"Hope springs eternal."
Many of us seemed just too eager to see 2020 go.
The year was marked by the proverbial series of unfortunate events. Crisis after calamity tested our people’s resilience – starting with the eruption of Taal Volcano in January and ending with the succession of typhoons within a few weeks in November, causing massive flooding in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon.
Of course, there is the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, which has paralyzed the world and significantly changed our lives as we know it.
If at the beginning of the year, we had already known that 2020 would be as frantic and frightening as it turned out to be, I sometimes wonder if we would be greeting each other a Happy New Year.
Throughout human history, our world has seen so much pain and suffering around us caused by wars and conflict, disease and pestilence. But not even the total sum of these adverse situations was enough to drown out humanity’s capacity to be hopeful. Thus, uncertain we may be about what the coming year holds for us – we remain hopeful that 2021 will be a much better year.
But what will make it a better year, though, is not our wishful thinking of brighter fortunes in the months to come – whether it is the lasting cure to the pandemic, a resolute end to climate change, or better yet, a happy solution to the political strife brewing around us.
What will truly make 2021 a better year is a better us – our enduring faith in humanity’s capacity for goodness. Our continuing confidence in human genius. Our persistent trust in the human gift of compassion.
If there is one telling story that 2020 has reminded us, it is the often-ignored lesson of human suffering. With modern science providing us the technology and tools to improve our quality of living, human suffering has become antithetical to contemporary standards of expediency, comfort and convenience. Even our own moral compasses have been so altered to define what an ideal life is – solely on the basis of what is expedient, comfortable, and convenient to our social preferences and personal interest.
The year 2020 brought us face to face with the frailties of our human existence. With an invisible and seemingly invincible enemy suddenly rendering our society helpless – and almost overnight, what is expedient, comfortable, and convenient doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
The pandemic caught us unaware and unprepared, forcing us to see life in a very unusual way. Travel was not even suspended during the two world wars, but in recent months, trains and planes have been ‘kept on hold’ and countries were forced to go into a lockdown. With businesses closing and leaving no jobs available for them, overseas migrant workers were forced to return to their home countries. Even the most recent advancements in medicine seem could not match up to the effects that this virus caused on our health and wellbeing.
Our Christian faith has a beautiful way of expressing in words this paradox of circumstances – “mysterium iniquitatis” – the mystery of evil. Whether these attributes of evil, such as death, sin, pain and suffering, happen in the physical or moral sense, the question of why God allows evil to happen has been an enduring conundrum for people of faith.
I admit I have asked myself many times over in the last year, “Why did God allow these bad things to happen?”
In the end, the response appears to defy logic – because the things that break us make us better. For that reason, God permits certain evils to bring out of them a greater good.
As we hope for a better 2021, the challenge for us is to always look for the good that could come out of such a difficult situation – and there is no better place to begin with that search for goodness than in the human heart.
Early on the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis reminded us that these trying months are times not of God’s judgment, “but of our own choosing” – that is of carefully rethinking our lifestyle choices and decisions.
The crisis around us has exposed the weaknesses inherent in the false and superfluous certainties around which we have shaped our politics, economies and society itself, as expressed in our pre-packaged principles, policies and priorities. This misperception of the world has left us dull and feeble to the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities, and kept us out of touch with the very roots of our existence – faith, family and friendship.
This pandemic has also revealed the longstanding contradictions in our society. How profit has become primary criteria for progress. How power is used as the blind measure for leadership. Even the unsure promise of technology has replaced the proven potential of human interaction. As a result, morality has given way to expediency and whatever merits there may be in one’s failings have been shunned in favor of success at all costs.
The year 2020 leaves us with one important lesson: our world could only be at its best, if in the first place, we all decide to seek to be good and be better.
In praying for a better year, the first step is to strive towards becoming a better us.
If this “mysterium iniquitatis” robs human suffering of all its meaning, then the only way to rediscover it is to be found in a compassionate and self-giving heart. After all, all suffering is an opportunity to serve others as we ought to – in the poor, the hungry, the sick and the homeless, If seeing the suffering around us moves us to do good for others, then we are already at the first step of making our society whole again.
In the many months of this crisis, it was faith, family and friendship that have proven to be the strongest source of support for many of us. Many of those who have been infected and isolated have been encouraged more by the compassion of those who cared for them. Many who lost their jobs have learned new skills and found new opportunities. Even while we have been trapped within the four walls of our homes, the outside world has come closer through technology. Our healthcare workers and other frontline workers, engaged in essential services, are risking their own health to keep our lives going. Once more, with our ability to survive, we are proving ourselves capable to thrive even more.
Rather than doing nothing about the worries of the world, let us make 2021 a time of our “own choosing” – for us to choose to be more caring and compassionate to others, to be more courageous in exacting fairness and justice from those in positions of authority, and to be unyielding in our moral and social principles with utmost clarity and conviction.
Let it be a time for us to choose to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act on them in our daily life.
Although some will say, it is as if we never learn, we still find ourselves, once more, wishing one another a Happy New Year.
But I have no reason to doubt that the coming year will be a much better one – because borrowing the words of the writer Alexander Pope, of one thing we can always be certain of: “Hope springs eternal.”
Happy New Year!