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From God we came; To God, we return

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Most. Rev. Rolando Tria Tirona, OCD, DD

Today, we begin the season of Lent which is our forty days of journey to God guided by the clear and distinct words of the prophet Joel: ‘return to me with all your heart’. Many times, we have promised to return to Him soon. And many times, we have forgotten our promises. Now is the time. As we fall in line to receive the ashes on our foreheads, we promise the Lord: ‘From You I came; to You I return – with my whole life, my whole being, my whole heart.

Our country is in bad shape. It is as bad as during Martial Law. The economy is down. The moral fiber is gone. Our democracy is floating on a balloon of lies. Our public opinions are shaped by misinformation. We have become a country without memory, without history, without identity. We all committed a sin against our nation, against our society – through apathy, through indifference, through silence. Today, we gather. The prophet Joel says: ‘Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly’ – gather the people, the elders, the children, including the priests and the ministers. Make them weep and say: Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them!

We are all guilty of supporting politicians not for the common good but for personal interests. Regardless of the politician’s questionable character and competence, for as long as they can provide for our individual needs, they get our votes. We see them as “key” to certain problems. The mayor can help our son or daughter get a job at the municipal office. The barangay captain can include us among the beneficiaries of relief goods during calamities. And so, when political leaders break the law, many of us ignore their crime. We are blinded by our needs. In the end, we become followers of corrupt politicians.

Caceres Archbishop Rolando J. Tirona, OCD, DD, leads the traditional “Via Crucis kaiba an Arzobispo” held Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022, 06:00 pm, at the patio of the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral. Ash Wednesday marks the start of our Lenten journey of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. (/MB Photo: Fr. Gerome Pelagio)

“He donated 100 monoblock chairs to our association, so let’s vote for him.” “He is a land grabber, but at least I am on the payroll as his ghost employee.” “I don’t mind if he is incompetent for as long as I get my 4Ps allotment.” These are some of the sentiments that we often hear. We follow those who can give us some benefit at the expense of the common good.

Saint Paul, Saint Peter, and Apollos had their own respective groups of followers when they exercised their ministries. Saint Paul, however, reminded all Christians that all of them belong only to God (1 Cor.1:12). He did not bask in the admiration and loyalty of the people. Instead, he ushered them to God. He knew that he was God’s messenger, and that all power emanates from God. The second reading underlines that we are ambassadors for Christ. We represent Him. Apart from Him, we lose our identity. And when we turn our backs on Him, He gives us opportunities to reconcile with Him.

When spouses fight over money, when siblings compete for a piece of land, these are opportunities to rediscover what really matters. In our life as a community, our daily encounters with other people help us rediscover our belongingness to God. We are God’s ambassadors and we do not represent our human patrons. But in the fight against corruption, we turn a blind eye because we fear losing favors from politicians.

All over the country, everyone is talking about the coming election. This is an opportunity for us to renew our belongingness to God. Do we echo God’s call in the way we assess the qualifications of candidates? Do we represent God as we discern who should be our rightful leaders? We are not ambassadors of other human beings. We are God’s. Thus, our leaders should also work for God, and not for their self-interests.

“This patron-client relationship in Philippine politics is a weakness in our democratic system.” (Lin Danyang). It does not empower; it imprisons. Citizens become beholden to politicians, to the point that they are afraid to vote for better leaders. To be Catholic is to put our hope in God and His Kingdom, and not in the promises of politicians and their dynasty. When we stand firm on our belongingness to God, we will be able to choose leaders who heed the Gospel.

Good leaders are those who promote the common good, regardless of political affiliation. They do not build a political dynasty. They identify themselves with the poor, seeing them as brothers and sisters in the Lord. They have clear plans as they are aware of the plight of the different sectors. They share their power as they lead and serve the people. Their platform of government recognizes the need not only for charity or welfare but also development and conscientization. Good administrations make excellent infrastructure, promote scholarships and livelihoods, and create a good investment climate for job opportunities. Good leaders build the capacities of their constituents so they will have a voice in the society. They, themselves, fight the culture of mendicancy as they know, they are mere soldiers of Christ.

“Jesus who became poor so that we may become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9) must be our guide in choosing those who should lead us. Jesus wants us to have an abundant life anchored on justice and peace. The culture of mendicancy is an injustice to human dignity. There is no peace if the powerful trample upon the dignity of the poor. We must choose leaders who, like Jesus, will uplift the needy. We must break away from the prison of mendicancy and stand for God and His Kingdom.

Lent is the best time to prepare ourselves to perform our sacred duty as citizens – to cast our vote not for the love of particular politicians but for the love of God and the love of country. These National and Local Elections are critical. It is a fight between good and evil. It is not a political choice. It is a moral choice. It is an opportunity for our country to return to God.


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