Haunted – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 24:35-48, 3rd Sunday of Easter

You know what, sisters and brothers, there still are times I wonder if, once in a while, dad and mom ever felt that I abandoned them when I left home for religious life. Especially those times when my family surely needed an extra pair of hands; like when my dad was blindsided by a truck, or when mom grew weaker and sicker. In fact, the first few nights after mom died, I felt scared her ghost would haunt me. ‘Yun bang magpapakita siya sa akin. At kahit wala siyang sasabihin, alam ko na, na kelangan kong humingi ng tawad, kasi sa mahabang panahon na may karamdaman siya, hanggang sa nalagutan na siya ng hininga, I was not there, not for her, not for my family.

That’s how we usually understand a haunting, right? When the dead come back to give us a bad scare. That way, we realize how cavalier, how remiss we were in loving and caring for them when they were still with us. That’s what we often imagine a ghost really wants when it haunts us, isn’t it? To sting our conscience, to terrify us into contrition, to make us pray our apologies. Because otherwise, like our elders told us, “hindi matatahimik ang kaluluwa.”

Well, we’re in good company, because I bet that’s what Jesus’ apostles must have thought when they suddenly saw him materialize. That he had come back to haunt them. He was even showing them his wounds. If you think about it, it could’ve been one of the most terrifying moments in their lives—to be trapped in a room with someone who came back from the dead, gaping wounds and all—to settle a score; maybe, to even drag each of them into the darkness, teach them a lesson.

But then, Jesus said, “Peace be with you. I’m not a ghost.” This is not a haunting. Can you imagine that scene? His friends must’ve froze for a long time just processing what was happening. “Why are you troubled?” Jesus asked, reading their minds. “This is really me, peace be with you.” Picture it: nobody moves. Then, strangest of the strange, Jesus said, “May makakain ba kayo ‘jan?” Hindi pa nga naman pala siya kumakain simula nung Last Supper! That must’ve stunned them even more. But realizing he was serious, someone must’ve said, “Huy, makakain daw!” They must have scrambled for something…anything to give their Master; anything he wants. If he wanted them to fish for tilapia that very moment, they would’ve hit the water. If he wanted wine and they didn’t have it, they would have ripped it off a neighbor just to give him what he wanted. In fact, if Jesus wanted them on the ground, to grovel and beg for forgiveness, to kiss his feet, to be punished, they would have done it. They would do anything for him now, not the least of which was to show him how sorry they were for being such flakes, cowards, and deserters.

Pero ni isang kataga ng panunumbat, wala silang narinig kay Hesus. The Father had just given his Son the highest and greatest gift: raising him from the dead, this time to be alive forever. He must’ve felt no need to vindicate himself or settle scores anymore. Imagine what could have happened: when Jesus awakened to his risen self, with the most excruciating last hours of his life still fresh in his memory, but now seeing the sheer reality of his own Resurrection, its concreteness, its bodiliness—the last thing he would have thought of was panunumbat or paghihiganti; only gratitude.

And I think it’s by the very same measure of gratitude that Jesus’ friends felt true repentance. They felt truly sorry for abandoning him, yes, but only after he made them realize how much they still meant more to him as his friends than their sin of dereliction. A theologian once wrote: “Sin scorches us most after it comes under the scrutinizing light of forgiveness, and not before.” We feel deep and true repentance not so much while the person we love and offended is skinning us alive with a blade of reproaches. Rather, we feel deep and true repentance when we realize how dearly we’re held and how deeply we’re loved in spite of ourselves. True repentance lasts not when there is endless guilt, but when there is endless gratitude.

I think that as long as I live, I will, once in a while, feel that I abandoned mom and dad when I joined the Jesuits, pero hindi dahil isinumbat nila ito sa akin, o nagparamdam sila ng tampo. Kabaliktaran. I texted my dad yesterday and asked, “Dad, I was just wondering. Was there ever a time when you felt abandoned by me when I couldn’t be around you because I became a priest?” And he he texted back and said: “Hi, anak. No, there was never a time I or your brothers felt abandoned by you from the time you became a priest, up to now. It was the proudest moment in my life to have a Jesuit priest as a loving son, and it all comes from God as a blessing to the family. God bless you, anak.”

That was the best priesthood anniversary I’ve ever received from my father. Dad’s loving words gave me a glimpse into what the apostles must have felt the rest of that day, the rest of their lives, after Risen Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” Jesus came back not to haunt them, but to hearten them and strengthen them with his typical, irrepressible, on-brand forgiveness.

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