For the previous weeks, I have suggested that we reflect on the Old Testament readings for a change. The powerful selections are from the prophets. Maybe they have a message to tell us.
Today’s reading comes from the prophet Hosea (10: 1-3, 7-8, 12).
“Israel is a luxuriant vine
whose fruit matches its growth.
The more abundant his fruit,
the more altars he built;
The more productive his land,
the more sacred pillars he set up.”
Before COVID-19, life was good. People were killed; many were harassed. But life was good. That was what they told us. The GNP was high (5.9% in 2019). Business was booming. With tax increases, revenues were also coming. The government was confident and had resources for its “build, build, build” program.
Politics was also good. There were Duterte critics but he had 80% approval rating. Life was good. All politicians were positioning in preparation for 2022. The usual SOP cuts for government projects (15%?) was always there. “Tuloy lang ang ligaya!”
Church life was also good. Collections and fund raising were there as usual. Big churches were rising. Altars were decorated with “gold.” The prophet was right. “The more abundant his fruit, the more altars he built.”
“But their heart is false,” the prophet warns. They have founded this civilization on wrong pillars, on fake illusions, on false foundations.
COVID-19 came and broke it down. Their altars were broken and their sacred pillars destroyed. All they have now are online Masses set in a small room you know not where, without those golden altars. Collections were not coming; some churches even had to retrench personnel. And this looks like for a long haul.
The economy is crumbling. Businesses are closing down. And it might take years to bounce back. Political prospects are bleak. They could not even strategize anymore. What is going on – the Terror Law or whatever – are the last ditch attempts to prop up a crumbling wall.
You can see it in their eyes during those midnight ramblings; you can hear it in their voices during those press conferences. No one knows what to do. Each one is left to fend for oneself. “Sayawan na lang natin,” they said.
“The king of Samaria shall disappear, like foam upon the waters….” A prophecy that will soon come true.
Because their heart is false.
They have forgotten about justice. They have forgotten about fairness. They did not remember goodness. They have neglected the poor. They murdered them and left their widows and orphans wailing as these ruthless men take pride in their killing. They weaponize the law to kill the poor. They have eliminated their critics and called them communists. They have killed the prophets and instituted laws that will silence anyone like them forever.
They left the poor begging and hungry under those lively neon lights which they call progress. There were many of them – those retrenched from work, those who live on “kariton” because they could not afford a rent, those who were pushed to the peripheries of the streets and the margins of life. It is “an economy that kills,” Pope Francis says.
People now talk about the “new normal.” It has become a by-word of every webinar or online meeting. But what is really the new normal? It is not about internet or social media. It is not about masks and hand washing. It is not even about social distancing and online learning. These are not normal. These are practices needed in abnormal times.
What is the new normal? It is something which we have totally sidelined – justice, solidarity, care – and we thought it was normal to forget them as we do.
What we called “normal” times were falsely founded on their opposites – fear, injustice, violence. The government wants us to accept that these climate is the new normal. Obey and you shall be saved! Follow the protocols and you will not die. Do not complain. Do not criticize. If you do, you will end up in you know where.
No, we need to resist and together with the prophet insist that it is justice and solidarity which should be the new normal. Stand up. Fight. #Resist. No matter what it takes.
“Sow for yourselves justice… break up for yourselves a new field, for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain down justice upon you,” the prophet Hosea cries in his message today.
Father Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M. is a theologian, professor, and pastor of an urban poor community in the outskirts of the Philippine capital.