The Filipino tradition of pamamanhikan is an interesting way of crystallizing a man's intent in marrying a woman. With this tradition, a fiance works for the family of the woman he is asking for marriage and serves the family with manual labor.
In the olden days, the fiance could be asked to chop wood, fetch water from the well or repair the house roof. In our age of many conveniences brought about by technology, it would be strange to see a man fetching water or chop wood to win the hearts of his fiancee's family. I am sure, somewhere out there, this tradition is still being observed. There could still be families resorting to more sophisticated and subtle ways to test the boyfriend of their daughter.
Regardless if it is done in a traditional way or a more modern way, pamamanhikan is done to ensure lasting marriages. It is still observed because families still believe that marriage, in its sanctity, creates an unbreakable bond between husband and wife.
In the gospel today, we see Jesus testing his followers. From last week's gospel, which was a continuation of today's reading, Christ's followers were bewildered when they heard him say, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” These are the words that were so difficult for many to swallow. So those who only followed Jesus because of the miracles he performed and the food he provided decided to abandon him and the apostles.
Perhaps, they left Jesus because they became afraid or confused, but it is clear that they stopped following because the burden of unraveling the mystery of Christ's mission has outweighed the benefits that they were receiving.
Come to think of it, some of Jesus' followers failed the test because they do not have a relationship with Jesus that will help them to grow in faith and love.
On the contrary, we also see the apostles, Simon Peter, and his companions who have established a personal relationship with their Lord. They could have been puzzled as well by Christ's words but they stayed with Jesus because they have faith with their friend and teacher.
They have a firm conviction that Jesus is the Son of God. Much later, at the last supper, the confusion brought about by Jesus' discourse in our gospel today will be clarified in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the wine.
We are as lucky as the apostles because, with the help of the Bible, we know that when Jesus asked his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood, it is really the sharing of the bread turned into his body, and the wine turned into his blood. This is what we experience whenever we participate in the celebration of the holy mass.
This means that we only have to open our heart to Christ, and do whatever we can to follow him and share in his body and blood. Our own little efforts are enough because God is faithful to complete His saving works through Jesus Christ. God is not like a woman's parents measuring the worthiness of the man who wants to marry her. God's love reaches out to all who faithfully and lovingly follow His Son.
We also have to take note that Christ is always hoping to get into a deepening relationship with us. When we actively share in the mass and receive his body and blood with faith and love, Christ allows himself to move in our body, mind and soul. If we receive communion sincerely, we are stirred to get to know a friend whom we fail to talk with at times, a friend whom we are actually searching for in the emptiness of our heart, a friend who really understands even the depths of our being that we cannot understand ourselves.
Like a man serving her fiancee, let us face the challenge of Christ from the gospel. Let us at least set aside time for Christ in our lives. Let us live out our own pamamanhikan to our Lord so that when we go to communion we may substantially, really and truly receive His body and blood. So that his sacramental presence could bring us to a spirit and life, and through it we may share with the his totally liberating love.