3rd Sunday of Advent Year A
December 12, 2010

They simply don’t seem to add up! Problems today … challenges here …  obstacles there … worries here, there, and everywhere … they don’t add up. No … if you think otherwise, you’re not odd. You are just one of us lesser mortals … at times cautious, many times afraid … and most times worried sick.

At 55, I am worried about getting sick and unable to do what I mostly enjoy doing everyday. At any age, people everywhere worry about the future. Everywhere, people now, who know enough and are observant enough to take notice, do wax worrisome over the fast degradation of the only place we call home – mother earth!

Take the case of people in the Marshall islands – the Mashallese – whose tiny island atolls are predicted to be the first to disappear with the rapid onset of global warming. Already now, shorelines are being reclaimed by the ocean, rocks and solid land are crumbling before the eyes of residents who now worry about their legal status, should the time come for them to leave the place they have been calling home for generations!

Take my case … I have been an educator for decades, and a teacher for 33 years! Like the “oldies but goodies,” songs “the likes of which nobody makes anymore,” as my fellow baby boomers generally lament, children and young people in general, just seem to us to be growing more and more distant … more and more different from years past … more and more given in to entering into their inner worlds, inner shells, and inner sanctums! The “narcissism epidemic”  (Twenge & Campbell, 2009) is now widespread, and we educators are helpless and clueless about what to do to stem the tide, much like  the hapless Marshallese who are at a loss as to what to do about water tables getting more and more salty by the day, due to ocean water seepage deep in the bowels of their disappearing islands!

There are reasons galore to be worried!

But no! Today, the liturgy takes on a different stance. Like always! Like before! And like it would, till kingdom come! One thing about the Church’s liturgy is it does not follow the bandwagon. It does not echo the pessimism of the times. It, in fact, echoes down the good news for all times, for all seasons, despite all the reasons to the contrary. Liturgy is prophetic. It refuses to give in to the times, even as it seeks to “read the signs of the times” and tries to offer an alternative view of things, a transcendent one, if you will … a  view that makes us take a second look at things, and see beyond crumbling rocks and disappearing islands, and tries to make us worried people see a glorious future, that goes far beyond the here and the now!

Last week, I reported to you, my readers,  a world of powerful feelings, associated with people in pain, people who have more reasons than I can ever muster, to throw in the towel, and crumble into a heap of despondency and depression. I see it every day … people who live on a hand-to-mouth basis, who may have something to eat now, but nothing sure and certain for the morrow … people who may stand stolid and stable now, but who may not know what to do with their sense of utter loss when they get back home and face the reality of an unreplaceable personal loss!

I see it in the likes of Elizabeth Edwards, who, just seven years ago, was a bubbly and bright companion on the side of a vice-presidential candidate. Back in my Baltimore days, she was a picture perfect icon of a rich, powerful, and brilliant woman who had everything going for her … a rising star political bigwig for a husband, a bright future, a successful personal career, and a host of other “enviable” privileges, rights, and accomplishments.

But God had other plans! I saw it, too,  in the life and death of my older sister who died 7 years ago at age 56 of the very same cruel disease that cut short the otherwise idyllic life of Elizabeth. I saw it in the pained looks of the 3 boys and their mother I told you about last week. Today, I received a follow-up plea for further help. I knew it … their lives have been transformed into a big heaping crumble of a mess … a far cry from what they were enjoying just a month or so ago, suddenly cut short by “man’s inhumanity to man.”

But I told you that the liturgy takes a second look at things. And this is what as a priest, as a preacher, teacher, and as counselor, I would like you all to take notice too. We see now, mostly through the eyes of our raw sinful humanity, prone to hopelessness, depression, and despondency.

But to look again, to take a second look (respicere in Latin, which is the root word of “respect”) is to respect the “imago Dei” deep within us all – the image of God deeply embedded in our personhood and creaturehood.

I would like you to look again at the formula above … the first two addenda represent what all of us are saddled with … feeble hands + weak knees.

Feeble hands … I have been toiling in the field of education and teaching much longer than many of my readers have been in this world. My hands are feeble … for educating young people seems more like pouring water off a duck’s back. What it all reminds me of is a ferris wheel or a merry-go-round. I seem to be just going around in circles, and it all does not seem to work in the end.

Weak knees … I used to play some soccer when I was younger, and climbed a lot of mountains of yore.  But age seems to be catching up with my lofty dreams. My knees wobble. My legs tremble. And my resolve gets me into a double trouble. How now do I go on educating young people who don’t even seem to appreciate what I do for them, preferring to remain in their mind-set that I am there to make their lives miserable?

“Lord, come and save us,” is a very real prayer for me, not just  a feeble response after the first reading today. Lord knows how often I prayed it when we siblings were at my sister’s bedside, praying for a miracle, hoping against hope, that, somehow, my prayers as a priest, will reverse nature and keep the cancer cells miraculously on hold. Feeble hands + weak knees do not equal a miracle. Feeble hands plus weak knees equals tears, copious tears, and bitter tears!

But despite – and, precisely because of these tears, I come to you as messenger of a God who stands by us in pain and sorrow, and I say, with Paul the Apostle, “Gaudete” – “rejoice!” I say it again, rejoice! I repeat what last week’s readings already said, “They will bloom with abundant flowers … “

Yes …I submit that feeble hands and weak knees do not add up and make for joy. But God does. God is. God will. Surely. Definitely. With finality and utter fidelity! For it all has nothing to do with us. It all has to do with Him. Life as we know it, life as God wills it has nothing to do with additions and subtractions, divisions and multiplications. It has to do with more, not less; with a resounding reality, and not with subtrahends and dividends; with infinite joy, and not pointless products and multiplicands!

It has to do with final, utter, and unspeakable joy – perhaps not now, but forever; perhaps not here, but for always; perhaps not today, but for all days. And so I say, with James: “Be patient until the coming of the Lord.” And so I say with Isaiah: “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing.” And yes! As two and two make four, feeble hands + weak knees, over faith, hope and trust in God, will always result to FEARLESS HEARTS! GAUDETE IN DOMINO!

Paranaque City
December 8, 2010
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception