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Marist spirituality in Philippines

05/08/2008: Philippines - Photo gallery

The events (17 in all) held in the Marist Sector of the Philippines reached many people indeed: 950 teachers and personnel and 920 students. I hope this quantity was tied to the quality with which the message was offered and received. The work done in groups and the questions and comments that followed led me to believe that these audiences were very attentive.

One question took me by surprise: Bro. Teófilo, how can you present water as a symbol of life for us when what we see all around is telling us that it is a symbol of death and destruction?

We need to know the context of this question to fully understand and appreciate it. During that time (the last week of June) the Philippines was visited by three realities related to water. Each one created unimaginable destruction. 1) torrential rains, 2) Hurricane Frank, and 3) the sinking of the ship The Princess of Stars, with 800 passengers; so far, only 57 are known to have survived.

Does it make sense then to proclaim that Marist Spirituality presents water as a symbol of life? This is a question we cannot avoid. I am perfectly aware that water can be a symbol of death and destruction. The Philippine experience in recent days strongly demonstrates this.

The answer can be found in the connotative sense of symbols, even in their ambiguity. Symbols can have more than one meaning. Sometimes such meanings may even appear to be contradictory. The Bible, in some texts, does present water as a symbol of destruction and death. I am not referring to the original Deluge. Rather, to Pauls beautiful catechesis in Roman 6, a catechesis on baptism. Although the text does not mention water directly, it makes clear that we are to die with Christ in order to rise with Him later. To this day, in some churches, immersion in water as suggested in Pauls text is essential to the rite of baptism. The symbolism is evident: people die with Christ in order to live with Him in eternal bliss later on. We die to sin in our lives. We have here a beneficial destruction, a constructive death: a doing away with the destruction and death caused by our sins.

It so happened that some nuns and some Muslim women were attending the Assembly. I took advantage of this to refer to a symbol apparent to all, the VEIL. Its meaning was totally distinct, even contradictory. According to the theology of the Religious Life, a subject I taught in our Nairobi Centre, a nuns veil REVEALS her belonging and her consecration to God. At this same Centre I also taught the Comparative Study of Religions, where I learned that a Muslim womans veil HIDES her face to avoid giving men unnecessary temptations. This was the teaching of Mohammed, the prophet, who had 9 women, while allowing his followers to have but 4. So the VEIL is a symbol with opposite meanings; it is something that REVEALS and something that HIDES.

Returning to the subject of water, I acknowledged its destructive and murderous power. At a time like this I make my own an answer that Mother Teresa once gave to a similar question. I dont understand many of the natural disasters that beset humanity, even when some can be explained scientifically. People can do very little about them. What I do know is that I can entrust all the victims of these tragedies to the Divine Mercy.

On the other hand there are “non-natural” catastrophes. These result from “human stupidity”. There was a clear example of this when the Philippine ferry boat had capsized days earlier. Men and women coped, the best they could, with the drenching downpours and fury of Hurricane Frank. However, how was it possible for people in authority to allow a poorly maintained and overloaded vessel to leave port at the mercy of a monstrous storm? This can only be explained by greed and a desire to make profits at all cost, even that of putting the lives of innocent men, women and children at risk. A catastrophe such as this deserves strong condemned. With some common sense, it could have been avoided. In this case, water was certainly a symbol of destruction and death. Ultimately, however, the tragedy was caused by the “human stupidity” of unbridled selfishness.

As we explored these possibilities about the symbolism of water, I continued to point out that our WATER FROM THE ROCK can only be about living water. Ultimately the text refers to Christ, the “Living Water” (cf. Jn 4, 10-11) enabling us also to become “sources of living water” for others (cf. Jn 4, 14; WfR, 14). My questioner and listeners came to appreciate this analysis.

Br. Teófilo Minga
Bangkok, 8th July 2008

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