The Year of the Two Hearts for Peace Building and Lay Participation in Social Change from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010 captures this reality. It sets the spiritual groundwork for meaningful work for peace and change that includes engagement in the 2010 elections.
But, we need to ask, would another CBCP statement really matter? In the first national consultation of Circles of Discernment for Elections (CiDE) in Cebu last 20-21 April 2009, attended by 30 participants from 13 local churches and two lay organizations, a few thought this was an exercise in futility. What good would another statement do? Indeed, more than half of CBCP statements, since its beginnings, have been on politics. Yet “Philippine politics─the way it is practiced─has been most hurtful of us as a people,” and sadly continues to be so.
Someone then wisely pointed out that such statements actually contribute a critical service by setting the conditions for change to happen. What may be lacking is the collective, effective, and sustained response on the part of the laity, in collaboration with priests, to the call made by the bishops. After all, evangelizing and transforming politics is the laity's specific field of engagement. As the bishops remind us: “You know that we have sounded this call too many times already in the past. Perhaps because this task is expected of us, there has been a tendency to take it for granted that we are also to carry it out by ourselves.”
Our church leaders continue: “We challenge our Catholic laity, in particular, to take the lead in the task of moral renewal towards a deeper and more lasting change in the Philippine society.” In other words, the bishops are telling the lay faithful that the ball is now in their court.
The bishops had also released a statement in 1986 in the face of a national political crisis seen as rooted in a moral crisis. People listened and responded. Change happened. Something similar may happen, if our response is sure and strong.
Yet, such a response cannot be haphazard and underneath our dignity. This is the lesson from the story of Gideon, one of Israel's judges at the beginnings of its emergence as a nation. Why start with Gideon?
The office of the readings at the beginning of the second gathering of CiDE Church network from 17 to 19 June cited Judges 6:33-40; 7:1-8, 16-22. God continues to provide guidance through the Bible.
What struck me in this story of victorious faith is how God selected Gideon's army. After asking those who were afraid to go home, God then instructs Gideon to separate those who “lap up the water as a dog does” from those “who kneels down to drink.” They are to engage the enemy but do so without sacrificing their dignity. This seems to be the idea since dogs are generally looked down upon as dirty in the Semitic world.
Being dignified, however, does not mean they are to be wanting in strategy. With the element of surprise in their hands, Gideon's force manages to confuse the enemy into thinking they were more than they actually were. The result was self-destruction on the part of the enemy.
Corruption is irrational and ultimately self-destructive. But how do we maintain our dignity in the fight against corruption, particularly as it begins during elections? The starting point is to be infused with a politics of hope and patience, rather than that of despair and impatience.
It is easy enough to fall into a subtle form of despair that manifests itself in the tendency to take short cuts. The latter, after all, is what ails our country. Adam and Eve were seduced by a short cut in their desire for immortality. Jesus reverses this trend by saying “no” to the temptation to turn stone into bread, although he could have easily done so.
This temptation to reach our goals without the needed sacrifice is what is behind the proliferation of corruption in our country, something both citizens and public officials contribute to. People would rather pay fixers rather than fall in line. They look for shortcuts in their quest for security and happiness.
In our journey towards elections 2010, this impatience is shown in the tendency to start with personalities, rather than with principles and values. People nominate themselves rather and everything else follows. Some groups claim exaggerated numbers without doing the necessary groundwork and without properly forming the consciences of their followers. This is downright messianic.
Candidates buy votes instead of really leading and offering a concrete platform and track record of integrity and competence. Voters sell their votes instead of really determining who deserves to be voted into office. While there is no question of the value of utilizing technology to reduce fraud, the haste, i.e. without trying out the mechanism in two highly urbanized citizens in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, as stipulated by law, with which full poll automation is being implemented is disconcerting and raises further questions.
Yes, this river of change begins with a recognition of our inherent dignity as creatures created in God's image and likeness.
The bishops have spoken. What is our response?