24 August 2013

Pork and the Narrow Gate

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – C – 25 August 2013

Readings: Is 66:18-21; Ps. 117:1, 2; Heb 12:5-7.11-13; Lk 13:22-30

What does our faith tell us about pork? We are not referring to the meat, but to what’s hot right now in Philippine politics, which is the pork barrel scam. Not much, at least directly. However, our readings this Sunday speak precisely against the kind of corruption exhibited by the pork barrel as an institution and the outrageous lengths that it has been abused.

Ostensibly, the fund is supposed to promote development: deliver services to the poor, construct and maintain needed infrastructure, support education and healthcare, etc. That is why in its present form it is called PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund). However, it is designed from the start to promote the politics of patronage. The president decides which lawmakers get the fund and how much, and lawmakers influence how projects are implemented and which contractors get projects, all the while using taxpayers' money in order to maintain a flawed system of political dependency and loyalty. And then comes evidence of ghost projects which are non-existent projects funded by the pork barrel of senators and congress representatives. Where do the funds go? Where else but to lawmakers who allowed their PDAF to be used that way, to professional swindlers, and other parties involved in the whole operation.

In a recent press conference, Cardinal Chito was moved to tears when referring to the scam. He lamented that it was supposed to be money spent for the poor, but stolen from them by people who have lost the sense of the poor’s suffering.

As we work for genuine progress and development in this country, we are reminded that the path (daang matuwid) leading to it must pass through the narrow gate. What is this narrow gate?

This refers to Lk 13,24 which says: “"Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Now, what does it mean to enter through the narrow gate? I would like to propose two senses.

1. We remember that following God means following His Way, not our way.

We don't ask God to conform to us, it is us who have to conform to God. We need to recognize that following God’s will is following His best-laid plan for us as individuals and as a people. When we turn away from it, we set ourselves on a road to destruction. 

In 1996, the Rev. Joe Wright led this opening prayer at the Kansas House of Congress: “Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, 'Woe to those who call evil good,' but that is exactly what we have done.

We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment...”

His opening prayer made a stir in Congress that day. One legislator walked out, and some criticized the pastor. But when the media aired the story, the response from the public, including those from other countries, was overwhelmingly supportive of Reverend Wright.

Entering through the narrow gate means it is our values that need to adjust, not the reality of what is truly right and just. It means divesting ourselves of our burdens of personal convenience, self-interest, and prejudices, since they hold us back from passing through the gate. After all, it is God’s will that we seek, not our will; it is God’s way that we strive to follow, not our way.

2. We relearn the values of discipline and commitment.

Heb 12,11 says: "At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it."

Can you imagine parents not teaching their kids discipline and expect them to succeed later in life? Can you imagine a teacher advising students that in order to graduate all they have to do is just browse through their books and attend classes only when they feel like it? Can you imagine a music teacher telling his young ward that the surefire way to becoming a great concert artist is simply to love music and practice only when he is in the mood? Can you imagine a coach devising a plan to win championships that does not involve his players' commitment to regular practice sessions and taking care of their health? They are hard to imagine and simply ridiculous.

Can you imagine being elected as a public servant and not exercising the disciplines of integrity and putting the people’s interest first before that of the self, one’s family, and party? Unfortunately, we can, and the pork barrel scam tells us it has been happening for decades.

Now can you imagine yourself as a citizen, and being party as well to this web of corruption? Unfortunately, we also can, either by resigned acceptance of corruption as a way of life, or by actual collusion. Even as we decry the pork barrel itself and its abuses, let us also discern how we too, as individuals and as a Church, may have enabled the culture of corruption and patronage politics. In a way, a Church protesting against the pork barrel is like holding a mirror to ourselves and asking if we too in the Church could pass the test of integrity using current standards of transparency and accountability. It is also a call to action for reforms in this regard within the Church as an institution.

If discipline is important in parenting, education, arts, and sports, why not in citizenship, and why not in our life of faith as well? Yet today we hear of so many people resisting the discipline of faith, interpreting Scriptures according to their needs, and following only Church teachings that best fit their lifestyle. And then they’ll say: “Why be so hard on yourself? After all, God is love.”

Remember Heb 12,6: "for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines". And then Mt 7,21 says: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Not everyone who invokes “God is love” will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Our Gospel this Sunday is a timely reminder of just what we need to do to enter the Kingdom, and help build It on earth through inclusive growth and genuine development for our people. Passing through the narrow gate is the test that determines whether our personal, ecclesial, and national striving are truly in the right path (daang matuwid). The choice before us may not be simple, but it is clear: pass through the narrow gate, or wait until we find ourselves forever barred from entering it.

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