The country is at a crossroad again as official residents of both political and religious halls are again in a tug-of-war over what seems to be the likely passage of the most controversial bill cannoned by Congress – the Reproductive Health Bill. Proponents of the Bill are optimistic, even a little triumphant this early in time. Survey after survey shows majority of ordinary Filipinos are at least less critical than the cloaked members of the Church, as if saying “with or without the RH Bill, life goes on.”
Sensibly, both political and religious parties adhere to a standard of morality. For the proponents of the Bill, it is the secular, moral duty of the State to address the reproductive health needs especially of women and children, deemed the most vulnerable constituents of poor nations. This moral thinking is not only the coat of arms of the Bill proponents; it is the global backbone of Nation-States with the United Nations as its own version of the Vatican operating with popular liberality. Behind the scenes, it is a tug-of-war between the conservatism of Vatican and the American liberalism of New York (the United States remains the biggest contributor to the UN financial lifeblood).
The CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) moral stance remains as consistent and steadfast – the RH Bill is a sanitized move to legalize a subculture of death through contraceptives and the slippery slope to the evil of abortion. Couched in more religious terms than the secular morality of the United Nations, contraceptives have no place in the belief that God-given life begins at conception. That a believer’s conscience must imbibe this religious moral stance is where the confusion begins because a conscience is less institutional and more personal. Is there any better space for individual conscience to discern outside moral rhetorics and halls of heated debates? The Church should know better the answer to the question. But the liturgy I attended this Sunday had watered down this capacity. Or perhaps revealed the real problem.
I attended today perhaps the worst Sunday mass I ever attended. The usual 50-minute mass of a congregation of 600 turned into an hour and 30 minutes because 45 minutes of the liturgy was eaten up by the reading plus commentary of the CBCP letter on the RH Bill. There was a sense of urgency in the letter, summoning the faithful for a repeat of EDSA I mass rally (other EDSA Revolutions were contrived) to resist and repel the passage of the Bill. The moral duty of the Bishops to remind the faithful was strongly laid out in the letter. It was rightly so. Social research outputs and arguments on misguided economic policies, or the absence of correlation between population and poverty were marshaled. Somehow, the flaws of secular morality were brought in the open pulpit (which to my opinion is its very materialist and mechanical conception of human sexuality). If this doesn’t create division and confusion for the people, then I don’t know what time are we in! Moral choices are no easy meals to chew. Period.
But this I strongly objected in silence during this Sunday’s liturgy. The priest-presider was acerbic nonpareil in his white-haired moral strictures; spewing invectives against the supporters of the Bill; calling them morons and tentacles of the devil; sarcastically praying for them that the Holy will snap the life out from them; that they deserve to be in fiery hell; coercing the congregation to join him in chorus chanting “we are against the RH Bill”. The whole liturgy turned into a crusade under a clerical control. The congregation remained modest with their sheepish smiles, others shaking their heads, while some simply laughed at him. I thought the invectives were really offhand.
But this to me was the most disgusting part: the priest after ending his 45-minute crusade suddenly announced the omission of the singing of the remaining songs including the Sanctus, the Acclamation, and the Great Amen to fast track the mass. Indeed, we did not sing these essentials. On a Sunday!
I thought the problematique with some priests is essentially this – faith in the enlightening and transforming power of the liturgy. My mind went back to Jesuit liturgy scholar Robert Taft who boldly underlined this problematique in Roman Catholicism – slicing our Sundays into thematic Sundays like Pro-Life Sundays, Indigenous Peoples’ Sunday, Mission Sunday, etc, a phenomenon nowhere done in the Orthodox Church because Sundays are less viewed for its utility, for what believers can get from, but simply for what it is – a celebration of the Paschal Mystery with serious preparations through a Saturday vigil and an early Sunday morning matin. During the mass, my mind kept asking: what if it is not primarily about human life but about the life of God in us, guiding us, making us less fearful of becoming insignificant, vulnerable through self-giving? What if the moral truth is neither in the “intelligence of men” nor in the influence of social structures but in liturgy, especially contemplative liturgy, where human beings are more porous to the silent outpouring of the Spirit of the Upper Room? What if our Sundays are as “useless” as sitting in silence with a Friend-Bringer of the Paschal Mystery? What if this sacred silence is consistently adored and honored in the halls of Congress? What if moral truth is not in the neatness or scientific complexity of moral arguments people tend to be possessive of, but simply a person to fix our eyes to in liturgy, in silence, in solitude as well as in communal gatherings? Because,
One of the principal truths of Christianity, a truth which goes almost unrecognized to-day, is that looking is what saves us. The bronze serpent was lifted up so that those who lay maimed in the depths of degradations should be saved by looking upon it.
Waiting on God (William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd: Glasgow, p. 145)
Saving human life by looking, rather than by condoms or moral diatribes. What if?