When supercyclone “Haiyan” was poised to whip at the Philippines, I joined my countrymen in prayer, every hour on the hour. I sighed with blessed relief when my sister reported that although power had gone out, my hometown of Cebu City (which had just been rocked by a 7.4 magnitude quake) escaped the eye of the storm and didn’t sustain much damage. But over the next few days, as more photos and news reports emerged of severe destruction, missing persons, unknown casualties and downed communications and transportations north of my province and its neighboring islands, my sighs were snuffled into tissues.
A ship washed into a leveled shore of a once bustling port; coconut trees shaven or snapped in two; a looted half of a mall building teetering; a roofless hospital; entire towns and villages pulverized into debris; paper plates and pieces torn from the boxes containing messages of survivors to their anxious family members that “we are all alive” or “so and so is dead”; survivors sagging on evacuation centers, one of which was a grown man, with a distinct brown scapular around his neck, crying… and the most heartbreaking of all: a muddied corpse of a mother clutching her dead boy and her baby.
From my human Christian perspective, I easily glimpsed the hope that comes with the cross. But since I wanted to look beyond hope into joy, I tried to see from the perspective beyond the veil… I saw the delight of a Heavenly Father welcoming a mother and her two sons to heaven for her heroic virtue in attempting to rescue them. I saw countless more souls ecstatically reunited with loved ones in heaven while other souls entered purgatory. All of them have joined the multitude of saints who are incessantly praying for loved ones still earning salvation on earth. I saw a Church crammed with praying Christians, grateful yet seeking consolation and burning to help others. Without them knowing it, their charity earns merits and atones for a multitude of past sins. I saw heaven busy answering every single prayer, sending angels, as well as invisible graces of healing and comfort and visible relief goods that were shared from kind hearts. I saw Our Lady of Sorrows tenderly gathering millions of survivor's teardrops and uniting them with her son's sorrow to obtain graces of conversion for the hardest of sinners. I saw human hearts all over the world softening to give from their needs; politicians rethinking policies and keeping their hands off the coffers; homes opened to welcome survivors. I saw a grieving widower-father being consoled by the generosity of strangers who help him rebuild, and in my author’s tendency to create happy endings, I saw in the future, him growing into a wise man embracing life, serving a new family in a deeper way. Or perhaps, joining the priesthood.
The world as we Filipinos know it has ended, but the world as God sees it has shifted toward goodness, love, mercy and change. Through our acceptance of the purifying cross, Christ’s kingdom is here and it is also coming.
Naturally, I’ve been asked: am I still going home to my earthquake-ravaged and sypercylcone-whipped country like I'd planned to for the holidays? Oh yes! You wouldn’t dream of abandoning your sick and suffering family in the midst of their darkest trial, would you? No. You would go home and hug your loved ones, support the local tourism economy, constantly remind yourself that you’re not guaranteed 90 years to do God’s work on earth. You’d take your children to the grocery store so they can pick out items from someone’s survival list to be given to donation centers and teach them to forego their own Christmas wishlist.
On Thanksgiving, you might not exactly be grateful for earthquakes and supercyclones even though 1 Thessalonians 5:8 says, "In everything give thanks to the Lord for this is God's will for you." But you will surely be thankful for the light of eternity and the grace of your faith to understand: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”