The weighing scale

Of the good in you I speak, but not of the evil. You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps. You are not evil when you go limping. Even those who limp do not go backward. In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness; and that longing is in all of you.” – Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (1923)

An old limping man asks me to help him up with the metal scraps he scrounged in the trash yard that day. “I am going to sell this to a Chinese who owns a junk shop nearby.” he says. In his friendly ways, I can sense how harsh life is treating him. In spite of material poverty this old man is living, surprisingly, I can see joy in his eyes.

Payatas

While helping him,  he requested me to hold a weight of about four pounds in my right hand. “Now extend your right hand out to the full length of your arm. In order to counter balance that weight, you will tilt your body slightly to the left.” Metaphorically, then, if your burdens are all in one area of your life, your entire life will skew in one direction to counter balance the affect.”

His remark about life made me wonder if he sensed how I was observing him. He continued.
“Now hold weights of two pounds each, one in each hand, and extend your arms to full length. You are carrying the same weight, but because it is distributed differently, it is easier to bear.”

“And now hold those same weights in the same hands, but let your arms rest at your sides. Once again, the same amount of weight, but even easier to carry.” Deep inside me, I am certain of learning something from his wisdom. So, I allowed myself to be attentive to what he is about to say.

“So again, the point is that it is not only the weight itself that we carry, not only the burdens of life that we carry; it is also the way in which we carry them that causes us to bear them more or less easily.

I sit in silence looking at how I am carrying or balancing my “loads” in life.

Usually, when we speak of balance in our lives, we look at the things we do, we focus on our actions and the time we commit to them. Example, forty hours each week to our work, twenty hours to our families, and ten hours to ourselves, etc.

But that is not all that is meant when speaking about balance in our lives. There are also the balance of emotions, and the balance of attitudes.

Things are “balanced” if they are of equal weight on all sides. Does it mean, being really angry on one day and really happy on another? No, I don’t think it’s a balanced emotional life because carrying even light weights at their extremes is a tiring exercise.

Genuine balance and harmony, genuine equanimity, comes when the RANGE of our emotional response is less extreme. It comes when our anger is accompanied by compassion, when our fear is accompanied by faith, when our joy is accompanied by sorrow.

Now, I understand the glow in his eyes despite his impoverished lifestyle, limping physically but walking normally in his balanced attitude in life.

I believe that the true balance in our lives is achieved when love and kindness override fear and anger; that the true balance in our lives is achieved when love and kindness prevail in spite of world’s turmoil: injustice and war.

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Do not be afraid

It is very important to cross the threshold of hope, not to stop before it, but to let oneself be led  – Pope John Paul II from his book “Crossing the Threshold of hope

My heart is beating faster as I see him walking slowly down the aisle towards us. Seeing his old frail body, his shuffling gait, his shoulders bent forward with a seemingly pronounced dowager’s hump , I feel a palpable presence that surrounds him, an electric power. Raising and waving his trembling right hand, evidence of a Parkinson’s disease, he imparts a Papal blessing. 

 A strong and positive aura continue to radiate from him as he waves his hand, as he touches a face while walking in a painful pace. He is now coming closer to where I stand. I can feel a very strong spiritual power an inch away from me. I lowered my gaze from him feeling unworthy of this peaceful presence I am feeling. One, two, three…I feel a blissful sensation. His hand is over my head. Yes, his gentle hand is touching my head but for me he is touching my whole being. In that single silent gesture, he calms my troubling and worried soul with a father like assurance:  “Be not afraid.”

It was my first  intimate encounter with Pope John Paul II when he celebrated the Holy Mass for around 7,000 Filipinos Migrants at the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on 1 December 2002. In his homily, the Holy Father said:

Many of you have had the chance to find employment here in Italy and have attained a standard of living that enables you to help your family members at home. For others, however – and I hope that they are few – your status as immigrants has brought you serious problems, including loneliness, the separation of families, the loss of the values handed down from the past and at times even the loss of your faith…(read more)

I had several occasions of seeing him personally but there were always an immense crowd between us. I first saw him on his first trip to Manila on 17 February 1981 when he presided over the beatification of our first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz.  I was still too young then to understand his spiritual role. This encounter was followed by his second visit to the Philippines on 15 January 1995 to celebrate the 10th World Youth Day Congress. Here I saw a different comical side of him: he entertained us by twirling his cane like Charlie Chaplin!

All those years of personal encounters from Manila to Rome, what did I learn from Pope John Paul II ?

                 Pope John Paul II

My Catholic Church is an institution with 2,000 years of history. It has seen crises before. It has seen heresies, it has seen schisms. It has seen sex scandals among the clergy, etc.  So there’s nothing new about the fact that the church is in crisis.

Against this crisis, John Paul II  with his words and deeds, became a living testimony of complete abandonment to Christ, a total trust in Him at the moment of great trial.  His conviction that Jesus Christ is the answer to the questions of every human life, became his infallible companion in his most dramatic moments as Pope.

His call to “Do not be afraid” was first heard  at his papal installation in 1978.
I can hear him saying it among the hundreds of thousands of youth and old alike: DO NOT BE AFRAID.
He said it everywhere he went, over and over again, and whenever he said it, he was quoting the Angels: DO NOT BE AFRAID.

His call needs to be taken in and be internalized: DO NOT BE AFRAID. It is Jesus assuring words too: Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid (Jn.14:27).

John Paul II was never afraid. He trusted in the Lord and went about doing His work. It is a great lesson for all of us.

He was not afraid to travel the world and show us his face of suffering and infirmity, demonstrating – over and over again – that age and infirmity and a compromised physicality does NOTHING to devalue the worth of the human person.

He was not afraid to apologize to the Jewish people for the Vatican’s glacial coldness during the Final Solution, and for historic filiations between the church and anti-Semitism.
He was not afraid to apologize to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, and to the Muslims, for the appalling damage done to civilization by papal advocacy of the Crusades, and by forced conversion and massacre in the Balkans during the church’s open alliance with fascism during World War II.
He was not afraid to apologize to the world of science and reason by admitting that Galileo should not have been condemned by the Inquisition.

He was not afraid to work for ecumenism or to reconciliate efforts with the Jews, Muslims, Greek Orthodox Church, Coptic Orthodox Church,  the Russian Orthodox Church, and other Schools of Christianity.

He was not afraid when he returned to Poland in 1979 to speak to his people, inspiring Solidarity. Thus changing the course of world history, toppling down communism or the Soviet empire.

“Be not afraid” is what I’ve learned from Pope John Paul II and he strengthened it more when he touched me on that blessed day. In silent whisper he said : “Ross, do not be afraid!.”

On April 2, 2007 will be his second death anniversary. I reckon the day when I joined thousands of pilgrims in Rome, camping out overnight on sleeping bags, roll-up mats, and cardboard boxes flattened to try and separate our bodies from the cobblestone pavement.

It was my simple final tribute to his earthly existence. John Paul II is “an intellectual with a warm appreciation of popular piety; a mystic who is also an avid sportsman; a celibate who celebrates human sexuality and has many women friends; a Pole with deep sensitivity toward Jews and Judaism; a man of profound inferiority with an exceptional public presence.”

It was an emotional event to find myself before his simple wooden coffin with a book of Gospel on top of it. There lies a simple and humble man, a great Christian who spent his life loving and reaching out to anyone, an ardent follower and lover of Christ, his only Hope and Love.
I will remember you John Paul II.

I will not be afraid for the Lord is my Shepherd! (Psalm 23)!

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Funeral Pope John Paul IIFuneral Pope John Paull IIbefore the funeral of Pope John Paull II

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Funeral Mass Pope John Paull IIbefore the funeral Pope John Paull IIBefore the funeral mass

Pope John Paul II Quotes to follow…

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