Unbidden

Homily of Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Alfonso, SJ
27 Mar 21, Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

I was postponed from pronouncing my first vows. That’s when I first met Salty. Every day, I would come to Ateneo for classes but would commute back to the Novitiate in Novaliches where I was semi-quarantined from my batchmates. Found lacking and wanting as it were, I felt small and insecure. But I remember this stout or portly Jesuit, one day (he was minister of Loyola House at that time), out of the blue, at the end of my class, just offering to walk with me to Gate 3 of Ateneo where I would get my ride back to the novitiate. I had no idea why this Jesuit would take an interest in a newbie, but in that rather long walk, he commiserated with me and encouraged me like a real brother. That was my first impression of Salty. Unbidden, unexpected, unplanned. He would surprise me again and again, inviting me to give retreats or recollections in Iloilo or talks here and there. I knew more than anything else it was his way of showing his support to a younger Jesuit.

In 2014, a friend and I were in New York for official business. We wanted to go around the big apple but didn’t know how; it was my first time there. Lo and behold, to the rescue, came Salty. I forgot that he was at Fordham at that time studying. Unbidden, once again, but very much welcomed. He spent a day or two with us, like a tourist guide, taking us to some memorable sights. He didn’t have to but that was just how Salty was; he enjoyed making people happy, spreading cheer all around like a playful child or a giddy teenager. He was unbidden in his gusto for life—spontaneous, irrepressible, boundless.

Last year, after about a week of our online mass, he sauntered into our small chapel one morning. What are you doing here, I asked. I don’t like going to the evening mass when I am already dead tired. I prefer it in the morning. Jason and I looked at one another, and I said, “you read and serve.” And from that day on, for more than a year, faithfully, dutifully, he would wake up early in the morning and prepare for Radyo Katipunan’s Keeping the Faith mass. Unbidden, once again. He only wanted to lend us a hand.

My dear friends, in the Gospel today, the would-be leaders of the Jews started plotting against Jesus. This is our set-up for the passion play that will unfold this holy week. They could not understand what Jesus was about. They were afraid of him. They expected a different messiah. This one was unexpected, un-prophesied, unbidden. So, he had to be eliminated. They failed to realize that God was always “mysterium tremendum et fascinosum” – that God was always beyond our theories and paradigms. He is irrepressible, boundless, transcendent. Why? Because such is the nature of love — it is spontaneous, ebullient, unimpeded. Unbidden. And there ultimately lies our hope.

After more than a year of Covid, we are already desperate and despairing. Just like the apostles in the week that is to come. Everything was gloomy and dark with the death of Jesus on the cross, but God would surprise them with Easter. And again and again, Jesus would appear to them unbidden, jubilant, and triumphant. It is to this God then that we pin our hope. We may be at our wit’s end in the throes of this pandemic. But we will not lose hope for our God, our savior, like Love, always comes to us, many times unexpected, unplanned, unbidden.

Amen.