Bernardo M. Villegas
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published: Mar 31, 2017



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Year of Listening and Mission

           In the "Pastoral Letter on the Year of Faith" that Cardinal-designate Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, wrote before he left to attend the Synod of Bishops in Rome, he spelled out a great challenge to Filipino Catholics during the ongoing Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013) and which can also apply to the next nine years which will pave the way for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Christian Faith on Philippine shores. Looking back over the last fifty years, the Archbishop of Manila remarked that "the world has seen dramatic changes that pose new challenges, even threats, to faith and its transmission.  The Philippines, specifically the area covered by the Archdiocese of Manila, is not exempt.  But we also believe that the contemporary world, especially the youth and the poor, expresses its search for God in ways that the Church must also discover.  Thus the Year of Faith invites us to listen to the deep cries and aspirations of the people and societies of our time so that we can proclaim Jesus Christ to them with new methods, new expressions and new fervor.  It is a year of listening and mission as well."

          The future Cardinal singled out the youth and the poor.   The young and growing population of the Philippines is repeatedly being cited as the most important economic asset of the country today, in the midst of aging societies in the developed world and even in some of the developing ones.  That is why the youth is a very important segment of the population today.  On the negative side, the Philippines is also notorious for having one of the largest percentages of the population of persons and families living below the poverty line of $2 per person per day. It is logical, therefore, that we must listen to the voices of over 20 million Filipino citizens who are struggling to keep body and soul together.  The youth and the poor have much to say about their aspirations for a just and humane society, the very objective of Christian social doctrine.   We must, therefore, listen to the youth and the poor as well as many others with the use of reason.

          Those in charge of the new evangelization must be convinced that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares (par. 36), God, the first principle and last end of all things can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of reason.  Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God's revelation.  Man has this capacity because he is created "in the image of God."  And as we read in Paragraph 39 of the same Catechism, "In defending the ability of human reason to know God, the Church is expressing her confidence in the possibility of speaking about him to all men and with all men, and therefore of dialogue with other religions, with philosophy and science, as well as with unbelievers and atheists."  Those who have faith in the truths of Christianity are always willing to listen to others belonging to other religions or no religion at all about what their natural reason tells them are the laws of moral conduct.  The natural law imprinted in the mind of every human being can lead to a great deal of consensus about both private and public morality.  As I travel to countries all over Asia with the most diverse religious faiths, I am very impressed at a wide agreement on moral principles governing marriage and the family, education, the social function of private property, human work, ethics in business and media, etc. 

          The constant listening and speaking to "all men and with all men" must, however, be supplemented by the mission of proposing (not imposing) the Christian faith to all.  With  tact and charity, reasonable people must be reminded about what Pope Pius XII said in Humani Generis:  "Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator, yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty.  For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation.  The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin.  So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful."

          This is where faith comes in.  We Christians define faith as a "personal adherence of man to God.  At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person.  It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says.  It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature. (Catechism, par. 150).  Our mission as Christians is to propose the truth that believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit.  But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act.  Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason.  Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions, or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another....Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace." (par. 154).

          During this Year of Faith and  during the countdown to the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity to our Archipelago, those of us who believe firmly in our faith must not have any hesitation to proclaim it first and foremost to our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith and then to all other men and women of goodwill.  The Catechism of the Church clearly attests to the freedom of faith:  "To be human, 'man's response to God by faith must be free, and therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. The act of faith is of its very nature a free act' ... 'God calls men to serve him in spirit and in truth.  Consequently they are bound to him in conscience, but not coerced...This fact received its fullest manifestation in Christ Jesus. Indeed, Christ invited people to faith and conversion, but never coerced them.  'For he bore witness to the truth but refused to use force to impose it on those who spoke against it.  His kingdom...grows by the love with which Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws men to himself.'” (par. 160).  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.