Prophetic engagement: the Church’s calisthenics
Napoleon Bonaparte:“(Venomous tirade)…I shall crush the (Roman) Catholic Church…”
Ercole Cardinal Consalvi (Pius VII’s Secretary of State): “If in 1,800 years we the clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you’ll be able to do it?”
Philippine President:(Extremely venomous tirade) “In 30 years the (Roman Catholic) Church will be passé especially when all the abuses of the clergy are exposed.”
Some Catholic Bishops:“That is your wish. But be more powerful than Satan first, because Jesus Christ promised that ‘even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Church)'[Mt 16:18].”
THE Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines is not unique in facing up to hostile political leadership. The local hierarchy knows this fully well. History is replete with similar circumstances the Church has to deal with in other countries and in other epochs. But never has the Church encountered a leader that has used the vilest, crudest and most crassly offensive language against her like the current local version. Sometimes it seems the hierarchy becomes so provoked that it responds, though not in kind, but just as forcefully.
The hierarchy, of course, is also fully aware that the Church will eventually weather the verbal and other storms flung her way. She will survive any and all attempts to wish or cause her demise. But meanwhile she needs to prayerfully discern the movements and promptings of the Spirit, so she will know where He is leading her in her present situation.
I find it remarkable that in history the Church has had to absorb the most stinging and destructively harrowing attacks from leaders originally born of her. For instance, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler as well as the current Philippine president were baptized Catholics. Yet Bonaparte caused the invasion of Rome, imprisoned and nearly had Pius VII executed. Hitler, for his part, also believing that the Church would eventually fall away, tried to hasten the process by campaigning against the existence and operation of seminaries, for instance, and sending to concentration camps and the gas chambers a number of clergymen and religious his regime saw as enemies. Yet, while both Bonaparte and Hitler are now in the dustbin of history, the current local leader continues to espouse their cause against a Living Reality that has survived Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Henry VIII, Ferdinand Marcos, Stalin, Lenin & Marx, Mao Tse Tong, and many other more powerful hostile leaders. When will history’s lessons be learned? Perhaps the local chief knows his history but has chosen to ignore it, thinking he can create a new strand. Only time will tell if he proves more successful than the previous strongmen of other ages. That would be God’s call.
On the other hand, not everything is in black and white. For instance, the current leader also espouses and does a lot of good for the same people that the Church also serves. The drive against the drug menace minus its gruesome disrespect for life, the anti-corruption, pro-peace stance, avowed independent foreign policy (though obviously veered towards the other super powers inimical to the first colonial master), pro-poor bias etc. offer promising areas for collaboration. This, I believe, is partly why the Philippine hierarchy has chosen to engage the current regime in dialogue. At the same time, it remains firm in prophetically upholding Gospel values as well as basic moral and human standards that the political leadership appears, at best, to be selective about.
Hence, the Church must, as it were, learn to dance the calisthenics with the present dispensation. Outright hostility and adversarial approaches might create more harm than good. On the other hand, complete accommodation is, with the way things are going, out of the question.
As to whether or not the president’s wish for the Church’s demise in 30 years will come true, I fully subscribe to Bishop David’s observation that it is really Jesus Christ who keeps us the Church “alive”, and that we must “humbly” confess this.
And if, by some twist of fate, the Church indeed dies, it is the same Jesus Christ who will raise her up from the dead…