“Where Lazarus is poor no longer, may you find eternal rest.” —from the antiphon of the Funeral Mass
Every time I celebrate a funeral Mass, especially for someone I know and am close to, I always choose this as the final “send-off.” There is no better prayer for one who passes on to eternal life than to wish him/her eternal rest with Lazarus.
In all of the parables in the Gospels, it is only this parable in this Sunday’s Gospel that cites a character by name, Lazarus, from Eleazar, meaning “God is my help.”
As many point out, the sin of the rich man was not oppressing Lazarus. He did not do anything at all to Lazarus, neither oppressing nor helping him.
The parable is a very powerful social commentary. It speaks of the age-old problem of poverty and the scandal of social, economic and political inequalities. These have resulted in what Pope Francis refers to as the people on the fringes, the marginalized who are poor and oppressed and who constitute majority of our population.
The point for reflection the Gospel poses to us is, what have we done? Or in the Ignatian tradition: What have we done? What are we doing? What more should we do?
In the final years that led to the 1986 snap elections and the subsequent People Power revolution, an often quoted line was from Edmund Burke, the 18th-century Irish parliamentarian and political philosopher: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
It is time once more to take on this challenge. We must identify the movements in our society, and discern which of these are movements of the evil spirit, and of the good spirit.
Without a doubt the drug menace is an evil we need to address. Without a doubt killing is an evil we need to address. But what is the root of all the evil that plagues us? The drug problem and the growing concern over extra-judicial killings are fruits of a deeper sin; the sin of the rich man in the parable.
“. . . for good men to do nothing” was the sin of the rich man; the sin of indifference and apathy, the lack of compassion. Is it our sin, too?
Edsa 1986 was a collective expression of our desire as a people for a better life—not for ourselves, but for the younger generation for whose future Edsa was all about.
I firmly believe that those who fought for freedom at Edsa came to a point when they decided they were ready to die.
But there was one question raised after Edsa: “Where were the poor in Edsa?” In the euphoria of the newly won freedom, the question was drowned out.
As well-meaning as the efforts were, in hindsight, we failed to seize the opportunity to create more inclusive political and economic institutions that allow greater participation, especially of the poor.
I am an Edsa veteran and, to this day, a believer in its dream and promise. Thus, I believe I have the voice to declare that this is about more than just the Aquinos and the Marcoses.
To the Aquinos, I always will be grateful for the role they played in making it possible. To the Marcoses, I pray they will come to terms with what happened in the years of martial law, and apologize so that we may truly heal and move on together as one nation.
The Aquinos and Marcoses will always be part of the story, but the story of our nationhood is much larger than them. Constantly pitting them and their respective camps against each other may be the work of the evil spirit. It distracts us from the question, “Where are the poor in all this?”
Edsa is about freedom, the freedom to dream of a better life because there are opportunities every Filipino can avail of.
People still ask me, after over 11 years since my departure from the Ateneo and the Jesuit Order, why I left, and why I chose to work with public schools. My answer remains the same.
I started with the sense of mission to form good teachers, who live a mission-oriented life and will love their students into excellence; teachers who will build caring communities in our public schools.
Thus, with such public schools—especially now, with the introduction of senior high schools—every young person can dream of a better life.
The past year, the mission has become clearer. I must invite the private sector, the rich, those who have a bit more in life, to help build and form such public schools. All studies show that government alone cannot do this.
The evil spirit is at work. The Aquino-Marcos saga, the drug menace and the extrajudicial killings are not issues to be sidelined, but neither should they sideline the main issue: Where are the poor in all this?
This Sunday I understand with greater clarity why I left.
I left because Lazarus is in the public schools. I left not to serve Lazarus, but to be with Lazarus—and together we can perhaps find the answer.
We must search for the poor, because it is only with them that we can establish and enter the Kingdom of God.