Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wanted: Godly Caesars

Since I cannot find fresh examples from my diocese for this blog entry, allow me to import them from elsewhere. When eight bishops from the Bicol region, led by Archbishop Leonardo Legazpi, urged President Benigno Aquino III to immediately enforce the law banning all big commercial fishing companies in their area, can it be considered violation of “Separation of Church and the State”? Or when Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo pressed P-Noy for the passage of Freedom of Information (FOI) bill?

In Mt. 22:15-21, Jesus himself asserts the duty of paying one’s dues to the State, but without in any way reducing the claims of God: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and the things that are God’s.” In my own reflection on tomorrow’s (October 16) Gospel, our faith is not prohibiting us to be active members of our community or as citizens of the republic. We are not a bunch of believers detached from worldly affairs and its social dimensions. On the other hand, we ought to change them according to God’s plan. And a “package deal” at that and not only depends on our (especially priests’) tastes.

My favorite interpretation of Mt. 22:15-21 is the one I have read in the book “Being Church in Asia: Volume 1” edited by Fr. John Gnanapiragasam and Fr. Felix Wilfred: “If the State exercises authority by virtue of divine commission, for the very same reason the exercise of this authority should not be absolute, but should respect God’s sovereign power and authority in its various expressions in the society. The statement of Jesus regarding the problem of giving tribute to Caesar could be understood as a statement about the approach one should take towards the political and social structures. Caesar’s realm or the social political order of the Roman Empire was in Jesus view part of the larger order of creation whose only author is God. Therefore, the Roman social patterns were to be evaluated against the social patterns desired by God, and supported or not on this basis.” (p. 106)

True enough, the “Separation of Church and the State” is about mutual autonomy and the respect of that autonomy but rooted on cooperation from both the Church and the State for the common good and welfare. The Church does not expect the State to disrespect her moral teaching and directly attack her. We have no other choice but to defend it not only against relativist ideologues but even from de-orbited Catholics in our midst, in many religious organizations around us. We cannot afford to have a siesta on this.

The “Separation of Church and the State” is strictly defined in the 1987 Constitution referring to two points only: “1) that no religion may be established as the official religion of the State; 2) that the State may not favor one religion over others. No favoritism. At the same tie, if I may emphasize, the State shall forever allow the free exercise and enjoyment of religion and shall not require any religious test for the exercise of civil and political rights. It does not require division between belief and public action, moral principles and political choices. Rather, the “Separation of Church and the State” protects the rights of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life. This thing is called “Religious Freedom.”

But come to think of it, even Caesar belongs to God. And if God would take everything that are God’s from Caesar, there will be NOTHING left for the king.

Including all the edifices built under his name….

(Photo : Tocqueville Forum)

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