For most Filipinos, especially the youth far less devoted to religious holydays and family traditions than generations past, the feasts of All Saints’ and All Souls’ last Friday and Saturday are just the second long weekend in a week gifted with two days off, including Monday’s barangay polls.
Yet, if there is anything our world and our nation need more than ever, especially globally connected Millennials fearing the economic and ecological future they will inherit, it is the sanctity and sacrifice, caring and counsel which Christians and others commemorating the holy or dearly departed remembered with devotion and respect.
Yeah, right, twentysomethings may chuckle, and throw in free lunches, world peace, and the end of poverty, hunger, disease, nukes and quakes while you’re at it.
Sure, light candles, say prayers, sweep graves, and whatever. Recall with reverence the bravery of martyrs, the brilliance of preachers, the devotion of mystics, and the charity and self-sacrifice of Good Samaritans feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, helping the poor, and performing other works of mercy, seven corporal and seven spiritual (no need to Google the list).
Then go back to reality the day after: pork barrel, kids begging at traffic lights, election killings, storms and earthquakes. And six billion mortals trying to stay alive and get ahead, maybe caring for family, friends, pets or pastimes, sans halos and visions.
Which is perhaps why All Saints’ Day and other celebrations of past religiosity stir infinitely less interest than the latest celebrity scandal, amazing gadget, or phone ringtone.
In sum, saints are from another world long gone and far removed from today. And for more and more people, especially the young and educated, that percieved irrelevance applies even to the holiest of all, Jesus Christ.
For even when devout Catholics pack churches and kneel before images, few ever hope or care to follow the inspired footsteps of the beatified and canonized. Many are called, but few are chosen. Infinitesmally few.
The rest of us go about our unremarkable lives, leaving sanctity for the afterlife, if there a heavenly sequel after two, three or four score on earth. It’s great to be caring, long suffering, rising from weakness and sin, and embracing God’s will, with total faith, hope and trust in the Almighty. But not for most of humanity, right?
Wrong. In truth, all the hallmarks of sainthood, from helping others and enduring hardship to overcoming human failings and building ties with the Almighty — they are the very stuff of our everyday lives.
Think about it. No human being would live for a second after conception or birth with no mother giving sustenance and protection. And throughout life, we owe others for health, wealth, learning and joy. Moreover, the human person seeks to devote himself or herself to another, whether family, community or society, aspirations, ideals and work.
Suffering too is hardly alien to the human condition. Even those amassing fortune and clout do so with lifelong effort and sacrifice, while those inheriting such bounties face the threat of losing all. And there is no escaping the cold, bony touch of mortality, whether by microbe, malignancy, mishap, murder, maelstrom, or mutiple organ failure.
As for rising above mortal flaws, everyone struggles to be and live better, even the most destitute. Needs of body, longings of heart, and aspirations of soul spur us to strive for a better, richer, more meaningful and joyful life. To be sure, countless unfortunates have given up on tomorrow. But given the chance and the wherewithal, they too pick themselves up.
Lastly, all creatures are subject to forces greater than them. Just ask the powerful president fretting over public opinion polls, or the billionaire helpless against a creeping cancer. Like it or not, believe it or not, all humanity must come to terms with a higher power. Some tremble before it, others pray for deliverance, still others strive to understand and control it by technology, money or politics.
So being human and being saintly share basic parameters. And why not? Sanctity’s model was none other than God made man, born and lovingly raised by a mother and a father, suffering privation in the desert and crucifixion on a hill, preaching and prototyping radical conversion and absolute love, and fulfilling His Father’s will all the way to Calvary.
Then why isn’t everyone a saint? If caring, suffering, striving for the future, and bowing to fate are inextricably part of life, how did humanity produce an Adolf Hitler who spawned world war and death camps, along with a Saint Maximillian Kolbe who sacrificed his life for a fellow inmate in Auschwitz? Closer to home, why did two driven lives end up light years apart like Jesse Robredo and Janet Lim-Napoles?
It isn’t because some are good by nature, and others bad. All of us partake of sinfulness, as even Pope Francis recently said of himself. Rather, blame free will for the different paths taken by people.
While all of us will have our share of caring, suffering, striving, and bowing to higher powers, we decide what to care, sacrifice and struggle for, and how to deal with the overarching reality ruling our world. For saints, those four elements of life boil down to one Way, Truth and Life: Jesus Christ and the goodness, righteousness, beauty and charity He espoused and lived.
From the Blessed Virgin to today’s other Christs, the saintly have cared for Jesus in the least of their brethren, sacrificed all for His will, and struggled daily to build His Kingdom on earth, beginning with their own souls and embracing all human endeavors, from begging for alms to ruling kingdoms. They have likewise embraced Him in all life’s vagaries, ever trusting the Almighty to bring everything to a good and holy end.
We inevitably undergo the same inescapable nurturing, enduring and striving amid fate’s uncontrollable whims — no respite from these elements of earthly existence, although wealth, power and technology may hold them off for a time. In our hands, however, is the same question faced by the saints: Will you go through all that with and for God, or without Him?
Plainly, the human condition is set and unavoidable. But we can choose for what or whom we devote our caring, suffering and striving, and whether or not we believe in a loving Supreme Being taking our hand and leading us through it all to Himself.
Our choice will shape our life and being in this world and the next.