Fires from Heaven, Hong Kong and Martial Law

[Homily: Luke 9:51-56. Chapel of the Assumption, ADDU, 30 Sept 2014.]

In the Gospel for today, the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus. The Samaritans believed they could worship Yahweh from their mountain tops. The Jews believed true worship could only be done in the Temple of Jerusalem. The difference in religious belief had caused deep enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews. That is why they were not welcoming Jesus who was on his way to Jerusalem.

Reacting to this apparent insult, Jesus’ disciples ask, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them.” Apparently, differences in religious beliefs always call forth pious aggressiveness and violence.   Let “fires from heaven” eliminate those with the temerity to disagree with us who possess the truth on earth

Jesus rebuked them.

His rebuke invites us to reflect on our own experience of violent intolerance in our Church – when we battled the infidel through the Crusades, or when we burned at the stake those who believed in a manner other than we did.   Our own experience makes us reflect on the dark ties between arrogance, secular power and religious religious ideology that compels us in the name of the Almighty to fight and maim and kill and bring the “fires of heaven” down on those who believe differently from us.

On the other hand, I think we must also consider when it is that in the name of our religion, or as an imperative of our faith, we have warrant for the struggle that may end in one’s own death, or perhaps in the death of others.

We may think of the images we have currently been seeing on TV of thousands of students and freedom fighters in Hong Kong struggling for meaningful democracy. They want genuine democracy, not a democracy that limits their electoral choice to candidates provided them by Beijing.   They want genuine economic freedom, not the economic system that is imposed on them by Beijing. They want genuine religious freedom, not the Marxist-Maoist atheism imposed on them by Beijing. For this thousands of citizens, including retired Bishop Joseph Zen Ze Kuin, are camping on the streets risking their lives.

But how far ought they do this, considering the brutal repressiveness of Beijing? In defense of their freedoms are they really willing to call down fires from heaven to consume their enemies or, in all sobriety, themselves?

Last night, in the new dialogue Center of the Community Center, we had a remarkable Pakighinabi (conversation) session on the ADDU’s participation in opposing the Marcos Martial Law that had brought so much suffering on our people. Sharing for the event were our own alumna, Mags Maglana, and our alumni, Br. Karl Gaspar and Max Tiu, each of whom were jailed in their struggle for freedom. The stories that were shared were moving, especially the stories of those from our own school who had been martyred for the freedoms we not enjoy. Among them: Eduardo “Taking” Lanzona, Nicanor “Nick” Solana, Jr., Magtanggol Roque, Babeth Prudencio-Cajoles, Socorro Par, Evelia Bontia, and Salbador “Bada” Mapansa.

In each of these sacrifices, somewhere the ideals of the Ateneo de Davao and the quiet influence of one or another of the Jesuits were mentioned.

So, when is it that in the name of our religion, or as an imperative of our faith, we have warrant for the struggle that may end in one’s own death, or perhaps in the death of others?

When we are attacked? Or, when our freedoms robbed?

Or when, because of our religion or education, which leads us to truth, we see the disjoint between poverty and the Kingdom of God, or the disjoint between corruption and the Kingdom of God, or the disjoint between superficiality and ignorance and the Kingdom of God, and so must necessarily act in freedom against the disjoint?

When do we act – not in impetuously calling down the fires of heaven on enemies – but in struggling at the side of Christ in his establishment of the Kingdom of God.

His is not the way of guns.  His is the way the Cross.


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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1 Response to Fires from Heaven, Hong Kong and Martial Law

  1. Jopriz M. Bueno says:

    Fr. Joel,

    This is a very good and inspiring homily Father in honor to our own Atenean heroes of the dark martial rule and in honor to the people’s movement in Hongkong… For our Atenean heroes, some may argue in honoring them using your thoughts, for their rectitude is the way of the guns and not of the cross…But on my part, I rely on the figurative sense they are honoring the way of the cross and not of the guns. They might chose the gun but purely for the elimination of the gun by itself utilized to oppress and exploit. Your thoughts are indeed very crucial in our understanding to the very concept of justice and peace. Sometimes, understanding such concepts transcends our indulgence of the assumed standardization of morality and ethics. The relativity of ethics and morality must always be dependent to the concept of the common good. The stories of our Atenean martyrs are good cases and good reference in understanding such concepts concerning the relationship between ethics and the common good.

    I humbly salute to the very degree of commitment of those Atenean who joined with the people for social emancipation. Indeed, they were the good Samaritans. Not of those who doesn’t welcome Jesus but these are Samaritans that Jesus intend to share with us in his parable for a point of discernment. That our presumed ideological or dogmatic or religious enemies are in the other way around the essence of a better and the worth valued people. They are the Samaritans that some of us may like be of the Jews of Jesus’ times allergic to their deviance, their political beliefs and to what they had fight for. Paradoxically, sometimes we criticize the Left badly in the comforts of our air-conditioned rooms and classrooms but we refuse to engage to the marginalized they are passionate of. We always asserted and had been so allergic to their monopolistic assertions of truth without thinking on ourselves that by presuming they monopolize the concept of truth, we are the one who are insisting it. There ideological enemies during the Martial Law asserted that it is more acceptable in Ateneo to be non-violent than this people whose thinking are rally nalang ng rally…bundok nalang ng bundok… Indeed some of us had politically discriminated them for the supposed “violence” they opt as the last condition to fight the dictatorship. On the other hand, they are those who go and hiked the mountains worse than the disorganized and lack of leadership “treerevolution” of the DENR just to put in action a belief on a genuine of an inclusive national democratic revolution with a clear mass participation and proletarian leadership. This revolution is presumed by them as the valid assertion to protect the environment and the mass of people. And mind you, those stereotyped “pa-sosyal, Arneow, burgis, affluent, and elitist” Atenean living the comforts of their homes and going to school with a car was joining the ranks of the Left does and does not complain from walking and hiking the mountain ranges more than that of the 12 km. They walk every time as far as they can reach the poor and the marginalized not minding the dangerous encounters against their enemies, and the possible arrest and torture. They were able to sustain the physical demand of hiking without fainting. They survive the difficulties. They also don’t complain because they do understand and has a higher degree of conviction and discernment and not because some people required them to do it, or they can have grades for their subject, or for the purpose that they will be part of the Guinness World Records. They do it out of stronger faith. They don’t even brag that very faith and service they develop. For being in the Left during martial law, serving the masses is done confidentially or secretly like Jesus saying that if we pray, do it in discreet. They go to the mountains that no one knows and their names were even hidden in the faces of the people and the poor masses they serve. The masses doesn’t even know their academic backgrounds and achievements, credentials, position in the society, the comfortable life they live, or even if they are an alumni of the prestigious Ateneo. They totally deny themselves in the pursuit of what we termed the common good. They were just known for the support they did for peasant’s struggles for agrarian reform, the people they heal out of sickness because the country side don’t have health centers, for the male kids they circumcised, for mothers they help to give birth a child, to establish cooperatives of farmers, to negotiate farm owners and merchants to give higher prices on the value of farmer’s product, to lower down the loan and credit interest rates, to defend the rights of the indigenous people, to be with them in opposing logging, mining and the dams, to hear the personal problems of a poor family, to reprimand a husband battering her wife, understanding a male comrade who is sexually in love to a same male comrade, etc. They don’t have salaries nor wages nor benefits of doing such. Their researches don’t have expectations of price they can receive and their community engagements don’t even have honorariums. For how could they demand that for a common farmer who couldn’t even afford to buy their food. Their economic and financial sustainability are by virtue of their massive work for the people and entrusting it to their self-help, collective works and self-reliance. For what I know from the sharing of the people they left, they are good in economic work through maximization of community empowerment. Just sad to note, the sacrifices they shared became a pain for their families and loved ones. For families cannot take the sacrifices they lived and always at the situation of worries. I can connect those experiences of them actualizing St. Ignatius’ to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward. They are like Jesus and his apostles and disciples and of Jesuits in mission leaving there families just to live with the marginalized, they share meals with them with their bare hands, walking sometimes without slippers, like the heaviness of the cross-with their heavy bag packs and heavy high powered rifles to defend themselves against their presumed enemies of the people, and conduct tedious studies on social philosophies, natural and social sciences, military sciences, economics, politics and statistics and do research not for any merits or ranking in any academic institution but just to be credible in organizing the masses they supported to be emancipated. Of course, the only difference is Jesus and the Jesuits don’t have such arms and weapons they do carry. While such options had form the minds of these Ateneans, some of us had limit our understanding and insist our hard line stance on “non-violence” and ironically had been violent in our views on them. But, I assumed that these leftist are thankful to the likes of Fr. Abisamis, Fr. Malasamas, Fr. Ocampo, Fr. Bonoan, Fr. Bob, Fr. Dott, Fr. Finster, and to you Fr. Joel and to all the Presidents whom this people know are like Jesus! LOL! For your openness of mind and the Ateneo academic freedom. The Jesuit university had been branded as bastions of activism since the 70’s. It became the fields of intellectual, political, and ideological discourses. This is an honor that indeed we promote academic excellence in the context of our being person’s for others and we do care for these persons.

    During my college days as the President of SAMAHAN (1998-99 and 99-2000), in my initiative to honor these Atenean heroes, I always shared their names to my colleagues in the student leadership and made them models. I even think of honoring student leadership those with higher level of commitment in community engagement naming it after them (e.g. Magtanggol Roque Leadership in Community Award, Babeth Prudencio-Cajoles Campus Journalist Award, Socorro Par Campus Club Leadership Award , Evelia Bontia Class Leadership Award, and Salbador “Bada” Mapansa Award for Best Community Project/Program or maybe of honoring teachers for their outstanding support to the Student Council like of Eduardo “Taking” Lanzona or Nicanor “Nick” Solana Award). But this doesn’t materialized out of many priority issues of the student council and of course due to the demands of our academics.

    I always felt humbled by the stories of these people I heard from our seniors. My student political party alliance Ugnayan ng Aktibong Atenista founded by the groups of student activist led by Ma. Victoria “Mags” Maglana in 1987 but sad to say was disbanded in 2002 was instrumental in documenting the history of SAMAHAN and its political and ideological development founded with its consistent engagement in the communities. The 1982 establishment of SAMAHAN was the peak of the very efforts of the national democratic student movement and the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines with the student activist Blessie Arquiza as its first President to bring Ateneans to the communities. The legacy of the group of Dr. Mac Tiu who was then the editor of Atenews and the first Atenean leader whom I’d known as the founding Chair of the Kabataang Makabayan in Ateneo de Davao in the early 70’s and with Bro. Karl a then student activist leader whom I had known for bringing the Church people to the communities. Doc Mac and Bro. Karl and Mags are indeed heroes that we must always tell our students. They are indeed models of the Ateneo way of education. They are the products of a historical epoch of resisting evil in the promotion of the common good. Above all, we must always pay a best tribute to those Ateneans who were martyred in the service of the common good. Yes, as far as I know studying Political Science, there leftist movement is not perfect nor absolutely correct in all of its statements and methodology. They are revolutionaries whose open to the evolving methods and to the new frameworks and tactical alliances. There movement underwent series of twists and inconsistencies, even to the point of killing with each other, paranoia of military infiltration, but they are humble enough to say that they were wrong. They indemnify people they committed mistakes. Our own Ateneans were also victims of such “perfect imperfections”. We also demanded such justice against those accused perpetrators sad to say were also Ateneans. But it was also the Ateneans inside this movement who lead the way demanding rectifications for we are formed by virtue of what is morally upright in the course of an immoral framework of liquidating persons whose only conviction is the common good.

    It is true that ideology now in the process of conversations must be set aside if we are talking of justice and peace issues. If we talk now of peace, let’s raise it to the issues of justice not merely on the objective of cessation of hostilities. Let us go back talking on the ends of what is wrong with our economic and political systems that perpetuates people to rebel and grip those guns. We cannot simply silent the barrel of a gun by virtue of justifying it with pure morality. For both camps were asserting their systems of moral beliefs. The only road to peace is openness and the assertion of justice. As an academic institution, it is our very role to participate in all of the peace processes. I am proud to be an Atenean given the development it is now pursuing in facilitating conversations like this. All camps must be heard. For in the final analysis, it is the masses of the Filipino people with God’s grace who will decide the course of emancipation like what he did in the ancient Israel (and modern Palestine included). Ideological and political underpinnings evolve depending on the peoples grasp of the historical development. For every correctness of truth is always proven by virtues of discernment, scientific research, experiments, conversations, and social practice.

    Thank you Father for always sharing your educational leadership on such passion. Indeed you’re a teacher. Happy Teacher’s Day

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