First Sunday of Advent (C) – 29 November 2009
Readings: Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
Six days ago a crime that cries out to heaven was committed in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao. As the events that happened gradually came to unfold before the rest of the country and the world, most, if not all of us, watched and discussed the news with shock, anger and grief.
57 bodies were found in shallow mass graves in a remote village. Most of them were women, at least 30 were journalists. They were participants of a convoy of vehicles who were planning to register the candidacy of a local politician running for provincial governor. The members of the media were there to cover the event.
The massacre is now being called the single deadliest event for journalists in history. The Philippines now outranks Iraq as the world’s deadliest place for journalists.
Several more gory details came into view: It was not only members of a powerful clan and their private army that were allegedly involved, but also several police officers and soldiers. Not only were the victims killed, many were also tortured and mutilated. Several women were sexually assaulted. Even passing motorists were not spared: all occupants of a car who were rushing a stroke victim to a hospital were also killed. A backhoe was used to dig the grave; it started digging the day before.
It is with this jarring experience in mind that we enter into Advent.
There is more to the theme of preparation in Advent than just anticipating the festivities of Christmas. It is a season of soul-searching and spiritual preparation in order to fully grasp the meaning of Christmas, thus, to fully celebrate it. Advent also reminds us to prepare for two other events: Christ's Second Coming, and our own mortality.
The Gospel passage this Sunday prophesies cosmic upheavals, a slew of natural disasters, and nations in tumult to precede the second coming of the Son of Man. It seems Scripture, nature and history all attest that for meaningful change to happen, some form of violence or crisis has to happen as well. The joy of Easter is preceded by crucifixion and death. The rejoicing at Christmas is accompanied by political oppression and the slaughter of innocents.
A soul’s journey of conversion from the old ways to new life is also fraught with inner violence as the old ways fight back and seek, time and again, to regain control over the person. Read St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, even Mother Teresa, and you will know. Ask any recovering alcoholic or addict and they will tell you this to be true. Salvation, redemption and human progress come with a heavy price.
So it seems to be true as well for our nation. For it is not only the families and friends of the victims that grieve and cry for justice, the entire country grieve and cry for justice with them. How then do we turn this sad and jarring national experience into our hour of glory?
Luke 21:28 says; “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” How do we stand erect, raise our heads and await our redemption?
First, we have to recognize that we are all involved.
The violent political dynasties and their private armies, and the national governments who coddled them and colluded with them may be mainly to blame. But we too played a part in it.
Let us ask ourselves these questions:
Have you ever thought dirty politics will never change?
Or accepted that corruption is here to stay?
Have you ever participated, willingly or unwillingly, in a corrupt practice because it is a fact of life and you can’t do anything about it?
Have you ever conceded that vote-buying and patronage will never be gone during elections?
Or considered that genuine peace in Mindanao is a lost cause?
Have you given up on politics and politicians, and chose instead not to care?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you are partly to blame as well. We have heard this line from Edmund Burke often enough: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” We are as much part of the problem as the solution.
Second, we have to work on the things we need to stop doing to avert another incident like this from happening again.
Already we hear cynical talks of whitewashing and sacrificial lambs, how elusive justice will be, how the powerful will still triumph in the end, how this too will pass and be forgotten.
We need to stop believing that politics will never change for the better.
We need to stop affirming that corruption is a way of life.
We need to stop conceding that power only belongs to a few.
Even in our weakness, there is strength; in our poverty, resources within our reach; in humiliation, dignity; in naivety, wisdom.
We need to put a stop to our apathy and to not doing anything.
A culture of apathy spawns a culture of impunity.
Third, we have to get involved.
I would like to distinguish simply “being involved” from “getting involved”. I like to think the former connotes passive participation or tacit acceptance of a dominant situation, the latter is an act of the will.
In the movie 2012, the idealistic scientist Adrian Helmsley uttered this line as the drama reached its climax: “The moment we stop fighting for each other, that's the moment we lose our humanity.”
We have to start respecting ourselves and our vote. “An kwarta sa bulsa, an boto sa balota” degrades the dignity of both the voting process and of ourselves.
Our sense of sacrifice has to go beyond the confines of family and loved ones. Generosity begins at home, it means that it should not end there.
We have to hold our public officials more accountable. More importantly, we have to hold ourselves more accountable, especially, those of us entrusted with responsibility or position of authority. Ask yourself: “To whom am I accountable?” No one is accountable only to oneself. If you are accountable to your family, community or constituents, then you must be transparent and trustworthy to them.
Ultimately, we are all accountable to God. When our hour of judgment comes, can we honestly say we have made our relationship with God relevant in our personal choices? More importantly, when people see us do they recognize Christ in us? More than ever, we have to make our Christian faith relevant in our participation in public life.
There is a way so the Ampatuan massacre victims may not have died in vain: we have to learn from this tragic experience and grow to become a better people. Tragic as it may be, this incident may just be the thing to rouse us from our "carousing and drunkenness, our petty anxieties", our mediocre citizenship, our inconsistent democracy – but only if we let God's Spirit guide us toward genuine justice-seeking and peace-making, healing and rebuilding.
When this happens, it will be the advent of our rebirth as a nation.