Priests and the elections

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 19 May 2022
Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images.

Like many of you, the people I elected lost last May 9. Fact is, I felt the same sense of loss and sadness and disappointment – but not depression nor anxiety – many of you feel today as early as 2016 when not even one opposition made it into the Senate.

It was in the 2016 elections when I realized that our people would continue to be less discerning in electing their leaders, of how it would get worst before getting any better, not even in my lifetime. The following morning after Duterte was elected president in 2016, our kasambahay came to me during breakfast to apologize, saying, “sorry po Father… binoto ko po si Bung (Bong Revilla) kasi baka wala pong bumoto sa kanya.”

You see, I have been trying to educate Manang to be more discerning in choosing candidates since the start of the 2016 elections campaign period but no amount of explanations seemed to have convinced her. Hence, I just told her, “kakaawa mo sa kanya, hayun, naging topnother si Bong Revilla, ngayon kawawa ang bayan natin.” The same thing happened last week that we now have Robin Padilla as Senator of the Republic too.

However, I am still filled with hopes in our future. We are not a hopeless case of going to the dogs if we start learning the lessons of these 2022 elections that were similar with 2016’s if we priests return to our original mission of teaching and sharing Jesus, only Jesus and always Jesus. Enough with our political partisanship, of endorsements and campaigns for candidates no matter how worthy they may be.

Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images.

This may sound very simple, even simplistic. As a priest, I feel and fear we have forgotten Jesus in these recent elections. Even a week after, many have not stopped in their “fight”, making all those unChristian comments in social media that prove we have indeed lost Christ lately.

“Oh, men of little faith!” is how Jesus would probably exclaim at some of us priests and bishops in this post-elections period.

Instead of educating the people, some priests and bishops went too far into campaigning even at the pulpit for particular candidates that led to disillusionment than enlightenment. And now, we are into this mess – the second elections in a row since 2016 – when the people resoundingly rejected not only the clergy’s candidates but also the Church we represent as an institution. What is tragic is how we priests still do not get it, even that simple lesson in history that every time priests endorse candidates, they turn out to be kiss of death!

It is so disappointing how most of the priests and bishops were so quiet, not silent, in 2020 when the quarantine period was prolonged more than twice or thrice that kept our churches closed, denying the people much needed spiritual guidance and nourishment during the pandemic. Sadly when the campaign period for the elections started last year, many priests were suddenly out, vocal and filled with courage in joining rallies even on Saturdays and Sundays when they should be celebrating the Mass in their parishes, when they should be praying and reflecting on the gospel to nourish souls but were instead baffling the faithful if their pastors were leading them to heaven or hell.

The double standard cannot be denied: when Leny declared her candidacy last October, some priests and parishes posted on social media pictures of Gaudete and Laudete Sunday’s pink motifs but, when Red Wednesday came in November to honor those persecuted in the Church, the same priests and parishes issued clarifications that the liturgical red motif was not in any way political.

Of course, it has always been non-political until they started it! Unfortunately, the bad taste of insincerity was all over and no one felt ashamed at all. Which brings us to the many sanctimonious “sermons” – not homilies (they are different) – that followed during Lent, filled with self-righteousness and holier-than-thou attitudes as if there are no thieves and liars among us.

Photo by author, Stations of the Cross at the Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, March 2022.

The question being asked by the faithful – where is God? – following the results of the recent elections is an indictment of the priests who have abandoned Jesus and so believed in themselves and their candidates, denying Christ the chance to do that much-needed miracle we were all hoping for since the start of the campaign period.

A former student now based in Canada recently narrated how he and his wife told their eight year-old daughter the need to stand and defend the truth. I was impressed and touched that I congratulated him as I recalled those first 12 years of my priesthood teaching them in our diocesan school in Malolos City. I mentioned to him how it pained me that some of our graduates have joined the “dark forces” in politics with one notoriously grandstanding during the proceedings revoking the franchise of ABS-CBN.

We can only do as much but the most important thing is to remain focused in Jesus, in words and in deeds despite our weaknesses and unworthiness. When people experience and get to know Jesus, everything good follows. We called it in my former school assignment “Sanctitas in Sapientia” or “Holiness in Wisdom” – the more we get to know Jesus, the more we grow in wisdom and holiness becoming like him so that we also follow him and love him through others.

That is the challenge to us this post-election period: let us double time, spend our energies in bringing back the people, especially the young inside the churches not to the streets to learn more about Jesus in the Sacraments. Most of all, to reach out to those in the margins, the majority we love to bash in putting into office the same “unworthy” candidates as leaders of the nation.

A few days after the elections, we had the first Confession and first Holy Communion of our Grade III and IV students at the Basic Education Department of Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City. It was then when I got more convinced how in the past 24 years that priesthood is bringing Jesus to the people first through the meaningful celebrations of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist where his words are proclaimed and cracked open to let Jesus touch the hearts of everyone.

Both in the parish and in the school, I have seen that Jesus is the One transforming people, the One who changes people, not us priests nor anyone. We are merely his instruments.

Photo by Mr. Paulo Sillonar, Basic Education Dept., Our Lady of Fatima University, 11 May 2022.

In the beautiful story of the feeding of 5000, we are told that when Jesus saw a large crowd coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do (Jn.6:5-6).

Jesus knows very well what he is going to do in every situation, especially elections. Our job is to listen to Jesus, to make Jesus present to everyone, to share Jesus.

Later after the feeding of 5000 in the wilderness, Jesus gave his bread of life discourse to the people who have followed him to Capernaum but they could not take his words that eventually, they left him along with the other followers of Christ. Only the Twelve remained with him whom he asked, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn.6:67-68).

Do we have the same faith and focus of Simon Peter in Jesus? Why worry after we have lost these elections?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that all our affairs in this life and in this world must always be seen beyond its social and economic, even medical and political implications but always in the light of Christ and his Cross. This reality is perfectly captured by the Inquirer photographer last August 2021 when the chapel of the QC General Hospital was converted into a COVID ward during a surge. The photo speaks loudly and clearly of the one reality we always forget, especially us priests.

Again, my views may be simple, even simplistic, compared to the learned but so many times, that is how God works too. Thank you for taking time to read. Join me in praying:

Lord Jesus Christ, 
so many times we leave you behind, 
following ourselves and others 
instead of you alone who is 
"the way and the truth and the life"
(Jn.14:6). Amen.

Have a blessed weekend!

Front page photo of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 20 August 2021.

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