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2020 Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia: A Time for Introspection

San Diego, California. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Three powerful words in the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence that subsumes every citizen’s inalienable right to be equal before the eyes of God, man, and the eyes of the law. John Locke’s liberal republican ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are declared in such precedence to emphasize that life is supreme to liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

COVID-19 exposed the banality of these sacrosanct words. This is the context of my self-examination as I try to understand the Peñafrancia celebration’s theme of "Fostering Dialogue and Harmony in the spirit of Mary's Gentleness and Humility." In this year of darkness and divisiveness, the theme is apropos.

Prayers have flooded the heavens. Every patron saint has been summoned. Ortatio imperata has been invoked multiple times while many Christians on bended knees continued praying for deliverance from this deadly virus. Religious leaders of all cloth are embarrassed while some have lost their lives challenging the wisdom of COVID-19. God is not listening and the Blessed Mother, our Ina wants us to think harder.

Seven months into the pandemic year, America has lost over 205,000 of its people with over a million infected with the virus. The end is not in sight. Why has God forsaken us? So much so that we now rely on science and medicine to break us free from this pandemic.

But not, just as yet. If scientific predictions hold, America will lose many more souls in the coming months. More will die because people will continue to insist that liberty and the pursuit of happiness trumps life. Life is precious because it is a borrowed one. Yet people fight over it as if there is really a choice. So the hurricanes are getting stronger, fires are more devastating, other diseases are coming out of the woodwork and wild animals while we go through our day thinking that “it is what it is.”

Citizens stormed state capitols and paraded the flag while carrying holstered weapons, brandishing weapons of war, shouting to their hearts content in the name of the flag, in the name of liberty, in the name of the economy. Aggrieved citizens petition their government on the streets of America to shine upon the unequal treatment they are getting before the law. Yet, on the very same street where people of colors petitioned for equal rights that were supposed to be inalienable centuries ago, where met with tear gas, truncheons, and bullets.

“It is what it is,” says the man in the White House as he cajoled governors to “open up!” Americans wanted their beaches, mega malls, churches, gymnasiums, and restaurants open using their curtailed freedoms, in pursuit of happiness. A simple mask, physical distancing, and washing our hands more often, as our moms would remind us; would have lessened the impact of statistics. In our selfishness, we even used our children as guinea pigs in schools hoping they won’t die like canaries in the mines.

With the presidential election looming in less than five weeks, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg further complicated what is already a complicated year. The president nominated a woman who is the exact opposite of what Justice Ginsburg stood for. The nominee is a conservative Catholic jurist who would undoubtedly undo, decades old jurisprudence on Wade vs. Roe and will also vote to get rid of the Affordable Care Act more popularly called Obamacare that would render millions without healthcare insurance. How do we know? Her own statements and legal opinions said so.

The life of the unborn is precious. Every true believing Christian should uphold God’s commandment of “Thou shall not kill.” But life’s sanctity is no longer defined by its Creator because men have decreed it to be so. Men have created their own laws that justifies killing when it suits their ideologies. All lives should matter but in this society, some live matter less because of their skin color.

How many American children die from hunger, malnutrition, and as victims of crime every day? How many die from battle, from declared and undeclared war? Seventy five million perished during World War II, nearly one million died in Iraq, one million during the Vietnam War, the list is long. Over 200,000 lives were lost in the hands of the Americans during the Philippine-American War.

So we blame the Greeks for the concept of society where people can be civilly governed. Ancient Greek’s society consisted of free people and slaves. But it was really the Romans who elevated the trade to new heights. When the radical Jesus protested those in power by enlightening the village folks while chastising the taxmen, the usurers, the business people getting rich from the people below the pyramid; they nailed Jesus to the cross.

From the time that that damn apple caused us our original sin, mankind has been paying for it in many different ways because man has countermanded God’s Fifth Commandment as long as it is justifiable murder or just war. But the havoc that we have created, the pain we have caused our fellow men because of liberty and pursuit of happiness; has damaged our environment so bad and our standing before God that the Almighty Father has literally stopped the world through this pandemic to show us that the air we breathe can still be fresh, the water pristine, highways need not be stressful, and family is where love is.

America is so divided between ideologies, rich and poor, religions and the love of money. President Trump was nominated for the coveted Nobel Peace Prize for brokering “peace” between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel. What is not mentioned in the nomination is why UAE was so eager to sign the deal. America greased the Emirati appetite for advanced military weaponry that they will get the highly advanced F-35 stealth fighter and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft. The UAE now joins Saudi Arabia in having more advanced weapons of war that they are using to kill more Yemenis.

As the election nears, everyone should take part in this historic and perhaps more consequential election. Our future is more important than any individual, the president included. Think of our children who we send in harm’s way incapable of thinking and reasoning for themselves. As the adults in the room, let us reflect on the value of our life and others.

Now is the time for introspection and the fiesta theme gives us the opportunity to think how we can be part of fostering harmony and the dialogue for discernment, with Our Lady of Peñafrancia’s gentleness and humility as our north star. So that the more we are all able to breathe the clean air, relax in this life's pause; let us connect our past and present with hopes for our future and hopefully ease our anxiety. (to be continued..)

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