The ancient city of Aleppo, Syria is in the news this week; cries of help of Bana, the seven-year-old girl tweeting about the fate of her city and many others, are unheeded. Nearer us, there is another massacre going on unabated, the killing of the poor, supposedly of drug pushers and users but nobody really knows because it is all done arbitrarily and definitely without any kind of process, due or not. Because of this, the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation Board was reported to have “deferred” a vote on the re-selection of the Philippines for compact development, “subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”
Of course, the hypocrisy rankles, knowing that Syria is where it is now among others because the United States, Russia and other powers have failed to rise against their own narrow, geopolitical interests. It also is hypocritical now that the victory of Donald Trump in the US elections has engendered the rise of overt racial, ethnic and religious discrimination in the land of the supposedly free.
And worst things are coming to the Philippines, in terms of human rights, with the death penalty about to be restored. Of course, it will be mainly the poor that will be shot, hanged, and poisoned, because only those without the best lawyers money could buy and without the fraternity brothers and other connections, are imposed the ultimate penalty. The rich and the connected—they are almost always able to escape accountability in this land. And as we are seeing with the police officers implicated with the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa and what we might see with the fraternity brothers of the President implicated in the Bureau of Immigration corruption scandal, why will it be any different now?
Last Monday, December 12, Fr. Sergio Su, SJ, a scientist who loves philosophy, and a wise and holy priest, ended our Manila Observatory Christmas party mass with an unexpected gesture, a silent protest as he called it. He said he found it scandalous that the Church has not spoken effectively about the massacre of the poor. He then asked us to be silent for ten minutes, to mediate on that, and at the end, he walked out without a word.
It was good to be reminded of that, even as we in the Observatory, the oldest of it kind in the Philippines, celebrated also, through service awards, milestones of colleagues in their work with us. As I have been telling people, we must go on doing the good things we are doing even as the killing is happening around us and there is turmoil in the world. We should hold our breath because things will pass; we must record what is happening and hold people accountable—those who kill, those order others to kill, and the cheerleaders of death—later with what they have done and the hateful words they have expressed. But the most important thing is still to do the right thing.
As concerned as I am with the Duterte government’s actions on human rights, the Marcos burial, and its anti-democratic tendencies, I think is it still important to support the administration for the good things it is doing. I have never seen our politics in a zero-sum way. That is why I continue to support the government’s peace initiatives, the anti-poverty and social justice programs, and environmental decisions.
In one of his Advent homilies, Pope Francis reminds us that “when we are in darkness and difficulty the smile doesn’t come, but there is the hope that teaches us to smile on that path to find God.” But to smile, to borrow a phrase from a friend, one must fiercely hope. Quoting Isaiah, Pope Francis exhorts us to be comforted and to comfort others. Isaiah “speaks to our hearts today to tell us that God forgets our sins and comforts us if we entrust ourselves to Him with a humble and repentant heart”. With such hearts, God “will bring down the walls of evil, will fill the holes of our omissions, will flatten the bumps of pride and vanity, and will pave the way for our meeting with him.”
In my Christmas message to my colleagues at the Manila Observatory, I talked about how difficult it was to celebrate Christmas this year. How do you rejoice before such tragedy and uncertainty? Fortunately, we had our Christmas celebration on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That gave me the opportunity to reflect on how God always chooses to appear first before the poor. That’s why the Madonna chose Juan Diego, a poor peasant and not a haciendero or a Don in Mexico. That’s why the Holy Family was guided to a stable and a straw manger and not a comfortable room in an inn. That’s why the angels of the Lord called the anawim—the shepherds and the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weakest—to come and be the first to behold the infant Jesus first.
I shared the Ignatian contemplation on the Trinitarian conversation about the incarnation, how the Father, the Son, and the Advocate empathize with the suffering of humanity and decided to send the Son to become like us so that we may all be saved. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatous, we are asked to contemplate upon the Trinity “looking upon our world: men and women being born and being laid to rest, some getting married and others getting divorced, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, so many people aimless, despairing, hateful, and killing, so many undernourished, sick, and dying, so many struggling with life and blind to any meaning. With God, I can hear people laughing and crying, some shouting and screaming, some praying, others cursing.” (Translation/version of Fr. Daniel Fleming, SJ).
Daniel Ruff, SJ comments on the Trinity’s response to seeing us: The Father, Son and Advocate decided to incarnate the Divine Word, the second Person. “God the Son will take human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth and become Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’ The Trinity’s plan is the mystery of the Incarnation the very reason for the Advent and Christmas seasons.”
We are saved. The poor is saved. This is the assurance of Christmas.
We may not see that now; the poor, which is all of us but in a very special way today particularly those who live in neighborhoods that are being assaulted every night by masked men, may not see that now. And that is what we are being called to - if we see that, if we truly believe that, then the best gift we can give ourselves and others this Christmas is to make Christ present to others: to the poor being killed; to family members who might need more attention in this season; and to friends and colleagues who would be helped by more kindness and presence.
This Christmas, there is only one answer to death and despair: let us all fiercely hope, and, yes, love.
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