Brother Ed is in the end of his theological formation and discerning towards final commitment to religious life.
After his immersion with families who live under the bridge at Navotas, with the Sisters of the Good News.
How can I put the experience quite simply ? It is like seeing the ugly face of poverty, of misery, up close for the first time when it had been there all along.
Perhaps, I was more disposed to see it now than I was before. Whatever it is, it was something I had not planned and foreseen.
It began with a chance meeting with the Sisters of the Good News on their 5th anniversary. The people I met there were poor but probably not so different from the many other poor I had met before. I did not know why I asked the sisters if I could come and visit and see the apostolate they were doing. There was something intriguing in the way they interacted with the poor. As one Indonesian priest said, I did my immersion with the sisters and I just had to come back and bring others here.
And so I came back the following weekend, and the weekend after and the next, until now.
What I did when I went there. Perhaps, nothing. Nothing in the way of teaching, catechizing, giving relieve goods or food, not even celebrating together the Eucharist, not much of doing but more of being there, being present with them.
I was present in the same reality that they are in. I was sharing a few hours of my free Sunday afternoon with them ; looking at their faces. Amazed that they are able to smile given the condition they are in ; big flashes of smiles from kids and adults alike.
I listen. I listen some more. I allowing their stories to fill my thoughts.
I wonder, as they spoke, about their positive outlook in life. How could one be optimistic and calm about things when one lives in the edge of society ? Forgotten. Relegated to live in a small piece of land under a bridge beside a black smelly river that often threatens their lives. I wonder how it is possible to constantly live with the reality of demolition and still share about their plans for their children and themselves. I wonder how it is possible for anyone to live this way.
I had not stared at poverty face to face this way before. Humiliating. Degrading. Inhuman. I had not willingly stayed or lingered enough to smell the stink of dead rivers. I had always found a way to avoid them. I often saw dirty naked children playing but never stayed close enough to touch them or play with them. I had not allowed the stories of fathers and mothers, faces worn out by life, in tattered clothes and with foul breath to speak to me about their hopes and dreams, their pains and difficulties.
Perhaps, I have seen this before but it had not touched me as it touched me today. I had always preferred to stay at a distance. I realized that I had not only placed a physical distance between them and me, but my heart was distant as well. I could not feel with them because I was never one with them. I am not one among them.
What embarrassing realization. How incongruent, even a sham, to say that I am not one with the poor ; to think that I am preparing to do ministry and to follow in the footsteps of the One who in complete solidarity with humanity took on flesh and became one of us.
What a scam. Enough talk about solidarity, simplicity and poverty when, what matters most, the heart is distant and indifferent.
I recognize that I could trivialize this experience by allowing myself to merely feel bad about myself, guilty and ashamed. That would be the very least this experience could accomplish. Instead, I feel that this is a most propitious time for this to happen. In a way, this experience is a gift, a most fitting gift of the Spirit.