Hopes over doubts and fears

"This means that on May 13, we make the right choices."


In the next six weeks, my Saturday column will be on the Sundays of the Easter season. This coincides with our election season which I think is providential. There is a lot to dread where the 2019 elections will bring the country. But one must not be overwhelmed by doubts and fears. Seeing both personal and historical events through the lens of the resurrection might help many of my readers.

For instance, in this First Sunday of Easter, the gospel presents two scenes and two themes, from the post-resurrection experience. The gospel of John tells us that on the evening of the first week after resurrection the disciples huddled in a room with locked doors, fearful of the Jews when Jesus appeared and stood before them. The disciples rejoiced when they saw their Master who greeted them, “Peace be with you. He then breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

On this day, the sacrament of confession or penance was instituted. It is the single greatest and most powerful gift by God to all Christians for the sacrament showers us the grace of reconciliation, to be reconciled with the Father having been separated from by sin. No sin is too great that cannot be forgiven by God. In fact, it is said that even Judas who betrayed the Lord would have been forgiven had he believed in the boundless mercy of God and not succumbed to despair. By the sacrament of reconciliation the faithful obtain absolution for the sins committed against God and neighbor and are reconciled with the community of the Church.

By the appearance of the risen Lord, the disciples were filled with rejoicing and hope. Much like the disciples, we worship Jesus not because of what we have to offer, but because Jesus inundates us with hope and courage to face a world in constant ferment. He exploded the walls of our wretchedness with the irrefutable proof that death had been conquered, that the guilt and power of sin had been slain. The disciples were astonished, at best; despairing, at worst; helpless, in the least—and Jesus walked in their midst and greeted them with his life-changing “peace be with you!”

Now Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So when Thomas joined them, the disciples told him about the visit. But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later, the disciples were inside and Thomas was with them when Jesus again appeared before them. It was on this occasion that Jesus told Thomas “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Indeed, much like Thomas, many of us are often consumed with doubts on the risen Christ. We often ask ourselves—especially in times of trouble—where is God? Has God abandoned me? With so many bad things happening around, with all the evil that surrounds us and enslaves all humanity, with all the hate and anger that infuse the soul of many, we, much like Thomas, are wont to ask—I will not believe. In this age of empirical truth, we believe only in those we see, feel and hear. Jesus would also ask us the same question that he asked Thomas—Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. Thomas was intimate with Jesus for three years, witnessing his miracles, listening to his teachings and prophesies about his death and resurrection. These would have been enough. But still he doubted.

Jesus knew Thomas’s weakness, just as he knows ours. Jesus may not be physically present before us like in the times when he walked the earth and mingled with the people, but God is always present in us, through his Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. He is a God of history that accompanies us in every road and path we take. He promised that he would remain and guide his Church for all eternity. Even as we live our daily lives, the presence of the Lord is evident. There is no reason to doubt for his spirit abides in us in times of bounty and in times of hunger, in peace and in war. Truly, blessed are those who do not see, yet believe.

In this election season, I have been going around the country giving faith-based briefings on the national situation, with a particular focus on the incoming 2019 elections. I start my talks with a presentation of the national situation which politically is very bad. The human rights situation is dire, political killings are on the rise with human rights defenders targeted, the rhetoric of hate has intensified led no less by the President himself. There is a lot to fear about. I see this in the many young people have reached out to me asking for advice on whether they should leave the country for good. I see this in the palpable despair and anger expressed in social media.

Doubt and fear (dread for many) are good descriptions of how many people feel about the elections. They fear for the country and what the election results would mean to it and for the future of our democracy. But these doubts and fears are self-fulfilling if they are going to discourage people from voting.

Last Jan. 28, 2019, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral statement on the forthcoming elections entitled “Seek the common good”. It begins with a characterization of the May 13, 2019 as not just an ordinary election year: “In our country today the checks and balances in the government are being undermined. So far the Senate is the institution in the government that is holding out as our country is inching towards total control.”

The Bishops then proposed criteria to apply in selecting whom to vote for: They must be principled, courageous, and have the common good as their main concern and not their own political interests.

The Bishops urged voters to be discerning in their votes, encouraging lay groups to engage in discernment circles to help one another know the candidates well.

The Bishops remind the faithful that participation in politics is not just to be limited to non-partisan involvement. In fact, lay Christians are also encouraged to engage in principled partisan politics. Indeed, campaigning for good candidates is an exercise of Christian faith.

In this time of social media, according to the Bishops, No one can say in that she/he cannot participate in politics: “Each of us can let our voice be heard and be a part of national conversation by posting our views in the social media, but with great respect for others and with the end of advancing the truth.” Young people are particularly encouraged to participate in the electoral process. They should use their skills and knowledge of the social media to advance what is true, what is just, and what is for the common good.

There are reasons to doubt and fear, but Easter reminds us that faith and hope always prevails. But we must do our part. And that means in May 13, that we vote for the right choices.

Facebook Page: Professor Tony La Viña Twitter: tonylavs

Topics: Tony La Viña , 2019 elections , Easter , Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
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