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Christ, A Synodal God: Taken, Blessed, Broken and Shared

Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, CBCP President on the Closing Mass of the National Synodal Consultation at Carmelite Missionaries Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay City last July 4 -9, 2022

My dear brother bishops and archbishops of the Philippines, dear delegates from all the ecclesiastical jurisdictions of our country, especially our laity, our consecrated persons, and the other ordained ministers of the church, mga minamahal kong kamanlalakbay kay Kristo, magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!

We did not choose the Gospel for this final day of our National Synodal Consultation. God chose it for us. It contains Jesus’ Mission Discourse in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 10; a most fitting conclusion after four days of communion and participation, now the mission. We actually read its first part in yesterday’s Gospel reading about the choice of the Twelve Apostles, and the very first instruction that the Sender gave them as He sent them out on a mission. Go! “Go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (cf. Mt. 10:6).

Bp. Pablo Virgilio David, CBCP President | Photo from Synod Philippines Facebook Page

I am inclined to believe that this is the text from which Pope Francis had drawn his idea of going out to the existential peripheries. An expression that we heard over and over again from practically every metropolitan synodal synthesis report. People will look back many years from now and recognize the aspiration for greater synodality in the Church, as the main platform of the papacy of Pope Francis. I am sure you have also heard about that pre-conclave speech that Pope Francis allegedly delivered to his fellow Cardinals. When each candidate was asked to deliver a three-minute speech, each, articulating how each cardinal understood the present state of the Catholic Church in the world. Where Jesus wants to lead us and what he expected of the next pope. Those speeches were supposed to be confidential, but there was one pasaway, you know, who leaked out one speech, apparently because he had been so moved by it. He immediately shared it to his diocesan media point person. And so, it circulated in South America, in Spanish. The first time I got it, it was in Spanish, and of all people, it was my brother Randy David who was sharing it to me. He said, “Can you confirm this?” Just reading through it, I said, “I think it's him”.

Pope Francis has neither owned it nor denied it, but one look at it, I knew immediately that it was authentic. I’ve gotten so used, you know, to exegesis. Sort of unpacking a text and you know, determining its vocabulary, it’s a literary themes and sort of confirming who the author might be. Kaya takot yung mga estudyante ko na plagiarist. One look at it, I said, “It was authentic”, and that it was what really got him elected into the papacy; and I do not even think he was campaigning. Why? Because Pope Francis has actually repeated the same thoughts over and over again in most of his homilies, and audiences. Listen to the things that he allegedly said as candidate Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. He said, “The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only in the geographic sense but also in the existential peripheries.” Sometimes we misunderstand this word. It's not just about the economically poor; but those who might be marginalized for one reason or another, some of them being spiritual, cultural, gender, whatever. He said, “When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential, and then she gets sick.” That's when he introduced that vocabulary of self-referentiality.

In revelation chapter 3, verse 20, Jesus says that He is standing at the door, knocking. Obviously, the text is referring to Jesus knocking from outside in order to enter. Please take note that this was the year Pope Benedict XVI had declared the Year of Faith, and in his apostolic letter, entitled, “Porta Fidei” (The Door of Faith), Pope Benedict used the image of opening the door of faith to let Christ in. It looked like Bergoglio was reacting to it in his speech. He knew that the opposite was actually the case in most of Europe and in many other parts of the world. How many people in modern societies are already closing their doors to the Christian faith? So, the lines that followed fell like a bombshell on the electing Cardinals when Bergoglio said, “But I think of the times when Jesus is knocking, knocking from inside, so that we will let him come out.” And I think they were stunned. “A church that is self referential tends to keep Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him come out.” He ended his speech with a final paragraph, which was in answer to the question, “What kind of a man do you expect the next Pope to be?” (I wonder if he knew that he was going to be that man.) His answer was, “He must be the kind of man who, drawing from his contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, and not from any ideology drawing only from his contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ can help the Church come out of herself to the existential peripheries. A man who can help the Church to be the fruitful mother.” And he emphasized the term “mother”, a “fruitful mother who lives from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing”.

This was the very same message that Pope Francis communicated to us Filipinos when he visited us in 2015. Remember, in the aftermath of that devastating Typhoon Yolanda. And remember how Cardinal Chito Tagle responded to the challenge of Pope Francis, by saying in his final speech, “Holy Father, we will heed your invitation. We will go with you.” And he said, “Not to Rome” (Well Cardinal Tagle went to Rome with him). “We will go with you. Not to Rome but to the peripheries of society.” I do remember that Filipinos who knew English were whispering to each other because it sounded new. The word “peripheries”. “Ano daw?” Binigyan tuloy natin ng Tagalog equivalent and salitang ito mula noon, like “laylayan ng lipunan”.

Well, Pope Francis has been very consistent in challenging Christians to outgrow the tendency to develop that personalistic “me and my Jesus” kind of spirituality. You know, as a young boy, I remember listening to a song being played on a car stereo. That said “Plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of my car. In all kinds of stormy weather, me and my Jesus stick together. Sitting on the dashboard of my car.” I think many Christians prefer a plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of the car. Do we not often hear this kind of a spirituality? From some fellow Christians in the form of a very aggressive question, “Have you accepted Jesus?” “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and savior?” Or “Have you allowed Jesus to become a part of your life?” Well, it sounds very pious indeed; but I think they are missing something very fundamental about Christian life, that it is the other way around. It is not about us making Jesus a part of our lives, but about Christ making us part of His life and mission, part of His body, the Church, by the grace of baptism. It is the Holy Spirit who will make this possible.

The shift from the individual Christ to the corporate Christ, and a brother Bishop who seems uncomfortable with the term “corporate Christ”, kase, masyado nating ina-aasociate yung word “corporate” with the corporate world. Hindi ba? Sabi niya, “Saan galing iyon?”. Ang sagot ko, “Kay St. Augustine.” The concept of the Totus Christus. Basing his reflection on the Body of Christ, the Church, the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. I recommend that one day you read the reflections of Augustine on the corporate Christ.

Well, this shift is calling for a total change of paradigm, which is what I take metanoia. To me it calls to conversion. It is a call to communion with Christ, our Shepherd, so that we are empowered to participate in His life and mission. And so, shepherding or pastoring becomes a common aspiration, not just of the ordained, but of the whole Church acting as Corporate Christ. You see, the downside of referring exclusively to us, ordained ministers, as your “pastors”, meaning shepherds, is precisely the tendency of the laity to think of themselves as a passive flock. As a mindless herd. Na walang ibang obligasyon kung’di ang sumunod nang sumunod sa pastol. The Gospels narrative about followers who are transitioning from discipleship to apostleship is really about the whole Church, not just the Twelve. Kaya nga kay Luke, hindi lang twelve, seventy-two pa yung apostles eh.

This is what we proclaim in the Apostles Creed about the whole church as “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” We are a community of apostles. PCP2 already broke new ground when it spoke of the church as a “community of disciples”, but it never went to the extent of stretching that ecclesiology to also speak of the church as a “community of apostles”. Obviously because, we have also tended to clericalize apostleship. Oh, this is as early as the time of Saint Paul. Si Saint Paul nga hindi siya matawag-tawag na apostle. Because only the “Magic Twelve” were to be regarded as apostles.

I'm saying this in the mood of self-criticism. While bishops are indeed successors of the apostles, this title might make us forget that we succeed the apostles precisely to lead the Church to grow. To grow into a community of missionary disciples. Iyon ang apostle. A missionary disciple. Kase “missionary” and “apostle”, pareho lang iyan. Ang origin ng “apostle” the Greek word “ἀπόστολος” (apóstolos), ang origin ng “missionary” is Latin translation from apóstolos, mission.

Well, we’re call to grow into an apostolic community. A few months ago, we concluded our celebration of the 500th Year of Christianity, with the year of Mission; and we emphasize that mission is not a mandate only of missionary congregations. It is the business of the whole Church, both local and universal. In fact, we can dare say that a Church that is not missionary, is not a church. It may be a club, an exclusive members’ club, but not the Church.

A Church, that practically reduces the priesthood to the ordained ministerial priesthood will never grow into a missionary Church. In that mode of thinking that has practically revived the clericalization of the temple priesthood of the Old Jewish dispensation, the laity will never imagine themselves as part of what the Second Vatican Council calls, “The common priesthood of the faithful.” There's no such thing as common priesthood of the laity. It's common priesthood of all the baptized, including us. That's the most fundamental priesthood that we are a part of, the priesthood that links us together. We are a priestly people. And so, the laity will tend to remain as followers of the clerics, whom they will expect to play the role of alter Christus. As if we had been ordained to substitute for Christ. The most tragic thing that can happen to the Church is when we, bishops and priests also forget that we have been ordained to the ministerial priesthood, precisely to assume the role of nurturing the role of nurturing the rest of the church to grow in the common priesthood of the faithful.

Dapat ba tayong masorpresa kung hanggang ngayon ang tingin ng ating mga laiko, karamihan, ang tingin nila sa simbahan ay yung lugar ng sambahan. Look, even our vocabulary betrays us. Because, kaming mga pari, we define ourselves as the “celebrants” and “the concelebrants” at the Eucharist. The laity will define themselves as the “audience”. Trahedya iyon. The laity will come to Mass in order to “hear Mass”. Iyon ang bokabularyo natin ‘di ba? At most they will say, “I will attend Mass”, but they will never say, “I will celebrate Mass.” Why? Because they presuppose only the clergy will celebrate the Mass.

There's something deeply theologically wrong about it, but we perpetuate it anyway. Saint Augustine expressed it so well. When he said, to the faithful of his diocese, “For you. I am a bishop; but with you, I am a Christian.” It was his way of saying, “I cannot be a good bishop for you if I cannot first and foremost be a good fellow Christian with you.” A fellow member of the Body of Christ. Whenever I “preside”, take note, I would rather use the word “preside”. Not celebrate, I preside. Other bishops and priests can co-preside.