Fr. Arnel Aquino, SJ
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 25, 2017
A good friend of mine lost a little over 100K pesos lately. Apparently, the ATM he had used was rigged. All the “secrets” kept in that magnetic strip were stolen. “Skimming” is what they call the scam. The bank officials said they’d been trying to get in touch with him. But my friend swore he did not receive any call. When he realized he had lost so much of his life-savings, he said he just walked aimlessly, ‘round & ‘round Trinoma, dazed like a zombie. He said, “I just felt so violated.”
When I was studying theology, we had a whole course on how to hear confessions. Our professor kept hammering into us that the seal of secrecy in confession is non-negotiable. That was around the time when the Jim Carrey comedy Liar, Liar was on. During a break, a classmate thoughtfully said, “What if for 1 minute—just 1 minute—God decides to make all people transparent. And for 1 minute, God will compel all of us to tell each other our deepest, best-kept secrets, & we won’t be able to stop our own mouths from telling them. I wonder what would happen.”
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a college friend, a marriage counselor now based in the US. She works for the Catholic Charities in Ohio, so she counsels mostly Catholic couples & families. At some point, I asked her, “So, comparing marriage problems among American Catholics & Filipino Catholics, is there a similarity?” “Yes, Arnel,” she said, quite resolutely. “Bad secrets.” A spouse has an extra-marital affair, keeps it secret, then it starts eating into the marriage. “What I find unbelievable, Arnel,” she said, “is that the men who have an affair, they’re surprised when their marriages fall apart. They said they tried their best to keep their cheating secret so that it will precisely not affect their family life. Can you believe it?” Bad secrets, she said; an interesting way of putting it.
There are secrets we keep to protect our property from theft. There are secrets we keep to care for people who entrust to their barest, unalloyed selves, while they struggle to become better people. And then there are secrets we keep because we want to “have our cake & eat it, too.” So secrets could be either life-giving or death-dealing. They could spell our freedom or they could make slaves out of us & people we love. There are secrets we wish to keep for now until it’s okay to tell them. And there are also secrets we wish would never be known because it’s fun to play in the dark.
Matthew’s gospel was written at a time when Christianity was still a secret religion. It was against the law, under pain of death from both Jews & Romans. So, the early followers of Christ were on the down-low. Then here comes Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, saying, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, no secret that will not be made known.” He practically tells his friends to not keep it a secret, to precisely “expose” the secret. He commands them to go & tell the world about him: his ideas about God, his relationship with God, about what he thinks of the Law, where he thinks the Law is wrong, why he thinks that love outweighs Law—all of which were very, very different from Jewish belief, & very, very dangerous. It’s a strange secret, in fact, because telling it spells both death & life. Jesus doesn’t sugar-coat it: “Oh, you will be persecuted for exposing the secret. You’ll even get killed for it.” But Jesus doesn’t shrink from the promise, either. “Do not be afraid because God who takes care of sparrows (which incidentally was the cheapest meat in the market) God will take care of you so much more!” So, Jesus is saying, “Tell people our secret…& die…then live. Tell them & be captured…then be freed. Tell them & they’ll hate you…then the Father will acknowledge you.”
What kind of secrets do you keep? Does keeping them give you more life, or has it started killing your best self, your God-given self? Does your secret preserve your family & loved ones from greater harm, or does it violate them? Does keeping your secret add to your freedom to become a better person, or has it become a master, & you, its slave? Will the painful truth set you free, or are you still enjoying the lie because it lets you “get away with it”?
I’d like to finally go back to the Lord’s command to his friends to speak in the light what they hear & do in hiding. I have a theory & I admit it runs the risk of being too idealistic or fanciful, but nevertheless…. If we seriously take the Lord’s command to openly, honestly, & humbly tell each other of the wonders God has done for us: the divine blessings we do not acknowledge, the rescues we do not deserve, the rewards we do not earn, & if we keep telling of the goodness of God while exposing our own unworthiness, maybe the day will come, when that true story eventually becomes our life story, our only narrative, our deepest & most freeing open secret.
Don’t you sometimes wish the time would come when none of us would have to keep any secret any longer—because everything that we do, we do for each other & for God?