Simbang Gabi – Day Four

19 Dec

I wrote in my first post on the Simbang-Gabi novena that this Filipino tradition of gathering for Mass for nine consecutive nights is meant to commemorate the nine months during which Mary bore Jesus in her womb.

At the end of last night’s Mass, those who had attended all four Masses of Simbang-Gabi so far were asked to write their names on a sheet of paper. There were about a dozen names on the paper when I signed it. My immediate reaction was to think to myself that the novena was less than half-completed, so it seemed slightly early to be recognized for attendance. But then I thought of the significance of Simbang-Gabi, related to the pregnancy of Mary with Our Lord.

At the beginning of the fourth month of pregnancy, the biologically-designated embryonic stage ends; the child is now termed a fetus. Jesus, like any child, was well along the development path. At this stage of pregnancy, the heart beats, taking in oxygen-rich blood delivered from the mother through the umbilical cord and pumping this blood out to nourish rapidly growing and dividing cells. The central and peripheral nervous systems are coming to full development. The youngest age at which a child can survive outside the womb today, with medical intervention but no matter, is about 20 weeks- just one more month. At four months, the child is taking on an even more distinctly human form, and external signs of the mother’s pregnancy may be more noticeable.

As for Jesus, his growth inside Mary was surely beginning to be recognized, too, just as those attending the novena Masses were recognized. Mary’s pregnancy was a problem, though, because Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, feared that Mary had been unfaithful to him. She could have faced being socially repudiated, or even worse, death by stoning. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph resolved to dismiss Mary quietly to save her from ostracism or from death for adultery. However, God had other plans. He knew that Joseph was righteous and obedient, so He sent the angel to Joseph in a dream:

“Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived within her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

After Saturday’s Mass, I went with a group of friends to see the beautiful movie, “The Nativity Story”. The scene with the angel appearing to Joseph is one of the most touching and well-filmed scenes. It shows Joseph as an ordinary human being, albeit one whom God grants special knowledge of His plan. Joseph, though he is told not to be afraid, is shown discussing lingering fears with Mary in a later scene. Joseph tells Mary about the vision of the angel. Mary then asks him if he is still afraid. The ever-honest Joseph hesitates slightly, then affirms that he is still somewhat afraid. He then asks Mary the same question. Mary also admits some fear. She then speaks of Joseph who would give of himself before asking anything in return. Joseph’s faith and God’s miraculous action comfort her. Though this discourse is extra-scriptural, these scenes could well have taken place between Mary and Joseph. The Holy couple is, in many ways, like all of us. We fear often. We fear death and the judgement of God, but also we fear difficult tasks. Without a doubt, one of the most difficult tasks is that of raising children.

With God’s help humankind is called to be stewards of his creation- to be procreative and not just reproductive. This is difficult, particularly in crisis situations. Single parents still face adversity. Those who may have made an unwise choice, granted, still require and deserve our prayers and compassion. The same goes for couples whose marriages are troubled, or those who are open to life but who are unable to conceive. There is an adage that it takes a village to raise a child. The entire community therefore shares in a procreative mission.

God calls us despite knowing that we are beset by original sin. In this way, God included some otherwise shunned or forgotten people in His plan to send us a Messiah enrobed in human flesh. Last night, the priest cited the women in Matthew’s genealogy: Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Mary. These women are an example of how little we understand God’s plans. In the case of Matthew, his target audience was mostly Jewish. In Jewish custom, women were the propagators of the religion, whereas the legal lineage, detailed more in Luke, as I mentioned in a previous post here, and in 1 Chronicles, depended upon the father. For example, if the mother were Jewish and the father a Gentile, the child would still be Jewish. But it was problematic if the mother were a Gentile or if she were of questionable moral character. Matthew mentions Rahab, a harlot, Ruth, who was a foreigner, Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David and subsequently lost that child but later bore the future King Solomon, and Mary, who conceived Jesus though she was a virgin. In all these cases, we fail to grasp the miraculous nature of God who worked through this “flawed” and atypical genealogy to bring us Our Saviour, Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”. (Matthew 1:23)

As I exited St. Theresa’s Parish last night, I walked by the statue depicting the church’s Patron, St. Thérèse de Lisieux, who is also known as St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. St. Theresa is traditionally shown clutching roses in one arm and the Cross with the crucified Lord in the other. Jesus is our Rose, born to us on Christmas Day, who freely allowed himself to be crowned with the thorns of human cruelty in order to save us from our sin on the Cross. This depiction of St. Thérèse de Lisieux unmistakably links the glory of the nativity to that of Christ’s Passion, though in getting caught up in Christmas celebrations many would scarcely connect this message with that of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. However, the magi, who brought the burial perfume myrrh along with gold and incense as gifts, did see this connection. (cf. Mt. 2:11) Interestingly, as I was researching the meanings of some Biblical names recently, I realized that “Mary” is derived from “myrrh”. The Blessed Mother of God said yes to the assignment of raising Jesus and of being with Him until the end of His earthly life. This task would bring Mary much suffering, but also much joy.

Dear God, you sent your Beloved Son to us. We are unworthy and flawed in our ways, but we are blessed. Bring us to the eternal salvation which you deeply desire for your people. Also, we pray for the more than 1400 people killed and the 1.5 million affected by Typhoon Durian in the Philippines. May the dead be raised to life at your side and have no fear, and may those left behind in disaster’s wake be comforted. May we be guided to do our best to help our Filipino brothers and sisters in crisis. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, pray for us…Amen.



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