Blessings and prayers

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

It is that time of the year when special thoughts and sentiments come to fore. While Christmas is situated at the end of the calendar year, there is nothing more significant as a face of new beginnings. Christmas is life bursting into the scene to start another cycle, the greatest reminder, and the paradox of power in the palms of gentleness and innocence.

Culture is infused with the spiritual, and the more spiritual, the finer that culture. Religion, which often claims to be the seat of spirituality, must then be enculturated and assimilated to be of relevance in people’s lives. Christian theology will point to Easter as the feast of new life, but Filipino culture will point to Christmas. That is why we celebrate Christmas the way we do and Easter maybe not the way we should.

This Christmas, to me, remains celebratory, of course. Its specifics, though, come to me through blessings and prayers. It is a powerful moment for me to reflect on the blessings, not only to me and family but more especially to people and country. For one, I had a medical incident this year that showed me in spades just how fickle and fleeting life can be. Human mortality is a grim reality when one is jolted as to its power, or when one’s family is unprepared. I had a mild bout with fear but ended with an overwhelming appreciation of blessing.

It is fact that our daily lives are a rich mixture of blessings and curses. The focus of our attention will determine what issue will develop to be a mountain and what will simply fade away to non-relevance. Christmas is not only a feast but a riveting ambiance that seeps into our collective behavior. As a people, we are now riding a wave of positivity, our thoughts and actions focused on celebrating our most important religious feast and national fiesta. At 8:30 last night, my friends and I were still lining up in a fast food restaurant inside a mall because of a big increase in the number of shoppers.

I also read that online shopping is hitting record level highs, the most known one hitting sales 30 times versus last year. Online shopping means that there is also a spike in the logistics business, more employment in non-traditional jobs like warehousing, packing, packaging, and delivery even as malls continue to draw their regular clients. Christmas spurs spending, and spending spurs income for both business owners and the workforce. The lighter and happy mood is simply more dominant, a respite from the negativity of collective life. That is one big blessing.

We are also looking forward to temporary ceasefire arrangements between government troops and communist rebels. There are times when the protagonists reach an agreement; there are times when each side does not wait for the other and unilaterally orders their troops to pull back, to stand down. In areas that are afflicted, this is a special blessing and more space for festivities.

On the area of legislative work, I monitor significant moves to bring medical attention to more people with bills on universal health care and a specific one that will try to give cancer victims more affordable treatment. These are on top of expanding PhilHealth benefits that were non-existent just twenty-five years ago. Imagine an almost 100% coverage that includes our majority poor population that never had any medical budget in our history. Despite its operational deficiencies, the way PhilHealth is today in the context of what never ever was, health coverage for all Filipinos is one understated blessing.

Perennial, persistent hunger incidence of poor Filipinos that had been affecting more than 20% of the population twenty years ago has been sliding down steadily. It has done so because both the private and public sectors have developed an increasingly sympathetic focus on fighting hunger. I have noticed that in the last decade, serious focus and effort have been directed to ease the plight of hungry Filipinos. Many civic groups and corporations have quietly been feeding communities and public schools. Consequently, the national government itself has taken a giant step by passing a national feeding program now formulating its implementing rules and regulations. National budgets should then follow. This is a spectacular blessing, not only for the hungry but for the soul of a people now more sensitive to the pain of millions.

There are the personal and familial blessings, too. Each of us knows what these blessings are, and our gratitude has become part of our prayers.

Speaking, then, of prayers, they are a major counterpart of blessings. The prayers of thanks are supposed to be the highest form as taught by the great religious faiths. I agree wholeheartedly. At the same time, Christmas is not only for blessings but also a unique moment for prayers that cover collective needs. Because our people and country need to heal and to heal before we hurt one another even more.

We have to pray for more effective and humane solutions to the scourge of illegal drugs. Millions of drug dependents, each with a family who suffer with them or because of them, must find more opportunity for recovery. Or, at the minimum, they find more protection from those who seek to harm them. We cannot keep on disemboweling our collective soul and must pray for drug-related killings to stop. So, too, must we pray for peace between government and rebels. We must not get used to violence as a necessary feature of life in our country. And we pray for extremism to lose motivation for more violence, for religious beliefs to let go of bigotry, for the brotherhood to find ascendancy among sons and daughters of one motherland.

We must pray, most of all, for political partisanship to find relief, for mutual respect among those who have different points of view, and the elevation of the common good as the greatest good that we all serve.

Blessings and prayers. Merry Christmas to one and all.

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