7th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
February 20, 2011

I have done the famous “shooting the rapids” at Pagsanjan, in Laguna, Philippines, only once in my life. For those who may not be familiar with the experience, it is, simply put, white water rafting in reverse. One goes upstream instead of downstream. One is nothing more than a passive rider. Everything is done for you by the fleet-footed boatmen, who use, not oars, but their bare feet and bare hands.

As far as I can tell, only salmons intent on going back to their spawning grounds to die, or spawn some more, do that trick with natural ease. The rest of us lesser mortals simply would rather go along for the ride, and allow oneself to be carried away by the current.

I must confess being carried away by the current is not such a loathsome idea. You lose all sense of self-responsibility. Somebody else does the worrying. Somebody else thinks about the consequences. Someone else does all the planning and the scheming, and the executing.

Sounds familiar? Yes, if you look at how corrupt individuals, nations, and governments behave. Individuals don’t do the money laundering. Individuals don’t actually get to know where the money comes from, or who actually pulled the trigger that killed a political opponent. Somebody else does that, or a whole syndicated group does that service that no one else would know. One just goes along for the ride. One follows the trend, what is known in Tagalog as that by now infamous word “kalakaran,” made popular by the one who started this trend of getting away with a lot of things, by ratting on others who were, like him, deep in the groove of these convoluted and complicated conspiracies of evil.

The Lord in the gospel today speaks about what was current, what was the fad then, the lex talionis. The law prescribed not going beyond what was acceptable then: an eye only for an eye; a tooth, for a tooth, and nothing more. That was the acceptable trend. That was the flow of things. That was how the groove was at that time. That was the “kalakaran.”

I am sure those who make it to “shooting the rapids” without really trying very hard, all with the help of able-bodied and sure-footed boatmen, in the end would want something more, granted that they have the means and the strength to do it. They look forward to doing more. In the Philippines, they soon set their sights on the white waters of Cagayan de Oro, or of Benguet up in Northern Philippines. They want to go beyond what is the normal trend. They aim for more. They want the ultimate … citius, altius, fortius, as the Summer Olympic games would put it.

The Lord calls us to something more. The Lord challenges us to do more. We are expected to go beyond what is considered the normal trend. We Christians are expected to go against the current, not go with the flow.

Moses was given a clue to what was coming: “you shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart … take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

St. Paul pushes it a notch higher. He speaks of the “wisdom of this world” as “foolishness in the eyes of God.”

If there is anything I kind of “admire” in the many individuals implicated in the so many conspiracies of evil, all over the world, including the recent ones exposed in the Philippines involving a cadre of uniformed men, duty bound and sworn to protect the people of the Philippines, it is this … they seem to have an unlimited supply of worldly wisdom. They never run out of ruses and excuses, and means to skirt around the letter of the law. Money laundering is simply referred to as “conversion.” Ill-gotten money is reframed as “gifts” (pabaon in Tagalog), and lying reduced to simple “forgetfulness.”

I was introduced to the concept of an “8-hour workday” only when as an adult, I became an administrator. Growing up, I never saw nor heard my elders, including my father, talk about stopping work after 8 hours. I grew up seeing first hand my parents and grandparents working all the time. Being poor, born in the context of a poor farming town, they sure knew that life is all about going the extra mile, doing the hour(s), and, yes … burning the midnight oil. Life was all about dreaming for more, striving for more, and giving your best into everything you do.

For at least two decades now, I have been guided by the simple words from the gospel of Luke – Ascende Superius! (Come on up, my friend, to a higher place! Lk 14:10). It has summed up a whole lot of my childhood learnings from my parents. It has become my personal motto, the motto of the foundation I started in honor of my father (CASETTA DI ANTONIO FOUNDATION, INC), and two years ago, Don Bosco Technical College in Mandaluyong, asked me if they could adopt it, too, as their school motto.

We are called to go up higher. We are expected to move up from just going along with the flow, and passively enjoying the ride. We are challenged to be at the cutting edge of change, for the better, for the nobler, for the more honorable. And it has to do with more than just not harming others, but actively doing good even to those who do harm to us. “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”