Matthew 1:1-16; 18-23, The Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary
“How are things in Myanmar?” I asked one of our Myanmarese scholastics over supper the other night. “Oh, Father, the military are still going from village to village, just destroying things.” He was looking at pictures on Facebook the other day, and a village looked very familiar. Then he realized, “Hey, this is my village!” And then, he saw pictures of a house the military had ransacked. It also looked familiar. Then, he realized, “Hey, that’s our house!” Thankfully (well, thankfully in a sad sort of way), his family and the rest of the village had scrambled for the jungle weeks ago, precisely to get away from these evil men. “If you were back home today, Thang,” I asked, “would you pick up a rifle and join the resistance?” “If I were not a Jesuit, Father? I probably would.” “Do you know how to work a rifle?” “Yes, Father, many of us do.” Myanmarese villagers, sisters and brothers, hunt by shooting animals.” In fact, he said that several of our guys from Myanmar know how to fire guns. “Thang, these young people now training under tribal warriors to fight the government forces, what is their religion?” “Catholics and Buddhists, Father.” Many of them have stopped going to college and are now being trained by the ethnic armies. “Catholics, huh?” I said. “I know what you’re thinking, Father. But there’s really not much choice left.” In Myanmar today, sisters and brothers, there are two killers: a bloodthirsty virus and a bloodthirsty general.
I’m still shocked that my brother Jesuit says he’d probably pick up a rifle if he weren’t a Jesuit and were back home. But that shock is probably because I see Myanmar from comfort, my comfort. I theologize, philosophize, and moralize from comfort. If I were there, and if my family and I were now in the jungle, I’d probably do all that differently.
Our country is in a big mess right now. It has been, anyway. It’s bad enough that the virus has messed up our best laid plans, to say the least. But it’s the worst thing that there’s profiteering off of the mess. Unlike the Myanmarese, though, who have only the rifle as their last choice, you and I in Ateneo, we still have a whole army of choices left to help fix the mess. In Myanmar, the advocacy of Catholics and Buddhists for democracy is whittled down to taking up arms against evil men; Catholic and Buddhist youth. Young members of two faiths that value non-violence! I think about us over here, Jesuits, Ateneans, teachers and students, and I ask myself: “So, uhmm, what is ours? I mean, with the blessing of having many choices, plus our comfort despite this mess, what is our advocacy? And for whom are we advocating ? What call, ad-vocare, what call have we been busy answering to? Does that call have a for-whom other than ourselves?”
Every year, all Jesuit schools here and in America, have what they call a Red Mass, or the Mass of the Holy Spirit. Remember, sisters & brothers, that Spirit is not some amorphous entity like, I don’t know, wind? Or some abstraction like, what, some ethos or atmosphere? Spirit is definitely not a bird! The Spirit is of Father and Son; Advocate, Paraclete. So, if you have to envision the Holy Spirit, envision Jesus of Nazareth because he completely reveals God. When we celebrate the Red Mass, we’re not just asking for enlightenment in our studies. Because Spirit is Jesus of Nazareth, Advocate, who is definitely calling us to an advocacy. And our Red Mass must remind us of this. Spirit calls us to get down to the books, yes, but also to never forget to have an advocacy beyond the books. Jesus always answered to a greater call, magis. His advocacy always had a for-whom other than himself, magis uli. The for-whom were always the victims of society, the casualties of religion. They were the demolished and the banished, the labelled and the shunned; the sick & disabled, the women. All these whom Jews judged impure because they chose to be impure, and were being punished by God—these were the for-whom of Jesus’ advocacy. And he was their healer, their comforter, their help—the tender side of his advocacy. But he was also their defender, their whistleblower, their frontliner—the rifle-side of his advocacy.
Fellow Ateneans, our frontliners are the surrogate fathers and mothers of the sick among whom have been people we love. And we are blessed with having, by far, the best and most caring of nurses, caregivers, and health workers in the world. They’re also the most matiisin. They still show up at work even when DOH defrauds them, “allegedly,” can you imagine? I can’t even think straight when I’m angry or depressed. But our frontliners…? To this day, their majority have not received the promised hazard pay, billions of pesos worth. Why? Because evil men lie. Evil men steal. And they lie and steal from comfort…in plain view of the hungry, the ill, and the dying. Without advocates for the victims, dear sisters and brothers, evil men will lie more and steal more. What are we going to do, fellow Ateneans, Christian youth, hope of the Motherland? What are we gonna do? From the comforts of our lives, from up this hill, the Spirit calls for a much more desperate advocacy, magis. The for-whom of that advocacy must go beyond ourselves, isa pang magis. Thank God, we still have far more choices than taking up arms. We have the numbers, the talent, the connection, the influence to do something to evil men who lie, to evil men who steal—something that’s communitarian, and not just individual; something sustained, sige-sige, not just one-time-only; something impelling and compelling, not just inhibited and restrained and home-bound.
So, Ateneans, youth, hope of the Motherland, what are we gonna do? The Advocate is calling, and magis is his megaphone.
We ask our Lady on her birthday to pray for us and lead us down from this hill, right into the jungle where her Son’s advocacy cannot wait.