Me, a teacher?

by Chris Creo

photo credit: catholicislander.comIt’s been a while since my last blog entry. That is because I got my attention at the moment focused on starting my teaching degree. Yep! I am going to be a teacher! And I think this would be a positive step  or decision in my preparation for the diaconal ministry. Because one of the main tasks of a deacon is evangelisation–proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. What a better way to respond to the Church’s call for New Evangelisation than to actually know how to teach!

Part of the teacher training is to have an e-journal, reflecting on the many dimensions that are related to the students’; my journey to becoming a teacher. Below was the reflection I just wrote for my first journal entry.

First week of school is almost over. Coming out from my class on “Effective Teaching and Professional Practice (EDFD548),” I have come to a realisation that:

  1. That I am actually and officially following a “family tradition.” I said in my first entry to this e-journal that it feels like teaching is in my blood. True, I get that “feeling” whenever I conclude a gathering session of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and that catechumens and candidates tell me they have learned or understood something new about the Catholic faith–even just being able to clarify questions as trivial as “why do Catholics make the sign of the cross with our right hand,”–I never imagine that I will actually be choosing Teaching as a credit:
  2. It just dawn on me the irony in the educational system not only here in Australia but even in the Philippines or even in many parts of the world. The irony is, as I was reminded by an article I read for another class, in hiring teachers it is expected that primary and secondary teacher candidates have teaching qualifications (in the case Victoria, one needs to be registered; in the Philippines one needs to pass the teachers board exams) but no such requirement for teacher in tertiary education. Personally this is true for me. I recall when I just have to do a demonstration teaching in one of the universities in Manila to be able to teach journalism subjects/course. I was not even given any feedback! After the demonstration, I just received a call from the dean saying I got the job. On reflection, I wonder what would be the effects on students if I were not exposed to teaching practices (from my mother and other relatives) or not received training during university years (it’s a common saying among the students that my school–University of the Philippines–not only teach their students to be competent in their chosen degree but also teach them to be teachers)? I also recall a couple of teacher evaluations I filled out when I was doing my Theology degree. For lecturers that “read” their lectures, I put on the item that asks “What is the thing that you like in this course”: The Library! But I also recall those classes where I really enjoyed and participated in actively were the courses where the lecturers were able to engage the students. I guess this is why I keep hearing, not only in this particular class, that teaching is both a science and an art. And I am keen on mastering this art–I owe that much to the students I am going to teach in the future.

The Way Towards a Diaconal Ministry

by Chris Creo

deacons path1IT just dawned on me when I finished setting up this blog and viewed it for the first time. This is my final year of formation to becoming a deacon. In fact, as the countdown widget shows in the upper  right corner of the blog page, it’s actually just nine months to go before our diaconal ordination.

For this, I found myself wondering and reflecting on the things I gained for the last six years. I also reflect upon the changes I have undergone in this diaconal journey.

As the maxim says “grace builds on nature.” When I first started considering the diaconate, it was in the sense an answer to the question of how can I serve the Church more. Since childhood, the Church has always been a part of me. When I was recruited as a junior member of the Legion of Mary, I was immediately drawn to the joy of having that sense of community; of belongingness outside my own family and clan. I found another “family” where the bonds are not based on blood relations but on the sharing of the same belief, of the same expression of religious piety; and of the same inner urge to serve. I even thought that the feeling I was having was a call to the priesthood. But that was dashed immediately when I first fell in love and realized that I want to raise a family and that I’d love to have kids of my own.

So I must admit, the initial attraction of the diaconate was that it represents an alternative to what I thought to be a vocational calling for the priesthood. For me then, the diaconate “is the next best thing.” Imagine my surprise and discomfort when I heard our program director told the enquirers during the orientation meeting to reconsider our decision of pursuing the program if we think deacons are “almost a priest”.

That is why, for six years, I’ve been asking myself: WHY DO I WANT TO DO THIS? For me, the reason should be the right one or else I am just wasting the Church’s resources and time, my time and my family’s sacrifice–especially my loving and supportive wife.

The discernment process was very helpful to me to crystalize my intention and refine or redefine my understanding of the diaconate. And with the help of our director, our resource persons and formators,  my teachers, and even my fellow enquirers and friends, I was able to discover–or rather rediscover–the reason why I am committing myself to this ministry. And it is the same inner urge or calling  as in my childhood: to follow Jesus and to serve; to be the icon of Christ who serves; to let others see Christ in me and therefore be able to lead them to God.

And all this time, I really feel God is with me. Sometimes to encourage, sometimes to test my resolve and my trust in Him–like a precious metal being purified by fire but definitely guiding me in every way. I always tell people in the program the palpable presence of God in my discernment. Everything seems falling into the right place at the right time. When a seeming problem starts to manifest, a solution also presents itself at just about the right time.

Even during my lowest state; when I was beginning to doubt due to problems, disappointments and concerns of daily living, He comes to me as a comforter as if saying: “These are the problems of the people you are going to serve. These are the sorrows of the people you are going to help. You have to carry the same cross they are carrying to be able to understand them; to be able to help them.” Pope Francis aptly described the diaconal ministry when he likens the Church to that of a field hospital.

For the last six years I have learned to put my trust in God being constantly reminded by his Words: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6: 25-26)”

To begin this final year of formation, I once again say the same prayer I said when I started this journey: “Here I am Lord! Send me!” I only pray to God for His continued presence in our lives and His grace to make me a worthy servant for His servant church.

“Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We Forgive those who Trespass Against Us”

A Reflection on Mercy and Justice
By Chris Creo

I HAVE been reading the blogs of two deacons in the US (which inspired me to start my own blog) regarding two issues happening there about the same time. Both of these issues are linked to the concepts of sin, mercy and justice.

The first one was about the reaction of people regarding the dismissal of a teacher from her teaching job in a Catholic school because she got pregnant out of wedlock. The second was about whether the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman should be given a Catholic funeral since some believed that the actor was a “grave public sinner.”

mercy2Then I had this discussion with our catechumen and his sponsors during our regular RCIA gathering on the same concepts. We were actually discussing the Lord’s Prayer and I was trying to explain to them the meaning and significance of the prayer in our lives as Christians; as Catholics.

The discussion was going OK. Then I noticed an increase in interest and participation level when we came to that line in the Lord’s Prayer that says “… and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I was telling the group that by praying that part of the Lord’s Prayer, we are not just acknowledging that we are sinners who need redemption and forgiveness but also proclaiming God’s abundant mercy through His Son. God willed to redeem and save us even when man was still in a state of sin–God did not wait for man to repent. Instead He sent His Son to communicate His love and His mercy.

However, I also added that we can only feel this grace; the feeling that we have indeed been forgiven, if we for our part have forgiven first.

“Ah!” exclaimed one of the participants following with the question: “So will I only be forgiven if I forgive? What if one does not ask for forgiveness or even refuse to acknowledge his or her wrong doings against me? That would not be fair.”

A valid question. In fact, I said, that was also my question before. First, I answered that indeed it is hard to forgive. Because what is involved is not just a notion that something was broken; that something unfair has been committed. It is not just a “head” thing. More importantly, it involves emotion; feelings of anger and hurt. Oftentimes, it is hard for us to forgive because we are angry and hurt.  But I added that our anger and our hurt are also manifestations of our love to that person “who trespass against us.”

The more anger, the more hurt we feel corresponds to how we actually love that person. That is why, I said to the group, it is harder to forgive family members than any other person because we naturally love family more. Indeed, anger and hurt are part of our lives because relationships are part of our existence.

However, forgiveness does not mean we should forget about justice–that sense of fairness or giving “what is due to God and neighbor.” For we are all called “to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good (Catechism, 1807).”

mercy1True, Jesus told the adulterous woman that she was forgiven (Jn 7:53-8:11). But he did not let the woman off the hook either. Instead he said “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” We are all given the gift of forgiveness but we are also called to make restitution and to conversion. For forgiveness or pardon without repentance or restitution negates the notion of fairness and the very sense of justice.

To the question: “Will I only be forgiven if I forgive first?” My answer was that we were already given that gift when Jesus became man like us, died on the cross and rose from the dead. The thing is we can only feel that grace if we truly repent for our sins and if we experience how it feels to forgive. And as one of the sponsors shared, that feeling of being forgiven whether after the sacrament of reconciliation or after reconciling with somebody is palpable; as if something heavy has been lifted off from our shoulders.

Yes it is hard and it takes time but maybe the first step is to try freeing ourselves of the hurt; let the actions or the event that injured our feelings not hurt us anymore. Then when the hurt is gone, anger will also fade away until such a time that we can open our hearts once again and be ready to forgive when forgiveness is sought in order to restore harmony and relationships once again.

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Seeing God’s People in Every Issue and Situation

By Chris Creo

WE ALL try to do the good thing. We all try to do the right thing. And we are told that to do the right thing is to follow or adhere to one’s principle. Because what we hold as our personal principles come from our conscience. For conscience “is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World n.16).conscience1

Even for those who do not believe in God, conscience still represents an inner force where one “detects a law which he [or she] does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that (GS, 16).”

We usually link conscience to intuition or what feels right. Principles, therefore, are concrete expressions of what we feel is right—right judgment, right speech, and right action. Concepts such as democracy, equality, fairness, progress, rights. These are all examples of principles we try to uphold so that we may call ourselves good persons.

But sometimes we become too focus on upholding these principles that we forget or overlook a crucial element. That is, behind every principle or concept lies the human person.

For example, I heard a politician on the radio saying that the “time of entitlement is gone and the time of taking responsibility and lifting our own weight has began” or similar words to that effect. This is in connection with the government’s refusal to give A$25 million to a fruit cannery in Victoria to partly fund the updating and re-tooling of its machineries and equipment.

noholdenThe politician says the government cannot waste the people’s money to aid a profitable multinational company and by its decision not to help the government can focus on returning the budget of the country to surplus. Later news reported that the government is encouraging the company to re-negotiate its enterprise bargaining agreement with the workers, saying the workers are getting too much. The local MP (she’s from the same party as the government) was vehemently denying this last point, saying the package was not overly generous and that the company already did all it can to minimise cost–by laying-off the maintenance workers and by out sourcing the job.

This was also the position of the government in the car manufacturing industry, which resulted to the withdrawal and eventual closure of all car manufacturers in the country, finding thousands of workers losing their jobs. The same position seems to be applying to the draught-relief assistance that farmers are asking from the government.

Not to waste the people’s money is a good principle. It implies prudence on the part of government politicians in managing the wealth of the community. But to apply this principle without seeing the human person; without considering the people or the community that would be affected by the application of such principle is misguided and not really an act of conscience. Because acting in conscience should always move us towards doing good; towards loving others. Here we see that the subject of right judgment and right action is always the good of the human person or the community. Principles and ideologies are just guides or tools so we might achieve the good of the human person. They are not the ends themselves.

nohelpIn the issue of government subsidies to industries or aids to communities or sections of the community, those people defending the government’s position seem to be dead set on treating these issues as purely economic; as long as the books are in the black everything should be all right. We may ask how withholding financial aid that poses a threat to the entire community’s livelihood; renegotiating workers compensation package so that these workers receive less be a good thing?

I recall an animated movie about ants. One of the soldier ants–the general–tries to drown the entire colony. When others asked him why he is doing it, he answered: “I am doing this for the colony!” On this, the lead ant character shouted: “BUT WE ARE THE COLONY!” Ironically this seems to be the same line we hear from people who justify letting an entire industry close down leaving thousands of workers jobless. “We’re doing it for the country!” Maybe we should also remind them: “WE ARE THE COUNTRY!”

When we take away the human element in every issue or situation, we are treating human beings, as Pope Francis said in his apostolic exhortation, as “consumer goods to be used and then discarded (Joy of the Gospel, n. 53.2).” For this we are spreading a “throw away culture” or an economy and a culture of exclusion.

Just as the Holy Father said: “It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.'”

Making “principled” judgment and action that promotes this culture of exclusion and throw away economic outlook does not make us good persons. When we dehumanise others we are also dehumanising ourselves. Ironically if we continue to promote this kind of thinking; of excluding people, sometime in the future others who would get hold of power and authority may decide that we are no longer useful. Then we may find ourselves the ones being excluded.

On the other hand, the Gospel message proclaims that we are all connected with one another because each and everyone of us is a son and daughter of God. Our call or vocation, therefore, is to affirm each other’s humanity and to offer each other the charity that God offered first—His own Son in order for us to be united with Him and share in His glory.

The Christian call to holiness is to promote inclusion that is based on respect for the human dignity since we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our task is to discern the face of God in each of us and be the icon of Christ who came not to be served but to serve.

Faith and Patience to Recognise God’s Gifts

Presentation of the Lord Year-A

Readings: Mal 3:1-4; Hebrew 2:14-18
Psalm: Ps 24:7, 8, 9, 10
Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

WE ARE all familiar with the story connected with the feast of the presentation of the Lord, which we are now celebrating. The scene began with the arrival of Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus in Jerusalem to fulfil religious duties. We are told that the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple follows the religious law concerning the consecration of a firstborn male child.

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But we hear in the gospel a hint that the Holy Family also went to the Temple to observe another law—more significant to the Jewish religious identity and practice. This was the purification rite for Mary as stated in Leviticus 12. Mary was considered ritually unclean after giving birth. In fact, the two turtle-doves they offered to the Temple were not meant as offering for Jesus’ presentation. Rather, they were sacrificial offerings as a sign of Mary’s ritual cleansing after giving birth. This is the reason why we celebrate this feast on February 2, 40 days after the date marked as the birthday of Jesus.
After these, we are then introduced to two characters—Simeon and Anna. Both are depicted as pious Jews who recognised the significance of the child Jesus as revealed to them by God, and gave witnesses to him. From this gospel narrative, we can pick up two things that we can reflect upon.
First, by narrating Mary’s rite of purification, the gospel demonstrates that Joseph and Mary were faithful to God’s law; in the Jewish religious and social standards, Joseph and Mary were good Jews doing all that the Law requires of them. In a deeper sense, Joseph and Mary’s piety demonstrates that the “salvation that accompanies the Messiah does not disregard the Law of Moses but walks in obedience to it.” 
For us, the message is that we cannot say we love God and yet we refuse to follow Church teachings. Pope Francis says “…it is an absurd dichotomy”—makes no sense—“to love Christ without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church.” Because we “receive the Gospel message in the Church and we carry out our holiness in the Church, our path in the Church.”

Then we turn to the characters of Simeon and Anna. Simeon is “an upright and devout man,” while Anna “served God night and day with fasting and prayer.” When we look at these two characters, we see two ordinary faithful—laities like us who were constantly and patiently seeking God; who were attuned to the whisper of the Spirit. From the gospel text, we can imagine that both of them would have seen many first-born sons presented at the Temple in consecration to the Lord. But because of their attitude of constantly looking for God’s actions in the ordinariness of their lives, they were able to see something special in this particular child of a couple from Nazareth that goes beyond the expected. Their faith in God gave them the ability to recognise the child Jesus as “the salvation which God have prepared for all the nations”, and the “deliverance of Jerusalem.”
In addition to faith, Simeon and Anna also had the patience to listen, seek, and discern God and God’s actions. And they were rewarded by God because of this.
In our own lives, we sometimes fail to recognise God’s presence and action. Maybe not because we do not have faith. But because we do not have the patience to discern; the patience to listen or look, and the patience in seeking the face of God. We live in an era of instant acquisitions—instant photos (“selfies”), instant social networking (“instagram”), instant money even instant noodles. And there’s the temptation to also apply this to God. And if things we want cannot be given to us quickly; if we cannot perceive God in an instant, we complain: “Too hard, too long, too many ideas, too theological.” And then we give up.
But that is not how God works. True, he could have just said in an instant that we are forgiven; that we are saved. But that is just like bad and lazy parenting. The point is we need to learn for our own sake. The whole salvation history, reading the scriptures from the Old Testament to the Ascension of Jesus Christ, we can see that it is a long story of how God tries to teach his people to come into relationship with him and share in his glory. We need to learn. And it is important that we ourselves make that choice to be with God.
In this Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we are being encouraged to imitate the faith and patience of Simeon and Anna. The faith that would move us to constantly seek and discern God and His gifts in our lives, and patience to persevere and endure this vocation.

Spiritual but NOT Religious, Pope says “That’s absurd!”

By Chris Creo

WHEN I was studying for my first bachelor’s degree, I was very active in university-based cause-oriented groups. I was part of the student movement. But at the same time, I was equally active in Church activities. I started as a member of the junior presidium of the Legion of Mary at the age of 10 then was recruited by some community leaders to be an altar server for our chapel. From there I progressed on becoming a reader, choir member, organist and youth and community leader.

For me, being an activist and active church member was a normal thing. That is why I was surprised when a university friend of mine expressed his amazement that I did both.

Nowadays, I find it intriguing at the least when I hear people say: I AM SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS. For me, what these people are actually saying is that they may believe in some transcendental being or state but they don’t want to belong in any organised religion. For people who have a Christian background, what this really means is that they believe in God or in Christ but not the Church.

Vatican Pope YouthsHowever, Pope Francis said recently this line of reasoning makes no sense. Francis, quoting his predecessor Pope Paul VI, says: “…it is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to be with Christ at the margins of the Church. It’s not possible. It is an absurd dichotomy.”

In a sense one cannot call someone a Christian–or claim to love God or Christ–if that person separates himself or herself from the Church. Because as the Pope says in his homily: “We receive the Gospel message in the Church and we carry out our holiness in the Church, our path in the Church.”

Some would defend this position by stating that they cannot possibly let themselves be identified with a religion or a church tainted with scandal, abuse, corruption, etc. One of the inquirers in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) group I coordinate asked: “How can you say the Church is holy if we can plainly see sinners even in the hierarchy–priests abusing children or having affairs, and bishops covering them up?”

But the Church–the people who are gathered in the name of God and Christ–does not claim to be perfect. It acknowledges its own imperfections and strives to overcome all these. We can say that the Church remains holy because her origin, her source and her sustainer IS holy–God himself. The Church is holy because her mission is the pursuit of holiness.

And one cannot do this alone. One cannot achieve holiness by himself or herself. We need others to do this. We need each other. As Pope Francis says we carry out our holiness in the Church–and I would add, WITH the Church.

I would dare to say that to claim to be spiritual but not religious is, in fact, to mask our self-centeredness; our refusal to take responsibility and our fear to share ourselves with others–the real meaning of LOVE. Because to belong to a Church is to give or to share something of ourselves. And we have Jesus himself as our example. Because by dying on the cross, Jesus gave us the ultimate model of total self-giving.


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