The world is now on its second year of the coronavirus pandemic. More than a couple of million people have died, and so many millions more have been infected, but the end is still nowhere in sight. Physical survival remains the single common concern of all, yet mere survival is not and cannot be enough. One should do everything to be free from the virus, but until a cure is effectively in place, the virus remains beyond our control. Where so many good men and women have died, we must wonder why we have survived. If it is, as some people say, a chastisement, we must have done something good, or there must be something good we are expected to do to deserve getting spared.
Are we just plain lucky, or did an Invisible Hand choose us for a special role in rebuilding our post-Covid-19 world? The question may not sound very bright, but we must ask it, especially if we belonged to a group described as “highly vulnerable” by the experts. Perhaps the question is not so much what we may have done till now, as what we may be expected to do after the pandemic. Whatever our sense of it, we need to have the courage to act on it.
Albert Camus, whose novel, La Peste (The Plague), seems to prefigure the current pandemic, wondered in La Chute (The Fall) what future historians would say of modern man. He says, “A single sentence suffices: he fornicated and read the papers.” Indeed, modern man has been content to indulge his cheapest appetites, and rarely found the time to consider his higher, let alone his highest, purpose and possibilities. He enjoyed living a hedonistic life, unmoved by the anguish and suffering of the poor, by man’s most brutal inhumanity to man—-Christ nailed on the Cross at Golgotha; six million European Jews incinerated in Dachau and Auschwitz; Japanese peasants atom-bombed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end a war that had already reached its end; ethnic minorities decimated by genocide in various places around the world; innocent and unborn children lacerated inside their mothers’ wombs.
Can we honestly believe that when the pandemic is finally over, it will have done enough to change modern man’s view of himself? Will man find the wisdom and the courage to return to his original self as a contingent creature of God, by discarding completely what is not essential to his daily life? The pandemic has shown us it can be done— it has simplified our needs and wants; can we now translate our pandemic experience into a permanent ethos? This is the real challenge.
The pandemic has dimmed many lights that used to brighten many corners of our lives. Where before loved ones could touch and embrace without fear of harming each other; where family and friends could minister to their sick and bury and mourn their dead in the best tradition of their fathers; where the poorest of believers could worship in church and receive the Eucharist together with the priest at the altar; where the humblest citizens could express their two cents worth on every issue and compel those in power to listen to them with patience and grace; where every little man could pick up a trade to feed himself and his family without becoming a ward of the state——where all of these shone varying degrees of light to brighten the most ordinary life, darkness has set in, as the abnormal became normal, and the world as we once knew it disappeared.
But together with the dimming of those lights, the possibility of our being physically extinguished has shone a great light at the very center of our lives. It rekindled the furnace at the very essence of our being to remind us all that God is in charge, and that all we can do is to cooperate with Him, while serving our fellowmen. What act of love, what act of service can we possibly offer to the least of our brethren? By asking ourselves this question, we recognize that each of us has an assigned role to play, according to our respective competence.
A new world needs to be born. God may no longer want to arrange it by his lonesome; the Creation, as recorded in Genesis, is over. We will have to rebuild the world with our own hands: at the very least, we will have to cooperate with God in this work; as in the making of the civilization we call Western, we will have to do our work, “listening to God while looking at man.” And learning from our past mistakes as well.
This new world will have to discard the dross of the past, turn dysfunctional systems upside down, and draw something fresh and vibrant from the detritus of its disordered structures and institutions. Political institutions will remain essential, but they will have to be reestablished on society’s original foundation, and look to man as the faithful steward of God’s possessions first, before he is the citizen of any nation. Upon man’s duty to God will rest his duty to his fellowmen.
If we have understood this well, then we have learned our first lesson from Covid-19. We should then be ready to move on. If we have not, then we are doomed to repeat our worst mistakes, with very little chance of correcting them. We shall never rise above our basic mistakes and we shall continue to attribute our failure to defeat the pandemic solely to our inability to put in place a responsible, coherent and technically competent government like that of Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Australia or New Zealand, etc., without acknowledging the real cause of that uncontested failure in governance, which is, our rank failure to put man (both as a human person and as a citizen) next to God, at the root and center of every activity of the society and the state.
It is both a shame and a pity that while the national economy, human employment, food production, public health, public and private education, public transportation and communication, general trade and other services, and everything else have broken down because of the pandemic, our political leaders are taking full advantage of the lockdown which restricts our people’s right and ability to assemble and give full expression to their ideas, in order to advance immoral, unconstitutional and unexamined proposals for their own interests. With all the existential problems staring at the nation’s face, not a single member of the political class has offered any idea on how to solve these problems. Their sole concern is how to amass unaccountable wealth and power that would allow them to take full control of the state, at the expense of the people, which the Constitution defines as the sovereign from whom all government authority emanates, but who will now be downgraded as slaves.
These politicians have not contributed a single worthwhile idea to human progress since the fall of Marcos. Whether they are talking, as they are now, of a so-called “federal system” or a “revolutionary government,” neither of which has any legal or factual basis, these politicians are determined to make sure that even if the nation survives the pandemic, it would continue to fight for its life, against their cheap and narrow politics.