Catholic Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A. January 20, 2008

Please find below in a separate posting a reflection on the Sto. Nino (Feast of the Holy Child) which is a national celebration in the Philippines.

N.B. I am reposting a reflection I wrote three years ago, in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami that ravaged a big part of Asia. I post this in advance as I will be in the center of all the celebrations - Cebu City, in order to preach a retreat for a week. I may not have time to post a new one but I will try.

Today’s reflection poses as a big challenge for me straddling between two worlds set apart by some 9,000 miles of ocean and shore, mistakenly called by history as the pacific, the same pacific ocean that was the theater of bitter, anything but pacific conflict just 60 or so years ago. The pacific ocean is the same body of water that has seen deadly tsunamis over the last 100 years, where the so-called “ring of fire” of volcanic and tectonic – and obviously – deadly upheavals are located.

The recent tragedy in 12 different countries fronting the Indian ocean once more gives the term “pacific” a relatively apt moniker for the time being. Anguish, sorrow, and untold grief now criss-cross a vast territory of Asia, with repercussions and destruction cutting through a broad swath of suffering humanity all the way to Africa, 6,000 miles away from the epicenter of the deadly tsunami-inducing earthquake in Sumatra.

In times of such cataclysmic and a sudden snuffing out of unsuspecting human lives busy with their ordinary – or extraordinary – affairs, one’s faith in God of whatever name and tradition and persuasion is sorely put to the crucible. One is at a loss for words to say, to do so much as assuage the very real and existential pain that has visited upon hundreds of thousands of people, and millions more around the fragile planet that can only watch helplessly as rampaging waves faster than a superperformance Boeing 747, swirl, swell, and swallow people caught in the ordinariness of their everyday activities at one moment, to be gone forever the next.

History, the kind that we stand witness to every single day of our lives, unfolds before us and confronts us with events that make us pause, reflect, and ask questions. Human history, the unraveling story of man’s search for the more, the better, the nobler, for freedom from disease, from sorrow, from unnecessary suffering, from all that smacks of death and destruction, despair, and despondency – a record of achievements and successes, also confronts us with a whole lot of recorded and unrecorded stories of failures, of selfishness, of human greed, of tragedies both natural and man-made, of wars and insurrections, terrorism, of freedom gone berserk, of people who turn out doing all sorts of inhuman acts to their fellow human beings. Alas, history also shows us how man, wrapped up in what appears to be deep religious faith and passions, can turn the very same faith in their God to causes that are basically ungodly, murderous, unworthy of a God of whatever name, who calls all to life, who rouses all women and men to solidarity, to charity, and to social justice.

This is the same history that stands witness to events that we all remembered with such pomp and circumstance, with gifts galore, and bells jingling all the way to the malls and the world’s cathedrals of commerce, the story of a God come down in sinful humanity’s midst, to lift humanity enveloped in the darkness of sin, selfishness, and sordid personal gain.

This is the great historical event of a God-revealing-and-offering-self to us, a story that we managed to romanticize, to mythicize, and to wrap with dainty tinsels of gold and silver. This is the story of Christmas. This is the story of a God who came hiding behind the humility of a child born in inauspicious circumstances, envied and plotted against by a threatened monarch whose claim to power and fame was receding from under his feet faster than a psychological tsunami could do.

This is the story, God’ story – History! – of which people like John testified. “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me… I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel … I saw the spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me … Now, I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God.”

Let us face it, dear friends. Our faith is an eminently historical one. It is as much a history marked by concrete events, as a history of a people’s reflecting on such events, and finding meaning, finding guidance, finding light in the welter of daily events big or small that tended to cloud over peoples’ sense of peace, serenity, faith, and a set of commonly held values that sprung from such events. Our faith boasts of historical figures like Moses, Abraham, the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, who had to speak out in the face of unfolding events that made people forget all too easily, events that made people lose out all too soon, swallowed by rampaging torrents of irreligion, of idolatry, and apostasy. When people saw hardship in the desert, they forgot the Lord’s promises and pined for a false sense of home in Egyptian bondage. When God was getting a little too far for comfort, they fashioned a golden calf to worship, and kept up with the Joneses, as it were, and joined their pagan neighbours in worshiping inanimate gods.

When things are simply going too well for us, with wealth, comfort, and ease surrounding us, we forget all too soon, and we cease living a life of remembering, a life of memorializing, of celebrating the magnalia Dei – the wondrous deeds of God, in our personal and communal histories. With many of us now wallowing in first world comfort, who really can remain for long touched by images of suffering and abject poverty elsewhere in the world? Who among those who are thousands of miles away from suffering, and closely wrapped up in their comfort zones can withstand the onslaught of desensitization to pain and the suffering of others?

The history of God’s people is a history of reminders, of wake-up calls, of prophets’ rousing and sometimes politically incorrect speeches and oracles. That history is an ongoing reminder for people never to lose sight of Him who directs the course of history, of Him who has placed Himself in charge, of the God who once uttered and continues to utter in our midst: “Courage, it is I.” This is the history of prophets like Isaiah, who, today, tells us through the “servant of Yahweh” figure: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This is the history of attentive people who heard God’s call in the midst of a clamorous and noisy, complaining lot, and answers ever so humbly and silently: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” This is the history of people like Paul, who despite initial fear and trepidation, answered the call to become “apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God.” This is the history of those “who accepted Him … [and to whom] he gave the power to become children of God.”

These individuals – and many more in our midst, many even from among my readers who stand proud and tall in their faith despite their own stories of pain and suffering, are those who see the gentle presence of God in the ordinariness of everyday joy, in the ordinariness of everyday pain, in the daily realities of divine epiphanies in the unfolding history of their lives of simplicity and utter humility, hidden from the eyes of men, tucked away from the applause of people, hidden in God, hidden in their own version of holiness. One of my revered professors, Robert Wicks, apropos this, rightly and wisely speaks of “ordinariness as palpable holiness.”

There is revelation unfolding in history, in our story, in our pilgrimage through this “agrum” (fields) on our way to the “sacrum” (the holy) - what Tillich calls the object of our “ultimate concerns.” Too sad that people only seem to wake up to this reality when they are inundated with a flood of tragic information and images like the recent calamity spoken of above. Too sad, that too many religious fanatics in their misguided theology ascribe meanings associated with fear and ideas of “God’s wrath bearing down upon sinful people” – almost like as if, and indeed suggesting, that those who died deserved to die because of their sins.

The God they do not see in ordinariness is definitely not the god they think they see in cataclysmic events. The world of meanings they miss in the ordinary run of history is something they will also miss sorely in the “earthquake, the thunder, and the lightning” of extraordinariness.

There is something deeply theological and existential in the liturgy that celebrates (at least in the Philippines) the divinity of Christ hiding in the humility and lowliness of a child. Christian faith being a historical faith in essence and foundation, there is something we all need to learn and practice in the ordinariness of everyday life – to find God in all things, to see Him in whatever events unfold, never to focus solely on the cataclysmic, the spectacular, and the extraordinary, but to see God masquerading under ordinary, familiar events and realities in this world.

Holiness is for eminently ordinary people. It is meant for the Dominic Savios, the Maria Gorettis, and the Mickey Magones of our times, along with the plebeian Lorenzo Ruiz who started out as one who was trying to escape the clutches of the law. Holiness is not for the grandiose, the Herods and the “big guns” who are blinded by their own false sense of self importance. Holiness is like that of a little child, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” Like the old song goes, it is not only “tomorrow” that “belongs to the children.” Holiness does, too, for in their simplicity, they see God in the ordinariness of their everyday lives.

St. Rita Parish, Dundalk, MD January 16, 2005