[Homily, Simbanggabi, Martin Hall, ADDU, Dec. 16, 2015]
“It’s more fun in the Philippines!” the saying goes. And when you think of serious countries like Japan, and disciplined countries like Singapore, and powerful countries like China, you’d possibly be willing to accept that, indeed, “it’s more fun in the Philippines!”
That appears certainly so when one considers the endless suffering in Syria and Iraq due to very serious people quarrelling about the very serious issues in life – great issues like God and how to serve him and do his will, or like justice and how to strive for justice and achieve it, even if, ironically, in the pursuit of God or in the pursuit of justice, it may appear to mean killing those whom he loves but who do not agree with you, or in justice’s name unjustly raining down destruction in barrel bombs on the innocent, or blowing oneself up to inflict maximum harm on the enemy in order to advance a “sacred” or a “just” cause..
Looking on in great dismay at the harm serious people quarreling about serious things can bring on one another, it may appear as something of a relief, or something of a grace, that it’s more fun in the Philippines – even with our typhoons and earthquakes and ongoing concerns for peace. Certainly more fun than having to make the hard decision to flee one’s beloved country, and risk death by drowning in the Mediterranean or death by freezing in winter or death by rejection of angry, fearful, ugly people who have no understanding of one’s pain, no connection to the many loved ones Iost to the violence of very serious people concerned about very serious matters, because in risking death there is at least a chance for life, some even-diminished life, rather than certain death in one’s own country. There, death is rained down from the heavens or met in places of worship blown up in religious righteousness. It is certainly more fun in the Philippines like in concerts of Matina Town Square than being gunned down in a concert hall of Paris or in a Christmas Party of San Bernardino or being blown up in the sky. These are very grave incidents of terror that called forth the jet bombers, the cruise missiles and attack helicopters of very serious powers like France, Great Britain and Germany, and have brought together erstwhile enemies like the United States and Russia in an endeavor to eliminate a common enemy who in the name of God cuts off people’s heads, massacres innocents, and manifests a zealousness for God and the afterlife that is chilling to onlookers like you and me.
With relief, we acknowledge: it is more fun in the Philippines especially on an occasion like this at 4:30 in the morning when, instead of still being curled up in bed warmed by your beloved, you are here listening to me talk to you on why it is more fun in the Philippines – especially at Christmas time – when our homes and our offices and our streets are lit up in Christmas cheer, and despite all the many serious concerns of the world in which we live, our thoughts are of loved ones and friends, near and far, here and abroad, and of making people happy. But, perhaps, also because beneath all the routinely stressful activity of the Christmas Season year-in and year-out there is opportunity to remember the first Christmas. Then, as an enduring sign of God’s love and his will to redeem us from all the very serious ruts we get stuck in in life, a virgin gave birth to a Son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.
That opportunity to remember God, his mysterious ways, his creativity, his compassion, his response to our serious sin, his love, his humor, his way of communicating with us in endless surprises, is possibly the reason why we take the pains to get up at this absurd time to come to Mass when no Church law commands it. We want extraordinarily to savor the gift of the presence of God. In a season when we are all are busied getting presents for one another, we come together to be astonished anew, at the original Present of God for us, wrapped not in colorful paper and satin ribbons, but in swaddling clothes, and laid not under an elegant Christmas tree but in a manger aged by long use in feeding animals.
When in our world we are involved with very serious concerns like raising children to be healthy, productive and moral in society, or running a business and paying our employees properly, or being an active member of a university doing serious instruction and serious research and serous service to the community, or participating in an employees’ union and advocating better and more just working conditions, or struggling for the eradication of poverty, for a more equitable distribution of wealth, or for the protection and promotion of the environment in social justice, or just making ends meet between the limitations of my paycheck and the limitlessness of my debts, it is helpful to break away from the serious routine and its many serious concerns to recall the words of the Lord, “I am the Lord, there is no other; I form the light, and create the darkness. I make well-being and create woe” (Is. 45: 6b-7). He is the Lord, not we. He is God, not me. He is the light, not me. He makes well being, not we. He it is who brings joy, not me. He it is he who works out social justice, not we. He is the heart of the common good, not me. When we forget this, and think – rather seriously – that it is all we, or that it is all me, with all our serious ways, our learnedness, our intelligence, our power, our terrible threats, our arrogance, our violence – we often make a mess of it, as we see in Syria and Iraq, and as we experience many times in our lives, in our quarrels with each other, or in the graveyards of precious but fatally poisoned human relationships. Here, instead of ideals being honored they are dishonored in cynicism and killed in rejected coercion and buried in bitterness along with our murdered friendships.
In this context we say anew today: “Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up. I, the Lord, have created this“ (Is. 45:8a). Seriously, we must work for justice, struggle for it, fight for it, but perhaps in the special glow of this morning’s Scripture we may notice our wish, our hope, our prayer in today’s liturgy that justice be wrought not only from our serious rationality, our serious actions, and our serious legal measures but descend from on high, dropped down not like barrel bombs, but like dew from above, like gentle rain, discreetly, almost imperceptibly cleansing us, transforming our freedom, sanctifying us, like a drop of water, Ignatius would say, entering a sponge instead of falling on a rock.
Let justice come not only from above. Let it also come from below. “Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up” (Is. 45:8b). Let us remember, it is not we who create our salvation; it is not we alone who create justice: “I, the Lord, have created this” (Is. 45:8c), the Lord reminds us. “Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other” (Is 45:22).
Therefore our responsorial mantra today in the glow of this Simbanggabi Mass: “Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Savior“ (Is 45:8). We cannot produce our own savior. We cannot be our own redeemers. We are not humankind’s messiah. We always mess up. It is only in the savior where “kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss” (Ps 85:11). For us, kindness is normally not truth, and truth is normally not kind. For us, justice normally brings no peace. And peace normally abides no justice. It is only in our Savior where kindness and truth meets, justice and peace kiss.
They thought John the Baptist was the Messiah. But John pointed to Jesus. In Jesus, “the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Lk 7:22). In Jesus, once laid on the wood of a manger, eventually fixed to the wood of a Cross, kindness and truth meet, justice and peace kiss in death overcome and in resurrected life offered to all who accept him as Savior.
On this first of Simbanggabi Masses where it’s more fun in the Philippines, blessed are those who are not scandalized in this message and who humbly pray, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come!” (1 Cor 16. 22).