Ready – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 12:32-48; 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

waiting for the master

Two dear friends of mine were recently diagnosed with cancer. So, I went to Quiapo Church last Monday. One of three reasons I attend mass there is to bring before God desperate petitions people ask me to help them pray for, like this one. I certainly could’ve just prayed in my room and had mass at home, and it wouldn’t have made a difference to God. So, why Quiapo? Well, to me, there’s something about praying in a place that lives and breathes with hundreds of people who are desperately begging to God for something.

After mass, it started to rain as I walked to LRT Recto Station. When I got there, a huge crowd was at the entrance, but no line was moving. Finally, the guard yelled in her best soprano, “Walang biyahe. Under maintenance ang train,” over and over, as she slogged through the flood of commuters. So, I started walking back to Quiapo to catch a jeep to Cubao. But the rain had gotten so angry, I decided to step aside and wait it out under a media agua. As the rain poured, I saw uniformed students walking three, four abreast, happily chatting under their umbrellas. A drenched manang pushed her trolley of treasure: a sackful of empty plastic bottles she probably retrieved from trash. An elderly couple pulled each other close as they walked briskly under one tiny umbrella. “Why didn’t you buy another?” I thought. “They come very cheap in Quiapo!” Street children chased each other in glee as though it was raining jellybeans. And motorcyclists pulled over, got off, and stood alongside of me as dusk turned into night. The forty minutes I stood in the dark, I was hearing today’s Gospel podcasting in my head. And I thought, “if the  second coming happened tonight, who would dare say that all these people, and hundreds like them, would not be saved because they were ‘not ready’? And who was I to say that I myself was ready for the second coming, merely because I had just come from Mass and received holy Communion?”

For a long time, sisters and brothers, my image of someone who’s “ready” for the Lord’s arrival has predominantly been one of these: a person kneeling before God in prayer; or a bedridden patient who’s just been absolved and anointed; or a dying person surrounded by a praying family; or a martyr killed for God or country. But when I saw the people along Evangelista St. last Monday, I wondered, “Who’s to say that all these people are not ready for the coming of Christ, just because they’re barely in any visible state of ‘religion-ing’?” The students walking home, for example; weren’t they pursuing college degrees so they could eventually help their families along to a better future? The manang who was off to the magtitimbang; wasn’t she about to earn 50 pesos to feed her family for the night? Didn’t the married couple just spend their money on this week’s fare for their após, never mind an extra umbrella which came cheap in Quiapo? The kids playing in the rain, didn’t they just spend a day of begging, or doing odd jobs for strangers? The motorcyclists, even if sometimes I curse the day that the motorcycle was invented, didn’t they wish the rain would stop so they could make more deliveries, or hurry home to rest? In other words, who was I to say, that for a person to be “ready” when Christ came, one had to be on one’s knees, praying to God, or had to be officially “sacramented” by a priest, or be surrounded by a praying family, or die a bloody death for God or country? That night, dear sisters and brothers, I could not for the life of me imagine why God would not save these people if he ever scheduled Judgment Day at that very hour—even if the lot of them did not seem “ready.”

“Who then,” Jesus asks in the Gospel, “Who then is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master, upon arrival, finds doing so.” I’m sure the master in the parable appreciates that his servants are ready to open the door as he comes in for the night. But how blessed is that servant who may not be at the door, because he’s busy giving his fellow servants what they need to eat. I could not help but believe that every person I saw that rainy night was doing some kind of saving work, some kind of saving deed for the people dearest to them. Who was I to judge that none of them would be saved if the Master ever came that night, just because none showed my usual signs of “religioning”? I bet each of them was doing what he/she was doing that night, to save beloved people from hunger, from need, from worsening sickness, even from death. Blest indeed are servants whom God finds busy trying to keep their loved ones dry, even when they themselves are already soaking wet.

The people I see in and out of Quiapo Church, I need them so much more than they ever need me, I figured. On that dark, rainy Monday, they opened up for me a much deeper way to understand “being ready” for the coming of the Master, and that is to constantly busy ourselves saving people we love in whatsoever way we could unto self-forgetfulness.

Oh, the other two occasions that drive me to Quiapo are: (a) when I’m becoming emotionally petty and I begin wrongly believing that my woes are worse than anybody else’s, and (b) when I hunger and thirst for living, breathing, walking images of deep faith who put my own lack of it to shame.

*image from the Internet

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