April 23, 2015
RE: Mayflower Devotion
My dear brother priests:
The veneration of the Mother of God is one of the characteristics of our Filipino Catholic life. Our Filipino Catholic spirituality is very Marian in tone and disposition. The month of May is traditionally celebrated in our Catholic life as a month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am offering these guidelines in order to insure that our Mayflower devotional practices remain essentially within the mainstream of Catholic theology and liturgical discipline.
- Masses celebrated for the Mayflower devotions must use the readings and presidential prayers assigned for the day as indicated in the Ordo 2015.
- The Mass must be celebrated without any insertion of additional devotional practices keeping in mind that the Mass is our prayer addressed to the Father through Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us during his pontificate “Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has disappeared and has been replaced by some kind of religious entertainment. Such attraction fades quickly.”
- Recognition and blessing of characters in the Santacruzan or Flores de Mayo must be done outside the Mass. We must shun all practices that appear like religious titillation and leisure, for example, coronations of children. We must protect the essentials of Catholic worship and avoid sliding into folk Catholicism.
- Until the CBCP makes a define regulation, it is prohibited to dance and hold drama presentations inside the place of worship.
I trust that you share the dream and vision of Church renewal and sanctification. Please receive my sincere assurances of pastoral concern and affection.
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
I write these thoughts as a Filipino and as a believer in Christ. I speak neither for the Catholic hierarchy nor for my people in Lingayen Dagupan. I speak from my heart, molded by the five years of my ministry in Bataan, land of valor, land of peace. What did Bataan teach me about peace? What does Bataan say to me about the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law?
All must work for peace in Mindanao – and throughout the country. This precept is not seriously disputed at all. What threatens the prospect of peace most, however, is equating it with the present BBL and threatening the return of violence and bloodshed should the Legislature fail to pass it intact!
A complicated history and complicated issues do not lend themselves to simplistic solutions, and the more possibilities are restricted, the less likely truly lasting peace becomes.
Our sights should be set not on a truce, not on some tenuous cessation of hostilities, and for this, principles must be explicated, clearly discussed and rationally agreed on. This is what I refer to as ‘principled peace’. And warning that we shall have war unless BBL is passed does not make for principled peace!
I refer to the “people of Mindanao” and not only to Muslims, because Mindanao has many communities that are not Muslim, and the principled peace we so desire cannot be attained unless we make a firm resolve to respect the rights of all.
Social justice is the name of the just claim of the people of Mindanao to a share in the prosperity of the nation and to its resources. It is not just to beggar Southern Philippines. It is not just that morsels be thrown in their direction while imperial Manila lounges in luxury, fed and pampered by the toil and industry of the provinces. Social justice is the just cry that protests against the disproportion in allotments between the provinces of Mindanao and those of the rest of the country.
Self-determination is what gives them the right to live by their moral codes, their cultural mores and their rich traditions. It is the name of their right to determine how they ought to live and how they ought to organize themselves to be true to their most sacred beliefs and their heritage as a people. Self-determination is their greatest entitlement to that degree of autonomy that is consistent with the right of the Republic to its integrity and sovereignty. We are not conceding favors to Mindanao. We are recognizing the rights of the people of Mindanao and according them their due. It is not a matter of condescension and accommodation but of justice!
Religious freedom is the reason that the people of Mindanao should not be compelled to submit to a secular regime if they believe they should be practicing their religion even in their civil and political lives. Religious freedom does not only mean that there should be room for all to freely believe and freely practice. It also means that secularism cannot be an imposed ideology on the entire Republic!
All Filipinos, not only its officials, swear to uphold and defend the Constitution. It embodies the foundational norms of our organized life, articulates our core-values as a people, and establishes the framework for political and civil life. It has to be that secure point of reference for all agreements and negotiations. Otherwise, deals and covenants would rest on nothing more than passing fancy, dangerously cheap compromise and perilous détente.
It is my position that all suggestions, insinuations or hints that the Constitution will be amended to accommodate the provisions of the BBL cease. The Constitution is not a document that can be dealt with in patch-work fashion whenever we enter into negotiations with any restive sector of the Philippines.
In this respect, the decision of the Supreme Court in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains (Province of North Cotabato v. GRP Peace Panel, 2008) ought to be the juridical sieve through which the BBL should be examined. If we pass anything now, let us enact a document that we are morally certain will withstand constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court.
I have paid close attention to the arguments of the legal experts summoned by the houses of Congress to shed light on the Constitutional issues, and I am convinced that there are some very crucial points of constitutional law that ought to be resolved. Glossing over them will not be helpful at all, and it is neither my place nor my competence to pass upon them now.
The sectors that claim they were not included in the deals leading to the BBL should not be silenced. Neither should they be ignored. I refer in particular to the MNLF and to indigenous cultural communities, as well as to Christian communities in Mindanao. No agreement that is perceived to be favorable to one sector alone will ever bring the sought-after peace for Mindanao.
The BIFF phenomenon is likewise worrisome. They are armed and dangerous. They have given the nation concrete demonstration of the trouble they can cause. Shall we negotiate with them later and hammer another deal? While the MILF has promised to keep them in check, it has also been relevantly pointed out that relatives, though belonging to different organizations and associations, will not so easily restrain each other! The same thing must be said of the remnants of the Abu Sayaff Group. And while some claim that Jemmayah Isalmiyah is a spent force, I personally would like to know more about its presence or its demise in Mindanao.
Finally, there are the traditional institutions such as the sultanates that seem to have been left out of the conversation. What is their future under the BBL?
Arguments from History
Some of the advocates of BBL rest their claims for the swathe of powers granted the entity known as Bangsamoro invoke historical arguments – such as the sultanates of the past and their sway. But arguments from history are always tricky. In fact, international law has rejected this approach altogether by the doctrine of uti possidetis…in respect to the drawing of boundaries, they stay as they are found. Appealing to history in respect to claims of political power and autonomy will only confound issues more. Once upon a time, Soliman ruled over Muslim Manila. That piece of history is certainly no sound argument for Shari’a in Manila. I am not against Shari’a. I am only saying that some arguments are helpful, other are only distracting!
A Plea Against Tribalization
Ours is a beautiful people precisely because of our diversity. Our cultural heritage is enviable precisely because it is rich. But it is precisely the multi-faceted character of our ethnicities than can lend itself, unless are vigilant, to a decadent local version of Balkanization, our own form of modern-day tribalization.
From the crucible of history, we have emerged one nation, subsisting as a sovereign State. This, for me, is beyond negotiation: the singularity of the State and the singularity of sovereignty. I believe that I speak in union with the Magisterium of the Church on this issue that teaches:
“The rights of nations are nothing but ‘human rights fostered at the specific level of community life’. A nation has a ‘fundamental right to existence’, to ‘its own language and culture through which a people expresses and promotes…its fundamental spiritual ‘sovereignty’, to ‘shape life according to its own traditions, excluding, of course, every abuse of basic human rights and in particular the oppression of minorities, to ‘build its future by providing an appropriate education for the younger generation’.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 157)
The State has the right to the seamlessness of its integrity and to its territorial integrity!
I am a Filipino. We are Filipinos hallowed by the heroism of our Bataan heroes. The Philippines is God’s gift to me. The Philippines is our blessing from God. We need peace. We need laws for the preservation of peace, principled peace.
Dagupan City, April 9, 2015
Easter is the greatest and most important feast of our faith. If Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is irrelevant and meaningless, dry and dead.
Easter beckons us to go beyond the customary greetings and feasting. We must continue the mission of the risen Christ by being ready to bring His message to more people.
Be like the risen Jesus. Look at the risen Jesus. Love the risen Jesus. Follow the risen Jesus.
What is it in Jesus that we must carry with you through life? It is His JOY.
We all yearn for joy. We work for joy. Yet, in its quest we have often failed to find it. We are bundles of shattered dreams; or we are showcases of fulfilled dreams, which leave us empty. We have worked hard, but are frustrated; we have struggled, but feel the weight of disappointment. We are victims of calamities, natural or man-made, or victims of our own coldness in the face of overwhelming suffering.
Remember Yolanda. Remember Mamasapano. Remember the frustrating unsolved problem of government corruption. Remember the loneliness of our loved ones toiling abroad. Our memory is full of broken hopes and dreams. The litany of frustrations is endless. But we have hope.
Our calling is to return to the joy that comes from the Gospel and from sharing the Gospel. That is a joy that comes neither from a covetous heart nor from the frivolous pursuit of pleasures, nor from a blunted conscience. It comes rather first and foremost from a renewed personal encounter with the risen Jesus Christ. That is the goal of Christianity—encounter with Jesus Christ in joy.
This joy can be real and deeply personal in our world. Consequently, it is a joy which needs urgently to be shared today in all its fullness-– no matter the danger, no matter the ridicule, no matter the dying that it may entail.
Move on with joy of the risen Jesus. Carry on with the peace of Jesus. The world needs the Lord. May you bring the risen Jesus with you wherever fate may lead us!
From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, April 5, 2015
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
My brother priests:
Today we make a spiritual journey again to the Upper Room to remember our priesthood. We come once again to thank the Lord for calling us to be priests. The Lord took a risk. He entrusted to us His Church. The longer we stay in this vocation the more clearly we see that it takes more than will power to remain a good priest. It needs grace. We need God. We need God to stay focused. We need God to stay on track. We need God to protect us and preserve us.
We have seen many abuses among the clergy—alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, gambling abuse, money abuse, travelling abuse, vacation abuse. Today, I invite you to turn your hearts to another very rampant and widespread abuse among priests—homily abuse. Yes abuse of the kindness of the people who are forced to listen to long, winding, repetitious, boring, unorganized, unprepared, mumbled homilies. In jest but certainly with some truth, the people say our homilies are one of the obligatory scourges that they must go through every Sunday.
If you listen more carefully to what our people say about our homilies, they are not complaining about depth of message or scholarly exegesis. They are asked to endure Sunday after Sunday our homilies that cannot be understood because we take so long with the introduction, we do not know how to go direct to the point and we do not know how to end. Be prepared. Be clear. Be seated.
We were all abused by the homilies of our elder priests when we were seminarians. When our turn came to deliver homilies, the abused became the abuser.
If a seminarian lacks chastity, we cannot recommend him for ordination. If a seminarian is stubborn and hard headed, we cannot endorse his ordination. If a seminarian cannot speak in public with clarity and effectiveness, we should not ordain him. He will be a dangerous homily abuser. Homily abuse can harm souls.
Long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies are signs of a sick spiritual life of the priest. Saint Joseph Cupertino said “A preacher is like a trumpet which produces no tone unless one blows into it. Before preaching, pray this way: Lord you are the spirit, I am your trumpet. Without your breath I can give no sound.”
It is not enough to prepare our homilies; the good priest must prepare himself. Preaching is a ministry of the soul and the heart not just of the vocal chords and brain cells. Our spiritual life is the true foundation of our homilies. The question is not what we will preach but rather who will we preach? We preach only Jesus Christ; always Jesus Christ.How shall we rise from the prevalent culture of homily abuse? What is our remedy?
The first call of the times is priestly sincerity. You can preach to empty stomachs if the stomach of the parish priest is as empty as his parishioners. Our homilies will improve if we diminish our love for talking and increase our love for listening. When our homily is simply a talk, we only repeat what we know, get tired and feel empty. When you listen and pray before you talk, you learn something new and your homily will be crisp and fresh. We will be better homilists if we dare to smell again like the sheep.
The second challenge of our times is simplicity—simplicity of message and even more, greater simplicity of life. Simplicity of life will also help us to stop talking about money and fund raising in the homily; money talk has never been edifying. Simplicity means resisting to use the pulpit as a means to get back at those who oppose us–patama sa sermon. Simplicity also demands that we keep divisive election politics away from the lectern. Simplicity in homilies means not desiring to make people laugh or cry—that is for telenovelas and noontime shows. Simplicity in homilies makes people bow their heads and strike their breasts wanting to change, seeking the mercy of God. To be simple is to be great in God’s eyes. The simple lifestyle of priests is the homily easiest to understand.
The third and last challenge is a call to study. Reading and study must not stop after the seminary. If we stop reading and study, we endanger the souls of our parishioners. If we stop studying, then we start forcing our people to read the so-called open book of our lives– the comic book of our lives, hardly inspiring, downright ridiculous and awfully scandalous. The homily becomes our story and not the story of Jesus. Reading a bank book too much is not a good way to prepare our homilies.
Be careful with your life. The people watch us more than they listen to us. Be sincere and true. A double life, a secret dark life is stressful.
Be careful with every homily. God will judge you for every word you utter. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach.’
Be careful with every homily. They want to hear Jesus not you; only Jesus, always Jesus.
Be careful with your homily. Pity the people of God. Stop the homily abuse. Let your homily inspire and set hearts on fire.
March 19, 2015
Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary
Circular 2015-7:Chrism Mass
My dear people of God: To fittingly celebrate the gift of the priesthood to the Church, we will celebrate our CHRISM MASS on Holy Thursday APRIL 2, 2015 at the Saint John the Evangelist Cathedral, Dagupan City. We shall have Solemn Morning Prayers at 7:00 am to be followed by the announcement of the awards for the Mission Fund collection and the Icthus Fund Appeal. The Mass of Chrism and the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service will follow immediately.
I am personally inviting all our priests, religious men and women, parish lay leaders specially the BEC’s, youth leaders, catechists and lay liturgical ministers and members of lay associations to come and celebrate the gift of the priesthood to the Church.
This is the opportune time to express our appreciation to our priests for their generous self giving to the Lord and the Church.
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan