Former President Corazon C. Aquino has become part of a glorious Philippine history. The outpouring of affection and honor for her person and her life’s work has proven beyond doubt the extent of her influence on the Philippine and the global community.
How do we explain this social phenomenon? What meanings does the name Cory bear in this so-called “benighted” nation?
Corazon means “heart” in Spanish. Cory could mean “substantial” (full of “core”) in English. In the Filipino mind, however, it means so many things: renewal, power, courage, faith, humility, simplicity and personal grace. And many more.
Cory Aquino was born into a wealthy family — which makes her extraordinary to many of us who are extraordinarily poor in an extraordinarily blessed tropical country. From being a humble Christian housewife, she became a strong crisis-president. Her life symbolizes the highest possibilities that this nation can achieve and has indeed been destined to achieve for itself. If only we can see through the forest fires raging right in the “heartland” of this nation.
Filipinos, in general, grow up accustomed to the image of a burning heart (“Corazon de Jesus”) which symbolizes the agony of the Lord Jesus (as depicted in many Catholic Church artworks). It seems the suffering of this small nation is eternally tied to the “unfinished suffering of Christ in the flesh” which Apostle Paul wrote about and which became the ultimate life-motto of Cory herself. She lived to be the “heart of Jesus” for her people. And in so many ways, she succeeded.
Perhaps, it is ironic then that the death of Cory should bring back to the Philippines the same euphoria of the EDSA Revolution in 1986 – not as a celebration of freedom from a dictatorship but as a national impulse of rejoicing at one woman’s life who, at first, reluctantly sought to champion political and social justice and ended up giving the world a shining model of democracy and peace. Broken though were the many hearts at the sight of Cory’s cancer-wracked body when she lay in the hospital and when she eventually expired, those same hearts now overflow with triumphant life. Those hearts – images of Cory’s own — have not allowed suffering to destroy but have overcome and recovered a renewed faith in God in the face of death and defeat.
The paradox of joy in sorrow indeed abounds in this land of contrasts: wealth and poverty, sacrifice and corruption, holiness and depravity, faith and dishonesty. Where else in this world can you find opulence marching along side-by-side with poverty because someone who was rich lived a simple life in order to bring together the two and, in return, is greatly loved by both? Where else can you find the saintly and the wicked sit down together because someone who lived a pure life challenged the vile in order to bring about change in the their lives and, in so doing, show that godliness is the way to true life? Where else can you find the faithful converse freely with unfaithful because someone who had such deep faith in God showed a shining example of trust in God and, thereby, adding to the diminishing store of holiness in this world?
Cory, then, means “heartful” because of the great love she had for her God and for her people. Like Abraham who lived out his name, Cory likewise lived up to her name. And from the testimonies of those who knew her well, Cory also means “hurt-ful” in that she suffered more than many of us. And like the Lord Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, Cory also learned to turn her pains into diamonds of glory. The “heartaches” that her own daughter admitted to have pricked Cory’s heart will someday serve to lead us to sow and to bear fruits of righteousness, if we all but take it to heart. For unless the heart forgives, it cannot love.
Cory, finally, means “heart-felt” exultation. The people who cheered her name and clapped their hands as her coffin was carried out of the Manila Cathedral, then into Manila Memorial Park and, finally, inside the tomb, gave her the best expression of their respect for her – the acknowledgment of their joy at having her for their leader and paragon in life. Many of those people ran toward her grave – unmindful of the security cordon set up by the police — and shouted her name because in the dark, rainy night of her interment they felt even more the light of her love burning in their own hearts.
We cheer or clap after a great performance. Thousands clapped for Cory for the sterling performance of a life lived out well for God and for others. Our own hearts clapped with a “heartwarming” gratitude for the gift of an offered life to God.
And when the sorrow and the rejoicing have run their course through the many rites and traditions we have made for ourselves in our sojourn through life, we will all remain still and listen to our own hearts and search for the real meaning of our own being. Are we any better or much worse at having seen a person baring her brave, broken heart for all people to see? Or is our heart only at peace because we have merely seen and heard and have not really understood the heart of the matter?
What matters to the heart is a question of life and death. Or more precisely, the eternal issue of life. Thank you, Tita Cory, for reminding us.
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