Reality Beyond Euphoria

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Many continue to have Pope Francis in mind. His words ring strongly still, and many quotations will be like guideposts to millions. Filipinos cannot stop talking and writing about a man who came, who saw, and who conquered our hearts.

As I begin this article that will not be posted until several days from now, I had just seen the PAL plane take off carrying Pope Francis to his next destination. My heart is swelling and palpitating. It is as though a great weight has been lifted from my spirit, as though a powerful cleansing wind had washed the poison of the environment. It is enough just to stay still and silent, to close my eyes and bask in the warmth and serenity of a rare moment.

I know the euphoria cannot be sustained. That is the very nature of euphoria – that it will not last. Maybe it is because euphoria, itself a consequence of a great experience, has a greater purpose in life. Euphoria is the heat of the moment expressed in the senses, inner and outer. Pope Francis triggered it among Filipinos. Now, where can euphoria bring us, or where we bring euphoria?

Euphoria is part of the human experience. I will dare to say, however, that euphoria is a more frequent and regular experience of Filipinos. Embedded in our culture, past and present, are trigger events and rituals that spark euphoria. Most obvious are the fiestas, from national to very local, from Christmas to barangay feast days. The Papal visit is a rare trigger, and so was Edsa People Power. Their impact is nation-wide. How, then, can we make their impact sustainable in our individual and collective lives?

Awareness and remembrance are the first necessary ingredients to keep the experience alive. Our minds and lifestyles are attuned to taking in so much so quickly, but then forgetting or discarding them just as quickly. However powerful an experience is, mindsets and lifestyles are more powerful. Life, after all, is not a stream of euphoric experiences, but of ordinary moments. It seems to me that the challenge is how to transform the extraordinary to become a part of the ordinary so that great lessons become building blocks of our journey to wisdom.

From basking to learning, from pleasure to lesson, from a special experience to a change of perspective – can we do this to our euphoria of the Pope Francis visit? With all the flurry and volume of preparations, truly outstanding preparations that saw Church and State in what is turning out to be a rare spirit of cooperation, Filipinos were unwittingly transported to an atmosphere of eager and active unity. Beyond that, Filipinos rediscovered the best of their culture and proved that millions can act in civility, in courtesy, in consideration, rich and poor, young and old. Do we appreciate that harmony and understand the capacity of harnessed power?

Pope Francis did not explain theology. Pope Francis did not articulate philosophy. What he said, whenever he had the chance to speak in his native Spanish, stayed simple and went directly to the heart of the most ordinary Filipino. And when language proved to be a limitation more than a facilitation, Pope Francis used his eyes, used his smile, and waved his hands. The message and the medium were one.

Pope Francis is not Christ, but he heads a great institution with 1.3 billion members that believe he will lead them to Christ. When I wrote last week that the focus should be on Francis the Pope, it was not to distract focus away from Christ, but to see how a leader can truly represent his principal and his convictions.

When societal leaders claim to represent the ideals of their institutions, we must focus on their persons to understand better those ideals. Ideals are not mere ideas. Ideals are forces that drive us to behave in ways that are better than our standards; they push us to raise the bar of our own goodness, our nobility. Ideals need to be seen and felt more than explained literarily. Through the behavior of others, especially our parents and leaders, ideals can be understood – or terribly misunderstood.

The responsibility of leadership is sacred. Leadership sets and shows the way, and often has the authority to influence compliance. Integrity to the ideals of religion or state is the expectation that followers have on their leaders, an expectation that has brought disappointment after disappointment. If many Filipinos have adopted compromise as a realistic norm, it is mostly because they have adapted to leadership. Why else would Pope Francis be like a cleansing fire to Catholics?

Yet, it is easy to understand why Pope Francis wanted less focus on himself and more on Jesus. He is only a representative. He knows and accepts it. He strives to live up to his mission and position. He knows it is like mission impossible, and so he asks for prayers from all of us. At the same time, Pope Francis is telling us that we are no different from him, that we have our own mission and position in society, no matter how humble. The behavior expected of him by his conscience, by his ideals, is the same expected of us by ours.

Understanding his role, understanding his challenges, the courage to address them moment after moment, and the acceptance, or humility, of the awesomeness of everything – this is Pope Francis.  He needs all the help he can get.

We need all the help we can get, too. We need our role models, heroes to awaken the hero in us, good persons to bring out the good in us. Like children, the Filipino people poured their hearts out to Pope Francis because he poured his heart out to us. Now, we look for Filipinos who can show us the way, who can pour their hearts out to us, who can take care of the poor, the weak and the elderly.

For each of us, I believe it is simply time to walk the talk.

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