December 23, 2020 – Eight Day of Misa de Aguinaldo
Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122320.cfm)
Who was the person who taught you to pray? Who was that important person in your life who brought you to the church and to develop your personal relationship with God? I am sure that we have our own share of stories and memories of those persons who were significant in the formation of our faith. They may be our grandparents or parents, siblings or relatives or others because of their friends. Others also only began going to the church and learned how to pray and became closer to God because they were following their girlfriend or boyfriend in the Church.
Well, I want you to remember that person and please, thank the person. If the person is sitting near you, say thank you. If the person is not around with you anymore, then, in remembrance of that person, say thank you also as you imagine the face of that person.
I want you now to listen a story of real struggle that happened very recently who despite the pain and overwhelming confusion, she is able to realize the gift of persons in her life during these trying times. Let us listen to Mildred Taño Tocao (Ate Neneng) short story.
The bitterness and the difficulty of losing your beloved in life, is truly painful to accept. My husband had been ill for many months yet, he kept his illness to himself. He never asked for help perhaps because he did not want to be troubled.
I was only able to bring him to the hospital when he had the difficulty in breathings. When I brought him to the hospital, I had many fears since I easily get scared. I am scared of seeing dead people. I am scared of patients who are gravely ill. However, at that time, I was able to overcome to those fears because I wanted my husband to be healed and to live.
Yet, when he was brought to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I was prevented to be with him. I went home but I isolated myself from my children and grandchildren since I was exposed to the hospital. I was very confused and very anxious. I was all alone in the room. I was paranoid and would easily get scared every time I would hear my phone ringing. I was scared that the hospital might give me some sad news. Yet, the time really came when I was informed that my husband died alone, away from us.
The pain in my heart was overwhelming. I lost my husband. I have never even seen him just for once before he was buried. What I can do was to cry. Moreover, because of the mandatory 14 days quarantine imposed on me, I could not embrace my two grandchildren. I can only hear their cried looking for me. I was grieving and deeply sorrowful.
However, despite all these, “God is gracious and fills us with gifts.”
“I am still thankful to you Lord for the gift of life and for the gift of presence of my husband, Tata. You have awakened my husband to praise and thank you. Although, he rarely went to Church, but my husband slowly came back to you and realized the importance of going to the Church. There were even times when it would be him waking me up early and reminding me to go to Church and pray. It is still painful to think that he is no longer with us. What I can do now is to remember him and cherish our memories with him especially as we are about to celebrate Christmas and New Year.”
Despite all these painful events in our life, I am really grateful to the Lord because God has given us many gifts. Our children and our grandchildren are the most wonderful gifts we have received. Now, they are the source my strength and of my inspiration in the midst of this painful event of losing my beloved husband.
Ate Neneng and the whole family had been a subject of discrimination and because of the surrounding fear during this pandemic, they too were deprived to see and bury their beloved dead. However, the painful experience of Ate Neneng and of the whole family leads us to this wonder to see beyond darkness and to hope beyond pain and sadness.
What helped Ate Neneng to see beyond are the very presence of those people who love her and whom she loves. Her children and grandchildren, as she shared, became the very source of comfort and strength to her in these very difficult times. In this way, God reveals His graciousness and gifts to us with those people who are near to us, particularly our family. This is what Ate Neneng also realized as she struggled to discover hope and find light in this heartbreaking point of her life.
To consciously remember and recognize the people in our life and in the story of our faith, we too are being reminded of God’s action within our history. God called messengers or heralds to lead us and gather us into the presence of God. With this, let us also discover how God worked in our history and reveal His graciousness to us through the Sacred Scriptures.
In the prophecy from the Book of Malachi, we have heard of God’s herald who shall lead and gather the people to see God. He is like a refiner’s fire who will teach and correct the wrong of the people. The herald leads the people to repentance to fully welcome the Lord. And the very life of this person is the message of God to make the people prepare themselves for God’s coming. This is God’s promise that is to be first fulfilled through the participation of humanity, through us.
The person of this herald is truly a gift because his presence means bringing us into preparation. This is how God’s graciousness is also revealed because what God desires is our salvation and our freedom. The role of the herald becomes our link with God.
The author of the Psalm expressed the desire to be taught by the Lord and to be led to the truth. This is the role of the herald in the first reading and the herald in the Gospel of Luke who teaches, leads and gathers the people to recognize God’s graciousness.
What is more interesting about the herald was how he was conceived in his mother’s womb. In the Gospel of Luke, which tells us of the birth of John, the herald of God was surrounded by a story of surprise and of God’s graciousness. The Lord continued the revelation of this plan through the old childless couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Indeed, to the surprise of this old couple an angel announced that they will have a son. Elizabeth welcomed the message from God, but her husband, because it was too much to believe, could not accept God’s gift. That is why, Zechariah was silenced by God. He only recovered his voice when his son was born. It was when he gave the name John to his son that the Lord opened his mouth again because the Lord is gracious.
The name John literally means, God is Gracious. The birth of John the Baptist is a testimony of God’s graciousness not just to the old couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth but to the whole humanity. The couple is an image of the people who longed to be taught and to be led to God. As John was a gift to his parents, John also points to God’s graciousness who is about to come in its fullness. Zechariah also realized that his son is God’s message to him. With the birth of his son John, Zechariah was filled with God’s gift which made him to speak again because of so much joy and gratitude to the Lord.
Yes, Zechariah spoke and regained his voice because of so much joy in his heart, because of so much gratitude in his spirit. The birth of John is a divine manifestation that God is gracious and faithful despite our unbelief and doubts. God continues to reveal himself to us even though we may refuse to believe.
This was the role of John and that was to bring people again to believe that God has never abandoned us. God remembers and He is here with us. This made John a great and important prophet because he made people recognize God and brought them closer to God. He was a refiner’s fire because he challenged the people’s way of life and called them to get out from their comfort zones of power, influence, abuse, sin and corruption. Yet, because of this role of John, it caused John’s life. He was martyred, beheaded actually, because of this cause to make people recognize that God is gracious.
This is the invitation for us today – to be a herald of God. Each of us was led and taught by significant people in our life. Now, it is our time to be one, to become God’s herald today, to become like John the Baptist who will also lead others to God, who will point to others how God is so gracious to us.
How do we become a herald today?
You as parents, you are in the best position to lead your children to God. You are there to prepare the way of the Lord in the hearts of your children – not through indifference and irresponsibility but through your love and understanding, through your loving presence and affection.
Teachers, educators and persons who are in authority, you too are in the position to influence your students, mentees and subjects to discover God through your authority – not through dominance and control but through your loving care and gentleness.
As friends, co-workers, and classmates we too are in the position to let those people around us to realize that God is in us – not through manipulation and deceit but through our kindness and generosity. Through us, people around us may discover and be led closer to God. Hinaut pa.