Quincy Jones L. Ondona
Of all the good things worthy of remembering, watching a movie was the one that just wouldn’t easily leave the seemingly endless heap of my nostalgia.
It happened during my recent pastoral exposure in Catadman Mangga. It was a fine ordinary day; a new day for an ordinary routine of everyday life. And just when the day was about to get boring, when we’re almost at the brink of exhausting all possible topics for our conversation, a crisp selection from my foster family’s collection of movies was finally decided just to get through that hour’s standstill. After culling from the pile of mostly action movies, I opted for the most thrilling one sans the gunshots or at least less of it. Pee Mak – a Thai movie that is actually of a strange sort; a combination of fear and thrill, romantic horror to say it straightly. It’s the story of a soldier whose wife died of miscarriage. In the battlefield, he wasn’t aware of the tragedy. Back home, his neighbors knew it well; they not only knew that she’s already dead, they also knew that she’s now playing a ghost – a beautiful ghost maybe but a ghost nonetheless. Mak (the name of the soldier) went home with the same usual feeling of a man wanting to see his wife after a long stretch of time. His neighbors couldn’t tell him the truth for fear that Nak (the soldier’s ghost-wife) might return on them with her ghostly wrath. So for some time, Mak was with the impression that she’s still alive and warm as any living body should be. Until there came a time when fate became restless and doubts were starting to come to the surface.
Mak may have his doubts, but he resolved to opt for denial. One of the sweetest scenes in the movie was when Mak brought Nak to the carnival. This he did despite the razor-sharp stares of his neighbors. He just wanted to spend a normal moment with her. Every couple deserves a moment with each other. Every lover deserves every opportunity to renew their bond of eternal love. He took her for a ride on a ferris wheel. There the conversation turned bitter-sweet.
“Mak, aren’t you afraid of ghosts?”
“Scared? Ghosts come on out here. There’s nothing to be scared of.”
And as if his answer gave her an assurance of some sort, she smiled.
And then here’s the bitter part. She asked him.
“Baby, if one day I’ll die, can you live without me?”
At this moment he choked, perplexed about the question.
“Why?” He asked.
“Just tell me. I want to know.”
“No. If anyone is going to die then I want to die first. If I don’t have you, I can’t go on.”
But the fact is, she really died ahead of him. Yet in her temporary existence which can never be described in an exact term, she was with him, living with him, loving him. The finale of the movie was done in a Buddhist monastery where an exorcism is being done to finally cast out and drive away Nak. At that supposed to be final moment, the couples met again. Not wanting to leave him, she asked for his hand, and bid him to go with her to where she, upon the moment of her death, belongs. Did Mak have any second thoughts? No. He willingly offered himself, an offer which could possibly unite them forever.
That’s when the sweetest of the moments happened.
Nak apologized for her lies, for not telling him the truth that she is a ghost.
“I just wanted to be with you for as long as I could. Even if it’s just for one more day.”
But Mak gave her an even startling answer.
“Nak, you don’t have to go anywhere. You said you lied to me. You didn’t lie to me at all. Even though I’m a fool, I’m not so stupid that I wouldn’t know that my wife is dead.”
Yes, he knew all along. He found it himself. He found his wife’s dead body not so far from their backyard. He found the ring in her hand.
“Even if all the villagers get rid of me, and nobody wants to be my friend. I would still want to live with you.”
“Aren’t you scared of me?” She asked.
“You know I’m scared of ghosts, but I’m scared more of living without you.”
That’s when I, a man who is going to be a priest and a celibate at that (God willing), was moved by this romanticism. Love after all spreads out to every human being. It’s a thing one can’t get away with. For as long as the heart beats, love lives. But it doesn’t mean that I would leave my vocation because of some romantic lines I heard in a movie. No, the movie didn’t teach me that I should go look for a woman to love. It only taught me that love cannot die.
The movie was sweet because it tells us about the possibility of the impossible – of a love beyond the grave. During weddings, each partner pledges to love each other “till death do us part.” But Mak’s story tells us that even that is not true. For couples who love each other as freshly as the dew drops resting on the palm of the morning leaf, even death has no power to kill the flame burning in their hearts. Love is more than just the presence, it’s the feeling. It’s an eternal flame as the song goes.
Back in the house, the movie ended a little shortly before lunch. We spent half of the morning without a chat but the movie spoke wisdom of a lifetime. Actually, I’m not a romantic type of guy nor am I fond of movies. There are only some which leaves an imprint. Pee Mak is one of those.
Yes, all movies are man-made but some are God-sent.
How are you going to distinguish true humility from false pretenses?
Search the heart, all the intentions are buried there.
But what if we don’t have the capacity to look into someone’s heart?
Look for consistency. A real act done out of real intention should be consistent. To arrive at this, look for precedence. An authentically humble person always has a past warehouse of authentically humble actions.
This thought went on in my head when a friend once commented on Facebook that he didn’t like Pope Francis. It seemed to him that Pope Francis’ actions were just for show. It was too revolutionary to really be true especially for a man lavished with privileges and who is expected to act according to his privileges. To him, a Pope who would stoop so low so as to shake hands with common people appears to be driven more by a desire for publicity than for authentic humility. And not only that, his refusal to don papal regalias not only contradict tradition but discredit his predecessors as well who happily wear them. While many, including me, appreciate Pope Francis’ gestures, some are still full of apprehensions and think along this line.
But is there something we should worry about? I believe there is none if we look at the previous warehouse of the Pope’s humble actions. If he was so extravagant before and suddenly switched lifestyle when elected Pope – that would at least give me some doubts. Yet what he is now is what he was before his election. When he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he refused to live in the archbishop’s palace and lived in a simple apartment instead. He refused the archbishop’s vehicle and used the metro and commuted to his office the way ordinary people do. He was close to the people. He answers letters addressed to Him by ordinary Catholics and even makes personal phone calls to people who are asking for his advice. He shunned extravagant lifestyle and even cooked his own food. These characterized his tenure as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. It is not surprising therefore that he continue the same lifestyle after his election. Besides, humility is not his innovation, it’s his track record. He was just being true to the person that he is. Each Pope is different yet they serve the Church in their own particular way. We who are used to seeing the previous popes in the traditional way and who may be surprised by Pope Francis humble gestures, should not fear a pope who rubs shoulders with the common people. He was just serving the Church in his own way according to his particular gift.
When he presented himself to the world during his election, the elbow length red mozetta and the gold-embroidered stole was noticeably missing and this, for some Traditionalists, rings an alarm. How could a Pope break tradition? How could he be truly Pope when he is reluctant to be one? Were the new innovations just for show, again for publicity?
To begin with, “breaking” papal traditions didn’t start with Pope Francis. We should also remember that the papacy resides in the Pope not the regalia. A Pope therefore may refuse to wear this specific garb for some reasons and yet he could still be Pope.
The following are some of the traditions discontinued by previous Popes:
1. The papal tiara, the most striking symbol of the papacy was discontinued by Paul VI. Many in the past even consider the tiara to be intrinsic to the papal office that a pope loses a symbol of its authority if this is absent from his head. Yet four popes have passed without being crowned with it.
2. The custom of kissing the papal foot; such a profound gesture of respect for such a profound office. Yet profound as it is, Pope Paul VI discontinued it.
3. The sede gestatoria – a portable throne carried by twelve footmen – was used by popes from ages past. During solemn entries of the Pope to the basilica or to public consistories, this chair portrays the papacy’s royal privileges. Who would have thought that a Pope would walk his way into the altar? Yes, it was discontinued by John Paul II.
4. The flabella – large ceremonial fans made of white ostrich feathers – was discontinued by Paul VI.
5. The camauro – a traditional cap worn by the Pope – fell into disuse after the death of John XXIII.
6. The papal shoes commonly known as the red shoes were discontinued during the time of Pope John Paul II although revived by Benedict XVI. It should be clear that it was not Pope Francis who first declined to use the red shoes.
So while the absence of the mozetta may surprise many, it is not destructive to the papacy. The changes he made were not as drastic and dramatic as the changes introduced by popes in the past although it gathered the most attention due to widespread media coverage which was lacking before. Somehow this would assuage the anxiety of some, for as long as the Pope still cling on to the Magisterium and continue to uphold the faith of the Church, he is still a Pope.
Even though he wears less than a Pope and acts more like the common people…
Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts,
and laugh with their eyes;
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice block cold eyes
search behind our shadows.
There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts;
but that’s gone, son.
Now they left shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.
‘Feel at home!’ ‘Come again’:
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice-
for then I find doors shut on me
So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – home face,
office face, street face, host face,cocktail face,
with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.
And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say, ‘Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.
But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!
So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.
One day, Satan and Jesus were in a contest. The rule of the game is to find places where each of their followers frequently gather. It was Satan’s turn. They went to a bar and looking at the men drinking liquors in company of raunchy women Satan blurted out, “You see this people Jesus? You are absent from their minds at this very moment. They all belong to me.” At this, Jesus just looked away. Then they went to a disco bar. It was full of men and women in their teens – poor vulnerable souls. Once again Satan gave off a diabolic laughter as he pointed to the young men and women. “You see these young people Jesus, very vulnerable souls. They’re supposed to find their life’s direction at this stage of their lives. And yet where are they now? In my company, they all belong to me.” Then Satan led Jesus to a cockpit. It was in cacophony – myriads of voices shouting thunderously every now and then. Then Satan pointed out, “See them Jesus? What are in their minds now are their roosters and their bets. They aren’t thinking of you today. Maybe later or tomorrow they will. But who can tell for as long as they have their roosters with them. They are mine.” At this point Jesus was already full. It was now his turn. He brought Satan to a church. The priest was preaching passionately and all eyes were at him. And then Jesus told Satan, “You see this people Satan? The church is full; there are a lot of youth here, more numerous than those we saw in the bar. And there are a lot of men, more numerous than the men in the cockpit. They are still willing to sacrifice their time to spend it with me. They are mine.” Immediately after this, Satan gave a bawdy laughter. “Really? Look closely at them. Their eyes were closed. They were sleeping. They weren’t listening; they’re only here to have a nap. A lot of them are not even yours, they are mine.”
Brothers and sisters, when you hear the word church, what comes to your mind? Maybe the building, maybe the sanctuary and maybe the place. But one important thing we should know today is that the Church is the people of God. Like the story, it’s the people whom God can call His own. I who is preaching to you now and you who are listening to me – we are the people of God. We are God’s own. We do not just go to church, we are the Church. The Greek word for church ecclesia comes from the word kaleo which means “to call out.” We are His people who are being called out by Him to be of one heart and one mind. You do not belong to anybody else, you are not even your own. God has called you and you are His. It is as if God has entered into this church building today bringing Satan with him and pointing to each one of us while saying, “These people are mine.”
Now the question is, God has declared that you are His, how about you – who do you think owns you? Brothers and sisters, the answer to this question is very crucial – knowing who owns us would determine the way we relate to our owner. Actually, I’m adamant about using the word owner here lest it would appear that we are a property. We may not be a property in the strict sense but we are chosen to be in His fold, and He being the owner of His fold is also our owner. The point here though is that it’s not only a matter of Him choosing us than us choosing Him. If we are a people owned by God then our actions should show it. But how are we today? Are we one of those people who go to church and yet remain blind, who frequently listen to the word of God being proclaimed in the pulpit and yet remain deaf to the depth of its message, who frequently partake of the body and blood of our Lord and yet unnourished by its life-changing Spirit, or those people who love God because He is just and yet look at his poor fellows with unjust contempt?
Brothers and sisters, as people of God we are not just called to go to church, we are called to be the Church; to be a light to others, to be a path for those who are astray, and to be a refuge for those who are downtrodden. We are called to treat others as equals. In the Church, there is no room for conceit or superiority. We are equals and the only one above us is God. I, being your preacher does not mean that I should treat you as my subjects as though I am a little king in my little kingdom. Far from it, I’m called to serve you. As what St. Augustine says, “For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian.” Being a preacher does not entitle me to a reserved slot in heaven. On the other hand, God has opened heaven for us all. Why? Because we are His people. A good king has a good plan for his people – our God is a good king and has prepared for us a good destiny. But while we are waiting for that destiny, it is but imperative for us today to prepare ourselves, to do the right thing, so that next time when God visits our Church, he will find people who are well-disposed to God and by that time God could claim, “They are mine.”
And Satan cannot object.
Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s revelation in the sense that through Him God has communicated to humanity the totality of truths He chose to reveal to man though at the same time the Church admits that Christian revelation is not yet completely explicit. Through Christ it was God Himself who makes known to man His will.
In the Old Testament, God has spoken through prophets. They were God’s tools in communicating His laws and decrees to Israel. For a period it was this instrumentality that bridges God’s revelation. But God has to choose prophets every now and then since as human beings they die and because of human frailties they have the tendency to fall back as evidenced by God’s numerous admonitions towards Israel and her prophets. The mystery of the Incarnation then was the breakthrough of God’s love towards humanity, an immense generosity on God’s part to send His Son to ferry unto mankind the revelation of the Triune God.
The following is a further presentation of this thesis.
Being fully human, it would seem that Christ’s knowledge could be limited to human finiteness. His person then would be conditioned by his humanity. And if he has limited knowledge then he could only reveal limited truths. This argument would seem to counter the truth that Christ is the fullness of revelation if taken at surface value. However, it would do well to point out that the Church not only believe that Jesus Christ is 100% human but that he is also 100% divine and that His divine nature is inseparable to Him even during His incarnation.
“ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1
So Jesus is the Word Incarnate, the divinity who took for Himself our humanity. Being fully divine, He has all the means to reveal to its fullness the revelation of God. Further, even in His humanity Jesus was the perfect representation of who God is.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God…” Colossians 1;15
Being in the image of God and the Incarnate God, Jesus indeed possesses the entire truths of God and through Christ God has said everything . (CCC 65)
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” Hebrews 1:1-2
God having spoken to us everything through His Son is evidenced by the fact that Jesus Himself is the Word. He is the definitive Word coming from God Himself and not only is He the Word He is the unsurpassable Word and no other Word will come after Him. As what St. John of the Cross said in his comment on Hebrews 1:1-2, “…he has spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say…” (CCC 65)
Yes, He has no more to say and that means there could be no new public revelation after our Lord Jesus Christ. He has fulfilled God’s Word – He is the Word and we the subject of His revelation ought to follow that WORD.
I remember a line from a song which goes, “And a house is not a home when there’s no one there…” Unfortunately, I don’t know the exact title of the song, but this line has caught me just recently. Why? Because our home has started to become a house.
Yes, there’s no one there. I mean, not that it’s completely desolate, but that it has lost its life. And life it has to the full just a couple of months ago. Our house has not that many number of persons who live there, originally there were only four of us before the advent of new arrivals to the family – my parents, my sister and me. Few as we are, it has become the locus of our lives. I was born there and first set foot on its cold and shiny floor. It has become a sacred ground to my feet. Its roof has sheltered me for most of my teenage years before I braved out to the wider world in search of higher education. And no matter how nice the wider world could be, my mind would always long to return to that place I call home. I don’t care if it looks too ordinary resembling a simple cube-like structure; it’s a home because of the people living there. As I realize later on, no matter how splendid a place could be, only people can put vitality to its being. There’s no substitute to it, take away the people in a place and you would see wilderness – avast stretch of land without life.
And yet, I’m starting to witness the same thing happening to our house which once was a home. Maybe, it would do well if I tell you something more about this home. My sister married when I was third year in high school and that brought a new arrival to our family. A year after that, she had a beautiful daughter. So by then we are six in the family. But I’m not only talking here about numbers or arrivals. Each new addition meant more than that – it means vigor, vitality, life, new persons to put new meaning to the home we are living in. As my sister and her husband are yet to build their own house, for the mean time they decided to live with us. Her daughter brought joy to our home. Our house is small but it was brimming with activities of my mother cooking, my father painting and most of all my little niece running here and there. And no matter if the chairs and tables spread beyond their proper places as my niece frolic around, there is an overwhelming feeling of excitement all throughout the four corners of our little abode. Four years after the birth of my niece came a new addition – my nephew. That means more scattered toys, more noise, and more laughter but it’s nice seeing them both enjoy the seasons of their childhood with all its fun. Their laughter made our house more of a home.
Until my sister’s house was completed last year and she with her family moved there. My parents who are so fond of their grandchildren also spend most of their times there. When I went home for the Christmas vacation, our house was not the same as it used to be when I was growing up. There’s an arresting feeling of solitude all over. No more cooking, no more noise, no more laughter – the presence of the furniture all properly pasted to their places just made the nostalgia more cumbersome. I tried to settle down and attuned myself to the change but how I long for the time that has been. From time to time, my parents would clean the house. My father, on the other hand, does his job at a space in our garage. But the children have enlivened another home –a home of their own. So I also followed them there – I eat and sleep there and during the day I return home to clean it and there spend my afternoon just in case our house like a living person would long for a companion.Our house becomes a place where we visit, not anymore a place where we live.
But change would always catch you anytime and sometimes there’s no worth resisting it. In fact, I never resisted the reasons why my parents practically followed them there. My sister needs help, she needs company while her husband works overseas, my parents’ too couldn’t withstand the absence of their grandchildren. I can’t either. So we’re caught between attachment and detachment and finding the fact that we cannot decide which of the two. It’s easy to detach from a thing but not from a person especially from a family.
So I need to face that time has changed and go with the flow –resisting the current would only weaken you. Be happy where you are. After all in my case the place has remained, the persons have remained and only the distribution changed. Life is a matter of accepting, coping and moving on. Besides, if God wills in the not too distant future that I should become a priest, I too will move to a home of my own. Maybe another change to cope to but I need to.
After all that’s been said, the song still holds true,
“But a house is not a home, when there’s no one there.”