Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections

5th Sunday in OrdinaryTime - Year B
February 8, 2009

Two weeks ago, I reflected on the need for a sense of urgency in our lives, an urgency not in terms of being enslaved by the desire for the more, the better, the ultimate in our earthly concerns. I spoke of the need for a sense of urgency in the sense of getting the right perspective in life, knowing one’s priorities, operating on the right paradigms that put God and His Kingdom as first in the list, “for the world and its pleasures are fast drifting away.”

Today, we are confronted with a similar challenge. There is a little air of apparent compulsion as we hear the Lord say “Let us go on to the other villages, that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” But this challenge is preceded by yet another paradox, an apparent contradiction in images, presented in the first reading by a figure of a tired and weary, complaining Job whose laments strike us to the core: “Is not man’s life a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages?”

Job would most likely have made a very good trial lawyer! His argumentation is very cogent; his reasoning very logical. And the cases he stands for are all very existential! They are all very real, and close to the experience of anyone who has seen suffering in any form. Will anyone please who has not suffered stand up? If any, which I doubt, then this homily is not for you – and neither, perhaps, any other homily.

I address myself to you who all long for respite from so much “sweat and care and cumber; sorrows passing number!” (Hopkins) I address myself to you who, like Job, can identify with the slave who longs for the shade. I identify myself with thousands of Filipino fathers who, in their desire to give their children a brighter future, have endured, and still endure, so many long years of absence from family and loved ones, in places that are not exactly paradise regained. I identify myself with even bigger numbers of mothers who often single-handedly try with might and main, to raise and educate a brood of impressionable young minds fast falling prey to the glamor and glitter of mass media and malls, and their allure of values that are “fast drifting away” from the path of real happiness and fulfillment. I identify myself with forlorn and – for all intents and purposes – abandoned children in a very real and poignant way! They wake up to see and hear surrogate parents, no doubt well-meaning grandparents, aunts and uncles, or even worse, yayas y yayos (caregivers and domestic helpers), who themselves are caught up in their own brand of an earthly sense of urgency and wordly cares. With almost 10 million Filipinos ( more than 10 % of our present population) eking out a living abroad, surely there must be a lot of weary Jobs out there who are “filled with restlessness until the dawn,” whose “life is like the wind,” and who endlessly “long for the shade.”

I address this piece of good news to all of you in pain, all of you in sorrow, all of you who are siding with Job, you who seem to ask in the midst of so much darkness and uncertainty, “When shall I arise?”

Yes, I address myself to fellow Filipinos whose very questioning deep in their troubled hearts betray a very deep sense of hope and faith. I then ask you to look at this other side of the picture – the proverbial resiliency of the Filipino, the almost unlimited capacity to endure, the admirable ability of the Filipino to bounce back, to come out the winner despite the odds! How else would you explain the fact that Filipinos find endless inspiration from telenovelas, whose portrayal of the classical suffering underdog never fails to capture the sympathy of us all?

Today’s good news rings loud and clear for us: God is close to the broken-hearted! Our response today, mind you, is not more of Job’s plaints and cries. It is more like a Job renewed, a Job refreshed, a Job risen from misery, and a Job back on his feet of steadfast trust and faith in a God who “gives” and “takes away.” Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted! How can a man like Job do this? What is behind all this turnaround? Read for yourself…Job’s problems were not undone. His arguments failed to reverse his long list of woes. His losses never came back.

But there is one thing that happened to him who was honest and sincere enough to take his case to the God who is close to the broken-hearted. Enslaved by suffering and pain without him looking for them, he turned to the Lord and declared his helplessness. Like Paul, he went through the process of acceptance. In the context of prayer and solitude, he found solace and meaning behind it all, because he saw God and His closeness to the broken-hearted. Paul tells us what this salvific pain is all about. It is all about pain freely accepted, suffering freely taken upon oneself, welcomed for a higher purpose. It is all about giving one’s best, wringing out of ourselves the best that the richness of our personhood can offer: “I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the Gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”

Job did not find a solution to his problems. No. But looking for God in prayer and solitude, he found a meaning to his problems. For behind it all is God himself who suffers with him. Behind it all is a God who calls us to greatness, who brings out the best in us, who makes of us unheralded heroes of endurance and patience, who manage despite everything, to send children to school and mold them somehow into becoming the best they could be.

There is some little detail that people in tears may not see in today’s gospel, much like the tears of Mary Magdalene, which covered her eyes and gave her temporary blindness to the point of missing the risen Lord for a while. In the midst of so much cares and worries of the apostolate… in the midst of so much demand from people who wanted healing and a good word from the Lord to lift their spirits up … “the whole town was gathered at the door…” Jesus did something we all could resort to, or ought to do always, everyday, every single day… “Rising early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” I would like to think, Jesus did not leave Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and her impertinence and importunings. The Gospel tells us she worked quietly, waiting on Jesus and the disciples. No. Jesus went away to pray, to commune with the Father. This is the solitude of one who is caught up in so many cares, so much to do in so little time. There is, again, a deep sense of urgency in his heart! No matter how urgent, no matter how important. No matter the deadlines and all, Jesus prayed.

Perhaps this is the secret to it all. Perhaps instead of cogent arguments and getting lost in New Age literature and finding quick answers in crystals and horoscopes and feng shui galore, we need to go to our own interior deserts and pray. There, miracles happen. For there is the place of meeting between broken-hearted people like you and me, and a God who is close to the broken-hearted! When we meet him in prayer and solitude, our paradigms change, our whole mind set changes. With St. Paul we say…all for the sake of the gospel. Nothing more. Nothing less. And nothing else!