Homily for Friday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Josaphat, 12 Nov. 2021, Lk 17:26-37

One of the things I cannot get myself to understand is why, despite the fact that we know that we are among the most disaster-prone countries in the world, we also continue to rank among the highest in terms of casualties and extent of damages to properties. We are visited by at least 26 typhoons every year, we regularly experience earthquakes, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, storm-surges and fires. And so, every LGU is mandated by law to lay out its Disaster-Risk Reduction Management plans and programs routinely. And yet, whenever a calamity strikes, whether a natural one of human-caused, we always seem to get caught unawares.

Today’s Gospel seems to offer an answer to my question about what agravates disasters the most. It is COMPLACENCY. In English the term is generally negative, as opposed to the Tagalog PALAGAY ANG LOOB, which is used both positively and negatively. Actually, it is more positive than negative. To give it the negative meaning, we qualify it with MASYADO. As in “masyado kasing palagay ang loob niya.” That’s complacency for us.

We are often credited for being resilient, on account of the fact that we are able to recover more quickly from calamities and disasters. And often this is attributed to our being believers. We tend to submit too quickly to adversities and assume an attitude that is fatalistic, but I sometimes wonder if it is right at all to quickly refer to the disasters caused by calamities as God’s will. Why should we accept too quickly that it is God’s will that thousands of people be wiped out when, with just a little human intervention, the fatalities and damages can be either prevented or reduced?

We have many expressions in English for what happens to people when they are complacent—taken by surprise, caught unprepared, overtaken or overwhelmed by eventualities, caught off-guard, etc. One of the best biblical descriptions for complacency is in the book of Daniel chapter 12, in the opening verse that speaks about the coming of the end times. It says, “There shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since the nation began until that time.” But it has a good news. It says, “But at that time your people shall survive…”

The background to it is of course the Noah’s ark story, which Jesus is alluding to in the Gospel, and which he presents as a model for disaster-preparedness, despite the fact that only a few survived. He also adds the Sodom and Gomorrah story and what happened to the wife of Lot who did not follow instructions.

What adds to the tragedy of disasters is the fact that people have often been told or adequately warned about it. They could have come up with contingency plans like Noah did, but they waited until the last minute and suffered the consequence. The Gospel says, there’s no use trying to save properties at the last minute. No time anymore to go down from the housetop, no time to return to the field. (This reminds me of our Pampanga experience with the lahar from Mount Pinatubo.) It is those who try to save things at the last minute who end up losing their lives.

Our first reading seems to suggest where that sense of complacency comes from. The writer of the book of Wisdom speaks about the foolishness of people who are unable to learn from experience, who forget history too quickly. He speaks about people going astray “though they seek God and wish to find him.” He also says, “They search busily among God’s works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things that they see seem fair.” Did it not seem like fair weather just a few hours before Typhoon Yolanda struck us with fury? Haven’t we heard of people who refuse to evacuate or prepare for a disaster by appealing to faith and religiosity, like, “Hindi tayo pababayaan ng Diyos.”

Sometimes we may not realize that we might be using that pious line in a blasphemous way. I sometimes wonder when we suffer the consequences of complacency, if God does not feel like saying, “It was precisely because I care for you that I sent you experts who could warn you but you did not listen to them.” Imagine a person who refuses to stop smoking even after being warned by his doctor and says, “Hindi ako pababayaan ng Diyos.”

Many of the tragedies caused by disasters could have been prevented or at least mitigated if only we used the intelligence that God has already endowed us with. Perhaps it is time to stop attributing to God what is often our own making or a product of our own negligence or complacency.

You won’t believe it, but despite all the scientific studies about global warming and international summits about it, despite Pope Francis’ alarm call in Laudato Si about the Climate Emergency, despite the actual experiences of unusually strong typhoons and radical changes in weather patterns, despite the rising sea water level, there are government leaders who continue to deny the serious ecological crisis that we are already in.

They would even go to the extent of calling ecological advocates as alarmists and lunatics who are anti-progress and development. I want to end by thanking the Good Shepherd Sisters of Mary Ridge for hosting us in thie beautiful retreat center. You know, they put up a little sign in their garden that really caught my attention and should serve as a fitting conclusion to this sharing, “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, it is then that you will realize that money cannot be eaten.”