First, he cussed Pope Francis during the 2016 election campaign over mammoth traffic jams when the Holy Father arrived for the January 2015 papal visit. That, and remarks on keeping mistresses and killing drug offenders led Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, then president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, to virtually call on the faithful not to vote for him.
He retorted that the Church was hypocritical in moralizing against him. Then, months into his rule, the CBCP condemned the thousands of suspect killings in his anti-drug war. He accused a Jesuit priest of sexually abusing him in Ateneo de Davao. He also cited a book alleging indiscretions by a prominent bishop and anomalies in Church finances.
So, many may wonder why President Rodrigo Duterte has gifted the Catholic Church with not one, but two state-mandated religious celebrations.
For the Lord’s mother and His revelation
On December 28, he signed into law Republic Act 10966, “An Act Declaring December 8 of Every Year A Special Nonworking Holiday in the Entire Country to Commemorate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Principal Patroness of the Philippines.”
That law would enable 85 million Filipino believers, among the most Marian in the world, to attend obligatory mass and make other devotions without skipping work. The Immaculate Conception is a Catholic dogma that Mary, like her divine son Jesus, was conceived without original sin, unlike all other human beings.
And over a year ago, through Proclamation No. 125, dated January 5, 2017, the President declared National Bible Month to be held nationwide every January.
That extended what was previously a week-long event, and originally just one Bible Sunday. Boxing champion Sen. Manny Pacquiao, an Evangelical Christian convert, had also urged that the last Monday of January be declared National Bible Day.
Thanks to this proclamation, more Bible activities can be held over an entire month, and even government agencies can have them, since it is a state-mandated national event.
In promulgating the proclamation, President Duterte said the 1987 Constitution mandated the government to promote ethical and spiritual values of the citizenry and help improve their morality.
The proclamation said, in part, “it is fitting and proper for the molding of the spiritual, moral and social fiber of our citizenry, that national attention be focused on the importance of reading and studying the Bible.”
It added, mindful of the separation of Church and State under the charter, “while maintaining neutrality in its treatment of all religious communities, the government is not precluded from pursuing valid objectives secular in character even if it would have an incidental result affecting a particular religion or sect.”
Bringing God’s Word into our world
Yesterday, at San Carlos Seminary, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle kicked off activities for this year’s Bible Month with a mass attended by Bible coordinators for the parishes under his charge.
Like this writer, many of the Ministry of Bible Apostolate coordinators were designated late last year, and given a three-Saturday crash course in Scripture basics, centered around God’s plan of salvation as a framework for Bible study in homes, schools, and communities.
The so-called “MBA” lay ministers got a further grounding in the Church’s Lectio Divino biblical approach, which involved reading the Word of God (lectio, in Latin), meditating on it (meditation), praying over it for God’s guidance, and finally, taking on the divine perspective in the reading (contemplatio) to see the world and one’s life situation with the eyes of God.
While it all sounds very abstract, the aim is in fact to make the centuries-old texts of the Bible relevant and meaningful to the everyday life of every Christian. Not just his or her spiritual life, but every aspect and angle of his or her days and affairs.
Money or relationship problems at home or in love? Read the Bible for God’s guidance.
Daunting problems and challenges in the company or country? See how heaven sees things in Lectio Divino.
Even global issues like refugees and faith-fueled conflicts can find helpful, even indispensable viewpoints from Sacred Scripture, as Cardinal Tagle recounted in his homily.
Invited to a Bible conference in the Middle East, he asked the scholars and religious leaders gathered how their scriptural reflections and research could address the endless carnage and suffering in the biblical lands. No one could answer.
And at a European Scripture gathering in Poland, he again urged that biblical discourse be brought to bear on world discord, especially in the current issue of refugees and migration. One positive result: the conference agreed to come up with Cardinal Tagle’s request of a one-page Lectio Divino Bible reading and reflection guide about refugee migration and interfaith dialogue.
With his constant urging to bring God’s Word into man’s world, it’s no wonder His Eminence was elected head of the worldwide Catholic Biblical Federation in 2015, even if he was not a Scripture expert and was shocked to learn of the voting he didn’t attend.
Moriah in Marawi
Can a book about events and personages many millennia ago really be made directly relevant and insightful for our era and events? The answer is certainly yes for youth groups who staged song, dance and drama presentations about Bible study at yesterday’s gathering.
One depicted the challenge of getting fellow teenagers steeped in pop culture and daily commerce, interested in Scripture. The answer: share their activities first, and they will begin to take interest in yours.
The other presentation opened with a Marawi battle scene, with soldiers under terrorist fire. One is wounded, another is killed. The trooper’s widow mourns but accepts his fate. But the orphaned boy wants to join the army, so he can take revenge. He also fumed against God for letting his father die.
The mother restrains the boy, stressing his late father’s Christian virtues of mercy toward others and faith in God. The presentation ended with Abraham’s obedience to God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah.
Now, that’s Lectio Divino.