We are nearing the end of the Easter season. Next Thursday, we will commemorate the 40th day of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, but we will celebrate it next Sunday. And two weeks from now is Pentecost Sunday and we will keep this (Pascal) candle and start the Ordinary Time. So now that we are nearing the end of the Easter season, the Lord says, “You will no longer see me.” The Lord says, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” The Lord says His goodbye and goodbye leads to absence. When a loved one says goodbye, we feel their absence. Absence. Since the quarantine started, some were absent from work, absent from school. Since the quarantine started, your loved ones were locked down at home; for two months, you could not see each other. Absence. We truly feel the absence even before Jesus says, “I will leave; the world will not see me anymore.”
Along with absence is an emotion we surely will feel when Jesus leaves, and that second feeling in quarantine is restlessness. A restless person used to bite fingers or nails, or are not able to stay in one place. But we became restless when we cannot go out. We became restless because we cannot stroll outside. We became restless because we cannot do what we ordinarily would do.
We became restless not only because we cannot stroll outside but because we cannot do the good deeds that we want to do. We became restless because you want to visit someone, but you cannot see the person because of COVID; visitors are not allowed. After absence led to restlessness and when we came to terms with our restlessness, the third feeling of the quarantine is loneliness. Loneliness which is helplessness. Loneliness which means we are unable to do anything anymore. We feel like we have become losers in this battle.
Look at those three words, my dear brothers and sister, this Sunday: Absence, Restless, Loneliness.
Absence. When Cardinal Sin died, I grieved and many of my friends could not understand because in my life, he was perpetually now dead and absent. But because of the absence caused by death, that absence purified me, purified my love. And because of the purification of my love for a dear loved one, a dear mentor, I realized that I did not have to go to the crypt of the Manila Cathedral to visit him. In Bataan, in Dagupan, even if I don’t have to travel to the Manila Cathedral where he is buried, I know he is present to me. And I know this is true when we lose our loved ones; they have a new presence in our lives that is more beautiful and stronger. Why? Because absence is a blessing, absence purifies presence, absence beautifies presence, and absence empowers a new kind of presence. And absence is needed by presence so that it can truly be divine. That is why Jesus had to go, not because He did not care, not because He wanted to leave us, but because His absence will bring about something good. By being absent, He is wherever we are. We do not need to go to Israel, we do not need to go to His grave. The Lord will be present because His absence has purified, has beautified, has empowered all of us. And if you want to grow, you cannot be always present with your loved one.
To the youth, you cannot always be with your crush who does not even mind you. Parents cannot always be with their children, whom they cannot let go of. Let absence be absence because absence purifies, beautifies, and empowers the presence of the beloved.
Restless. St. Augustine is the patron of restlessness and he said, “O beauty ever ancient ever new, my heart is restless until it rests in You.” And he added, “I searched for You. You are inside me but I was outside. You are within me but I was outside myself that is why I didn’t find You.” This means, my dear brothers and sisters, when you go to the mall, when you see your friend, when you see your family, when you see your co-workers whom you have not seen for such a long time, what happens after you see each other? And then you will long again because when we look for peace, for serenity outside our hearts, it is like drinking salt water when you are thirsty.
Try drinking salt water when you are thirsty. Your stomach is so big, you are full of water, but you are still thirsty. Why? Because salt water is not able to quench your thirst, and the same is true for our surroundings. If your heart is restless, please do not look for it in recreation, in your loved one, in your friend. “O beauty ever ancient ever new, my heart is restless…” and why is it restless? Because I have been looking for you outside. I have been looking for you outside. I searched for you in recreation, I look for you among the people around me. But that is not the place to find You first because unless I find You within me, I will not find You anywhere else. Our hearts are restless because we are outside ourselves. Our hearts are restless because we don’t like to confront ourselves.
When we could not go out of the door, we made a meme. We had a passport for the kitchen, for the bedroom, for the window, but it did not suffice. Why? Because in quarantine, the restlessness from quarantine invites us to go within ourselves. Inside, we do not need a visa; inside we do not need transportation; inside we do not need to walk because inside us God is waiting for us. “You were inside me but I was outside. You were within me but I was outside myself.” If you want to cure your restlessness, go within you and find God within.
Loneliness. Restlessness leads to loneliness. We don’t want to be lonely. We priests are called members of the “Lonely Boys Club.” This is not true. Maybe the brokenhearted are lonely, but not all. The truth is all people are lonely. The truth is all people are not only lonely. All people should be lonely. We must make friends with loneliness. Why? Because our loneliness makes us confront our helplessness. And when you know you are helpless, when you know you are powerless, what hurts? Ego! And when loneliness hurts your ego, the ego is crushed; and when your ego is crushed, the soul surfaces. When the ego is destroyed, you will be able to see your soul. The ego is the obstacle to seeing your soul.
Loneliness is like a good virus. It attacks your ego. But when your ego has been destroyed, you don’t die. When your ego has been destroyed, you discover life because you have touched your soul. Here is loneliness, here is your soul, and here is your ego. That ego must be destroyed so that you can get in touch with your soul again. Thank you quarantine for the gift of absence! It has a beautified presence. It has empowered and purified us. Thank you, restlessness, we found out that we do not have to go out; that God, My Lord, is within me. Thank you, loneliness, because you humiliate me and when I am humiliated, my ego is crushed. And when my ego is crushed, I could now touch my soul. You could not build character without absence, without restlessness, and without loneliness.
The good news, my brothers and sisters, is that absence is good. Restlessness is good and loneliness is good because these three gifts of the quarantine bring out the best in us.