Saturday, August 27, 2011


I’ve just de-planed here in Doha, Qatar, after completing the first of three laps in this journey to Pamplona, and now I’m seated comfortably to watch the hours away (actually it’s ten hours) before boarding once again, this time for Madrid. It’s been a nine-hour flight, the rigors of the journey being softened by my sudden and unexpected transfer from the economy to the business class. 

It was the first time I flew business class, and I guess I was so excited to see how it was I nearly left my backpack in Manila (thank God for the ministry of guardian angels). I was about to pass through the gate when I realized I was bringing only my suitcase minus the backpack, which contained my passport, boarding passes, and my Mac. I shudder at the thought that I may have spent nine hours banging my head on the aircraft wall for sheer stupidity. 

Anyway, the business class was really comfortable. You had your own personal space, your entertainment system, and meals were delivered and you had your menu. It was really comfortable, and I eased away the hours watching films. Funny, but the only movies I was really able to finish were Tagalog movies. Perhaps nostalgia had already set in as early as this time. I was laughing at Eugene Domingo’s and AiAi de las Alas’ antics in Ang Tanging Ina Ninyong Lahat and I enjoyed watching Sarah Geronimo and Gerald Anderson in Catch Me I’m Falling. I’ve seen those before but I guess it’s different when you watch them abroad. Meals and snacks were served every now and then and I had coffee as well, which I think I would have to blame for the headache that I’ll have to endure at present. I thinks it’s a migraine headache again. Oh Lord please not here and not now.

Anyway, we soon neared Doha after a while. Had it not been for this return trip to Spain I wouldn’t have known that Doha, Qatar ever existed. But I see that it’s quite a charming place. I’ve never been in a desert land before, but then though Qatar isn’t exactly a desert, I could observe from the plane window that tan and khaki were the dominant colors. Everything is khaki and bright. The temperature is a glaring 40 degrees and the weather is fantastic. The airport has a good system of receiving travelers according to whether passengers have connecting flights or whatever. They’re classified according to the colors of their tickets. Mine is yellow, as do all passengers who have connecting flights.

Anyway, in the meantime I still have a lot of time to while around and explore Doha from within the expanse of its international terminal. This is the first time I’ve ever set foot in the Middle East, and the closest I’ve gotten so far to the Holy Land.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


How Catholic Talibans stormed the CCP
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-08-16

The Catholic Church in our country is so messed up that it cannot even stop its own followers from spewing fire and brimstone.

The internationally respected human rights and communications luminary Florangel Braid said that she was surprised at the language used by the Catholic group protesting the art work “Politeismo.” The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) conducted a forum last August 5 for the artists and the public to discuss the art exhibit. Flor, who is my good friend, is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the CCP, the venue for the exhibit “Kulo” which featured the controversial art work of Mideo Cruz.

“Malaswa! Hindi gawa ng Pilipino, Gawa ng demonyo, (Vulgar! Not the work of a Filipino. It’s the work of the devil)” raved one of them. “If you are a Catholic you can no longer think independently!” asserted another woman identified as a theologian with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). The same woman was quoted by media for ridiculously claiming that the exhibit was intentionally timed to occur at the height of discussions on the RH Bill. In a rally, the Church group and its followers branded artists and members of the CCP as “anti-Christ.” We thought this had ended with the Inquisition.

On August 4, the art work was vandalized and there was an attempt to set fire to the exhibit. A Manny Andrada, identified as an author/businessman, smugly boasted on TV News 5 that he was the culprit and that if he chanced to see the artist, Mideo Cruz, he would maul him and break the wooden phallus that Cruz had attached to the image of Jesus Christ on the artist’s mouth. How very Christian.

What gave him the confidence that he would go unpunished? Like the Overlords of the Inquisition, he probably thinks that it’s okay to vandalize in the name of Christ, that he will be cheered for it and that he knows he has the support of the same rabid group that mounted protests against the RH Bill and now the art work.

Instead of cooling down tempers, foreign and Filipino priests who were present during the forum reportedly stoked further animosity by interjecting comments and interrupting speakers from the artists’ side. How very Christian indeed. Last Friday, a group of priests performed a rare ritual of asking God to “forgive the sinners” — referring to those behind the exhibit. They invited media so it was obviously meant for show.

What’s happening to the leaders of the Catholic faith? We would expect the Catholic clergy to exude an aura of holiness, calm and peace. We’d expect them to vibrate a certain loving kindness, the kind of spiritual energy that does not judge but seeks to understand and establish harmony. We can see these virtues and traits in the Catholic Focolare Movement that lives the gospel of love and interfaith harmony but we rarely see this in the CBCP and its rabid right-wing followers.

Our Church hierarchy and its followers claim to represent the nation’s 80 percent Catholics — presumably based on baptism numbers, which does not mean practice. Naturally, they lure grandstanding politicos to support them and when the issue happens to resonate in media, it becomes a formula for lynching.
However, the myth of the Catholic influence stops there. Surveys have shown that the Catholic followers do not necessarily toe the Church line. The latest SWS survey on people’s opinion about the RH Bill and family planning reveals a whopping 82 percent favoring freedom of choice in selecting method of birth control.

No wonder the credibility of the Catholic Church hierarchy among its own flock had plummeted. There are Catholics today who nurture their faith by independently using their own spiritual discernment or have totally shifted to another faith and belief system.

While other Catholic countries, including Italy, have adapted to the times, the Philippines remains the only predominantly Catholic country in the world that does not allow divorce. When asked for a reaction, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz beamed with pride, insinuating that the Philippines is the only country that stood on moral ground. That demonstrates the “I can’t be wrong” attitude of the Overlords of the Inquisition and that this Philippine Catholic Church doesn’t intend to change or adapt to the times.

There is no divorce in our country but the rich can always get a marriage annulment. It is not only hypocrisy; it is also anti-poor and oppressive. Sometimes, it’s hard not to wonder if all the duplicity and hypocrisy in our system is a result of the friar — conquistador tradition, reminiscent of Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere.

While our nation cries for justice for victims of crimes and abuses and while we all need to address the gnawing gaps in wealth and education, these “holy and venerable champion and defenders of our morals” have opted to harass the CCP board for allegedly betraying public trust and the artists for being what they consider anti-Christ.

We’re witnessing the terrifying emergence of a Catholic Taliban who threatens to destroy the very foundations of our Christian morality. Read about the Inquisition and ask yourself if our lives will improve with a revival of that dark chapter of Catholic Church history.

The other day I was scrounging for news in one major daily when I stumbled upon this article by one of the columnists in its opinion section. What grabbed my attention was the word “Catholic” that figured prominently in the headline. You know nowadays I can’t seem to see the word without a diatribe attached to it. I’m generalizing of course, but nowadays (as always though) it’s not rare to come across a diatribe against the Catholic Church (funny, but when I looked up the meaning of the word “diatribe” in the dictionary application of my Mac the example was exactly this: a diatribe against the Roman Catholic Church). No, I don’t wish to address the person who wrote it I believe he is in his rights but the opinion article was really acerbic as to be ticklish. I was aching to supply an apology that would run counter to it. It’s really helpful to keep the debate to the issues and not to the persons themselves (though this is evidently very difficult, basing on my own experience). I always like to believe that ad hominem arguments are always the refuge of the cowardly and those who are far from grasping the essential truth of the argument, but then I digress…

The opening salvo afforded by the author gives the reader and inkling of the inquisition that would soon come. But anyway, that’s typical of all writers who come up with write-ups unsympathetic with the Church, so I’m not surprised with it. First you destroy the credibility of the Church and then you usher your points of contention. Give the image and the idea of an institution that is so messed up, so rotten so as to leave it as helpless carrion for the vultures, and it is form this point that the vultures swoop down to take their prey.

But is the Church so messed up? Perhaps it would really help to look elsewhere as well to see the whole picture. What “outsiders” tend to see are merely the ugly marks left by the sins of her individual children. I remember reading one novel of Andrew Greeley when I was in college and I was struck by the remark of one of the novel’s protagonists, an agnostic who later converted to the Catholic faith in the story who exclaimed to another protagonist, Bishop Ryan Murphy, saying “I love your Church, its as pure as a virgin and as slutty as a whore at the same time”. Not very edifying words, I know and I beg to be excused to saying something offensive to pious ears, but it presents the reality of a Church who is ever pure and holy but whose vesture is stained and torn by the many failings and sins of her children at the same time. Despite of the scandals and imperfections that surely abound within her, especially among the clergy and the hierarchy, people continue to choose to be reborn into the Church. It still remains vital and vibrant and young. As I write, thousands of youth from all over the world eagerly await the arrival of the Holy Father in Madrid for the World Youth Day (which I repeat is NOT a Catholic Woodstock, nor shall it ever be). The Church is young, as Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed in his homily upon inaugurating his ministry more than six years ago. It may be messed up, but it’s not going down. Far from it.

I’ve already given my opinion and thoughts concerning the offensive CCP exhibit in the earlier post, that’s why I would just reiterate that I consider it understandable that Catholics would swoop down upon CCP spewing fire and brimstone. Were the artist and the officials of CCP naïve in believing that nobody would be offended in putting up such a lurid show, or were they purposely provoking people with that while planning to put on a martyr’s mask later on with which to face the hordes that would descend upon them? Is it so unnatural to be so effusive in one’s outrage when somebody tramples upon something which one holds to be sacred. Funny nobody seems to react when Muslims explode when the Koran is desecrated.

Yes everybody expects priests to exude an aura of peace, calm and holiness. If priests where to take on the “I” of Jesus Christ then they should be taking after Christ, whose identity they take on by grace of ordination. But does anybody care to remember that when the Son of God saw what people were doing to the Temple what did he do? Smile benignly and pat children’s heads? “15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers…" (Mark, chap. 11). As the resource described it, this is the only episode in the Gospels that we see Jesus using physical force, he who described himself as meek and humble of heart. Yet for all of that meekness, his sacred Heart burned in anger at the desecration done to things that are holy and that evoked the holiness of the God of Israel. What are priests and pastors of the Church to do? Smile placidly and sing Kumbaya? This guy must have been born yesterday. People may have this calm and peaceful perception of the figure of the priest, but many forget—or choose conveniently to not remember—the fact that the priest MUST also be a prophet, and it is part of a prophet’s job description to proclaim the holiness of God and denounce evil. And I would like to add that that piece of whateveryoumaycallit at CCP is not only ugly but positively evil. And pleeeaase don’ use the Focolare as an example of false irenecism because I know they’re better than that. At least they have a good grasp of what’s right and what’s wrong.

That which follows head-on is the inevitable harangue of the row about the RH bill, about how the Catholic Church is loosing influence over its members and how the majority of Catholics don’t agree with Church teachings on contraception and how others are turning to other ‘sources’ to ‘nourish’ their “Catholic” faith yiddy yadda yiddy yadda… this is basically another jab at the credibility of the Church and her place and significance in forming the moral conscience of society. But then again, the Church isn’t a democracy (and thank God); many secular minds somehow tend to see reality and all of it through the bifocals of democracy. Is heaven a democracy? Is hell? I’m not sure of the former, but perhaps for the latter I could say something. The Church’s credibility, its teaching authority, its power to govern, to loose and to bind does not come from the voices of the people below, rather, it comes from the Word above…it’s really hard for many people to get that, most of the time, especially in issues like this.

Here’s another thing. Another log floating in the wave of anti-Catholic bias is how anti-catholics always place progress with being Catholic. It always this equation: Catholic progress, change. Notwithstanding the fact that change doesn’t always lead to progress, that other so-called Catholic nations have favored divorce or abortion and the Philippines has not is another rock of choice which unsympathetic crowds would like to break Church windows with. Italy, Spain, Malta weren’t working on their Catholic faith when they said “yes” to these things. Rather they were denying it. Italy certainly wasn’t Catholic when she said yes to the pill and the bill. Fidelity to tradition, fidelity to something that was entrusted to her by the Lord is another “something” which her detractors can understand.

And finally we come to the pièce de resistance. The author depreciatively labels the people who wished to stand up for their faith “Talibans”, after a fundamentalist Muslim movement whose militia took control of much of Afghanistan from early 1995, and from 1996 took Kabul and set up a radical Islamic state. What these people were doing was basically facing up to a subtle tyranny that is creeping up in society these days, the tyranny of secularism. Now that’s the Taliban for you: a society where no one can speak of the rights of God and of the morality of virtue. Again, it’s funny that activists wouldn’t dare flash Damaso signs in mosques or use Korans in exhibits, but don’t hesitate for a second to come barraging into churches or use iconography that’s sacred and mutilate it. Is it perhaps because many people think that it’s easy and okay to bully Catholics and their faith? I’m wondering out aloud if whether the cry “Catholic Taliban!” is a whimper in front of the fact that Catholics don’t choose to be bullied anymore. In the Gospel the Lord told his disciples to turn the other cheek. It’s a good thing that He gave us only two. Perhaps this is the time that Catholics should really start acting like Catholics. The Church’s detractors—whether in the government, in the media, in intellectual circles—count on one thing to make themselves heard: those which I would fancily like to call ensaymada Catholics; you know those soft, white , sweet and fluffy rolls lavishly topped with cheese and everything else that would likely give rise to your stored fats in the beltline area. They’re full of air, sugar and nothing else. For as long as society is populated by Catholics who are okay with everything, even though it goes against their Catholic conscience and morality; Catholics who don’t even know much about their faith than just going to Mass on Sundays and not even making a good thing out of it, these voices will always be taunting us. It’s a good thing that there are a people who are standing up for what they believe in, people who would like to wreck this Catholic chair over people’s heads and wake them up, so to speak. 

By the way, in the final paragraph of the article above, what morality is the author blabbering about?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Maria in Coelo assumpta est...

In this regard I would like to reflect on an aspect of the affirmation of the dogma where assumption into heavenly glory is mentioned. All of us today are well aware that by the term "Heaven" we are not referring to somewhere in the universe, to a star or such like; no. We mean something far greater and far more difficult to define with our limited human conceptions. With this term "Heaven" we wish to say that God, the God who made himself close to us, does not abandon us in or after death but keeps a place for us and gives us eternity. We mean that in God there is room for us. To understand this reality a little better let us look at our own lives. We all experience that when people die they continue to exist, in a certain way, in the memory and heart of those who knew and loved them. We might say that a part of the person lives on in them but it resembles a "shadow" because this survival in the heart of their loved ones is destined to end. God, on the contrary, never passes away and we all exist by virtue of his love. We exist because he loves us, because he conceived of us and called us to life. We exist in God's thoughts and in God's love. We exist in the whole of our reality, not only in our "shadow". Our serenity, our hope and our peace are based precisely on this: in God, in his thoughts and in his love, it is not merely a "shadow" of ourselves that survives but rather we are preserved and ushered into eternity with the whole of our being in him, in his creator love. It is his Love that triumphs over death and gives us eternity and it is this love that we call "Heaven": God is so great that he also makes room for us. And Jesus the man, who at the same time is God, is the guarantee for us that the being-man and the being-God can exist and live, the one within the other, for eternity. 
Pope Benedict XVI
August 15, 2010

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

when is art ART?

This is basically one question which I make as I plow through the two major dailies of the country, both which convey the news that Mideo Cruz’ controversial work entitled “Politeismo” had been taken down by CCP officials. This was part of the art exhibit named “Kulo” which a group of artists from the University of Sto. Tomas organized on the occasion of the four hundred years of the first-ever established university of pontifical character in the Far East. Just a clarification, it’s not officially sponsored by the UST, one of the foremost Catholic institutions of learning in the islands (this position was later made clear by the same establishment when it disowned the artist and his work). The exhibit was also made in honor of the 150th anniversary of the José Rizal’s birth (though the Rizalistas have declared that they didn’t have anything to do with the exhibit. Ever since the work had been put on display, and most especially after it was covered by the TV Patrol in the evening news, not so much public appreciation as public outrage has been heaped upon it, making the exhibit worthy of its name, as “Kulo” means “to boil or to reach a boiling point” in Tagalog, and this has lead many sentiments to boil over. The reaction is understandable, if not predictable, as its images present traditional Christian icons of Jesus Christ and the Saints and other Christian symbols equipped with condoms and phalluses, or masquerading with Mickey Mouse masks. In the face of public outrage, especially coming from Catholics and other Christian denominations, CCP officials and perhaps understandably the curators of the exhibit have these demonstrations as products of “moral hysteria” and “religious myopia”.

But I do think (along with other people with common sense, which, as the cliché says, is not so common nowadays) that the reason for the outrage is neither really complicated nor difficult to comprehend.  Mideo Cruz the artist, working under artisitic license and giving free reign to his artistic expression, has shown brutal callousness and disdain to icons which was very dear to a lot o people’s religious beliefs and sentiments. Well, just to cut it down to the core, he has done what no civilized and educated person would ever consider doing. Many people likewise had defended the artist and his work, and they had expressed their reasons for their solidarity, which would span from fundamentalist dogmaticisms declaring that the Catholic practice of the veneration of images as idolatrous to reasons stating that contemporary art is in the eye of the beholder or of the artist or whoever, and that all artistic expressions, for as long as they come form the artist himself, should be respected since they come from him, however insulting they may be to others. It’s an understatement that liberals, anticlericals and freethinkers are having a fiesta over this hullabaloo, waving the tattered flag of “freedom of expression” and decrying the “tyranny of censorship” as always, while trying to convince the public of their martyred status.

Anyway, going back to my rant, the reason is very simple: who among us would be very happy to see a picture of our mother with a condom attached to her ears as earings or a  statue of our grandfather drapped with a condom? Or would you feel drawn to the heights of artistic ecstasy when you see a picture of yourself with a penis for a nose? Get real. To say that the work is blasphemous and morally offensive is an understatement, something that doesn’t need to be said as it is so evident. I’m glad the CCP officials have ceded to public pressure and have withdrawn the exhibit.

So I was thinking: what is art, especially considering the brouhaha which a bunch of mutilated images of Christ and the saints have caused? I think that it’s the expression of the nobility of the nobility of the human soul. It is the plastification of man’s highest and noblest aspirations, and man’s genius in showing this also shows the imprint of the Creator’s hand in his soul. This is the reason why I really believe that it’s really impossible for man to be an artist and yet not believe in God, to be an agnostic or, as what many people trying to appear smart at best would say, atheist. Man could come up with something ugly, repulsive and utterly insulting, such as Cruz’s work, which is something that leads me to conclude that not everything that comes from man as an expression could be considered “artistic”, no matter how much he would wish to call it as such. Sorry  guys, but the expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, whoever said it, was not meant to be an absolute statement. There is such a thing as an objective beauty, one that is of a metaphysical nature, one that the human intellect graps and that which becomes the object of the will, which will seek after it. One doesn’t have to be a trained and sophisticated artist to see how cute a baby is or appreciate the beauty of a sunset. On the other hand, you don’t need to study at UST to know that one thing is a piece of crap when you see it. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Paulus P.P. VI

I originally planned to post this entry on the anniversary of his death (which occurred thirty-three years ago). But then again, as they say, it's better late than never.

Here's to a figure much maligned by the conservatives and the rabidly traditionalist. Of all the Roman Pontiffs of the 20th century, I think that he's the most maligned. A lot of people have said a lot of things about this man. I say that, despite of how the Council turned out, despite of the evident misunderstanding and misinterpretations made of Second Vatican Council (misinterpretations which were not his fault), this was a very holy man. I hope he gets beatified someday, and I hope to see myself seated next to a die-hard lefevrist or a shrewish traditionalist just for the fun of seeing their anguished expression watching their nemesis glorified to the altars...just because you pray to God in Latin doesn't mean your holier than the others.

Thanks to the blog Whispers In The Loggia, I'm offering the Angelus message which Pope Paul was supposed to deliver on August 6, 1978, something which he never did.

“Dearest Sons and Daughters,
The Transfiguration of the Lord, recalled in today's liturgy,shines a dazzling light into our daily lives and calls us to remember the immortal destiny it foreshadows.

For an instant on the summit of Tabor, Christ unveils the splendor of his divinity, manifesting to his chosen witnesses what he really is: the Son of God, "the radiance of the glory of the Father and the imprint of his substance"; but he also makes visible the transcendent destiny of our human nature, which he took on to save us as something likewise destined, because it is redeemed by his sacrifice of irrevocable love, that we too might participate in fullness of life in the "fellowship of the saints in light." That body, transfigured before the astonished eyes of the apostles, is the body of Christ our brother, but it's also that of our body called to glory; the light which floods inside of it is and will be our inheritance and our splendor. We are called to share that glory because we are "partakers of the divine nature." An incomparable lot awaits us if we have honored our Christian vocation: if we have lived in the logical consequences of word and deed what the responsibilities of our Baptism demand of us.

May the ongoing vacation season be to everyone a fruitful reflection on these stupendous realities of our faith…. Yet also this Sunday, we can't forget the many who are suffering in difficult conditions. We need to speak of the unemployed, who strive to provide for the growing needs of their loved ones with adequate work for their skills and abilities; the starving, whose ranks grow daily in dangerous proportions; and all those, in general, who seek to find a fitting accommodation in economic and social terms.

For all these intentions let us fervently lift our prayer, that it might also grow in us an ever greater fraternal solidarity. Mary, our caring and thoughtful mother, give to everyone your gaze and protection.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Legacy of the Saint of Ars

“This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where a man’s happiness lies.”

Today we celebrate and bless the memory and the witness of the man who uttered these words in the simplicity of his parish church from the simplicity of his soul. Of the many things that could be said of the saintly Curé of Ars, perhaps these words could be said to have been his spiritual legacy to the Church: To pray and to love. With these words, Jean Marie Vianney offers us a very good synthesis of the life of Christian life and gives us a sure secret to holiness.

It has been said that great souls are simple ones, and in the simplicity of this great man’s soul prayer was no complicated exercise of the intellect or of the will, but was something as being one with the dearest of his friends. A lot has been said and written about prayer, yet the Curé has given the simplest and most profound definitions of this essential exercise: it is nothing else but union with God. “When one has a heart that is pure and united with God, he is given a kind of serenity and sweetness that makes him ecstatic, a light that surrounds him with marvelous brightness. In this intimate union, God and the soul are fused together like two bits of wax that no one can ever pull apart. This union of God with a tiny creature is a lovely thing. It is a happiness beyond understanding”.

This close union with God was always evident in his life, and it marked the very rhythm of his daily routine, which was always new while remaining substantially the same. This conversation with God was the thread which connected the various acts of his priestly life together, making them into a unified whole. From rising very early in the morning until retiring to his bed after the end of a very long day in order to give “his cadaver” (as he fondly called his slight frame) some hours of much needed rest, he would be constantly recollected, very much aware of the presence of his Lord in everything that he did, and thus enabling him to offer and commend everything to God, and to ask for the graces that he much needed in fulfilling his priestly office. This is the grace of St. John’s priestly witness; his example teaches us all—to us priests most especially—about the primacy of prayer in the life of everyone who wishes to follow in the footsteps of the Lord and aspire to holiness in the ordinariness of their daily life. He also teaches us another important component to prayer without which it cannot be sustained and in consequence cannot be truly fruitful: the component of generosity towards the Lord whom we have always before us: How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for. And yet, whenever we go to any human being, we know well enough why we go. And still worse, there are some who seem to speak to God like this: “I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.” I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive everything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart.

The fruit of this conversation which the parish priest of Ars could be seen in his energy to evangelize his small, laid-back country parish. This is what “to love” means primarily for the Christian: to heed the mandate of the Lord to spread the Gospel, and to work so that in loving God, others may learn to love Him as well. When, as a newly-appointed pastor of Ars, he asked a farm boy the direction needed for him to arrive at his assignment, and after having obtained them, he said to the boy: “Now that you have shown me the path to Ars, I will show you the way to Heaven!”. It was for this that the saint labored long and hard for forty years, the conversion of his parish. This was something that he had worked hard for, prayed for unceasingly—often with tears—and obtained, not only for his parish, but even beyond its bounds, to France and the world. One of the fruits of prayer that is sincere, genuine and sustained is precisely the zeal for souls. To paraphrase his words, prayer stretches the heart and makes it capable of containing God, but it also makes it capable of containing the whole world in its embrace, and makes it its sole mission to bring everything to Christ.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

CONSCIENCE VERSUS AUTHORITY? a second look at a prophetic editorial

I was perusing in the library of the St. John the Evangelist School of Theology (SJEST) here in Palo (owing to the time in abundance that I have in my hands) when I came across this editorial from the January 1969 issue of the Boletin Eclesiatico de Filipinas, which is an official interdiocesan publication made monthly by the University of Sto. Tomas. 1969 was a year characterized by a lot of social upheaval in various parts of the world. Within the Catholic Church this was very true, it being the year after the publication of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's landmark Encyclical on the Regulation of Births, which,in a nutshell, pronounced the use of contraceptives as morally inadmissible. Its publication raised up a frenzy of reactions all around the world. It touched off a lot of issues as well, one of which was the role of authority and conscience. Forty two years later virtually the same issues is resurrected, at least in the Philippines, due to the Reproductive Health bill debates.

In my earlier rant I had commented on Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago's speech which mentioned her opinion that there shouod be a recognition of the primacy of the individual conscience in Catholic theology (or whatever she meant by that). With relation to this, I would like to share and post this very interesting editorial courtesy of the Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas, January 1969 issue, which proved to be prophetic, forty-two years since it was published (the words boldly emphasized are mine):

The Pill controversy is now entering a new phase and unearthing an old issue: the right of conscience against the claims of authority. We are made to watch a seemingly purely conceptual bout, yet so real that we feel nothing less than that our salvation is at stake. 
This development would have been rather interesting, even welcomed, were it not for a dangerous assumption lurking behind this dramatic picture. It is the assumption that conscience and authority are conflicting notions, so that one can only hope to flourish and prosper at the expense of the other.
Here again, as in so many cases, the real culprit is theological imprecision. Conscience and authority are too delicate to be treated lightly. The location involved, its limits, and conditions must be stated always with sufficient precision, sincerity and objectivity.
 It is theologically incorrect to take authority as always devoid of love, obsessed with power and oblivious of the human dignity. For authority is service, and service is the budding forth of love. Neither is it acceptable to view conscience as merely the right of thinking, speaking, writing and acting according to one’s judgment or humour, without any thought or regard to the rights of God nor the duty to Him.  Both understanding will naturally lead to the unfortunate conclusion e have mentioned above.
We are aware that there are those who would tell us that the unsteady conscience seeks a sturdy norm. But yet, in the same breath, they deny the existence of such a norm, telling us that man must seek it bravely with the torment of his conscience, learning to live with the darkness on every side. This is, we believe, an unpardonable affront to the wisdom and mercy of God.
God did not and does not leave man to himself but has entered history through the Word which is “the true light that enlightens all men” (John 1:8). The Word speaks to us now and enlightens us through the Church’s doctrinal and jurisdictional authority.
In this perspective, conscience and authority are not conflicting notions: within the divine ecclesial plan, each has its own place and function. Conscience is our awareness of the moral imperatives in life towards truth and virtue, our fellowmen and our God. Meanwhile, religious authority is the sufficient norm of our conscience, seeking not only our religious welfare here on earth, but also our ultimate salvation hereafter.
 If then we wish to find our bearing during this second phase of the Pill controversy we should avoid opposing one to the other. It is not by contrapositing conscience against authority that we can resolve the nagging moral problems of our times. No amount of discussion premised on this supposed conflict will lead us to truth and virtue. 
It is only when we take them as two friendly inseparable guides, distinct but complementary, can we ever hope to find our way through the ever increasing confusions regarding the Pill controversy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Miriam Defensor-Santiago as Theologian and I rant...

Miriam to Church: Help poor, back RH 
By Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) Updated August 02, 2011 12:00

MANILA, Philippines - The Catholic Church must aid in abolishing injustice, particularly to the poor, and opposing the reproductive health (RH) bill would go against this objective, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said yesterday.
In her sponsorship speech on Senate Bill 2865 or the RH bill, Santiago cited the principles of liberation theology, which revolve around the theory that the message of Jesus Christ is “above all a call to struggle against the social forces of oppression.”
“I respectfully submit that in the Philippines, the Church must take a clear stand against social injustice. In all humility, I dare to echo the call of liberation theology: the first step in abolishing injustice is to recognize how much the Church itself is tied to the unjust system that oppresses the very poor. RH is available to the rich, why should it not be made available to the very poor?” she said.
Santiago, who took up postgraduate studies at the Maryhill School of Theology, explained that liberation theology originated from Latin America where liberation from social, political and economic oppression was seen as “an anticipation of eschatological salvation.”
It is part of progressive theology where the Church is seen as a fellowship of spiritual communities held together in essentials by their recognition of papal primacy as opposed to traditional theology, which sees the Church as a super state governed by an absolute monarch whose aim is maximum amount of conformity.
Santiago argued that progressive Catholics and even Filipino Catholics are no longer willing to obey the Church blindly, and they support the RH bill.
She cited the October 2008 survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), which showed that 71 percent of Filipinos were in favor of an RH bill.
In October last year, Pulse Asia reported that 69 percent of Filipinos were still in favor of the RH bill.
Santiago maintained that the controversy over the RH bill was brought about by the encyclical Humanae Vitae issued by Pope Paul VI, which condemned the use of artificial methods of contraception, including the pill.
An encyclical is a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Catholic Church.
“With authority as the central issue, the Church reached a state of extreme tension when Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae. Notably, the Pope did not act collegially with the bishops in issuing his encyclical,” Santiago said.
She pointed out that the encyclical was the result of a Special Papal Commission that submitted a majority and minority report, the first of which proposed that contraception should no longer be condemned.
The minority report, on the other hand, urged the Pope to continue to condemn contraception.
“Paradoxically, Pope Paul VI decided in favor of the minority view. His unusual decision shook the Catholic world and that is the reason why the Catholics in this country are so intensely divided over the RH bill,” Santiago said.
The sponsorship speech of Santiago was the first of three parts for the RH bill, which she divided into three topics, namely Catholic theology, constitutional and international law, and social economics.
She is set to deliver the rest of her sponsorship speeches in the coming weeks.
Also present at the Senate to support the RH Bill were former health secretary Esperanza Cabral, former Rep. Riza Hontiveros Baraquel, Population Commission Commissioner Ben de Leon, Gemma Cruz-Araneta, and actress Heart Evangelista.

The good senator is commendable in calling out to the Catholic Church in the Philippines to aid in abolishing injustice, particularly with respect to the plight of the poor, something which the Church has been doing for a very long time, and which still continues at present, through its livelihood programs and institutions whose major concern is to help the poor and raise their standard of living. For that she is commendable.

What seems to be below her however is when she begins to dabble in theology, using it to underline her point. Well, Senator Santiago is an accomplished an a respectable legislator, and I wouldn’t begrudge her the fact that in the halls of the senate she’s really good. But she’s no theologian, and shouldn’t be treated as such. In the first place, in wading in the theological and doctrinal arena choosing to speak from the standpoint of liberation theology won’t do her nay good, much less would it earn her any serious sympathizers within the ambit of Catholic theology, for the reason that liberation theology is not soundly Catholic. Any serious student of theology, in dealing with liberation theology, aside from hearing out the likes of Gustavo Gutierrez and other proponents of the said theology, would have had read also the official stand of the Catholic church concerning it, as it is expressed in the Instruction offered by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, headed during that time by the then Cardinal Ratzinger. The document states very clearly, without ambiguity, from the very first sentence to the last, what the Catholic Church views liberation to be: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of freedom and a force for liberation; Liberation is first and foremost liberation from the radical slavery of sin.(Introduction, Instruction on Certain Aspects of “Theology of Liberation”, Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, August 6, 1984). The lady senator is mistaken when she refers to the center of the message of Jesus Christ is above all a struggle to combat the forces of social oppression. But this blunder of hers is not surprising; this was principally the same one committed by proponents of the said liberation “theology”. She is correct, however, in describing it as a theory, because in reality it is: a theory not in consonance with the Gospel truth. This blunder is made all the more understandable due to the fact of how she sees the figure of Christ in relevance of the issue, which is merely that of a revolutionary with whom I could cross opinions, one with whom I could either agree or agree to disagree with, and not as the Lord whose law of love is binding. This pronouncement would make many “progressive” “catholics” sneer, but then this is another point in the issue. In the Church one doesn’t do justice to the Gospel and to Christ the Lord by labeling everyone whether he is conservative or progressive, since this labels ought not to exist in the Church. These are political labels, and the Church is not political (term used not in the way many people would understand). The truth is much simpler: either you’re faithful to Christ and the Gospel which the Church has been commissioned to teach, or you’re not. “Whoever is not with me is against me; does not gather with me scatters” as our Lord himself said (Lk. 11:23).

The liberation that the lady is talking about is not the really the solution to the oppression of the poor that she sees. The fight against the RH bill is precisely the fight against corruption of the most radical kind: moral corruption. The senator is calling out to the Church to do something that she has been doing all along, whether within her ranks, or in society at large. One does not help the poor in blinding them to the truth of things, by giving them a utlilitarian philosophy and morality: it would serve all the more to bury them in their poverty.

Rh advocates are always fond of pointing out statistics showing numbers of Catholics dissenting from Church teaching to legitimize their claims. This again stems from a deep misunderstanding and misconception of what the Church is, one that may be influenced by the democratic political setting that we are in. Though we all know that for now this may be the most suitable system of government that we can have, nevertheless we are all too painfully aware of its many shortcomings and imperfections. Sorry to say, the Church is not democratic, nor is it a democracy. Such has not been the way its holy Founder envisioned it to be. Church teaching is not swayed nor affected by the will of the many, nor of the people, much as the truth is not affected by the winds of opinion wherever they may blow. In the Church, people of God and the mystical body of Christ, the prime statement is not “We the People” but rather “for you alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father”, words which we sing every Sunday in the Gloria at Mass. Funny that “progressive catholics” don’t seem to notice that. In the Church therefore we come not to air out our opinions but rather to listen to the Word of God, to the Truth that liberates, a truth that is as immovable as the Rock upon which it stands. That is why it is no big deal that Pope Paul VI waived the findings of the theological commission set up to study the morality of artificial contraception, primarily because it stood against the truth which the Church had taught and believed in for ages. No, as the lady senator in question above would purport, this was no breach of collegiality (and however the lady might understand it to be, no doubt something akin to the parliamentary process no doubt. This is politicizing the Church all over again, and they are the ones who are telling the Catholic Church to respect the boundaries of Church and State) between the Pope and the bishops of the world. The fact that there was much turmoil especially within the Church over this magisterial acclaration on contraception was understandable: it was the wailing protest of an intantile generation in their puerile unacceptance of authority. Who could not forget the cry of the Spirit of ’69, suspicious of any authority, especially one that comes far and above any other government made by people, in an era when change occurred suspiciously just for the sake of change?

So, basically, whether it be true or not that many Catholics opine favorable towards contraception and the RH bill does not budge the truth one bit. Jesus Christ once likened himself to the stone rejected by the builders, a stone that has become the foundation of a big edifice, upon which anybody would stumble, and upon which anybody whom it would fall upon would be squashed.

The speech delivered by the lady senator Santiago was the first of a triptych. She has considered the bill from the standpoint of Catholic theology which is not actually too Catholic (not to mention that the institute from which she had her postgraduate studies in Theology, which she evidently preens in, is questionable in its orthodoxy and fidelity to true Catholic teaching). Further one she would consider it from constitutional and international law, and from there she would move to economics.
But I really think she shouldn’t be dabbling in Theology as something she could make pronouncements authoritatively. She would do herself a grave injustice if she does so, since all that she could spin would be fictional theology, not one which anybody with a mere baccalaureate decree in Theology could even handle. 

By the way, why does the name of an actress figure among her supporters? as if that could help for a has-been...i don't wish to be uncharitable mind you...

Monday, August 1, 2011


MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Monday revealed one of her greatest fears when she was still commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration.
Santiago, principal sponsor of the reproductive health (RH) bill in the Senate, said she once told reporters that she was not afraid to die especially after receiving death threats when she was still immigration commissioner.
"I am not afraid to die but I'm afraid that there might be no sex after death. I have thought and thought about the matter and have reached the conclusion that yes,  there's sex after death but you cannot feel anything," she said to laughter.
In her RH Bill sponsorship speech, Santiago noted that the Catholic Church is the "only major religion" in the Philippines that opposes the RH bill.
She said the bill, which promotes all forms of family planning including contraceptives, has been endorsed by religious groups such as the Iglesia ni Cristo, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood and the Assembly of Darul Ifta in Muslim Mindanao.
She also opposed the Church's argument that sex's main purpose is for procreation. "Why am I not persuaded by this argument? During sex, couples should only concentrate on having children. They should not concentrate on anything else. You might as well have sex with your eyes closed," she said.
Santiago said gone are the days when the task of the layman was to simply obey the priests who are treated like they belong to a "special caste." She noted that many medical advances were prohibited for a time because they were opposed by the Church.
The senator said the absolute authority of the Catholic Church has grown weaker over the years since the 1968 Humanae Vitae encyclical, which bans Catholics from using artificial contraceptives.
She said the encyclical "made the ordinary Catholic realize that the Church hierarchy does not have all the answers and forced her to think of the role of individual conscience."
Santiago said the Catholic Church should focus on other issues such as poverty and corruption in government.
"I very humbly appeal to Church authorities to exercise strong leadership on moral issues such as war and peace, poverty, corruption in government instead of a non-issue like the RH Act," she said.

Talk about uttering non sequitur phrases that don’t say much but are said to give the impression that the one who said it said uttered something particularly intelligent (you know that there’s-sex-after-death-but-you-won’t-feel-a-thing kind of thing). As one character in one of my favorite novels once retorted, even fools have moments of shining lucidity. I admire the Lady Miriam for her courage and straightforward manner but I just can’t understand her basically most of the time. She’s a lawmaker that stands her ground, very much opinionated and virtually fearless, who knows how to make her point and states it clearly. What makes me fearful of her however is not her fighting spirit but her sudden swings from one point to another. But wait a minute, on second thought she may not be inconsistent after all. Anyway, with her classes at Maryhill she believes she could express her opinions about how the Church should be and how it should conduct itself in this twenty-first century.
People always think that the Church should always go with the flow in everything. The problem is, the Church wasn’t made to go with the flow in the first place. This wasn’t how she was made to be by her Founder. Yes, she may be in the world, but she’s not of the world. This is one thing which many people would find very hard to understand. To state that the Catholic Church is the only major religious group not in favor of a contentious bill such as the Reproductive Health Bill is inconsequential. So what if it’s all alone? It doesn’t make her claim invalid, nor does it dim her teaching of the moral truth that artificial contraception does not fit into the original and essential plan that God had for human sexuality. I’m beginning to think that though the proponents of the bill say that they don’t count on the support of the Catholic Church on this item they’re going to push for it anyway, somehow it makes me suspicious in thinking that they really are into asking it’s support in order to give it legitimacy in the eyes of Catholics, who comprise the great majority of Filipinos, whether they be practicing or not.
Another matter which is found at the heart of the issue (or at least of Lady Miriam’s speech) concerns itself about the ends of the conjugal act. The lady errs when she singles out procreation as if it were the only end of this intimate act between spouses. Maybe she just chose to ignore the other one just for the sake of argument. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is explicit in mentioning that there are two ends of this act, namely, the unitive and the procreative aspects of the single act of the two spouses. In # 2363 it states that “the spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family” (emphasis mine).
During the length of the debates the issue of the Church’s power and clout over the people has always been brought up most especially by those who want to present the Church as a power-hungry institution always bent on controlling the people for its own gain. Well, I won’t be surprised if this would come from our politicians who are well-accustomed to their turf, which are the halls of power. But the Church doesn’t function the way Congress or Senate does. The Church doesn’t speak on her own authority nor on the weight of her own words. Priests and bishops have no other authority other than the one given to them from on high. This kind of thinking and explanation would never be understood. I really believe when people begin to talk about the Church through political bifocals one is always at the real risk of misunderstanding the Church as an institution and as a divine and a human reality. And this is what the lady does. And speaking in the same breath, I would like to ask her specifically of what medical advances were prohibited for a time because they were opposed by the Church? I can see lurking behind the shades of Galileo and the Inquisition once again, which always an easy (and cheap) escape and argument to all who have made it their constant career to discredit the Church in the name of science and technology, while ignoring the fact that in the name of science and technology, they have much to be thankful for the Church. Healthcare was a constant concern of the Christian community since its very beginning (to an extent that Julian the Apostate tried to duplicate it in his pagan hospices, to no avail). Medicine continued after the fall of the Roman Empire under the tutelage of the monks who were keen scientists of their day. Mendel and Pasteur are just two among the constellation of the children of the Church who had contributed much to science.
The Lady Miriam continues in stating that the Church does not have all the answers. Well, for one thing, the Church is not a search engine like Google nor an encyclopedia from which one could get easy answers. Or is it perhaps that on would expect the Church to give easy answers to all questions that we have. What the Church does is to interpret all of the realities that we face and that we have in the light of the Gospel of Christ, which is the Word of God that ought to enlighten every individual conscience. When she mentions ‘individual conscience” I bet she understands it in a very haphazard way. The lady obviously has a knack for leaving concepts and ideas hanging or out of focus. The Church has always taught of the importance of an individual conscience, and in addition (a very important one), that it must be enlightened by the Truth. A conscience that is individual that is left on its own is no better than a car in a snowstorm that has lost sight of the road. Perhaps that’s what some people want, because by then it would be very easy to allow all sorts of things, even immoral ones (and most especially immoral ones).
It’s getting late. I’ll answer the rest later.
in the meantime, maybe this may help you in thinking: