Allow me to join the jubilation over our very own Ms. Catriona Gray’s winning of the Miss Universe 2018 title last Monday in Thailand. As usual, I did not see it but cannot resist checking the news as everybody talked about her beauty and grace, and most especially her intelligence. Though I have not seen the other candidates and their performances, I am very convinced she rightly deserves the title especially with her answer to the final question given her. One quality I like most with Ms. Gray is her being filled with enthusiasm that was very evident with the way she projected herself, exuding with good vibes and life. Enthusiasm is from two Greek words “en theos” that mean to be filled with God – like the Blessed Virgin Mary who is “full of grace and the Lord is with her” (Lk.1:28).
On this fifth day of our Simbang Gabi we hear the second story by St. Luke of how the first Christmas happened. He tells us how six months after announcing to Zechariah the coming of their son John, the angel Gabriel went to Nazareth to announce the good news of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary who was betrothed to St. Joseph. Unlike Zechariah who doubted the angel’s message, Mary was more open with her response by asking how it would all take place. And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk.1:35).
Last Monday we have reflected how St. Matthew ended his story of the genealogy of Jesus Christ with Mary to show her as the new beginning of everything in the world. Through Mary’s giving birth to Jesus, we now share with Him one common origin in faith who is God as our Father so that despite our many sins and failures, we are given with a fresh start, new opportunities in life daily. St. Luke bolsters this today with his account of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary. As a Jew, Mary must be totally aware of the words of the angel about herself being “overshadowed by the Most High” like in the Old Testament stories of God’s presence in the cloud during their journey in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. Even Moses could not enter the tent when “the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex.40:34-38). To be filled and overshadowed by the presence of God is to be to be possessed by God and eventually to be transformed by God. Remember how in the movie “The Ten Commandments” when the face of Moses was transformed after meeting God. The three synoptic gospels record a similar incident of God’s presence in a cloud hovering with Jesus during His transfiguration at Mount Tabor witnessed by Peter, James and John. The two great prophets of Israel were there, Elijah and Moses conversing with Jesus when a cloud overshadowed them with a voice declaring “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”
Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us how the apostles were all terrified at the sight of the Transfiguration. And we can also surmise how terrifying it must be to experience God’s presence, to be filled with God. But that is how grace works! After seeing our own limitations and yet we are still able to forge on, to achieve greater things, it is God working in us. This is the reason that St. Luke tells us how the angel greeted Mary during the annunciation using the Greek words “kaire” which is to rejoice and “charis” or “karis” for grace: “Hail (or rejoice), full of grace! The Lord is with you” (Lk.1:28). Wherever and whenever there is grace, surely there is rejoicing. We rejoice in the winning of Ms. Catriona Gray as Miss Universe because it is indeed a grace she had received as an individual and for us as a nation plagued with so much sufferings and miseries. The late American spiritual writer and monk Thomas Merton rightly said, “We live in a time of no room, which is the time of the end. The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space… The primordial blessing, ‘increase and multiply’ has suddenly become a hemorrhage of terror… In the time of the end there is no longer room for the desire to go on living. Why? Because they are part of a proliferation of life that is not fully alive, it is programmed for death” (Raids on the Unspeakable, pp. 70-72).
Advent is the time to get real, to stop pretending. Advent is the time for us to finally admit our own limitations, to create a space in our hearts and in our lives to let God fill us, to let God possess us. Like Mary, can we allow God’s power to hover over us and do the same to renew our lives in welcoming Jesus Christ? Like the question posed to Ms. Gray, think of the many instances in your life where you have learned your most important lessons in life and most surely like her, these were also the moments we have faced or seen many hardships and sufferings yet, instead of being down, they have inspired us, they have transformed us into better persons. It is here where I admired most Ms. Gray when she said how the slums of Tondo made her look among the poor children for beauty, to see the silver linings, and still be grateful. What a beautiful soul indeed – something like our Blessed Virgin Mary who told the angel, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Let us now open our hearts to God so the Holy Spirit may hover us, fill us with Jesus Christ. AMEN. Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan
*Photo by my former student at ICSB, Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation to Mary at the San Giovanni Rotondo Church, Italy, October 2018. Used with permission.