Wednesday, December 30, 2009

As the New Year Turns the Corner...

2010 looks ahead, like some train with coaches of prosperity and woe, delight and rue, promising and threatening. In my unguarded moments, that is how I am tempted to think of it. I'm sure others think of the coming year that same way.

But 2010 is a script to be written -- and only when the whole "play" is done and it too must do its exit. 2010 is what we make out of it within the circumstances that allow us to make a year. I do not subscribe to the popular belief that each can become what he wishes to be. After Foucault, we must be a little more circumspect.

It is not a blank page, because narrativity never takes off from a totally blank slate. My narrative has its context in the narrative of my family, my Tuguegarao community, and other interlocking circles of relations. "Promise" in reference to 2010 does not point to some hidden bag in which there might be pleasant surprises for me. "Promise" is the promise of possibility -- what I can make out of 2010, responding to the summons of the Spirit.

It has remained with me ever since I read the line in one book on fundamental theology that for Christianity, one key locus of revelation is human history itself. History is revelatory; the story of my life is revelatory, and if revelation is salvific, so then is history, with a power it cannot give itself. Salvation is not homogeneous to history. It always comes as 'gift'. My "thrownness" into 2010 is, in faith, the gift that a New Year is, and it is not principally the gift of a succession of days, but the promise of what I can bring to fruition about myself, ever encountering the Other.

Very recently, I discovered that some years ago, I was being considered by some bishops as Executive Secretary of the CBCP and then later on, as secretary to the Apostolic Nuncio. In both instances, I am told on good authority, he who, by every pastoral precept, should have put in a good word for me, blocked my elevation to these offices. During my first term as Vice-President for Academic Affairs of the Cagayan State University, he asked the University President not to appoint me. I was appointed, nevertheless. And even now, if he had a way, he would not want me as Vice-President of the Cagayan State University.

He knows that I am can rise to the challenges of office -- and so what is it that makes him take this posture towards me? I have not been the model of obedience, because his understanding of obedience is something I do not share. I cannot subscribe to his identifying the Church with his person. "When you obey me, you obey the Church". That, to me, borders on schism and heresy.

But my affection for him runs deep, thanks in large measure to my father who holds him in esteem. I also do, but I also hurt. I have risen to high office in civil life: Head of the Academic Affairs Office of the Philippine Judicial Academy of the Supreme Court, Vice-Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Santo Tomas, Dean of the Graduate School of Law of San Beda College, one of only two Filipino members of the International Criminal Bar, Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Louvain, summer student at Cambridge -- I know what I am worth, and I will not put on "airs" of humility by being coy about this. Since I was needed under the present regime of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao, I have endeavored to serve, as well as to find self-fulfillment where my capabilities were appreciated.

Should all this be remembered at the turn of the year? But of course, because they tell me how I must write, that the plot of my life has been convoluted, and many times, not of my own doing. And knowing that, I rejoice in the promise of 2010 and what I can do with it to write a chapter of my life in hues freed of bitterness (without being hypocritically oblivious) but seizing on the opportunities that present themselves. All the same I must struggle each day, in the exercise of the different responsibilities entrusted to me, to breathe the prayer: "I come to do your will".

Saturday, December 26, 2009

St. Stephen's Martyrdom

December 26

This was a very happy Christmas for me. There is no price tag on the family coming together -- my father, my mother, my brother and his kids -- Kin, Bang and Kong -- and my sister celebrating together. This was a time of gift-giving, but I received very much more than I gave. We came from our annual pilgrimage today to the Shrine of Our Lady of Piat, and it gave me so much joy to celebrate the Eucharist for them -- and of course, for all else who were present, my friend Al, among them -- to entrust our intentions to the prayers of the Blessed Mother and then to sit down for a very pleasant lunch.

We are all very strong personalities, and sometimes we rub each other the wrong way. But one of the blessings of Christmas is the love that envelopes the world and our homes, and makes us realize that our misunderstandings are petty compared to everything that binds.

Is it not just awkward talking about death (and death by stoning at that!) a day after Christmas? I think it checks our propensity to sentimentalize Christmas. This is not some sweet remembrance of an event long past, but a constant summons to make the world a kinder, more compassionate world. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the heavens were opened as a heavenly choir sang of the Messiah's birth. Stephen tells us in today's readings that the heavens were opened to, as the Lord welcomed him.

That is the reason we celebrate Stephen's martyrdom a day after we joyfully celebrate Jesus' birth. First, this is not some cute child we are dealing with, but one who makes demands on us; but he is one who will open heaven's door to welcome us if we live with the same selflessness as he lived, commencing his life in a place he could not even call his home.

Watching the telecast of the Pope's Midnight Mass, I heard the news of Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx's death. I have this great Dominican's book -- Christ, The Experience of Jesus as Lord -- on my table at present, and am making my way through its ponderousness, savoring every page. That's one more great mind lost to the ages --- but not really lost, for a great mind always leaves its indellible imprint on the world.

Schillebeeckx had the faith to labor through different paradigms to understand the mysteries central to our faith; he had the courage to write, even when he was held in suspicion by those who thought they were guardians of orthodoxy. My great fear is that we lack intrepid thinkers in the Philippine Church today. I am thoroughly dismayed at the lack of interest I find in many of my brother-priests for academic pursuits. In fact, when I shared them all, through a broadcast text message, a theological thought for the Midnight Mass homily, one denigratingly asked me how to say it in Ilocano. Really dumb, I think! We, priests, theologize. We do not translate theology books into Tagalog, or Ilocano or Ibanag for our congregations. We reflect, and then preach the fruits of our reflection. If there is anything that disgusts me most, it is the hubris of downplaying thought and thoughtfulness. "Hubris" is in fact too lofty a term; it is downright stupidity!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Incarnation -- The Soul of Christmas!

"Incarnation" is a tricky concept. On the one hand it comes very dangerously close to the myths of various religions of gods masquerading as humans. The story of the Virgin birth makes a powerful hermeneutical point, but it is more helpful to think of Jesus as the man who in his self-constitution made the Divine Logos so part of himself that he was indeed its incarnation. Put that way, each of us is an incarnation of God -- and that is not by itself an argument against the incarnation. But that does not exclude the uniqueness of Jesus' response and his paradigmatic status for all of us, for all our responses are always tainted by that selfishness and self-seeking that make goodness so fragile in all of us. Because Jesus so perfectly responded to the Divine Logos, he gives us a glimpse of God: the element of tenderness that continually summons our universe to heights of benevolence, charity, intelligence and beauty. There is something at work in our world that lures us to these heights. That is the worshipful element -- the Divine -- in our world, and Jesus gives us a glimpse of that. Christmas is always an offer -- the offer for us in our lives to respond as Jesus responded, by including him in our self-constitution, our self-definition. And what enthralls me most about Christmas is that it is the season of tenderness. There is a point to the creche: the animals, the hay, the angels, the humble shepherds, even to Santa's reindeer. All that utters one word: tenderness. And Christmas is about the immense power that there is in tenderness. A blessed Christmas to all, and the promise of a God-filled, God-touched New Year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Dad, Justice Hilarion L. Aquino, was appointed the first Chairman of the Legal Education Board. It is the body that supervises all law schools in the Philippines. He and mommy are at Malacanan here.
I can't thank God enough for the parents I have had. They are not perfect -- and that's a self-evident proposition -- but they're great!

Once Upon a Christmas Night!

For the past five years, the choir that I direct has presented a Christmas Concert -- and we have always dubbed it "Seek Him In Song". The tradition of psalm and canticle, and the story of the heavenly choir that proclaimed Jesus' birth has convinced me that He will be found also in song. I take great joy and pleasure in my choir: I have brought together adults -- and professionals to boot -- and youth and have blended their voices but above all their sentiments as well. This for me is not only choral work; it is above all priestly work.

We had two concerts: December 15 and December 16. It warms my heart to acknowledge that many wonderful people made it possible: the members of the choir who dutifully practiced, Sr. Corazon Querubin, SPC, who came all the way from her post at SPUQC to play the piano for us, and the UST Wind Ensemble, with my friends Dr. Hermie Ranera and Micky Jacinto.

A music critic will always have much to pick about the performance, the artistry, etc. Much work needs to be done, but this does not in any way attenuate all that has already been done.

We then got together for a Christmas Party at Genaro's. It was a wonderful affair, and everyone was all laughter and goodwill. The irrepressible Queenie Wutrich took charge of games in her own unique style.

A Merry Christmas and the Blessings of God's New Year to all!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I read a paper at a UNESCO Conference on the World Day of Philosophy at the Ateneo.
Leo Garcia read a paper too. So did the inimitable Jose David Lapuz
who was so peeved that he was asked to read his paper ahead of me,
as I had not yet arrived from the province. Anyway, a fruitful
exchange with fellow readers of philosophy followed!
When you get a Gospel like that we had today about sun and moon no longer shining and the stars falling from the heavens then you know that what has been written on has very little to do with "when". The end is not the conclusion of one chapter, that allows us to anticipate succeeding chapters. It is the absolute end -- that responds to the question: What has it been all about. That Jesus makes clear that when it is to happen is known neither to angels, nor to him but only to the Father is his way of saying that pursuing that query is idle. What counts is that there is a plan.

Eschatologies engage, because we all have a sense of our fragility. That partly explains why most of the time we think of catastrophic and cataclysmic ends -- like 2012 that I still have to watch! We know, for all the pomp and glitter with which we make pretensions at greatness, that our grip on meaning is tenuous.

The coming of the Son of Man in glory is the promise of meaning, eternal validity, vindication. We will be gathered -- not scattered, for annihilation and meaninglessness are really scattering!

It would do us well to think more often of the absolute end as far as we are able to, especially because we are so often taken up in the petty ends we set for ourselves (sometimes great ends too!) and think the world of them. It is good to be reminded that the world is to be shaken up so that we can start thinking beyond thought (for thought has become captive of what we can colonize.)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I am a Catholic priest, and that, for me, is the greatest thing about my life. I do not however allow my life and ministry as a priest to be defined by traditional models. I am sincerely convinced that my pastoral ministry consists in teaching, in writing, and in administering education. I know that many will not agree with this, but that hardly bothers me. It has become a challenge for me to qualify all that I do as a professor and as a university person by my priesthood -- to find in working for God's Kingdom the noblest reason for teaching such mundane subjects as Corporate Law or Philosophy of Language.

Although I never attended conservatory, I have had formal piano lessons and music tutelage with really good musicians, and this has yet been one more aspect of my ministry. I find tremendous fulfillment leading my choir that brings together professionals and students, and in making them share the fulfillment of spirit that comes to all on wings of song!

This is where you will find the thoughts I wish to share, the memories I hope you will cherish with me, and the wishes I have the courage to express.