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, June 12, 2005

The Church Grows From Within

The Church has been the special focus of world attention recently, especially during the months of April and May 2005. The last days of the beloved Pope John Paul II, his lingering illness and suffering, his death and funeral, and the conclave that elected his successor hugged the headlines and major news releases around the world.

Here in the Philippines the late Pope’s visit in 1995 and the enthusiasm of Filipino Catholics were also highlighted. This was followed by the issue of corruption in high echelons of society and government, and, together with the House bills on population and reproductive health made the Church the focus of wide and recurrent media attention.

Myriad reactions and commentaries on the nature and role of the Church both positive and negative have been the subject of newspaper columns and talk shows. These wide, public, and often biased discussions on the Church’s influence once again provoked questions which are actually not new. The Second Vatican Council and the Popes have answered them exhaustively. Even our conference has come out with such in-depth Pastoral Letters like the Church and Politics, the Church and the Economy, the Church and Culture, and many other documents explaining the nature and role of the Church in our country. The present pontiff, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, has the unique way of responding to these questions. In his masterly lecture on the Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentuim), the then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger said that the Church grows from within, not from without. He said that this “inwardness” of the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit in each and every baptized person; it manifests itself in personal and communal prayer, and reception of the Sacraments and community activities.

This statement of the future pope echoes a somewhat similar statement of Saint Basil the Great, one of the early Fathers of the Church. To him the Church grows and derives her strength not from the eloquence of her preachers and pastors, not from thousands of conversions, not from her institutions and structures, not from her socio-pastoral apostolates. The Church grows and derives her strength from the Holy Spirit working in the soul of the baptized. Saint Basil added that to think otherwise would be to engage in worldly thinking. He referred to worldly thinking as the effect of the devil’s work in the soul whose structures have not changed since Adam and Eve. Without the Spirit the soul is vulnerable to the subtle influence of evil. Consequently the root of all evil is self-love, not self esteem. Self-love has many manifestations but the three major ones from which others derive are sensuality, avarice and ambition.

St. Basil warns us always to remember the advice of St. John “to test the spirit” (1 John 4:1) so that the Church will continue to grow from within enlightened, strengthened, and guided by the Holy Spirit. Doing this would ensure that the outward and external activity of the Church must flow from the inward and indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

June 12, 2005