Delivered sermon on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 in Old Catholic Church, Koblenz, Germany with Fr. Franz Segbers and Fr. Hans-Werner Schlenzig.
“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (10:16)
In 1994, the national celebration of the 92nd Proclamation Anniversary of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was held in our place, our diocese in Cagayan de Oro City. I was then a Parish Youth President so I was one of those who actively participated in that momentous historical event in my beloved church. However, it was a shocking experience for me to have observed that our bishops and other clergy and many young people from Manila and other parts of Luzon were bringing and holding placards and streamers with the messages: “NO TO GATT-WTO” or the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade-World Trade Organization; “NO TO TRADE LIBERALIZATION”, “NO TO PRIVATIZATION”, “NO TO OIL DEREGULATION”, “NO TO CHARTER CHANGE” and many other slogans. They were doing all these during a religious parade to mark the start of the whole event.
I was so conservative then that I even said to myself, “these people must be insane – they must be possessed by the demon for turning and marking the start of the whole event to be a mass demonstration against the government.” But being a youth president, I had to control my temper and my emotion and even pacified my co-young people by saying, “just let them be but we should not listen to them as they are just testing our faith, we should stand by our ground and continue serving the Lord.” I also found out that it was not only me who felt that way. Many of the clergy and lay people of our diocese were not happy with it and their hearts and minds are protesting against all those that we have witnessed. In short, we failed to listen to the prophets at that time – we rejected our own prophets.
In 1995, I had to become one of the young people to be in the seminary to respond to the calling – my vocation started. But there in the seminary, our biblical and theological studies were coupled with elected subjects which we ourselves decided to do with the help of people who are community organizers of the workers, the farmers, the urban poor, the students and even of the church people who were with the caused oriented groups. There, we studied about the GATT-WTO, the Trade Liberalization, the Privatizations and selling out of government entities and corporations including the National Power Corporation responsible for the supply and distribution of the electric energy, the Philippine National Oil Corporation, hospitals, schools, etc. and the Oil Deregulation. It was also the first time, during the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos-a retired General of the defunct Philippine Constabulary, that the 1987 Philippine Constitution was subjected to the proposal of changing it to fit to the needs of the neoliberal economic policy.
Within forty months or from January 1995 to September 1998, the price of diesel per barrel had increased 23 times and decreased 17 times. It may seem to prove that the oil deregulation policy was good because it increases and decreases the price of diesel and it means a competition was present among the oil business players. But NO! When there was no oil deregulation and the state still owns the petroleum corporation – the PNOC (Philippine National Oil Company) and there was still the Energy Regulatory Board of the state the pump price of the diesel did not go as high as it was P699.40 per barrel in September 1997 compared to P414.90 in January of 1995 because then the PNOC can neutralize the prices of oil and to compete with that of the other private corporations who can be regulated by the government. I mentioned this prices of oil or the diesel because in the Philippine economy it has become the basis of the prices of the basic commodities including that of the transportation costs of the common Filipinos who used the public utility jeepneys and buses for daily transport. And they, we, are the ones who suffered the most in this neoliberal policy imposed through and by the GATT-WTO, led and manipulated by the Imperialist U.S.A.
But we failed to listen to the prophets at that time in 1994 when the congress of the Philippines was in the process and in the debates about it – we rejected our own prophets so that the interventionist economic neoliberal policy was approved, adopted and implemented in our country that caused the impoverishment of our people and bring us deep into poverty. At that time, when we just listened to the Lord through our prophets – the bishops, clergy and lay who saw the doom and destruction and poverty that those neoliberal policies would bring we should have also helped them in denouncing all of those evils of the society and we will be added to their numbers and become multipliers in sending the message to many people and might make people act against it and even influence our lawmakers to vote that policy down for the sake of the majority of the Filipinos.
Today, we are called not only to listen but to be prophets ourselves and to perform a “prophetic” role in your own country as we also do it in our own country – Philippines but no longer for our own and yours but for the whole world as we are now connected globally. But what does that mean? In both the Old Testament and New Testament, prophets were charged by God to deliver important messages to their contemporaries. They served as God’s conscience to those they were sent to.
In addition to speaking their messages, these prophets often demonstrated them to the culture in which they lived. They were like walking, talking billboards placed at key intersections in their nation to relay God’s messages. In our modern times, we can actually hold the placards, streamers and billboards like what they did it in 1994, which I mentioned earlier. And it would be best if we can do it with other people, with other denominations, with other faiths or even with those who are not believers but are victims or who are like-minded with us to make our prophetic voice be heard by the powers that be.
Of course it will not always be a comfortable thing to do. Isaiah went around naked. John the Baptist wore the most unusual clothes, he was beheaded. In the Philippines we are red-tagged or branded as rebels and to belong to the guerillas who were fighting against the government only because we criticize the leaders of the land and even criticize the policies of the land. Like John the Baptist, some of the church leaders are killed. But that was what happened to Jesus too. But we just cannot sit by idly and watch the nation, the world and our people roll over a cliff. We must cry out as prophets and give warning to the world and especially to those who are in power as Jesus and the prophets of the old did.
Remember the words of Jesus, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (10:16) May the good Lord bless us listening ears, discerning minds and with speaking mouths so that we can do our prophetic ministry to the world today. Amen.