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, May 29, 2005

Reopening the Spirit to Hope in the Face of 'Disunity' in the Church

Many people who rely heavily on news media to be informed tend to take superficial news items as gospel truth. Perhaps they are too busy to investigate further, and so they take the news at face value, without realizing that once this practice becomes a habit, it could lead to disastrous results in one’s thinking. Having the habit of watching only the surface of things, one can be misled to making wrong conclusions and going further and further away from the truth. As an example we can look at some reactions (from the kind of people I am referring to) to the news items about the Church in the Philippines that various media have of late been focusing on.

Whatever their reasons may be, media perceive bishops and priests to be newsworthy; they like to ask us always about our “reactions” to issues. Many of us would prefer to stay out of the limelight, but some of us grant occasional interviews to media people, particularly when we have causes to champion or when we feel that what we know may contribute towards enlightening or improving things for our people. Unfortunately, we are often quoted out of context, or at times, casual remarks are blown out of proportion and find their way into headlines. Worse, when the resulting news stories make bishops and priests appear as though they are in conflict with one another. I learned that the word for this is “pinagsasabong”; and “sabong” as you may know is the Tagalog word for cockfighting. And so we are thrown into a pit and made to appear as though we were fighting when in fact we are not; it is of course ludicrous, like producing smoke where there is no fire.

One can not really say whether this is intentional on the part of media practitioners or is but the result of miscommunication and differences in ways of thinking and perception, but it certainly causes a certain amount of damage in that it somehow soils the face of Mother Church: it gives the erroneous impression that the Philippine Church has lost its moral leadership because its leaders can not agree on issues. As the news stories depict, ours has become a disunited Church.

Whether we like it or not, this is the confusing picture being formed by media reporting that is way below the ideal. It is saddening to be asked, even by devoted Church people themselves, “What’s happening in the Church? Why can’t you bishops have a definite stand on (for example) Ligtas Buntis?” The dark picture is both untrue and unfair but what can we do as victims of iniquitous talks? The situation is more often than not like being in quicksand—the more you move, the deeper you sink. In this case, the more we say, the more misunderstood (or misquoted) we get. Is there a way for the true picture to surface?

We can begin by using a different standpoint in viewing this apparent “disunity” in the Church which threatens to rob its members of peace—and that is the standpoint of prayer. By this picture of disunity, might it not be that God is inviting us to a more intimate personal union with Him through an intensified prayer life? If our days are filled with so much activity that we can hardly see beneath the surface of things, or seek the truth underlying the flawed coverage of Church thought or teachings, surely it would do us some good to give more time to listening to God in silence. It is in the silence that God speaks His wisest words; it is in the darkness of confusion that God shows us His beautiful face.

A revitalized personal prayer life might just be the answer to this seeming disunity in the Church for it leads us to a renewed acquaintance with the Risen Lord, which in turn allows us to see that in Him the Church cannot but be a unified Church. The forces of darkness and falsehood cannot annihilate the Body of Christ whose members are linked one to the other by the thread of deep personal union with the Risen Lord. As John Paul II wrote in his message for Divine Mercy Sunday, “To humanity, which at times seems to be lost and dominated by the power of evil, egoism and fear, the Risen Lord offers as a gift His love that forgives, reconciles and reopens the spirit to hope.”

We continue to hope and trust, in union with the Risen Lord (as branches that cling to the vine), that God is at work in and through each and every one of us even in the most confusing of times.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

May 29, 2005