MANILA, APRIL 11, 2006 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - There is a new book that would have made good Lenten reading if only our bookstores were more alert. Unfortunately, I have to content myself with reading the review of the book entitled WHAT JESUS MEANT from the book section of the New York Times online. Written by Garry Wills, a scholar and ex-Jesuit seminarian, the book is about a Jesus that may seem alien to organized religion, but a Jesus who is so relevant to our times.

"To read the Gospels in the spirit with which they were written, it is not enough to ask what Jesus did or said," Wills writes according to the NYT, "we must ask what Jesus meant by his strange words and deeds." The Jesus Wills finds, the NYT observes, is not one who would easily take his place amid the faithful at a 21st-century American megachurch, or at Benedict XVI’s Vatican.

The popular Christian question "What would Jesus do?" is not an especially useful one, Wills notes, for Jesus did many things we would not, and should not, do. Should Christians, Wills asks, "like Jesus, forbid a man from attending his own father’s funeral. . . or tell others to hate their parents?. . . Are they justified in telling others, ‘I come not imposing peace, I impose not peace but the sword’. . . ? "

Such moments in the Gospels, Wills writes, "were acts meant to show that he is not just like us, that he has higher rights and powers, that he has an authority as arbitrary as God’s in the Book of Job. He is a divine mystery walking among men." Jesus was neither a politician nor a prelate, and this book’s most significant contribution, the NYT points out, may lie in its reminder that faith is far too important to be considered solely, or even mainly, in political or ecclesiastical terms.

"Skeptical of the papacy and of many Catholic traditions, Wills convincingly shows that Jesus was a radical whose essential message to love one another totally and unconditionally is fundamentally at odds with the impulses of those living in a fallen world. Jesus left sundry examples of how one should live not for power but for the poor, not for fame but for forgiveness.

"But it was God’s own unconditional love for this fallen world of ours that led him to do the unimaginable to save it: he sacrificed his own son. The Passion makes the greatest sense for readers if it is seen as the culmination and ultimate expression of what Jesus had been saying and doing in his few years of public life. "Father, forgive them," the dying Jesus says from the cross; the Resurrection on the third day, Wills says, bears out the words in the Song of Songs ‘love is as strong as death.’"

As I was reading that book review, I was reminded of Antonio P. Meloto and Gawad Kalinga. I haven’t met Mr. Meloto personally, but I have heard a lot about his mission and about how he and his family are now totally dedicated to it. Mr. Meloto, through Gawad Kalinga, is the perfect example of how one person can make a difference by lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

"Caring for the poor and restoring the dignity of the Filipino in his own country have now become an urgent mission for Filipinos here and abroad," Mr. Meloto told graduating Ateneans two weeks ago. "This is not just healing for our country’s poor and neglected but it is healing for me and many like me as well."

Mr. Meloto relates how he got started with Gawad Kalinga, essentially a need to do something arising from "a sense of guilt of a person who grew up with the suffering poor but later forgot them after I got an Ateneo education. I was so focused on repackaging, and building up myself that I forgot the accompanying responsibility that came with the privilege of an Ateneo scholarship. I forgot the poor, I left them behind. I left them like so many others before me."

There are many, Mr. Meloto says, who blame the rich and powerful for the plight of the poor. "I know there is basis for the accusations but I cannot bring myself to blame them. How could I expect them to love the poor whom they do not know when I grew up poor and yet forgot to help them, too."

He said he found his faith and grew a conscience in 1985 when he joined Couples for Christ. It was then when he decided to live a righteous lif – to correct the mistakes and the injustice committed to our country and to our people by people like him. "I realized my great shortcoming as a Filipino. It was then that Couples for Christ taught me to repent for my sins and to be genuinely sorry for the things I failed to do for my country and for my people.

Feeling sorry, however, is not enough, Mr. Meloto thought. "Sorry does not restore beauty, sorry does not restore dignity, sorry does not restore the plan of God for man. Sorry begins it, but sorry is not enough. What needs to be done is to bring sorry to action, to convert regret to reform, to lift apathy to compassion and development.

"It is not enough not to do wrong. To battle evil, we must do good. The path of reform and transformation for Christians, must be one of peace. It must believe that good is more powerful than evil, and only in the exercise of good can evil be eliminated. Thus, the path of reform and transformation, personal and social, must be a path of good works."

And what does he mean in concrete terms? "Build homes. Build communities. Build capacities. Restore dignity. Restore abundance. Restore beauty. Restore peace. Build and restore, build and restore. going beyond conventional charity towards helping the poor become better stewards of their families and their communities. Converting our human resource from liability to asset, expanding the market base by empowering the poor make good business sense!"

The questions that bother most of us who genuinely want to do something good are where do we begin? The work seems too awesome, even impossible. But Mr. Meloto simply started with a concept of building homes for the poor through the traditional spirit of bayanihan – the well off helping the needy. The legal framework was established and today we have a low cost housing program that rivals anything the government has undertaken in recent years. This is people helping people help themselves.

This was why ABS-CBN worked with Gawad Kalinga in building new homes for the flood victims of Quezon and Nueva Ecija provinces. This was also why Meralco and the Manila North Tollways Corp. decided to work with GK to build homes for the homeless and a schoolhouse in Bulacan.

Many other corporations are also actively working with GK all over the country. One of the most impressive of GK’s projects is in war torn Maguindanao province in the South. I was told by the beneficiaries there that because Christians came there from afar to build homes for the Muslims, how else can they consider them now except as true brothers?

Mr. Meloto and those working with him at GK are doing God’s work here and now. He showed that God’s work, no matter how daunting it may seem, can be done. It may not be easy to do God’s work but God provides the means to get His work done as well. These are comforting thoughts as we ponder God’s message to us all this Lenten season and beyond.

Religion and longevity

The Marxists think of religion as the opium of the masses. That may be so but based on recent studies, religion may also be just what we need for a long and healthy life.

According to a recent news item in the BBC news website, going to church may extend life. "Weekly religious attendance could add years to your life, according to a medical study carried out in the US. The effects of exercise, religious attendance and anti-cholesterol drugs on life expectancy were also examined. All three were found to be beneficial, with religious attendance adding two to three years to your life."

Using age-dependent death-rate statistics, scientists from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that weekly attendance at religious services accounted for an additional two to three years. Regular physical exercise clocked up an extra three to five years and cholesterol-reducing drugs such as Lipitor about 2.5 to 3.5 years.

Study leader Daniel Hall, a resident in general surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told the LiveScience website that the benefits of religious attendance may stem more from social set-up, than faith. "There is something about being knit into the type of community that religious communities embody that has a way of mediating a positive health effect," he said.

He also suggested that religion may have a role in reducing stress, or at least in boosting an individual’s ability to cope. "Being in a religious community helps you make meaning out of your life," he said.

The results of the research were published in the March-April issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

A Happy Easter to all our readers.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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