Saturday, April 13, 2013


Back in the fall of 2011, when the new English Roman Missal was put into effect, many priests took issue with the phrase, found at the beginning of Eucharistic Prayer II, “like the dewfall.”  They said : too poetic; overdone; dare I say, corny? 

The phrase is supposed to be as good a translation as possible of the Latin original in the 1974 edition of the Roman Missal. That phrase is “Spiritus rore tui.”  “Rore” comes from “ros,” which means “dew.”  “Spiritus rore tui” literally means “by the dew of your Spirit.”  I assume the translators thought that this literal translation would be problematic for the listener, so they rendered it “like the dewfall” instead.  The translators back in 1974 perhaps left out all reference to dew for this very reason; they assumed that “dew” as a spiritual metaphor was not something that would resonate with modern speakers of English.

The original text tells us that the Church is asking God to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine by the dew of God’s Spirit.  The Spirit is a dew.  The new translation asks God to make holy the gifts by sending down God’s Spirit upon them “like the dewfall.”  Like the dewfall what?  Like the dewfall forms.  For me, the difference in nuance is that the Latin original is saying, metaphorically, that the Holy Spirit IS a dew; a spiritual, divine dew.  The new translation is saying that the Holy Spirit ACTS like dew. 

Take, for example, the phrase, “by the light of your Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit IS light; He is divine light.  He doesn’t just have light; He IS light.  Now compare with, “by your Spirit like the light.”  Nothing against the faith there.  It still teaches that the Spirit brings light, sheds light and therefore possesses light.  But there’s the difference in nuance; to be something, as opposed to having something.

I suppose one could bring this difference out by saying,  “Illumine our minds, Lord, by your Spirit, who is light,” and “sanctify these gifts by your Spirit, who is dew.” 

How is the Holy Spirit dew?

It is a very biblical image.  For people living in the arid Middle East, like the Hebrews, dew was generally a very positive image.  It was mentioned in blessings (Genesis 27:28), as a symbol of abundance (Job 29:19), of God’s presence (Hosea 14:5).  When God punishes, He doesn’t send the dew (1 Kings 17:1).

The most famous Old Testament passage involving dew is the dew that preceded the appearance of manna in the desert.  In the Book of Exodus, chapter 16, as the people complained of hunger, God gave the people manna to eat.  The manna formed in the early morning on the ground and had to be eaten before the sun melted them away.  They could not be stored overnight, except on the Sabbath, since no collecting was allowed during the Sabbath rest.  Whatever they tried to store overnight rotted.  Truly, the manna was their “daily bread” as we say in the Lord’s Prayer.

But prior to the manna forming, a dew lay all over the land.  This dew did not “fall” like rain; it formed, quietly in the dark of night.  There is a kind of gentle mystery involved in the imperceptible formation of dew.  This speaks of the action of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit can come with palpable power.  On Pentecost, it is said that the sound of a violent, blowing wind filled the room where the Apostles were.  And later, after Peter and John had been arrested and released, the Apostles and believers gathered in prayer and the place shook.  It doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit shook the place, but immediately after the passage says the place shook, it says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.  There was some connection.

Notice, however, that even the powerful signs of the Spirit’s presence (by wind or by shaking) do not damage.  The Spirit does not damage, though He is powerful.  His power builds up, unites, brings peace and order.  And though He can work with accompanying signs of power, He usually works like dew : gently, imperceptibly, hidden.  When someone is confirmed in the Holy Spirit, there are no outward changes. 

In Mass there is a huge change; a miraculous change.  Bread and wine cease to be those things, and are substantially changed into the true Body and Blood of Christ.  But outwardly we see no change.  The appearances of bread and wine remain.  Just as dew forms imperceptibly, in a hidden and mysterious way, so do bread and wine change into the Body and the Blood.  This miraculous change is brought about by the action of the Holy Spirit.

There is another meaning connected to the dew.  First came the dew; when it had dried up, then appeared the manna.  Why the dew first?  It acted like a kind of preparation for the manna.  Being water droplets, it cleansed the surface of the ground where the manna would appear, so that the manna the people would collect would be clean of the impurities found on the open ground. 

The action of the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine make way for the change to the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Holy Spirit takes way from our offering of bread and wine anything that may be lacking or inappropriate in our sacrifice.  First of all, we offer the bread and wine as sinful human beings.  Even if we are in the state of sanctifying grace, who are we to offer God bread and wine?  The prayers of the Mass express the Church’s constant awareness that we are always short of the mark when it comes to God.  Even the priest is made aware of his own shortcomings in the prayers of the Mass. 

Like the dew that cleanses the surface of the ground, the Holy Spirit removes from our sacrifice our unworthiness, the inattentiveness that often accompanies our prayers at Mass, the weakness of faith, the residue of anger or resentment, the many venial sins that stay with us even as we offer God our gifts of bread and wine.  If the Mass is the greatest prayer possible, and if the Holy Spirit “helps us in our prayer” because “we do not know how to pray,” (Romans 8:26) then when we pray, through the priest, that bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood, we ask that the Holy Spirit be the dew that accomplishes that for us.

Dew is the sign of blessing, of abundance, of God’s presence.  What greater blessing, what more valuable treasure, what truest presence of God do we have but the very Body and Blood of our Lord?  But He comes to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit, just as He came the first time in the womb of Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit; just as dew preceded manna.

Let us also ask the Holy Spirit to be dew in our souls before we receive the Lord in Holy Communion.  First came the dew, then the manna.  Let the Holy Spirit cleanse our souls of all venial sins and improper dispositions such as inattentiveness and a distracted mind before we receive Him.  Just as dew moistens the ground and promotes vegetative growth, let the Holy Spirit grow in us faith, hope and charity; the proper dispositions for receiving the Lord in Holy Communion and a great love for the Eucharist.
When we think of how the Holy Spirit is cleansing and life-giving dew for us, we can think of two lines from that beautiful Sequence on Pentecost, the Veni Sancte Spiritus :
Lava quod est sordidum
Riga quod est aridum.
(Cleanse what is dirty
water what is dry.)



Wednesday, April 10, 2013



One of the best things about our island home is that we are one big family.  We bump into people we know all the time throughout the day on our small island.  According to our cultural norms, it is rude, if not an insult, not to acknowledge every one we know when we meet and to exchange a few words, if not more.

Church is one of those places where we meet many people we know.  You could spend your whole day alone in your home, but if you go to church that day or that night, you have “instant community.”  Chances are you will meet people you haven’t spoken to in a while, or people you see constantly but need to touch bases with because of an upcoming mutual event or project.  The urge to speak with people we know, or at least sometimes the cultural obligation to speak with people we know, is very strong on our island.

But there’s a time and place for everything, and I suggest that the place to have full-on conversations with people we know whom we meet at church is just a few steps away from our pews; just on the other side of the church door, on the porch, patio or sidewalk of the church.  It only takes a few steps in that direction to accomplish two important things; reverence for sacred space and bonding with our brothers and sisters.  We can do one without harming the other.

The interior of any church or chapel is indeed sacred space.  In a Catholic one, the Real Presence of the Lord brings the level of sacredness in the inside of a church to a whole other level.  We have become desensitized to the Divine Presence.  We forget that no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20), so, in His bending down to our level, the Lord first came to us in a human body that we could see and take in, and since Holy Thursday He comes to us also under the appearance of bread and wine, things which we can also see, eat and drink. 

Bread and wine look and taste like ordinary, material things so the danger is always that we will forget Who is truly present behind those visible appearances.  So the Church has always insisted on similarly outward signs of reverence which manifest our faith in what we cannot see – the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  When we do not act out these outward signs of reverence, it can manifest our forgetfulness or weakening of that faith.  Even if He comes to us under the appearance of bread and wine, He is still the God before whom angelic Dominions and Powers tremble.

Sometimes we in the clergy are partly at fault, as well, when we do not insist on this decorum in church and when we tolerate the opposite for so long that it develops into long-established custom to hold casual and sometimes loud conversations in church.  Or, what we do and don’t do, including clergy, in church sets the example for casual behavior.  But let us make a beginning somehow! 

A Truly Catholic Witness

I know a man who was converted to the Catholic Faith because of silence in a Catholic church.  It was more than the absence of noise.  He saw people kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  He saw people genuflect.  People might exchange a few words, but in hushed tones and quickly.  He saw a lady get up and smile at another lady still kneeling in prayer, and move on.  Later, he saw those same two women in the church hall talking to each other in a very ordinary, social way.  He witnessed people act as if they were in the presence of something so important that it made them act this way, and another way when not in that space.  Something touched his heart and suggested to him that God could be found here in a way he couldn’t find elsewhere.

Lively, noisy conversation can be had almost anywhere.  What makes our churches and chapels a different kind of space for us?  Or is it?

Official Policy

Silence in our churches and chapels is not just a value, it is official church policy.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, paragraph 45 says this : “Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.”

Silence is needed for prayer.  According to one bishop, Saint Ambrose said, “The devil loves noise, Christ looks for silence.”  God Himself said in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”  There is a truth here; we cannot know God until we are still.  And in 1 Kings 19, Elijah does not find God in the strong wind, earthquake or fire, but in the gentle whisper.


There is no love of God without love of neighbor.  How often we fail to realize, while we talk in loud tones in church, that there are people there who seek the silence necessary for prayer.  “Two people talking,” someone said, “can stop forty people from praying.”  We can talk almost anywhere we want; to speak to God in silence, before Him in the Blessed Sacrament, that can be found only in churches and chapels.  We would not appreciate it if someone interrupted a conversation we were having with a friend; but we don’t realize we are interrupting someone else’s conversation with God when we hold conversations with others in church.

Funerals, Weddings, Etc.

True, it’s a bit harder to maintain very strict silence during viewings of the deceased, or when a bridal party comes into church or before a baccalaureate Mass.  In these situations, some talk is necessary and unavoidable.  Still, I think we can do that and still maintain an appropriate level of decorum.  I think there are also ways to minimize the talk inside church, by having graduates line up outside the church and not in the vestry right before Mass, for example.  I have more thoughts on this specific topic, but that’s for another post.

How much We have Changed

When I was growing up, we immediately switched gears when we entered the church.  It was automatic; that was how strongly instilled it was in us as children.  You open that church door, you observe silence.  I was an altar boy all my childhood past the age of 6, and if no one was around, we altar boys might speak normally in church.  But we were very conscious, even when it was just us, that we were in sacred space.  Outside we horsed around like any kid our age.

Inside the church, we might speak in normal tones when we had work to do; cleaning, polishing the pews, fixing a side altar and so on.

The older people tell me that in their day, even further back in time, you could hear a pin drop in church.  How much we have changed on our island.

An Easy Solution
As I’ve said, it only takes a few steps to go from the pew to the porch.  There we can have all the conversation we want, provided the church doors and windows are closed, as is normally the case in our air-conditioned churches.



Monday, April 8, 2013


I am teaching a class in the Old Testament, and the two students are really getting into the stories.  It reminds me of a kind of musical genre in southern Spain called the Sevillanas Bíblicas.  These are verses sung in the sevillana style, using biblical (mainly Old Testament) stories.

It's wonderful how biblically literate the people were back in the "good old days," when many people, in fact, could not read or write, and when, we are accused, we Catholics didn't know the Bible!

The verses use the Bible stories to bring home a moral lesson.  Here are some of them :

David (in balcony on left) watches Bathsheba bathing
(2 Samuel 11:1-27)

La vió el Rey David a Betsabé en el baño;
No quedó tan prendado como yo de tí.
Hubo misterio en la carta de Urías,
Seguro y fiero.
(King David saw Bathsheba in the bath;
he wasn't taken with her as much as I am with you.
There was a mystery in Uriah's letter,
sure and fierce.)
King David sees a naked woman Bathsheba bathing, and he is swept away with lust.  She is a married woman, married to none other than one of David's own warriors risking his life to fight his war.  He sleeps with her, commiting adultery.  She becomes pregnant.  David tries to lure Uriah, her husband, to sleep with her, but he refuses to even sleep in his own home while his fellow soldiers sleep in the battlefield.  Uriah is "rewarded" for his loyalty by being placed in the front of battle by order of David, who writes this order in a letter to Joab, the commander.  In the thick of battle, the troops are to pull back, exposing Uriah to the enemy.  Uriah is killed, fighting for a king who defiled his wife and who engineered his death.
Judith cuts off the head of Holofernes
(Judith 13:1-10)

Venció a Holofernes cuando la hermosa Judit
Lo venció con caricias, no con desdenes.
Supo cortarle la cabeza del cuello
Y degollarle.
(She defeated Holofernes when the beautiful Judith
defeated him with caresses, not with disdain.
She knew to cut the head from the throat
and to behead him.)
Holofernes was a Babylonian general making war on Israel.  In order to save her people, Judith decides to enter his tent and seduce him.  Holofernes was smitten, and invited her to feast with him.  Holofernes had too much to drink, and when the coast was clear, Judith cut off his head while he lay passed out.  How easy the mighty fall because of their sensual appetites.

Delilah cuts off the hair of a sleeping Samson
(Judges 16:1-21)

Dalila infame, mientras Sansón dormía
Los hilos de la fuerza supo cortarle.
Sirva de aviso que a mayor confianza
Mayor peligro.
(Infamous Delilah, while Samson was sleeping
knew to cut off the locks of strength from him.
Let it serve as a warning that the greater the trust
the greater the danger.)
Samson had extraordinary strength because he never cut his hair, as a vow to God.  The Philistines asked Delilah to find out the source of Samson's strength.  Three times Samson told Delilah lies about his strength, but after persistent nagging and because he loved her, he finally told her the truth.  While he slept on her lap, she had the locks of hair cut off.  The moral : the greater the trust you have in people, the more you put yourself in danger.
Absalom's hair gets tangled in a tree
(2 Samuel 18:9)

Absalón presumía de sus cabellos
Que no le competían angeles bellos.
Sirva de aviso que sus cabellos fueron
Su precipicio.
(Absalom bragged about his hair
that beautiful angels did not compete with him.
Let it serve as a warning that his hair
was his downfall.)
No one was as handsome as Absalom in all the land, and his hair was his glory.  He was the son of King David, but ambitious and rebellious.  He betrayed his father and revolted against him.  While being chased, his hair got tangled in a tree as he rode by.  His enemies found him hanging there, and killed him.  The very thing you glory in may well be the cliff you fall off.

For the music, listen to

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Auntie Chong and her brood of grandnephews and one grandniece.  Yours truly standing in the middle.

In Chamorro, an elderly lady who never married is called a sotteran biha.

Sottera = single lady, from the Spanish soltera
Biha = an elderly lady, from the Spanish vieja

My family had two of them.  Two of my grandmother's sisters never married; Rita, whom we all called Nina, and Asuncion, whom we all called Auntie Chong. 

Thank the Lord for aunties who never married

Because she never married, Auntie Chong put all her attention on us, the grandchildren of her sister, our grandmother.  Because I lived either with her, or in my parents' house right next door, she takes a lot of credit for being one of several people who raised me.

She didn't spoil us with a lot of material things.  She wasn't a great cook, either.  She wasn't one to take us to the movies or the ice cream parlor.

She spent time with us.  She'd take me on her errands, and then we might get something to eat.  I'd sit next to her at night and watch TV.  I'd lie next to her as a kid and listen to her stories.  Stories about Guam, about the war, about saints.

That's where her impact was.  Just spending time with me; a lot of time.  And talking to me, and listening to me.  Anything she may have bought me has long since gone.  But she is with me to this day in the person I am.

Mixed Feelings

As I got older, I started to wonder about her.  Why hadn't she married?  In that bewildered child's mind at the time, I wondered if there was something wrong with her.  Did no man ever find her desirable as a wife? 

I later found out that she had a romantic interest many, many years before.  In the 50s, if not the late 40s.  He left Guam for the mainland back then, but when he visited Guam in the early 1980s, he came to our house.  I saw him arrive.  Someone, I forgot who, told me, "That's Auntie Chong's old boyfriend."

Why they never married, I never found out.

But...where would that have left me, had she married and had her own kids?  Sure I had my own parents and other older relatives.  But Auntie Chong gave me a huge amount of time and interest.  It would have been a loss for me had she had her own children, as it was a loss for me when she died.

At the same time, I often felt sorry for her.  There were times I could feel a sense of loneliness in her.  Maybe at times she felt under-appreciated.  One by one, her siblings died.  One by one, her grandnephews and nieces got bigger and moved on with their careers or family life.

Every life has its joys and sorrows.  Married people sometimes dream of being single, and single people sometimes dream of being married. 

The Holy Siblings

Jesus benefited from the friendship of three siblings, whom we think were unmarried : Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  They hosted Jesus at their home, and Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus.

Single people are often in a position to do much good; for their relatives and for their parish.  God bless them, and God reward Auntie Chong for her big impact on some of us.

Friday, April 5, 2013


KILISYÅNO : Christian; from the Spanish word cristiano.

Chamorro woman, hands folded in prayer, before a grave.  A kilisyåno.
Early 1800s

Over 300 years ago, the Chamorro people became mangilisyåno, plural for kilisyåno.  I am one of their descendants.

My Chamorro grandma, born in 1899, and her sisters, raised me in the old, Hispanicized, Chamorro Catholic culture. 

Those advocating very progressive changes in the Church in the name of Vatican II had to contend with a generation of Chamorros steeped in this type of Catholicism in the 1970s.  I saw more changes in the Sunday Mass, where younger choir members sang from Glory and Praise.  I was one of them.

But during the weekday Masses, there was less.  Our techa (traditional lay prayer leaders) lead the congregation in novenas and devotions before Mass.  During Mass, we sang the traditional Chamorro hymns that went back many decades.  We genuflected, dipped our hands in the holy water, received on the tongue, kissed statues, lit candles. 

The home I grew up in was like a convent.  But a happy one.

I liked the Catholicism they taught me.

Hence the name of this blog.  I can be nothing other than how I was raised - kilisyåno.

This one name combines it all.  My Catholicism, since the only kilisyåno we ever knew for several centuries was the faith of Rome.  And my Chamorro upbringing, since kilisyåno is the Chamorro form of the Spanish word cristiano.  Katoliko can be found in many languages; kilisyåno only in ours.


An American Jesuit explaining to men of Ulithi the repairs needed on the chapel roof, 1945

I have known many Jesuits since I became connected with the Capuchin Order in 1981.  The Jesuits were the missionaries in the many islands to the south of us : Palau, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and the Marshalls.

They would often come up to Guam and many would stay at our Friary, some for many days as they shopped for things they needed or go for medical appointments.

I have made several eight-day Ignatian retreats under them, and a good dose of classes with them in Berkeley when I was studying theology.

So I chuckled when one of their own, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said of the Society of Jesus, "nec rubricat, nec cantat."  Jesuits aren't into liturgical rubrics (rules), nor chant.

It's true that, in my experience, most Jesuits I have met don't pay much attention to liturgy or music.  Preaching in the Mass seems to have been their chief concern.

For all that, the best-known Catholic liturgy professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley when I was studying there was, in fact, a Jesuit; Father Jake Empereur.  He was a liturgical progressive; creativity was the catch-word then.

And who could forget the Saint Louis Jesuits, who dominated contemporary church music in the 70s with songs like Be Not Afraid, Here I Am Lord and Glory and Praise to our God.  I was raised on this stuff, to the point where I didn't need a book to read the lines.

As I got to know these Jesuit missionaries, several things about them started to stand out.  One of them was simplicity.

By the 1980s, they wore secular clothes, but stuff from the bargain basement.  When they would wear a cassock (usually put on just before Mass), the cassock would be clean but aged, with maybe a stain or two of paint or varnish.  And, almost always, the Jesuits wore zori, the Japanese rubber slipper that you could buy for $2.00.

Jesuit Brother Gregorio Oroquieta and his zori

One elder Jesuit, he must have been in his 70s, arrived at Guam's airport past midnight.  He probably took a taxi to the Friary, where somehow no one was advised of his arrival.  He found a door unlocked and walked in.  Not finding his name on any bedroom, he laid down on the bare floor in the living room till sunrise.

On their little islands and tiny atolls, these Jesuits lacked electricity, telephones, running water.  They gathered rain water in tanks, communicated via ham radio, cranked up a generator when needed.  They waited months before taking a boat to a population center.  Rugged men.

Nec rubricat, nec cantat.  But I still admired a thing or two about these austere missionaries.  Building chapels and churches; setting up schools when possible; learning the local languages to the point of becoming experts in them at times; visiting isolated and thinly-populated atolls; teaching people the ABCs of the Catholic faith - this is what mattered to the Jesuits of that generation.  And their personal comfort was not even a consideration; even when they managed to visit more westernized Guam from time to time.  I was a witness to that.

An Example of Jesuit Liturgical Practicality

Years ago I house-sat a Jesuit house of formation on Guam and noticed these fiddle-back chasubles in a closet.  The Jesuit priest in charge said they were leftovers from the missions.  They made excellent vestments for the tropical weather.  They were light-weight and could thus be easily packed for trips to outlying villages and distant islands.  And they were reversible, so you could have two chasubles in one.  The one below in white, or purple, whichever color you needed at the time.

The chasuble lacked a stole or maniple; the burse and chalice veil were missing.  But I asked if I could take it, stains and all, rather than have it hang in a closet.  Now it hangs in my closet.  But, maybe, just maybe, I can make use of it somehow.