Amidst the bubble of public enthusiasm over the apostolic visit of Pope Francis, which begins tomorrow, this question asks itself because of the unresolved corruption scandals that have plagued and continue to plague the country, despite its apparent overflow of Christian piety. How could so much unbridled corruption, not to mention so many other grievous crimes, happen in this predominantly Catholic and God-fearing country?
The quickest anti-Christian knee-jerk has been to blame the Christian faith for it, by suggesting that corruption has become endemic because Christianity (specifically Catholicism) permits or even encourages it. They cite the sacrament of confession, which allows a wrongdoer to seek forgiveness for his sins by confessing them to a priest, as being principally responsible for it. Catholics do not mind committing the most grievous offense because they are confident of being easily pardoned for it, so the theory goes.
It is an awful lot of nonsense. It reflects a completely perverted view of religion and reason, and specifically, of the sacrament of penance and forgiveness. No one offends the law of God or the laws of men because he practices his Abrahamic faith; he does so either because he has no faith or because he fails or refuses to follow the teachings of his faith. He sins not because of his religion but in spite of it.
If he is Catholic and penitent, he could seek forgiveness by confessing his theft or plunder to a priest. But no priest could absolve him, in persona Christi—-in the name of Christ, unless he returns what he has stolen — this is called “restitution”– and performs whatever penance is imposed upon him by the priest. Full satisfaction of the penance restores him into a state of grace, and he could then worthily receive the Holy Eucharist and be reunited to Christ. Otherwise, if he receives communion unworthily, he commits sacrilege, which compounds his original offense.
To the best of my knowledge, this is how the Catholic religion and the sacrament of penance work. Because this religion is based on love, it is full of joy and hope, but it does not spare the faithful of a strenuous life. It does not make it easy for a Catholic to sin or to live a corrupt and immoral life. The call to universal holiness is what he is taught to take to heart; for the greatest tragedy, as the French writer Leon Bloy puts it, “is not to become a saint.”
In a predominantly Catholic country, one could expect the highest positions of leadership in the non-confessional state to be occupied by serious Catholics who try to live their lives with utmost fidelity to God. One also expects its secular politics to submit to the guidance of Christian ethics. This is what a long tradition of theologians and philosophers, from Augustine through Aquinas to Maritain and Joseph de Torre, have taught. But we have not seen this in the long history of our Republic. We have had masonic presidents, even a Protestant one, but never a real Catholic who was eager to put the whole country under the sovereignty of God, as the preamble of the Constitution provides.
Most of them profess to be Catholic, but they proudly proclaim that they do not follow all the teachings of their Church, as though it were possible for anyone to be a good citizen without obeying the traffic rules or paying one’s taxes. They wear their Catholicism like a hat, which they use when going to church on Sundays, but they leave it outside the door whenever they report for work or go elsewhere on weekdays.
By all sorts of political excesses they have destroyed the primary values of democracy, but they invoke democracy to reject the role of Christian morality and tradition in the affairs of the State, consistent with Jean Jacques Rousseau who saw democracy and Christianity in an antithetical relationship. This happens whether or not they have heard of Rousseau at all. But Christianity, according to the future Pope Benedict XVI, as the source of knowledge, antecedent to the political action on which it sheds light, ought to be seen “not as revealed religion but as leaven and a form of life which has proved its worth in the course of human history….
“The truth about the good supplied by the Christian tradition becomes an insight of human reason and hence a rational principle, (which) does not inflict violence on reason or on politics by means of some kind of dogmatism,” writes Ratzinger. “The basic moral insights revealed by Christianity are so obvious to all and so incontrovertible that even in the conflict between confessions, they could be regarded as insights that every rational man takes for granted. They possess a rational evidential quality that remains unaffected by the dogmatic disputes of a divided Christendom,” he points out.
Indeed, Christianity has taught mankind everything it knows about the human condition; this is why it stands as the foundation of Western civilization, which was built, according to Sheed, by listening to God while looking at man. And yet all this we seem determined to undo, both by our considerable malice and by our colossal ignorance. The main source of this folly is the State, as presently administered.
We have a president who, although known to be a baptized Christian, defies characterization as far as his precise moral and religious situation is concerned. To pursue his personal and political ends, he has not hesitated to corrupt Congress, intimidate the judiciary, and take liberties with the national treasury without any trepidation or qualms of conscience. And no one has raised a voice in protest from among those who have been corrupted.
For all intents and purposes, both corruptor and corrupted have abolished the regulation of the moral law from the practice of politics, as though the state had become the source of truth and morality, which has no philosophical, scientific, or rational basis. The question of right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral no longer figures in considering the merit of a particular idea or act. The only criterion that seems to matter now is expediency: can one get away with it?
Sadly, for all the many good things that could still be said about the Philippines and Filipinos, this is the kind of Christian society which Pope Francis will find when he comes tomorrow. Everything is being done to provide him with a much bigger crowd than the four million-strong assembly that welcomed Pope Saint John Paul II during the World Youth Day celebration at Rizal Park in 1995, and to make sure that he is safe from all harm. One hundred million Filipinos, without exception, would like to do everything to ensure the safety and comfort of the Holy Father. But nothing is being done to remove all the moral, spiritual and political obstacles that stand in the way of making the Philippines a truly transformed nation.
In a gentle reminder to the faithful, the Pope has asked that they focus on Jesus rather than on Francis. This seemed like a mild reproach to the local hierarchy which for months has been asking the Catholic faithful to kneel after every Mass and pray “that we may be eager to meet and listen to Pope Francis.” The real rock star is our Lord, rather than his vicar.
Francis will be the third pope to visit Catholic Philippines, but Jesus, the son of the living God made man, has long preceded the first papal visit, and has been on our altars for all of the nearly 500 years since we fist embraced Catholicism. He waits for the faithful every second of every day at the tabernacle even when they do not come. He is the source of the love, mercy and compassion which the Pope bears to the Filipino people. It is to him that we look for our conversion, transformation and salvation.