THE BIBLE IN EVANGELIZATION IN THE PHILIPPINES TODAY

(A talk presented at the First Consultation of Regional Centers for the Biblical Apostolate in the Philippines

Oct. 24-26, 1988 at Immaculate Conception School of Theology, Vigan, Ilocos Sur)

By: Estrella Cui del Mar

Cebu Lay Formation Center

St. Jerome Biblical Center

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God, as the plan of the Father’s love, is the central message of Jesus’ proclamation in the New Testament. “The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe in the Good News!” (Mk 1:15).

The Kingdom of God truly is here when we allow God to be the king and master of our lives consistently and constantly.  The Kingdom is here when there’s love, harmony, justice, freedom, and peace for everyone everywhere.

Perhaps we experience every now and then glimpses of this Kingdom but to make it a permanent reality remains a dream at this time. Why? The answers to this question are many and varied.  Even our concept of God is varied.  Maybe, this is even a very basic question. Who is God for me?  Who is Jesus for me? And who is He for you? Shall we repeat what we were taught in our catechism to answer this?

Do you still remember the very first person in your life who introduced God and Christ to you?  How were you introduced to Him and He to you?

I’ve asked this question to several people and most of them answered that their mother introduced God and Christ to them. What about the father?  Some put the father all together aside and some would say “Papa follows Mama.”  By the way, whoever started the idea that an additional role of women is to go to church and pray for the whole family?  It is as if, it’s another function of women only.  Perhaps this idea has changed lately but even then, try to compare the number of women congregations to that of men’s or the women’s church organizations to men’s.

Perhaps, that is looking at our faith and religiosity from a family’s view.  What about as a people – the Filipino people? How were we introduced to the God whom the Spaniards brought to us? And how did we respond then and now? What has happened to us then and now?  Can we really call our nation, a Christian nation – and Catholic at that?

These are a few questions which triggered in my mind when I read Fr. Herrera’s statement, “As the awareness of historicity is intensified in modern man/woman, the newness of the historical situation in relation to the past can be better perceived. The Church has to answer these new challenges with new strategies.  It is in this light that new evangelization presents itself.”

New Challenges and Their Responses.

Present History as the Task of New Evangelization

Vatican II taught us to discover the presence and the action of God who saves and reveals Himself in events and words, that is, in the history of salvation and revelation.  To find in Jesus Christ, the savior and the revealer of the Father, the meaning of history and to change it through the power of the Holy Spirit, is the task of our new evangelization.  Therefore, the claim is no longer to transmit the contents of truth in order to illuminate the spirit but to interpret history.

Fr. Herrera responds that evangelization is the task of the total Christian community and that it implies the building of community in the social context and in the context of relationships with other nations.

My reflections and questions are: First of all, nobody can change the past which has become part of our history.  Perhaps there is a new way of looking at it in view of the present and the visions for the future.  And if evangelization is the task of the total community, who initiates this and how?  And if it implies the building of community in the social context, where does this all begin if not in the home as the basic unit of society? I’d like to go back to this historical point later.

The Gap between the Rich and the Poor in the Christian context.

The scandalous accumulation of goods created by God for everyone and the progressing poverty which leads to dehumanization of large masses who are systematically pushed to the margins of society is a new fact which characterizes our modern historical situation.  Those who enslave and oppress call themselves Christians as do those who are enslaved and oppressed.  This situation, on the other hand, sanctioned and legitimized by laws and institutions, amounts to a state which could be called institutionalized violence.

It demands to follow Jesus Christ adopting with full clarity his program of liberation (pls. read Lk 4:18-21).  The program of Jesus implies: A radical option for the poor in order to save the rich and the poor. Jesus placed Himself on the side of the poor.

To permit oneself to be evangelized by them in an experience of communion of life, implies acceptance of them as mediators of evangelization.  Liberation is realized in the ecclesial community.

Radical option for the poor has been understood in different ways as there could be various ways of adopting this.  Usually the poor here is understood to be the materially poor.  Poverty leads to dehumanization which applies to the materially poor and the rich as well.

To live in a condition deprived of the basic necessities of life is a dehumanized situation.  But what about the oppressor who consciously and willfully oppresses his victim?  Is that still human?

Who is more free, the rich or the poor? Who are held captives of their wealth, greed and power? Who are imprisoned in their own high walls, high positions and insatiable ambitions?  Sometimes, I wonder who is the prisoner and who is the free person? who is the blind and who is the enlightened?  And yet the cries of the poor are valid and real – basic human rights and justice!

Are we willing to be evangelized by the poor and have a constant awareness of our own poverty and/or bondages?

Right to Christian Formation at all Levels.

There has been a big boom on seminars given to the lay people after Vatican II.  Before, formation was more for the priests and the religious.  They had to go through that.  Now, we speak of lay formation. (Good)

There is however, a danger in the planning of our formation program for the laity especially on the grassroots level.  We go to them as teachers.  We know and they don’t know, as if we can give all the answers to their questions.  But we are not there to give answers but to facilitate and help them to live with their problems.  The Spirit does the work with them, not us!

Should there be a special form of evangelization for priests and bishops?

Pluralism and Cultural Invasion.

Groups of people evangelized today do not possess a cultural identity.  To this is to be added a cultural invasion or colonialization promoted gradually through the media of social communication.

Perhaps, we should remember what Bishop Kenneth Cragg once said: Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is TO TAKE OFF OUR SHOES for the place we are approaching is holy.  Else we may find ourselves treading on men’s dreams.  More seriously still, we may forget that GOD was there before our arrival.”

Evangelizing does not mean imposing, dominating or dogmatizing but rather entering into dialogue and creating a productive tension which provokes the growth and maturity of persons in the thrust of the gospel.

I see that the situation in the Philippines is that of confused cultural identity.  We have regionalistic attitudes. Some Tagalogs seem to think that they are superior over the Visayans.  Even our national language is a cause for disparity rather than unity.  The people in the Visayas and Mindanao would prefer to use Visayan or the Ilocanos would also prefer Ilocano or the Ilonggos would rather use Ilonggo, etc.  The Filipino Indigenous People are looked down as secondary citizens by calling them minorities. Then we have the religious division between the Muslims and Christians in different parts of the Philippines. These and more are realities in our country today.  Are we able to dialogue in faith?

Reading of the Bible by the People.

If we look back to our beginnings as Christians, we know that the Spaniards brought to us the cross and the sword.  It seems that we were given the conservative, traditional and doctrinal introduction to the Christian faith which has become a personal affinity to a structured system (i.e. the institutional church) rather than knowing Christ and following Him not only in His experience of Calvary but also His works and deeds which led Him to His passion, death and resurrection.

In Manila, the Jesus Nazareno (the suffering Jesus carrying the cross) is very popular, perhaps to console our people’s sufferings as if it’s all a matter of fate.  When can we experience our resurrection?

In Cebu, Sto. Nino (the child Jesus) is very popular. Cebu had been the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines and until now it’s still in the cradle!  Our Jesus has to grow too, so the grown up Jesus who faced rulers, kings, Pharisees, sinners, devils and all – to bring the Good News to everyone.

Perhaps we are a little late in appreciating to read the Bible since we were given the catechism as substitute for the Bible which remained in the hands of the Protestants.  A symbol of the former evangelization was the catechism.  The historical dimension had the sacraments as its center.  We were given the SIGNS but not the WORD to explain their meanings!

We were used to the rituals and the devotions (private or public).  We’ve been used to our novenas and rosaries, cultic sacrifices as in fiestas even to the extent of borrowing money to provide for a grand banquet for a celebration. We’ve been used to fanfares and colors in our religious celebrations that we use them also for tourist attraction and business.

These have been part of our culture and tradition. Therefore, how can we make the people appreciate Scripture reading without threatening their attachments to popular religiosity? 

What is the difference in the treatment of the Bible by the Catholics from that of the Protestants in our biblical apostolate aside from the fact that our Bible has more books than theirs?

Herrera said that Vatican II taught us to discover God in the history of salvation and secondly, it decided to provide for all the Christian faithful easy access to Sacred Scriptures.  Furthermore, he said, that the total richness of tradition is preserved and revitalized when Christians view their lives in the light of the history of salvation as described in Sacred Scriptures and at the same time read the Bible in the light of their and the ecclesial community’s experience of life.

The central point of the new evangelization is the Word of God with its historical expression which is the community of the Church. This centrality of God’s Word translates itself in an operative way in communities which read the Sacred Scriptures in order to define the salvific sense of history through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, let’s put this in the Philippine context.

Perhaps in view of these, we face new challenges in the New Evangelization with the Bible for the Filipinos today which are the following:

  • To discover the God of exodus (of the Israelites) in the exodus events in our lives as individuals and as a people.  Was there a God at work in our own history?
  • To see the context of the ways by which God revealed Himself in the Old Testament and New Testament and contextualize these in our own situations and communities.
  • To see in our own Philippine history, the revelation of Yahweh, Jesus Christ and the Spirit in the events and experiences of the Filipino as a people.
  • To be able to articulate our lamentations and hopes as a people of real unity and community which are possible only when we can accept one another as brothers and sisters. “I am your God and you are my people!” And when we pray the “Our Father”, do we see each other as brothers and sisters under one fatherhood of God?

What we read in the papers or hear over the radios are news of killings (Filipino killing his brother Filipino), crimes, graft and corruption issues, political intrigues, etc. that it is difficult to get some good news in all these?  Where are the true Christians?

There is a great need for conversion, forgiveness and reconciliation.  People are hurt and we continue hurting each other in many different ways.

I’d like to share with you a story I read from Fr.de Mello’s book:

A guru asked his disciples how they could tell when the night had ended and the day begun.

One said, “When you see an animal at a distance and can tell whether it’s a cow or a horse.”

“No,” said the guru.

When you look at a tree at a distance and can tell if it’s a neem tree or a mango tree.”

“Wrong again”, said the guru.

“Well then, what is it?” asked the disciples.

“When you look into the face of any man and recognize your brother in him; when you look into the face of any woman and recognize in her your sister.  If you cannot do this, no matter what time it is by the sun, it is still night.”

Maybe we need to go back to the basics.  If the Bible is the great love story between God and man, we need to recapture and relish this LOVE in our own lives, for it is only in the experience of being loved that we could love in return.  How far have we yet experienced being loved by God?  How have we responded as an individual? As a community? As a people?

After all that has been said and done, we have but one essential problem and failure: we have failed to love as Christ wants us to love one another!

I’d like to end this with a short dialogue between the master and his disciple:

Disciple: “What’s the difference between knowledge and enlightenment?”

Master:  “When you have knowledge, you use a torch to show the way.  When you are enlightened, you become the torch!”

In our biblical apostolate, we need enlightened people who can be good news for others.  We need people who can bring the Father’s love to all so that the Kingdom of God can reign constantly in the Philippines.

Then people from other nations can look at us as a Christian nation and say “see how they love one another!”