The last post of the year

I think 2008 will be a year of much hope and excitement for everyone. In fact, I think things will continue to change as they have this past year.

I hope all of you have a wonderful new year and that God will continue to bless all of us!


Questions that need to be asked: stewardship

The same friend who drew attention to sacred music asked me how the Church of the Gesu at the Ateneo de Manila is financed. It led me to ask a few questions that may prove to be somewhat touchy:

1. Given that Christians are encouraged to give to the Church, and the standard for giving (enforced in some places and not in others) is 10% of one’s gross income, do Catholic universities contribute at least 10% of every peso received to the Church?

2. If that is not the case, should not university chaplaincies and churches receive 10% of all gross income given to the sponsoring institutions?

3. Are faculty, students, and staff of these institutions being encouraged to tithe—or if that sounds too evangelical a term—regularly contribute to the stewardship of their religious communities?

An Anglican priest told me two years ago that he gives 11% to the Church. The reason? 10% of everything really belongs to God and 1% is out of his generosity.

To tell you the truth, I am not a ten-percenter type of person. But I know that if Catholics everywhere were made to contribute just 100 pesos a week (and the not-so-well-off among us just 20 pesos) and Catholic institutions tithed their incomes, it would make a world of difference. At the same time, an even bigger world of difference would happen: the Church may finally become more accountable because people would ask where the money goes (I hope). And perhaps those who are concerned about the Church genuinely helping the poor rather than (wait, I might be talking like a right-wing reactionary here, I’ll stop that)…

Edited to add a clarifying comment on how much those with lower incomes are expected to give.

From the mouths of babes…

This afternoon, at my grandparents’ place, a second cousin was his usual hyperactive self, and in a moment of play, took two sheep from a Nativity scene and made them run around, banging their plastic legs on the floor. At some point, he placed the sheep on top of the crib, in a gesture I thought strange but had no cause for reaction.

As I was about to head out from the room where the scene was, I heard him saying, “Jesus is the sheep, and the sheep is Jesus.” He was trying to explain his gesture. Then it dawned on me that the plastic sheep were lambs after all—and my six-year-old cousin had managed to figure out the meaning of the Incarnation almost inadvertently. And he continued, “Jesus is the shepherd, and the shepherd is Jesus.” I wondered where he heard that. He also managed to figure out, in play, what else the feast of Christmas reminded us too.

Christ loved us until death, his death much like a lamb meant for the slaughter. And Jesus the Christ is the good shepherd, not only in that he leads us on the paths to life, but also because in assuming humanity, he saw in his calling the life of a shepherd. We now romanticize the whole thing, but being a shepherd in Roman-occupied Palestine at that time was as close to being nobody. If that image is meant to signal something to Christians, it is yet another reminder of how difficult the Christian message is.

Anyway, I would recommend that you read this piece by Simon Barrow of Ekklesia and I hope you will have a very good Christmas!

Lo, he comes with clouds descending

I managed to photocopy two excerpts from the New Oxford Book of Carols today, and both are Charles Wesley hymns. One of them is “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” and the other is his most famous song, “Hark! the herald angels sing.”

My friend Don often worries that contemporary Christians have at times forgotten the nature of sacred music and hymnody, in favor of throwaway ephemeral stuff the nature of which cannot be described politely here. In a sense, he is right. In the contemporary urban Philippine scene, religious music across denominational lines is of variable quality. Reviving the classic hymns of older years, with proper four-part harmonies, may be a needed corrective, but there is a gray line between being nostalgically irrelevant and timeless that is often trod by those who advocate such revivals.

Yet there is a place for “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” alongside “Halina, Hesus, halina” and “Emmanuel,” a more poppish Advent/Christmas song which I personally like. Both are necessary for a balanced musical diet. In the end, however, if one wants substance and timelessness, we need to learn how to get rid of our guitars and organs and praise bands and, well, sing plainchant. That I think will be the day when we have musically grown up. 


To those in my college class: I hope you could make it tomorrow!

Ordinations and anniversaries

“How shall I repay the Lord for all the goodness he has done for me?
 I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.”
– Ps 116:12-13

To mark the transition between the commemorations of the Kingdom and Advent, I attended two ordinations over the past fortnight. These were priestly ordinations in the Roman Catholic tradition; hence the silent laying of hands ceremony, which I think was a mistake Cranmer and others dropped. (These days, commentary and the use of the vernacular would help people understand the significance of the rite. Sometimes, we need to use less words.) This means that all the priests present would lay on hands; in the Dominican ordination I attended, there were ten ordinands with about 120 or so priests present. Hence both the laying on of hands, which involved two bishops and all the priests of the Philippine Province who could attend, and the kiss of peace, went on for quite some time. I really enjoyed the silence.

Two things stood out for me:

  1. the Dominican ordination used the best-smelling incense I had ever smelled in a liturgical service. I asked my new priest-classmate where they got it.
  2. the Claretians, on the other hand, were able to have a lay choir that sang Bukas Palad’s setting of Psalm 116, a moving and lovely melody that reminded one and all of the connection between Eucharist/thanksgiving and sacrifice.

And I also happened to attend two homecomings; one was of the seminary wherein I am teaching, and the other was of the university where I am studying. It was my tenth high school reunion. Today, though, the revisioning process for St. Andrew’s will begin in earnest and I have some things to say. As for the homecoming in Ateneo—I have a lot more to say at some point in the future, because at the moment I am not too happy for undisclosable reasons.

In medias res – December reading

My self-imposed course in systematics for December-January is becoming quite interesting, one week in. I’m reading the following carry-over books from late November:

1. David Cunningham, These Three Are One – so far, an interesting read. I finally got to understand the meaning of things like “missions” and “processions” in the Trinity. While his decision to propose new “names” for the Trinity will no doubt provoke some fury, his own reading of trinitarian doctrine is so far quite solid and well-argued, and the conscious emphasis on practice is a remarkable move.

2. John Macquarrie, The Search for Deity – I read this the first time back in October for a paper I was writing. The book comprises his Gifford Lectures in 1983. It is a piece that builds upon aspects of his attempt to do theology, which I will also re-read this December.

So my reading list for the December holidays (since I will return them when school starts to the LST) are as follows:

1. John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (1977 edition) – This is another book I am re-reading, this time in extenso, for two purposes: one is to understand his humble attempt to do theology, and another is so that my class can understand his connection to Heidegger’s thought.

2. John Macquarrie, Theology, Church, and Ministry – This is a book which I found on the LST catalog listings and which I have not read. I think this is the book Fr. Joe Mock, one of the chaplains at Brent School, recommended that I should also read.

3. Cardinal Walter Kasper, Leadership in the Church – A collection of essays by a wonderful man I met nearly a year ago. This more recent collection includes his article critiquing the centralizing tendencies of the Vatican.

My agenda for January/February is to read two books. I’m already looking through one of them.

1. John R. Franke, The Character of Theology – A book which would serve as a companion piece to both Principles and Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. It complements the former as it approaches doing theology from a Reformed Calvinist (as opposed to Macquarrie’s Anglo-Catholic) perspective, and it complements the latter as it provides a theoretical and methodological ground for doing theology in a “generous orthodox” spirit.

2. David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite – Lent to me by Fr. Joe Mock, this work, from initial reading, has insights on almost every page. However, it is a book that, for those who have encountered the latter’s writing, reads like Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Herrlichkeit in English translation (and I had a hard time getting through what Dr. Williams and co. made of the German!) and demands some familiarity with names and concepts in postmodernity, patristics, etc. In other words, I will be reading it with the awareness that it could be read again in the future—but that time, I will understand more of it.

Finally, because of a paper I am working on for my personal project, I am going to read Cities of God by Graham Ward. This is his contribution to Radical Orthodoxy’s political theology, and my intent is to connect this to the project of Michael Hardt and Toni Negri toward an alternative to contemporary capitalism.

Now if you think I don’t have time for fiction, I will be reading The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when it all becomes too much.

Advent hymns for Simbanggabi, and fast food coffee

Last Sunday, I attended the usual Sunday liturgy at Holy Trinity Church Makati, where in true Anglican fashion they sang the Great Litany (without the simplification of the Litany of the Saints Cranmer included in 1549), but not in procession as was originally planned. (I should write more about my weekend, because it was as thrilling as the day before the long weekend began.)

The gradual, which was taken from a psalter that adapts hymn tunes in the Hymnal 1982 for the refrains, used the melody which I later discovered was that of a Charles Wesley hymn, “Lo, he comes with clouds descending.” (The tune name is Helmsley, so my non-Filipino readers may know what I am talking about.) It is a tune that when I first heard the full verse, it felt powerful enough that I wished people around here, outside the non-Catholic Churches, sang it during Advent. If not the people, at least the choirs.

I have wondered whether an anticipated Christmas celebration like the Simbanggabi, which I will be attending on occasion both in my parish and in Ateneo, should benefit from a reminder of the “not yet.” Apart from “O Come, Emmanuel,” whose source antiphons are still not sung (as the Missal prescribes) in their Mass context, Filipino Catholics have very few musical resources that explicitly treat of the Advent themes. I can think of two more offhand in the Filipino language, but I think it is a very strong weakness of the Jesuit music ministry’s efforts that they have not emphasized Advent preparation enough.

Apart from kicking a man when he is down, one of the worst traits of Filipinos is that they celebrate Christmas too early. That is why commercialism of the worst sort takes root quite easily when September comes, in our country. Perhaps it is a necessary corrective, at least for me, to expand our repertoire of Advent carols, and use them more during those nine days. A suggestion: there is a Marian hymn, called “Lo, a rose of Sharon,” that is considered an Advent carol, for technically, all Simbanggabi masses are votive masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


On a very light note:
I am beginning to think that the revitalized Burger King is the biggest threat now to McDonald’s, resigned as they may be to the dominance of Jollibee. It seems that McDonald’s has been launching parallel offers of late at the high end to whatever BK offers. So when Burger King declared that a Whopper Jr. meal would cost 99 pesos, the Golden Arches followed by similarly pricing their two bigger burger meals at the same price. Now, a few months after the home of the Whopper launched their BK Joe, by whose “turbo strength” variant I swear, McDonald’s put out a suspiciously similar product, priced exactly 10% less.

It used to be, sadly, that McDonald’s was one up on all the fast food chains here when it came to coffee. Now, both McDo and Jollibee use the same kind of coffee I get in the office vending machine, so they lost a lot of ground (pun intended) here. Burger King’s move is a welcome one, but then they are not the best, if you ask me and my family.

The best fast food coffee is that of Dunkin’ Donuts. A native Bostonian, for whom I worked a while, told me that he read a case study back in the States where it was said that the fortunes of the doughnut chain were in part revived by their coffee. This has been no surprise to those of us who have been frequenting the chain for years, and I now have even greater reason to be proud of their coffee. For I learned recently that the coffee is a special blend, which comes from… the Philippines! Instead of paying money to the US chain, the local franchise-holders pay in coffee. The blend is used both here and in the US, I believe. The other reason is that they really train their crews to make it fresh. So unlike the other chains (and like, I suspect, Burger King, where they use a special machine that enables this), they always brew it only on order, not leaving a pot on for a long time.

So next time you drop by that doughnut store, do try their coffee. It’s way cheaper than the premium ones they have at the two burger shops, and the muffins are quite okay too. For that matter, ask McDo and Burger King where they get their premium coffee. (I might get around to asking that one day.) It’s one little thing you can do to help our country.