The year turns tonight when the sun goes down in the west. This is a way of reckoning time that we inherited from the people of Israel. The new day begins with the entrance of the night.
For many across the land, the clocks have stopped. Cops say the body count of their war on drugs is closing in on two thousand. Scribes count differently. The figure is closer to five thousand.
For others, Time’s hands have been turning counterclockwise, to three years ago, when the deadliest of storms poured the ocean into the land and whisked away a multitude; to three years ago, when Earth shook and the oldest churches crumbled; to seven years ago, when evil men murdered fifty-eight people, most of them journalists, and tried, in vain, using a backhoe to bury the corpses into oblivion.
Many more must feel like they’ve been hit with a grandfather clock. In the national university in one of the country’s old capitals, carillon bells tolled from noon till midnight in a ringing objection to state acclaim for a tyrant whose remains were smuggled into a plot of land reserved for heroes.
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I don’t know if I’ll have time to buy my own Advent wreath to inaugurate the church’s new calendar. The religious goods stores have probably run out of any by now.
Whether I get to set up one at home or not, I too will remember what happened three years ago. Not having been in the center of the storm does not disqualify me from fellow-feeling. There is space for the grief of others in the heart of one who experienced nothing more than a power outage, some neighbor’s kamunggay tree slammed by the wind onto the roof over his head, the brief anxiety of not having a house mate since he was out on journalistic work but would come home the very next day.
Chide not the young ones who took to the streets today and will do so in the coming days. There is space to honor the pain of the tortured and raped, the disappeared and salvaged, the imprisoned and plundered in the hearts of those who are awake enough to see that change has not come, but that he who promised sweeping changes has rehabilitated the villains of old.
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On this paper, I saw a photograph of the basilica of the Christ-child. A spotlight was directed at the belfry, buttressed and reconstructed after the last big earthquake.
The temblor had happened in the middle of an October, a few weeks before the big storm. In the calm amid Haiyan, I walked to my backyard. The neighbor’s ilang-ilang tree had shed flowers in the wind. The blossoms, dotted with cold, clear raindrops, were strewn on the soggy ground.
These thoughts comfort me in our cruel times. Rebuild the churches. Plant trees though storms may shake them. Let bishops be mighty shepherds who rally us against injustice once more. Prepare, one more time, to meet the brute force of tanks with the sweet scent of flowers.
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In the parish, at the vigil Mass, a Sunday Mass on a Saturday evening, someone will light one purple candle mounted on a circle of green leaves.
Wick and wax will burn and melt, slowly, silently, consumed by the flame of hope.
The liturgists say that the first of the season’s four lights also ushers in the week of the patriarchs. This will be followed by the lighting of three more candles, one per Sunday, one for the prophets, the flame of love; another for John the Baptist, the flame of joy; a final one for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the flame of peace.
Remember those who died in the struggle for freedom. They are our patriarchs. They taught us hope.
Let’s hold on to those who foresee that all shall be well. They are our prophets. They know we are more than conquerors in love.
Let’s be kind to those who critique us today. They are our John the Baptists. They teach us the sacrifice that leads to joy.
Let’s work for a world where our children can thrive. They are our Marys. In their play, their friendship, their trust, their obedience, their sense of wonder and their kisses, they teach us peace.
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