Almost 10 years ago, one of the heads of a major corporation in the country asked me to help in a program in which he wanted to empower marginalized communities. The guiding philosophy was to “teach them how to fish.”
We began introducing interventions to empower families and communities, but nothing seemed to gain traction.
And then the program focused on education. Almost three years ago, we gathered the third and fourth year college scholars and proposed a career accompaniment program, i.e., assist them in developing good careers as they get ready to leave college.
Still, no takers; a good number of scholars even had to be reminded and encouraged constantly to enroll, go to class, complete requirements, etc., this despite the scholarship, transportation allowance, food allowance and all. It seemed like an acquired helplessness, a developed listlessness.
A few days ago, Inquirer columnist Randy David wrote a piece that landed on the front page—an insightful analysis of our age-old dysfunctional political system founded on patronage. He pointed out how people in power “manage to weave an elaborate tapestry of patronage that covers all the essential spheres of everyday existence.”
This keeps majority of our people, who have inferior education and less opportunities for advancement, forever in bondage and at the mercy—disguised as “genuine” concern and service—of the politico.
Food for thought
“So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6)
The final line in today’s Gospel is excellent food for thought, given what we’ve seen around us the past weeks. God’s grace needs fertile ground for it to bear fruit.
The eminent scripture scholar, William Barclay, raises an interesting point. He posits that this encounter in the ministry of Christ tells us that even God’s grace becomes “ineffective” when a person is not predisposed to the grace.
This incident highlights the environment as an important factor in influencing the attitude or stance of a person toward God’s grace.
Much more than we imagine, our environment shapes who we are—our attitude toward ourselves, others, God, life as a whole, our soul and identity as a people.
In the classic and pioneering 1982 book “Corporate Culture: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life,” authors Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy claim that the culture of an organization will spell the difference between success and failure.
They identify history, the shared narrative of the past, as what grounds an organization in its core values. The core values are embodied in the identity and mission of the organization, and all these are intrinsically linked to the founding inspiration.
Chris Lowney makes a strong case of the story of the Jesuits that supports this principle. In his book, “Heroic Leadership,” he writes: “But triumphs of humanity are also evident in actions we are too hesitant to call love… Those who treat others with respect and love are leading the way to environments of greater love than fear, where many more people will enjoy the chance to achieve their full human potential.”
The great achievements of the Jesuits over close to half a millennium and across fields and cultures, Lowney attributes to the environment—“environments of greater love than fear”—where these men were formed.
This is not just a challenge, but a call for all of us to respond to: Are we ready and willing to build caring communities with an environment of love, loving its members into excellence, to be the best of who they are and who they can become?
Is the environment, our political system, perpetuating, encouraging, building this caring, loving society?
In today’s Gospel story, Christ “was amazed at their lack of faith.” The only other incident where Christ was described as amazed was in the encounter with the centurion who begged Christ to heal his servant. He was amazed with the centurion’s faith.
This is our second point for reflection: Are the environments, the communities, the society we are building fostering faith—faith in God, in one’s self and in life?
Christ, in today’s Gospel, was amazed at the lack of faith of his people. I often imagine that if Christ were to return to our land today, he would be amazed again.
He would be amazed at how people have enslaved other people and perpetuated a system of patronage not just in our political structures, but in other institutions of our society as well. Christ will weep over how wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing have preyed on his people.
Christ would also be amazed, however, at how the marginalized, the oppressed, the duped have kept the faith. Despite their perennial setbacks, our people have kept the faith.
We can perhaps critique our people who often seem to act out of desperation, “kapit sa patalim.” But it may not be as desperate as it seems. For them, it is going for broke for the sake of their families, their loved ones.
They will go overseas to earn a bit more and bear the pain of loneliness and separation. They will leave the fields and barrios of their birth to seek greener pastures and suffer the plight of informal settlers, if not the homeless. They will take on a job with less pay if only to place food on the table and send their children to school.
In the midst of this, in our society, rendered dysfunctional by patronage, corruption and greed, there is a power that will emerge and surprise us.
In his 1957 speech accepting his Nobel Prize for Literature, Albert Camus said the writer is not “in the service of those who make history. He is at the service of those who suffer it.”
In one of his most moving essays, “Return to Tipasa,” Camus reflects on his return to the Algiers of his youth. With a world recovering from the ravages of World War II, he goes back home to the memories of his youth, the happy years of hopes and dreams. There he rediscovers this power that was always there. And he writes:
“My dear, in the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that… in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger—something better, pushing right back.”
This power is the faith of our people rooted and grounded in their love for their family and God. They await a leader who will empower them by first leading them to love themselves, and channel this love and faith to renew our society into becoming empowering, caring and loving, a society where the people they love, their family, can dream of, work for and have a better life.