INVITATION, REFLECTION, TRANSFORMATION
N.B. I AM POSTING TWO REFLECTIONS FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 18, 2009. IN THE PHILIPPINES, INSTEAD OF THE 2nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, WE CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF THE SANTO NINO, THE HOLY CHILD, AS THE NEXT REFLECTION AFTER THE IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING REFLECTION SHOWS.
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)
January 18, 2009
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3-10.19; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15.17-20; John 1:35-42
The liturgy today opens with a rousing call. The young Samuel, probably being groomed to do something that is bigger than his young years, is roused from restful sleep not once, not twice, but thrice. Paul issues a rousing challenge to the Corinthians to behave responsibly as members of the body of Christ. Two bystanders watching attentively are also roused by an excited announcement from John: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The call addressed to the young Samuel fell not on deaf ears. Although being roused from one’s bed is no welcome thing for young people, the fact that he was sleeping in the temple precincts meant that there was, to start with, a certain openness, a certain readiness, a predisposition, an open ear, as it were, to something important, something great, something bigger than his young stature. The bold announcement from John was reciprocated with an equally bold response from the two who stood alongside him, who watched together with him whose life mission was to prepare the way for someone else. The two disciples who stood by and watched not only had an open ear. They also had a willing hand, an adventurous foot, and an inquisitive mind. They heard … They beheld him who was coming after their master … and they followed.
I see three movements in today’s liturgy. First, there is a call. I would call it an INVITATION. Samuel was invited, first, to sleep in the temple area where the ark of the covenant was kept. His “yes” to the invitation to keep watch along with the older Eli was followed by another invitation, this time, from someone greater than Eli. That eventful night, another invitation came his way. More than being roused from sleep, he was being raised to do something great, something beautiful for God.
INVITATION, however, is followed not by delving straight into action, but by careful and prudent reflection. Invitation did not give way to mere activism. It paved the way for REFLECTION. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Invitation did not translate into immediate action. It bloomed, instead, into humble petition ... “Speak Lord!” The same may be said of the two disciples of John who stood by and watched. When they followed the invitation of John to “behold,” Jesus made them reflect: “What are you looking for?” Again, reflection became petition: “Where are you staying?” This time, petition was answered by a deeper invitation: “Come and you will see.”
Come and see …This was the motif of the World Youth Day in France in 2001 … Venez et voyez …Come and see … Perhaps as we put a close to the long Christmas season, and as we go full swing into living an entirely new year, we need to do a Samuel act that is made up of three essential and integral movements: invitation, reflection, and transformation.
Our world is a noisy place. Noises, both material and spiritual, characterize and clutter our daily existence. Spiritual noises drown out interior silence. Material noises crowd out our ability to reflect. And a lot of psychological noises make it impossible for many to live in peace and harmony with one another. In the Philippine context, there is so much political noise that drowns out hope for a better tomorrow for many poor and suffering people. In such a situation, the invitation that comes like a gentle whispering wind from above is all but smothered, unheard, and therefore, unheeded.
Today, I would like to reframe the readings in terms of these three watchwords: invitation, reflection, and transformation.
Invitation … Come and see … We need as a people, a faith family, first to listen like Samuel did. It is so easy for anyone to jump into so-called solutions to problems. But as any organizational guru amongst us would readily realize, many of the solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow. Mere knee-jerk reactions to so many pressing problems will not clinch it. Nor will the poorly digested and poorly reflected on palliative measures do. I would like to think that, among others, this is what stands out in today’s readings. “Come and you will see.” Invitation from the Lord ought to open itself to watching, to reflecting, to praying more than to doing. Come first, and see. Come first, and reflect. Come first and observe. He does not tell us today to jump into the fray.
Is it any wonder that the psalm chosen reiterates the same point about watching and waiting? “I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.” Is it any wonder that the same psalmist plays down the need for action, the need for “sacrifice or offering,” but rather refers to “ears open to obedience?” Is it any wonder that only then, only after speaking of ears open to obedience, he speaks about his resolve: “Behold I come?”
We always take mistaken pride in being the only Christian nation in Asia. The truth of the matter is more like we were strongly sacramentalized and ritualized for centuries, but not necessarily evangelized. About half a million every year risk life and limb by fanatically going through the motions of a noisy following of the tortuous and torturous processional route of the Nazareno in Quiapo. Even more throngs go in full regalia to honor the Santo Nino in various places in the country at about this time of year – in Cebu, in Aklan, in Tondo, Marinduque, etc. Noise and fanfare characterize these celebrations. But amidst all this noise and celebration, the basic invitation to personal and communal holiness remains unheard and unheeded by the mainstream dysfunctional political system and a societal system that favors and fosters division and distinction of many kinds, along with so much social injustice. Whilst I submit that many among those who join the celebrations are motivated by no less than deep devotion, by far the greater majority seem to be attracted by the superficial pull of pomp and circumstance. There is little reflection, little prayer, and little attention to the invitation to depth and holiness of life.
I would like now to translate this last concept into a word that fits the topic developed by today’s readings – TRANSFORMATION.
The invitation that was given to Samuel and the two disciples of John, and the reflection that followed the invitation, both spilled over into transformative action. Reflection preceded transformation and not the other way around. Transformation was the logical and necessary output of reflection. Having come and seen, they followed. Having reflected, they stayed. Andrew, who first saw and reflected, went into transformative action mode. He called his brother Simon and told him great news: “We have found the Messiah.” That report made him resort to something concretely life transforming. He brought his brother to Jesus.
All stories reported above can be reduced into a single line. For Samuel, for Eli, for Paul and the Corinthians, for John and his two disciples, for Andrew and Simon, first there was the INVITATION. Then came REFLECTION and petition. And last, there came the difficult but necessary part. They all worked for TRANSFORMATION.