CHAPTER XI


CHRISTIAN FAITH AND PHILIPPINE

MORAL TRANSFORMATION

MA. CHRISTINA A. ASTORGA


Before the continuing threat of ideologies and world views contradictory to the gospel, an urgent and important task is to strengthen the faith vision of our people. Especially in a country such as the Philippines, where faith is built into the culture, faith holds a real power to change persons and transform structures. "Ang pananaw ng Pilipino ay nakaugat sa kanyang pananampalataya, kaya nasa larangan ng pananampalataya ang puwersa para sa pagbabago."

THE FILIPINO FAITH EXPERIENCE: EDSA REVOLUTION

The EDSA revolution was a witness to the power of faith. It is said that prior to those glorious days of February, a group of Catholic sociologists and other experts planned with utmost care five scenarios, none of which materialized. Fr. Achutegui offers an explanation:

The dimension of a vibrant Christian faith, an essential element, an intrinsic constitutive component of the Filipino soul, has escaped the authors of the scenarios. . . . It has been revealed that the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has also prepared a series of scenarios anticipating post-election situations. And again, none of the proposed scenarios became a reality. . . . The communists found out, and some of them have declared so openly, that they had not taken into account what in the past they had labeled the opium of the people, the faith of the Filipino.(18)

The faith of the Filipino is not an opium blurring his vision with illusions and reducing him to a coward fleeing from reality. At EDSA, the power of faith shone for all to marvel at. It was the inner dynamism that emboldened us to pit ourselves against arms and tanks, fearlessly to risk our lives believing that being for God and country it was worth all. From a shamed and humiliated people, we rose to be the light of God to all nations.

We saw the EDSA revolution as our resurrection. To our dismay and disappointment, we realized months and years later that it was not. Rather, it was our transfiguration, one shining moment which manifested to us what, at our best and with the outpouring of God's grace, we could be. Like the apostles on Mt. Tabor, we caught a glimpse of the glory and lordship of God in our lives in a palpable, intensely visible way. It provided a basis of consolation and hope for the long struggle ahead, a vision that strengthens us to bear our crosses, and die our deaths to self, until the merciful and saving God shall finally raise us up, a resurrected people and nation.

FAITH: A THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION

It is good to remember once again our experience of faith as a people, even for a moment to stay with that experience and allow it to speak to us in the depths of heart and spirit. This is what theology calls the first moment of faith, the experiential primordial moment. Without this, one cannot speak of religion, much less of theology, for all of religion and theology begins and is founded on this moment of faith.

However essential be this moment of faith, there is need also for a second, conceptual moment when we reflect systematically on the experience and bring its meaning and significance to fuller expression. This is the task of theology.

To understand the nature and meaning of faith we must see its relation to, and distinction from revelation, religion, and theology. All Christian life begins with revelation: God's disclosure of himself and the mystery of his love. Our relationship with God begins not so much with the knowledge that God exists, but rather with the insight that he loves us. Faith is grateful response to God, who reveals himself as love stronger than our selfishness. Faith is a grateful response which takes place, is born, nurtured, and sustained in a community. It is basically ecclesial.

Faith and religion are intimately related; religion is the public celebration of faith, the lived experience of faith in the context of a community. When we believe, live, and pray together as a community, we are a religious people. Faith and religion are the lived, communal experience upon which theology reflects. Men and women live and practice their faith and religion, and theologians study and reflect on the phenomenon: theology is critical reflection on faith and religion. Without faith and religion, theology is without content and substance; without theology, faith and religion degenerate into unexamined behavior, resulting in superstition and fanaticism. Theology is the liberating critique of faith and religion.(19)

Faith is a total act of man involving his intellect, will, and heart. It is believing, doing, and trusting and involves three essential dimensions: Doctrine, Moral, and Worship.

Doctrines are the basic truths of our faith: the doctrines of Creation, Jesus Christ, The Blessed Trinity, the Church, Mary, and Death and Judgement. Doctrines are not abstract propositional truths, but real convictions which determine our whole way of interpreting life; they provide perspectives and horizons of meaning for our moral life. They are salvific truths which "save, uplift, guide, illuminate, inspire."(20)

The Moral dimension of faith refers to values that inspire and govern our lives; these laws and commandments ground our moral obligation to be truly and integrally human. The moral dimension is drawn from and based on the truths of our faith, and is sustained and nurtured by our prayer and worship.

The Worship dimension refers to prayer and liturgy, which open our hearts to God. This is the personal and communal celebration of the basic truths of the faith; it is the depth dimension of the moral living-out of these truths.

Doctrine and Moral Transformation. The basic meaning of man is founded on the fundamental truths of the Christian Faith: man is created in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The doctrines of the Faith are sources of understanding our human meaning, dignity, and destiny. That man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God, means that by their gift of intellect and freedom they reflect in their nature the nature of God Himself as the supreme, free, and intelligent principle of all beings. Their being in God's image and likeness constitutes their most fundamental identity. Though small in the immensity of God's creation, they alone, as God's image, have the capacity to know and love Him. They possess a fundamental dynamism towards God: they experience deeply a longing for God which they themselves did not create, but which directs them and unceasingly seeks fulfillment. The primal cry in every person is a cry for God.(21)

Despite the goodness of God, however, and their own grandeur as fashioned by God in his infinite love, they rebelled and separated themselves from the sphere of His love. This fundamental act of rejection is then not only an evil act, but a rejection of the sublime vocation to human fulfillment which God himself offers.

Because of this sinful rejection created human nature is wounded. Man and woman experience within themselves a disorder and brokenness beyond their own capacity to heal. There is need them for a new and greater experience of God's saving love and mercy. In Jesus Christ, Incarnate Son of God, God's love reached its definite and irreversible disclosure. In his living and dying, a radically new liberating power stronger than hatred and deeper than sin invaded the world. The power of love and forgiveness of Jesus on the cross was bound to a concrete historical situation. But when Jesus rose from the dead, the power of his love and forgiveness broke through the confines of his historical situation to permeate all spheres of human existence.

God continues to give himself to us in and through the Indwelling Spirit, the bond of love of Father and Son. "Anyone who loves me will be true to my word and my Father will love him and will come to him and make our dwelling place with him" (Jn 14:22). This presence of God in and among us we call grace, our interior source of moral strength and transformation. The life of communion with God through Jesus Christ, in the indwelling and interdwelling of the Holy Spirit, moves towards greater, complete, and perfect fulfillment in the eternal for men and women are destined for everlasting life with God. This is experienced inchoately in present human joys and fulfillment, until all is fulfilled in the fullness of time in the plenitude of God's love.(22)

The basic truths which ground our Christian moral life are that we are created in God's image and likeness, redeemed by Jesus Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit, and destined for eternal life with God. Our image of who we are and what we can become draws its truest meaning from the fact that we are loved and redeemed by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

Worship and Moral Transformation. Without prayer, man loses his sense of finitude, and displaces God, the Absolute. Without the experience of the Holy, Christian moral life loses its spirit and substance. When the sense of God diminishes, the very heart of moral life is lost.(23)

There is a connection between prayer and being. In prayer, we share and celebrate a life in which our affections and dispositions are directed towards God. We discover in prayer, the depths of our fears, loves, and hopes and touch the sources of our weeping and rejoicing. Prayer qualifies and shapes the beliefs, emotions, attitudes and intentions which enter deeply into our moral consciousness. It provides the perspective and depth of meaning to our moral choices and decisions. In prayer, we encounter God, the ground of our being in whom we find our truest and deepest selves. A person of conscience must be a person of prayer, of God.

CHRISTIAN FAITH AND MORAL TRANSFORMATION

IN THE PHILIPPINES TODAY

Nations and empires have risen and fallen; history tells us that moral decadence led to their ruin. When moral values are distorted, cultures are damaged and peoples destroyed. The growth and progress of the economic and political life of a people is essential, but when their moral spirit is twisted and broken destruction strikes at the root of all social systems and structures.

One cannot emphasize sufficiently the need for moral formation in the Philippines today; it is a most crucial and urgent task if we are to build from the ruins of a decadent past. Christian faith plays a central role in the moral transformation of our individual and communal lives, first by constituting a radical critique of contemporary world views and value systems and, second, by providing the strongest bond of national identity and unity.

As a force of moral transformation the Christian faith must confront and challenge the world views and value systems which undermine what is truly human and Christian. This is the real battle for the hearts and minds of our people.

Secularism. "I did it my way" if taken absolutely could express the secularistic norm of life: an arrogant claim to self-sufficiency and a denial of the religious dimension to human existence. It would absolutize falsely secular and human means in the search for human fulfillment. This is not so much a denial God's existence as edging Him out of any meaningful human discourse and engagement. God language is disparagingly regarded as the language of a pious, naive, and unscientific view of reality. "I did it my way" tends to assert man's autonomy as he recognizes his growing ability to control the world and to engineer his own potential. When man becomes the measure of all things, the language of religious mystery becomes meaningless.

Individualism. Man bowed in upon himself becomes a norm unto himself, interpreting what is good only in terms of what is useful, convenient and profitable for himself. The "I, me, myself" syndrome extends to the "tayo-tayo lang" mentality and to family centeredness pushed to the extreme so that one's heart cannot expand beyond one's inner circle of family and relatives. The poor farmer, the exploited laborer, and the thousands of Filipino families mired in misery are reduced to the cold statistics of socio-economic surveys. This individualism and selfishness which makes others suffer does not know how to share, has no concern for others, and fattens on the rank injustice which has plunged our country into economic and political ruin.

Consumerism. A "Bilmoko" syndrome tyrannizes the human spirit with a consuming need for the sensual and material, a constant need for the immediate gratification of the senses, and a grasping for more and more, to the point of satiation. It turns values upside down, as gives primacy to things of the flesh, rather than to those of the spirit. Material well-being is a value, but cannot be our prime value as a people for there are such more fundamental and important values to be lived as justice, truth, and dignity. Consumerism, relativizing and subordinating everything to its own ends, arrogates to itself a form of divinity and becomes a false God worshipped by contemporary men and women.

A vision of life counter to secularism, individualism, and consumerism is a life of intimacy and communion with the person of Jesus Christ, of participation in the mystery of his life, death and resurrection--the very mystery which grounds all human existence and gives it its ultimate meaning and destiny.

Radical Dependence vs. Secularism. The radical dependence of Jesus on the Father is at the heart of his person and mission. In the agony of the garden, Jesus was willing to offer everything for the sake of his Father's will. Even with sorrow in his heart, the depth of which was such that death would have been preferred, Jesus calls out to God in the loving intimacy of a name which he alone can utter: Abba. Doing the will of his Father is the central passion of his life; his life is rooted in his fundamental relationship to the Father as Son. Siya ay nakaugat sa kanyang Ama. Jesus proclaims: "Whoever looks on me sees Him who sent me" (Jn 12:45). "I have not spoken on my own; no, the Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to speak" (Jn 12:49). The radical dependence of Jesus on the Father confronts man's arrogant self-sufficiency for his creative power and ability.

The Cross vs. Individualism. The doctrine of the Cross is the law of authentic and meaningful human living: "whoever would preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will preserve it" (Mk 8:35). This is the paradox of paradoxes at the heart of the meaning of what it is to be both human and Christian. In one's self-giving for the sake of others, one discovers the ultimate meaning of being. Kenosis is Genesis: in one's self-emptying and dying to self one discovers new life and is able to generate new life for others. We have witnessed this in the death of Ninoy Aquino from which a whole nation rose in freedom and dignity. Ninoy's spilled blood colored the sunburst of our new tomorrow.

The doctrine of the cross challenges the terrible force of individualism and selfishness which sows death for so many. When we expand our hearts to those outside our inner circle of love and reach out to them with solidarity and compassion, we break the force of individualism that has long plagued our nation and damaged our culture. We are called to live a life marked with simplicity, solidarity and, in some ways, to opposition. The call to greater simplicity of lifestyle is a call to solidarity with our Filipino brothers and sisters, who, practically feeding on the garbage of the few living in wanton extravagance and luxury, are reduced to debilitating subsistence. This implies a call to the courage to speak the truth and to speak it loudest against any system, structure, or institution which exploits and takes advantage of the powerless.

The Ultimate vs. Consumerism. In his parables Jesus taught men and women to see the transcendent reality shining through the ordinary events of everyday living. He taught them to grasp the realities of the world in depth and opened them to the experience of the ultimate manifest through finite reality and the heart's search for the ultimate and transcendent. Rather than the superficial and immediate, the cry of the human heart is for that which is deep and lasting. We are called to lift our eyes to heaven, even as the grind of daily living weighs down on us. Attuned to the movement of the Spirit, we are always to be in earnest search for the signals of transcendence in the ordinary, regular rhythm of living, loving, and dying.

Faith, National Identity and Unity. We are a broken people, separated by economic interests, ideological biases, and social prejudices. Violence in the streets and the cities has become ordinary, reaching such frightening proportions that we seem to be moving to a future of deterioration and decadence.

As a people, we need to look back again and again to the EDSA revolution. In those stunning moments, EDSA disclosed to us that we are deeply one. For many years, we have been searching for something to galvanize us into oneness of purpose, resolve, and action. In the EDSA revolution, we discovered it in the experience of sharing communion in one faith.

Fr. Lambino has said that he dared not stand in front of a Korean tank, only in front of a Filipino tank. The heart and spirit on both sides of the tank, although separated by human causes and ideological commitments, are at rock bottom bound by one faith, one God, one people.(24) Fr. Arevalo writes:

It is not ideologies which will cause our unity, but the Faith. That is really our common bond, it is the strongest of our common bonds. And if we are to build together some fine thing for the future, the experience of EDSA tells us it must be built on our common faith. It is the strongest foundation of all, on which to build.(25)

Faith is a dynamic power that transforms persons and liberates their action and work into generative world forces. It is the potent source of a people's strength in their struggle against enslavement and towards a freer and more full level of human existence. Faith is the invigorating spirit that inspires men and women to stand in communion and solidarity as they rebuild a nation. In this same spirit that they are able to rise above suffering and look fearlessly to the future with hope, rooted in Him in whose heart all things are made good.

Ateneo de Manila University

Manila