Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is there really hope that springs eternal?

THE present global crisis together with our own moral quagmire has many of us worried sick. We fear the consequences they bring. Not that we have experienced any relief from the state of crisis Pinoys have felt their country to be embroiled in since time immemorial. This time something is different. The whole world is also in it. And for Pinoys who always thought that “going abroad” to a world out there with endless possibilities was a way out of misery at home, nothing could be more morally damaging. Thousands of Pinoys abroad face lay-offs along with their local counter parts and, though other countries abroad offer opportunities, they may not have the skills, training or profession being demanded. Every day the government tries hard to downplay the crisis’ impact on the country. Every day facts and realities that are the stuff of news underline it.

If crisis feels like the air we breathe, suffering seems like our twin brother or sister. And, oh, he/she likes to play around and spread the mess. Almost every branch of government, from the executive to the legislative to the judiciary, is now under the thick cloud of public distrust due to mounting reports from both local and foreign observers of pervasive corruption. Worse, our social and political mechanisms meant to expose and check them do not seem to work. Congressional and senate investigations of alleged wrongdoings are mostly going nowhere.

We used to complain of the Pinoy sense of shame being not deep enough to sustain real moral values. Now even that is in danger of extinction. Still, all these bring pain to us all. They must. The pain indicates there’s still a better side of us that is yet alive.

This Lent the ancient book of Sirach, to me, is a mine of wisdom. For one, Sirach reminds us that difficulties, that is, suffering in plain language, do not come from economic or even socio-political sources alone. What’s more, they even come with efforts to toe God’s line. “My son,” it counsels, “when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity…” (Sir 2:1). He provides some reason for the effort: “For in fire gold is tested and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation” (Sir 2:5).
Sirach inspires hope. For an Old Testament writing, it glows with New Testament fire.

Shakespeare once said: “The miserable hath no other medicine than hope.” I couldn’t agree more. But, pray tell, old master (and may I speak to the Catholic Shakespeare), is hope enough to lift us up? And what is there to hope for, anyway?
Sirach answers better than Shakespeare. “Study the generations long past,” he continues his counsel from his time and place, “and understand: Has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?” (Sir 2:10). I would imagine that anyone who would doubt Sirach by saying, “Yes, I’ve hoped and am disappointed!” would hear a counter question: “Have you really hoped in the Lord?” The psalmist cites himself and confirms Sirach: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Ps 40:2).

Hope in the middle of crisis, ah, that’s just what we need, I hear you say. Not quite, I answer. We rather need its source. If we have its source, then we would have it always. This time St. Paul seals the deal for us: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

Hope doesn’t give us salvation. But it keeps us after its trail. It protects us, too, from falling into despair. “Let us… put on the breastplate of faith and charity and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thes 5:8).

The breakdown of human and worldly sources of hope should teach us, then, to look for its more lasting Source. Only then will the words of S. Smiles truly bring us smiles again: “Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.”

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