Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jesus on the ferry

By its very nature, Camiguin Island is quite remote and separated from the mainland. Our primary means of transportation to and from the island is by ferry boat. There is a gang of boys ranging from ages 6 to 14 whose livelihood consists of jumping off the tops of ferries and diving for coins that passengers toss into the water.

I spy two little ferry boys...
The smallest of the boys, Jun Jun, prefers to do this completely naked, and from time to time will even clamber onto the main deck of the ferry to cajole passengers into giving him a peso or two. On my last ferry trip, he came and sat on the row of chairs in front of me, evidently feeling rather friendly and wanting to chat.

“Hey Jun Jun, you know what? Si Hesus nahigugma kanimo.” [Jesus loves you.]

He nodded knowingly. “Oo, taas sa langit.” [Yes, up in heaven.]

“Ug salud sa imong kasing-kasing,” I had to add. [And inside your heart.]

Raising his eyebrows in agreement, Jun Jun proclaimed emphatically, “Nabanhaw Siya!” [He is risen!]

Earlier that morning, while meditating on the birth of Jesus, I found myself bewildered that the shepherds, knowing little of the Scriptures but having heard what prophets foretold of the coming Messiah, were the first to bear witness to His coming. Why did the heavenly host of angels not appear first to the learned scribes and Pharisees, to the priests of the house of Levi?

Because it is the simple, pure-hearted, trusting souls that Our Lord desires. Because it is the poor that He loves.

And so today. It is the uneducated, poorest ones who hold the strongest faith in His Resurrection. Theirs is a living faith that depends upon Him, from waking til sleeping, for their every need.

The engines are thrumming as the ferry begins to pull away from the dock. I give the few cookies I have to the boys, who in turn share them with each other. I wave goodbye to them as those still atop the ferry dive into the water and swim over to the next boat that has just arrived at the port. 

Johnver, the oldest of the group, calls out, “Rebecca, God bless you!”

And God bless you, all of you, heirs to His kingdom, children of the Most High God. May you seek Him and find Him, and may He abide forever in your hearts!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Jesus in the ward

My friends Richelo and Luz were admitted to the city hospital last week for seven days straight. Richelo is only 31 years old but is suffering from kidney failure and will now need weekly dialysis treatments for the rest of his life.

Waiting for the doctor to arrive.
This changes everything for their family. Can he ever farm again? Will they have to move to another island where dialysis is available? What about their three little kids?

I arrived at the hospital Monday morning to give the downpayment so Richelo could be cleared for surgery to insert a permanent access port in his forearm. From 10am until 7pm I stayed with them, first in the ward, then waiting outside the operating room, and finally back to the ward post-op. Nothing extraordinary, but something beautiful.

During Richelo's operation, I sat with Luz and her sister-in-law Kimberly outside the operating room. Clearly she was worried for her husband and her family. What could I say?

"Nag simba ka gahapon?" I asked. Did you go to church yesterday?

No, was her answer. "Wala ko nag simba." She had wanted to attend Mass but could not because she was taking care of Richelo.

I pulled my missal out of my bag. I always carry my Bible with me, but this time I had forgotten it at home and was pretty upset about it. It's a rookie missionary mistake to leave your Bible behind when doing ministry, especially if you expect to be in a hospital all day long. But God had a plan.

Kimberly came along to support Luz and Richelo during their hospital stay.
I found in my missal this Sunday's Mass readings and showed them to Luz. Together we read the first and second readings and the Gospel. Her concerned face lit up as she pointed to the last lines of the Gospel passage: "These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name."

Luz's quiet, worried voice grew strong and sure as she spoke the name of Jesus. In the midst of it all, the uncertainty and pain, she was brought to tears by the reminder that Jesus is still Lord! Indeed,we have a Savior Who can do all things if we believe in Him.

After spending two days - a total of 20 hours - at the hospital with their family, I was overjoyed to pay the final bill and secure the discharge papers. I waved them happily at Richelo: "Ulit na ta! We're going home!" 

Finally discharged -- freedom!
God is truly good, and, although the road ahead for Richelo and Luz is full of unanswered questions, their faith has not wavered. Blessed indeed are those who believe, for they will have life in His name!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Watch and pray: A Holy Thursday reflection

"Gethsemane" by Carl Bloch
The vigil after the Mass of the Lord's Supper is a solemn one. Most people in the church have dispersed, gone home for the night, and only two dozen or so of the "holy ones" remain in the darkened church, kneeling in front of the alternate tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament has been reposed.

Two little boys, aged about seven and nine, file into the first row. They sit on the pew with a little space between them, gazing straight ahead at the tabernacle surrounded by white cloths, flowers, and flickering candles. The scene is not exactly picturesque; the boys chatter quietly with each other from time to time, and one of them is munching on some chips that he has brought with him, but it inspires me nonetheless. As I have often witnessed on mission in the Philippines, young children here display a devotion to Our Lord that I have never seen before, unparalleled by most children in faithful Catholic American homes.

I hear the boys mentioning the name of Jesus -- "Wala si Jesus....Jesus is gone" -- perhaps recalling a Gospel story or else repeating words spoken to them to explain this night when we commemorate the arrest of Jesus and subsequent abandonment by His apostles. Again my faith is strengthened by the simple yet profound faith of these boys who have come to spend a few minutes with their Lord, that He may not be left alone.

"My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." Matthew 26:38

Let us listen to the pleadings of Our Lord Jesus, Who bears the weight of our sins as He prays in the garden of Gethsemane. Can you not watch and pray one hour with Him today?