By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY
The weeks leading to Christmas Day are always packed with parties and reunions. Metro Manila’s unbearable traffic during this season is lightened by the expectation of seeing long-lost friends and relatives. The conviviality of these gatherings erase, if only for a moment, the stress of everyday life in the metropolis. It is a time when we smile and laugh more often, are kinder, and wish peace and love even to those whom we may not have seen eye to eye with in the past year.
For most of us, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the only days when we take a breather from the hectic demands of work, career, and studies in order to be with the people who matter to us the most, our family. This is perhaps the most commonly overlooked message of Christmas which his Holiness, Pope Francis, sought to remind every Catholic a few days ago: Christmas is also about family. And this is symbolized by the creche, or what we call “belen.”
The “belen” has always been been part of Catholic tradition, yet fewer and fewer people are now inclined to display it, more so reflect on its meaning.To stand before the “belen” is to “share our daily lives, hopes and concerns with the Lord,” says Pope Francis, as the infant Jesus, Mary, and Joseph symbolize “the joys, worries, and harmony of family life.”
For the Pope, the “belen” represents a living Gospel that “brings the Gospel into the places of our lives: our homes, schools, workplaces, community centers, hospitals and clinics, prisons and squares.”
“It reminds us,” the Pope says, of “how the Lord showed His love for us by being born as one of us.”
Too often, we are engrossed in our work that we forget the reason why we work: to put food on the table and provide a secure future for our children. Work these days has become so intrusive that it eats into our family time, including weekends that used to be devoted for self and family. Work-related stress follows us into our homes. Stress not only takes its toll on our health but also on our relations with family. Christmas gives us time to pause and reflect on the value of focusing on our family, of valuing our family first.
This is the season we are thankful for the blessings and the small mercies we receive from the Lord. This is also the time we pray for our fellow Filipinos who are facing difficulties.
We pray for families who continue to live in poverty. They are the grimy faces often ignored, the outstretched hands begging for alms, the unshod feet walking through garbage heaps, the frail limbs lifting heavy loads on weary shoulders.
We pray for families torn by economic necessity, with a parent – or both parents – forced to work abroad. We often speak of the “social costs” of overseas employment. And the toll it exacts is heartrending. The family is the first casualty of a policy that we pray will soon be a thing of the past, so that working abroad becomes more a choice than a necessity.
Our prayers also go to families who suffer from tragedies during this season. The recent typhoons and earthquakes have muted the festive air, especially for families who have lost loved ones under tragic conditions. They will spend Christmas in grief, with fear and uncertainty hovering over the future.
Lastly, our prayers for the families who have lost their loved ones to the war on drugs. We join the Church in praying that they continue to draw strength from their experience and from each other. We join in prayer and action that they receive justice.
Today, as we celebrate the birth of our savior, let us also celebrate family, and pray for love and peace to reign not only in our hearts and in our homes, but also in our nation.
A blessed Christmas to all.