A Pre-Christmas Homily:
It is a happy thing that at this 9:00 a.m. Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent we have here not only our regular Sunday Mass Community, but most of the Administration, Faculty and Staff of the Ateneo de Naga University. As the Christian world prepares for the coming of the Lord, there is a special Pre-Christmas University celebration tonight, and it was deemed fitting to come together prior to this celebration in Eucharist.
In Eucharist. That means, we come together in thanksgiving. As the Archdiocese of Caceres draws to a close its celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Devotion of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, we too draw to a close the celebration of our 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the Ateneo de Naga University. We have no blockbuster movie like “Ikaw and Pag-Ibig” directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya and starring Ina Feleo, Jomari Yllana and child prodigy Yogo Singh (which I highly recommend that you all see!). But we did have our own memorable celebration of 70 years of Ateneo de Naga with its festive Eucharist celebrated by Msgr. Leonardo Legaspi, OP, DD, and the publication of Dr. Danilo Gerona’s “Ateneo de Naga at 70.” After that, our own memorable participation in the Peñafrancia Tercentenary, the PAASCU Level II re-accreditation of our Accountancy Program, the historic topping of the Nursing Board Exam by Rayan Oliva, the outstanding performance of our civil engineering graduates in the last Board exams, the election of a new President for the Ateneo de Naga University in Fr. Primitivo Viray, Jr., S.J., and surprise of surprises, the recognition accorded me on a national scale as an outstanding Filipino- daa! – for education.
We mention these not to boast, for to boast is truly idle, but to give sincere thanks! We have worked very hard, even though not everything has gone our way. There have been times when the pressures on us and the misunderstandings within our community have reduced us to tears. For some, the frustration has been very great – in an inability to move forward in the pursuit of a graduate degree, or in the accomplishment of a project, or in completing a research assignment, or in helping a student progress, or in reasoning with the parents of a difficult student. But despite the frustration, and despite the personal pain, our beloved university continues to serve, continues to work so that the Father’s Love be Incarnated and born in our world. We are part of that service: teachers, administrators, staff. For this, we give thanks. And celebrate.
Even as we still wait for the coming of Jesus. We wait, of course, not just for the coming of our hour of partying, as exiting as this may be; nor just for the gifts that come our way in this Season, as gratifying as these may be. We wait for the coming of Jesus because deep in our hearts we are aware of areas in our lives where he has not yet come, relationships in our lives that he has not yet touched, evils in our world that he has not yet vanquished, and we have so long wanted him to come – with a consoling word, or a healing touch, or a clear manifestation of his Will. With the rest of the Christian world, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” …But often we also add: “Come, but not today; come rather tomorrow, or next week, or next Christmas.” Come tomorrow, for today the distracting music still plays; today, the darkness and shadows are sweeter than the light, or the tinsel, the glitter, the make-up and the make-overs, the genial spins hide the ugliness and evil beneath, and power and prestige so infinitely more attractive than that weak Babe lain in the poverty of a manger.
Sometimes, if we procrastinate, tomorrow may be too late. You know, we have been talking and talking about the need for an Alternative Mining Bill for this country for a long time. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to consolidate our university position, thinking possibly that it is more comfortable today to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. But yesterday, we read in the paper that in accordance with the present disastrous mining law, they have declared Camarines Sur a mineral reservation. They have singled out this beautiful province to be torn asunder in the interests of foreign miners. We will see our mountains and islands plundered; we will hear our people’s cries, we will hear the miners say: “All this in support of the economic good of the Province and of the Nation!” For 30 pieces of silver royalty, we have allowed this province’s environment to be betrayed. Betrayal of politicians? Yes. But perhaps, also our unwillingness to say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come…” Instead, let the music play. No need yet to join the fray.
The coming of Jesus was long prepared for in history. From the viewpoint of Matthew, it was since Abraham; from the viewpoint of Luke, it was since Adam and Eve; from the viewpoint of John, it was since the very, very beginning, when there was only the Word, the Word of the Father, the Word of love. That may mean generations or centuries or eons of preparation. Yet, I think, when it comes to us, we are hardly ever prepared. We tend to shun preparation, especially in the Philippines, where Advent is routinely overtaken by the famous “––ber months” and and the beautiful devotion we call Simbanggabi. We don’t like the violet of preparation and penance, the quiet attention given to our waiting, to our shortcoming, to our refusal of the magis, and prefer the white-out of instant gratification and instant celebration. So, all of a sudden, Christmas is upon us, with all of its compulsions and duties and coerced festivities, which so often have so little to do with Christmas. We remain unprepared.
The Gospel for today is about Christmas, the first Christmas. If one is unprepared, one hears this only as the jaded story that has long lost its drama. To those prepared, however, it is a story filled with wonder and mystery. Joseph finds the person to whom he is engaged pregnant with a Child that is not his. Being a just man, a good man, he wishes to divorce her quietly. But he is told in a mysterious dream that this Child is conceived through the Holy Spirit, and when born shall be called Emmanuel, “God with us.” Marvelously the carpenter accepts the message of the dream and acts on it. Some have said this Christmas account has been written from the viewpoint of Joseph. But of course, Joseph notwithstanding, this Christmas story is really written from the viewpoint of a Father conscious of our waiting, our yearning, our desiring to be better than we are, our wanting to communicate, to reach out, to teach, to align ourselves to the Father’s will, to help the other person, to do the right thing, to protect the environment, despite the many times we’ve said we can’t, there’s no more time, there’s no more energy. The story is of the Father speaking to us in the Babe in the manger. The just man does not disdain his pregnant beloved, Divinity does not spurn humanity, the Creator does not abandon his creation, the virgin gives birth. The little, fragile, weak baby is “Emmanuel: God with us.”
Fr. Jun Embile pointed out in his Simbanggabi homily yesterday morning, that before Joseph accepted his role in this saga of God loving us, he was told, “…Do not be afraid… Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home…” He was told this, because he was afraid. To us who are waiting…, yearning…, desiring…,we are being told, “Do not be afraid…” Do not be afraid to let the extraordinary happen through you, to let the marvelous take place through you, to let mystery overpower the myriad rationalizations of our habitats of fear. Do not be afraid to let God burst our tired categories, break us out of our comfort zones, and let Him for whom we wait be born within.
At the end of this happy year, we have so many gifts to thank God for – our University, our families, our loved ones, our friends, our homeland, our mountains, lakes, rivers and beaches. We know we are blessed. So may this be our prayed-for grace this Christmas: that beyond the festive preparations and white Christmas celebration, we acknowledge our waiting…, our desiring…, our hoping…, quietly and humbly, ultimately for Him.
When, in response, He comes as Emmanuel, we pray we let him in.