1st Day of Simbang Gabi   

            Ang Simbang Gabi ay maituturing na huling bahagi na ng paghahanda natin para sa pagdiriwang ng Kapaskuhan. At sa taong ito, may additional significance ang Simbang Gabi natin sapagkat bahagi na ito ng pagdiriwang ng tinatawag na: “500YOC” – 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines.”

            The Bishops of the Philippines refer to the year 2021 as a year of great jubilee for the Church in the Philippines. To prepare for it, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) spearheaded “a nine-year journey for the New Evangelization,” with a different theme for each year. To recall: Integral Faith Formation (2013), The Laity (2014), The Poor (2015), The Eucharist and the Family (2016), The Parish as a Communion of Communities (2017), The Clergy and Religious (2018), The Youth (2019), Ecumenism, Inter-Religious Dialogue, and Indigenous Peoples (2020), Missio Ad Gentes (Mission to the Nations) (2021)

            The logo of the celebration of 500YOC carries the theme “Gifted to Give.” This is based on Matthew’s Gospel (10:8) where Jesus commissions the Twelve (Apostles) to proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, with this instruction: “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Kaya ito rin ang tema ng ating Simbang Gabi sa taong ito. Another translation of this gospel passage is: “The gift you have received, give as a gift.” We are gifted to give!

            Everything we are, everything we have is a gift of God. Our time, talents, and resources have been given to us by God as gifts. We may have worked hard to develop these gifts, but, originally, they were given to us without us deserving them or having any claim on them. The truth is: we do not own the gifts. We are only caretakers, trustees, stewards of them. Thus, we are obliged to use these gifts to benefit others.

            We are dealing with a paradox here: If we try selfishly to hold on to the gifts for ourselves, they will never achieve their full purpose. But if we try to share them with others, they will reach their perfection. In other words, we can choose to be givers or hoarders.

            Allow me to use an analogy and a story… A wise man (a guru) was asked by a very insecure person, “What is the main duty of my life?” Instead of giving him a direct answer, the guru told him the following story…

            In the jungle, a hyena, which had been wounded and could no longer hunt with the pack, was kept alive by a tiger. Whenever the big cat killed some prey and had eaten his fill, he would always leave something for the hyena to eat. In that way, the hyena kept himself well fed.

            On hearing this, the man thought he had his life problem solved. He went off and lived off his family and relatives. Like the injured animal, he waited for others to take care of him.

            But after a while, his relatives got tired and stopped feeding him. So, he went to the wise adviser and complained about this. The guru gave him this answer, “You were not meant to play the part of the hyena, but of the tiger.”

            As followers of Christ, we are not meant to be just takers and receivers but also givers and stewards of God’s gifts. One of the greatest gifts that we have received is faith. We celebrate the fact that, 500 years ago, we received the gift of Christian faith as a Filipino nation. This faith, if truly embraced and lived out, enables us “to look beyond and see something more.” It enables us to see God in everything.

            If with faith we view everything as a gift from God, then a profound gratitude for such gifts is the natural consequence. Gratitude is the normal human response toward Someone whose gifts we receive. Moreover, truly grateful people recognize that gifts received must be shared.

            Gifts from God, received in faith and gratitude, are not meant to be hoarded or kept for our own use exclusively. Instead, we are to share those gifts. We are, indeed, gifted to give! We are called to be takers who receive God’s gifts gratefully. But we are also called to be givers – who share generously what we have with others out of justice and love.

            Ngayong pinagdiriwang natin ang 500YOC, dapat ang bawat isa sa atin ay makaisip at makagawa ng makabuluhan at epektibong paraan ng pagbabahagi ng biyaya ng pananampalataya (gift of faith). You and I have received so much. We have received the gifts of a good and gracious God, and we are asked now to share them. “The gift you have received, give as a gift.”

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