I WAS GLUED to you tube Monday night. I couldn’t find a Hallmark movie interesting enough and, after some time of choosing and unchoosing, “Christmas Crime Story” caught my choosiness. The first few scenes of two Christmas stories I checked out for size were either dragging or too talky I thought I could sink my teeth into something suspenseful. I was not sorry I chose the thriller. There was one line in the movie that stayed with me long after the credits disappeared: “Christmas can also be a moment for misery.” How very like our present time, I thought; the overstaying pandemic, and the latest havoc caused by Odette, in the season of the Reason.
That line I repeated in our brainstorming of the LecCom Christmas Solidarity Party on December 29. Six committee leaders wrapped their heads around the event, made sure all stopgaps were gotten out of the way, and nothing could mar our enthusiastic preparations. I insisted to myself that I needed to be propelled to do something unusual. Therefore, even if I had misgivings about writing a script for our presentation, Kuya Ben helped in pushing me. I was sure, besides, that the Holy Spirit would come to my rescue again. He did. All it took was invoke Him.
It was even a goosies moment towards the finish of the script. I assigned 11 persons to act out different one-liner roles and – lo and behold! – the lines of the song Kuya Ben personally picked for the skit was that same number! If that was not ordained, I don’t know what was.
I remembered that I wrote Pope Francis’ homily of December 23, 2013 (which was eight years old last Thursday), and could not help but revisit it.
Pope Francis commented on the simple yet profound prayer found on the Church’s lips in the days leading up to Christmas: “Come, Lord!” The Church calls out to the Lord in this way, the Pope explained, because “she is awaiting a birth.” Today, the Church is like Mary: she no longer waits because the birth has come! The Virgin used to sense within herself, in body and in soul, that the birth of her child was near. And surely in her heart, she said to the baby who came out of her womb: “Come, I let me see Your face, that they have told me will be great!’”
I believed it when Pope Francis said the Church lives this spiritually. I felt it when I served at the Christmas Eve Mass last night, and again at the Christmas Day other this morning. The faithful accompanied Our Lady and St. Joseph in their journey of waiting and we, too, wished to hasten the Lord’s birth. This, the Pontiff said, is the reason for the Church’s prayer: “Come, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O Wisdom, O Emmanuel”. This invocation, he said, recalls the final words in the Sacred Scripture; in the last lines of the Book of Revelation, the Church cries out: “Come, Lord Jesus, Maranatha,” which “may indicate a desire or a certainty: the Lord is coming.” Indeed, He has come!
Pope Francis continued, “the Lord comes twice”. His first coming is “what we are about to commemorate, his physical birth.” Then, “He will come at the end of time, at the close of history.” However, he added, “St Bernard tells us that there is a third coming of the Lord: His coming to us each day: each day, the Lord visits His Church. He visits each one of us. And our soul also enters into this likeness: our soul comes to resemble the Church; our soul comes to resemble Mary.”
Throughout the Advent Season, the Church kept watch like Mary. And “watching is the virtue, the attitude, of pilgrims. We are pilgrims. Are we watching or are we sleeping? Are we vigilant or are we safe, and secure in an inn, no longer wanting to continue on? Are we pilgrims or are we wandering?” (Inwardly, I answered, I’m back to my pilgrimage, I will no longer wander, until my faith is fully restored.)
That is why the I volunteered to serve twice, to pray “Come!” and to “open my soul in watchfulness.” I answered to the invitation to perceive and understand “what is happening within me,” to ask “if the Lord comes or does not come; if there is room for the Lord, or if there is room for celebration, for shopping, for making noise.” This examination of conscience, the Pope said, should lead us to ask ourselves: “Are our souls open, as the soul of Holy Mother Church is open, and as Mary’s soul was open? Or have we closed our souls and put a highly erudite note on the door saying: Please do not disturb?” (Like Joseph was not disturbed by his dream, Lord, I will heed every word You (or Your emissary) send me.)
In His coming to us each day, He visits each one of us. And our soul also enters into this likeness: our soul comes to resemble the Church; our soul comes to resemble Mary. Throughout the Advent Season, the Church kept watch like Mary. And “watching is the virtue, the attitude, of pilgrims. We are pilgrims. We ought to be watching, vigilant, not safe, and secure in an inn, no longer wanting to go on. We are pilgrims, not wanderers.
Therefore, with Our Lady and the Church, we would do well today to call out: O Wisdom, O King of the Nations, Come, come! We would do well to repeat it many times.” It is a prayer, he said, that allows us to examine if our soul communicates to others that it does not wish to be disturbed or, if instead, it is an open soul, a great soul ready to receive the Lord. And, if I may add, if it is a soul similarly worthy to rise with the resurrection of the Lord because, more than His incarnation, Easter reminds us that His birth was only momentary (compared to what He might have accomplished if His life was not snuffed out thirty years later), despite the interminable merry-making, because He ultimately died, because of our mindlessness, our sinfulness, and the consumerism that prevails, more than the opening of our hearts to the poor around us, and the victims of the pandemic that persists, and the tragedy, grief, and anguish that Odette recently wrought in the Visayas. Really and truly, can we honestly open our hearts and be disturbed by the dire needs of our neighbors? We can never be ready for a Christmas that we have stripped of its Christian heart, or of its Reason, if He cannot resurrect us with Him when He comes, if we are not ready, daily, to be disturbed by our brethren’s poverty.
The Holy Spirit stirred the six of us to meet at Ate Ester’s house and finalize the plan of the Parish Group of LecComs for our part in the program of the Solidarity Christmas Party on December 29. It was as enthusiastic as it was energetic. From the opening prayer, where we invoked God to come and open our hearts and minds, to the driven, hearty brainstorming, to the grace before the sumptuous lunch Ate Ester prepared, to the closing invocation, to the picture-taking towards the end, to the doggie bags Ate Ester had for the five of us, to the as-warm-as-her-welcome goodbyes, we were confident that we were ready not only for the party, the program, and everything else that they entailed but also for the coming of the Reason for the season Himself.
I was still insisting to be propelled, hoping for a compulsion to push me to my limits. And so I recalled the Daily Mass last Wednesday, at the Loreto Abbey Chapel in Ontario, Canada, Fr. Obinna Ifeanyi, CSSp, gave a Marian homily that spoke to me. Instead of ask God “Why me?” in times of pain and adversity, he said we should, like Mary, ask God the same question when things are good. Because that’s exactly what Mary’s attitude was when God chose her to be the mother of His Son. She had gratitude for her collaboration with the greatest revolution, the Incarnation; she had praise that God afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted when Christ was born; and her prayer that resulted in that fiat became the majestic Magnificat.
From the midnight Mass, Kuya Gemer invited me to break bread with them; I couldn’t say no. While we were sharing Manay Marlyn’s noche buena and telling stories, Keith descended from the second floor and gave gifts to each of his family. That was a touching sight. No loud announcement of the blessings, just a simple handing over. The acceptance was equally simple and I felt the love that those gifts represented.
I left their house a little after 2 am. There were no more taxis on Commonwealth Avenue but I was among the lucky fares that was blessed by a UV Express that took us all in. I got off on Don Antonio where there were no more tricycles and decided to take a walk home. I passed by closed The Generics Pharmacy where in the dim front were sprawled several homeless bodies, two of which were elderly women who were still awake and, even from the dark, I could see they were grease-covered. One of them held out her palm and I was quick to give her a twenty-peso bill and proceeded to leave. The other woman called out to me; I paid her no mind for no reason except that I thought I had nothing more to give. After about ten steps, I remembered another twenty-peso bill in my purse and made an about-face and gave it to her. Both women were quick to say thanks. I greeted the second one “Merry Christmas,” ashamed that my first impulse was to ignore her. But Fr. Lloyd’s homily hammered home to me and made me return. The rest of the walk became a breeze.
After the 9 am Mass today, however, Fr. Lloyd’s homily stuck with me. What if I wasn’t there when he said it? What if I didn’t hear about the typhoon victims in the dark, without the literal light, groping for what passes for their noche buena, the figurative lost in the second word because only the first word is there for them, without any good, no matter how or what they try. Would I have done what I did the night before? Would the darkness that covered the women, darker than the grease on their bodies, have been an escape from their miserable situation? Who were in a better condition? They who were awake, or those sleeping bodies around them? Did the P20-bills make much difference in their desperate state?
I believed Fr. Lloyd’s concern because the Mass didn’t go as most liturgical celebrations went. I was the only lector that served. So I had to tell him, even if it was obvious, that we didn’t have a commentator. He reassured me he’ll do it, no problem. And Bro Robin lifted up the prayer of the faithful. Indeed, my worry was unnecessary. But the memory of those bodies slumped in front of The Generics Pharmacy haunted me. I wondered what happened when daylight came and they were no longer hidden. Where would they go, nay, wander? His H