Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes had an interesting proposition the other weekend. That was for P-Noy to go into retreat this Holy Week. It would be good, he said, if the President does not just depend on his natural discernment to lead the country in the daang matuwid, but also seeks enlightenment from above. I will be charitable since this is Holy Week and grant that Bastes means well by his suggestion, however astonishing it is that he should single out the President as needing introspection and self-examination when this country does not lack for people who might more mightily profit from it. I will be charitable as well since this is Lent and not yield to the temptation, however powerfully inviting it is for the irreverent, not to make fun of his name.
I don’t know though that his proposition doesn’t encourage more shaking of the head than nods of agreement. I’m all for seeking enlightenment from heaven, in whatever form heaven takes, in whatever being divinity assumes, but I don’t know exactly how heaven makes its will known to the supplicant. I do know, or believe, one thing. That is that when we talk to God, it is called prayer, but that when God talks to us, it is called sayad.
History bears it out. The last time William McKinley heard from God, God told him to conquer the Philippines. God told him to go against the libertarian roots of the land of the free and brave and conscript the energies of the devious and deceitful like Randolph Hearst and enslave a people that had done them no harm and had only fought freely and bravely against their colonizer. God even gave his command a caption, which was Manifest Destiny.
The last time Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo heard from God, God told her to stay on despite a world begging heaven for her not to. Lest we forget, Arroyo was the most prayerful of all the occupants of Malacañang, or at least the one most caught by photographers in that pose. She was the one who expressly claimed God spoke to her so that she might lead her hapless people, like Moses, from the plague of global recession to the land of milk and ZTE. That was her manifest destiny.
Of course she might have been a little confused, God taking so many forms during her time. Sometimes God looked like Fernando Capalla, sometimes God looked like Bastes, and in a moment of sublime unfolding—“God put me here,” she would say later—God looked like Garci.
P-Noy himself has not been loath to go on retreats, not confining himself to Holy Week to do it. Though he has claimed only to talk to God and not the other way around. I remember that he did so before he ran for president in 2009, being completely reluctant to do it despite being thrust into it by an act of heaven. From the start he was never certain it was his destiny, manifest or not. It was left to others to point it out to him. It was his running mate who did think it was his manifest destiny to become president, though force majeure forced him to reconsider its manifest-ness. He settled for saying he made a supreme sacrifice, though it was never manifest what exactly his sacrifice consisted of. But that’s another story.
Who knows? Maybe God truly spoke that day, albeit by way of heart and conscience.
P-Noy ran and won, and became the scourge of the very people who are now advising him to seek God’s advice. The ones who mistake God’s voice for their own.
My own suggestion is for them to do as they preach. Those who can’t do, teach, the witticism says. In this country it would seem, those who can’t do, preach. Or become bishops. But it would be good for them to go on retreat this Holy Week and do some introspection, particularly about what they have done, and are doing, to this country. I would recommend specifically the contemplation of the meaning of Crown of Thorns, or in Tagalog, Corona ng Tinik.
Bastes and company would do well to do it. They might want to contemplate the crown of thorns they planted on the head of Juan de la Cruz during Arroyo’s time, and continue to plant on the head of Juan de la Cruz well afterward. They might want to reflect on what they’ve done to the stature and authority of priests, bishops and the Catholic Church itself as the guiding light of morality, as the beacon of light of the lost and wayward. They might want to wonder how many Filipinos they’ve inspired to embrace other religions, or driven to utter faithlessness, by what they’ve done. Or indeed by what they’ve become.
So would their fellow traveler in the daang baluktot, Renato Corona, do well to do it. He might want to contemplate the corona ng tinik he planted on the head of Juan de la Cruz during Arroyo’s time, and the corona ng tinik he continues to plant on the head of Juan de la Cruz to this day. He might reflect on what he has done to the reputation and standing of judges, the courts and the law itself as the means by which wrongs are righted, as the means by which justice is done. He might want to wonder how many Filipinos he has inspired to take justice into their hands, if not driven to utter lawlessness, by what he has done. Or indeed by what he has become.
Heaven does talk to people, for those who have the ears to hear it. That is not with a booming voice and the parting of the skies, a la Cecil B. DeMille for those who can still recall the “Ten Commandments.” Nor is it with the apparitions that have appeared before McKinley and Arroyo, whose provenance is not entirely traceable upstairs. That is with the tiny voice in the head called conscience, and with the tinier voice in the heart called decency. Those who have it do not need Holy Week to unlock the secrets of heaven and divine the divine will. For those who have it, every day is a retreat.
For those who have it, every day is an advance.
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