Author, educator and social activist Parker Palmer posits that we all come into this world with birthright gifts. I consider this as the DNA of our mission. Isaiah says pretty much the same thing, “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” (Isaiah 49: 1)
Palmer says that unfortunately, we spend the first half of our life “abandoning [our mission] or letting others disabuse us of [this].” Just think of the expectations we had to meet, the roles we needed to play, not to mention the traumas that wounded us. All these make us disintegrate and draw us away from our authentic self. We lose our integrity and live a “divided life.”
Today’s feast (Nativity of St. John the Baptist) celebrates the life of man lived with constancy and fidelity to his mission, poetically described by his father’s canticle: “And you, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1: 76-79)
Christ himself pays tribute to John the Baptist, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” (Matthew 11:11) From the beginning of his life to the end when he fulfills his mission with a martyr’s death, John the Baptist was constant and faithful to what God wanted him to do, his birthright gift.
Today’s Gospel gives us a view and an insight into how his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, cooperated with and protected God’s plan for John. They both broke tradition and followed God’s instructions by naming him John, which meant “Jehovah’s gift” or “God is gracious.”
This is the challenge for parents, teachers, mentors and formators: to care for our young that they may discover and develop their potentials and possibilities; and to love them into excellence which is for them to know and live their mission, their birthright gift, with integrity.
But more than this, the challenge includes the kind of society, the communities we build which serve as the environment or context in which our young are to grow, develop, and be formed.
The late great leader, Nelson Mandela, said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” And I add, not simply by commission, but also by omission.
Let me focus on our “sins of omission.” Are we standing up for our children with regard to the kind of social climate, the environment they are exposed to? The fake news and viciousness in social media, which the traditional media picks up, has eroded the most basic building blocks of a moral society, truth and respect.
As early as last school year, teachers have reported the growing concern over children thinking that cursing, foul language is acceptable. Television ratings indicate the growing preference for shows that are violent. Bashing and bullying have become commonplace, elevated to a societal scale with the distortions of and attacks on institutions with very minimal outcry even from supposed leaders who seem to be lulled into silence.
Zechariah and Elizabeth fought for John’s birthright gift. “No. He will be called John… John is his name.” After this we hear no more from his parents, but John himself is the greatest proof of how his parents, his mentors and teachers, stood up for him that he may discover and live out his mission.
Value of family
In a nationwide study conducted three years ago, many of the young respondents, especially those in the socioeconomic classes C, D and E, cited the family as the number one thing they value. These Filipino youth expressed that they want to finish their studies, get a good job, and take care of their parents whom they saw suffer and sacrifice for their sake.
These Filipino youth did not grow in the most ideal of situations, very much deprived of material resources and wanting in opportunities, yet they managed to discover and value one important treasure: family and the sacrificing love of parents.
But we must do more to provide them with more opportunities, and we must do more to provide a caring and sharing environment for all our youth.
We often quote our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, that the youth is the hope of our country. This is the Filipino canticle in families and as a nation but we must give them the environment and the fighting chance to allow this hope to take root and bear fruit.
Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, we must take a stand on behalf of our children. From saving them from malnutrition and providing them with quality basic education to providing a decent and caring family environment, we must stand up for our Filipino youth.
Truly, they are our best hope to build a Philippine society that is just and compassionate, but we must pray and work to protect the environment that will allow them to do this.
Our prayer and task ahead: “And you, my child . . . [will] give [our] people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of [our] sins, through the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
If only for them, the Filipino youth is worth living and dying for.–CONTRIBUTED