WHY WE WORSHIP (Part 1)

Ciel Tagaza

Worship is more than a Christian obligation – it’s a lifestyle. By lifestyle, I mean it is ingrained in one’s life. It becomes a habit, and like any habit or routine, it can get comfortable. You know how familiarity tends to breed complacency or worse, contempt? If we lose sight of the “why” of worship, its “how” starts to become burdensome or boring.

How can we fight feelings of complacency and contempt?

COUNTER COMPLACENCY WITH INITIATIVE.

Complacency, by simple definition, means a feeling of being satisfied with how things are and not wanting to try to make them better. This self-satisfaction when it comes to worship is dangerous to the soul and corporately-speaking, to the worshiping team and the worshiping congregation.

If you are part of the worship team, you must find ways to improve your ministry. Honing your skill set is a given. What you do in your private prayer time translates in how you lead worship on the platform, so make sure that your personal relationship with God is alive and thriving because it is your wellspring of inspiration and motivation.

If you are part of the congregation, you ought to participate actively in communal worship. The worship team is only there to guide you, not worship for you. They are there to lead you to praise God, not sing to you. The congregation plays a huge part in the response and the outcome of communal praise. You cannot just stand there and watch passively, you must take part in worship and praise. You are not the audience, God is. The instruments do not bring the worship songs to life, your cumulative response does. So, get out of your stupor – sing, clap and dance for the Lord!

The antidote to complacency is initiative. Take the initiative in improving your worship service and participate in communal worship.

COUNTER CONTEMPT WITH SELF-AWARENESS.

We cannot take an initiative if we are not self aware. If we are unaware of the deficiencies in ourselves, it won’t be long until we start getting dissatisfied. Instead of looking inward, we tend to look outward and see the seeming deficiencies in others, and this can lead to contempt.

Contempt is not simply disliking. It is, by definition, a strong feeling of lack of respect for something or someone. It is disregard for something that should be taken into account, such as the “how” and even the “why”. When one becomes critical of how things are being done on the platform, it can be an indirect criticism of and disrespect to the God whom we worship (and talk about).

The antidote to contempt is self awareness. To be aware as a worship team, as a leader or as a musician, and work on improving your ministry. To be aware as a member of the congregation, silence that critical spirit and do your part in elevating communal worship. Instead of complaining about the lackluster response in church, start with yourself. Sing along and respond loudly.

(To be continued.)

Posted in July 2016, RESOURCE | Leave a comment

Loved First

hazel

Hazel Bisenio

We love him, because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:19

Ever since I was a child, I’d always believed that one had to work hard to be loved. I know I certainly did, although I didn’t always get the kind of love I thought I deserved.
My parents separated when I was 3 years old. Since then, my mother had left to work abroad. My baby sister and I were passed around among relatives. Once, we had to be separated because they could only take in one little girl. My sister was lucky because she got to have a yaya (nanny) and went to a private nursery school, while I landed with a relative who made me sleep on a mattress on the floor while she slept on the bed. I ate with the maids and swept the dried leaves in the driveway. Back then, they all thought I was slow and dumb, because I rarely spoke or read books and I never danced or sang, while my sister was quite the adorable entertainer.

When I turned 7, our Lola (grandmother) got us back and sent us to Catholic school. There, I met Jesus and Mama Mary for the first time and talked with them as if they were just beside me. I would pray for me and my sister, but a lot of times I would pray for my mom whom we hadn’t seen in a long time. I promised myself that I would do my very best in school to make my mom proud because she had to work very hard overseas for us. I didn’t mind that my clothes, shoes and school bag were hand-me-downs from relatives, or that I never owned a Barbie or a Hello Kitty. My most treasured possessions were my complete set of basic school materials, nothing more and nothing less.

I was eight years old when a relative started showing me what I thought then was fatherly affection. Growing up without a father, I didn’t know that he was already molesting me. This went on for years, even until things took a turn for the worse when I was around 11 years old. All those times, I prayed to God to make him stop. I couldn’t tell anyone about what was happening because he told me that I would disgrace the whole family if I told on him, and that he would do the same thing to my mom and my sister.

No one suspected anything. Despite this dark secret, I was the student council president. I studied so hard that I became class Valedictorian. A family friend tried to get in touch with my Dad so that he could pin my 9 medals. I remember waiting outside the Auditorium, so excited to meet him for the first time and hoping that he would be proud of me. But the graduation ceremonies started and ended with no sign of him.

When I turned 14, my mom suddenly had to come home. I thought, finally, everything would be okay again, God had answered my prayers! But my mom was a bitter and broken woman when she got back. Whenever we did something she wasn’t pleased with, she’d always shout at us that we were just as bad as our Dad. Instead of being proud of my full high school scholarship, she angrily said to me once, “Buti na lang matalino ka, kasi ang pangit-pangit mo, walang lalaking papatol at seseryoso sa iyo.” (It’s a good thing you’re intelligent, because you’re not pretty; none of the boys will find you attractive.)

My whole world crashed. I was ugly and dirty and no one wanted me. I ran away, but eventually had to come home because I got hungry and scared. I resolved to show my mom that she was wrong about me.

I transformed myself from the fat nerd to the charming girl who sang her way into young boys’ hearts. I got them all–the star basketball players in the village, fellow youth choir members, even my crush next door, until I was caught going out with one of them in my school uniform. The school authorities wanted to expel me but reconsidered when my aunt made me beg them on my knees to let me transfer instead. Already on my senior year, they quickly and quietly transferred me to a school where I was allowed to graduate.

Without a scholarship, I had to work to send myself to College. At 19, while working as a researcher in military school, I met an officer who was almost as old as my Dad. I thought, here’s someone mature enough to love me as I am and financially stable enough to take care of me. Within about a year, we got married. Three years and a child later, my husband was unfaithful. After months of fighting, he left us to live with the other woman. (Somehow, I got a glimpse of what my mom had gone through.) He came home after a few months. And then, just when I thought everything was finally okay, my husband died from a stroke, leaving me a widow at 30.

His sudden demise left such a big hole in my very core that I sometimes wished I had died with him. I questioned God for taking him away. I hated my husband for leaving me all alone to raise our children who were then only 10 and 5 years old. In the years the followed, I had to face more tribulations–losing our pension to my husband’s eldest son from a previous marriage, becoming homeless after getting evicted from our home in Fort Bonifacio, being humiliated at work, each one leaving me weaker and more empty than before. But blessings came, too–an unexpected trip to Australia with my kids for a postgraduate scholarship, and then a job that paid three times my previous salary. I tried my best to stay afloat, to be the tower of strength for my kids, at the same time serving God through my singing in church and serving the poor through Rotary.

But the hardest blows were yet to come.

In 2009, within my first year in my new company, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had to go under the knife to remove my thyroid. They caught it at stage 3, meaning the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes and I had to undergo radiation therapy. While my new company’s HMO took care of the hospital bills and treatments, I still questioned God. As a Rotarian, I led and organized medical and dental missions and helped hundreds of poor people get free consultation and medicine. Why was this happening to me? Hadn’t I suffered enough?

But what really devastated me was losing my ability to sing. Why did He take away my one instrument to serve and reach out to Him? Did I not develop my talent and use it for His greater glory?

Doctors told me my wound would heal; that I could sing again because no nerves were damaged. But the following year, they told me that I had to undergo another operation to take out my lymph nodes from the neck to the left shoulder, to be followed by another series of radiotherapy. In despair, I cried out to God that I could not take all of this alone anymore. I prayed for a partner of the same faith, stable enough to help me through this.

Just before my operation, I did meet someone. He was nice to me and my kids. He took care of me in the hospital and brought me for my checkups and rushed me to the ER whenever I got numb, stiff and weak due to severe electrolyte imbalance. He soon confessed that although he had been separated for years, he was still married, but I still agreed to live with him. I became so emotionally dependent on him that I gave in to all his demands: not to go to Church, not to attend Rotary or see my friends, even to turn my back on my mom when he and my mom had a fight. I was so afraid he would leave me for I felt I could no longer live without him. But, then he lost his job and he started to reveal his bad side.

A year of constant fight-and-makeups later, the doctors said I had to undergo another radiation session and an operation to remove a kidney stone that was causing bleeding in my urinary track. Three weeks later, I discovered I was almost 2 months pregnant. I was so devastated. Our relationship was a mess and I was pregnant when I had the radiation! But I still kept my baby despite his and other people’s fears about the effects of the radiation on baby. Miraculously, my baby came out fine.

Thinking that our miracle baby would make things better between us, I clung to him even more. But our baby was only 4 months old when I discovered he was already seeing someone else. That very day, I confronted him, we had a big fight, and he left. A few months later, I made a last ditch effort to make him come back but he rejected me and said he was already with someone else much better than me. He left and didn’t even show up for his daughter’s first birthday and christening.

That was the last straw. I became moody–crying and moping one moment and screaming at my kids the next. I became the bitter woman my mom was to me; I know my kids found it hard to respect and love me. My eldest daughter either ignored me or yelled back at me when she could no longer stand me. She would find all kinds of excuses not to go to Mass while I was trying to be the model mom doing everything, including bribing them, just to come with me. I went to mass mechanically but never took communion because I felt so unhappy and so unclean.

I was so full of hatred, regret, and self pity that I felt so hopeless, that my whole being was sinking into darkness and I could do nothing. I felt so empty–thirsty for love, for inspiration, for peace, for God. But I didn’t think I could go to God, not when I questioned Him and blamed Him for the many bad things that had happened to me, not when I had casually ignored Him in moments of temptation. Even my own mother and children could not love me despite my sacrifices for them. I felt so tired, and there were times when I just wished I were dead.

Then my friend invited me to attend the Road to Damascus (RTD) Retreat. At first I was apprehensive; my last meaningful retreat was way back in high school. But, already decaying inside out, I eventually gave in.

I listened as the speaker talked about God’s constant love, that no matter how good or bad I become, God loves me just the same. He loves me so unconditionally that He sacrificed His precious Son just for me. I was filled with such awe that I cried and cried. I realized then how God tried to show me His love all those years–through my Lola, my school, my aunts, my friends, the communities I served, my talents and the career opportunities I got. They all came when I needed help the most, when I cried out in pain. God had always been there to make me feel how much He loved me, but all I could see then was the pain and suffering.

It was also through the RTD that I felt God’s love as my Father, loving me despite all my sins, welcoming me with arms of forgiveness. I realized that just as He had forgiven me, I also must forgive those who have wronged me, and to forgive myself most of all. It was a heart-wrenching experience, but only after I made the decision to forgive did I really feel such love, peace and joy that I had never experienced in my entire life.

When I got home after the retreat, my daughter witnessed a new me unfolding, and she wondered, “Who is this woman?” She saw that I no longer reacted with curses or threw things when I got angry, that I now take time to listen to her and her siblings, that I now say sorry when I’m wrong, and that we now all pray together. Since then, going to Mass every Sunday is a joyous and holy occasion we all look forward to, as we all receive the Lord during communion.

Knowing God’s unconditional love made me slowly transform from the bitter woman that I had become to a more loving and caring mother to my children and daughter to my mother, and to a happier more inspired colleague at work and in my community.

I know I have quite a journey ahead of me–there is so much to know about God, there is still so much in my character to work on. But I find rest in the knowledge that I work not to add to God’s love for me, and that nothing I do can ever take away from that love. I love simply because He loved me first, loves me first, and will love me forever.

Posted in June 2016, TESTIMONY, TESTIMONY 2016 | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Message

Ciel Tagaza

A number of Catholics trade going to Mass for other church services because the concert-style worship and the talks bordering on theatrical are more engaging. The good news for us Catholics is we do not have to give up the Eucharist and the Sacraments to take part in this kind of gathering and experience this kind of messaging. We have Catholic charismatic communities that offer venues for charismatic praise and worship, evangelization, fellowship and ministry. However, being active in a Catholic charismatic community is not a substitute for going to Mass. On the contrary, it should make the faithful fall more in love with the Eucharist and united with the universal Church, not just in the local church setting. The fervor we have for God must be the same whether we are worshiping with abandon in prayer meeting or solemnly praying, singing and listening in the Mass. The gospel we proclaim in prayer meeting must be aligned with the gospel we hear in the Church, and not some diluted or edited version of Jesus’ message.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” not “Blessed are the financially prosperous.”

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth,” not “Blessed are the mighty.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” not “Blessed are those who take matters in their own hands.”

“If anyone wishes to follow Jesus, he must take up his cross and deny himself,” not “God fulfill your dreams!” As if you’re the boss of Him.

“Faith without works will not save us,” not “Just believe! No need to work out our salvation.”

We are all seekers longing for something, Someone or some other to satisfy our being. We either worship God or the idols we have fashioned for ourselves – that which we glorify and put above all other people and things. We are all looking for meaning, but we may be saying or choosing to listen to only those that are pleasing to the ears but disregarding the words of Jesus that are hard to accept. We must ask ourselves:

Are we after God’s own heart or are we just chasing after feelings?

Are we true worshipers or are we idolaters?

Are we faithful messengers, proclaiming and heeding the whole gospel or just half truths?

Our worship, our service and our witnessing become self-indulgent when they become about the self: What worship service suits my taste? What do they want to hear? What do I want to do? How do I get noticed? when we should be asking, How can I repay the Lord for His goodness? What do they need to hear? What does God want me to do? How can I make Him known?

Remember, everything we do must point to God. Not to us, but to Him be the glory.

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭16‬)

Posted in June 2016, RESOURCE | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Life in the Spirit

Ciel Tagaza

We are celebrating Pentecost this Sunday. We commemorate the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples and three thousand people were converted and baptized in the Spirit. It is the same Spirit that moves, transforms and renews the Church; the same Spirit that gives life to communities.

As Christians, Catholic and charismatic, we implore the Holy Spirit to fill our souls not for individual gain but for the benefit of our Church and our community.

One cannot exercise Spiritual gifts in isolation just as one cannot follow Jesus without being a part of His Body, the Church. The gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discernment of spirits, prophecy, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues – are given and used in the context of community and for edifying the Church and carrying out its mission.

“For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Romans 12:3-8

Life in community is not about individualism. It is finding unity in diversity. It does not consist in merely attending gatherings once a week to sing songs, listen to exhortations and enjoy fellowship. While it is one facet of community life, it is not just about receiving, nor just about “good vibes”. Life in community is about following Christ together with other believers and becoming involved, participating and committing to serve one another and others by using whatever Spiritual gifts God gives us to build up community and to fulfill its mission and vision. And this is how bonds are formed and how life in the Spirit thrives – by serving together and going through the good and the bad as one body with Christ as Head while sinking our roots deeper in God’s word, in praise and worship, and witnessing to God’s reign in our lives. We are called to be living stones that make up the Church, with Christ as the chief cornerstone that unites us into one everlasting temple and bears the weight of the whole Church.

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5

Posted in May 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Promise and Purpose

belBel Amante Aurelio

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ – Jeremiah 29:11

The year 2015 marked the 11th year from the day I had my Road To Damascus (RTD), a retreat facilitated by the Living Hope Catholic Charismatic Community.

My first exposure to the renewal movement was when I was 19 years old. I was invited by one of my neighbors to attend PREX (Parish Renewal Experience). It was really a memorable experience for me. But because I was a medical student at that time, my studies took priority over everything else. I never got the chance to attend any of their prayer meetings. Three years later, I found myself broken-hearted. I began to actively search for a community again. Another friend was kind enough to invite me to her community. After attending 3 prayer meetings, I felt like it was not the right fit for me. Meanwhile, I hung out with friends from Opus Dei. I remember that they were very prayerful and faithful to Catholic teachings. But time passed and I found myself going to fewer Opus Dei activities, until my friends and I graduated from medical school and we pursued different specialties. Still, I did not cease being a “seeker.” In early 2004, Julius (my fiancé then) and I were invited to a charismatic community of young people. We attended their retreat. However, for some reason, we did not find ourselves coming back to this community.

Then, in September 2004, I was invited to attend a prayer meeting conducted by Living Hope Catholic Charismatic Community. Ever since, we looked forward to each and every prayer meeting. We even found ourselves adjusting our schedules so we would be present every time. We knew then that we have finally found our home.

At the time I attended the RTD back in 2004, I felt like everything was going well in my life: I was about to get married in a year, and was just offered another year to be the Pediatric chief resident at UP-PGH. At that point, I really did not want to ask God for anything more, but in the middle of my personal prayers during the retreat, the image of a vast, calm, blue sea slowly unfolded before me. The sun was in what I could best describe as a state of “suspended sunset” over the horizon. I focused on this image and I remember feeling peaceful. I don’t remember sharing that vision to anyone. (I did not even know it was a vision, until much later). To my simple understanding, it was just God’s way to answer my prayer at that moment, to silence my mind and heart. Focusing on that image helped me to forget all my other thoughts and apprehensions. Needless to say, I did not think much of it until years later, when Julius and I were already living in the Cayman Islands. It was 2010 and we had a community retreat facilitated by one of the Living Hope founders who instructed us to “pray by memory.” As I spent time alone in my sacred space, my prayer brought back the image of the vision that I had already forgotten all these years. It was as clear as the day I first received it. I caught my breath, had goosebumps and felt that God delivered me a message at that brief moment. I realized that the vision was both a promise and a purpose—a promise to where He would bring me and my husband to start our own family, and a mission for us to establish our spiritual family in Cayman.

As I watch another beautiful Caribbean sunset, I remember that vision. I praise and thank the Lord for His promises are ever with me. God has taught me valuable life lessons throughout 11 years of life in community and 10 years of married life. By opening my eyes to a life in community, He showed me what I had been missing and eventually could not do without. By giving me my better half, Julius, He taught me that I will always have someone to share my faith journey with, especially when the road gets bumpy. By blessing us with 3 adorable children and an army of 4 angels in heaven, He allowed me to feel what unconditional love is. He has given me conviction to advocate for life and to be genuine first teachers to our children about God. In my inability to practice my original profession, God revealed to me my higher calling, and He proved that all things work for good for His purpose. By being a co-founder of the Cayman community only a year after Julius and I joined Living Hope Manila, God taught me that He indeed uses ordinary people to execute His extraordinary plans. Who would have thought that neophytes in community like us can take on such a daunting task? But truly, nothing is impossible with Him who is able to equip whom He calls!

By being part of the music ministry of the community, He has taught me what it truly means to worship with abandon. This is especially true during my most difficult worship experience. This was the time that I had to lead praise and worship on the very day that I found out that we lost our baby. By serving both my family and the community, He continues to show me that the most fulfilling things in life that give me profound happiness are devoid of glamour and prestige.

I thank God that the seed He planted in my heart more than eleven years ago has indeed grown. He continues to prune me and nourish me. Even through my weakness, He remains to be faithful. I am always overwhelmed when I reflect on His great love for me and my family. “For great is His steadfast love toward us; and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:2)

Posted in April 2016, TESTIMONY, TESTIMONY 2016 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charismatic Worship

by Ciel Tagaza

Hands down, the Mass is the highest form of worship. The faithful who goes to Mass keeps Jesus’ commandment to do this in remembrance of Him. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are essential to the Catholic life and are irreplaceable. Charismatic worship on the other hand, like the Holy Spirit that fuels it and blows where it wills, is fluid, uncontainable. When we allow the “current of grace” to rush through us, the Holy Spirit moves us and gives us the words and proddings in the presence of God. As we respond to His goodness and greatness, we may find ourselves worshiping unreservedly. Charismatic worship is a way for the faithful to fully express their praise and thanksgiving – heart, mind, body and soul. It is not only observing God’s commandment to worship Him, but also fully expressing the great joy of worshiping Him.

Now that we are in the Easter season, we communicate this profound joy. The risen Lord is truly present in the Eucharist and our faith is further enlivened in charismatic worship. As Catholics, we are so blessed to have both forms of worship – liturgical and charismatic. Charismatic Masses are being celebrated nowadays. Just like the river is linked to the sea and  of the same basic element, the Charismatic Movement is united with the Mother Church, not separate from it. They are of the same Spirit. As one Jesuit brother said, we don’t have to give up the Eucharist to enjoy charismatic praise and worship. The Charismatic Renewal is very much alive in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Pope Francis himself even invites Charismatic Catholics from all over the world to the Vatican on Pentecost in 2017 for the fiftieth anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, that we may worship, praise, give thanks and celebrate as one community, one Church.

“And then, if the Lord gives us life, I expect you all together at the meeting of the ICCRS and of the Catholic Fraternity, which are already organizing it, all of you and all those who wish to come at Pentecost in 2017 — it is not so far off! — here in St Peter’s Square to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of this current of grace — an opportunity for the Church, as Blessed Paul VI said in St Peter’s Basilica in 1975. We will gather to give thanks to the Holy Spirit for the gift of this current of grace, which is for the Church and for the world, and to celebrate the wonders that the Holy Spirit has worked in the course of these 50 years, changing the life of millions of Christians.”

ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
TO THE RENEWAL IN THE HOLY SPIRIT MOVEMENT
Saint Peter’s Square
3 July 2015

 

Posted in April 2016, RESOURCE | Leave a comment

The Perfect Fit

liaLia Vergel De Dios

I have a thing about sticking with what’s comfortable, with what’s familiar. I have a circle of friends (quite a large circle!) with whom I spend most of my time. I like doing things with my family as well. Anything else that doesn’t include my family and friends, I only bother with if I feel a strong connection to it, if I feel it is for me, if it fits in with my personality.

I was in my last year in high school when a couple of my friends invited me to join them on a retreat. For the first time, I felt my eyes were opened to God’s unconditional, overwhelming love. Though I met a lot of new friends there, I never really became active in that community. Perhaps I needed to give myself time to decide whether this was for me or not. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to know Him more, and so that very same summer, I joined another community for the youth; this time, a charismatic one.

Encountering charismatic worship for the very first time, I felt like a fish out of water at first. But slowly, I found a certain freedom in just letting go, and telling God how marvelous and awesome He is. So this was what it was like to talk to God, this was how to pray! I spent some time with that community and another one while I was in college—there was a certain high in serving Him, too. But I remember looking at the families that served together at those youth camps and retreats, and somehow wishing my family was there with me, serving and worshiping alongside me. Sometimes, I would just wish to have someone, anyone, to go with me during Sunday masses. Was life in community for me, could I find my place, did I fit in? At that time, especially with no family or close friends to join me, I never really thought so, and so I eventually left.

After college, I found myself diving head first into the maddening reality of the corporate world. I was introduced to vices and a lot of gray areas, which were okay because everyone else was doing it. Because of this loosening of what was right and wrong, I entered into a relationship with someone who spelled bad news from the very beginning. It was a hurtful, exhausting, demoralizing relationship to be in and yet, I cannot explain my actions to this day, I couldn’t get out of it, no matter how many times I tried. I wasn’t strong enough. It was only then, at my lowest, that I remembered the God I used to pray to, who was mighty and powerful and who loved me more than anything. And so I prayed to be saved, for a way out of this relationship. And through what should have been a disastrous experience—me receiving a harassing phone call (just a glimpse of how tangled this relationship had gotten)—the Lord did provide a way out through my father who intervened by making the decision I was too weak to make on my own—to leave the company I was working for where we met) and to leave the relationship once and for all.

Leaving my corporate job, I was suddenly faced with the dilemma of what to do. With more time to reflect and think things over, I decided to do volunteer work with one of my friends. There I met someone who inspired me with his passion for serving, as well as his passion for God (and who later would become my husband). I was later on invited to another retreat (the RTD), and here I was again reunited with the God I had met years before in my youth—His mercy and healing meeting me where I was, and inviting me to a new life with Him.

This year marks my 10th year with Living Hope. This life in community, which I could never have imagined before, has proven to be the most meaningful and fruitful years of my life. This community has witnessed the beginning and development of our love story: from courtship to marriage and in the last few years, the additional three little bundles of joy who complete our family.

I don’t think I can explain why I’ve been able to stick with this community and not the earlier ones. Perhaps it was because I had a handful of my closest friends already there ahead of me. Maybe it was because I am here with my husband (someone who not only goes toSunday mass with me, but also serves with me in community). But I believe it was just God’s perfect timing—a time when my heart had already tried searching for something that would fill this special emptiness inside, and found that He is the only piece that fits perfectly. Yes, this HE, is for me. As I am for Him.

Posted in March 2016, TESTIMONY, TESTIMONY 2016 | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Celebrating Lent

by Ciel Tagaza

We recently celebrated the fourth Sunday of Lent when the Church takes a breather from its penitential stance – the altar is adorned with flowers, the choir sings more fully and the priest wears pink vestments. Called Laetare Sunday, from the latin word for rejoice, on this particular Sunday, the faithful is called to be joyful. The Mass opens with the Entrance Antiphon lifted from Isaiah 66:10-11, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.”

So, one might ask if it’s okay to rejoice and break the fast in the middle of the season that calls for prayer, almsiving and fasting. Of course it is! The cause for our joy is the anticipation of Easter. We are halfway through the season of Lent. Laetare Sunday gives us hope and encourages us in our penance and preparation for Easter, just as Gaudete Sunday during Advent encourages us in our waiting and preparation for Christmas. Besides, in the beginning of the Lenten season, we are reminded of Jesus’ instructions to His followers to not put on gloomy faces when fasting. We can have joy even in giving up something we hold dear when we focus on the heavenly reward which is infinitely more valuable than whatever we sacrifice. That is why there is always reason to praise God.

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭16-18‬ NABRE)

It is also a reminder for us to not just observe Lenten practices, but to celebrate the heart of Lent – God’s Love in the form of Mercy. There is mercy for all, we just need to repent and return to God, just as the prodigal son in Laetare Sunday’s gospel repented and returned to his father (Luke 15:1-3,11-32). We celebrate because we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, knowing we will receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16).

If the repentance of one sinner causes heaven to rejoice (Luke 15:7), then we as the Body of Christ are enjoined in the celebration. We may be like the younger son, wasteful and abusive of the Father’s love, in need of repentance, or we may be like the elder son, refusing to take part in the celebration and share in the Father’s joy. Though the elder son did not take his father’s inheritance, he did take his father’s presence and love for granted.

Let us not take our God and His love and mercy for granted. Let us return to Him with all our heart. Let us share in the joy of the Lord by worshiping Him with abandon and expressing our praise and thanksgiving.

Posted in March 2016, RESOURCE | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TEMPTATION 101

Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death. (JAMES 1:14-15)

 

Imagine Eve walking in the Garden of Eden one bright, sunny morning.

As she looks around, her eyes rest on one particular tree. The voice of Adam echoes in her mind. “God says we can eat the fruit of any of the trees, except that one.”

Instantly, she hears another voice. “Did God really say that?”

The very short exchange that follows weakens her resolve by the second. She doesn’t even realize her gaze is firmly fixed on the tree.

She reconsiders her options.

The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was enticing for the wisdom that it could give… (GENESIS 3:6a)

You know what’s about to happen next, right?

But before we talk about that, let’s first explore this powerful insight from St. James on how temptation works in our lives.

Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire.

My siblings and I once ate in what’s called a revolving sushi restaurant. We were seated at an oval shaped bar, with a conveyor belt right in front of us. Different types of sushi served in small portions were placed on this conveyor belt and paraded before us. All we had to do was grab whatever looked appetizing for each of us, eat it, put the empty plate on one side, and then grab the next plate that appealed to us.

As plates piled up on our table, so did our bill.

Temptations are like those sushi on a conveyor belt for two reasons.

FIRST, they offer something for everyone. Temptations are custom-built to make sin appealing to you.

What tempts you may not tempt me at all. We can be looking at the same thing, like an opportunity to make quick money through shady means, but our responses can be different.

The temptations that catch our attention and struggle with are only those that offer what we want. So the source of temptation lies within us. There has to be something inside us already to make the tempter’s plan effective.

According to St. James, we are attracted to a particular sin because of our own wrong desires.

So what is it you want? Physical intimacy without commitment? Religion without sacrifice? Wealth without work? Maximum reward for minimum effort? More of what you already have enough of? The admiration of people?

The tempter offers various ways to fulfill your wrong desire.

SECOND, temptations are usually served in small portions. And then builds from there.

Maybe I’m ignorant, but I don’t think anyone will be tempted to steal a million pesos out of the blue. It starts with a few pesos here and there. Or that anyone will be tempted to commit outright adultery in one single instance. It starts with a few “harmless” glances and conversations. Or that anyone will suddenly be tempted to murder another person. It starts with hatred, resentment and character assassination.

C.S. Lewis expressed it best when he said, “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (The Screwtape Letters)

Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin.

Temptation is the bait to make you sin. But it is not sin yet.

Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden where we left Eve intently and intensely looking at that tree, seriously considering her options.

As I’ve said, you know what’s about to happen next, right? You’re familiar with the story. You’ve heard the story. You’ve read the story.

More importantly, you’ve lived it.

You know how it feels like to be in the middle of a tug-of-war between a force pushing you to just do it and an equal force pulling you back.

You know right from wrong. Yet there’s that voice convincing you that right and wrong are relative words, making you question the line between the two. And another voice urging you to just walk away.

Remember Tiger Woods’ on-camera apology for his much publicized multiple infidelities? His confession gives us a glimpse of what goes on inside our heads when we’re right smack in the middle of temptation. Here are some of the things he said (in italics):

I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself.

A voice convinces you: This will make you happy.

Another voice urges you: This will hurt your loved ones.

I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.

A voice convinces you: No one will ever know.

Another voice urges you: But God knows.

I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. 

A voice convinces you: You deserve to be happy.

Another voice urges you: You need to be more holy.

You know what?

There’s really only one ending to this struggle. You either come out of it victoriously or cross over that line that separates right from wrong, good from evil.

It’s a sink or swim kind of situation.

In the end, Eve chose to sink. So did Adam.

So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6b)

And when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death.

Giving in to temptation does not simply satisfy a craving; it actually strengthens it.

Think of it this way. Let’s say eating chocolate cake is bad for you because your blood sugar level is dangerously high. But in your fridge right now is a very moist cake called Death By Chocolate.

You know you want it.

But you also know you shouldn’t have it.

Don’t think for one moment that by giving in, you will eliminate the craving. On the contrary, what it will actually do is weaken your resolve to resist future temptations.

You’ve been there. You know what I’m talking about.

Giving in to temptation does not free you from the struggle; it binds you to it. Until eventually, without even realizing it, you no longer feel tempted. Not because you’ve finally overcome it but because you’ve already given up struggling with it. Sin by this time has become a normal way of life for you. And its consequences don’t really matter to you anymore.

You’ve successfully silenced that other voice.

 FIGHT OR FLIGHT?

The most common (and often fatal) mistake we commit when struggling with temptation is brilliantly illustrated in a comic strip wherein the main character, Cathy, is trying hard to diet. Her main weakness is candy. This is how the strip goes:

First frame: I’ll take a drive, but I won’t go near the grocery store.

Second frame: I’ll drive by, but I won’t go in.

Third frame: I’ll go into the grocery store but I won’t walk down the aisle where the Halloween candy is.

Fourth frame: I’ll look at the candy, but I won’t pick it up.

Fifth frame: I’ll pick it up, but I won’t buy it.

Sixth frame: I’ll buy it, but I won’t open it.

Seventh frame: Open it, but won’t smell it.

Eighth frame: Smell it, but won’t taste it.

Ninth frame: Taste it, but won’t eat it.

Tenth frame: Eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat.

Can you relate?

So if you are right smack in the middle of a different garden at the moment, your attention drawn to one forbidden tree, please heed this advice: Do not give the devil a chance to work on you. (Ephesians 4:27)

Never underestimate any tempting situation.  Instead, underestimate your ability to deal with the situation.

Don’t stay to fight another day. Don’t even think about it. Just run away. Run the opposite way.

And stay away.

Know that when it comes to temptation, the best resistance is avoidance.

 

Posted in Word, WORD 2016 | Leave a comment

Worship as Sacrifice

Ciel Tagaza

As we begin the Lenten season, we are called to penance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sacrifice is highlighted. You know how we associate sacrifice with giving up something? More than give up little indulgences (like eating sweets, watching television etc.), we are actually called to give up what leads us to sin so we may draw close to God.

While sacrifice is ‘giving up’, part of spiritual discipline, for Catholics, it is also ‘offering’, part of the highest form of worship – the Eucharist. To us, the Eucharist is not just any gathering, a meal we partake of. It is Real Presence, Jesus’ Body and Blood by which we are nourished and united with Him. But the Eucharist as Holy Sacrifice may have escaped our notice. Such sacrifice has something to do with expiation of sins and traces its roots to the Old Testament.

Old Covenant Worship

If we look at the ancient Israelite’s worship rituals, animal sacrifices abounded. For instance, the Day of Atonement. It was the only time of the year the High Priest could enter the most sacred Holy of Holies. The priest would gather the Israelite community and slaughter an unblemished bull and goat as atonement for his sins and the assembly’s, respectively, before he could enter and draw near God’s presence.  The priest would sprinkle the animals’ blood on the Ark of the Covenant, the sanctuary, the altar – to purge the place of worship of sin. God’s people looked at the sacrificed animals as their substitutes that bore their guilt and the punishment due to them for without shedding of blood there could be no pardon of sins; and without pardon, there could be no communion with God.

New Covenant Worship

In the New Covenant, Jesus is the High Priest and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who suffered and died in our place, whose Blood poured out for many.

But when Christ came as High Priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own Blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14 NABRE)

Because we live in a fallen world where there is sin, we cannot worship and draw near to God without sacrifice. Jesus established the Holy Eucharist for us to do in memory of Him because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church’s offering…it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

 

 

Posted in February 2015, RESOURCE | Leave a comment