The silence of the lambs emboldens Hannibal

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino
The silence of the lambs emboldens Hannibal
'That is my fear: that our church leaders think it the better part of prudence to hold their peace while every rant, insult, and slur is sent hurtling their way'

By every account, Pius XII was a saintly pope, shepherding the Church through one of the most difficult periods of history — the horror that was the Second World War. An accomplished diplomat he was also known to be cerebral. But a dark cloud hovers over his memory: many are convinced that he was culpably silent before the fiery furnace that was the Holocaust. While some of his apologists have endeavored to explain that the Pope could have made matters far worse for the Jews by improvident remarks and provocative acts, most of his defenders prefer to take the line that he was not silent. He acted and spoke in behalf of the lambs that were led to the slaughter!

Nowhere does the Gospel ever assure the Church that she will gain a sympathetic hearing. But there is no doubt that the command is clear that the Church must speak — “in season and out of season”. To be silenced by provocateurs, to allow itself to be browbeaten into a corner, there to whimper inaudibly is to take on the perfidious silence of Peter who was asked about his acquaintance with the Lord, and could only mumble incoherently. It is not prudence. It is a shameful attempt to save the institution from embarrassment at the cost of trading the sacred mandate of proclaiming the truth “from rooftops.”

That is my fear: that our church leaders think it the better part of prudence to hold their peace while every rant, insult, and slur is sent hurtling their way — and in the direction of the Church, inevitably. In this case, silence is not prudence, but the betrayal of the people’s trust that their Church is heir to the prophesy by which God’s word has confronted the powers of the world, castigated kings and princes, admonished and warned the powerful of the earth.

To be sure, it is humbling to be reminded that we, the ministers of the church, are an awfully sinful lot, our liturgical finery notwithstanding. That is always a salutary reminder, but really, it does not have to come from any loud-mouthed church-basher. Each time a priest ascends the steps of the altar, there to preside at the most holy of mysteries, he bears the weight of his own sinfulness and, before going any further, must start with the words hollowed by liturgical tradition: “I confess to almighty God…”. Notwithstanding the fact that there exists an army of trolls ready to take a swipe at the Catholic hierarchy at every turn — and of course, opportunists from other unfriendly denominations whose sole doctrine is contradicting Catholic teaching — it is a cowardly denial of the tradition of the apostles for the Church to allow itself to be silenced.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Christian faith”…because the first popes, bishops and priests would not be silenced. But why should the bishops and priests defend themselves? Where are the Catholics who crowd our churches and cathedrals each Sunday, who ask for the solace of the sacraments, and request that significant occasions be sanctified by the celebration of the Eucharist? Why should they be Catholics only when it is convenient to be so, and then eagerly queue for 30 pieces of silver when the emperor comes along, commanding them to burn incense before his own lurid statue, while throwing morsels of read at them?

No, it is not right to be silent. It is not right to be silenced! Tria haec…fides, spes, caritas… These three: faith, hope and charity — and prudence is by no means chief among them, especially not that kind of prudence that seems urge reticence in the face of unjustified provocation and virulent assault. The silence of the lambs only encourages Hannibal. It is the other way around. Because the earliest followers of Christ would not be silenced in their proclamation, not by imperial edicts nor by threats, they willingly became lambs led to the slaughter, but only after they had bellowed their message for the world to hear! –

The author is Dean, Graduate School of Law, San Beda College.

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