Monday, October 13, 2008

Driving to Heaven

“I AM really relearning the joys of driving,” my friend Alex said to me while maneuvering the steering wheel of his vehicle. His face evidenced joy. “Why?” I curiously countered.
“When you drive you adjust to all kinds of people. You learn to be a good citizen,” was Alex’s quick answer. As I listened to him explain his rediscovered joy, I realized that for him the arduous task of driving on Filipino roads has become a sort of school for the virtues. “Why,” I mused to myself, “driving then can make one holy.”

Our van was now meandering on a steep climb up the crest of a hill. The engine then made what sounded like a sigh of relief as we found ourselves once more on level ground. Then Alex made a sudden stop.

“What is it Alex?” I asked. “Si Manang naglalakad,” he said as he pointed with his nose to a stooped figure several yards behind us. Putting the van on reverse, he moved slowly towards the old woman who was carrying a wooden staff taller than herself. “Saan po kayo pupunta?” Alex asked. “Sa San Isidro po,” the woman responded. By this time Alex was out helping the woman climb up the van.

The first time I heard about Atty. Alexander Lacson was in 2006 when the late Max Soliven featured him in his column. Max was narrating how one day, as his car had conked out on a busy Metro Manila street, a stranger had stopped by to offer help. Visibly touched by this act of bringing him to his destination, he asked for the man’s name. It turned out to be Alex. This Filipino stops regardless of one’s station in life.

In 2001, Alex and his wife, Pia, were thinking of leaving the Philippines for abroad. They agreed that if the country will progress in 20 years, they would stay put. If not, they would leave. Then they realized that if they would only do something today, there would be change. After all, change starts with oneself. Wasn’t it Plutarch who said: “What we achieve inwardly will change outward reality?”

Atty. Lacson did just that when he wrote the book, Twelve Little Things Every Filipino Can Do to Help Our Country. The book identifies 12 doable actions that when done habitually and in solidarity with others can contribute significantly to nation building. It has since become a best seller with its author having given talks to more than 500 different groups in a period of two years. That’s nearly one talk every day.

When Alex was writing his book, there emerged, in another part of the country, several initiatives that eventually became advocacy groups. One reached out to OFWs and their families; another sought to do something about illegal drugs and the use of drug profits to influence the pillars of justice (i.e. narcopolitics); and a third promoted graft and corruption intolerance. The three has since been consolidated into Dilaab (“conflagration,” “passion,” or “tongues of fire” from Dila and Alab). Three children gave birth to a mother.

Advocacy groups are not easy to “sell” especially to people in the pews. Suspicions lurk as to the ideological underpinnings of such endeavors. Advocacy work, they feel, betrays an activism incompatible with faith. Many feel the risks are just too great. Why stick one’s neck out? Why be confrontational? Why not just try to be honest even if others are not honest?

The challenge of a Church response for social transformation becomes apparent when we read The Catechism for Filipino Catholics, 1193: “Since we Filipino Catholics constitute the great majority of our nation, we hold the primary responsibility for building a just Philippine society.” If rampant graft and corruption is any indication, this responsibility is yet to be carried out to the full. Perhaps there is need not only to be good, but also to try to influence others to be good and to be with others who want to be good. We need to take sides.

Through the modern wonders of technology and networking, I was able to connect with Alex. Soon our paths converged. Nearly two years ago, Dilaab launched its Heroic Christian Citizenship and Leadership Program (HCCLP). The message is simple: “A good Christian should be a good citizen and a good leader.” Acts of good citizenship and leadership, when done through the eyes of faith, can bring us to heaven.

Or, one might even say, these acts give a glimpse of heaven on earth. Matthew 22:1-14, the gospel reading for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, has a peculiar detail: a man who was not dressed up for the wedding festival of the king’s son is kicked out of the assembly. Some say the garment may have been issued by the host himself and especially made for the occasion. It was worn over the guest’s regular clothing. Whatever the cultural realities, the garment became requisite for participation in the feast. Matthew’s penchant for “righteousness” (this appears 7x while used only 3x in all the other gospels) has led some scholars to identify this garment with deeds of righteousness.

The biblical concept of “righteousness” refers to the state of being in the right, i.e. of being vindicated in the eyes of God. It has to do with being in right relationship with God and with others. Perhaps this starts with the heart being in the right place (cor-recto?). When such godly order of relationship exists, we get a glimpse of heaven here on earth. When acts of good citizenship are impelled by faith, there result deeds of righteousness.

Good citizenship expands our notion of family. The daily chaos in our streets—where I often feel like an endangered specie as a pedestrian—speaks of a predatory mentality that results when one’s notion of family remains constricted. I have often asked myself: “What if each driver would imagine pedestrians trying to cross pedestrian lanes as their mothers or family members, wouldn’t they be more considerate?”

My friend Alex thinks so.
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