“A Woman of Controversy”

IMG_1431On Tuesday this week, as the noon time sun began hiding behind the tall trees, they buried the woman who in life they had scorned but in death they had learned to understand. That woman was Mery.

By their definition, Mery was a woman of controversy. But by my definition, theirs is an accusation that carries no weight. It doesn’t say she is not the woman they are accusing her of; it means they have seen in her life the imperfections that they have failed to see in their own.

Why so? A lady, Senyang by name, who in younger days first led the crusade to crucify Mery for being an adulteress, too was guilty in later life of leaving her husband for another man younger than her. And the man who said he would put his reputation at stake to prove that indeed this woman was guilty of a score of other sins aside from adultery—-the Catholic faith defender of the village, and the woman’s father -in-law too—himself an offspring of illegitimacy, had also begotten two illegitimate kids. So what’s new? The accusers were themselves as guilty as the ones they accused!

The village of Babag Uno where this happened is to me a microsome of what the whole world is. It is a world where the pot calls the kettle black. It is a world too where the repartee you could make ready for the critique out to destroy your reputation is the pure and simple statement of divine origin: “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” Mery tried that. So far so good. It did not encourage stone-throwing, but the gossiping still went on, albeit with finesse, and spoken only in the silence of a house with four walls to hide them, not anymore in public.

So this was the state of things when I first came nine years ago. She who was branded as an adulteress became my hospitable hostess, serving me with whatever simple snacks they had at home, but always it was coffee and biscuits. The people of the village thought I was the new paramour, and I had a good laugh at that. When I opened my mouth and read scriptures, things began to change. Mery listened, and they whom she had invited listened too.

But the devil never stopped and his cohorts never slept. You can give credit to the hard-line Catholics of Babag Uno for their wacky ability to dream up anything that would hinder anyone from following Jesus. So when Mery and others decided to become Christians, we had to be mum about our baptismal plans, never ever inviting the enemy to our confidence—and in this case the enemy was the whole village. Nobody knew Mery had been baptized until she herself took the courage to tell them she had been baptized.

And when they made the threat that Mery and anyone who became Christians could not be buried in the public cemetery of Maomawan, Mery’s answer was a simple “So What?”

Mery was courageous. Do you wonder anymore why I took all the pains looking for means for Mery to be brought to a hospital when she got sick? It was the fulfillment of a pledge to a brave disciple who tried to follow Jesus come hail or high water, through thick and thin, wherever He leads us.

Mery’s Christian journey was a very painful one. Furthermore, her past sins even kept haunting her. But I was there, and I listened. And God aided her when she got sick. I think it was the most heart-warming aid she had ever had in her whole life. Christians paid for her hospital bills. You guys who sent help to her too listened. Mery was thankful to all those who helped. And that help which we, the church, had extended to Mery showed to the people of Babag Uno that we would never leave any one of our own in any helpless situation, in destituteness or in distress. None in Mery’s immediate family could help Mery. Her husband was as penniless as a rat. Her sons had rejected her. Her daughter condemned her to high places. But through all these, Mery had found her refuge: in God.

And so God saw that Mery would become what He meant her to be. Her sickness and dying, her eleven days at a hospital, showed a woman of mettle and form. Her sons and daughter came, and they by turns kept a close watch at her in the hospital. And as she lay there gasping for her last with the last ounce of her strength, they all shed the tears they had never shed in their whole lives: for Mery. Hatred gave place to love. Rebellion was overcome by pity.

On Saturday evening, the funeral homes people brought her home, and the Christian women, and the neighbors who pitied her, dressed up Mery for her last day on earth. And while Mery lay there in a box in a shack she had called home, her detractors and the enemies of the truth began arguing whether or not Mery should be buried at the cemetery of the village at all. The bone of this contention was a public burial place donated for the use of the people of the village by the government itself. Their threat to make good their threat was hanging in mid-air and we were afraid we never had any ready option on what to do with a corpse on our hands. You never had this kind of problem in America. Probably. We never had this kind of problem in Bacolod, or in Mindanao, or in Luzon, places that at one or another became my home. We have this problem in Cebu—of all places! But we trusted in common sense and decency, and we believe that a lot of the people still have these values in their lives.  We are a kingdom of conquerors through Him who loves us, and I believe that.

The argument of whether or not to bury Mery at Maomawan Public Cemetery that began last Saturday night was one between the Catholics who loved Mery and the Catholics who hated her. Too, it was an argument that pitted sons and daughters against fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters against brothers and sisters, cousins against cousins, husbands against wives. For three nights they argued, and I made myself absent from all these discussions. The proponents of this weird suggestion that wanted to deny a lady of the village her right to a decent burial also wanted to hear what I would say about this argument, but I declined. It’s a petty argument and did not deserve my precious time, I said.

Well, you would perhaps ask:  What would have happened if the enemies of the truth won the day? I say it would be a sad day for everyone who is already a Christian in Babag. It would be a sad day for this country. It would mean more expense on my part, since I would be paying for Mery’s cremation (our last resort in this case) and looking for another plot where to bury Mery.

By God’s grace,  it was a day of victory.  Our victory.

And so on Tuesday, while we Christians in Babag Uno grieved for the loss of a dear one from our midst, we too rejoiced because the cause of God had become victorious over the smart-alecky, dogmatic, short-minded, short-fused, unillumined, illogical minds who go by the name of Catholic Faith Defenders.

God be praised!

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