Presence and Wisdom

30 August 2007 Thursday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 3, 7-13 Paul's Prayer

“Night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith.”

Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to establish and encourage them in their faith. And Timothy returns with good news. The first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians have been written in Corinth where he too faced great difficulties (1 Cor 2:3). Amidst these difficulties, the good news which Timothy brought gave him much joy and relief. The Thessalonians kept their faith strong, “standing fast” to God.

Overjoyed, Paul prays for them exceedingly. Night and day. He has two intentions in his prayer: that he see their faces personally; and fill in what is lacking in their faith.

First, Paul would like to see the community in Thessalonia personally. Face to face. He believes that his personal presence would be of great help. We call it the apostleship of presence. The post modern world often believes helping others mean doing something big like organizing a fund-raising event or building houses. Little do we know, that our mere presence in a hospital bed consoles the patient and their families too. The presence of leaders in an activity boosts the morale of the members. Being with our friends in their time of grief consoles them. In other words, when we experience great physical and emotional stress, we don’t need a preacher. We need a friend at our side. Presence is important.

Second, Paul did not hesitate to call their attention to what is lacking in their faith. In recent years, the 2nd Plenary Council of the Philippines did the same thing. They pointed out what is insufficient in our faith. PCP II said that we do have a genuine faith. We have created a distinct Catholic culture. But it has failed to be a “leaven of transformation” in Philippine society.

We choose one of these deficiencies. Many Filipino Catholics are ignorant of the doctrines of the faith. If we have kept the faith, it is because of the rites and relics, rosaries and religious items. Our precepts has been colored by animistic and fatalistic tradition. For a family member: no one should not take a bath while a relative or a family person has died. The Sto. Nino who walks and dances. The Nazareno who resists being moved. The Virgin who cried blood and tears.

However, many of us are not able to account of what we believe. If one of the aggressive evangelicals would ask us about certain practices that we have, we could not answer them. Only 20% of Catholics regularly participate at Sunday mass, supposedly to be catechized by preaching. But many preachers are unprepared and not updated with their theology. That is why many of us are vulnerable to the teachings of fundamentalist and evangelical groups who are aggressive and insistent. Furthermore, the Philippine Church has contributed to this deficiency too. We need catechists and we need to educate and form these catechists. We may need to professionalize catechism and not just rely on volunteers whose work will be during their extra time.

Therefore, two things are important in the practice of the faith. When we attend mass, we are not just present, but we must know why we are there. Conversely, it is not enough that we know why we are there, but we are also able to experience and participate through our presence.

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