Last week, while attending Sunday mass at a Catholic church in Barangay Bata, was shocked to hear the homily transformed into a sermon about extrajudicial killings. Personally, it is not appropriate to use the pulpit as a soapbox, as it should be used as a way of advising parishioners on how to utilize the day’s readings in everyday life. A lecture on current events and an attempt to indoctrinate those gathered with partisan propaganda is wrong – upon the third mention of extrajudicial killings in the sermon, got up and walked out.
The first reading for September 17, 2017 was from the book of Sirach, which spoke on the issue of forgiveness. “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven,” the passage said. “If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?”
Clearly, the view of the priest, which invariably represents his diocese and order, would convey a message of President Rodrigo Duterte not being “forgiving” in his plans to rid the country of illegal drugs – a problem that has turned out to be bigger than anybody could have imagined. What the clergyman fails to recognize is the country is still a nation of laws; something even Pope Francis many times forgets. In their viewpoint, it would appear those of the cloth want to see the country run as a theocracy – much like many radical Islamic country rule via strict interpretation of the Quran.
Yes, forgiveness is a virtue, but as a secular nation, abiding by the law is the priority.
For somebody who has brought the scourge of illegal drugs into a community; dooming it to entrenched poverty, breaking up families, and what could be a lifetime of dangerous addiction, it is not something easily forgiven. If the church believes it is important to merely let one go simply because the Book of Sirach says “remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults,” then maybe they can highlight a verse to counter the argument pointing out the commonality of recidivism among criminal elements.
The second reading, from the Book of Romans, discussed a commitment to God. “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord.” Did the mere mention of death lead the priest to make the connection to extrajudicial killings? Unless the proliferation of illegal drugs is also a covenant to the Lord, it would be difficult to understand how one who proceeds down such a dangerous and destructive path is such a righteous figure.
The Gospel draws from the Book of Matthew and also discusses forgiveness; this time, telling the story of the servant and the debt collector. After the debt collector absolved what was owed to him by the servant, the servant turned around and punished another person for owing him debt; in the end, the servant is punished for his refusal to forgive after being given his redemption.
Is that to say, by forgiving suspected drug dealers and drug users, it will result in better environment for all? The country has seen what decades of indifference to the illegal drugs problem has created, a colossal problem that has engrained itself in every sector of society – perhaps maintained indifference is the goal of the church; “see no evil, hear no evil?”
A contemporary sermon could have focused on one’s daily interactions. To forego pettiness and not to hold grudges since, as noted in the first reading, “The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail.” In addition, with the story of the debt collector and servant, the tale can easily be seen as a parallel to the modern day idea of “pay it forward,” where, if one is provided with consideration, it is only right to pass on that good will to the next person.
Then again, as a lay person, maybe the idea is just too simplistic.
It would seem, by giving sermons skewed from the preceding readings, the clergy would rather lecture those in the pews, instead of providing them with meaningful advice.
After being completely disgusted by the way the church was being perverted – not to mention having previously witnessed parishioners using the outdoor area of the church as a toilet, children running around and yelling during mass without a second glance from their parents, other children spitting into the font where churchgoers dip their fingers, and the complete mayhem that ensues when it is time for communion – tried taking in mass from home, catching an early morning broadcast on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network).
Yesterday’s readings continued similar themes to the previous week. The first reading, from the Book of Isaiah, spoke of forgiveness; while the second reading, from the Book of Philippians, talked about living for Christ. The Gospel, from the Book of Matthew, told the story of the landowner and the laborers, where the landowner was met with conflict after paying every laborer the same amount, but for different contributions. The landowner asked, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
The Homily by the Alabama-based priest discussed Padre Pio, or Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, whose feast day was Saturday, September 23. Padre Pio had reportedly experienced the stigmata shortly before his ordination as a priest, wherein it is said he prayed to accept the sufferings in secret. This led to him documenting transverberation, or ecstasies, where he would see a vision and be inflicted with injury, as a sign of his commitment to God and serving as inspiration for the faithful. In 1918, he would receive the stigmata again, which stayed with him for 50 years, until his death in 1968.
Padre Pio’s story echoed themes of the Gospel through the idea of pure generosity.
The Franciscan priest, who would be later beatified and canonized by Pope John Paul II, provided inspiration, despite suffering he may been experiencing; while the landowner gave what he could, benefitting the laborers.
Just as Catholic mass was celebrated when living in the United States, the homily spoke on themes picked up from the readings. Even while on vacation a couple years back in Sydney, Australia, attended Sunday services at St. James’ Church, an Anglican church, where the sermon also pulled directly from the day’s readings – no editorializing.
Shortly after mass, EWTN also aired a rosary prayer, a welcome addition to Sunday morning.
Prior to the church in Barangay Bata, used to attend services at a Catholic church along BS Aquino Drive, this also ended badly. They would recite the rosary prior to mass; however, the parishioners seemed much more concerned with their personal matters. Between prayers, would hear somebody loudly discussing hair coloring or a recipe for macaroni salad. This behavior would continue throughout the mass, somebody who thought mass was a time for them to be the center of attention.
However, there were also other characters that made the experience less than inspirational.
Many times, families would refuse to park properly and line up right at one of the side doors of the church, a convenience for them, as that is all they are likely thinking about; another time, was asked by an usher to move to the back of the communion line for supposedly creating a new line, however, once out line, the very next person was served – approached him after mass asked if he was being discriminatory, he apologized and blamed it on “crowd control” – by moving one person?
On another occasion, had a vehicle struck by the door of a neighboring car slam, got out to check what happened and was met with an angry driver – he perpetrated the incident, yet he was the angry party?
Came to the conclusion that parishioners and church staff alike were too caught up with aesthetics and openly treated more plain-looking folk poorly; would love to see if that is listed as a virtue somewhere in the Bible.
If the choices are either a church filled with pompous and arrogant individuals or one where scripture is warped to fit a political agenda, would easily go with option number three and observe mass from home. The priest adheres to scripture; conveys a homily based on scripture with no partisan scheme behind it; and, during communion, a prayer is read for those unable to physically accept communion. The word of the Lord still comes through and it is purely for the enrichment of one’s faith; not the local church’s priority of scoring political points or putting on a façade of holiness based on pretentiousness./WDJ