“ … can I not do with you what this potter does?” (Jeremiah 18,6)
“Where is Balanga?” This was what many people asked me after they learned of my appointment as Bishop of Balanga. Some were also curious to know where the name “Balanga” came from.
Balanga is the only city and capital of the province of Bataan in Central Luzon. It has a land area of 16,560 hectares and 23 Barangays. It is Bataan’s third largest municipality. It is 124 kilometers from Manila and can be reached by land through the old national road or the Roman superhighway.
Balanga used to be only a visita (chapel) of Abucay, where the Dominicans (Order of Preachers) first set up mission. The congregation, in its Provincial Chapter of April 21, 1714, established Balanga as mission territory and on April 18, 1839, it declared Balanga as a vicariate with Saint Joseph as the patron saint.
The name Balanga, I’ve been told, comes from the word Banga, which means clay pot or an earthen vessel used for cooking or for holding water. Banga is actually the local term for the special clay that is used for the vessel. “During our time,” Father Percival Medina, the rector of the Saint Joseph Cathedral, informed me, “there was a huge Banga at the center of the town plaza.” During the Spanish times the inhabitants used the banga for fetching water. There is a legend that recounts the story of how the town came to be called Balanga. A travelling Spaniard had lost his way and met a local woman on the road who was carrying a clay pot. The woman thought he was inquiring about what she was carrying, and she answered “banga.” Thereupon, the Spaniard took it as the town’s name. As the name was relayed from one person to another, the name became Balanga.
It was with Balanga in my mind, that this reflection came to me. A clay pot or earthen vessel is an ordinary, insignificant item, oftentimes cheap, but it has valuable lessons to give us.
First, to be formed into a thing of beauty, the muddy, dirty clay must submit itself to the potter’s hand. To be fashioned into an artistic or utilitarian material, the clay must adapt itself to the creative design and mind of the potter. The same is true for us. We are like the clay; to be pleasing and valuable we must let ourselves be touched and transformed by the hands of God. We must allow God to direct our lives, and have Him take control of our life, our being. As God holds and molds us we must cooperate and collaborate with His ways. If we go against God’s will and plan, we can end up broken or deformed.
Second, the usefulness and service of a clay pot or earthen vessel lies in its ability to accept and to hold what is put inside it. To be of use, a clay pot must be ready to be subjected to fire and heat. It is the same for us. We must be ready and able to accept what God gives and offers to us, or to follow where God leads us. Let God give us the cross. Let God try us. And when we hold on to God, accept what He commands of us, then God will surely bring out the best in us, and to “produce a hundredfold” (Matthew 13,8).
During the gathering of all the catechists of the Diocese of Balanga, I shared my thoughts on the significance of the banga in our spiritual life in my homily which I based on the words of Prophet Jeremiah as he preached “people of Israel, can I not do with you what this potter does? As clay in the potter’s hand so are you in my hands”(18,6).
We are in God’s hand. God is holding us, taking care of us, so as not to fall or fail. Should we not place our life in the palm of God’s hands? Should we not reach out to the hand of God? If we do, we will always be safe as we journey in this life. We will not be lost in our earthly pilgrimage. Not only should we let God take us by His hand, we must let God lead us and direct us.
Never doubt and do not be afraid. We are secure in God’s hands. As His earthen clay we must allow God to do to us two essential things. First, let God form us. We came from God; His we are. The Book of Genesis affirms the desire of God, through these words, “let us make man in our image, to our likeness”(1,26) and “God formed man, dust drawn from the clay, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and man became alive” (2,7). A clay in a potter’s hand takes the shape of the design in the mind of the potter. Clay is to be patterned after the potter’s model or t desired design. We, as clay in the hand of the potter, who is God, must be configured to Him. Our ways and will should be in line and aligned with God. To be formed according to His design is to be rid of anything in us that is in opposition to God, or offensive to Him. Like clay in God hands we allow God to refine us or shape us according to His divine plan for us.
Second, let God transform us. We should become like God. The gospel of Saint Matthew says that Jesus urges us, “to be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect” (5,48). Our transformation should lead us to become what Jesus wants us to be. This entails in us, change and conversion, a continuous refining and purifying by fire to assume a definitive shape and beauty. We, as clay in God’s hands must be is willing to be broken in order to be the best and the most blessed. To be clay in God’s hand is to undergo constant pruning in order to be transformed to a grace-filled state that is most pleasing to Him.
Now when someone asks me about the origin of Balanga I tell them about the banga, the clay pot and remind them what Saint Paul wrote to the Romans that we are, “from the same clay a vessel for beauty and a vessel for menial use.” And it is God, our potter, gives us our beauty and purpose. That in all things God may be glorified.
+Ruperto Cruz Santos