How Can We Grow in Faith and Friendship

Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ, Sinulog 2013, Cebu, City

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 8:2-6,8-10; Psalm 18:8-10, 15; 1 Cor 12:12-14,27; Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Filipinos seem to be fixated with the Christmas Season. The Sinulog, Dinagyang, and the Ati-Atihan Festivals are celebrations of the Child Jesus. These festivals do not just commemorate the beginnings of Christianity in the Philippines; they also show the piety and devotion of the people to El Nino Jesus --- and they are all celebrated after the end of Christmas.

We seem to have difficulties in letting the festive season go. Is it symptomatic of our faith as Filipinos? Does the faith continue to remain juvenile that it has not been significantly a “leaven of transformation” (PCP II) to our daily lives? Are we missing out on the “mature” Jesus?

Today, we hear about the beginning of the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. History tells us that He is 30 years old. He returns to his hometown, Nazareth, and begins preaching in the synagogue. He opens the scroll, reads a passage from Isaiah about the Year of the Lord’s Favor and declares that the passage is now fulfilled. Imagine yourself listening to a man you know as a kid, now all grown-up and proclaiming that He is their long-awaited hope? Most probably, you will be surprised, if not shocked.

A certain degree of shock and surprise is valuable in waking us up. I believe the proper way to regard the devotion to the Child Jesus is to value growth. Growing is both a business of the past, the future, but most importantly, the present. We look back to commemorate, but we also look forward to a new direction. The Child grew in God’s favor. Are we growing in the grace of the Lord in our daily lives?

What happens then in the ordinary? We forge relationships. We transform our connections so that the bonds in the relationship become stronger. By doing so, they cease to be just a connection but a communion. We move from mere acquaintance to intimacy.

In their book, Tender Fires, Fran Ferder and John Heagle, said that there are three ways to understand the everyday experience of closeness with our family, friends and significant other. First is “Face-to-Face Intimacy” or our direct ways to communicate with another person. The most obvious form, and often the most neglected, is talk. People in a relationship do not necessarily talk about the deeper things. Spiritual conversations, for example, do not necessarily land on the table as topics. If we are able to share our aspirations and hope, why can’t we talk about our faith, for without it, can we actually hope? Do we have someone whom we can sincerely and honestly talk to or someone whom we are not afraid to reveal the deepest recesses of our souls? St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Love consists in the communication of the lover to the beloved, and vice versa.” We become close to someone because we can talk to them and at the same time, they also reciprocate our disclosure.

Moreover, relationships often begin in an encounter, whether in a class, workshop, or an event. Many friendships deepen because they studied and worked together, or shared and loved a common interest. This is called, side-by-side intimacy. Friends often enjoy eating or sharing a quiet moment over coffee. Lovers go on a trip or cherish walking side-by-side while holding hands. We experience deep connection when someone accompanies us and shares a very comfortable emotional space with us.

Finally, we rely on our close relationships especially in the darkest moments of our lives. We expect them to be with us no matter what happens. We turn to them for support in the most difficult challenges in our lives. They may be our family members, our best friends, or our significant other. We want them to back us up when the going gets tough. In the Garden of Gethsemane, while Jesus anguishes over his impending death, He desired that His disciples would just “stay awake” even for just awhile. This is called, back-to-back intimacy. Fran and John also called this faithfulness: all we need to alleviate our suffering is to be with those whom we are faithful to, and those who have been faithful to us.

Spiritual conversations, accompaniment and the support of people in our life’s journey are excellent grounds for our faith to grow and mature. The most effective way to appropriate the Gospel is by showing our love in the most ordinary of days.

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