"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Listening And Acting On The Word: A Faith Built On Rock

Ignatius is wounded at the battle at Pamplona 20th May 1521, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

reflected on Jesus's words “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven…” (Mt 7:21) and I was led to the Encyclical of Benedict XVI Spe Salvi (Hope saves) that defines faith as more than a personal conviction... (Spe Salvi 7). I learned about the deep meaning behind this assertion during my eight-day retreat less than a month before my ordination to the presbyterate in 2012. What happened? At that time I have accomplished the final comprehensive examinations already in theology. I did not expect that a crisis of faith would still ensue at the last minute. I went through a deep desolation of a sort. Indeed desolations come when we are too proud of having accomplished something. It was on the third day of my silent retreat that a serious doubt came to me. I started asking if I was really called to the priestly vocation. At first I thought it was just another temptation from the Evil One who was trying to make a last minute trick on me; however, it turned out to be his most diabolical and wicked scheme of all. What did the enemy do to me? He told me all the lies he could say in order to assail me, e.g., that, to say the least, I did not have a calling to the priesthood. All these were like forces battling deep within my soul. He told me that I just made it all up according to my own liking. My retreat guide, Fr Arnel Aquino SJ, used the non-directive style and so he gave me the leeway to choose which biblical texts to ponder. So I was so proud about the first three days of the retreat not knowing that I was just choosing those that I only wanted to hear. I thought I was truly being consoled. It dawned on me that the one I was conversing with at prayer was already the enemy disguising as an angel of light. I learned about that when Fr Arnel asked in our session “What did Jesus say to you?” I was speechless because I realized I was not speaking to Jesus. I was thinking about God, talking in my prayer about God but not to God. I experienced what St Ignatius wrote in his Spiritual Exercises about the angel of light, quote, "At first he will suggest good and holy thoughts, and then, little by little he strives to gain his own ends by drawing the soul into his hidden deceits." Even in matters of the Sacred Scriptures the enemy and I were staring each other down and, in the end, I lost because it is true the enemy knew from Adam everything in the bible. He is mentioned in the very first pages of Genesis. No wonder St Ignatius’s words about the ability of the evil spirit to bombard you with all the lies in order to make it more and more difficult to see things otherwise are gospel-truth to him. When I found out I was so far away from Jesus to hear a word from him, it was a free fall. The clever enemy found a perfect timing to tell the lie that I did not have a calling from God. Worse, even this God whom I believed in was no longer real I just made him all up too. And all my personal convictions about myself and my God suddenly collapsed. I learned in a very hard way that personal conviction, or personal reaching out alone is not secure; it can be very self-manufactured, shaky and dangerous. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven…”

The second point, how did God save me from this hole? Even my own thoughts were put in unstable ground and everything with it. I realized then that I could not trust even my own thoughts anymore. My retreat guide was very quick in accompanying me out of the hole. First, he told me not to read anything, including the Bible, but just go to the Quiapo church in Manila to attend mass and contemplate the many devotees whom I will meet there. So I went in haste to attend the mass with the many pilgrims. After the mass the lay minister sprinkled holy water upon a huge crowd of people who rushed to him in order to receive as much holy water as they could. I was deeply touched by their zealous acts of devotion and great love for the Black Nazarene—an image of Jesus carrying his cross. I remember seeing a young woman who raised a pile of books and a few ball pens to be blessed with holy water. I surmised these were her reviewers and writing materials for an upcoming board or licensure exam. In my contemplation of her the image of the hemorrhaging woman who touched the tassel of Jesus’s cloak suddenly flashed in my memory. There were countless others who were praying ardently, listening intently and always with tears. And they fervently believed. After that I went back home to join the evening mass of the Jesuit community I was staying with during my retreat. I volunteered as an acolyte. During the post communion as I was cleaning and wiping the chalice with the linen, it flashed in my mind memories during the last supper of our Lord. I felt in my hands the sacredness of the linens and vessels. It was an “aha” moment, a breakthrough. "My mind cannot doubt these anymore!" I told myself. Realizing something not a figment of my imagination, I was brought back to the ultimate "proof" of the existence of my loving Lord, the one who made all this possible, the one who instituted everything. I began listening to the Lord once again, with the ears of my heart. He who has called me anew to his love reassured me that his love will always be real and he never deceives or never tells lies. His words are always true. When the mass ended the thick cloud of doubt also evaporated. At that point, I knew I was brought out of the deep crisis. Thanks to these holy paraphernalia, these sacred church linens and vessels, though simple but substantial. Benedict XVI is right—faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something or "Someone". This fact has been described so beautifully and perfectly in today’s first and gospel readings. Both talk about a fortress city or a castle not only made of rock but founded on rock. “Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal Rock.” It is a bulwark, a strong wall that no storm could be able to shake or wash away.

Third and last point, how can we truly build this house on rock? What can we do? In the gospel Jesus tells us how. Our Lord distinguishes between two types of listeners: those who listen and act on the word and those who listen but do not act on the word. Jesus says, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” I realize more this time that there is not only listening but also acting on the word. It is not only studying the word or theologizing. All that could still be shaky and its foundation is built on sand. I am thankful for that experience that left a bad taste in my mouth. After we listen, we need to go out of ourselves and meet the people, especially the simple folks. And to be able to truly listen well, one must be able to empty oneself before the presence of one’s fellow human beings and listen to Jesus through them without judging, without prejudice, without selfish agenda. Faith is not a personal reaching, it is a relationship with our loving God who loved us first. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ