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Advent is illumination

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The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Misa de Galo 1, 16 December 2023
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8 ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[>< John 5:33-36
Photo by author, Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 12 December 2023.

All roads lead today to churches for the start of Christmas novena more known with its many names that actually refer to the time of the Mass celebration.

Its generic name is Simbang Gabi that specifically refers to the night Masses that begin December 15 while Misa de Gallo and Aguinaldo Mass are the ones celebrated at dawn starting December 16. It is a tradition we got from the Spaniards via Mexico where it is a novena in honor of the the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Expectant Mother or Nuestra Señora dela Virgen Expectacion. It is also the reason why we use the Spanish terms Misa de Gallo for rooster or “gallo” that crows at dawn and Misa de Aguinaldo for present or gift as our “aguinaldo” or offering to Jesus by waking up very early for nine days until his birthday.

In our university and medical center where I serve as chaplain, we have Simbang Tanghali at 12 noon to enable our students and faculty members, doctors and nurses, and employees to make the traditional novena because most of them are too sleepy for Simbang Gabi and too tired to rise very early for Misa de Gallo.

Keep in mind, though, that the time when you go to celebrate the Mass is not important. What really matters is how sincere we pray and prepare ourselves spiritually during these nine days of Masses to meet and receive Jesus Christ into our hearts and lives. It is highly recommended we go to confessions this Advent Season so we may be cleansed of our sins, the true darkness within that needs illumination in Christ.

It is in this setting of darkness in celebrating the Christmas novena that we got the name Simbang Gabi. Both night and dawn evoke darkness not only in the world but most especially inside us due to sin when Jesus Christ our Savior comes. In fact, the darkest nights of the year occur between December 23-25, a beautiful reminder that Jesus comes to us in our darkest moments too for he is the only and true Light of the world.

Hence, Advent Season is illumination, a time when we are led to Jesus our light by other lights too who share his very light. Whatever light we must share is only Jesus, always Jesus. If it is not Jesus, then it is a dangerous kind of light that does not illuminate but actually darkens us and our lives, even the world. Any other light, no matter how bright it may be, if not from Jesus Christ is false and misleading from what is true and good.

How sad in our age that Christmas may be the most loved season but not for the right reason and person, Jesus Christ. Cities here and abroad are lit up at night during this time of the year with spectacular display of lights that delight our sights and other senses but, only on a superficial level. We just feel amazed but the sight never permeates our person because it is always mediated by the camera phone everyone is so busy using to take video and pictures without us experiencing the meaning of the wonderful interplay of light and darkness.

I am not against these light shows. I am just worried at how we could be missing the whole point of Christmas because these lights do not show Christ at all, misleading us like the Jews during the time of Jesus from the realities of God’s presence in our midst.

Photo by author, Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 12 December 2023.

In our gospel today, Jesus was questioned by the Jews for healing a man sick for 38 years on a sabbath day at Bethesda. They wanted to kill Jesus in equating himself with God whom he called as Father as he elaborated to them his mission of healing and salvation.

In this scene, Jesus insisted his being the Son of God, doing all the works of the Father as testified by his very acts and by John the Baptist whom they revered.

He (John the Baptist) was burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.

John 5:35-36

As the Precursor of the Lord, John the Baptist was very clear from the very beginning of his ministry that he was not the Messiah. All four gospel accounts are clear that John the Baptist shone brightly to illuminate others in order to see the true light, Jesus Christ.

The first disciple of Jesus as far as the fourth gospel is concerned was Andrew the brother of Peter who was a disciple of John the Baptist. After the baptism of Jesus by John at Jordan, Andrew and another companion left John to “come and see” Jesus. They eventually invited others to join Jesus whom they have identified as the Christ or the Messiah.

See how John as a “burning and shining lamp” showed the light of Christ to his disciples Andrew and companion who then led others to follow Jesus. In the same manner like John the Baptist, we are called especially tonight on this first Simbang Gabi to share the light of Christ, not to outshine Jesus.

Photo by author, Fatima Ave., Valenzuela City, 12 December 2023.

Light is meant to illuminate others and the streets so we would not fall or get lost; it is never meant to make us washed in lights to be seen. Unfortunately, it is the trend happening these days in social media and on our streets where everyone take pride in having the brightest lights on their vehicles that blind other motorists.

What a clear sign of everything gone wrong these days when we bathe ourselves in so much lights as everyone wants to shine and sparkle on one’s own, feeling so entitled that many have literally thrown their weight around in those road rage videos we see daily.

The worst of these blinding lights we find so glaring these days are the so-called “social influencers” who feel like superstars with some priests among them unfortunately who relish the title. And glamor – if there is really any – because, the fact remains that these so-called “social influencers” have not given any light at all to the world that may be considered as significant contributions for the betterment of lives except entertaining people. Or, titillate the many benighted souls among us.

When we obey God’s commandments and live according to his holy will as mentioned in the first reading from Isaiah today, we become lights leading to Jesus the true light. When we strive to lead holy lives, we illuminate others not for our own selves but towards Jesus.

Let me end this reflection with this beautiful story I got from a blog I follow of a grandchild having a conversation with his grandfather:

"Lolo, how did you live in the past without technology...
without computers
without Internet connection
without mobile phones
without cars
without air conditioners
without blue tooth
without ATM's?"

And the grandfather replied:
"Just as your generation lives today...
no prayers,
no compassion, 
no respect,
no good manners and right conduct,
no real education,
poor personality,
no kindness,
no shame, 
no modesty,
no honesty."

(See https://pkmundo.com/2023/12/09/a-young-%f0%9f%91%b6man-asked-his-grandfather%f0%9f%a7%93/)

Sorry for the sarcasm but I love it. Besides, the sarcasm invites us to ponder the kind of lights we share with others. Very often, we complain of the young generation’s lack of depth or questionable value systems and attitudes but these are all due to the lights we have shown them.

On this first Simbang Gabi of the post pandemic period, let us pray to have the light of Christ anew to conquer the darkness of sin and evil in the world. Let us illuminate others and the world towards life and fulfillment by sharing the true light of the world, Jesus Christ. Amen.

By Kay Bratt, Facebook, 13 December 2023.
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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

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