Where We Are in Faith Practice: Our Religious Context
Gen 49:2, 8-10
Reference: PCP II 28-33
Two tourists were traveling in India. One was a poor Filipino priest and the other a wealthy American industrialist. Their guide told them: “We are now in a village famous for its breathtaking countryside and for an old man named Albahatnam. He is known for not uttering more than four words at a time.” The industrialist whispered to the priest, “Father, you can have my mansion in San Francisco and 5 million dollars from my account if I wouldn’t make Albahatnam say at least five words.” The priest simply smiled. Then they came upon old Albahatnam, sitting under a balsam tree as usual. The industrialist and the priest introduced themselves. The old man nodded. Then the industrialist said, “Sir Albahatnam, I’m just curious. How do you describe life in this little village?” Old Albahatnam looked at the industrialist intently and said, “Sunrise, sunset, night, day.” Then he left, entered his hut and shut the door.
The wealthy American industrialist looked in defeat at the poor Filipino priest.
The Filipino priest fainted.
If you think that I purposely made the other character a Filipino priest out of bias, you are right. And, I might add, he came from Eastern Samar too.
On the other hand, the message of old Albahatnam should not be lost to us. Our lives, personal and social, individual and communal, are really a mix, a ‘halo-halo’ of light and darkness, night and day, positive and negative.
This is true particularly when we look intently—in the manner of old Albahatnam—into our faith practice or the way we live or not live our faith. There we see lights as well as shadows.
For instance, when we consider our clergy, we realize they are better educated nowadays, more in touch with the times and the people of today, more aware of the problems and possibilities of both Church and Philippine society and, let’s accept it, economically better off than their counterparts from the 60s till even the 90s. You can see it in the kind and number of cars or SUVs, laptops, i-phones, ipod/ipads, houses and other properties they own. These are some of our lights, ambivalent though to a degree. But even as early (or as late) as 1991, there was awareness of the clergy’s inadequate number (still true today despite, thankfully, the presence of vocations to the priesthood in our and other dioceses of the country), a lack of a sense of direction in our leadership and “how it must be exercised” (PCP II 30). These are obviously our shadows. We could argue that a lot of that has been addressed since 1991. But I could counter argue that a lot also has remained. You could even supply some more shadows or lights PCP II missed.
Second, when we consider our religious, we must be grateful for the increase of their presence in the Diocese of Borongan as well as in other poor dioceses erstwhile with little presence of the religious in them. We must make special mention the presence of the Poor Claires and their monastery in Camada, Maydolong, a very recent blessing to all of us. This is certainly one big tremendous light. But, on the other hand, the religious themselves often confess their own sense of inadequacy as far as witnessing to their consecrated life in the face of the harsh life by our poor around us (PCP II 30). The same thing can be said of our local clergy. This is, no doubt, a lingering shadow.
Third, as we consider our laity, we see a re-awakening and resurgence of their sense of identity and apostolate, a blossoming of faith and other lay communities with their own peculiar spiritualities and ways of living the gospel, a more active participation in the Church’s evangelical thrusts for life, the environment, the poor, independence (of Church leadership) according to the requirements of justice and peace. These are among our lights very visibly expressed in our laity. Clearly there are many lights in them. But we must also pinpoint the shadows. There is the continuing inability by Catholic lay leaders to bring faith values into the political, economic and cultural lives of our nation. The indicting evidence is the scandalous gulf between the many who are poor and the very few who are rich among us. This is still indicative of how our laity still “flounder about, not knowing exactly what the changed times require of us” (PCP II 30).
We are told in our first reading that the tribe of Judah is heaped with favors and blessings as well as given a leadership position in Israel on account of the coming Messiah who is to descend from Judah’s line. In other words, it is only on account of Jesus Christ that we will ever be blessed with progress in our faith life. Considering our lights and shadows in that regard will only be desirable against the backdrop of whether or not we are more and more closely following his gospel and its demands in our time and place.
Out gospel encourages us to move on following Jesus the Messiah even in the face of sin and darkness in our midst. The reason is simple. Jesus came to call and save sinners like us just as he came to a family stained by sin and sinners, like the women in irregular unions (Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba) and men such as David and many others who flipped-flopped between faithfulness and betrayal.
Michael Jackson once sang a song entitled ‘Man in the Mirror’. Part of the refrain goes: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways…” In the same way, we say, “We are the Man in the Mirror. Our reflection can only be meaningful if we do it to ‘change our ways’.”
* Rev. Eutiquio B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
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