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‘Ugoy ng duyan’

Our reading for [Thursday, July 16] is the second half of our Gospel last July 5, the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

You would remember that I focused on the part where Jesus says, “Come to me … I will give you rest.”

Since I shared to you then a reflection about REST, today let me share with you about a different kind of REST: eternal rest.

Two things have motivated me for this topic: our first reading from Isaiah 26, and the feast of Our Lady of Carmel, which we are celebrating today.

Our first reading is a prayer of the prophet Isaiah for the Israelite people who have died in the hands of their enemies. He is indignant about the violent death that they had suffered; he is praying for their vindication.

He laments and says, “They sought you in distress, they cried out to you in their time of punishment.” Since they did not get justice in their lifetime, the prophet is now hoping in a kind of afterlife.

I find this very strange because the prophet is writing this in the 8th century BC, at a time when they did not yet have a doctrine of resurrection and afterlife. (The doctrine of afterlife entered Judaism already in the 2nd century BC.)

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And yet Isaiah declares with confidence, “Your dead shall live. They will rise again. Awake and sing, you who lie in the dust. For your dew is a dew of light, and the land of shades gives birth.” Is he talking literally or metaphorically?

The second inspiration comes from the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel which we celebrate [on July 16], and which is very much connected to the development of the Catholic doctrine of PURGATORY.

The devotion to Our Lady of Carmel and the symbol of the brown scapular are so intertwined with the idea that our God is a merciful God and that he desires the salvation not only of the righteous but also of sinners.

Our stubborn faith in the Divine Mercy as revealed to us through the redeeming passion and death of Jesus has made us entertain the hope that even those who have died in sin are not totally beyond redemption. After all, we speak of Jesus as one who “descended into hell.”

And so we have come up with the idea of “purgatory”—an intermediate process of purification for some who might not yet be disposed for eternal repose and might still be in a state of torment. Remember, we believe in the communion of the living and the dead.

Our image for the state of those have “died in Christ”, meaning in a state of grace, is ETERNAL REST. It is what we imagine HEAVEN to be. That is why we pray for the eternal repose of those who have died.

But perhaps because we know that not all sleep is restful, we have used the same metaphor to imagine that some of the dead might still be in a state of RESTLESSNESS.

In the Gospel of Luke, we have the description of two different states in the afterlife in the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus: a state of torment and a state of bliss in the bosom of Abraham. Meaning, there are those already resting in peace, and those still in a state of torment.

In that parable, of course we hear from Abraham that between the torment in which the rich man found himself and the bliss which was enjoyed by Lazarus, there was a deep chasm and that no one could cross over.

And so we developed the clear-cut idea of either heaven or hell for an afterlife state, no in between. And yet, we are supposed to believe what St. Paul says in Romans 8: that “nothing can separate us from the love of God because of Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Maybe we can reason out and say Jesus said that parable of the rich man and Lazarus before his passion and death—when there was still no bridge. So he was right when he said, no one could cross over. Maybe he meant, no one as yet, until his passion and death, through which he would cross over and descend into hell.

If Christ’s death is not just for the righteous but also for sinners, how can we even claim that there are those among us who are beyond redemption, or beyond the reach of God’s mercy? Our faith declares that there’s a bridge already: God’s Divine Mercy revealed in passion and death Jesus. The cross is the bridge.

Let us now go back to the image of REST. When we are bothered about certain things or when have unresolved issues, we’re unable to rest well. We may force ourselves to bed but are unable to sleep. Or we may get some bit of sleep but it is shallow and the dreams can be nightmarish.

The Pinoy lullaby by Lucio San Pedro “UGOY NG DUYAN,” beautifully describes a mother rocking her restless baby to sleep in her arms. Could the same image have influenced the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory?

In the prayer Hail Holy Queen, we call Mary our “Mother of Mercy”, “our life, our sweetness and our hope”, to whom we, who describe ourselves as “poor banished children of Eve” send up our sighs, “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”

The mercy of God has a human face in Jesus, the Son fo Mary. And so we call Mary our Mother of Mercy, whose mission is to pray for us her children, not just for the good and righteous ones, but also for sinners.

I think of the brown scapular of Carmel to be no different from the Benedictine medallion that has a prayer of exorcism against the evil one. The devotion was popularized in the Middles Ages. I am sure that even in the Middle Ages, sometimes, mothers had a difficulty putting their babies to sleep.

I imagine that back in those times, when children could not sleep, some mothers may have believed that their children might be tormented by evil spirits. I imagine a mother, putting on a scapular around the neck of her baby, invoking the name of Jesus, so that her restless child could sleep.

I imagine how that mother becomes Mary for us Christians, now portrayed tenderly as our mother of Mercy, who would be restless herself until she has lulled her restless children to sleep in heavenly peace. She who has full faith and confidence in her Merciful Son, continues to sing her lullaby to her restless children who have not yet crossed over to the great beyond.

On the Feast of Carmel, perhaps we can think of Mary as the Inang Mahal in the song of Lucio San Pedro. The song says, “Nais kong maulit ang awit ni inang mahal, awit ng pag-ibig habang ako’y nasa duyan.”

“Ugoy ng duyan” is the homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for July 16, 2020, Thursday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time and Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

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