a multi-functional art gallery by Manny Padilla is a beacon of hope in R Hidalgo, Quiapo and to the rest of downtown Manila.

There is hope, there is inspiration. The Padilla Mansion, which has recently been restored and opened as a multi-functional art gallery by Manny Padilla is a beacon of hope in R Hidalgo, Quiapo and to the rest of downtown Manila.

Examples of desecrating, tampering or blatantly destroying our cultural heritage speak of our incapacity to elevate our appreciation for loftier ideas or causes. It describes what we are as a people: shallow.

The Roces-Legarda-Tuason-Prieto-Valdes clan is doing a great act of service to the district of San Miguel through their two restaurants, Casa Roces and La Cocina de Tita Moning, inspiring more Manilenos to appreciate their heritage. Friends, it can be done!

The Roces-Legarda-Tuason-Prieto-Valdes clan is doing a great act of service to the district of San Miguel through their two restaurants, Casa Roces and La Cocina de Tita Moning, inspiring more Manilenos to appreciate their heritage. Friends, it can be done!

It is a dream indeed for many to fight against corruption or to fight poverty. It is a noble cause to work hard, spending countless hours in the office for one’s self or for one’s family. Through your own hard work, you are able to travel, try new restaurants, buy the latest gadgets and clothes and buy houses or condominium units that have filtered environments.

Where does cultural heritage play in all of these? Well, in our current situation, none.

In cities like Singapore (ironically more cosmopolitan than ours), Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Madrid, London, Montreal, and so many others, cultural heritage is a daily experience. From preserved edifices, classical concerts, dignified monuments, amazing vistas and even street signs, many aspects of urban living abroad touch on or optimize cultural heritage and patrimony.

La Cocina de Tita Moning makes diners and visitors experience life in genteel Manila through the recipes of Ramona Hernandez Legarda aka Tita Moning

La Cocina de Tita Moning makes diners and visitors experience life in genteel Manila through the recipes of Ramona Hernandez Legarda aka Tita Moning

The recent news of the construction of the Torre de Manila, a monstrosity that will now destroy the skyline that serves as backdrop to the Rizal Shrine, the demolition of portions of the Army Navy Club, and the eventual uprooting of the Simon de Anda rotunda (though this one is not really bad) all speak of our ignorance or apathy towards the finer details of heritage.

Students of Escuela Taller Intramuros help conserve Ermita Church. Escuela Taller Intramuros was founded by the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID).

Students of Escuela Taller Intramuros help conserve Ermita Church. Escuela Taller Intramuros was founded by the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID).

How will our country move forward if the first thing we impinge on “for the sake of development/progress” is the very soul of our country – our culture?

Enough is enough.

Urban Sketchers Manila sketches in Quiapo

Urban Sketchers Manila sketches in Quiapo

It’s also about time that the vanguards of cultural heritage preservation step-up their game. It’s no longer enough that we work within the comforts of familiar territory – our advocacy groups, the academe, social media groups. It’s about time we become more courageous enough to follow the footsteps of our first heritage conservationists, those who stood up for the Jai Alai Building, the Mehan Gardens, etc. Younger heritage conservationists or aficionados should distance themselves from developing images either of “elitism” or at the other extreme being “hipsters/indie” because both will not help the cause. Solid foundation – research, experience, continuous study – as well as the basic skills of corporate professionals (marketing, customer orientation, finance, strategic planning) can prove tactically helpful for the cause of cultural heritage preservation. Enough of the whim, enough of being reactive and enough of being “artsy” because the time will come when the places we love to simply take photographs or talk about or paint or draw will just disappear.

Giving a talk on Hispanic Manila at the Bahay Nakpil, Quiapo

Giving a talk on Hispanic Manila at the Bahay Nakpil, Quiapo

We need to do so much more to protect the tangible, and most importantly, intangible aspects of our story as a people.

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Must-read: “Manila: A Memoir of Love and Loss”

Manila: A Memoir of Love and Loss

Manila: A Memoir of Love and Loss

Last Saturday, before hearing the evening anticipated Mass, my dear friend Mika sent me an SMS that went “Oye, vas a asistir a la Misa? Tengo EL LIBRO.”

Immediately, I replied “MUCHAS GRACIAS”.

The said book was Purita Echevarria de Gonzalez’ “Manila: A Memoir of Love and Loss”, a book I have long wanted to read. When I was in college, I bought a copy for myself but stupidly misplaced it. I still remember the stinging feeling of devastation when I realized I lost a jewel. When she told me she had a copy of the said book, I asked her if I could borrow it and voila!

Yesterday, I finished the book in 2 sittings. I wasn’t prepared for the heart-wrenching story the author laid-out so eloquently in just a few pages. I was imagining a virtual repeat of Carmen “Chitang” Guerrero-Nakpil’s “Myself, Elsewhere”.

But how could stories from that time be anything but a repeat?

They weren’t the same. Each Manileno who had to go through the “Liberation” had his own experience, view, mindset of the horrors of that time.

It is about time we immortalized those long-kept memories of a generation formed by peace, war and liberation. Their insights and memories, their opinions, why their very lives are witnesses to the lowest and highest points of human history.

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Amidst darkness, the Glimmer of Faith: Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel 2014

The carroza of Our Lady before the Mass

The carroza of Our Lady before the Mass

16 July 2014 would go down in modern Manila urban history as the day when Typhoon Glenda wreaked havoc on the city with its powerful winds that ripped-off malls’ facades, caused glass doors and walls to break, tearing-off tarpaulin advertisements and uprooting ancient trees.

There were cars that were squished by big branches and houses’ roofs blown away by Glenda’s torrential winds.

But much worse was the black-out that the entire metropolis and neighboring provinces most especially Cavite endured. Large portions of the city suffered black-outs for long days while some even suffered water supply interruptions.

The main altar was modified for the feast and it was beautifully done. It was just sad to note that a crucifix was not prominently located. It should have been placed in the middle of the altar.

The main altar was modified for the feast and it was beautifully done. It was just sad to note that a crucifix was not prominently located. It should have been placed in the middle of the altar.

16 July, however, is an important date for me and countless devotees as it is the solemn feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the patroness of the Brown Scapular.

On that day, as I have practiced for years, I went to hear the fiesta Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Broadway, New Manila, Quezon City. I actually still went to work that day but by 3:00 PM, I headed back to Quezon City. By then, we still didn’t have electricity. By 5:00 PM, electric power had returned to our barangay, thus I was expecting that New Manila too would have electricity by then.

By the Liturgy of the Word, darkness had enveloped everyone inside the church.

By the Liturgy of the Word, darkness had enveloped everyone inside the church.

When I arrived at the church, it was quite dark. I thought that maybe they were just saving the lights for the fiesta Mass.

But as the Mass proceeded well into the Liturgy, and as the evening grew darker, it was obvious that the entire festivities will be celebrated in darkness.

True enough, the homilist (the new Parish Priest of Carmel) admitted that we will finish the Mass in darkness as the generator exploded only 10 minutes before the Mass!

The altar before the Mass

The altar before the Mass

But the good priest delivered a very good homily that truly encapsulated the experience.

The theme was the “dark night” – a very Carmelite theme, I must say.

The statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel sits gloriously on top of her throne. Light emanated from her seat, just like how she had inspired and continues to inspires devotees through the centuries.

The statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel sits gloriously on top of her throne. Light emanated from her seat, just like how she had inspired and continues to inspires devotees through the centuries.

In the darkness of our lives, we experience the moving glimmer of Faith that burns and warms the hearts of countless souls through the centuries. The power of Faith was indeed best described by the experience.

The faithful do not relent, they will not surrender the glimmer of joyful faith.

The faithful do not relent, they will not surrender the glimmer of joyful faith.

In the cavernous shrine, only the sanctuary was lit. Candles and emergency lights provided the only signs of brightness in the very spacious and high church.

Carmelite brothers preparing for the procession

Carmelite brothers preparing for the procession

Hundreds of people remained and finished the rites and it was truly a showcase of Faith.

It was a beautiful experience in honor of our beloved patrona, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

Viva a la Virgen del Carmen!

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Iglesia de San Ignacio de Loyola, Intramuros: On the 200th Anniversary of the Restoration of the Jesuits

Today, the fiesta of the “soldado de Cristo”, San Ignacio de Loyola, I return to blogging. Allow me to write a few lines on the importance of 2014 in the life of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines and relating it to the Jesuits’ former glory – the Iglesia de San Ignacio in pre-War Intramuros.

Colored pre-war postcard of the San Ignacio Church

Colored pre-war postcard of the San Ignacio Church

In 1768, after years of tumult in the courts of France, Spain and Portugal as well as in the reducciones in Latin America, the Jesuits were banished from the Philippines. The Society languished and was on the verge of total extinction if not for some very notable figures in history such as St. Joseph Pignatelli and the Empress of Russia, Catherine.

This year, 2014, we mark the 200th anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits returned to the Philippines after 90 years. On a Tuesday morning in 1859, 10 Spanish Jesuits from the Aragon Province led by their Superior, Father José Fernández Cuevas arrived in the pier in Manila. They were welcomed by the Augustinian friars in Intramuros and were offered to stay at the Augustinians’ villa. Soon, they began embarking on their mission territories in Mindanao, which was a particularly difficult and challenging mission area.

But the citizens of Manila were not to be deprived of Jesuit presence and influence! In less than 1 month of their arrival, the citizens of la ciudad insigne y siempre leal demanded that the Jesuits establish a school in Manila. Fr. Cuevas refused as that was not their original mandate.

In 10 December of the same year though, the Jesuits began to instruct 23 male pupils of the Escuela Pia. Three months later, they were teaching 170 students. Thus, the start of the Ateneo de Manila.

In the Jesuit enclave in Intramuros (around the Arzobispado and before the Augustinian complex, stood 3 primary edifices: the Casa Mision, the Ateneo Municipal and the Jesuits’ “sueño de oro” or golden dream – the Iglesia de San Ignacio.

It is a triumphant expression of the Ignacio’s mandate “ite inflamate omnia!” – “go and inflame all!” A neo-classical gem, the old San Ignacio was the favorite venue for society weddings because of its relatively small size but uncompromising in its beauty.

The lavishly carved wooden ceiling above the sanctuary. The woodworks were made of the best Philippine hardwoods extant during that time. Source: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/

The lavishly carved wooden ceiling above the sanctuary. The woodworks were made of the best Philippine hardwoods extant during that time. Source: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/

Designed by one of the most celebrated architects of their time, Felix Roxas (sometimes spelled Rojas) designed the church in the classical revival trend of the time, with two towers at the front and a flamboyant iron fence at the front. It was also the first church in Intramuros to be lit by “electrica luz” or electric lights.

The retablos and altars were designed by Don Agustin Saez, Director de la Escuela de Bellas Artes y Dibujo. His designs served as guides for respected artists Isabelo Tampingco, his uncle Crispulo Hocson, Manuel Flores and their ateliers in executing the intricate and elaborate wooden furnishings of the church.

Details of the marvelous wooden ceiling of San Ignacio

Details of the marvelous wooden ceiling of San Ignacio

The finished church was a toast of late Spanish and pre-war Manila, and a true testament to Philippine art and craftsmanship. It survived the Revolution and even the Fire of 1932 that burned down large portions of the Ateneo, which eventually moved out to a newer, bigger campus in Padre Faura, Ermita, near the Jesuit-owned Manila Observatory.

La Purisima: Patrona de Ateneo

La Purisima: Patrona de Ateneo

The San Ignacio Church was the site of 3 important devotions – the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Sacred Heart), the Santa Maria Purisima (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) and San Ignacio.

Altar of the Sacred Heart

Altar of the Sacred Heart

Every first Friday of the month, devotees of the Sagrado Corazon and members of the Apostolado de Oracion, which were under the spiritual care of the Jesuits, heard Mass and said confessions in the church. Every feast of the Sacred Heart, a sumptuous procession takes place around its environs with Tampingco’s beautiful statue of the Sacred Heart placed in the middle of the main retablo.

The ornate statue of San Ignacio

The ornate statue of San Ignacio

On the other hand, the feast of San Ignacio takes a militant tone. The Ateneo cadet corps usually has an exhibition during this feast day, and the Marcha de San Ignacio, a Basque hymn, is sung in military cadence by all. In fact, the feast day Mass was also labeled as the “Basque Mass” because many of the Basque families of Manila hear this fiesta Mass in honor of one of the Pais Vasco’s most celebrated sons. The Elizaldes, Aboitizes, Echevarrias, the Luzarragas, Ynchaustis would be in attendance.

The Main Retablo of San Ignacio

The Main Retablo of San Ignacio

Unfortunately, all of these – the practices, devotions, why the very church – have been lost due to the War. First Friday Masses are a mere requirement in the Ateneo Grade School while the feast of the Most Sacred Heart is no longer a happy, solemn school affair. The feast of St. Ignatius is celebrated by the Province of the Jesuits in an anticipated Mass the Sunday preceding before the 31st of July and many of the old Basque families associated with the Ateneo are no longer present.

Marvelous attention to detail can be seen even on this side door

Marvelous attention to detail can be seen even on this side door

The hymns that generations of Ateneans loved – the No Mas Amor and the Fundador – are no longer sung or known to the great majority of students and faculty. And of course, the Jesuits – well, they have changed dramatically since Vatican II.

Spanish Jesuits from the old Manila Observatory. Source: archives.observatory.ph

Spanish Jesuits from the old Manila Observatory. Source: archives.observatory.ph

Gone are the days of Jesuits, in soutanas, walking the campus, befriending students and teaching them. Gone are the days when the Jesuits would actually promote pious devotions. For many of these Jesuits, it’s as if their history began after Vatican II, when Pedro Arrupe in that famous 35th General Congregation pronounced those hallowed (now gasgas) statement “to be men for others”.

The main pulpit from where countless sermons were heard by generations of Ateneans

The main pulpit from where countless sermons were heard by generations of Ateneans

When the San Ignacio church burned for four days because of the heavy use of good local hardwood, men and women wept for their beloved church.

Today, there are alumni, students, faculty, why, even Jesuits who are probably weeping as they see how much of the old Ateneo and the old Company of Jesus have changed.

When the Jesuits will return to promote with more vigor a love for Mary and the Most Holy Rosary, to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Holy Eucharist, why to the Church to her students, we really don’t know. The Church of the Gesu, which is the university church of the Ateneo stands as a testament to the change in the Ateneo and the Society. Plain and almost Protestant, it does not speak of beauty neither of craftsmanship. Imposing, it looks more like a business conference center than a Philippine Catholic church.

Let us continue to pray for her sons though as they go through these rough times, 200 years since their restoration. Deaths among their ranks – some of them legends in their apostolic fields – have been so frequent. Let us pray for holy Jesuit vocations!

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A Man of Few Words: Jesus and His Betrayal, Suffering and Death

Mater Dolorosa and Nazareno

Mater Dolorosa and Nazareno

The most painful kind of affront is that which comes not from our enemies but from our friends.

“It is not an enemy who taunts me– then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me– then I could hide from him. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to hold sweet converse together; within God’s house we walked in fellowship.” (Psalm 55:12-14)

When Judas betrayed our Lord, he did it for 30 pieces of silver. Like our beso beso, which is a sign of intimate friendship/kinship, Judas turned-over the Son of God to the soldiers with a kiss.

Betrayal in our lives comes in different forms: gossiping, back-biting and conniving. We experience this pain done to us both from friends and family. It is so painful, divisive and traumatizing that sometimes, we don’t know what to say.

Jesus had nothing to say. Jesus was silent. Yes, He asked the soldiers if they had come for a thief because of their swords and clubs but those were His only words. The Gospel accounts do not describe Jesus fighting or shouting back.

From His arrest in the Garden of Olives, the disciples had left and abandoned Him. How many times have we felt this from people we thought and believed were our friends and family? In those moments when we needed them most, we were left to our own devices to quench our doubts and sufferings.

Notice how our generation has forgotten the great importance of solidarity and communal respect. We are taught by today’s culture to satisfy one’s happiness, to put one’s needs first. “If you aren’t happy, how can you help others?” We are the generation of “Disney” – pursue your own dreams no matter what. At first, it sounds right. But then ask yourselves: how about our families? How about our colleagues? How about our country?

“I want to wear this because this is my true self” – you strut a scandalous dress, a most peculiar look, a blue-dyed hair, a tattoo that envelopes your entire arm.

“I don’t care what others think of me.”

What does this indicate? We live for ourselves alone. At the end of the day, perhaps, even your parents, spouse, children or even God have no say in your life.

I will be honest and frank, and maybe even, hasty.

I have noticed these past few years how people would post or share how their relatives or loved ones have passed-on via Facebook or Twitter. And what do people do? They simply post a comment that goes “Condolences…” or even, horror of horrors, “life” it! I haven’t heard of people going to wakes lately, of bringing flowers, food or even Mass cards. I’ve even heard of peers saying things like, “I don’t like going to wakes because I’m scared” or “I think it’s bad luck to visit the dead”.

I have a classmate from high school who died in a car accident. I have never heard of any of my other classmates visit his grave. Because of the violence and death we are bombarded with in video games, media and social sites, we have been numbed and turned indifferent.

Yes, we are living amidst the vainest, most selfish and convoluted persons we can meet.

But like Jesus, the afflicted and scorned remain silent. Nobody complains, nobody says “Why didn’t my friends visit my parent’s/grandparent’s wake?” It is crass to do so, anyway.

And when Jesus was scourged on the pillar and thereafter, ordered to carry His cross to Golgotha, the people were shouting, screaming and mocking Him. They were actually called “an angry mob” in Scripture.

Pope Francis gave a very moving sermon last Palm Sunday and his question was simple, “Who were you in the Passion of Christ?”

Are you like the mocking crowds? Or the spectators who did nothing and simply looked-on. Who are you amidst the jeering?

Jesus remained silent throughout the carrying of the Cross. I admit, when the work at office becomes tough, I complain loudly. I even post it on Facebook. I rant a lot.

But when does Jesus open His mouth to speak?

A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time, people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” – St. Luke 23: 27-31

Finally, when He was nailed on the Cross, only then did He raise His voice but by then, it was only the voice of resignation:

“’Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last.” – St. Luke 23: 44-46

Every time those words are mentioned in the Gospel during a Liturgy, the congregation is asked to kneel for a few moments of quiet reflection. It is a sign of profound sorrow.

Today, as we approach the hour of His dolorous way of the cross and death on the Cross, we too remain silent and reflect intensely on the question: Who am I in the narrative of the way of the Cross?

Do I help the Lord as He carries His cross? Am I like the good thief, crucified too, and offering myself to His salvation? Or am I like the crowds and spectators – shouting, jeering and apathetic to the pains of the Son of Man?

As the song goes, “Where were you when they crucified my Lord?”

Jesus was indeed a man of few words, almost silent, during the hours of his suffering and crucifixion. It is the sign of His perfect resignation to the Father. It is the perfect response of love.

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The Great Mandatum: Maundy Thursday Reflection

The Mass of Our Lord's Supper in UA&P Oratory

The Mass of Our Lord’s Supper in UA&P Oratory

Before the popular display of piety that is the Visita Iglesia, the faithful are asked to attend the In Coena Domini Mass or the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It is usually scheduled at around 5:00 or 6:00 PM just as the hot summer day is ending, just when the sun is setting.

It is a Mass that is profoundly meaningful, bathed in rich symbolism. In fact, through tonight’s Liturgy, Holy Mother Church affords us the experience of recounting and remembering three moving instances when the Lord gives His great mandatum or command – Love.

But more than the rites of this Liturgy, one must take particular note of the timing of the Liturgy. It happens before dark. Darkness is a metaphor for evil, for sin, ultimately, of death. It is the period of sorrow, of confusion and loss.

Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is the lumen de lumine, the Light of lights, whose arrival into the world was welcomed with the sky opening and the Angels resounding with the triumphant hymn of Gloria in excelsis Deo. But Jesus did not give His greatest command in the light. No, He entered into darkness to exclaim His mandatum.

The expression of His commandment didn’t come easily. He too had struggle. The Son of God also had His moment of anguish, doubt and suffering. He too was betrayed and sold like an object for 30 pieces of silver. In Gethsamene, His apostles fell asleep as He was wrestling with the Father’s Will, his tears of blood evident of His great pain and fright.

The sobering sight of the Cross veiled in purpled (Mt. Carmel Shrine)

The sobering sight of the Cross veiled in purpled (Mt. Carmel Shrine)

Alas, the greatest act of His commandment occurred when “darkness covered the land”: when He Himself, the Son of God, died.

Upon His death, He brought the mercy, love and salvation of man into the world. By assuming the lowest and darkest point of human life, and then resurrecting on the 3rd day, He defeats death, sin and Satan and raises our lowly state to that of His friendship.

As we begin our Maundy Thursday reflections and prayers, let us orient ourselves closer to tonight’s Liturgy where, as I have mentioned, the Lord’s Love is expressed in three rites.

First, there is the Rite of the Washing of the Feet where the Church commemorates the institution of the priesthood. Traditionally, it should be 12 priests whose feet would be washed after the sermon. However, in our experience in the Philippines, there has always been a lack of priests. Thus, it became the norm here that laymen will act as the Apostles during this Rite.

The transfer to the Altar of the Repose

The transfer to the Altar of the Repose

Why does this express the Lord’s mandatum? And how can it be connected to the Catholic priesthood? When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, His words were:

He said to them, “Do ye know what I have done to you?13 Ye call me, ‘The Teacher’ and ‘The Lord’, and ye say well, for I am; if then I did wash your feet—the Lord and the Teacher—ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given thee an example, that ye should do as I have done to ye.

By kneeling down, washing and kissing the feet of His Apostles, He has set the tone of the ministry of the priesthood – it is of service and correspondence to His teaching. The priest is His servant, the priest is called to serve others.

Secondly, this evening’s Liturgy commemorates the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist. Tonight, the Gospel account is that of the Last Supper when Jesus issued the greatest legacy of His Life – the Most Holy Eucharist. The Mass is a gift from the Lord – “the source and summit of all Christian life” according to Vatican II.

From the first Last Supper, the Mass through the centuries has repeated the words of institution:

“And as they were eating He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, this is my body.’ And He took a cup and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them and they drank all of it and He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.'” – St. Mark 22-26

In the Last Supper, we hear the words that the Lord says that replicates His Love and His very presence. For us Catholics, we believe that He is truly present in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist – body, blood, soul and divinity. The Mass too is an expression of His mandatum or command.

In this Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the priesthood and Eucharist are connected and related as two of the greatest legacies of Christ’s love. We give thanks that we partake and experience in the continued mission of Christ through these two institutions.

Finally, the evening reaches its climax during the Procession of the Eucharist to the Altar of the Repose. By this time, the sun has finally set, and amidst the somber sounds of the the crotalus or wooden clappers, the priest, vested in cope carries the Lord under a canopy held by men, to the Altar of the Repose. Incense wafts and the ancient Eucharistic hymns of Pange Lingua and Tantum Ergo are intoned.

The Altar of the Repose

The Altar of the Repose

What does this Rite mean? It is the Lord’s suffering in Gethsemane. From the table of the Last Supper, He proceeds to the Garden of His sorrows where He doubts Himself and questions the Father. Yes, the Lord too wrestled with His Faith.

But alas, He assumes the form of a meek lamb and accepts the Will of the Father. His apostles fall asleep but He remained steadfast in prayer.

That is the final expression of His commandment: prayer. The prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is the prayer we must emulate – deep reflection, silent introspection and dialogue with the Father.

Tonight, don’t be carried away by the Visita Iglesia. In fact, tonight’s more important act of prayer is the Mass. As you participate in the Mass and in the Visita Iglesia, make sure to pray. It’s not about tourism and it’s not about cultural appreciation.

The last rite of tonight's Liturgy transitions us to the Passion

The last rite of tonight’s Liturgy transitions us to the Passion

When you go to the churches, immediately go to the Altar of the Repose, kneel and gaze at the Lord suffering, doubting, praying and ultimately obedient to the Father. His command of Love is a command to obey the Father Who is Love.

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The Scandal of Jesus Christ: Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion

Venerating the Holy Cross of Pakil

Venerating the Holy Cross of Pakil

When He was born in Bethlehem, Jesus was not placed in a 5,000-Peso crib. Mary and Joseph didn’t spend thousands of pesos for his birth in Makati Med or St. Luke’s. Neither was he dressed in branded clothes for infants. He didn’t have an Instagram account at 6 months old and neither did he have an iPhone filled with games and applications for toddlers.

The main retablo the Cubao Cathedral spruced up for today's Liturgy

The main retablo the Cubao Cathedral spruced up for today’s Liturgy

No – Jesus Christ was born in a cave and laid on a wooden manger. The same element of wood figures predominantly in Jesus’ death: the wood of the cross. The theme of humility plays a great deal in the life of the Person we consider “our Lord and Savior”.

Today, the Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion, He is welcomed by people waving palm leaves as He entered the holy city of Jerusalem not on a war horse with a retinue of soldiers and a marching band but on a donkey, the poor man’s beast of burden. Like them centuries before, we welcome Jesus – whether He’s portrayed as a baby or an adult man – with cheers and joy. We go to Mass, we pray, we make the Sign of the Cross; on application forms we indicate that we’re “Roman Catholic”.

In His birth and death, Jesus is welcomed by cheers and hymns. At His birth, the skies resounded with Gloria in excelsis Deo. Upon His entry to Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday, He was welcomed with shouts of Hosanna.

As we begin the Holy Week – which EWTN eloquently calls “the week that changed the world” – let us take time out for these days of intense prayer and contemplation. It is not the time to go to the beach and it isn’t even the time to “bond” with your family. No, as Catholics, we are given this time by Holy Mother Church to reconnect with God and with ourselves. Holy Week is a time of prayer, silence and deep reflection.

Traditionally, Holy Week is a time to think about Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. But in today’s Liturgy, it is good to see Jesus’ life and ministry as a message of humility.

Then after He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, being set down again, He said to them: Know you what I have done to you? You call me Master, and Lord; and you say well, for so I am. If then I being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’ s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also. Amen, amen I say to you: The servant is not greater than his Lord; neither is the apostle greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, you shall be blessed if you do them. – St. John 13:12-17

The scourged Christ at the Pillar from the Pagrel Collection of Don Luis Araneta, on loan to the San Agustim Museum

The scourged Christ at the Pillar from the Pagrel Collection of Don Luis Araneta, on loan to the San Agustim Museum

Humility

Holy Week is a time penance and abstinence, basically of self-denial. It is an opportunity given to us generously (annually!) to ponder on the life, teachings and example of Our Lord Jesus Christ and on His way of loving. One of the key messages, however, of Holy Week, which we really fail to recognize in this time of ours, is humility.

How can humility be possible when at the click or tap of a button, we are “followed” and “liked”? At the moment a dish is placed in front of us, with one click, we take a photo and broadcast it to the world. “100 Likes”, “70 retweets”, “2000 friends”. In this day and age of social media, we are all guilty of that feeling of recognition, acknowledgment, of self-importance.

Instantly, the world can turn us into celebrities. In a moment, our thoughts become quotes. What has become of “silence”, “privacy” and yes, “humility”?

Do we equate social media with pride? No. Social media is also as an extremely critical channel of information. It has saved and connected lives, facilitated the exchange of important news and also, heartwarming stories.

But we must admit that our current environment makes it more difficult to be humble. When the “likes” keep rolling, when the “comments” flood and when “selfies” become a daily habit, isn’t it more admittedly hard to be humble?

What does it mean to be humble? Jesus. Look and remember Jesus.

Amidst shouts of praise, He entered Jerusalem on a donkey and not a valiant stead. Instead of people brandishing swords and throwing coins, he was welcomed with palm leaves.

And ultimately, when He could have avoided the Father’s will and pursued His position as the Son of God, we see, hear, read and know that on Maundy Thursday, He accepted His cup – He was betrayed, tortured, killed and buried.

Humility comes in many ways but nothing is more moving but that of living lives in silent courage and fullness. What do I mean?

I know of people who relish and indulge in their work, who adore their daily tasks, who enjoy their lives without talking about it, without broadcasting it. How many stories have we heard of rich, affluent men and women who give so much without asking for anything in return? We know of stories of men who “shy away” from the limelight, who always know how to recognize their team mates and subordinates.

That is humility. Humility is doing one’s obligation in silence, in obedience, in full trust of God. When we speak of humility, we speak of silence – no fanfare, no vanity. Humility almost always leads to substance or character. Humility strengthens us, makes us learn how to be tough, to be courageous.

Evil begins when we start thinking of what people think of us. When we concern ourselves with pleasing and impressing others, that’s when we begin to be vain, selfish, proud, pompous, arrogant. We begin to find ways to always be ahead, above or before others.

In today’s rather lengthy Gospel, we hear the Passion of Our Lord and it has an underlying message of Jesus’ humble obedience to the Will of the Father. In atonement for our sins, the Son had to be sacrificed. Jesus assumed the full human experience in suffering and death. Yes, He doubted and negotiated with the Father, asking God if He can take away the burden. But Jesus, in the end, took upon Himself our vulnerability.

Jesus’ example of humility is something we ought to truly reflect on as we try to wrestle with the standards of the world. As we are bombarded by reality shows, Youtube celebrities and the dynamic exchange of personal information, we are challenged by the silent carpenter of Nazareth whose life changed the world. How can humility be so powerful, so moving, so inspirational?

The triumph of Christ

How does humility equate to triumph? Again, we have the example of our Divine Master. Jesus had to endure the full brunt of His Cross – he was spat upon, whipped, hit, cursed, denied and abandoned. His parents were denied room when Mary was about to give birth to Him. Imagine the pain of rejection and the confusing despair that might have enveloped Joseph and Mary.

Holy Week retells Jesus’ story of humility and triumph, how His life, sufferings and glory are intertwined with our salvation. Christ’s humility is showcased from Passion Sunday to Black Saturday. His suffering, passion and death tell the story of God assuming the lowest and most humiliating point of human life: its end. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross speaks of His surrender to the Father.

But it is this very same act of humility that Faith helps us bridge and connect to triumph. The Sacred Mysteries are precisely those instances when God overrides human logic. When Jesus was raised from the dead, we experience the triumph of His humility, faith and love.

His triumph is the victory of self-less love. Easter Sunday is the day when the Father fulfilled His promise. Faith comes into play. When we trust in the Lord, when we follow His hard example of leading a life of humble goodness, we know and believe that like Him, we too shall be raised to eternal life. For the believer, humility is a critical element of faith. To take that great leap of faith demands a surrender to the Will of the Father.

Christ’s triumph should never be equated to getting a trophy or a citation. No. The triumph of Christ’s self-effacing love happens when people are converted, when people are comforted, when people feel loved.

The apotheosis of the Most Holy Name of Jesus as illustrated in San Beda Abbey's sanctuary. Painted by Salvador Alberich, OSB and Lesmes Lopez, OSB

The apotheosis of the Most Holy Name of Jesus as illustrated in San Beda Abbey’s sanctuary. Painted by Salvador Alberich, OSB and Lesmes Lopez, OSB

Passiontide and His Love

Remember how we opened Lent? We began with the imposition of ashes as the following words were said to each of the faithful: “You came from dust and to dust you shall return.”

Humility comes from the word “humos” which is Latin for soil. Indeed, it is the great tragedy of the human experience. We are capable to reach great heights but in the end, our bodies rot in the soil. Our legacies and memories may be remembered. A crater in the moon or a mountain can be named after you. But in the end, you disappear.

Think about it. We store up riches during the week and eat, drink and enjoy ourselves on weekends. In fact, our entire lives are patterned after that routine. But God can sniff the life from us as we sleep. How many stories have we heard lately of young men and women in their 20s unexpectedly die of aneurism?

We are all subject to the power of God or for unbelievers, of circumstance. Let us savor wisely the moments we have. Instead of you putting your eyes only on the prize, how about you open your ears to good music, your mouth to new food or your hands to help? Sometimes, we see people simply as “human resources” and fail to see that they can be friends. We read and study too much when we forget that our mom might need someone to talk to. We rave too much about the newest material things when we forget to ask our house help how her family is in the province.

Know the essentials.

People spend so much on alcohol – and suffer its effects the next day and forget that the money they’re spending can be spent for actually something that won’t cause a hangover. I’m not even saying “give to the poor”. Perhaps the 2,000 Pesos you spend in one night could have gone to your MBA or travel fund. Or yes, maybe some donation. Let’s learn to know what is good and pleasing to God, and from there, act.

Ultimately, humility leads us to love others more than ourselves. When we begin to live-out this very Catholic virtue, we begin to truly become sensitive and compassionate. Humility frees us from sentimentality, which is a sign of vanity and pride. When we’re humble, we begin to open our eyes to the broader horizon – there are more souls suffering, there are more people in need of help and attention. A true Catholic finds his joy and happiness in others. That is the sad truth for this generation which has been bombarded with the Disney concept of loving one’s self. YOLO does not apply to a disciple of Christ.

Christ’s love inspires, moves, compels and empowers generations of believers to follow Him. Indeed, Holy Week was the week that changed the world because from then on, the work of our missionary discipleship began. When the Apostles experienced Jesus both as true man and true God, they were overwhelmed with great love for Him and for everything He stood for.

Thus, we have the Church. From the line of the apostles, we are called to follow their footsteps in encountering Christ, in being moved to embrace Him and in so-doing embrace His call to missionary discipleship. Before we can claim we are disciples of Christ, we must learn to accept and love what He stood for. His manger and His cross show us the way of a true disciple: that of humble service, silent prayer and deep faith in the triumph of the resurrection.

Amen.

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