Aquino and his team could use a retreat this Lent


No, I don’t mean a retreat (backing down) from the word war with China or the propaganda war with political adversaries. A notion which seems ill-suited to P-Noy’s temperament.

I mean rather a spiritual retreat which people of faith and leaders traditionally undergo at certain times in their lives or during the year as a means to renew themselves and their purpose in life and work.

Because of the heavy burdens of public office, which must seem heavier these days in light of certain failures and multiple controversies, I thought it might be a good idea to suggest to President Aquino that he gather some key officials of the administration and ask them to join him in a retreat for a few days this Lent or whenever so they can reflect, individually and together, on the problems and challenges of national life and public service.

To use a practical metaphor, think of a retreat as an opportunity to recharge one’s batteries—like a car receiving a dose of extra power.

As it happens, Lent is the time of year when many Filipinos, ever ardent believers, take a little time off to go on retreat –some in fulfillment of vows, others as a yearly practice, and some perhaps as a lifestyle novelty.

A time for reconnection and renewal
A spiritual retreat is a traditional practice of different religious communities—of Christians as well as people of other faiths. For some groups, spiritual retreats are an integral part of their faith and worship.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, Meditative Retreats are seen by some as integral for reconnection to one’s self. Meditative retreats are an important practice in Sufism, the mystical path of Islam.

Retreats are notably popular in Christian churches, and were established in today’s form by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), in his Spiritual Exercises and are much-practiced by the Society of Jesus. Ignatius was later made the patron saint of spiritual retreats by Pope Pius XI in 1922.

A retreat is traditionally a withdrawal from ordinary activities for a period of time to commune with God in prayer and reflection.

One Catholic describes a Catholic retreat as a bit like a pilgrimage. You go somewhere for a day or a weekend or an entire week and you spend all your time studying the faith, in prayer, and in quiet contemplation of God.

There are three general formats for retreats:

1. Preached—A leader offers conferences each day, leads prayer and is available for private counseling

2. Directed—Each person meets with a spiritual director who may suggest scripture passages for prayer and reflection

3. Private —Without a leader or director

In every faith and every tradition, there is the shared belief that through deep reflection and prayer, believers can attain a deeper conversion, purification, and spiritual growth in their faith.

It’s not surprising that just as we celebrate Mass on certain public occasions and celebrations, the spiritual retreat has also been occasionally conscripted to serve civic and public goals.

In the past, during the ‘50s, ‘6os and ‘70s, some of our presidents made it a point to go on a spiritual retreat together with their most trusted colleagues and advisers. And they presumably devoted a part of their retreats to talk turkey and discuss the cares of public life.

Renewing the vision, resolves and loyalties
In making the present suggestion, I have been guided mainly by the idea that amidst their many current trials and tribulations, President Aquino and his team could use a brief respite by taking a little time off to reflect together on their work, their shared agenda, and their personal and collective commitment to the achievement of goals. A retreat would be a way of renewing the vision, resolves and loyalties that originally started the Aquino presidency,

I won’t presume to suggest to the President what retreat format would be most appropriate for him and his team. Or how a good spiritual director and leader could help to make the retreat rewarding for all participants.

I will only suggest that the retreat should serve as an opportunity for the President and his team to reflect long and deeply on the central concerns of our people and our country today, such as:

1. The shortcomings of the economy’s growth momentum, in failing to create enough jobs for our ever increasing labor force.

2. The deepening poverty of our people, particularly in the rural areas, and the failings of the conditional cash transfer program.

3. The search for peace in Mindanao, which will benefit greatly from the writing and passage of a representative and effective Bangsamoro Basic Law.

4. The continuing campaign against graft and corruption in government, which has reached a critical phase with the filing of charges by the Ombudsman.

5. The deteriorating transport system and other public services, as exemplified by the now almost prostrate MRT system.

6. The urgency for the building of new and modern infrastrucrture;

7. The crying need for effective law enforcement against rampant criminality, and for the containment of communist and other rebel groups.

It follows from the enumeration of issues above that the retreat would be most productive if top officials like Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima; Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman; Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, and Commucations Secretary Herminio Coloma, would be on hand to take part in the discussions. When they are effective and competent at their jobs, the administration should meet with success.

At various times, President Aquino has been heard to say that his Cabinet members under-promise and over-deliver – an odd claim since in the same breath he also says that most of his Cabinet are burnt-out. He has also taken to absolving them of responsibility in response to accusations of graft and criticisms of incompetence against them.

De la Costa on public service
The selection of scriptural and secular readings for the retreat is regarded as highly important for making a successful spiritual retreat. They should be apposite the problems to be corrected.

As one text for study and reflection during the retreat, I would recommend Fr. Horacio de la Costa’s Homily on Manuel Roxas, which he delivered in a Pontifical Mass for President Manuel A. Roxas, held at St., Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington D.C on April 24, 1948.

There is one stirring passage on public service in the homily that reads as follows:

“It is a fundamental principle of the democratic way of life that personal authority is not personal but public. It belongs to no one either by right of birth or in virtue of some real or imagined excellency over other men, whether it be wealth, intelligence or power. It belongs to the people, who may entrust it to whomsoever they freely choose. Neither does it endow the man to whom it is entrusted with any special gift of impeccability or infallibility. He may not claim thereby “the divinity that doth hedge a king.”

“His is a burden, not a privilege. He must spend himself in the public interests as though they were his own yet he may not derive any personal profit from his position. He is held accountable always for the authority he holds in trust, and when his mandate is revoked, he must be willing to relinquish that authority and return, a private citizen, to the ranks from which he came.

“Let him not expect any reward but the consciousness of having done his duty and served his people and his God, for often he will get no reward but this. Nay, he may find in the end his name vilified, his motive misrepresented, his deeds misjudged.”

Such is public service as a calling. Such are the rigorous demands on public officials — both elected and appointed.

There was a time when these lofty words meant everything for the discharge of public office. Over the decades and in the interval of so many administrations, they have lost a measure of their meaning and luster.

So it is part of the tasks of the present to restore the currency and coinage of this ideal of public service.


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1 Comment

  1. This is a very apt and helpful suggestion but it could had been stated more delicately. This sounds more like a prescription than a suggestion.