Violence is de facto the rule of the day – in thought, word and deed – from the powerful man in Malacanang to the little boy in Ateneo. While people disapprove of the latter, many applaud of the former – a whole 75% of us in the latest SWS survey. And this, despite the rising prices of goods, higher imposed taxes, crazy traffic situation in several metropolis, no hope in the insurgency problem, militarization and evacuation in lumad areas. The list is hopelessly endless.
I still do not mention here the personal suffering which is often times more painfully felt: a terminal cancer, tsunami victims, a lonely old age, family break ups, a broken relationship, and a million others. I visited a bedridden old woman yesterday after the Simbang Gabi. She was there lying alone in a dark room inside a shanty with the noise and odor unimaginable. What could have she imagined all day in that very lonely place? It was a painfully difficult place to be.
Many people are losing hope. People begin to display cynicism and desolation. If we want to be realistic the way things are going now, they say, this country is going down the drain. People begin to live in fear, and such fear debilitates. Because of this paralysis, we die. Wala din namang mangyayari, para ano pa?
Paraphrasing Deuteronomy, the Lord says:
“I have set before you hope and fear, life and death. Choose hope so that you and your descendants may live” (Dt. 30: 19).
But why should we choose hope? Whence does hope spring forth?
The great philosopher Immanuel Kant calls hope a “practical postulate” – a practical attitude that we take on without sufficient reasons, for the sake of the good action it empowers us to do. One is actually not certain of its results. It is not based on positive prognosis or confident probabilities. But we hope just the same. Tagore once said of marriage: “it is stepping into the waters of chance, unafraid.”
In her recent book, The Monarchy of Fear (2018), Martha Nussbaum writes:
“Kant is right: good works need hope. When you have a child, you have no idea, really, what sort of person your child will become, or what sort of life he or she will live. But you know that you want to be a good parent: so, you embrace hope… When you love a cause or a country, once again you need to embrace hope to sustain you in your efforts on its behalf.”
Hope is a choice. But it is decisive for people to live.
Actually, what is needed is not much; just enough to keep life going. Nussbaum remembered Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. It was not about ending slavery altogether. It was not a promise of utopian goals – to solve the problems of the country within three to six months, for example, as a popular candidate once said in his campaign speech. These unrealistic promises only lead to despair, as we now experience.
Martin Luther King Jr. only wanted that, in Georgia then, “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Not that world peace would reign right after. Or all racial discord cease. What is needed for now is in fact very little: that in Alabama, “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” As one Latin American theologian wrote: “un poquito de justicia basta” (a little justice suffices).
That dream is concrete and realistic enough which frail and flawed human beings can do, if they try to.
We in Payatas have journeyed with widows and orphans of tokhang for two years now. The challenge is still enormous. Though the killings have abated, the deep pain still remains on their scarred faces. Though the children can now smile and play unlike two years ago, the sadness still shows on their blank stares. The life they begin to live after the death of their fathers is at best ambivalent.
But looking at the widows who come to the sewing shop everyday despite their pain is an immeasurable gesture of hope. For them to take pride in the work that they do in the name of the survival of their children is already hope embodied for us. I will always remember the words of Lola Remy at the funeral of her son: “They wanted us to die. No, we will live. We will show them that we will live.”
The dream of justice for the death of their sons or husbands still remain in the horizon. But for now, these feeble steps to live would suffice.
This brings me to the manger. If there was no place for them at the inn, a simple stable would do. Though the writers talk about the star in the East, the comets did not really shine so bright on the stable as some Belen portrays. Though the latter evangelists imagined of angels singing “Glory” and “Alleluia” from on high, maybe it was really the stories, songs and torches of the poor shepherds that lighted and heated the stable for the unknown couple who delivered their first baby in a land far away.
It is the same for us.
Humans as we are, our little feeble steps would suffice. Just enough for us to walk. For now. Hope is a mere glimmer of light enough to keep the forces of darkness at bay.
A hope-filled Christmas to you. And tons of hope for the New Year ahead.
Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University