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Fragments of leftovers 

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I DID not think we would be back to celebrating Mass for empty pews all over again. I just console myself with the thought that there are thousands of you out there joining us virtually in this Eucharistic celebration while we are facing a new wave of this pandemic. Please pray for us as we deal with a temporary lockdown of the cathedral again. As you’ve probably read already from my FB posting, our guest priest from the Mission Society of the Philippines, Fr Manuel “Mawi”Jadraque, Jr. MSP, died a sudden death yesterday morning and he turned out to be Covid positive despite the fact that he is fully vaccinated. He will be cremated this morning. Please join me in praying for his eternal repose.

I draw a lot of consolation from today’s Gospel about the multiplication of the loaves, which has been the inspiration for our community pantry, which has been going on for the past three months now. For today, let me just focus on one curious little detail in the Gospel story: namely, the instruction of Jesus to “gather the fragments of leftovers.” John tells us they collected twelve wicker baskets of leftovers.

I find this little detail very interesting. If Jesus could multiply five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand people, why, you might ask, would he make a bid deal about the leftovers? Why would he even bother to collect them?

I consider this detail very relevant, especially on this day that we are celebrating a World Day for Grandparents and Elderly People. This observance was declared by Pope Francis and we are celebrating it for the very first time, also in anticipation of the feast of the grandparents of Jesus tomorrow, Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of Mary.

Why are the leftovers relevant for grandparents? I can imagine the grandparents among you smiling and probably saying, “Of course. Because grandparents are the ones who will keep reminding you never to throw away the leftovers.” They have more experience and they have seen difficult times when they had no choice but to keep recycling leftover food in order to stretch it for the rainy days. They would tell you how they’ve lived through the Japanese occupation, or the economic crises caused by past governments, or the floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and many other natural calamities.

Grandparents remind us never to be wasteful, never to allow ourselves to be spoiled by the modern “throw-away culture” that Pope Francis loves to speak about. BUT IS THAT WHAT THE “GATHERING OF LEFTOVERS” IS ABOUT? Yes, but more than that.

Grandparents are themselves little fragments of leftovers from their former lives. Remember what I said a few days ago about the family as a school for selfless giving and unconditional love? I wonder how you reacted when I said, “Home is the only institution that gives everything away for free.” 

Home is where most of us grew up and enjoyed free board and lodging, free nursery and babysitting, free food shelter and clothing, free education, free health care, etc. etc. (I say this with due consideration for those who have not been blessed to have such a kind of home or family.)

Look at grandparents who dote on their grandchildren as if they have not had enough of taking care of their own children. They don’t mind wearing their lives away without expecting anything in return. Sometimes they even give away the little pension or the little bit of savings that they have when their children are unable to cope with expenses, not worrying about having to deal with sickness and old age with no more income to rely on.

Grandparents are really just scraps of leftovers from their former selves. I mean this both literally and figuratively. Literally, in that they have been greatly diminished physically through the years—like, they’ve lost a lot of hair and teeth and body parts from past surgeries. Some of them even lose their eye sight, hearing or even their memories. Figuratively, in that they’ve spent so much time giving their lives away to people they love, until almost nothing is left but fragments of arthritic joints, wrinkled faces, bent down backs, slurred speech and brittle bones.

You see why I consider the concluding command of Jesus in the Gospel very consoling? He says, “Gather the fragments left over so that nothing will be lost.” I imagine the care and reverence with which the apostles picked up every morsel of bread and every scrap of fish, like our grandparents tell us to do when little bits and pieces of rice fall from our plates and they remind us to pick them up, yes, every grain.

Our Messiah, our Savior is a LOVER OF LEFTOVERS. No, not just because he does not want them wasted, but because they are a testament to a generous life, a witness to a Eucharistic lifestyle. Like the Eucharistic bread, they are TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN and SHARED, until nothing is left but little bits and pieces of themselves, which the Lord treats with so much love, reverence and respect. Very much like what you see the priest doing at Mass on the altar when he checks the paten in search of the tiniest bits of the Eucharistic bread, wipes them carefully to let them fall into the chalice, mixes them with water and drinks them up.

Dear grandparents and elderly people, we know that none of you have lived perfect lives. Some have probably felt like they were taken but not appreciated. Some have been more broken than blessed. Some have given everything away and feel utterly consumed. I have a song in mind for you as I think of my own parents and grandparents, as well as my own siblings who have become grandparents themselves. The song in my mind is entitled KISSES SWEETER THAN WINE, by Peter Paul and Mary.

It is about a man who looks back in his senior years and sings about the love of his life and the life that they have lived together from the time they were young lovers, to the time they got married, to the time they raised children and grandchildren. The last stanza says,

“And now that we’re old and ready to go we get to thinking over a long time ago. We had a lot of kids, a lot of trouble and pain but then, O Lord, we’ll do it again!”

And the refrain lightens up everything, singing that what has kept them going were KISSES SWEETER THAN WINE. 

Dear grandparents, I am sure that there have been times when you also felt like you’ve run out of wine, days when you felt burned out, like nothing is left except your wasted, diminished selves. I assure you, our Lord who loves leftovers will be there for you as he was there at the wedding at Cana. He will be there to touch your lives that may have turned tasteless like water and give you a new spirit so that people will say to you with delight: BUT YOU HAVE KEPT THE BEST WINE UNTIL NOW!

Happy grandparents’ day!

(Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 25 July 2021, Jn 6:1-15 (World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly)

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