Madilim ang bukas. (The future is dark.)
Prices are high; the peso is low. The economy is in shambles and there is no credible plan to lift it up. There is little food on people’s tables; and the Philippine agriculture secretary has never been appointed. The incredible price of onions in our markets is just the tip of the iceberg.
Ninety-one (91%) percent of our children cannot read. There are no textbooks, insufficient classrooms, few libraries. And the education secretary talks about national [military training] program and mandatory toothbrush drill.
Impunity and corruption become the rule. Call it with different names, it is the same animal: intelligence fund, confidential fund, Maharlika investment fund. Even the legislators who is supposed to provide check and balance are too “shy” to put it into question. Because they also share in the loot themselves.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and former president Rodrigo Duterte “won” and they will be there for the next 6 to 12 years. Political dynasty is the name of the game. How can plunderers chase their own kind? Much less their parents.
The families of extrajudicial killings victims were hoping to have their day in court. The International Criminal Court is supposed to investigate the unexplained killing spree. There is no hope for this in the following years. Worse, police operatives together with the village officials are on the ground looking for the victims’ families for them to withdraw their court cases and complaints in exchange of some substantial cash.
Is Jesus really coming this Christmas? Will God come to transform this earth? Can we hope for a different world?
It looks like “hope” is a lonely word. It is a forgotten virtue.
People are tired of resistance. No one dares to raise their voices anymore after the pink revolution has died down. “Just accept it; move on,” says the 31M, if ever they truly exist. “Mag-ambag ka na lang kasi! Kung ayaw mo, maghintay ka na lang after six years (You just contribute! If you don’t want to, wait for another six years).”
Have the prophets who provide hope left “Israel”? Seemingly, yes. Even those who profess to defend the people — their priests and pastors, the religious and political left, the so-called “revolutionaries”. Where have all the prophets gone?
“Faith”, “hope” and “charity” are like three sisters walking together in the road of life, writes Charles Peguy, a well-known French writer and poet in “The Portal of the Mystery of Hope” (1911).
Faith and charity are like elder sisters. Hope is the child in between them.
“Hope is a little girl, nothing at all….
And yet it is this little girl who will endure worlds.
She alone, carrying the others, who will cross worlds past.
Toward the cradle of the Son.”
Faith is difficult but obvious. “To believe you just have to let yourself go… In order not to believe you would have to shut your eyes and plug your ears. In order not to see” the stirring of the divine in our midst, in our lives. Some people actually do this. But that is going against the grain. We are doing violence to ourselves. Because faith is natural to us; one can feel it in the air.
Charity is difficult but also obvious. “Charity can walk on its own. To love your neighbor, you just have to let go of yourself, you just have to look around at all distress.” Some shut their eyes at suffering, or pass them by like the priest and the Levite. But when they do this, they torture themselves and distort their own nature.
“Charity is natural, simple, overflowing… It is the first movement of the heart.”
But Hope is not obvious. “Hope does not come on its own… The easy thing and the tendency is to despair. That is our great temptation.”
Yet it is Hope, the little sister, the forgotten one, who carries them all. “Because Faith sees only what is. But hope, she sees what will be. Charity loves only what is. But Hope, she sees what will be.” Both Faith and Charity are imprisoned in the present. It is Hope that peeks into the future, and carries them both to the (eschatological) end.
Hope is founded on God’s promise, on God’s faithfulness. This is the main message of the Simbang Gabi (traditional early morning Mass during Christmas in the Philippines) and Christmas readings — God’s promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth, to Mary and Joseph, to the victims and the anawim.
What God has promised, God will do. This is the foundation of our hope.
Does hope make us forget pain and suffering? No, hope makes us trust that another world is possible; that things will change for the better; that the victims of history will be vindicated. And we need to work together for that new world.
The victims know this deep in their hearts. They are the only prophets who remained. They are the lonely voices crying in the wilderness of our times. They are holding the line for us. Because many of us have already left. Ironically, they who need hope become prophets of hope to us.
I can still vividly remember what Lola Remy, (now in her 90s) said during the funeral of her son, Juan. He was killed brutally by the police in Duterte’s War on Drugs and left her seven small grandchildren. She told me with tears in her eyes: “Nais nila kaming patayin Father. Nais nila kaming mamatay. Pero hindi. Mabubuhay kami.” (They want us to die, Father, they want us dead. No, we will live).
This is defiant hope. And this is the only Christmas message that is meaningful in our times.
We know that Christmas is not about wrapping gifts or filling our noche buena tables — even if many families are worried there would be less that they can buy this time. It is not about parties or reunions even as we are freer to gather now after COVID.
No, it is first of all about justice for the victims of history.
Hope tells us that God will come to render us justice — despite Duterte, beyond Marcos, despite the policemen who killed their loved ones, despite the abusive and corrupt politicians, beyond hunger and poverty, despite trauma and pain, beyond all.
Our prayer is “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”
Merry Christmas to all.
Father Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M., is a theologian, professor, and pastor of an urban poor community in the outskirts of the Philippine capital. He is also Vincentian Chair for Social Justice at St. John’s University in New York. The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of LiCAS News or its publishers.