Simbang Gabi Homilies: Day 6 with Fr. Jose Mario Francisco, SJ

Posted on December 21, 2011


Our Pinoy Christmas is feast for the senses. Our eyes are dazzled by Christmas lights and colors. Our mouths and stomachs water over just the thought of moist bibingka, alcohol-lazed fruitcake, and whatever your families put on the noche buena table.

But perhaps our sense of hearing is what is most fully loaded, listening to carols as early as the “ber” months, starting of course with September. Songs – from traditional like “Adeste Fideles” or “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit,” some newer like “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Pasko Na, Sinta Ko” – (define) tradition and are in fact its own soundtrack.

These Christmas songs are much like the playlist of the younger on their iPads and smart gadgets, which to the bafflement of the rest of us, the senior citizens, especially, like myself, accompany them, these youngsters, while doing something like working out or even nothing, called chilling out – that is, virtually always. Ah, if only teachers or bosses would allow them in class or in the office.

These songs express both theme and tone of special scenes in their experiences, like memorable parts of movies or TV series, accompanied by equally unforgettable music. Who can forget Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet (in) the Titanic, engulfed by Celine Dion’s – guess it – “My Heart Will Go On.” Or if you are a Kapamilya, “100 Days to Heaven” … (sings) “Mahiwaga ang buhay ng tao…” That’s the first time I dared to sing in public, but anyway.

And yet, if we’d change the soundtrack, the very same the scene changes meaning. Let us do a simple experiment, with the scene of a man passing over a… teenager. Play the Apo Hiking Society song “Batang Bata Ka Pa,” revived by Spong Cola, and you get a brother speaking words of wisdom to a younger sibling. Shift the soundtrack to Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak” and the scene becomes a confrontation with a prodigal child.

We can do this even with the Nativity scene, the center of the Christmas season. Imagine it with a soundtrack like Andy Williams’ rendition of “Born Free,” or Bruce Springteen’s “Born in the USA,” or – OMG, I hope you are not scandalized – Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” The lyrics and chords of each song, from different generations, express different meanings and give them to the same scene – some of them appropriate, others not so.

Thus, much as you be helped in underscoring a theme, it helps to put the audio on mute sometimes. And when we do this to the Nativity scene… and silence for a while the noisy songs of those angels, as biblical historians have done, what we have is a simple birth of a child, punctuated perhaps by the groans of a young Mary in labor for the first time, and the whispered words of Joseph against the background of animal sounds.

This scene, stark and simple, is just like the birth especially of the first child or our apo, which changes lives within any family and invites everyone in the clan, even the entire neighborhood, to raise it.

But this child, born to Mary… is the sign of Ahaz, stated in the book of the prophet Isaiah, and echoed in Luke’s Gospel – the definitive sign of life and salvation. “The Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

The mere event of the Nativity scene, then, transforms the whole world and calls forth all members of the human family to welcome and to rear him who is God with us.

Given this divine sign, crystal clear as it is simple, no music – it’s too extravagant or overwhelming for him – has (inaudible) choirs of angels and archangels, singing “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those whom God favors.” Spotlight the scene with the dazzling cosmic star whose rays traveled millions of light years to Earth. Trace his lineage through generation upon generation until the very dawn of Creation. And yet, learned men from all corners of the world and (inaudible) shepherds from nearby fields come to pay him homage.

My dear friends, as we journey through time and space toward the singular event of a birth, let us ponder the common themes of our personal and communal lives – (inaudible) around the family table, (inaudible) bodies by the roadside, spouses separated by distance or (hurt), village children given their own textbooks for the first time. My dear brothers and sisters, what song, what soundtrack, will you accompany them with?

(The president of the Loyola School of Theology, Fr. Jose Mario Francisco, SJ, delivered this homily during the Ateneo’s sixth Simbang Gabi at the Church of the Gesu this year. Transcript by The Wide Shot.)