Political chit-chat these days, along with high-sounding media commentaries like this column, brim with bile and ridicule toward politicians of every hue, plus odious state officials and functionaries in general, and with good reason.
Yet truth be told, finger-pointing over acts inimical to the nation must not spare us accusers. Hence, for unflinching truth, justice and reform, not to mention the spirit of Lent which ashened millions of Filipino foreheads on Wednesday, we must examine our lives and consciences and atone for sins against the nation.
First mea culpa: Have we failed to help the needy when we could?
Government gets blamed for absent jobs, food, shelter, learning, health care, and other indispensables, plus rampant crime, corruption, incompetence and inefficiency. Like God, the state is expected to provide when life and fortune fall short.
Yet citizens too should give and respond when able. If a house catches fire or a pedestrian suffers assault on our street, we sin by doing nothing.
So in pondering how we may have failed the nation, we ask: Have we done the needful for countrymen in need, and for peace and order, human rights, development, and welfare, and other imperatives of nationhood?
Or have we, like the Jews who bypassing the robbery victim, looked away, walked on, and failed to be the Good Samaritan?
The law-breaking urge
Second sin: Have we broken rules and statutes for selfish gain?
Plainly, rule-breaking is the national pastime. Filipinos get a kick and even take pride doing don’ts. Jaywalking and counterflowing, parking and smoking where forbidden, cheating on exams, taxes and government contracts — you decree it, we disobey it.
The unruly urge owes much to centuries of self-serving elitist rule under colonization and even Independence, propagating the view that laws are made for the lawmakers’ benefit and may rightfully be broken. Still, that explanation does not excuse habitual, even willful disobedience which harms all.
Weighing our ways then, have we broken or bent rules for convenience or corruption?
Have we cheered or kept mum when people boast of getting away with murder? And do we spare those we know from do’s and don’ts, and the wages of disobedience?
If we violate rules and laws, or abet the habit, we undermine progress and justice. And lose the moral ground to reprimand other offenders.
As Jesus admonished, take the log out of our lookers first, so we can see clearly to remove the mote in our neighbor’s eye.
Following the crowd
No. 3 failing against country is the sin of Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor of Judea let Jesus be scourged and crucified to mollify the mob craving His blood.
How many times have we given in to crowd and culture, and done things hurting the nation, from paying bribes and exploiting the weak, to wasteful living and just throwing up our hands at enormities all around, like Pilate washing Jesus’ blood off his hands and laying His unjust execution on the Jews?
Hand-wringing and finger-pointing actually enables the raucous mob to rule. We disdain what we claim being powerless to arrest or avoid. And when change-seekers ask help to battle powerful forces, we insist it’s a lost cause, and go our merry way.
Doing nothing, self-styled do-gooders let evil flourish. By our acquiesence, we augment “the system,” “the culture,” “the way of the world” we blame for what’s wrong and unjust.
In the next regime, we may again fall into the self-justifying blame game, tut-tutting and sighing over failings and excesses of politicians, but lifting no fingers to stop the ills we condemn, self-fulfilling the defeatist canard that the wrong is unstoppable.
The cross of national renewal
To sum up these sins against the nation, they are giving in, giving up and giving nothing.
We look upon the difficulty, deprivations, and distress of others, blame the government, and walk by. We witness widespread waste, corruption, and law-breaking, and we shrug or even join in. And we lambast excesses and evils, then feeling righteous, do nothing.
We give in, give up, and give nothing. Often without trying.
So the choices for Filipinos are plain: Do we keep giving in, giving up, and giving nothing — or do we get up, get involved, and get things done.
Do we give up on the nation, or do we get moving for change?
For movers, we can make our families more aware of social problems, and more consciencious in doing what each one can to address them, from switching off lights and segregating garbage, to saving for charity and calamity aid.
In our workplace, we can at least desist from practices inimical to the entity and the people we serve? And with leadership, we can prod fellowmen to follow.
And in community and country, we can devote time, effort and resources to worthwhile programs for change, even missions impossible. After all, we can know what’s possible and what’s not by trial and failure, not by naysaying.
Let us take risks and take up crosses for renewal in life and land, and change happens, inifinitely more than when we give up, give in, and give nothing.
Now for four-fifths of Filipinos, this Lenten season prescribes prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And those acts of penance happen to be the very antidotes to giving up, giving in, and giving nothing.
For prayer keeps faith and focus in God, His absolute goodness, truth and justice; and His eventual triumph. Fasting battles the weakness of surrendering to self-serving ways. And almsgiving counters ungiving.
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus too resists those temptations: to give in to bodily urges; to give up on what one believes and put all, even God, to the test; and to give nothng but have all the world at one’s command instead.
In advancing our country, we too must resist those failings. Atoning for them is the first step not only for Lent, but also for national renewal. Amen.