Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Mercy before judgment

AT the Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction released in April this year announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis already gave the reason why this Jubilee Year has to be opened on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  The logic he gave was “its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church.”  And by that he meant the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council which was closed on December 8.        

            He would look at Vatican II as another door where the world passed through fifty years ago.  That passing through was an emergence of the Church “from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey.  It was a resumption of a journey of encountering people where they are:  in their cities and homes, in their workplaces.  Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God.”

            To look at Vatican II in that perspective is profound enough.  But in his homily at the at the start of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s this December 8, he brings the theology of the Immaculate Conception even more deeply.  He contemplates that the “Immaculate Conception is the grandeur of God’s love” in the sense that “in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world.”   According to him, “this is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves.”

            He says that sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness.  If sin is the only thing that mattered, man would be the most desperate of all creatures.  But this is not so because “the promised triumph of Christ’s love unfolds everything in the Father’s mercy.” The Immaculate Conception is a testimony to this truth.  Which is why, he says, “We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of God’s mercy.”

            Now one understands why Pope Francis, in his interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro of La Civilta Cattolica in 2013, compares the Church with a field hospital.   Now one understands why in an in-flight interview from Rio de Janeiro after the World Youth Day he answered, “Who am I to judge?”   Now one understands why in his flight back to Rome from Africa last month he dodges the condom issue while looking at bigger issues that world leaders seem to ignore.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fruitful Synod

TRUE to what Pope Francis said at the opening of the Synod on the Family that it is not a parliament where participants negotiate or lobby but a place of prayer where bishops speak with courage and open themselves to “God who always surprises us,” the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, indeed, turned out to be so—despite Western media portrayal of it being a den of conservatives so afraid of change on one hand while on the other a pack of progressives out to overhaul hackneyed church teachings.

            For the first time, CBCP News sent two professional Catholic journalists to do reportage on the Synod.  They were fielded in response to the observation of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle who, in a press conference upon his return from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October last year, bewailed the absence of Asian media that may possibly see the ecclesial event from an Asian perspective—and not from Westerners that totally dominated the global reportage of that Synod.  Perhaps bereft of the bias of the Western-dominated media, these two Filipino Catholic journalists saw in the Synod a listening and humble Church motivated with a profound Christian concern for the family. They also saw in the Synod new pastoral initiatives to address the many issues facing families in the modern world, along the path of “accompaniment” and “discernment”.

            The Synod Fathers approved by 177 votes out of 265, a two-thirds majority, the final Relatio of the Synod that is made up of 94 paragraphs that was voted on piece by piece.   This final document included many of the amendments to the Instrumentum Laboris presented by the Synod Fathers, making it, therefore, a collegial voice of the Assembly.   It reaffirmed the doctrine of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage which was seen not as a yoke but rather a gift from God and a truth based in the relationship of Christ with the Church. It also presented the beauty of the family as a domestic Church based on marriage between a man and a woman.

            In his address at the closing of the Synod, Pope Francis said:  “The Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition…it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand…It was about urging everyone to appreciate the important of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life…It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors, who came to Rome bearing on their shoulders the burdens and the hopes, the riches and the challenges of families throughout the world.”

            Or, in the words of Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, it was about a Church “that is loving and caring and once again embracing the families as part of herself, and not just as mere objects.”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Synod on the family

THE premises of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican is teeming with people from the media—hundreds or so of them, mostly from giant news agencies from Europe and North America.  The Vatican or the Synod in particular has become a very salable news beat comparable if not more with international conferences.  Some decades ago, this was not so. But when the Church started talking about gender issues, marriage and the family tempests started boiling in the offing.

            Like most church observers throughout the world, the media is, of course, expecting a killing like they did during the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October 2014 when discussions were torrid about gay unions and giving communions to divorced or remarried.  Nobody knows for sure if multinational news organizations that have budgeted a good fortune for their journalists and crew to cover a whole month of the Synod in the Vatican are under the care of lobby groups and policy organizations.  But for sure at the end of the Synod they will not tuck-in banner stories about the indissolubility of marriage or that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered—like it is said in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

            A few days ago, media reported that a letter critical of synodal process allegedly signed by several Cardinals was being circulated among the synod participants.  The Cardinals, however, denied the authenticity of the letter.  Moreover, from within the walls of the synod there are reports of a “Shadow Council” that reportedly have nuanced approached to the “instrumentum laboris” which has been strongly criticized by small groups among synod participants.

            Such things and more, of course, are bound to happen. But like Pope Francis said at the opening, “…the Synod is not a congress or a ‘parlour,’   a parliament or senate, where people make deals and reach a consensus. The Synod is rather an ecclesial expression, i.e., the Church that journeys together to understand reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God; it is the Church that questions herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which does not represent for the Church a museum to view, nor just something to safeguard, but is a living spring from which the Church drinks, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate the deposit of life.”

            Pope Francis admonishes the synod participants “that the Synod will be able to be a space of action of the Holy Spirit only if we, the participants, are clothed with apostolic courage, evangelical humility and trusting prayer.”

            At the end of the day what will count will neither be the intelligent theological excursions nor the tactical persuasion of influence groups but the humble confidence in the workings of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Who’s killing the Lumads?

NOT the government, for sure.  Because,  to follow the logic of President Benigno Aquino III in a forum last September 9, the government has “no campaign to kill anybody.”  Disputably, though, this maybe the same logic that can be applied to the massacre of Chinese tourists at the Quirino Grandstand in August 2010 when the new MalacaƱang boys were running the show.  That was why, the leadership did not see the need to apologize, despite foreign pressure.  And,  by some stretch of imagination, the same logic maybe used in the Zamboanga siege in September of 2013 when the president with his boys encamped “to watch” the war games with the MNLF.  Well, perhaps at the Mamasapano, too, where some sectors are reportedly now looking for “alternative truth”.

            According to human rights groups, it appeared that the President was trying to exonerate whoever are behind the summary killings of the Lumads in Surigao del Sur.  The CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas calls this “disturbing.”   In a statement released September 11, the Archbishop said, “We are disturbed profoundly by reports that national leaders have been quick to exonerate the militia group of wrong-doing.  This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and justice.  Such declarations inspire credence only after a reliable and trustworthy investigation by impartial and competent persons shall have taken place.  If made before any such investigation, they disturbingly suggest a refusal to hold accountable those to whom the Administration so eagerly extends its mantle of protection.”

            But while the national leadership seems to be somewhere else, local leaders and advocacy groups are very much aware who are harassing and killing the Lumads.  In fact, on January 30, 2015, a “Peace Dialogue” was held in Surigao del Sur attended by the PNP, AFP, the Provincial Government, the LGU of Lianga, Religious groups and the Lumad leaders.  In that dialogue, the perpetrators were identified.  They are members of the Magahat/Bagani, a paramilitary group headed by Datu Calpito Egua, Marcos Bocales, Marcial Belandres and Bobby Tejero.   This gathering agreed to immediately dismantle and disarm this paramilitary group and file criminal charges.   Of course, nothing happened after that except more harassment and more killings of the Lumads.

            The priests of the Diocese of Tandag in a pastoral statement issued on September 8, believe that there are powerful hands that maneuver behind the paramilitary group Magahat/Bagani.  Otherwise, these killings have already ceased and court cases filed months ago.  The priests say in their statement, “One can see and understand that only those community of Lumads who firmly stand to protect the forest and reject mining activities and anything that destroys nature were obviously the ones being hounded and intimidated supposedly by the aforementioned notorious group.  Gathering all these, we can say that all this could be a work that has been extensively planned.  Our indigenous people who, ever since, have been one with Nature, have lived in and survived out of their land of heritage, are now victims of those who are hungry and greedy for power and wealth.”

            Again, who are behind the killings the Lumads?  Sadly, it’s not so easy to take President Aquino’s word for it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Forgiving the sin of abortion

IN a rather extraordinary but welcome move, Pope Francis has extended to all priests worldwide the authority to absolve women for the sin of abortion during the Holy Year of Mercy which opens on December 8, 2015.  This happy development was announced on September 1 in a letter addressed to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

            The letter unfolds with the premise:  “With the approach of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I would like to focus on several points which I believe require attention to enable the celebration of the Holy Year to be for all believers a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God.  It is indeed my with that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.” 

            Indeed, extraordinarily extending to all priests the faculty to forgive the reserved sin of abortion is nothing less than a tangible “moment of encounter with the mercy of God.”  A woman who obtains an abortion automatically incurs a “latae sententiae” excommunication, along with those who assisted her in the process.  Because of this, the sin of abortion is normally only be absolved by a bishop or certain priests appointed by him. 

            Says Pope Francis,  “I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion.  I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision.  I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.  I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.  What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.   The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.”

            Of course, extending this faculty to priests is common with some bishops especially during Lent and specific occasions.   Yet, taking this to a universal level is something that will raise the eyebrows of some segment in the Catholic Church.  But this is Pope Francis, who, according to Cardinal Mauro Piancenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, is the “pope of mercy” and who looks at the confessional not as a “torture chamber” but a place where one leaves “with happiness of heart, with a face of radiant hope.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On headlines

AS any copywriter knows, headlines are crafted to grab attention and, ultimately, sell.  They are more important than the copy in the sense that they provoke the reader to either continue to read the news story or simply ignore it.   In the morning, all dailies vie for attention and readership.  In some cases, some reputable newspapers even go down to the level of the tabloid if only to win in the battle of readership.
            In the morning of August 17, the Philippine Daily Inquirer brandished this headline:   "CBCP Backs Marijuana Bill".   That was smart and sensational.  It got good readership and attention.  It garnered hundreds of threads of comments in its online version and in social media.  The only rub was, it was not true.  The CBCP does not back the Marijuana Bill. Even the copy of the news story, which was written by PDI's church beat reporter who was privy to the CBCP's "Pastoral Guidance on the Compassionate Use of Cannabis," did not say so.
            Immediately, Archbishop Socrates Villegas posted his reaction:
            "As President of the CBCP, I take strong exception to the MISLEADING headline of your paper "CBCP Backs Marijuana Bill". It would have been far more helpful to the public had you published our statement in full than to create the wrong impression in the minds of the public. 
            "Let me make the point clear: IN RESPECT TO WHATEVER MEASURES ARE NOW PENDING BEFORE THE LEGISLATURE, CBCP NEITHER ENDORSES NOR OBJECTS, realizing that the regulatory schemes and administrative strategies they attempt to establish are beyond the competence of the CBCP to comment on.
            "What our letter did was to reiterate the teaching of the Church which I will summarize:
            1. Addiction is wrong, and those who facilitate addiction by placing habituating drugs within easy reach commit a very serious wrong.
            2. The constant teaching of Church is that palliative care using narcotics is ethically permissible when there is no other convenient and available means with which to alleviate the suffering of the terminally ill.
            3. In other cases, the principle of proportionality is to be applied which makes means licit when there is PROPORTION between the risks and disadvantages and the benefits expected or anticipated.
            I hope you will give this clarification and disavowal as much publicity as you gave your misleading article."

            But this is the age of digital media.  Unlike some years back when readers were left to swallow in toto what gatekeepers of news tell them, this is the age of fast and multiple media platforms.  People always find the truth faster than the malicious spread of lies.  Nothing, of course, is smarter than the truth, even in headlines.