[OPINION] We must not keep quiet

Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas
[OPINION] We must not keep quiet
Kill us if they wish but our blood will speak louder than our voices. There is a message that only martyrdom can teach. We will not be threatened.

As our brother priest Father Richmond Nilo was being interred in Cabanatuan on June 15, the clergy of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan gathered in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, to atone for the sins of blasphemy, sacrilege, and murder that our blessed Lord and His Church are being subjected to these days. 

We shared with one another our doubts and confusions, our frustrations and heartaches, our anger and our afflictions, our tears and our hopes. We shared our faith. We shared from the heart. We do feel the pain of persecution, but we also know we are not forsaken. The consoling assurance of the Lord was overwhelming, too.

Searching our hearts

We allowed our hearts to be disturbed by the noise of blasphemy, sacrilege, and murder. We are not quiet. Our souls are ready to be disturbed for conversion.

In what ways have we contributed to the erosion of moral values so much relished by Catholic Filipinos for centuries? Is there anything of what we do or how we live or how we preach that makes those who ridicule the Church and curse God sound right?

Have we failed the Lord and failed in our mission to be credible teachers? Is not the ignorance of our people about moral values an indication that we have failed in our mission to teach? Are we really being persecuted or are we just being shaken from stupor?

We recalled how Shimei threw stones and cursed David, but David refused to stop the cursing. Perhaps the Lord will look upon my affliction and repay me with good for the curses he is uttering this day. (2 Sam 16:12)

Is this the time to live the Lord’s command, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”? (Luke 6:28)

We prayed and searched for answers in grief but with hope, with anger but with tenderness.

The authority of experience 

There is an authority that we churchmen hold or, at least, believe we hold. That authority comes from the faith transmitted to us from the first companions of Jesus. We teach that the Church stands on solid rock with Jesus as the cornerstone. We are keepers of tradition. Tradition has its authority.

There is another authority that universities hold. Schools of learning keep safe the authority of truth. They hold the wisdom than men and women down the ages have handed down to us. Experts and masters are holders of this authority.

But there is yet another source of authority that is growing in credibility among us – the authority of experience. It is neither divinely revealed truth nor a researched or invented learning. It is the glorification of experience as the best teacher. How can we refute experience?

These times perhaps demand from us not just to guard and teach the Truth that we have received or look at new expressions to teach those truths. Our countrymen need to experience us as friends, not as moralizing guardians. Our countrymen need to experience kindness from us before we give a homily on compassion. Our countrymen need to experience us as one of them. We can preach to empty stomachs if the stomach of the parish priest is as empty as the stomach of his parishioners. We must let go of our entitlements.

The growing importance of experience as teacher also prompts us, priests, to see and believe that God is at work among our people, that it is not just books that teach but ordinary people as well. Each person has a lesson to teach. If we are to continue our mission as teachers, we must not forget our need to be taught all the time. This calls for much humility from us. It needs patience. It needs an open mind.

We have met the enemy and he is us

We must not keep quiet but neither do we forget that we preach best not by talking but by example.

We admit: We need to improve our homilies. This is the perennial complaint against us. The people crave for relevant, nourishing, and refreshing preaching. We need to make the sacraments and sacramentals memorable experiences in faith. Sloppy vestments and careless gestures at the altar do not inspire. We must avoid being too casual with sacred things, lest the sacred events become disdainful.

There are days of fasting and days of abstinence. We should fast more. Let us go farther and fast on our own beyond the required laws of fasting. Let us move deeper than where we are and return to ascetic practices. If our nation seems possessed by evil, let us not forget that some evils can only be cast out by prayer and fasting (cfr. Mark 9: 29).

We recognize that the best place to change society is in the confessional; unfortunately, we hardly sit there. The confessional increases our capacity for love. Conversions that happen in confession are the enduring conversions that change society. We need to take time to be visible again in the confessional waiting patiently for every penitent. True love waits. Mercy is not in hurry.

But we cannot keep quiet

How can we keep quiet when the blood of the killed is crying from the ground? How can we keep quiet when the majesty of God is being pounced on? How can we keep quiet when the noise of vulgarity is all over the air? How can we keep quiet when fake news seems more credible than truth

Yes, we are dirty and filthy, dirtier than our detractors can imagine, but the Lord has looked kindly upon us. We are not here as holier than the flock. We are here as the most miserable among sinners but we have been raised to this dignity by the sheer kindness of the Almighty. We have no illusions of sanctity. But not even our sins can stop us from teaching the Gospel. Woe to us if we do not preach. We cannot keep quiet. We would be judged by the Word made flesh for keeping quiet. Not even our sins can stop us from proclaiming the Gospel because the power of the Gospel is not from us but from God. We are earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7)

From deeper prayer, we will refute error. From more fasting, we will share our love. From longer silence, we will teach right. From being forgiven, we will forgive. From being broken, we will heal. From our loneliness, we will console. From our dirt, we will rise with our people to return to the house of the Father.

It is not in our nature as priests to keep quiet. We are men of the Word. We cannot keep quiet, but we are not noise makers. We break our silence in order to be teachers by example ready even for martyrdom. We will keep teaching. Kill us if they wish but our blood will speak louder than our voices. There is a message that only martyrdom can teach. We will not be threatened.

Our only fear is to fail the Lord. We are not afraid. We trust in the Lord. For us life is Christ and death is gain! (Phil 1: 21) – Rappler.com

Editor’s Note: This is a summary of prayer reflection session of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan on June 15. Rappler is publishing this with the permission of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who wrote and signed this summary.

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