Events and news reports during the recent long weekend reminded me of the story in the Old Testament of a pagan prophet named Balaam who was commissioned to curse the Israelites while encamped at the plains of Moab, ready to enter the Promised Land 40 years after their Exodus from Egypt. It is a story filled with humorous twists and turns that instead of cursing the Israelites, Balaam blessed them and even prophesied the coming to them of the Savior Jesus Christ. It is a funny story like the movie “Shrek” with a talking donkey.
I have always loved and admired Baguio City in its efforts to keep its morals intact despite the growing lamentable practice of many Filipinos these days of spending Holy Week vacationing there instead of praying in their homes and parishes. It is perhaps the only city with a law calling on all people to pause during the Angelus. And now, it is the only city too that prohibits the use of foul language. Members of its city council have noted in their Anti-Profanity Ordinance how the habit of cursing has “already penetrated schools and educational system, business establishments and society as a whole, that even the very fabric of morals and human decency has deteriorated to such a degree that we have to prevent it before the damage would become irreparable.” It defined profanity as “blasphemous or obscene language vulgar or irreverent speech or action; expletive oath, swearing, cursing, or obscene expression usually of surprise or anger.”
Baguio City is deteriorating fast and though this Anti-Profanity Ordinance does not address anything at all in improving environmental conditions there, it shows us that unless we first cleanse whatever is within us, these are reflected with the problems around us. “Ex abudantia cordis” is the Lord’s reminder to us all, “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Though the ordinance is not really clear in its scope and purpose expressed only in three pages of paper, it is a good reminder that whatever is evil and bad would always be evil and bad, with or without any written law. To curse or speak ill of anybody, wishing evil or harm to someone is always bad. And despite the claims by the defenders of the President that saying bad words does not make anyone entirely bad, recent events have shown exactly the opposite of their claims, that anyone speaking of good things does not make him or her good at all.
On Halloween day which the benighted souls have insisted on celebrating the pagan way by dressing as ghosts, actor and former tourism official Cesar Montano’s selfie with a naked woman at the background went viral and spawned many spoofs. How I wish I have the vocabulary of Nabokov but I could not find the proper English words to describe those videos that are salaula, baboy, and kadiri! And of course not to forget during the long weekend is the President’s usual dose of follies of the highest level when he spewed his usual profanities against the Church and the All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day celebrations, a day after calling on the nation to “emulate our saints, pray for the eternal repose of souls and deepen our engagement with our communities as we work for real and lasting change.” Not contented with the foul language, the President even declared himself a saint.
Blessing is from the Latin term benedicere that literally means “to speak or say good things.” To wish somebody “God bless you” in the midst of a malicious situation, in a life far from being a blessed one or simply just because as in “wala lang” is not only a profanity but also a blasphemy. Of course, priests who are supposed to be channels of God’s blessings commit the highest level of profanity and blasphemy if they lead lives of sin and corruption, abusing not only children and women but the entire people of God, including God Himself. This is what the anti-profanity law of Baguio is missing, skipping that portion on who should not use obscene language. The evil of foul language is similar with pornography: it is always immoral regardless of age because it is a lack of respect to the dignity of persons.
The story of Balaam and of his ass reminds us that we are all a blessing to everyone. Listen to what the donkey told Balaam: “What have I done to you that you should beat me these three times? Am I not you’re your own beast, and have you not ridden upon me until now? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way before?” (Num.22: 28, 30) How ironic that the dumbest creature in the universe was the one to remind Balaam and us that we should never treat badly and speak ill of anyone because we are all a blessing to everyone. Most of all, the talking donkey of Balaam reminds us how blessings can turn into a curse someday and curses could eventually be a blessing too. It has happened so many times in history, not only to nations and corporations but even in the Church that is still rocked by sexual scandals committed long time ago. The early Christians have depicted the story of Balaam and his ass in their early arts like in the Roman catacombs (photo above) and in some churches in Europe to show how God works in mysterious ways, especially with the power of our words to bless, or to curse. Be a blessing!
*Photos from Google.