Home of Misfits

“…It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches…” (Matthew 13:32)

“How come there are so many ‘needy’ people in the church?”

This was my question to a friend priest during one of my preaching engagements in the province last year. Oh you see them, don’t you?

Beggars loitering around the church grounds.

Sick people frequenting the blessed sacrament.

The psychologically disturbed whose voices rise above the rest during the mass.

Ostracized young people who are unaccepted by their friends at school, some of them becoming leaders in the youth ministry of the parish.

As I wonder how come the church has somewhat become a home of misfits, my thoughts turned to Pacita.

Pacita was my friend. I was only 4 years old then when I first met her. She was referred to by many as the village fool. Dressed in her drags, this middle-aged lady was the favorite playmate of kids my age every Sunday. While our parents attended mass, we would be playing with Pacita.

Pacita wasn’t violent or rude. But she was mentally insane. Stories made mention of an ex-lover who violated her. Or some problem with her finances which led her to her state. Whatever the reason was, this reason led her to find solace in the church. In the church, she found a home. The priests fed her. The nuns nursed her wounds. The parishioners befriended her.

Neither she nor anyone else knew her family. But she and everyone else knew she found a family in the Cathedral. Like a nest-less bird, she found refuge on the widespread branches of the church. As the scripture says about the Kingdom of God:

“…It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches…” (Matthew 13:32)

Pacita was a misfit. But aren’t we all, in some degree or another? Just like Pacita, there are some things in our lives which we feel do not fit. The spouse we have, perhaps. Or the job we hold. The past we lived, and the future we aim for. The money in our bank account, and the bills we have to pay. Many things may not fit in our lives today. And perhaps, that is why the church exists. To provide a home for misfits like us.

My friend priest’s reply to my query amplifies this truth when he said: “It is for them that the church exists. Because it is for them that Jesus founded the church in the first place.” 

A few years ago, I visited the old church to check on Pacita. I was told that she already passed away a few years earlier. But I was also informed that she JOYFULLY passed away.

I wasn’t surprised. If she found a home in the church during her lifetime, I could just imagine the kind of home that awaits her beyond the grave.

For Pacita and rest of us, the home beyond the grave is the Home where we truly fit. 

Glad to be home,

Bobby Q.

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Submitted for Resolution

“…The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart..” (Matthew 13:19)

More than a week.

That was how long it took for my family to decide on the medical procedure that my father would undergo this coming Wednesday. Being a family of many lawyers, we needed to get all the facts before we made the crucial decision.

The scene was a classic straight out of a TV sitcom.

My father, subject of the case (meaning he was the patient), called the meeting of all family members and all the attending physicians last week in Davao. Lying on his hospital bed, he called the meeting to order. The family members took turns presenting their persuasive arguments like counsels to a case. The doctors were cross examined on the witness stand. Pros and cons weighed. Risks evaluated. Situation analyzed. After more than an hour, my father called for a few days recess. We were then ordered to go for a second opinion from an expert witness in Manila.

Yesterday, when all the pleadings as well as the second opinion were filed, both parties rested their case and the case was submitted for resolution. My father, acting as both patient and judge, was left with the decision.

He chose angioplasty over bypass.

In legal practice, a judge must know the relevant facts and laws in order to make an informed decision.

I want to believe it is the same thing with anything in life, especially our faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus said:

“…The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart..” (Matthew 13:19)

Isn’t it true with many of our brethren in the faith?

Some of them desert the faith without first understanding it. Either the mass or service is too boring or the bible too confusing. It may be because of a bad-witnessing Sunday school teacher or a tyrannical parish priest. Or it may have something to do with outdated teachings or irrelevant preachings. Whatever the reason is, some us have given up on God and the church without even first trying to know the facts and understand the laws.

Just like in law or medicine, before one submits his case for resolution, one must first try to get all the facts and laws he needs in order to make an informed decision regarding his faith. You may not make the right decision all the time, but you will always be at peace knowing you had all the information that you needed before making the choice.

Are you on the brink of giving up on your faith?

I have one unsolicited advice: Don’t.

Know your faith. Study. Ask.

For the enemy is powerless over someone who truly understands the beauty of our faith.

I remain yours,

Bobby

Not So Obvious

“…Woman, why are you weeping?…” (John 20:13)

A passenger jeepney has a sign on its windshield that says “Cubao”. A barker (someone whose job was to tell people the designated destination of different passenger jeepneys) repeatedly shouts “Cubao! Cubao! Sakay na dito ang Cubao!”. A clueless potential passenger comes and asks the barker, “Cubao?”.

Not so obvious, eh?

Another incident: My wife and I were looking to buy bread from a bakery. And so we asked two bystanders, “Manong, saan po dito ang bakery?”. Bystander A turns to bystander B, “Saan daw dito ang bakery?”. Bystander B looked confused, “Bakery ng ano?”

Not so obvious, eh?

Countless mundane experiences tell us that sometimes, what may look so obvious may not be so obvious to some. Perhaps this was what Mary of Magdala realized when the angels asked her:

“…Woman, why are you weeping?…” (John 20:13)

Come on, dear angels, isn’t it obvious? Just a day before, she saw her Master arrested, mocked, tortured and crucified. Now she sees her master’s body missing from its tomb. So why the question? Isn’t the answer obvious?

Yes, unless the angels knew something Mary didn’t.

That the body wasn’t stolen. That Jesus didn’t disappear. That life now breath from what was once dead. That Jesus was now alive!

Sometimes, God has the same question for us when we weep because of the challenges we face in life. And we retort, “Isn’t it obvious, Lord,” we say:

“…my spouse just passed away…”

“…I lost my job…”

“…the diagnosis was bad…”

“…my business failed…”

And the reasons why we must weep can go on and on. And God sounds even unfair to ask his question. Unless He knows something we don’t. And you know what? He does.

More than a month ago, when Jeng was on her 7th week of pregnancy, she experienced some blood spotting which forced her to miss work for two weeks. She was sad. I was scared. Our obvious conclusion then was that it was such a bad thing. Until a few days later, we heard that work was called off because of the presence of the flu virus at her workplace. In retrospect, we realized that God saved her (and our baby) from being possibly contaminated by the virus. Obviously (there’s that word again), when God allowed the blood spotting to happen, He knew something we didn’t. If we knew what He knew then, we would have not have “wept” because of what seemingly was a bad incident. Today, Jeng is back at work. Our baby is safe and healthy. And things turned out for the good. Obviously, God knew something we didn’t.

Friend, sometimes it’s just a matter of trusting God’s wisdom. He is all-knowing and He knows many things we don’t.

So if you are now going through something that looks like a bad turn, I challenge you to believe, to take heart and to hold on.

What may be obvious to us may not be so obvious after all.

Trusting,

Bobby

Tagapagtawid

“…Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land…” (Exodus 14:21)

There is no English translation that can capture the full impact of this word: Tagapagtawid.

“Tagapagtawid” can be translated to “the one who carries across”.

Soft. Lame. Inaccurate.

But even without the English translation, perhaps the Israelites will have no problem grasping the full meaning of that word. Why? They experienced first hand what it means to be carried by God across the raging sea.

Behind them was the entire army of Egypt waiting to pounce on them. In front of them was the stormy sea waiting to devour them. Literally, they found themselves in between the devil (Pharaoh) and the deep blue (or Red) sea! In 0ther words, it was a no-win situation, a tight fix, a nowhere to go, back against the wall, go-ahead-kill-me-anyway type of situation. And when they were about to give up, God came through.

“…Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land…” (Exodus 14:21)

How many of us find ourselves in a similar situation as the Israelites?

 How many of us are in between two not-so-good choices?

How many of us have run out of options?

May it be in terms of career, or business, or relationships, or even health, I know that at some point in our lives, we may have encountered a situation like that. Or maybe you are going through one like that now. I know I am…

Just this week, the doctors gave my dad very few options for survival. Bypass, andioplasty or medical management. In all three, the risks are high. And the family will have to make that difficult choice of what course to take this week.

During my prayers this morning, I was honest with God. “Lord,” I said, “I don’t like the options I have. I am tired. I am scared. Tell me. What must I do?”. Then as I read the first reading, I felt God speaking to my heart:

“…You are never out of options”, He said, “Don’t you remember? I am on your side. I will always be your best option.”

The Israelites realized this as soon as Moses stretched out his hands.

Their eyes watered as the waters dried up. A path appeared where there was none. A way out. An exit door. Yes, He carried them through the waters, on dry land and across to the other side. He was “Tagapagtawid”! He carried them across!

My confidence is this: What He did to them, He can do to me.

You know what? He can do the same for you.

He will carry you through that pain. Or that loneliness. Or that emptiness. Or that fear. Or that stormy relationship. Or that health concern. Or that financial situation.

He is “Tagapagtawid”. He will carry you across.

Today, surrender to him all your challenges, fears and dreams. And as you see the sea slowly part before you, close your eyes and take that step.

Behold! You are stepping on dry land.

Glad to be carried across,

Bobby

Laws to Love

“…I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” (Matthew 12:7)

There was once a soldier who was fatally wounded during an encounter with enemy soldiers. On his leg was a serious bullet wound which caused him extreme pain. The wounded soldier wanted to extricate the bullet from the wound in order to lessen the pain and to prevent any infection. So he called on a fellow soldier, handed him a combat knife and said, “Here’s a knife. Help me take away the pain…” The fellow soldier took the knife, thought for awhile, and then stabbed him to death. “There,” said the fellow soldier, “No more pain, eh.”

In this story, the knife could’ve been used to save a life. Instead, it was used to bring death.

The same thing with God’s law. God’s laws are there in order to bring life to His people. Unfortunately, some people use the law precisely to bring death. That was the reason why Jesus always came in conflict with the Pharisees.

In the Gospel today, the Pharisees were again using the law of keeping the Sabbath day holy as a means to starve the apostles. They questioned why they ate the grain of wheat on the Sabbath. Jesus’ reply can be summed up in one sentence:

“…I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” (Matthew 12:7).

Jesus was quick to remind them that God’s laws are there precisely for the purpose of giving life, not death; of helping, not burdening; of showing limitless mercy, not imposing needless sacrifice. Indeed, when God’s law is misused and abused, His people suffer.

Nothing much has changed today.

Many people still misuse God’s selfless laws for man’s selfish needs.

For instance, a husband can abuse his God-given pastoral authority over his wife. Result: Physically or emotionally battered spouses.

A politician abusing his God-given political power to enrich himself. Result: Widespread poverty and distrust.

A doctor using his God-given medical gift to perform abortion. Result: Physical death to the fetus, and spiritual death to the mother.

A lawyer using his God-given priviliege by lying in order to get his guilty client off the hook. Result: Injustice.

 A mother using her God-entrusted role through over-protectiveness of her child. Result: Stifled growth.

Today, I invite you to see the spirit behind all of God’s laws. Don’t misuse them in your own life. Rather, use them for God’s purpose. His laws are there, not to burden, but to love.

In Christ’s love,

Bobby

God-Made Bypass

“…Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light…” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Definition of Bypass: A passage created surgically to divert the flow of blood or other bodily fluid or to circumvent an obstructed or diseased organ. (www.freedictionary.com)

“…We saw a God-made bypass in your father’s heart…”.

These were the words of the doctors who performed an angiogram test on my father yesterday. From my limited understanding of medicine, the doctors seemed surprised to see a blood vessel branching out from the right side of my father’s heart directing blood flow towards the left side. According to them, this somehow saved my father from a sure-fire heart attack earlier. You see, the right part of his heart is clogged. But by some miracle, the heart, on its own, created a diversion for blood to flow to the other side of the heart. This diversion, in a sense, kept him alive, perhaps, the past year or so. When blood had nowhere else to go on the right part of his heart, God made a way…literally!

Isn’t this true with life in general? God does the same for us.

When we hit a blank wall, God makes a way out.

When we reach a deadend, God provides a diversion.

When we  have nowhere else to go, God shows the way to go.

In a sense, God makes a “bypass” for us.

My father will still have to undergo a bypass operation next week because by this time, the left part of his heart is already clogged. But without the “God-made bypass”, he could’ve suffered a more fatal heart attack earlier and things could’ve been worst.

Same thing in life.

Sometimes, God will not spare us from the challenges and difficulties of everyday life. But He will give us enough “bypasses” to allow us to make our burdens light. Sure, you may be unemployed. Or undergoing trouble with your marriage. Or suffering from loneliness. Or even pain. But think about it. Without God, things could be worse.

That’s why the Gospel today says:

“…Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light…” (Matthew 11:29-30)

No wonder Jesus is called the greatest physician who ever walked the earth. He performed “bypasses” earlier than anyone else.

All glory to God,

Bobby

My All for God’s Call

  “…Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10:37)

            It’s been three days now since I arrived in Davao to visit my dad who is presently confined in the hospital due to a heart failure. I set aside all my speaking engagements over the weekend to be with my father. It was my way of honoring him by showing his value in my life.

            My father is still in the hospital. He is still far from recovery. Tests will still be performed and decisions will still be made. The ordeal is still far from over. But tomorrow, I am scheduled to fly back to Manila. So why should I be going back to Manila despite the situation?

            Because I believe that’s what God wants me to do. And I need to be where He calls me to be. His call brought me home to Davao over the weekend. And it is His call that will make me board that plane back to Manila tomorrow. And I will do it with a heavy heart. But the gospel today is pretty clear:

            “…Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10:37)

            Many priests and pastors avoid preaching about this passage. Too risky. Too threatening. Too complicated. But the message is simple: Not that you shouldn’t love your family, but that your love for them must never be more than your love for God. At the end of the day, God’s call is what matters.

            In any major decision you make, the main determining factor should be God. Not your emotions or your practicality because God can speak through both. Rather, the main question you should answer must be: What does God want me to do given the situation?

          Balance your emotions with practicality, and then make a decision based on God’s will. In this way, you will be able to love God above all.

            I am a missionary, a preacher. I am called to do God’s mission in season and out of season…in good times and in bad.  I am also a husband. I have a pregnant wife needing my care and attention in Manila. I am also a father with three children to feed and pastor back there. These by themselves are part of God’s missionary call for my life.

          Today, I prayed to God that as I go home to Manila tomorrow to continue His mission, that He would take care of my dad. I take care of His people, and He takes care of the people I love. I followed this formula all these years and God has never failed me.

            Why should this time be any different?

            Please pray for me. Thanks!

            Struggling to give my all to God’s call,

            Bobby