(Continuation from last week)
Question: What is the reaction of the Bishops to ridicule that our faith is nonsense? Or to blaspheming God as stupid?
Answer: The Bishops quote St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “The stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom” (See 1 Cor.1:25). We are but weak and lowly servants of the Lord. We have no right to be arrogant. Our strength comes from ourselves, but from the Lord. Thus, we cannot boast of anything before the Lord.
To those in this world who boast of their own wisdom, those who arrogantly regard themselves as wise in their own estimation and the Christian faith as nonsense, those who blaspheme our God as stupid, St. Paul’s words are to the point: “For the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor 1:25) And to those who ridicule our faith, we say with St. Paul, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.”(1 Cor 1:27-29).
Question: What is the advise of the Bishops to those who have been hurt by the insults hurled against our Faith; against the Pope, Bishops, Priests, and other Church leaders?
Answer: The Bishops remind us of Jesus’ admonition to his disciples in the Gospel of Luke 6:27-29. The way of Jesus is the way of Peace and Non-Violence; the way of Mercy and Forgiveness. This is certainly a difficult path. Pope Francis says: ‘Patience, Humility and Meekness’ are signs of holiness (See Gaudete et Exsultate).
THE WAY OF JESUS
We wish to remind those who have been angered by the insulting statements of people in authority; remember what the Lord had taught his disciples. He said, “But to you who hear I say… bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well…” (Lk 6:27-29). Vengeance is never the way of Christ. It is not the way of Jesus to return evil for evil; no, we can conquer evil only with good (Rom 12:21). Up to the last moment of his breath, he had nothing but words of mercy towards his tormentors, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Question: What about the accusation that the Church is part of a destabilization plot against the government?
Answer: The Bishops categorically deny such a claim. And clearly states that the Church’s mission is not the establishment of an earthly kingdom but the Kingdom of God. If in the past, the Church has been lured to political ambitions, the Bishops “bow in shame and say ‘never again’.” The Church proclaims a God who is not distant nor detached. We proclaim a God who accepted the human condition; a merciful and compassionate God.
There are those who accuse us of getting involved in political moves to destabilize the government. Nothing can be farthest from the truth. Our concern is never the establishment of any earthly kingdoms. Worldly kingdoms come and go. We work only for God’s kingdom which is beyond this world — so that we can start learning to live life “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). For the times in our history when we fell into the temptation of working for political power, we can only bow in shame and say, never again! We do not proclaim a false image of God, such as one who is just watching from heaven like a ruthless deity who threatens us of damnation in hell all the time. Ours is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ — the God who saves, a God “rich in mercy and compassion”, a God involved in our history, a God who — for love of us — emptied himself totally, and “became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Question: What is the estimation of the Bishops of the government?
Answer: The Bishops make it clear that they are not political leaders nor are they political opponents of the government; that Church respects the democratically elected government official, with the expectation that official do not contradict basic spiritual and moral principles. When the Church speaks, it does not do so from a political or ideological standpoint, but from the standpoint of Faith, Morals and Social Justice. In its two thousand year history, the Church has co-existed with different forms of government all throughout the world. The Church is a partner of government in seeking the common good. But such collaboration can also be ‘critical’ to distinguish the difference in terms of ultimate goals.
CHURCH AND GOVERNMENT
The Church respects the political authority, especially of democratically-elected government officials, as long as they do not contradict the basic spiritual and moral principles we hold dear, such as respect for the sacredness of life, the integrity of creation, and the inherent dignity of the human person. We are not political leaders, and certainly not political opponents of government. The Church has, throughout history, coexisted with countless forms of government. The Church has always been and will always be a partner of government (especially in the LGUs and barangays) in countless endeavours for the common good, especially in addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged sectors of society. Sometimes we qualify the collaboration as “critical”, mainly to distinguish our differences in terms of ultimate goals, even as we partner in some shared endeavours. Needless to say, on some specific issues, collaboration might not be possible because of our spiritual and moral beliefs, which we persistently propose, but never impose on the unwilling. In such instances, we can only invoke our right to conscientious objection. We do recognise the constitutional provision of the separation of church and state, mainly in the sense of distinction of roles in society. When we speak out on certain issues, it is always from the perspective of faith and morals, especially the principles of social justice, never with any political or ideological agenda in mind.
Question: What do the Bishops say about the transgressions and scandals attributed to the Church and its ministers?
Answer: The Bishops humbly accept the imperfection of the members of the Church, and the need for conversion; and that they take accountability for their actions and the duty to correct them. e Church does not justify the weaknesses of her ministers on the basis of human condition. But seeks conversion as Jesus came for this. The Church shares the prayer of St. Paul. Even the Pope, in his motto acknowledged this: ‘Miserando et Eligendo’ means: ‘wretched but chosen.’
CHURCH OF SINNERS, CALLED TO HOLINESS
We admit humbly that we are a Church made of members who are “wretched but chosen” (Miserando atque Eligendo, Pope Francis’ episcopal motto). We are a Church of sinners called to conversion and holiness at the same time. We bow in shame when we hear of abuses being committed by some of our fellow Church leaders — especially those ordained to “act in the person of Christ”. We hold ourselves accountable for their actions, and accept our duty to correct them — as duly mandated by our own higher authorities in the universal Church. We humbly admit that we have many weaknesses and shortcomings, human as we are. We have no reason to justify our weaknesses on the basis of our participation in the human condition, because we profess faith in the God who embraced the human condition, precisely to set a new template of humanity in his son Jesus Christ. We draw a lot of strength from St. Paul, who desperately begged the Lord to remove his weakness but only got these words as assurance, “My grace is enough for you; for in weakness power reaches perfection. It is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9).
Question: What do the Bishops ask?
Answer: The Bishops invites the faithful to join them in prayer and acts of penance, by fasting, and almsgiving.
At the beginning of the letter, the Bishops said: ‘Our enemies in this world are not fellow human beings, not “flesh and blood” (Eph 6:12). We do not fight our battles with guns and bullets.’ They have highlighted the spiritual nature of our battles. Thus, the Bishops ask us to join them in begging the ‘spiritual power’, the power that comes from above, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The spiritual nature of our battles and the call to take stock of the spiritual power –is a very important point that should not be missed. In our reading, the Pastoral Exhortation is not simply to make a statement, but to call us to unity in faith, prayer, action and to lead us to a deeper understanding of the Beatitudes. They entrust us to Mary, the Lady of Mt. Carmel, Our Mother –that she may teach us what the Lord, her Son Jesus, asks of us.
CALL TO PRAYER AND FASTING
On July 16, 2018 on the feast of the Blessed Mother of Mt. Carmel, the mountain associated with the bold challenge of the prophet Elijah, let us spend a day of prayer and penance, invoking God’s mercy and justice on those who have blasphemed God’s Holy Name, those who slander and bear false witness, and those who commit murder or justify murder as a means for fighting criminality in our country. We invite you to join us, your bishops, in three days of fasting, prayer and almsgiving from July 17 to 19, 2018.
We commend you, our dear people of God, to the maternal care of the woman to whom Jesus entrusted his “Beloved Disciple” and said, “Behold your son!” (Jn 19:26) We, for our part, behold her — our mother in faith — with filial love. Mary, mother of the Church, be near to us especially when we tend to despair and run out of the wine of faith, hope and charity (Jn 2:1-11). Teach us to do only what your Son asks of us. And when we lose heart in the face of persecution, may we stand by you at the foot of the cross and regain our strength from the blood and water that flowed from the wounded side of your Beloved Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,
Most Rev. Romulo Valles, DD
Archbishop of Davao
July 9, 2018