Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Of poverty in charity
By Bong Lacson

Dec 21, 2017

AT NO other season of the year is unchristian charity more practiced than at Christmastime.

Throngs of do-gooders – politicians, notably – make perfunctory swoops through resettlement sites and evacuation centers, shantytowns and squatter areas bearing an assortment of stomach fillers packaged in Christmas tinsel stamped with their names in big bold letters.

As though the gifts came from their pockets and not from the public coffers they pillaged and plundered or from some public works contractors they bled dry.

And what gift-giving will be complete, nay, will ever be, without the media pressed to cover the event?

So we’ve been dogmatized from our prefirst communion catechism class that gift-giving took off from the first Christmas example of the three magi whose anonymity – the Good Book did not identify them, remember? – spoke a lot about genuine charity and a lot more about true humility.

Though tradition named them, it did not tell of Gaspar bearing gold, of Melchior offering myrrh, or Balthazar bringing frankincense.

Tradition travestied now in every gift gilded or etched with titled names, as in tocino ham from the honorable concejal, dressed chicken from the honorable mayor, crispy Ninoy from the honorable congressman.

Oxymoronic honorific all, given the dishonorable conduct of Philippine politics and the way they run their dominions. Rob the country blind the whole year. Dole something out for the noche buena table of the poor.

And all is well with the Lord. Christian living, indeed! At no other season of the year is poverty more pronounced than at Christmastime.

You just can’t escape it. Not in this season of giving when, most naturally, beggars – in all shapes and sizes – go forth and multiply.

There’s the outstretched palm shoved at your face, nearly knocking your caramel macchiato mug as you watch the girls pass by Starbucks at SM City Clark.

There’s the unshod kid tugging at your Ralph Lauren polo as you line up for baby-back ribs at Rack’s in SM City Pampanga.

Stalled in traffic going to Marquee Mall, there’s the knock at your car window from a tabo-tapping tyke singing you ABS-CBN’s “If we just love” before wishing you Merry Christmas.

There’s the unending stream of carolers of all ages in two’s, three’s, singly or in gangs crooning “ang babait…” for your ten-peso kindness.

There too are the indigenous Aetas descended from the mountains of Porac and Zambales, and the Badjaos way removed from their native Sulu Sea habitat finding their way to your very doorstep, demanding – rather than begging – food, clothes, cash, as though you were the very cause of their deprivation.

A recurring racket I first noted some seasons back: “SEC-registered” religious and civic organizations kuno from Metro Manila going house-to-house in St. Jude Village in the City of San Fernando with letters of solicitation for their “projects for the poor.”

They could have simply saved on their bus, jeepney and tricycle fares and gave them to their poor.

With the pulverization of Marawi City, and Urduja devastating Eastern Visayas, expect more of these metropolis-based “SECregistered” racketeers knocking on Pampanga doors.

The poor do indeed constitute an object lesson for Christmas. But not from the perspective of patronage politics where the poor are shamelessly dehumanized, reduced to utilitarian tools for the politicians’ self-projection for the coming elections.

Neither from the pharisaic (dis)compassion of wannabe Samaritans where mendicancy, rather than liberation from poverty, is (un) wittingly instituted. The poor do really make the leitmotif of the season.

Or have we forgotten how the Christ was born? Engrossed as we are in the commercialization of Christmas, we find its reason in the malls rather than in church; we summon its spirit from our pockets rather than from our hearts.

Year after year, some beggar or another has knocked at my gate and asked, in a guttural – read: non-Kapampangan – voice, for a little share of the abundant blessings God provided me and my family.

Invariably, they all get some high voltage shock when I tell them that in their poverty God has bestowed them with the greater blessings than mine.

No, I did not mean that they are spared the trouble of a house and cars to maintain, mortgages to pay, kids to send to school, job pressure, societal demands, etc. I meant a different kind of blessedness that is inherent in poverty.

That is the truly spiritual, the beatified, kind. Is it just me, or is it still a verity in Christian teaching that poverty liberates?

That the poor, unfettered by material – worldly – possession, have so much spiritual wealth that in the end theirs is the kingdom of heaven?

A materially impoverished, and therefore, truly blessed Christmas I wish upon us all.

(This is yet another iteration, albeit updated, of what has come to be called the Christmas sermon of the frustrated reverend, thus turned irreverent, A. Caesar Z. Lacson that was written over ten years ago.)

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