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Filipino Catholic Laity: Called To Be Saints...Sent Forth As Heroes!
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Filipino Catholic Laity: Called To Be Saints...Sent Forth As Heroes!
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Pastoral Exhortation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for the 2014 Year of the Laity



Our dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


You already know surely that this coming 2021 we shall be celebrating the 500th year of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines. For in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines, and in Cebu, he, a lay person, catechized King Humabon of Cebu, his wife and their people. The king and his queen were subsequently baptized together with their followers. It was on this occasion that the queen, newly given the baptismal name of Juana was gifted by Magellan with a statue of the Santo Nino, which was later found in 1565 by soldiers of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, and is now preserved in the Basilica of the Santo Nino in Cebu.



In preparation for the celebration of this providential event of the first arrival of Christianity in our shores, the Church in the Philippines has planned nine years of intensive evangelization, with a theme for every year. For the year 2013, we celebrated the Year of Faith provided by then Pope Benedict XVI. The Year 2014 will be the YEAR OF THE LAITY.


Our Situation: The Gospel of Joy

Pope Francis says “The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity”. (Evangelii Gaudium, 52)

If we were given an opportunity to describe the situation of the Catholic laity in the Philippines, it would be the paradox of poverty and abundance. The devastation that typhoon Yolanda brought upon our brothers and sisters in Samar and Leyte has created surges of pain and anguish all over our land and even beyond ours shores. The typhoon left us dazed and lost groping in the dark for answers and explanation. Poor as we are, this pauper among the nations of the earth hides two jewels in her rags. One of them is our music. Our other treasure is our faith. As long as there remains in these islands one mother to sing Nena's lullaby, one priest to stand at the altar and offer God to God, this nation may be conquered, trampled upon, enslaved but it cannot perish. Like the sun that dies every evening, it will rise again from the dead--Horacio de la Costa, SJ.

The first and most important truth about you Filipino Catholic laity is not poverty but the greatness of your dignity. This dignity derives from God’s unmerited choice of you to belong to God’s holy people. God called you in Christ to be united to his Son. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit united you with our Lord Jesus the Son of God, and thus you became true sons and daughters of God, partakers of the divine nature. There is no greater dignity on earth or in heaven than that of being adopted children of God, and being made truly his children, and thus co-heirs to eternal life with Jesus Christ. This dignity flows from the love of God, and made the author of 1 John exclaim, “Behold, what manner of love God has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are. Beloved we are already the children of God but it has not yet appeared what we shall be, because when we see him, we shall become as he is.” This is what also made St. Leo the Great exclaim, “Recognize your dignity, O Christian . . .” That grace came to you with your baptism which is a true rebirth to eternal life.

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. (Evangelii Gaudium, 1)

When you were united to Christ by the Spirit at baptism, you were also incorporated into the body of Christ, which is the Church, and you became members of the people of God. Your membership in the Church is a full membership. You belong to the Church as much as any pope, bishop, priest, or religious does. You are not second class members of the people of God. When you live the life of grace, you are full citizens of God’s kingdom on earth. In fact, the Church teaches that “the greatest in the kingdom of God are not the ministers but the saints”.

When you were joined to Christ by the Spirit at baptism, you also became sharers of the threefold mission of Christ teacher, priest and servant. You were baptized not only to share in Christ’s dignity as Son of God, but also to share in his mission for the salvation of the world.

You share in Christ’s dignity and mission with all others who are likewise united to him by the Holy Spirit. In uniting you to him, Christ also united you to all those who are united with him. With all those who are united to Christ by faith and baptism, you form one body of Christ, whose head is no less than Christ himself. Thus the whole body manifests and prolongs Christ’s life and mission in the world.

You, our dear lay faithful, have as your particular mission the sanctification and transformation of the world from within. In fact, many of you are called by the Lord to do service in the Church and for the Church. Such is the case of lay liturgical ministers and catechists, for example, who perform an indispensable service in the Church community and its institutions. Such also is the case of lay people who are asked to participate in the administration of Church property and works.

Yet, your own specific task, and the special responsibility given to you by the Lord is to find your own sanctification in the world, and to sanctify the world and transform it so that this world becomes more and more God’s world, God’s kingdom, where his will is done as sit is in heaven. You are called by Jesus to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The Lord Jesus told his disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature, and to make all nations his disciples. This command to the whole Church falls especially on you, who are in the world.

As Pope Francis has been repeatedly telling Catholics, you must go into the world of the family, of business, of economics, of politics, of education, of the mass media and the social media, to every human endeavour where the future of humanity and the world are at stake and to make a difference, the difference that the Gospel and the grace of Christ bring to human affairs.


Our Situation: The Challenge of the Gospel

When we look at our Philippine world with the eyes of faith, there are several areas of special concern which you, our lay faithful should direct your attention and action to.

Pope Francis calls our attention to “the great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ. (Evangelii Gaudium ,2)


Poverty

Poverty is a social and spiritual problem in our country. A great percentage of our people live below the poverty line. They do not even have the necessities for decent human living. It is estimated that twelve million of our people have gone to foreign countries in their search for adequate income to support their families’ needs. While this has brought many material advantages, it has also resulted in great harm to family life. And many of our overseas Filipino workers work in conditions of servitude and are often submitted to humiliations. A still a vast number of our people are without work, and many are forced to live in slum areas and in miserable situations. A vast number of our children are unable to go to school, and those who do go get sub-standard education in poorly equipped schools. Many have been driven by poverty to cater to the lusts of human predators.

Though there have been significant economic gains, the same percentage of our people have remained mired in poverty over the past several years. The wealth of our country has remained woefully mal distributed. This endemic poverty is gravely contrary to the will of God. You, my dear lay faithful are in the best position to creatively work our solutions which will satisfy the demands of justice and charity. What are you doing to create wealth, to preserve wealth, and to share wealth? Do the more prosperous among you feel the sufferings of our poor brothers and sisters, and do you think of ways and means to help alleviate their poverty, and help them towards prosperity?