Our Favorite Uncle – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 5:13-16, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

My family had always lived with my maternal grandparents when I was growing up. Up to now, I still wonder if it was a Batangueño thing, but mamay and nanay—that’s how we call lolo & lola in Batangueño—they were always either angry or on a slow burn. It took very little to set them off, whereupon they’d be raising their voices about something; worse, yelling at each other or us. Pretty bleak, it really was.

But then there was Uncle Will, mom’s youngest sibling. For some time, he lived with us before he got married. You probably know what makes a “favorite uncle”? Well, Uncle Will was all of that. He was unflappably cheerful, he cracked the funniest jokes. He “rescued” me and kuya and took us to the movies, to ice cream, art galleries. And he gave the best Christmas and birthday presents which were always play-and-learn toys. He knew many things and taught them to us, and even quizzed us: “What’s the highest mountain in the world and how high? In what city can you find the Taj Mahal? Spell ‘Mississippi’.” So when the noise in the house left a bad taste, or the silence cast shadows, Uncle Will was a godsend. He was salt and light.

When I entered the Jesuits, Fr. Eddie Hontiveros was such a darling, too. If you met him, you wouldn’t expect he was the father of Filipino liturgical music. He composed plenty of the Tagalog mass songs we’d been singing for 3 generations, so he was “royalty”. But he never expected to be treated that way; absolutely no airs about the sweet old man. Fr. Honti was very simple, always cheerful and funnily self-deprecating. Never said an unkind word about anyone. Never spun off into a rant to scold, or to showboat his intelligence. Then a mean stroke felled Fr. Honti. It stiffened half his body and garbled his speech. We thought he would change. But, my God, he didn’t! Even when the only three words he could most clearly say were “yes,” “no,” & “ohh-kay,” the man still bubbled with infectious cheer. Fr. Honti, our salt and light—he had the younger Jesuits wishing we’d be like him in old age.

I’m sure each of you at some time in your life, could name your own salt of the earth, your light of the world. The salt of the earth and the light of the world of our lives are people who somehow, by just being who they truly are, they enliven the blandness of our days, and sometimes even dissolve the once-in-a-while poison in our hearts, whether they know it or not. By what they say and not say, or what they do and not do, they carry in their very persons true goodness that leaves a pleasant aftertaste. Their simple, unpretentious holiness gently shines and leaves an afterglow.

“You are the salt of the earth,” the Lord says in today’s comforting gospel. “You are the light of the world.” I think, on the one hand, that that’s what the Lord wants us to become for each other—salt and light. And the first reading gives us a number of ways to do so: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” The psalm, too: be “gracious and upright…conduct affairs with justice.” Jesus himself says that day, “Your light must be set on the lampstand, to shine before others.”

In his days in Jerusalem, Jesus went about being salt and light to people’s lives, yes. But I bet that was because being with and around people also seasoned and lit up his life—except the self-righteous, of course, whom he found precisely bitter & off-putting. But my point is, to be salt and light is on the one hand, what the Lord wants us to become. On the other hand, I bet it’s also who and what we are to him. That’s quite difficult to even begin to fathom for most of us. What with all our bitterness, our shadows, all our bickering & blaming and baggage, we must be quite insipid & lightless before God by now. Indulge me for a moment, though, and ponder yourselves, sisters and brothers, especially you who are parents. Consider yourselves whenever you regard your very own children. No matter how bland they could get, no matter what dark cloud they sometimes cast over you, for the most part, your children are your life’s sweet aftertaste, its gentle afterglow, for the most part. And the older I get, the more I intensely I feel that our God is, more than anything, the perfect parent (or the perfect uncle for that matter!) I imagine, therefore, that if human parents regard their children as their life’s seasoning & sunshine, how much more does God whose children we all are? God really hopes in us, sisters & brothers. He hopes in us much, much more than we hope in him.

Like all the grace our God bestows on us, to be salt of the earth and light of the world is both responsibility and blessing. May this gentle truth season your prayer and brighten your days.

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