Today, our parish community on the occasion of the celebration of the Solemn Feast of our Patron, St. John the Baptist, gathers with joy and thanksgiving to God for His continual graces and blessings despite the pandemic.
A fiesta is always an occasion for joy. It is always colorful and jubilant, and we want to exaggerate everything: loud music, abundant food, many visitors, colorful decoration, and so forth, and so on. However, because of this pandemic, our celebration last year and this year has acquired a different character. Far from the usual pageantry, we are being led more to what is essential. Even in our daily life at this time of pandemic, we have prioritized what is truly essential in our lives. We have acquired new vocabularies like essential travelers.
Our gathering this evening expresses what are essential for us:
the Eucharist is essential,
the people of God is essential,
the community is essential,
the Word of God is essential,
our faith is essential, and
this gathering is essential.
In as much as we gather to praise and thank God. To thank Him for His help and protection especially in this time of pandemic. But have we realized what are the essential things in our lives? Our theme for this year’s festivity can help to enlighten us, and discover or rediscover things especially in our Christian life. Our theme says, “Dakilang San Juan at San Jose, Limangdaang Taong Kalakbay ng mga Pilipino Upang Isabuhay at Ibahagi ang Pananampalataya sa Mundo.”
Here we have two important words: “isabuhay” and “ipamahagi” ang pananampalataya. Live and share the faith. These are the two essential tasks for Christians today: to live and share the faith that we have received. But how? Our theme mentions two important names: San Juan at San Jose. Two figures in the Gospel who are very close to Jesus. St. John was His second cousin, and St. Joseph was His foster father. Both lived their calling, both answered the call, both shared their faith in whatever way they could.
St. John the Baptist
From St. John the Baptist, we hear the powerful call for conversion. He was a true witness, both in words and deeds by showing in his radical lifestyle and courageous witnessing even until death. He was the “voice crying in the dessert” (Jn. 1:23), he was the conscience of his society during his time. He called for conversion and for turning to the Gospel. John “appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk. 1:4). He cries, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3:2). In his ministry, he was outspoken and frank. He uttered the unpleasant rebuke to Herod which caused him his life (Mt. 14:3-12). St. John was truly a proclaimer and witness of the Gospel.
On the other hand, we have St. Joseph. There are no recorded words of him in the Gospel narratives. He is popularly known to be also a silent worker; but St. Joseph shared also to us his faith. Interestingly, the Holy Father Pope Francis shared to us in his Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart), that Joseph’s spiritual path “is not one that explains, but accepts.” “Joseph,” the Holy Father continues, “is certainly not passively resigned, but courageously and firmly proactive. In our own lives, acceptance and welcome can be an expression of the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments” (Patris Corde 4). These words are indeed enlightening to us, especially when we are in the midst of distress and storms in our lives. We have St. Joseph as the model of acceptance.
Aside from this, the Holy Father also mentioned another important element: creative courage. According to Pope Francis, “This emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties. In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had…If at times God seems not to help us, surely this does not mean that we have been abandoned, but instead we are being trusted to plan, to be creative, and to find solutions ourselves” (Patris Corde 5).
My dear brothers and sisters, these lessons of witnessing from St. John the Baptist, and of acceptance and creative courage from St. Joseph, are essentials in our spiritual lives as Christians. Many Christians reflect these two characteristics. In our Church and communities, we find many St. Johns and St. Josephs who continue to live and share their faith, and are models of witnessing, acceptance, and creative courage.
As a pilgrim people, all of us are essential travelers in faith; and in our day to day lives, we are called, sometimes to be like St. John, and sometimes we are challenged to be like St. Joseph. We are called to different vocations in life. We are given different means to serve God and His Church. We are called to different ways of serving the Church – but despite the diversity of gifts and calling, we are called to serve one God and His Church. Despite our varied expressions of faith, we never forget what is essential: that we live and share Jesus to others.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the renewal of the Church is the challenge of the Five Hundred Years of Christianity in the Philippines. As we face new challenges and situations every day, we need many fearless St. Johns, and creatively courageous St. Josephs for the renewal of our communities and parishes; and I really believe that we should start in our homes and parishes where our local Church continues to grow and is nourished. Truly, St. John and St. Joseph will be our constant “kalakbay” in our faith journey.
A blessed fiesta to one and all of you! God bless all the BECs and families in this parish. Mabuhay ang Parokya ni San Juan Bautista!
Transcribed by: Joel V. Ocampo