Pain in the season of gladness

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Friday, December 20, 2013


YOU might find it incongruous that I should talk about pain in a season of gladness, but as you have to know darkness in order to appreciate light, you have to experience pain in order to appreciate joy.

In the words of the poet, you break the shell that encloses your understanding and then your pain will not be less wondrous than your joy.

The recent weeks have seen so much anguish among our brothers. More than a hundred perished in the magnitue 7.2 earthquake that struck Bohol and Cebu in October. And only last month super typhoon Yolanda hit us hard, leaving 7,000 dead and counting.

The pain was overwhelming.

I wept when I saw the picture of a father with the lifeless body of his young daughter in his arms, quietly bearing his grief.

My heart broke when I saw the photo of a mother holding her daughter in her right hand while her left hand was gently stroking the forehead of her dead son as if willing him to live.

I could not even finish watching the revised version of the musical video, “We Are the World,” with still photos of suffering Filipino children replacing those of Haiti after a storm.

All these tend to shake our faith and make us ask questions like the one in Psalm 10, “Why are you so far away Lord, why do you hide yourself?”

Or to complain like Job, “if my troubles and griefs were weighed on scales, they would weigh more than the sands of the sea. Almighty God has shot me with arrows and their poison spreads through my body. God has lined up his terrors against me.”

And yet the same but repentant Job would in the end tell the Lord, “I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know. In the past, I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.”

This reminds me of a story told by my favorite Jesuit, Fr. Ernie Javier:

A girl had been studying her lessons for hours but still could not understand some of the passages and complained to her mother about it. The mother told her, “just fold the pages, honey and go back to them later. In God’s time, you will understand what they meant.”

And so we are called upon, if we have not seen God’s purpose in the devastation that we have witnessed, to just fold the pages and come back to them later, certain in our faith that in His time and by His grace, we would be able to decipher it all.

In my case, I have seen God’s hand beginning to unravel.

I saw it in the spontaneous outpouring of kindness and affection with which the rest of the world responded to our tragedy.

I saw it in the boy in Japan, who gave all his savings to the relief efforts; in the thousands of volunteers from all over the Earth who descended onto the devastated areas to minister to the survivors; and in the governments of America, the United Kingdom and even China, dispatching their warships at full speed, not to wage war but to fulfill missions of peace.

Adversity does bring out the best in people. We’ve seen it after Yolanda. In inflicting her upon us, God was just perhaps trying to prod us to re-discover the humanity and the compassion that we seem to have lost.

I have re-discovered joy in my heart. I agree with Oprah Winfrey: your joy is commensurate to the pain that you went through.

I pray that you have also found yours.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 20, 2013.

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