The following homily was delivered by Fr. Harvey Mateo, SJ (XS ’91) for the Xavier High School community during the Marian Mass for Peace and Unity last 4 October 2017.
One of the first things I had to do in my mission area as a new priest was to say Mass in Bisaya for our parish in Zamboanguita, Bukidnon. Since then, studying the liturgy and the readings at Mass has been my way of building up my vocabulary for this new language I am learning to speak. While some words are real tongue twisters, some other Bisaya words are easier to learn, especially if how they sound are a good match to the meanings they convey.
Buzzfeed Philippines must have had the same idea in 2015 when it made an online list of what they called the 36 Most Beautiful Words in the Philippine Language. Though obviously skewed towards Tagalog, there was one Bisaya word made it to the list. That word was kalinaw, which means peace. In the Mass, we say kalinaw when we give the sign of peace, right after the priest says the words, “Ang Kalinaw sa Ginoo sa kanunay maanaa kaninyo. (The peace of the Lord be with you always”). Interestingly, the root of the word kalinaw is linaw. Linaw does not carry the same meaning in Tagalog (here in Luzon it means ‘clear’); linaw in the south refers more to calm and tranquility, as in a still body of water. This makes it a good word for peace especially since it reminds us that real peace begins with and results in stillness from within, like a calm lake in good weather. On the other hand, the chaos from deep inside us eventually manifests itself externally, like a raging river. Interestingly, the word for that is gubot.
In our Mass today, we especially pray for peace in our country and in the world, and an end to all forms of division, conflict, and violence. Just the other day, we heard of the attack in Las Vegas, Nevada, where a man named Stephen Paddock opened fire at a music festival from the 32nd floor of a hotel, injuring 527 people and ending the lives of at least 59 others. What chaos and turmoil were going on in the head of the gunman, leading him to aim randomly at innocent people? What hurts and resentments, fears and wounds were festering in his heart? Those of you who were at the Mass in celebration of the Feast of St. Ignatius in Ateneo last July must have heard about how our indigenous peoples in Bukidnon are caught in the cycle of violence due to a culture of revenge called the magahat or redo. In addition, they are caught in the crossfire between the NPA and the military, and end up as its most unfortunate casualties. Closer to home, we have witnessed the senseless state-sponsored killings of people and the wanton disregard for due process and basic human rights that has left many families devastated and crying out for justice. Indeed, there is so much that is wrong in the world today. We need peace—kalinaw—for the victims of these acts of violence but even for the perpetrators themselves.
And so beginning today and for the rest of the month, we heed our Blessed Mother’s call to pray the rosary for peace. We look at the image of our Lady and see a calm and composed young woman, and wonder: in her purity and state of grace, what does she know of the violence, hatred, and division that we are experiencing today? What can she teach us, she who is immaculate and without sin? In the Gospel, we hear the story of an innocent girl whose tranquil life was shaken by the greeting of an Angel bearing a most disturbing piece of information: you will be the mother of the Most High. Lest we forget, the circumstances surrounding this announcement leading up to the birth and the infancy of Jesus were anything but peaceful. The perils of the Roman occupation, the scandal of her pregnancy, the threat of public execution, the prospect of single motherhood, the journey to Bethlehem, the rejection at the inn, the delivery in the stable, and the escape to Egypt. Her life was never to be the same again. What does she know of the mess we are experiencing today? Apparently, she knows it all.
Throughout the history of the Church, our mother has been on our side, guiding us, fully aware of our need to live in peace. In Tagalog, kapayapaan. In Bisaya, kalinaw. From Pentecost to the fall of Communism, and closer to home, the end of a 20-year dictatorship, she has always been there, echoing the call to conversion, joining us in prayer, bringing us to Christ, our true Peace.
But what can we learn from our Mother? Let us go back to Calvary where Mary stood silently at the foot of the cross. She did not say a word. She did not seem to be doing anything. She was just staying still, doing nothing. How can she teach us about working for peace and justice, about speaking up for the voiceless, about working for lasting change in the world? One spiritual writer puts it this way:
[Mary] couldn’t stop the crucifixion (sometimes darkness has its hour) but she could stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, heartlessness, and anger that caused it and which surround it. And she helped stop these by refusing to give back in kind, by transforming rather than transmitting them, by swallowing hard and (literally) eating them rather than give them back, as everyone else was doing. (Ron Rolheiser, OMI)
What does this mean for us? First, the Blessed Mother’s response to violence was not by retaliating with hatred or bitterness. She did not meet violence with violence as we are often tempted to do, even in our daily dealings with one another. This did not stop the crucifixion, but what she did was to resist from conducting its hatred. Standing at the foot of the cross was standing up to its evil and at the same time refusing to give in to its deception. She confronted it instead with tranquility, calm, and stillness. Where did she get the strength and courage to do that? It was a grace received from God—the grace of trust that even though she may not have understood how evil appeared to have won that day, she is confident that it will not have the last say. In the end, God’s love and goodness will be victorious. That was her inner strength; that was the inner stillness and no amount of evil in the world could take away from her because it was God who has planted it in her heart.
This does not mean of course that we will stand helplessly in the face of all the injustice in the world. We need to take an active stance instead of watching all the evils in the world create more suffering for our brothers and sisters. But I think that while we work for peace, we must also ask for this peace for ourselves and learn to cultivate it. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Ang kalinaw ibilin ko kaninyo; ang akong kalinaw ihatag ko kaninyo.” In addition, he says, “Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Only when we have the peace of Christ can we confront the violence of this world without contributing to it. Instead of transmitting it, we can transform it, responding to hatred and fear with love and courage. Our Mother has done it. Many of our heroes, martyrs, and saints have done it. We are invited to do the same.
And so in this Mass, while we pray for peace and unity in the world, we pray for ourselves as well. We pray that we will not allow hate, violence, and divisiveness to have the last say. We pray that we will not let it lead us astray and trick us into thinking our violence will end their violence. This month, as we say our rosaries, we also pray that our hearts and minds find their stillness in the peace of Christ. What is the cause of your restlessness these days? What fills your hearts and minds with fear, hatred, and divisiveness? What causes you to despair and lose hope. We ask our Mother to join us in prayer so that we can find healing and so embrace the stillness, the Peace, that Christ has to offer. This way, we too can bring that peace to our families, to our school, and to many others, and be the agents of change that the world needs to day.
Kalinaw! Let this beautiful word reign in our hearts and transform this world.
Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.
Photos by the XS Media Team