15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
July 13, 2014


I was in the flood-devastated areas just a month after typhoon Sendong unleashed its unprecedented wrath over Northern Mindanao some years back. Rains fell. Waters cascaded down from the denuded mountains, causing massive and sudden flooding over parts of Cagayan de Oro City, and brought humongous trunks of felled trees down Iligan City, causing the untimely deaths of scores of people who were stricken dead as they slept in the dark and dead of night.

Falling rain is usually a welcome gift from the heavens. It does not return empty handed, but makes the land bear fruit in plenty. This much, Isaiah tells us in the first reading. But rampaging floods carrying huge log projectiles are a different matter. They are destructive. They bring death, not just destruction … along with a whole lot of the usual hand-wringing from officialdom, looking for someone else to blame except themselves.

But come to think of it, natural calamities are simply that – natural. We cannot control them. We cannot prevent them. We cannot, even at times, predict them, as in the case of earthquakes. But calamities that are directly caused by humans, like wanton and illegal logging, and the rape and pillage of mother nature are a different matter. Natural calamities, of themselves, are not evil, per se. They are all part of the law imprinted in the world of nature itself. But human neglect, human greed and selfishness, what theologians would refer to as “secondary evil,” are a totally different reality. They bear fruit. They bring a train of other evils. They cause the downfall of many, and affect the lives of many, for the worse, not for the better. They bring down suffering on innocent and helpless people, and untold misery to countless others.

This is suffering that happens due to the evil that other men and women do … evil that takes place when otherwise good people allow themselves to be instrumentalized by primary evil, Satan and his cohorts. But not all suffering can be traced back to either primary or secondary evil. Suffering is part of the whole complex of mystery of the human condition that arose when we fell into sin, subject as we all are to the ravages brought by original sin.

Today, our readings refer to this paradoxical situation of man subject to the effects of sin and the evil than people do, or evil that people allow themselves to be instruments of.

This kind of suffering falls like rain from some place up, unbidden, unwanted, undeserved. Such is the mystery of human suffering. Bad things do happen to good people, and evil men seem to triumph over good men. Good girls finish last, and good boys seldom make it to the top of the heap.

In such situations, it is easy for anyone, most of all myself, to lose hope and question God … What is the meaning of all this? What good can come out of this senseless evil?

God’s answer is unequivocal … Rain does not go back empty handed. It makes the earth fertile and fruitful. There is meaning behind the pain as there is a silver lining behind every dark cloud. “The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”

Sendong brought untold tragedy to hundreds if not thousands. So did Pablo. And more recently, and much, much worse, Yolanda (Haiyan). When I first saw the massive destruction, I could not hold back tears. But now I see countless little miracles like plants abloom in dry deserts and in the midst of so much desolation: seeds sprouting life and hope to all who plant … fishermen getting back to the only livelihood they know after receiving boats that generous people give. From the tragic loss of lives and property and livelihood arose new hope from people they do not even know, from near and far.

But for these miracles to happen, ironically, they have to come from situations of brokenness. They come from experiences that have to do with falling, dying, and then moving on to rising once more.

And this, my friends, is the good news – the paradoxical nature of new life that arises from having to fall and die, so that the new might be born.

But, as in the case of Sendong, Pablo and Yolanda, there are victims and there are victims. There are those who fall and remain down, and those who fall, but strive to rise. There are those who give fruits in return and those that merely suck in what others painstakingly give. There are soils that enable and empower and soils that just receive, with nothing to give in return.

I would like to believe that the call today is for us to decide on what type of soil we ought to become. It is not about deciding not to fall, or not to be rained down upon, for into everyone’s life, some rain must fall.

Bring it on, then! Like the martyrs, like the saints, like everyone who fell in the darkness of night, for God’s sake, and for others’ sake, we will not fall down in vain. We might be down, but not out; stricken, but not written off; fallen, but still fructifying … a hundred, sixty, or thirty fold!