A great sadness covers my soul after the joy of Pope Francis in our midst. I know habits are hard to break, I know kindness and forgiveness are difficult to give, but euphoria made me hope that many would give it a mighty try, as mightily as they expressed public praise for Pope Francis. Nothing is more deceptive and dangerous than the hypocrisy of the holier-than-thou as nothing deserved more criticism from Jesus himself.
Then, just days after, we receive news about the massacre of police and soldiers in Mindanao. A great euphoria from an anticipated peace is plunged into shock and serious doubt of a kinder future for all in Mindanao and the nation. The personal pain of families and friends left behind by those who were killed is impossible to measure, and so is the pain of a nation so hungry for peace. Sadness, indeed, has become impossible to deflect.
I remember the words of Francis the Pope, about reality being superior to ideas, how thoughts and feelings have to be translated to deeds. Many nodded in enthusiastic agreement as the words were said, or read. Everybody talked or wrote about the key messages of the Pope, all so glowingly. The struggle, though, is the walk after the talk, the deeds after the thoughts and feelings. Back to reality, it seems.
Even before the Pope arrived, at the turn of the old year to the new, I had renewed the resolve to take the brighter side of things over their negative counterpart. I so want optimism to drive me to consistent and effective action in the crusade against poverty and hunger. It is not easy to rise above petty thoughts or provocations in the environment. There is always a reason to be angry or frustrated if that is what we are attuned to. Finding the lotus in a dirty pond is, indeed, a rare capacity among the more politically involved.
Yet, the lotus we must find, the poor we must help, the nation we must build. In the whole process of dissecting and diagnosing the cesspool many believe we are in, there has to be a point of decision. Do we wallow in it, or do we seek the lotus? It does not matter how wide or powerful the quicksand is, just whether we wish to stay or get out of it. Noisy criticisms cannot remain like good intentions that build roads to hell.
Context is a powerful ingredient, and a pecking order helps clarify choices. Our collective experience with Pope Francis made me appreciate more why faith, hope and love are the priority values taught by the Church. At the same time, I see that reality following other priorities, especially among our leaders.
What happens when other virtues have greater priorities—at the cost of faith, hope and love? It is easy to claim that the pursuit of truth and justice is primordial, even if such breeds the worst in us. Our own inner anger, or envy, or secret lust for power can be conveniently disguised when our public actuation claims the advocacy for truth and justice.
To most societies, truth and justice are priority values, simply because these are more easily understood and even possibly measured. Faith, hope and love would appear too intangible for human measurement, too fluid to be used as basis for societal interaction. But what is more convenient for people need not be the priority that is divinely ordained. And the general human mess we have made of life is my evidence that many human priorities are virtual traps for errors worse than the ones they seek to correct.
In recent history, many grave issues of justice have been surrendered for what advocates like Nelson Mandela say is the greater good. Other countries in Central and South America have had to wade through past injustices involving murder and torture by both government and rebels. In the end, many chose to set aside the cases in favor of giving peace a chance. To the particular individuals and families concerned, it was as though justice for their murdered or tortured loved ones was sacrificed for some other virtue.
It is like the case of poverty and corruption. If a people would like to tackle both, and can, that would be ideal. But cancers do not become the terrible diseases they are if past efforts to address them had not be ineffective, or even futile. We have mountains of laws and implementing rules and regulations aimed at suppressing and punishing corruption. We have so much of these control measures that they have burdened governance itself, both financially and operationally. Yet, corruption has been like an escalating graph, going up and going down less, then going up even higher again.
It sounds nice and noble to say that fighting corruption is our priority. We have tried over six decades, creating more laws and implementing more rules and regulations designed to suppress corruption. We have also faltered and failed, then, we create more laws, rules and regulations until governance itself is strangulated. It seems that the vision of building our nation is hinged on the principle of “do not” instead of “let’s do it.”
Poverty, therefore, takes second priority, or third, or last. The rhetoric is loud, the action a whimper. Solving poverty has become a mere addendum to many other priorities. Government, Church and society as a whole say they care for the poor, but that is not so, not if we measure it by the laws, the programs, the budgets, the rules and regulations that would force direct anti-poverty intervention. All of these are subordinated to our outwardly fanatical priority to anti-corruption. As a result, neither corruption nor poverty are effectively addressed.
It is a good time, this January of 2015, to step back and reflect. If we cannot, if we go by inertia, by habit, then another year of failure for poverty to be resolved, for corruption to be controlled, and for peace to be attained. Yes, Pope Francis was right to remind us—that reality is superior to ideas.