Sunday, January 11, 2009

Housing our homeless God

IT was uncanny (to say the least). I was with a group of parishioners, members of the Parish Pastoral Council and a few high school teenagers from one of our parish youth choirs. We were caroling for a church project that had run out of funds. My presence was calculated to ‘encourage’ generosity. I even decided to wear my clerical. And it proved to be a smart move. In more than one instance a homeowner or a member of a family would, upon hearing our voices, decide we were worth only twenty pesos (thank God that was the minimum) but, on seeing me, would apologize profusely for what apparently in their mind was almost an unpardonable sacrilege (the twenty-peso evaluation of our singing, I mean). Then the twenty peso bill would promptly be taken out of our sight and in its place would appear a five hundred or one thousand peso bill.

That together with big smiles and offers of a beverage or snack. Naturally I’m not saying we were given the same reception or treatment in all the homes we went to. But it soon became clear to me why our group was ecstatic when I decided to come along. A priest’s presence may not necessarily work miracles but something close to one is often enough. For instance, a remark from a member of our group almost bowled me over. “Receiving a response from this family is like squeezing juice out of stone,” she mused. “Now that they see a priest with us, they seem so hospitable and giving.”

In all this I would never forget coming to a rest house on a street corner. The manager seemed to me to be just patiently tolerating our presence and singing with a smirk. Apparently my presence even absolved our singing deficiencies. I don’t even recall how much she adjudged our singing to be worth. But, as we were leaving, I saw a sign hanging by the main door. “SORRY. NO MORE ROOM INSIDE”. “What a strange coincidence,” I said within her hearing. “Did a man named Jose and a pregnant woman named Maria come before us?”

I don’t remember any more what the manager’s answer was.

To be honest, it mattered little to me, as we both knew I asked the question in jest. Something else arrested my mind in its tracks. I found myself marveling at the thought of how God’s Son came into the world homeless, like the thought came to me for the first time. Maybe, I thought, if Jesus came as a Roman Catholic priest with a Roman collar, I strongly suspect (I could be wrong, of course, given today’s views on priests) he would not be met with “SORRY, NO MORE ROOM AT THE INN”.
But God’s homelessness wasn’t a phenomenon that happened on Christmas Day for the first time. I couldn’t help remembering the words of David in the second book of Samuel read on the Fourth Sunday of Advent of Year B: “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” (2 Sam 7:2). David was feeling downright ashamed at the utterly incalculable injustice of the situation: he, a human king, living in a splendid palace of cedar while the God of hosts, Creator of the universe, was dwelling in a tent. Even then God was homeless. And he didn’t seem to mind. He was more into making David’s house impregnable. David’s generous thought was answered by a generosity whose immensity could only be measured by eternity. The homeless God who owns all homes made David a promise that has impacted you and me. “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Sam 7:16).

To say that God cannot be outdone in generosity is an understatement.
That David’s offer was met by God’s “No, thank you” and “I’ll give you a better offer” response staggers the imagination. Even when Solomon finally finished the temple of Jerusalem God’s homelessness was scarcely resolved. In truth, God continued to look for a home.

Then came the Annunciation. As the archangel Gabriel slowly made clear to a simple barrio lass named Mary the outlines of God’s request that she become the mother of his Son, after her famous hesitation (“But how can this be since I do not know man?” (Lk 1:34), she let go of her other famous declaration: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

At last God found a home. His real home: His own people best represented by the best of the human race, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast” (Wordsworth), a woman named Mary. And her generosity was met with a return that cannot be paralleled. She not only shared her Son’s Resurrection by her own Assumption into heaven (Fourth Glorious Mystery). She was also crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth (Fifth Glorious Mystery). Even Mary’s supreme generosity couldn’t equal God’s.

And so, why do we hesitate till now to house our homeless God?

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