Was There A Miracle?

Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc

One of my regular readers, an American IT expert visiting Davao, who calls himself Charlie5 (he says he is a Daoist and a shaman), sent in a response to last week’s article, After The Pope Has Gone. He makes some interesting counterpoints to my article and I decided to publish his reply in whole (making only minor edits for spelling and brevity):

Was there a miracle?

The miracles, if they occurred, would have taken place in the ‘netherworlds’ of the hearts and minds of the true believers, miracles that inspired the outpourings of grace that would have been noticeable by the people present at the mass. I was at the SM mall watching with hundreds of Davaoeños, and when they raised their white handkerchiefs with the crowd, I thought it to be a moment of grace, similar maybe to a really good episode of “Little House on the Prairie.”

Is grace a miracle? Do you take it for granted, the grace of spontaneous outpouring hearts and out-flowing love?

I enjoyed your article this morning, and I liked the idea you came up with, on the Vatican offering to pay for the whole mess. I hadn’t thought of that solution to the dilemma clearly present as we watched all the coverage leading up to the event. That would indeed have been grace, taking the pope’s message of poverty and humility further into practice, and would have set a fantastic example.

We have heard the Catholic Church complain now, though, for at least a decade, about financial losses, churches closing left and right. Of course from where we sit, they still have gold plated roofs at the Vatican, things like that. My guess is, though Francis himself may have honestly wished for it, he’s probably like a democratic ‘President Obama’ trying to implement his ideals with a republican legislature tying him back down, ‘checks and balances’, as they say. I bet Pope Francis couldn’t have made it happen if he wanted to, because, as the philosopher Hegel said, this is not the divine infinite we live in, this is the realm of the finite, the realm of inequality.

And I disagree with you about the answer to the tears.

I wrote to a friend a few days after the pope’s mass, a woman back in the US who suffers with just such a question and with just such pain, and explained this pope’s graceful response, a response similar to one my dad once displayed in my presence; my dad was a former Jesuit, the same order that this pope came from (Francis is the first Jesuit pope in the history of the Catholic Church).

My dad was also a Jesuit priest at Fordham, until he got my mom pregnant with me.

Well, one day, very late in his life, maybe a couple of years before he died, we were getting into the elevator with our groceries from C-Town (he called it “K-town” for the weird logo) to our 6th floor apartment on Marion Avenue, and this old guy got into the elevator with us.

Apparently a tattoo of a six digit number was showing on his arm and my dad asked this stranger, ‘Excuse me, but does that mean what I think it means?’

And the older Jewish man replied ‘Yes, I am a survivor of Auschwitz’.

And it shocked the hell out of me, 15 or 16 years old at the time, to see my father break down in honest and total tears, and take both of this man’s hands in his, and say, in complete tears, crying with compassion, “God bless you! God bless you!”.

I did tear up, at several points during the pope’s mass.

And when I wrote to my friend back in the US, I told her truthfully, ‘As I write this tonight, it is suddenly pouring here in Davao, pouring irrationally hard like a New Orleans thunderstorm, like the universe itself is crying.’

For weeks I’d been struggling to find the right way to answer the personal pain that she had finally opened up about via email and eloquently explained to me. I took a couple of shots at it on my own – I thought I was a smart and strong shaman – but I failed completely and she let me know it, speaking of her simple need for empathy.

When the pope cancelled his speech on the environment on the fly and launched into his explanation, how “it is only when Christ cried, he’s capable to cry, that he understands what’s going on in our lives”, THAT was the miracle I had been asking the universe for, waiting for without knowing it. And I cried for my friend.



Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


After the Pope Has Gone

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle describes the recently concluded papal visit as a “miracle,” though I wonder what constitutes a miracle for the good cardinal. Miracles must indeed be in short supply these days if what transpired could pass for one.

It would have been a miracle, for example, if our security personnel did not have to eat, drink or piss on duty, obviating the need for MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino to suggest that they wear adult diapers. Though it was a practical suggestion, it would have been another miracle if God had bestowed the good chairman with a little more wisdom not to make a public announcement of the matter, as it quickly became the subject of ridicule and embarrassment, so much so that the PNP had to make a statement that policemen won’t be wearing diapers while on duty.

It would have been a miracle if corrupt politicians suddenly burst into flames as the Pope delivered his message at Malacañang, urging political leaders to “be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.” Oh what a happy bonfire that would have been. On the other hand, we would probably be left with no political leaders. But then again, is that so bad? I wonder.

It would have been a miracle if government did not have to spend millions of taxpayers’ pesos (not all of which are from Catholics) to ensure the Pope’s and everyone’s safety and security during the event. As it is, papal visits probably cost us more than we think they do. A worker’s group, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, is demanding to know how much was spent on the Papal visit, in the spirit of transparency. I do not have the exact figures for this but the same source states that a total of 40,000 security personnel were employed during the 5-day visit. This does not include opportunity and business costs lost during the cancellation of flights and the declaration of non-working holidays.

I am not talking about expecting angels to appear from the sky to act as the Pope’s bodyguards, thus nullifying the need for our government to spend for security. That may be too much to ask. The Vatican opening its checkbooks and offering to reimburse this third-world country for all the expenses incurred would be miracle enough for me.

It would have been a miracle if Philippine media had enough sense and dignity to refrain from making major headlines of the Pope’s every move. “Pope Opens Car Door Himself,” for example. How is that news? I’m glad I didn’t see “Pope Goes to the Toilet Himself.”

It would have been a miracle if the Pope could have provided a clear answer to the girl who asked him why children like her have to suffer — have to be abandoned by their parents or forced into prostitution. Yet, in the end, all he could do was embrace her in silence, and he later on implored the audience to “learn to weep, truly weep.” Now I am not belittling this response as I have no answer myself. But I would hardly call it miraculous.

It would have been a miracle if Kristel Padasas, who was listening to the Pope’s mass in Tacloban, had not died when strong winds caused the scaffolding beside her to fall on her.

It would have been a miracle if Metro Manilans picked up their own trash instead of leaving a mess after the Pope’s mass in Luneta.

And it would be a miracle, if after all this hullaballoo over the Pope’s visit, we see a decline in corruption and TRAPO politics. It would be a miracle if we see a decline in poverty levels, if we have more level-headed officials making sound and fair policies.

But as evidenced by a senator who doubts the Pope’s own words when he admonished Catholics to not breed like rabbits, even if it was clearly caught on video, and could easily be verified with the Big “G” (Google), nothing much has changed. Government is still filled with corrupt and inept people. The poor and suffering are still poor and suffering.

Miracles are indeed in short supply and I wouldn’t put much stock in them.

The pope has gone back home. The euphoria is over. There are no miracles or superheroes. If we want change, we better get to work.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Filipino Freethinkers.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


The Madness of the Crowds

Photo Credit: poi beltran via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: poi beltran via Compfight cc

Someone ought to put a stop to the annual madness that is the Black Nazarene procession.

Year upon year, this senseless activity claims lives and causes multiple injuries — not to mention the massive traffic jams and the amount of government personnel and resources needed to ensure everyone’s safety and security, all paid for by tax money — of which the church pays none.

This year, two people died — one collapsed with a heart attack and the other was trampled to death. The Philippine Red Cross reports treating more than a thousand injuries, some as minor as foot lacerations to more major ones like seizures, sprains and fractures. And all for what? Why, for the superstitious belief that touching the statue can bring about miracles.

Apparently the silliness of this all will be lost on some readers who might even be offended that I attack this time-honored tradition. That would be ironic given that they aren’t offended at all that this supposedly miraculous piece of wood failed to save the lives of two individuals who were passionately and faithfully devoted to it (to the death, even).

Renato Gurion, aged 44, was a businessman whose hope was to “live longer” for his two teenaged boys. He had already undergone heart surgery some years before. He became a devotee of the Black Nazarene for “better health and protection.”

Well, that hope was certainly dashed against the rocks when Gurion’s body was found slumped on the carriage carrying the statue. Nobody knew how long he had been lying there and for some time, nobody apparently cared as everyone was fighting their way up to touch the Nazarene. It was only later when security noticed the unmoving body, that they were able to control the crowd so they could bring Gurion to the hospital, but by then it was too late.

Christian Lim, aged 19, suffered a more gruesome fate. In the thick of the procession, he stumbled somewhere along the way and got crushed as hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, trampled on him until he died of asphyxia. They only discovered his body as the procession ended, already stiff with rigor mortis, and blood congealed on his hands and face.

You would think that these people’s relatives would get all fired up against the church for this, but no, Christian’s mother even called her son’s death “painful, but beautiful.” This is borne of some ill-begotten notion that the ceremony could not possibly be wrong. Or perhaps it is only fear of speaking against the authority of the church, or of God. But personally, I cannot see anything beautiful in the barbaric fate of someone so young and full of dreams. He was probably screaming as the weight of hundreds of feet bore down on his head, back, arms, hands, legs and feet — but nobody heard him, or nobody cared.

Far from beautiful, it was a senseless, brutal and cruel death.

The authorities could have put a stop to it. They could have cited statistics of previous deaths and injuries and withheld the proper permits and there would be no procession. But of course, it would have earned the ire of some twelve million voters who joined the procession that day, and of course, no politician could afford that.

The church could have put a stop to it. They could have refused to lend out the statue, and that would have been the end of it. They could have told their priests to preach against the mass hysteria that goes on during these processions, or that touching the statue doesn’t really do a damn thing. But perhaps it serves the church some purpose to keep its members ignorant and superstitious, so they can more readily believe in whatever agenda it wants to push.

Someone ought to put a stop to this annual madness. How many more lives have to be sacrificed until these people come to their senses? How much more blood has to spill until this stupidity ends?


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


Divine Selfishness

Photo Credit: Fire Monkey Fish via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Fire Monkey Fish via Compfight cc

Throughout the centuries, preachers have been preaching against selfishness and extolling the virtues of selflessness. There is a very long line of martyrs and saints enshrined in the annals of church history — people who were willing to make the supreme sacrifice, to give their very lives in the name of their faith or cause. Of course, not everyone can be martyrs or else there would be no church to speak of, so there are also the lesser mortals, like you and me, who do our best to get by, who sometimes make small sacrifices to help others.

And yet, are those seemingly selfless acts truly devoid of self-interest? I don’t think so.

“But how about the soldier who dies for his country?” You might ask.  “How about the mother who throws herself in front of a truck to save her child?”

Take another look at those questions and you will see the vested interest quite clearly. The soldier dies for HIS country. You don’t see him taking a bullet for the other side, do you? And the mother dies for HER child, not some random street kid.

Still you might argue that there are those who give up a life of comfort and riches to serve those less fortunate than they are — there are missionaries who go to far flung rural areas, there are social workers living in the slums, and so on. Are these people not selfless then?

While I have no intentions of demeaning their work and conviction, I would still say that these people are acting out of self-interest. They do what they do because it makes them feel good, or at peace, or closer to God. There is still some selfishness at work here.

I remember reading an interview the other day of a popular Catholic preacher and author. He recounted praying to God to make him rich in order for him to help others, which made me wonder why he didn’t pray for God to make the “others” rich instead. I mean, why should the wealth pass through him? So he can collect a commission?

But when I say that everyone acts selfishly one way or the other, I do not mean that in a bad way. I never said being selfish was bad or evil. I am just recognizing it for what it is and throwing out some food for thought that no matter how “selfless” people seem, there is still an element of selfishness in whatever we do.

Let me end with another tale of the master.

The master passed by a minister preaching against materialism. He was exhorting the congregation on the virtues of sacrificing their earthly desires for the rewards of heaven.

“Our treasure does not lie here on earth,” he said, “But it lies in the bosom of our heavenly Father.”

“Interesting,” remarked the master. “You preach against materialism but yours is even worse because you desire to bring it to the next life. You tell people not to cling to their possessions here by guaranteeing that they will have all those and more in the next life. You are after intangible rewards, but a reward nonetheless. What is so virtuous about that?”


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


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