DOWN BUT NOT OUT

IN HIS NAME
September 6, 2020
Seven Things I Have Learned from Mary
September 8, 2020

Down and out. How many of us are in this state? After half a dozen months of slugging it out with an unseen enemy, many of us are battle-weary. Many times, I find myself telling the Divine, “Lord, I am tired and weary.”

It doesn’t help that we are not only battling an unseen enemy; we are also battling a political Hydra — that monster with many ugly heads in the form of extra-judicial killings, massive corruption, patronage politics, unemployment and poverty. To top it all, there is the ever-worsening persecution of the church. Amidst a backdrop of man-made and natural disasters, crosses are toppled off steeples, churches and religious icons are burned, strongman leaders play god and desire to be worshipped. Sometimes, it makes one wonder: Is this how Armageddon looks like?

The original metal cross of the Church of Reconciliation in Berlin, Germany. It was bent out of shape when the church was blown up in 1985.

Hollywood movies have conditioned our minds to see Armageddon as a war between good and evil forces that are both armed to the teeth. There is blood and gore, destruction and decimation of humanity and of all living things for that matter. Hope rests in a hero or a group of heroes imbued with superpower, armed with powerful ammunition to save what is left of the population. The good forces eventually win after a hard-fought battle.

What the whole world is currently witnessing deviates from the Hollywood-created scenario: blood and gore happens in state-sponsored violence; destruction comes in the form of empty structures; and decimation of living things is caused by an army of invisible invaders. The superhero is not a powerful individual or group armed with super weapons; what we have are heroes in their bunny suits and protective gears, who are armed with dedication to their mission of saving lives. Ditto with uniformed men committed to serve and protect, not the political patrons, but the constitution and the citizenry.

When I look back to the month of March 2020, I cannot help but be amused by our naivete at thinking that this pandemic would fade in two weeks’ time. The initial pastoral letter released by the Archdiocese of Manila suspended public celebrations of the Holy Mass and other religious activities for seven days only. Back then, it was unthinkable for us Catholics to attend masses online, to skip rituals of devotions to our favorite saints, to be unable to receive Holy Communion. And yet, it happened. The Master of the House allowed it to happen.

When my father was alive, he used to tell us a story about the three days of darkness when skies will turn dark and morning will be as dark as night. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. “Do not open your door or window. Do not dare look out or you’ll perish. Light a candle inside our home. After those three days of darkness, there will be great rejoicing.”
The global experience of a pandemic has caused me to re-interpret my father’s words: Three days can last from a minute to a lifetime. Darkness does not necessarily refer to absence of light; it can also refer to “absence of God in one’s life.” It can lead one to play god or fail to recognize God in others. Wailing and gnashing of teeth can mean losing one’s sense of purpose. Silent cries from someone who feels empty inside can be more deafening than weeping. Do not look out the window can also mean, “Do not allow yourself to be distracted.” Crises can either weaken or strengthen one’s faith depending on one’s ability to recognize the graces that come his/her way. Sometimes, one’s worst enemy is him/herself.

This pandemic is humanity’s downtime. It is a time of grace – that time when one unwittingly leaves a space in his/her heart for the Divine to fill. In that sacred space, there will appear sunny skies, a flower in bloom, a fruit to harvest, a newfound job, a company announcement that it won’t close. To a hungry person, it is a piece of bread; to a tired and weary rider, it is a generous tip; to a healthcare worker, it is the recovery of one soul in his/her care.

Downtimes are for taking stock of what one has vis-a-vis what one really needs to weather a storm. Pagod na pagod ka na ba? It is an admission of the futility of relying totally on the self; it is prelude to surrender to Divine will.

Downtimes are times when we are most vulnerable to God’s love. In good times, we are too full of ourselves, forgetting that the foundation of everything that is good is love – pure, unadulterated love. Downtimes create a hunger within us to touch base with the Divine – the God of surprises. All it requires is humility to open oneself up to grace because it takes grace to know grace.

Who is afraid of a downtime? We get notifications every now and then from various institutions regarding downtimes for system maintenance. With it comes the promise of a better, more efficient system – “to serve you better.”

As I was waiting for Bp. Ambo David’s 9 a.m. mass at San Roque Cathedral this morning, September 6, 2020, the song that was playing in the background while the video was on standby mode caught my attention. It was in Tagalog, but here is what it said so eloquently: “Where there is love, there is God. Where there is compassion, there is God. Where two or three people are gathered in His name, there He is in their midst…” (NLBT, 09/06/20)

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