Friday, December 21, 2012


The past weeks of final examinations seem to have overexcited my neurons and had pushed me to be especially fertile and productive in the literal sense. The analysis offered by Armando Doronila in the Philippine Daily Inquirer ("The RH Bill Debacle", December 20, 2012 issue) has piqued my curiosity and has set my thinking gears turning. It’s strange to note that precisely in a time when everything seems to settle down for a well-earned respite from intellectual work after the exams, the brain starts to function.

The Doronila’s article provides an analysis concerning the outcome of the recent debate on the Reproductive Health (or otherwise, Responsible Parenthood) bill, which I think would be remembered in Philippine contemporary history as one of the most divisive in society. Centering on the clash between the Catholic Church and the bill’s proponents in the legislature, not only does it recount the facts about the final stages of the debate, but in order to reinforce the author’s point concerning the   ideological conflict between both, Doronila goes back in history, and points out the actuation of both parties in the debate concerning the legislation allowing for the compulsory reading of Rizal’s Noli and Fili in Philippine schools way back in the late 1950’s. In this debate, the Church (vehement against its application in the Philippine educational system) lost the debate, and the novels became part of the school curriculum. But as Sen. Joker Arroyo mentioned in his intervention during the Senate voting on the RH bill, in this 1956 debate, nobody lost face, neither the Church nor the politicians who sponsored the bill.

Doronila also mentions another episode in which the Church took a crucial part, and this was in ousting Marcos from power, effectively ending a twenty-year old regime. Here, the memorable role of the late Cardinal Sin was crucial in calling all Filipinos to the streets, a decision which was not done in the spur of the moment, but something that was taken after intense hours of prayer.  Referring to this episode, the author of the article concludes that “in this role, Church intervention in state affairs was at its best and most welcomed by the Filipino people. It was the height of the influence and power of the Church in the development of democracy”.

He goes on, winding up a rather insightful analysis, commenting on the fact that since then, the Church’s influence has waned, and could not be regained by interventions related to population and its implications related to economic growth and poverty.

Doronila begins with what amounts to a general assumption: “the Roman Catholic Church suffered its most crushing defeat in its collision with the Philippine state in 13 years when Congress decisively voted on Monday to pass the Malacañang-certified reproductive health bill  providing government funding for contraceptives and sex education in schools.” I would say that this could be taken as an apparent assumption, and this could be interpreted in many ways, depending on the perspective from which one may prefer to look at it.

Basically this was one statement that set me thinking. Certainly the votes of the anti-Rh legislators, backed by the bishops and the Catholic laity, were outnumbered by a comfortable margin by the pro-RH camp and the bill’s authors. Tactically, numerically and apparently, the outcome transformed the parties in the debate, turning it from a debate between pros and antis into one between the gleefully victorious and the defeated.

The day the results were officially made known to the public, placing the bill one step ahead into legality, many people expressed their dismay and their sadness on the outcome. Both news reached me as I surveyed the world in the internet. I guess the latter’s expressions of sadness and dismay personally irritated me more than the victory of the Pro-RH camp in the bicameral vocations,  though their reaction is perfectly understandable. The day the results went out, I didn’t have that sense of defeat, personally because it don’t see it as such. To express it more exactly, the legislators contrary to the bill lost in the votation; they may have been on the same side that the Catholic Church was championing, but it was the anti-RH votes that lost (as a parenthesis, I congratulate these legislators for being heroic in standing their ground, as much as I respect the rest of the other legislators in the other camp).

I don’t feel that there should be talk of the Catholic Church being defeated as yet, for the simple reason that the law still has to prove itself capable of bringing what it was supposed to bring on. It’s too premature to celebrate. I would grant victory to the supporters of the RH bill as a law if it has indeed been able to make true its provisions, and has uplifted the poor, helped in defending the rights of women, and aided in the true education of the youth. But the mere fact of it’s being passed into law is no guarantee that it will work. I’m not saying that it won’t work, it could be effective…but as the Holy Writ would express it, it would only be through the fruits that we would be able to see the true victory of this bill once enacted into law, and this will not happen at the spur of the moment.

I don’t think the Church has suffered a crushing defeat; a setback in its hold and influence (as the Inquirer would put it) perhaps, but a humiliated  Church, I don’t think so. In the academic jests that we would throw at each other in the residence where I live in, we would debate upon the excellence of our fields: Canon lawyers would pit themselves jokingly against dogmatic theologians, moralists against philosophers, each saying their field is better and the studying the rest is an absolute waste of time. One day they turned to me, the only historian in the residence (there aren’t much of us in the Faculty of Theology, there are only about six of us, and I’m the lone Filipino) and asked me in jest concerning any importance my field would have. I replied smugly, “I don’t need to answer that question. I just have to direct you to the fact that chapter one in all of your respective textbooks would talk about the history of your specializations. Go and deduce the answer for yourselves. We historians cannot enter into your debates; transcending such conflicts, we have the duty to be observers of everything that takes place in time and space”. Message relayed ad verbatim. I suppose I felt smug like Buddha or some other oriental sage, because my companions backed a hasty retreat and went for another to pounce on.

There is a lot to be learned in history, and in a way, it gives you a perspective that helps orient things, and it is only when things are in place could one be at peace. The outcome of the RH bill debate, its impact on the Church and upon its public image in Philippine society, and the analysis afforded by Doronila brings be back to the case of the Protestant Reformation. The Reform wrought by Luther had huge consequences in European history. It was a tragic episode with respect to the history of European unity, as with the Reform movement, that millenary political, cultural and religious unity termed as Christendom was irreparable shattered. The revolution instigated by Luther’s defiance to authority, no matter how corrupt, started a long period of wars, which culminated in the rise of modern states, each with its own handling of religion. Far from being a principle of unity, it shattered it.

For the Church, the Reform brought heavy consequences. It was a huge blow, and perhaps historically, it was the greatest crisis that the Catholic Church had ever faced since the Great Schism in the fifteenth century, since it constituted a scandalously huge rift within the Church itself, that mystical body termed by saints and Christian thinkers as that “seamless robe of Christ”, which the Protestant Reform had torn apart.

The Catholic Church was down, evidently…but that painful episode brought immediately brought forth one of the greatest moments of splendor that the Church has ever had in terms of art, intellectual science, administration, and most important of all, sanctity. The succeeding period brought forth a rich harvest of examples of  lives that mirrored the holiness and the love of God. above everything, this is the victory that crowns them all. The seventeenth century, heir of the woes of it turbulent predecessor, was a moment of unparalleled glory in many aspects of the Church’s life.

I don’t feel defeated in any way, nor do I think that the Church in the Philippines should feel otherwise…aside from the reasons that I’ve expressed above, whatever low moments we may find ourselves in, the Church must always see as opportunities to rise. To feel sad at an apparent setback is an error which the Catholic Church in the Philippines does not have the luxury to commit at this point in time. Her critics and detractors are right when they say that this marks a new period for the Church, and they are equally right when they say that it is time for a humbler Church.

I think that it is time for the Church in the Philippines to let go of any triumphalist tendency that it may have inherited from its colonial past. It is a triumphalism that we have inherited from the times when bishops and priests, religious and wealthy lay people WERE the Church. This triumphalism has given birth to a certain clericalism that does not speak true of the Gospel of Christ in contemporary Filipino society. True, the people don’t listen anymore to bishops and priests pontificating in their pulpits. But they cannot resist in listening to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. People have that erroneous image of the Church as being merely the bishops and the priests and religious. No, they are not the Church. The lay people in themselves  aren’t the Church either. We may sometimes have forgotten that the Church is neither of these. The deepest truth about the Church is that it is the mystical Body of Christ; not just any mere human institution with its own aims and history. Many people wouldn't care to realize that The Church is of God, Christ is its head, and only if we let this word of Christ shine more brilliantly in the foreground, with us priests and bishops and lay people forming the mere background, wouldn’t the people listen more?

The RH Bill debates have merely set, with respect for the Church, the fertile ground upon which to grow stronger, by allowing it to see that its force is not in the numbers that it muster, but in the Truth that it needs to proclaim. For it to proclaim it as such, it needs to humble. Yes, humble, but not humiliated, as the Church’s detractors would have her. A humble Church in the Philippines will speak out all the more, forcefully than ever. A Church that does not base her power in a system of privilege, but on the Gospel of Life, a Church that is prophetic in its denunciation of evil, and active in works of charity in truth, both of which are the only driving force behind any initiative that can truly uplift the Filipino, especially the poor, the women, and the youth.

This is the Church that we are called to be with the help of God’s grace, one which our country needs. And I believe optimistically, that the odds are helping us in achieving that.

Perhaps now you may understand why I don’t think of it as a defeat.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gaudete Sunday: TRUE JOY

(I'm offering the English translation after the Spanish version)

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete!
Avanzamos en nuestro camino hacia la fiesta de la Navidad, plenamente conscientes de que este tiempo preparatorio de Adviento es un espacio verdaderamente de penitencia. Y así hemos comenzado y vivido estos días. En el domingo pasado hemos escuchado las palabras del profeta Isaías que dijo: Preparen el camino del Señor, hagan rectos sus senderos. Estos palabras  constituyen el corazón del mensaje de san Juan Bautista, el precursor de nuestro Señor. Efectivamente, al rectificar nuestros caminos, rellenando las valles de nuestra ignorancia, rebajando las montañas de amor propio y la soberbia que estan en nuestros corazones, estamos respondiendo a la llamada de la conversión. Es una llamada perenne, de toda la vida, pero que se revista con especial urgencia estos días.

El tercer domingo de adviento, el domingo Gaudete, nos muestra a su vez que el fruto de la verdadera penitencia y conversión no puede ser otra cosa que la verdadera alegría. El apóstol san Pablo nos exhorta de estar alegres siempre, porque siempre estamos en camino de la conversión. En cuanto nos pongamos en este camino, respondiendo fielmente a esa llamada a la conversión, nos acercamos continuamente al Señor, cuya presencia entre nosotros y en nosotros es fuente de toda alegría: Dominus enim prope est. El Señor está cerca.

La liturgia nos muestra, pues,  que la alegría cristiana no es la mera alegría de un animal sano, que se pone a reír y alegrarse  porque se está físicamente bien: come bien, duerme bien, se divierta. No, la alegría de verdad brota y cunde de la presencia del Señor al que hemos dado la bienvenido en nuestro corazón, en nuestra vida. Es una alegría que vemos evidente en la vida de los santos, primeramente de María nuestra madre santísima, que a pesar de las fatigas, reveses y contradicciones de la vida, están llenos de alegría serena. Es una alegría que se tiene que propagar; una que tiene que contagiar a los demás en el alrededor.

La liturgia del domingo Gaudete nos enseña también que la alegría que tenemos en este vida no es definitiva, sino que llegará a su plenitud con la venida definitiva del Señor. Hace cinco años, en un domingo de Gaudete tal como hoy, celebré solemnemente por primera vez la Santa Misa, y a pesar de las grandes ganas que tenía de entonar el himno gozoso de la Gloria, no pude, porque no estaba previsto por las rubricas. Nosotros cantaremos la Gloria definitiva en el final, pero se trata de un himno de alabanza que esta ya incoada en nuestros corazones, manifestado en nuestra vida. El Gaudete nos orienta para ver que esta vida con sus alegrías no es definitiva, y que por lo bonita que sea, hemos de mirar hacia la gran fiesta que está por llegar con nuestra unión con Dios en el cielo.

Termino con unas palabras de un gran pensador, Juan Escoto Eriugena: “No se debe desear otra cosa sino la alegría de verdad, que es Cristo, ni evitar otra cosa sino estar alejados de él, pues esto se debería considerar como causa única de tristeza total y eterna. Si me quitas a Cristo no me quedará ningún bien, y nada me asustará como estar lejos de él. El mayor tormento de una criatura racional es estar privado de él o lejos de él”. Que estas palabras nos ayuden en nuestro empeño de estar más cerca de Cristo, única fuente de nuestra alegría. AMEN.

(The English translation)

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete!
We are moving forward on our way towards the great feast of Christmas, fully aware of the fact that Advent is also a time of true penance. As such we have started this season and we have lived all throughout this time. Last Sunday we heard the words of the prophet Isaiah who said: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. These words are at the heart of the message of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord. Truly, when we make straight our path, filling up the valleys of our ignorance and apathy, and allowing the mountains of our pride and self-love made low, we are responding to the call of conversion. It is a call that is being made out to us always, but which we could hear with special urgency in this season of advent.

The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, allows us to see as well that the fruit of true penance and conversion is true joy. The apostle St. Paul exhorts us in his letter to the Philippians to be joyful always, and this is because we are on the road of conversion. Inasmuch as we faithfully respond to the call of conversion, we draw nearer always to the Lord, and the Lord makes himself present in our lives. His presence is precisely the cause of true joy in our lives and in our hearts: Dominus prope est, the Lord is near.

The liturgy shows us therefore, that true Christian joy is different from just being that of a healthy animal, one that laughs and is happy because it is physically well. No, true joy springs from the presence of the Lord, whom we have truly welcomed in our hearts and in our lives. It is a joy that is most evident in the lives of the saints, especially in that of Mary, our mother; despite of the sufferings and contradictions that life held in store for them, they were able to go through all of it serenely, in joy. This is the gladness that we need to have, and that which we need to spread, wherever we may find ourselves in.

The liturgy of Gaudete Sunday also teaches us that whatever joy we may have is never definitive, but rather that which will reach its fullness only when the finally comes. Five years ago, in a Gaudete Sunday such as this, I solemnly celebrated for the first time the holy Mass, and despite of the great urge to intone that joyful hymn of the Glory, I couldn’t, simply because it wasn’t prescribed by the rubrics, it being a Sunday of Advent. We shall definitively sing the Glory in the end, when we come face to face with God in heaven. But this song of joy has already begun in our hearts, and is present already in our lives. Gaudete Sunday directs us in order to see that even the positive joys of life are not lasting, that this life is not definitive, no matter how beautiful it may be. We need to look forward, turning our eyes towards the great feast that is yet to come, the feast of our perfect union with God in heaven.

I would like to end with these words of a great Christian thinker, John Scotus Eriugena: “One ought not desire any other thing than true joy, who is Christ, and avoid anything else but be far from him, because this is what ought to be considered as the only cause of true and total sadness. If Christ were to be taken from me, this would be really unfortunate; nothing would make me fear than being far from him. The greatest torment any rational creature could have is to be deprived of him or be far from him”. May these words help us in our effort to be closer to Christ, the only true source of our joy. AMEN.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


To say LOVE IS GOD and GOD IS LOVE is not the same: as two paths, one leads to the abyss, the other leads to self-realization and salvation. To make LOVE one’s religion is to succumb to the merciless dictatorship of the sentiments and rosy—but empty—concepts, concepts that cannot save man from the specter of emptiness. Such is a love that does not distinguish between anything, since it is formless, without foundation. In such a love there is no future. But to submit oneself to a GOD  who is LOVE, made flesh and taking part in human history, is to open one’s horizon to the infinite eternity of a LOVE who has a name and a face, and who can give me LIFE UNLIMITED.

LOVE IS NOT MY RELIGION; rather, I worship a GOD whose love allows me to touch and embrace him through the HUMANITY that HE shares with me, from the moment that he accepted the “yes” of a humble Virgin. It is a humanity which I fervently hope he would eternally glorify in me when the EVERLASTING DAY comes at last.