RECENTLY, I ventured into an electronic jungle called the Facebook or FB. This began when I posted an Open Letter to President Duterte. The short letter began this way:
“Dear President Duterte, I am writing to you as an individual Filipino and as a priest and not representing any group. You have crossed a line when you called God ‘stupid’. The line is neither red nor yellow but black and white. The belief inspired by the Genesis story is way beyond your pay grade as it is beyond mine. It is something best left to our grateful living memory of men in the early Church of sober minds who, fired by God’s love and reflecting on Scripture and lived experiences, put two and two together and discovered the unfathomable beauty of God’s mercy in the face of human brokenness called original sin…”
The posting soon attracted various readers. Whatever the reaction, I decided to respond by pressing the heart icon on FB. I felt peace replace a growing agitation. I posted a follow-up letter a few days later:
“…I knew what I was getting into when I posted the first letter. If given the chance, I would do the same thing God continues to gift me with much peaceful slumber. Daily, I rise up with head gratefully unbowed – I do not know though about those who prowl the cyber night seeking someone to devour…”
I did a little math on the FB posts and found out that as of 6:20 a.m. Friday June 29, the letter had elicited 684 shares and close to 500 comments. The comments began mostly positively, then it degenerated into a cacophany of voices synchronized by an unseen hand to drown out every other voice but their own. Vocabulary had degenerated into a few choice words which actually demeans the writer not the reader. These were obviously scripted based on the common language and tone. Only about 7 comments, somewhat critical of my post, were thoughtful and constructive, deserving a second look and a special thanks.
Then I did some more math. Of the 500 comments about fifty individuals saw with clear eyes. The rest missed my point. This is about 150 individuals, since many had repeated comments. It is noticeable that most of them were hiding behind pseudonyms. Why fear the truth?
Then I looked at the icons: there were 154 hearts, 46 smileys, and 928 thumbs up symbols. The latter had the real names of the senders. Each thumb-up, from someone with a real name who knows me, is worth more than all the 150 negative comments from people afraid of their own names, striking at an imaginary enemy.
Then something beautiful happened. One of the 150 individuals actually had a change of heart. Someone retracted her or his earlier ‘harsh’ comments: ‘I have read the letter in its entirety and I complete agree with it.’…Then it dawned on me that our dear brothers and sisters who are so combative are so because of their fears. Nangahadlok intawon na sila mao nang gawarawara. They fear the loss of their only concrete hope in recent years. Fear is useless, what is needed is trust. My prayers here…”
Yes, there are conversions even in FB. As Pope Francis writes in Gaudete et Exsultate 118: “Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations. Without them, there is no humility or holiness.”
“Dili na siya ‘Sir’, si ‘Father’ na,” (“He is not ‘Sir’ but ‘Father’) my friend Edgar blurted out. He was reacting to a 7-11 clerk who was inquiring about the food I bought for him. Edgar is a beggar at our parish-church who waits for people at the gate. He is lame from birth and walks by moving his legs whose knees are pretty much touching the ground.
He is always cheerful although I seldom stop by to talk to him. But this time I did. And I am glad I did so. His words reminded me of my calling as a priest, gently admonishing me to do more.
Yes, one more new expression which has actually always been there right from the start of the Christian faith. This is the universal language of love and compassion. The gift of “wasting” time and allowing oneself to be interrupted.
As Pope Francis puts it in Gaudete et Exsultate 26: “It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service.” I shall always treasure the reassuring words of Edgar and hope that one day it will the same voice that will advocate my entry into the kingdom of God.