Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sr. Christine Tan, a Good Shepherd nun has been my role model of how it is to live not only as a religious but a Filipino Christian.

She left a convenient life by entering the convent. For several years, she was the Provincial of the Good Shepherd sisters in the country, and once became a chairperson of the major superiors in the Philippines. Together with Bishop Ted Bacani and Fr. Joaquin Bernas, she was tapped by then President Cory Aquino to help draft the Constitution of the country which we still have at present.

She has been a religious for almost 50 years, half of this, she spent living in the filth of the urban poor.

I read from somewhere that her courageous exposé on irregularities in the government during the time of President Estrada generated a huge impact in the ecumenical community and social movements.

I have not met this nun in person. I only encountered her in my reading of the news papers and watching the early evening newscast when I was still outside the seminary. One national broadsheet featured an article she wrote a year before she died.

Allow me to share with you her words…her thoughts:

"How healthy it was to be misunderstood, especially by those who mattered, how faith-filled it was to be the enemy of the dictator, the target of rightists. How liberating it was not to be swept by the tide. There has been no fear that has not vanished while merged with God, partner and lover.

As for praises poured on me—they are just bubbles that disappear with a sneeze. As to the institutional church, that monolithic fort of mitered men, how I suffered from their arrogance. Once during martial law, when we major superiors dared oppose the dictatorship, I was summoned to Rome. I remember the 14 doors that I passed through, only to be told by a cardinal that if I did not cooperate with our regime, I would be excommunicated. I sighed, not because of the senseless threat, but because of the thousands of pesos spent on fare, when this could easily have been done with a single stamp. But these too are bubbles that make no dent."

I do admire brave people like her who don't seem to care about endangering their lives, who don't care about earning the ire of the people in the higher ups just so to they could advance a just cause, who do so much to lift the poor from their horrible situation.

Her life reminds me of Mary. Like Sr. Christine, I know that Mary also fought various battles.

It must have been difficult for her to take that long and difficult journey just so she could visit her ageing Elizabeth who was also pregnant. But this, she willingly took so that she could encourage her cousin.

It must have been a grueling experience for her to realize that her dear little child was nowhere to be found on their way home. And it must have been painful for her to finally confront the child Jesus, her Son and Lord, when she found Him in the midst of the learned men in the temple.

It must have been a real suffering for her to stand by her Son, as He hung dying on the cross. She must have wept like hell as she sat there waiting for her Son to finally breathe His last. And to think that the people around them regarded her Son not as a God, but as a criminal.

She stomached all these, because her life was possessed by God even before she was formed in the womb of Anna. And this encounter must have been so powerful because her experience of God did not merely bestow upon her virtues, she went beyond all her limitations, her being weakling, her being a mere woman in a largely patriarchal society of the Jews.

In their third general conference, the American Bishops of Latin America proclaimed that "Mary is also our model, as faithful handmaid of the will of God, of those who refuse passively to accept the adverse circumstances of their personal and social life, who refuse to be victims of "alienation". . . but who proclaim with her that God is the "avenger of the lowly," and if need be "pulls down the mighty from their thrones" - to use the words of the Magnificat once more."

The Immaculate Conception did not transform Mary into an extraordinary superwoman who had the power to fly and knock out the evil forces of the world. Her life did not become complicated after the angel told her that she would become the mother of God. She stuck to God, listened with her ears and opened her heart to whatever God wanted to tell her.

We usually credit Mary for her humility and fidelity. But I think, it is unfair for her to be stereotyped into merely having such virtues. Sure, humility and faithfulness are okay. But she didn't only have these. When something has to be done, she did it beautifully well.

Like Mary, the presence of a genuine Christian must be in felt his or her community. We should not only be kind, but we should also become a productive citizen of the society. As Christians, we should not be mere fence sitters. We need to do something in order to transform our society, our community to become a Kingdom of God.

Let me end this piece by quoting Sr. Christine: "They say that we are all drops of water in an ocean, totally lost in its expanse and depths. But some drops sparkle."