Vocation of Now

Manila
9 December 2018
Second Sunday of Advent

Dear M:

It has not been lost on me that I have not written a great deal over the last few months. Every time I wanted to write, I always found myself back in a rut of disinterest and admittedly, laziness. Many changes have also occurred in my life, and at times, too many ideas have been spurred by these shifts in the personal and interior landscape which overwhelmed me.

I must also confess that I have become disappointed by what seems like a lack of progress in my spiritual life. But then I look back at my notes and find a glimmer of hope that what I wrongly believe as failure after failure has in fact been a step after step movement to where I am supposed to be. Indeed, progress is harder to see when one is now further off from the shore – not that I am far off, really. Before, the shore of conversion the reference point of one’s journey into sea. Now it is only but the horizon that appears from a distance making it difficult to know how far one has really set off, and if he has actually set off in the right direction.

I rummage through my scribbles – phrases, paragraphs, and words I jotted down – and see hopeful reminders.

In the 28th of August, there are these words: Simplicity of the soul…a simple soul approaches God faster and more efficiently. Attachments weight down our flight to the Divine. Resentments chain us from rising. Fear pierces our wings.

The following day, after a battle with old wounds and memories of a past life which resurfaced, I wrote: Christ takes things one day at a time. God made everything one day at a time. Indeed, the Father created everything in order; the light on the first day, man and animals later on. There is a design, and logic to everything. Nothing is ever left to chance.

Dear M, what I mean is that the simple soul lives in the present. That should be our calling. Our vocation is the present. Our vocation is now. We are to live dwelling in the mistakes of our youth unless we want to fall into regret, discouragement, and despair. Yes, we learn from them but then remember in awe God’s mercy. Even after all of “that”, we are still His children.

And if we are to live anxiously wondering if what we have done is ever enough to “appease” God, then may find ourselves falling into the depths of doubt, sunken by scrupulosity, and anchored down by anxiety. It is truly just pride, an inordinate desire to have complete control of our lives. What a foolish desire for it can never be satisfied by ourselves. We never have full control of our lives.

The simple soul sees the truth better than anyone else. The simple soul – without any trace of guile, of pride, of false humility, of attachment, or of fear – freely abandons himself to the present, and to the presence of God. And while God indeed encompasses past, present, and future, our lives are in the present. Refusing to live in the now is escaping where God wants us to be. He wants us to love, not to “had loved” or “to love”. You shall love God…shall love your neighbor. He does not say, you shall love God tomorrow. He does not say, it is good you loved your neighbor, your enemies yesterday. He meets as in the plain of the present.

The call to holiness is a call to be in the present, especially at a time when most our dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. And if the present is uncomfortable or challenging, then the more we should be in it. The Word of God is not a thing of the past. It is alive in the present, and waits for each and every one of us.

M, pray that we become simple souls with a vocation for the now. Live now. Be daring now! Love now! Be holy now.

 

Pax,

F.L.

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The Sacrament of Penance

For many Catholics, the sacrament of penance isn’t appealing. Confessing one’s sins to a priest appears to be a daunting task. And yet the Sacrament of Penance is, next to the Holy Eucharist, the most efficacious source of grace that enables man to fully appreciate his rich Catholic faith and as a result, to constantly strive for conversion. These two sacraments aren’t limited to a once in a lifetime experience like Baptism or Confirmation, or a special sacrament to mark one’s vocation (Matrimony or Holy Orders) but a regular means of putting into effect the supernatural reality of our Christian faith.

Growing up, frequent confession was something my mother encouraged me to do. She likened it to a “spiritual shower” wherein our sins are pardoned and our souls cleansed in preparation to receiving communion. Knowing that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, we must in every way we can, ensure that our hearts are clean in receiving the Lord. In much the same way we bathe everyday to keep ourselves clean, the Sacrament of Penance is a spiritual cleansing instituted by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church as a manifestation of its redemptive character.

I have noticed that many Catholics these days attend mass frequently, some even on a daily basis, and yet go to confession infrequently. I’ve met friends and colleagues who go to confession only once a year (during Lent or when attending a retreat), or whose last confession was also their first. Regular confession should complement the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, because through the former, God’s mercy is manifested in unity with Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross, which we celebrate during mass.

Love for the Eucharist should lead us to a growing appreciation for the sacrament of penance. When we are intimate with our Lord, we become more sensitive to whatever displeases Him: our sins, faults, and miseries. Consequently, we want to purify ourselves, having recourse to the grace of Forgiveness, and we want to bring other souls to the sacrament as well. We teach our friends that in confession, we need to pray for humility, and we need to be utterly sincere. Sincerity, not scrupulousness, is the virtue of confession. We must constantly remind ourselves it is Christ himself who forgives us through His ministers. With this in mind, we should carry out an incisive apostolate of confession with our family and friends.

The great humility of penance must be instilled in our hearts as Christians. We are indeed blessed to have the sacrament so close at hand. St. Augustine affirms that the wonder of the words on absolution is greater than the very creation of the world. How merciful indeed is our Lord! How grateful we must be to receive these words when we go to confession!

Stains

I am stained. I am broken. Sometimes I wonder why. Why did it have to be this way? Why did it have to be me? Why couldn’t I just meet a beautiful girl and fall in love with her and marry her and have children and raise a family? Why couldn’t I just become a monk or a priest – a religious where my life would have meaning, and where I could be useful?

Why did I have to like other men too?

Those who do not struggle with homosexual inclinations may think I am exaggerating the problem when I should be more concerned about charity, about others. But the way I deal with people is so often colored by sexual affectivity. Even if I tried, there would still be something different.

While two straight men would have no problem being in the same room together, I can’t. While most of my male peers could watch an action movie and remain unaffected by the shirtless, bearded superheroes, I must so often close my eyes discreetly to avoid nurturing my imagination. While it’s easy for others to talk about professional basketball leagues, I hide in my room watching replays of volleyball, a sport that is often seen as less masculine. While friends can watch romantic comedies and TV series without feeling uneasy, I am always wary about the melodrama and sexual tensions and how it often leaves me longing for companionship too.

There isn’t a day my disorder does not rear its ugly head in my consciousness. Memories of my past life are littered in the city, resurfacing and filling my thoughts without warning. There are streets, establishments, and spaces which remind me of the life I lived before, the great sins I committed, and the lies I had been immersed in. And there are faces I meet along the way which stir affections I continue to struggle with. Sometimes these faces are real, other times they’re just made up: billboards, television characters, imaginations. At times, I give in to a second glance or two. I find myself spending more than an hour gushing over the male lead or listening to sentimental music as I daydream about the love that cannot be.

After it all is nothing but loneliness. I am ashamed to say that even the most mundane of things is a threat to the sanctity of my soul. I am ashamed to say that I have failed so many times in my struggle for holiness. But, if I can admit these things to myself, then hopefully, I can battle the unhappiness too. And what is this melancholy which plagues the soul of a man with homosexual inclinations? It is quite simply the loneliness of knowing everything passes, that all these consolations and validations are fleeting. This infatuation? – it will end too. This obsession? – he will be part of the long list of crushes I’ll look back and laugh at too. I’ll get over this and that anyway. I’ll be happy again, soon.

Sometimes I wake up and realize that I have walked away from so many of these men and moments and I feel stronger than ever. I am grateful too for God, and the grace He pours. But there are also days wherein I wake up longing for a touch too – the simple pat on the back, the joy of holding hands with someone you love, the mundane conversations of lovers. And then, I move on – I get over it, perhaps in a day or two, or sometimes a few months. Nothing lasts. Nothing satisfies. My brokenness seems to be a hole in my soul where the joys seep out leaving my heart dry.

Why was I made broken then? Why the stains in my heart? Why this disorder? Perhaps it is to become an instrument of God’s mercy and power. Perhaps so I will depend on Him more. Perhaps, so I can experience the sweetness of true happiness to a degree that can fill what the wounds and scars have scraped from my being. Perhaps, so I can make atonement for my sins. Perhaps, so I can lift up those who are lonely and lost, desperate and doubtful, worried and wayward. Perhaps…

 

On Scruples

Manila
20 January 2018

Dear M:

You keep remembering your sins. You see every fall as an insurmountable wall. The searing wound of your failures appears incurable. Holiness becomes a distant dream, in fact, a fantasy that is more and more incredulous with your tender conscience plagued by your scruples. Your resolutions seem to always end as a broken promise. Your mind knows what is good but your heart is lacking in faith and so your will is easily disposed by the enemy to a stubborn corner. Any attempt to conform it to the will of God ends in failure. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate, writes St. Paul. How true? Every morning you wake up wanting to be a saint and go to sleep having examined a day lived as a sinner.

M, you keep remembering your sins. But you forget to remember the mercy of God. You are obsessed with your falls you have forgotten you’ve risen. You have, rightly, credited sins to your own failures but have forgotten to give credit to God’s mercy and how he has not allowed you to fall any further. Do not be so scrupulous as to think you have complete control of your life and have deliberately dislodged the grace of God so easily. I must remind you to always look at the Cross. It stands for you. It stands firmly for you. The bloodied body crucified on the Cross has saved you. Do not simply believe in your mind. Believe in your heart. Christ is Mercy Himself who has come to meet you on the Cross – a shared space where one begins to see how madly in love God is with us. For God to be like us, to take the punishment of our sins – it sounds like foolishness to a man, but only “fools” fall in love, isn’t it?

Turn to Mary when your scruples attack you. She will help you see things clearly. She will teach you how to trust confidently in God, to contemplate Christ in your heart, to love and to pray.

Pax,

F.L.