Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Laity in the Church: The Call to Social Transformation

Some days ago, a good number of leaders met together to seriously discuss on the plight of the country and on what they as a group could do. It turned into an emotional meeting, triggering up not only bright ideas, but also heated passions of anger and deep frustrations. One of the discussants blurted out with a comment: “If the CBCP is ambivalent, nothing will happen to us… At least be like Cardinal Sin who was at the forefront of the fight that removed the dictator.” Another responded: “The CBCP is refraining from political actions; it’s only making judgment on the moral issue. If we have to hide behind the bishops to take action, we should be ashamed of ourselves.”

From the many insightful expositions and brilliant repartees, I specifically picked out these comments for they are intriguing in their ecclesiological import. They summarily disclosed the faith quality of our lay faithful, their confidence as active lay members of the Church.

To hold on to the belief that the clergy must always decide for the laity even in matters temporal is an inaccurate assessment of what the laity in the Church should be. It subtly suggests that the lay faithful, left to themselves, are not potent enough to undertake the call to social transformation; that they do not have the needed competence to institute reforms for justice and harmonious living to reign in the ecclesial community; that they always need to look up to the official nod of the hierarchy in articulating the vision, goals and objectives of lay associations, of setting up programs, systems and structures that would impact Christian values on society and on the world; or, not sufficiently empowered to carry out the mission to “permeate and perfect the temporal order of things with the spirit of the Gospel” (cf. Canon 225. § 2).

The contrary, however, is true. Powers of the laity for social transformation have long been recognized by the Second Vatican Council’s introduction of the dynamic concept of the People of God in the reality of the Church and of the specific place of the lay faithful in its life and mission. This was followed up by subsequent decrees and eventually made official and definitive by the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1983. Here, the legal status of the lay faithful is declared, his rights and duties defined and recognized. The dignity and mission of the lay has been firmly established, setting them equal with the clergy and the religious men and women. In the eyes of the law the lay faithful are not second-rate citizens.

Consequently, the lay are constituent members of the Church. They are Christian faithful as much as the clerics and the religious men and women are. As baptized, they are authentic subjects of laws, enjoying common and specific rights and obligations.

The Clergy and the Lay Faithful in the Church. The sacrament of baptism is the source of this dignity and power of the faithful. It puts a juridical stamp to the members of the Church, configuring them as members of the body of Christ, bonding them together as the People of God. Because of this, they are constituted as bona-fide constituents with the radical possession of freedom, submission and autonomy of the children of God, assigning to them specific duties and rights. To express this juridical reality of the baptized, Canon 204, avers: “Christ’s faithful are those who, since they are incorporated into Christ through baptism, are constituted the people of God. For this reason they participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ. They are called, each according to his or her particular condition, to exercise the mission which God entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world.”

Within the fundamental equality among the members of the Church, there are nevertheless functional distinctions, differences of ministry or office. All the faithful do not perform the same functions in the Church. The clerical state is characterized by a number of duties imposed by his ordination to serve the people of God in the person of Christ the head, that is, to teach doctrine, maintain the deposit of faith, govern the life of the Church, administer the sacraments (cf. SC 10). For this function to be translated into the external life of the Church, the clerics must have rights and obligations proper to them. These constitute his juridical status. Along the same vein, the laity must also have a character that is proper to them. This takes the form of the ministry that is peculiar to them within the Church, that is, to imbue the temporal order and earthly realities with the Gospel values. It is within this context that the Second Vatican Council made this definition: “The laity are those members of the faithful who, by divine vocation, are destined to seek the kingdom of God by dealing with and ordering temporal things according to God’s will” (LG, 31). To them also belongs the freedom in secular matters within the ecclesiastical society. In other words the Church does not have competence over them in secular affairs. Hence the Code states: “To the lay members of Christ’s faithful belongs the right to have acknowledged as theirs that freedom in secular affairs which is common to all citizens. In using this freedom, however, they are to ensure that their actions are permeated with the spirit of the Gospel, and they are to heed the teaching of the Church proposed by the magisterium….” (Can. 227).

Empowerment of the Laity. In the Church attempts have not been wanting to empower the lay faithful, for them to own their specific powers over the temporal order and specific mission to engage in the social transformation of the world as its leaven. But, sad to say, they have been undertaken in areas that are not properly their own, not based on their specific rights as laymen in the Church. To empower them towards a life-style and apostolic activities that are properly and uniquely theirs have not been given due emphasis.

To empower something means to understand thoroughly the nature of the thing, its personality, its distinctive trait, its uniqueness. To do otherwise is improper. To train a Doberman pinscher dog to dance may be good but improper. Doberman dogs are supposed to guard, not to entertain; to protect the master with their fierceness, not to dance with grace. I am afraid that this is what is happening to many of our laymen and women. They participate actively and zealously in the liturgical and pastoral activities of the Church; others seem to be happy when they look like religious with the way they are dressed and the way they exercise their spirituality. They may be good for the Church, but they sorely miss the life-style and apostolic activities that are their proper signatures as envisioned by her.

To empower the laity, therefore, means to know their real status, the expected life-style, and the proper role as lay men in the life of the Church; to accept their uniqueness, their distinctive features; and thereby to form them accordingly. It empowers them by helping them to readily accept their specific mission to be the leaven in the world, ordering the temporal affairs in accordance to the Gospel values. To build up Christian families, to engage in politics so as to influence it with Christian principles and values, to enter into the arena of mass media and communication bringing into it their Christian moral formation and well-formed conscience, these are the areas proper to the lay faithful.

Given the adequate doctrinal and spiritual formation and guidance, supported with the intense sacramental life, and granted the autonomy and right independence to responsibly pursue their role in the world, the lay faithful will be effectively empowered. Then, they will not be contented to act as mere lay ministers in the Church, or as mere cooperator in the governance of the ecclesial community, or as secularized versions of religious men and women.

With heads up they will be seen more and more as empowered Christian lay men and women as they really are, that is, Christ in the middle of the world.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

“The Truth Will Set You Free” (Jn 8:32)

A Pastoral Statement by the Roman Catholic Bishop & Clergy of the Diocese of Borongan on ‘People’s Initiative’ for Charter Change

Beloved People of God:
It is publicly known that efforts known as ‘People’s Initiative’ for Charter Change are on-going in Eastern Samar and in the Philippines. It is also publicly known that such efforts are largely the initiative of government officials, both national and local. What is less known to many is the fundamental principle that “political authority, either within the political community as such or through the organizations representing the state must be exercised within the limits of the moral order” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, no. 74). We see signs of deceit and misinformation. For this reason we, Your Bishop and Your Priests, have to speak because these are an affront to true justice and morality. After all, as the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines declares, we your “pastors have competence in the moral principles governing politics” (PCP II, n. 342).
We stand with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines when it teaches that “changing the Constitution involving major shifts in the form of government, requires widespread participation, total transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate” (CBCP Statement, 2006). Like them we also recognize and respect the desire of a number of Filipinos to change some aspects of the constitution for the sake of better governance and more assured attainment of the common good. But we also “view with alarm…the present signature campaign endorsed by the government. Signatures are apparently collected without adequate information, discussion and education” (Pastoral Statement on the Alleged ‘People’s Initiative’ to Change the Constitution, no. 2).
In many parts of Eastern Samar, for instance, the CBCP’s general observation has been verified by specific reports from certain priests and responsible lay leaders in our parish communities. Not only are adequate information, discussion and education on the proposed changes lacking; in many cases signatures have been collected using downright deception, for instance, as people’s registration for Philhealth. People have been prodded to sign their names on vague promises of “better times ahead under a new constitution” or even “better-paying jobs”. Significantly forthright are admissions of some local officials that the initiative is favorable to them because they could save money with the cancellation of the next elections in 2007 under the amendments being proposed. In a word, the CBCP’s twofold parameter for a morally principled Charter Change, namely, (1) “widespread participation, total transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate” and (2) that “the reasons for constitutional change…be based on the common good rather than on self-serving interests or the interests of political dynasties” (CBCP Statement, 2006) may have been violated in various parts of Eastern Samar, if not the whole country itself. As your pastors we must denounce such acts because, in violating morality, they do not serve the people’s true welfare.
May the Risen Lord empower us to die to self-serving motivations and rise to genuine character change, not simply charter change, as a people and as a nation.

Yours in the Lord,

(Signed) +Leonardo Y. Medroso, D.D.
Bishop of Borongan

(Signed) Priests of the Diocese of Borongan

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Consecrated Life: Its Place in the Local Church

The presence of the Consecrated life in dioceses and other local Churches is more often than not taken as a matter of fact. Yet its impact on the life of the faithful cannot be denied. Hence, the need to study its juridical status in its relation to the local Church. It may appear to many as a tame topic, but once one comes into it, he will be surprised at how interesting it really is. A case at bar will confirm the point.

The issue happened in the Archdiocese of Palo. Some ten years ago the Divine Word University of Tacloban was closed, depriving Leyte and Samar the Catholic university that stands as a symbol of their educational standard. The cause of the closure is some labor problems. The employees were demanding for better benefits. As no positive response was taken by the religious congregation, the owner and administrator of the said university, the employees brought the case to court for proper resolution. After years of litigation, the court handed down a decision that was favorable to the labor force. A substantial amount was imposed on the administration to pay labor. But it appeared that the fiscal obligation was too onerous. It was brought to the higher court. But the court of appeal upheld the decision of the lower court. So the fiscal obligation stands. The religious community, the owner and administrator of the university, on the face of such a staggering amount declared itself bankrupt and officially closed shop. Not reneging on the obligation exacted by the court, the religious congregation started paying by installment. But it soon discovered some irregularities in the way the money was distributed among the employees themselves. Payment was stopped.. Hope for the university to open again was getting dimmer. Meantime, the Archdiocese of Palo felt itself aggrieved by the case, not only because the people of the place clamored for intervention, but also because it has a ground to complain. As history would tell, the lot on which the university complex has been straddling was formerly used as a parochial school. Both the school and the lot were owned by the diocese. Later, for more efficient administration it was donated to the said religious congregation with a specific condition that it be used for Catholic education. When in the future it will no longer be used for that purpose, the lot has to be returned to the diocese. The contract had been drawn according to this specification and duly signed by the parties concerned . Based on this, the diocese pursued its right; the religious congregation dilly-dallied. The former requested Rome to intervene. Rome obliged. And so all parties, that is, the religious congregation, the diocese, and labor were called to resolve the issue. Last February 21, 2006, all the parties concerned finally agreed on the final resolution of the case. A Catholic school will again be opened.

In the cited case, the Consecrated life which runs the university is no longer a mere still picture, nor an abstract definition lifted from canon law books, but flesh and blood reality of individuals in a tense struggle to assert their rights. In doing so, it run counter to the rights of the local church, the Diocese of Palo. Both have rights and obligations established and safeguarded by the Code of Canon Law. In fact in the constitutional part of the Code, the rights and duties of each member of the People of God are established while the nature, roles and functions of each structure and institution in the Church are sharply defined. The reason is that in the complexity of exercise of all these duties, rights and functions, harmonious interplay and dynamic order are to be observed. Otherwise, chaos would set in. As Pope John Paul II declared when he promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law: “Since the Church is established in the form of social and visible unit, it needs rules, so that the hierarchical and organic structure may be visible; that its exercise of functions divinely entrusted to it, particularly of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, is properly ordered; that the mutual relationships of Christ’s faithful are reconciled in justice based on charity, with the rights of each safeguarded and defined” (Ap. Const.: Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, 25 January 1983).

What then is the juridical locus of the Consecrated life in the diocese? This question becomes more pressing when we take into consideration that many of them have become integral part of the life of the local churches, welcomed by bishops and priests within the diocesan and parochial structures, yet, sustain some elements foreign to the hierarchical church. These are the structures of the Consecrated life, the physical institutions of the religious congregations.

At first blush it would seem that the institutes of Consecrated life are pitted against the diocese/parish as two contrasting structures. The diocese/parish is hierarchical in its juridical embodiment while the institute of Consecrated/religious life, notwithstanding its public juridical structure within the church, is charismatic in typology. Its existence is real, but non-hierarchical. Ordinarily, it exercises great influence in the local community, yet it enjoys an autonomy of life, programs and activities that oftentimes are not within the purview of the local authority. It possesses its own communal yet private properties, assets and liabilities and yet is not required to give a regular accounting report to the bishop of the territory. It seems that it is alien to the hierarchical organization, yet it is flesh and blood reality within the church, with a life ever pointing to something mysterious beyond the horizon of the community’s natural consciousness.

Is duality of the hierarchical structure of the diocese and the charismatic institutions of religious institutes the accepted locus to ground the relationship between these two realities, ever invoking the dialectic of respect for each others’ autonomy and independence ? Is it right to say that the Church is constituted with two independent structures based on the dual contrasting, if not opposing, principles, namely, 1) institution and charism; or, 2) Christology and Pneumatology? Or, are there other existing ecclesial principles that could assure a closer communion and participation between the particular Church and the charismatic institutes of Consecrated life?

In this regard, it is interesting to note that Cardinal Ratzinger, in his June 1999 address to the bishops gathered in Rome for a meeting on ecclesial movements in the Church, summarily brushed off the attempts to resolve the seemingly conflicting issues between the local Church and the institutes of Consecrated life by the invocation of the dialectic of dual principles. He denies that the local institution is in contraposition to charism. For he averred that analyzing closely the local church, it is not all human organizations and structures. Deep within its life is its dependence on the irruption of the Holy Spirit. Hence, for the local Church not to atrophy it must live its spiritual office charismatically, that is, it must have an intrinsic openness to charisms. He also denies the attempt of contrasting Christology and pneumatology, putting Christ in contraposition to the Holy Spirit. For, “the Spirit cannot be correctly understood without Christ, but it is equally impossible to understand Christ without the Holy Spirit. (www.Crossroadsinitiative.Com/library_article/549/Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements)

To clarify the issue at hand, the Cardinal then presented the perspective of Church history. He said that in the history of the Church as a whole, the local Church with the Episcopal office as its defining mark, is not in contraposition with the apostolic movement. The apostles were not bishops of particular local churches, but responsible for the whole world and for the whole Church that was to be built. It is through this apostolic office that gave birth to local churches. Hence, from the very beginning, there existed two structures in the Church, namely, the universal (apostolic) and the local. They existed side by side with each other with smooth interrelationship. They are the supporting structure that permanently upholds the edifice of the Church through all ages. Hence, the bishops must not forget this perspective of history. In the thick of his activities in building up the local Church assigned to him, he must always consider the Church as a whole and therefore must go beyond the administration of their respective dioceses. They must ensure the carrying on of Jesus’ mission to make all nations his disciples and to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. They have to sustain the universal dynamism of the apostolate and must be opened to the working of the Spirit who has guided the Church and caused irruptions of charisms, which have prodded the rise of the great movements that have built up the local Churches as well as the Church as a whole. (Ibid).

It is for this reason that Cardinal Ratzinger appealed for deeper understanding between the two structures, the apostolic (universal Church) and the local Churches. He said: “All must let themselves be measured by love for the unity of the one Church, which is only one in all local churches and appears as such again and again in the apostolic movements.” He then concluded: “The local churches and the apostolic movements must constantly recognize and accept the simultaneous truth of two propositions: ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia – ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia. Primacy and episcopacy, the local ecclesial system and apostolic movements, need each other: the primacy can live only with and through a living episcopacy, the episcopacy can preserve its dynamic and apostolic unity only in ordination to the primacy. Where one of the two is weakened, the Church as a whole suffers” (ibid).