OCD Provincial Superior

OCD Provincial Superior
Very Rev. Fr. "Chito" Reyes, OCD

New Commissar Elected!

In our recent Consultatio Praevia (election), Fr. Angelo "Bing" Madelo was elected as the new Commissar of the Philippine-Vietnam Circumscription. He was formerly Definitor General for the Asia Oceania Region of the Order of Discalced Carmelites.

I would like to thank all those who have followed the blog of the OCD Philippine Commissariat faithfully. I hope the readers benefited from the articles presented as much as I enjoyed preparing them. I didn't realize how fulfilling writing was until i tried it.

Please continue to pray for us specially for Fr. Angelo as he begins his term February of 2011.

I look forward to a little rest...

Fr. Chito, OCD

My Darling Hamburger…

Two things I have to work out upon arising from sleep: First, “Where am I?” and secondly, “What am I scheduled to do this morning?” Most days in a month, a Carmelite Provincial would be on the road and wake up in a bed not his own… more often than not, a bit disoriented. This can take its toll when done too often and with too little recovery time in between.

I don’t think I am any different from the millions of other people who struggle to confront the pressures of day-to-day living. Sometimes, reality is just overwhelming that it would be normal (and probably healthy) to have some form of escape. When we use one type of escape regularly, it becomes our coping mechanism.

Escapes come in different shapes and sizes. We often resort to some form of escape when we have reached what is known as a “limit situation.” As the term implies, this is a condition that a person finds himself in when he can no longer continue doing his tasks based on his normal working capacity. Only then can he summon powers beyond himself to overcome the said limit situation. This process of surpassing difficult situations is often referred to as “transcendence.” Common experience tells us that transcendence can only take place when a person has already reached his limit situation.

When we think of transcendence, we normally relate it to something that is good or beneficial. However, transcendence is not always an altruistic value. We may use not-so-healthy options to go beyond our limit situations. One merely has to think of violent tantrums, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity or shop-until-you-drop mentality as destructive coping mechanisms. Aldous Huxley (of “Brave New World” fame) coined the term “downward transcendence.” He came up with this term while experimenting with mind-altering drugs. Huxley’s use of drugs allowed him to transcend the normal human limits that were imposed on him by the realities of his life. Just like Aldous Huxley, we can cope with our limit situations in an unhealthy way (downward transcendence) or we can deal with them in a healthy way (upward transcendence).

Aside from the coping mechanisms usually employed by a Carmelite religious (e.g., prayer, spiritual direction, asceticism, etc.), I have two other favorite ways of handling limit situations. The first one is running. This activity not only helps me think things through but also clears my clogged-up arteries. The second one is reading in a nearby hamburger joint. The burgers are always gustatory delights, but they only come in second to the simple joys of reading. If the book I brought along is really interesting, I forget where I am and my attention is centered on the material at hand. My choice of books then becomes important because they aid in the upward transcendence I have chosen to employ. With a little exaggeration (and poetic license), one can probably say that a well-stocked bookstore is my opium den.

I am sure that many people do not consider running and/or reading as desirable coping mechanisms. The point I’d like to emphasize is that we always have options when we are faced with tremendous pressure. Any person can opt to transcend the limit situations he is confronted with in a healthy way or in a manner that harms himself.

Next time you wake up a little disoriented and have to confront what seems to be a limit situation, remember that God cares for you very much. And I think it would be in accord with His will if you try to use upward transcendence in coping with whatever difficulties you find yourself in.

The Bathroom Boys and Other Anomalies

Let you in on a little secret… In our Novitiate House in Tugbok, Davao City, formators have this unwritten (and somewhat funny) tradition of giving a particular class of novices a “nom de guerre.” For my novitiate class (besides myself, there were Vinci Guia, Romy Miano and Arnel Tindugan), we were humorously referred to as the “ihi” group (roughly translated in English as the “bathroom boys”) because we were constantly asking permission to go to the bathroom. Until now I can often be caught on the lookout for the nearest bathroom when entering new premises… just in case I need to live up to my batch’s lofty calling.

Last August 6, 2010, eight students of the Philippine-Vietnam Commissariat made their Solemn Vows as Carmelites. This means that they bind themselves to be faithful to their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience for the rest of their lives. These eight students come from three novitiate classes: Bros. Francis Nguyen Tien and Jonald Panganiban from the novitiate class of 2002-03; Bros. Joseph Nguyen Binh, Dhyck Piangco, Vito Competente, Ransom Rapirap and Andy Quiza from batch 2003-04; and finally, Bro. Richard Escoto from batch 2004-05. I’d like to think that it’s more than just coincidence that I was Superior of the Novitiate House during this same three-year period. To add to the coincidence, Fr. Dan Fauste, the current Superior of the Student House was their Novice Director. And if that is not enough, Fr. Rey Sotelo, the current Student Director was their Postulant Director in our Postulancy House in Bacolod City.

Being the Superior of the Novitiate house for that particular period, I got to more or less “preside” over the giving of the different batch’s (you guessed it) “nom de guerre.” To make this article more exciting and inter-active, I’ll be giving a short description of the batch and their given “nom de guerre” without any particular order. I’ll just leave it up to the reader to make the connection between the different batches and the respective group descriptions that I will be making. Or better still, you can ask them yourselves. Mind you, not all the members of the batch fit the “label” given them. It’s just that this is what struck the formators at that time. And subsequently the batch became known for that over-riding attribute.

One batch seemed to have been obsessed with ghosts (called “white lady” in Tugbok). Ghosts were supposed to be making regular appearances along the corridors and the courtyard at night. The usual implements (like holy water, rosaries and even garlic cloves) to ward off spirits were constantly being hung around the novices’ respective rooms. This batch we called “the ghost busters.” We also had the “iyakin” (weepers) batch. The name caught on to them because compared to the other batches, it looked to us that they cried more often. I was told by my own Novice Director Fr. Alan Rieger, that he also had an “iyakin” batch during his stint in Tugbok… but that’s another story. Finally, there was the “madamdamin” (overly sensitive) batch. The members of this group seemed to be always at odds with each other. Although there were a lot conflicts, it is to this batch’s credit that they were always able to reconcile with one another.

As you can see from my short exposé above, religious life is not at all just a series of prayer, religious ceremonies and theological studies. Human idiosyncrasies and frailties are part and parcel of daily living. Even after many years of formation, the novices I handled during those years still struggle (as I also struggle) with old, as well as newly discovered issues. People who respond to God’s call are not perfect human beings and will probably never be. More often, they are very much aware of their weaknesses and (I’d like to think) small infidelities. It is their trust in God’s mercy that they continue to struggle even if it seems at times that their efforts appear to be futile and never ending.

You can probably surmise that Carmelites, although called to sublime Union with God, are still very much a “work in progress.” For this reason, we Carmelites have to constantly struggle to be faithful to prayer and will always need all the prayers we can get.

Prayers please…

The Book of Job - Bible 101

Sometimes during prayer, I find myself whispering disconcertingly to God the following words, "Here's another fine mess you've gotten us into." This line comes from the celebrated Laurel and Hardy comedy sketches of pre-war vintage. I'm hoping that God does not get too annoyed with me when I say these words because it is meant to be more of a comic relief than a complaint. Holy Mother St. Teresa of Jesus had her own version on this axiom when she addressed God saying, "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have some few." Fr. Eugene Flamegh, CICM, my Church History professor at Maryhill School of Theology labeled it "pious blasphemy."

This brings my long-winded introduction to the main theme of this essay: the mystery of suffering. Why do people who respond to the Lord's call to mission more often than not have to suffer? Can't they just have a good time while "laboring" in the Lord's vineyard?

These depth-plumbing questions invite us to a short (I hope) digression. I find it quite ironical that in the English language , the word "suffer" can also sometimes be translated to mean "allow" (as in Jesus' command to His disciples "suffer the little children to come to me"). This gives the reader a hint to the general direction of my reflections. I don't think God wants anybody to suffer, especially not those who consider God to be their primary employer. It is more probable that He "allows" suffering to take place for a greater good ... whatever good that might be (it's supposed to be a mystery remember).

Suffering in itself may not be very valuable or useful. It is the lessons we learn from the pain, the hardships and the tribulations that makes the experience of suffering worthwhile. Try to recall an experience of complete certainty (e.g., the certainty of one's vocation). This certainty could not have come about if a person had not at first experienced paralyzing doubt and confusion. Or consider an attitude of hopefulness. One can only develop this attitude if he or she had been initially placed in situations of hopelessness. Hope is engendered because a person chooses to respond in a positive way to trials that seem quite insurmountable.

There is an old adage that says, "God can write straight with crooked lines." As in the proverbial Job, our task is not to question God on how, when and why He makes crooked lines straight. Our job (pardon the pun) is to believe, to trust... that in the end, "everything will work out for the good of those who love God and who are called according to His will."

“In Tune in Incheon”

Kimchee, bulgogi, kalbi chin, bibim bap, udong… These were just some of the gastronomic treats that visiting Carmelite friars tasted in Incheon, Korea. The brothers from six circumscriptions namely: host-country Korea, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Philippines-Vietnam, Singapore-Taiwan met in Incheon last Oct. 12 – 16, 2009. They were there not just to savor Korean cuisine but to be part of the regular gathering of Carmelites in the Asia-Oceania region.

Every year, the friars meet to discuss a particular aspect of Carmelite life and/or ministry. The venue for the conferences rotates amongst the six separate juridical entities of the Carmelite Order in the region. The main theme for last year’s meeting centered on the “Retreat Ministry.” All together there were 19 delegates who attended the forum. The Philippine-Vietnam circumscription was represented by Fr. Alan Rieger, Fr. Buddy Torres, Rev. Jack Tangan and myself.

The main points of discussion focused on how the friars in the region can share their available resources (e.g., personnel, facilities, material, etc.) with one another. The different Provincials also agreed that whenever possible, they will allow member-friars to spend some time in the different retreat houses in the region so that said friars can experience Carmelite life as lived in the different circumscriptions.

The meeting in Incheon was also the first conference that the new General Definitor for the Asia-Oceania region, Fr. Peter Chung (Korea) attended. He replaced Fr. Angelo Madelo (Philippines) in this particular job. We will be seeing more of Fr. Peter this year as he makes his Visitation in the Philippines this coming April 15- 30, 2010.

For the current year 2010, the annual get-together is tentatively set to be held in Bangkok, Thailand. It will be a meeting of formators and formandees and will in turn be hosted by Singapore-Taiwan. I look forward to the lively discussions in the conferences as well as the renewal of fraternal bonds. You can also say that my gastric juices already anticipate the delights of Thai cooking. Hello… tom yam, phat thai, kai sate and pandan jelly.

Miles to Go...

As you read this article, I will be on a much-needed, long anticipated vacation with my brother and his family in Washington, D.C. While staying with them, my only preoccupation will be to "impersonate" an amoeba... eat, sleep, and engage in cell division.

I see my early vacations as something like a pregnant womb where one prepares for spiritual rebirth for the challenges ahead. Roughly two years have elapsed since I took over as Commissar of the Philippine-Vietnam Circumscription and I must say it has been like an action-packed movie. There have been many twists and turns... high drama alternating with humorous counterpoints. In all this events, God's grace have never been lacking.

Of all the poets, Robert Frost perhaps captured the moment of transition that a person experiences when he takes a much-needed respite. He writes, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep,"- one is invited to lose oneself in the seduction of the night - "but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep." The transition is merely a break (albeit an indispensable one) to prepare for more arduous tasks ahead.

It is during my "winter hiatus" that I relish the high points that have taken place in the past year. These are the events that I consider as life-giving and inspire me to work harder. High on my list for this year is the harvest of four solemnly-professed brothers, one ordination in the priesthood and the growing number formandees in the House of Formation. I am also thankful for having Carmelites held this in Fatima, Portugal. Another formation that is being given to our brothers who have been in the ministry for some time. This includes the seminars on sexuality and the mid-life transition that have recently been conducted. Hopefully, we are gradually being transformed into better evangelizers.

A lot has already been done and we are invited to do much more. It is good to rest, to reflect, to be thankful. But all these must bring us back to the road that God has led us to.

... The woods are lovely,dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

from "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening"

A “Scent” of Mt. Carmel

By Fr. Narciso C. Reyes, OCD

A recent phenomenon that has been surprising a lot of people is the success of the trekkies (read: Star Trek) conventions in the United States. In these gatherings, people who otherwise would have been considered strange or even bizarre are able to discuss the finer points of why Mr. Spock has pointed ears. As they say, “weird is relative.”

It is along the same line of thinking that I was so excited to attend the General Chapter of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers in Fatima, Portugal last April 17 to May 8, 2009. Aside from it being held only once every six years, it would probably be the only forum where I would meet more than a hundred other guys who are confronted with the same problems that I struggle with everyday. Some of these problems are so mind-boggling, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

The participating Provincials came in all shapes, sizes, ages, color and degrees of receding hairlines. One thing though we had in common was our struggle to be faithful to prayer. I was specially edified by the friars, who even after a long day’s work, would still find time and energy to do their private prayer in the oratory. Others woke up very early and did their mental prayer before our scheduled masses. This was quite difficult because the weather in Fatima at the time of the Chapter was very cold and getting up in the morning was a real struggle. One easily picked-up the “scent” of prayer because of these friars who were faithful to our charism.

The Chapter lasted for three weeks and we tackled many difficult issues and problems. Some of which were left unresolved due to their complexity. The new General ( Fr. Saverio Cannistra) and his Council really have their work cut out for them. With so many changes and challenges confronting the Order at this time, I have no doubt that the next six years will be an uphill and arduous climb for all of us. However, I am also sure that with prayer as our guiding light, no problem will be insurmountable.

Ascending the heights of Mt. Carmel would be a little less difficult if the “trekkers” remain faithful to the scent of prayer.