On Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

ntwright

“The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”

 

April 15, 2017. Eve of the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.

In preparation for this year’s celebration of the greatest of days, I read Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008), by N.T. Wright, whose The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is I read for Resurrection Sunday 2015.

The book can be viewed as having two main points.

First: The historical and bodily resurrection of Jesus points not only toward life after death (in heaven) but, more importantly, toward the “life after life after death” (148), i.e., in the “final coming together of [the new] heaven and [new] earth, [which] is God’s supreme act of new creation” (208).

Second: We who are created in the image of God, and who have been redeemed from death through the atoning death of Jesus, are led and empowered by the Spirit to reflect (94) the Resurrected Lord to all of God’s creation here and now, on this earth, as well as in the new one. “The intermediate stage between the resurrection of Jesus and the renewal of the whole world is the renewal of human beings – you and me! – in our own lives of obedience here and now.” (249)

Before, between, and after his painstaking exposition of the above points, Wright does his best to expose the errors in the popular worldviews of materialism and Gnosticism and their modern/postmodern variants, and in popular beliefs about death, life after death, the second coming, and the role of Christians in this present world.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

Now to quote some of Tom’s sentences that either caused me to pause, to smile, or to weep:

On salvation:

“The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” (200)

On life after death:

“Life after death, it seems, can be a serious distraction not only from the ultimate life after life after death, but also from life before death.” (198)

On reflecting God:

“One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around.” (182)

So in worship we reflect the Triune God back to the Triune God, and at work and in ministry we reflect the Triune God to the world. Wow!

On kingdom work:

“[B]uild for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are— strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.” (208)

Wow! In relation to the above, I can’t wait to read and maybe blog about Chris Travis’ inSignficant: Why You Matter in the Surprising Way God is Changing the World.

Still on kingdom work:

“We must therefore avoid the arrogance or triumphalism of the first view, imagining that we can build the kingdom by our own efforts without the need for a further great divine act of new creation. But we must agree with the first view that doing justice in the world is part of the Christian task, and we must therefore reject the defeatism of the second view, which says there’s no point in even trying.” (216)

And still on kingdom work:

“As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt… Sex matters enormously, but global justice matters far, far more. The present system of global debt is the real immoral scandal, the dirty little secret – or rather the dirty enormous secret – of glitzy, glossy Western capitalism.” (216)

And finally, on Easter:

“If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving.” (257)

Now, what new, wholesome, fruitful, outgoing and self-giving task or venture shall you and I take up in the next forty days? 🙂

Happy Feast of the Resurrection!

P.S. Thanks to Raam Dev for the new, cool Independent Publisher theme. And also to the Automatticians for Twenty Ten, my blog’s first theme.

P.S. 2  As in previous Resurrection Sundays (see e.g., 2016, 20152014, 2013), there were birds singing just outside or dogs barking happily at a distance. And this time, I also saw a rainbow. God is good.

 

My Four Happiest Happenings in 2016

It was six years ago when I began reflecting annually on my “happiest happenings” for a particular year (see 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010). My four happiest happenings in 2016 are (not in any order):

1. Driving and living in Nuvali

View of the sky from car's passenger seat, along Nuvali Blvd
View of the sky from my car, along Nuvali Blvd

I’ve always shunned buying a car, which depreciates the moment it is taken out of the casa, so I’ve always tried to live within walking distance from my place of work or study. But living in Nuvali necessitates owning one because no public utility vehicle drivers may ply their trade in here.

Enjoying the view of Taal after enjoying a breakfast buffet with the family
Enjoying the view of the Taal volcano and lake after enjoying breakfast buffet with the family

I never expected to enjoy driving, but I do, though only in Nuvali and its surroundings, what with the beautiful scenery. I also enjoy driving to Tagaytay, though only in the morning, when there is no traffic.

Of course I don’t only enjoy driving in Nuvali but also living in it. I love the tranquility, the fresh(er) air, and the Solenad malls that are on the way home from work. 🙂

2. Borobudur

On top of Borobudur soon after sunrise
On top of Borobudur soon after sunrise

When I was a kid, I had a stereoscopic toy that showed beautiful scenes of various Wonders of the World, and the 3D photograph of Borobudur was one of those that I enjoyed looking at. I was therefore quite happy to visit it after a finishing a task in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I went there at sunrise (as FB’s Mark Zuckerberg once did).

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and Indonesia’s “single most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia” (Wikipedia). Built in the 8th century at the center of Central Java and designed as a step pyramid, Borobudur’s pilgrims would walk up and around nine terraces, whose walls are filled more than 2700 exquisite bas-relief panels, until one reaches the top, which represents Nirvana.

3. K3J

K3J's Anniversary Theme: God Is Able
K3J’s Anniversary Theme: God Is Able

On December 18, 2016, the youth group at church was rechristened K3J (Kabataang Kay Kristo Jesus) and celebrated its first year since its revival. Unlike when I first handled the youth at church in the early 2000s, when most of the members of the group were in college and were children of church members, most of the members of the youth group now, i.e., of K3J, are high school kids and have unbelieving parents. May the light of Jesus (John 1:4-5)  shine in the lives of these kids and their families!

4. Ministry at home

I love it that my house has been used to minister to or mentor various persons and groups this year. There’s my Saddleback Small Group, which began meeting weekly on April 14. Since then we have studied Rick Warren’s The Invisible War and Miracle of Mercy, among others. Then there’s my best friend’s son, Joel, who did a 3-day retreat at my house last September; and K3J’s leaders, who did a 3-day retreat here on January 1-3. There’s also my PhDCS and MSCS thesis advisees, Tessie, Ian, and Regan, who came at least twice to the house. Finally, there are also my family and friends who came in December.

Dad, Mom, and Pen with Tita Aida and Sachi
With Dad, Mom, Tita Aida and Sachi
With inaanak sa kasal, Tessie and Philip
With inaanak sa kasal, Tessie and Philip
Dad, Mom, and Pen with Kuya Mark, Weng, and kids
With Dad, Mom, Pen, Kuya Mark, Weng, and kids
With Carlo after installing paintings
With best friend Carlo after installing paintings
With Lizette and kids
With best friend Lizette and kids
With Justin and Em
With FORMDEV alumni, Justin and Em, who will soon wed
With TLS Youth (K3J) Leaders
With TLS Youth (K3J) Leaders — Jomel, Georgia, Buboy, Tian2 and Jessa — on a 3-day retreat here at the house

I thank God for all the blessings throughout 2016. May 2017 be a year of even more hearing and doing of God’s word (Matthew 11:28).

Blessed New Year, everyone!

Remaining in Jesus’ Love

Resurrection Sunday, 2016. I was supposed to travel to Jakarta this morning, but due to a passport issue, that did not push through.

(As you read the rest of this post, if you’d like to listen to The Katinas‘ “Mighty River”, just click the Play button below. To stop it, just click the Pause button.)

 

View of the sky at dawn from one of the east windows of my Nuvali house.
View of the sky at dawn from one of the east windows of my new house.

RESURRECTION SUNDAY, the greatest of feasts!

How deeply glad I am to have been able, by God’s grace, to start this day reading God’s Word. The church youth and I are reading through the New Testament, one chapter a day, and today’s chapter is the 15th of John. What struck me is the 10th verse, which says that, among others, if I obey the Lord Jesus’ commands, I will remain in his love. At first, the verse seemed to say that God’s love is conditioned on my obedience:  the more/less I obey, the more/less God loves me, which I knew in my heart not to be true. Soon, however, the Lord reminded me that his love is like a mighty “river of living water” (cf. Revelation 12:1-2) – always flowing, always giving life, abundant life and that it is truly I who leaves the river instead of remaining in it! God, Who is Love (1 John 4:16), truly is wonderful! What’s more, John 15:7 guarantees that as I remain in the river (or on its banks, like a tree), the more fruit I will bear, for the glory of God!

TSW - Newsletter - Vol 4 Iss 2-3 My TestimonyAfter reading God’s Word and eating a delightful breakfast of bread and fruit, I celebrated the resurrection of the Lord with the brothers and sisters at Saddleback South Manila, which is inside the community I live in – Nuvali. As soon as I got back home, I searched my archives for the testimony I wrote for my local church’s newsletter about my Saddleback experience 13 years ago. Here it is:

TSW – Newsletter – Vol 4 Iss 2-3 My Testimony

Isn’t it amazing how, thirteen years ago, I “chanced upon” Saddleback Lake Forest, California, and now, thirteen years later, Saddleback South Manila and I decide to live in the same community?

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

P.S.

As in previous Resurrection Sundays (see e.g., 2014, 2013), there were birds singing just outside, and dogs barking in the distance. Thank God for all things, big and small! 🙂

P.S. 2

I actually read a couple of books during the Lenten triduum (Stephen Smith’s The Jesus Life and David Platt’s Follow Me), and planned to blog about them, but instead, here I am blogging about God’s mighty river of love and about my Saddleback experiences while listening repeatedly to Mighty River. 🙂

P.S. 3

I’ve been wanting for a very long time to have a regular Christian activity at home, and on April 14, nineteen days after Easter and a hundred and thirty-five days after moving to my new house, I’d begin hosting a Saddleback Small Group at home! How did this happen? To make the long story short, on the Feast of the Resurrection I simply shared with Pastor Narry Santos my experiences at Saddleback Lake Forest and expressed my desire to be of help to Saddleback South Manila, and then he asked me if I wanted to host a Saddleback Small Group at home, and without hesitation I said, “Yes!” God is good!

 

My Five Happiest Happenings in 2015

I normally post my happiest happenings of a (solar) year on its last day, or on the first day of the New Year (2014, 2012, 2011, 2010). However, December 2015 and January 2016 were über-hectic because of my relocation, so  I’m posting this on the first day of the new lunar (actually Chinese lunisolar) year instead. My five happiest happenings in 2015, in chronological order:

1. Ninong at Four Weddings

Three FORMDEV faci  alumni got married last year – Nikko (FORMDEV Batch 8) and Chry (Batch 11) on June 28, Adz (Batch 5) and Ibe on Aug 28, and Danon (Batch 6) and Treena on December 6 –  as well as one of my PhD mentees, Tessie, and former CCS faculty member, Philip, on June 27, and I was honored to be asked to be one of their ninongs. I do my best to pray daily for them, that their marriages would grow stronger each year and last until the end of their long, God-blessed lives!

Ninong of Nikko and Chry
Ninong of Nikko and Chry
Ninong of Adz and Ibe
Ninong of Adz and Ibe
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Ninong of Danon and Treena
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Ninong of Tessie and Philip

2. A Month in Italy

18As I wrote in God’s Canvas, I love travelling in Italy, enjoying its food, language, and art. The things I especially loved during last year’s month-long trip were: the presence of Jesus in the daily Eucharist; interacting with Lasallian experts and researchers such as Br. Alain Houry and Br. Diego Munoz; attending a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic at St. Paul’s; witnessing the canonization of the parents of my favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux, at St. Peter’s; a half day at the Sistine Chapel;  a full day in Pompeii (at the ruins) and Naples (where pizza was said to have been invented); and a weekend in Milan, my favorite city, where I attended mass at my favorite Gothic cathedral, toured the 2015 EXPO, partied with overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and bought what has become my favorite pair of shoes of all time, a pair of brown leather Nero Giardini trainers!

Mass at St. Peter's
Mass at St. Peter’s
With Br. Diego and Murphy at a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic at St. Paul's
With Br. Diego and Murphy at a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic at St. Paul’s
Pompeii and Vesuvius
Pompeii and Vesuvius
At the EXPO 2015 in Milan with Neil, Sue, and Gil
At the EXPO 2015 in Milan with Neil, Sue, and Gil
Halloween Party with Charito Borras and Milan OFWs
Halloween Party with Charito Borras and Milan OFWs
My favorite pair of shoes -- Nero Giardini leather trainers
My favorite pair of shoes — Nero Giardini leather trainers

3. Receiving and Driving a Car

20151202_124658I’ve always thought that buying a car was a waste of money since it depreciates as soon as it is taken out of the casa. But when the Lord gave me in cash (Amazing! Thank you Lord!) exactly the amount of the best Toyota deal I got, how could I say no? I also never thought I’d like driving, but I do – though only when driving at high speed and listening at the same time to good retro music :-).

4. Living in Nuvali

A Strategic Architecture for DLSU STCThree years ago, after writing a 124-page strategic plan for what would become the De La Salle University – Science and Technology Complex (DLSU-STC), I was so convinced of the potential of the said campus to be the premiere Catholic S&T campus in the country and Asia, that I bought a house and lot in Nuvali, only 10 kilometers or 15 minutes, away, though I didn’t get to live in it until last December (long story). I love it here – the open spaces, the cool air, the gentle rain, and waking up to a couple of birds singing (not a cacophony). And I’m very glad that as early as my first month here, the house has been used by the Lord to minister God’s word and encouragement to several groups of people already (see photos below), all of whom the Lord is using or will soon use mightily in his Kingdom.

Something Old and Something New (The carpet's from my first condo; the painting, from my second; the sofa set and blinds are new.)
Something old and something new (The carpet’s from my first condo; the painting, from my second; the sofa set and blinds are new.)
With Dad, Mom, Penan, Ptr Jun, Sis Janet, and K2
With Dad, Mom, Penan, Pastor Jun, Sis Janet, and K2
With current and potential youth leaders
With current and potential youth leaders
With Pastor Arnold and family
With Pastor Arnold and family
With Lizette and Josh
With Lizette and Josh
With Gwen, Divine, Yet, Bing, and Mina
With Gwen, Divine, Yet, Bing, and Mina

5. Floodway 3000 (F3K)

Spiritual Fruit, Gifts, and Disciplines FrameworkI was tasked to lead a church project nicknamed F3K, short for Floodway 3000, the goal of which was to bring to Christ 3000 unchurched men and women living in an urban poor mega-community. To equip our local church to do this, I developed a framework that treats evangelism and discipling as spiritual disciplines in the same way that reading God’s word daily or praying daily are, and presents all these disciplines as simple three- or four-step processes. After an evangelistic Christmas concert last December, four unchurched teenagers started attending the youth fellowship in the afternoon, which I was called to revive just a month ago. Though few, these four  are very precious, for they are the first fruits of our labor, a promise of more to come!

Singing "For All You've Done"
At the Christmas concert, singing “For All You’ve Done”
1079095_1791258481101337_2555120110131310038_o
Telling of God’s everlasting love and wonderful plan for every person

 

I thank the Lord for all these undeserved blessings. Truly, our God is able (and willing!) to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)!

On The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is

April 4, 2015. Eve of the Feast of the Resurrection.

COJI stumbled upon this book last Christmas. It was on sale yet gathering dust at a typical Christian bookstore, where the books that sell are devotionals and those that could be read as devotionals. Since I love books about Jesus, I grabbed it.

RSGThe author is N. T. Wright, former Anglican Bishop of Durham, whom Newsweek has called “the world’s leading New Testament scholar,” at least according to the Harper Collins blurb. More important for me than Newsweek’s pronouncement, though, is that it turns out that Timothy Keller, one of my favorite authors, praised Tom Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003, 813pp), which is Volume 3 of his magisterial series, Christian Origins and the Question of God (COQG).

NTPGAt only 204 pages, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (2000) can be viewed as Wright’s making more accessible to laymen like myself the first two volumes of his COQG series – The New Testament and the People of God (1992, 535pp) and Jesus and the Victory of God (1996, 741pp). In Challenge, he describes how a historical-critical reading of the Gospels reveals the following:

  • JVGTo Jesus, Israel was called as a nation to manifest the love of God to the world. It was to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • Unfortunately, Israel’s leaders have forgotten her calling, and so have forgotten the real reason for Israel’s continuing theological exile. As a result, their agendas with respect to pagan (Roman) rule – whether the revolutionary agenda of the Zealots and the Pharisees, the agenda of compromise of Herod, or the separatist agenda of the Qumran community – were all wrong.
  • In true prophetic fashion, Jesus then calls Israel to repent (of its wrong agendas) and to believe in Him, her Messiah-King, who will liberate her from the enemy, and in his way, the way of love, as explained in his sayings collected into what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. To do otherwise would result in judgment, i.e., the destruction of Israel, particularly the temple, its symbol of national security and pride.
  • Jesus also makes clear to his disciples at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:28) what action he will take to liberate Israel: his blood has to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins, which, for Wright, would also mean the end of Israel’s theological exile.
  • Finally, Jesus makes clear to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62) that he is the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14, and that he would soon be enthroned in heaven.
  • After this, as Israel’s Messiah-King, Jesus fights the enemy solo, and, in keeping with his own teachings, fights not using the weapons of this world but his own – love, expressed through his death on the cross.
  • Three days later, on the first day of the week, Jesus is vindicated through his resurrection. (I have blogged about the historicity of the resurrection elsewhere, so though Tom Wright allots a chapter to the subject in this book, and would eventually write the 813-page tome mentioned earlier on the subject, I won’t be discussing it here anymore.)

To his disciples, Jesus’ resurrection meant that all that he said – Israel’s calling to be light of the world, Jesus’ calling as Israel’s Messiah and Liberator, the coming of the Kingdom of God, the end of Israel’s exile – must be true! The first days of the Kingdom have come! And with them the promised blessings, not only for the Jewish believer, but for all the peoples on earth (Genesis 12:3) who believe in Jesus (Acts 13:31; Romans 10:9)! Hallelujah!

The question for us today is how are we to live out the meaning of the resurrection in this postmodern world? Wright suggests that we have to:

“learn that our task as Christians is to be in the front row of constructing the post-postmodern world. The individual existential angst of the sixties has become the corporate and cultural angst of the nineties… What is the Christian answer to it all?…What is missing from the postmodern equation is of course love.” (p.170)

I’ll end this post with this long quote:

“We worship other gods and start to reflect their likeness instead. We distort our vocation to stewardship into the will to power, treating God’s world as either a gold mine or an ashtray. And we distort our calling to beautiful, healing, creative many-sided human relationships into exploitation and abuse. Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud described a fallen world in which money, power, and sex have become the norm, displacing relationship, stewardship, and worship. Part of the point of postmodernity under the strange providence of God is to preach the Fall to arrogant modernity. What we are faced with in our culture is the post-Christian version of the doctrine of original sin: all human endeavor is radically flawed, and the journalists who take delight in pointing this out are simply telling over and over again the story of Genesis 3 as applied to today’s leaders, politicians, royalty, and rock stars. And our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce…<big snip here>forgiveness…for all who yearn for it, and judgment for all who insist on dehumanizing themselves and others by their continuing pride, injustice, and greed.”

Working out the practical implications of the resurrection in the postmodern and post-postmodern worlds is of course not something that can be done in one or two days, so… till next time! 🙂

Happy Resurrection Day!!!

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
    for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12-13)

Amen!!!

 

 

 

A Pastor’s Heart: Reflections on Pope Francis’ Open Mind, Faithful Heart

OMFHThis 2015, one of the things I hope to do is to write a short book reflection every month. And for my first this year, I have chosen Open Mind, Faithful Heart  of Pope Francis, who will be visiting the Philippines next week (January 15-19, 2015). The book is a compilation of his writings as archbishop of Buenos Aires. According to the foreword, “it is the last book written by [Jose Maria] Bergoglio as cardinal, and it is the one what he liked best of all” (p. xi).

(As you read this, you could play Amazed in the background. From Ross Parsley’s album I Am Free, the song is about how wide, how deep, how great God’s love is. Just click on the Play button below and enjoy.)

Pope Francis breaks protocol to spend precious 15 minutes with street children under the care of a Tulay ng Kabataan (Bridge of the Youth) center in Intramuros, right after celebrating mass at the Manila Cathedral, Jan 16, 2015.
Pope Francis breaks protocol to spend precious 15 minutes with street children under the care of a Tulay ng Kabataan (Bridge of the Youth) center in Intramuros, right after celebrating mass at the Manila Cathedral, Jan 16, 2015.

After reading the book, it became clearer to me that Francis is, first and foremost, a lover of God, and as a result, a lover of all people, especially of those who are poor and marginalized. Every chapter, from the first (“Apostolic joy is nourished by the contemplation of Jesus Christ, i.e., by observing how he moved about, how he preached, how he healed, how he saw the world,” p. 3) to the last (“We are encouraged to go in search of our suffering sisters and brothers and to ‘enter in patience’ with them by sharing their fate. We should do this without any desire to hold back anything for ourselves, just as Jesus held back nothing…” p.292), brims with love for God and for people. In Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words, when asked what to him was the greatest of all virtues, he replied: “Well, the virtue of love, of giving oneself to another, and doing that from a position of gentleness.” (p.159)

White Crucixion by Chagall, Pope Francis' favorite painting.
White Crucixion by Chagall, Pope Francis’ favorite painting.

Open Mind, Faithful Heart has four parts – Experiencing Jesus, Manifestations of Light, Letters to the Seven Churches, and Human Prayer. In the first part, Francis talks about the importance of daily encounters with Jesus through prayer and discernment of the signs of the times, and in our brothers and sisters (p.10); of being part of an evangelized and evangelizing community (p.38); of embracing the cross and losing all (p.72) but our joy, which means fervor (p.17); and of remembering the manifold manifestations of God’s grace in our (individual, familial, church, and human) history (ch.14). In the second part he talks about the need for watchfulness that is not only eager but also patient, careful, and faithful (p.118); and about the need to insert our lives into human history (which is salvation history) if we want our lives to become part of God’s manifestation (pp. 130) today and in the Day of the Lord’s second coming (p.164). In the third part, Francis exhorts individuals and communities whose lives reflect those of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. For instance, those experiencing tribulation (cf Smyrna) he urges to resist the great temptation of fatigue (p.182), which manifests itself in, say, the tired person’s expending precious strength lashing out at minor enemies. To those tempted to spiritual infidelity (cf Pergamum), he gives the only remedy (p.191): a personal relationship with the Lord, finding expression in the Eucharist (where God gives himself to us) and in prayer (where God calls us by name). So in Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words, when asked what the experience of prayer should be like he replies (p.45):

HLIHOW“[P]rayer should somehow be an experience of giving way, of surrendering, where our entire being enters into the presence of God. It is there where a dialogue happens, the listening, the transformation. Look to God, but above all feel looked at by God.”

 

Pope Francis at the Meeting with Filipino Families, January 16, 2015. He was talking about St. Joseph, sleeping. Also in the photo is Cardinal Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, whom Vatican analyst John Allen Jr. called "the Asian Pope Francis."
Pope Francis at the Meeting with Filipino Families, Jan 16, 2015. He was talking about St. Joseph, sleeping. Also in the photo is Cardinal Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, whom Vatican analyst John Allen called “the Asian Pope Francis.”

Open Mind, Faithful Heart‘s last part, which is on prayer, is, for me, the strongest of the four parts of the book. It presents prayer not only as “asking God for things” or “asking God to change situations,” which, Francis affirms as “no doubt…true prayer” (p.225), but also our being transformed by God through obedience (pp.225) and understanding (p.262). He reiterates this in his Meeting with Filipino Families at the MOA Arena on January 16, 2015, saying, “If we do not pray, we will not know the most important thing of all — God’s will for us.” Finally, Francis likens prayer to an iterative journey: 1) “setting out in exodus from ourselves,” individually as well as corporately; 2) “enduring our exile and estrangement;” and 3) “a road back home that is ‘far beyond’ any return route we may imagine” (p.249, italics mine). I completely agree!

Pope Francis Holds Weekly AudienceI was momentarily disoriented when I reached the end of Part 4. Throughout this part of the book, I felt that the Lord was lovingly teaching and encouraging me through his beloved and anointed pastor, Francis, and so I felt sad to have reached the end. But, as Francis pointed out elsewhere about prayer, yes there is always an ending, but there is also always…a beginning.

May the Triune God keep Pope Francis focused on Love (1 John 4:16), and may all “people of good will” (Luke 2:14, The Complete Jewish Bible) vigilantly keep him in their prayers.

Many thanks to Claretian Publications for making this book widely accessible in the Philippines.

DPL1a

Update 1 (January 16): In his message to the families at the Philippines’ Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on January 16, 2015, his last words were:

Pray often and take the fruits of your prayer into the world, that all may know Jesus Christ and his merciful love.  Please pray also for me, for I truly need your prayers and will depend on them always!”

Pope Francis, you can count on me!

Update 2 (January 20):  The original version of this post found its way to the January 18, 2015 edition of the Manila Standard. (Thanks to Pia Manalastas for the invitation.) What a nice, small way to be part of the papal visit to the country. Thank you, Lord!

My Top 5 Happiest Happenings in 2014

View of the sky from my balcony, December 31, 2014
View of the sky from my balcony, December 31, 2014

The 31st of December.

As in 2012, 2011, and 2010, I revisit the top 5 happiest things that happened to me in 2014, as a way of thanking God for all good things. Will you join me, my friend?

 

 

Memorializing the first presentation of DLSU's NLCC process at the CEAP Convention in Davao (September)
Memorializing the first public presentation of DLSU’s NLCC process at the CEAP Convention in Davao (September)

1. Spearheading curricular and pedagogical innovation and working with a wide variety of talented individuals

As Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, I enjoyed spearheading university-wide innovations in curricula (e.g., the New Lasallian Core Curriculum (NLCC)) and pedagogies (e.g., the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL)). This necessitated my forming and working with various committees of top-notch DLSU professors from diverse disciplines and talented academic support staff, as well as delivering presentations to hundreds of people at university town hall meetings and national conventions. What surprised me was that despite the extremely hard work that all these activities — innovating, working with different people, and delivering presentations — entail, I found all of them…quite enjoyable!

2. Learning new things

I have never learned so many new and diverse things in my adult life. This year, for instance, I underwent training in Bangkok and Manila as an AUN QA Assessor, and soon after conducted my first program assessment at the Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City. I also resumed studying Spanish after a hiatus of more than a decade. And as overall chair of the New Lasallian Core Curriculum initiative, I also had to read up on practically all the twelve (!) interdisciplinary (!) courses that make up the NLCC. For example, I had to read so many books on theology and Christianity (such as those below), which, given the goal of the NLCC — which is to develop in students love for God, humanity, country and the environment, and the virtues and competencies needed to practice this love in the 21st century — play a crucial role throughout the core curriculum:

RethinkingChallenge of JesusJesus and VEGlobalization and CSTContextual theologyPagkamakataoVR1BOATBible and UniSP in CPKungPope Francis

3. Time alone by myself, either watching a show (e.g., at the Saigon Opera House after an AUN-QA assessment) or film,

With the cast of the fantastic "A O" show at the Saigon Opera House (December)
With the cast of the fantastic “A O” show at the Saigon Opera House (December)

or strolling barefoot on a beach (e.g., in Boracay after a workshop presentation),

Unwinding at the beach after a presentation of the NLCC process to diocesan leaders (April)

or reading books, including the fantasy trilogies of Joe Abercrombie (fantastic!) and Rowena Cory Daniels, during long weekends. (I hope to post a review of these before the third trimester starts.)

Abercrombie Trilogy  Daniels Trilogy

4. Fun-time spent with the family or with friends and co-workers (including co-workers in ministry) away from the workplace…

Birthday lunch with Dad, Mom, Pastor Jun, and Sister Janet at my favorite Japanese resto (Feb)
Birthday lunch with Dad, Mom, Pastor Jun, and Sister Janet at my favorite Japanese resto (February)
With Divine, Gwen, and Bing at Camaya Cove (April)
With Divine, Gwen, and Bing at Camaya Cove (April)
With FORMDEV faci alums (April)
With FORMDEV faci alums (April)
With VCA Myrna, ERIO Director Alvin, former COB Dean Boo, and AUN-QA Trainer KC from NUS, at a seafood resto in Bangkok (May)
With Myrna (Vice Chancellor for Academics), Alvin (External Relations Director), Boo (former Business Dean), and Kay Chuan (AUN-QA Assessor and Trainer), at a seafood resto in Bangkok (May)
With the NLCC Course Design Committee (CDC) members at Balay Indang, Cavite (June)
With the very talented members of the NLCC Course Design Committees (CDCs) at Balay Indang, Cavite (June)
With my titas (nieces of my paternal grandmother) and their children) (September)
With my titas (nieces of my paternal grandmother) and their children (September). We love you, Tita Bobby!
With my local church's small-group leaders (November)
With my local church’s small-group leaders (November)
With FORMDEV facis at the retreat center in Batulao (December)
With FORMDEV facis at the retreat center in Batulao (December)
Christmas with the family (December)
Christmas with the family (December)
And with the extended family (cousins and their children, December)
And with the extended family (cousins and their children, December)
My prayer post during Day 1 of the last FORMDEV recollection (December)
My prayer post during Day 1 of the last FORMDEV recollection (December)

5. Last but not the least, time spent alone with God (e.g., Christmas eve). At church I have throughout the year taught on the spiritual discipline of spending quiet time alone with God daily, which includes daily prayer as well as daily reading of the Word of God. Though not perfect, my practice of this discipline was much better this year than in the last, and I believe will get better and better, by God’s grace. As a result, I have come to understand God’s love more, which in turn has resulted in my loving God more, which in turn has resulted in my loving others more!

I thank the Almighty for an exhilarating 2014. May many of the things the Lord has begun in our lives in 2014 start to bear fruit in 2015. Amen!

New Year Fireworks Display (View from my Balcony, January 1, 2015)
View of Manila’s New Year fireworks display, January 1, 2015. (For DLSU people: can you see the tip of the DLSU Christmas tree near the bottom right corner of the photo?)