Inclusive Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe, 16 December 2019

Isaiah 56:1-3. 6-8 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> John 5:33-36

Our Parish Altar, Simbang Gabi 2018. Photo by author.

When we were still seminarians, our spiritual director became a victim of “hold-up” while walking home from an evening mass nearby. He is now a Trappist monk at Guimaras, a very kind and gentle priest we fondly call “Fr. Esteng”.

According to Fr. Esteng, everything happened so fast. But, after taking all his money, the suspect demanded Fr. Esteng’s big bag too, his “mass kit”. This time, Fr. Esteng refused to give into the demand of the hold-up man, insisting there’s nothing of value inside because they are things for celebrating the Mass of which no one would really buy.

To convince the hold-up man, Fr. Esteng got the “brilliant idea” of inviting the suspect to come with him to the seminary to get some food so he would no longer need more money.

Good that the hold up man did not accept the “invitation” of our good priest who got some “scolding” the following morning from his brother priests the following day after learning his brilliant idea, telling him to never to invite thieves into the seminary again!

“For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel: Others will I gather to him besides those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:7b-8

Inclusive God, exclusive people.

Praying at the Wall of Jerusalem Temple, 2017.

Welcome everyone!

It’s the start of our Simbang Gabi, our nine-day novena before the Lord’s birthday on Christmas.

God tells us in the first reading how he welcomes everyone into his house without any exceptions. That is how good and loving our God who is not contented in calling us all into his house but even sent us his only Son Jesus Christ to gather and lead us back to him.

Our God is very inclusive, always including everyone especially those rejected, those in the margins.

So unlike us people who are very exclusive and judgmental of others too.

We want everything exclusively ours. Just us. And when we meet strangers, those who do not look like us or do not speak and dress like us, we feel uncomfortable.

Worst is when we meet people of different faith and beliefs that we feel uneasy and even threatened simply because they are not like us!

It is good that for this final year before we celebrate our 500 years of Christianization, our bishops have dedicated 2020 to be the “Year of Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue, and Indigenous Peoples”.

This is to “celebrate human fraternity by promoting the culture of dialogue as a path of peace.” The Church wants to “work for unity and harmony while respecting diversity and to recognize peoples’ identities, spiritualities and ancestral domain.”

Logo for the Year of Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue, and Indigenous Peoples.

Jesus told the crowd, “But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

John 5:36

See everyone and everything in Christ.

In our gospel today, Jesus was questioned by the Jews for healing a man sick for 38 years on a sabbath day at Bethesda.

Jesus was so different from them who have fallen into rituals and replaced God himself with their laws and traditions. They wanted Jesus stopped and even put to death simply because he did things so differently when, in fact, he was trying to bring back what was lost like the precedence of God and human life over laws and rituals.

Pope Francis reminds us that the Church exists to remind us that God loves and welcomes everyone. He is absolutely right that so often it happens right in our churches, in our celebrations we go on our own exclusivistic ways forgetting we are supposed to be a community.

On this first day of our Simbang Gabi, let us focus more on Jesus so we may find him among other people easily because when we are focused with our “work” and ministry, the more we see ourselves and forget Christ among the poor and marginalized.

Do we find Jesus when we serve and celebrate the liturgy or do we simply have ourselves?

Is it Jesus Christ whom we share with others in our dealings and service in the Church or our proud self?

Where is Jesus really in our lives today that we simply do things for the sake of doing it, because it is a tradition and not because of a personal conviction and relationship with him?

A blessed Monday to you!

Our sacristy, Advent 2018. Photo by author.

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