What does it mean to be praised by God?

John 5:31-47. Testifying for Jesus

Using the lens of the Lasallian reflection framework or the general empirical method, the act of praising should come after a positive insight and value judgement towards another. A shallow praise is empty flattery or sugarcoating; a more attractive form of BS… but it’s still BS nonetheless. In Filipino, we are more familiar with “pambobola”.

Thus, to be praised by God means for Higher Power to arrive at a positive judgement of how we conduct ourselves. In other words, for the Father who senses and understands everything about us, it is an evaluation of how well we are journeying towards authentic and integral flourishing.

The challenge is: how do we know that God is praising us?

My answer is: we cannot fully know or apprehend it. And it’s better to humble ourselves and purify our intentions, i.e., do good for the sake of good and do it consistently, regardless if we feel that we are rewarded or not.

The story of Job is unsettling, in a sense that we can never fully understand the supernatural. It can seem like pleasure and pain can be arbitrary bestowed or taken from us. Our pleasure and pain are not necessarily rewards and punishment all the time. We may think: why do good when the rewards are uncertain? I’m inclined to think that we are indeed naturally predisposed towards being and knowing what is good, and the reward is more intrinsic — being authentic and consistent with who we are meant to be.

The most deserving leader is someone who is humble; yet the moment a person craves to be a leader, does he cease his humility? The best artisan or athlete is someone who strives to improve his craft for its own sake. The moment he is enamored more by the celebrity lifestyle rather than the craft he is developing, does he lend himself to temptation and distractions?

It’s a tricky paradox and a great exercise of authenticity and humility. The moment we think we deserve God’s praise may be the precise moment we become undeserving of His praise. Therefore, the highest kind of praise we can receive in this world would be an unprompted and unsought commendation from those around us. Yet, we should not let that praise get into our heads, because the moment we do, we become undeserving.

To end, do we want to be praised by God? Of course! But practically speaking, I think it’s a distraction to seek His praise as a reward. The best way to earn His praise may be to do good for its own sake — not for rewards and not for salvation.

We do good because we are good.


When was the last time you had goosebumps listening to music?

John 5:17-30. Jesus describes God as the Father

“I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgement is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” Reading this gospel is quite challenging to follow, because Jesus seems to shift His voice from a “person” perspective and from a “God” perspective. The 30th verse is the one that resonated with me the most. But before I continue my reflection, I have a question:

When was the last time you had goosebumps listening to music?

At that moment, we don’t simply “hear” the word and “judge” the music if we like it or not. At that moment, the listening experience becomes so visceral, as if we are undeniably entangled with the music and the waves of the sounds. At that moment, we are wholly at the present, then and there. At a deeper level, we can even derive insights from the patterns of tension and release, the groove echoing the routines of life; the unexpected notes as the spice of our lives.

Musicians enter that state of flow, or maybe something even beyond flow — a spiritual experience — where their hands take over, and the notes become a language of their own.

At the experiential level, I think that this musical experience is near to what Jesus means as “hearing the Word”. It’s not about passively hearing coffeehouse jazz in a cafe or city pop grooves while in an elevator. Rather, it’s internalizing and savoring the words as if they are melodies of a song.

The live music experience is an exercise of mindfulness and authenticity. This is the kind of mindfulness and authenticity that God can perceive and understand at all times, and this allows God to be just, because He sees all evidence.

So maybe the key is to live life like a musician or a live music audience — bringing one’s fullest self in the moment, enjoying the call and response, acknowledging that tension-suffering and resolution-pleasure is a state of life. Sometimes we play the wrong notes yet we’re able to make it work. What matters is we continue to play and listen to the music, going beyond superficial hearing.


Should we work on a Sunday?

John 5:1-16. Doing things on a sabbath day

Jesus healed a sick man during the sabbath, and He was persecuted by the Jews because He did this on a holy day (“Keep holy the Lord’s day.”)

Jesus justified His healing works in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

What insight can we derive from this? Should we work on a sabbath or a Sunday?

The answer of Jesus seems to be: if doing something addresses an authentic human need or leads to integral human development, then do it. Isn’t this another way of keeping holy the Lord’s day?

Businesses should definitely avoid giving extra work on weekends, especially if it in the great scheme of things, it does not contribute to the integral flourishing of the employee or the manager. But at the same time, a manager who finds his vocation in his work may be inspired to work even on a holy day, if it does lead to his development or the flourishing of the stakeholders he collaborated with.

Each of us have different work styles and ways. What matters is we know why we’re working, and ideally, our work is not merely a source of income. Rather, our work should ideally be a source of spiritual nourishment too. And maybe, in these extraordinary circumstances, we can honor God through the good work we do.

But ordinarily, worship.

And of course, rest!


Because we’re fallible, we need evidence

John 4:43-54. “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”

When Jesus mentioned “You of little faith!” or “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe!”, is this necessarily a negative judgement of us?

It fascinates me that after Jesus expresses how we have to rely on evidence before we believe (e.g., doubting Thomas story), He does good and performs miracles anyway. Yes, blessed are those who don’t see but do believe. But is it reasonable for someone to take something at face value and immediately believe?

The limits of our understanding prevent us from fully understanding the supernatural or the existence of a Higher Power. And I think Jesus knows this. If we interpret His words regarding our little faith not as a value judgement but more of a statement of fact, we better understand that His teaching is not about blind compliance, but relational two-way faith.

The beauty of (potential) parenthood is that it is a more attainable and relatable means to exercise unconditional love. As my wife and I try to conceive, I realize the special circumstance of love: imagine loving someone before he or she even exists. Isn’t this a great example of unconditional love? To love someone by default even if he or she is not yet born?

The child will learn to trust the parent as the parent exercises love and care for the child. It is through evidence that the child intuitively learns of love of the parent, but the parents know that they will love the child regardless. But the child is to young to think for one’s self, so they demonstrate evidences that they can be trusted.

Thinking of God as the Father (or even Mother) is a great relatable analogy. God knows what’s best, and He knows we’re too limited to fully understand that, so He proves Himself anyway.


Are we like the other son?

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. The parable of the prodigal son

Why did the father accept back the lost son? Because he knew that the son has humbled himself and has fully repented. The other son who felt slighted by the father’s welcoming of the lost son seems very relatable – growing resentful towards the lost one (kinda parallel to cancel culture, isn’t it?) and not being forgiving. The flaw of the other son is being too hardened and insensitive even when the lost son has been repenting already.

If we relate this to Philippine politics, are we being like the other son when we keep on “not forgiving” the Marcoses for their documented and proven wrongdoings? I don’t think so! The difference between the prodigal son and the BBM camp is that the prodigal son has acknowledged his wrongdoing, while the latter is doubling down on justifying wrongdoing as the “golden age” of the Philippines!

How can forgiveness be granted to a person or group who has not repented?


To be truly righteous is to acknowledge our wrongs, not others’ wrongs

Luke 18:9-14. How the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed

It feels good to boost our own ego by finding delight in the shortcomings of others. But this is a trap – doesn’t this breed a sense of pride, entitlement, and false sense of superiority?

Misery loves company, and at times, it feels like a mix of guilt and comfort to know that others have problems too (or may have things worse than us). Instead of empathy, we channel a ego-driven sense of pity, as if saying, “Poor you! Lucky me!”

This is why when we judge that there are people who undeservedly gets mercy or rewards, we feel angry; as if the fortune of others is like our punishment.

So the challenge is to stay the course, to be virtuous, even when it feels that we’re not getting rewarded, when it feels tempting to be envious of others instead of grateful for our graces. The solution, I think, is for us to lean into virtues for the sake of virtues, and not virtues for the sake of rewards. Like great artists who craft art for the sake of art and not for public adulation, so to shall we do good for the sake of being good.


Be it done according to the word

Luke 1:26-38. The Angelus

The Angelus prayer commemorates the response of Mama Mary to Gabriel the archangel: “Be it done to me according to Your Word!”

In the Catholic mass, before the Holy Communion, we pray: “…only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Upon reflecting on these prayers, what stands out to me now is that words precede actions. And even in the story of creation, before existence, God utters, “let there be…”

Maybe this is a reminder that our actions should not be borne from hasty judgements or reckless impulse. Actions should be an outcome of intelligent understanding and reasonable judgements.

When we look at snap judgements and actions, aren’t these borne from specialized training of a craftsman, artist, or athlete under very specific conditions? When we look at shortcuts in mathematical formulas, are these not the fruits of intelligent derivations from grand equations?

The key to an integrated life seems so simple yet so difficult: thinking before acting, and aligning thoughts with actions. It’s easy to skip steps, but the ease by which we could skip steps highlights the kind of discipline a truly virtuous person or organization consistently exhibits.


A spectacle is more of an appeal to the senses and emotions

Luke 11:14-23. By the power of demons, he drives out demons

Jesus is accused that the reason He is able to drive out demons is because He calls on the power of other demons. I find myself pondering – suppose that a false messiah performs the same miracles and exorcisms that Jesus did. How do we know that he is false?

Drawing insight from the earlier gospels, Jesus does not necessarily seek crowds and even told those He healed to not spread the word about His miracles. Rather, it is the crowds that follow Him and spread His stories despite His objection. In this sense, wouldn’t a trickster or illusionist choose the most spectacular venue to draw the attention of others and encourage others to blindly follow him?

When we follow someone, is it because of charisma? The challenge with charisma is that it could be projected and manufactured, and it is mostly about appealing to the senses too through positive feelings. We follow someone who thinks, feels, and leads by example, not by spectacle.

A mainstay follower of Jesus wouldn’t claim that He drives demons out because He uses demons. That would be inconsistent, because Jesus would actively heal others regardless of crowds. Those who have observed this previously would realize that He is the real deal; the embodiment of virtue, a consistency of good habits regardless of conditions.


Relying on technicalities and fine prints is another form of BS

Matthew 5:17-19. Not to abolish but to fulfill

Clearly, Jesus advocates against hypocrisy; a projection or appearance of holiness but is not authentic nor integral to the person. In other words, bullshit.

In this sense, the message is not necessarily to rebel against what is written in the law, but rather, to discern: what is the “spirit” of the law? How can we go beyond the law?

My reflection is that the law exists to give us a good foundation of minimum standards to live by. But the law alone cannot suffice in making us flourish. We should honor the law and the spirit so as not to succumb to hypocrisy and BS.

This is the challenge for managers and educators — to live a life beyond compliance, honor the spirit of the law, and embrace authenticity in its fullest sense.


Is repentance a condition of forgiveness?

Matthew 18:21-35. Not seven times but seventy-seven times

If forgiveness is a form of love, and love should be unconditional, should we forgive unconditionally, as in give forgiveness without the offender repenting first?

Perhaps the practical answer is to at least dignify the person of the offender and not be overcome with feelings of revenge and spitefulness. In a sense, maybe this could be construed as a minimum level of loving another. Part of the kind of dignifying and loving we extend could be providing opportunities for repentance.

Perhaps forgiving unconditionally is not necessarily absolving the offender of his sins (only God could do so), but rather it is (1) letting go of vengeful behavior and (2) providing the offender opportunities for repentance.

The dance between forgiveness, justice, and mercy is very complex to manage. Insight and wisdom should be granted to us when we have to play the role of a human judge.