By WEENA MEILY
Association of Women in Theology (AWIT)
Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24.
Two saints are staring at me, Teresa De Avila and Charles De Foucauld. With two (probably) year-old dried palms beside their images at the left. And about four feet to the right Our Lady of Lourdes stands, not staring at me, but at the rest of the world. Then, moving a little more to the right, my gaze is graced by another saint, Dorothy Day. Then, I sweep my gaze , bend a little, there a lovely painting with a Filipino accent gives you a pause from this religious ocular excursion. Then again, I bend a little more, and another interesting framed image of Dorothy Day emerges with a Relic of Jesus’ cross housed in a simple, beautiful cross figure reliquary below it . And the final move, I twist my waist a little more, and behold, Therese of the Child Jesus, of the Little Way, the Little Flower, offers a loving look.
Now all these I am able to see from where I sit. No, I’m not in a religious museum. My seat at our dining table in Nazareth House (-catholic Worker, Manila) affords me this visional exercise. I was assigned here in this dining table space since I came in December, and has quite afforded me a lovely chance to have such a blessed view of all our Companions almost side-by-side, almost looking alive and telling me so much. And keeping watch of me and what I do, it seems. What a loving thing this is indeed! But what more loving thing it is to dwell in community with my roomies! As the Rev. Noel Bordador ECP has imprinted in my heart, “Community is the ascetic tool in the life of a catholic worker”.
It is reassuring and a feel-good experience to be watched over by the saints in this part where I live. But to stay and live in community with persons who are complete strangers, however brought together by compassion and love, can be a day-to-day struggle. Whether you live in a family with extended members or work in a workplace with a difficult boss and annoying co-workers, these pose challenges for us to live as Christians, as true followers of Christ. After all, Jesus’ life was not a life of prosperity, of pomp and exclusive benefits in a private club. Looks like it was more a life of intermittent comfort, of uncertainty, surprises, and a lot of truth-telling . Just like that kind of truth my companions in the House have revealed to me. The truth that is sometimes painful, hurting. But always freeing, liberating, humbling.
Today, we are entering into Holy Week. Interestingly enough, this is the only time when we have two gospel readings. One for the Procession of Palms, and the other, the main gospel reading , which is one of two of the longest set of readings in our liturgical celebrations (the longest of course, are the beautiful readings at Easter!) The gospel narratives depict Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, followed by his trial, torture and eventual death. In this entry into Jerusalem, we see this man sitting on a donkey (some say a colt, some an ass, whatever) with people surrounding him with shouts of Hosanna. Hosanna is a joyful Aramaic exclamation of praise, that seems to be specific to Jewish religious festivals. Must be a beautiful scene. In Luke, he shifts a bit to a longer ‘shoutout’ “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! All happy shouting words of praise and waving palm branches. And today for us, the palms have been a holy symbol for Lent. And what with dried palms used to be burned into ashes and in turn used for Ash Wednesday’s practice. We are reminded. As these ashes are marked on our foreheads, they tell us a tale of humility, they call us to a life of compassion, they keep us in touch with Jesus’ life. Dried palm branches that remind us of our vulnerability, the inevitability of our end, and the assurance that in all of life’s seeming unrelenting suffering, there is a rising from it all.
Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, totals 40 days (counting the Sundays). It symbolizes Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness before embarking on a journey of fulfilling His Father’s Will , of announcing the Good News, of truth-telling that love encompasses all. The wilderness was a way of preparing himself for this ministry to fulfill God’s promise. To prepare himself for a more grueling life with hostile Jewish authorities. Because truth-telling was not an easy way to preach this good news. Jesus is an embodiment of the good news. He is the Emmanuel, the God-with-us. The incarnation of the promise of God, the Father. The flesh and blood of God’s Word. Here he is entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey. And palms waving, people singing Hosanna. It is almost Passover and this is an appropriate jubilant song. Here is the truth-teller, the prophet, some say the Messiah, the Son of God. And he is now at the edge of his life. This is a jubilant chaos. But a more messy chaos in this narrative is about to happen.
Our very own country is thrown into turmoil for the past 6 years. And what in a most terrible state in the past two years of a disordered, raunchy handling of the Covid 19 crisis. Extrajudicial killings continue, prices of commodities skyrocketing, rampant human rights violations, red-tagging and arrests of rights advocates with trumped up charges, an appalling unemployment rate leaving millions in dire conditions, we all know, that this country has been vulgarly mismanaged by equally vulgar and slovenly leadership. Let’s look at some stats here: The number of poor Filipinos grew by 3.9 million to 26.1 million individuals and of poor families by 4 million to 4.7 million between the 1st semester of 2018 to the 1st semester of 2021. And this is just according to the very low poverty threshold of Php79 per person per day.
Meanwhile, amid growing poverty, the wealth of the 40 richest Filipinos jumped to 30% in 2021. (read more, http://www.ibon.org ) Now, isn’t that infuriating? How can you be so happy with a spike on your wealth while your countryfolk are wallowing in a quagmire? I shuddered, and I thought I was convulsing.
We want change, we said. It seemed like everyone’s mantra. But how is that? My heart laments and as I take a breather in writing, I am caught by that Dorothy Day frame I mentioned earlier. “What we would like to do is change the world…By crying out unceasingly for the rights of workers, of the poor, of the destitute…We can throw our pebbles in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world.”(Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, 1946; read more, http://www.catholicworker.org) And it did reach these parts of the world. Standing up for human rights, fighting for justice, organizing the masses to learn to “read the signs of the times”, upholding and promoting the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, reading the Word of God with the eyes of compassion , making peace a priority. We are faced with a turbulent Philippine state, but on top of this, we are keeping the torch of hope ablaze.
In about one month from now, millions will be going to the polls to vote for the next leadership. We are confronted with lies, deception, fake news, trolls abound. Social media has been exploited by people spreading disinformation. Here we are faced with yet another challenge as Christians- the task to help the misinformed unlearn, relearn and learn more about discernment. What is yet another laborious mission created by the atmosphere of doubt and distortion is indeed a colossal undertaking. What monster is this that seems to have possessed souls ? What ghoulish obsession is this that seems to have overcome the good? Again the poor lament, and cry out, as the Psalmist, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken us? My God, my God, why hast thou left us in misery? Where is your love? Where is your mercy? Where are you? And in the midst of this darkness, when all is barren, and parched, when hunger and thirst consume, hope emerges, buds grow. Our circles of discernment give us the grace to be brave, and strong and unfold rather than enfold, unravel rather than enshroud. Our little groups of engagement in learning the platforms of candidates for our future governance manifests the truth behind all the lies. We continue to hold on, be steadfast, vigilant, and never again allow the dark clouds of a dictatorship descend upon us. Our Passover is here, our crucifixion is inevitable. And so is our Resurrection. We rise from the rubble. We rise amidst uncertainty. We rise together.
From where I sit, I turn my gaze to these saints, these holy ones. They too have had their share of their own passion, death and resurrection. They have followed Jesus’ path unto death. We too are called now. This is our time. (I’d better stand and move! We have lots of work to do!)
Balik-Tanaw is a group blog of Promotion of Church People’s Response. The Lectionary Gospel reflection is an invitation for meditation, contemplation, and action. As we nurture our faith by committing ourselves to journey with the people, we also wish to nourish the perspective coming from the point of view of hope and struggle of the people. It is our constant longing that even as crisis intensifies, the faithful will continue to strengthen their commitment to love God and our neighbor by being one with the people in their dreams and aspirations. The Title of the Lectionary Reflection would be Balik –Tanaw , isang PAGNINILAY . It is about looking back (balik) or revisiting the narratives and stories from the Biblical text and seeing, reading, and reflecting on these with the current context (tanaw).