For three Christmases now, we’ve been celebrating under the pall of calamity—“Sendong” in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in 2010; “Pablo” in Davao and ComVal in 2011.
Both shocked us, in the magnitude and horror of their destruction.
This year is very different. From the Zamboanga crisis to the Bohol earthquake and the devastation of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” 2013 has been marked by escalating damage and tragedy.
Barely a month after recovering from one calamity, the next struck with stronger blows: the Zamboanga crisis on Sept. 9; the Bohol earthquake on Oct. 15; and Yolanda on Nov. 8.
One thought we would reach breaking point. Yolanda made history as the strongest typhoon in recorded history; the longest period of being classified as a supertyphoon; and one that made landfall not once but five times.
But breaking point does not always lead to tragedy. The paradox is that it can lead to a new beginning.
The Christmas paradox is that the poverty, helplessness and vulnerability of Jesus in the manger will become the source of our salvation and our greatest and eternal treasure.
There also exists a paradox in this Sunday’s Gospel. Joseph reaches a breaking point and decides to quietly divorce Mary upon learning she is with child. However, a new perspective that defies logic and reason eventually comes to him in a dream that makes him reconsider.
Joseph’s breaking point was a broken heart brought by Mary’s delicate condition. But the better part of his life emerges when he becomes the foster father of the Son of God, the Emmanuel, the God with us.
A few days ago, I celebrated Mass for a company’s Christmas and thanksgiving fete. Twenty of the 332 students from the University of the Philippines (UP)-Tacloban, who are now based at UP-Diliman, were invited.
Arianne, one of the transferees, eloquently conveyed her group’s gratitude and hope after the tragedy.
She described their experience of watching family and friends drown and die, of home and possessions being washed away, of wondering if a friend or a relative was still alive.
For days, she said, they carried on—dazed, not knowing what hit them, what to do, where to start.
Hope after the tragedy
As she painted this picture of chaos and confusion, she talked of hope contained in stories of countless individuals, organizations and communities, both local and foreign, who came in their moment of great need.
Arianne said the hope that others would come and that they knew they were not alone buoyed the survivors’ spirits. The paradox is that there is even greater hope after tragedy.
Arianne added that the compassion and solidarity showed by those who helped inspired them to snap out of the victim mindset. “We are no longer victims, but survivors,” she declared.
It was a commitment coming from these young survivors, that they would rebuild their lives.
Joseph, upon learning of Mary’s condition, peacefully accepted it and allowed a dream to speak to him and rebuild his love and devotion to her, to his foster Son, to his God and to God’s plan.
Parker J. Palmer beautifully captures this experience—“wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours and ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”
Joseph believed in the dream and trusted God’s plan and mission for him. Truly he used his “devastation as a seedbed for new life.”
Believing and trusting
This is a timely reminder for us. As Joseph believed and trusted in God’s plan shown in a dream over 2,000 years ago, so must we continue to trust in God’s plan in moments of tragedy and devastation. It is only in believing and trusting that the grace of paradox allows new and greater life to emerge is bestowed upon us.
As I sat listening to Arianne, I could not help but hear in my heart Lea Salonga’s moving rendition of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” during the Solidarity Concert-Christmas Special of ABS-CBN aired last weekend.
“Somewhere / We’ll find a new way of living / We’ll find a way of forgiving / Somewhere / There’s a place for us / A time and place for us / Hold my hand and we’re halfway there…”
May these days leading to Christmas lead us back to our dreams. Let us not let go of each other’s hands. We are almost there.