An unhappy Christmas

For some persons and families, it will not be a happy Christmas. Personal crises do not choose a season to come visit our lives. We have no control when we have to face sickness and death. Unwelcome as they are in these holidays days,  I know of people getting sick and dying in these days of Christmas.

Certainly, the assassins of my friend and UP Law contemporary Representative Rodel Batocabe did not choose to wait until the season is over to kill him.

In the slums of our cities, the death squads are still after the poor – no mercy even as nearby Simbang Gabi vigil and dawn masses are celebrated.

For the Philippines as a country, it will not be a happy Christmas. For one, there is the rido, what has become a bloody feud, between the New People’s Army and the military with hostilities expected to escalate tomorrow, the 50th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The President has ordered the hamleting of indigenous peoples, repeating what the Americans did after the Balangiga incident and what Marcos perpetrated during martial law. He has also ordered targeting legal organizations, including human rights advocates, ensuring even more human rights violations.

How do we makes sense of all these violence and killing as we celebrate Christmas Day in 2018?

In a nutshell, Pope Francis explains what happens in today’s feast: “Jesus, the Saviour is born of the Virgin Mary. The Crib makes us see the ‘sign’ which God has given us: ‘a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too set out to see this sign, this event which is renewed yearly in the Church.”

The Holy Father emphasizes that Christmas is an event which is renewed in every family, parish and community which receives the love of God made incarnate in Jesus Christ. According to him: “Like Mary, the Church shows to everyone the ‘sign’ of God: the Child whom she bore in her womb and to whom she gave birth, yet who is the Son of the Most High, since he ‘is of the Holy Spirit’. He is truly the Saviour, for he is the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world. With the shepherds, let us bow down before the Lamb, let us worship God’s goodness made flesh, and let us allow tears of repentance to fill our eyes and cleanse our hearts. This is something we all need! He alone, he alone can save us. Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst. The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.”

Indeed, as I pointed out at the beginning of this column, we have only to see around us to feel depressed and sometimes hopeless. Our society is so murderous that we are no longer shocked by every day killings.  We have become an angry and hateful society.  Watch television, listen to radio or read comments and posts in social media to see how hateful and angry we have become. 

The bullying incident in the Ateneo de Manila Junior High School (JHS) was disturbing, but even more disturbing to me were how supposed adults reacted to the video, from calling for the lynching of the bully and his family to inventing stories about drugs in the school to fit the Duterte narrative in the war against drugs. I am glad and proud that the leadership of the university, especially our President Fr. Jett Villarin SJ and JHS Principal Jonny Salvador acted calmly, decisively, and always compassionately.

Sadly, our leaders are also fueling this hatred by regularly dishing out to the public their own share of acrimony, threats and recriminations. Human conflicts are now so common that people have come to trivialize them. Impunity rules everywhere.

I know Albay, where Representative Batocabe was killed, very well. It is a peaceful place. His assassination is, as far as I know, the first high-profile one in that province. I am afraid it will not be the last.

Before this violence, Pope Francis makes it crystal clear: God can change the face of the earth. He can transform our sorrow into joy, despair into hope. This is the essence of Christmas. God, by his coming into this world, is telling us that evil cannot prevail over his love and goodness; that by reconciling and following him in faithful obedience, he can change our very lives to make the joy of Christmas an everyday experience.

Christ was also born during the most troubled time of the people of Israel. The Jews were then colonized by the oppressive Romans. They were governed by Herod, a foreigner and a usurper, seen by the Jews as a lackey to the Roman oppressors. It was a divided society where life was cheap, brutish, and short. Through Christ, the people were once again given hope; a renewed belief that God has not abandoned them, and the confidence that with his power behind them, evil cannot gain a foothold. Much more than this, God’s offer however is a gift to Jews and non-Jews alike. It is a universal invitation for mankind to gain salvation and eternal life in the company of a loving Father. 

Saint Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria and doctor of the Church, once explained this way why the Messiah was sent to us:

“There are public roads and paths that are hardly passable, but steep and almost inaccessible, such that at time they force us to go up mountains and hills or at times to descend. Sometimes, they run along the edge of sheer cliffs, and other times they make us climb to considerable heights. If these high and steep places were to be lowered, and the deep ravines were filled up, then in every place the irregular heights would be leveled and steep and precipitous climbs would become flat and easily passable roads.

This is what the power of our Lord did in a spiritual sense. When he became man and took flesh, as the scripture says, he destroyed sin in his flesh and he brought down principalities and powers, the rulers of this world. He has prepared for us the road of love, free and right for traveling without ups and downs, with no valleys or stretches of desert, by all level.

The twisted paths have become straight: Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all humanity will see the salvation of God. He was and is the only begotten Word of God that is, the living God mysterious begotten by God the Father, in his divine majesty, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, or a any other name that can be named not only in this age but also in the one to come. He is the Lord of glory, and w have known his glory, even if once we did not know it, when, made man like us, according to the divine plan, he affirmed his equality with God the Father in power, works, in glory, sustaining all things by his powerful word, accomplishing miracles with ease, commanding creation, resurrecting the dead, and effortlessly working wonders.”

This Christmas day, the Lord is once again renewing this invitation to us – follow him and gain eternal life. Because Christ came into this world, we can now face every Herod and Roman oppressor, every bully and every leader that inflicts  hate and sow turmoil among us with courage and confidence, and yes with hope. And then we won’t have an unhappy Christmas but a blessed one.

To all my readers, may you have a Christmas of hope!

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