Homily for SHS-AdC Missioning Mass (12 August 2020)
Fr. Joel Liwanag, SJ
From the Sacred Heart Church, Edinburgh, Scotland
Have you ever been in a room that’s completely dark, as in pitch black? You and I know that our eyes are actually very good in the sense that they adjust to the dark easily after some time. For instance, when there’s a sudden brownout in the evening and everything becomes dark, at first we’re not able to see, but after some time, our eyes adjust even with the little light coming from outside. But it’s different when the room is completely sealed off, when no light is able to enter at all. If you have never been in such a room, try to imagine it – completely dark, completely black. If you wish, you can close your eyes now to see what it is like. And if you wish, you can even cover your closed eyes with your palms and try to press hard. Don’t allow any light to enter. And then imagine yourself living in this world. Imagine that this is the where you move about, day after day after day. What is it like? How do you feel? Scared? Anxious? Shaken? Desolate?
My dear brothers and sisters, isn’t our world today very close to this? Well, probably not for all. But surely, for some, it is. Surely, it is this dark for those who are in the hospitals, struggling not only with COVID-19, but also with loneliness, with not having company at such a difficult time. Surely it is this dark for a wife who, out of the blue, just lost her husband, the breadwinner of the family, and is now left to care for 3 very young children, left with the pain of not even having the usual support one gets during a wake, having to struggle to keep a strong front, not allowing oneself to break down for the sake of one’s kids. Surely it is this dark for the nurse who after having given every bit of energy she had, contracted the virus herself, and upon arriving home in her boarding house was driven out by the landlord, leaving her with no choice but to go out into the streets and cry alone.
I hope none of you are in this pitch black state. I’m sure though that some of us here share a little of that in some way. And somehow, our world, as a whole, is in a very dark place right now. Scared. Anxious. Desolate.
In an instant, everything has changed, everything has shifted. Who would have known that we will not be able to see our students this schoolyear? Who would have known that our long-planned trip to Manila to attend Bro. Robbie’s ordination will be cancelled? Or that even his livestreamed ordination will be postponed?
We live in a world that is filled with so much uncertainty, and because of that, with so much fear, with so much anxiety, with so much darkness. Uncertainty leaves us in the dark. We may not like it, but this is our world, our world today, a world of uncertainty, a world of suffering, a world of darkness. My dear brothers and sisters, this is the world we are missioned to.
“You are the light of the world,” says the Lord. “But Lord, how can we be light, when we ourselves are covered in darkness? How can we be light when we ourselves are struggling? How can we be light when we ourselves are afraid, and anxious, and desolate? Where will we find light, oh Lord? Where will we find Your light to help us start ours?”
Our first reading today, I think, gives us a clue. “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one.”
How can we be light? We can be light by being ourselves. Not by being like anyone else, but by being ourselves, by searching deep within us and allowing the light that is there to shine forth. Some of you here are already doing that. I’ve been really amazed browsing my Facebook feed seeing all sorts of ideas cropping up, ideas that allow our light to shine. I’ve been moved, for instance, to see the Hashtag Padayon team of Xevier, Rosel, Rona, and Jan reaching out to poor children, with the support of financial backers like the entrepreneur of the year, Hejie Suralta! I’ve been fascinated by the vlogs of Mark Langahid. I think nainggit ako sa kanya kaya gumawa na rin ako ng sarili kong Youtube channel! But seriously, that’s one way of spreading light in the midst of darkness. If you have not seen his vlogs, you should watch them! I’ve been inspired by the persistence of Giselle Mulder, who I know has been very excited for Iron Man, but who has managed to adjust, and has come up with the idea of doing virtual runs. That is of course alongside being a mom-slash-teacher to her kids, and sous chef to her husband, Mark, her partner in managing their very successful venture, M&G Bakehouse! (Full disclosure: I was not paid for this advertisement!)
My dear brothers and sisters, it is very clear – even in the midst of the darkness we find ourselves in, our light can seep through. If only we allow it. If only we choose it. But some of you here may say, “Father, di man ko gaya nila. I am not as organized as Xevier and team. I am not as talented as Mark Langahid. I cannot run like Giselle.” But that’s the point. You do not need to be like the others. You only need to be yourself because that is where you will find the light. The Lord says, “YOU are the light of the world.” You! That’s a very important word. You! Not he, not she, not they! You! You are the light of the world.
The thing is, sometimes, that’s difficult to believe. “Me? Ako? Ngano man? Why me? How is this even possible?” Many times we doubt ourselves, our capacities, our talents. And that is why we have the tendency to hide, the tendency to keep our light under the bushel basket. We say, “my light is not as bright as his, it’s not as powerful as hers. My light will not make a difference. Let the light of the others shine, but not mine. Mine is just for the bushel basket. Diri lang ko. I will let Mark Langahid shine. I will let Xevier Sandot shine. I will let Giselle Mulder shine. Sila na lang. Diri na lang ko kay gamay man kaayo ang akong suga. My light is just for the bushel basket.”
My dear friends, if you find yourself in such a situation, listen to Jesus again: “YOU are the light of the world.” You! Ikaw! Dili siya. You! You are the light of the world! And you just have to find that light deep within you. And it will be different from the rest, because that light has been entrusted especially to you. It is a light that only you can give. And so, I invite you to ask yourself, “What is my light? What is that light that I am called to give?”
The truth, though, is that our light will never be enough. Our world is so vast. And the darkness that covers it seems even larger. It can be daunting. It can be overwhelming. It can be disheartening. Nakakapanghina ng loob. It is disheartening to know that even when we give the fullness of our light, the world will continue to be dark. Almost as dark as before we came.
But that’s an important word: almost. Because the truth is, even the little flicker of light we bring makes a difference in some way, probably not to all, but definitely to the few who have been entrusted to our care. Remember what I said earlier how it is when there’s a sudden brownout. Our eyes eventually adjust. All our eyes need, in fact, is just a little light. For some, maybe, the flicker of light that we bring will be that which will make a difference in their lives.
You are about to begin the schoolyear. Once again, you will be seeing your students. You do not know what these kids have been through. Some, I’m sure, are okay. But maybe there are a few who are not. I know for instance that we have students among us who have lost a parent or a grandparent. I’m not sure, but maybe some have even contracted the virus themselves. Who knows? My point is, the little flicker of light we bring to the children who will be entrusted to us might seem too small for the world, but for these children, it might be the world to them. It might be the flicker of light they have been waiting for all this time.
Yes, the light that we bring may be just a flicker in the vastness of the dark world we are in, but think about it. How many of us are here? If we all allow our light to shine, how many people will we be able to touch? And when we pass on this light, how many of those we pass this on to will in turn pass it on to others within their circle? And how many of those will pass it on to their own circles? That’s how the world shines, my dear friends. By passing on light. By allowing ourselves to be light in the world. It’s very much like the feeding of the five thousand. How did Jesus feed the five thousand? I think he did it by passing on. “O ito, 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Pasa-pasa lang, hanggang makarating sa kahuli-huling tao. Pass it on. Ipasa lang.” Pass on your light and sooner or later the world will be bright again.
And we must not forget, our light may be a mere flicker, but this light comes from a source that is actually very powerful, very bright, a light that is never consumed. Remember: our light, ultimately, comes from God, the source of all light. Sa kanya naman nanggagaling ang lahat. Kaya huwag tayong panghinaan ng loob. Let us not lose heart. Let us not lose hope. Let us just do our part in passing on this light, as best as we could, as unique to us as we could, as hopeful as we could.
This is our mission: to pass on God’s light, God’s light which flows through the depths of our uniqueness, giving it a character that only we can give. And that makes it special, and colorful, not just bright. Because we allow God’s light to pass through the prism of our life, the world becomes not just brighter, but also more colorful, making it a happier place to be in.