My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Love is the core of the message of Jesus in today’s gospel. Love is indeed the trademark of the followers of Jesus. The Lord promises further in the gospel that if we choose the path of love and keep His commandments we will never be orphans.
The past few months have seen many of us who belong to the same Church and who share the same faith in Christ at odds with one another on the issue of the reproductive health bill in Congress. It is indeed sad and perhaps even scandalous for non Christians to see the Catholic flock divided among themselves and some members of the Catholic lay faithful at odds with their own pastors. If we fail to have love, we make ourselves orphans.
BRING BACK CHARITY
It is certainly not our intention to add more flame to the fire but rather to make an appeal for the triumph of reason and sobriety. We want to make a plea for greater charity even as we passionately state our positions on this divisive issue. At the end of the heated debates, we will all be winners if we proclaim the truths we believe in with utmost charity, courtesy and respect for one another. Charity is at the heart of the social doctrine of the Church Pope Benedict XVI reminds us. In the first letter of Peter today, he admonishes us today never to be without gentleness and reverence.
RETURN TO CONSCIENCE
We appeal to our Catholic brethren who stand on opposing sides on the reproductive health bill to return to the voice of conscience, to state their positions and rebut their opponents always with charity. Today’s second reading is a call for clarity of conscience beyond reproach. The moral conscience is man’s sanctuary through which the voice of God is heard, that voice that tells us to embrace what is good and reject what is evil. However, conscience is not the ultimate tribunal of morality. Conscience must be formed in the light of truth. Conscience must be enlightened by the Spirit of God. We appeal to both sides engaged in debate to pray, to seek the light of God and allow the voice of an enlightened conscience to prevail. We pray conscience does now allow itself to be swayed by statistics or partisan political positions. The only voice conscience must listen to is the voice of God. The only way for conscience to speak is through the language of Christ-like charity.
We appeal to our Catholic brethren to remember that the unity of the Church does not only pertain to the acceptance of a set of doctrines. Our Catholic faith has a moral mandate. It is not enough to recite the Apostles’ Creed; we must show that we are Catholics by living by the norms of Catholic morality. We are Catholics by creed and cult and code. We are Catholics in beliefs. We are Catholics in prayer. We are Catholics with one moral life.
In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things charity!
The issue of contraception belongs to the realm of faith not opinions. Blessed John Paul II repeatedly taught us during his papacy that contraception can never be justified. We must not make wrong right by the sheer force of surveys or legislation by the majority or the convenience of some. People in authority who mislead others on the matter of contraception put themselves in open conflict with the law of God and lead others to sin.
FIGHT ALL CORRUPTIONS
The Church holds close to her heart the dream of everyone to rise out of poverty and live the fullness of life. Pope Paul VI correctly pointed out to us that “the causes of underdevelopment are not primarily of the material order. They lie above all in the will, in the mind and, even more so, in “the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples”. In other words, the greater cause of underdevelopment is corruption of the soul and corruption of society. Contraception adds to the moral corruption of our society and family.
We all want progress for the nation and for the family of nations. We cannot progress without freedom. Jesus died and rose to set us free. Indeed EDSA 1986 taught us that. But freedom must always be grounded in truth. Freedom is not absolute. Freedom must submit to truth. Freedom without truth is only sentimentalism and will only lead to social laxity.
In fact, ethical relativism eventually leads to totalitarianism. Ethical relativism destroys freedom. Ethical relativism turns freedom into licentiousness. Licentiousness and laxity has destroyed many great civilizations of history. Those who ignore the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.
CHURCH AS MOTHER
We plead with our officials in government and our friends in media to look at the Church as a partner in the mission of development. The Catholic Church throughout its two thousand year history in the world and almost five hundred years in the Philippines has proven itself as a potent agent for holistic authentic human progress and not an obstacle for development. If the Church issues this stern warning about the reproductive health bill, it is not to impede national progress but to protect our nation from greater harms and tragedies in the generations ahead. On this highly divisive issue, the Church is still a mother protecting her children from greater dangers and moral traps which until now her beloved children are still unable to foresee.
We need God if we want development. Jesus is the only Way, the only Truth, the only Life for us. There is none like Him. We will be lost without Him. Ignoring Him and setting Him aside in pursuing progress we do only at our own peril.
From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, May 24, 2011, Feast of Mary Help of Christians.
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan