Speaking against silence
A few weeks ago, as the Israel-Hamas conflict raged, a tweet made the rounds of social media. It asked rather disconcerting questions, and in a manner so condescending, they incensed social media users who were raising legitimate concerns about everything that was going on half a world away.
The person asked, in not so many words, “For points [on a make-believe exam]: what difference would our opinions as Filipinos make, given that we are far from the conflict and have no actual stake in the matter? Who would benefit from us raising our voices in protest or disagreement?”
At that time, I found the questions irritating, but I could not articulate why. All I could think of was that the internet user seemed to be ridiculing both the format of examinations while mocking what school tells us not to do: to shut down opinions, to be silent in the face of injustice.
Last Sunday, we in the Catholic community celebrated Christ the King—the Sunday before Advent, a time when the same gospel is read at church: the great choosing at the end of times, when the King of Heaven sets aside those who clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the prisoners, and sheltered the homeless, because they recognized Jesus in the eyes of those who had none, and therefore can enter eternal life.
On the other hand, those who choose to ignore the needs of others are thrown out of paradise, and into a place of darkness and the cold isolation of the soul, in a world where the damned gnash their teeth for eternity.
We often interpret this gospel from a spiritual, even religious point of view; but this reading actually has a strong secular aspect from which anyone, from any faith or none at all, can draw.
It was something that our parish priest (Father Torres of Our Lady of the Pentecost) alluded to in his sermon: we must help those who need our help and in any way possible; we must help even those whom we are taught not to love, whom we are told not to emulate, whom we are conditioned to believe are the useless, the dregs of society.
From a religious point of view, we must see Jesus in every face; but from a secular point of view, the gospel is clear. We are all equal as humans, and we must help each other in any way possible.
Our parish priest pushed the logic even further: The gospel does not say that our actions must solve world hunger, eradicate poverty and homelessness, and end all wars. Jesus simply says that we must give food to those without, help those who need it, provide aid to those who require it.
We are not being told to eliminate the problem, because we are not God, and we do not have the power to change everything; but our smallest acts of generosity always go toward greater acts of goodness.
All Jesus asks for, Father Torres said, is to be lowly amongst the low, for compassion is most powerful when it is carried out in solidarity.
We can extend this even further, in response to that tweet several weeks ago.
Solidarity with those who suffer in war, whether they are hostages taken in anger or families bombed in revenge, is still solidarity with all those who suffer. To speak up against injustice might not solve injustice, but it is a voice all the same. To write about an opinion that is well-founded, well-researched, and nuanced is not a useless effort, no matter how few the likes and shares, no matter how whispered it is into the vast noise of the online arena.
The call is to make “a difference,” not “the difference.” The articles spell the distinction: when we go with “a,” we speak of many of us making changes, though small and quiet, but deliberate and wholehearted. We might not make “the” difference that will change the world; but we can make a difference that will change a universe, the one that the naked and the poor and the lowly and the oppressed live through every day.
There, too, is no invisible phrase in the Gospel. “If you clothed the naked” does not read “If you clothed the naked who is of the same faith as yours” or “If you clothed the naked who comes from your side of the fence” or “If you clothed the naked who has done no wrong against you.”
The gospel simply calls for helping those who need help, because true love and charity do not exist for the sake of reward.
The goodness that we have to both preach and practice is not transactional. It is not the product of some fair trade. It is simply goodness—and it is something we cannot ignore when we purport to celebrate Christmas and speak of hope and joy and a season of happiness.It is a goodness that can exist, whether we physically walk amongst the poor or speak on their behalf, whether we stand in a barren city to carry the lifeless bodies of children or write about how true justice must exist beyond semantics and bombs. We make a difference—because to remain quiet is to participate in evil.
So, for eternity points: What is the cost of allowing evil to flourish by silencing those who try to speak up against wrongdoing?