Mary Is the True Miss Universe

SnGiovanniRotondo
The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-5
20 December 2018
Isaiah 7:10-14///Luke 1:26-38

            Allow me to join the jubilation over our very own Ms. Catriona Gray’s winning of the Miss Universe 2018 title last Monday in Thailand.  As usual, I did not see it but cannot resist checking the news as everybody talked about her beauty and grace, and most especially her intelligence.  Though I have not seen the other candidates and their performances, I am very convinced she rightly deserves the title especially with her answer to the final question given her.  One quality I like most with Ms. Gray is her being filled with enthusiasm that was very evident with the way she projected herself, exuding with good vibes and life.  Enthusiasm is from two Greek words “en theos” that mean to be filled with God – like the Blessed Virgin Mary who is “full of grace and the Lord is with her” (Lk.1:28).

            On this fifth day of our Simbang Gabi we hear the second story by St. Luke of how the first Christmas happened.  He tells us how six months after announcing to Zechariah the coming of their son John, the angel Gabriel went to Nazareth to announce the good news of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary who was betrothed to St. Joseph.  Unlike Zechariah who doubted the angel’s message, Mary was more open with her response by asking how it would all take place.  And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk.1:35).

            Last Monday we have reflected how St. Matthew ended his story of the genealogy of Jesus Christ with Mary to show her as the new beginning of everything in the world.  Through Mary’s giving birth to Jesus, we now share with Him one common origin in faith who is God as our Father so that despite our many sins and failures, we are given with a fresh start, new opportunities in life daily.  St. Luke bolsters this today with his account of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary.  As a Jew, Mary must be totally aware of the words of the angel about herself being “overshadowed by the Most High” like in the Old Testament stories of God’s presence in the cloud during their journey in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt.  Even Moses could not enter the tent when “the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex.40:34-38).  To be filled and overshadowed by the presence of God is to be to be possessed by God and eventually to be transformed by God.  Remember how in the movie “The Ten Commandments” when the face of Moses was transformed after meeting God.  The three synoptic gospels record a similar incident of God’s presence in a cloud hovering with Jesus during His transfiguration at Mount Tabor witnessed by Peter, James and John.  The two great prophets of Israel were there, Elijah and Moses conversing with Jesus when a cloud overshadowed them with a voice declaring “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”

          Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us how the apostles were all terrified at the sight of the Transfiguration.  And we can also surmise how terrifying it must be to experience God’s presence, to be filled with God.  But that is how grace works!  After seeing our own limitations and yet we are still able to forge on, to achieve greater things, it is God working in us.  This is the reason that St. Luke tells us how the angel greeted Mary during the annunciation using the Greek words “kaire” which is to rejoice and “charis” or “karis” for grace:  “Hail (or rejoice), full of grace!  The Lord is with you” (Lk.1:28).  Wherever and whenever there is grace, surely there is rejoicing. We rejoice in the winning of Ms. Catriona Gray as Miss Universe because it is indeed a grace she had received as an individual and for us as a nation plagued with so much sufferings and miseries.  The late American spiritual writer and monk Thomas Merton rightly said, “We live in a time of no room, which is the time of the end.  The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space… The primordial blessing, ‘increase and multiply’ has suddenly become a hemorrhage of terror… In the time of the end there is no longer room for the desire to go on living.  Why?  Because they are part of a proliferation of life that is not fully alive, it is programmed for death” (Raids on the Unspeakable, pp. 70-72).

         Advent is the time to get real, to stop pretending.  Advent is the time for us to finally admit our own limitations, to create a space in our hearts and in our lives to let God fill us, to let God possess us.  Like Mary, can we allow God’s power to hover over us and do the same to renew our lives in welcoming Jesus Christ?  Like the question posed to Ms. Gray, think of the many instances in your life where you have learned your most important lessons in life and most surely like her, these were also the moments we have faced or seen many hardships and sufferings yet, instead of being down, they have inspired us, they have transformed us into better persons.  It is here where I admired most Ms. Gray when she said how the slums of Tondo made her look among the poor children for beauty, to see the silver linings, and still be grateful.  What a beautiful soul indeed – something like our Blessed Virgin Mary who told the angel, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  Let us now open our hearts to God so the Holy Spirit may hover us, fill us with Jesus Christ.  AMEN.  Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan

*Photo by my former student at ICSB, Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation to Mary at the San Giovanni Rotondo Church, Italy, October 2018.  Used with permission.

Christ Comes in Silence

MaiAthens
The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-4
19 December 2018
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25///Luke 1:5-25

            Going to funeral wakes can sometimes be humorous especially when people ask me all kinds of questions that sometimes I wonder if I look like the Google page.  One of the FAQ’s I always get is what is the most difficult part in the life of us priests?  Many would always burst into laughter when I tell them that it is when our back gets itchy and we have no one to scratch it, telling them about the saying “ang hapdi matitiis pero ang kati ay hindi” (pains are bearable but not itch).  This is very true that is why I keep three back scratchers made of wooden carved arm with a hand from Baguio in my room, one in the TV area, the second at my study desk and another at my bedside.  But lately I have found another big problem of living alone as a priest when I never knew I had no voice until I celebrate the Mass in the morning!  And how would I know that I do not have voice when I have nobody to talk to in my room or rectory when I wake up early morning except God who is always in silence?  Sometimes it could be embarrassing and even funny but overall, it is no big deal with me.  In fact, being silently alone in my parish is the most wonderful blessing I cherish so much in my priesthood.

            But going back to our voice, it is one of our most valued possessions as priests or even of anyone.  No wonder, the word “voice” itself connotes power in our language usage for to lose one’s voice is also to lose power and ability to lead.  Without the voice, anyone’s ability to communicate is drastically impaired as you could no longer communicate effectively to express your thoughts and your feelings, you could no longer give advice and counsel to others on many things or teach anyone.  In short, to lose one’s voice means never to be heard again.  Today in our gospel we heard the first story by Luke about Christmas, the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptizer to his father Zechariah while he was serving as a priest at the Jerusalem Temple during its most important feast.  An angel appeared to him to announce how God have heard his prayer and of his wife Elizabeth for a child but instead of being filled with joy with the good news from heaven, Zechariah doubted God.

            Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”  And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stands before God.  I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.  But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (Lk.1:18-20)

            One of the rare commodities in the world today is perhaps silence.  Everybody is talking, even cars and elevators and other machines.  When we examine the bible and even our lives, we see that every communication by God is always preceded by silence.  Before God created everything, Genesis tells us that there was silence first.  The beloved disciple John opens his gospel by saying “In the beginning was the word” to show everything with God was in silence.  Jesus Himself was born in the silence of the night at Bethlehem while the gospel accounts tell us nothing much about His childhood except when He was lost and found three days later at the Temple of Jerusalem.  After that finding at the Temple, what we have are the hidden years of Christ when nothing is heard about Him or from Him for 30 years.  And during His brief ministry of about three years, Jesus used to withdraw to the mountains or wilderness to pray in silence.  Such is the importance of silence not only for our spiritual growth and maturity in Christ but according to experts, also for our total well being as persons.

           In starting his Christmas story with Zechariah being forced by the angel to go into silence, Luke is teaching us the essential value of silence in preparing for Christmas.  Luke described Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth coming from families of priests who must be used to speaking, to giving talks, explaining things to many people.  It seems that with his advanced age, Zechariah must be of a significant stature among his peers.  But now, he had been forced into silence by God so that he may have more time to examine things going on inside and in his life, more time for reflection and even for renewal.  His wife Elizabeth appears to be more properly disposed in receiving the good news about the birth of John with her attitude of silence when 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” (Lk.1:24-25).  Similarly like her in the Old Testament was the wife of Manoah who remained silent when a man of God told her she would bear a son to be called Samson, “I did not ask him where he came from” (Jgs.3: 6).

             Advent is the presence of God but sometimes when we are overburdened with so many things like anxieties and problems in life, frustrations and disappointments, sickness and death in the family, we become unaware of His divine presence even if we continue to pray and do our religious duties and devotions.  Too often we lack the conscious awareness of God in our lives that we take Him for granted, considering Him more as a given than a presence and a reality.  Like Zechariah who happens to be a priest who must be more attuned and rooted in God, we hardly notice His coming or even doubt Him and His powers.  God is never put off by our questions but what “irritates” Him is when we question Him, when we doubt Him, when we ask about His character.  That is a lack of faith in Him, a lack of trust, and lack of personal relationship and constant dialogue with Him like what St. Joseph had in our reflections yesterday.  Remember, St. Joseph is the most silent person in the Bible.

          Like the stories of pregnancies we have been hearing these past days, Advent is a call for us to moments of “gestational silence” that is deeper than losing one’s voice or being quiet.  Gestational silence, or pregnant silence if you wish which is what gestation is all about, is withdrawing into ourselves not to escape but to finally face and listen more intently to the rumblings and sounds within us and around us, to listen more intently to God who is our only true voice in life.  Like Zechariah in the gospel today, we could be so tired already of doing everything, banging our heads on the wall to solve everything, to answer everything.  Let us force ourselves in these remaining days before Christmas to go into gestational silence to open ourselves to God speaking to us anew with His other other possibilities and new perspectives for us.  After all, it is only God who is our only true voice in this life in Christ. AMEN. Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

*Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Pena, sunset in Athens, Greece, 2016.  Used with permission.

Holiness and Sinfulness

stjosephchurch
The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-3
18 December 2018
Jeremiah 23:5-8///Matthew 1:18-25

             One of my unforgettable experiences in my parish is when a husband and wife quarreled during the baptism of their child.  When I asked the father the name to be given to their son right before baptism, he gave another name and instantly, his wife hit him with her elbow and snapped, “who’s that baby again!?”

             In the rites of baptism, it is the father who is asked by the minister on the name to be given to the child.  It is the father who gives the name because he is the origin of life, the giver of life; hence, every child uses the father’s family name to show his paternity.  This is in essence the reason God asked Joseph “to be not afraid to take Mary as his wife” so he would be the legal father of Jesus Christ.  Though it is very clear in the account of Matthew yesterday and today that Jesus is truly the Son of God and not of any human, the evangelist shows us how through Joseph, Jesus belongs by law – legally – to the house of David as fulfillment of God’s promise.  At the same time, in giving name to Jesus, Joseph proves more than ever his holiness which is the meaning of his description as a “righteous” or “just” man.  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.  Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly (Mt.1:18-19).

             Holiness for the Jews or being righteous and just is primarily obedience to the Laws of God handed down through Moses.  However, during the time of Christ this perception became so limited to mere obedience to the letters of the law that even Jesus later on would try to correct.  His legal father, St. Joseph, in fact would exactly do that when he showed that holiness is a constant dialogue with God when one is nourished by His words like a tree planted near the streams of water, bearing fruits of love for God and for others.  This imagery is found in the Book of Psalms that says men who are just and righteous are those who “delight in the law of the Lord, like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers” (Ps.1:2-3).  When St. Joseph decided to quietly divorce Mary after learning about her pregnancy, it was the height of his love for her as he was very willing to walk away and let her marry whoever fathered that child in her womb than subject her to public shame and humiliation as their laws prescribed.  In that aspect alone, we find St. Joseph very holy indeed!  But it did not stop there:  after being informed by the angel in a dream of the divine nature of Mary’s pregnancy, St. Joseph proved anew his holiness with his deep love for God by eventually taking Mary as his wife that paved the way for the first Christmas we now celebrate.  St. Joseph’s holiness shone brightly in this aspect when his love for Mary was never diminished but even deepened when his love for God moved him to take “his wife home.”  Here are the fine prints of St. Joseph’s holiness that in his love for God, he had to take Mary as his wife and in doing that, he eventually brought forth in a sense the birth of Jesus Christ.  Every time we love God, it always leads us to love others too.  It is when we live in love that Jesus Christ truly comes into our lives and Christmas happens always.

             But there is something bigger and better, lovelier and holier to unfold in St. Joseph’s role as legal father of Jesus Christ.  Notice how Matthew repeated the verb “to name” twice:  “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Mt.1:21)” and “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel had commanded him and took his wife into his home.  He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and named him Jesus (Mt.1:24-25).”   Giving of names in general connotes authority.  In Genesis, God gave man the authority to give names to the animals He had created.  Parents give names to their children as a sign of their authority.  Bullies in classrooms and anywhere always try to assert their authority by giving funny names to their victims while lovers always have unique names given to their beloved as terms of endearment.  In this respect, St. Joseph did not merely give up that authority of giving name but must have also realized within him the awesome reality of things about to unfold in the birth of Mary’s child who “will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21).

             Three weeks ago I read in the news how a popular American airlines apologized to a mother when their ground crew at the boarding gate laughed and insulted her daughter named “Abcde” which is pronounced as Ab-city.  I have baptized a baby in my parish with a similar name, “Wxyz”.  The parents never complained or filed charges against me when I questioned them for their choice of name for their son, warning them of negative repercussions in the future.  Giving of names is a very serious duty among the Jews (and it should be for everyone!) because a name always indicates the person’s mission.  In giving the child of Mary the name “Jesus” that means “God is my salvation”, St. Joseph must have realized not only the mission of Christ but most of all fully accepted it as one that the world needs so badly.  Recall that during the ministry of Jesus, religious leaders of His time always questioned His forgiving of sins because only God can forgive sins.  Problem with them like the Pharisees and the scribes, they have refused to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God sent to forgive sins.  Right from the start during his dream, St. Joseph was already aware of the mission of Jesus Christ which is to forgive sins.  And his obedience to the instruction of giving the name “Jesus” is indicative of his holiness because the first step to being holy is to admit our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness by God.  This is the problem of the world today, the lack of sense of sinfulness among most of us even among us priests as shown by the sex scandals.  The mark of true holiness is the humility to admit and accept one’s sinfulness and need for forgiveness.  When Pope Francis was interviewed for the first time for a magazine, he was asked how he would describe himself and his quick answer was, “I am a sinner.”
       Sin is a turning away from God, the absence and failure to love.  It is the opposite of holiness which is being filled with God.  Unless we realize that our sinfulness is the first and most important thing needed to be fixed within us, we will never move forward, we will never grow, and we will never experience Christ’s coming.  This is the very reason Christ was born, to forgive our sins so that we may return and go back to God who is our fundamental relationship in life.  No healing, no life in general will ever come and prosper when this relationship with God is out of order because of sins.  St. Joseph is a righteous or just man, a holy man, because in recognizing the need for the forgiveness of our sins, he cooperated with God in His plans by naming the child of Mary as “Jesus” and that is why we now celebrate Christmas.  God bless you!  AMEN. Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photo by author, Church of St. Joseph at Nazareth, the Holy Land, April 2017.

Our Origin and Mission in Jesus Christ

48184542_1236165199867720_9017446140471148544_n
The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-2
17 December 2018
Genesis 49:2, 8-10///Matthew 1:1-17

            Surely today after our Simbang Gabi, all attention would be on the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant with everybody rooting for our bet, memorizing the names and answers of almost every candidate from all over the world.  I have never seen any episode of Miss Universe or any beauty pageant in my entire life but from what I have read and heard, our intense interests with beauty contests is our way of coping with the harsh realities in our nation of crooks and corrupt officials that we try to identify with the beautiful and glamorous.  As you examine every candidate later on TV, try remembering our reflection on this second Simbang Gabi which is also about names and origins and mission.

            Today we begin the second phase of Advent when our liturgy shifts its focus to the first coming of Jesus more than 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.  The Church’s official countdown for Christmas Day actually starts today December 17 until the 24th when all our readings look back to the events leading to Christ’s birth.  Every year on this date we hear the beginning of the gospel of Matthew about the genealogy of Jesus Christ where we are presented with names of our Lord’s ancestors that mostly sound funny and even weird.  Yesterday we have reflected that the joy of Advent and Christmas is the Person of Jesus Christ found among every person.  Today, we deepen this reflection on the Person of Jesus Christ through His genealogy that reveals to us His origin and mission which we also share with Him.

            It is interesting to recall that when Jesus faced Pilate during His trial, the Roman governor asked Him “Where are you from?” (cf. Jn.18:38).  It was also the same question that all four evangelists tried to answer later in writing their respective gospel account of the Christ.  For Matthew and John, it is the most essential question needed to be answered right away that they both opened their gospel accounts by presenting the origins of Jesus Christ.  We shall reflect on John’s version about the origins of Jesus on Christmas; today we focus on Matthew’s genealogy which is very Jewish in flavor and context considering his own background and audience made up largely of Jewish converts to Christianity.  Right away, Matthew traced the genealogy of Jesus to the two prominent figures of Israel by solemnly declaring at the beginning of his gospel, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt.1:1).

           For Matthew, the story of the promise of God begins with Abraham who was called to journey from his homeland to the Promised Land.  More than a journey into another land, it was also a journey into the future by Abraham when all nations who would come from him shall come together to be blessed by the Lord.  Every Jew is aware of this promise by God to Abraham and Matthew is now reminding them how everything was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus as the Christ.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains in “Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives”that “From the beginning of the genealogy, then, the focus is already on the end of the Gospel, when the risen Lord says to his disciples:  ‘Make disciples of all nations’ (Mt.28:19).  In the particular history revealed by the genealogy, this movement toward the whole is present from the beginning; the universality of Jesus’ mission is already contained within his origin” (page 5).

            Next to Abraham, Matthew structured much of the history of his genealogy around the figure of David, the greatest king of Israel to whom the promise of eternal kingdom had been given by God.  Fully aware of the significance of symbolisms in number among his people, Matthew structured the genealogy of Jesus into three sets of fourteen generations considering that the Hebrew letters of the name David add up to fourteen also:  “Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations” (Mt.1:17).  Again, we listen to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,“this threefold division by Matthew shows that the genealogy of Jesus is in fact the Gospel of Christ the King wherein we can find the whole history looking onto Him whose throne is to endure forever (ibid., page 6).”   Here we find anew the fulfillment in Jesus of God’s promise to Abraham and to David.

            The third and surprising element in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is the inclusion of five women that is very novel at that time considering it was a male dominated world.  See that Matthew traced more of the male line of the Lord’s genealogy; he must be up to something in mentioning the five women as roots also of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheeba the wife of Uriah, and then Mary His mother.  The first four women were considered sinners and right away we can see how Matthew had indicated in the genealogy the mission of Jesus as Savior of the world when He took upon Himself the sins of the four women including those of the world.  It was not chauvinism on the part of Matthew but simply employing a technique prevalent at that time; but, here he also presents to us another reality of aside from being sinners, all four women before Mary were also foreigners or gentiles who were looked down upon by the Jews at that time.  Through them, Christ’s mission to the Gentiles is also made manifest in His genealogy, proof that indeed the genealogy of Jesus is the whole Gospel in itself!

           But the biggest surprise of Matthew after putting four sinful, gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus is his manner of ending it with another woman though this time a Jewish one, Mary.  Note like in a song all throughout the genealogy, we find the pattern of father and son like in “Abraham was the father of Jacob” to indicate human paternity among the ancestors of Jesus.  Note how Matthew would devise a twist near the end by telling us “Jacob (was) the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ” (Mt.1:16).  The evangelist is very clear here with the Divine origin of Jesus Christ who did not come from Joseph or any human father.  Right after the genealogy, Matthew would narrate the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, stressing the fact that He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit.  Very clear Matthew has no plans of minimizing the role of Joseph in Christ’s birth; on the contrary, the evangelist extolled Joseph’s role at the genealogy and following story of the Nativity that as the legal father of Jesus, Joseph makes Jesus legally from the Davidic line of succession as fulfillment of the promise to David by God.  Such is the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ that although His origins can be traced to humans, beginning with Abraham and David, He also came from above with God truly His Father which we profess in faith that He is true God and true Man.  In Jesus Christ through Mary, “human existence starts afresh so that we can now claim that our true genealogy is in our faith in Jesus who gives us our origin and mission from God (ibid.).”

           One of my spiritual fathers who has a tremendous impact in my life was the late American Jesuit Fr. Arthur Shea.  He was my spiritual director during our Ignatian 30-day retreat in Cebu more than 20 years ago.  His favorite expression was “man is a mystery.”  Indeed, every person is a mystery for we never know exactly everything about him or her, someone we must always respect because no matter what, he or she is a child of God above us.  The genealogy of Jesus Christ challenges us today to rise and hold on to that honor of being a beloved child of God that despite our sinful past, many weaknesses and failures, we can always start afresh like Mary putting an end to the cycle of sins and evil.  The genealogy of Jesus Christ reminds us that life is more about direction than destination.  Like Abraham, we are all wayfarers treading the path of Jesus who is the way, the truth and life with no clear indications of places to go except of directions to the future to be like Him.  Like David, God would always find a way to change our courses in life so we can follow His direction despite our grave sins.  Let us pray with Mary that we may let God set the direction of our lives so that we may bring Christ back into this world that has veered away from Him.AMEN.Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

*Photo is another painting on acrylic (48×96) by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas called “Luklukan ng Karunungan” (Seat of Wisdom) displayed at the second floor of the Library of the Immaculate Conception Major Seminary at Guiguinto, Bulacan.  A lively and beautiful rendition by Aris of Mary teaching her Son Jesus Christ while at the background is Joseph looking at them.  Used with permission.

Advent Is The Joy of Persons

48363133_2022338281220522_1767266466916204544_n
The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-1
Advent-3, Year C, 16 December 2018
Zephaniah 3:14-18//Philippians 4:4-7//Luke 3:10-18

          Christmas is undeniably the most joyous season of the whole year.  And we all know the reason because it is the birth and coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately in practice, we always forget Jesus Christ and we get focused on the gifts and decorations that delight our senses but leave us empty within.  When we forget Jesus Christ as the reason of the season, then we altogether forget the persons around us, forgetting that the greatest gift we can always receive is the gift of our personhood, the gift of another person we journey in life.  One rejoices because of a person.  Only persons can bring joy and only persons can rejoice.

          You must have seen the Christmas short film of Ayala Malls’ “Wishing Tree” where a Lola and her apo celebrate the Simbang Gabi at Greenbelt.  After Mass, the apo would hang his Christmas wish on the “wishing tree” aided by the security guard.  The Lola eventually had Alzheimer’s, had to stay home while her apo went alone to Simbang Gabi.  As usual, the apo who had grown up into a young man went to hang his Christmas wish but this time, instead of asking for toys, he simply wrote “Make Lola happy again.”  The security guard saw his wish and had a brilliant idea of gathering from the mall’s CCTV records the joyful memories of the Lola and her apo at Greenbelt through the years.  On Christmas Eve, the apo went to kiss and greet his sick Lola in her room where he found a Christmas card from Ayala malls.  Inside was a USB with footages of their happy days together at Greenbelt that lit up Lola’s face with joy as if she had suddenly recovered her memories that she rested her head on her apo’s arm.  How amazing that despite her dementia, Lola rejoiced again when she saw the gift of person in her apo, their gift of selves to each other that tells us only persons can bring joy to another person, not money or things or gadgets.

         This third Sunday of Advent which we also call “Gaudete Sunday” or “Rejoice Sunday”, we level up our rejoicing because our joy is not only coming from another person but from the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God Jesus Christ!  Such was also the joy of Mary in singing her Magnificat upon experiencing the very person of  God in herself and in Elizabeth, “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk.1:46).  Every joy is magnified because of the person of Jesus Christ who revealed to us that our God is not merely an entity but a Person who relates with us and wants that relationship deepened as a true Father to us.  Last week, we reflected how we must create a room or a space within us to let Christ come to us and possess us.  Today, our readings remind us how God shows us Himself and His plans for us through other persons in Christ Jesus.  See how the people were filled with joy upon listening to the preaching by John the Baptizer in the wilderness of Jordan.  Everybody, including sinners like tax collectors and soldiers were asking him “what should we do?” because they felt the joy within of Christ’s coming.  And the good news is that through John, the people of that time including us today found that God is not really asking so much from us:  we simply have to live simple lives of sharing whatever we have, being fair and just with one another.

         To everyone in the crowd, John said, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.  Tax collectors should stop collecting more than what is prescribed while soldier should stop the practice of extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with their wages.” (Lk.3:11, 13, 14)

          Let us rejoice because God is not asking great things from us to experience His coming in Jesus!  We do not have to withdraw to the mountains and wilderness to find Jesus Christ.  All He wants is our complete person with concrete acts of love and charity, mercy and kindness with every person around us who is our brother and sister in Him.  All God wants is our complete person wherein we are faithful and true to Him through others in whatever state of life we are into.  See how all the readings proclaimed during this Season of Advent teach us to realize that God has truly come among us in the person of Jesus Christ so that we can experience Him in our very personhood and among other persons, both in good times and in bad times, in joys and in tears.  Together we all celebrate life’s ups and downs with God Himself in Jesus through the persons who heed His call to love and to serve.  In becoming human like us, God the Son came to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is within us and that the Holy Spirit has been sent to support our relationships with other persons.  It is always a struggle to be a good person most especially among relatives and friends who are supposed to be the first to love and understand us but turn out to do the opposite.  So often, we forget the other person due to many fears within us like being unloved or rejected, going hungry or thirsty, of losing and getting lost.  The prophet Zephaniah tells us in the first reading to cast away all fears and be not discouraged by failures and hurts in life; rejoice because you are so loved by the Lord!  “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festival” (Zeph. 3:17).  St. Paul reiterates this call for rejoicing, telling us “Your kindness should be known to all.  The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:5-7). 

         How sad, and how can we rejoice this Advent and Christmas in our country where Christmas is said to be the merriest and the longest when the president and his men especially in the police force rejoice in the death of drug dependents and criminals?  We condemn every act of violence especially to innocent victims but executing their perpetrators, eliminating addicts and criminals will never solve the problem.  How can we rejoice when very clearly justice favors the rich and powerful who can all go free or even be exempted from being arrested simply because of age?  How can we rejoice when telling lies and peddling fake news are the norms of the administration, maligning people and institutions?  The most tragic part of this attitudes of killing, telling lies and injustice in courts is the atmosphere they create among people to lose respect for another person, to fail to see the value of every person rooted in God.  Anyone who rejoices in the death of another person, in fake news and lies can never have true joy because deep inside, they are the most insecured and fearful persons of all who are so afraid to love and to forgive, to accept the truth that they have lost their own value of being a person.  They will never experience Christmas like Herod who ordered the murder of innocent children upon hearing the birth of another person truly greater than him, Jesus Christ.

         This joy of Advent and Christmas in the coming of Jesus Christ is found in the humility of our all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowing God who chose to be another person among us, so weak and so small even begging us to receive Him.  Doubt no more, my dear reader that no matter what your sins are or your past may have been, whatever may be your state and condition in life today, God is here.  Have a room in your heart for Him, welcome Him for He does have plans for you.  He is also among other persons around you at this very moment, meet Him too among them.  Rejoice and give the person you love with a big, warm hug to feel God’s intense presence on this Rejoice Sunday. AMEN. Fr.NicanorF.LalogII,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, .Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

*Photo is a painting on acrylic canvas by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas, “Triangulo ng Liwanag” exhibited in Washington DC in 2013.  Typical of paintings by Aris is the joy of the Filipino family where there is always the presence of love represented by his vibrant colors.  According to Aris, the relationship among the father, mother and child is everyone’s “triangle of love” in this colorful life we have.  Used with permission.