Advent is a quarantine

The Lord is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-4 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Advent Week III, 19 December 2020
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Luke 1:5-25
Photo by author of our altar after a “private Mass” at the height of the lockdown last summer when public Masses were suspended.

I just realized the other day how fast really time flies after seeing photos of some of the couples I have married early this year now happily cuddling their babies… It did hit me hard that we have been in quarantine for nine months already, enough time to conceive and deliver a baby!

It sounds funny but it is the reality showing us how the birth of every child is a milestone not only to the parents but even to everyone and to history in general. We shall wait until next year to find out if there was a big increase in babies born this 2020 due to the long imposition of lockdowns and the quarantine we are into.

It is interesting to know that “quarantine” was actually borrowed from our Catholic practice of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for Easter called Quadragesima or Quaresma, from the Spanish word for forty.

When plagues became so common in Europe with devastating effects even before the middle ages, officials in the port of Venice in Italy ordered all incoming ships to spend “quaranta giorni” or 40 days of being moored first before entry to ensure they carry no plagues. Quarantine had always meant a period of time until lately it had also referred to a place or holding area as in “quaratnine area” to cleanse and disinfect people, animals, plants and things.

Advent 2019.

Its concept of spending days for purification had always been in our Judaeo-Christian traditions dating back to the Old Testament when the prophets of God would go to mountains and desert to meet Him who were later emulated by holy people including John the Baptist, Jesus, monks and hermits.

The Church imitated that practice that led to our Seasons of Lent and Advent. In fact, Advent used to be as long as Lent in duration, starting a day after the Martin Mass, the feast of St. Martin of Tours on November 11 but was later reduced to four Sundays to distinguish it from Lent that is meant to be more serious in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Now you see, my dear Reader, how interesting it is this year 2020 when we actually went back to our old practices of Lent, and now Advent in truly preparing for the Lord’s coming going through the quarantine.

Going back now to our gospel which is from Luke, we have heard how Zechariah doubted the good news he and Elizabeth would finally have a son after so many years of praying to God. For that, the angel Gabriel chastised Zechariah and made him speechless that people waiting outside the temple were amazed when he emerged from the Holy of holies unable to speak.

Then, when his (Zechariah) days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and 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.”

Luke 1:23-25
Photo by author, Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem (2017) where Elizabeth and Zechariah had a summer residence where they stayed when Elizabeth went into seclusion after getting pregnant with John.

Opening our selves to God and others

I find our gospel today so timely: Zechariah went home while his wife Elizabeth went into seclusion. They went into an Advent preparation for their son John the Baptist. They both went into a quarantine but not for the same reason: it was imposed on Zechariah while Elizabeth went into it voluntarily.

To lose one’s voice is to lose power and ability to lead. Zechariah was forced into silence in order to meditate and reflect more on the good news he had received from the angel. He was forced to go into silence to listen more to his true self, to others and to God to find new perspectives in life. As a priest, he must have been much sought after in their town for his wisdom and intelligence. Now that he is speechless, Zechariah was confined inside his home, to his very self to listen and most of all, to renew himself in God.

On the other hand, Luke shows us how Elizabeth seem to know better than her husband in dealing with their unusual situation by going into seclusion for five months. Observe how Elizabeth right away prayed to thank God as she meditated His mystery in “taking away her disgrace before others”. Remember that during that time, the only reason why a woman marries was to bear a child; failure to have a baby was seen as an embarrassment, almost like a curse or punishment from God.

In the first reading, we have seen this reality too but unlike Zechariah, the wife of Manoah believed the angel from God who told her she would bear a child despite her old age and being a barren. She was also instructed to go through a quarantine during her pregnancy when she was instructed to “be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4). Furthermore, she was told not to cut the hair of her son to be born and named Samson “for this boy is to be consecrated to God… who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5).

Here we find the concept of quarantine, of separation from the usual things and people because of a special mission from God. If we can just truly appreciate the rich lessons we can learn from this pandemic, how wonderful to see that we are being quarantined like Elizabeth and wife of Manoah because God is preparing us for something greater.

From these stories of two old, barren women bearing a child we find Advent as the season that reminds us God comes to us hidden in our very time and space when we need to go to quarantine to create a space within us where we can be silent and be transformed as we listen more to ourselves, to others, and to God.

How sad that in our 24/7 world where we have made nighttime like daytime earning money to have everything, we have become more empty, more alienated, more sad and incomplete. Quarantine is essentially a sabbath when we are supposed to rest and be breathed on by the Lord with His Spirit, exactly what we like Zechariah needed so much

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Christmas negativity or Nativity?

One of the blogs I have been following for the past one and a half years is by a young Catholic lady in New York who is so full of enthusiasm in sharing Jesus in her writings as well as in the tasty recipes she dishes out weekly. Last week I found her blog so interesting, titled: “Christmas — negativity or Nativity?” (https://beautybeyondbones.com/2020/12/10/christmas-negativity-or-nativity/).

How sad that we are missing a very rare opportunity today during this pandemic not only to spiritually prepare for Christmas but to truly understand the things going on around us and in our very lives amid this pandemic. I have always believed COVID-19 has a spiritual dimension that we must face and address lest it happens all over again despite the discovery of a vaccine.

And what is that spiritual ailment? Too much negativities like Zechariah!

Imagine the very rare opportunity to incense the Holy of holies of the Jerusalem temple once a year with many other priests present and Zechariah was “chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense” (Lk.1:9)? That in itself could have been a great sign for him that something good may be happening.

Then, while inside the sanctuary of the Lord, an angel appeared to him with the good news, his news of a lifetime, something he and Elizabeth must have been praying all their lives: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall name him John (Lk.1:13).”

And we really wonder why did he doubt the angel’s good news? Did he not see it coming or at least, was it not the only thing he was always wishing for?

It is really so unthinkable. “Wow, ang labo naman” as teenagers would say.

What happened to Zechariah could also be going on to many among us these days that even if we have been praying and celebrating the Mass weekly or even daily with all of our professed faith, hope and love in God, we have also grown accustomed to the darkness of this pandemic with all its fears that unconsciously, we sully ourselves with many negativities, even cynicism and pessimism as if we would never make into better days.

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Sometimes it happens in our lives that our prayers have become mechanical and worst, our hearts have grown apart from God that we have become so resigned to our plight or predicament that we just pray and believe in God because we have to.

Here we need the creative courage of St. Joseph we reflected yesterday by keeping our love alive.

In telling us the story of the coming of John first before Jesus Christ, Luke is telling us to be ready for greater things about to happen with us if we become silent, take a few steps backwards and rest in the Lord to experience his presence in us and among us.

Whenever I feel low with my life, I just think of my other brother priests striving in the Lord’s vineyard or think of the cops and soldiers and simple folks who work so hard because they believe there is meaning in this life.

Let us drive away all negativities and focus more on the Nativity! Believe always in God and most of all, remain in love with Him, that He has plans for us and mission to make Him known into the world that has forgotten Him.

The fact that after almost a year of pandemic there are still so many women anywhere in the world delivering a baby every second, every minute means this planet is filled with life, is suffused in life that comes only from Life Himself, Jesus Christ.

Each one of us is a “John” – a grace of God, a reminder that Jesus Christ had come, will come again, most of all, is come! Cheer up, energize the sagging spirits of our many brothers and sisters who have become so negative this Christmas. Let them see the Nativity in our enthusiasm to live and to celebrate Christmas meaningfully despite the pandemic.

A blessed Saturday to everyone! Amen.

One thought on “Advent is a quarantine

  1. One good thing that this pandemic brought to us is the precious gift that the Lord has given us, my third great grandchild (boy), born last November 29, 2020. The sad thing is I won’t be able to see him cause I’m careful not to travel. Thanks to the new technology cause I can see him thru FaceTime and so with the rest of the family.
    We can pray the rosary together thru zoom too and I can watch Pilipino mass everyday on line and it makes me lessen my homesickness for my beloved country.

    Liked by 1 person

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