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Philippines, 12 April 2020
I am risen, and I am with you still, Alleluia. (cf. Ps 139:18)
I am writing to you from my hermitage just like many of you in quarantine. This imposed enclosure is an excellent invitation for daily adoration, Gospel meditation, desert day, review of life, praying for the world, especially the poor, with fidelity, intensity and focus. A quality life of solitude and prayer is our humble act of charity to our world in pandemic.
Looking through my window, I am watching for signs of new life from Nature. It’s dry and humid here but birds are playing and singing their unique repertoire of songs, butterflies gently flying from flower to flower looking for nectar, trees are looking green and giving shade in spite of the battering heat. Amazing, how nature has its own way of heralding the Resurrection. No worries, complete abandon to God who takes care of them. We, humans are supposed to be a superior breed because of our reason but the same has systematically edged out trust in God in the day-to-day and we rely more on our egoic thinking. This same thinking has been the cause of violence, hatred and mistrust. Resurrection is offering forgiveness, love and trust. The world has to choose.
We are in enhanced community quarantine until May 3 but priests are given access passes for liturgical and charitable works. I have been using it every day to visit people where I am invited to accompany the dying and the family in their loss, facilitate dialogue in families, give food and money to those who have been laid off from work. Someone moved me to be with the people in their helplessness especially because they could not go to church and pray. The Presence brought by my presence is a soothing balm of comfort for them. I have been extra careful though to follow the protocols of hygiene and distancing in order not to give more harm to the community. This morning, my friend Lemuel came to the hermitage very hungry, haggard-looking, asking for food for his starving 4 young kids. Lemuel has been laid off from work. Handing over to him some goods, I am blessed by his joy but I also feel the uncertainty in his eyes.
After prayer this morning, I take a long loving look at the map posted at my wall. My eyes are fixed at the four continents of Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas. The virus is indeed a great equalizer for rich and poor countries are suffering from the same fate. I see faces of doctors, nurses, patients, their families, worried, afraid yet fighting for life. (While writing, I am informed that my sister working as a nurse in the US is COVID positive. Her family is now at risk).
The world is undergoing its passion. I see faces of helplessness, worry, fear, sadness, hatred, violence everywhere in multiple disguises. I ask: what is the message of the Resurrected Christ to our world today? What is God inviting us to see? Where is he leading us? Does Resurrection mean He will rescue us from all these? What is God’s response to His people in pandemic? How is the gentle message of the Resurrection be heard amidst the overpowering news of death, suffering, conflict? Where is the path of hope and new life in this our difficult time?
Brothers, please suffer with me these questions. I need you, we need each other, the people need us. Resurrection is not some cheap joy nor sweet sounding words to rescue us from our suffering. We have to strain our ears and stretch our hearts to hear the Message. We wrestle with God for answers even if his answer is hidden in His silence.
I find the reading of John’s version of the Resurrection narrative this year a Kairos. Some details from John could help us see and hear the Message. Since I am not schooled in biblical hermeneutics that well, I rely on a prayerful reflection of the text. Please be generous if it sounds naïve.
Let me just point out 3 things. First, John speaks of the Resurrection as happening “on the first day of the week, while it was dark.” (Jn. 20:1a) Resurrection bursts forth from the very foundations of our humanity and the world, in the darkness of unknowing. This reminds us of Genesis when the world was dark and formless and the Spirit hovered over the dark waters. Then God said: “Let there be light and there was light.” (Gen. 1:2-3)
Today, the world is in the darkness of the pandemic. The future even seems darker for many. How shall businesses, government, the people recover? Is our strategic planning, optimistic forecasts, finding the cure enough light to give us a bright future? In the midst of utter darkness, where the world’s foundations seem to be shaken, Christ the light bursts forth. Can we see? Seeing does not come from our human logic for the same is easily defeated by darkness. Light comes from the Resurrected Christ. Is God going to rescue us from this evil? Not at all for evil does what it does. God redeems. He ultimately vindicates virtue, goodness, fidelity while we go through evil and suffering just like what He did to Jesus. God and the Resurrected Christ is ultimately in control not evil and death. This is our creed. We simple have to trust its truth and live it in the day-to-day.
Second, John emphasizes that Mary of Magdala first saw the open tomb. (Jn.20:1b) She was sad because she could not yet link the open tomb with the Resurrection. It was only after she wept that she saw the Risen One. (cf. Jn. 20: 11ff) This is an invitation for us to see our reality through the gentle lens of the feminine – in sadness and in tears. Both prepare the heart for real seeing. There are many things that we are sad about our reality today. We are in tears because in one way or another, we are part of this wounded, broken and violent world and in many ways, we have contributed to its violence and wounding.
Lastly, Mary reported to Peter and John what she saw. Peter and John saw it for themselves. Peter saw. John saw and believed. They all did not yet understand the meaning of the Resurrection. (cf. Jn. 20: 2-9) This detail is inviting us that in order to experience new life, we need to reach out to one another and walk together as a community of truth seekers. Our reality is a shared vision and nobody monopolizes the whole or absolutizes his/her part of the whole. Each one contributes. Each one believes that the other has something to contribute. Truth humbles us for instead of possessing it, it possesses us. It is always beyond us. So, we need each other’s contribution. Truth is a free gift revealed to a vibrant pilgrim community who seeks with hope. Sad to say, in our post-modern world, power is mistaken for truth. So, one becomes arrogant of his part and absolutizes his part as the whole truth. This is the same mentality that creates war and violence. Resurrection is offering peace and forgiveness. We need to choose.
Brothers, we continue to share our search for truth in the Risen Lord today both in the solitude of our prayer and in our fraternal and missionary engagements. Brother Charles is showing us and is also walking with us the path, in our longing to follow Jesus of Nazareth, to be a brother to all, to live Nazareth, to be present to the poor, to review our lives, to cry the Gospel with our lives, to smell like the sheep in our mission to the peripheries, to live the Gospel before we preach. This is our spirituality as diocesan priests in the footsteps of Bro Charles. This is also our gift to our world and to our church today. As a gift, it is undeserved but we need to constantly readjust the gift through practice. Here, we are all beginners and fellow strugglers but together, we encourage one another to keep coming back to our practice.
Iesus Caritas Priestly Fraternity. Spain.
EASTER RETRAIT 2020
THE LIFE FOR BROTHER CHARLES
A free life
Thursday, April 16
On this second day of Easter retreat we will savor the freedom of the children of God. The Risen Christ gives us freedom; the one who was locked up is now free like the wind. No weight catches you or a bandage prevents you from walking. Brother Charles is only tied to the will of God, the will that he discovers in his searches and his imitation of Jesus: “To believe you have to humble yourself, you have to be small, you have to confess that you have little spirit, admit a quantity of things that are not understood …”. Charles de FOUCAULD, “Spiritual Writings”. In these days of “Easter confinement” we can experience the greatness and smallness of the world where we are. Our communication with the exterior is reduced to greeting us “Japanese style” and the use of electronic devices. We miss the hugs and yet we do not stop feeling the affection of God himself and of the brothers.
It is time to contemplate this entire situation. The empty ostensory of brother Charles can tell us a lot about so many absences, about so many times that we have felt far from God, from people, or from our own inner being. We think that Jesus is not there, because we are looking for him in an empty tomb. The absence of God in so many people makes us sad, and we would like to bring him closer to Jesus, who has not stopped loving them, seeking them, embracing them. Absences that are sometimes filled with something artificial, useless dreams or fantasies. God is a God of the living, said Jesus, and He is a God who gives us freedom, despite our present moment of “standing” or shut up at home. Soon we will be able to say “free the inmate”. Nothing is going to prevent us from hugging and greeting each other again as we always have. At this moment, Jesus does not keep his distance and embraces us when we adore him. His love is stronger than the limitations that we now have to live.
Holy Saturday has been a desert day for me. It is, perhaps, the most appropriate day of the year to live it like this, until the time of the Easter Vigil. A desert that can be a repetition of what is lived every day, but that once again placed me in the immensity of God, of his call, of his invitation to feel free in the moment of Nazareth, which is that of confinement. The desert, which makes us find ourselves empty of everything and expecting everything from the Lord. The Assekrem with the four walls, the garden, the orchard, the street or the field that we see from the window …
How do we identify with this living, free Christ in our mission? “We do not have the obligation to constantly give alms, or advice, or to pray, but we do have to give a good example, all the more since our works are known, although we believe we are completely alone…“, Charles de FOUCAULD, ” Spiritual Writings ”. Our mission, to be together with people in their difficult moments, in the daily life of their lives; also allowing us to invade by his humanity, by his happiness or his sadness, his apparently insignificant things, his shared path and his faith or lack of it, is the mission where Jesus sends us. “Jesus, with his redemptive work, gave us again the freedom, the freedom of the children” (Pope Francis). Christ gives us the freedom to leave everything, to put time aside, the condition of being a consecrated person, the social image we have, to say yes to the person who needs us, to whom we can do good, without “advice of priests ”, without being officials of the liturgy or sacraments. It does not matter the external forms; the important thing is the love that we put.
“Jesus came not only to change the natural course of physical life, but to infuse in it a new meaning with the strength of his Spirit and the power of his word, transmitting to human beings an ever-living hope, inexhaustible source of true joy. The tombstone that Jesus’ disciples must remove is huge and heavy, as the slab of death continues to bury thousands of deaths today in the world coronavirus pandemic and the masses of the poor and marginalized throughout our land.” José CERVANTES GABARRÓN, (priest of the diocese of Cartagena, Spain, in a Lenten homily). Given the diversity of calls that we receive, of the messages that overflow our electronic devices in these weeks, let us respond with Easter joy. Many people need us – simply – to know that we are there, that we are more important to them than a surgical mask. They know that our face and hands do not spread more than the love of Jesus, and we know that his people are also a paschal song of praise, of thanksgiving. So we have to thank people. One by one, with his face and his name, before Jesus in adoration, putting at his side who we do not see, but we do feel.
“The person who loves is open to the sorrows of others and feels impulses towards compassion and help, because he feels unity with the afflicted. It comforts every person you see suffering. He knows that it is one with the original energy in which everything participates. This occurs simply when we open up and come into contact with each other with pity.” Willigis JÄGER, “Where our longing takes us. Mysticism in the 21st century ”, Desclée de Brouwer (Willigis JÂGER celebrated his Easter last March)
Easter gives us back the joy of being saved, the freedom to be happy, the hope of a more positive world, of appreciating the effort and work of many people who leave their skin for others. Let us thank God for this liberating Jesus, small in the little ones, and very great in our hearts.
Good and happy Easter to all.
Iesus Caritas Priestly Fraternity. Spain.
EASTER RETRAIT 2020
THE LIFE FOR BROTHER CHARLES
The life of the last one
Wednesday, April 15
Reviewing the Song of Philippians (Phil 2,6-11), which we have deepened in these days of Holy Week, and prayed with him, we stand with brother Charles in his learning of selflessness, as the disciple who learns from his teacher: “He descended: he descended all his life, descending when he became incarnate, descending when he became a little boy, descending obeying, descending becoming poor, abandoned, exiled, persecuted, executed, always putting himself in last place ”. Charles de FOUCAULD, “Spiritual Writings ”.
The aristocrat becomes a servant, the lord of the castle goes to live in the village, he takes off his title and becomes a brother. How can we understand the last place if we stay in the usual place or even try to climb, climb positions? How many times do we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are already humble?
The imitation of Jesus, as Charles de FOUCAULD’s teaching and constant desire from his conversion, we know that it consists in praying, working, loving, accompanying, forgiving, as Jesus did, and also being happy as he was, showing the Father’s mercy, in every gesture, every word. “Mercy is not manufactured: it is received. The gift of God is not bought, is not sold, does not return the call. Give freely without expecting anything, without anyone losing hope. Risk loving until the end ”. Jacques GAILLOT in “Happy the merciful”, September 10, 2016 at iesuscaritas.org
Surely we are experiencing these days of “living in the hidden”, confined, with nothing on our agendas, with the sails of our ships folded, waiting for a favorable wind, a very special Nazareth style.
The call to be missionaries must be permanently in our hearts; not participating in people’s lives, visiting the sick, receiving friends and people who come to our homes, and so many things that we cannot do during this pandemic, can help us review the meaning of the mission. It is very likely that we miss others, as we miss ourselves in a normal situation. We have become the last by imposition. We must be the last because our Master was made that way, and that’s how we learn it every day.
All of this makes us more aware of the realities of our world. We live in a comfortable Europe that is reeling, a Europe closed in on itself: “The Europe of the peoples is about to be built. It is the meaning of history. Sacrificing men for the sake of the economy, leaving the Third World countries aside, will not become the Europe of the peoples. What will be the future of immigrant communities? It seems to me in the Maastricht Treaty that immigrants pay the duck for a strong Europe that gives a little more height to its walls.”
Jacques GAILLOT, “I take liberty …”, Nueva Utopía
This Europe, which is going to suffer an economic crisis that we do not yet know its scope, which is going to be the humanitarian crisis of so many people – which really is the world of the last, those who have always been last – will learn to be in their instead, to know how to listen better, to apply a policy of looking less at the navel and looking at the world without fear. Something like this can happen in North America … And, as a Church, we could say the same.
From the small, which has always been unimportant to the richest, brother Charles builds a dream. It was something that he did not see realized, as an unattainable utopia – a challenge of the Kingdom – and yet, we are appreciating it, because it helps us in our lives to live simply, to share, to be fraternity, not to look no one above us, not to be submissive to fierce consumption, or as priests, to celebrate the faith of the people, of which we are part, without fuss or complicated rituals, being part of the history of people’s lives because they are important to us. “In solidarity with the poor. This Easter has its own color. Our personal ambiguity appears a little clearer illuminated by the poor. Some who walk with Jesus are disconcerted by the words of denunciation and the demand for their rights and, consequently, they want to silence the voice of the poor and those who show solidarity with them. The oppressed are also afraid of dying in the desert like the Jews, and they ask us for what we have. History, with its setbacks and darkness, leads us to lose sight of the God who seems lost and distant on the mountain, while beside us emergency idols made of shiny gold are made.” Benjamín GONZÁLEZ BUELTA, “Go down to meet God. The life of prayer among the poor ”, Sal Terrae
Easter, this Easter in solitude, in domestic Nazareth, is an opportunity to enjoy again the little things, the good news, the friends or the family that we miss.
Easter places us in the context of the joy of the little ones, the last ones, where Jesus is always present, with his door open to be invited to the table of the poor, or the curtain drawn because there is no door. Let’s not pass by, thinking of better places. The adoration of Jesus is now that humble house where to be with him, with all the poor of the world, before whom we do not need words.
Let us now make a time of adoration. Not to think about what I have written, but to look at Jesus, the one who became the last and was the Beloved of brother Charles.
For our life review::
1 Do I live my life more (time, work, availability, personal resources, potentialities …) for myself than in function of my missionary being, of my dedication to others? Why and in what ways?
2 In the confinement and pandemic that I have lived, what have I learned from my own inner experience and from the experiences, values, pain, life and death from outside?
3 Easter, like all Good News announced to the poor, in what aspects, attitudes or approaches of my life is a conversion, a change, a call? Can I imagine it or am I living it?
Iesus Caritas Priestly Fraternity. Spain.
EASTER RETRAIT 2020
THE LIFE FOR BROTHER CHARLES
Tuesday, 14 April, evening
From this telematic way, this Easter retreat, -meeting between brothers and contemplative moment to celebrate the Risen Jesus- I offer you the reflections and invitation to adoration, Christ, bread and wine, freed from death and from the slab, walker, pilgrim with us in this difficult moment of humanity … Living Christ today invites us to be in these three days in retreat joyous with the human beings who have in their life the hope of a better world. Through him we were saved from the cross. Because of him we are motivated to continue in the work of the Kingdom. “Everything belongs to God … We owe him all the moments of our life. Our being and existing: let’s do everything for God ”. Charles de FOUCAULD, “Spiritual Writings”.
From our brother Carlos, with all the aspects and factors of his life, his intuitions and contradictions, we savor life, as he who savors what is small and simple who is truly poor. He let himself be found on the morning of Resurrection and his joy comes to us, who try to live his charism as men of faith.
Let us make this Easter a space for joy, for dreams – brother Charles dreams – for life, and life taken advantage of every moment, with the hope of those who dream of a new world and the sufferings, their own and those of humanity, they are not an obstacle: “If sadness invites you one day, tell him that you already have a commitment to joy and that you will be faithful to him all your life. Where there is truth, there is also light, but don’t confuse light with flash.” (Pope Francis)
The joy that is not always laughed at, nor the product of personal triumph. The joy of the disciples to see the Lord, along with fears of “what will happen now.” It is the joy of brother Charles who meets every day in Nazareth, in Beni-Abbès or Tamanrasset with people, from whom he learns a language, a way of relating, a listening, as in Morocco he found a faith in the Muslims who transmitted to him the greatness of God. These were not good times, neither politically nor economically for the world; misery and epidemics also plagued many countries, in different ways and with disparate consequences, such as the First World War, the plundering of resources in the Western colonies in Africa, in Asia… What greater pandemic than the selfishness of the powerful ones? Is there a vaccine for that?
I have had to redo everything prepared for these days in the face of the current situation, and, realistically, we cannot leave aside the situation of our world, the one closest to us or the one that does not touch us closely. It is a very special Easter, as I believe that until now we had not lived. In spite of everything, let us live it as the Church and our deep being invites us, just as each one of us is.
Especially for me, on these Easter days, our brothers who have already celebrated their full Easter recently will be in our hearts: Manolo BARRANCO, Mariano PUGA, Michel PINCHON, Margarita GOLDIE, Antonio L BAEZA … so many resurrected brothers and sisters .. .
Let us return in these days to let ourselves be surprised by the Good News of the Risen Jesus, of the one who is alive in the humble, in hospitals, slums, prisons, villages without light or water in so many places in the world; of that Christ who has passed through the cross, but who has not passed from the people; He who, from so many men and women who in these months are working for us, frees us from fear and reaches out to us.
So we put ourselves in the presence of God, without forgetting the presence of pain, hope and happiness. We put ourselves in his hands, as we pray in the Prayer of Abandonment, and we pray it … “My Father, I abandon myself to you …”
With all the love of our hearts, with infinite trust, let us continue believing in life, starting this Easter retreat.
“Wherever I live and life springs up in me, there I will see the Risen One and experience God.” Anselm GRÛN, “Seeking God in everyday life”, Narcea.