December 13, 2011

Rejoice in the Lord Always!

3rd Sunday of Advent (B)
John 1: 6-8, 19-28 “Tell us who you are, so that we could give some answers to those who sent us.”

The third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday. This Sunday, in the middle of Advent Season, we are called to rejoice in the Lord always. In the second reading, Paul encourages us to wear the spirit of joy at all times: “Rejoice in the Lord always... have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God (Phil 4:4–6).”

The call to rejoice in the Lord at all times is not just a simple exhortation to all Christians; in fact, it’s a command from God in our union with Christ Jesus (1 Thes 5:17). God wants us to shine forth and be the life and joy in the world. If we are intimately united with God, it should transform our hearts, lead us to gratitude, and bring joy to ourselves.

But our experience will tell us otherwise, many of us are unhappy and ungrateful Christians. Too many of us are Christians by name, but not by living. We seldom see Christians gladly proclaiming their deep faith and personal experience of God’s love. Thus Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord, pray without ceasing and render thanks to God always. As children of God, we should actively manifest in our life the joy, love and peace we received from God.

But what stops us from rejoicing joyfully in the Lord? In my years of giving spiritual direction and counseling, I realize that one basic ingredients of unhappiness is our inability to process and transcend our resentments and anger caused by strained relationships. In the end, it drains our spirits and we lost our capacity to get in touch with the joy that God is offering.

In the first reading, Isaiah reminds us of our identity: “The Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor, heal the broken-hearted and proclaim liberty to the captives.” But how do we reclaim our identity as bearers of God’s Good News?

In the second reading, Paul gives us some basic ingredients of a happy living: 1) pray without ceasing 2) give constant thanks to God always 3) allow the Holy Spirit to rule your life 4) listen to inspired messages 5) put all things into the test - discernment 6) keep what is good and throw away what is bad 7) and avoid any kind of evil and temptations.

I remember Fr. Albert Alejo,SJ comparing our hearts to the medicine cabinets. He said, check your medicine cabinet at home; and you will be surprised that some expired medicines are still there, occupying space unnecessarily. Throw them away immediately. Then he said our hearts are like the medicine cabinets; in our hearts also, we love to keep those expired, harmful, and unnecessary negative feelings - like anger, frustrations, hopelessness, doubt and worries – in our hearts. Genuine peace, inner joy and gratitude will never come to us until we consciously free our hearts from the bondage of negative feelings.

In our Gospel today, John was asked, “Who are you?” And he immediately answered, “I am the voice in the wilderness, crying out; prepare the way of the Lord.” When Jesus was asked by John’s disciples with the same question, his answer was, “Go back and tell John what you are hearing and seeing: the blind can see, the lame can walk, and the deaf hear. (Mt. 11:4-6).” Both John and Jesus knew their identity and destiny.

What about you? Who are you? Are you in touch with your Christian identity? We should be happy bearers of God’s good news through our words and actions. God wants us to be joyful always to effectively proclaim His saving power and unconditional love. Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always, for our cheerful and positive disposition in life is a very powerful means to touch the hearts of the hopeless, lonely and unbelievers.

“Who are you?” The word of Isaiah re-echoes our Christian identity, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. (Isaiah 61:1)” Let’s reclaim and proclaim our identity. Rejoice in the Lord always!

- Fr.Willy M. Samson,SJ
Pasobolong Chapel

December 5, 2011

Workers of the Future

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)
Mark 1: 1-8 “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare the way.”

The Christmas spirit is already here. Decorations like Christmas trees, lights and lanterns are everywhere. In spite of our complaints against a heavy commercialized Christmas, I enjoy window shopping and viewing Christmas decors in Ayala. But it dawned on me that these beautiful Christmas decorations are labors of love from ordinary laborers. We did not see them work. It was a thankless job.

Nobody appreciates “silent workers.” They commonly works at night shift, those at the back stage and those whose work is to “prepare something” for others. They are a thankless job. Nobody sees the chef who prepares the delicious meal. Nobody sees the janitors who clean the social hall before and after the party. Nobody sees the tears of our thousands of OFWs who cannot go home this Christmas for the sake of the future of their families. Nobody notices their hard work and sacrifices. They are thankless jobs.

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist did another thankless job. He prepared the way for the arrival of Jesus by exhorting the people to repent. He had a glimpse of success when some repented and ask for his baptism, but he did not see the fullness of humanity’s salvation when Jesus died on the cross. His mission was crystal clear for John – just to prepare the way of the Lord. Nobody appreciated his contribution in the works of salvation. Herod even beheaded John. It was another thankless job.

But our gospel challenges us to be like John the Baptist – to become workers of the future. We are asked to work for peace in Mindanao so that our future generation will live in peace. We are tasked to protect our environment so that our children will have trees to climb and clean rivers to swim. It is our responsibility to teach Christian values to our children, to assure ourselves of good and God-fearing leaders in the future. But to work for peace, environment and formation of children are also thankless job. Nobody seems to care and support us. Why care and work for the future society?

William Barclay commented, "In youth, because I could not be a singer, I did not even write a song. I set no little trees along the roadside because I knew their growth would take so long. But now from the wisdom that the years have brought me, I know that it may be a blessed thing to plant a tree for someone else to water or make a song for someone else to sing."

Let’s ask ourselves this Advent: “Do I consciously work hard for a better future? What are your small and daily contributions? You say, you want peace in our society; but what are you doing about it? You dream of happy family; but how much time you dedicate to your family?

Let’s commit ourselves in building the future we don’t own. We are workers for our children and nation’s future. Our determination to work for a good future is not merely based on our social responsibility, but on the spiritual responsibility. Let’s discover the “John the Baptist” in us. We may not see the fruits of our labors; but that’s the meaning of being a John the Baptist. God calls us to prepare the way so that others may live to the fullest.

In a graduation ceremony, a teary eyed mother commented, “I don’t know what’s ahead of my son, but I’m at peace. I have given him good education to confidently face his future. ”

We are workers for the future generations. We may not see the end result of our hard work, apostolate, and advocacies. People may not recognize our sacrifices. Our work may end up like another thankless job. But don’t fret. Any work done with love will create a ripple effect in our future.

- Fr.Willy M. Samson,SJ