Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 June 2020
My earliest memory of St. Paul was not really so good; it was even scary.
It was summer of 1972 when we settled in our new house in my mother’s hometown of Bocaue in Bulacan. I was so skinny then (believe me, I can prove this with my pictures) and shy when my mother brought me to apply for Grade 1 at the only Catholic school there known as “SPCB” or St. Paul College Bocaue.
A male, dark teacher wearing those dark glasses like Leopoldo Salcedo clad in a barong interviewed me (the late Mr. Martin De Guzman, aka, Bagyo for typhoon). I cannot recall what he had asked me which I could not answer that made him say I cannot enroll in their school; but my mother angrily told me not to listen to him and, angrier told me to always speak louder.
That’s when I saw the statue of St. Paul at the window of the registrar’s office, eyes so intense while resting his right hand on a sword in front of him with the other hand clutching a bible with the Latin words, “Caritas Christi urget nos” – the love of Christ impels us (2 Cor. 5:14).
I stayed at SPCB for seven years and formed me into who I am today, making me so proud of being a Paulinian. Until now, that image of St. Paul with a sword is etched in my mind reminding me of how he fought so hard for Jesus Christ and his Body, the Church.
The Apostle Paul
Sometimes called the “Thirteenth Apostle”, St. Paul always stressed in his writings and teachings that he was personally called by the Risen Lord to be his Apostle sent to preach the gospel to everyone. That is why Jesus is so central in his life, declaring “whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ” (Phil.3:7), desiring only “omnia omnibus” — that is, to “become all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22) without any reserve.
As we have mentioned in our earlier reflection, St. Paul’s sole focus in his ministry and very life was the person of Jesus Christ: everything in our lives, especially us priests, is marked essentially by our encounter and communion with the Lord and his Word.
It is only in the light of Christ that we measure every other value in our lives and ministry.
Even in this highly diversified and pluralistic society, while we join hands in promoting and working for a more humane and inclusive society, the more we must stand up for Jesus Christ like St. Paul as quoted by St. Luke while addressing the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus with these words:
“I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me because of the plots of the Jews, and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.”Acts of the Apostles 20:19-21,27
I am so struck with that word “shrink” that St. Paul used twice to stress his dedication, fervor, and conviction in being centered in Jesus Christ alone. In what aspect did he not “shrink”? Did he raise arms and fought back against his detractors? Did he align with other forces to pursue his mission?
No! St. Paul did not shrink in proclaiming Jesus Christ by fighting back with force or with harsh words but by being more like our Lord and Master — more loving and understanding, more patient and more persevering, yet more intense in insisting the Gospel.
He did not shrink by running away from his detractors or diluting the gospel message by pleasing some powerful people or accommodating prevailing thoughts and culture. As we have mentioned in our previous reflection, St. Paul saw opportunities for the gospel in the midst of the hostile environment he lived during his time.
Despite all the pains and scars he had gone through, one can still find the light of Christ shining in this great apostle who bore everything filled with joy and pride without any complaint.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that in the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.2 Corinthians 4:8-11
Standing for Christ and his Church
From 2006 to 2018, I was so blessed to have worked at our Church-run Radio Veritas as a co-host in a morning program once a week and as a host of another show on Saturdays. Aside from bishops and priests, we interviewed experts and advocates in a lot of various topics affecting our faithful in particular and our society in general.
So many times I felt something so wrong when we have to interview whom we considered as “allies” or “kakampi” in some of our advocacies because I have found no single person fully believing in our Church teachings even if some of the issues they fight for jibe with ours.
Can we really ally ourselves with lawmakers and cause-oriented groups fighting capital punishment which we strongly support and yet support artificial means of contraception for population control? Can we align with those fighting repressive laws like this anti-terror bill and yet support same-sex marriage and divorce?
And please, spare us with those labels on these people that they insist on putting on with us priests and bishops: let us keep in mind we are only for Christ, no progressives or liberals, conservatives or whatever.
We are neither lobbyists nor cause-oriented advocates pushing for something because we only stand for Jesus Christ and his Word at the Cross. There can be no any instance of partisan politics or traces of strange bedfellows whatsoever because we are either for or against Jesus Christ:
Jesus said: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”Matthew 12:30
Here lies one of the greatness of St. Paul who never shrunk to other forces except Christ.
What a tragedy especially in our country that no amount of explanations can remove from the thoughts of ordinary people that priests and bishops do not even dabble their hands in partisan politics when it is so glaring they are beholden to these modern charlatans.
What moral ascendancy is left of our being pastors when after speaking against corruption and ineptitude in the government we turn to solicit from the same politicians and bureaucrats not only for parish projects and charities but even for our personal needs like vacations and trips abroad?
How can we reconcile all these immediate reactions by bishops and priests against the anti-terror bill urgently passed by Congress last week when not even a whimper was ever heard from them for the longest time to open our churches to serve the spiritual needs of the people?
Let me clarify like in my previous reflection that I am not saying we must be quiet about social issues; my point is, it must always be primary the Church as the Body of Christ that is primary in all our concerns.
This was very clear with St. Paul because it is the first reality he faced when he was called by Christ:
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”Acts of the Apostles 9:3-5
Next to our Lord, it is the Church that St. Paul had considered so much in his activities as subject of his thoughts and reflections. For him, adherence to the Church was directly caused by Jesus Christ himself, not by any chance or moments of realization and conversion.
And see the words of the Lord to him: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
He was the first to speak of the Church as the Body of Christ, illustrating for us in his many Letters our being “one in Christ” (Gal.3:28) deeply rooted in the Holy Eucharist, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body” (1 Cor.10:17).
Until now our churches remain closed in many parts of the only Christian nation in this part of the world. It behooves us priests and bishops to first fight and insist, without shrinking, the opening of our houses of worship to allow the people to experience Jesus Christ anew in this pandemic.
Most of all, may the people feel and realize at the resumption of our public Masses that God is truly in us and with us because of our deep communion in our Lord Jesus Christ and with one another when we celebrate the Sacrament of our unity, the Holy Eucharist.
Our final installment of the series this Thursday, “St. Paul in time of COVID-19: Communicating Jesus Christ”.