Homily by Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter| Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist

We celebrate today the feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist. He was a disciple of St. Peter. He listened to the stories of Peter, recorded them and passed them on to us in his Gospel. In our first reading, Peter calls him “Mark, my son.”

St. Peter in our first reading sends us a message of consolation in our time of trial: “Cast all your worries upon God, because he cares for you. . . Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you after you have suffered a little.”

In our Gospel, Jesus missioned the Apostles and through them missioned us: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” The Gospel is at once the same and ever new. What is the Gospel, the Good News we are to proclaim in the time of COVID 19. In his March 27 Urbi et Orbi reflections, Pope Francis tells us to put our trust in Jesus, to see His presence in the events of our time and in the people around us, “ordinary people, often forgotten people, but who are writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious.”

They are proclaiming the Gospel to us, not in words, but in their actions and life. We remember that St. Francis of Assisi told his brothers, “Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.”

I have been helping a little in the amazing work that Fr. Manoling Francisco and his team have been doing to support hospitals and health frontliners and to provide food packs to thousands of families in need. In particular, I keep in touch with Dr. Carmela Oracion and her team in charge of distributing the foodpacks to communities in Metro Manila and beyond. She calls herself the “dispatcher.”

There are two posts from beneficiaries that I have been sharing with family and friends. Last April 11, we sent food packs, good for about a week, for each of the 187 families in GK Blue Eagle Village in Payatas Trese. Cesar Torres the Kapitbahayan President sent his thanks and then went on: Gusto ko lang po ibahagi sa inyo na para mabigyan po ng reliefs ang buong Trese hindi lamang ang GK beneficiaries napagkasunduan po namin ng Kapitbahayan na hati hatiin ang reliefs na ipinagkaloob po sa amin.

They repacked the 187 food packs into 453 bags to share with all their neighboring families. They kept for themselves less than half of what we sent.

A week later, Evelyn Ariza, Kapitbahayan President of GK St. Theresa’s College near Sto. Domingo wrote: Noong nakatanggap ang komunidad ng foodpacks galling sa Ateneo sinigurado ng komunidad na hindi lang sila ang makakabenepisyo sa munting tulong kung hindi pati pa rin ang mga kapitbahay nilang maaring gutom din. Hinati ng GK STC ang ibinigay na tulong para mabigyan ang lahat ng families kahit hindi member ng Gawad Kalinga, dahil sa panahong ito ang lahat ay nagugutom.”

The poor are proclaiming to us the Gospel of caring and sharing.  Like the widow whom Jesus praised in the Gospel, they are giving from their scarcity, all they have to live on for the coming week.

Like all of us, I also think about and pray a lot for our health frontliners, among them my nephew, Paolo Dizon, at Mandaluyong City Medical Center. I have been watching a video of the Emergency Room made into a COVID 19 ICU in The Medical City. Dr. Sally Abenales, ASMPH 2013, who leads the team says, “Our families are worried about the danger and tell us, ‘Mag resign na lang.’ But if we do not do it, who will. If we all resign who will take care of the patients.” One sees them praying before they go on duty and as they leave we hear Sally say, “Ingatan niyo ang sarili niyo ha.” They are fearful too. But care and compassion gives them the courage to go on.

As we approach the end of April and hope for an end of lockdown, many of us have begun to talk about the New Normal and ask “What will it be like?”

We know that there will still be danger. We will approach people, even acquaintances, with caution for fear of the virus.

We know there will be hunger and scarcity for many. Even the better off among us will not have all the material thing we have been used to.

The stories from our GK communities and from our health frontliners invite us to shift the question from 

“What will it be like?” to “How will we respond?”

In an online recollection I gave to the GK community last April 7, I asked them to think: “When we look back to this time many years from now, what stories will we tell? What stories would we like to tell of how we lived and responded in this time of trial?”

There is danger now and our health frontliners are facing the danger with courage out of love and compassion for those in need. The first letter of John says: “Perfect love casts out fear.” They invite us to let love and compassion overcome our fears.

There is scarcity and hunger now and so many generous souls are supporting the amazing work of Fr. Manoling and his team. The poor are sharing with their neighbors of the food we give them. Like the little boy in yesterday’s Gospel, we are invited to share our five loaves and two fishes and trust the Lord to multiply them.

With Pope Francis and so many heroes of our time, we are invited to preach the Gospel: “The NEW NORMAL will be a world poorer in material things. But it can be a better world, a world of caring and sharing, a world of courage and compassion.”

We pray that we may yet look back to this time of trial and see the Spirit renewing the face of the earth.

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