We are a people of dialogue. As such we have the moral obligation to search for the truth in freedom, the truth about God, about life, about ourselves, our country, our society, our world and the events around us.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

What Easter Means, What Lent Must Bring About

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which is February 9 this year. It is a period of 40 days. It is called Quadragessima in Latin and Cuaresma in Spanish.

Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in prayer and fasting in the desert before He started His mission. In imitation of Him, Christians, especially Catholics, are enjoined to engage in intense prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, penitential practices and alms-giving. When done individually and in a disciplined manner, a Catholic can experience a renewed and transformed life; when done collectively, society is renewed and transformed as a result.

The renewal of minds and hearts and its life-transforming effects begin with the wake-up call to repentance. This is symbolized by the ashes on the forehead. As the ashes are put, the celebrant says: “Repent and believe in the Good News” (Mark 1:15).

How can repentance be evoked? How can a Catholic repent when his/her spirit has been stifled, his/her soul numbed? And his/her conscience has become callused by sin and immoral habits? How can a sinner be made to realize that, when committing sin in thought, word, or action, he/she is refusing God’s love or God’s offer of Himself that surpasses material lusts and cravings that enslave the soul and the spirit? How can he/she prefer God above the false self, the root of all evil?

The penitential practices of Lent, like the Way of the Cross, intense prayer and meditations of Scriptures, self-denials and mortifications, fasting and abstinence, sacramental confession, recollection and retreats, should help the Catholic to realize the malice of sin in order to repent and to evoke sorrow that leads to confession. Viewing again and again Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ is a powerful help to evoke such sorrow.

The malice of sin refers to the depth and intensity of the hurt and the pain it inflicts on Jesus. We really do not know to what extent He suffered. The film’s portrayal is only a small human approximation. The malice of sin also refers to the depth and intensity of our refusal or NO to God, to our relegating Him as below everyone and everything we love in life. This deep and sinful refusal disfigures the image of God in us, making us unloving and unlovable.

The penitential observance of Lent and Holy Week, if done well through a meaningful catechesis, should help us experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is why on the Cross, Jesus writhing with pain asked His Father: “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23-34).

But we have been forgiven (Col.3:3). Our sins have been embraced by our Lord in His suffering Body. And even if sin has brought Him to death, He has overcome it by rising again to new life. With our sincere repentance for sin, this compassionate forgiveness is ready to be given to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jesus invites us to follow Him. He says: “If you want to be my followers, you must deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It is painful to deprive ourselves of many comforts and privileges that have weakened our spirit. It is painful to prefer God above everything and everyone else. It is a cross, a heavy one, to mortify oneself and to lessen our artificial needs. It is like dying to oneself, to my false self. But by doing this after the example of Jesus, I renew my mind and my heart, that is, I acquire self-control and will-power over myself. I become Christlike; a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). This is what Easter means. This is what Lent must bring about.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

February 6, 2005

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


There are so many cynics in the country. This cynicism is directed at government and at people in government. It is a deep mistrust which explains the relentless criticism and attacks against the present administration as well as the cold and icy indifference to what is being done by government. The critics and the so-called fiscalizers don’t discriminate. Everyone in government is bad, very bad. So this government is going to the dogs, they say.

This cynicism is like an epidemic spreading fast nationwide. It is abetted and transmitted by some irresponsible media practitioners. Because the media networks have a wide coverage and pervade almost every nook and cranny of society, even the privacy of the bedroom, the contamination is assuredly effective. Cynicism, as a result, has become communal, sectoral, regional, and has the makings of a national malaise.

The exposé of corrupt officials has deepened cynical attitudes while measures to correct corrupt practices are either ignored or at least belittled. In summary, what the cynics are saying is that this present administration cannot do anything good.
But reason and common sense tell us that we cannot do and live without government, or outside of government. Our social, economic, political, cultural, and even religious, life is regulated by government. We cannot live outside of, and in defiance of, the rule of law. We can get into trouble if we violate the law, although some of us have gotten away with it—ignoring the law or taking the law into our hands. But this way of behaving is short-lived. Sooner or later, the law catches up with the culprits.

So we have no choices but to live within the parameters of governmental regulations and structures. And reason as well as common sense tell us we can do something to make government serve the interests and welfare of the people, the common good of everyone. How?

Weeding out corrupt people in government has already begun. The private sector, especially the churches and NGOs, have launched and undertaken projects towards this purpose. But while the process of cleaning government of corrupt personnel has been underway, the replacement process is slow and difficult. Many good and competent people tend to hesitate and have second thoughts in serving government. They are sincere and honest and possess good and noble ideas as well as remarkable skills. Their complaint is the system of government which, they say, breeds corruption. So, change the system by any means.

My personal view is that any system is as good as the people manning it. I do not know the ends and outs of unitary and federal forms of government. But I do know that competent, honest, strong, humane government officials can make any system within democracy really work for the common welfare of its people. This is the essence of democracy—the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. So people is crucially important and indispensable in government.

I believe that cynicism against government will slowly diminish if we all concentrate on people in government. They, too, need help. The help that can be offered to them is one that can improve their performance or one that can make them realize and accept that they are not the type to be in government, and to have the courage and humility to resign. What is this help?

This is what I may call systematic values formation program for people in government, from top to bottom beginning with the president herself. She may not need the program herself but her humble personal participation will inspire others. The institutions of higher learning and the churches can pool their talents and know-how to formulate such a program. The core value of this program should be the universal moral truth and principle which makes a person truly human and behave in a humane way. This truth is found in Christianity, Islam and in the Fundamental Religions of our indigenous peoples. Discovering this truth, being possessed by it, and making it the core of human relations and aspirations, will affirm the universal declaration that we all have a common origin and a common destiny.

When this program takes off the ground, the cynic will still find it difficult to appreciate. For cynicism blurs the cynic’s vision and incapacitates him/her to see the reality of emerging change and the moral truth underpinning it. But not for long. The private sector, that is, the citizenry to which the cynic belongs, will eventually feel the need to join the undertaking and get involved in the process. A new culture shall have been started—the culture of change which paradoxically is the only permanent thing in life.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

February 2, 2005