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Perplexed by words

Rev. Eutiquio ‘Euly’ B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
By the roadside


Rev. Eutiquio ‘Euly’ B. Belizar, Jr.“Have you seen a man hasty in words? There is more hope of a fool than of him.” Solomon in Proverbs 29:20

A commoon saying to the effect that “a picture paints a thousand words” was once met by a witty retort saying that “it takes words to say that”. Whatever evaluation we give to words, we cannot do without them. Leaders use them to inform, warn, unify, secure, inspire and move people to action; so does the Church, except that in her regard words are primarily tools of proclaiming the truth of God’s saving love. In that sense they are of primordial importance (pardon my making the point using such a formal expression).

But what do we do when a leader uses words that inspire and move his minions of supporters as well as “perplex”, “anger”, “confuse”, deeply “wound” others, even creating enemies out of friends here and around the world?

In the words of an American government official, one effect of such use of words is “unnecessary uncertainty” (which prompts me to ask, “Are there necessary uncertainties” and “Who decides on who can create them?) and “consternation” particularly among erstwhile friendly people (which again prompts me to ask if words from leaders of Third-World countries are supposed mainly to please their hearers in the developed world rather than advance the interests of their own people).

I would not be surprised if even members of the Philippine Church, both the hierarchy and laity, who are trying hard to be as objective as possible to the plethora of words from the country’s chief executive, could also be described as “perplexed”. Often the combination of silence and expressions of support or protest from various rungs of the hierarchy seems more an indication of this perplexity than any clear direction on what to do in the face of a “predictably unpredictable” leader.

Years ago we were already reminded by the Second Vatican Council and the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines that we cannot remain in a state of perplexity vis-à-vis the political realities of our country or of any country simply because we are the Church. In fact, as Church we are not only bishops and priests but also the vast array of the lay faithful, many of whom are deeply involved in various fields of politics. Important words from Vatican II and PCP II tell us that even the political exercise must follow guidelines—which makes necessary the Church’s intervention: first, that it must work for “the common good”; second, that “political authority…must be exercised within the limits of the moral order” (The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern Word or Gaudium et Spes, no. 74; PCP II 334-337).

It occurs to me that because of this twofold guideline, the Church in the Philippines might do well to:

1. acknowledge and support the words and actions of the current leader of the country that uphold the common good while opposing any violations of the moral order. Nothing prevents us, for example, from standing behind his emphasis on a real independent foreign policy (in the sense of one beholden to no foreign country) but one, however, that creates friends of all nations/countries and renounces words or actions that create enemies of some. We must also unequivocally commend the campaign against criminality and the illegal drug menace, laudable in themselves, but to do so, while respecting the sanctity of life and the rule of law at the same time.

2. encourage frequent low-key visits by Church leaders to whom the chief executive has friendly dispositions, in order to clarify, explain or simply put across the Church’s concerns on certain actions and programs of the government. Considering his aversion to public criticism or his seeming hyper-sensitivity to negative feedbacks, he might be more easily reached through quiet recourses such as these or by tapping the help of “faithful sons/daughters of the Church” from among his people in making these concerns reach his ears .

3. although it is nigh impossible to crack, as it were, the unpredictability of the chief executive’s words and actions, the Church must also learn to prayerfully discern the right words and actions to be adopted when addressing him and other political leaders. We all must admit that this era is primarily an invitation to deeper prayer and discernment among God’s People in our land. In addition, we must also accept the “possibility” that the Spirit might, at times, be using the chief executive or other conscientious political leaders, to speak to the Church and not only vice versa. The prophetic motto of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” does not necessarily apply only to the Church in relation to political leaders, but, however painful they sometimes are, even to political leaders addressing or proclaiming the truth to Church leaders and faithful. Prophetic words, as many proofs from salvation and Church history attest, are not exclusive to bishops and priests. ‘Sensus fidelium’ is a case in point.

4. not to refrain from exercising the Church’s prophetic role just because of the chief executive’s tendency to “get back” harshly at his critics. The prophetic ministry, Scriptures teach us from the experience of Amos, Jeremiah, Elijah etc., always comes with the possibility, nay, certainty, of rejection. To renege on its exercise so as to live in, or cultivate, a smooth relationship with the powers that be is a betrayal of that ministry.

5. the words of a political leader can decide the destiny of the people he leads, but only God’s words can lead everyone to salvation. So pivotal is God’s words to his saving plan for mankind that he himself sent us his only-begotten Son as his Word revealing not only that saving will to us but also being himself our Way to hear and do God’s words.

Shakespeare once said: “It is a kind of good deed to say well, but words are no deeds.” Profound, we might say; still Shakespeare does not end the perplexity.
Herod was “perplexed” when he heard God’s Word through John the Baptist; he was even more “perplexed” when he heard about Jesus. But neither John nor Jesus was perplexed. That is because both knew their particular places in God’s scheme of things. As St. Augustine said, John was the voice; Jesus is the “Word”.
And we? We can only stop being perplexed by, like Mary, hearing and doing God’s “words” in the Word.

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