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Commentary

Time for Church to be purified?

Through the centuries the Catholic Church in the Philippines has wielded power and influence in the overall life of our people. As the majority we bask in that distinction. We show it in the papal visits, the record crowds in seasonal devotions like the feasts of the Santo Niño and the Nazareno, Holy Week, town fiestas, as well as in rallies and such, not to mention in our influence in politics and the bills that are approved or laws that are passed.

We have been asking ourselves: Are those seasonal religious outbursts all that our faith means to the millions of baptized Catholics? Surveys today reveal that the number of churchgoers, and even of church weddings, has declined. We do not notice this because our churches are still full. But a Radio Veritas survey revealed that a significant number of our people are for divorce. Many of our people do not listen anymore to our bishops, as shown in the 2016 elections. The question about what to do becomes more intense as we await the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to our country in 2021.

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We have never experienced persecution, like the Catholics of Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China and elsewhere. Why are we worried (and afraid?) that former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. might win his electoral protest and be in Malacañang one day?  Why do we dream of another People Power like we had in 1986, when we showed the country—and the world—that we are dominant? Why have we withdrawn from being openly critical of President Duterte’s administration and veiled authoritarian moves? Why are the Catholics in public service, in the administration, incapable of making their Christian values and principles prevail over the obviously opposite ones?

The so-called separation of church and state has nothing to do with our faithful testimony to our Christian faith and values.

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Perhaps it is time for us to take stock of what our faith means to all of us. The fact that relatively few are interested in the new evangelization and living their faith in the specific aspects of their lives speaks volumes and constitutes a challenge not just to the hierarchy, the clergy and consecrated persons, but to all the baptized. While the excitement of the 2021 Jubilee is unmistakable for a few, the vast majority couldn’t care less, and perhaps would regard it in its commercial aspect (commemorative T-shirts, mugs, statues, jackets, calendars and such) than in its religious significance, aware that after the fireworks and record attendance at commemorative Masses, we will go back to what and how we are.  Yes, that cynicism is ever-present.

There is no doubt that we are getting fewer, not just in number, but in the actual testimony of our Christian and Catholic faith in our lives.  Many are only Sunday Catholics, and only for 45-60 minutes. Some others belong to the seasonal group, with outbursts of piety as if scripted according to the current celebration. We can see this way of living in the breakdown of the Catholic fabric in our predominantly Christian nation, the influence of technology and of globalization, a more liberated life, the fluidity of people moving around and away from traditional structures of community, family and relationships, having affairs outside of marriage and graft and corruption as “normal,” etc.

In spite of a very aggressive campaign, the proliferation of dangerous drugs continues, along with free sex, violence in our streets, our traditional political structures being shaken and undermined by new trends and ideas, graft and corruption, a selective kind of justice with the poor always on the losing end, etc. And in all this, organized religion no longer has the same hold as before.

So what does the Catholic Church have to do? It has to go back to the Word of God, and discover the message for us personally and for our society. First of all, “fear not”—the message in the birth of Jesus, as well as in His resurrection. He foretold that His followers would be hated, despised and persecuted, and would suffer the same fate as He. He told us to wash each other’s feet and to love one another as He has loved us.  He constantly reminded us that God is our common Father, and so we must be kind to one another as God is kind to all of us, forgiving, and merciful. He assured us that in spite of our sins, we are still loved and He will always welcome us into His heart, whether we repent or not.

His love is simply beyond our understanding, and it is eternal. As someone said, God loves us not because we are good, but we are good because God loves us.  And He so loves us that He gave His only Son, not to be our judge, but our redeemer. How can these words and many more like them find no more resonance in our lives?

If we are suffering, powerless, accounted for nothing, we are to rejoice. How can we forget His promise that the Church will prevail until the end, and that no power, even of hell, would be able to destroy it? The fact that the Church has survived all kinds of storms and crises for more than 2,000 years is proof enough that it is God who is at work, and not us, and even at times in spite of us. But we have to live our discipleship authentically and the promises of our baptism as best as we can, to love and hope and remember that Jesus has overcome the world and Satan once and for all.

Yes, we will no longer wield influence as the majority, but by the testimony of our lives.  Yes, we will be proud to celebrate 2021, and to live beyond it, because Christ is risen, and He will always be with us.

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Antonio Maria Rosales, OFM ([email protected]), 50 years in the priesthood, is a former parish priest of Forbes Park, Makati, and an author, artist, and missionary now based in Cebu City.

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