The Homily of Fr. Cielito Almazan, OFM during the Eucharistic celebration on the Annual Retreat of the friars of the Province of San Pedro Bautista.

My dear brothers, 

In this Eucharist, we celebrate as brothers the feast of the baptism of the Lord. It comes immediately after the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord which was yesterday.


The Lord’s baptism should be meaningful to us because with it we can understand the beginning of the mission of Jesus which is to establish the kingdom of God or the Messianic Age, with the help of the apostles.


Also a Movement

Some authors coin his mission as Jesus’ movement. There were many religious movements during the time of Jesus, like the Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Qumranites, Therapeutai, Herodians, Zealots, etc. These were like advocacies or interest groups emphasizing one aspect of Judaism or another.

Jesus’ mission starts with his baptism. From his own hometown, Nazareth, he goes down to the Jordan River to ask from John the Baptist for baptism, like those in Judea and in Jerusalem and the unexpected people like the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

John was at a loss, when Jesus approaches him. Previously, he was scolding others saying, “You brood of vipers… Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” John’s baptism of repentance does not apply to Jesus.


Jesus says to him, “Let it be, it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus needs his cooperation to fulfill his mission. His mission here is expressed as righteousness.

Righteousness is understood as right relationship with God.

As soon as Jesus is baptized, the heavens open. The Spirit of God descends upon him like a dove, alighting on him. The voice of God is heard, confirming him, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

With his baptism, God moves. He comes down to establish relationship with us, sinners.

We will know later how he does it: by instructing us, by healing our infirmities, by exorcising demons in our hearts, making us wholesome persons and godly people, presentable to God.


St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi is recognized as a holy man, man of God, because he was able to capture the meaning of the gospel and including his baptism.


St. Francis led a life of penance as a way to follow Christ in the gospel. He was ascetic. He mortified. He practiced self-denial. He did not submit himself to his whims and sinful tendencies. Before his conversion, as he wrote in his Testament, he was living in sin. His life conformed to the world.


He moved deep into his spiritual life, discovering God in prayer and devotion, helping the poor and the lepers, following closely Jesus of Nazareth as described in the gospels and frequenting the sacraments offered in the Church, the body of Christ. Thus, he was able to establish right relationship with God.


Since he was under the inspiration of God, spirit-filled, devoid of egoism, carnal and worldly desires, for the heaven opened up for him and he opened up to God, submitting totally to his providence, he was free to give himself to the mission of Christ.


Franciscan movement

As we know many men and women were inspired by him, by his sincerity and authenticity. Thus born the Franciscan movement to which we have attached ourselves.


In this retreat, we ask ourselves: How are we as Franciscan friars? Are we still moving?


In our CVM, our vision explicitly states that we are journeying with all towards a new heaven and a new earth. Have we lost our vision? Are we still faithful to our vowed life?


This afternoon, we heard the letter of the Minister General Michael Perry that many of us get stuck in the urban area like Metro Manila. Many do not want to move out.


What does that tell us?


That journeying is not new to us. Itinerancy began with Jesus, followed by St. Francis and those who started the Province of San Pedro Bautista. Can we go to the periphery, even those who are in the center? The center has also its peripheries.


First Reading

The first reading tells us that the coastlands will wait for the teaching of the servant of God. There will be no let up until he establishes justice on earth. Are we not also God’s servants? Brothers, let us think again of our identity, we received from our baptism.


Second Reading

The second reading affirms the mission of Jesus, after his baptism, moving from Galilee to Judea. Peter tells this to Cornelius who was in Caesaria Maritima, along the Mediterannean coast.


The Acts of the Apostles, the first missionary document of the Church, tells us that Peter was visiting the Christians in Lydda, near Jaffa, where Caloy is assigned. He left the center, the mother church in Jerusalem, to encourage those in the peripheries who were increasing in numbers due to the efforts of the first missionaries, the first eyewitnesses and ear witnesses of Jesus.


There is so much movement when we are faithful to what we are: itinerant God’s servants, God’s children, followers of St. Francis, OFM missionaries.


In this mass, we pray for ourselves that like Francis, we may open up our hearts and minds to God, purified from fears, selfishness and sin, bravely going forth to bring the good news to the homeless, migrants, widows and orphans due to mindless killings, abused women and children, unjust economic and political system and bad governance, moving about, witnessing to the world, to our parishioners that justice is possible; peace is possible.


We pray that we may be able to show that we are close to Jesus and we are trying to be solidarity with them by simplifying our lifestyle and by being present in their joys and sorrows.


May our retreat help us renew our commitment to JPIC as brothers and lesser ones. God bless you, brothers.




My dear brothers,


Just a few words.


We just heard the letter of the Minister General.  It was read to us in the context of this retreat which is part of our ongoing formation. When I was a moderator of ongoing formation, I learned that the aim of ongoing formation is our conversion, to become more and more faithful to our vows, to our consecrated life, all to become like Christ.


I would like to highlight some points which the General has mentioned in his letter. We know that the general based his ideas on the final report on the state of the province and the provincial chapter resolutions 2016.


Can we take them as points for our personal and communal not just for reflection but also for conversion?

 1. Financial Challenges


The general believes that we can alleviate ourselves from financial woes if we have the proper state of mind. This can be translated into our sense of belongingness and co-responsibility.


I understand sense of belongingness as belongingness to the local community, to the provincial fraternity, and to the Order.


We strengthen our sense of belongingness, by recognizing our fellow friars in our own communities. We belong to our brothers. The brothers belong to us. We are there to take of one another. We do not use our convents as a staging ground for our personal commitments. We have guardians to regulate our schedules and expenses so that we will not be in deficit, but add even our contributions to the province. It is presumed that the budget approved is reasonable.


I understand the sense of co-responsibility as partaking in the everyday affairs of our friaries and apostolates. If I am assigned to a parish, I make sure that my time and resources are for the parish. If I purposely absent myself, when I am needed most, like on Sundays and feastdays, it is so irresponsible of me. It is so irresponsible of me not to take over the masses of a sick brother, not to have an extra mass in the name of day-off. “Don’t touch me. I am not available. It is my day off. It is the birthday of my friend somewhere.”


When I was assigned in Sampaloc as the rector and guardian, I saw to it that everything was in order. I had a good support of Etchie or other friars. I was also roaming around like others who had many commitments. I was teaching at OLAS and ICTC. Two days were taken out of VOT. I was also a secretary for the missions and evangelization who had to go around. Yet our office secretaries did not import guest priests. So money does not go away. Those who remain behind took over. The same happened when I was assigned in Frisco. The friars assigned were determined to minimize guest priests. Some sacrificed not to go to malls or go on vacation on Sundays. I for one, when I was said mass outside, I always submitted my stipend, though I was not the highest in submission. Meaning the priests of the parish, those who remained behind did more pastoral work than I who was always going around also for meetings.


We must be good stewards. We are stewards of our parishes, schools and convents and of our brothers. We make sure we earn more than we spend. That old mentality running in the 1960s and 70s, until now, “the Order will support me” is long gone and is no longer tenable. This does not make me obliged to support my community. It is reasonable to accept stipends. If we don’t, we are depriving our communities of its needs. We need to replenish our resources.


One time, I thought that burning out is applied only to the always busy friar. A friar can easily burn out if he is working like hell always, has multiple concerns, not having time to rest. But in one of our ongoing formations long ago given by Emmaus in Cebu, a community can also burn out, when the members go to apostolate spending money to the people, but then when coming back, they do not bring home any amount. Next day, they go out again for their apostolate. They ask for transportation money, travel allowance, but when they return, they do not bring anything to replenish the resources. Surely, the community is burning out. Asking for more budget, because we work less or we refuse to submit our stipends which are actually not our personal money but the community’s, is a sign of a burn out community (a sign of mismanagement).


If we don’t do well as employers, if we are not fair and just, we will be penalized. Hard earned money will be wasted for penalties.


The general warns, if we are bad stewards, or bad administrators, bad community, selfish members, instead of being cheerful and joyous givers, not withholding anything to the community, if we are attached to worldly riches, I repeat what the general quoted from Pope Francis, “Either you be willingly poor and minor, or you will end up being stripped.” That is a stern warning. Let us learn from the experience of the General Curia.


If we practice Spirituality of Stewardship, we will know that it is not just a matter of giving to the community, to the poor or to God what is due, but most of all, realizing that all our generous acts are done as acts of thanksgiving and worship to God. We encounter God when we let go something that could be dear to us, for the benefit of others, including our community.


 2. Formation challenges


Though we are recognized as more advanced in our formation programs than our Asian counterparts, other countries are sending their candidates to us; India is asking for our handbooks, etc., the Minister General wants to strengthen or improve our ways to evaluate our programs.


It seems programs are supposed to be always evaluated or developed. Many things are coming out year after year, as we dialogue with other people engaged in formation. We do not get stuck with our handbooks. Handbooks are only our guides how to systematically implement our documents on formation, like the Ratio Formationis Franciscanae.


Templates for evaluation must be adjusted accordingly. I got a template from CBCP how they evaluate their commissions in the form of a report under 8 categories:


1. Celebratory – is it celebratory?

2. Training and formation – what are the activities meant for the instruction and formation of the intended clientele

3. Organization improvement – do the activities meant to sustain and enhance internal operation, system, processes, communications, manpower, planning, etc.

4. Linkages and partnership – teaming up and working with other groups, providing support and assistance to them

5. Advocacy activities – campaign, lobbyist against a bad policy, practices, etc.

6. Study and publication – efforts meant to examine and clarify, like surveys or information to the public

7. Consultancy – do we have activities that provide expert advice?

8. Other activities


The evaluation should include income and expense report plus the manpower report. In the definitory, we are waiting to approve the format (template) for evaluation. The Plenary Council is coming, just months away. Brothers in the formation work, you have a lot of things to do.


Lately, the pope approved a document on the priestly formation. That General Executive Decree, released last Dec 8, the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, tells what kind of candidates we should have and how should we train them to become real shepherds of the Church. I get an impression that we will get less and less candidates for priesthood. I hope I am wrong.


Our minister general is not only concerned about improving our evaluations, but also the choice of formators and the formation of our formators. They should be prepared for formation work.  Here we always admit that nobody is really prepared to do formation work. But we are trying. Our brothers in the formation communities admit their inadequacy and need to be equipped with skills.


Their challenge is to help themselves to learn how to accompany the candidates, who are called millennials, they are of different breed now, than those before the digital revolution. The formators must develop the ability to touch their hearts and shape their minds.


We help our candidates to become more human, more cultured, more couth, more sensitive to the feelings of others, more fraternal in their dealings with one another, more truthful and more respectful.


Some observers or sociologists like Randy David calls our era today as post-truth and post-polite. With regard to post-truth, we are living in a world in which anything can be circulated like false news by creating a false website in the internet or social media. With regard to post-polite, we are living in a world where politeness is fading. In the social media, we can lambast anyone who disagree with us. There is so much bullying.


We inculcate in the hearts and minds of our seminarians those sterling human values which are still observed in many good natured families and cultures.


Brother formators, you are like the Risen Lord accompanying the two disciples going to Emmaus. Jesus joins in their conversation. The two show signs of sadness, defeat, confusion, “We thought he is the one who will liberate Israel…” Jesus walks with them, journeys with them – that’s why, formators are called kamanlalakbay.


One of the friars of the ICTC in the beginning asked me to give a biblical basis of formation and I used the passage describing the two disciples going to Emmaus. I was surprised one day that he attributed to me the term kamanlalakbay to refer to the accompaniment.


According to Carlo Martini, SJ, an exegete, from Milan who almost became a pope, but was defeated by Ratzinger, said in his book, the two disciples were not ordinary men on the streets, but were educated and knowledgeable in their faith. They knew their catechism. They knew what happened to Jesus in his passion, death and also resurrection and the appearances of the angels, but they did not know what to do with these data bytes. They were the first millennials. They knew all that had happened but they were at a loss as what they could mean. So Jesus rebukes them like Digong, but he only said, “Stupid, ang hihina ninyo…” So he interpreted to them the holy scriptures as referring to him. At the end of the story, when Jesus disappeared after the breaking of the bread, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning as he was explaining these things?”


St. Luke does not present right away what was happening in the hearts of these two precious and intelligent disciples. Since Jesus began walking with them, listening to them and interpreting the holy scriptures and eating the meal, their hearts were already burning.


This is what formation is all about, making the hearts of the candidates burning, touching their hearts by accompanying them, touching their minds by explaining the word of God. Formation is recognizing the high value of our candidates. They know a lot of our faith through the internet but they need accompaniment.

3. Restructuring


With regarding to structuring, the minister general is not just concerned about putting 3 friars under one roof, to be faithful to the constitutions, but above all he is concerned about the quality of fraternal life and mission. A friary may have 5 friars but they do not talk to one another. They have animosity. Walang kibuan. We all agree in principle that we must be brothers to our brothers. They are expected to pray together regularly. The minister general calls the attention especially those in the provinces regarding community prayer.


We OFMs must be experts in fraternal life, in communion. Some are overworked, others are underworking. Still others spend more time for entertainment, than working for the people of God.


Perhaps, we can address the issue of restructuring by decongesting Manila, not only by regrouping. This we need “political” will and more wisdom. The upcoming plenary council in October will help us in our discernment.

4. Affectivity and celibacy


I am at a loss really what the minister general means when he says, “all and any accusations of the abuse of minors or vulnerable people received by the Province or by me must be thoroughly examined and documented. This thoroughly examined and documented, I need to be clarified. Maybe a canon lawyer can help or maybe I can ask from AMRSP, the men superiors who have been recognized by their own Curia as having done their homework well. Our minister general is bent on preventing an abuser to repeat his abuses.


Well, brothers, this is all about sexuality. According to Sr. Letty Garcia, DC, who once in a while speaks to us on this topic, that we can become wholesome persons by being sexually integrated. Meaning, we must seek to balance our masculinity and femininity. If we have this balance, we will become firm in our principles; we will become compassionate with other people, including those who do not agree with us. There must be accompaniment also in the process.


According to an expert in the assist program I met in Cebu, we can help ourselves prevent from violations, if we personally have strong prayer life and caring community. We will be prone to commit the same mistakes if we have no actual strong prayer life and good community life. Authorities should see to it that they are assigned to a good community.


Brothers, let us make our communities good ones. Let us share in its burdens. (Let us show signs of conversion after the retreat). Thank you very much, brothers.