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Endings, beginnings 

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“LEARN A lesson from the fig tree,” Jesus tells his disciples in our Gospel today. Have you ever learned a lesson from a tree? This exhortation from Jesus reminds me of the famous poem by Joyce Kilmer, which I am sure most of you know. We were made to recite it when we were in elementary.

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray…”

And the last line says,

“Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Actually, I did learn a lesson from a tree myself around 20 years ago now. There was this tree in our garden that gradually wilted while all the other trees around it were green. All its leaves first turned yellow, then brown, and started falling off. I looked around if it had been attacked by pests or some root borers, or some fungi, or if it had been struck by lightning. I found no signs of any of those.

And so I got a helper from a neighboring farm to help me cut it down so I could plant another tree in its place. The man came with his big bolo and was about to do the job when he paused to ask, “Father, do you mind if I ask why you want to cut down a beautiful and fully grown siniguelas tree like this?” I said, “Oh I did not even know it was a siniguelas tree. Honestly, I feel sorry having to cut it down. I don’t know what made the poor tree wither. I have tried to look around if it had been attacked by pests.”

And the man laughed and said, “But it’s not dead! Father, look, the branches are very fresh.” He cut a little branch to show me. Then he said, “Siniguelas trees are like that. Once a year, they shed off their leaves. When they do, it means they are preparing to burst with little blossoms that will turn into fruits.”

There’s the lesson that I learned. Sometimes you think it’s the end, only to realize  that what you’re seeing are signs of a new life emerging.

We’re about to end Year B and start Year C in the Catholic Liturgical Calendar. We have been reading from Mark’s Gospel for Year B, and soon we will start reading from Luke’s Gospel for Year C. Next Sunday we will be celebrating Christ the King, which marks the end of each liturgical year, followed by the start of new liturgical season we call ADVENT symbolized by the colors of purple and pink that lead to the white of Christmas. And you will notice that most of the readings will be about the coming of the end times.

In our first reading from the Book of Daniel Chapter 12, we heard what we call the earliest evidence of the Jewish idea of an AFTERLIFE, which you do not find in earlier Jewish writings. The writer speaks about a coming end time that will be punctuated by a crisis situation. He says, “At that time…there will be a time of trouble such as there never has been until that time.”

Isn’t that what most of us feel is currently happening in the Philippines? I am not just talking about the pandemic, which, hopefully is beginning to wane already. We will still have to do a lot of debriefing from this plague experience, as we have been traumatized by it and our lives have been profoundly disturbed by this disease. We have yet to verbalize the lessons that we have learned and are still learning from this experience.

But of course, I am also talking about the political upheavals that are currently taking place around us, about the substitutions of national candidates that we had foreseen anyway in spite of their moro-moro theatrics that have made a total mockery of our election laws right before the faces of our Comelec officials. We can only sigh in disbelief as we watch how much more ridiculously things have been turning up each day. You look and you are almost tempted to say, “Ay Pilipinas kong mahal! What has become of you?” You are almost tempted to despair.

The coming 

Oh, but wait. Our Gospel today is not talking about an end but about a new beginning—the coming of the “Son of Man…with great power and glory!” The image that it conjures in my imagination is that which comes from the Gospel of John. Remember that line in John 16:20-21 where Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.”

I am sure a child that has just been born feels just as traumatized as its mother by the experience of birthing. It must have panicked and held on to its life in the womb which was coming to an end. If only a child could talk as soon as it is born, it would probably say, “My God, I thought that that was going to be the end of me! How did I know that I was just about to start a new life in this world?”

My cohost in Men of Light, Fr. Deo Galang, struck me when he said in our recent episode for this Sunday’s Gospel, “In school we learn our lessons first before we take the test. In real life, we go through the tests first and learn our lessons later.” How true! We go through what that song in the movie The Lion King calls the CIRCLES OF LIFE.

“From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found…”

And the refrain says,

“It’s the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life.”

When it is dark, it is important never to give up. Do not forget, one half of morning is in darkness. What matters is to have the patience to wait until the horizon begins to change its color. The color of dawn is the color of HOPE! And the Good News is, heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Words will never pass away. They will always make way for new beginnings.

(Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 14 November 2021, Mark 13:24-32)

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