The Power of the Powerless
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

A favorite topic in high school debates is, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Another topic is , “Who is the greater national hero? Bonifacio or Rizal?” The arguments would then revolve around the methods that the two used. Jose Rizal was from the intelligentsia and belonging to a landed family, he had the opportunity to be educated in universities here and in Spain. He used the pen and he authored two books that inflamed revolutionary fervor against Spanish colonialism, the Noli Me Tangere, and El Filibusterismo. He was sentenced by Spanish colonial authorities to die by firing squad but even in his cell he wrote the beautiful poem, “Mi Ultimo Adios.”

Andres Bonifacio is depicted as one who came from the masses, having grown up in the waterfront of Tondo, Manila. Inspired by the writings of Jose Rizal and the authors of the French revolution, he organized the “Katipunan” and took up the sword against Spain. In the struggle for leadership of the revolutionary movement he was eased out and sentenced to death. The revolution he started eventually gained victory against the Spanish forces, but at the last hour Spain ceded the Philippines to America. After fighting the Spaniards, the revolutionaries under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, first president of the new Republic, had again to fight a better armed foe, the American forces who were veterans of the wars against the Indians of the American West.

So what is mightier, the pen or the sword? Certainly, the pen inspired the sword, but even the sword was ineffective against superior arms. The courageous revolutionary with his sword and old rifle was no match against the cannons of the new conquerors. Independence was gained in 1946, through parliamentary struggle with the rhetoric of leaders like Manuel L. Quezon, President of the Philippine Commonwealth.

We can cite other historical examples where the powerless of the land won their freedom and were victorious in the struggle for justice. Gandhi used active non-violence to gain the independence of India from the British. Martin Luther King used the same method to fight for the civil rights of the blacks in the United States. Inspired by the sacrifice of Ninoy Aquino, the Filipinos used People power to end the 20- year rule of President Marcos. Even from inside his prison cell, Nelson Mandela inspired the citizens of South Africa to overcome apartheid and discrimination. The powerless have power when they take up a committed, united and passionate struggle for what is truly just and right. Needless to say, they have to make the same sacrifice that soldiers in the battlefield make - put their lives on the line. Rizal, Bonifacio, Aquino, Gandhi, and King all died as martyrs. Gandhi, Mandela and Ninoy spent many years in prison.

With these historical examples, the words of the Beatitudes in this Sunday’s gospel become more meaningful, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt.5:10). The Beatitudes affirm what St. Paul said in the second reading, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.” (1 Cor 1: 27). It only needs a few good and committed people to begin a movement that will eventually overcome a situation of evil, “But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord: they shall do no wrong and speak no lies.” (Zep. 3:12).

As the recent Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines exhorts us, “We are asking you, our beloved people, to be with us in the moral-spiritual reform of our nation by beginning with ourselves. This is what we need – conversion, real conversion, to put it in terms of our faith, for all of us to deliberately, consciously develop that social conscience that we say we sorely lack and to begin subordinating our private interests to the common good. This conversion is for all of us: laity, religious, priests, bishops” (CBCP, Januay 27, 2008).

This call of the bishops echo the simpler words of the Lord Jesus, He who first spoke the Beatitudes and gave up His life to show us that power comes from the powerless – the Savior on the Cross.