In the Land of Gloom a Light Has Shone

(Homily for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

I hope you won’t consider me a name dropper, but in 1999 I did meet Manila’s Cardinal Jaime Sin. He cordially received a group of thirty priests, sisters and lay people who were visiting his country as part of the Asian Pastoral Experience. For an hour he spoke to us, telling anecdotes about his years as Primate of the Philippine Islands. What we most wanted to hear about was the “Rosary Revolution” of 1986 which effected a dramatic change of government in that country.

It was a most remarkable event – and the man at the very center was the Cardinal. Not that he organized the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos, but the people looked to him for spiritual guidance. Knowing that the situation was explosive, Cardinal Sin did something counter-intuitive. He went into his private chapel and spent two hours before Jesus in the Sacrament. To some this seemed like a retreat, but when he emerged he knew what to do. What followed astounded the world. Carrying nothing more than rosaries and blessed images, young people, sisters, housewives, priests and many other citizens confronted armed soldiers and tanks. The tanks stopped and young girls walked among the soldiers offering flowers and asking them to defect. Many did, leaving the military bowed. Except for one accidental death, the revolution was bloodless.

Cardinal Sin described how that day the people passed from fear into jubilation, from gloom into bright hope. As Isaiah expresses it: “upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (9:1)

Of course, no change of circumstances here on earth ever achieves all that people hope for. But some events give us a glimpse of the future which the Bible describes, the future which God has prepared for his people. It may not be something as dramatic as a political revolution. The birth of a child, the completion of difficult project, the union of two hearts – such happenings open possibilities which seem limitless.

Unfortunately the dreams often do not become reality. The possibilities lay dormant. Their partial fulfillment can lead to disappointment, even a sense of betrayal. The Rosary Revolution did not bring about a harmonious society with prosperity for all. Likewise, friendships fade, children turn out to have a will of their own. This does not mean the initial hope was fraudulent. What it means is that we have to hear again Jesus’ first public word: “Repent.”

To become a disciple of Jesus requires work – and the first work of each day is the same: Repent. Change your mind. Acquire a new heart.

One of my priest friends was showing signs of impatience with the people. When someone came to him with a small request, he would sometimes respond sharply, “Can’t you see I am busy? Come back later.” I said to him, “Don’t become an old ----.” (you fill in the blank) Well, that was about fifteen years ago. Now, he is the one taking a long distance study course so he can serve people better. When I saw him I said, “My hat is off to you.”

It is never too late to make a new beginning. For many people their favorite movie is Gone with the Wind. Why does Scarlett O’Hara have such a strong appeal? The reason is this: Even though life deals her crushing blows, even though she herself makes some terrible choices, she lifts up her hand and says, “I will never be hungry again.” Then, after a moment’s reflection, “Tomorrow is another day.”

That other day has now arrived. It is time to dust off your dream, to see again the possibilities which you have, to remember that moment when gloom gave way to brightness, to make a fresh start. Put some discipline back in your life; you cannot be a disciple without discipline. In a word, repent – for God’s kingdom is near.


Spanish Version

Final Version

From Archives (Third Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: The Big Story: Gathering the People
2011: Personal Responsibility and Solidarity
2008: When John Had Been Arrested
2005: In the Land of Gloom a Light Has Shone
2002: Heresies Must Arise

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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