When prophets fall silent

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

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When prophets fall silent
Where are the bishops who should be championing, in no uncertain terms, the cause of human rights and the sacredness of the life of even the most detestable of offenders?

Silencing prophecy – that was one form that Divine chastisement took in the Old Testament. And that was not something even the hard of heart could nonchalantly shrug off. 

It meant that there was no Divine guidance forthcoming, and that God’s people had to grope about in the dark. It meant that rulers had no guidance other than the self-serving prattling of their sycophants. But most devastating of all was the caprice and whim of Israel’s ruler, unfettered by any corrective word.

Many have sounded the alarm over the distressing wave of summary executions and over the rehashed tale of suspects attempting to elude arrest, resisting officers of the law or endeavoring to wrest weapons from apprehending enforcers. And no matter that Leila de Lima, the woman I loved to hate under the past dispensation, is now the very same woman so many love to hate in the present, I really love “Leila – I love you – de Lima” (for that was her campaign monicker)! 

President Digong has not shown any signs of reining in the lethal enthusiasm of drug-busters. But Leila has issued a threat of her own: “I am watching you” — and she has filed a resolution calling for a Senate investigation to make clear that she is a woman with the balls to stand up to the national symbol of machismo!  

Where are the bishops?

Very early on, I wrote on my misgivings. But one cannot but wonder: Where are the bishops who should be championing, in no uncertain terms, the cause of human rights and the sacredness of the life of even the most detestable of offenders?

To be sure, Archbishop Soc Villegas (Lingayen-Dagupan), Archbishop Jose Palma (Cebu), and, lately, Bishop Colin Bagoforo (Auxiliary Bishop – Cotabato) have warned against the rush to “eliminate” the “dregs” of society and, in the process, ride roughshod over their rights. But we have heard nothing by way of spirited protest and concerted resolution from those who hold the pastoral staff of solicitude and governance for God’s people in their hands. 

It is not too difficult to surmise why Their Excellencies have chosen to hold their peace. It was not too long ago that President Digong let loose a barrage of choice epithets at the bishops, going so far as to dismiss the Catholic Church as “the most hypocritical institution” in the Philippines. And of course, the ever-ready trolls joined lustily in, on social media, adding their own litany of gripes against the Catholic Church. (READ: Bishop amid Duterte tirade: ‘There is virtue in silence’)

'SILENCE OF JESUS.' In a statement in June, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas extols the virtue of silence in the face of tirades by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte against the Catholic Church. File photo of Villegas by Noli Yamsuan/Archdiocese of Manila; file photo of Duterte by Rappler

And so, is it prudence that silences prophecy? But that has never been the order of things.  When saving one’s hide is first in the order of business, then, of course, prudence of this kind – better, reticence – is the primordial virtue. 

But the story of prophets has always been the story of salutary imprudence: speaking out of turn, in the wrong tone of voice at those who were in the habit of barking orders and not being dressed down!  And if the bishops fear that their sins and failings should be bared, to their shame, then they should be thankful to be in good company because the prophets who showed God’s people the way through treacherous times were shamed, humiliated and derided in their days. To be persecuted enters into the definition of being a prophet, because if one utters only praise and acclaim, one is really a charlatan and a bootlicker, no matter one’s habiliments.

It is in times of adversity that hardly anything is more helpful than the counsel and yes, even reproof of men who do not pander to popular appeal nor seek the applause of fools and say what must be said even it does not seem prudent to do so. 

No, I am not asking of the bishops that they make of themselves adversaries of government.  I ask that they do not abdicate their role as prophets in our “interesting times” and I ask that they do not subordinate faith, hope and charity to that kind of prudence that calculates the odds of gain and loss. 

One’s best friends are still those who can tell you to your face that you are wrong! – Rappler.com


The author is Dean, Graduate School of Law, San Beda College and professor at the Cagayan State University.


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