5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
February 5, 2012

I write even as I am in the midst of helping others make sense of their inner pains and hurts. During a lull in the processing that I conduct for a group of sisters and nurses engaged in helping those who are most excluded from mainstream society, I go to a different mode – the mode of the spiritual (as against the purely human, psychological mould) and reflect on the liturgy of the 5th Sunday in Ordinary time, come February 5, 2012.

But alas, there seems to be more of the same thing … at least at first blush. We hear Job with a long list of complaints and frustrations that sound very familiar to our very own experience. He does much more than just whine … he actually waxes desperate to a fault, as he declares in exasperation: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” (first reading).

The seeming hopelessness and helplessness of Job who was unable to understand the cause of all his trials and problems, however, was replaced by a hope-inducing and hope-raising testimony of Paul, who, “became all things to all, to save at least some.”

This is the same Paul who suffered through so many even life-threatening events like shipwrecks, being flogged as a common criminal, being imprisoned, and being afflicted with an unknown sickness, which he called a “thorn in the flesh.” Paul was no stranger to pain and hurts and intense suffering. But Paul also comes across to us as one who was heads and shoulders above the rest of us in his capacity to make sense out of even seemingly senseless things, places, persons, and events in his life.

He came out a winner. He came out a healer, if a wounded one. He came out of it all a victor. But not just that … He made himself all things to all … “all for the sake of the gospel!”

All for the sake of the gospel! …

We are all faced with serious issues left and right of us, behind and before us. We are barraged by a plethora of problems, both personal and communal. I, for one, have my own version of “thorn in the flesh.” I have been suffering from autoimmune skin allergies for some years now, sometimes to the point of having unbearable itchy rashes all over my body, for many times, unknown reasons. I react to all sorts of strong scents, including the strong perfumes worn by women and men, who get too close for comfort. Even an innocent scented bath soap can send me scratching and scratching till my skin turns reddish and raw. And the fabric softeners that people use too generously on just about anything can give me itchy problems that don’t seem to go away.

On the collective side, I have lived through so many coup d’etats, so many “people power” revolts, some of which are artificial and only one of which is spontaneous and real, but we are faced with massive societal problems of graft and corruption that simply won’t go away.

We are reeling under the social cancer of a dysfunctional politics based on personalities, and the so-called three G’s – guns, goons, and gold, like as if we did not revolt against them, not once, but many times over. And don’t get me started on the ecological disasters still waiting to happen, apart from those that have already repeatedly happened in the recent years.

At times, I feel like doing a Job and simply take resort to complaining: “I shall not see happiness again.”

This is one of those days when I long for answers. This is one of those occasions when I am tempted to do a Job, and just pour out my frustrations and my feelings of helplessness and hopelessness on account of so many reasons.

But I would like to assure my readers that today, there is also at least a reason, if not reasons, to refuse to follow joyless Job in his dejection, but follow the footsteps of Paul and his master Jesus, who became all things to all, in the hope of saving people like me who continue to lose hope and lose enthusiasm to do much of anything.

The institution, whose staff I am leading right now in a collective self-introspection has a beautiful document that speaks of “la esperanza de la luz en tierra de sombras,” the light of hope in a world filled with shadows. They set out to give “hospitality” to the most excluded, most rejected of society,” those who see things much worse than what Job saw in his life. They speak about their founder’s motto, which is “rogar, trabajar, sufrir, padecer, amar a Dios y al projimo, y callar” (to pray, to work, suffer, endure, love God and neighbor, and keep silent).

Their founder, one of three (St. Benedict Menni), was one who knew first hand whereof he speaks. He was exiled. He was forbidden to have anything to do with the congregation he helped found. He died in exile, misunderstood, and a victim of false reports from people who envied him.

But like Paul, like Job, like many of the saints who suffered immensely and unjustly, they ultimately became victors. They became winners. And they rose head and shoulders above all those who made life more miserable for them, at least for a while. They became beacons of hope and messengers of Christian resignation and Christian suffering.

Today, I address myself to all those who are suffering, all those who are losing hope, all those who seem to be losing it, and losing big in the pilgrimage called life. There is a meaning behind the pain. There is a reason behind all that we are undergoing. Despite all, we have the right to repeat with conviction what Job eventually said, what the psalmist so passionately declares, and what St. Paul so humbly professes: “the Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” “Praise the Lord, who heals the broken-hearted.” And with St. Paul, we now can grin and bear it, for we can go through them, for, at bottom, we do it all for the sake of the Gospel!

Talamban, Cebu City
February 3, 2012