WE WENT to Mass on the first day of the New Year, amidst the rain brought by the first tropical cyclone Agaton that sprinkled the quiet traffic-free city at 6 p.m.

The Mass at Redemptorist Church of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (CSSR) was a gentle candle for this rainy night, and for the spirit that was stirred on the past events of 2017.

The homily asks us, how do we say Happy New Year? How do we be happy?

The priest reminds us that happiness is not equivalent to pleasure. It’s not the food, the company, the gadgets, the gimmicks. Somehow, the message of happiness is about the simplicity of why we celebrate the Christmas season.

Happiness, he said, is the first sight of a baby born on Christmas. He reminds us how Mother Mary gave birth to Christ on the most trying times, traveling 120 kilometers from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

I did some computing back home to find how far that is. It’s the distance from Talaingod to Davao City, and that’s how far the Talaingod Manobos fled from the paramilitary that killed a student and harassed their students. It’s slightly farther of the distance between Marawi to Cagayan de Oro, Marawi that is now a “liberated” but crumbled city for some 200,000 homeless Maranaos. It’s twice the distance between Buda to Davao City, where we find the trek of Lumads going down to the city for Christmas

It was happiness that the family gave birth that alleviated their tiredness from the long journey. And the symbol of Jesus born in the poorest of places makes us remember, that Jesus’ life was a message of simplicity and dedication to service.

The Homily ends with a reminder that January 1 was the Solemnity of Mary, where the Catholic Church is acclaimed as the “Seat of Wisdom”.

Indeed, we look forward to 2018 with wishes of peace, and perhaps that message of a mother who bears sacrifice would give us wisdom. It’s a long year where conflict and struggles are going to happen again.

It is time for us to act against this cycle of conflict, as we reflect Pope Francis’ words for the New Year: “During these days let us give space to attitudes and gestures that favor peace.” “Let us nurture the seeds of peace as they grow and let us transform our cities into workshops of peace.”

May our New Year be one of happiness, peace and justice.