Going to funeral wakes can sometimes be humorous especially when people ask me all kinds of questions that sometimes I wonder if I look like the Google page. One of the FAQ’s I always get is what is the most difficult part in the life of us priests? Many would always burst into laughter when I tell them that it is when our back gets itchy and we have no one to scratch it, telling them about the saying “ang hapdi matitiis pero ang kati ay hindi” (pains are bearable but not itch). This is very true that is why I keep three back scratchers made of wooden carved arm with a hand from Baguio in my room, one in the TV area, the second at my study desk and another at my bedside. But lately I have found another big problem of living alone as a priest when I never knew I had no voice until I celebrate the Mass in the morning! And how would I know that I do not have voice when I have nobody to talk to in my room or rectory when I wake up early morning except God who is always in silence? Sometimes it could be embarrassing and even funny but overall, it is no big deal with me. In fact, being silently alone in my parish is the most wonderful blessing I cherish so much in my priesthood.
But going back to our voice, it is one of our most valued possessions as priests or even of anyone. No wonder, the word “voice” itself connotes power in our language usage for to lose one’s voice is also to lose power and ability to lead. Without the voice, anyone’s ability to communicate is drastically impaired as you could no longer communicate effectively to express your thoughts and your feelings, you could no longer give advice and counsel to others on many things or teach anyone. In short, to lose one’s voice means never to be heard again. Today in our gospel we heard the first story by Luke about Christmas, the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptizer to his father Zechariah while he was serving as a priest at the Jerusalem Temple during its most important feast. An angel appeared to him to announce how God have heard his prayer and of his wife Elizabeth for a child but instead of being filled with joy with the good news from heaven, Zechariah doubted God.
Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stands before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (Lk.1:18-20)
One of the rare commodities in the world today is perhaps silence. Everybody is talking, even cars and elevators and other machines. When we examine the bible and even our lives, we see that every communication by God is always preceded by silence. Before God created everything, Genesis tells us that there was silence first. The beloved disciple John opens his gospel by saying “In the beginning was the word” to show everything with God was in silence. Jesus Himself was born in the silence of the night at Bethlehem while the gospel accounts tell us nothing much about His childhood except when He was lost and found three days later at the Temple of Jerusalem. After that finding at the Temple, what we have are the hidden years of Christ when nothing is heard about Him or from Him for 30 years. And during His brief ministry of about three years, Jesus used to withdraw to the mountains or wilderness to pray in silence. Such is the importance of silence not only for our spiritual growth and maturity in Christ but according to experts, also for our total well being as persons.
In starting his Christmas story with Zechariah being forced by the angel to go into silence, Luke is teaching us the essential value of silence in preparing for Christmas. Luke described Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth coming from families of priests who must be used to speaking, to giving talks, explaining things to many people. It seems that with his advanced age, Zechariah must be of a significant stature among his peers. But now, he had been forced into silence by God so that he may have more time to examine things going on inside and in his life, more time for reflection and even for renewal. His wife Elizabeth appears to be more properly disposed in receiving the good news about the birth of John with her attitude of silence when she went into seclusion for five months saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others” (Lk.1:24-25). Similarly like her in the Old Testament was the wife of Manoah who remained silent when a man of God told her she would bear a son to be called Samson, “I did not ask him where he came from” (Jgs.3: 6).
Advent is the presence of God but sometimes when we are overburdened with so many things like anxieties and problems in life, frustrations and disappointments, sickness and death in the family, we become unaware of His divine presence even if we continue to pray and do our religious duties and devotions. Too often we lack the conscious awareness of God in our lives that we take Him for granted, considering Him more as a given than a presence and a reality. Like Zechariah who happens to be a priest who must be more attuned and rooted in God, we hardly notice His coming or even doubt Him and His powers. God is never put off by our questions but what “irritates” Him is when we question Him, when we doubt Him, when we ask about His character. That is a lack of faith in Him, a lack of trust, and lack of personal relationship and constant dialogue with Him like what St. Joseph had in our reflections yesterday. Remember, St. Joseph is the most silent person in the Bible.
Like the stories of pregnancies we have been hearing these past days, Advent is a call for us to moments of “gestational silence” that is deeper than losing one’s voice or being quiet. Gestational silence, or pregnant silence if you wish which is what gestation is all about, is withdrawing into ourselves not to escape but to finally face and listen more intently to the rumblings and sounds within us and around us, to listen more intently to God who is our only true voice in life. Like Zechariah in the gospel today, we could be so tired already of doing everything, banging our heads on the wall to solve everything, to answer everything. Let us force ourselves in these remaining days before Christmas to go into gestational silence to open ourselves to God speaking to us anew with His other other possibilities and new perspectives for us. After all, it is only God who is our only true voice in this life in Christ. AMEN. Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Pena, sunset in Athens, Greece, 2016. Used with permission.