LAST Dec. 2013 I received a call from my bishop requesting me to represent him in a Department of Education event launching the ALS or Alternative Learning School among the children and adults at the Brgy Camada Dumpsite. Apparently the bishop thought that since the area still belongs to the Parish of the Assumption of Our Lady, my current assignment, I was the right person to represent him. I said yes at once. But I realized later that it was in conflict with another scheduled Mass and school blessing in another barangay. I told the bishop about the circumstances but, wanting to still keep my yes, said that if the event started on time I could still represent him, but if the guests arrived late, then I would have to leave for my other acts. “That is okay, Father,” he assured me, “as long as you came to express my support to the program. If you are forced to leave because of your other acts, it would not be your fault anymore.” I checked the time. The event was scheduled at 9 AM. I had a Mass and blessing at 10 AM. It was 9:41 AM but there were no signs yet of the “distinguished guests” (read: “powerful people”). So when I decided to leave, the event organizer said he understood why I had to. But I was at peace and I remembered thinking, “If I did not come, it would have bothered me.”
My obedience to the bishop, to me, was a right response not only because he is the leader in our local Church, but also because, all things considered, he had to attend to more important matters. Now it occurs to me that if we render obedience to the bishop or our bosses at work, should it be any less with God? I think our problem is that often while we could easily obey human authorities, we do not hesitate to disobey God. And I am not even thinking simply of the relatively easy passage of the RH Law (when PDAF and DAP easily changed many legislators’ convictions) or even the deliberate abuses of human rights, the unabated extra-judicial killings or the continued non-realization of justice, peace and authentic land reform in our islands etc.
The president once said that the people are his “bosses”. The trouble with this belief system is when the “bosses” are hardly listened to or when they are not listened to because they have a contrary idea or opinion. Or when those who have a contrary idea or opinion are labeled “enemies” of the people’s true welfare.
Worse trouble than all the above is when this line of thought forgets that there is a Supreme Boss whom the president and his “bosses” must first obey. And this trouble begets another trouble when the Supreme Boss is ignored just because he has no vote to court in the elections.
This worse trouble leads to the greatest one: When we continually ignore—which is practically the same thing as disobey—the Supreme boss, political, economic and socio-cultural “mischiefs” are so easily committed, especially beyond the prying eyes of the cameras or media outlets.
The August 28, 2014 editorial of the New York Times considers as “political mischief” the sum total of current attempts to elicit support for another charter change in order to extend the president’s and other elected political leaders’ terms as well as clip the Supreme Court’s powers to check “judicial overreach”. Such attempts, observes the Times, are a threat to Philippine democracy. The editorial then appeals to the president to the effect that since his parents were heroes and icons of democracy, he should desist from such efforts aimed at perpetuating himself in power or at reviving the long-rejected dictator’s habit of controlling or bending the judiciary to the Chief Executive’s will. It is unfortunate that the New York Times’ unsolicited advice was dismissed, as it could easily be dismissed for, among other things, not coming from the “bosses” (i.e., the people who has the leader’s ears).
This reminds me of Isaiah 7:10-14 when King Ahaz of Israel is told by the prophet Isaiah to ask God for a sign, which he refused, apparently because he thought that what God wanted to do might not suit his interests. Yet Isaiah still gives the sign: the imminent birth of a child through a virgin and he is to be named “Immanuel”, which means “God is with us”. I think this is the beauty of God’s love; human beings may refuse to obey him, but his saving plan will still get through by other ways and means. A warning to our leaders is implicit here.
The document Filipino Catholic Laity: Called to be Saints…Sent Forth as Heroes challenges Filipino Catholic lay men and women to focus on two areas of our national life that are basically a consequence of our disobedience to God’s will.
First, our poverty. The document describes the massive character of destitution in the country, the continuing flight to foreign shores by many Filipinos which brings both good (material wealth for their families) and evil effects (family separations, “servitude” and “humiliation” in foreign countries, etc.). Then it states: “This endemic poverty is gravely contrary to the will of God” (FCL 3). The response? “You our dear lay faithful are in the best position to creatively work out solutions which will satisfy the demands of justice and charity. What are you doing to create wealth, preserve wealth and share wealth?” (FCL 3).
Second, our politics. The problem with our politics is that it is “the problem”. This is because “as it is practiced in our country [it] is perhaps the single biggest obstacle to our integral development as a nation [as it is]…riddled with graft and corruption” (FCL, ibid.). The response? “It is now clear that our people are poor because our leaders have kept them poor by their greed for money and power. What are you doing to help get worthy people to positions of authority and power? What are you doing to get rid of the politics of patronage, violence and uneducated choices? ” (FCL, ibid.). I would even add: What are you doing to check the abuse of and greed for power and, instead, promote it as a means to truly serve society unselfishly?
All these questions are summed up in this: Are you, the laity, listening to and obeying the Lord’s call to establish on our islands and the whole world “his eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” [Preface on Christ the King Sunday]?
In his letter to the Romans Paul brings to our awareness the right response to the Messiah called Jesus Christ whom we profess to follow. “Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience in faith, for the sake of his name among all the Gentiles…” (Rom 1:6-7).
The president and we, his “bosses”, could act like Ahaz who disobeyed the Lord and reaped the whirlwinds. Or like Joseph and Mary who, in their obedience, were instrumental to the dawning of our and mankind’s salvation.
To pick the right choice St. John XXIII gave us the clue written in his coat of arms: “Oboedientia et pax.”
My translation (I know full well how difficult the act can be): “Obedience [to the Lord] begets peace.”