Fire

The thorn is still there. It remains lodged in my heart. For a few days, weeks, or months, I will not feel it. I’ll even forget about it. For a time, it’s almost nonexistent. And then there is today, yesterday, the weekend, and last week, when the thorn makes its presence felt again. A face, a memory, a word, a song – sometimes that is all it takes to remind me of the past that scarred me. It’s a pain which stings, which throbs, and which at its worst, paralyzes. Every corner of the city becomes a reminder of a sin I had committed in my youth. And living in it, my own soul is tormented with self-pity over how inescapable the darkness is.

But rather than flee from the darkness and pain, I find myself curiously wondering about what it can offer me…again. The lowly soul is so easily ensnared by the attractive disguise of the enemy. He whispers in my ears constantly. He steals my time from God. He plants uncomfortable thoughts even in my prayer. He wants me to fail, and to be miserable at my wretchedness. And I give in to it. I give in to it one morsel of my struggling soul at a time. How happy I was before! And how lonely I am today without any company! Men – still my weakness, but still my flesh’s foolish need. The good kind I had pushed away as my emotions overwhelmed reason; the bad kind lurking behind me, waiting for the opportunity to target my weakness.

But all this, in truth, is a diversion. I have once more become impatient over my own impatience; sad over my own sadness; discouraged over my own discouragement. The enemy wants me to forget whatever progress God has accomplished in me – even the smallest of it. The enemy wants me to obsess about one thing, and forget that there are many things I must care for, fight for, and live for – the more important things: order in life, patience, fortitude, understanding, love!

In all of it, I see I lack love. I cannot love others – or serve others with love – because I still do not love myself. My pride is an obstacle. My pain – well, my pain must not be left unused. I must go out of my way, go beyond myself, and try to love. I must free myself from fear and open myself to Him, trust Him – the thorn will become a precious jewel. The words of Solomon, as shared by St. Boniface, is my consolation, my hope, and my challenge: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps.

I must become madly in Love with God. I must burn with Love amidst the coldness of the world. If only I would let grace interfere – to cauterize the wounds of my indifference, to stir my heart to the flames of Love’s Spirit. Then, the thorn’s pain would not compare with the Divine Wounds. But first, I must find peace. The surgeon can only work to save the life of a patient that is asleep. The more restless I become, the more difficult it is for the Divine Physician to heal me. I must cooperate. I must trust. I must be bold and daring in “sleep”.

Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.” ― Teresa of Ávila

The Love Which Frees

The offer still stands. God’s offer, Love, Christ himself – it stands; he stands until the end of time. Is there any love to compare? Is a Beloved to wait with immeasurable patience, thirsting for the tiniest bit of affection, asking his own creature to live him back freely? Is there a love like this in the world today? How lonely it is to be a man and not know and experience this truth. And yet, we search for things, we look at others, we desire the deficient, the defective; we chase the fleeting. How many times have I yearned for something…for someone? How many times have I opted for the poorer choice? How many times have I failed to return, at least with gratitude, the love that has, in truth, kept me alive? For it is love that is free, and which frees. It is a love that leads to freedom. It is a love that rewards eternity, and costs only the Cross.

He Is Enough

Pasig City
May 15, 2017

Dear M,

The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.

I know that the Lord will not leave me in vain. And I must tell this to you too. Always remember God will make sure you can bear every trial, every cross, every persecution. But then, why do we fail? Why do we suffer if we can, indeed, bear our crosses through God’s grace? What does God mean when he says his grace will suffice? Why then, are there martyrs? Why is there pain? I’d like to think that God’s grace suffices in such a way that “bearing” is not merely a physical, or sensible victory, that is for a martyr to escape death, or for an ordinary Christian to always succeed in his struggle for holiness. I’d like to think grace is present in the acceptance of death, in the peaceful giving up of ourselves to the present even if it means failure, or falling into sin, or suffering. When we bear all things through God’s grace, it doesn’t mean freedom from pain, freedom from temptation. To bear every trial is to take on the suffering inherent to it, but to also accept the possibility of failing, and then “graciously” accepting defeat with a desire to do better. The grace in failure or sinning is the grace of being moved, with perfect contrition, to accept our abject poverty, or absolute nothingness when confronted by Divine Justice.

We are nothing. And there is nothing else we should need, except God. He alone suffices.

Pax,

F.L.

Lent

Manila
2 April 2017

Dear H,

I had a lot planned for Lent this year: resolutions, prayers, penances, and other spiritual activities. The season, after all, marks one year since my conversion, or at least the start of it. But God always has something different planned, something new in store which more often than not is against or beyond our expectations because they are better than any human ideal.

For one thing, I got sick at the start of the season. In fact, much of March was spent trying to recover from some unknown bodily infection which left me in a constant state of physical exhaustion. The state of my health left me too tired to pray, too distracted to focus on my Lenten resolutions, and at times, too out of sorts to practice any form of charity towards my family and friends. All the plans I had to become more patient, kind, and self-controlled went down the drain as I became lethargic, stubborn, whiny, and short-tempered.

Unable to fulfill most of the works of piety, I also ended up having a flare of scrupulosity. I became agitated, angry, confused, and restless. I missed a few masses, and had to wait longer than expected for my confession, and this added to my useless anxieties.

When I was finally strong enough to go back to work, my spiritual woes were compounded by the volume of tasks that had accumulated while I was on leave. The seeming indifference of my supervisors towards my situation also attached grudges in my heart. Suffice to say, nothing was going my way and out of shame that was rooted in pride, I became distant to God.

But that’s exactly what God wanted to show me – nothing was supposed to go MY way.

Since my conversion, I have had this tendency to be scrupulous. My past life as a homosexual man is perhaps one of the reasons why I have been so hard on myself. I feel like I need to work so much harder than every other sinner out there; either that or I fail. My experiences with rejection and my struggles with the lies about my identity have also left me obsessed with control. I want things to go my way. I want things that I can control.

With all that has happened this Lent, God is simply telling me one thing: I am not in control. He is.

I had wrongly thought that in doing “things” which I liked, and which I could control, I was pleasing God. I felt like if I could pray a certain set of prayers, or if I could simply follow the duties of God, I will become a better Christian. Archbishop Luis M. Martinez, in his book Worshipping a Hidden God, calls this a spiritual show.

“As village maids think that putting on showy ribbons is the way to be elegant and the way to attract the attention in society, so souls who suffer from this ‘spiritual show’ – and they are a legion – wish also to bedeck themselves with showy ribbons and to present themselves before our Lord gaudily attired with their pretended virtues and good points. “

When this truth came to light through the Holy Spirit, it became clear to me that while perhaps I had I done some good, I was missing the point. God loves me for all that I am. He isn’t going to condemn me if I miss mass because I am sick. He isn’t going to abandon me if I had forgotten to recite prayers because my exhaustion left me sleepy. In fact, the sickness I endured could have been an opportunity to make Lent more meaningful – it was a unique way to share in Christ’s cross, and to participate in the work of redemption. Had I been more confident in God’s mercy, then I would have seen the physical, emotional, and spiritual trial as a period of purification.

Archbishop Martinez says, “whenever we fall or perceive our misery and our nothingness more keenly, then, in a certain sense, our Lord manifests more tenderness and mercy towards us; for our fall forces us to bring into the light our nothingness and to show forth our misery, and thus God feels more attracted toward us and appears to love us more.”

My physical sickness mirrored my interior life and my relationship with God before the start of Lent. In both cases, there was a desire to be in control. While I was sick, I was restless and stubborn and at times, did not even follow the doctor’s orders. In my spiritual life, I too, was restless. I wanted to cover up my weakness with acts of piety that were, in truth, still afflicted with self-love. And what did God do? In allowing my body to experience suffering, I learned I was not, and will never be in control; I learned that when you are most weak, you simply rest – rest in bed if you are physically sick, and rest in God’s tender mercy when you are spiritually low. I learned the value of obedience, so perfectly manifested this season as we remember Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem where his death – and his resurrection – was certain.

Oh dear H, pray for me. Pray that I renew my confidence in God every day of my life. As I yearn to increase my faith, so do I desire to learn to be more like a child of God – innocent, confident, supremely dependent on his Father. Pray that I keep in my heart the truth that I am nothing. That I must be nothing. In my nothingness, God will have all the room to work on my healing.

Pax,

F.L.