Self-less – Arnel Aquino, SJ


Matthew 5:12a; Corpus Christi Sunday

One time, I walked into the classroom where the graduating class for that year was waiting. Their biggest oral exam was coming up and their teachers took turns reviewing them for the different subjects. My topic was the Holy Spirit and Grace. So, I asked: “Okay, for starters, tell me: how do you envision the Holy Spirit?” Blank stares. “I mean, what does Spirit look like to you? How do you imagine Spirit?” I knew what they were thinking. “He’s Spirit. How can Spirit look like anything?” So, I said, “You can envision the spirit of your dear departed, right? The spirit of your lola or mom or even your favorite saints. So, how do you envision the Holy Spirit?” Silence. Either they didn’t want to risk an answer or they thought my question was absurd. So, I repeated myself: “What does Spirit look like when you pray to him? How do you envision, visualize him?” Noticing that I wasn’t about to move on before I got an answer, a hand finally came up very slowly. “Father, dove?” Sigh. A graduating class of theology envisions the Holy Spirit as a bird. None of them envisioned the Spirit in the image and likeness of Jesus. Not one. “You should get your tuition back,” I told them. And we laughed.

But it’s not just them, right, sisters and brothers? Not only do we have difficulty envisioning Spirit in the image and likeness of Jesus, we have even more difficulty envisioning Jesus today as having a body, a corpus, Jesus as bodily. Part of us thinks, now that Jesus is Risen, well then, he’s over and done with his body, and being bodily. But what if I tell you that Jesus is still both spirit and body today, glorified body? That he is still Incarnate Son of God? What if I tell you that Jesus is not just divine today, he is still also human? I know there’s some part of you that’ll recoil and say, “Oh, no, really, Father? Jesus is still human, too? And body, too—not just divine? Not just spirit?” Yes. He’s still both human and divine, still both spirit and glorified body. That’s not my invention. We profess that as our Faith.

Thankfully, we have this other side of us that wants to be very physical, very human with Jesus. We kiss our Crucifixes. We love Jesus as a child, Santo Niño, even when we know he’s no longer one. We protect the consecrated host and tell the kids: “Wag mong ngunguyain ang hostia, Body of Christ yan!” We attribute human emotions to Jesus when we (and yaya) tell the kids: “Don’t be malikot, Jeesoos will git inggry! Jeesoos is sad when you don’t obey mommy. Jeesoos is happy when you pray.” We pray to the Sacred Heart. We believe he has a heart, which is as human and as bodily as we can envision Jesus to be. So, some part of us does commit to the humanity and bodiliness of Jesus today. But still, we think that his humanity and bodiliness are just symbolic. They’re just, well, the memory of what he was back when he was on earth. This is why, when I ask a graduating class of theology how they envision the Holy Spirit, they’d rather think of a bird than a Person, afraid they might be diminishing Jesus if they ever believed that he’s still as human and gloriously bodily today as he is divine and spirit. Devoted so much to Jesus as divine, we often dehumanize him. Devoted so much to Jesus as Spirit, we often disembody him. It seems that we only remember Jesus “was” human and bodily. For many Catholics, the Incarnation seems to have ended in the Resurrection, as though “incarnate” is only of earth and “resurrected” is only of “heaven,” and never again the twain shall meet. Well, no. That’s not what we believe.

I’m happy to say, though, that when Jesus says, “Take and eat my body. Take and drink my blood,” we don’t feel any horror. If you really think about it, it’s very shocking, even cannibalistic! “Eat my body, drink my blood”?! But somehow, we know that when the Lord offers us his body and blood, he means, “Take me, receive me. This is myself, the whole of me, my total self. Buung-buo kong alay sa inyo ang buo kong pagkatao,” to be our life, to be the very meaning of our life. And you and I, we get that. We understand that. Because that’s exactly what we do for our loved ones. We give not only what we have, we give all we are, so that our children are well fed and schooled, healthy and comfortable, so that our friends are happy and fulfilled and feel important, so that we all become good, loving, God-fearing people. We offer ourselves to our beloved all the time, it’s already second nature to us, and our total self: katawan at dugo, pawis at luha, puso at kaluluwa, na minsan parang maubusan tayo, pero tuloy pa rin hanggang mamatay tayo sa pagod. Buong pagkatao nating alay ang sarili alang-alang sa ikabubuhay ng ating mga minamahal. So, see, sisters and brothers, our self-giving is not a disembodied spirit, no. This self-outpouring for our beloved has a face. It has hands and feet. It has a voice, breath. It has a heartbeat: ours. So, if our self-giving to our beloved is not disembodied, why are we still often two minds about Jesus being both divine and human, about Jesus being both spirit and body in his self-giving to us today? When you and I know that when we truly love, we don’t love half-heartedly, with only half of ourselves?

Sisters and brothers, the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ isn’t merely the “anniversary of the Mass.” Baliktad. The Mass is a constant iteration and recapitulation of Jesus forever human as well as divine, forever glorified body and blood as well as Spirit. Jesus is relentless, walang pagmamaliw, in offering his total Self to us. He wants to be the nourishment for our hunger, the comfort in our grief. He wants to be the presence in our solitude, the hand we can hold, the shoulder we can cry on, the heart that sees and hears everything we say and do, the fulfillment of our dreams. Jesus is relentlessly self-giving, self-outpouring.

But you know what, sisters and brothers, maybe that’s why we couldn’t bear think of our Lord as still human and bodily. Because, indeed he is “self-less.” He does nothing for himself. Everything he is and does is for us. You can almost hear our Savior say, “In giving my body and blood to you, I want to be your everything because you are everything to me.”

*image from the Internet

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Gwen Leslie Robins Uy says:

    Good day
    I was your student back in the day. I just want to say I love reading and listening to your work. It gives me so much joy I hear your voice reading through your work 🙂😊 You have made so much impact teaching morality to me that your voice has somehow become part of my conscience.

    I just have 1 question. How does God choose who dies and when? I know we mere mortals / humans may not grasp the why but maybe you can shed some light in to this? I ask this as when Pnoy died I feel like democracy and our freedom as well has died. I cant seem to phantom why of so many others God choose him to leave this earth. I know he must have a higher purpose but just whyyyy?! I dont know if my question or what I’m saying makes sense or just ramblings of a person who cant seem to accept death of a person who has brought so much good to the cpuntry taken away at such a young age.

    Sorry to bother.


    1. ninangdeb says:

      From Fr Arnel:

      Salamat po for your comment which Miss Debbie forwarded to me. I’m sorry po for your feeling of loss over the passing of Pres. Aquino. He really served the nation the best way he could. And the way he spent the rest of his life after his term, plus the way he died, bespoke of his desire to remain simple, uncelebrated, & ordinary—even if to many hearts, he was one extraordinary leader.

      I have ministered to bereaved families po, both the wealthy & the poor. I’ve said more masses for the dead this year than for five years previous to the pandemic. And through it all po, several have asked the question why.

      I have learned through the years po that when the bereaved ask why God took someone away, whether a child or the only breadwinner in the family or a faithful lover of the poor—I’ve noticed that their asking “why” is really more of an expression of their deep grief & sense of abandonment , rather than a question that seeks a satisfying theological answer that would end all other queries.

      No po, your question was not the “ramblings” of someone who couldn’t accept a man’s death. Far from a ramble, it’s really our first hand expression of our exasperation over the worsening state of democracy & patrimony. I myself have asked, “Bakit si ganito pa ang kinuha ni Lord? Bakit hindi na lang si you-know-who, who has gotten us all into this morass?” I know, though, that my “why” isn’t a search for a logical explanation. And I reckon, even if God Himself would begin explaining it to me, I’d still have an ad infinitumof why’s following the first thousand ones!

      As for death, only God knows His deepest & most divine motives for calling someone po. And you & I know this. But as for the mess we are in right now reflects really our own negligence po. The divide between wealthy & poor, we somehow took for granted, esp. in education (not just of poor children but also their families). We also took for granted the well-being & future of the poor laborers who have worked all their lives for us but who are yet to see their families live in decent housing, eat 3 meals a day, have water & electricity running uninterrupted, etc. Too many leaders pander to the poor during campaign time, then leave them in the lurch at proclamation time. Yet the poor will cling to politicians who hand them bribes & seduce them w/ empty promises—because that’s what an empty stomach does to us, & the shortfall of decent education, & the coldness of token programs of “upliftment” of the poor by the wealthiest people who are loath to part w/ some of their assets towards greater equality.

      So, when we ask why a young person died po, we know only God knows the answer. But the mess behind that death is our bigger why. We often do not wish to even begin answering this bigger why, lest we actually find ourselves (or our friends or our families) part of the reason why po.

      Please forgive me my two-cents of a response po. Thanks to Miss Debbie for channeling your question po. Pls be assured of my prayers. God bless you. God bless our country. God change our leaders.


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