God, our Father, in faith, we acknowledge your care for us, your children . . . Grant eternal peace to those who lost their lives. Embrace the children who died in their innocence. Console those who are grieving. Help those who are hurt and cure those who are sick. Encourage those who suffer the destruction of their homes and properties as they rise from the ruins and rebuild their future . . . At your command the wind and the seas obey, raise your hand Almighty God and spare us from other natural disasters. Teach us to be responsible stewards of your creation. At this time of crisis, move us to share more and to love more.
— Archdiocese of Manila Prayer in Time of Calamity
That question cannot but gnaw at every believer’s mind and heart, especially the starving, suffering, devastated Christians in Tacloban and other communities crushed by the wrath of Super Typhoon Yolanda. And what they now think and feel may not be far from the thoughts and sentiments of countless other faithful bludgeoned by fate across two millennia down to the Boholanos who witnessed centuries-old churches tumbling in temblors just three weeks before the Leyteños’ hellstorm.
For many such victims, the Prayer in Time of Calamity, intoned at masses in the Archdiocese of Manila since last week, would be hard to say with solid conviction. Can those who lost spouses, children, parents, siblings, and other family, along with home and livelihood, truly acknowledge God’s fatherly care in faith? And which mother or father would not prefer by far to hug their children still, instead of imploring divine embraces for their fallen offspring?
Truly, it is absolutely no surprise that Yolanda’s killer winds and waves snuffed out not just life and limb, but faith, hope and charity as well. Bereaved, homeless and hungry, countless Taclobanons feel abandoned by government and God. It’s only human. And divine, too. After all, in taking on the totality of humanity, didn’t the crucified Second Person of the Blessed Trinity cry out on Calvary: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
Christ shared man’s hopelessness
Yes, feeling hopeless is part of humankind’s worldly sojourn; hence, God-made-man embraced it. And having done so, ennobled it: feeling forsaken by our Father in heaven is not sinful or blasphemous, or else it would never have welled up in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Thus, it isn’t just in suffering that earthquake- and cyclone-hit Visayans shared our Lord’s Passion, but also in their hopelessness.
At the same time, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” was not the final of the Seven Last Words on the cross, just the fifth. From the abyss of abandonment, Christ upheld His earthly mission of suffering for the world’s redemption, and declared, “It is finished.” Then, before the darkest moment of His last gasp, asphyxiated by the pull of his bloodied body on His lungs, Jesus manifested His undiminished faith and trust in God: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” So is the ultimate challenge for every soul crushed by misfortune and calamity: to climb from pain and despair to meaning in suffering and hope in the Almighty.
At least, that’s the theology. But the tragedy of human life is far different, as events of the past weeks have harrowingly demonstrated. For countless countrymen, women and children, staying alive and mourning the dead are challenges enough without having to make sense of desolation and crane one’s neck for life-saving grace, not death-dealing gusts from heaven.
The Lord’s Prayer is man’s too
Plainly, this world is a fallen one, ravaged by natural and man-made disasters. That is why the Lord’s Prayer has to ask for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, precisely for neither happens all the time. Nor does everyone get his or her daily bread, or forgive others as God forgives. And people do fall into temptation and suffer all manner of evil. Just ask the Leyte looters.
On the other hand, wallowing in despair and bitterness is hardly a recipe for either religiosity or recovery. We pray with the hope of receiving what we implore. And the Prayer in Time of Calamity, written presumably under the pastoral guidance and theological imprimatur of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, expresses the faithful’s hope for divine succor in the spiritual and temporal spheres, from taking the deceased into Paradise to consoling the bereaved, healing the ill and injured, and giving confidence to survivors seeking to rebuild their homes and lives.
The prayer, also written in Filipino, asks God to “spare us from other natural disasters,” even as we know there will be more calamities to come. And one grace that may help reduce future catastrophe is the divine teaching “to be responsible stewards of your creation,” including the world’s air, water, land, living creatures, and climate. After all, many disasters are created or exacerbated by human excesses, including superstorms and megafloods intensified in recent decades by global warming.
A call to love and share more
The Manila Archdiocese prayer ends with a plea for God to stir in the faithful greater love and sharing. It is no justification for wholesale death and destruction, but monumental calamities have a way of unleashing immense charity among vast multitudes across the planet, where there was little caring and concern before.
The Visayas earthquake and supertyphoons are probably stirring more goodwill and generosity on a personal level all over the world because of the eight million Filipinos scattered across many dozens of countries. Over the past month, easily a hundred million people all over the world not only saw appalling news videos of the crumbled churches in Bohol and the flattered city of Tacloban. They also got to express sympathy and lend a caring ear to Filipinos in their homes, offices, vessels, streets, and other habitations and places of work, a living, breathing link to the televised tragedy which does not happen in calamities in other countries.
Thus, the agony and devastation of the Visayas may well serve to stir the caring and generosity of humankind far more than before, not to mention the world’s drive to reverse climate change and help endangered nations build defenses against the ravages of a warmer world.
In sum, dearest Lord, we pray that like Your redemptive sacrifice on the cross, our nation’s tragic catastrophes shall open hearts and minds to Your love, grace and guidance, for greater charity toward Your less fortunate children and responsibility toward Your creation. Amen.