(Second of a Series)
14. In what way is the secular spirit at work in the proposed Reproductive Health Bill?
The promoters of the Reproductive Health Bill assert that the bill has nothing to do with religion or morality. According to them the use of artificial contraceptive means to prevent conception or to terminate implantation is simply a matter of safeguarding the health of women. They say that preventing unwanted pregnancy through contraceptives and choosing the number of children parents want is responsible parenthood. Preventing pregnancy through artificial means also alleviates the burden of the poor in raising too many children. In addition, the secular and materialist argument allows the distribution of contraceptive means to young people and to the unmarried in order to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The promoters of Reproductive health consider all these acts as necessary and useful. These acts are allowed because of the freedom of choice. Sex outside marriage is also fine as long as it is “safe sex.” Moreover, some proponents say that no religion or church can impose its teaching on how a woman should take care of her body. What she does with her body is her “freedom of choice.” These arguments are the influence of secularism that rejects faith and morality as norms of action.
15. What is the official Catholic position on the Reproductive Health bill?
As teachers of faith the Bishops of the Philippines point out that the distribution and use of artificial contraceptive means to prevent conception and the implantation of the fertilized egg in the womb are not morally neutral. Based on official Catholic moral teaching, they are in fact morally evil. Moreover, the Bishops point out that aside from purely Catholic moral teachings, there is a universal moral law, the natural law, which serves as a moral guide for all [see Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants in the International Congress on Natural Law, Rome, February 12, 2007; see also Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC), 2004, nos. 138-41]. Furthermore, the freedom to choose cannot be contrary to the law of God who gave that freedom. Briefly and simply, the freedom to choose is not absolute. It is necessarily limited by the moral law, as taught authoritatively by the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church [Cf. CSDC, nos. 137, 139].
16. What is to be said about members of Catholic educational institutions who
dissent against teachings of the Church?
Invoking the principle of academic freedom, some members of Catholic educational institutions publicly dissent against official Catholic teachings regarding the Reproductive Health bill. This may be another example of the influence of the secular and materialist spirit in our midst. A Catholic institution of higher learning, whether pontifical or not, has to be faithful to its identity, nature, and role as a Catholic institution. One of the distinctive marks essential for Catholic identity is fidelity to the Christian message in conformity with the magisterium of the Church [see Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae (ECE), August 15, 1990, I, no. 13; see also United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, An Application to the United States, 2001, Part I, V and Part II, art. 2]. This is also to adhere to the special charisms of the religious community that founded the institution. In fact the Catholic identity of the educational institution is usually expressed explicitly in its vision-mission statement. Moreover the Catholic identity of Philippine Catholic Universities is confirmed by membership in the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) whose statutes were approved by the Holy See in 1949. Therefore, by its very nature and identity a Catholic educational institution adheres to the truths that are contained in the deposit of faith, Scripture and Tradition, as interpreted authoritatively by the Church. Faculty members share in the responsibility of preserving and promoting the Catholic identity of the institution. Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out the confusion created among the faithful “by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership” [see Pope Benedict XVI, Address to U.S. Bishops on ad limina visit, Rome, May 5, 2012]. In brief, academic freedom is not a right for faculty members of a Catholic educational institution to betray its Catholic identity and nature and cannot be a reason for dissenting against the official Catholic position as on the Reproductive Health Bill [On academic freedom see Code of Canon Law, 1983, c 218; likewise relevant are cc 806 and 810].
17. What kind of faith do we, Filipino Catholics, have?
The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines characterized our Filipino Catholic faith in several ways [see PCP-II, Acts and Decrees, 1991, nos. 8-17]. Our faith is deep and simple. We express our Christian faith publicly without embarrassment. We are often faithful in attending Holy Mass and in praying novenas to different saints. We outwardly celebrate the Sacraments, such as going to Mass, being baptized, receiving confirmation, getting married. We are aware that God has an influence on our life. We have a sense of God’s own time. Even when abroad when it is difficult to express our faith, we try to be faithful to our religious duties and devotions.
18. What are the weaknesses of our faith?
While we are outwardly devoted to the practices of our faith such as going to Mass, celebrating the sacraments, praying the Rosary, etc., we often do not understand their meaning. Much less do we put into practice what they really mean. Our faith is not lived in the public sphere. It is separated from life. Hence, “we are sacramentalized but not evangelized.” Our faith is ritualistic and devotional, i.e., centered on externals and non-essentials. We see this kind of ritualistic faith in our veneration of the saints, in our processions and fiestas. Our faith is also sometimes fatalistic, attributing almost everything to God without our own responsibility. Thus we say bahala na ang Diyos when we take unnecessary risks (as in riding overloaded buses or boats), when prudence and wisdom should tell us not to take the risks [For the weaknesses of our faith see PCP-II, no. 13 and CFC nos. 116-18]. Because we really do not know our faith well, we are often easily persuaded by religious teachers who interpret the Sacred Scriptures different from our own interpretation. In other words, to a great extent we are Catholics only in name, but are very much uninformed and focused on externals.
19. Because of the inadequacies of our faith, what should we do during the Year of Faith?
The Year of Faith is a privileged occasion for us to know our faith, deepen our faith, live our faith, celebrate our faith, and share our faith. Pope Benedict XVI urges us “to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction…. to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist....” The Pope prays “that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility” [PF, no. 9].
20. What can we do to know our faith?
We need to study our catechism, especially the most essential elements of our faith. We have to understand their meaning for our life. The essential elements of our faith are contained in the Apostles’ Creed that we recite during Sunday Mass. It is called the Apostles’ Creed, because it is a faithful summary of the faith of the Apostles and was the ancient profession of faith of the Church of Rome, the “See of Peter, the first of the Apostles.” The Apostles’ Creed is elaborated by the Niceno-Constantinopolitan, which originated from the first two ecumenical councils of the Church (in the years 325 and 381). This creed is common to the churches of both East and West.
21. What does the Apostles’ Creed contain?
The Creed contains the 12 Articles of our Christian Faith, namely:
Article 1 – I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
Article 2 – I believe in Jesus Christ the Only Son of God.
Article 3 - He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was born of the Virgin Mary.
Article 4 – Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
Article 5 – He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again.
Article 6 – He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Article 7 – From thence he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Article 8 – I believe in the Holy Spirit.
Article 9 – I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.
Article 10 – I believe in the forgiveness of sins.
Article 11 – I believe in the Resurrection of the Body.
Article 12 – I believe in life everlasting.
These are the fundamental elements of our faith. We should know and understand them with our minds and hearts. When we recite with faith the Apostles’ Creed we unite ourselves with God and with the whole Church which transmits the faith to us. Our “Amen” at the end of the Apostles’ Creed expresses our firm conviction that God is trustworthy and that we absolutely trust in him.
22. How do we celebrate our faith?
We celebrate our faith in God by adoring, praising, and thanking God. This is our response to God and for his blessings to us. We give this response of faith through prayer especially through the liturgy.
23. What is the Liturgy?
The liturgy is the prayer of the Church and consists principally of the celebration of the Paschal Mystery which is the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, the event by which Jesus our Lord saved us from sin. When we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we celebrate the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. We believe that in the Mass, Christ is present and active. It is He who offers his own sacrifice. The ordained priest acts in his name because he shares in the priestly power of Christ because of priestly ordination.
The liturgy also consists of the other Sacraments. By his power, Jesus acts in the other sacraments such that when we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, it is Jesus himself through the hands of the priests who baptizes us. We also celebrate our faith when we read the Scriptures and when we pray. In all these, Christ is present and active.
24. How should we live our faith?
We live our faith by living a truly moral life, a life that is faithful to the commandments of God. Jesus himself said: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” [Jn. 14:21]. The commandments are summarized in the law of love taught by Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Mk. 12:30-31; see also Dt. 6:5]. The law of love is elaborated in the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments express love of God and the next seven commandments express love of neighbor. The truly moral life, therefore, is a life of genuine charity. Pope Benedict states: “Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other” [PF, no. 14]. Charity is faith in action. If charity, then also justice, because justice and charity are inseparable. To love God and our neighbor, to avoid offending God and neighbor through sin are actually the promises we made when we received Baptism, the sacrament of faith. At our baptism we promise to believe in God. This also means to love God and reject sin. The baptismal promise is a promise to live a truly moral life. We are Christians not only in name but also in deed by living our faith in private and public life.
25. How else should we live our faith?
When God gave us the gift of faith at Baptism, he incorporated us into his own family of faith, the Church. The Church has a mandate to safeguard and teach what God has revealed. She is our Mother and Teacher. We live our faith when we are faithful not only to what the Church declares solemnly as divinely revealed but also to the doctrinal and moral teachings that the Church has consistently and ordinarily taught through time.
26. Do we have a duty to proclaim our faith?
Yes, we have. The obligation is included in the mandate that Jesus gave his Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always until the close of the age” [Mt. 28:19-20]. To proclaim our faith is to proclaim the good news of Jesus our Lord and Savior. This is our mission from the very moment we were baptized and became members of the Church. The whole Church exists in order to proclaim Jesus as the Lord and Savior. St. Paul expresses the duty of every member of the Church: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” [1 Cor. 9:16].