Luke 21:25-28, 34-36, First Sunday of Advent
It is a state that is quite elusive for it goes beyond the definition of having all the necessary parts or elements. For example, a laptop or a smartphone may have all the complete parts, but if one part does not function well, it cannot be said to be whole. Same is the case for evaluating dishes. There is the hunt for the perfect flavour in the process of combining and cooking the required ingredients. It may be the case that an adobo is cooked well because the chicken meat is tender or that it has potatoes or right amount of garlic but if it does not suit the palate (e.g. too much pepper or the sauce is too thick), it can be judged as not whole—may kulang (something is missing) or sobra (too much). If there is one metric for wholeness, it is precision. In other words, sakto (no more, no less). This kind of perfectionist idea can be demanding or elusive, especially for us who plough through life, living it either more (sumosobra) or less (nagkukulang). Most of us may have the necessary capacities or resources, but there are times that we don’t function well enough to reflect wholeness, in words or deeds. Or we continue to hunt for that perfection in some aspect of life (e.g. career, relationships, family, etc.) but get frustrated because we can’t seem to get it right. Hindi sumasakto. We only live a fraction of what we dream of as perfection despite our sincere efforts, creative use of resources, and strong display of will. To help us cope, we admit wholeness in degrees—partially whole—with the hopes of getting there.
However, despite its elusiveness and exacting demands, our spirit is strongly attracted to wholeness. There is a deep desire to be whole and not remain partially whole—to be that perfect father, mother, boyfriend, girlfriend, musician, athlete, student, leader. It is not a standard easy to abandon because it mysteriously lures us into its fold, time and again. We risk things in life in order to achieve wholeness not only for ourselves but for our loved ones or the wider community. Just look at the cases of migrant workers, accomplished athletes or professionals, and those of whom we revere as heroes and saints. There is always that desire that fuels us to work to make things better, that hope that injustice will be addressed, and that belief that death does not hold the last word. There is that yearning for wholeness that brings out the best in us even if, in our striving, we have accumulated bruised egos and wounded hearts.
And, in some instances, makes us wait.
In this first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year dawns on us. In this new day, the readings remind us what we deeply yearn for as we wait: wholeness. This is God’s promise to Israel in the first reading—a new David that will restore Israel to wholeness. The image of God’s promise-bearer is a shepherd. Our path to wholeness can be derived from such image and it may be imagined as being guided by another. This kind of wholeness can be elusive because it is not our idea of wholeness. We are invited to rely on another and learn from his idea of wholeness for us. This is not simply blind surrender. Our experiences do show how wearied and confused we are and can be by our own and the world’s standard of wholeness. The Gospel warns us to not let our hearts become drowsy from carousing, drunkenness, or the anxieties of daily life. In the confusion of our daily striving, we need to take time to not only pause or settle down but to detach from all the carousing, drunkenness, and anxieties. It is to carve a sacred space and in it, let God remind us about what it truly means to be whole.
What does it mean to be whole?
Maybe the second reading can give us a clue in its prompting of the Thessalonian community about God’s relentless commitment to sustain them in his love. This is the promise fulfilled in the first reading: God’s offer to make us whole in his love. That may mean opening up and trusting him even against our own conceptions of wholeness. It is to welcome his coming to us by letting him enter the areas of ourselves that we already judged as kulang (less). Or those parts that need repair and healing because they are not functioning well given the suffering we carry. It can also be an instance of allowing him to tame part(s) of ourselves na sumosobra (excessive). It is to stay awake by discerning who we have become and be vigilant about the things that are un-human and un-God that have sown discord and disintegration within us and around us. Or, for us going through tough times that block us from reaching out to God, the journey to wholeness may mean a leap of faith to trust love once again. After all, we are his beloved.
“What does it mean to be whole?” It is a question that makes us wait since the final answer is the one that unravels—a slow unpeeling of the truth about who we are and who God is. As the season of Advent invites us once again to wait and yearn for God’s promises, we are reminded that in our yearning there is a corresponding fulfilment—a love that is sakto, a love that accompanies and is ready to teach us, if we only choose to let it. It may not be what we dreamed of. It may even run contrary to our own ideas. But at the end of day, it may be all that we ever need to be whole.