The Philippine Inquirer yesterday has a spread of Archbishop Villegas’ call to Filipinos to pray to end war, violence, hunger, and poverty. I think, the good Archbishop failed to explain that praying, prayer, is an active process involving reflection, communication, and action. When one prays say for the end of poverty, one is expected, upon rising from the supplicant’s position of kneeling, to take the position of strength and confidence to do one’s share of ending poverty. That is the real meaning of prayer. The more one kneels or invokes the sign of the Cross, the more one is challenged to contribute toward establishing the realities of what one’s asking God for. The more we “pray”, the more we’re urged toward the Christian responsibility of sowing the Gospel values. If there is such a thing as a bad Catholic, it is the one who doesn’t do his or her share in Gospel building.
During a mass over the holidays, the priest asks the people to flash the V sign, on top of greeting each other with the customary ‘peace be with you!’ Only a few did so. Outside of the church, this open stubbornness and lack of confidence among the majority betrays the sad reality among many Filipino Catholics. The reason why poverty is not now a thing of the past in this country is that we fail at authenticity. Inside churches, we beat our chests, sigh and make gesticulations toward the heavens, endure the long queues to touch the statues, yet upon stepping outside the church, we unleash our fangs and gossip like crazy about this and that neighbor, and if we decide to help that poor neighbor we do it out of spiteful pity or hidden scorn or self serving piety. We “pray” that Haiyan survivors will have the strength to rise up from their traumas, yet we don’t run to them to be their strength in the midst of their anxiety and fear; we “pray” from within our comfortable bulwarks, detached from painful realities on the ground. Look, it is not the members of the Catholic lay organizations who went out there to retrieve the dead and provide them with the proper Catholic death rite. The Catholic organization, otherwise a stronghold in this country, has not shown itself the force that it is in Ground Zero. It was the more secular Armed Forces which acted on this duty. The Secretary of State of the U.S. came to personally visit Tacloban. Has anyone from the CBCP? This is the attitude Rizal and other national heroes before and after him have been telling Catholic Filipinos, both the laity and clergy, to shake off, because this is the attitude which continues to oil serfdom across the country.
Christ tells the 12 disciples, with regular reminders of the fact, that “you are my brother”. He didn’t ask that these 12, mere humans that they were, to serve Him. Instead, He served them. He lived among them. Service. Action. Reciprocity. Faithfulness. The stamp of the authentic follower of Christ. Because anyone, the devil even, can kneel and make pretense at “praying”.
Further, authenticity is not intermittent or whenever one feels like it. Authenticity is a culture, a Christian duty, regardless of feelings or state of mind.
The priests need to communicate and build in their parishioners the real meaning of prayer. Bishops need to add value to local effort in the parishes, for instance, pushing the concept further, by opening the collective consciousness to the implications of passive praying to the health of the nation and engaging the collective mind to an alternative vision of the nation’s future, the result of when people choose active prayer. Above all, the laity needs authentic models of Christian behavior.