Simbang Gabi Homilies: Day 2 with Fr. Jose Quilongquilong, SJ

Posted on December 17, 2011

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My dear friends in Christ, I am deeply consoled to preside over the second Simbang Gabi Mass in our country after being away for 11 years. I left in the year 1999. Listening to our choir singing and seeing the festive decorations tonight brought back so much consolation of my previous Christmases in the Philippines – in contrast to different Christmas celebrations in Rome and other parts of Europe.

Perhaps you have already known that the Simbang Gabi Masses are being celebrated for the perseverance of our nation in faith and the preservation of Christianity in this part of the world. Therefore, the main objective of these liturgical celebrations is the strengthening of our Christian faith.

The strengthening of our Christian faith is related to the main theme of our readings today, which is about testimony. The word testimony means to bear witness. It is to testify to the truth. It is to declare or acknowledge the authenticity of a person or fact. In legal cases, we use the word testigo for someone who witnessed a fact or an event. In our readings today, (we see a kind) of experience of testimony in terms of word, work, and worship.

First, the testimony of word. In the First Reading from Isaiah, God reminds the Israelites to “observe what is right, do what is just, for My salvation is about to come; my justice about to be unveiled.” To observe what is right and just recalls the covenant relationship between God and Israel. In telling the Israelites to observe what is right, the Lord reminds them of their testimony of word – their promise to be faithful to the Word of God in the covenant. This testimony of word is proclaimed by John the Baptist when he testified to the truth about the coming of the Messiah.

Following the example of John the Baptist, we need to deepen our testimony of word. We need to be truthful in the words we speak. In fact, we are bombarded by all kinds of words in media, advertisements, and various forms of digital communication. At present, we are witnessing a clash of words in our government, for example, between PNoy and Corona. We’ll hear more words in the coming impeachment trial as we welcome the New Year.

In our preparation for the birth of Jesus, we can examine how we have lived our testimony of word. We can ask: Do our words express the salvation and justice of God in our midst, or do our words express confusion, violence, doubt…? I remember now the Belo advertisement about Jinkee Pacquiao along Katipunan Avenue: “Before, I was fearful. Now I am fearless.” Are you fearful of the way you look now? You can believe the words of Belo on beauty. But in my case, this Quilongquilong face is hopeless.

Second, the testimony of work. Jesus recognized the testimony of word, of work by John the Baptist. Jesus recognized his preaching of repentance, and praised his humble life of witness. But Jesus offers a greater testimony than the preaching or the words of John the Baptist. Jesus offers the testimony of the works that the Father gave him to accomplish. Jesus said, “These works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

So we are invited to see the works of Jesus. We need to see His actions, His labors, His ministries, His works and miracles, and everything He does. The accomplishment of these works testify or bear witness that the Father sent Jesus as the revelation of God’s salvation and justice. Jesus reveals the salvific love of God and justice through his works for the poor and the marginalized.

In the same way, we are invited to deepen our testimony of work by following the example of Jesus especially in charity for others. I remember the Christmas day of 2000, the Holy Year. I said Mass in Genoa, north of Italy. After celebrating the Christmas Mass… I went to the city park where I saw many middle-aged and old couples strolling around the huge park. What caught my attention was that most of the couples were carrying dogs or other pets, and only few were carrying children. I saw some who were kissing their dogs. Italy had (zero) birth rate. There are many old people but very few children, which explains the high demand for Filipino caregivers. I hope that this Christmas, we will not be kissing more dogs or cats or other pets, but rather we’ll be caring for more people as a testimony of work for now.

The third theme of our readings is the testimony of worship. Isaiah, in the First Reading, describes the inclusion of all peoples… in this testimony of worship. God says, “All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to My covenant, them I will bring to My holy mountain and make joyful in My house of prayer, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” that all those who follow the covenant in their testimony of word and work are led finally to the testimony of worship.

This brings us to our experience of worship tonight. Our celebration of the Simbang Gabi is our testimony of worship, of our witness of praise, as expressed in our Responsorial Psalm tonight: “O God, let all the nations praise you.”

We are not alone in this worship. In the Simbang Gabi, we worship our Lord in solidarity with other Filipino communities not only in the Philippines but in other parts of the world. Our Filipino migrants celebrate the Simbang Gabi Masses in their respective countries of work, even now in the midst of winter. Indeed, our Filipino migrants have witnessed the richness of our faith in their testimony of word, work, and worship.

I remember the story of an Italian boy in Milan who was asked by his parents what gift he wanted for Christmas. The parents were expecting the boy to ask for an expensive toy or electronic gadget. But the boy responded, “For Christmas, Mommy and Daddy, I want you to come with me to join the Mass with Filipinos.”

The boy was always brought by his Filipina yaya for Sunday Mass, which in Europe was followed by eating – plenty of eating, plenty of adobo and pancit. And the boy has developed a taste from Italian spaghetti to pancit canton. Apparently the boy enjoys so much his experience of community worship followed by eating – like our Simbang Gabi, there’s so much eating outside this church and other places.

My dear friends in the Lord, let us pray that our celebration tonight and the coming Simbang Gabi Masses may truly deepen our testimony of word, the word of consolation; of work, the work of love; and of worship, our worship of praise, as we prepare for the birth of Christ, the Word Made Flesh. This way, we hope to grow in perseverance and preservation of our Catholic faith.

(Fr. Jose Quilongquilong, SJ, rector of the Loyola House of Studies, delivered this homily during the Ateneo’s second Simbang Gabi at the Church of the Gesu this year. He lived away from the Philippines for the past 11 years, having been sent to Rome to study and to serve as the Jesuit General Curia’s regional secretary for Asia-Pacific.)

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