The Rebel Jesus

pope francis rockstar

Rock Star Pope

It’s been 2 weeks since Pope Francis took Manila by storm and we’re still reeling from his electrifying 5-day pastoral visit. Already, many are excitedly looking forward to his possible return to the Philippines in 2016 to participate in the International Eucharistic Congress. It is not an exaggeration to say that the treatment accorded to him by Filipinos rivals how music fanatics regard their favorite rock stars. No wonder a number of columnists and reporters have used the term rock star to describe him. The Rolling Stone Magazine actually saw this coming years back albeit in an even broader and more positive context compelling its editors to put Pope Francis on its cover – an accolade normally reserved for U2 or Coldplay.

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Pope Francis was the first pope to grace the cover of Rolling Stone

That he is one pope who is very much at home with 21st century technology all the more endears him to Christians and non-Christians alike. He gamely poses for selfies mostly with the youth and maintains Twitter accounts in various languages. He is also a gifted “extemporator” and an obvious master of the soundbite. In the course of the 5-day television coverage, some anchors even went so far as to say that if only more priests could duplicate the pope’s gift for public speaking, attendance in Sunday masses would even go higher. To this day, without the need to consult the official publication of his homilies in Manila, I can still remember the core messages of his sermons in the 5 days he was here. I suspect I am not alone.

At the Manila Cathedral, he enjoined the priests and nuns to live simple lives and to remember to love the poor if they truly love Jesus. “Do you love me?”, was a reiteration he carefully phrased to preamble his sermon. But before he could finish the rest of the question, the star-struck clergy and nuns in attendance enthusiastically chorused thus, “Yes!” Had he asked the Filipinos who followed his first mass on giant vidiwalls and on their TV sets at home, he would have received a similar response, perhaps delivered even more boisterously.

At the MOA Arena, he enjoined the families gathered there to remember to dream to truly love and to remember the days when husbands and wives used to court each other even as he admonished all those present to be wary of the many ideological forces that threaten the family.

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Pope Francis in Tacloban

In Tacloban, a number of us were moved to tears with his reflections on silence, the suffering Christ and the ever steady presence of His mother Mary. Pope John Paul II’s “Be not afraid” has become even more relevant to us as a people after reflecting on Pope Francis’ message: no matter how tough our daily lives may be, no matter how grave our problems might be, we can draw strength from the fact that Christ has gone through the same and much worse. He knows how it was like. He was, nay, He is with us in silence. After bringing us back to our childhood days when we would mutter “Mama” in total and absolute dependence, we will never look at the statue of Mary, the Mother of Christ – serenely clutching the infant Jesus lest He fall to the ground – the same way again.

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Pope Francis renews the faith of Taclobanons via Jesus and Mary

At UST, even as he naturally demonstrated how much he loved the youth by immersing himself in the warmth and glow of the students who adored him, we were stunned with his realization that there are questions for which there are no answers. Most of these, unfortunately, are questions that hinge on the problem of evil like the one posed by Glyzelle: why do children suffer the most and why is it that only a few could find it in their hearts to help them?

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Fr. Rudy Fernandez, SJ

In a recent talk given by his fellow Jesuit Fr. Rudy Fernandez, it was pointed out that we Filipinos are fond of preparing grand beginnings particularly with regard to the first time we partake of the sacraments like baptism or marriage. There is nothing wrong with this, Fr Rudy averred. But just as important as grand beginnings would be what happens the day after. How do we sustain such grand beginnings? More to the point, how do we live out such grand beginnings? “Pag sinimulan mo, Rudy,” his father warned him when he first shared his ambition to become a priest, “tatapusin mo.” Fr. Rudy’s reflections come to mind in the light of the numerous challenges that came our way one after the other shortly after Pope Francis flew back to Rome.

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The Fallen 44 of the PNP-SAF

Senate hearings on various government funds that were malversed by supposed public servants have resumed. Political manueverings in preparation for the next presidential elections are all over the place. Bombings down south prefaced the deadly “encounter” which led to the apparent “massacre” of 44 members of the PNP-SAF in Mindanao. The government has confessed that it was indeed responsible for rounding up the hundreds of street children during the papal visit. The list of what ails us as a country and as a people is almost endless one is sometimes tempted to give up on changing things for the better.

How are we to deliver on the commitments made on our behalf by Cardinal Tagle sending us off to a life-long mission grounded in mercy and compassion – the apt theme of the papal visit which essentially defines the core of our pope given his life-long love of and devotion to the poor and the marginalized?

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Jackson Browne takes the side of the Rebel Jesus

Perhaps one route might be from the perspective of a non-believer who believes in the Rebel Jesus even as he challenges our individual and collective yes to, the question, “Do you love me?” His name is Jackson Browne and in the obscure track entitled “The Rebel Jesus” he accurately paints a picture of how we experience the twelfth month of the year.

All the streets are filled with laughter and light

And the music of the season

And the merchants’ windows are all bright

With the faces of the children

And the families hurrying to their homes

As the sky darkens and freezes

Will be gathering around their hearths and tables

Giving thanks for all God’s graces

And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call Him by the Prince of Peace

And they call Him by the Savior

And they pray to Him upon the seas

And in every bold endeavor

As they fill His churches with their pride and gold

And their faith in Him increases

If these lyrics remind you of Christmas, it’s because they are, in fact, referring to the most wonderful time of the year. Which augurs well with practically the same exhilaration that we all experienced during the Papal visit. By all indications, the 2014 Christmas season in the Philippines practically extended itself to January 19, 2015.

And here lies the rub, as the next two stanzas of Browne’s homage to the Rebel Jesus unravel the disturbing and uncomfortable implication of Jesus’ interrogative challenge: “Do you love me, Simon Peter?”

But they’ve turned the nature that I worship in

From a temple to a robber’s den In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns

And we guard our fine possessions

And once a year when Christmas comes

We give to our relations

And perhaps we give a little to the poor

If the generosity should seize us

But if any one of us should interfere In the business of why they are poor

They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Make no mistake about it, Pope Francis is not a stoic confined in an ivory tower. As we can infer from his life, before he was elected Pope, he was the answer to every devout Catholic’s prayer for a holy priest – one who would have made his namesake turned saint proud of his lifestyle, a priest who commuted to work daily with the masses, a pastor who associated freely and openly with the poor never fearing to take action with mercy and compassion. Here was a shepherd who truly loved the Lord by tending to his sheep. And in case his lifelong testimony is not loud enough, in the course of his sermons in Manila he pointed out explicitly that it is simply not enough to give alms to the poor. We are called to do something about it. Theory is best validated in practice, we learned in political theory. Or as the Benedictines would put it: “Ora et Labora.” Pray and Work. Be silent in prayer, yes. And then do something concrete to uplift the poor. It may take the form of taking direct institutional action to address the massive structural injustices that make the 1% richer and the 99% poorer. Consider, for example, what the nuns of ACAY continue to do to this day for the Filipino youth who lose their way early in life or how Dylan Wilk turned his back on his millionaire lifestyle to work full time for Gawad Kalinga. It may take the form of quietly living out the 12 little things that Atty. Alex Lacson outlines in his book about what ordinary Filipinos could do to make the Philippines a better country. Or it could even be as concrete as the daily patriotic actions detailed by Noel Cabangon in “Ako’s Isang Mabuting Pilipino.”

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The European nuns of ACAY with the youth under their care


Dylan Wilk inspires mercy and compassion through Gawad Kalinga

notes from my music room the rebel jesus 12 little things

The famous book by Atty. Alex Lacson. Concise and to the point.

notes from my music room the rebel jesus mabuting pilipino

Before it became a book, it was a song that underlines concrete ways to be a good Filipino.

Alas, all of these are easier said than done consistently because they all come after grand beginnings. They have to do with the day after. More importantly, most of these examples, whether institutional or individual, imply rocking the boat, going against the tide and turning the status quo upside down long after the euphoria has died down and it’s much easier to just follow the herd. We could choose to ignore Pope Francis’ call to action or we could choose to do something about it. Either way, the challenge will not go away because the Jesus that lived with us 2,000 years ago, if you come to think about it, was really a rebel through and through – from the time He came into our world as a poor carpenter’s son in a manger to the time He grew up to mingle freely with tax collectors, prostitutes and outcasts to the time that He died on a hill as King of the Jews wearing a crown not of jewels but of thorns. By all accounts, His life was a rebellion against all known conventional expectations of a king and a god. We can choose to look away or we can choose to take action, either way, ironically, through the words and music of a heathen and a pagan, the Hound of Heaven bugs us thus –

But please forgive me if I seem

To take the tone of judgement

For I’ve no wish to come between

This day and your enjoyment

In this life of hardship and of earthly toil

We have need for anything that frees us

So I bid you pleasure

And I bid you cheer

From a heathen and a pagan  on the side of the Rebel Jesus

pope francis and the rebel jesus

An uncomfortable Christmas song


Random Ramblings by a First-Time 10K Finisher

The fastest 10k finisher in the recent 38th Milo Marathon completed the race in 31 minutes, 56 seconds. For perspective, that’s 58 minutes, 4 seconds faster than the prescribed 1 hour 30 minute qualifying time set by Milo for a 10K race. Furthermore, according to Runners’ World, the current record time to finish a 10K race for someone of my age and gender is 29 minutes, 31 seconds.

Be that as it may, I’m nonetheless still reeling with euphoria after achieving a modest Personal Record (PR) by way of my first 10k race. You see I used to average 1 hour, 33 minutes and 34 seconds. At a recent race event in MOA, I surprised even myself by completing my first 10k race in 1 hour, 6 minutes and 41 seconds. It’s not even a sub-par, I know, but I decided to write about it to celebrate it. Here’s why.

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Actual Logo of the 2014 TakBluehan. This is not my bib number though.

Two years ago, I only had a passing interest in this sport. In fact, I only joined an actual racing event early last year to support my son by way of a 3K fun run called TakBluehan with no regard for, much less an understanding of the concept of a qualifying time or a PR. For a time, I was contented with going to the gym thrice a week and when the time would allow it, complementing my thrice-a-week routine with Sunday long runs. Until the influence of print and social media came along that is, most notably, a number of my FB friends who took to running like their life depended on it. Among the most prominent are the NYC marathon finisher and Iron Man Rio Mayuga, the Illinois-based Dipolog Youth Club founding member and newly-minted Iron Man Alvin Ang who’s also my brother in law and triathlete power couple Erick and Karen Perez. It is partly to their credit that I eventually graduated to regarding this sport more seriously. More importantly, thanks to one doctor I met early last year during a routine annual medical exam. Being an accomplished long-distance runner, he advised me, thus: “the Milo marathon is coming soon. You should sign up for that. You’re not a runner if you don’t participate in Milo. Don’t worry about your time. Just go sign up and run.” And so it was that I reached out to a friend who recently turned his back on a corporate career to pursue his first love which was swimming instruction and eventually, triathlon coaching. His name is Nonoy Basa and his school is called Streamline Instruction. The coach he assigned me to was no less than the famous Iron Man and writer Noelle De Guzman also known as the Kikay Runner. I have both of these accomplished athletes and coaches to thank for my recent modest or if you will, baby step achievement.

Before You Begin

In one of our early practice runs, Coach Noelle observed that it’s a good thing my family obviously supported me in terms of my efforts to improve in this sport. More than providing me with the psychological aspect to keep at it though, my family’s now weekly routine of joining me during my coaching sessions as well as my practice runs eventually exercised a positive influence on them as they, too have expressed and shown a budding interest in the sport. In fact, they now jog regularly with me on weekends.

If support from home is critical during my coaching sessions and practice runs, more so, during the actual race. Did I say that the support from home is most critical? My wife Elaine was my cheerleader, motivator and onsite coach all rolled into one the night before the race and after I crossed the finish line.

Other equally important first-hand lessons this beginner’s milestone afforded me before beginning a race are getting a good night’s sleep, watching your nutrition, being early at the venue and doing drills.

The value of getting a good night’s sleep so you’re raring and ready to race during your big day cannot be overemphasized. There is a whale of a difference between running after getting some serious rest and running after staying up late. I’ve experienced both and I did not want to experiment to see if it would turn out otherwise in an actual race. Nutrition and hydration proved to be just as critical as I remembered to carbo-load during lunch the day before and go fibre-heavy for early dinner. Noting Coach Noelle’s insight from her recent blog insights on the 2014 Rexona race, I made sure we were at the venue more than an hour before gun start. This allowed me to do the drills I learned from her which I supplemented with quick jogs and brisk walks.

Voices in My Head

I am grateful for having completed a number of basic running modules offered by Noy’s school prior to my first 10k. The customized lessons they taught via their experience-based talks interspersed with actual demonstrations and drills proved to be of great use to me throughout the 10k route.

Most notably, Noy’s tip of using the 15:10 rule served me in good stead. That the race route happened to cover several loops with state of the art traffic lights equipped with countdowns worked to my advantage. In parts of the route without the said traffic lights, I applied the 15:10 rule by mentally counting from 1001 to 1010 as I sought to complete his recommended 15 paces.

Coach Noelle’s constant reminders kept me on my toes throughout the race. I swear I could almost hear her commanding voice in the course of the race: “Pick up your feet!” “Check your form before you focus on speed.” “Pace yourself but get past the slow runners.” “Trim the forward movement of your arms” “Keep your head up high.” “Put your game face on and your body will follow.” “Speed up in the last 3 kilometers.”

To Compare or Not to Compare

“Papa, I have a question,” my youngest son asked me with a smiling face the night before the race. “What if you’re the last one? What will you do?” I gently reminded him that racing is about focusing on your personal best and not comparing yourself with other runners because if you do, you will only be disappointed. “But Papa,” my son insisted, “I run faster than you do.” Which was partly true because while I would pace myself every time my kids would run with me, my small boys would always break into a sprint and laugh heartily after overtaking me. In any case, I now have a first-hand appreciation for what my running heroes have documented in their respective memoirs. I’m referring here to Haruki Murakami and Dr. George Sheehan who both get positively affected at some point by passing other runners. Conversely, they couldn’t help feeling deflated when other runners do the same to them. This was where the winning insight of Coach John Wooden came to my rescue along with the Nike App that kept me company throughout the race. “Give it your personal best and stop comparing yourself to others,” Coach Wooden would often remind his players. I was just as grateful to the Nike App as it kept my attention glued to the challenge at hand instead of focusing on being passed by other runners. Oh and by the way, I’m happy to report I was not the last one to cross the finish line.

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Nike App’s Take on My First 10k

Quo Vadis?

Not that I’m sour-graping but I would dare say that there was a high probability that I could have achieved an even more impressive finishing time had I not stopped thrice to ask the marshals where the next loop was after I completed the first 8km. I studied the route a week before the race and the night before. Based on the route map provided by the organizers, we were supposed to run towards the northern end of MOA, loop back and then run towards the southern side from where we were to loop back and end where we started. What happened was after I completed both, I had to do two more loops of the northern-end segment before I was allowed to cross the finish line. The Nike App I was using reported that the total distance of the supposed 10k race was actually 10k and 700 meters. It’s a good thing one of its features is its built-in capability to provide real-time feedback regarding your average pace and distance covered with practically each kilometer you complete.

I am equally grateful for its playlist feature which provided the racing soundtrack courtesy of all my rock heroes from Don Henley (i.e., “Through Your Hands”) to Tom Petty (ie., “Learning to Fly”), from The Dawn (i.e., “Habulan”) to Rivermaya (i.e., “Posible.”) Songs like the preceding helped me enjoy the race with a healthy dose of “cinematic drama” even as they egged me on to complete the race with my personal best.

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A Number to Remember My Race By

The Runner’s High

To deal with the confusion and subsequent temporary loss of momentum towards the last 2 kilometers of the race, I remembered Coach Noelle’s reminder to speed up towards the end of the race. Apply it I did, and before I knew it, there was the finish line in front of me and the actual finisher’s medal being handed to me with a hearty congratulatory greeting. The whole experience seemed surreal to say the least. Buoyed by my modest achievement, I allowed the confusion and delay occasioned by the last 2 kilometers to slide even as I noted that some finishers were complaining about the actual distance of the 10k race. Still others were asking about their official finisher’s time.

There is always a euphoric feeling that awaits you whenever you finish a workout or a practice run. Some sports psychologists refer to this as “the runner’s high.” But it’s more popularly known as endorphins – the chemicals which are released by the human body to serve as “the pay-off for your body’s reward system.” I now have a first-hand appreciation of the fact that the endorphin rush that accompanies my weekly routine pales in comparison to the one I experienced after a real race. I suppose this is the reason why so many runners go through the sacrifice of having to sleep early and wake up at 2am to commute or drive to the racing venue and compete on a Sunday which is when a great percentage of our population would rather sleep and wake up late. No wonder there are practically weekly fun runs and marathons all year round. I initially thought that I would have to wait until 2015 to complete my first 10k race after missing the 38th Milo Marathon because of last-minute changes in my schedule. My thanks to Aqueous for facilitating the Green Hope Fun Run. For this running beginner, despite the confusion towards the end of the race, no other name for a racing event could have been more appropriate. Green is indeed the color of Hope and I really had Fun in this Run.

On to the next race!