Listening leads to presence

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday III-C in Ordinary Time, 23 January 2022
Nehemiah 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27 ><}}}*> Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2019.

I am still in quarantine after testing positive for COVID last Monday. One good thing I have realized these past days is how precious every moment of life as I counted each day, checking on my vital signs three times daily until I will have completed soon the required seven days.

Sometimes, we only realize the existential meaning and gravity of every “today” when we go through a difficult phase in life like getting COVID or like the Israelites finally getting home from exile, suddenly hearing the word of God proclaimed after many years of silence:

Then Ezra the priest-scribe said to all the people “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep,” for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

Nehemiah 8:9-10

There are also times in our lives when suddenly we become so open to God’s words, so focused on Jesus to experience his presence like that sabbath day in a synagogue in Nazareth:

Photo by author, January 2019.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the yes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:20-21

Thanks to COVID that now I have felt how difficult it is to be separated from everyone, considering the mild symptoms I had as a fully vaxxed with booster too. It must have been so traumatizing for those who caught the virus during the early surges of 2020 and 2021 without the benefits of the vaccines and other modern medicines. Many of them who survived COVID or have lost loved ones until now feel the pains and hurts of those experiences. Indeed, it is after a difficult situation when we truly realize the value of every present moment we have with our loved ones, when everyone becomes so real and precious, when every present is truly a gift.

Today our readings invite us to slow down, to saunter – so to speak – as we journey in Jesus with Luke as our guide who at his prologue to his gospel tells us how he had “investigated everything accurately anew” regarding the “certainty of teachings of Jesus handed down” to us since the beginning (cf. Lk.1:3-4). Like with our loved ones we miss so much these days of quarantine and surge, Jesus reminds us to always listen to make everyone and him present in us.

Our conscious coming into the Father’s house

Last Sunday at the Feast of the Sto. Niño we reflected how we exercise our child-like traits before God whenever we go into “the Father’s house” like the 12-year old Jesus who was found at the Temple. Our going into the Father’s house to pray and receive the Sacraments expresses our rootedness and oneness with God through Jesus Christ.

This Sunday in our gospel, we find Jesus going again into his Father’s house to “proclaim and claim” the word of God as his very presence among us.

Imagine his movements in “slo-mo” when “He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Lk.4:16-18).

It must have been a moving moment for everyone. So mesmerizing for here was a man so present, so strongly felt with something in him freely walking up to proclaim the word of God. And what an experience for everyone that after “Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4:21).

That “today” would be repeated by Jesus with the same intensity on Good Friday shortly before he died when he promised to Dimas “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk.23:43).

But, do we make that conscious approach in coming into the Father’s house to celebrate the Sacraments particularly the Sunday Eucharist where the first part itself is devoted to the liturgy of the Word?

Photo by author, April 2020.

In non-verbal communications, we have that communication of spaces called “proxemics”, of how places are designed and positioned to convey something special and profound. Houses of worship of every faith are built on this important aspect of proxemics as every space conveys something about God and his people.

One example of proxemics is the patio of the church with its tall cross at the middle to remind the faithful they are about to enter the Father’s house, of their need to dispose themselves both inside and outside by being silent and being dressed properly.

Sadly, many churches in the country has no patio at all or its patio had become a parking area and worst, a basketball court. What is most tragic is how all these dispositions of coming into the Sunday Mass are disregarded by many people, led by church volunteers who talk endlessly with one another while some priests dress and look sloppily. This is one of the positive aspects of the Tridentine or Latin Mass where the atmosphere of solemnity fills the church and the people as well – and that is why many of the faithful are asking for it! A good example of what St. Paul tells us about the unity in diversity within the Church in the Holy Spirit.

How can we experience the “today” of Jesus being present in us and among us when we do not have such kind of attitude and disposition to listen to him which begins outside the church? If we cannot do it in the proxemics or spatial level, how can we even do it right inside our hearts, whether we are laypeople or the clergy?

Listening to Christ today

One of my favorite writings by the great St. John Paul II is Ecclesia de Eucharistia published in 2003. He tells us something so beautiful about the “universal and cosmic character” of the Eucharist which for me captures the essence of the “today” mentioned by Jesus in the gospel:

Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #8).

Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #8

This is very true but we rarely experience it happening because we have refused to immerse ourselves in the very words of God. So few among our people read and pray the scriptures while many of us priests rarely speak the Lord’s words as we prefer to tell what we have seen or heard in media or from some famous theologians or thinkers.

Whatever our vocation and place in the Church and the assembly, each of us must immerse one’s self in the word of God first because it is his very presence too. In the story of creation, we learned how everything came into being simply with the words spoken by God.

Photo by author, ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum in Galilee frequented by Jesus, May 2017.

This Sunday we have heard how Jesus “read” on a sabbath at a synagogue in Nazareth, of how in his proclamation of that part of the Book of Isaiah the very words were fulfilled in their hearing.

It happens daily in the celebration of the Mass everywhere in the world whenever we – lay and clergy alike – imitate Jesus, asking us first of all to come with strong desire to be one with the Father, whether in his house of worship or in our room when we pray the scriptures.

Let us enter God with Jesus and in Jesus in the Sacred Books to find him there so we can listen to him how and what he reads, not what we want to hear and say.

We can only touch the hearts of the people and make them hear God speaking again in his words offered us daily in the Mass if we first learn and listen to what Jesus reads and tells us. It is only then when we hear the Word who became flesh that we are able to respond, “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.

2 thoughts on “Listening leads to presence

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