Can the Filipino be reborn?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Kaleb Tapp on Unsplash

Suffering is part and parcel of life, at least some of it. But Filipinos who are poor or part of our low-income groups get the brunt of it. What adds salt to open wounds is the glaringly ostentatious display of wealth. We suffer from lack, but we are tortured when many among the rich and powerful live public lives of luxury.

Which is not really that strange in democratic countries where capitalism holds sway. It is not only strange, however, but scandalously anomalous when those who wield political power through elections or appointments display lifestyles contrary to the law. I wonder if they know it despite their oaths of office, as the code of conduct or ethics governing all public officials and employees demands that they live a simple lifestyle.

We are at the height of Holy Week. I know many would like to gloss over the pain and suffering represented by Holy Week—especially those who are its victims. We would instead move on to Easter Sunday, which means a joyous rebirth—or at least a second chance for a better life for those who have been constantly suffering.

The Christian faith, more than democracy as a principle and way of government, is precisely the answer to the grossly unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity. The love of God, in tandem with the love of neighbor, is the greatest commandment and is the fool-proof master key to threats of poverty and corruption. A people striving to be Christians cannot ever become the people we are today.

Unless we are really Christians by faith and works, we are not Christians. When corruption becomes the primordial evil that defines leadership and governance, coupled with apathy and tolerance by the people, we are not Christians striving to live our faith. Like much of our academics, we memorize but know little of application.

This is not a new reality. It has been building up steadily. We all saw it coming and were intelligent enough to understand and concerned enough to feel sick to our stomachs. But the courage to stand for our highest values and against the greatest evils has not been there for a long while. And our growing worship of money guarantees the courage will stay muted – because the evil of corruption has all the money.

Are we, then, a hopeless people? No, but only because our faith includes a God free to intervene in His time. I often feel the time is near, and I usually see signs that those who have all the power and wealth do not also have a smooth path toward their nefarious designs. While we see their unchecked arrogance in politics and economics, they are racked with internal conflicts. They are their own nemeses.

“If we do not want to make money and power to be our gods, then we must hold on to what our heart whispers and what the good in us is trying to make us do. Even this requires great courage, done in silence.”

So, maybe the God we believe in might be using the very agents of evil to do what the agents of the light cannot – provide the environment that will erupt to disrupt everything. If the power of good cannot topple evil, evil may self-destruct. It is a pitiful way to hope for change, but that is the only way when man gives up and God does not. It is painful, though. Blood and tears for all, especially those who have much to lose. But we will all share in the suffering because our nation is one; our God is one.

I only cringe at the loss of the freedom and power that have been our birthright. I cringe at why we cannot find the truth of our own cowardice and would instead point to Pontius Pilate and the Pharisees as the cause of our misery. Not our fears, not our doubts, not our weaknesses, not our cowardice.

But that is why we have Lent—the betrayal, the blood and torture, the crucifixion. We all look to Easter and resurrection—from God, not ourselves. Lent will be a vicious cycle because it will not become a once-a-year religious event but a definition of our daily lives.

After 2,000 years, Christians have not learned. Politicians, tax collectors, money changers, and Pharisees continue to abound and defy all laws from the heavens and the earth and get away with it. After 2,000 years, money has edged out God to be the great pretender – but worshipped, nonetheless.

I have decided to be one of the hopefuls and pay the price of disappointment. That decision is because I feel in my bones, gut, heart, soul, and spirit that God exists and is not bound by man’s time or rules. I see that what is asked of me, and all others in a similar mind, is to give my all in the struggle of good versus evil. And to give up no matter how many times I stumble and fall.

If we do not want to make money and power to be our gods, then we must hold on to what our heart whispers and what the good in us is trying to make us do. Even this requires great courage, done in silence. But the good that accumulates from man, partnered with the deepest wishes of our soul, may entice a divine hand to soothe our fears and pain and provide opportunities for significant change.

Two thousand years ago, an ordinary man was crucified on the cross. How little have we realized that we, too, will be crucified? He resurrected. Maybe we will find rebirth as well.

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