Magnify – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 1:46-56, Monday of the 4th Week in Advent

Napansin po ba ninyo na yung mga Joyful Mysteries na tinatawag, ‘pag sinuri nating mabuti, hindi naman sila gano’n ka-joyful. (Have you noticed that the Joyful Mysteries, upon closer inspection, are not really joyful?)At least not 100%. Annunciation? Mary must have been fully aware of the scandal waiting to explode for a pregnant single woman in a self-righteous Jewish society. Birth of our Lord? No room in the inn, so, a filthy manger for the Son of God. Presentation at the Temple? A couple of bad news from Simeon: “Your son will be a sign who shall be opposed” and “a sword will pierce your heart.” Finding in the temple? Enough said. Sabi nga nila, mawalan ka na ng asawa; o ng magulang. ‘Wag lang anak!

The situation that occasions our Magnificat tonight is the second “joyful” mystery, the Visitation: ang pagtatagpo ng magpinsang buntis na high-risk: si Maria, high-risk sa eskandalo; si Isabel, high-risk pregnancy. If the odds worked against them, they would have suffered the same fate: death. So, in a real sense, the cousins shouldn’t have been jumping for joy that day. Instead, they should have been frantic and cowering in anxiety, lamenting, complaining, questioning. Pero ang kagila-gilalas na bagay ay sa kabila ng lahat nang ‘yon, ay tuwang-tuwa ang dalawang buntis. At napakanta pa ‘kamo si Maria! (But what’s amazing is that despite all that, these two pregnant women were happy. And Mary was even moved to song).

They were not crazy women. It’s just that instead of magnifying their woes, Mary and Elizabeth magnified God instead. Or more precisely, they magnified God magnifying them. They weren’t naïve. They were well aware of their smallness…as women, as poor, as without rights. But despite themselves, God placed into their smallness nothing less than their salvation.

And you and I know what that feels, don’t we? To be magnified despite our smallness. I get that all the time in church, for example. “Alam mo, Fr. Arnel, kapag nasa altar ka na, parang ang tangkad-tangkad mo!” Magnified in our smallness! And what do our friends tell us when we have many admirers? “Ang haba ng hair mo…‘Te.” Magnified in our smallness! So Mary magnifies God magnifying her and the rest of the small in humanity: the humble, the hungry, the poor, the downtrodden. Her happy song revels in the maxima that God wondrously fashions out of the minima.

Many of us know how it feels to be diminished. There’s always one or two people in our lives who have made us feel like nothing good we do could ever measure up to their good, no accomplishment of ours could ever match their accomplishments, as though it were all a tournament. This happens in religious communities, too. And we know how it feels when the optic that people use zoom in on our inadequacies, our disfigurements, our limps—in order to magnify themselves in the process. But strangely enough, as a result of that, we end up doing to others exactly what’s done to us. So, we invalidate, we belittle, we underestimate, and put people down, and let people down. And we feel magnificent!

In our country these past months, don’t you seriously think there’s been way too much invalidation of humanity? It’s very scary: people in power enlarging themselves like they were the authors of their blessings, and worse, as if they were the authors of human life. It’s unbelievable, this nerve, this—forgive me for saying so—these devil-inspired delusions of grandeur.

But religion has also resorted to undervaluing certain things in order to feel great about itself. Many of us, Catholics, through no fault of ours, were raised in the narrative that seemed to put humanity down in order to build God up. For centuries, we took it for granted that magnifying God meant portraying humanity in the most warped ways: as always impure, always sinful, always ugly. Haven’t priests often emphasized God’s punishment more than God’s compassion? Haven’t our elders doubled down on God’s wrath instead of God’s love? We may not be aware of it, but haven’t we ourselves painted a picture of humanity as the antithesis to God’s divinity, the opposite, the antagonist to God?

My sisters and brothers, if there’s one crucial thing Mary’s happy song proves to us misa de gallo after misa de gallo, simbanggabi after simbanggabi, it is that humanity is not God’s antithesis. Humanity is God’s biography—that’s what the Incarnation has done. God’s life is our life; God makes our life his. What greater importance could God still accord us than to have his only begotten Son, his Magnus, assume our littleness? In what better ways could God prove to us again and again that there is nothing dearer to his eyes than humanity, and that’s us? That nothing makes him happier than being with us, humanity? That nothing reflects and resembles his divine face more closely our faces, the face of humanity? In our smallness, dear sisters and brothers, we are magnified by God. Ang haba talaga ng ating hair! The grace of the Magnificat!

A couple of years ago, really feeling terrible about myself, I went to confession to another Jesuit, Fr. Lito Ocon. Before the absolution, he said the most consoling thing. Let me say it first in his original Cebuano, then translate. “Arnil, ang atong kinabuhi morag test paper sa kamot sa Ginoo. Bisan daghaaan pa ta kaayo’g wrong, ang ip-hon lang gihapon niya kay ang atong mga check.” In Tagalog: “Arnil, ang bohay natin ay parang tiss pipper sa kamay ng Diyos! Kahit napakarami na nating wrong, ang bibilangin pa rin niya ay ang mga check.” (Arnel, our life is like a test paper in the hands of God. Even if you make so make so many mistakes, he will only count the correct ones)

In the same way, Advent after Advent, Mary’s happy song reminds us to reset our sense of self-importance: by magnifying God’s blessings, by multiplying our thank-you’s, by validating each other and showing importance and building up. “My soul magnifies the Lord. In God, my Savior, my spirit rejoices.” How much more convincing do we need from Mary’s Magnificat, dear sisters and brothers, so we may see that each of us, each life, each humanity is magnificently full and pregnant with Grace, na lahat tayo, buntis sa biyaya, at lahat tayo, ay nagdadalang-Dios? Amen.

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