Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Choosing someone for canonization

Commentary By: Denis Murphy Philippine Daily Inquirer 9:03 pm | Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 Most often we don’t know why the Church chooses one holy person for canonization and not another. We don’t know why Pope John Paul II was beatified and not Pope John XXIII whom all the world loved or the wise and humble Paul VI. Most people would probably say anyone of the three could have been chosen. Choices are made for strategic and political (Church politics) reasons, in addition to heroic personal sanctity. There are many people today living truly saintly lives, but only a handful from each generation are set on the road to sainthood. To be canonized a person must have personal sanctity and fit in with the Church’s strategies and priorities for evangelization. The person must be seen as relevant to the problems of the people of the day. To appreciate how this process works let us attempt to choose someone for canonization. But first, it should be clear we are not talking about a person’s face-to-face relationship with God. This relationship at its highest is described in Deuteronomy as being God’s “intimate friend.” We are talking, instead, about the person’s public work in our society. We are talking of a lay person, because for the Church this is the age of the laity. This current policy is due not only to the dwindling numbers of priests, but to the demands of the age that were apparent even before the great outflow of priests in the 1960s-1980s. Our candidate will be a man, not a woman. I apologize to our women, but they are still problematic for many Churchmen. The man chosen will symbolize the laity’s mission to transform the world. He will show in his life how lay people can, in the eyes of the Church, transform the world’s politics, economics, science, practice of justice, educational systems and the other institutions that govern us. The person is not under the authority of the Church, but he recognizes the need for the help of the historical wisdom of the Church to enrich and purify the institutions of the world. He is open to the Gospel, especially to its concerns for the poor, women and the downtrodden. He will not be seen as someone worried about internal Church matters, but rather one who is totally concerned with the transformation of society. Where in Philippine society is such a man? If pushed to respond many might point to Nandy Pacheco. Remember we are not choosing here the man we think is best suited for sainthood, but rather the one we think the Church might choose as an example of the lay people it seeks for its work in the world. The Church might select Nandy because of his work on the Gunless Society and Ang Kapatiran Political Party. The Social Teaching of the Church is the foundation of Ang Kapatiran’s platform. The party was publicly supported by some bishops, though Nandy was disappointed that more bishops didn’t do so. The party didn’t do well in the last presidential election, but Nandy is not giving up. The Church doesn’t necessarily look for winners in society. It has in fact a fondness for losers. Ang Kapatiran’s relatively poor showing in the election may reflect the Church’s loss of esteem among ordinary people in recent years due to its perceived over-closeness to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the sex scandals around the world and the Church’s absence from the main justice struggles. It hasn’t been seen lately as a crusading force in society. Individual bishops and dioceses have been so seen, but not most. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword: those lay people who have success in their reform role in the world because of the esteem the ordinary people have for the Church may suffer if that support weakens. Lay people will have to learn to live and work with a Church that is increasingly cautious, and less in tune with the younger generation. The lay people may be seen in the role of grown children looking after their elderly parents. They will need patience and understanding in that role. Nandy has not stopped because of setbacks. Neither has his Ang Kapatiran Party. He has, however, shown an inclination to put his efforts into a radical conversion of the human heart, since that is required before people can accept the reforms that are demanded in politics and other arenas of secular life. Nandy is now organizing a movement that, he hopes, will change the hearts of Filipinos and enable them to accept the needed changes in the country’s socio-economic and political structures. This movement urges people to accept Jesus’ peace. This is the peace Jesus entrusted to his Apostles on the evening of his Resurrection. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said twice to them (John 20:19-23). These words were the polite greeting Jewish people offered one another in older days, but his use of the phrase carried much more than a simple greeting. In it Jesus conveyed to the Apostles all the blessings of His Kingdom—all the wisdom, humor, courage, perseverance and simple kindness they would need in spreading His message throughout the world. This peace is ours, Nandy points out, if we accept it wholeheartedly. We should “accept” this peace of Jesus rather than “seek it,” since Jesus has already offered it to us in the Gospel. Knowing Nandy, I think he might prefer a big victory for his party at the polls to canonization. Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

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