Cleanse our spirits: 4th Sunday Ordinary Time

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Jonjee C. Sumpaico, S.J. () - January 29, 2012 - 12:00am

Have you ever noticed that when unclean spirits appear in the Gospels, they are always referred to in the plural form? For instance, when a devil is asked its name, it would identify itself as “Legion.” Or, as in the Gospel today, it would rebut Jesus and plead, “Have you come to destroy us?”

This “plural” image of the evil spirit may be close to the Filipino mentality. We say that someone who bears an unclean spirit is one who finds himself scattered in many places and pulled in many directions. We call this “nagkakalat.” He feels himself divided in many parts or sees the world around him as fractious. Of course, the unclean spirit uses this tactic to conquer its host. It thrives on insecurity. It thrives on fear. It thrives in matters which make us anxious, desperate and ultimately lose our sense of whole-ness. 

In our Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus commands the unclean spirit to leave the person it possesses. It puts up a fight though by holding on and convulsing the person. It does this as the person himself feels the conflict happening from within. Don’t we find ourselves feeling this way too when our conscience bothers us over the things we do (and do not do) that hurt God, others, and even ourselves?

But Jesus shows his authority, commanding the unclean spirit to keep quiet and get out of the person. Jesus cleans house. Jesus brings things to order and makes things new. The person is renewed and made whole once again. Integrity is restored to the person as the person is allowed to move on.

Again, the Filipino mentality would describe this as someone who has discovered new meaning in life. There is something that catches and holds the person in tact, as a whole. In our language, we call this “kahulugan.” Jesus’ authority brings new life. His Spirit enlivens the person to share of himself as he finds himself secure in the fact he is much loved and blessed. The Spirit of Jesus invites us to take courage, to have faith and to trust despite the many challenges that we face in life. This makes us resilient and rise together with God by our side.

During the past few weeks, I have been witness to such resiliency in the Filipino, particularly here in Cagayan de Oro. As we remembered that the city was badly affected by the flood the happened forty days ago, stories of hope and even humor have come up to welcome the healing presence of our God. I would like to share some stories that I have heard of how people saw themselves whole in the midst of the chaos around them. Here are three of my favorites:

When one of our teachers was being carried by the river’s strong current a little bit past midnight, he managed to hold on to a floating log that carried him out to Macajalar Bay. There, floating together with the other debris, he caught sight of other survivors floating at sea. In the middle of everything, they got to know each other’s stories. They shared what happened to them, their hopes, anxieties, and worries. At times, they even found moments to laugh together as they interviewed one another with questions like, “Kamusta na ka bay?,” “Asa man ka gikan?,” and “Unsa man ang imong gihimo?” By noontime, they were rescued by fishermen off the coast of El Salvador City eighteen kilometers away. What he carried with him to shore were the stories of other survivors including his own and a sense of gratitude of being alive. 

Another story during the flood was about a Muslim man and an old Christian woman. As the river water rose and flooded the houses near its banks, people began to climb the roofs of their houses. A Muslim man saw an old woman still in the water. The man said, “give me your hand!” The woman hesitated. She did not want to move as she was afraid of engaging her neighbor. She remained in the water. Seeing that the woman was not responding and realizing that she was hesitant in accepting his invitation amidst the rising water, the man shouted at her, “For Jesus’ sake, take my hand!” The woman said to herself, “Yes, for Jesus’ sake and for my apo.” She took his hand and their lives were saved as they waited for rescue on the roof.

A third story happened in an evacuation center the day after the flood. As clothes were being distributed by relief volunteers, they chanced upon an old woman survivor. They gave her clothes so that she would be kept dry. But as they were handing clothes to her, they noticed that she was giving them away to the other survivors who were there. Seeing her still muddied and wet from the flood, the volunteers called her attention, “Lola, how about you?” The old woman looked at herself, smiled and said, “Ay, oo nga pala ‘no?”

The resilient character of the human being makes us look at life in a bigger picture. It reminds us of our limitations and invites us to search for meaning. It is an honest assessment of where we come from — that we are still very much part of the events that happen in this world. It gives us an invitation of choosing amidst the chaos that we are in - of choosing to break through rather than to break down. It reminds us to trust that God is in-charge — that he has the authority to bring things to its fullness and peace.

Let us continue to pray for the survivors of Sendong. Let us continue to pray for the survivors of the other tragedies in life as well. Let us include in our intentions that we hope, hold fast, and pray for healing as Jesus cleanses our spirits. And as we beg for the grace that we be made whole once again, let us remember the opening lines of Gerald Manley Hopkins’ The Wreck of the Deutschland:

“Thou mastering me

God! giver of breath and bread;

World’s strand, sway of the sea;

Lord of living and dead;

Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened, me flesh

And after it almost unmade, what with dread,

Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?

Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.”

Father Jonjee Sumpaico, SJ is the Principal of the Ateneo de Cagayan High School in Cagayan de Oro City.

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