POSTSCRIPT / April 16, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will lesson & promise of Easter be lost on us?

AFTER THE RITUALS?: Will the lesson and the promise of Easter Sunday be lost on the Filipino?

By all indications, the powerful message of Easter will hardly impact on this nation. It will be lost, because the Filipino of the present is not ready for it.

Nobody has tried preparing this nation for it. Not the Church, not our national leaders, not the educational system, nobody. We are on our own, adrift.

After all that ritual praying, fasting, visiting churches, via crucis, holy retreats, et cetera, we are likely to emerge from Holy Week still suffused with greed, mistrust, corruption, and selfishness.

The average Filipino is more likely to remember the plot and the characters of the telenovela running on prime TV than to internalize the Gospel lessons and exhortations of Holy Week preachers.

For many of us, we emerge the morning after Easter as if nothing happened.

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WHAT’S MISSING?: The President and her Cabinet went into Holy Retreat in the serene locale of the Pines City. Will that mean we will have a better government, reoriented leaders, and — finally — a better deal for the Filipino dragging himself through a long via dolorosa?

The local Church, bless its zeal, went through the same rituals. It even tapped such mass media as TV to reconnect a live line to the flagging faithful. But in the days and months after Easter, will we have something to show for it? We will see.

The probability that the eternal lessons of Christ’s crucifixion and His resurrection — and Easter’s promise of divine mercy and redemption — would escape us is not for lack of trying. We all try mightily hard, but something seems to be missing.

Faith and goodness are not something we switch on or off at will. They have to be nourished over time — and this we have failed to do. We are seasonal, sometimes occasional, Christians.

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LEADER WANTED: Another ingredient for deeper faith, national greatness and a better life that is missing is Leadership.

This desultory nation, long a victim of unresponsive systems, failed institutions and corrupt leaders, needs someone who will grab us by the collar and, if we prove difficult, whip us into line.

Dictatorship? Not quite. But while we may noisily complain with the initial grab at the collar, if we like what we see after the scuffle, we might just start learning to live with it and eventually embrace it.

But we would not allow just anybody to do that to us.

Anybody who presumes to wield an iron hand must be clean. And I do not mean someone who just emerged from two days of alleged holy retreat.

We will demand that that emerging Leader as well as his/her family members and subalterns be, like the Apostles, cleansed of all thoughts of self, of power and pelf, and must totally surrender themselves to the people’s interest. Total.

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GLORIA’S CUE: Will President Gloria Arroyo pass this test? Maybe.

But the way it looked to me, she was not on retreat. She was too close to the mess, too engrossed in it to be able to have a detached total view. She had no chance to watch and pray alone in her Gethsemane.

The Holy Week would have been a perfect launching pad for something like a reformed leadership. Too bad she seems to have failed to grab it.

She is fortunate that no political party has presented an alternative leader. No one has offered a credible, feasible alternative program.

Lent was the perfect setting for her to own up to her mistakes, do political penance and make a really firm commitment to sin no more. That is the only way — reconciliation, as suggested in the sacrament. Holding back will not do. It has to be total surrender.

But will the people give her another chance? With the spirit of Lent upon us, maybe.

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ZERO INCOME: If there was systemic failure or some action plan that did not succeed or some economic decisions that proved to be bad calls, we could understand and make adjustments. The people are used to hardship and bad government.

The only thing that I think the people will find hard to forgive is if any member of her family profited materially from any transaction of government. There should not even be a hint of it.

That admonition on transactions should not be a dampener on her and her husband. Their children are established already and their economic futures assured.

By this time, the family must have amassed a fortune that can last them several lifetimes. They can afford zero income for the rest of her term.

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BACK TO JUDAS: So much is being written and talked about the “Gospel of Judas.” I learned to my surprise yesterday that Agatep Associates, one of the country’s leading PR agencies, has been busy on the campaign here to create public awareness of this subject.

I learned this from Charlie Agatep himself, headman of AAI, the PR counsel of National Geographic Channel in the Philippines. The array of foreign clients of Charlie is fantastic.

The Vatican is not a client of Charlie, but over there, Pope Benedict XVI assured the faithful in his homily at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (last Thursday evening) that the mystery of Judas consists in his rejection of God’s love.

He said Judas Iscariot personifies “treacherous man,” for whom money, power and success are more important than love and he does not hesitate to sell Jesus.

The Holy Father’s comments came in the wake of the publication of the “Gospel of Judas,” an ancient document that puts the apostle and his betrayal of Christ in a positive light. It describes Judas as obeying a divine ordinance in handing over Jesus to the authorities.

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REJECTION: The Zenit international news agency reported that, on the contrary, Benedict XVI stressed the freedom of the apostle who betrayed Jesus for 30 denarii, as explained in the canonical Gospels.

“The dark mystery exists of the rejection, made present with what happened to Judas and, precisely on Holy Thursday, on the day that Jesus gives himself up, should make us reflect,” said the Pontiff. “The Lord’s love knows no limits, but man can put a limit.”

Benedict XVI then asked: “What does this do to treacherous man?” He responded: “The rejection of love, not wanting to be loved, not loving. Pride which thinks it has no need of purification, which closes itself to the saving goodness of God.”

“In Judas,” he said, “we see the nature of this rejection still more clearly. He judges Jesus according to the categories of power and success: For him, power and success alone are the reality, love does not count.

“And he is avid: Money is more important than communion with Jesus, it is more important than God and his love.”

“In this way,” the Pope explained, “he also becomes a liar, who plays a game of double jeopardy, and breaks with truth, someone who lives in lies, thus losing the sense of the highest truth, of God.”

“He becomes hard and incapable of conversion, of the confident return of the prodigal son, and throws away his destroyed life.”

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AID TO LEYTE: A demonstration of how close Filipinos are to the Holy Father was his earmarking the Maundy Thursday collection at a papal Mass to the victims of the February landslides in Leyte.

The faithful who gathered in the Basilica of St. John Lateran for the papal Mass of the Lord’s Supper showed their solidarity with the victims.

As proposed by the Holy See for the Holy Thursday collection, the faithful contributed money to support the reconstruction of houses damaged in the diocese of Maasin that left about 1,000 people dead.

The funds, collected during the rite of the washing of the feet in the Mass, were given to Benedict XVI at the moment of the offerings.

Bishop Precioso Cantillas of Maasin told AsiaNews that he was “moved and touched” by the fact that the Pontiff “continues to worry about the situation of my diocese.”

“The situation in the area has somewhat improved,” he said. “The efforts by the diocese’s Social Action Centers and some governmental and non-governmental agencies at rehabilitation are going ahead.”

The Philippine bishops’ conference said the slide left 972 people dead and caused damage estimated at $4 million.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 16, 2006)

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