God helps those who help themselves

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

27th Sunday in ordinary times


Only in recent times, we have seen or heard of many horrendous calamities — natural and man–made. Of natural calamities, the Philippines was among the worst hit country by the El Niño drought in 1998. We saw hunger and death — in fact, hundreds of deaths — among rural people who could not grow anything for lack of water, and therefore had nothing to eat. When the drought ended and the rains came, they were able to plant again. But came harvest time, prices nose–dived. Thus they could not even pay back the traders who loaned them seeds and chemical inputs, much less pay the school fees of their children. Then the floods followed in the wake of the typhoons spawned by La Niña. In Central Luzon, towns were only spared from being buried by the lahar left by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1990 because, along with the government, the people took precautionary measures earlier.

Of man–made calamities, who can forget the sounds and images of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought to our living rooms live by the international tv networks? The sheer barbarism and inhumanity of the terrorist attacks so angered the American people that in no time at all President George Bush considered the attacks as “acts of war” against the US and forthwith declared war against terrorists and nations that harbor them. Setting aside bi–partisan politics, the US House of Representative voted 420–1 authorizing the use of force against those responsible for the attacks. It also approved an appropriation of $40 billion for rehabilitation and improved home security. Finally, surveys showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans — 7 in 10 — supported a military response even if it means a long war resulting in big casualties.

Worldwide, country after country, including Muslim countries, expressed support for the US–led war on terrorism. The United Nations Security Council itself passed a resolution backing whatever action — military or diplomatic — the US would take in fighting terrorism. Even Pakistan, then one of only three countries that recognizes Afghanistan's Taliban government, supported the US stand. Thus the war on terrorism has quickly become an international effort.

Natural and man–made calamities make many of us feel helpless if not hopeless. The same is true when we are confronted with serious personal crises. And we wonder what kind of life lies ahead for us, if we survive at all.

In the gospel reading (Lk. 17:5–10), the disciples, hearing the stringent demands on their faith made earlier by Jesus, for example, “If your brother wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, 'I am sorry,' you should forgive him” (Lk. 17:4), approached and asked Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.” They need more faith to be able to forgive those who have offended them not only “seven times” but “seventy times seven times.” They need more faith to be a light to others. They need more faith to be able to be at the service of the “least of my brothers.”

It is easy to say that we have faith in Jesus when everything is going fine. But when there are big problems, crises, calamities, well.... But Jesus wants us to have faith in Him, even and especially in moments of crises so that we can triumph over them: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.”

Faith. What is faith? In the context of our day to day problems, faith is that virtue which makes us hold on to God's hand so that He will be our light, our strength and our savior. Perhaps our faith may be smaller than the already small mustard seed, i.e. it is not big enough to move mountains. But it should be big enough to enable us to reach out to God's hand so that He will help us walk up the mountains of problems confronting us. To have faith is to acknowledge our inadequacies as we place ourselves entirely in God's hands.

On the other hand, even if we put our trust in the Lord, we still have to do our part. This is what is meant when we say in the Lord's Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread,” that is, we put our destiny in the hands of God. But when we do so, we do not expect Him to rain down food from heaven. Rather, He wants us to do our share — we have to work to bring food to our table. The same goes with our problems. Thus as we ask for help from God, we also have to help ourselves cope with them. And with God's grace, we are enabled to overcome them or anything else that comes our way.

A writer once said that amidst our various problems, we ask why God is not doing anything. In truth, he said, it is God who is asking us: “Why are YOU not doing anything at all?” In other words, God helps those who help themselves. Do we?

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