Ang sabsaban ay naging duyan (From horses’ trough to Jesus’ crib)

“Thank you for the opportunity of hearing a voice, from an insignificant priest. For me, before, Christmas was all about family. Naturally, I would always be back home. There seemed to be a magnet at home, drawing me back there. For 2 years, that magnet had been defied. Were those Christmases not spent home wasted? I see them as a deeper meaning: as an invitation to discover the many people around me willing to open their doors for me to be part of their families. I think most of us learned the lesson of the first Christmas, when there was no room for Jesus in the inn they were led to the manger, the animals welcomed him because not one of his kind [had] opened a door for him. Now, [I am] hoping that we learned the lesson: Christmas is openness, openness, openness. Being open to the moment and [to] discover that family is not only back there, it is also in here…on Christmas. God made the whole world his home so that nobody in this world may feel homeless, or fatherless, or motherless or a stranger. It is just amazing how the incarnation of God tamed the animals and in a way domesticated them. Imagine how they lent their most precious possession, their kural [feeding trough for horses or cattle] where they eat, so Jesus can take it as his crib.” – Fr. Aris Martin, December 18, 2017

WHOA…what a revelation. I had not viewed Christmas as a conscious taming of animals by the Higher Being, when unconscious human beings around Jesus’ time had become insensitive to another. Imagine that!

Ponder on that thought for a moment, what Fr. Aris Martin is sharing: “not one of his kind had opened a door for him [Jesus].” How many times have we closed the doors on folks when they needed us?

Can we really say we know others, our neighbors perhaps? Or can we even claim that we have broken bread with them? Do we open our homes such that they can sit down, even to share their sorrows?

Or have we shared moments of our precious life with our church’s parishioners, walking perhaps on a trail in the park, or singing karaoke with them?

As a pastor, have we glanced eyes at the newcomers and welcomed them warmly, as if family members? Or invited them to have dinner with our families on Christmas Eve or dinner?

Or listen to heartbreaking stories of suicides and manage to understand that after a suicide, the family survives yet permanently tainted with a shadow of this relative’s death, just like the novelist, writer and Soviet spy Ernest Hemingway?

What about our close friends? We give our precious times with them, as our families. We do not hesitate to say, “Party, party, party!”

Can we say the same, about sacrificing our precious time to make room for Advent and preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus?

I have watched the musicians of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church’s adult choirs as they practice, as they sing their hearts out for Simbang Gabi, and still manage to serve hot meals to the parishioners on one of these cold mornings, while warming our hearts with their vibrance and joyful hearts?

But, they do not stop there. They invite their musician friends to collaborate for an evening of singing, so they can raise a seemingly distant goal of having a world-class sound system at IHM Church.

Ten years ago, I already heard the pinging, the irritating noises of the church’s sound systems, yet, the choirs persisted to endure this sound system, until no more.

We need to help them acquire a sound system worthy of their joyful, vibrant voices but, also to dignify the world-class talent of their musical director, Pete Avendaño, who is mentoring singers and musicians, starting at second grade up to eighth grade and while they do well in music, they also do well in their academics.

Watch them as they form the only two Catholic schools (Immaculate Heart of Mary and Precious Blood Schools) admitted and qualified to perform with other world-class singers at the LA County’s Christmas Eve program, performed live at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion and televised on PBS that same day.

Kung iiisipin natin na ang sabsaban ay naging duyan, diba, ang mangyayari ay pag may dinaramdam ang isang kaibigan, ay ginagawa nating duyan ang ating bahay para sa kanila?  Diba, itinatalaga nating na ang kanilang problema ay problema nating lahat? When we think of the feeding trough that has been transformed into a crib, would it mean that a friend’s sorrow becomes ours as well? We empathize and share her sorrowful moments, without directing her path of change.

The homily by Fr. Rey Matunog on Wednesday, December 20 reminded us to count our blessings. What would it say about our lives? Would it say about God’s miracles? For example, a boy born in the provinces, goes to school on scholarships, does well to go for his higher education, goes abroad for his doctorate? Would it speak about now, your impact on serving other folks, so they can have a hand up?

More than a hand-up

Recently, at breakfast, a friend was sharing what he did for a beauty queen — how he would wake up early before his work to give this beauty queen a ride from Mission Hills to Burbank (24 miles round trip) so she can go to film and acting school. After putting in an eight-hour workday, he would pick her up again from Burbank and take her back to Mission Hills — a total of 48 miles, not counting traffic from downtown Los Angeles to the Valley (Mission Hills to Burbank).

I was in awe of what he did — after all, this beauty queen was not a relative, she was a stranger to him. He did not stop there. He introduced her to key folks who would be interested in helping her as well: a photographer, an event producer, a church pastor. He ensured that she was introduced to all the resources she needed to start her life in America.

Did he wait for a thank you? Did he expect gratitude from her? What was beautiful or handsome, about my friend, Mike Z. is that he is not waiting for gratitude to impel him or drive him nor motivate him. That is who he is with anyone needing help, he gives his all, including any priest needing his help, or his province, Bulacan. He is now onto his next project, sharing how he would be doing an essay contest to choose their next scholar — recipients for his province.

He shared photos of boatmen unloading 32 inches flatscreen televisions for all the classrooms and two airconditioning units for one of their province’s elementary schools. These are not used, these are new equipment for their provincial children to use.  He wrote: “No donation is too small. Together, we can make dreams come true for these students. This is just the beginning.”

Their fundraising was just done in Nov. 2017, and barely a month has passed, Mike is already reporting as the chair of the Meycauayan Association of Southern California. How about that for accountability?

Just as the horses and animals were conscious enough to give up their troughs, their feeding boxes to make room for a crib for Baby Jesus, Mike is creating more heartspaces for others through his association and Pete is doing it with his church choir members.

At 3 years old, Matthew Stepanek wrote poems; by 5, he had a bestseller; and by 13 years old, and when he died, he had five best-selling books. He wrote this at age 6 on Oct. 16, 1996.

With this poem, I wish you all the best of Christmases and the most abundant, most Righteous and just New Year!

If my arms were as long as a rainbow,

I would be able to reach all around the whole house,

And maybe even up through the rooftop.

If my arms were as long as a rainbow, 

I would be able to reach around the whole neighborhood, 

And deep into the woods.

If my arms were as long as a big rainbow, 

I would be able to reach up the trees and down again, 

And all the way to the sun and the moon and the stars

That shine so brightly onto our Earth.

And if my arms were as long as the biggest rainbow ever…

I would be able to reach all around the whole world!

If I could reach around the whole world, 

And around the sun and the moon and the stars, 

And around the neighborhood and the house, 

I would lift them all up and together into Heaven, 

So that all the people of earth and of Heaven

Could hug and kiss each other.

But, my arms aren’t really that long, 

So the only way I can hug and kiss the whole world

Is by closing my eyes,

And reaching out with my mind, 

And believing in my Heartsong, 

And sharing them with everyone and everything. 

So in the end,

We know that our arms and our minds and our hearts 

Are all as big as we believe them to be, 

Which might just be as long as a rainbow. 

Just as a prolific, international, multilingual Filipino novelist, NVM Gonzalez once said, “Even The Rainbow Has A Body.” It is now a book of 31 subjects (three Filipinos, 24 Filipino-Americans, and four Italian-Americans) with distinct artistic legacies, which includes their lives of serving and mentoring others, published in California in 2016, authored by yours truly, edited by Nickee DeLeon-Huld, a foreword by Asian Journal Editor Christina M. Oriel with photographs by Hydee Ursolino and others. May your Christmas home be a crib for others!

* * *

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.

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