[Jesus] watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
— The Gospel of Saint Mark, 12:41-44
TOO often we don’t even try.
Hearing our Lord’s call for selfless charity, as shown by the poor widow in today’s reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel, we quickly shrug that giving beyond our means is too much to ask, especially from the far less devout, much more practical people of our age.
Thus, the ideal espoused by Christ is watered down to what’s “doable” for today’s Christians. This approach of adjusting moral standards to the widespread practice was espoused even by cardinals and archbishops at last month’s Synod on the Family.
At the two-week Vatican conference, the prevalence of contraception and sex outside church marriage was deemed by some as reason enough to change the millennia-old family model of husband and wife becoming one for life to bring forth and raise new life.
Thankfully, many souls still seek the lofty standards raised by our Lord with lifelong striving, self-denial and sacrifice. Not just the great saints of yore, but uncanonized and unvenerated servants of the Lord through the millennia till our time, quietly preaching the Gospel with their lives and, if needed, their pains and deaths.
Saint Paul named many unsung exemplars of virtue in his Epistles. The Letter to the Romans (Rom 16:3-9) read in yesterday’s mass cited Prisca and Aquila, “who risked their necks for my life”; Mary “who has worked hard for you”; Andronicus and Junia, “my fellow prisoners”; Urbanus, Epaenetus, Stachys, and other “co-workers in Christ”.
Even today, we see ordinary people showing extraordinary goodness, service, integrity and dedication, not just in the Church, but in the sector most maligned for excesses and anomalies these days: the government.
In articles this week, we extol the patriotic service of state officials and personnel recognized under the Civil Service Commission’s annual Honor Awards, whose hard work, honesty and human compassion for others advance not just the national interest, but the Kingdom of God. Their example show us that Christ’s call to heavenly faith, hope and charity is not unreachable for earthbound souls willing to try and try with the Almighty’s grace.
Honor of the Nation — and God
The Dangal ng Bayan (Honor of the Nation) awardees exemplify the highest ideals of public service set out in the Constitution, from public office as a public trust, to modest, simple living for public servants. And holiness too, for these dedicated, selfless “Lingkod Bayani” or servant-heroes, as the Civil Service Commission extols them, demonstrate the Beatitudes taught by our Lord in the All Saints Day Gospel reading.
Their simple living and scrupulous handling of state resources show the Beatitude of being poor in spirit, conserving all things as gifts from above never to be abused or wasted for personal gain and extravagance. The Lingkod Bayani also brave disdain from colleagues who resent or scoff at integrity and industry, much like the upright who, Jesus said, “are persecuted for the sake of righteousness”. And the martyrs killed for it.
The heroism of Dangal ng Bayan awardees shows that saintly sacrifice isn’t just for saints. Even if they may not be Christian, these paragons of public service live the Gospel ideals, like the widow giving what they can ill afford, rather than compromising morals and principles because many do.
A posthumous awardee, Assistant Solicitor General Nestor Ballacillo battled the rich and powerful, winning P18 billion in refunds for Meralco customers, and Supreme Court decisions against the Manila Airport Terminal 3 contract hugely disadvantageous to the government. In 2006, the frugal solicitor and his son were shot dead riding a tricycle.
Forest ranger Elpidio Malinao did not stop interdicting illegal loggers until they eventually killed him. And Zamboanga schoolteacher Lorna Ibban Pulalon protected the lives of her pupils against a crazed bolo-wielding attacker, and paid with her own life.
Among this year’s Dangal ng Bayan honorees is Tacloban fire officer Trixie Dagame. She reported for work on her day off when Supertyphoon Yolanda hit two years ago. When she returned home that night, she found her home destroyed and her two children, aged 1 and 5, drowned in the storm surge. Still, she went to work the next day, responding to a nearby fire.
Juvy Gaton, an information office with the Department of Agriculture in Iloilo City, suffered a stroke that paralyzed half her body, requiring long physical therapy sessions to revive immobile body parts. But that didn’t stop her radio program teaching modern techniques to farmers and agriculture technicians.
And just as God has blessed with holiness souls in all walks of life, from popes to paupers, heroism is found even in the lowest salary grade. Roy Esteron drives a truck for the National Food Authority in Cabarroguis, Quirino Province. Unlike top NFA officials accused of conniving with rice smugglers, Esteron will be honored in Malacañang tomorrow, along with dozens of other public service awardees, for his conscientious, honest work, always finding ways to save in maintenance and running costs, and even staring waste segregation.
In sum, for all the “laglag-bala” scammers now hogging the headlines, God in fact blesses the nation year after year with heroic and Godly public servants. Like the poor widow and out of their meager means and hard lot, they give all they have for justice and righteousness, for caring and compassion, for God and country.
May the Lord continue to send men and women who live God’s law day in, day out in humble, diligent, lifelong public service, advancing the tenets of both Church and State. Amen.