Friday, September 12, 2008

heartbeats: saved from the fire, saved by our Lord

Last Friday, I experienced first hand what salvation history is all about and why we come to celebrate it every Sunday or everytime we gather for the Eucharist.

A week before, the chapel coordinator of Brgy. Benedicto approached me with what I thought then was an unusual request. She asked me if I could preside in a thanksgiving mass to be offered by their barangay because they were spared from what could have been a big fire which could have eaten up many homes, four years ago. I was surprised. I would have understood it if the fire happened a week ago or a month before. But four long years ago? This is indeed a one of a kind request. Curious, I asked her to give me the exact details why they have reached such decision.

The Brgy. Benedicto she is referring about, she told me, is not the one we usually see with those beautiful homes and wide open spaces. It’s actually located at the back of these houses. More specifically she’s referring to the homes along the rilis -- the one with a long dusty road and rickety houses where neighbors could literally shake hands with one another while remaining in their own homes. Four years ago, she told me, a fire broke out in one of these homes. It was such a big fire that it quickly engulfed the house where it started and the next house in just a few minutes. And as if by miracle, with all the odds against it, it simply stopped. Everybody was in a daze afterwards, shocked in utter disbelief, not because they wanted their houses to get burned, but the fact that they weren’t despite the odds for. From there on the tradition of recalling, retelling and celebrating this miracle started. And to commemorate this memory they built a small chapel in honor of our Lady and commemorated the event every single year hence. 

In brief, I accepted the invitation and the reason for the celebration quite reluctantly. I might be a newcomer to the people’s traditions but I believed then that this celebration is quite preposterous and out of bounds to be honored with a mass. This was my belief until I came, I saw and I experienced the celebration itself. 

I came early to feed my curiosity, and finding that I have nothing to do at such an early hour they requested me to hear confessions. Many came and most were good and sincere confessions. Many more attended the mass and it was well prepared with an introduction, songs and special prayers. And the kiss of peace was so profound I was caught in surprise. It was so unlike the stolid Jarenos. 

Immediately after the mass there was a celebration with a grand buffet table set at the side of the chapel. Since it was the community’s celebration everybody was invited. Actually families contributed the food and laid it there on the table to be shared by all. Everybody was happy, in fact it was chaotically happy, what with the whole barrio sharing supper in one table four meters long. There was loud music, laughter and some were dancing while seeping their soup. And as I left for home that evening, they were preparing to disco until twelve.

That evening I was in a reflective mood because for the first time in my life through a celebration I was reluctant to celebrate, I came to understand in all its simplicy what salvation history is all about and why we come together to celebrate it. In that celebration I became in touch with the very roots of our story as a people, as a church, how God came to save us from the fire and sure condemnation even against all odds. It was a miracle, a grace we did not deserve. And here we are, saved forever, because of that love beyond all telling. 

This is reason to celebrate, this calls for a real celebration and that is what happened that Friday night. From the time I arrived to hear confessions of how underserving we are of God’s love, to the time we retell our stories and break bread together in the Eucharist, to the time of the mad but joyful scramble for the food that we shared in one table, to the joyful dancing until midnight -- forgive my impiety, but I would like to emphasize that from the time I arrived until the last dance at midnight, that was the real liturgy, the whole of it. That was what celebrating means for it stemmed from a very real experience of being saved, saved from fire, saved by the Lord.

Today we may never come to appreciate very well our celebration in the liturgy. It is dry, the sermon is lousy, the church is too hot, I don’t feel like going to church anymore, it has become a burden I have outgrown. This attitude stems from the fact that we no longer find things to celebrate in our life. The celebration is dead because there is actually no cause for celebration, no feeling of being saved, no experience of being loved by God. With such atmospere, how can we celebrate?

This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the coming down of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Church, the community, the people of God. This is one of the crucial factors in the whole of salation history for without the Sprit we would become toddlers in the faith. The Spirit has come, he is here with us, blowing where it pleases. But the question is, do we find this worth celebrating with a real celebration? Is there cause in our heart and in our experience for this celebration?

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