Sharing Cyril Ryan"Kuya Cyril" Lituañas's Advent Reflection given during the 2nd SCAtch Up (Alumni Online Gathering). Kuya Cyril is presently working as the Associate Dean of Student Affairs at De La Salle University in Manila. He served in the SCAP National Secretariat from 2007-2010.
As we all know, Advent is a season of preparing ourselves for the second coming of Jesus and to the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ or Christmas. Nowadays, the celebration has become secularized, with businesses riding into the celebration. For others, Advent becomes noticeable since it is a time set when people receive their bonuses, 13th-month pay; expecting gifts from friends, family members; buying new things, clothes, gadgets, etc. It is noticeable for the poor and marginalized too because the season allows them more to receive presents or food from generous strangers or friends. In this religious celebration, yet marked by the secular world with grandeurs, it is quite observable that there are strong divides and extremities in the societies. However, this boundary lies the meeting point of every Christian humanity. Pope Francis always reminds us that Advent centers on the visit of our Lord to humanity through the past, with the incarnation and the birth of Jesus at Christmas; through the presenttimes, as Jesus visits us every day, and; through the future, as Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. This has been a constant reminder for all Christians that Advent is always a special moment with our Lord.
My reflection this advent season focuses on the readings of the First Sunday of Advent, which is taken from the Prophet Isaiah, Psalm 80, and the Gospel of St. Mark. In this first week of Advent, God would want us to reflect on our relationship with Him through love and mercy, our attitude towards him through trust and hope, and our attitude towards others through vigilance with the eyes of God.
Compassion and Mercy
Book of the Prophet Isaiah 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7
You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.
When I was in Taizè, a small village in Burgundy, France where the ecumenical brothers welcome everyone from all over the world to join them in their day to day prayer and life, we sang a favorite Italian Taize song: Il Signore ti ristora, Dio non allontana. Il Signore viene ad incontrarti, Viene ad incontrarti. It is translated as ‘The Lord restores you. God does not push you away. The Lord comes to meet you.'
It is a beautiful song that is synonymous with the words of Prophet Isaiah, which is pointing to God’s compassion and mercy. His words speak of prayer for the return of God’s favor! In the previous chapters, Isaiah mentioned the restoration of Zion and the punishment of Edom. The context he was referring to was the destruction and sinfulness of Israel. At the beginning of Isaiah’s prayer, the Prophet expresses the desire to be redeemed, asking God to be present and reveal himself before the people. While we desire God's presence, the Prophet Isaiah recognizes Israel's people's unworthiness and sinfulness. These words are reflective of our own contexts too. We want to see God amid hopelessness during this pandemic. We are so weak and vulnerable. We are broken. Sometimes we become unfaithful to our relationships and to our promises to God. We experience betrayal among friends and family members. We even create conflicts in social media, fighting for political colors and beliefs. We express anger towards people we hate and don't like, which caused us to feel hurt. And the world continues to divide us, bringing so many inequalities, absurdities, injustices, terror, and fear. How could God show his love and mercy to his faithful?
But prophet Isaiah comforted us by saying that God our Father is always there, molding and creating us into something extraordinary. He gives assurance that we are loved by God, our Father, no matter how sinful we are. His mercy endures forever! This is an affirmation of our innate relationship with God through His compassionate love and mercy. It would seem difficult for us to recognize his love and mercy with all chaos around us. But this is what I appreciate in Isaiah's prayer: we are the work of God's hands, and the work is out of love and mercy that holds us on to Him every day, most especially in the days of uncertainties, difficulties, and hardships.
I would like to notice that the liturgist who prepared the readings during this Advent has meaningfully designed for us to deeply reflect on the relationship with God. We remember that Isaiah is one of the prophets. A prophet is a person, or sometimes a group of people who speaks for God. In the Bible, prophets are called by God during times of crisis to offer God's people to challenge or comfort depending on their circumstances. In the Bible, the people of God had received essential messages coming from the prophets in several forms, such as warnings against idolatry, or behaviors to act justly and treat the poor so poorly, and promises of hope for the future. But what Isaiah did in the text, I believe, is trying to deepen our understanding of God’s love and mercy.
Have we spoken for God these days? Have we become prophets these days? I see this as an important message for SCAns, especially in modernity, where social media becomes an essential venue to be prophetic citizens by sharing the truth, good and real stories that reflect God's love and mercy. The opposite can be deceiving. We may fall into the trap of believing false prophets “propetang bakakon in Cebuano” by following and sharing the stories of lies, deceits, falsity, or untruth. My point here is that Christians, most especially SCAns, can become instruments of God's love and mercy in our workplaces, family, community, country, and the world by simply witnessing one of the roles of being a Catholic Christian - be a prophet.
Have we comforted the lonely? Have we accompanied our students and youth in their difficult moments? Have we become instruments of God’s love and mercy? Perhaps, we take this message as one of the graces we receive during this advent season.
Hence, the Season of Advent calls us to renew ourselves in our commitment to fidelity, continue, or re-establish our relationship with God through His loving mercy. As we wait and expect for Jesus in the Advent Season, this is also a "journey of conversion" (Pope Francis, Dec. 9, 2018)
We continue to reflect: How has God molded me as a unique person? How is God continuously creating/molding me as a person, as a SCAn, or an Alumni? What are my personal gifts and flaws that I discovered during this pandemic? How did I discover them? How did I experience God’s love and mercy? How has God used me to become a prophet?
Trusting and Hoping
Psalm PS 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
O shepherd of Israel, hearken, from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth. Rouse your power, and come to save us. Once again, O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted the son of man whom you yourself made strong. May your help be with the man of your right hand, with the son of man whom you yourself made strong. Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
The Advent Season directs our soul to the attitude of trusting and hoping. This is the second reflection point to ponder: How can we see God in the face of uncertainty? Psalm 80 speaks about our desire to see the face of God, even in the most challenging moments. While Prophet Isaiah assured and comforted us through the loving embrace of our Father, Psalm 80 continuously convinces us of salvation when we open our eyes to see the face of God. Our longing and desire to see God continues every day.
After the celebration of Christmas last year, months have become so challenging for us as we witness disasters in our country and the world. Taal Volcano had erupted, and thousands were severely affected. Then the pandemic troubled us more that caused the world to shut down. Strong typhoons swept and drowned so many houses. There were deaths and pains. There were fears and terror. Everyone was troubled and resistant to adapting to the new reality. SCA Philippines was not spared from the impacts of the pandemic as the National Secretariat had to be on hiatus. But the mission continues like everyone else in the world. Everything became a test of our faith, as a community, and as a nation.
The Advent calls us to seek God’s Grace to be trustful and hopeful amid all these adversaries. How can we see Jesus now in our midst? How can we continue to share the Good News now? I would like to believe that the reality we are facing opens us to the broader “horizons," as Pope Francis said. This is another dimension of encountering Jesus in our day to day lives, with various surprises and newness, even though not so comfortable for us. I see this as an invitation to see a world of hope, not dominated by fancies and extravagance but in attributing meaningful interaction to our lives and our community. Further, we are invited not to concern so much on the materials items but on essential things that give meaning to our community and us, but through encountering Christ in this midst.
Hence, Advent leads us to turn to Christ our God and to see God's face with immense hope of salvation. There is no other way but to turn to Christ. This is where we are heading today! Turning to Christ would mean a lot to our community and us. When we turn to Jesus, we turn and believe in the power of kindness and good things. When we turn our face to Jesus, we opt for nonviolence, justice, freedom, liberation, and joy. When we turn to Jesus, we continue the mission with a heart full of hope. This reminds me of the Taizé song originally in Latin Oculi Nostri ad Dominum Jesum, Oculi nostri ad Dominum nostrum which is translated in English as ‘Our eyes are turned to the Lord Jesus Christ, our eyes are turned to the Lord God our Savior.’ Lord Jesus Christ indeed is our Savior!
We always carry with us the spirit of hope and trust, especially to the hopeless. The challenge is that there are so many distractions or obscurities in seeing the face Jesus. We are distracted by our vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and inadequacies. It is through God’s grace that we hurdle these distractions. Grace is simply an experience of God! Seeing God's face in the moments of adversary is simply a grace! Let's be grateful for the grace of God.
We continue to reflect: What are the distractions that hinder me from seeing God? How do I see God in the face of uncertainty? Can I become an instrument of God’s grace for others? How?
With all these that are happening to us, how can we continue our journey of faith? How do we share this hope with and to others? This is the third reflection point for me in this season of Advent – being watchful and vigilant!
I begin the reflection with the famous Taizé song:
Wait for the Lord whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart.
The Gospel, according to Mark, speaks the same.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
Gospel seems to speak about signs and omens. It appears that Jesus threatens us or gives us warnings. Some biblical scholars believe that what Jesus was saying here was not to literally understand those words. It could be metaphorically expressed that would help us makes sense of the happenings, and realities. It speaks about taking heed of ourselves, community, Church, and country. I believe this is one of the best attitudes in welcoming Jesus in the season of Advent. When we take heed, we pay attention to the realities, the hopelessness and despair, the struggles, the needs of our neighbors, family members, colleagues, and even our enemies. In other words, we become sensitive and aware of the work of the spirit within, like how Jesus becomes sensitive to the needs of others.
The attitude of being watchful also helps us see our own brokenness, our lavish desires for earthly things and flesh, our cruelty with others, our sinfulness, and our vulnerabilities. Therefore, this attitude becomes a critical reflection and discernment of our miseries and poverty, other individuals, and society. But I see it as an excellent opportunity to recognize our capacity as loving and spiritual beings that are searching the hidden treasures in our day to day lives, where God has placed us.
Hence, the Advent Season also invites us to watch the signs of hope amid many discouragements and hopelessness. We always have to keep watch on the presence of God every day because we do not know when the Lord is coming. This is an invitation to be faithful to Him and follow His good path, His way to peace, love, and happiness every day.
We continue to reflect: What signs of hope do I see in our world today? How can I be a sign of hope in my family, community, country, and world? What images of God have been portrayed in my community? How are these images being shown? What symbol will I carry with me during this advent season? Why?
My dear friends, and fellow SCAns, may the Advent Season be a time for compassion and mercy, reconciliation, transformation, hope, and fulfillment into the coming of Jesus in our lives.