Simbang Gabi Homilies: Day 3 with Fr. Jose Cecilio Magadia, SJ

Posted on December 18, 2011


This year is the 50th anniversary of what is arguably the best Hollywood film adaptation of a Broadway musical. That is West Side Story – which in turn is also an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It is set in the 1950s in Upper West Side Manhattan, and instead of the Montagues and Capulets, we have the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks fighting each other. Our Romeo is named Tony, who is white and is identified with the Jets, and our Juliet is named Maria, a Puerto Rican belonging to the Sharks.

We will watch a short film, a short slice of the film. Early in the musical, a song is sung that is not so well known, entitled “Something’s Coming.” I know that probably some of you saw it in Glee. The setting is this: The Jets want to challenge the Sharks to a rumble, and they set a plan to do this at the neighborhood dance. And they plan to do this there because they were all going to attend the dance anyway. Tony, our bida, is not interested in the gang wars between the Jets and Sharks. He has been trying to avoid the involvement, but his friend Riff, the Jets’ leader, is always trying to get through him. And Riff bargains with Tony to at least come to the dance; at the very least, come to the dance, ‘yun lang. So finally Tony agrees and then when Riff leaves, Tony sings this song, which is a very upbeat and exciting song. So let’s take a look at this Youtube-downloaded clip from West Side Story, 1961 (Watch video below).

And it begins: “Who knows, could be.” Tony senses that there’s something going to happen that night, and that some miracle was due – don’t know when, don’t know how, don’t know what, but it’s coming; it’s in the air, humming. “And it’s gonna be great,” he says. “It’s gonna be great. / Who knows, could be.” And he feels it in his heart, in the blood that pumps through his veins, and it’s just there.

My friends, this is the kind of waiting that must have come upon Mary as she said yes to the angel in today’s Gospel. It is a waiting that is literally pregnant with possibilities. She doesn’t know what, she doesn’t know when, she doesn’t know how exactly. She asks, and she gets an answer she probably doesn’t fully comprehend. But she has a sense that this is from God and that something great is coming; that miracles are in the air and it’s humming and beckoning and engaging and perduring. And so Mary said yes.

And in doing so, she unwittingly makes the miracle happen. I think that’s God’s way – moving through our yeses to make the miracles of the world happen.

Going back to West Side Story, we see how the miracle of Tony’s life takes place… but in a completely unexpected way. His yes to coming to that dance would change his life completely in ways he would not have imagined. “Something is coming,” the song says, and he doesn’t know what it is. “But it’s gonna be great,” he says.

When Tony sings this song, he is unaware that later that night, he would meet Maria. When Tony sings this song, he is unaware that they would fall madly in love and begin to plan a future together. When Tony sings this song, he is unaware that he would later accidentally kill Maria’s brother, Bernardo. When Tony sings this song, he is unaware that he would get caught up in the fighting he has been trying to avoid, and in the end, he himself would get killed.

Truly, this is the way miracles happen. It never comes in one fell swoop; it unfolds in time. It is never just about a single magical moment, or an instance when a single special event takes place. It is about the God who leads us through a history of twists and turns, of ebbs and flows, of dips and swings that we can never really plan. That invites us to open widely our eyes and to recognize that God gives us through the Spirit that empowers to hang on doing more.

Like Tony, Mary did not know where her yes at the Annunciation would lead. She did not know that the trip to Bethlehem would follow. She could not have anticipated how the shepherds and the Magi came into the picture. She was completely in the dark about Herod’s dark plans and how he would lead them to Egypt. She did not know that the Son conceived in her would be the greatest teacher of all time, that He would heal many and bring so much hope. She did not know about the cross and the nails and the crown of thorns. She did not know about the new life of Easter that was coming. She did not know about the Church that was going to be born. She did not know about the many men and women through the centuries who would give up their lives for love of her Son.

Now, we begin to realize that the miracle of Mary’s yes at the Annunciation has not yet come to a halt. It continues to unfold to this day, in the 21st-century Philippines, in the Gesu of the Ateneo de Manila, and invites us to welcome even more new miracles in our lives.

My friends, we look at our own lives, and we begin to realize that the invitation to miracles that Tony experienced in West Side Story, and that Mary experienced in Nazareth, is given to us as well, in our unique circumstances.

It might be about trying something new. It might be about giving up something that was valuable in our lives. It might be about a major career shift, or about facing an elder’s Alzheimer’s or a child’s autism. It might be about cancer or even death. It might be about changing lifestyles, or learning to forgive. Whatever it is, something is coming. We are not quite sure what it is all about, or where it will end. We are invited to consider this seriously and perhaps look to Mary for inspiration about how we might say yes.

Mary had a heart that made her yes possible. She had the courage of the blind that gave her the power to say yes to a future she could not completely see. She had the likeness of the poor who were not bogged down by the baggage of wealth to grow, of reputations to protect, of certitude and control. She had the humility of the lame who were not worried about being seen with the crutches that support them in their weakness. In other words, my friends, Mary’s heart was so free from the shackles of living in this world that she could easily make room for a God who moves in these miracles, to fill up the empty spaces of our hearts with his Spirit, and who always manages to give much, much more than we could ever bargain for.

Something is coming, Tony says in West Side Story, and he knows that it’s gonna be great – the constant refrain, “Something’s coming and it’s gonna be great!” With that, my friends, we come to the core element that makes the yes possible. And what is the core element? It is the deep faith that God will see us through, that it’s gonna be great because God is there.

In a recent article in the British Catholic magazine “The Tablet,” Fr. Daniel O’Leary speaks about how, in the everyday, we can get so overwhelmed by the pains and frustrations of living in a sinful world, and we long for someting different, for a better deal, with more understanding, more cooperation, and less pain, and less greed. And yet, O’Leary tells us, one day, if we are lucky, the impact of Christmas stuns us. Something remarkable begins to dawn on us. The recognition that despite its ugliness and evil, this wounded world is a (inaudible) in love. We are treasured beyond measure by a mercy that does not depend on our worthiness… And yes, we know that something is coming. And we might not know it, and it might involve some sacrifice and some frustration, but in the end, in faith, we know it’s going to be great.

And that is why we continue, year after year, with Christmas, Simbang Gabi. I wonder sometimes: Don’t we ever tire of this season, all the shopping and the traffic, all the gift-buying and the eating? And yet, precisely because of all of this, it makes us feel that there is something far greater than we can imagine. And like Tony in the musical, we believe it’s going to be great. It’s not going to be easy; it’s not going to be without pain or without sacrifice. But it will be great.

It’s about hanging on. It’s about having hope. It’s about keeping faith in a God who accompanies us and who forever will be Emmanuel. And for this we are offering. We are grateful to Mary for her yes, and we are grateful to God for giving us this beautiful life and this beautiful world, however painful it might be at times.


(Fr. Jose Cecilio “Jojo” Magadia, SJ, provincial superior of the Philippine Jesuits, delivered this homily during the Ateneo’s third Simbang Gabi at the Church of the Gesu this year. Transcript by The Wide Shot.)