A week or so ago, there was an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, entitled “The Silence of Cardinal Tagle.” The author, Carlos Isles, lamented what he considered the lack of leadership of the Archbishop of Manila in confronting the government for the ongoing massacre of the poor: “Without doubt, the flock is scattered and in disarray. They ache for a leader, a shepherd, and a voice that will denounce evil, guide and provide solace in this time of grave peril. That leader should be Cardinal Tagle. He should stand in the wind unafraid to show the powerful that those who can kill the body cannot kill the soul. Unfortunately, it appears that he is not the man of the hour to restore courage in the hearts of the people to resist oppression.”
I do not agree with Isles. First, it is not true that Cardinal Tagle has been silent and has not condemned the killings. He has done so in both public and private forums. Certainly, church leaders close to him, like Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, have consistently spoken up. The Baclaran church set up a photo exhibit of the extrajudicial killings and the Quiapo church, whose parish priest Fr. Ding Coronel is a classmate and student of mine, has hung a protest banner in a prominent place. Second, it is not right to compare Cardinal Tagle with Cardinal Sin. The times are different and both the country and the Church have changed. Personally, for what we are facing now I prefer less political Church leaders and more pastors in our bishops.
I trust that Cardinal Tagle is discerning the mission he and the Catholic Church are called to serve in these trying times. The Archdiocese of Manila, which Tagle leads, is particularly important because it is Ground Zero of the killings. If things do not abate, we will have 20,000 dead next year and a few hundred thousand victims, mostly poor, by the end of the President’s term.
Understandably, given the grim prospects, some of the faithful yearn for a John the Baptist today. For me, what we need more is the example of Saint Joseph.
Throughout the Bible we have been introduced to colorful personalities who were used by the Divine to convey his message of love or to inflict punishment to an erring people. Thus, the Old Testament tells as about Samson, Moses, and the Prophets Elijah, Isaiah among others. They became instruments of God to draw his plan of salvation. The New Testament is no different. We have Saints Peter and the Apostles who figure prominently during the three-year ministry of our Lord. Then there is St. Paul, a hitherto persecutor of the early Christians, but through his dramatic conversion narrative he became one of the greatest apostles, becoming known as the apostle of the gentiles. And of course, there is the Mother of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She may be a simple character, without the flamboyance and flair of the other protagonists in the bible, but as the mother of God, she played a very prominent and crucial role in God’s plan of Salvation.
But there is one central character in the Bible who is conspicuous by his silence although he plays an equally crucial role. He spoke few words, seldom mentioned, but he spoke through his actions by obeying without question what the angel of the Lord had commanded him. He was nowhere near the crucifixion nor was he ever mentioned during Jesus’ whole ministry. The only time we hear of him in the scriptures is when somebody referred to him in a disparaging tone— “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Why should we be listening to him?” someone told Jesus.
Silent as he was, Joseph in fact played a very important role in the economy of salvation. Obedient, just and righteous, and always fearful of the Lord, Joseph was given the unique privilege of being the guardian of our Lord throughout his childhood and teenage years before coming out to undertake his three-year ministry.
When Joseph was told in a dream to take Mary as his wife, he obeyed without question even when he learned that his betrothed was pregnant. He also immediately obeyed the angel when he was commanded to bring his family to Egypt to protect the Child Jesus from Herod’s soldiers. And when it was revealed to him to go home to Nazareth, he once again did not hesitate. All of these he did to protect Mary and Jesus, trusting God’s plan for the Holy Family.
In all of these, Joseph must have been full of fear and trembling, but there was no hesitation from him to do what was necessary. Venerable Louis of Granada, a Dominican priest from the 14th Century, writes the following:
“Joseph realized how great was the blessing which God had bestowed upon him, a poor carpenter, in decreeing that from his house and family should come the hope and salvation and remedy of all generations and that he should be guardian and putative father of the Savior and the spouse of His blessed Mother. When a heart so pure and holy sees itself enclosed and inundated by such mysteries, what must it feel? How astonished and enraptured it must be amidst such marvels and blessings, especially since the Holy Spirit usually gives to the just an experience or taste proportionate to the knowledge which He gives them. What must have been the state of Joseph’s will when his intellect was enlightened concerning the great marvels and mysteries?”
This Christmas, it is time to learn our lessons from St. Joseph. Most of all let us imitate his humility. By our submission to and acceptance of God’s most holy will, we will have true peace and joy. The life of Joseph tells us that we can do much good, great or small, without drawing praise and attention to ourselves. What is important is not us but how to give glory to God.
Applied to what is happening around us, perhaps what we need now is not just a vocal Catholic Church but also a pastoral one, a Church that is present, as Joseph was to Mary and Jesus. What we need is less a condemnatory Church but one that offered consolation and protection to its faithful, as Saint Joseph gave to his family. A guardian and a sanctuary for a Church is what the people of God needs at this time.
Many families cannot even bury their dead. Many children have been orphaned. Wives have been widowed. There are addicts that do need rehabilitation. Above all, poor neighborhoods need protection from the evil men that invade the houses of the poor to kill mercilessly. The Catholic Church has the human and material resources to address these needs. I hope its leaders, including Cardinal Tagle, understand that is in fact potentially genocide of the poor that we face.
The best Christmas gift the Church could give today to the country’s poor is sanctuary —consolation and protection. That would be doing a Saint Joseph in these times.
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