THE true gifts of Christmas are truth, love and peace. But we are at war, and we have to fight for these gifts. The New Dark Age is here. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or the Levant has declared war on all Christians, and the caliphate claims to have established, according to a press dispatch from London, one “breeding station” in some jungle in southern Philippines. The government has belied this claim, and one must believe one’s government; but it is prudent to take such denials with an abundance of caution.
With or without the ISIS, many in the West have banished God from the public square. The hostility is most evident this season. In his Christmas post, the American writer Don Feder, who used to write for the Boston Herald, and with whom I regularly correspond, provides some of the latest details of this war on Christmas.
The war on Christmas
At Wittensville, Kentucky school district, he writes, a “Charlie Brown Christmas” presentation, which has been playing for decades, has been purged on the basis of a single complaint. In Orange, Texas, the city manager ordered the nativity scene removed from an important holiday fixture that has been there for the past thirty years because the atheists demanded their own display.
In Brooklyn, the principal of PS 169 tried to censor everything that could suggest Christmas–Santas, trees, holiday-themed parties, stars and angels. When exposed by the New York Post, she recanted, but explained that 95 percent of the kids in school were Hispanic and Asian anyway.
The situation in the big cities is not much better. These attacks on Christmas are coming not from Islamic jihadists, but simply from atheists and lapsed Christians who blame God for all their troubles. The violence they inflict on the spirit is not less lethal than the physical violence inflicted by those who preface their slaughter with “Allahu Akbar!”
The crisis they cause is civilizational.
In the Philippines, we still celebrate Christmas, according to tradition. It is reputedly the longest Christmas celebration anywhere. We begin playing Christmas carols as early as September, and Christmas lights illuminate towns and cities throughout December. The nine-day “simbang gabi” (dawn mass) begins on Dec 16 and ends on the 24th. But secularization and paganization have set in, creating a platform for apostates and unbelievers. They do not yet attack Christmas openly as their Western counterparts do; but this may not remain so for long.
Heresies like Arianism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism, etc. normally creep into the Church from within, but increasingly State intervention has become the mode of attacking the Church. Two constitutional provisions meant to protect the Church and belief in God from State intervention have been so misused to attack what they were supposed to protect. These are the principle of separation of Church and State, and the so-called non-establishment clause.
The war on the Church
The first says, “the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable;” the second says, “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”
The first appears to be the legal translation of the biblical adage: Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God what are God’s. But neither the Bible nor the Constitution equates Caesar with God; Caesar remains a creature, therefore hardly God’s equal. In the non-establishment clause, the constitutional prohibition against “respecting an establishment of religion” has been so misread to prohibit anything that suggests belief in God.
This contradicts the very Preamble of the Constitution, in which the “sovereign Filipino people (implore) the aid of Divine Providence, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody (their) ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop (their) patrimony, and secure to (themselves) and (their) posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace…”
Since all religions believe in God, the Constitution should be correctly interpreted to protect belief in God by all religions, without favoring any particular religion. This is the exact opposite of what is happening.
In Roe v. Wade, the justices of the US Supreme Court totally violated the right of the unborn and the right of Catholic Christians to insist upon that right, in favor of the individual’s so-called “right to privacy,” which created the unspeakable “right to abortion.”
In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Justices trashed the human institution of marriage as the exclusive and permanent union of one man and one woman, again in the name of the private right of individuals, to allow “same-sex unions,” which now sacrilegiously take the name of “marriage.”
Here, the Congress passed an unconstitutional Reproductive Health Act in which the State, otherwise known as the primary protector of the life of the unborn, becomes the primary preventer of conception by being the primary provider of contraception. The High Court has ruled the RH law “not unconstitutional,” after calling it a “population control measure,” which is prohibited by the Constitution. The unhappy thing is that some pro-life workers have been led to believe they had won their case at the Supreme Court.
Beware of copycats
Given our copycat culture, it is not unlikely there will be frenzied efforts to copy what the Americans have done on “same-sex marriage” through the Supreme Court or through legislation. There are enough senatorial and congressional candidates in this election with the appropriate qualifications and inclination. In the Solicitor General’s Office alone, we have Solicitor General Florin Ternal Hilbay, author of the book “Unplugging the Constitution,” who openly supports “same-sex marriage” and advocates “de-legalizing and destabilizing marriages.” Hilbay is among those being nominated for the High Court.
But even more serious than all this is the threat of a presidential program of government, which seeks to destroy the Church through state contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, extrajudicial killing and public adultery for high public officials. Unless we have completely misread everything, this is what Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s program would like to throw into our great project of nation-building. It is certain to change our view of ourselves and our mission as Catholic Christians.
Back to the catacombs?
T. S. Eliot once described Christianity as “a condition of complete simplicity costing nothing less than everything.” In this Year of Mercy, and with the challenge coming from “Digong,” it is easy to understand this as an invitation to fight the lions in the arena or go back to the catacombs–if it means building our own catacombs.
Millenniums away from Nero’s and Diocletian’s persecution, we have this option to embrace the lives of martyrs. This is our real challenge.
Of course we are free to turn away. But the better option is to reaffirm our faith and solidarity. As we read in John (6:67-69), after some of Jesus’ disciples walked away, he asked Peter: Do you also want to go away? And Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
It is to this Holy One of God to whom we turn our minds and hearts and souls on Christmas Day, as indeed we should every single day. Indeed, for all sorts of political, economic, social and other reasons, many have turned away and will probably turn away. But our duty, if we know what’s good for our country, is to stay.
As the Catholic writer Walter Percy renders the earlier words of the fisherman into his own words, “What else is there?” Without Christianity, what happens to humanity?
Listen to Benedict XVI, not Duterte
I dare not underestimate the attraction of Duterte. As beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, the New Age could have turned upside down our usual standards of truth, goodness and beauty. But I take confidence in the words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) when he writes:
“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge–a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning… In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of individual members…But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world…
“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for that Church… It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek… The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—-when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—-to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.”
Everything seems so clear. Despite all attempts to reduce the whole of our Christian life into our shabby politics, our future shines with the full splendor of Christian hope. Have a blessed and truly meaningful Christmas!