15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

July 10, 2011

There is something in the readings today that sit very close to nature, or at least, to the natural world as we knew it way back then. Let us face it … nature is fast disappearing. In the Philippines, only about 3 million hectares of rice lands are left, and they are fast becoming cathedrals of commerce – shopping malls, and SM, in particular! Our prime forest lands are also dwindling precipitously low, thus depriving countless species of flora and fauna, a home where they can thrive unhampered and untrammeled by so-called development.

But even then, the Biblical readings ought to speak to us. They ought to offer us a view of reality from God’s perspective. And they ought to teach us valuable lessons about life … here and now, and thereafter.

What are some of these timely lessons that we can glean from today’s readings?

Before I proceed to answer that, let me tell you what I have recently been through … Two weeks ago, I wanted to retrace my steps in Davao City, where exactly 22 years ago, I made an attempt to trek Mt. Apo. As my reader-friends know, it was an aborted climb. We were stopped in the foothills of the mountain, at about 3,000 ft above sea level, and 6 of the more than 300 climbers then, were kept for a few days in a mountain hide-out. That little band included me, along with two other Filipino climbers, and 3 other foreigners (all Caucasians). That climb became memorable for many reasons, and one of those memories worth holding onto was when we saw a Philippine eagle in flight, high in its mountain habitat, at a time, when due to rapid deforestation, the eagle was beginning to be endangered.

It was a telling lesson about the delicate ecological balance rapidly getting compromised, on account of man’s irresponsible use of whatever resources the forests and the mountains could offer. We saw how, the pattern of receptivity and response, the give-and-take that is the hallmark of ecological balance, was being upset, messed up, if not, negated by human intervention.

Very simply put, God’s plan for the world and everything that was in it, was being upset by humans like us, who had their own plans, not within the pattern of receptivity and response, but more like one of mindless use, abuse, pillage, and plunder.

22 years hence, I came back to see an even more denuded forest, an even more precarious situation, where flash floods can take place any time it rains hard, as they happened when I was there last June 27-29, 2011.

When I was growing up in the little sleepy town of Mendez, Cavite, there was a lot of this receptivity and response pattern in our culture. People received firewood from the little forest around town. People responded by planting “kakawati” trees that became fence material and supplied the firewood that people needed. With no running water back then in my town, people received nature’s sweet and pure water from very few natural springs and sources from the wooded part of the municipality. People responded by respecting its natural rhythms, protecting the common source of drinking water, and seeing to it that that lifeline was preserved to assure more generations to come of clean drinking water. Back then, we heard cicadas (kagang) singing in the woods. We saw thousands of dragonflies, and other insects and countless birds flying through the pristine still heavily wooded town, whose natural richness could sustain the simple needs of simple people like us who stopped all activities by the time nightfall comes, only to take them up again at crowing of the cocks at early morn.

Respect, shown in receptivity and responsiveness, characterized our daily lives. We respected the rhythm of nature, and rested at night, and worked hard during the day. During the rainy season, after occasional thunderstorms, we enjoyed the abundant gifts of mushrooms (kabute & mamarang) and harvested them while supplies lasted, and responded by hardly touching the natural habitat they were expected to bloom in.

The first reading reminds us of this receptivity. The heavens, it says, supplies the earth with water. The earth receives it, and the earth responds by producing fruits in plenty. What is received is used as capital, bears fruit or produces results, and are then given back to the earth, to repeat the cycle all over again. What we harvest comes out as trash, and whatever trash we create are thrown right back to mother earth, and becomes fertilizer for the new round of life that will come with the onset of the first rains. No plastic… No rubber … no polypropylene, and polystyrene monsters to clog our rivers and watersheds!

It came automatic to us be on the receiving end. We did not presuppose anything as ours. We children then, asked for whatever we needed, and received what was given with trust and gratitude. We responded with courtesy and thanksgiving and appreciation. Neighbors cooked their best dishes and everyone around the neighborhood got to have a taste of whatever it is they cooked. Neighbors responded by making available whatever they had. People lived in the state of receptivity and responsiveness, otherwise known as interdependence.

Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten this in our times. In our age of what Twenge calls the “narcissism epidemic,” we have lost sight of this attitude of healthy receptivity, and healthy responsiveness. We all have become individualistic now. We all now have each our own “sense of entitlement.” We don’t ask for things anymore. We just go out and grab. People simply think now that since they work for PCSO, they can go out and make millions, if not billions, trying to suck the system dry, just because they are in position. Military men, who hardly have an aircraft to use to defend our shores, can have hundreds of millions stashed away in American banks, for they, too, have a sense of entitlement. They cultivate receptivity, but not a shade of responsiveness.

The forlorn Philippine eagle in Davao, is a representative image of what is left of our nationhood and national sense of self-respect. The delicate ecological balance, understood as a situation of receptivity and responsiveness, is now messed up big time. There is no more habitat left for the Philippine eagle and other flora and fauna to thrive in peace, unhampered by man, untrammeled by man’s selfishness, and inhumanity not only to fellowman, but to all of creation.
The last time I heard cicadas in my hometown (kagang) was decades ago. The last time I was treated to a symphony of cicadas was 7 years ago in Baltimore, MD, when a swarm of cicadas stormed all over MD and VA, and reminded me of younger years in my hometown, where respect, shown in receptivity and responsiveness, was yet in vogue.

The readings rouse us to more than just pious feelings. It rouses us to a sense of responsibility. It takes us to task, to respond appropriately to the gifts we receive from nature, from God. It takes us to task, too, and be cooperative to the Divine Sower, who throws seeds that fall on different soils. Some of us, it is clear, are rocky ground … uncooperative, unresponsive, even uncaring. But we are all called to be like unto the humus soil, who would not only receive, but also respond, and bear fruit a hundredfold.

Are we that type of soil that only receives, but never responds? Or are we that type that respects, that is, receives with gratitude, and responds with magnanimity of heart? We still have time to choose and decide. And that time is NOW!