6 February 2011 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 58: 7-10; 1 Cor 2: 1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
There are ways in which we become witnesses of Jesus. We can let His light shine through us. We can live out His teaching. And we can suffer for Christ when His teaching is ignored or attacked by people around us.
One of my favorite teachers did not teach me in class. He couldn’t speak because he suffered a stroke and he was paralyzed. Most of his words were “yes,” “no,” “Ok!” Before his heart attack, he was teaching at the Loyola School of Theology. He was a musician; he responded to the liturgical reform of Vatican II in the late 60s. He composed many mass songs in Filipino. He was Fr. Eduardo Hontiveros SJ. I played his compositions at mass when I was in high school. Realizing the songs was composed by a Jesuit, I was intrigued.
Years after, I encountered him at Loyola House of Studies after taking my vows in the novitiate. But then, his speech was already impaired. Nevertheless, he was audacious: he did not allow his physical disability to stop him from composing. He used a computer to articulate his heart and his faith. When I was working at the Jesuit Music Ministry, he would stop by and give us a copy of his songs. What moved me most was a serene surrender to the Lord. I cannot remember an encounter with him without a smile.
Fr. Eddie Hontiveros SJ’s life is a good description of what Jesus means when He called us to witness to him. We are the light of the world. We are the salt of the earth. The light shines brightly for everyone in darkness. Salt gives taste to bland food.
His life is like Paul’s in the second reading. Fr. Eddie’s life is a “demonstration of Spirit and power” (1 Cor 2). To me, it is a witness that his “faith does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.”
When we were baptized, our parents and godparents held candles to symbolize the light of Christ. In succeeding sacraments, candles are used to remind us that it is the light of Christ in our lives that we illuminate before others. With Christ’s light, our lives are not to be kept hidden. Through us, Christ gives taste to our otherwise bland and banal lives. This is the meaning of AMDG (ad majorem Dei gloriam) which Jesuit-trained students traditionally write above the top margin of an exam paper: whatever we do, it is for God’s greater glory!
Moreover, we also witness to Jesus when we stand up to His teaching when it is threatened and rejected.
In the halls of government, only a brave few would not succumb to the peer pressure of accepting bribes. A fresh graduate came to me regularly for spiritual direction. He said that he was very much disturbed by the corruption that had become an acceptable norm in his department. One day, he did not accept an “extra payment” to speed up the resolution of a land dispute in favor of a government official. His officemates accused him of being “holier-than-thou” pretending that he was far righteous than them. Eventually, the incident earned him their ire.
That is the same thing when a student does not allow friends to copy answers in an exam. Peer pressure often bullies a good student to become a cheat.
Fr. Al Nudas SJ was also one of my best teachers. He taught me English and composition in Juniorate in 1991-1992. He was articulate and a very persuasive speaker. He taught at the University of the Philippines. But he died losing his voice. It must have been great suffering. Another life of surrender. However, his words became a guiding tenet to me: “To provoke people to think by our works and our lives is already great service.”
So today’s readings challenge us to question the extent of our witnessing to Jesus. To what extent are we letting Him shine through us? By witnessing to Christ, we also strengthen and encourage those who are also struggling to be better. The Responsorial Psalm says that the “The just person is a light in darkness to the upright.” (Psalm 112)
Do we suffer for Him and His teaching? Or, do we weaken the ability of others to witness to Christ? Do we make the good suffer?