Thursday, June 30, 2016

A "Powerless" Church

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has built up a reputation of being a powerful and influential institution. During Martial Law, she was the only remaining institution that could stand up to Marcos' dictatorial rule.  Church people were at the forefront of the resistance against the dictatorship - providing alternative source of information when media was suppressed,  monitoring human rights violations, organizing protest rallies and collaborating with other groups and movements fighting for freedom. The Church had a big part in the ouster of Marcos at EDSA a few weeks after the CBCP came out with a pastoral letter denouncing electoral fraud and after Cardinal Sin appealed to the people through Radio Veritas to go to EDSA to defend Ramos, Enrile and the RAM who were holed in Camp Crame after an unsuccessful coup attempt.  The iconic image of EDSA I was the multitude of people, including priests and nuns, bringing crosses, statues of saints and rosaries, facing the tanks and soldiers. People power was linked with Church power. The Church continued to exercise an influential role in the post- Marcos era and even in the ouster of a corrupt and immoral president and the ascension into power of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The power of the Church was projected in the image of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo being sworn into office at the EDSA shrine before Chief Justice Davide, with Cardinal Sin and the Papal Nuncio in attendance.

Fifteen years later after EDSA 2, with the ascendancy of a new president, Rodrigo Duterte, much has changed. It appears that the power of the Church has waned. The Church is now perceived by many as powerless and lacking influence or political clout.  This was already apparent during the Aquino presidency with the passage of the Reproductive Health Law.  The recent national elections of  have made this even more evident.  Duterte considered the recent elections as a plebiscite daring Catholics to choose between electing him or obeying the appeal of the Church to vote according to their conscience and reject candidates whose behavior are contrary to the moral teachings of the Church. Duterte's landslide victory was regarded by him as a defeat of the Church - a proof of the powerlessness and waning influence of the Church. The Iglesia ni Cristo - whose leaders can dictate to the members who to vote for -- appears to be even more powerful. Thus, Duterte could insult and bully the Church without fear or restraint despite the Church's offers of prayers and vigilant collaboration. Duterte does not have to worry about any church-backed movement to oust him. He can do anything he likes without any vigorous resistance from the Church - whether it is to carry out his election promise of more extrajudicial killings, re-impose death penalty, give the deposed corrupt dictator a hero's burial, full implementation of he RH law, etc. In fact, he can count on the support or acquiescence of majority of Catholics - including many priests and nuns - who voted and campaigned for him in spite insulting the pope and promising to destroy the Church.

So what accounts for the Church's apparent powerlessness?

Even if the Church membership accounts for over 80% of the population, the Church is not a monolithic organization whose members are all actively living according to her teachings and obeying Church's leadership. Church unity - especially in the political sphere - is non-existent. There is no such thing as a Catholic vote. The majority of the Church members are nominal and seasonal Catholics who are either ignorant of the Church's teachings or who ignore these or are just selectively follow whatever suits them. The results of the recent elections would give the impression that the majority do not follow their conscience, or have no conscience - lacking a sense of right and wrong. For many there is nothing wrong with killing, stealing, cheating, lying, committing adultery. An appeal to conscience is futile.

The CBCP can come out with pastoral letters about these issues but very few will listen - not even the Catholic politicians who are products of Catholic educational institutions. There are many lay movements in the Church but they are simply pious organizations lacking in social engagement. Majority of our Basic Ecclesial Communities are still gospel sharing groups or liturgical assemblies incapable of inspiring personal conversion and mobilizing for social transformation.

One cannot entirely blame the majority of nominal Catholics for lacking in conscience and for ignoring the Church teachings. The leadership of the Church - the clergy and religious - and our Catholic institutions must admit a lot of shortcomings. We continue our maintenance mode rather than adopt a more missionary strategy. Our efforts and programs in new evangelization and catechesis lack vigor, creativity and effectiveness and do not lead to personal conversion and formation of conscience. We are not exercising enough our prophetic vocation nor do we empower or inspire the laity to do so. The clergy have become less credible due to allegations of luxurious lifestyle, financial anomalies and sexual misconduct. Even if these are the faults of a few, these have been sensationalized by the media and have increased anti-clericalism. These can become a hindrance to carrying out our prophetic mission under the new regime.

The apparent powerlessness of the Church can be blessing in disguise. It should make the Church  more humble and devoid of arrogance. The Church cannot influence or dictate what policies and laws that the government will adopt. The Church cannot be a power-broker. All it can be is to be a powerless servant and prophetic Church. All that we can do is to vigorously carry out our mission of new evangelization and catechesis and focus on the formation of conscience, empower the laity, form communities of missionary disciples in our parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities capable of confronting evil and transforming society in the future. In doing so, the nominal and seasonal Catholics will hopefully be transformed as genuine disciples of Christ. All these can be possible with a renewed clergy.

The real power of the Church will ultimately come not from its political clout or influence but from the power of the cross, the power of the Spirit that will renew the face of  the earth.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Receiving Greetings on Father's Day

"Happy Father's Day!" This is the greetings that I have been receiving today in my Facebook and through text messaging. I find this disconcerting and amusing since I don't have a wife and children - I have been a faithful celibate through all these years. No illegitimate or secret love child either. Otherwise, I would have been exposed by Digong long time ago while denouncing the DDS. But one of the text message from Bong reminded me: "Though biologically you are not, but in all aspects truly you are. This day belong to you too..."

Ok. I still insist that this day is primarily to honor all the real fathers (especially the biological fathers) who have brought children into the world, helped nurture them, care for them, facilitated their growth and in their own imperfect way mirror God's paternal love for them. I agree that fatherhood is more than biological engendering. That's is why that we priests are often referred to as Father. Everybody calls me Fr. Picx or Fr. Amado. So I do not  begrudge those who greet me to day. I just hope  I really deserve this title.

So what does it mean for priests to be called Father? Here are some excerpts from chapter eight "Celibacy & Ministry" of my second book that will be published soon entitled: The Ministerial Priesthood in a Church Renewed":

" Celibacy is not just a question of remaining unmarried or avoiding women and children.  It is not an end in itself.  It is a gift that is to be used to attain an end - which is service to the kingdom of God.  It becomes meaningless if it does not express the priest’s total dedication and commitment and his availability to God and to others. It is empty if it does not witness to the universality of God's love.

"Instead of committing himself totally to a woman, the priest commits himself totally to God and his Church. Instead of raising a particular family (which is the domestic church), the priest forms a larger family – the spiritual family that is the Church, the Christian community – the parish which is a network of  Basic Ecclesial Communities. Instead of being a biological father to a few children, he becomes the spiritual father to the flock that the Lord has entrusted to his care. That is why he is often addressed as “Father.”

Instead of forming a family, the celibate priest forms and leads the Christian community. He fosters communion - loving union, sharing and caring - not in a particular family and home but in a broader and bigger family and home. The love and care of the priest is not exclusively focused on a wife and children but for the Church, the Christian community to which he has dedicated his entire life.  He is freed from dealing with domestic responsibilities and problems so that he can deal with bigger responsibilities and problems of his flock. Celibacy allows the priest to be more available to his flock without worrying about his own family. With an undivided heart and mind the priest is able to serve God and his flock. Thus the spiritual fatherhood of the priest is highlighted. This is what Vatican II referred to as “paternity in Christ.” The fatherhood of the priest is fulfilled not just in forming and building up the family of God that is the local Church and Christian community.  It is also manifested as the newly baptized are born anew through water and Spirit incorporated into the Family of God. This fatherhood is expressed as the priest facilitates the members grow and mature in faith and actively participate in the mission they have received from Christ thru baptism and empowered by the gift of the Spirit in confirmation.

The fatherhood of the priest is also expressed as he provides for the spiritual nourishment of the family of God by preaching the Word of God and consecrating the bread and wine as body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist . He does not only provide for the spiritual hunger of the members. By his social ministry the priest provides for the temporal needs of the flock - through programs and projects that alleviate their poverty and bring about justice, peace and development. Thus, through the celibate priest's ministry of pastoral leadership and communion, through his prophetic and sacramental ministry, through his social ministry as well as his ministry to the poor, the priest's fatherhood is fully manifested.

The relationship between the priest and the Christian community is not only a paternal one. It can also be seen in spousal terms. The priest is configured to Christ who loves the Church as a groom loves his bride. In an analogical sense, the priest -  alter christus - is betrothed to the Church.  He is wedded to the Church - totally committed to her and remaining faithful to her for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, unto death and beyond death, forever and ever.

When he is not available to the people, to his parishioners, to the poor, when he does not have time for encounter with God in prayer, a priest's celibacy becomes empty and meaningless. His life is characterized by perpetual boredom and loneliness making him more vulnerable to the “temptations of the flesh.” When celibacy is not intimately connected to ministry and mission, when it does not further the realization of the kingdom of God, it turns the priest into an irresponsible bachelor. Instead of being an authentic sign of selfless dedication to the kingdom it becomes a sign of selfishness and self-indulgence.

Committing oneself to a celibate way of life and remaining faithful to one’s promise is the ultimate self-sacrifice that a man can make. He is foregoing something that is beautiful and good that fulfills his deepest desires and needs and that can bring fulfillment to his manhood – the intimate love with a woman expressed in the sexual act and the fruit of that love – the offspring that will guarantee his posterity.  Celibacy is an act of consecration, of self-oblation and total self-giving to Something and Someone greater than himself – to the Transcendent reality that is God and his kingdom. It is indeed a witness to the reality and priority of God. This is at the heart of what it means to be a priest.

A priest must always remember that he made a sacred vow to the Lord – a promise and commitment to dedicate his whole life to him and his Kingdom and to forego marriage and family so that he can raise and build up the spiritual family of God that is the Church. It is a promise that he has to constantly keep everyday for the rest of his life.

Below is a poem I wrote on the occasion of my silver jubilee of ordination:

Silver Jubilee

 Twenty-five years ago
when my hair was thick and wavy,
and my tummy was firm and flat,.
I stood before the altar
with no one by my side.

I made a promise to the Lord
to be a priest forever
for better or for worse, in sickness and in health
until I receive the crown he promised.

Twenty-five years later
with no hair on my head 
and an expanding waistline
I remain a faithful priest

I kept my promise all these years.
I slept alone and loved the Lord and  the people – especially the poor-
 with all my heart and soul.
I preached the good news of the kingdom and worked for justice and peace.
I formed not my own family, but the family of God – the Christian community.

Twenty-five years or more from now
when not a single hair will grow on my head
and I continue to look like a prisoner on death row,
or better still the Dalai Lama,
when my tummy will be wider than my chest
when I can no longer bike
and a nurse (I hope a pretty one) will push my wheel-chair
I will remain a faithful priest
I will keep my promise
until I will come face to face  with the One I gave  my all.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Vigilant Collaboration

The greatest promise the Church can offer any government is vigilant collaboration, and that offer we  make now. We will urge our people to work with the government for the good of all, and we shall continue to be vigilant so that ever so often we may speak out to teach and to prophesy, to admonish and to correct – for  this is our vocation..”

This last paragraph of the CBCP post-election statement signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas sums up the stance of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis the administration of the presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte.

“Vigilant Collaboration” This is how the Church as an institution will engage with the Duterte  government for the next six years.

There are two elements in this stance: (1) collaboration - working with the government for the good of all. (2) vigilance -  to speak out, to teach, to admonish or in other words, to be prophetic.

The Church will urge  her members and the leaders to work for the common good. There are specific areas  relating to the common good that the Church should support and collaborate with the government:  the economic field – this means working together in addressing the economic needs of the citizens,  especially the poor. The contribution of the Church is to continue its work of charity and poverty-alleviation program. The Church, as part of civil society, should also work with the government in addressing the problem of the environment and the consequent climate change.

The prospects for the continuation and conclusion of the peace process is very bright under the Duterte presidency.  Thus, the Church should fully support the peace process  between the government and the NDF that will lead to a peace agreement that will address  the roots of the insurgency. The Church should also support the full implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF – especially the BBL.

The Church should also express her support of  the government’s campaign against corruption and criminality.  The Church’s main contribution here is in the area of moral reformation that should underpin the government’s drive.  Without a change of heart, without moral conversion, the campaign against corruption and criminality cannot be sustainable.

While working with the government in pursuit of the common good, the Church will always remain vigilant and exercise her prophetic vocation.

This requires exercising her role as a conscience of society – supporting what is right and good and exposing and denouncing what is wrong and evil.

The primary area of vigilance is that of  the respect for human rights – especially the right to life and due process. The Church will constantly monitor and denounce any abuse and violation of human rights – especially extrajudicial killings.  This can be carried out through the social action programs and ministries. The Church will also oppose any attempt to revive death penalty. This is a potential area of conflict and tension between the Church and the Government.

Another  potential area of  conflict is in the implementation of the RH law. While the Church supports responsible parenthood and natural family planning methods, the Church opposes the neo-Malthusian paradigm promoted by the government which instead of looking at its growing population as human resource regards overpopulation as the cause of poverty  and prescribes aggressive population control through the use of medically harmful methods or that could induce abortion.

Another area of vigilance is the Duterte administration’s support for the construction of coal-fired power plants as solution to the energy problem.  This is deadly to the health of the people and contribute  to global warming. Coal-fired power plants are sustained by the dirtiest form of mining which contribute to the poisoning of the environment.

The Church will continue to promote a consistent ethic of life and reject policies that promote the culture of death.

The Church will also be vigilant against any effort to impose anti-democratic and autocratic forms of governance.

In carrying out her prophetic vocation, the Church should avoid working with any elements in society that seek to oust the present adminstration through extra-legal or undemocratic means. Thus, the Church should not support and should reject coup attempts by the military or armed power grab by any group - whether from the Right or the Left.

This vigilant collaboration should be practiced at all levels – national, regional, diocesan, parish and the Basic Ecclesial Communities.