Signed – Jett Villarin, SJ

Acts 5:34-42; John 6:1-15, Friday in the 2nd Week of Eastertide

Our faith begins with a sign. It is a sign of pain and sorrow, a sign of suffering. But it is also a sign of God inside that pain, a sign of love present in our suffering. It is the sign of the cross.

Our parents first taught us to sign ourselves with the sign of the cross whenever we pray. And when we did as children, we might have looked upward, thinking of God as someone above us. Now a bit older, we know that the sign of the cross also reminds us to look inward, to look to God as someone who is with us, inside us, someone near enough to know our joys and hopes as much as our tears and sorrows.

The cross is the sign of our pandemic times as it is the sign of our faith. It points to places where people are crucified in our world today and where God is to be found. It is God’s sign of being here, right now, not just when we are full with bread and fish aplenty, but God with us too, especially when we are empty and alone and afraid.

The Pharisee Gamaliel tells his colleagues in the first story today to leave the Apostles alone. This teacher argues that if the activity of the Apostles were of human origin, “it will destroy itself” as had happened to many other movements before. On the other hand, if their work “comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

Gamaliel’s message is simple. The things of God last. The things of human beings do not. For all its wealth and power, for all the crucifixions and blood in its hands, the almighty Roman empire is no more. And what began as a small band of Christians locked down in fear has grown to a fullness of faith that has reached our shores. You and I have been graced to share and experience this faith that came to us five centuries ago.

Do not take this faith for granted. You cannot reduce faith to some Facebook post or TikTok fad to be liked or commented on or forwarded. Social media posts are made by human beings and those of trolls are from even lesser creatures. They work on trends; they do not last. You cannot cherry pick your way through faith, choosing the parts that are convenient or trending, and discarding the ones you do not like. Do not turn faith into something of human origin. It will not last. You will not last.

Faith is a decision that was made for us when we were little by those who have loved us and brought us to life. Let us always be grateful to them who first taught us to turn to God (i.e. our parents and grandparents, our family, our teachers and friends). They answered for us when we could not answer for ourselves. Ako ang sasagot para sa iyo, sabi nila. Sagot kita, anila.

And now that we are a bit older, we are being asked to answer for ourselves, to own that decision of faith, even as we struggle to see what countless Christians before us have seen with the Easter eyes of faith.
If answering and deciding to believe is difficult these days, it is good to remember how faith begins. It does not begin when things are clear or complete or under control. It begins with people who take the risk of loving God, even if they do not really know what will happen, whether such love will only be in vain.

Faith begins with people who choose to rely on the witness of love and life that has been passed on to them by those who matter to them. There are no Youtube videos or Instagram photos of such a central event as the resurrection of Jesus or of his feeding the five thousand or his walking on water; no indisputable images we wish might help our unbelief. Instead, faith begins in the dark, with the witness of those we love and those who have loved us. It begins with their words and their lives. And it builds on what was actually handed down to us over time, in blood that has been shed, from those who embarked for places beyond their horizon, and through those who continue to brave the waves and storms of our day.

And so it is that we bless each other and ourselves with this sign that begins our faith. It is a sign of suffering and pain. But it is also a sign of God inside our pain, of God beside our sorrow, God loving us to the very end.

The sign of the cross is the sign of love present even in the shadows, even in silence, a sign to summon enough courage inside to risk loving God all our lives. Those who set about loving God never really know what will happen. But they sign themselves with the sign of his cross just the same because they know their love will never be in vain.

Delivered during the Ateneo Senior High School’s Community Thanksgiving Mass and Celebration of 500 Years of Christianity (16 April 2021)

*image from Wikipedia

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