ASSEMBLE AND LISTEN
Dawn Mass / Misa de Gallo Reflection (2nd Day)
2nd Day of Simbang Gabi(K)
December 17, 2009
Readings: Gn 49:2, 8-10 / Mt 1: 1-17
The first reading today has to do with what exactly we are doing at this very moment. We assemble … in big numbers … in glee … in excitement. For that is what Simbang Gabi is, year in and year out … a time to gather, a time together with family and friends, and a time for “puto bumbong” fun, and – there is no denying it … a swell time for text messaging galore! For many young people, it is also a time to date without having to spend money … a time for some legitimate-looking chaste intimacy, near enough the church to make one feel one has gone to church, but far enough from the sanctuary to be left alone in semi-intimate encounter, and still go home with stories about how cool the priest presider is, or how boring, or how old-fashioned as the case may be.
It is a fact that church-goers increase dramatically during Simbang Gabi. But whatever your reason for being here, the plain fact is that we have assembled here or around the church, with many of you, outside the perimeter of the church structure.
Whatever your motivation for being here, you all fulfill the first of the two words that I quoted directly from the book of Genesis – assemble.
Jacob sure had a big family. With a brood of 12 strapping young men, all full of energy and each imbued with his own lofty dreams, Jacob had to face squarely an all-too-possible looming problem, from the human point of view. So he had to do some kind of advanced housekeeping and strategizing. He had to make known who should take the upper hand, and who should rule over whom. Little did he know that his human prudence and foresight was going to be the vehicle of God’s will in the long run. And God’s will – His choice – fell on the house of Judah: “The scepter shall never depart from Judah, nor the mace from between his legs.”
For Jacob to make known his choice and for Jacob to make known what was actually God’s will working through him and getting manifested through him, he had to call an assembly. He had to call his sons and his sons’ families to gather. He had to bring them together.
And when they were gathered, that was when he boomed with prophetic certainty and confidence: “Assemble and listen.”
Assemble … it smacks of moving from one place to another. It refers to being called together for a purpose. It denotes people coming together in a common place because someone else has called for an assembly. It is related, obviously, to being gathered, being called, being told to come together for a common purpose. The Old Testament would later call this a qahal … an assembly of God’s people, at the behest of God Himself. God calls, and people gather. God beckons and the community draws together in a common place.
We have so many gatherings everywhere. We gather at the Araneta coliseum to watch concerts. We gather these past days for so many parties. We gathered to say farewell to a beloved former president not too long ago. We gather for so many reasons. But we gather, for the most part, because we want to, even if no one calls us, even if no one tells us to do so.
This is plain and simple gathering, not a qahal whereof Scripture speaks. The assembly that we do here is not because we want to go on a group date (although some of the young people do that!). The assembly that we do here is not because we want to see a concert (although some priests seem to be giving free concerts with all the hit tunes that they belt out gratuitously during the homily!). The assembly that we do here is not because we want to make a statement (although again, in the liturgy, that is precisely what we do – proclaim the mystery of our faith.
We are gathered here because God has called us, and much like what Jacob did, God told us to assemble. This is what being Church is essentially. We are Church because we are a community of the called, (although some of us behave more like the community of the cold – and indifferent, - judging by the lack of enthusiasm we see in many people’s responses!). We are Church because this gathering was convoked by God Himself. We are what is called in Greek “he ekklesia tou theou,” – the community called together by God. We all constitute hoi ekkletoi – the chosen and the called.
But what do people do when they gather? Activists gather to do something. They gather to tell the government what to do. They come together, not to sit down, but to aggressively push their agenda.
But we the ekkletoi who form the ekklesia of God, gather because we are called not just to assemble, but more importantly, to listen.
Listen … we hear so much noise everywhere. We are in the age of info flood, where people get a daily information overload. With cable digital TV, we now can hook up to as many as 170 channels, not to mention the internet that has invaded our inner sanctums not even dreamt of just ten years ago. We hear so much, but there is very little listening taking place.
The Church tries to pass on what she herself has heard, for “faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:14), but what we hear everywhere else more than effectively cancels out what she teaches. No wonder every time the Church teaches like in the case of abortion as intrinsically evil, the noise that mass media and self-serving politicians dole out, all but cancels out the voice of reason – and the voice of God!
But since we have come here to assemble, it would do us well to complete the tandem and continue on to listen.
Assemble and listen … this is what we Christian believers are - and do! We just don’t gather. We gather to listen. We gather in church not to tell Mother Church what is right and what must be done. We gather to be taught. We gather to listen to her and be guided accordingly, for we live in morally confusing times.
It is my fervent wish and hope as a priest, that, with so many of us gathered here this morning, we would take to heart what we have come here for … and that is not to go on a group date. That is not to make a fashion statement. That is not to be entertained. We have gathered here because we have been called, convoked, and if we go by what Jacob told his big family, to “assemble and listen.”
Simbang Gabi, after all, since time immemorial, was meant to preserve the faith of the Filipino people, and “faith comes from hearing.”