REFLECTIONS: Hunger or sickness versus hunger and sickness
(Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Easter)
On April 27, Bukidnon—being low in COVID-19 infections—relaxed restrictions of its General Community Quarantine. On April 29, the Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center reported two suspected COVID-19 patients and four probable patients awaiting confirmation from the laboratory analysis done in Davao. On April 30, the Governor through a memorandum ordered the closure of all barangay, municipal, and city quarantine checkpoints throughout the province, only retaining the checkpoints in the borders.
Various reactions both positive and negative came out especially on social media and in the grapevine. The Governor issued a clarificatory memorandum to this effect. We honor all the frontliners who risked their lives for us all and who are affected and hurt by these developments. We salute all of you!
A senior citizen asked me, “Why this development? Are they not afraid that many will get infected?” My nephew told me, “Hala, uncle, dili kaha mas modaghan ang matakdan?” (Uncle, won’t many get infected with this quarantine easing?)
We understand the reactions, borne out of fear that the province will turn into a COVID-19 infected area. But our government officials had also thought the same. They are also afraid as we no longer have enough resources to feed both the infected and the healthy. During the lockdown, the economy temporarily stopped. Our local economy is sinking. They say we face a choice between dying of illness or dying of hunger.
How do we respond? If we are playing volleyball, the ball is now in our court, people of Bukidnon. Many would say we are not ready for this. But who is ready and when will we be ready? We all know the benefits of operating the checkpoints. They are legitimate checks on the discipline of the residents. We are also aware that many do not want to follow the protocols, choosing instead to live their own decisions and solutions.
Ugandan President Kaguta Museveni said: “The world is currently in a state of war. . . without guns and bullets . . . without human soldiers . . . without borders . . . without cease-fire agreements . . . without a war room . . . without sacred zones. . . Thankfully, this army has a weakness and it can be defeated. It only requires a collective action, discipline, and forbearance.”
The reason fear envelops us is that we deal with the issue individually. We insist on our own solutions. The great lesson that this Sunday celebration brings us today, is to pause, pray and listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, the Gatekeeper who is Jesus: “But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” (Jn. 10:2-4)
We have not reached that “collective action” where we synchronize our efforts to deal with the pandemic. If all of us would listen and faithfully follow the protocols set by our government and the Church, we would no longer need the checkpoints. But many of us refuse to follow.
We have not achieved collective action because we do not have unified forbearance. We are too individualistic—we only think of what we can get, not what we can give. We insist on our own legal rights as if the situation is normal. But we are in an abnormal situation. We need to be forbearing—to cease demanding and to start following.
Lacking in forbearance and collective action are products of lack of discipline, which has the same root word with discipleship.
Discipleship requires true listening to hear the voice of the shepherd guiding the whole herd to bear the suffering of the present and leading everyone to safety, health, and green pasture. As we hear, we follow, we act upon the message. Our refuge is not far from us. He is very near us. He is with us. But we fail to recognize Him, we fail to hear his voice or if we have heard, we disregard him. If we continue this kind of attitude, we will lose. We are not in a situation where we can choose to face either the devil or the deep blue sea. Looking at this angle, there is no choice for us. It is not either, it is both.
It is not choosing between hunger OR illness. It is choosing to face hunger AND illness with discipline, forbearance, and collective action. We need to be like a herd of sheep led by its Shepherd. A sheep who leaves the herd will face the danger of a wolf or a ravine or both. A believer, a citizen who departs from our communities will succumb either to hunger or to illness or to both.
Hunger or illness versus hunger and illness? Our choice is to be disciplined in following all protocols and exercise forbearance, not demanding so much of what is due to us but sharing what we have. We must act within the bounds of community, bearing in mind that individualism leads to destruction and failure, to illness and hunger. The ball is with us. Unless we learn to start thinking and acting as “WE” instead of “ME”, we will survive this pandemic.
It is within our power to choose what is good for us. It is within our power to think and act with the herd. Let us teach those who are not able to understand this, starting with our families and small communities. Let us all stay healthy and safe with discipline, forbearance, and collective action. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Virgilio H. Delfin, CPA, is a priest in the Diocese of Malaybalay and the president of San Isidro College.