I’ll admit, I’m not always the best at listening to sermons. Sure I start out alright, but I get distracted, lost in my thoughts. I get my spirituality from the service, and the hymns, the words of the service so familiar that my mind can slip into it’s well worn paths without distraction, the hymns providing what I find a fun activity. But during ther sermon I so often find myself thinking about what I want to do after the service, or maybe what I would say about the scriptures of the day. To be fair I’m usually back in the choir loft and so it can be hard to hear, and distracting--like trying to pay attention the teacher even though you know he won’t know if you don’t. Plus the sermon is often at least partially in Ilocano which can make it hard for me to pay attention, even if half is in a language I do understand. Excuses, Excuses….
Somehow I do better when I go to church at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Joseph in Manila. Maybe it’s just that I sit a little straighter and pay more attention because I’m in a cathedral, or because I’m sitting in the pews instead of back in the loft, but regardless, I’ve heard some fine sermons there. Now I do have a habit of picking out one line or concept to the exclusion of others, and habit of paraphrasing and shaping the meaning of the words to my life and my thoughts. I also have a habit of forgetting the names of the distinguished priests delivering the sermons… So I’m sorry for the unscientific nature of these rememberings, so it goes.
The sermon I want to focus on was preached on the story of Jesus where he banished the demons from a possessed man into a herd of pigs and the pigs ran off a cliff to their death. I remember this because the padi took a view of this which i found surprising and humorous, “Sayang! Mayat di Lechon, diba?” (What a waste! They would have been good for roasting, am I right?), my Filipino there is probably wrong but that was the gist. First of all, true, lechon is delicious. She went on to think of it from the point of view of the pig herder who lost his livelihood. All this seemed a great example to me of seeing a familiar bible story from a new cultural standpoint, one much more familiar with the concept of pig raising.
Humor and culture aside, she was making clear the lengths Jesus had to go to to expunge the evil of the demons. There sermon was about evil, and she had the perfect contemporary example, the killings in Charleston, South Carolina, which had just recently happened. Padi was fairly informed, if a little confused. She said that a young white man had gone into a church made up mostly of South Africans (that was the part where she was confused), joined a prayer meeting, and then started shooting and killing people.
I had been hearing so much about this recently, it seemed to be the only thing on Facebook, anywhere on the internet. I had hoped not to have to hear about it in church, half a world away, but here it was. I was ashamed, that this kind of thing could happen, repeatedly, in my country, and that this is what people here in the Philippines were hearing about my country. I can only hope more people in the USA feel this shame. Padi went on to talk about the aftermath, about the killer and the families of the victims. She said, “He was evil, he tried to kill their faith in God, but do you think he succeeded?” This is where my ears pricked up out of my self-pity and shame, “no, when the mother of one of the victims spoke to the press she said to him, ‘we forgive you’ “ It was the first I had heard of this, and it made me smile. That is Chrisitianity, that is strength.
J.R.R Tolkien writes about the concept of “Eucatastrophe”, the climax of a story, in which something enormous, impossible and good happens to drive out evil. A perfect example in so far as I understand the concept is the Resurrection of Jesus. Nobody saw that coming, and it irrevocably puts and end to the triumph of evil. Forgiveness is the eucatastrophe of this story, where Jesus’ teachings were able to help this woman through the ravages of evil. I’m glad that padi could see past the evil coming out of my country and focus on the all encompassing love that all Christians share.