Look Forward – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 7:1-9, Second Sunday of Lent

We have a really nice chapel in the recently completed infirmary at Loyola House. The 6pm daily mass over there is open to anyone who wishes to attend mass with our Lolo Jesuits, as we call them. It can be quite a moving experience. We see the old Jesuits and remember our philosophy days with Fr Ferriols, for example, a firebrand of a professor; very much like dear Fr Roche who was often red-faced with passion in teaching theology; and Fr Jess Fernandez who once upon a time went hither-&-thither in his ministry with the blind; and Fr Kiko Perez, science teacher for the longest time at the high school…and several other Lolos. They all sit quietly now, in their wheelchairs. They all look very tired. When I see them gaze at the altar of sacrifice, it’s very easy to imagine that they must be in constant prayer, from sunrise to sunset.

I often wonder, “Ano na kaya ang iniisip nila? Ano kaya ang mga naalaala nila?” But what I always wonder about is this: “What do they still hope for? What do they look forward to? What do they pray for?” And I have to admit that with all that wondering, I finally say to myself: “Kung ako na sila, kung panahon ko nang mamalagi sa infirmary na ito, kapag umabot na ako sa kanilang katandaan, sa kanilang kapaguran, what would I still look forward to at that point, what could I still expect and hope for and pray to happen?”

To have something to look forward to has been very important for me. The older I get, the more it seems to govern my outlook as a priest. In Jesuit life, you see, you always have something to look forward to, at every step of formation. When I was a novice in Novaliches, I looked forward to Loyola House for philosophy. In philosophy, I happily anticipated teaching at one of the Ateneo’s for regency. Then, I was all antsy to study theology, during which I looked forward to being ordained. Then, I looked forward to graduate studies abroad, at the end of which I imagined coming back here to finally teach theology. This coming June, I’ll be moving from San Jose Seminary to Arrupe House, yet a new chapter in my life, with a whole new set of things to look forward to, I’m sure.

I’m also quite sure that having something to look forward to is also very important to you. Whether we’re expectant of something which will happens tomorrow or next month or in a couple of years, to have something to look forward to energizes us. It keeps us in eager spirits. It’s also quite medicinal. It eases the stress and worry of the present. What we expect might not make our passion and sacrifice any less painful today, but it certainly gives us reason to keep going, doesn’t it? Looking forward to something really eases toxicity. Whenever we remember that something good is still about to happen, we sigh with relief, then we soldier on. And it shouldn’t slacken us. In fact, it heartens us to do well today, because if we do, there will be more delight, more sense of freedom when what is forthcoming is finally here. What could we call it? Maybe we could call it the sense of promise? And it’s like an advance birthday or Christmas present, this sense of promise. It’s already there, and sits quietly, and waits to see the day of its unwrapping. In the meantime, we do our best what we have to do—yes, with all its passion and sacrifice. When the day comes for the fulfillment of the promise, it is a moment of incredible gladness and delight and afterglow! What we’ve eagerly waited for is only too glad to give itself to us.

The transfiguration, dear sisters and brothers, is that mysterious event where the Father shows his son what he can look forward to, where the Father confirms the sense of promise in the heart of his son, and strengthens it. And God’s timing is perfect because very soon, Jesus will have to climb down that mountain and suffer the climb of another mount—that of Calvary, and the cross upon which he will be mounted. But through the transfiguration, the Father promises his Son that he will be there with him all the time, just as he was there from the beginning of salvation history. Secondly, the Father promises that everything his son has done in obedience to him—all this will be rewarded, all this will make sense. Finally, the transfiguration is the Father’s promise that his son’s passion and death will not have the last word, because sin will not have the last say, because enemies will not have the last laugh. No—the light, the life, and the freedom that are still to come—they will be the lasting word.

If or when I reach the quiet, exhausted, wheelchair-bound age of the Lolo Jesuits, I really hope and I really pray, sisters and brothers, that God preserve in me this sense of promise—especially if I ever despair that I’ve run out of things to look forward to, and dying is the only thing left. If I don’t get Alzheimers, I will want to remember that our Lord’s resurrection is our one and only guarantee in this world that God’s promise is waiting for us. As we contemplate the day of the unwrapping of that gift, God has already given us his word that he will be with us all the time, and that all the good we’ve ever done will never come to naught, and that death, no matter how agonizing or quiet, will not be the last word.

Here, sisters and brothers, here is a gift we can all look forward to, from today to tomorrow…to our last, quiet, exhausted, wheelchair-bound days. May God’s loving promise of resurrection tomorrow transfigure us today. Amen.

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