"Where are we human beings in a world with so much evil and suffering?"
The Third Sunday of Advent is also called “Gaudete Sunday” which in Latin means “rejoice.” It reminds us that this season of advent is a time for rejoicing because the day of our salvation is near at hand. God has revealed himself to us by being born into this world to redeem us from the bondage of sin.
Tomorrow’s Gospel brings us back to the narrative on John the Baptist. Continuing with his message of repentance, John exhorts the crowd to be charitable and lead upright lives. To the tax collectors, he tells them not to collect more than what they are supposed to; to the soldiers, he preaches to them not to extort and be satisfied with their wages. Indeed, John’s message never loses its contemporaneity. Even in the modern environment such as ours where each one is given complex tasks, roles and duties, the foundational truth remains i.e. to perform one’s role in accordance with the basic ethos of morality. From the highest official to the most abject, each one must perform his duty within a certain framework of morally and ethically accepted norms. There is always a consequence in violating this essential rule.
In John’s own graphic words: His (Lord’s) winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and father the wheat into his barn, but the chaff will burn with unquenchable fire.” Surely, those who choose to ignore and dismiss with contempt the standard rules of morality which is reflected in the Scriptures will make a proper accounting sooner or later.
But our God is a merciful God. There is no sin so grave as to be beyond pardon. His love is infinite and unfathomable. While men’s capacity to forgive may be finite and his sense of justice often perverted, God’s love is limitless and his justice perfect. Even the worst of sinners are given every window of opportunity to reconcile with God the loving Father. The greatest of saints are sometimes, at one point in their lives, the greatest of sinners. St. Paul was a murderer.
A few days ago, when I was still in Poland, I had the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camps. These places were set up by the German Nazis to implement their “final solution” for what they believed was a serious problem in Europe—the presence of the Jewish people
Entering Auschwitz, I saw what welcomed its prisoners during World War II, the words “Arbeit macht frei’, a German phrase meaning “work sets you free.” The more appropriate phrase would have been: “Death shall set you Free.” Because in these camps alone (there were others in Germany and elsewhere in Europe), more than a million and a half people—communists, liberal democrats, the Roma, homosexuals, and most of all, the vast majority (90-95 percent), Jews from all over Europe brought in cattle/freight cars in what is now described as holocaust trains—lost their lives here.
Auschwitz was built first; in a way, it was an experiment on how to do genocide. The Nazis liked what they saw and so they built Birkenau, a much bigger camp. They were so efficient here—starting with the selection process in the railway platform where SS officers chose who would live (one out of four) and who would die.
The inscription in the Birkenau Memorial (in 23 languages to represent the ethnic/national origins of those killed in the two camps) located at the end of the railway and just beside the gassing chamber and crematorium where thousands were killed every day is direct to the point: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.”
It was difficult touring the camps, with all the mementos of cruelty and evil - the thousands of shoes of victims, tons of their hair, pictures of the condemned, etc. I had many questions, most of all why we have governments today that act like the Nazis did and why there is a resurgence of fascism in many places - including Germany and the Philippines.
The massacre of the poor in our country cannot be compared to the Holocaust in scale but it is still monstrous and terrible. It bothers me greatly that many of our citizens cheer these killings.
In the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, I could not help but relate what happened there in World War II with what is and will be happening in the places that will be worst hit by climate calamities arising from human selfishness. I was in Poland to attend a climte conference.
William Styron, the author of Sophie’s Choice, once said: “Someday I will understand Auschwitz. This was a brave statement but innocently absurd. No one will ever understand Auschwitz. What I might have set down with more accuracy would have been: Someday I will write about Sophie’s life and death, and thereby help demonstrate how absolute evil is never extinguished from the world. Auschwitz itself remains inexplicable. The most profound statement yet made about Auschwitz was not a statement at all, but a response. The query: “At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?” And the answer: “Where was man?”
Where are we human beings in a world with so much evil and suffering?
This is the paradox of Gaudete Sunday. We can only rejoice of we see though our sinfulness, if we confront the evil in and among us.
In this Season of Joy, we can only recognize Christ in the manger if, like John the Baptist, our hearts and minds are not burdened with selfishness, greed, ambition and all forms of moral baggage that becloud our soul into seeing both majesty and mercy of Christ. We must wear the vest of charity, selflessness, trust and total dependence in God and most of all love which is the greatest of all virtues.
In these times when so much is happening around us, good and bad, Evangelist Luke is calling us to try to recognize Christ in our midst and discern his divine will. In every event that occurs in our personal lives and the life of our nation, we must pray that we will see things from the perspective of our faith in the Lord and try to understand what he is trying to tell us. As God is the God of history, he is also the God of forgiveness and providence, and most of all the God of love and joy.
I ended my trip in Poland with a pilgrimage to the Jasna Gora monastery to pray before the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, origin is traced to St. Luke who tradition says painted it. In honor of the Black Madonna, the Poles sing a beautiful song, one that resonates in our country and the world today:
“Madonna, Black Madonna, how it is good to be Your child, O, allow, Black Madonna, to be hidden in Your arms.
In Her arms you will find peace, and you will be protected from evil,
because for all Her children, she has loving heart and she will protect you, when you give Her your heart, when you will repeat these words:
Madonna, Black Madonna, how it is good to be Your child; O, allow, Black Madonna, to be hidden in Your arms.”
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