My church in her trying times

DO you trust the Lord, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty? Do you believe in His promises of healing, salvation, and new life? Can you take the risk of believing in God’s promises even when the present times in your life, the world and the church are not glorious?

Any affirmative responses to these question speak of the faith of Abraham as shown in the First Reading on this Second Sunday of Lent (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18). The Lord told Abraham to look up at the sky and count the stars and believe that, despite his wife’s sterility, he and Sarah shall have descendants as numerous as the stars. To build Abraham’s confidence in His promise, the Lord told him to bring for sacrifice a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. When Abraham set these animals and birds for slaughter, and after the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared and passed through carcasses. Then the Lord made a covenant to Abraham, saying, “To your descendants, I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.” Abraham listened and believed in God’s words.

Those of us who are members and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church should take to heart God’s promise to Abraham, especially in these trying times. Indeed, sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups by priests and bishops continue to rock our Church and faith. We ask ourselves: Will there be an end to these scandals? When can the Catholic Church recover from her debacles?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s constant barrage of criticisms, slanders, and hatred towards bishops and priests do not help at all. Lately again, the news broadcasted his disdain towards priests by not caring if they all die since “maluwag pa ang ating cemetery” (our cemeteries are still wide open).

Absolutely, the Roman Catholic Church’s leaders have to learn from their mistakes and take criticisms as opportunities for conversion, purification, and transformation. But those of us, leaders and members of this Church, must not allow our faith to perish. Instead, we should take these critical times as a test of our faith. Like Abraham and Sarah, we must keep believing in God’s promise of redemption.

The Gospel, this Sunday on the Transfiguration of our Jesus, reminds us of God’s promise of change and new life. It helps us also to remember God’s fidelity to his covenant in ages’ past. The fact that Jesus transfigured with the Old Testament’s personages, Moses and Elijah, attests to this truth. Indeed, these painful times will pass, and we will recover from them like how our forefathers in faith did.

Together—the Pope, Cardinals, bishop, priests, religious, seminarians, and laity—we, Roman Catholics, must carry  this seeming unbearable cross. After all, this is also the meaning of this Sunday’s Gospel.  Jesus told his disciples that they could not stay on the mountain to enjoy the ecstasy of seeing him transfigured. They must go down the hill first to join him in embracing the cross of salvation towards Jerusalem.

We too must face and carry the burden of challenges, pains, and struggles of serving God’s people as faithful disciples.  We must also remember that we are citizens of heaven as St. Paul reminds us in this Sunday’s Second Reading (Philippians 3:17-4:1). In as much as we care for the law of the State, we must be faithful to God’s Law and Covenant. And God’s Law includes honor, love, and reverence for God and respect for human life.

So, on this Second Sunday of Lent, let’s ask ourselves: If I am a Catholic, how strong is my faith despite the tarnished reputation of my church? How courageous am I to defend my faith and face its challenges? Am I willing to embrace the big cross that my church is carrying now? How hopeful am I that my church will overcome her challenges with it emerging responsible leadership?

And if I come from a different denomination or religious belief, how do I exercise empathy with members of the Roman Catholic Church? How do I avoid generalizing bishops and priests as pedophiles and criminals? How am I appreciating the grand contributions of the Roman Catholic Church to humanity in the past eras and the present time? How do I value the fidelity and goodness of majority of Catholic priests and bishops?

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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