There is an armless Christ on a crucifix hanging on the wall facing my room. It’s been there for a long time now. The sacristan told me it was taken off the Catholic cemetery chapel’s altar after the crucifix fell on the floor, an incident that broke the right arm of the Christ image. Till now nobody can tell me where the missing arm is. And, as I pondered all kinds of stories about the missing parts of the Christ image in other places and times, including the rather expected but now-worn-out exhortatory insight that has been the stuff of homilies, talks, PTA or graduation addresses etc. (“We are the arms, the hands, the feet etc. of Christ”), I wondered if and how I could find ways to have the arm restored and the whole image repaired.
Then it struck me.
The armless Christ speaks of who we are. We are mostly a poverty-stricken people who often feel powerless (yes, armless) not only over the forces of nature exacerbated by global warming, such as typhoons, torrential and flood-causing rains, earthquakes etc. but also even over our seeming inability to find solutions to problems, like bad governance, corruption and a tainted culture which feeds it. For instance, in my home province of Eastern Samar we have been badgering our leaders to have our roads repaired only to find piecemeal responses (only selected stretches are repaired), following standards that even simple common sense sees as way below par (how about new asphalted roads that already have craters or those that feel like you are sailing over a rough sea?). And, lest I be accused of being too parochial, how about a fundamentally sound economy that little translates into good economic conditions for the people? Or how about claims of our having democratic elections that, in reality, are not decided by the ballot and informed choice but by money, celebrity or personalized transactional politics?
The armless Christ speaks of why we are where we are. The missing arm is what we do not extend to one another. It sometimes takes powerful disasters to interrupt our bad habit. But most of the time Christ’s right arm is missing because ours is missed by others who need it. We are busy taking care of our families, our hometowns, our province, our region. We forget about nation and country. We are active parts busy ignoring the whole. It could be argued that we are an archipelago geographically, politically, psychologically and, hence, culturally. Nonetheless, our present conditions only reinforce the truth that we can only sink unless we swim together.
The armless Christ points to where our salvation lies. The right arm is missing. Mostly what is missing in the country—and the world, for that matter—is a ‘strong republic’ sense of what is right in our politics, economics and social relations. We have to begin restoring ourselves by being and doing right. Right is not decided by might, sight or fright. Right is decided by what is already inside our hearts, nay, in a special center called ‘conscience’. It is decided by what brings us closer to the One who speaks in it and towards the ones with whom He asks us to be one in faith, hope and, most of all, in caritas—yes in that love which Vatican II says we are called to be perfect in order to be holy.
Now I see your eyes wide open as if to ask: “You’re saying all this just because you saw an armless Christ?”
Maybe. But here’s one more. Our Christ has no right arm because it is out there busy saving people—not excluding ourselves.