Delivered as Baccalaureate Message, St. Paul’s Theological Seminary on March 20, 2018 at Sitio Bugna, Barangay Bugnay, Jordan, Guimaras.
Greetings of peace amidst turbulence, of love amidst hatred and of courage amidst fearfulness!
The chosen theme “Oh, God, in Your Grace, Renew Us for Faithful Discipleship” for this year’s graduation activity is a profound prayer. It shows humbleness and acceptance that we are not perfect. That you are not perfect even if you have hurdled all those obstacles of hardships in your four years stay in this formation institution. It is humbly accepting the fact that even if the seminary is forming and preparing you in the ministry outside of this center still you need to be renewed for even the church needs constant renewal.
The need for renewal…
As early as 1977 the Church statement on mission already provides (v36.) “Renewal and reform of the Church are necessary because the Church consists first, of human beings, and second, of sinful human beings”. As our God is holy, we also ought to be holy but holiness in the church undergoes a process because we are human beings who are sinful. We constantly commit mistakes and often depart from our being a Christian who are supposed to be living the Christ-like life. We often forget the vows we had during our baptism and to the clergy – the vows we made during our ordinations.
Individually, we have to renew ourselves and to follow the path that Christ wants us to. In Romans 12, Paul has asked the followers of Christ to be transformed by the renewing of the minds. It will be too hypocrite to say that your four years in the seminary was not pre-occupied by the thought and objective to finish, and only to finish, no matter what. That much of your learnings are aimed at obtaining passing grades and only less on how these can mold you as a person. That it is more on the academic purposes of it and not yet the value of living it out. But today, and starting today, this must be renewed and redirected because in the real field of the ministry you do not have any of your formators who gave you passing or failing grades. Your bishops will not even do that. And even if you try to impress them still it is not them that will judge you and give you passing or failing grades but your God who will judge you according to whatever you do to the least of the brethren (Matt. 25:31-46).
(v39.) “In so far as she is deformed, she has to be reformed. The Church has to continually renew herself, giving herself a new form, a new shape in history, adopting a new order to make the Gospel alive to all men” the 1977 Church statement continues.
Collectively, we need to renew. The church – the IFI, our collective community needs to be renewed. But before we can renew the church we first have to go back to her being because we have deformed her in the way we live in our comforts and to our own caprices. The IFI is supposed to be the new community of the Filipino-Christians that is distinct from the other churches, being founded by the laborers/unionists of the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD), and to continue her oppositions to the wrong doings of the past and present. But we have deformed her. Somehow and in some ways we succumbed to the caprices of the powers that be. We submit to the will of the powerful people in the church who are advancing their interest in contrast to the interest of Christ. We submit to those people who seemed to forget that we are a church born out of the struggle of the Filipino people for social emancipation. We missed Paul’s advice in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firmly, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
Today, the Philippine society is in turbulence, there is hatred and fearfulness brought about by the style of our current presidency. The wrong and the bad has become the standard of what is right. We witness the unfolding of realities, the thousands of deaths of poor people because of the anti-drug campaign; thousands of internally displaced people – the peasants, lumads (Indigenous people), the moro (muslim) because of the war against terrorism. The move to change the charter to serve to the will and dictates of the imperialist interest of the big comprador, multi-national corporations that continue to trample upon the rights and dignity of our people and the devastation of God’s creation. The passing of the TRAIN Law (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) that will make the lives of the people harder than what we are experiencing today.
Amidst all these, however, many Christians tend to be passive and just let things go. We tend to accept and be conformed to it just as we continually do the nakasanayan ng mali sa ating mga gawain sa simbahan katulad ng pagmimisa sa mga hindi (usual wrong practice like holding the eucharist in a…) consecrated altars in hotels, beaches, etc., pagbibinyag at pagkakasal kahit nasa panahon nang kwaresma at adbyento at (administering the sacraments of baptism and matrimony even during lent and advent seasons) because we do not have the courage to say no and to teach our people what is right to be observed during these seasons in the church. In fact many of our church leaders – bishops, priests and deacons who just let our people observe Christmas even if it is still advent and go with the commercially motivated dictum that in the Philippines is a longest Christmas starting in September. We do not dare to correct our own mistakes because we are afraid to lose our members even if it loses our dignity, pride and stature of following our own rules.
Our internal attitude reflects our external participation in the society. We tend not to correct the society. Lest we forget that Paul to Galatians aptly summed up all God’s commandment to “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Gal. 5:14).
May I share to you Bishop Carlo’s description of the leaders of the land in his reflection in prison delivered to the meeting of the Supreme Council of Bishops in Siargao last February 2018… “The leaders of this land remain harden their hearts. They had no deep human reaction to the mass Filipino people pleading [for] their legitimate demands. Not compassionate, and insensitive, they are the shepherd who scatters instead of uniting people who show no concern for the need of those who are under their care. ‘Mga mahihirap, putang ina, wala akong pakialam’ (You poor people, son of a bitch, I don’t care) as the president lambasted the poor. He (the President) is considered to be the evil shepherd in Jeremiah 23:2.
The need to be faithful disciples…
The fruit of our renewal is to be faithful to Christ. Loving our neighbour is to take care of them – that is pastoring at them. The IFI calls this a social action…
Social action is a pastoral activity of the Church. The IFI will always be one with groups, organizations and communities that promote the welfare of people and of the human community, and the building up of the Kingdom of God. Social action is an activity inherent to the Church’s calling. It is sending out in the service of the Kingdom of God to promote an atmosphere where people can enjoy a bigger share of the gifts of civilization for the development and fulfilment of their potentials as human beings. (IFI Statement on Church Mission)
Social action calls us to be living with the marginalized, the masses and to rebuke the evil that caused their miseries. That includes rebuking the incumbent president as necessary and to identify ourselves with Christ.
“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul how much more will they malign those at his household” (Matt. 10:25b).
The incumbent president has been lambasting and maligning the Church and the church leaders. The 10 months incarceration of the Bishop Carlo in jail was not a coincidence it was aimed at silencing the church people by harassment. You also will have to prepare for this will also happen to you and to all of us when we identify ourselves with Christ.
May I end this message echoing another reflection from prison, from the late Fr. Jeremias Aquino, “I have said this again and again to brothers in the ministry and to friends, and I dare express it again: that the starting spirit that gave birth to our church is seen to be totally paled by time and circumstances if we forever hold our peace before the unfolding drama of the whole Filipino people. The IFI has a place under the sun only if she can recapture once again that spirit of an outer-oriented movement – a movement that wholeheartedly embraces the aspirations of the poor who make up the vast majority of our people. After all, she started with her twin sister, Union Obrera Democratica, the fortress of the workingman. And to state proudly, the ‘wretched of the earth’ were her pristine company. Today, I languish in jail for this challenging reason: I am in the process of making the accusation that the IFI is a ‘church of silence’ false! Do you agree that the IFI is a ‘church of silence’ in the midst of oppression? Do you accede to the blatant accusation the she is a ‘church of silence’ at a time when she should be the first seed of freedom?
My dear graduates, I pray that the grace of God renews us… renews the church and make us all faithful disciples of Jesus, the Christ.