Much… more…

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Ruben M. Tanseco S.J. (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2013 - 12:00am

The last words of Christ in today’s Gospel reading are very meaningful, challenging, and disturbing: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Lk. 12: 48). More of what? Nothing more and nothing less than our time, talents, and treasures. For now, let us just focus on the last of the three, because of what was published in The Philippine Star this past August 2: a list of the 50 richest persons/families in our country. They are worth a combined $65.8 billion, more than a quarter of our country’s gross domestic product, according to the Forbes research study.

Let us even presume that they are all contributing to charity, and some in very generous ways. But overall, this socio-economic situation is definitely not God’s loving plan for a more equitable distribution of God’s resources. This is one of the major concerns of our new religious leader, Pope Francis.

Much has been said and written about the simplicity of his lifestyle and his concern for the poor, even before he was elected as Pope. He even resides now in a modest suite in the Domus Sanctae Marthae rather than in the cavernous papal apartment. The National Catholic Reporter for June 21 — July 4 expressed the special concern of Pope Francis for poverty and the poor. He was quoted as saying that “while the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling…. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to states, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good… a savage capitalism that has taught the logic of profit at all cost, of giving to get, of exploitation without looking at the persons… and we see the results in the crisis we are living!”

Pope Francis must have embraced the spiritual teachings and lifestyle of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order to which Pope Francis belongs. As many of us know, St. Ignatius originally belonged to a rich, noble Basque family in the kingdom of Castille. As an officer in the service of the king of Spain, he got seriously wounded in a battle in Pamplona against the French. While going through a long period of recuperation in their family castle, he read a series of the lives of saints, which brought about his religious conversion. The rest is history.

The Jesuit Order grew in numbers throughout the centuries, in different parts of the world, including the Philippines.  But human as we are, the original Ignatian charism had to be renewed from time to time, including the Ignatian lifestyle of simplicity and poverty. In fact, in the Jesuit General Congregation 32 (1974-75), there was a decree specifically on poverty. Let me quote just one small part:

“The standard of living of our houses should not be higher than that of a family of slender means whose providers must work hard for its support…. The need for reform is so frequently evident and demanded by so many Provincial Congregations that no person or community may decline this examination.” (#263).

In this context, it saddens me deeply that in our own third world country, the majority of Jesuits are assigned to the different Ateneos, from Ateneo de Manila to Ateneo de Zamboanga. And in the eyes of most Filipino lay people, we Jesuits are identified more with the rich than with the poor. Our personal and communal process of discernment must not stop. Lord, draw us closer to your way, which St. Ignatius followed, and Pope Francis is doing.

One saving factor in this regard is the missionary work of a small number of our Jesuits in Mindanao, especially among the Umayamnon indigenous people (IP) of Bukidnon. Our Jesuit Bukidnon Mission District includes Cabanglasan, Malaybalay, Miarayon, Pangantucan, and Zamboangita. Let me just focus on our missionary work for the Umayamnon and Sulitnon indigenous tribes of Bukidnon. They are among the poorest and less developed, inhabiting the mountainous borders of Bukidnon.

Fr. Mateo Sanchez, S. J., who has been doing fulltime missionary work there for many years, gives us the details of how our indigenous families live, work, and survive. First of all, they practice the kaingin system of farming that produces upland rice in small quantities that last for only a couple of months. For the rest of the year, they have camote as their staple food. Their source of income is abaca, which grows there in abundance.

Formal and informal educational programs have been going on, with the help of foreign funding agencies. Several housing projects have also been done in those inaccessible IP villages, where the families used to live in their kaingin in forested areas, in huts made of bark and leaves of trees. Sustainable agriculture is another on-going project, with the help of another foundation. But all these are still inadequate in helping those indigenous families live decent, human lives. They are the poorest of the poor among our people. They need more help.

Likewise, with the incredible number of poor families all over our country. They need much more help, not only from Jesuits, but from all of us who have been entrusted by God with much, and with more. This is not just God’s request but His command. We better follow Him, or else…

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