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Maginhawa

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I FIND it significant that the miracle of the multiplication of the community pantries in our country in the last ten days began in a street in Quezon City called MAGINHAWA.

In today’s Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear an echo of the famous Psalm 23 in the Old Testament that portrays God as a Shepherd who leads his flock so they can feed “in green pastures” and refresh themselves besides “restful waters”. In short, the Good Shepherd desires nothing for his sheep except their GINHAWA.

The well-known theologian, Dr. Jose De Mesa, who passed on ten days ago, once challenged his theology students in Pampanga to find a more inculturated term for salvation in Filipino. He felt that the word KALIGTASAN was too generic and tended to be too otherworldly and spiritual. He wanted something closer to the Hebrew idea of salvation as “well-being,” as “fullness of life.” Through some guided discussion, he was able to help the students sift through the many possible terms until they settled for “KANAWAN” in Kapampangan, or “GINHAWA” in Tagalog.

I searched the Tagalog dictionary and found out that the word is closely related to HININGA or PAGHINGA, meaning, GINHAWA is literally about being in such a condition or situation that one is able to breathe comfortably. Incidentally, its opposite happens to be one of the most serious symptoms of Covid infection: difficulty in breathing, especially when the lungs begin to get coated with a thick mucus as they react to the virus that multiply very fast and cover the cells involved in the whole dynamics of breathing.

This should make you understand why in Tagalog we use the word MAGINHAWA as a metaphor for a life that is relatively comfortable, meaning, neither a life of extreme deprivation nor a life of suffocating wealth and wanton luxury either. Iyung tama lang. Iyung nakakahinga ka nang maluwag. One lives comfortably—when one is able to breathe well. Haven’t we heard of people who suffocate in their wealth? People whose material possessions have turned them very individualistic, have broken their families, and made their lives miserable, not MAGINHAWA?

Perhaps we can paraphrase the rest of Psalm 23 this way, “Even though we walk through the dark valley of this Covid19 pandemic, we fear no evil, for you are with us; your rod and your staff are not there to terrorize us but to protect us and give us comfort. You set a community pantry shelf before us, to which we can give what we can, and take what we need; it prospers to the great dismay of our enemies; You anoint our heads with oil; the food that we share continues to overflow.”

Of course, we also know the odds. We know, for example, that even the girl Patreng, Ana Patricia Non, who started it all was accused of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. (Actually, the accuser used a biblical analogy worse than the wolf; he likened her to Satan.). Ironically, the accusation came from a military man whose job in the government is supposed to be that of the Shepherd who protects the sheep from wolves. Perhaps today’s Gospel can help us discern who between the two is the true shepherd and who is the real wolf; who is the instrument of God, and who is the instrument of Satan?

This Sunday of the Good Shepherd gives us a simple criterion for discerning between one and the other. In the Gospel, Jesus does more than echoing Ps. 23 about the Divine Shepherd who leads his flock to green pastures and restful waters, meaning, a situation that is MAGINHAWA, He says, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”

The cardboard message of Patreng, in all its simplicity, has struck a chord in the minds and hearts of Filipinos: GIVE WHAT YOU CAN, TAKE WHAT YOU NEED. Why? Because it is a message that applies to all of us. Yes, ALL OF US.

We usually apply the GIVING only to the caricatured givers—namely, the well-off donors or benefactor-types, and the TAKING to the caricatured takers—namely, the poor. But the slogan has made us rethink that as a nation; it has made us realize how false that caricature is. Give what you can and take what you need applies to ALL OF US because we are all both potential givers and potential takers. Even the poor are generous givers. In fact, they are often compensated so little for their contribution to production.

The message of Maginhawa Street has simply qualified both the giving and the taking. It has led us all to a self-criticism and examination of conscience. How much in the world’s pantry have we given and how much have we taken? And take note, all of it is meant to be spontaneous and anonymous. Nobody can make you give against your will, just as nobody will prevent you from taking against your will as long as you abide by the qualification: only WHAT YOU CAN—for the GIVING; only WHAT YOU NEED—for the TAKING.

GIVE WHAT YOU CAN; who is to determine that? Nobody but you. That is why the message does not say GIVE WHAT YOU WANT. What we want to give often depends on what we feel like giving. And often, the motivation for wanting to give is the corresponding incentive, namely, what we get in exchange. St. Ignatius wrote that prayer for generosity, which says, “Lord, teach us to give generously, meaning—not counting the cost, not expecting a reward.”

No, it’s not GIVE WHAT YOU WANT but WHAT YOU CAN. There are times when we rise above our feelings to do something because we have made an act of the will. Namely, to give even when we don’t feel like it, because we have begun to believe in the value of it. We don’t want to surrender to helplessness. Just because the government cannot be relied upon to help us during these difficult times does not mean there is nothing else that we can do. We can help each other. Something inside us tells us, YES, WE CAN HELP EACH OTHER GET BY.

What about the second half, TAKE WHAT YOU NEED? How does it apply to all of us? I mentioned this in my homily last week, and I believe it is what has motivated more and more people to give generously. TAKE WHAT YOU NEED applies not only to those lining up in our community pantries.

Like I said last week, “The whole world is a huge community pantry.” If we are comfortable while others are miserable, we are moved to ask ourselves, “Have I taken more than I need? Have I taken in such a way that others have ended up being deprived of their proper share?” It is those who have sincerely confronted themselves with this question of conscience who are bound to make an act of the will, “Maybe now is the time to also give what I can.”

Our givers at our community pantries are so generous. Sometimes the goods that are taken by 600 people in one day were given by one person only. And yet the line continues to get longer, such that our pantry coordinator Fr. Philip had to come out yesterday with a megaphone, pleading with people not to line up yet in the heat of the sun because the elderly or the vulnerable ones might suffer from a stroke. We open only early in the morning while it’s cool and late in the afternoon when it’s cool already.

Will there ever come a time when the line for the givers will be longer than the line for the takers? Perhaps when that happens, that will be the signal that the kingdom of God has come. That the Good Shepherd has finally succeeded in leading us to true GINHAWA: that the majority of us are neither so poor nor so wealthy as to both live in misery; that people learn to give, not just to make others MAGINHAWA, but also to seek their own GINHAWA.

The Maginhawa community pantry is a good news, a Gospel lesson on GOOD SHEPHERDING, on the God within us who teaches us how to lead one another to the green pastures and refreshing waters of a less unjust, a more equitable society.

(Homily for Good Shepherd Sunday, 4th Sunday Easter, 25 April 2021, John 10:11-18

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