Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sand Beneath

A few weeks ago, I had a most unusual visit from a good friend. Gus Ouano has a PhD in polymer science and for more than 40 years, had lived in the USA. He had worked for IBM and had done free-lance consultancy work for several years, becoming a speaker/resource person in many international gatherings. When he speaks a very sharp mind is evident, one that does not need to prove itself anymore.
In 2004, the love of his life, Joyce, his wife, died. This plunged him into a deep depression and the thought of suicide entered his mind. Then he realized he still had something to do and that God had been gracious to him. Life had been fun but he had somehow become self-centered. Out of his crucible of pain, he had received the gift of hope and of prayer.
He returned to Cebu with the intention of sharing his know-how to the local academe. He had since written and published a book about his life’s journeys. Unfortunately, some months ago, however, he had to return to the USA.
“Father, I want to see you before I leave. I have a poem to share with you,” Gus told me over the phone. “Let’s meet over breakfast,” I responded. Over breakfast, Gus handed me this poem:

Lord Creator; Let us be grains of sand beneath
Humanity’s feet, that it may stand higher than if we
Did not exist.

With Your Grace and Blessings Lord, we would be like
Mount Everest; fused grains of sand. Without You, we
Would be self absorbed and with no coherence towards
Each other; like quick sand on which, humanity cannot

If we work together for your Glory Lord, the world
Would be heaven on earth. In Jesus’ Name, we pray;

“Why,” I asked, “are you giving me this poem?” He answered, “I want to feel complete.” “Can you share this with people, those to whom Dilaab reaches out?” he added with sober passion.
Then he started to explain. Physical reality, according to him, is made up of particles. The sands on the seashore are particles, just as the granite mountain is made up of particles, albeit distinguishable only through a microscope. The sand particles are loose compared to the mountain.
Particles naturally adhere or connect to one another. A granite mountain is made up of particles that, under tremendous pressure, are so connected to one another they appear as a single mass.
There are instances, however, when particles do not connect to one another. This is when the particles are coated with certain substances – like certain oils, for instance ─ that make them repel each other. Quicksand is an example of this phenomenon. Particles go their own way; the mass is not solid anymore. There is no foothold.
“Fr. Melo,” he added, “when I left the country in 1961, I recall a people who were very gifted and capable of working together. After being away for awhile, I have noticed a change,” he said with sadness that did not betray self-righteousness.
“The traffic situation, for instance, shows a tendency among many drivers and pedestrians to think only of themselves. We used to obey traffic rules,” he said. I agreed. I often feel like an endangered specie every time I am a pedestrian.
“Many leaders in the country only think about themselves and their interests,” he added. Our sharing continued for some time and we agreed that selfishness and fear represent the coating of oil that prevent Filipinos from getting our acts together.
“How does one remove the undesirable coating?” I asked. He specified water and some form of detergent.
Water symbolizes baptism. It is the start of new life. Water and blood flowed from the side of the crucified Christ (John 19:34). Earlier on, Jesus had declared that “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7: 37-38).
The antidote to this selfishness and fears that prevent us from getting our acts together is a return to our source: our baptism. It is also to realize that when we are baptized we share a common spiritual space with other baptized believers, whether we know them personally or not.
This consciousness of a shared spiritual space ought to flow into an awareness of our shared civic space with other Christians, other believers, and men and women of good will who all happen to be citizens of this country. Whatever we do has repercussions not only for us, and our families, but also to the wider citizenry. The Eucharist, then, is the living bread come down from heaven that invites us to go beyond ourselves, and our families, to a wider family. We journey with others.
Thanks, Gus.
(For comments email author at

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Saints as peacemakers

The Feast of All Saints is celebrated to honor all the Christian saints, both known and unknown. In the Greek Orthodox Church the date is the Sunday after Pentecost while the Roman Catholic Church celebrates it November 1.
This feast captures the original meaning of who are the saints as reflected in the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints…” For Paul all the baptized faithful are called to be saints or are already considered saints as he indicates at the start of his second letter to the Corinthians.
It is a welcome fact then that in the Philippines November 1 is when families gather together to remember and pray for their dead. After all, it is not only the canonized saints who are in heaven.
Yet for those who have remained faithful to the end, an even more hallow picture emerges with the sealing of the 144 thousand faithful (the number is meant to be symbolic) clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands; they have been washed by the blood of the lamb as the seventh chapter of the book of Revelation puts it. The picture is one of final victory for those who come out of the great tribulation by sharing in Christ’s Resurrection, and are now worshipping God unhindered. The book of Revelation was written during the empire-wide prosecution of Christians by Emperor Domitian, 81-96 A.D. It was written to affirm Christians in their faith.
In contemporary Filipino society, the Feast of All Saints is now preceded by Halloween, the evening of October 31. Halloween caters to the lure of the fear factor; after all, do not human beings pay others to scare them out of their wits? Some people consider this fun and it is good for commerce. But is this all there is to it?
Perhaps another way of evaluating Halloween is to contrast it with All Saints Day; is the consoling picture of the saints who lived the Beatitudes and who reign victorious with Christ compatible with the blood and gore of Halloween? Is this how we want the dead to be remembered?


Jesus speaks authoritatively in the Beatitudes. He literally “opened his mouth and taught them” (Mat 5:2). He is a Moses figure but goes beyond this revered leader. In other parts of the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5-7) of which the Beatitudes are a part, he says he comes to fulfill the law (Mat 5: 17) and this fulfillment is his person: “You have heard the commandments…What I say to you is…” (vv. 21-22).
Peacemaking is the focus of v. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” This is the only time the noun “peacemaker” appears in the NT. This peacemaking is neither pacifism nor indifference but a state of being that leads to positive action that reconciles.
Psalm 13:14 describes peaceful action: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” James 3: 18 tells us that “the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” What sowing in peace means is indicated when he distinguishes between worldly and heavenly wisdom (vv. 13-17). A peacemaker also speaks out when the time is right: “He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but he who frankly reproves promotes peace” (Prov. 10:10).
Finally, a peacemaker is one who is inserted into the original peacemaker, Jesus Christ: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1: 19-20).


The bishops urge us to be peacemakers:

Finally, we ask everyone to follow the path of peace. This means the path of dialogue and openness…the path of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation…Together let us intensify the signs of hope regarding politics and peace that we observe such as…military groups participating in formation towards a culture of peace; lay organizations, faith communities, BEC’s, and NGO’s spreading the good news of principled politics and organizing themselves to reform our political culture; politicians who pursue reform..(CBCP 12 July 2009 statement on Lay Participation in Politics and Peace)

In the Archdiocese of Cebu, His Eminence, Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, reiterates this call to be peacemakers in the area of principled politics. He distinguished between two efforts, one ensuring honest and credible elections; another ensuring honest and credible candidates. He calls upon the lay faithful to a participative role in the elections that go beyond poll-watching. It is by the lay people’s “own coherent faith, moral firmness, educated judgment, professional competence and passion for service” that they will know “whom to vote for, and whom to reject.”
Meanwhile a bottom-up mechanism to help form the practical consciences of voters is being adopted in Cebu and elsewhere. It opens the doors for answering these questions in a process that is deliberate, proactive, communal, and God-centered.
Saints are called to be peacemakers. While relying on the prayers of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, we who are still engaged in the battle over hearts, minds, and souls, particularly in the area of evangelizing politics, are consoled that we shall be called children of God.