By Br. JONEL DALIMAG, CICM
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 2, 2021
Acts 9: 26-31
1 John 3: 18-24
When Nature Teaches Us a Lesson
It is said that ‘experience is a good teacher.’ However, it could also be said that ‘nature is a reliable and formidable teacher.’ When nature teaches us something, it uses its laws which have survived the test of time to make a point. Jesus was very much aware of this in his time. That is why, in the Gospel reading today, he uses the imagery of a tree to describe how our relationship with one another and with God should be. Jesus Christ used the image of a tree and a garden to describe his relationship with his Father in heaven whom he described as a gardener: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” The story and history of our society is likened to a tree. At first, it was just a seedling planted on a fertile soil, needing a lot of water and sunshine, and a lot more cultivating and caring. Then it grew into a strong and majestic tree with lots of formidable branches and lots of fruits. Many other creatures enjoy this majestic strong tree and the tree was very happy. Many admire this tree from within and from afar. But then, as it grew older, some branches eventually became weak and severely damaged. Its beauty is slowly fading. Some of its leaves are already falling. Some new shoots are growing but most are withering out. Its roots are already shaken. It could not stand anymore strong typhoons and strong winds that shake it every now and then. A check-up of this tree is very much needed. It could still be saved from this disaster that it is facing.
Community Pantry Branch
The good news is that there are still branches of our tree that are bearing fruits in abundance. One of these branches is the now strong and majestic Community Pantries. There are now over hundreds of pantries all over the Philippines and there are also many abroad. It all started with the initiative of a concerned citizen Ms. Anne Patricia Non to help her neighbors get through the daily struggle of finding something to eat. From just a seedling, it now grew into a strong branch that is now producing fruits of diverse kinds. This branch of community pantries is producing fruits such as community sharing, community caring, bayanihan spirit and concern for one another. These are the things we rightly need today in this uncertain and difficult time. This branch of community pantries is slowly giving life and majesty to our battered tree. Indeed, “while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.” The creativity of filipinos is making this initiative more sustainable. The example of the Gulayan ng Bayan pantry, where people are allowed to bring home vegetable seedlings for planting is expanding the reach of this branch so that it could serve more people.
Kindness Station Branch
Another branch that has been very fruitful is the branch of the Kindness Caritas Stations. This was originally conceptualized in Sorsogon by a public-school teacher Maricris Labayandoy. She teamed up with her co-teachers and other volunteers in setting up the first ‘kindness station’ in Buenavista Elementary School in Sorsogon City. During the height of the lockdown in March and April of 2020, food supplies were running out and poor people who have no money to buy food have no access to food supplies. Thus, the wonderful “Kindness Station’ branch grew and bear fruit abundantly. It provided access to food supplies to people in the community. It was a unique food supply chain that was based on generosity, kindness and volunteerism of certain people. When people remain connected to one another, and to God, good things happen: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you… I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” The National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), also known as Caritas-Philippines, of the CBCP adopted this concept and set up many ‘Kindness Caritas Stations’ in some dioceses around the Philippines to respond to the challenges of the pandemic and the onslaught of calamities and disasters. Since then, the kindness and generosity of people are making our tree of life more strongly rooted.
Promotion and Protection of the Environment
Another branch of our tree that is beaming with fruits and healthy leaves is the newly-found enthusiasm for the environment. Plantitos and plantitas are making the rounds in social media. People are now more aware than before of the good benefits of taking care of the environment. Backyard gardening or pot gardening is providing people with a platform to express their creativity and love for the environment. It provides people with the therapeutic power of nature that we badly need today. When travel restrictions block people from going to natural parks and wonders to relax, social media exploded with photos and videos of beautiful nature scenery that people can enjoy at home. When people start sharing their travel stories and adventures, it gives hope that nature will eventually overcome this pandemic and its adverse effect to our social life. The addition of faith dimension to this hope that nature is providing us keeps us connected to the vine of life: “I am the vine; you are the branches.”
A branch that is thrown away and withers
Despite the presence of these strong and majestic branches of our tree of life, there are also branches that withered and should be cut off and be thrown into the fire. Their leaves are already falling to the ground and its small twigs are already brittle and broken. The first of these branches is the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Despite its humongous budget and resources, it could not prevent its leaves from falling and its little fruits from being rotten. That is why, it became jealous of the other fruitful branches. Hence, it red-tagged these other branches hoping that they too will wither. However, this move proves to be self-distracting. The move to defund to task force is just proper: “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”
Another branch that is not producing fruits according to expectations is the core of the national government. The snail-paced roll out of the vaccines in the country is on top of its rotten fruit. The national government’s dependence on the donation from China of the supply of the vaccines proves that this branch is very much incapable of producing and procuring its own fruits. Its misplaced trust to China is making the entire operation of the national government rotten, broken, withered and should be cut off and be thrown into the fire and burned. Instead of supporting the other fruitful branches, it stifles them, making life difficult for them. What is worst is that the withered broken and rotten branch is the most visible branch of our society’s tree. If only it gives way for these fruitful branches to expand or if only it prunes these fruitful branches so that they will produce more fruits, it could compensate for its infertile and unproductive efforts. May this passage from the Gospel become true in our society today: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” If this happens, then, truly, “The whole world shall praise the Lord” as the psalmist sings.