Christmas is…. By Letty Jacinto-Lopez

Sunflower, lavander seeds French Provincial tree
“Come see my tree,” said my friend Cora Florencio and that made me smile. To me, once the Christmas tree is up, the most beautiful and well-revered season is definitely upon us. My mother would play Christmas carols and sweet lullabies that were both soft and calming. She’d gather us around the console radio and relate the first-ever hotel overbooking that resulted in no vacancy for Joseph and Mother Mary. My sisters took turns in hanging tree ornaments with new ones that they added every year. My Lola would stock up our pantry with native desserts and home-brewed refreshments as reminders that the body as well as the spirit must be well nourished. Christmas was the only time in the year when children were allowed to stay up late. Sometimes, my sisters even took me to the early dawn mass (Simbang Gabi) that made me feel really grown up. I wonder whether the fact that I was the resident, always-on-call chaperon limited any alternative choices opened to them? These images brought home the message that we can practice the virtues of faith, hope, charity and love in small and simple ways. My top favorite remains the Christmas tree because I can see, touch, and smell it. If I sit under its leafy canopy, I end up climbing it, to the highest branch, to see what was over the fence and over the horizon. 1a)  Carnival in Venice tree (In decorating the Christmas tree, follow one rule of thumb: Use ornaments that you have collected through the years. From Russian matryoshkas or nesting dolls to Spanish fans and native anahaw fans, Danish blue and white Christmas plates, piglets in ballet tutus and pointe shoes, butterflies, happy faces, miniature perfume bottles, silk flowers, sachets stuffed with lavender seeds, cinnamon sticks, dried orange rinds, Venetian masks, garden tools, photo frames, miniature books, baking tools or kitchen magnets, even pieces of jewelry and fun watches). For my first grandson, a nursery theme of Noah’s ark and the parade of animals in twos. What about a musical theme with miniature notes and instruments including the colorful jackets of music CDs? Indulge your hobby too by using that as a theme. For my son, that would be automobiles while daughter would go for the constellation, the moon and stars. The ideas are as endless as your imagination).
Black and white checkered bows with pearls and eyelets and  red  bows Our parents and elders spent time to pass on the traditional symbols of Christmas so why not make room to embrace the wonder and beauty of what they each represent?

The tree. If you’re lucky to find a fully-grown fresh pine tree – like in cool and picturesque Baguio of yore – the green color represents the everlasting hope of mankind. The needles pointing upward symbolize man’s thoughts turning toward heaven.

The star is the celestial sign of promises made long ago, the shining hope of mankind. It is a time to rejoice and to celebrate the birthday of a precious baby. When he grows up, he will fulfill his mission that will cost him his dear life in ransom for ours.

The wreath is the eternal nature of love, never ceasing, forming one continuous circle and having no end, like the round wedding band that signifies the precious covenant between husband and wife.

The candy cane represents the shepherd’s crook or staff used to bring lost sheep back to the fold. That no matter where you stand, whether as a simple folk or a scion, each one has a place in the grand plan of the Maker.

The gifts are symbolic of the gold, myrrh, and frankincense that three wise men brought to the Christ child. In gift-giving, remember that there is a part of you that you wrap with the item, in praise of friendship and brotherly love.

The bells ringing out are to guide lost sheep back to their fold. A fitting reminder that Jesus will look for any lost sheep and that each of us is so precious to him that he will never leave anyone in a lurch.

The satin bow is used to tie the gift to symbolize the intimacy of being tied together in bonds of goodwill and kinship.
Bicentennial year tree, red white and blue with cinnamon   sticks These symbols are not limited to the Christmas season. In summer, during the wet season or if you live abroad where there is winter, spring and autumn, the flowers gathered in a bouquet would remind us of the giving nature of true love.

The sound of distant bells, or the wind chime hanging in your garden trellis, can resonate and make tingling sounds to lead you back to the right path.
Spanish fans and christmas plates tree Lastly, the star, in any season and wherever you are, can light and guide us safely back to our hearth and home.

If you are still searching for the heart of the season, just remember that without Christ, there is no Christmas. May you don a generous spirit and like a child, fill yourself with wonder and awe. Tell me again, Who alone can make a tree?

Why We Give By Letty Jacinto-Lopez


In the pattern of daily work, we take many things for granted: A restful sleep, a bright new morning to jumpstart our wits and enthusiasm, plus re-energized vigor to tackle the day’s load. We focus on our own needs and priorities, shutting out the others, until we come across those who have made it their ‘business’ to take care of other’s ‘business.’ They come, full of hope and trust that with us holding their hand, any task will bear fruits. They are the Franciscans, OFM (Order of Friars Minor).

“They’re in urgent need,” said Jayme Blanco, a lay minister whom I met in Santuario de San Antonio Parish a couple of years ago. “Just as our world is growing in population and in years, the demand on their time and resources is steadily increasing,” he said.

When I turned the pages of the Parish Bulletin (www.ssaparish.com), I read the various ministries that remain at the core of the Franciscans’ drive: Hospital ministry, scholarship, prison, ecology, youth ministry, friendship home livelihood assistance, Basey Samar housing, the poor rural parishes in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and many others. I find them closest in response to Jesus’ words that whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. This is the very reason why the Parish of San Antonio mounts a charity event every year. (Year 2015 marks the ruby anniversary of the Parish).

Our men in brown, aware that they are not adequately equipped, seek help from others who are better adept to take charge of philanthropic undertakings. At the center of this appeal for funds, they remain grateful and appreciative to the Working Committee and their assembly of volunteers. A sense of appreciation that is further expressed through the distinctive personalities who are blessed with immense talent and are equally inspired to share and help the Parish in their own artistic way.

This year, we applauded Cecile Licad and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the inspired baton of Gerard Salonga. In the realm of concert music, Cecile Licad makes the ebony and ivory keys take flight, carrying our passion with it.

In a film on the life of English author Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol), there was one scene I found most compelling: 

The author was dining in a restaurant when a gentleman approached him, “Why is it we should help those who do not help themselves?” By those, he meant the many fallen women and their offspring, who rely on charity hospitals (similar to what we have around Manila).

Dickens replied, “These two grim nurses, Poverty and Sickness, bring these children before you and preside over their births, rock their wretched cradles, nail down their little coffins, and pile up the earth above their graves.
Their unnatural deaths form one third of the annual deaths in our great town.”

“But what of God?” the gentleman continued. “What of Him?” Dickens retorted. “I feel sure God looks leniently on all vice that proceeds from human tenderness and natural passion.”

God is always entitled to our best. The best in our craft, in writing, in singing, in dancing, in playing, especially in the choices we make and what we hold close to our hearts.

FrancisFest 2015 deserved our best.
In praise of God and for His glory.

Cecile Licad in Concert SOLD OUT! Sponsorships and donations are still accepted. Kindly contact Bernadette Andulte of SSAP Office at 843-8830/31.

“The Poor, you will always have with you” by Letty Jacinto-Lopez

Lazarus and the rich man dressed in purpleShe was waiting in the wings, dressed in rags, hesitant to approach me, but when I caught her eye, she put on this most disconsolate face and begged, “Help me. I suffer from Hypertension and I can’t buy my medicine.”

She took out a piece of paper containing a prescription, “The doctor in our barangay health clinic warned me, ‘Buy this medicine, quantity good for one month, or else, your condition will worsen and lead to cardiac arrest, stroke or even death.’”

I took her aside and replied, “I can’t give you cash. But, see the pharmacy just across from where we are? We can get your medicine now.”

At the pharmacy, I showed the prescription to the lady behind the counter. “Everything in this paper?” she asked. I nodded. “Yes, and please triple it so that she’d have medicine for the next three months.”

The sick woman squirmed and gave me an antsy look. “There you are,” I said. “I hope you’d feel much better, soon.” She couldn’t speak, as if lost for words at the sudden surplus of medicine.

The following day, I saw her again. This time, she was standing at the other side of the grounds, still disheveled and desolate. I stopped and watched her. She approached an elderly woman, holding the same prescription in her hand. She was about to reenact her rehearsed lines when she saw me from the corner of her eye. Poof! She was gone.

I saw her a couple of times more. Each time, she’d run off in a scurry of confusion.

Was I the great sucker? I sure felt like one. I was even angry, until I remembered the prayer to the Divine Mercy, “Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor. I will refuse my heart to no one. I will be sincere even with those who, I know, will abuse my kindness.”

A point of challenge: How far would you go? How deep is your faith?

If you see the poor, desperate and needy, do you get harassed? Do you ignore them? Do you wish that the Social Welfare would do their job and round them up, out of sight and out of mind? Do you feel pity and extend a hand to help out? For how long and how often?

In any economy, the poor cannot be eliminated. Even in the richest of countries, there will still be the problem of the poor, whether they are natives or new immigrants escaping a cruel or despondent life.

Do they serve any purpose in the grand scheme of things?

The poor becomes a School. They teach us:
Compassion – opening our hearts to understand and be moved by their impoverished condition. We extend help, in kind, through monetary means, or making it possible for them to go to school and be taught. With knowledge come opportunities that open new horizons, thus, reducing poverty in a positive way;

They deepen our Faith in our merciful God who would never abandon them or any of His children;

They challenge us to be kind, teaching us the virtue of Humility. Furthermore, God uses His other children as His conduit, His bridge to bring comfort and relief to His other sons and daughters who are deprived of brotherly love.

A friend kept complaining about his compadre who fell into hard times. He kept borrowing enormous amount of money from him. He was eroding his patience and wanted to drop him as a friend. Another compadre set his mind in perspective. “Isn’t it better that you are in a position to give help rather than beg for help? Which side would you rather be? Isn’t a true friend one who holds your hand in good times and in bad?”

Outside the church grounds, there was a man who gingerly appeared, murmuring something inaudible. My husband reached into his pocket and slipped a note to him. He smiled softly and returned to a shady corner.

“You know why he needs help?” my husband said. “He lost his nose, his fingers, his toes and maybe, other parts of his body because of an infectious disease. Do you think anyone would bother to hire him in his disfigured condition even if he is eager to work?”

I thought of the parable of Lazarus, the poor man covered with sores who waited for scraps from the table of the rich man dressed in purple.

In the afterlife, Lazarus was brought up to Heaven where he received mercy and compassion.

Let us learn from the poor.

They bring a deep sense of value that can never be measured in human or worldly terms.

How to Win the Heart by Letty Jacinto-Lopez

How to Win the Heart 1
First, you must have honest and noble intentions. You are so taken by her that you’d want to do everything right and everything good to capture her attention, to make her know you exist and that you are out to make this feeling you feel so enabling that you’d make her see, feel and in time, believe in you so that she’d reciprocate the feeling you feel and would want to live and grow old with you.

Whew! That’s a mouthful.

You cannot win by bribery, buying her everything her heart desires – clothes, jewelry, the good life – they won’t last;

By violence – threatening, frightening, hurting her to submission or pirating her away by force;

By deceit – you lie. Everything you do and say is contrived and put on;

By drama – using full theatrics, bells, whistles, thunder and lightning to floor her. You razzle-dazzle her telling her that she had cast a spell on you luring even the sun, the moon and the stars to blaze a blinding trail to where you are;

You can’t pressure her either. You need to make her feel and think of you in a ‘true love’ fashion where your anxious heart waits for her call and command.

What then must you do?

You sacrifice. Even if it breaks down your spirit, a toll on your brain and brawn, you give up your time to be with her.

When she’s happy, you are happy. When she laughs, you can’t help but also laugh. You want to share everything that’s calm and beautiful. Anything that puts a glisten in her eyes and a smile on her face. You want to sweep her in your arms and trip the light fantastic. You are so captivated and inspired that your heart bursts out in songs of longing and praise.

When she’s worried, you worry. When she’s safe, you feel content and you sleep long. You always want to protect her. There is nothing in the world that you won’t do to keep her well and at peace.
Your heart is filled with trust, compassion, generosity and gratefulness.

If you succeed and she becomes your wife, it doesn’t stop there. True love expects, nah, demands, that you continue this devoted and persistent attention every day.

If you argue, if you fight, if you have words with her and make her cry, you are restless until she is once again in your arms, snuggling and warm; her heart flowing with so much joy that she shouts to high heavens, “He loves me.”

“And, I love her,” you affirm.

Love brings out the best in you. But, be on guard. Don’t let anything fool or blind you to become selfish and greedy. What is the one rule of thumb? Do everything with love. If it’s not for love, it destroys and it kills, because your prime motive becomes self-centered, to benefit yourself and your ego.

This is love on a human perspective.

How to Win the Heart 2
What about God? How does He love us?

He fulfills every criterion of undying love. He indulges us, protects us, celebrates, sings and dances with us. Most of all, He sacrificed.

By giving up His only child, he secured and guaranteed a life teeming of happiness and abundance that will never end.

When we hurt and push Him away, He always makes the first move to breach the chasm.

One song celebrates God’s immeasurable love for us: God is everywhere. He is in the break of a new dawn, in the pouring rain, in the scent of early morn, in the glow of the moon, in a babbling, chattering brook, in the blue haze of fluffy clouds, in the warmth of tiny hands holding you tight, in the hope of the broken, in the laugh of a friend, in the soft lullaby of a mother, in the dream of a lost child, in the strength of the tireless man, and in the sweet sigh of lovers.

Even if we turn our back on Him, He waits, He lingers. Patiently. No matter where we go, He is there and prods us softly that His heart can only rest when we’re back in it again.

This is what makes God happy.

If we’ve gone back to God, should we not bring those we love back to Him, too?

For those who are lost, desperate, misunderstood, those who are wandering and wallowing in stormy seas and self-pity, stuck and struggling out of the mire, in sin and in hate, let us help God find them.

“Come back, you belong here with me,” God says.

We do, dear God, we do. Show us the way and never give up on us. Amen.

“A Mother’s Sorrow” By Letty Jacinto-Lopez

Originally Published by PHILIPPINE STAR and in Father James B. Reuter’s
Mama Mary and her Children, Book 3.

Mama Mary

         “My son, my son, please don’t break my heart, ” cried my friend as she waved goodbye to her child who was off to party that night.  She said this every time he left the house.  I would laugh at her earnestness – short of taunting her for being uber ma-drama yet at the same time, I felt a tinge of sadness because no matter how many times she repeated it, there was no guarantee that he won’t.

         I broke my mother’s heart when I gave up playing the piano.  She didn’t get mad but she walked slowly away and said, “Someday, you’ll regret it.” And she was right.  Again, I broke her heart when I threw caution to the wind and defied her wishes.  Thank goodness, she didn’t give up on me.  Instead, she continued to plead and pray for me until I realized the wisdom of her counsel before it was too late.  How many times did my mother save me?  Maybe, much more than I care to admit.

         You won’t know it yet, but when one becomes a mother, there is a special grace given from above to help you become one.  The moment you lay eyes on this miracle of creation, nestling close to you, you turn into the most gentle, tender person.  You cradle him with utmost care and you become sensitive, loving, patient, generous and tolerant all at once.  The transformation is so pronounced that you’d amaze yourself at how natural it all seemed to be, like second skin that just grew in you.

         But just as fast, the tests begin.  This little person you’ve grown to love unconditionally would be the same person who would hurt you with a pain so intense that it could leave you bone-weary and deprived of life and emotion.

         It begins with an exchange of words that escalate to a heated argument until you are forced to draw up a line where you assert your authority over your child hoping that it would diffuse the tension and the growing coldness and detachment your child feels for you and vice-versa.  That’s when tears well up and you steel yourself to hide the anguish that’s eating up your heart.

         But like any mother, you don’t dwell on it.  You forgive, you move on.  What mother would give anything to shield her child from harm?  Why could not the child see the darkness ahead?  His mother would have caught a moonbeam and throw it across his path to light it.

         Father Domie Guzman SSP, drew a parallel between Abraham and Mama Mary.  When God tested Abraham and asked him to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice, Abraham did not question God but without hesitation, built an altar to perform the sacrifice.  Just when Abraham was about to slay Isaac, God intervened.

         Picture Mary at the foot of the Cross.  God has asked Mary to drink the cup of suffering to fulfill the salvation of man.  She offered her Son as the sacrifice.  Would she have wished God to intervene and stop her just like what God did to Abraham?  Probably, it crossed her mind.  But she was following the will of the Father.  When she said yes to become the mother of Christ, she also said yes to the passion and death of Christ.  The pain that was gnawing at her heart was foretold and still when the time came, her broken-ness was beyond measure.

Blessed Mama Mary

         The challenge to Mary was to follow what Jesus was doing:  To forgive.   Could we have the compassion to forgive just like Mary did?

         I found it quite amusing to compare Mary to some of the film clips we see of hysterical mothers who would be flapping their arms wildly and screaming and wailing at the top of their voices to express their grief.  Mary was the “mater dolorosa”.  She wept in silence.  She showed the serenity of a strong woman.

         In any language, a son without a mother is called an orphan.  But what do you call a mother without a son?  No word can describe the concept of grief and pain.

         My friend, Jopee Valencia-Gueco, passed away a few years ago.  Jopee struggled with poor health complicated by a donor kidney, diabetes, poor eating habits, bad cholesterol and hypertension.  She surprised us all because beyond the constant emergency treatments she underwent, she kept her spirits high.  Her biggest test however was to lose her two sons spaced five years apart.  Her body was limp and numb but she accepted her fate in full resignation and humility.  We tried to steer her away from dwelling on her loss – hard and wrenching as they were – and the fact that she kept her sense of humor helped a lot.  However, in the privacy of her garden, I would catch her praying and lifting her pain to God.

         When she was cremated, I held the bag containing her ashes – still warm – before it was placed in a marble urn.  I felt deep sorrow but it did not weigh me down.  Although Jopee suffered long, she carried her cross with joy.  I suspect that her love for her sons must have been so strong that she didn’t want another day to pass without being with them, and God agreed.

         Another friend was about to be wheeled to the operating theater and I held her hand to reassure her that everything would be fine.  The surgeon came up to her and with a naughty glint in his eyes asked, “Are we ready for some pain?”  She gave a smirk and replied, “Of course, I’m a mother.

         And so I pray, “Holy Mother, cast a gaze of kindness upon those who suffer, upon those who struggle against misfortune and whose lips are ceaselessly tinged with the bitterness of life.  Have mercy upon the loneliness of the heart, upon those who weep, upon those who tremble.  Give hope and peace to all, Amen.”

PART 1 Advent: How it all Began By Letty Jacinto-Lopez

Holiday List
At a recent celebration of the Holy Eucharist, there was a new commentator who was visibly overtaken by nervousness. Instead of announcing that the Church was already on its first week of Advent, she stuttered, “Today, um, ah, hmm, we’re on the third week in Ordinary Time!” (Ordinary Time is made up of 34 weeks that focuses on the three years’ public ministry of Jesus, from his Baptism until his Passion, including Lent and Easter).

The lady next to me snorted, “Whoa! Woman, haven’t you seen the Christmas decors?” Come to think of it, many of us are also guilty of not knowing what the Christmas or Advent season is all about, although the most obvious, visual reminder of this season has already taken over our homes, with hype and hysteria.

Father Domie Guzman, SSP, remarked, “At the beginning of Advent, I greet every one a Happy New Year because it ushers a whole new Liturgical year in the Catholic Church.”

The word Liturgy was taken from the Greek word Leitourgos which means public works, a schedule of public celebrations, where we commemorate the story and life of Jesus during the entire year.

During the olden times, the early Christians had no celebration of Christmas because they were constantly on the run and being persecuted. They observed their religion clandestinely and everything was done hush-hush.

It was only in 313 A.D., during the reign of King Constantine that Christianity was permitted. All by virtue of Constantine’s mother, Queen Elena, who converted to Christianity. Constantine signed the Edict of Milan to treat Christians benevolently within the Roman Empire, enabling them to worship Christ out in the open.

The first two seasons introduced by the Church were Lent and Easter. It was in the season of Easter that made Sunday mass an obligation; it also means that for the Christians, the week always begins on a Sunday, to celebrate the rising of Christ.

The season of Christmas was only added in 380A.D. Before then, there was no outward celebration of Christmas, although December 25th was already a celebrated holiday in Pagan Rome. It was marked with orgies and drunkenness, as every Roman citizen paid homage to the Sun god. To the pagans, the sun brings light to the world. The early Christians used this as a starting point. “Why honor merely the sun, a star in the solar system, when Jesus Almighty is the real light of the world?”

It was in France where a 3rd season in the Liturgical calendar was introduced (aside from Lent and Easter). “If we prepare for Easter and Lent, why can’t we prepare a season for Christmas?” came the cry. Thus, the Christmas season was introduced, covering twelve days, exclusively from December 25th until January 6th. (Read: Twelve days of Christmas).

In order to calculate Lent, the French counted back 40 days from January 6th, thus November 11th (Feast of St. Martin of Tours). November 11th begins the observation of Lent, with fasting for 40 days, alms giving and other Lenten sacrifices.

MODERN ADVENT. In 590 A.D., Pope Gregory (a brilliant artist, musician and astronomer as well) changed the calendar. His argument: The rotation of the moon around the globe is 28 and ¼ day. He therefore adjusted the calendar by adding one day in February (Leap Year).

In fixing the calendar, Pope Gregory also fixed the liturgical calendar of the Church. He shortened the preparation time for Christmas from 40 days to 30 days.

The word Advent means Adventus Domini or the coming of God. “We are awaiting the coming of Jesus, the King.” during the season of Advent, the priest wears purple, the color of royalty, honoring Christ the King. This color is achieved by mixing red with a rare color of blue called indigo.

Advent has four weeks divided into 2 parts:
1) The first two weeks is devoted to the Second Coming of Christ (that’s why the Readings focus on being alert and observant and always being ready for the coming of Christ, etc.).
2) The last two weeks is dedicated to the immediate
preparations for Christmas.

In 1833, a German Protestant pastor introduced the first Advent wreath. Green is the color of the wreath to signify the victory of winning the Olympic race. Now, green signifies the coming of the triumphant Christ.

Three purple candles (representing hope, peace, and love) and one pink candle (for the shepherds and joy) make up the candles used. One candle is lighted each week. Sometimes, a 5th candle in white or gold is placed in the center of the wreath to symbolize Christ.

Advent should serve as a beautiful, gentle reminder that Christ is the reason for the most wonderful time of the year spreading warmth in our homes and in our hearts.

*****

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