Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Why do we exchange gifts during Christmas?

Dearest all,
It's been quite a while since my last post. Anyway, I attended a Christmas party in my parish last week and we had this gifts exchange. I was suppose to be in charge for that program, and I felt bad because I messed them up :)

By the way, have you ever asked yourself why we have this gift exchange during Christmas? I never really thought about that question until that night. Well, I guess the one that made me realized about why we exchange gift was one of the songs that the worship leader sang that night.

I believe the very reason is that on Christmas night, God has become a gift for us. He chose to be a gift, so small and so weak. He chose to be carried by human hands, to be in a human family, and loved by little and poor human beings.

What is God's gift to us? How can we number them? Isn't everything God's gift to us? God has given us everything! From the sun to the moon, from the hills to the valleys, from the ocean to the skies, from our little toys to our computers, from our clothes to our foods. Isn't our family is a gift from God?

But more than that, on Christmas day, God has not only given us the Universe and everything that exist, on Christmas day, he has given us himself.

But just as in every gift exchange, we too in our part are invited to give. What can we give then?

If you recall every time we have this gift exchange, they will tell us the range of price to buy, for our case it was from $5-$10. But I guess the point is that we know that our gift must be about the same value as what we would receive. We can't give a toilet paper when someone give us a condominium.

When God has given us his everything, and when he has given us his own self, what should we give in return? We know that deep in our heart we are called and invited to give him our everything, we are called to give him our very self.

Jesus said, those who lose his life will find it.

There are many ways to lose our wallet. We can drop it along the way, or someone may steal it. But we can also lose our wallet by "giving" it. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he says, "those who lose his life will find it". We can lose it by giving it to him. And only by giving our lives to him, we will find what "life" is all about, the true life. It's not the life that the world offers, but the life that God has planned for us, the life of God himself.

But too often, we cling to our lives. Just in any gift exchange, we are too busy to think what we will get. In lives too, we are too busy in what we can get. We forget in the "losing of our lives", we forget that they only way to find lives, is by giving it.

But Christmas reminds us again of the meaning of our lives. Life becomes meaningful in giving, just as God gives himself to us.

How can we give our lives to God? One way is by giving our lives to others. Mother Teresa said, love must be put into action. I recently just watched a documentary on Mother Teresa. What a wonderful woman, she gave her lives to the poorest of the poor. She was full of energy, she kept on giving.

Who are the people in our lives that God has entrusted to us? Who are the people that God has called us to love? Are they our family members? Are they our friends? Are they our enemies?

Christmas gives us this glimpse of life. On christmas day, a child is born, a son is given to us. On Christmas day we are reminded of our deepest calling to love. We are reminded that we are created to be Love, just as God is love.

Love is man's origin,
Love is man's constant calling,
Love is his fulfillment in heaven.
--Eucharistic prayer for wedding--

526 ... Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us.207 Christmas is the mystery of this "marvelous exchange":
O marvelous exchange! Man's Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.208
(Catechism of Catholic Church)

This is the meaning of Christmas, God has become man, so that men may become gods. This is why we exchange gifts during Christmas.

your brother in His love,

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Praise and Worship (V): Creation in the Silence


In the last post we mentioned that Worship is the self-giving act of God and the self-giving act of ourselves in totality. Just as the temple was designed with different degrees of holiness or consecreation, so is the praise and worship session. The movement of praise and worship is the movement of consecrating oneself to God step by step, litlte by litle, until in worship, we give ourselves totally and wholly to God.

In this time of communion with God, in this time of setting ourselves apart wholly for God, we have come face to face with God. And as we come face to face with God, we can only bow down and worship Him in silent adoration. In this worship there are no words left, only adoration and love.

The church teaches that

(CCC 2628) ... Adoration is homage of the spirit to the "King of Glory," respectful silence in the presence of the "ever greater" God.

We adore God in silence before the presence of the "ever greater" God! And in a true adoration, a true sacrifice takes place. In other words, true self-giving takes place.

(CCC 2099) It is right to offer sacrifice to God as a sign of adoration and gratitude, supplication and communion: "Every action done so as to cling to God in communion of holiness, and thus achieve blessedness, is a true sacrifice."16

In silent Adoration, we learn to give ourselves, we learn to Love. Loving is self-giving. To love is to give oneself. To love is to sacrifice oneself.

And St. Therese of Avilla once said about prayer

Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love."

All that is needed is the will to love. Prayer is an "act of love". Love is the essence of prayer. And to love is to give onself, and to give oneself is to worship. Maybe that's the reason why worship is an imporant element in a "prayer" meeting.

But it is interesting that St. Therese said, "words are not needed". And I guess this is very true when we worship God from our whole being. Just as Jesus stretched out his hands with his head bowed down in his total self-giving to the Father and to us, so too in worship. Words are not needed.

In this worship we give ourselves, and in giving ourselves we are in communion with God. In this total communion with God, we enter into the silence as the Lord of Lords comes to take his place in our hearts.

In the writing of the prophets, "silence" always precedes and heralds the coming of the Lord (NJB study bible notes on Rev 8:1).

Zach 2
[10] Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion;
for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the LORD.
[11] And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of you, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
... [13] Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

We are invited to "sing and rejoice" because He is coming, he is coming into our hearts! After all the songs and the rejoicing, this is what is said, "be silent, .... all flesh". We enter into silence as the Lord of hosts comes and dwells in our hearts and lives.And as the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings comes and dwells in our hearts, we can only give ourselves totally in return.

And maybe this is the reason why we all pray in silence after we receive communion. Because in this very moments the God of the Universe comes with Love to meet us, to be in union with us. It is a union when God gives himself to us, but also as we give ourselves to God in return.

Fr. Gino once taught us in a workshop that Worship in a catholic tradition is "silence". Worship for us catholics is not yelling and screaming, but silence. Worship for us is not a state of "high emotion" or the "feeling" of deep worship. For us, worship is adoration, respectful silence for the Lord who is coming, it is a receiving attitude to the Lord who gives himself, but also a self-giving act of ourselves, worship is a decision.

What else can we do before the Lord of Lords other than to adore him? What is the best adoration other than being in silence? But what do we do in silence? This is what we do: we allow ourselves to be embraced by the Lord who is coming with Love. This is what we can do, to embrace him in return with our whole being.

In this worship, we learn to be in silence. And in this silence we enter into the Holy of Holies. The inner most of the temple where God dwells!

The Hebrew words for Holy of Holies can also be translated as "Oracles" or God's voice. This is the place where God speaks. It is only in silent worship that we enter into the Holy of Holies and encounter the voice of God. And so the Psalmist says

Ps. 95
[7b] O that today you would hearken to his voice!
[8a] Harden not your hearts

In silence, we encounter the voice of God. In silence, we encounter the God who speaks. I am aware that many of us feel that they are unable to "hear" this voice. But we often "listen" using the wrong ears. We tend to use our physical and intellectual ears, but not the ears of our hearts.

Sometimes we forget that his voice is no ordinary voice. His words is no ordinary words. His voice is the voice that creates the universe, it is the voice that says "Let there be light", and "there was light". It's the Powerful voice of God that always "creates" a new.

Ps. 33
[6] By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
[9] For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood forth.

The Word of God creates! This word of God is Jesus! (John 1:1). This Word, this voice of God, that we encounter is not just a sound, it is a "person". And together with the Word is the "breath of his mounth" (Ps 33:6). When the word is spoken, the breath is sent forth. The Hebrew word for "breath" is Ruah which also means "Spirit". And so together with Jesus, the voice of God, is also the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.

And so this "hearken to his voice" is the "encounter" with God himself. And how should we "listen" then? We need to accept Him, we need to embrace Him, and to allow him to "speak" with the words that "creates" us anew. We need to allow him to change us! This "change" is what the Evangelist called in Greek, metanoia, or simply means "con-version".

And so the Word of God together with the Spirit of God come to those who give themselves to God...and God will create them anew.

Ps. 104
[30] When thou sendest forth thy Spirit,
they are created;
and thou renewest the face of the ground.

In worship, something happens! In worship, as we enter into silence, we will encounter the voice of God, Jesus is the voice of God. And as we encounter the voice of God, we will surely be renewed, changed, transformed, refreshed, and born again! And this is the promise that will never fail!

Is. 55
[10] "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and return not thither but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
[11] so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

This is what we are doing in a praise and worship session. We are called to move from our "world" to God, to set ourselves apart, to be consecrated, to give ourselves wholly to God. And as we give ourselves in silent worship, we will surely encounter the God who loves us, we will surely encounter His voice, encounter his embrace of Love. It is the moment when we are loved. This loves "changes" us, this love drives us for a "conversion", for a "change of lives", for a change to be "more like Christ" every day.

Just as mankind came into being when God "breathed" his "breath" or his "spirit" into the man's nostrils, so are we in the time of worship. The Spirit is "breathed" when God speaks. And when the spirit is breathed, our lives will never be the same again. We begin to live the life that God wants us to be. And this is the life that God wants us to be

Joh 15:12 "... that you love one another as I have loved you.

Every time we come out from a prayer meeting meeting, this is what must happen in our lives, that we want more and more to love as God has loved us. And this is how God Loves us, he died and rose again, so that forever he can say to you and to me, "This is my body,...given for you.., and this is my blood,...poured out for you".

Let us close with an invocation for the "breath of God" that changes and renews us as we learn to listen to "His voice" daily.

Come, O Holy Spirit
Fill the hearts of your faithful
and enkindle in them the fire of your Love
Send forth your spirit O Lord,
and they shall be created,
and you shall renew the face of the earth.

your brother in His love,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Praise and Worship (IV): Praise brings true Worship


In the last article we discussed how the Temple was designed and how that helps us to see the flow of the Praise and Worship. The temple was designed with different degree of "Holiness", and the inner most is the Holy of Holies. The Praise and worship is also designed with different degrees of "Holiness". What is meant is how the heart of the people are "set apart" for the Lord. From Thanksgiving, where we start to enter as through a gate, and then we start to gaze on the Lord in Praise, and as we look at him, how can we fail not to worship him? And so the psalmist says

Ps. 95
[6] O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
[7] For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

As we start to gaze on the Lord, we are invited to "Worship". In fact, the literal meaning of worship is to "bow down". In this worship, we enter into the Holy of Holies, we began to "set ourselves apart" wholly to God. In Praise, we begin to set aside our world to enter into God's presence. Here in worship, we are truly in God's presence. As the temple was designed with the inner most as the Holiest, so in Worship, we are called to "set apart" ourselves wholly to God. I guess the key word is "wholly".

In Praise we see How beautiful this God is, how kind, and how loving he is. And this gaze drives us to "give ourselves" wholly to God. This is Holiness, wholly set apart for the Lord.

And that's why I feel verse 7 of Psalm 95 explains a lot of Worship.

[7] For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

The main thing in worship is the "self-giving". And this is what the Psalmist said, "for he is our God". This reminds us of what God says, "You shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Jer 30:22) . God says that he wills to be our God. This God gives himself to us! And he truly gives everything to us, even his own body. And maybe that's the reason why the highest worship of our catholic faith is the Holy Eucharist as Jesus says

This is my body, given for you

This is my blood, poured out for you

God has given everything, and there is nothing that he has not given to us. And in this time of worship, as much as it is the time of God's self-giving act, it is also the time for us to respond to this wonderful self-giving act of God.

and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand

Now, we are His! We are his people, the sheep of His hand. In Worship we give ourselves to God. And we are not invited only to give part of ourselves, but we are invited to give ourselves "wholly" and "totally" just as Christ gives himself for us "wholly" and "totally".

And so in Praise and Worship, we are led to this "total self-giving" which we find its most meaning in "Worship". I believe this is what Worship is.

If you ever attend a catholic charismatic prayer meeting, you might see that people usually open up their hands as they worship. Some people feel that it is a bit unusual for catholics. But we find this gesture of "hands opened and lifted up" mostly in a catholic priest as he celebrates the mass. How often does he open up his arms and pray! And in some parishes, the congregation also pray the Our Father with their hands opened and lifted up (see figure).

And in the book "Introduction to Christianity", Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) states that this gesture is the gesture of how the early Christians pray!
Even the church has a name for it, since the church tries to "preserve" the gesture in the liturgy. We usually call it the "orantes" gesture.

The early Fathers of the Church see that this gesture of prayer and worship points to the gesture of Christ on the Cross. Pope Benedict then said that this shows that Christ is the true worshiper!

And for me, this shows again the meaning of worship. That the true worship can be seen on the Cross, on the man Jesus who gave himself for us totally and completely.

This is the worship that we are invited to, the worship to give ourselves totally to God. We are invited to give him our worries, our burdens, our hurts, our joy, our whole life, to give him our dreams and future, but also our presents and past, to give every area in our life, our needs and difficulties, our family, and our health, everything, and everything.

To this God, and in this worship, do we give our whole being. Not reserving anything for the "I" of our ego. Just as St. Paul writes,

it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Gal 2:20

And this is worship, that it is no longer I, but it is Christ. I live by faith in the Son of God. And Pope Benedict once said that faith is about standing and giving our whole being to stand on this ground of our whole being. In this worship we learn not to stand on ourselves, but to stand on Jesus, the meaning of our whole being, our love, our God, on Jesus who loves us and gives himself for me out of love. This love, that he gives himself for me, is the one that drives me to give my whole self back to Him in return, that is in worship. And no wonder we shouldn't worship only in a Prayer Meeting.

Worship is a decision, to stand no longer on I, but on Jesus.

it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Gal 2:20

--to be continued