True Character

5 June 2007 Tuesday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time
Tobit 2, 9-14 True Character in the Midst of Suffering

Today we read from the Old Testament the story of Tobit. Tobit is a righteous Jew from the tribe of Napthtali. His particular work of charity was to provide proper burials for Jews who were killed by King Sennacherib. Thus, Sennacherib seized Tobit, took all his property and exiled him. After the death of Sennacherib, Tobit returned to Nineveh, but again, he buried a murdered man. Our reading begins from this point in the story. On the night of the burial, Tobit slept in the open and was blinded by bird droppings that fell on his eyes, forming a cataract. His blindness put a strain on his marriage. Later, he would pray for death. In the first reading, his wife Anna worked for hire weaving cloth. One day her employer gave her an extra goat apart from her wages. She brought home the goat, but Tobit refused to accept it. Anna explained that it was a gift. But Tobit doubted her. Anna then said to Tobit, “Where are your charitable deeds and your virtuous acts. Your true character is finally showing!”

Our crosses bring out the best and worst in us. Our sickness can make us impatient and distrustful of people. And like Tobit, it can also blind us to the truth. Our insecurities take hold of us, that we are unable to see the love other people have for us. When Tobit was able to see, he could recognize the dignity of a person, that he provided proper burial for the dead. Now that he was blind, he could not see the love of his wife for him, that he even accused her of stealing.

On the other hand, heroes are built at the worst and tragic moments. These are the heroes that we study in history. They make a great act of courage. Like Jose Rizal. Like Andres Bonifacio. Or, like Richie Fernando, my batchmate who died from a bomb attack, protecting his students.

But there are everyday heroes: those who braved the ordinary and drab episodes of life and patiently giving their whole selves to a cause — whether they were our parents, or teachers, or workers dedicated to their families, students or clients. Mother Teresa’s heroism is not in those moments when the klieg lights were on, but when the world’s not watching. Think those who do volunteer work like the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines or Gawad Kalinga. Think of those teachers who go to the barrios to provide education to school children, despite their meager salaries.

Nevertheless, experience tells us that the cross — our suffering — could bring out the worst and the best in us. But our faith tells us what suffering should do — it should build character, thus, it should bring us our heroism. Our worth is always tested in fire.

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