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Gifts of hope

Fr. Carmelo O. Diola

Spaces of Hope  

 

“FATHER, may I see you?” came at text from a Sr. Amanda. This was an unexpected request and I tried to picture in my mind the good sister. Nothing emerged. Nevertheless, I said yes.

She came the following day to see me at the St. Joseph parish in Mabolo, Cebu City. Sr. Amanda is a member of the St. Paul of Chartres congregation. I asked her how she came to be included in my cellphone directory. She had been invited by a fellow sister about 3-4 years ago to intercede for some activities of Dilaab. Her name and cellphone number had been forwarded to me and vice-versa. I vaguely remember requesting prayers for the Yolanda aftermath.

She started interceding for us but took a further step. She started to bring in other intercessors. “No wonder Dilaab has experienced many wonderful turn of events,” I told her. That evening, we had dinner with Sr. Amanda together with my team. It was a reunion of sorts. What joy we felt in our hearts! Prayer makes a family.

The gift of intercessory prayer is something I deeply cherish. It is a gift of hope since it allows us to see beyond our present realities and circumstances.

***

Peripheral vision is also a gift of hope.

Shepherds take the lead since the sheep know his voice and follow him (John 10:4). Yet, there are times, when he has to wait for stragglers, as every pilgrimage chaplain knows. A shepherd must develop a sensitivity to seek out those who may have lost their way or have been left in the peripheries. Shepherds need peripheral vision.

Individuals and groups can develop this peripheral vision. To “ignite spaces of hope” means coming together to reach out to the peripheries by creating spaces where individuals, groups, and even sectors can feel at home with each other and with those in the peripheries.

Our Dilaab journey has been that of developing a peripheral vision. Our programs for the youth, public servants, voters, and, most recently, for drug surrenderees, all have to do with those in the socio-economic, political, religious, and spiritual peripheries. Yet when we provide them pastoral accompaniment, we realize that we too call the peripheries our home. Limitation becomes potential and possibility.

To actively reach out to the peripheries is, to my mind, the antidote to what Pope Francis refers to as “spiritual worldliness”. He explains: “Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being…It is a subtle way of seeking one’s ‘own interests, not those of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 2:21). It takes on many forms, depending on the kinds of persons and groups into which it seeps…” (Joy of the Gospel; Evangelii Gaudium or EG 93).

This threat of spiritual worldliness is so alarming the Pope warns: “Since it is based on carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be. But if it were to seep into the Church, it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral.” – [71] H. De Lubac, Méditation sur l’Église, Paris, 1968, 321. (EG 93).

***

Divine Providence has provided us a home in the pavilion of the historical 51st International Eucharistic Congress. Getting here and being entrusted with a very special space—not as owners but as stewards—has been quite a journey for us. Amusingly, at one point, the possibility of being out in the streets hovered over us as our old office in the St. Jerome Bible Center was demolished to make way for the pavilion.

When we were asked by Bishop Dennis Villarojo, the Secretary General of the 51st IEC, to vacate our office at the St. Jerome Bible Center in order to make way for the construction of the IEC pavilion, our team had no hesitation doing so. Interestingly, about three years before our departure, we had met and agreed to approach Archbishop Palma of Cebu to offer support for the renovation of the St. Jerome center. God always exceeds our expectations.

Since 2014, we have known both stability and moving into the mainstream, on the one hand, and living on the edge and experiencing faith-deepening vulnerabilities, on the other hand. Our new office symbolizes both tendencies.

We need to remember that time is greater than space. As Pope Francis writes in the Joy of the Gospel sec. 223:

Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion…Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces…What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.

He continues: “This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans.”

Yes, we are home at last, but the journey continues.

***

Prayers, a peripheral vision, and a new office should bear fruit. How do we measure success that is not worldly? Again Pope Francis’s words are worth listening to: “Sometimes I wonder if there are people in today’s world who are really concerned about generating processes of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains but do not enhance human fullness…” (EG 224).

“People-building” is further explained by one of Pope Francis’s favorite theologians, Romano Guardini, who wrote: “The only measure for properly evaluating an age is to ask to what extent it fosters the development and attainment of a full and authentically meaningful human existence, in accordance with the peculiar character and the capacities of that age.” (EG 224)

It is easy to lose sight of this essential dimension. We need to be disturbed, time and again, so to return to this lodestar. A poem attributed to Sir Francis Drake brings out this point beautifully:

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little; when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity.

And in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim. Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”

Yes, gift us with Your creative disturbance! A most blessed Christmas to all!

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