HomeCommentaryBe not afraid

Be not afraid

Our bit of good news today is a two-word statement from Jesus, take courage! It is a good news that we need to hear in the midst of this crisis, when every now and then, we tend to lose heart.

Sometimes I receive text messages from people who struggle with anxiety attacks and ask to be prayed over just to be able to calm down. There are those whose worries keep replaying in their heads like a broken record, depriving them of sleep. They find themselves preoccupied with so many questions about a future suddenly made uncertain by the Covid pandemic—what will happen to our business? Will things ever go back to normal? What if we go bankrupt? Will my children be able to return to school? How will they do online learning if their only access to internet is through internet cafes? What if we need to be hospitalized? How will we pay the hospital bills? Who will look after the kids if we don’t survive this?

My lay cohost in our weekly talk show, “Men of Light,” Atty. Bong Roque, published an e-book a few days ago and gave it away for free. It is entitled, “Instead of Sheep.” I had a feeling that it was part of a Christmas song and I had to sing it to get the meaning of it. “And if you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep.” Haha. Very clever. I know someone who still couldn’t sleep after counting a thousand sheep. Maybe he should read Bro. Bong’s book. Check it on FB.

The devil knows how to destroy us. He attacks, not the outside but the inside. I have often compared the ways of the evil one with termites. No, not the harmless red termites that you see on the trunks and branches of mango trees, making earthen lines of tunnels, eating up the bark. The really harmful termites are smaller and white, but they’re voracious! They eat up the core of the wooden posts and beams, plywood panels, and leave the outer layer. They are unseen; they pass through crevices, even through little pores in the concrete. They work unnoticed, they nibble slowly but steadily, until one day, you notice a surface bulging. You tap it and realize that it is hollow inside. It is amazing how skillfuly these little devils can work unnoticed. One day, the whole structure just collapses.

The Tagalog for courage is “lakas ng loob”; literally, it means “strength inside.” We use the expression very often in the form of an exhortation, “Lakasan mo ang loob mo.” (Be strong inside.) It means we value inner strength. The opposite is “Huwag kang masiraan ng loob,” which literally means “don’t let your inside be destroyed.” It is a very graphic description of a linguistic phenomenon about which the Pinoy Jesuit anthropologist, Fr. Albert Alejo, has written a lot of insightful thoughts. (Yes, the Jesuit who, like me, was also charged of inciting people to commit sedition. Thank God the charges were eventually dismissed by Department of Justice.)

Just recently Paring Bert posted a video briefly explaining the rich meaning of the term LOOB for Filipinos. He says, even when applied to a humble dwelling we call the “bahay kubo” (nipa hut), the LOOB connotes more than just the inner physical space. It has to do with a sense of interiority that opens to the wide expanse of the world outside, as long as you can open your windows. When the world outside is affected, you cannot remain unaffected because both the inner and outer spaces are united by the sense of interiority. It is also not easy to destroy because it is bigger than me.

In our first reading, St. Paul introduces the Holy Spirit to a group of people who knew only about John’s baptism. They knew of baptism only as conversion from sin but not yet as conversion to a life in the Spirit. Paul invites these sincere new converts not just to cleanse the LOOB but to widen their space for interiority by letting the Holy Spirit dwell in them . I know of one theology professor who proposes to translate Holy Spirit as “Kagandahang Loob ng Diyos”.

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Jesus also says in the Gospel. “You will be scattered…and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” Our LOOB becomes truly strong, only when it opens up and makes space for God. Only then will it make space for others and the world. Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said earlier in the same farewell address (chapter 14), “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” Meaning, “there is a lot of space.”

To make space for God is to say to the evil one, “Sorry, there is no space here for you.” You will be surprised, if you make space for the Holy Spirit, what you find yourself capable of doing. The famous liturgical song captures it well. Let me just quote a few lines:

“You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst. You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way. “

“If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown. If you walk amid the burning flames, you shall not be harmed. If you stand before the pow’r of hell and death is at your side, know that I am with you through it all.”

There, I’ve quoted enough lines to be able to remind you of the title of the song. Today’s good news is TAKE COURAGE! That is your hint for the title of the song.

“Be not afraid” was delivered by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the Diocese of Kalookan as a homily on May 25.

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