Friday, January 2, 2015


In the Filipino culture, Christmas doesn't only evoke images of gifts and the cheer afforded by Christmas carols. The Filipino also looks forward to celebrating--and hopes to complete--the traditional nine-day pre-dawn Masses celebrated before Christmas. Popularly called the Misa de Gallo, or the Misa de Aguinaldo in Spanish, and Simbang Gabi in Filipino, these Masses basically form a novena of grace in preparation for Christmas. Marian in character, in some places (particularly in the Archdiocese of Palo) they are also celebrated in honor of Nuestra Senora de Belen (Our Lady of Bethlehem). They not only serve to prepare the faithful for Christmas, but in a way it also anticipates it already: white vestments are worn, the Gloria is intoned, and the celebration is joyous, not already in the expectant austerity of Advent.
Here are the reflections that I have shared in my Misas de Gallo, which I celebrated in different parishes  and churches all throughout those nine days before Christmas. I have tagged them as #painit, reminiscent of the hot drinks and food which are sometimes served after these Masses to the people. in truth, as we await in the darkness of faith for the coming of the definitive Christmas, it is also the Word of God that makes us warm and ready for the journey, aside from the gift of the Savior's Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

December 16: PAINIT #1: Today we start the traditional nine-day pre-dawn masses, the Misa de Gallo ( or de Aguinaldo, Simbang Gabi). With these masses we pray as a people that the Christian Faith may continue to burn ardently in our nation. The pre-dawn silence and chill contrasts with the warmth we find the churches all throughout the archipelago, filled with people (especially the young), brightly lit and festively decorated in anticipation for the coming Christmas feasts. The interplay between light and darkness, of the chill and warmth, and the anticipation of the coming dawn teaches us something about our own life of faith. In our present situation we may find ourselves walking amid the gloom of a a cold world. Keeping the faith is struggling to stay awake even though there may be many reasons for us to succumb to sleep, to shine brightly even when we fear that the darkness might engulf us. It means keeping our eyes fixed on the light who is Jesus Christ, to whom John the Baptist gave testimony to. His light pierces the darkness of our world. May the fire of our faith in Jesus Christ keep our communities warm, especially with regard to the more unfortunate, as we look forward to the dawning of the new day of grace. 

December 17: PAINIT #2: The genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of God and Son of Abraham, introduces us into the story of CHRISTMAS. The Lord's family history shows the just side by side with those whose names are notorious in Bible history. This draws us into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation: when God came among us, he chose to enter into human history, not only marked by grace and goodness, but also tainted by human frailty and sin. The Lord did not spare himself from the ugly details of our human reality. He did so in order touch us, and in doing so, save us with his grace. But this touch wouldn't have been possible without the simple "yes" of a humble virgin from Nazareth.
In CHRISTMAS we celebrate the touch of God, of how the embrace of God heals and gives us life. Imitating the "yes" of Mary opens us to this life-giving embrace of the Lord, and cleanses us, no matter what our history has been, despite of what we may have done in the past, in spite of the fact that we are all capable of evil. The Lord enters into our history, let us go out and meet him!

December 18: PAINIT #3: "Fear not, Joseph!" The annunciation to Joseph by the angel about of the condition of his betrothed was a turning point in his life. In the Gospels, Joseph is described as a just man, but the hidden plan of God would've come as a big surprise this holy man, if not a complete shock. Trying to follow the will of God, and living a life pleasing to him does not shield us from doubt and the uncertainty that comes as a part of our present condition as pilgrims on this earth. Joseph's response nevertheless is the one that we have to imitate: it was one of complete trust and docility, one of faith. He may have made plans for his life, for Mary, for the family that he was planning to have. Yet when he came to know that God had other plans for him, like Mary, he gave his "yes" to the Lord. 
The adventure of our life consists in discovering the plan that God has for us, one that is a fruit of his wisdom and love. He will always want what is best for us, and his plans will always surpass our own expectations. Just as God's plans far surpassed what Joseph had thought of for himself, so will the fruit of our unconditional faith and trust in God allow us to see wonders that will go beyond what we have dreamed for ourselves. With St.  Joseph, we learn that wonders are in store, when with our total "yes" to God we place ourselves in his hands, even when we find ourselves surrounded in darkness. Let us learn to trust like Joseph and Mary!

December 19: PAINIT #4: Zechariah is struck mute because of his unbelief in the face of the angel's incredible news, that he was to become the father of a son that he had always wanted. His wife, elderly as he was, was to conceive and bring forth to the one who would announce the coming of the promised Messiah. This old priest was one of those who had waited for the fulfillment of the Lord's promise to his people, the faithful remnant of the Lord's poor. But sometimes, human as we are, even the faithful can get tired and lose sight, to lose hope that such promises would be fulfilled. Perhaps the cause of his unbelief was this fatigue, aside from the seeming impossibility of the angel's message. 
Hope is something that sustains us in the long wait for the Lord's coming. It makes us optimistic and young at heart. Hope does not disappoint, and a youthful heart--of no matter what age--makes us open to the marvels worked by a God of surprises, it allows us to believe in a God for whom nothing is impossible. Our present situation makes hope a necessary virtue. Let us always strive to live it in our daily life, for it drives away useless anxiety and allows us to believe in the power of a loving and merciful God. 

December 20: PAINIT #5: "How can this be?" In contrast to Zechariah, Mary does not challenge the plan of God that was revealed to her through the angel. Zechariah and Mary seem to ask essentially the same question, but they differ from each other: while the priest in the Temple asked for how he and his wife could have a son in their advanced age, the humble virgin from Nazareth inquired of the angel so as to be able to cooperate with the plan of God. "How can this be?" How can I realize this plan that God has for me in my life, seeing my own  circumstance, condition and means?  Mary, though not yet comprehending to the full extent the repercussions that the angel's message may mean for her, totally accepts what the Lord has had in mind for her: "be it done to me as you say!"
We may not fully understand what the Lord wants for us in our life; we may still be uncertain and seem to grope in the dark at times with regards to what God wants of us. At times it may seem that the only thing that we know is that God wants this or that of us, and we may be left without a clue as to how we could accomplish what he wants in our life. THE FIRST STEP IN DOING THE WILL OF GOD IS TO ACCEPT IT WITHOUT RESERVATION, entrusting ourselves fully to his loving providence and mercy.  He will take us by the hand, and guide us step by step, just as he did with Mary. And just like Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord, we shall begin to see the Lord making wonders in us and through us. Let us learn how to accept what the Lord has for us with a trusting heart, confident that he will lead us by the hand! Do not be afraid!

December 21, 4th Sunday of Advent: PAINIT #6: "Do not be afraid, Mary!" Before the great mystery of God's plan of salvation, Mary experiences the fear of the unknown. It s natural for us to be afraid of what we do not know. But Mary, at the words of the angel, steps away from this, and allows herself to fall into the loving hands of God. Despite of the fact that she doesn't comprehend much of what may happen to her, she nevertheless chooses to accept wholeheartedly the plan that God had in mind for her. As the words of her cousin Elizabeth may reveal, she is blessed because she believed and trusted.
We encounter darkness and doubt at many points in our journey in life. These are very much a part of our human reality. But instead of allowIng ourselves to be buried in our doubts, may we learn to see them as springboards to an encounter with the Lord who never abandons us. May we not allow ourselves to remain in doubt, but rather choose to step from it into knowledge of the truth; may we move from darkness into light. Inspired by Mary's faith, may we learn to conquer our fears and the difficulties that beset us, and use these to make us stronger in the Lord!

December 22: PAINIT #7: "My soul magnifies the Lord!" Mary's hymn of praise, done in response to her cousin Elizabeth's greeting "Blessed are you among women!" is a hymn of praise that comes from a humble heart. Mary has been especially touched by God; time and again she has been a witness to the wonders that the Lord has done in her favor. Yet far from being puffed up by so many singular graces, she discovers that her greatness consists in doing everything so that God may in all things be glorified. "Not to us Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory"...these words from the psalms find an echo in Mary's own song of praise.
When we experience the mercy of Go
d, and when we know ourselves to be loved and embraced by his grace, we are able to see how little we are before the Lord. Yet, touched by his power and grace, we also realize that our greatness consists in being little before God, so that his greatness may be made manifest in our smallness. Mary's life is a very valuable lesson in the true meaning of humility: our true greatness consists in being small before God. Only when we are small do we allow the greatness of God be made manifest in us. May the example and powerful intercession of the humble handmaid of the Lord help us to live our littleness before our great God, and thus allow his grace to work in us and through us!