4th Day of Simbang Gabi / Misa de Gallo

December 19, 2009

Readings: Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a / Lk 1:5-25

Yesterday, we reflected on the good news represented by NO FEAR! We heard Jeremiah fearlessly and confidently declare: “Justice shall flourish in his times, and fullness of peace forever.” We also heard the angel say to Joseph: “Do not fear Joseph to take Mary into your home.”

Joseph was an old man who, probably, would have really been afraid to be given such a heavy responsibility. Jeremiah, young though he was, was also afraid. That much, we know for sure, for that is what he himself reports in his book.

Today, we have in our story book, two old men – Manoah and Zechariah. Like Joseph, they too, ought to be afraid to be entrusted with so much that late in their lives! … two old men who should be retiring in peace… two old men who should be recounting stories by a warm fireplace, not making history! But make history, they did, by going beyond their fears!

Forrest Gump, for all his simplicity bordering on being a simpleton, was not that stupid after all. He possessed nuggets of wisdom. (One of the little books I have kept all these years since Forrest Gump made it to the international marathon is precisely this: “The Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump”). And one of these memorable nuggets that I hold onto and would like to share with you today is this: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Let us see what he got in life … poliomyelitis … leg braces that were part of the package of polio … rather limited up there in the brains department … a loving mother, a courageous mother, a mother who pushed him to the edge in a good sense, and made him go beyond his fears, beyond his wants, and way beyond his ken! He ran and ran, even if he did not know where he was going, but he ran with might and main, not understanding fully what it was he ran for and after. He ran with faith… faith in his mother, faith in his childhood friend who coaxed him and goaded him on … “Run Forrest run! Run, Forrest run!”

I am very afraid on occasions. I remember being first time in a catholic school. Coming as I was from a public school, my first day in Don Bosco was a frightful one. But I had a mother who pushed me. I had a father who dreamt big dreams for me. If only Forrest Gump was there in the horizon of my limited dreams, I would have made him my idol and hero.

I am still afraid of certain things. I am afraid to get sick. Not getting any younger, I am afraid to get old and dependent on others. I am afraid to go to certain places in the Philippines. As an avid trekker and mountain climber (who became one by going beyond my fear of heights!), I am afraid to go to Mindanao and other places for obvious reasons that I need not tell you. New here on Guam, my first day was absolute terror – fear of the unknown, fear of the unfamiliar, fear of being rejected … name it, I had it!

As a people we are afraid. We are afraid of presidential candidates. We are afraid of trapos (traditional politicians). We are afraid of convicted criminals who suddenly are rehabilitated by the stroke of a pen, all poised once more for office in order to “serve” again! We are afraid of goons who masquerade as public servants who keep a stable of armed battalions in their many backyards of their many palatial homes in the midst of so much poverty. We are afraid for so many reasons.

We are too young, we say, like Jeremiah said. We are too old, we say, like Manoah and his wife, and like Zechariah and his wife. We have reasons galore … reasons not to follow, reasons not to obey, reasons not to be honest, reasons not to pay taxes, reasons not to go to Mass … We never run out of them reasons!

Forrest Gump had a reason not to run … a perfect reason called polio. He had reasons not to move ahead … he was a little short up there! Manoah had a reason not to obey. He was old. And look at what he got after he obeyed, despite his fears … a lot of conditions, a lot of orders, a lot more to do, a lot more responsibility: “be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean.” Look further at what befalls people who obey orders from God … Samson himself was not off the hook: “no razor shall touch his head” for “he is to be consecrated to God from the womb.”

T.S. Eliot the poet says that “old men ought to be explorers.” Joseph the old man was precisely that – despite his fears. And look again, at what his obedience led him – to exile with his family in Egypt, persecuted by someone in power who would brook no potential opposition, real or imagined.

But Joseph and these old men went – and explored. They went beyond their fears, beyond their wants.

I have been mortally afraid so many times in my life. A hopeless introvert, I am afraid of crowds. I shun the limelight. Whilst I am at home with authority and the use of it, I would rather that crowds are not there to watch me. I prefer to do things quietly and quietly pursue my dreams. The last big fright I had was when people rabidly went against me and conspired against me – all because I was trying to advance a dream that I thought was best for the common good. But all that now is water under the bridge.

My first day of reflection for Simbang Gabi ended with a poem by William Ernest Henley – “Invictus.” As I write this reflection, the lyrics of a beautiful song comes to mind, like background music that reminds me of the powerful message that I am now trying to develop. Despite our fears, we are called to “be explorers.” And to borrow from T.S. Eliot, we are called “to a further intensity.” We are called to go beyond our wants, beyond our fears.

And do you know what is our guarantee for not being afraid? The two readings tell us today … We have the likes of Gabriel, who comes not just to give us marching orders. He comes to assure us, of one all important thing, besides which nothing else matters. He comes to tell us: “I am Gabriel who stands before God.”

Is there any more assurance necessary? We have one in our midst who stands before God.

I quote here the full text of Marty Haugen’s beautiful song based on Psalm 23:

Shepherd me, O God,

beyond my wants, beyond my fears,

From death into life.

God is my shepherd, so nothing shall I want,

I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love.

I walk by the quiet waters of peace.

Gently you raise me and rest my weary soul

You lead by pathways of righteousness and truth

My spirit shall sing the music of your name.

Though I should wander the valley of death

I fear no evil for you are at my side

Your rod and your staff my comfort and my hope.


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Anonymous said…
nice post. thanks.