Ordinary Time 03, Year A

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly (Rom. 12:16)

Many years ago in the Philippines—at a time when the so-called “Filipino colonial mentality,” resulting from over 350 years of combined Spanish and American colonization, was largely unquestioned so that any Spanish or American product was readily assumed to be superior to its native counterpart, so much so that in the mind of not a few Filipino consumers canned sardines only meant those bearing the label “Portola,” an old U.S. brand from Monterey, California—a second-grader niece of mine came home from school one afternoon so very proud of her newly-acquired ability to spell. In front of her equally proud mother, my niece announced the word she was going to spell. “Sardines,” she intoned. Then continuing on, she distinctly said each letter: P-O-R-T-O-L-A. And just like the way she was taught in class, she repeated, “Sardines.” My sister subsequently had her best laugh of the day, while her daughter nursed her embarrassment the rest of the afternoon.

I am way past second grade but still make mistakes not unlike my niece’s. And my mistakes are not at all funny and they are far more embarrassing. I am so embarrassed on account of them, in fact, that I am only going to hint at them. My mistakes are the same sort of mistake that those who disagreed with Nicodemus made when, getting quite personal, they argued, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” (Jn. 7:52). I make such mistakes as the one made by Nathanael who asked Philip in Jn. 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Still and all, I must say I am not as prone to making these mistakes now as I was in the past. I have learned first hand from the guests at St. Vincent’s Dining that “homeless” or “poor,” for instance, does not spell “bum” or “lazy.” Having understood from the diners this little lesson, I have since come to understand as well that it is wrong to spell “crime,” mouthing off letters that form a word that refers to a particular ethnic group. I only lament, though, along the lines of Rom. 7:15-23, that my understanding what is right does not automatically translate into my no longer crossing to the other side at the sight of one from this particular ethnic group who is coming my way on a poorly lit street.

And I now know also that there are more letters to “terrorism” than the four or five or six that are invariably associated with such a word.

Now too when I get caught up in the kind of controversy that the primitive church in Corinth experienced, that is to say, when those who were for Paul were feuding with those who were for Apollos, I am not so quick anymore to look upon an opponent’s position to spell heresy that ought to be stamped out mercilessly and at all cost. After all, the cross, or better the one lifted up on it from the earth, draws all of us to himself if indeed he is the focus of our attention (cf. Jn.12:32).

Likewise, my mentors at St. Vincent’s Dining have made it less difficult for me to understand why Jesus chose his apostles from among fishermen and not from among those in the high places of wealth, learning, and religion. And Jesus took the initiative of seeking and choosing and did not wait, as a teacher with a sense of self-importance, to be sought and chosen by prospective followers. With my mentors’ prodding and taking the cue from this Sunday’s first and gospel readings, I now say “Galilee”—the word used to refer, of course, to the not-so-reputable district or province of the Gentiles—and dare spell it “L-I-G-H-T,” without fear of being mistaken, laughed at and embarrassed as my niece was.

Being without such a fear does not mean, of course, that I do not expect anyone to laugh at me and think me mistaken. Yet my being laughed at and thought to be mistaken would really be nothing—compared to the painful ridicule and violent rejection that my mentors’ Evangelizer suffered, compared to his giving his body up and his shedding his blood in order to be the great light for those dwelling in the darkness of error, including the distortion of colonial mentality.