Secrets – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 10:26-33, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time


A good friend of mine lost a little over P100,000 recently. Apparently, the ATM he had used was rigged. All the “secrets” kept in that magnetic strip were stolen. “Skimming” is what they call the scam. Banco de Oro said they’d been trying to get in touch with him. But my friend swore he had not received any call. When he realized he had lost so much of his life savings, he said he just walked aimlessly, ‘round and ‘round Trinoma, dazed like a zombie. He said, “I just felt so violated.”

When I was studying theology, we had a whole course on how to hear confessions. Our professor kept hammering into us that the seal of secrecy in confession is non-negotiable. That was around the time when the Jim Carrey comedy Liar, Liar was on. During a break, a classmate thoughtfully said, “What if for one minute—just one minute—God decides to make all people transparent? And for one minute, God will compel all of us to tell each other our deepest, best-kept secrets, and we won’t be able to stop our own mouths from telling them. I wonder what would happen.”

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a college friend, a marriage counselor now based in the United States. She works for the Catholic Charities in Ohio, so she counsels mostly Catholic couples and families. At some point, I asked her, “So, comparing marriage problems among American Catholics and Filipino Catholics, is there a similarity?” “Yes, Arnel,” she said, quite resolutely. “Bad secrets.” A spouse has an extra-marital affair, keeps it secret, then it starts eating into the marriage. “What I find unbelievable, Arnel,” she said, “is that the men who have an affair, they’re surprised when their marriages fall apart. They said they tried their best to keep their cheating secret so that it will precisely not affect their family life. Can you believe it?” “Bad secrets”, she said; an interesting way of putting it.

There are secrets we keep to protect our property from theft. There are secrets we keep to care for people who entrust to us their barest, unalloyed selves, while they struggle to become better people. And then there are secrets we keep because we want to “have our cake and eat it, too.” So secrets could be either life-giving or death-dealing. They could spell our freedom or they could make slaves out of us and the people we love. There are secrets we wish to keep for now until it’s okay to tell them. And there are also secrets we wish would never be known because it’s fun to play in the dark.

Matthew’s Gospel was written at a time when Christianity was still a secret religion. It was against the law, under pain of death from both Jews and Romans. So, the early followers of Christ were on the down-low. Then here comes Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, saying, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, no secret that will not be made known.” He practically tells his friends to not keep it a secret, to precisely “expose” the secret. He commands them to go and tell the world about him: his ideas about God, his relationship with God, about what he thinks of the Law, where he thinks the Law is wrong, why he thinks that love outweighs Law—all of which were very, very different from Jewish belief, and therefore, very, very dangerous. It’s a strange secret, in fact, because telling it spells both death and life. Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat it: “Oh, you will be persecuted for exposing the secret. You’ll even get killed for it.” But Jesus doesn’t shrink from the promise, either. “Do not be afraid because God who takes care of sparrows (which incidentally was the cheapest meat in the market). God will take care of you so much more!” So, Jesus is saying, “Tell people our secret…and die…then live. Tell them and be captured…then be freed. Tell them and they’ll hate you…then the Father will acknowledge you.”

What kind of secrets do you keep? Does keeping them give you more life, or has it started killing your best self, your God-given self? Does your secret preserve your family and loved ones from greater harm, or does it violate them? Does keeping your secret add to your freedom to become a better person, or has it become a master, and you, its slave? Will the painful truth set you free, or are you still enjoying the lie because it lets you “get away with it”?

I’d like to finally go back to the Lord’s command to his friends to speak in the light what they hear and do in hiding. I have a theory and I admit it runs the risk of being too idealistic or fanciful, but nevertheless…. If we seriously take the Lord’s command to openly, honestly, and humbly tell each other of the wonders God has done for us: the divine blessings we do not acknowledge, the rescues we do not deserve, the rewards we do not earn, and if we keep telling of the goodness of God while exposing our own unworthiness, maybe the day will come, when that true story eventually becomes our life story, our only narrative, our deepest and most freeing open secret.

Don’t you sometimes wish the time would come when none of us would have to keep  secrets any longer—because everything that we do, we do for each other and for God?

image from the Internet

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