In the face of a Silent God…

[NB. This blog is dedicated to the following:
First to two selfless people I have known in the ministry: Fr. Charito Collendres, former Chancellor of the Prelature of Infanta who lost his life in trying to save the lives of others during the typhoons of December 2004, and Bro. Ely Buenavente, AM who also passed away a year after due to leukemia.
Second, this is for the countless victims of the terrorist attacks staged by Muslim extremists this past year…
Lastly, to my mentor who has passed on, Fr. Colm McKeating, SSC whose insights on Theological Anthropology (From Grace, Creation and Sin to Eschatology) has served to deepen my faith in a God who is silent yet Present.]

bytheocean

Nov. 13, 2015…

Paris, France…

It doesn’t make sense…

It doesn’t make sense at all…

In a country where the Father Founder of our college hails from, found his faith and took his commitment on sharing God’s mission with zeal in his heart, in the place where we as Lasallians find the origins of the context of that same faith, zeal for service and communion for mission…

As Lasallians, we pray for what we need, and sometimes we pray because we are appreciative of what we have…

We pray at times as it gets deeper because there is acknowledgment in the presence of the Divine in what we say or do…

“Let us remember that we are in the (holy) Presence of God/the Divine…”

When the prayer becomes a conversation, we develop a relationship, and so we pray, “Live Jesus in our hearts forever!” because the prayer is not only in the sense of asking for something, but that a loving relationship is forged, established, later on developed and deepened.

When our Lasallian prayer begins to be translated into the way we think, say and do things, our contemplation becomes activity and mission that reflects our unique relationship with the Divine…

Then as it happens that way, we pray, “I will continue, O my God, to do all my actions for the love of You.”

There it is, praying and living the Lasallian spirit…

I was with Sir Aido Sepeda, giving this retreat to group of faculty members, when news of death, chaos and violence in different areas of France broke out…

My initial reaction was that of shock…

Then silence…

It struck my very core…

Ever since the very first ISIS news hit last June 2014, many didn’t pay much attention to it. I felt this was the effect of the very meddling that First World countries have caused since the time of the Bush administration in 1989, resurrected again in the 9/11 tragedy, and finally of the reaction of the Arab Spring against what was going on in the Arab States. When Mosul was occupied in 2014, the unthinkable happened with the establishment of a caliphate, a hermit kingdom that was in the style of the early Arab states.  And the scary part of this is that some who ventured into it (whether Muslim or not) had never returned.  I’m sure many of you have heard of the news of kidnappings, beheadings and tortures that they have perpetrated in the name of an extreme interpretation of the Islamic faith which centers on the three deadly concepts: revolution, jihad and armed conflict and war. And its militia is prepared to give their lives for their “faith” in Allah whom they believe blesses their work of war against the “infidels” (which actually translates non-Muslims = us).  Many had been beheaded, tortured and even killed in the name of their faith, even using the channels of social media as means of professing their misguided interpretation of their religious zeal. And believe me, they will continue to kill more.

I have to admit that I had been a bit desensitized by this a few years ago because I have already heard of the news of the Al-Qaeda, and their dealings with their enemies. Even in the Philippines, we know of the Jamiah Islamiyah, which is the arm of the Al-Qaeda network in the country.  I have known of their tactics as it is all over the news.  Since the beginning of the millennium, they have claimed a lot of lives including two priests, Frs. Rhoel Gallardo, CMF and Benjie Innocencio, OMI (both are whom graduates of MST).  While their deaths struck a chord in my heart, it was assuaged by the fact that after those deaths, peace work in the Philippines continued to flourish.

Then, Paris was attacked on November 13, 2015…

129 dead…

Just now as of this writing, a police raid was staged at Saint-Denis, and there were two casualties, one of them a woman who detonated an explosive vest as she charged against them.  I never thought that what I would say which could only be watched as a scene on a TV show, or even action movies wherein a part of the plot deals with a treatment of terrorism that the protagonists encounter in the development of their adventures in each episode can actually happen miles away…

Since the attack, and until now, I have been coming into grips with this reality…

Yes it was real…

It cannot be denied…It did happen…The violence was real, the deaths are real, and the war, the clash of nations looms on the horizon…

My faith in humanity is shaken once more to the core…

While my faith in the Divine stands grounded, I have a lot of questions to ask…

Why do people refuse to listen and instead given in to their primal instincts to kill, to maim and to devastate others in the name of some “misguided” interpretation of their faith?

Is it because we, as Christians have again forgotten what it is to love, to be compassionate and to work for the building of a world that is just and humane?

Does it take 129 people to die just for us to realize that the threat is real, that the violence is imminent, and that we have to rise as one human community to stand against the reality of war, violence and killing which is fueled by hate, greed and intolerance?  Or will the number grow because we keep on ignoring what the real problem is, and the devastation and destruction it will wreak havoc upon?

Tonight, I am hearing helicopters buzzing above my home along the almost midnight sky.  And while I am somehow reassuring myself that may only be transports for the world leaders who are attending the APEC summit done in my country this year, I cannot help but be afraid that somehow armies are being mobilized right now attending to some emergency which may have happened (though nothing is really happening, I hope so…).  Or that bombs may drop at any moment, signaling my last moment on Earth. Yes, one can become paranoid if one gives in to the fear and trepidation borne by those events last Saturday.

Yet the one question I have come to ask is WHY?

Why evil, why suffering, why killing?

Why do we as humans give in to the violence that is fueled by rage and anger?  Why do we fall under its spell whenever we are hurt, wounded and devastated?

It is in these moments that even when we turn to the sources of our faith (be it scriptures, prayer or even silent meditation), God seemingly becomes silent if we grapple with Him/Her the these questions. I do not know if many of you experience the same thing, but sometimes even after the tragic has struck, when we try to raise questions in the hopes of finding solace, comfort and calm through the answers, it seems nothing is forthcoming. As if, in the moment when we want God to be with us, She/He seems to be absent, or even silent…

2004…

In another time, I was also grappling the same questions as tragedy struck the towns of northern Quezon, Real, Infanta and Gen. Nakar when the typhoons Winnie and Yoyong hit them. In a time when I was undergoing drastic changes in my life (I took a leave of absence from my religious community as the family was facing a difficult moment as we were taking care of my Mom who was debilitated with the stroke), it was painful, sad and enraging to see a lot of people dead not only because of the storms, but also because of seeing the logs that destroyed a lot in their towns and in the lives of many.  It hearkened back to the years where the advocacy of the Prelature of Infanta was to raise consciousness among the peoples of not only building a “human” Church, but also a “cosmic” Church that is inclusive even of the care for the environment. And to hear the local government downplaying not only the issue, but also of those people who sacrificed their lives to save others, swelled the rage in my heart. It was obvious that what triggered the flashfloods as well as the destruction of lives and property was  the rampant illegal logging operations that destroyed the virgin forests of northern Quezon just so for the profiteering of the few. Even the priest who sacrificed his life saving the people in the barangay in the nearby river was criticized by the mayor because he was a “pakialamero”. The insensitivity and downplaying of the issue really pissed me off.

It was in these moments when I asked the God of my faith the same questions I mentioned above. And in grappling with the questions I have for him including evil and suffering, I also met the same silence…

Does this mean that God does not want to listen to us? Does it mean that God simply wishes to “punish” us with whatever he can dish out because we have done nothing to take care of the things assigned to our responsibility? Does it mean that our sins are so unforgivable that we deserve what has happened to us?

Could we say the same thing also of Paris, Bagdad, Syria and all the other areas that had been destroyed by the violent ambitions of those who are in conflict?

A tricky question really, and one that has seemingly two difficult images: 1) the seeming triumph of evil and suffering often viewed as punishment, and even as a portent to the “end-times”; and 2) the seeming “silence” of God amidst the suffering of the victims and the oppression of those caught in the crossfire.   And as if it was not even bad enough, we all raise our eyes up to God in the heavens as if we are pleading for Him/Her to come down and do something about everything that is happening.

Yes, we do live in a time where even our faith in a Divine Being is tested beyond limits.  And many go for the free fall of not anymore believing in the Divine because their prayers, it seemed to them, were not answered.  Others though never waver in their belief, but when one looks at it, that is all there is to it: belief.  Let me put it simply, there are two simple responses: 1) those who abandon the Divine they believe in, because in their hearts their God whom they believed before could do anything was powerless in this event; and 2) those who hold on to their belief in the Divine, not because they trust Him, but because this is the God (including their knowledge of this God) they were raised to believe in. No questions asked because to do so would mean either, 1) the reality of their belief of this God would be disturbed and that would merit eternal damnation; or 2) this is all they have, and all that they know, and to challenge it is to challenge their faith in the Church.

By this, it seems that we are faced with a God who is distant from us, and can do anything that She/He wants according to His/Her whims and wishes. God is up there, and we are down here…

Or is it really that way?

1985…

This was another painful time. I remembered that I lost my brother due to miscarriage. When I asked my dad, “Why did he have to die?”, I remember the best reply he gave me, and I never forgot that. The reply was not in the form of words, but it was in His silent sad face.  My father had known a lot of loss in his time: he lost a normal childhood, the chance of a good education and a good life, the love of parents who would take care of their children, a job and even livelihood. But none was greater than when he lost people he loved: my ate Joan in 1976, my younger brother in 1985 (we were supposed to name him Charles), and my mom in 2005. And I must admit he shed more tears on them than on his parents because he truly loved them.

And seeing that sad face made me realize and understand years later that he has no answers to the questions I asked. All he knows is that no matter what happens, he will be there with me even when I am sad and doubtful of what life is.  My dad is not used to showing emotions with us most of the time, but he sure knows to be that silent presence whenever we need support and help in life. He may not have the answers nor tell us of sagely treasures whenever things like that happens. What he guarantees however, is that silent as he may be, he will always be there for us.

And maybe that’s how God is (somehow) when we face these events and situations, and may appear like She/He is not there. I remember my old mentor, Fr. Colm McKeating, SSC telling us in his class, and now in his posthumous book, Light Which Dims the Stars about this seeming silent God who is “not and absentee landlord, but is continuously interacting with creation. Nothing happens in the world without God’s active participation.”[1]  It means that no matter what happens good and evil, God is there. Does this mean God permits evil and suffering to happen in the world? Painfully, yes She/He does. Does evil and suffering come from Him? Adamantly, the Christian faith tells us no however because if they do then the world, and all that is within it including us would not have been.  All creation in the universe even the violence as they appear in natural phenomena has its origins from the goodness of which God is. Furthermore, evil cannot create as only goodness can do that. Yet in a way God permits the evil and suffering that is born from the chaos of His creation, but it is so not to punish us and the world, but to respect the process this created world has in maintaining the balance of its existence. If there will be no chaos, then order will not assert itself. Without evil, the good will not flourish in the lives of those who uphold it.  Without death and suffering, then life will go on unchecked, and negate the possibility of those who have the potential to uplift lives however short the existence of these people may be so as to inspire others to do the same in the same shortness of life we share.

And when evil and suffering do strike, it must reminds us that God is active in their process not to perpetuate them, but to let us realize that we are but creatures who are being formed from that brokenness so as to become stronger and better in the real sense of the word. And silent though the Divine is during the process, She/He is there guiding us, watching us not from afar or from some distant place up there, but near enough to be with us because She/He wants us to grow from this experience.  When we are happy, God is happy through the people who share your happiness. When we are sad, angry and even question Him/Her, She/He will meet us at where we are, but not to argue with us, only to let us feel that She/He is just there, listening to us, accompanying us and struggling with us that we may grow open ourselves in His goodness and love.

You may not believe me as you read this nor am I offering or intending to give answers to the questions we may seek when we experience the tragic. All we can do really is to truly believe as in not just knowing about the Divine and the teachings upheld about Him/Her, but believing in the sense of exhibiting trust and abandonment to His/Her Divine Will because we are beloved.  In fact, if you feel asking those questions, show your doubts and even fall in disbelief in the Divine, be my guest to do so as this is your journey. What I can only offer in writing this piece is to share what I truly believe (which in the old English, is synonymous to being be-loved), i.e., that while God permits evil and suffering to happen in the world as a consequence of His active participation in the universe, by no means is He the source of it, but rather uses them to bring out the goodness and love in which the created universe was designed in the first place. Don’t ask me how it happens as it is a mystery to us, a mystery of faith as it unfolds. But, just like that day in 1985 on why I never understood why my father was silent on the death of my brother so it is with us when we meet God as we grapple with doubts and questions.  And just like it was only years later that I understood why it happened, and why my father only had that sad face as his response, God meets us with a wizened resolve as She/He slowly and gradually reveals to us what She/He intends for us as we grow from our experience of doubt, adversity and conflict during our further travels in life’s journey.

“Many goods (virtues) would disappear were God to permit no evil.” – St. Thomas of Aquinas

Notes:

[1] Colm McKeating, Light Which Dims the Stars: A Christian Theology of Creation (Makati City: St. Pauls Philppines, 2015), 224.

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