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The "Stigma" That's Hidden From Within Our Hearts.
Galilee Center Individual Room Verandas
Galilee Center Main Entrance
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
If you are given the privilege to make a binding law to your own place what would it be? Here’s a list of some craziest laws ever made in California:
- A regulation in San Francisco makes it unlawful to use used underwear to wipe off cars in a car wash.
- Baldwin Park: Nobody is allowed to ride a bicycle in a swimming pool.
- Blythe: You are not permitted to wear cowboy boots unless you already own at least two cows.
- Burlingame: It is illegal to spit, except on baseball diamonds; Carmel Ice cream may not be eaten while standing on the sidewalk; Women may not wear high heels while in the city limits.
- In Los Angeles courts it is illegal to cry on the witness stand.
- In Los Angeles a man is legally entitled to beat his wife with a leather belt or strap, but the belt can't be wider than 2 inches, unless he has his wife's consent to beat her with a wider strap. Consent should be given prior to the event, as is carefully stipulated.
- In Riverside, California, kissing on the lips, unless both parties wipe their lips with carbonized rose water, is against the local health ordinance.
- The city of San Francisco holds a copyright on the name "San Francisco." It is illegal to manufacture any item with the name without first getting permission from the city. Since the Supreme Court upheld the copyright, San Francisco has had an annual $300 million surplus every year.
Crazy as they may sound, these laws do exist believe it or not. Under various contexts, they were made to maintain order and peace in the locality. In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus clarifying the true essence of HOLINESS, the law and tradition as simply means towards it. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He answered them by saying that “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” From within, meaning what is in our “hearts.” And so, the question for us this Sunday is, what’s from within us? What’s in our hearts?
A lot of us (myself included) are very apprehensive, if not, evasive about the whole idea and concept of being at the Galilee Center. The main cause for concern and even shame is somehow motivated by our distorted idea or single-minded understanding of the stigma … a stigma that will forever be imprinted in our persona as if a “scarlet letter” for the rest of our ministerial lives. And so, we hide and even keep ourselves incognito as much as possible. My dear fellow Galileans, you are not alone in that regard. I, too, have resisted, rationalized, blamed and to a great extent denied my coming to the Center. But the more I do so, the more restless I become; the sorrier I am to have even stepped into the threshold of the center. Today, however, Jesus delivers a wonderful message of hope - a message to see the unwanted stigma in a different light. What does it mean to be stigmatized?
Firstly, to be stigmatized is to be HUMBLED. In our Second Reading, St. James in his letter urged his hearers, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you…” He moves on to say that, “It is through such humility that one is able to care for souls and keep oneself unstained by the world.” Interestingly, the word humble has its humble Latin beginning "humus, i" meaning "ground." It reminds us that, we too, are "creatures" of God. As ground, we could be stepped upon, spit upon, or may simply be unacknowledged and unrecognized. In all aspects of our being, we could be broken/wounded. Yes, my painful past could have marred my noble understanding of the priesthood; but remember, Jesus as PRIEST, has never looked at Himself as the "chosen one." Rather, he chose to become like a slave, the "crucified one." And so, if being stigmatized is to be humbled like Christ, then I find myself in a position of honor. Honor that recognizes defeat; honor that recognizes weaknesses; honor that's wrapped with anything that is humility and more importantly, honor which even in the midst of disappointments and frustrations give rise to victory. Priesthood is indeed noble in its concept, but its nobility lies in the mystery of the cross. Without the cross there is no salvation. Without the cross there is no priesthood.
Up until Mother Teresa's death after a series of books were written about her, the world came to know that the saintly woman we know of was also filled with anguish and unhappiness. She was so close to God in her lifetime and yet filled with restlessness and desolation. What made her whole, however, was her humble embrace of the divine consumed by the cross of Christ. In her moments of restlessness, she found God and took it upon herself as "humbling moments" as I personally would put it. In her restlessness, she found strength to go on with her mission of charity. In that regard, she, too, was stigmatized in her lifetime!
Secondly, to be stigmatized is to be LOVED. A striking title from today’s SAMBUHAY says, “Holiness is a matter of the heart” … the heart which is the source of our feeling, choosing and loving. Imagine living in a society where everyone is strictly observing all of its laws and traditions. Certainly, everyone would behave well, right? But would such a world be filled with happiness? Jesus wants more from us. Living in strict observance of the laws would be good, but would we be living in a world of love? Would it be a loving and caring world, or would it be simply a world in which nobody broke any laws? Jesus wants the best from us, not just our minimum performances. Yes, we have to follow the laws, but we have to go beyond simple observances.
Today, many of us will be leaving the Galilee Center for at least a very limited amount of time after the long 40 days of seclusion. Crazy isn’t it? But where did all those 40 days go? Have we become Galileans who simply followed the 40 day seclusion strictly, or have we become Galileans who are now filled with happiness with a strong desire and passion to love? The past 6 years of my young priestly life were spent under the shadow doubt, confusion and restlessness. I seem to have lived a double life putting up a self-concept molded by my strong desire for attention, affection and approval especially from a very distant and emotionally absent dad. It was like showing a different persona to my parishioners while at the same time struggling to let out the authentic Fr. Gee hiding deep inside me. Unconsciously, I have been striving for excellence for the wrong reasons ergo, loving inauthentically. Here, at the Galilee Center, we are given a chance to pick up the broken pieces of ourselves to become whole again. If we are to be bearers of love, we are to start by confronting our self needs, that is, loving ourselves. At this point of the program, we could already have reached a deeper level of self-knowledge as well as acceptance to the person that we truly are. However, our search must not end there. We have to confront our issues head on and make appropriate actions in order to love ourselves better. Loving oneself makes one an integrated individual. In doing so, one is able to love the other fully and authentically.
And so, as opposed to keeping ourselves in hiding and incognito because of the stigma, Jesus invites us to see the stigma as a share in His passion, death and resurrection. The stigmata of the Saints as Francis and Padre Pio were marks of Christ’s wounds during his crucifixion. It made them signs of God’s unceasing love to mankind. We have been given the same opportunity and honor to be stigmatized in humility and love. Shouldn’t we feel the same? Our stigma does not defile us. It is our distorted way or single-minded idea of seeing such stigma that somehow defile us.
We all know full well what we do or don’t do. And we all know what others do or don’t do. God, however, is more interested in what He finds in our hearts. Do we simply obey rules, or do we choose to live in love and concern for others? That’s a question the answer to which can only be found deep down in your heart – where you really live … where holiness will eventually flow from.