In the Face of Threat and Danger
“What do people do in the face of grave threat and danger to their lives and security?” This is the question I asked before the gospel today. (John 11: 45-56)
FIGHT – FLIGHT – FACE. Some fight and becomes unreasonably aggressive. Others freeze, try to escape or retreat to their own shells. Some others face and confront the threat squarely and bravely.
This is the context of the bible reading today. Lazarus has just been raised from the dead and the news about him became “trending” in the whole of Jerusalem. People were talking about him; and the miracle man, Jesus, became a threat to the ruling powers. The response of the Jewish leaders was on the “fight” mode. Kill him! “This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him.” Then, the Romans will come and we will lose all we have. So, let us kill him. We enter the Holy Week in the same spirit. Jesus actually died as a subversive. He unmasked the pretensions of power.
But this is also the response of some people in the face of grave danger called COVID-19.
FIGHT Mode – Aggression
Eliminate the opponent. Instead of listening, deflect the issue. Charge those who share opposite opinion on social media and call them fake news mongers. The hungry who went to the streets? “Shoot them dead.” Put the blame on others: Ipakulong ang Kadamay. Imbestigahan si Vico at Robredo. Kompitensiya sila ng gobyerno. Malaki ang ngipin ni Chel Diokno! Destroy the opponent’s name. This is not new. They did it to the drug addicts and poor farmers, too.
To listen to a midnight press briefing of a President gone loose so as to break his pen in front of a nation in fear is misplaced aggression. It did not fight the corona virus at all. It shows a person so threatened he does not know what to do.
FLIGHT Mode – Retreat
Retreat is a temporary respite if the enemy is insurmountable. Sometimes it is useful to regroup in order to gather strength. When the danger was near, Jesus retreat to the garden in Gethsemane. Humugot muna ng lakas bago sumugod sa giyera. For many people, this is necessary. Kung hindi kaya, huwag muna.
But what Peter did was different. He froze. He escaped. This is also what happened to the rest of the disciples. Silang lahat ay kumaripas ng takbo.
To “stay at home” is a helpful command in the face of corona virus. Yet people have become so afraid, they could hardly think straight. Ang daming naging praning. Naubos na ang Netflix at nagsawa na sa Tiktok. Hindi na alam kung anong sunod. Nagtago sa kwarto. Hanggang ang dami nang nai-imagine. What if ganito. What if ganon. Praning na nga!
Talking about the community lockdown, the Cabinet Secretary said: “When in doubt, don’t”. The injunction simplifies the issue but it takes our thinking faculty away. This is what I call “lazy thinking”, either-or thinking. I would rather say: “When in doubt, think, and think well.”
True, we are safe because we are holed up in our own homes. But we also leave the people around us to die. True, that by staying inside our houses, we may prevent the spread of the virus. But we also leave the people who have no homes vulnerable – either to the virus or to hunger. Either way, they will die anyway.
“When in doubt, think; and think well. Think what is the most responsible thing to do.”
FACE Mode – Confront
The third position is to face and confront the danger bravely and responsibly. There are many people who show us the "face mode" in our times:
• We see our brave doctors, nurses and medical workers who despite their fatigue and fear continue to serve in their line of duty. They have their families too but their vocation calls them to be there. And they stand up to the duty they sworn.
• Security guards, sales ladies in grocery stores, delivery van drivers, garbage collectors: they are most often left to walk home after their duty. They are frontliners, too.
• Young “techy” millennials whose technical knowhow is harnessed to help frontliners get rides, or where to go to help the poor. The site “Help from Home”, for instance, is one of the most comprehensive website of all initiatives in the Philippines in this pandemic.
• I know of a group of friends who bonded together to provide pandesal to families in Payatas and elsewhere;
• I know of BEC leaders, mothers of their own families, who risked going around under the noonday sun, just to provide a viable distribution network so that their most vulnerable neighbors would not go hungry.
• Lastly, just last night, I know of a group of poor mothers who contributed several kilos of rice from their own share of food ration in order to provide "lugaw" to all children in the alley, each morning, each day. They later found out that even adults queued up to get their share. That is how hungry people are today.
St. Vincent de Paul once told his priests: “I worry about us, but to tell you the truth, not so much as I do about the poor. If we need to, we could ask for help from our other houses... But where can the poor turn? Where can they go? This is my worry and my sorrow.”
There was one person who exemplified this last position best – Mary of Nazareth. In the face of grave danger – the crucifixion of her own son – she walked all the way to Calvary, bravely stayed up to the end, and in the face of death, stood at the foot of his cross.
Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University