Mark 13:33-37, 1st Sunday of Advent
Last Friday, while I waited for my Augustinian friar friend outside San Agustin Church, I overheard a conversation between a visitor and the manang running a food stall in the premises. In thick Visayan accent, the lady said, “Excuse me po, katedral po ito?” “Hindi po,” manang replied. “San Agustin Church po.” “Ay. Kaganda talaga dito sa Manila po, ‘no? Ka-nice jud!” “Saan po kayo galing n’yan, ma’am?” “Ay naku sa Leyti po. Nag-bar-exam ako sa UST, katapos lang. Naga-bisita-iglesia ako bago mag-uwi sa Leyti. Sa Baclaran gahapon. Ka-nice pala doon, ‘no, kalaki ng simbahán!” “Wala kayong kasama, ma’am?” “Ako lang po. Sus, nag-Waze-Waze lang ako maglakad-lakad, magsakay-sakay. Kahapon nga nawála ako kahanap ng Quiapo. Naabot ako sa Mandaluyong!” Doon ako natawa. Eh, ang layo kaya noon! I wanted to butt in to say, “’Yang Waze n’yo, ma’am, fake news!” I kept listening. “Pwidi po magpasok sa simbahán? Magdasal lang ko, pasalamat sa Dios sa exam, at para makapasa din ako!” And the nice, adventurous and really grateful lady walked away with a big smile on her face. I imagine, she must be the hope of her family back in “Leyti”. And here she was, enroute to the fulfillment of everyone’s dream, even with a few funny wrong turns. But before anything else, bisita iglesia!
Coming back from Recto LRT that same day, from afar I saw Manang Elsa—one of our janitresses at the Ateneo. She looked all happy and excited, talking animatedly to the young man with her. Manang Elsa finally saw me looking at her:
“Father! Mano po!” “Naku, Manang Elsa, mukhang masaya! Saan po punta?” And she answered this way: “Ay, Father, punta kami ng anak ko sa Dibisorya!” Sing-song, like they were going to Disneyland! “Naku, Manang Elsa, kadaraan ko lang po sa Quiapo papuntang Recto station; siksikan! P’ano pa kaya sa Divisoria! Sure kayo?” “Ay, di makikipagsiksikan po, Father! Lalakad po ako nang ganito, o!” Then right there on the sidewalk, she laughingly demonstrated how she’d walk sideways. I tell you, Manang Elsa was song-and-dance! “Sige po, Father, tuloy na po kami!” Then I blessed them both from the bottom of my heart.
The next day, Saturday, I went to our laundry-woman, Manang Zeny. I had to pay her P150 for my laundry. I didn’t have loose bills to break 500 pesos, so I asked: “Manang, may sukli kayo sa 500?” “Naku, Father, tingnan ko po.” Then she checked her little pitaka—a sorry little thing that’s definitely seen better days. She found a few, crisp 100-peso bills, and looked at me and hesitated. “Naku, mga bago po kasi ito, malutong pa po!” “So, di n’yo po ibibigay sa akin?” I smiled. “Di naman po,” she smiled. “Nag-iipon po kasi ako ng malulutong na 100. Nilalagay ko po yan sa sobre, tapos bibigay ko sa mga apo, pamangkin….” she said in all cheer.
I don’t suppose these women have a lot in life. I’m sure they earn so much less than they’re actually worth, esp. Manangs Elsa & Zeny. I’m pretty sure all 3 of them have had hard lives. But their cheerfulness! Their gratitude, the lightness about them, the warmth of their hearts—all contagious! They who have relatively
little, they thank so much and they give so much. If you were with me, you’d probably catch the energy, too, because it was so real, so sincere. None of the fakery of movie stars and politicians. And the sincerity wouldn’t have been lost on you. But I would’ve missed all of it: the gratitude of a probinsyana, the joy of mother and son Divisoria-bound, the tender generosity of a lola—I’d have missed it all if I did not watch…and I do not just watch very much anymore.
Many of us, priests, we love concealing bombs of scare tactics under our sermons when end of the world scenarios come around via the Gospel like today’s. I checked YouTube for homilies on this Gospel delivered precisely on the first Sunday of Advent: 14 out of 15 priests and pastors did just that: perorating about morbid scenes of the end of the world, sounding very sure. Well, I’m sick of it. I’m tired of hearing us priests do that to you. But…I’d love for us to take seriously one word in today’s Gospel, one word we can carry with us through four weeks of Advent: watch. But not so much for signs of the end of the world. Rather, watch for the ongoing signs, the present and continuing signs of the Savior’s childlike presence in the world: Watch especially for signs of gratitude, for the joy that bubbles up in people when they’re with persons dear to them. Watch for the lengths someone would go through to give despite the little that one has. And maybe, hopefully, watching out for signs of the Savior’s childlike presence in the world, we could then watch ourselves: our gratitude, our company, our giving, then ask, “How might I be more cheerfully grateful? How joyful are people in having me around? How might I grab less and share more? But in the meantime, we watch.
For we don’t like just watching anymore, do we? Not especially when we have anything to do with it. We jump in. Then we manipulate and maneuver, not just situations but also people. And we do it in mad haste to meet our personal deadlines. We don’t like just watching anymore. We jump in…with words. We criticize and argue, we order and command, sometimes we even threaten…without much forethought anymore, and forethought is a way of watching ourselves, really. Even in our heads, we don’t like just watching anymore. We jump in. We judge and we sentence, we plan scenarios to get even, we obsess with negative thinking.
So the Lord’s word, “watch,” this might just be the refreshing reset button we need as 2017 is on its last run. Watch for the Lord’s childlike presence in people, in their gratitude, in their joy in being with one another, in their generosity despite the little they have. Watch in silence…not jumping in…not letting ourselves loose to change the scenes too soon…and instead, allowing the Lord to reveal his childlike presence in a world presumably ruled by grown-ups like ourselves.
Silence, my dear sisters and brothers, has a lot to do with watching. Take time to be quiet these following days. Remember that almost all events preceding the Nativity were quiet events—the Annunciation to Mary, the dream/Annunciation to Joseph who had quiet plans of quitting, the flight to cousin Elizabeth’s village. Even the birth of the Lord was quiet. There was a lot of watching, especially by Joseph and Mary; watching what would happen next in this bewildering and scandalous, this scary and yet saving plan of God for the world through them. But because Christmas happened once and for all 3000 years ago, the Lord is ever near in his childlike presence, always. Now it is Advent, dear sisters and brothers. And it is a good time to watch…watch for that Child.
*image from the Internet