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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two recent statements by Bishop Gabriel Reyes on the RH bill and the Culture of Life (Updated)

(Update 15/11/12: I've uploaded an image of the ECFL statement on the revised RH bill)

Originally posted Nov. 12, 2012: 

Bishop Gabriel Reyes, Ordinary of the Diocese of Antipolo, is the current head of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL).

1. Statement of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life on the revised RH bill, November 6, 2012 (LINK)

A picture of the same statement, courtesy of Pro-Life Philippines: 

2. Lecture on the Blessed Virgin Mary in connection with the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death, June 21, 2012:

By Most Rev. Gabriel V. Reyes, D.D., Bishop of Antipolo

Culture of Life

Before talking about Mary in connection with the culture of life and the culture of death, let me review with you the meaning of the culture of life. in short, the culture of life is a way of thinking, a way of living that is in accordance with the Gospel of Life. To explain the gospel of life, I will depend much on the encyclical letter of Blessed John Paul II, "Evangelium Vitae" the Gospel of Life.

Basically the Gospel of Life teaches that human life has to be respected, promoted, and protected because of the human person. According to Vatican II, "man is the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake." Because of the transcendent dignity of man "he is the subject of rights which no one may violate – no individual, group, class, nation or state." ("Centesimus Annus", 44) Human rights are rights inherent in every person and prior to any Constitution and State Legislation. The right to life is a primary right of the human person.

The dignity of the human person is based on my things.

First, man has been crated in the image and likeness of God. He is an image of God through his intellect and will. "You have made him little less than a god and crown him with glory and honor. (Ps. 8:5) The glory of God shines on the face of man.

Second, he has been redeemed by Christ, the Son of God, through His suffering and death. Furthermore, Vatican II says: "By his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every human being." This saving event reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn. 3:16) but also the incomparable value of every human person (Evangelium Vitae, 2).

Third, man is called to share in God's own life, in divine life. "Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimension of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase. (EV, 2). Through the redemption wrought by Christ, God shared his divine life with man making him his son.

"We see here a clear affirmation of the primacy of man over things; these are made subject to him and entrusted to his responsible care, whereas for no reason can he be made subject to other men and almost reduced to the level of a thing." (EV, 34)

Life is not only God's gift to man but is also a sacred reality entrusted to man. He has to take care of it and protect it. He has to bring it to perfection through love and through the gift of himself to God and to his brothers and sisters.

New Threats of Human Life

Evangelium Vitae in number 3 says that aside from the "ancient scourges" of life such as poverty, hunger, war, there are new crimes and attacks against human life. I quote, "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and other life them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator." (EV, 3) What is worse, a new cultural climate (the culture of death) is developing and taking hold, which considers attacks against life as justified. In many countries, these attacks, such as contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are protected and promoted by laws as rights.

Before going further, allow me to make an observation. We can define our promotion of the culture of life, our pro-life advocacy in two ways: in the broad sense and the narrow sense. In the broad sense, the culture of life, pro-life advocacy means the endeavor to obtain for every man and woman the fullness of life, to work so that every man and woman can lead a life worthy of the dignity of a human person, that he be liberated from sub-human conditions of living, from living in a condition of poverty, disease, unhealthy housing, that he be liberated from injustice, oppression, etc. – from any diminishment of life. In the narrow sense, the promotion of the culture of life vs. the culture of death, the pro-life advocacy means the fight against contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. This meaning is the prevalent one. People usually means this when they say the culture of life or pro-life advocacy.

We who are engaged in the culture of life, in pro-life advocacy in the narrow sense, as in the fight against the Reproductive Health Bill, are time and again accused of being against contraception, abortion, and euthanasia but are not at all concerned about the injustice, poverty, and the sub-human conditions in which many of our fellow Filipinos are living. This is not true of course. But let us just be careful not to cause this false impression regarding ourselves. Although our thrust in the "pro-life advocacy" is first against contraception, abortion, euthanasia, etc., let us also join in the great endeavor to free many of our countrymen from injustice, poverty, and sub-human conditions of living.

The culture of life or pro-life advocacy, in the broad or complete sense, means to defend and promote not only the right to live of every human being but also his right to live a life in accordance to the dignity of a human person.

I will not anymore explain to you why contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are wrong. I will just remind you that although contraception is not abortion, it often leads to abortion. In countries where contraception is widespread, abortion also increases. As Evangelium Vitae, 13 says: "But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree… In very many instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception."

Principles and Attitudes that Promote Anti-Life Practices

In this talk, I would like to point out some wrong ideas, principles, and attitudes of people who accept and promote these anti-life practices.

1. In relation to abortion and euthanasia, John Paul II says that an excessive concern for efficiency is taking hold in our society. Because of this, "a person who, because of illness, handicap, or more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored, tends to be resisted or eliminated. (Ex. story of Cardinal Bengsch of Berlin)

2. Relativism: According to Benedict XVI, "A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the "I" and its whims as the ultimate measure." Relativism says that there are no universal truths, which are true always and everywhere. Everything is relative. Truth depends on your situation, on the way you see things. Ultimately it means truth is what I think is true. I have "my own truth." You have "your own truth." There is no truth that all must accept.

If everyone has his own truth, then this will lead to chaos. When there is a conflict of truths (my truth, your truth, his truth) what usually happens is that one imposes his own truth on others. Finally, this will lead to the rule of the most powerful.

But there is only one truth that is based on reality, which we arrived at by right reason. This truth which is objective, that is, conforming to reality, is the criterion we should use to settle our differences when our truths are in conflict.

Applying relativism to the RH Bill, people say that contraception is not always evil. Whether it is moral or immoral depends on the situation or motive of the person doing it. This is against the teaching of the Church which says that contraception is intrinsically evil, that is, it is evil in itself, or evil by its nature. No circumstance or motive can make it good. It is always evil.

3. Wrong Notion of Freedom of Conscience:

Those who support HB 4244 say something like this: I have freedom of conscience. I have a right to follow my conscience. If I think that a teaching of the Church is wrong, then I have not to follow it.

Conscience is the practical judgment of reason upon an individual act as good and to be performed or as evil and to be avoided. Conscience in the strict sense applies our basic knowledge of the general moral principles (synderesis) to a particular situation, to an individual act.

Freedom of conscience does not mean that we have the right to decide on the goodness or "evilness" of an act in any way we like. Freedom is not the right to do whatever we like. Freedom is not individualistic or self-centered. Freedom is the right to do what we ought. What we ought to do is linked to what is true and what is good. So, freedom of conscience is the right to decide in accordance to what is true and what is good. Freedom of conscience includes the obligation to do our best to have a correct conscience, that is, a conscience that is conforming to the truth, a conscience that does not run counter to what is good.

It is true that we have the obligation to follow what our conscience tells us before we act. Conscience is the proximate norm of morality. But we also have the obligation to try our best to have a correct conscience. For us Catholics, as members of the Catholic Church, we believe that a correct conscience is one that is in conformity with the teaching of the Church, with the moral teaching of the magisterium. "As members of the Church, all Catholics are obliged to shape our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church." (On Responsibilities of the Catholics in Public Life, statement issued by the U.S. bishops' conference.)

4. Secularism: In simple words, it means that religion (God) or the Church has no place in public life, in government, in laws, in public education, in public debates, etc. Religion is a private affair. It should limit itself to the sacristy.

Many of those who support the HB 4244 are basing themselves on this intolerant secularism. They say that the Church has no right to participate in the making of laws of government because of the principle of the separation of Church and State. This principle means that the state has no right to intervene into the beliefs and doctrines of any religious denomination and that the state should not have an official religion (state religion). It also means that the state should not favor one religion over another. The Philippine Constitution does not prohibit any group of citizens, civic or religious, to express, promote, or campaign so that their views on what is good for the country and for the individual person be accepted by society and have an influence on the laws of the country. If atheists can, why not those who believe in God? The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its "Doctrinal Note regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" tells us that all citizens, including Catholics, have the right "to base their contribution to society and political life – through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy – on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good." It says further; "It is not the task of Church's task to set forth specific political solutions – and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one – to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person. It is, however, the Church's right and duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when this is required by faith or the moral law."

Man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality. Our Christian Faith gives us the true meaning of man and our world. It provides a firm foundation for the duty to respect the dignity of man and his basic rights and the duty to contribute to the common good. For us, Christians, every man has to be respected and loved because he was created in the image of God and called to be a child of God, participating in God's own life. In history, many regimes or governments that rejected God in their laws and policies ended disastrously. We can cite the regime of Hitler and the Nazis (totalitarianism and racism) and that of Stalin (atheistic communism, Marxism) that ended up in the murder of millions due to their lack of respect for the dignity of the human person. Their rejection of God, the Creator and Lawgiver, led to their rejection of the dignity of every human person. "When the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life" (EV, 21). Senator Adlai Stevenson, a former candidate for president in the United States, said: "Communism is a corruption of a dream of justice."

Here it is good to quote Benedict XVI in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: "The German Jesuit Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis, once wrote: "Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration." When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing. It is not just the negative outcome of the Maxist experiment that proves this. The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. The issue is the primacy of God. The issue is acknowledging that he is a reality, that he is the reality without which nothing else can be good. History cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on purely material lines. If man's heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good, either. And the goodness of the human heart can ultimately come only from the One who is goodness, who is the Good itself."

5. Religious Freedom and pluralism

It is also good to point out that the church teaching regarding contraceptives, abortion, and euthanasia, is not based on Faith or revelation, although it is confirmed by our Faith. This church teaching is based on natural law, which we know through natural reason. By studying through correct reasoning the nature of the human person, we arrive at this teaching regarding contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. All human beings, Catholic or not, are obliged to act according to right reason. By the efforts of the Church to go against the RH Bill, the Church is not imposing her religious beliefs on others. She is trying to stop a bill which is against natural law, a law which all human beings, Catholic or not, should follow. The RH Bill, judged from the principles of natural law, is against the good of the human person and the common good. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its "Doctrinal Note regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" tells us that all citizens, including Catholics, have the right "to base their contribution to society and political life – through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy – on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good." In a democracy, any group of citizens has the right to campaign and lobby so that what they consider to be good for the country are enacted into law and what they deem to be harmful for the country are not enacted into law.

It is true that we should respect the beliefs and opinions of others. But there is a limit to this pluralism. We cannot accept an "ethical pluralism "which ignores the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every outlook on life were of equal value." (Doctrinal Note on the Participation of Catholics in Political Life)

It is urgent that we fight against these false ideas and principles. They are used by people as a justification for their promotion of the anti-life bills. Because of these ideas, they exclude morality in the making of laws. They only consider what is utilitarian or convenient as their criterion in making laws. These ideas are already prevalent in Europe and in the United States. They are coming to the Philippines and are influencing even our fellow Catholics. Let us pray and work that these ideas will not be accepted by our people.

Mary Mother of Life

At the end of John Paul II's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" (The Gospel of Life), he talks about the relation of Mary to the Gospel of Life by quoting parts from the Book of Revelation 12:1-6: "A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth… Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth… The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God…"

John Paul II applies this quotation to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and to the Church. When Mary conceived Jesus, the Son of God, God and man were united in the womb of Mary, salvation came to mankind, man shared in divine life, in eternal life. the mission of Jesus was to bestow this eternal life, this divine life, to humanity. Through Mary's acceptance to be the mother of Jesus and her loving care of him, she helped in the accomplishment of this mission.

The dragon, the devil, always resisted Jesus and His mission. After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took the child Jesus to Egypt to escape from being killed by the soldiers of Herod. Jesus always faced resistance during His life in His mission to bring eternal life and salvation to men. Finally on Calvary, He died on the Cross. But by offering His life on the cross, His death brought eternal life, salvation to mankind. His life did not end in death in defeat but in victory in the Resurrection.

Mary was always one with Jesus in His mission to bring eternal life to mankind, from His birth until His death on the Cross. "In an utterly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace." (Lumen Gentium, 8, No. 61). By giving birth to Jesus, who brought eternal life, divine life to mankind, Mary also became the mother of those who will received this Life. That's why on the cross, Jesus declared Mary to be the mother of every man and woman when he said to St. John the Evangelist: "Behold your mother."

The "woman clothed with the sun, who was with child" also signifies the Church. "The Church is fully aware that she bears within herself the Saviour of the world, Christ the Lord. She is aware that she is called to offer Christ to the world, giving men and women new birth into God's own life" (Evangelium Vitae, 103). The Church's spiritual motherhood is realized through the "pangs of childbirth" because evil will always resist her mission of giving Christ to the world. Despite the trials and resistance she meets in the world, the Church knows that, like Mary, who brought and is bringing Christ to the world, she will also triumph in the end because Christ, through His obedience and death on the Cross has conquered sin and death, and through His resurrection brought eternal life, divine life to mankind. The victory of Christ, through His death and resurrection, assures us that good will triumphed over evil in the world. Life will be victorious against death.

Mary, who is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, and Mediatrix (Lumen Gentium, 62), cooperated and is still cooperating with Christ in bringing salvation, the kingdom of God to mankind. Salvation, the Kingdom of God, in its fullness consists in the "communion among all human beings – with one another and with God." "The liberation and salvation brought by the Kingdom of God come to the human person both in his physical and spiritual dimensions… Jesus' many healings clearly show his great compassion in the face of human distress, but they also signify that in the Kingdom there will no longer be sickness or suffering, and that his mission from the very beginning, is meant to free people from these evils" (Redemptoris Mission, 14). Full salvation consists of liberation not only from sin but also from all evils, including physical ones.

Mary in cooperating with Christ in bringing salvation, the Kingdom of God, to mankind is concerned not only in helping to free people from sin but also to free people from physical evils, from suffering, sickness, injustices, etc. She is also involved in the promotion of the culture of life against the culture of death. In the beginning of this talk, we said that John Paul II in his letter, the Gospel of Life, tells us that the Gospel of Life, the culture of Life opposes any attacks against human life. Aside from the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, there are new threats to life. "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator." (Gospel of Life, 3). The culture of life works not only against contraception, abortion and euthanasia but also against any offense or diminishing of human life. The culture of life means to protect and defend not only the right to live of every human being but also his right to live a life worthy of a human person.

Mary, the Mother of Life, is also involved in this culture of life, in this Gospel of Life, and helps in the protection of people against any attack against life. "By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy fatherland." (Lumen Gentium, 62)

I will first mention ways by which Mary promotes the culture of life by helping men and women in their other spiritual and physical needs of life, aside from helping protect mankind from the practice of contraception, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc.

In the famous hymn of Mary, the "Magnificat", she praises the Lord for "feeding the hungry with good things and lifting up the lowly." The lowly are often the victims of injustice and exploitation. In the history of the Church, like in the Philippines, Mary was and is always the refuge of the poor, the jobless, the sick, and the afflicted. In her shrines, like those in Fatima, Lourdes, Antipolo, Baclaran, Manaoag, Caysasay, etc., many people are healed from their sickness, find solution or strength in their difficulties and suffering.

Mary also helps in a big scale regarding problems of injustice and oppression. I believe that it was Our Lady of Fatima and the prayers and fasting of people all over the world that caused the downfall of Communism in Russia. Communism had wreaked so much destruction and suffering in the world, causing wars and killings of millions of people. In 1989, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, writing about the third secret of Fatima, said "…faith and prayer are forces which can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies" (Message of Fatima – Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

I also believe that in the EDSA I Revolution of 1986, the Filipino people were peacefully freed from martial law, with its oppression and injustices, through the help of Mary, our Blessed Mother. In EDSA, there was a million people, resisting martial law. But there was no violence, no fighting or killing. The images of Mary were everywhere.

Let us now turn to the connection of Mary to the promotion of the culture life against contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. Contraception and abortion are offenses linked to childbirth. Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became man. Let us talk about two events during the conception and birth of Jesus. Regarding the miraculous conception of Jesus, Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Papal household, said that at the time of Mary and Jesus, women who were unfaithful to their husbands or to those they were engaged were stoned to death. Mary, in accepting to be the mother of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, risked being stoned to death. Nevertheless, because of her obedience to God and her trust in his protection, she accepted the risk of death. And God protected her. God sent an angel to explain to Joseph the situation of Mary. May women who, out of fear or shame, are tempted to abort their babies, conceived through pre-marital relations or unfaithfulness, be able to overcome the temptation through the example and help of Mary.

The Gospel tells us that, when Mary has just begun conceiving Jesus she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was in her sixth month. Elizabeth said that when she heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta commenting on this passage in relation to the killing of unborn child said that among human beings it was an unborn child, St. John the Baptist, who first greeted and honored the Son of God when he became man in the womb of Mary. The unborn child is not a thing, is not a part of his or her mother's body. He or she is a human person who has to be respected and loved.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, Yahweh tells Israel that even if a mother would reject he own child, the fruit of her womb, he would not reject Israel. Blessed Teresa again commented that the babies who are rejected by their mothers through abortion are not hopeless or left alone. God who loves them will always receive them and take care of them. Mary, whose heart beats in unison with the heart of God and who has been appointed by her Son on the Cross to be the mother of every man and woman, and who expresses to mankind the motherly love of God, surely embraces these aborted children and surrounds them with a mother's love.

In our great endeavor to promote the culture of life against the culture of death, we are at present concentrating our efforts on our fight against the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill. We are moving heaven and earth to prevent the passage of this bill because once this bill is passed, the flood gates will be opened to other anti-life laws, such as abortion and euthanasia. What is more, laws allowing same sex marriage, divorce, etc. will also follow. This is what happened in other countries. At present, the Philippines is among the few countries not allowing abortion and euthanasia. We are the only country that does not allow divorce. This tsunami of anti-life laws, anti-family and anti-marriage laws is sweeping the whole world. Let us work hard to stop these destructive laws and ideas from getting a foothold in our country. Let us work as individuals and in groups to prevent these anti-life bills from being enacted into law. Let us approach our senators and congressmen to convince them not to vote for these bills. Let us join pro-life rallies. Above all let us pray and make sacrifices so that anti-life laws are not enacted. Let us ask Mary, the Mother of Life, to intercede for us. Our struggle is a very hard one. But let us be hopeful. "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." In the past, when it seemed that the RH Bill was about to be passed, something happened in the country, such as floods, impeachment, typhoons, and political events that caused the bill to be placed in the back burner. Let us go on fighting. God is with us.

One of the messages in the third secret of Fatima is that the Pope will be killed. Here I will quote Benedict XVI, who worte the following words when he was still a cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "When, after the attempted assassination on 13 May 1981, the Holy Father had the text of the third part of the "secret" brought to him, was it not inevitable that he should see in it his own fate? He had been very close to death, and he himself explained his survival in the following words: "…it was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death" (13 May 1994). That here "a mother's hand" had deflected the fateful bullet only shows once more that there is no immutable destiny, that faith and prayer are forces which can influence history…" With faith and hope, let us pray and fast that the RH Bill will not be passed. But whatever will happen, whether the RH Bill is passed or not, we know for sure that the good will triumph in the end. "The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: "In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33). (Cardinal Ratzinger: the Message of Fatima)

In the end the woman clothed with the sun and her child will overcome the dragon, the woman and her offspring will crush the head of the serpent, the Immaculate Heart of Mary will triumph.

21 June 2012

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