We are riding a wave. This one is called the Lenten season, and it is rushing towards the shore just ahead, the shore of Easter. It’s not just about religion, not Lent or Easter. The heart of the story is universal, and all the more so is Jesus Christ. Lent to Easter is our story. It’s about being praised in one week with people waving and screaming alleluias and then being crucified in the next. The story of Jesus would have no meaning if it does not relate to us if bits and pieces of it have not happened to us, the dream and the struggle, the affirmation and the betrayal, the dying and the rising again.
I was brought up as a Catholic, especially by a mother who showed me by example piety in the real sense, real because she simple lived it, quietly and consistently. She did not preach, not by words anyway, but her private prayers matched the way she lived. She loved her family and stood like a pillar for us. She loved her God, too, and there was no dichotomy between family, Church, community as far as her values, her Catholic beliefs, were concerned. During Lent, I remember her the most, because her life before my eyes was one continuous story of sacrifice for all she loved and believed in. And during Easter, I saw why she sacrificed without complaint because she was pursuing an Easter, a season of joy and abundance for herself, her family, friends, and community.
I was also born a Filipino and brought up as one. My family and its remembered history are totally about being Filipino, from fighting the Spaniards and then fighting the Japanese. The Americans did not stay long enough to make life miserable for Filipinos, not as miserable as more than three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule and almost four years of brutal Japanese occupation. In other words, I had my birth mother and I continue to have my motherland. My motherland and I experience our Lent and Easter cycle. We have our dreams and struggles, our achievements and our disappointments, how we are affirmed and how we are betrayed. We sacrifice for our vision of tomorrow, suffer the pain of disappointment and failure, and also bask in the moments when we taste success.
We are not equal in the flesh, and not equal in wealth either. For centuries up to today, there are very many who are poor and very few who are rich. It is already fortunate to be in the in-between the very poor and the very rich because there is no Easter for those left behind, only sacrifice with very little or dim vision of what could be brighter up ahead.
I know from recorded history that poverty is not a modern phenomenon born from the greed of politicians and businessmen. In fact, I have not yet read of a people, a nation, that started out as rich with the vast majority of its population not being in poverty. Yes, we know of some nations that today have substantially dismantled their historical poverty and whose residents now enjoy a lifestyle much more comfortable than the rest of the world. The Philippines is not yet there but has strong dreams of getting there. Meanwhile, we struggle through our extended Lent for that elusive Easter we dream of.
It can be strange for those who would like to blame politicians for our poverty to know that poverty was there even before Duterte, PNoy, Gloria, Ramos, Cory, Marcos and all other presidents before him. To understand the context of poverty would be too enlightening to the traditional complainers in society because they would have to blame the history of mankind. It is not easy to put blame if we do not point out personalities because it becomes a bit boring. In other words, for those who would like to attract some attention, try blaming greed day in and day out – and lose all your audience. When we begin to talk about vice and virtue, we think we are already in the realm of the religious. And most of us do not want to be priests and nuns.
Nonetheless, it is about vice and virtue, about transcending the former and exemplifying the latter. Poverty is not a game of economics, it is a game of values, the fight between good and evil, between right and wrong. Personalities enter because leaders and models are people, those who cannot get out of a lifestyle of vice, and those who are emerging examples of integrity, excellence, and compassion. For those who are truly interested about dismantling poverty, about building democracy, about peace and prosperity, the people and nations who have gone far ahead in the game have attained higher levels of integrity, excellence, and compassion. Economics and politics simply follow the refinement of human values.
Integrity. Even when no one is looking, do what is right. Excellence. Even when no one is watching, do things well. Compassion. Even when no one will know, be kind. Because all people and nations who have become enviable for the way they live day to day, consistent in their respect for the other, in their regard for law and morality, in their efficiency and creativity, and in their caring system for the young, the weak and the old – all of them strive for integrity, efficiency and compassion.
It will seem from the surface that Filipinos and the Philippines are so far away from the Easter of our existence. Yes, it is so – from the surface. Just as true is what is not often seen but that which we know we can do, especially because we are already doing them from time to time. We know about integrity or we cannot pursue it. We know about excellence because we understand about quality and consistency. And definitely, we know about compassion because we have it – for some, sometimes.
What we really believe, we can do.