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The Word, The Truth

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Homily for Thursday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, 21 Oct 2021, Lk 12:49-53

Today’s Gospel is my answer to people who don’t want to get involved in politics because they say politics is divisive. They usually say they would rather remain neutral. I hear that very often even from people working in the Church and involved in various ministries as volunteers. They say they prefer to see the Church promoting unity and so they would rather remain “non-partisan”. They also insist that we should just be quiet during elections and respect people’s choices and prerogatives, that we should just allow them to vote according to conscience. They forget that they have the duty also to inform and educate their conscience.

I wonder how you felt while listening to our Gospel today. The kind of image that we get of Jesus is not that of the caricatured redeemer who suffers silently and remains meek and mild, or gentle and humble of heart. What I see rather is quite the opposite—a Jesus who is bold, challenging, calling on his disciples to make a categorical stand for the kingdom of God. Saint Ignatius of Loyola calls life in this world a constant spiritual battle with two standard bearers—those bearing the standard of Satan and those carrying the standard of Christ. It is not a battle among people but rather between good and evil. Even good people can be under the spell of evil.

And so Jesus says, “I have come to light a fire on earth and how I wish it were already ablaze.” This reminds me of the Book of Wisdom chapter 3 which speaks about the souls of the just “as gold that is tested in fire.” Like gold that has to be dissolved in fire first in order to be cleansed of its impurities.

Our Psalm today uses a different imagery for DIVISION: sifting. The Tagalog terms are PAGTATAHIP and PAGSASALÂ. PAGSASALÂ applies more to the strainer, like we do when we want to separate the pulp from the juice. On the other hand, PAGTATAHÍP comes closer to the idea of the winnowing fan. In Amorsolo’s paintings of countryside scenes, we sometimes see women pounding rice, and others holding bilaos with the pounded rice, throwing it into the air in order to separate the chaff from the grain.

It is the image of division used by the Psalm. The grains fall into the bilao because they are heavy, and the chaff is driven away by the wind because it contains nothing but empty shells.

People who are undiscerning tend to be easily driven by the wind of public opinion. The fact that they get easily carried by so-called viral posts that are trending in the social media actually betrays their intellectual and spiritual emptiness.

Sometimes there are people who watch a livestreaming and find themselves being carried by the barrage of angry faces and verbal harassments to the point that they do it themselves. I find it horrific what they say even to good and very principled candidates. Most of them, especially young people, do not realize how they allow themselves to be manipulated by paid trolls who maintain thousands of fake accounts precisely to influence public opinion. These armies of trolls are paid to precisely to propagate fake news and false propaganda so that it becomes the alternative truth or narrative. They don’t even do it out of principle. Pepa-pera lang.

I like the way Ambassador Tita De Villa put it, the other day, when she was interviewed on TV at the launching of the PPCRV in Pasig. Commenting on the campaign against disinformation as part of PPCRV work, she said, “PPCRV is non-partisan but never neutral. One cannot be neutral when it comes to good versus evil. We try to prevent voters from being coopted by evil, fake news, lies, corruption and kill, kill, kill.”

Over good and evil, truth and lies, we cannot but expect division. Unity is not to be mistaken for uniformity. It is precisely when we work for genuine unity that we are bound to deal with a lot of conflicts, tensions and divisions.

I remember a comment that really made me cringe and rethink the idea of unity. It came from a group of young boys who had been charged of raping a girl and killing her. One of them was interviewed by a news reporter who said, “Bakit ninyo nagawa iyon?” He answered, “Nakikisama lang naman po sa barkada, Ma’am.” Maybe their slogan was “one for all, all for one.” How can you glorify unity if it is unity around an evil purpose?

Remember the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis? How people used to be united, speaking a common language. How they began to embark on building a tower that would reach the heavens? What did God do? He divided them! That curse of Babel would not be reversed until Pentecost, until the coming of the Holy Spirit who alone will teach us to enter into dialogue with one another and confront our divisions head on, if we want to work for genuine unity.

Some people have a wrong notion of unity. Some people don’t realize that working for peace cannot be separated from working for justice. That forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be genuine without a humble admission of guilt, repentance and a sense of accountability. There is no such thing as neutrality in the earthly battle between good and evil.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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