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This blog site is about a young Filipino Roman Catholic priest's journey in life; the stuff he needs and uses for liturgical, para-liturgical and personal endeavors; the challenges he faces; the adventures he has undergone; his opinions on certain issues; anecdotes; and some other cool stuff that might be unconventional for a priest yet beneficial for his life and ministry.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Pelican, a Christian Symbol

Pelicans may be regarded as strange avian competitors in commercial and recreational fishing. With pathetic stares that disguise its hidden desire for every catch, they would sometimes try to intercept one from fishermen by looking apparently pitiful or by other means. Using its signature long beak and large throat pouch, they would easily catch fish and drain the water before swallowing it. Some would even consider them as “lazy freeloaders,” animals that take advantage of the charity of others. This is contrary to the symbol of self-sacrifice that it depicts in Christianity since time immemorial.

It doesn’t soar like the mighty eagle nor symbolize peace like a calm dove. However, the imagery of the mother pelican striking or vulning (from the Latin vulnerare, "to wound") her breast to feed her nestlings to prevent starvation in time of famine is rooted in an ancient legend that antedates Christianity. It was believed that she feeds her dying chicks with her own blood to revive them from death, but, in turn, lost her own life.

The pelican symbolizes our Lord Jesus Christ who gave His life for our redemption and the atonement of sins through His passion and death. We were dead to sin and have found new life through the Blood of Christ (cf. Col 2:13) who said: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28) and “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him" (Jn 6:56). Furthermore, Jesus continues to nourish us with His Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1394) teaches us: “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life... Having received the gift of love, let us die to sin and live for God.

We could trace the allegorical interpretation of the pelican in the Physiologus, a second-century Christian work written by an anonymous author, that was a source for the symbols used in the various stone carvings and other artwork of the Medieval Ages. It is a compendium of illustrated volumes of various animals, birds and even rocks, which reflected the belief that every living thing had its own special meaning. Clearly, the pelican became a symbol of charity.

Reference to the pelican and its Christian meaning are also found in Dante’s Paradiso (1321) which refers Christ as “il nostro Pelicano;” John Lyly’s Euphues (1606); and John Skelton’s Armory of Birds (1529) among others. It is also contained in the 6th stanza of Adoro te devote, a Eucharistic hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas that describes Christ as follows: “Pie pellicane, Iesu Domine, | me immundum munda tuo sanguine; | cuius una stilla salvum facere | totum mundum quit ab omni scelere” [“O Loving Pelican, O Lord Jesus, | Cleanse the unclean me with Your Blood; | Of which a drop can save | The whole world from every sin” (The literal translation is provided by the author)].

The legends of self-wounding and the provision of blood may have developed from the impression that a pelican stabs itself with its bill, when in reality it only presses its bill onto its chest, a physiological maneuver to fully empty its pouch. Furthermore, its bill tends to rest on its breast and the Dalmatian pelican has a blood-red pouch in the early breeding season, which may have contributed to the myth.

The symbolism of the pelican is still often found in modern-day Christian murals, frescos, paintings, stained glasses and vestments. On the one hand, if the symbolism is based on something that is not grounded in reality, there might be a danger of promoting superstition rather than the truth. On the other hand, an argument could be made that even when the reason for the use of symbol is based on myth, if that is widely known, understood, and extensively recognized to be considered part of the tradition, it should be retained. It is not definitely our task to resolve the issue. However, whether we look at the symbol of the pelican from the scientific perspective of Ornithology or from the historical perspective of Christian Art, it remains to be a striking reminder for us that that the Lord, who suffered and died for us and nourishes us on our pilgrim way with the Eucharist, loves us very much (cf. Jn 3:16). May such image impel us to share the same charity and selfless love to everyone.


Ferguson, George, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, 1961.
Nelson, Bryan; Schreiber, Elizabeth Anne; and Schreiber, Ralph, "Pelicans" in Perrins, Christopher, Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds, 2003.
Saunders, William, “The Symbolism of the Pelican” in The Arlington Catholic Herald, 2003.
Steffler, Alva William, Symbols of the Christian Faith, 2002.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Reflection on the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Jesus tells about the parable of the landowner who went away and left various talents with his servants, who then they did different things with those talents. One who possessed five talents of gold or silver was a multimillionaire by today's standards. Some calculate the Hebrew talent to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker. According to my dictionary, other scholars estimate it more conservatively, valuing between $1,000 to $30,000 US dollars. We are talking of a big amount of money here especially during those times.

Some, when they hear the word “talent” may not think about money right away, but the other definition in my dictionary, a natural capacity or gift like a talent for music or sports.

What is helpful for us in applying this parable is to remember that just as the money that was entrusted to the servants by the landowner, was not theirs to do with what they want it, so too the talents are gifts that God has given to us. They are not our own. In fact, our entire life is something that is entrusted to us for a purpose. We are not here to serve ourselves. We are not the landowner, God is. We are here on earth to serve God and we do that by using our talents and gifts for His honor and glory and not our own.

I’d like to share with you a story: In a highly competitive basketball tournament, the underdog team emerged as one of the finalists after winning one game after another. A few hours before the championship game, a reporter asked the coach, “No one was expecting your team to advance in the championship. What made your team win game after game? The coach replied, “Everyone knew what he had to give. And each one gave more than what was expected from him.”

So brothers and sisters, love does not think in terms of minimum requirements, it always asks what more can I do to show you I love you.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

CBCP President on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

THE ‘ice-bucket challenge’ seems to be the most recent rave with national personalities joining in. Throughout the world, and now, even in the Philippines, people recognize the nobility of the cause: research on the dreaded Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The anchor Matt Lauer participated in the "ice bucket challenge".

Act of Compassion not a Fad

Mitch Albom poignantly chronicled the deterioration of one stricken with the disease in his very popular book “Tuesdays with Morrie”. Those from older generations may recall how Lou Gehrig bade the world of baseball — and the world — a moving farewell after having been diagnosed with the disease. It is therefore disturbing, to say the least, that some have trivialized the ‘ice-bucket challenge’ by making of the act of dousing oneself with iced water a fad, rather than a gesture of solidarity with all who suffer from the disease and with those who do research on its alleviation.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

There have been disturbing reports, however, that ALS research involves the use of stem-cells, and this is not surprising. ALS is a degenerative disorder and stem-cells apparently hold out the promise of reversing the death and degeneration of brain cells, in particular. Stem-cells however are most readily harvested from embryos, and it is in this regard that this type of research is ethically problematic.

On February 22, 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation.” In respect to experimentation on embryos, the Instruction teaches: “No objective, even though noble in itself such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings, or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or fetuses…To use human embryos or fetuses as the object or instrument of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings having a right to the same respect that is due to the child already born and to every human person.”

It is therefore even more condemnable when embryos are destroyed so that their pluripotent stem cells may be harvested for research for even therapeutic purposes.

It is no better when embryos are the result of ‘in vitro’ fertilization, developed purposely as a source of stem cells. The same Instruction reiterates Catholic teaching in bioethics: “Human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings and subjects with rights. Their dignity and right to life must be respected from the first moment of their existence. It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable ‘biological material’”.

ALS Association and Stem Cell Research

A statement issued by the ALS Association on stem cell research contains this declaration: “Most stem-cell research in ALS is currently focused on iPS cells, which are not burdened with ethical issues.” We are told that iPS cells are “induced pluripotent stem cells”, stem cells created from skin cells. Such cells would indeed be pluripotent, but would not be embryonic cells. As such, the ethical objection to the use of embryonic cells, whether harvested from embryos, or obtained through in vitro fertilization, would not arise. What is troubling, however, is that the very same ALS statement, in admitting that iPS cells are used in “most stem-cell research” leaves open the possibility that stem cells from objectionable sources are still used!

We are not prepared to say that the ALS Association, that has promoted the ice-bucket challenge, and all those involved in ALS research are engaged in the unethical practice of using embryonic cells. The importance of ALS research cannot be overstated. Research must proceed, for so many suffer. Human intelligence and skill must conquer this dreadful malady, because it is for this purpose that we have been given dominion over the earth as its stewards. But we must also guide the Catholic faithful, and all who heed the ethical teaching of the Church.

Pastoral Ethical Guideline

As a pastoral guideline, we therefore urge those participating in the ice-bucket challenge and making donations to ALS research to make a clear and unequivocal declaration that their donation is made on condition that none of it is to be applied to research that involves the use of embryonic stem cells, in vivo or in vitro.

Catholics who participate in the challenge and who make donations to this research must also demand of fund-raisers and organizers an assurance that none of the donations made will be applied to researches that are ethically reproved.

As long as research on ALS as well as other debilitating conditions such as Parkinson’s Diseases and Alzheimer’s keep within the confines of the ethical demands of human dignity, they will be encouraged by the Church, and our Catholic faithful will be urged to support them with generosity and with charity for all who suffer.

August 27, 2014, Feast of Saint Monica

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Reflection on St. Augustine (August 28)

Today, we celebrate the feast of our Holy Father St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. One of his famous lines goes “our heart is restless until it rests in God”, but many of us may have allowed our hearts to be "anesthetized"; no longer a heart of flesh so to speak; but a heart of stone, as a line of one popular song goes, “kung ako’y muling iibig sana di maging katulad mo, tulad mo na may pusong bato”, no longer in love, and no longer in search for God.

Augustine was educated by his mother Monica in the Christian faith, but as he grew he moved away from it. He studied; he had fun that even led to an immoral life; he knew ‘intense’ love; and began a brilliant career as a teacher. He had arrived in every way. But in his heart, there remained the restlessness of the search for the profound meaning of life.

His autobiography called “The Confessions” is a story of how he went from looking for love in all the wrong places to being found by God Who is Love Himself. Here’s how St. Augustine put it:  Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.”

Augustine went on looking for happiness, for God, in the things of creation...and all along, God was very fact, within him. Restlessness always seeks the good of others. It always pushes us forward to go out and encounter the others without waiting for the others to tell us what they need. To have a restless heart means to be always in love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Reflection on St. Monica (August 27)

 Do you find life difficult? Do you sometimes feel desperate? Did anybody tell you that you’re impossible? Today, we celebrate the memorial of St. Monica and her life will give us a hint to our questions. Monica lived in North Africa and was a Christian wife of a pagan husband. Her husband had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a grouchy and irritable mother-in-law who lived in her home. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died a year after his baptism.

They had three children and one of them named Augustine was involved in a strange sect called the Manicheans. Augustine also had a mistress and fathered a child out of wedlock. For thirty years, Monica prayed and cried for him.

The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing mother, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations.  She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on her son’s behalf. When Monica asked the bishop to put pressure on her son, he told her, “let him be and continue to pray for him. It’s impossible that a son of so many tears should be lost.” What was lost was indeed found. Jesus brought the lost sheep Augustine to the true faith and a moral lifestyle. This lost son is now known as St. Augustine whose feast we celebrate tomorrow. St. Monica is a good example not only of the power of prayer united with tears and suffering, but also of patience. St. Monica showed us that it is not hopeless and we are not hopeless.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Banana Reflection

In a Nutrition Seminar that we attended, the doctor said that bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, and serotonin helps make you feel relaxed, happy and in control.

Though I am not a Biochemistry freak, I think that it's true! I've been eating bananas every night and even though I am already tired or preoccupied by many things or facing the difficult challenges of the week, or checking a Latin quiz with a very low grade, or listening to an unsatisfactory Medieval Church History recitation, I still feel happy.  

More than the bananas, I know that there must be something spiritual. Bananas are given to me with a smile by the Seminary fathers who know that I need sustenance before my nightly routine. The environment where in seminarians and priests serve the Lord wholeheartedly counts. And, of course, the faith that God never abandons you. Well, I guess, it's more than the bananas... but I take two for tonight.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meditation for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Meditation for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus during the Year of the Laity

Responding to the urging of not a few of our lay faithful, men and women – young people among them! – we would like to consecrate this month of June 2014, during this YEAR OF THE LAITY, to the Heart of Jesus.

But urged also by the example of Pope Francis, as well as by the recent canonization of Saint John Paul II, who created the Divine Mercy feast, we would like to focus this month of renewed Sacred Heart devotion to the Divine Mercy, — as incarnated, embodied, symbolized in the Pierced Heart of Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord.

Pope Francis, from the first days of his papacy, has been preaching insistently and passionately on God’s constant and untiring mercy, and on the primacy of the Church’s mission of mercy and compassion. Mercy – both divine and human, — is so much needed today in a troubled, confused, and divided world, with so much brokenness, sin and injustice, with a secularized culture that has no place for God.

Pope Francis speaks of our world’s urgent need to return to the unbounded mercy and untiring patience of God towards sinners, toward our human weaknesses and failures. And “it is Jesus who shows us this merciful patience of the loving and forgiving God.” “It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that … we encounter the boundless love of his Heart.”

The Holy Father also reminds us that we encounter Jesus by living out his compassion and mercy towards our brothers and sisters who are in need of our own compassion and mercy, — brothers and sisters in poverty, suffering, loneliness, brokenness, difficulty and despair.

Like Thomas the Apostle in the Gospel (John 20), our life will only be changed when we touch Christ’s wounds present in the poor, the sick and the needy. . . . The path of our encounter with Jesus is his wounds. There is no other.” (Pope Francis, 3 July 2013)

The Church, People of God and Body of Christ on earth, must thus also become more and more truly “the Church of Mercy”. Where may we then draw the profound grace and spirituality which can and will renew the primacy of Mercy – both divine and human – in and for our own lives and the life of the Church? Christian spiritual tradition; the constant teaching of so many of our Popes; and the lives of the Saints give us one clear and certain answer– from the Pierced Heart of Jesus on the Cross.

This in turn urges us to seek from the Lord a renewed, genuine conversion of heart, and a true reviving and deepening of “the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus” in our lives! This must necessarily involve a renewal and intensification of prayer and devotion in faith and interior life, yes, but it will also call for ongoing earnest, self-sacrificing deeds of love, justice and compassion toward our brothers and sisters. We need to go out from our “comfort-zones” and go forth to give ourselves to others – to “the poor” – in deeds of charity, sharing; in deeds of justice and merciful love.

We are called to consecrate ourselves and our lives anew to the Pierced Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; earnestly to return to the Eucharist and the sacramental life, and the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Dear faithful people of God, above all – dear lay people, — men and women, adults and young people: Can we make June 2014 of this Year of the Laity a “really special month dedicated to MERCY from the PIERCED HEART OF JESUS”? Can we make this a month wherein by God’s grace the Divine Mercy can fill out our own hearts and lives, can bring conversion into our lives, and through us radiate in some very true way in our communities, our parishes …? A month when we will earnestly ask the Hearts of Jesus and Mary to change us – yes, even little by little – to the likeness of their own hearts, through prayer and devotion, and through deeds of self-giving mercy, compassion, justice and self-sacrifice?

Dear brothers and sisters, our laity and young people above all, what will our response be? The Lord’s Pierced Heart awaits the sincere response of our hearts.

From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, June 8, 2014, Pentecost Sunday

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan