Christmas is a story of love, about the meeting of lovers with God as the Great Lover who gave us His only Son because of His immense love for us. Unfortunately, this love of Christmas is often presented in the cheesy songs as romantic love like in “Pasko na Sinta Ko”and “Last Christmas”. The word “lovers” may be too serious as a term for us to relate this with today’s gospel the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth; but, the truth is, both women were so in love with God who clearly loved them so much with children in their womb bound to change the course of human history forever. They in turn, were also filled with love for each other as expression of their love for God. And when there is love, there is always tenderness and sweetness that all happen in the context of a visitation that we first try to reflect upon.
Visit and visitation may seem to be one and the same in the sense that both have a common Latin root word, the verb to see, “vidi, videre” from which came the word video. But, a visit is more casual and informal without intimacy because it is just “a passing by” or merely to see. It is more concerned with the place or the location and site and not the person to be visited. We say it clearly in Filipino as in “napadaan lang” when it just so happened you were passing by a place and even without any intentions, you tried seeing someone there. On the other hand, visitation is more commonly used in church language like when a bishop or priests come to see the parishioners in remote places. This is the reason a chapel is more known as a visita in our country because that is where priests visit and check on the well-being of people living in areas very far from the parish usually at the town proper. Aside from being the venue for the celebration of Masses, the visita serves as classroom for catechism classes and other religious even social gatherings in a particular place. Thus, visitation connotes a deeper sense in meaning because there is an expression care and concern among people, a kind of love shared by the visitator/visitor and the one visited like Mary and Elizabeth. Visitation is more of entering into someone’s life or personhood as reported by St. Luke on Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth where Mary “entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk.1:40), implying communion or the sharing of a common experience. In this case, the two women shared the great experience of being blessed with the presence of God in their wombs!
Visitation, therefore, is a sharing or oneness in the joys and pains of those dear to us. The word becomes more meaningful when we try to examine its Filipino equivalent which is “pagdalaw” from the root word “dala” that can be something you bring or a verb to bring. When we come for a visitation, we dala or bring something like food or any gift. But most of all we bring our very selves like a gift of presence wherein we share our total selves with our time and talents, joys and sadness, and everything to those being visited. And that is what Mary did exactly in her visitation of Elizabeth where she brought with her the Lord Jesus Christ in her womb, becoming the first monstrance of the Lord as well as His first tabernacle. We are invited to become like Mary in the visitation of others to bring Christmas and Jesus Himself to others by allowing our very body to be the “bringer” or “taga-dala” of Christ. The Lord Himself is the highest good we can bring as pasalubong in ever visitation we make. And if we can only be like Mary in our visitations and dealings with one another sharing Jesus Christ, then we also bring with us God’s tenderness and sweetness to others. In a world that admires toughness and roughness, qualities like tenderness and sweetness are so rare to find these days. How sad, even tragic is the viral video of bullying at the Junior High School of the Ateneo last week that has spawned other forms of bullying with everybody lynching on the bully, making all kinds of jokes out of the incident while forgetting the bigger bullies we have in the halls of power these days. See that the two most popular presidents ever elected won the hearts of many voters because of their macho image of astig or sanggano, relishing their pugnacious character and behavior with matching cuss words and street talk, exactly the bullies we often condemn?!
Back to our topic…tenderness and sweetness in Filipino are often translated in just one word which is “malambing” from “lambing” that has no direct English translation except that it connotes a loving affection; but, both terms are more than just affections but stirrings from the heart that move us into action. Tenderness is very much like gentleness; the former is more focused while the latter is very general attitude. Tenderness is more than being soft and gentle but an awareness of the other person’s weaknesses, needs and vulnerabilities. A tender person is one who tries not to add more insult to one’s injuries or rub salt onto one’s wounds so to speak. A tender person is one who tries to soothe and calm a hurting person, trying to heal his/her wounds like God often portrayed in many instances in the bible in lovingly dealing with sinners filled with mercy. Like God, a person filled with tenderness is one who comes to comfort and heal the sick and those taking on a lot of beatings in life. When Jesus Christ came, He also personified this tenderness of God like when He is moved with pity and compassion for the sick, the widows, the women and the children and the voiceless in the society. Tenderness is coming to heal the wounds of those wounded and hurt, trying to “lullaby” the restless and sleepless. Mary visited Elizabeth because she also knew the many wounds of her cousin who for a long time bore no child, living in “disgrace before others” as she had claimed (Lk.1:25).
Sweetness always goes with tenderness. It is the essence of God who is love. Anyone who loves is always sweet that always comes naturally from within, bringing out good vibes. It is never artificial like Splenda, always flowing freely and naturally that leaves a good taste and feeling to anyone. In the Hail Holy Queen, Mary is portrayed as “O clement, O sweet Virgin Mary” to show her sweetness as a mother. According to the late Fr. Henri Nouwen in his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, we are all invited to be like God in having both the qualities of a father and mother in Him. Basing his reflections on the painting by Rembrandt of the said parable, God has a father’s hand that is supportive, empowering and encouraging and a mother’s hand that is consoling, caressing, and comforting. There are no pretensions and pompousness in being sweet, never needs much effort to exert in showing it for it comes out naturally and instantly.
Tenderness and sweetness are the most God-like qualities we all have but have buried deep into our innermost selves, refusing them to come out because of our refusal to love for fears of getting hurt and left behind or, even lost. When Mary heard about Elizabeth’s condition, she simply followed her human and motherly instincts that are in fact so Godly – she went in haste to visit her. Tenderness and sweetness are the twin gifts of Christmas to humanity when God almighty became little and vulnerable like us so we can be great and powerful like Him in being able to love. Let me end this long reflection with a quotation from the classic novel “The Plague” by Albert Camus: “A loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.” Let that love in you come out this Christmas and hereafter, simply be human like the child Jesus and be surprised at its tremendous power to change the world like God Almighty. AMEN. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photo by the author, our Nativity scene at the side of the church with the manger still empty. Be the Child Jesus Christ, be tender and sweet to someone going through hard times in life, to someone suffering in silence. Let them feel Christ, let them be touched by God with your concrete love of tenderness and sweetness.