Opinion & Analysis
A 'theology of resilience' in the Philippines7:56 PM, January 9, 2019
Philippines:Christians must recognize and help alleviate the plight of the downtrodden.
A Filipino woman prays during a downpour during the January 2015 visit of Pope Francis to the city of Tacloban, which was devastated by a super typhoon in 2013. (Photo by Joe Torres/ucanews.com)
Filipinos are known for their natural resilience, manifested in those who, after a cataclysmic event, are able to rise from the debris and ashes of their destroyed lives, at times even with a sense of humor.
It appears that this intrinsic resilience emanates from an act of self-transcendence. The Filipino is capable and actually transcends beyond one's suffering and senses God's wisdom, thus enabling oneself to accept one's circumstances with more humility and patience, and to begin the process of self-restoration.
This may yet be one of the more important contributions of the Catholic faith to our people: the Philippine Church's nearly five centuries of existence has solidly imprinted on our culture an almost indomitable and nearly mystical trust in the providence of God.
This unwavering faith shown in the many forms and varieties of exercises in popular piety is the strong foundation that supports self-transcendence and consequently makes resilience possible. This self-understanding of God that strengthens Filipinos in times of crises may be called a "theology of resilience."
The theology of resilience — a self-understanding of God that strengthens Filipinos in times of crises, aided by a natural capacity for self-transcendence and founded on strong Catholic religiosity — is the theodicy that may exist in the context of majority of Filipinos who are easily susceptible to sufferings in many forms due to poverty: unaffordable education, illiteracy, low-paying occupations, lack of access to quality health systems, constant exposure to social violence, etc.
What can the Gospel of Jesus Christ teach us in affirming this theology of resilience as a relevant theodicy for living — or surviving — our Philippine context?
A clear hermeneutical clue to validating our positive attitude of Filipino resilience may be seen in the entire paschal mystery — the life, death and resurrection of our Lord.
Jesus, like Job, had an intimate relationship with God, with a fidelity so zealous for the realization of his Father's kingship that he easily became a radical figure in his time and a disturbing memory for our time.
But he was also vulnerable, and in spite of a steadfast trust in his beloved Abba (father), he suffered from doubts, loneliness and the emotional anguish of feeling forsaken.
He also suffered throughout his ministry, constantly aware of the hurt and evil around him, of the extent to which pride and selfishness in an otherwise "civilized" society can create and perpetuate a caste of the humiliated marginalized, and of the heroic efforts necessary to change this distorted social order.
Confronted with his own human limitations and this task of immense magnitude of advocating for a selfless love as the cornerstone for social justice and peace, he amazingly learned the way of acceptance, of patient and humble surrender to the will of God.
And the way of acceptance has become the way of the cross. In those final hours of agony, not only did Jesus gave us the perfect portrait of acceptance and complete surrender in suffering but also the challenge of forgiving the pride and selfishness that caused it.
In his ministry, his love for those in the periphery and his compassion for those who seek freedom from the bondage of an inescapable and discriminated social image was boundless.
Surprisingly, in his Passion, this same mercy was poured out even to those who were in the tight grip of evil: to his "judges," tormentors, to all who rejected him and to all who remained indifferent and unconcerned.
During his trial, the innocently accused yet unforgiven one became the forgiver of all; truly in his death, he gave life.
At the moment of death, the way of acceptance, complete surrender and unconditional forgiveness led to the death of "death" itself, to the irreversible demise of the power of sin and to the unquestionable victory of God over evil.
Like Job, God will always be with us in our sufferings, and in the end he will lead us to be with him in his eternal triumph.
The resurrection, in which the Spirit lifted up Jesus from the realm of the dead, is our enduring assurance that God will always have the last word.
This paschal life-configuration — suffering because of evil, acceptance of suffering, forgiving evil, and the hope of vindication over evil — can serve as the basis for the theology of resilience.
We are made resilient by the understanding that God will support us in our sufferings, and that he will carry us to live to see its glorious ending. Destruction, violence and despair will have its own time of expiration.
Like the pliancy of the bamboo — still unbroken despite strong typhoon winds — we are made firm, perhaps unconsciously by our yearly fascination with the three-day drama of the dolorous "senakulo" and the jubilant "salubong."
If we are constantly reminded that Jesus won in the end, then we will win, too.
The exemplary ministry of Jesus affirms consistent and persistent presence and companionship as a vital element of effective pastoral care.
It also affirms a "grace of suffering" in the context of mission and ministry — that our own pain, doubt and anger, as well as our realizations of hope in the face of suffering, will be important in helping us help those who are in similar pain, doubt and anger.
Too often, we may only see the sufferings of others as "external" to our "own happy little world." Their struggles must become our struggles relived for their sake; their battle becomes our battle together.
As Christians, we must see the plight of the downtrodden, with the eyes of the one who wept along with those who cried out from the devastation of their hearts.
Brother Jess is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines, and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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