Once I tagged a friend along to visit a sick friend. The sick friend’s sister started to share her family’s problems to us.

She spoke of her cousin’s status in a rehab center. She mentioned her family’s business challenges. And she bemoaned her teenage children’s changing attitudes and behaviors.

In the car, when we left, my friend said to me: “I was surprised to hear that lady’s problems. Not ordinary ones, huh. They are problems of the rich!”

Today, God confronts us with the problems of the poor… more difficult, more bitter, more vicious, because they have nothing to fight it back.

As we allow the first reading, (Is. 58), to speak to us, we hear about the situations of the poor and our challenge as God’s people to respond to it.

The poor lack food. They have no shelter. They keep nothing, save maybe, the clothes on their back.

And poverty can come in an instant.

Just remember our brothers and sisters in parts of Batangas and Cavite, who were affected by the Taal volcano’s sudden eruption in January 2020.

               Some were fishermen who enjoyed their abundant daily catch

               Some were farmers who harvested the sweetest pineapples, bananas and oriental fruits

               Most were rural folks content with their peaceful and simple lives

When the ashes, mud and sand rained on them from the billowing smoke of the volcano

               They found their fish floating dead in the lakewaters

               They saw their crops hopelessly destroyed

               As they ran for their lives, they looked back on housed with collapsed roofs, cracked walls, and covered in monochromes of ash

               Both wildlife and domestic animals died of hunger and sulphuric air

From hardy, working folks, they became a displaced and poor people scrambling elsewhere for survival.

A Filipina correspondent for a foreign news channel, reporting on the situation of the people insisted in her concluding words, that these people will rise again because the Philippines is “a Catholic country that values faith and resilience.”

And indeed, buoyed by faith and altruism, people sent in money, rice, canned goods, blankets, water for the evacuees.

Churches, schools, and gymnasiums opened their doors to evacuees.

This will bring relief (they’re actually called relief goods, relief operations, etc.) for now. But relief is temporary and they will need a return to stability and normalcy soon.

Isaiah seems to know this. It is easy to provide food, shelter and clothing – temporarily.

But what is more important, outside of any calamity around us, is “remove from your midst

oppression, false accusation and malicious speech.”

It is this that will bring true light and lasting joy to the poor people of God.

For while the volcano was erupting

               Businessmen jacked up prices of basic medical goods, like face masks

               Unscrupulous people offered religious debates online instead of consolation

               Politicians spewed out rubbish like “pissing on the crater and eating the ashfall”

               Scammers used the names of bishops and church offices to divert donations to their own accounts

How does this support the claim that we are a “Catholic nation that values faith and resilience?”

In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus has a vision for his disciples. They are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world! Tall order, huh?

For the Lord, this is possible if only he can find open hearts willing to love the poor as he does.

Let us pray that we may love the poor.

Let us pray even more that we may contribute to the transformation of attitudes that will benefit all and spread the fragrance of the Lord in our world today.

(pls share to a friend…)