Saturday, February 19, 2005

One reason I love the Jesuits

They reach the extremes of the world in order to reach the center of the Gospel -- and vice versa.

Jesuit says Church also to blame for corruption

[00:21am (Mla time) Feb 06, 2005, by Armand Nocum, Inquirer News Service. Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Feb. 6, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer]

THE CATHOLIC Church in the Philippines needs to do serious introspection on what it preaches and practices regarding graft and corruption, according to a Jesuit priest and a university professor.

Speaking at the Jesuit-sponsored "Ehem!" anti-graft seminar series, Fr. Albert Alejo and Prof. Ronnie Amorado said the Church should first look into itself before pontificating and "cursing society" for the latter's corrupt ways. ...

"The Catholic Church played a [big role] in corrupting the system," he said, pointing out that during the colonial era, priests and Church leaders did nothing against, if not directly benefited from, the excesses of the local Spanish rulers who were generally using "public office for private ends." ...

During a break in the seminar, Alejo said the Church was dwelling too much on "liturgical and spiritual realities" and not giving due emphasis to the "social reality."

I admit, a good deal of Fr. Alejo's pointed comments raise my conservative theological hackles. But I must ask myself: Why do I become uneasy considering the demands of justice may just demand some hard, and very mundane, accountability? Since when was justice antithetical to spiritual realities? Since when have prophets been the most comfortable bedfellows? Pope John Paul II made much the same point in Centesimus Annus (para. 5), saying,

The "new evangelization," which the modern world urgently needs and which I have emphasized many times, must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church's social doctrine. . . . Now, as then, we need to repeat that there can be no genuine solution of the "social question" apart from the Gospel, and that the "new things" can find in the Gospel the context for their correct understanding and the proper moral perspective for judgment on them.

In other words, the spiritual Good News is essentially also social Good News. The Gospel of mercy is simultaneously the Gospel of justice. All the dimensions of the Faith – repentance, crucifixion, hope, resurrection – typically, and rightly, applied to our personal lives demand to be applied, just as consistently and naturally, to the sinful structures of the world.

So, before I accuse Alejo & Co. of being doctrinaire, sensational and dissident just for the sake of doing so, I would need to know him in the context of his larger work and witness. What else has he said about doctrinal issues? Is he a living faithful alter Chrstus? Before I leap on him in a frothy-mouthed fit of doctrinal rage, I need to admit he is at least among the people, among the Pinoys, bound by vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. Meanwhile I am...?

In a related article from the October 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 10), "Jesuits Take on Corruption" [Alfred A. Araya Jr., CyberDyaryo (online publication), Manila, the Philippines, July 24, 2003] Alejo, after some hilarious introductory observations (if you’re more than a little familiar with Filipino culture) makes some equally striking comments:

Filipinos have certain characteristics that make them Filipinos. How do you call a Filipino abroad? You say, “Sssst” and the Filipino in the crowd responds. Filipinos, it is said, also cannot resist buying items on sale even if they don’t really need them, use outlines of feet drawn on paper for buying shoes for friends, like everything imported, and take more time having wedding pictures taken than for the wedding itself.

When the foibles of Filipinos are pointed out, Filipinos laugh at themselves and say, “Yes, that’s us. Why? Pinoy kasi (Because it’s Filipino),” observed the Rev. Albert Alejo, S.J., at a July 7 book launch held at the Ateneo de Manila University, as the audience, noting the truth in it, broke into knowing chuckles and outright laughter.

Just as easily as the giggles started, however, they quickly died down when Alejo continued, “You also know you are a Filipino if your roads are like moon holes. You know you’re a Filipino if there are more patients than beds in public hospitals, and in state-run schools, students share one old textbook. If you’re being solicited for a bribe, and you don’t relent, you’re told, ‘Para ka namang hindi Pinoy’ (It’s as if you’re not Filipino)." ...

Alejo’s opening remarks on how corruption has become a way of life for most Filipinos, and the pressing need to do something about it, kicked off the launch of a new book, Ehem! A Manual for Deepening Involvement in Combatting Corruption. The concept of “ehem,” according to the manual, “is a gentle but powerful hum to caution and to make one’s presence known, which brings forth some sense of embarrassment among those who will commit corruption.” According to Alejo, it is a subtle but effective signal that reminds people to be vigilant and mindful of one another’s roles and actions to counteract corruption. ...

Apart from lectures and workshop modules, the manual also offers prayers and passages from the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran.

Zoinks, Scooby Doo, did he just say what I think he said?!

Citing the Qur'an, as the "Holy" Qur'an no less, along with the Holy Bible is, let's be honest, much much harder to square with orthopraxy. All the same, I'm, gulp, willing to see it as missionary bridge effort to show the Muslim world its own moral demands concerning justice and thus align it with the Christian truth. (After all, in large part Islam derived historically and theologically from Christendom). Citing the Qur’an as inspired Scripture, bad. Citing it as another, very compelling voice on social ethics, good. I mean, would I raise half my unibrow[1] if the manual included quotes from the Bible along with a string of famous non-Christian ethicists, economists, philosophers, and activists as intellectual “padding” to show the basic rightness of the biblical faith? Would I be as upset if the Talmud were cited along with the Bible? In both cases, probably not at all. So, without simply endorsing Alejo’s use of the Qur’an, I must take seriously his accoradance with what Vatican II stated in _Nostra Aetate_ (para. 3):

The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,[1] who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the bidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. ... For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.

Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.

How can we reach Muslims without becoming them? How can we honor the truth of their faith without capitulating our own? I'm not sure, but I have to admire Alejo's efforts to balance all those plates. The story continues.

The end goal is to make people realize they have to become intolerant of corruption. “We must learn to be more intolerant, because we have become more tolerant...more accepting of the way things are because they are [already] that way,” Magadia said.

It is said that Filipinos have a high threshold for pain and suffering, a high tolerance for corruption, and a short forgiving memory when it comes to history, Alejo said, adding his observation that the general response to the anti-corruption movement is cynicism: “It’s all over the place, it’s culture already, it’s second nature, we cannot do anything about it.”

But Alejo's witness, and that of the Philippine Jesuits in general, says, "No. There is something we can do. We are all in the company of Jesus and we must live like it."

Love them or hate them. Sponsor them or persecute them. Either way, you can’t find anything more arresting than a committed Jesuit.

[1] No, not really.

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