Thursday, August 11, 2016

Women in the Catholic Church

The 2015 Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum shows that the Philippines is the seventh among the top ten countries in which the gap between women and men is narrowest specifically in terms of economic opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.  In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines ranks first, followed by New Zealand and Australia.

Although the Philippines is one of the better places in the world to be a woman, especially to be a college-educated and wealthy woman, there are many poor Filipinas whose opportunities are very limited in our predominantly Roman Catholic country.  Discrimination and violence against poor women persist, partly because of age-old cultural practices and prejudices that institutional religions have somewhat ignored or reinforced.
According to a local proverb, “A mirror and a woman are fragile valuables.”  Another proverb goes further, “once broken, a woman, like a mirror, can never be put together again.”  In 2008, the DaKaTeo (Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines) organized a Conference on sexual violence against women.  That Conference pondered on the persistence of sexual violence, and how families and communities, Church and theology, help or hinder in the healing of survivors and in holding accountable perpetrators like, among others, predators in clerical clothing.

Thru the centuries and in our times, how has Church and theology promoted, neglected, or rejected the belief that women and men are equally valuable and equally fragile?  How has Church and theology helped or hindered in the healing of women and men who have been broken, if not shattered, by sexism and patriarchy?  Or using words from the DaKaTeo vision statement, have Church practices and pronouncements been fair to women and inclusive of them, and what can be done to bridge persistent gaps between women and men in terms of opportunities to share gifts for the good of the Church and its mission? 
For a specific example, how should we interpret those portions in Amoris Laetitia, the latest apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, in which he speaks of the necessity of the “feminine genius” and “feminine abilities” of the mother and the “clear and serene masculine identity” of the father in order to create “the environment best suited to the growth of the child” (A.L. 173-175)?

While the papal document admits “a certain flexibility of roles and responsibilities” between the mother and the father, should we welcome the suggestion that there is some immutable essence to gender identity in the Christian household, which is the ecclesia domestica, the Church in the home, and if so, what are the implications for the mission and identity of the laity, the majority faithful?  These are among the many questions about which pastors, theologians, and leaders among the majority and minority faithful have to engage in sustained dialogue.

Monday, February 29, 2016

What Prayers Are Heard and Granted?

In my prayers, what do I ask God often?  To help me become a millionaire?  To keep me healthy?  To keep my family safe?  God understands these requests.  At the same time, Christ our Lord teaches us how to pray better.  We ask for daily bread especially for those who hunger now.  We ask for our daily food of God’s word.  Christ did not teach us to pray often for our monthly income or for the sure growth of our savings or investments.

Christ teaches us to pray for God’s Kingdom of justice and peace to come home to us.  We ought to pray for the Holy Spirit to fill and empower us in order to make the light of Christ shine brighter in our world, which still has many dark corners of worry over what to eat, what to wear, and what one can secure for oneself and loved ones.  “Seek God’s Kingdom,” and we will be given as well what we really need (Luke 12:31).  God hears all prayers, but grants only some of them.  Sometimes God says “no” to our prayer of petition because our Lord knows that we are asking for something needless or even harmful in the long run.
“Increase our faith” (17:5), as a humble petition to the Lord, is one that will surely be granted.  If bad parents can sometimes give good gifts to their children, how much more will the merciful Father give the Spirit of faith to those who ask him! (11:13)  The Spirit of faith and love is the most important gift of the merciful Father to Jesus, his believers, and those who seek rest and relief from suffering and sin. 

God’s gift of faith can be shown through an amazing event like a healing miracle.  What shows greater or deeper faith, however, is the fulfillment of our duties to God and neighbor day by day with humility and without fanfare so much so that, at day’s end, we thank God for whatever good we have done, and we say, “we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” (17:10).

Great faith is shown by those who pray for enemies, tormentors or persecutors: “Father, forgive them” (23:34).  It is shown by those who actively hope in divine justice and peace despite a state of affairs in which corruption and violence abound; “the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails; the wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:3-4).

The great faith that Jesus practiced throughout his ministry and offered on the cross is “the good deposit” entrusted to his apostles and believers down to our times.  It is our duty to “guard the good deposit” (2 Timothy 1:14) and develop it.  Thus it is better to pray daily for our faith to increase and to be nourished by God’s word, rather than for our wealth to increase or for our individual dreams to come true.