Last week, a group of our youth leaders and catechists gathered in our parish hall to experience the Alpha through a one-day seminar-workshop, conducted by the Alpha national team. Alpha is a tool for evangelization to introduce people to an initial proclamation of the good news leading to a personal encounter with Jesus. It consists of a series of meetings, which “enable the participants to ask their questions, share ideas, build friendships and experience the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The logo of Alpha is a tilted question mark which expressively articulates its dynamics. In the Alpha sessions, the participants openly ask all sorts of questions from ordinary (even silly) to deeper ones, like “Is there more to life than this?” Eventually, they tackle the most profound questions which ultimately lead them to Jesus, “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” The atmosphere is friendly and hospitable which encourages every participant to open up freely, knowing that he/she is not judged but is respected and accepted.
I participated in one of the sessions where the group (all senior catechists!) shared on the question, “If I were given the chance to ask God one question, what would it be?” Predictably, most of their questions were eschatological in nature (about eternity). When they asked for mine, I gave a question that was meant to tease. “Lord, of all the 85 dioceses in the Philippines, why did you send me here?” To which they all gave a hearty laugh. But one pursued my response by asking, “But you’re happy to be here, Bishop, aren’t you?
Lest I be perceived as regretting God’s choice, I quickly volunteered God’s answer to my own question. “I think God would answer me by saying, ‘Because it is in Bacolod where you will be happiest.’” (phew! lusot)
I thought that was a smart dodge. But as the day progressed, the question persisted and continued to haunt me. And the I answer I presumed as God’s became more and more convincing and true. If God wishes only what is best for me, then Bacolod must be the place.
Indeed, God wants nothing less than the best for us. The first reading describes the world God wants for man – a world where “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, [and] the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them…”
Isn’t this another picture of the kingdom of God, “a kingdom of justice, love and peace”? (Preface of Christ the King) In today’s gospel, John the Baptist preaches repentance to the people because the kingdom of God is at hand. What is the kingdom of God? Bishop Robert Barron suggests that for us Christians the question is rendered more precise by asking: who is the kingdom of God? And the answer is equally precise: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the kingdom of God personified for “in Jesus, divinity and humanity have met; in Jesus, heaven and earth have come together; in Jesus, God’s will is done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
The coming of God’s kingdom then is the coming of Jesus – in our heart, in our life, in our home, in our community… How? The coming of the kingdom is not automatic. It comes with repentance. As I mentioned last Sunday, for the new order to come, the old order must first pass away; for the kingdom of God to be established, the kingdom of sin must first be destroyed. The coming of the kingdom is preceded by conversion, by a change of mind and heart to the mind and heart of Jesus. This is the repentance preached by John the Baptist, the central theme of Advent.
So back to my first question, “Why… here?”. Here, there or anywhere else really does not matter because “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk 17:21) As John Powell puts it, happiness is an inside job. So, prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom. Repent and be converted for Christ comes “so that [his] joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11)
Have a good Advent!*