I come from the fireworks capital of the country, Bocaue in Bulacan about 25 kms. north of Manila. Unlike most of my town mates, I have always advocated for the total ban of manufacture and sale of fireworks and firecrackers long before I became a priest. My first reason is because I have seen firsthand how many lives were lost in the manufacture and use of these products meant to bring good luck and more life. My second reason is simply because it is a pagan practice. What an irony it is so widespread in our country considered to be the only Christian nation in this part of the world! The best way to welcome every New Year is to pray in silence to thank God for all the graces of the past year and to ask Him to keep us anew and to guide us through 2019.
My third reason why fireworks and firecrackers must be banned is the fact these destroy and damage our already fragile environment. While many are rejoicing that firecracker injuries are down by 68% this New Year celebrations, air quality almost everywhere remained dismal and even hazardous especially for the sick and elderly people. Coming home to my parish after midnight of January 01, I thought my staff members have forgotten to turn on the lights outside the church or worst, there was a brownout because our whole neighborhood was so dark. It turned out that thick smokes from the fireworks and firecrackers lit earlier to brighten our lives this 2019 have actually darkened our whole surroundings! The scene was very surreal that spoke a lot of our inconsistencies and stupidity as a nation and most of all, as Christians. How crazy that we as Christians are not only imitating the pagans in welcoming the New Year in the hope to better our lives when in fact we are destroying life itself in damaging the environment!
Jesus Christ was born more than 2000 years ago during the darkest night of the year at winter primarily to be our light. This is what Christmas reminds us at the end of each year as we usher in the new one that we have no other light but Christ alone. And the light of Christ shines not from any bright star or comet up in the sky but right from the faces and hearts of every believer to whom Jesus is born within. This is the daily challenge we all face that we must let the light of Christ shine in us so that people are illumined by His light not by our selfish, bloated ego projected by our supposed to be bright ideas. How sad that even in the Church and among us priests, what we really project is our own light not Christ’s. We cannot have the humility of John the Baptizer to admit that we are not the Christ because like during the first Christmas, so many modern day Caesars and Herods continue to claim these days that they are the Messiah or Savior of the world, even in the name of Jesus.
To be a light of Christ in the world requires us His disciples to first withdraw from the limelight and go back to Jesus in prayer and meditations. We are now living our faith in a mass-mediated culture but it does not mean we have to immerse into social media and other modern forms of communication. We in the Church, both the clergy and the lay people have to realize and understand that while these modern communications are a gift from God, we do not have to allow it to overwhelm us that eventually, unknown to us, become our guide replacing Jesus Christ. What a pity that many churches today look like conference halls with giant TV screens everywhere, tarpaulins covering every wall even the altar that people could no longer feel the sense of the sacred. See how some priests have become as entertainers even clowns with all the jokes and antics without delivering any homily at all. Or act like marketing agents using power points to deliver homilies without any point at all. There are churches that have become ballrooms in total disregard of the sanctity of the place complete with all kinds of lights for dramatic effects with giant ceiling fans hovering above that do not necessarily complement the interiors. People are rightly complaining of the commercialization of some churches that have become to look like a giant birthday cake than a house of worship due to so many decorations that are mostly cheap and kitschy. Worst of all are those churches that have become like a perya (fair) with all gimmicks and publicity stunts that fool people by heightening their feeling levels only to get more collections but never to share Jesus Christ.
What a shame! People come to church for Jesus, only Jesus and always Jesus. And they would always come because that is something natural within each of us, even unbelievers. The Church does not need public relations as advertisements for media mileage because we offer only Jesus Christ alive within each one of us. I have always believed that there are only two essential things needed to share Jesus Christ and let His light shine in a parish: meaningful liturgy and true charity and service to everyone. Our dignified worship and celebrations of the sacraments along with our loving service and kindness to everyone who comes to our parish are more than enough to be the presence of Christ, to beam His light. Stop making the church and everything in it a spectacle or a show we call palabas because Christ came in silent simplicity of the darkness of the night to be felt more deep inside by the heart not to be feasted on by the eyes. The late German-born thinker Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy who converted into Christianity from the Jewish faith after World War II said that “A Christian is a person to whom Christ speaks. The body of Christ is those who listen to him.” How beautiful! All we really need is Jesus Christ alone, not so much of things and gadgets, gimmicks and publicity stunts for He alone is our light who gives life. The beloved disciple said it so well last Christmas Day, “through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn.1:4-5). Bring out that light of Christ in you this New Year!
*Photo by Dra. Mai Dela Pena, from a church in Sydney, Australia many Christmas ago. Used with permission.