The Divine Compassion

3 December 2005: Saturday of the 1st Week of Advent
Matthew 9, 36 – 10,8: Feast of St. Francis Xavier

In the last installment of Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, we see Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) being sent back to Coruscant, the capital of the Republic. In Coruscant, Anakin is reunited with his lover --- and secret wife--- Senator Padmé Amidala (Nathalie Portman) who is pregnant, a condition that if it is known would mean Anakin’s expulsion from the Jedi. And when he was troubled by a dream that Padmé will die in childbirth, he tells Yoda. Yoda tells him that “the fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” And when he cannot accept this, Anakin turns to Chancellor Palpatine, who is Darth Sidious, a Sith. Eventually, Anakin became a Sith, Darth Vader. Anakin knew that a Sith “relies on their passion for their strength. They think inward, only about themselves.”

Jesus was more like a Jedi, than a Sith. When Jesus saw the crowd of ordinary men and women, he was moved with compassion. The word which is used for the phrase, “moved with compassion” (splagchnistheis) is the strongest word for pity in the Greek language. It is formed from the word splagchna, which means the bowels, and it describes the compassion which moves a person to the deepest depths of his being. Ang awa na galing sa kaila-ilaliman ng ating puso. Unlike the Sith, Jesus did not think inwards, only about himself. His heart went out to those in need.

And if we look closely at Jesus, he was moved by many things. He was moved by pain, by sorrow, by hunger at the sight of hungry and tired crowds, by loneliness at the sight of lepers banished from society, and by bewilderment. It is in today’s Gospels that we hear of this situation of bewilderment. The people are hungry for God, desperately longing for God. And the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and religious leaders had nothing to offer them but the Law which has no comfort for them.

As a young priest in Cagayan de Oro, I was once asked to be with the family of a good friend who was at the hospital dying of diabetes. And so I did, and spent the night there at her side, until she died. I always had difficulty with being with the sick, because I did not know what to say. But I was able, at that moment, to share some of their grief, to give them reassurances of faith. And so what might have been a moment of total devastation became a moment of meaning.

This Gospel hits right at the very core of our situation when we celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier and the anniversary of the most important document of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes: Hope and Joy which described so well how the Church can walk with the world, in the way that I walked with family of my friend that night. It is what Christ did, “compassion.” It is knowing how another feels, why they act the way they do. It is the capacity which Christ showed to a limitless degree by emptying himself, as Yoda said, “training to let go of everything you fear to lose.” --- including one’s life.

This Gospel is timely when our country is aghast over the millions of pesos from jueteng and the evils of illegal gambling and corruption, and from our neighboring parish at Loyola Heights, the blocking of critical access roads of the Daang Tubo and Libis communities. Let me tell you the story: On Tuesday, June 7, 2005, the Loyola Heights Security Watch, escorted by approximately 30 SWAT policemen, put up fences on two separate properties --- Esteban Abada and Melchor Sts, effectively blocking critical access roads of Daang Tubo and Libis communities. The Loyola Heights Security Watch acted on the request of property owners who would like to claim property for their own purposes. That evening, tear gas was used, children were hurt, and a seven-month old baby had to be rushed to the hospital. Though the Church recognizes the right to private property, it however recognizes a higher value: the needs of hundreds of families for easy access to work, school, church, hospitals and other critical social services. If Jesus were there, what would He do? From the very depths of His being, from His compassion, would He use tear gas and the use of force to resolve issues?

Many of the people in the jueteng business and those who have closed those access roads are educated people --- people who may have studied here in UP or the Ateneo or La Salle. I guess the problem is that we are not trained to let go of everything we fear to lose: whether it is about our private property or about a little of our time because we are too busy. Oftentimes we are like Darth Vader, a true-blooded Sith: we rely on our strength, we think inward, only of ourselves. There are many people who need our compassion especially our students: it would thus be a great Christian effort to listen and accompany them, just as I accompanied the family of my friend. For laborers in the vineyard of our Lord, we, Christians, must be at the good side of the Force, we rely on God for our strength, and our passion is solely to be compassionate.

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