2 August 2009. 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 16, 2-15; Psalm 78; Ephesians 4,17-24; John 6, 24-35
Whenever we embark on a journey, we look back at what we will miss. Sometimes it is very difficult to let them go. When the Israelites miss the food in Egypt while wandering in the desert, God sent them manna. When we long for mother’s cooking, our family sends us delicacies from home. We are because of what we have been.
I remember a story in an editorial about why we have to go to mass regularly. There were many replies to the article: some highly theological, some philosophical, others were plain pious. But the best response came from a man in his 40s. He remembered his mother who cooked regular meals that fed him every single day when he was growing up. He cannot remember what his mother specifically cooked on a particular day, but what we knows is that those regular meals made him who he is today.
But these meals were far from being just food that fed our immediate, concrete and physical hungers. Deep into another level, every meal meant something else to us. It made us feel that someone else, like our parents, care for us; it showed us that we belong to a family who ate the same meals and thus share the same memory of love. It fed our need to be taken cared of, to be loved. We know that we are not isolated or alone. Even when far from home, we have regular food providers whom we become acquainted; sometimes they become our friends that credit lines are open, and we can pay whenever we can. In UP, we have the little stalls outside of the dormitories; in Ateneo, the people of the canteen. To me, they are the Ate Cora’s of Loyola School of Theology or Manang who sells the best barbecue in town.
Jesus though pushes the experience as far as this: that He presents a better manna of the desert. He offers Himself. That He, the Bread of Life, gives us the Kingdom of Heaven. He gives us something that we need, but we are not aware of. In many of Jesus’ healing ministries, He heals far deeper and dives into the very center of our needs: to our deepest desires. Think of any of the lepers, the paralytic, the woman with the hemorrhage: he first healed their physical illness. And then, he would say that their sins are forgiven. He heals their feelings of guilt and brokenness, their wounds afflicted by being ostracized by society. And then, finally, He would present that the Kingdom of God has come into their lives. When God touches the very core of our deepest hungers, we are transformed into new individuals, as the second reading reminds us of our new identity as children of God.
When former Philippine President Corazon Aquino passed away, the nation and world was greatly saddened because we lost an icon of democracy. The reason is that Mrs. Aquino answered the very hunger for a trustworthy and principled leader, led by deep prayer and concern for her people. She passed away while praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. And more than these, she fired people’s imaginations: that a common housewife can be one of the greatest presidents, in fact, the first woman president of the Philippines. That an ordinary individual, can aspire for loftier ideals and she, can be a bread of life, patterned after Christ himself. Like her, we can transform people by being people of depth.
The Superior General of the Jesuits, Rev. Fr. Adolfo Nicolas SJ, challenged us when he visited the Philippines to embark on the “frontier of depth”. He said that St. Ignatius of Loyola provided us with two slogans. First, magis, which is loosely translated as “more.” But he warned us not to interpret it in the consumerist sense; such that we may be led to think that a better individual has more achievements, an accumulated knowledge and awards, a bevy of gadgets and material possessions. The “magis” for St. Ignatius is connected with another slogan: non multa sed multum. Not many but much. Not quantity but depth. Therefore, it is not so much the array of knowledge — there is too much access to bits of information in the internet — but the challenge is to acquire depth: to know what matters most.
Depth is the objective of education. We are not just asked to memorize bits of information from our textbooks or from lectures in the classroom; or mouth facts and figures in exams. It is expected that we are able to comprehend what these information means, so that we are able to apply and reflect on them in our lives. This is the objective of every one-page reflection or paper on a specific topic. But wisdom is not quite complete, unless we are able to analyze and relate the topic to other concepts. Or we synthesize them into one’s own and see where they fall in the greater scheme of things. When we are able to go through these levels, we are able to acquire depth. They do not remain facts and figures that belong to textbooks, they become part of us. What we study, when we repeat them in our minds and apply them in our lives, becomes who we are. From a student of medicine who analyzes concepts, we become the doctor. Coupled with experience with people who are sick, the doctor heals every level to its depths. We can distinguish doctors who are young and inexperience by how they treat patients. The difference is that the inexperience treat patients like specimens; the wise doctor treats them as persons.
Wisdom is therefore depth. When we are able to see Christ in each person, there is no way for us to see them as objects. When we are able to see God in all things, there is no way for us to destroy the environment and erase the face of God from the universe. When we are able to reach our very depths, our eyes begin to see what matters most for each and every human person and thus there is no way for us not to see God face to face. To have depth is to find God.