Antonio C. Abaya’s “God’s Chosen Doormat” vs. Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant”
November 12, 2009 2 Comments
I. God’s Chosen Doormat
At the risk of being stripped of my citizenship, I suggest that far from being God’s Chosen People, Filipinos inhabit what could be God’s Chosen Doormat.
We have, for example, more than our fair share of natural calamities. We are visited by more typhoons than any other country in this part of the world: an average of 19.1 every year, some of which are killer typhoons that kill dozens, even hundreds, of people and destroy billions of pesos worth of property and crops. A situation compounded by a weather bureau that could not tell 140 kph from 140 mph, as when Milenyo scored a direct hit on Metro Manila last year.
Killer typhoons often result in killer floods and killer mudslides in which uncounted thousands disappear in a few seconds of biblical catastrophe. Has the Philippine government or anyone else ever come up with a definitive casualty count in Ormoc or in Real and Infanta, or in St.Bernard Guinsaugon?
As if killer typhoons, killer floods and killer mudslides were not punishment enough, we are also on the seismic belt known as the Pacific Rim of Fire and experience killer earthquakes.
Vietnam has typhoons but virtually no earthquakes. Indonesia has earthquakes, but virtually no typhoons. Only the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Japan are regularly visited by the Four Horsemen of the East Asian Apocalypse, and we, being by far the poorest of the four, experience the worst suffering. If we are indeed God’s Chosen People, we have been chosen to suffer the most.
But it is the man-made disasters that, unique in this part of the world, have devastated this country physically, socially, economically, politically and morally. And these include a run-away population growth rate; a judicial system that takes years, even decades, to render judgment; an American-style liberalism that allows the Communist movement to simultaneously wage both an armed revolution and a “legal” struggle against the government; consistently poor choices in economic strategies for the past 40 years; rampant lawlessness despite – or because of – the presence of 40,000 lawyers; institutionalized fraud in its electoral process; the most corrupt government in East Asia; and a political and media culture that breeds Idiot Candidates and Idiot Voters, and now, Idiot Prophets as well.
This surprising essay comes from a fellow alumnus of Ateneo de Manila University. If my English teachers would ask me to deconstruct the essay, I would say that Abaya, like Rizal, has drifted far from the Catholic Faith. I can sense a distaste, a repugnance to the Catholic religion. He sees things not in the light of Faith but of the world, not of the afterlife but of the here and now. For how would you explain his scorn for Christianization of the Philippines by Spain and the immigration of the Filipinos to other countries, making them the modern missionaries of the world, filling up once again Europe’s emptied cathedrals? To these, he just say, “So what?” and “Big Deal!”. These words cannot come from a faithful son of the Church.
II. Suffering Servant
Abaya also wrote:
Besides, how many indios in the 1900s could read anything in any language, much less the Bible in English? I spent nine years under the Jesuits in the Ateneo de Manila from 1947 to 1956, and I do not recall ever being made to read the entire Bible, only selected parts thereof, as the Japanese and Chinese Christians must have in the 16th century.
Now, I understand. Abaya may not have read the entire Bible. If he did, he would have read about Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant”:
Who would believe what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed…. (But the LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity.)
If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses. (Is 53:1-12)
Suffering, which is offered to God, has a redemptive value.
Is Philippines not God’s Chosen People or His chosen doormat? I say both. God chose us to be his people and allow us to suffer like his Son. In fact, great saints like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio are given the grace to suffer the stigmata. What greater honor then is there for a Christian than to be like Christ in His affliction. We are not alone. God suffers with us, for Christ is “Immanuel”, God-with-us. It is by his suffering, death, and resurrection that Christ redeemed us. For our part, Christ commanded us not to spurn suffering, but to take up our cross and follow him (c.f. Mt 16:24). As St. Paul said:
If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim 2:11-13)
III. The Greatest Calamity
It is sad that many perished in typhoons, earthquakes, and floods. As our corporal work of mercy, we can help our brothers and sisters in need, for whatever we did to the least of our brethren we did it to Christ. But natural calamities are not the greatest calamities that can befall on us. Christ said:
Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! (Lk 13:2-5)
The greatest calamity that can befall on a Christian nation is not flood or famine or nuclear war but the loss of Faith, the quenching of the light of Gospel, as what happens now in Europe. And if we do not repent, we in the Philippines shall perish as they did. The greatest calamity that can befall on a man is not the loss of his possessions or family or himself but the loss of his soul in the fires of Hell. And if we do not repent, we, too, shall perish in the same way.
What is the flood of filth from Typhoon Ondoy compared to the flood of filth from the blasphemous press that promotes pornography, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, scandal, falsehood, violence, and murder? The pollution of our environment is only a reflection of our country’s moral pollution. As Prophet Isaiah said, “The earth is polluted because of its inhabitants, who have transgressed laws, violated statutes, broken the ancient covenant” (Is 24:5). So woe to those who promote these things. Christ said:
Whoever causes one of these little ones 5 who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! (Mt 18:6-7)
Is run-away population growth a man-made disaster? How can this be, when God himself commanded us and blessed us to do so:
Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth. (Gen 1:22)
Rather it is the difficult-to-reverse population aging which is a man-made disaster. Many Western countries are now feeling the crunch: they have more elderly to support than young workers to tax. Women marry late and even if they do so, they refuse to have more children. The country’s economy shall collapse. Roman empire fell not because there are too many barbarians but because there are too few Romans to defend the gates.
Natural disasters come and go. Even righteous men like Job are not spared: a gale destroyed his house, killing his children while they were feasting. In His infinite wisdom, God allows these things to happen for his greater glory. One reason is to test our faith, as gold is tested in fire. Aren’t we more prayerful in suffering than in prosperity? Like Christ, we pray, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And like Job, we say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Jb 1:21).