Peace to all this Easter time.
On Easter Sunday, the Most Reverend Jose S. Palma, DD, Archbishop of Cebu,
opened the Jubilee Door to start the year of our commemoration of the Coming of Christianity with the first baptisms on Easter Sunday, 1521, 500 years ago.
While our joy and gratitude are bursting from our hearts, they have to be contained and restrained because of the pandemic, which, even after a year with the lockdowns and protocols, is spreading with an intensity we did not have last year. Like millions of others here and in the rest of the world, I have also suffered the loss of family and friends directly or indirectly caused by Covid-19.
I will not go into the current discussion about how the pandemic has been handled and its political consequences, real or imagined, as we can find these comments in social media. I would like to humbly present a reflection on why this outbreak has been sent to us at this time. On occasions like this, the exuberance is uncontainable, as we experience yearly with the Sinulog until its subdued version this year.
While the planners and organizers of the Quincentennial celebration are understandably frustrated, together with those who were looking forward to this event from the economic aspect, there is a sobering thought that might enrich us just the same. No, not materially, but in another, stronger and deeper aspect.
I myself have asked “why this? why now?” a few times these past months, and the answer that keeps blinking in my mind is this: The God who had willed the good news of Jesus Christ to come to our shores in 1521, as illustrated in the logo of this Year of Christianity (YOC) from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), wanted the event to be commemorated differently from the noisy, flamboyant, exuberant ways we are familiar with. This historical moment of grace would be celebrated in a more subdued, quiet, even contemplative, way. Yes, not in a triumphalistic and “We-are-the-Champions” kind of celebration, but in a humble and grateful way, just like what Mary, our Blessed Mother did.
The great world-changing announcement of her motherhood was celebrated by her going out to serve her cousin Elizabeth, expressing her joy through the recollection of the wonderful things God has done for her people. The nine months of her pregnancy went unrecorded. Even the very birth of the Messiah was an event of quiet, contemplative joy ... “keeping all these things in her heart,” as the Gospel tells us when she went to the temple 40 days after giving birth. It was 12 years later that we heard her gentle rebuke of her son in the temple, and another almost 20 years when she spoke for a couple in a wedding when she noticed wine was running out. And that was it.
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We are celebrating the Quincentennial in a world in pain and anguish, like a woman in labor. Our gratitude will be expressed through our solidarity with all the suffering in our country, the millions of families in the rural and urban centers who live in difficult conditions, the millions who are jobless, those in hospitals or quarantine facilities unsure of the future, the modern-day heroes serving in the medical profession and related branches, and so on, not to mention the victims of violence and calamities, neglect and mental health issues.
These conditions open our minds, our arms and our hearts to recognize in every person, regardless of culture, belief systems, economic and/or educational status, a brother or a sister. How beautiful it would be if with our toned-down celebrations the rest of the budget be used to help the most needy in our communities. This is what the theme of the Quincentennial GIFTED TO GIVE means, not so much the sharing of our Christian faith in words, but the sharing of the same in concrete deeds of compassion and solidarity. This was, is, and will always be, the most powerful sermon we can give: “As long as you do this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” May the Lord give us peace.