With pain and horror, we continue to get daily news of killings around the country. We cannot allow the destruction of lives to become normal. We cannot govern the nation by killing…. Heartless violence can be conquered only by a change of heart and by discovering in the depths of our being the inclination to do good and to love our neighbor.
— Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle
Thus says the Lord: … If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.
— The Book of Ezekiel, 33:7-9
This article is supposed to be about banishing the devil, following up from last Sunday’s exorcism and deliverance column, but we are deferring that story for another day. Instead, let’s cover a more urgent issue: suspect killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war.
In a sense, though, the topic is about expelling demons — the killers run loose in our land, from criminals and terrorists, to vigilantes and rogue police.
This is a demonic scourge, for the devil, seeking to usurp God’s power of life and death, delights in killing. And banish it we must, or else it not only snuffs out breath, but also extinguishes the light of God in our souls.
For when “the destruction of lives becomes normal,” as Cardinal Tagle phrased it in his new statement on killings on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Friday, then the voice of God in our hearts, the sense of righteousness and love that is the divine consciousness in us, is banished, by the demon and instead of it.
Shouting down the killers
Thankfully, many Filipinos have expressed revulsion at the murders, not just the country’s most prominent prelate, but also the President. He has repeatedly warned police against killing unarmed suspects giving in, and even threatened to kill police who kill the defenseless.
The chorus lamenting the deaths and decrying the violence, including police-perpetrated rubouts, is not only warranted by the carnage in the past year. Anger and admonition are also demanded by God, as we hear in all of today’s mass readings.
The Prophet Ezekiel, quoted above, conveys the Lord’s instruction “to dissuade the wicked from his way,” or else if he commits sin, then both he and we are damned, him for his transgression, us for our lack of brotherly correction of the sinner.
Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans spells out the fundamental law of God: “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
And in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, our Lord also instructs that we press the wayward to turn away from sin and back to the right path, first by a private word, then with others echoing the message, and finally with the Church lending its moral authority.
Now, can we have a show of hands for volunteer believers who will lecture the trigger- or dagger-happy, the likes of those who shot Kian de los Santos twice in the head and Carl Arnaiz five times in the body, and stabbed Reynaldo de Guzman several times?
If rather than raising hands, readers are raising a howl, that shows exactly why the killing spree is happening and may well keep happening: Many simply don’t care about right and wrong, or see nothing evil in exterminating the living.
Pretty soon, the faithful give up telling off the violent, and so does the Church. And all that’s left to lecture is the government, which should really be the one reading the riot act to the killers, right?
Silence before the real devils
In fact, admonition can only go so far to dissuade the killer, uniformed or not. And when faced with pervasive crime and corruption, including a criminal justice system and a political and governance culture that even connives with the lawless, then even the righteous begin to think that “Thou shalt not kill” doesn’t apply to offenders who would just walk free if subjected to due process.
So, if Catholics and other well-meaning believers truly aim to end the carnage, the admonition should not only be against those who kill, but also those breaking the law, enslaving the addict, conniving with traffickers, and ruling narco-fiefdoms.
Now, how many pastoral statements, mass homilies, prayer sessions, and sidlingly corrections have been done to drug lords, pushers and users, narco-politicians, and syndicate-influenced judges and police?
Over the decades when addictions climbed to the millions, were there such church activities done, especially for known narco-kingpins and their protectors in government?
Or were these enslavers of the bodies and souls of millions of youth as young as Kian, Carl and Kulot, able to ply their demonic trade with little discomfort from finger-wagging bishops, priests and parishioners? Ditto the officialdom paid off to look the other way?
If the Catholic Church means to stop the killings, then the faithful, from Cardinals to laity, must do as Pope Francis did, thundering against crime syndicates and their protectors, and denying them the respectability of upright citizens, and even of applauded contributors to church and school coffers.
Speaking of the unrepentant and incorrigible, Jesus said in the Gospel: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
Give that treatment to drug lords, sleazy officials, corrupted law enforcers, and other big shots in the criminal injustice system, and the Church may well do far more to reduce the drug body count, not to mention the drug trade, than protesting a government battling global narco-empires with little help.
(Ric Saludo gives Fatima talks in Los Angeles and Miami on Sept.19-30. Interested groups may email firstname.lastname@example.org.)