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Elections as trials of faith

Rev. Eutiquio B. Belizar, Jr., SThD

By the roadside


THE efforts of the Church in the Philippines, particularly through the CBCP, to be a principle of unity (read: in non-partisan political engagement, if I may use the phrase) and, at the same time, to provide moral-spiritual guidelines to the Filipino faithful in the face of the upcoming May 9, 2016 polls remind me of the Parable of the Sower. The Church sows the seeds (i.e., the Word as applied to the present circumstances). But there are so many kinds of soil, majority of which does not seem friendly (as in the parable). The only difference is that it is so difficult to tell if even the “good soil” would outperform the unfriendly ones, so as to bear fruit “a hundredfold” in the election of what may be perceived by believers as the “fitting choices” among national and local candidates.

While in the previous elections violence was more pronounced in the actual and attempted political assassinations carried out between rival political groupings, now violence is extended to the verbal discourse in the mass and social media, to the debates and campaign sloganeering, to the pre-election survey results analyses and exposés. Information is so hard to distinguish from disinformation, truth from fabrication, anti-criminality politicking from criminal bullying, whether in cyberspace or in the marketplace.

The Church stands in the middle of it all. She is doing what she can to maintain the balance between faith and reason, between the principles of democracy and those of morality. She hopes for the maturity of the Filipino faithful to prevail over juvenile inter-party quarrels and narrow-minded perception of what ails the nation and the kind of leadership that will lead us to solutions, not false expectations. But her eyes also reveal undisguised anxiety.

The level of cynicism and distrust among so many Filipinos in the present political system and those that represent it seems too loud to be ignored. It is palpable not only in the ordinary conversations and media-facilitated exchanges of viewpoints and standpoints but also in survey results as dissected by sober analyses. Far too many of the poor have far too little share of the so-called “development pie”. So many of the so-called “middle class” and “upper crust” elite are so dissatisfied with the seemingly “ironclad” impunity of criminals, unchecked government corruption and inefficiency, breakdown in the mass transport and traffic systems that they are now ready to make drastic rather than right choices.

The personality cult in Philippine politics also further obscures the already short memory our people have in their collective sense, if at all, of history. The Church realizes this, too. But while she decries the amnesia of past ills, she also sees how much the nation needs a sense of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation among its many warring families, clans, parties and communities.

Still, justice cannot be sacrificed to achieve national unity. Therein lies the problem. Justice in the Philippine context has not only been painfully slow; it is also mostly unattained. This, I believe, is why Philippine politics could be compared to a typical showbiz celebrity; it is perennially adolescent.

Whatever happens to the May 9 polls, the Church will always face challenges. If the presidential and vice-presidential frontrunners somehow get elected, this particular observation holds. The Church in her colorful and diverse history had dealt with many types of governments and regimes before, some friendly, others downright hostile. She survived persecutions and even betrayals by some of her own sons and daughters. Our age or country does not promise to be any different. What the Church may find more disturbing, especially in the Philippine context, is the rather non-negligible number of those who, while calling themselves Catholic, also play a deaf ear to her or advocate positions openly contradicting their faith. In Waray, we have a saying to the effect that the most painful thing a mother can go through is being betrayed by her own children.

And yet, there are also opportunities before us. For instance, there is the opportunity to be purified as Church. Time was when the Church could influence the powerful or move in their corridors like she was one of them. That is not exactly gone, but it is considerably diminished. This, I believe, is to our great advantage. We have an opportunity to align ourselves more closely in relation to the Master who was not only powerless; he was also a victim of the powerful, like so many of our poor who easily fall for their promises many of which are until now unfulfilled.

There is also the opportunity to sow the Word in humility. The more abuse and rejection Church teaching and preaching may meet even among otherwise sober believers, the less should pride and arrogance characterize our response. The silence of Jesus before Pilate and on the way to Calvary is deafening. It is the silence of a humble proclamation, one that is about to end in a humiliating defeat before staging an overpowering resurrection.

This Jubilee Year of Mercy also affords a special opportunity for the Church to truly be a Mother who initiates the binding of wounds, instead of joining those who inflict more of them. Our politics is divisive enough. But are we pointing to ways and means of bringing about the lost unity? Do we allow ourselves often enough to be “instruments of peace” and “rekindlers of hope” in a country prone to calamity, both natural and man-made?

Democracy has its limitations. But, by far, it is the better situation for our people than the known alternatives. The people may or may not choose a government that is friendly to the Church. Whatever results will always be a test and a trial for her. But it matters little in the long run. The Church does not flourish by man’s grace but by God’s. It relies on the words of him who declares: “You are Peter and upon this Rock, I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it” (Matthew 13:18).

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