Saturday, December 26, 2009

St. Stephen's Martyrdom

December 26

This was a very happy Christmas for me. There is no price tag on the family coming together -- my father, my mother, my brother and his kids -- Kin, Bang and Kong -- and my sister celebrating together. This was a time of gift-giving, but I received very much more than I gave. We came from our annual pilgrimage today to the Shrine of Our Lady of Piat, and it gave me so much joy to celebrate the Eucharist for them -- and of course, for all else who were present, my friend Al, among them -- to entrust our intentions to the prayers of the Blessed Mother and then to sit down for a very pleasant lunch.

We are all very strong personalities, and sometimes we rub each other the wrong way. But one of the blessings of Christmas is the love that envelopes the world and our homes, and makes us realize that our misunderstandings are petty compared to everything that binds.

Is it not just awkward talking about death (and death by stoning at that!) a day after Christmas? I think it checks our propensity to sentimentalize Christmas. This is not some sweet remembrance of an event long past, but a constant summons to make the world a kinder, more compassionate world. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the heavens were opened as a heavenly choir sang of the Messiah's birth. Stephen tells us in today's readings that the heavens were opened to, as the Lord welcomed him.

That is the reason we celebrate Stephen's martyrdom a day after we joyfully celebrate Jesus' birth. First, this is not some cute child we are dealing with, but one who makes demands on us; but he is one who will open heaven's door to welcome us if we live with the same selflessness as he lived, commencing his life in a place he could not even call his home.

Watching the telecast of the Pope's Midnight Mass, I heard the news of Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx's death. I have this great Dominican's book -- Christ, The Experience of Jesus as Lord -- on my table at present, and am making my way through its ponderousness, savoring every page. That's one more great mind lost to the ages --- but not really lost, for a great mind always leaves its indellible imprint on the world.

Schillebeeckx had the faith to labor through different paradigms to understand the mysteries central to our faith; he had the courage to write, even when he was held in suspicion by those who thought they were guardians of orthodoxy. My great fear is that we lack intrepid thinkers in the Philippine Church today. I am thoroughly dismayed at the lack of interest I find in many of my brother-priests for academic pursuits. In fact, when I shared them all, through a broadcast text message, a theological thought for the Midnight Mass homily, one denigratingly asked me how to say it in Ilocano. Really dumb, I think! We, priests, theologize. We do not translate theology books into Tagalog, or Ilocano or Ibanag for our congregations. We reflect, and then preach the fruits of our reflection. If there is anything that disgusts me most, it is the hubris of downplaying thought and thoughtfulness. "Hubris" is in fact too lofty a term; it is downright stupidity!

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