11 December 2018

'Again I will say, rejoice.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C

St John the Baptist with Saints, Cima da Conegliano [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 3:10-18 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)   

And the crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Rejoice in the Lord alway
Setting by George Rathbone (1874 - 1951)
Voces Angelorum Choir, Indonesia
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Amen.(Philippians 4:4,6-7, Authorised [King James] Version.)

Note: this translation uses 'alway', not 'always'.

The above is a setting by George Rathbone of the first and last verses of today's Second. It emphasises a basic theme of Advent: Joy. And today the Church focuses on that. We call the Third Sunday of Advent 'Gaudete Sunday' from the Latin opening word of the Entrance Antiphon, 'Gaudete in Domino semper,' 'Rejoice in the Lord always'.

The First Reading begins with the same theme: Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! (Zephaniah 3:14).

'Ligaya' is the Tagalog word for 'joy' and is a common enough name for girls in the Philippines. It is the name used for the girl at the heart of the story below, though not her real name, which was a particularly beautiful one. St Joseph is one of the central figures in the gospels read at Mass as we approach Christmas and is highlighted in the gospel for Monday, 17 December, Matthew 1:1-17, and in the gospel for Tuesday, 18 December, Matthew 1:18-24. It was through St Joseph, the Husband of Mary, that Jesus was born of the line of David, as God had promised. And by naming Jesus, as the angel asked him to do, St Joseph became the legal father of Jesus. 

I published the story below, written by Korean Columban lay missionary Columba Chang Eun-Yeal, in the November-December 2015 issue of MISYONonline.com, the magazine of the Columbans in the Philippines of which I was then editor. It had appeared there before in the November-December 2003 issue. It is a story that shows the joy that only God can give, a joy that usually comes from within a very painful situation, a situation that may well be the result of a grave sin.

by Columba Chang Eun-Yeal

The author

There may be as many as close to ten million Filipino overseas workers spread all over the world.  They greatly help the country’s economy by the money they send home. However sometimes they may be taken for granted for those at home who think that they have an easy life abroad. Read Aling Maria’s story below and find out the dangers that OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), and their counterparts from other countries, face and the abuses they experience. We thank ‘Mang Pepe’ for his help in writing this article in which we’ve changed the names.
'Mang' and 'Aling' are Tagalog honorifics for a man and woman, respectively, older than oneself. 'Tatay' is the equivalent of 'Papa' and 'Daddy'.
I met Mang Pepe and his daughter Ligaya through my work with Caritas Manila. I visit the family regularly. They live in a poor part of the city and Mang Pepe makes a living by doing odd jobs. My work takes me to families affected by HIV/AIDS. I knew Mang Pepe’s story before he shared it with the congregation at the Saturday evening Mass in Baclaran Church on 7 December 2002 at the end of a celebration organized by Caritas Manila for World AIDS Day.
Baclaran Church, exterior [Wikipedia]

A Greener Pasture

Mang Pepe and his wife Aling Maria were having difficulties putting their five children through school. This sometimes led to arguments. Eventually Aling Maria decided to work in the Middle East. She felt happy when accepted as a nursing aide with a two-year contract in the UAE. She prepared her documents. She and Pepe sold their house and lot for her fare and placement fee. She flew out on 5 February 1989, full of hope for her family’s future financial stability.
Aling Maria soon discovered that her contract as a nursing aide was terminated just a few months after she arrived, without any hope of renewal. But she didn’t want to go back to the Philippines with an empty pocket. She decided to take the ‘TNT’ (tago ng tago, Tagalog for hidden, ie illegal) route. She managed to find a series of jobs as a saleslady, cashier and office worker.

Columba Chang, left, with friend in Manila

Hope turns into a nightmare

As an illegal worker, she was often subjected to different abuses like underpayment, long hours of working without a day off and so on. But the worst thing was when one of Aling Maria’s employers took advantage of her and made her pregnant. When she came home to the Philippines in October 1993 Mang Pepe and the family were very shocked to learn that Aling Maria carried a child in her womb. She hadn’t mentioned anything about this before. However, despite this they still welcomed her and the child with joy . . . but deep in their hearts there was a shadow of sadness, fear and uncertainty.
After a few days the tabloids reported that three Filipino overseas workers had been sent home because of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS – and that one of them was Aling Maria. These stories, and the rumors they spawned, continued for a month. Some relatives, neighbors and friends rejected Aling Maria. The children of Mang Pepe and Aling Maria were torn apart. Some wanted to quit school and leave the area. The family suffered greatly because of the stigma.
Interior of Baclaran Church [Wikipedia]

Confirmed HIV

Aling Maria and Mang Pepe went to the Department of Health (DOH) for a series of blood tests. The tests confirmed what Aling Maria knew already, that she and her ‘little mercy child,’ as Mang Pepe called his wife’s daughter had HIV. The doctor gave them counseling and advice and information about HIV/AIDS.

Ligaya is born

Aling Maria decided not to stay in the hospital and continued to work as a pension plan insurance agent. In time she gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Ligaya. Gradually, however, Mang Pepe saw his dear wife turning into a picture of misery as she suffered from constant headaches and flu. Aling Maria was hoping for a miracle that would ease her agony. It was not to be. The HIV developed into full-blown AIDS. Her appetite disappeared until she couldn’t eat anymore. Mang Pepe and the children saw Aling Maria slowly dying. He prepared the family to accept her death as the will of God. She died on 15 December 1997, aged 46.
Like everyone else in Baclaran Church, I was deeply touched by Mang Pepe’s story, even though he had told it to me many times. I was touched by the great love of this simple man who accepted as his own a daughter who was the fruit of the brutal violation of his wife. Mang Pepe is ‘Tatay’ to Ligaya. Her schoolmates sometimes tease her because her features clearly show her Middle Eastern origins. But her Tatay stands by her, as do her brothers and sisters.

Rest During the Flight into Egypt, Francesco Mancini [Web Gallery of Art]

Proud to be her Tatay

Tatay Pepe is proud of Ligaya’s singing ability and smiled as she sang at the celebration in Baclaran. Ligaya is very proud of her Tatay and knows the depth of his love as a father. She has very uncertain health and is often in the hospital. The shadow of AIDS hangs over her.
St Joseph named Jesus, the Son of Mary, and thereby became his legal father. He loved Mary, his wife, and raised Jesus as his own son. Mang Pepe has gone through the agony of knowing that his wife was violated overseas, after dishonest employers had taken advantage of her in other ways. When she brought home a child who was not his, he made her his own. This latter-day St Joseph in Manila has given much joy to his daughter Ligaya as she has given much joy to him and others, like myself, who have come to know and love her.

‘Ligaya’ died in the latter part of 2004. I was in Baclaran Church, at the invitaion of Columba, the day that Mang Pepe told his story and came to know ‘Ligaya’ as a friend. Shortly before she died I had the privilege of talking to her on Columba’s mobile phone. She was a delightful child. The light of heaven upon her.

Joseph's Song
Written and sung by Michael Card

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