Where were you during EDSA I?
…and that’s the truth
Especially around this time of the year, I get to be asked that question: “Where were you during EDSA I?” For the life of me I could not tell anyone, all these years, where I was or what I did during “those days”, and so, because of my vague or evasive answer I would sometimes be made to feel I contributed nothing to “People Power” because I was not out there to stop a tank.
Today, 31 years after the fact, I feel I must disclose with a mixture of hesitance and ease that during “those days” I was writing a “pastoral letter”. I was moved to write it by what I observed to be a division brewing in the Church which was concretely manifested by certain walkouts during Mass when the real pastoral letters from the Archbishop of Manila were being read. In essence my letter rallies the faithful to an examination of conscience and to be one with the people in EDSA through contemplative prayer, inviting readers in their homes to join me in praying one Our Father for one hour each night the fate of the nation hung in the balance. I sent it to the editors of Manila Bulletin and Daily Express under the pseudonym “Magdalena Torres”—I believed that if they thought it was worth the space they would publish it regardless of the author’s identity. Both dailies published it in full in the opinion page; the Bulletin entitled it “A Pastoral Letter from an Obscure Churchgoer” while the Express used “A Pastoral Letter from a Laywoman”. It follows:
Forgive me if this “pastoral letter” bears no Imprimatur save that which issues from the conscience. I know I may be severely criticized, ridiculed, even ostracized, for taking the liberty to write this but I as a Christian have no choice—I would rather break tradition than break God’s heart.
I lament the fact that “the only Christian nation in Asia” seems to be forgetting Christ in these troubled times. I agree, it is nearly impossible to feel secure when it seems your only avenues to truth are press releases and politickers’ prejudices. It is frightening to make a move when you are caught between the immovable object and the irresistible force. Inside you there is a vague longing to hear God’s voice amidst the din, but when you realize that fireworks has replaced Fire in the pulpit, where do you go? When you are but an obscure sheep in the fold, it is indeed alarming to feel that the shepherds themselves are apparently lost.
Yet we must believe that all will be right—if we but leave all to God. I’d like to think that we are a “Christian nation” because we’ve got Christ in our hearts, not just because we all sport Christian names. But the way we’re getting enmeshed in politics these days makes me think we’re making a farce of Christ’s sacrifice, thereby hurting our Father who loves us so much.
As Christian children we learned to say The Lord’s Prayer early in life. Handed down to us by Christ, it is a most touching prayer, intimately uniting child and father. And if we say it from the heart we will be made to see that it contains all the politics we will ever need in our whole life. Yet, what have we done with The Lord’s Prayer? We’ve been given a most potent weapon for absolute invincibility and we still choose to resort to puerile means in championing our cause.
The Father knows all, yet we don’t really approach Him for His sake. Convinced of our own superiority we scheme, we hatch up plans for a perfect society according to our “noble” intentions, and then we go to Him and say “Please bless our plan; we’re doing it for your glory!” we so lose ourselves grappling with the whats and hows of our problems that we totally forget to ask the Father why we have such problems in the first place.
We think the problem is politics? It is not politics—let us not fool ourselves. Our miseries are not caused by the rise in galunggong prices over the past 20 years. For the past 20 centuries Christ has knocked outside our hearts and we have remained deaf to Him—that is the problem. We have disobeyed in spite of Christ. We are token Christians. We go to Mass, we receive Communion, we flash a smile as we give the “peace” of Christ to our seatmates, and then we go out to flash the Laban sign and hold in contempt those who ignore us. If we were true followers of Christ we will do as Christ did: obey the Father’s will. But how can we discern His will if we do not want to surrender ours to Him? How can we know what the Father wants for us if we are so preoccupied with what we want for ourselves?
We insist on wanting change when what we need is a conversion. Who reigns in our hearts—God, or self? So many rival loves crowd out the Lord’s presence in our minds. He aches for our love, for us to empty ourselves so He may come in to let us know love as we have never known before. But what do we do to Him?
We allow sin to stand in the way of love. We are all sinners and yet we refuse to face the truth. I know it’s no longer fashionable to be crying “Repent! Repent!” these days, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Please—next time we say “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, let us mean it. If our righteousness blinds us to our own sins, let us use one another as mirrors. For every evil we see in our neighbor, there are surely two in us: the very same evil we recognize in him, plus our denial of its existence in our souls. Before we malign a neighbor for being a thief, let us recall the last time we cheated people out of their rightful places in the supermarket queue. Before we condemn a brother for being power-hungry, let us ask the Lord if we’ve never been intoxicated by our own authority. Have we never begrudged a housemaid a prolonged day-off? Never short-changed anyone, used abusive language, coveted our neighbors’ possessions, bought ourselves out of a traffic cop’s clutches, bribed our way through Customs for convenience? If we cannot stand the sight of killers, could it be because we are always murdering someone in our thoughts?
We are worshiping false Gods and that is why peace remains elusive. Would the Father who loves us all want our blood on our brother’s hands in a fight over election returns? What do you make of nuns and priests ferociously guarding the ballot box as though it contained the Body of Christ itself? Sanctity of the ballot? Would any other kind of sanctity matter more to the Father than the sanctity of our souls? Why can’t we admit that our society is rotten because we are?
Please—let us not hurt the Lord further by believing too much and too long in our illusory genius to set things straight. We’ve done enough damage to ourselves by placing too great a premium on matters concerning Caesars. It is time to rechannel our energies towards more spiritual goals. Let us not exhaust our faculties fighting evils larger than ourselves. Instead let us contemplate the Lord’s goodness and remember that evil contains within itself the seed of its own destruction. Can anything be hidden from the Father?
The world may not think it’s smart to follow the example of Jesus—to forgive, to love—but I assure you, it’s dumber still to rely on human leaders for salvation, in spite of their lofty ideals, their praises and promises are but noise to the spirit. As a people let us accept the Father’s invitation to His world, now. He has given us Christ to lead the way—let us follow. Let us not divide ourselves into factions and say “God is on our side”—when we can all be on the side of God.
That our country is undergoing this purification process during Lent is no coincidence. For Christ’s sake let us abstain from all mundane and inordinate attachments and direct our thoughts to the mystery of the cross and the empty tomb. Let us pour more of ourselves into what we do as Christians. Let us explore the profound meaning of the songs, symbols, sounds, smells and colors of our liturgy—they are not there for nothing. They are meant to reveal a reality far beyond the physical plane that, with the grace of God, we can believe in spite of ourselves.
If Jesus is not yet alive in us, let us turn to our Blessed Mother—offer her our doubts even if it’s all we have at the moment. Just ask, and she will speak to the Lord for us. Let us take a fresh look at the Sacraments—how we contribute to the scourging of Christ by taking them for granted! Baptism is much more than an occasion to hook the boss into godfatherhood. Next time we meet our parish priest, let’s ask him not whom he voted for, but why water is poured into wine at Mass. Few things can be more moving than the mystery the act speaks of, and embracing it should help us love even those we don’t like. And the Consecration—do we really know what goes on in the world we can’t see, during this sacred moment? If we did we’d be in love with the Lord and desire the Eucharist forever. If nonbelievers make a mockery of our faith it is because we ourselves turn our churches into stages for sham religiosity.
If only for Lent let us begin to cherish the Sacraments as God-made pathways to the Father’s Kingdom. Trust the Lord to lead us to that ultimate reality that is just out there for the asking. If we Christians cannot have faith in a reality that transcends the expediencies of this material world, then those cynics must be right: Holy Week is for the beaches.
Allow me to urge the faithful to continue hearing Sunday Masses. The Body of Christ we receive from the priest’s hand is still the Body of Christ even though the priest’s hand is stained with voter’s ink. Let us not boycott the Sacraments simply because we can’t bear the politicking sacrilegiously veiled in liturgy. Walkouts may demonstrate courage to the world but mortification of the will for the love of Christ brings a secret strength no worldly force can match.
Furthermore, let us not crucify Christ again by harbouring hatred in our hearts. Let us strive for a vigorous prayer life. Let our faith alter our perspectives so that we may see our ambitions, our dreams, our emotions, our concepts, ourselves through the eyes of God. Consider this: the sun is the star nearest to our planet Earth. The star nearest the sun is about 26 trillion miles distant. The galaxy where our solar system belongs contains more than 100 billion stars. Our universe has 100 billion other galaxies, each containing an average of 100 billion more stars! Dazzling? And our Father whom we call upon when we say “Our Father who art in heaven…” is the creator and governor of all this. Do we suppose the Divine Intelligence that controls over 10,000 billion stars in 100 billion galaxies wouldn’t know what’s going on in this minute archipelago in the Pacific? So as not to boggle the Earthling’s mind the Father already condensed the Divine Intelligence in the words of Jesus: “Not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father willing it.” Do we think this Father allowed the Feb. 7 elections so we would kill each other over the tally sheets?
Forgive. Obey the Father’s will. Disobedience not only leads to loss of Paradise. Let us move towards reconciliation, let us love. Don’t we often hear that our Father, out of His great love for us “sent His only begotten Son”? He did not send His Son only so that one day we would make a movie on “Jesus Christ, Superstar”. The Son embraced His cross. And died—for love of God and neighbor. By dying on the Cross Jesus made us feel, “Jesus loved me so much that He went to that extent obeying a power He couldn’t see?” If such perfect love does not enkindle in our hearts a similar love for others, then ours indeed is the Church of the Living Dead! If the empty tomb and the fact of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in our hearts do not attest to the existence of the Infinite Power that He prayed to in Gethsemane, what for is The Lord’s Prayer?
How much longer must the Father wait? When are we going to lift the barrier of sin blocking the flow of God’s love for us? Let us embrace one another. We are all spiritual lepers—no one is clean among us! If a brother offers his hand in reconciliation, let us not allow our pride to freeze us. If we cannot trust our brother’s hand, we can always trust our Father’s healing. If we’re afraid to be “contaminated” by brothers we deem terminally leprous, we must remember that the Father sent the blind, the epileptic, the possessed, so that through the touch of Jesus we might be witnesses to the awesome power He alone can wield. There is no one the Father wants more than the prodigal son.
Let us stop stoning each other and leave the rest to the Father. If amidst the noise, confusion, and emotional sizzle, we find it hard to love our “enemies”, consider what Christ would have done under the circumstances. Two thousand years ago, when Israel was in turmoil and agitating for a Messiah—Christ did what? Order His people to stop paying taxes to Caesar? Build a makeshift grandstand to proclaim Himself as the much awaited Messiah? Give His apostles a list of which money lenders to patronize? Write pharaohs, kings, and rulers of other lands to snub the Roman Emperor? No! Christ did only one thing: He kept in touch with the Father!
He would withdraw from this world to draw strength from another world, pray to His Father in secret, obey the Divine Will as it unfolded from moment to moment. Thus, through this humble surrender of His will to the Father, all of Jesus’ moves became no longer His, but the Father’s.
What would the only Christian nation in Asia in Lent of 1986 do?
Allow our quixotic illusions to usher in another Ides of March and then march on to a death without resurrection? Insist on our way because we know better than the next fellow? Who knows better than the Father? At this point when we can no longer “solve” one problem without creating ten in return, there is only one thing left to do: keep in touch with the Father. Submit our lethargic souls to the True Power, and believe that by our sufferings He is preparing us for a more profound grace!
It is time to become children again, to relearn The Lord’s Prayer. The Father waits in the silence of our hearts.
Tonight, at 9, I will again respond to the Lord’s invitation to “watch one hour” with Him. I will pray, for one whole hour, just one Our Father. I ask those who still have faith in in God’s peace to join me—we spent days watching election results; surely we can spare one hour to touch the eternal? Together in spirit let us offer, in the silence of our hearts, our love to the Father. By the economy of God’s grace, this love will embrace all creation, especially those who have forgotten how to pray.
As I end this “pastoral letter” allow me to extend my touch of solace, if it be God’s will, to those who may have felt slighted by my candor. It is not my desire to wound you. It hurts me to hurt you, but it hurts the Lord more not to love you.
So there, dear Monitor readers, the “pastoral letter” by Magdalena Torres. But why the pseudonym? That’s another story. If these days people ask me again where I was during EDSA 1, I will just tell them to find my answer in the CBCP Monitor. And that’s the truth.