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The Word, The Truth

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Homily for Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent, 30 March 2022, Jn 5:17-30

I shared this story last year—about a FB post that moved me to the core. It came with a photo of a chubby little boy. The post said, “A child who loses his parents is called an ORPHAN. A person who loses a spouse is called a WIDOW or a WIDOWER. But what do you call a parent who loses his child?” And his answer is, “There is no word for it because there is no word to express the pain that a parent feels about losing his or her child.” He ends with a remark about the boy in the photo, “I can’t believe it’s been eight years since we lost you. It still feels like it was just yesterday.” That brought tears to my eyes.

It reminded me of the CNN correspondent Erin Burnett weeping as she interviewed a man who had lost his wife and two children after their apartment home in Kyiv was bombed by the Russians while he was fighting in the frontlines to defend his country.

Today’s first reading is a good answer to people who feel they have been forsaken by God. It is that particular line from Isaiah Chapter 49 that inspired the great Jesuit musician-composer, Fr. Manoling Francisco, to compose the famous song, “HINDI KITA MALILIMUTAN”. Believe it or not, Fr Manoling was just 15 years old when he composed that song. He said in a concert that he never thought the song would one day become known as a song for funerals. It was not for that purpose that he had composed it.

Fr. Manoling really just translated the lines from Isaiah 49:15 “Malilimutan ba ng ina ang anak na galing sa kanya? Sanggol sa kanyang sinapupunan—paano niya matatalikdan? Ngunit kahit na malimutan ng ina ang anak na galing sa kanya, hindi kita malilimutan, kailanma’y di pababayaan.” (Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Yet, even should she forget, I will never forget you.”) Who will not weep with lines like these?

The prophet pronounced these words as an oracle of hope and consolation to the Jews who thought that the Lord their God had forsaken them. In their dark moments of exile, after their country was occupied by foreigners and Jerusalem, their capital city, was reduced to a pile of rubble. Exactly what we see presently happening in Ukraine, their temple and their homes were destroyed and burned down. The few survivors among them were taken as captives to Babylon. And so they thought that their God had totally abandoned them. That, maybe, the Lord their God had given up on them because of their stubbornness of heart; that he had decided to just allow them to perish. That he had totally forgotten them.

These are the very words that Isaiah tells us the people of Zion were saying, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” And so he pronounces his oracle—one of the few lines in the Bible where God is described as a woman, and a mother at that. “Can a mother forget her infant and be without tenderness for the child of her womb?” The prophet then puts words in the mouth of God, who answers his people’s lament, “However unusual it might be…that a mother forget her child,” God’s message is, “I will never forget you.”

We need to hear this consoling piece of good news once in a while, especially in moments like the present war in Ukraine where people are crying out for an end to violence, helpless and forsaken. President Zelensky is a Jew. His own parents and grandparents are no stranger to tragedies like the genocide of six million Jews in the time of Hitler. Ironically, the president of Russia has the gall to call him a NeoNazi. It is in times like this that people may feel like lamenting about the absence, or the remoteness of God.

We heard this lament just a few days ago in the Responsorial Psalm: “By the streams of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.” The Psalmist says they could not even get themselves to sing one of the songs of Zion when their captors asked them to play them some music. Instead of singing, he says, they hung up their harps on the trees growing in Babylon.

The Psalm has a second part which, in the light of our first reading today, can be read differently. Try reading it as a reply from God to his people, from the mother to her child, who thinks he has been forgotten. “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither.” I know it does not sound proper putting it in the mouth of God because the it makes God sound so human, like he’s swearing “Mamatay man ako.” But that precisely makes it sound more tender and intimate, can you imagine God saying to his people, “May my tongue stick to my palate if I remember you not, if I place you not ahead of my joy.”?

Today’s Gospel has a good news for people who are going through tough times like what the people of Ukraine are going through. Jesus message of hope is, “…whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but will pass from death to life.”

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Veritas Editorial

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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