Watchful – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 24:37-44, First Sunday of Advent

I grew up in Davao with my mom and lola constantly referring to the end of the world. After an earthquake, or news of a typhoon in Manila, or a big fire, they’d sermonize, “Ayan, malapit na ang end of the world. Galit na ang Diyos sa mga kasalanan ng tao.” Then on the same breath, they’d follow it up with something like: “Kaya kayo, obey your elders. Do not be bad boys!” Or, “Mag-aral kayong mabuti, give importance to how we work everyday to send you through school.” Or “H’wag kayong pabili nang pabili nang kung anu-ano!” Or, “Magtipid kayo sa koryente, ‘wag kayong aircon nang aircon” (!) It was only when I was older (and wiser) when I realized that the “end of the world” & “God’s wrath” were the vehicle by which mom and lola could drive into us their parental agenda. Kuya and I grew up as good kids, by the way. So mom and lola must’ve thought their modus was working like a charm. Little did they know that the Jesuits in Davao had already convinced us that no one, absolutely no one, knew when the world would end.

In fact, I distinctly remember one First Friday mass in grade school. The headmaster, Fr. Giron, was talking about a particular saint (I don’t remember now who). And that saint’s idea of the “end of the world” went something like this, in Fr. Giron’s words: “If you have been good boys and girls everyday, and you suddenly realize the world is about to end, just continue whatever you’re doing for God, and you’ll be fine.” I guess the saint’s message was, since nobody knew when the Parousia would be, the best way to prepare for it was to try your best to keep being good and kind to others, all the time. How very wise yet how complex in all its simplicity; no agenda!

The part of the Gospel we just read is from what we call “the parables of watchfulness.” And very few Catholics notice that whenever Jesus talks about the coming of the Kingdom, he never mentions the “when,” but rather the “how”. Now, the “how” in today’s Gospel is a bit bizarre: “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, one left.” And the most sensible explanation for the strange metaphor is really not that complicated, namely: that the Son of Man’s coming will cause division—not because that’s what he wants; God always wants unity—but rather because evil will not want to have anything to do with the good and will keep trying to thwart and reverse the good.

But, see, sisters and brothers, it’s not like the Son of Man will come only at the end of time. In fact, our more urgent concern is that the Son of Man comes everyday, and yet, everyday, evil thwarts and tries to reverse the truths and the values of his Kingdom. Sisters and brothers, God makes the Kingdom “happen” all the time, Jesus taught us that. The “when” is already quite moot. It’s the how—the how that we need to see is already happening. No need to look for signs in earthquakes, storms, or fires as my mom and lola would have them. That evil men thwart and reverse the values of God’s Kingdom, this is already happening everywhere, all the time. Across nations, for instance, including our own, psychopaths are entrusted with governance. And like the modus operandi of evil, do you notice: they distract and attract? They distract us from the real issues, the real agenda, and attract us to how fearless and powerful they are. Talking about distraction, I’ve tried to watch the senate inquiry these days, but within five minutes, I find myself asking, “Why am I watching this?” Have these inquiries ever really managed to get the bad guys answer for their ills? Not to mention all the insufferable self-righteousness and grandstanding leading us nowhere near the truth. And no sooner that well-meaning people express clarity of mind and conscience than the trolls and minions quash them in the most perverted rhetoric. Talaga naman, mga kapatid; the Kingdom of God makes for a difficult entrance into this tiny kingdom of ours where evil is at large, and evil people embolden others to do evil—and lead us all to think they’ve done us and our country a favor.

That’s why the Lord’s message couldn’t be any more urgent than it is today—not just as we begin the season of Advent, but every day. He wants that we be watchful. First, watchful that God is “making an entrance” into our lives everyday, through goodness and truth and freedom. And secondly, that we be watchful of how evil and lies and manipulation thwart and reverse the values of the Kingdom. So, what do we do? What can we do? Well, with God’s grace, we try our best to keep doing the right thing and the good—even if evil people want to kill it. We can try our best to keep being honest and telling and standing for the truth—even if liars twist it. We try our best to protect and guard our freedom—even if criminals still at large have made a mockery of it and worse, tried to bury it.

The good Fr. Giron was right in talking about that saint. If you have been good boys and girls and the world is suddenly about to end, just keep doing whatever you’re doing for God, and you’ll be fine.” Our second reading reflects that nicely, doesn’t it? “Throw off the works of darkness…conduct yourselves properly, not in orgies and drunkenness, or in promiscuity and lust; not in rivalry and jealousy, but rather put on the Lord Jesus Christ, our armor of light.” I guess that’s doable for now. We pray to keep the faith as God keeps us in the hollow of his hands.

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