POSTSCRIPT / April 13, 2006 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Stay away from snakes, speeding cars & politicos

RESPITE, RETREAT: The Lenten mood is one of introspection, silence and penitence.

Unofficially, we are on a spiritual retreat. Try to understand if some of us do not talk or converse much all the way to Black Saturday.

Meditative silence is a variation and a complement of fasting. In the same way that fasting helps heal the body, a respite from too much talking has salutary effects on the mind and the soul, not to mention the auditory nerves of people around us.

You probably remember this former president who complains that he develops migraine when he thinks. His doctor’s diagnosis: Thinking interferes with the patient’s normal mental processes.

So if a big politico issues a statement or a press release during the Holy Week, do not even begin to read it. Crumple and throw it away, preferably while he or his PR man is looking.

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HOLLOW MESSAGES: Seriously, for our own safety, we should keep away from speeding cars, snakes and politicians, especially during this week of penitential silence.

Our mental health will be better served if we do not bother with politicians at least during this our spiritual respite. They do not really think of us anyway, so why should we think of them?

But they will insist on knocking on our consciousness. To give the impression that their bosses are working even through the holidays, the PR staff of big politicians will bombard the media with their usual Easter messages.

I wish editors would stop wasting front page space on those messages that the supposed authors themselves had not read (because they did not write them) — and which nobody bothers to read or heed anyway.

The only Easter messages we might allow front page treatment are those from the Papal Nuncio and the Archbishop of Manila, whose pastoral counsel should not be drowned out by the drivel of politicians.

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JUDAS PR: Anent my Postscript on the “Gospel of Judas” last Tuesday, Greggie (Froilan Gregory for short) Romualdez of the giant Mirant power firm texted me to comment in a light vein that the wayward apostle seems to have a high-powered PR campaign rolling on.

He noted that no less than the National Geographic Society has picked up his supposed “gospel” and is going to town with it with the full panoply of the audio-visual power of TV, its throbbing graphics and NGS’s technical reputation.

When I threw in my bit or rumor that Judas’ PR budget is reportedly a measly 30 pieces of silver, Greggie noted that that sum will not go a long way in this country. How true.

But I assured him that Judas is just passing fancy. After the intense focus of Lent and after his “gospel” fails to measure up to the stiff standards for biblical Gospels, discussions on it will decline. I think.

Its sponsors will try hitching on to the attention, and marketing success, that “The Da Vinci Code” and related iconoclastic books have been enjoying at the moment, but if the Catholic Church keeps quiet while its allies zero in on the shortcomings of the Judas item, it will fade away.

Just the test of divine inspiration, which the four Gospels in the New Testament are declared to have passed, will prove to be a tough one for this “gospel of Judas.” That “gospel,” btw, is not a new thing. It has been written about before.

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POLITICAL CONSCIENCE: Still drawing from materials of ZENIT news agency, which is heavy on Church matters, I share here (below) excerpts from a discussion it had about Catholic politicians.

NEW YORK — A recent “statement of principles” by 55 Catholic Democrats in the US House of Representatives has rekindled the debate over the responsibilities of Catholic politicians.

The signatories of the letter stated that “we seek the Church’s guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience.”

But, according to Fr. Joseph Koterski, SJ, professor of philosophy at Fordham University, the Catholic understanding of conscience requires a distinction. The crucial factor is not fidelity to one’s chosen moral principles, but rather fidelity to moral principles given to us by God.

Father Koterski explained to Zenit the importance for Catholic politicians to inform their conscience in accord with divine moral principles as mediated by the magisterium of the Church.

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POLS’ ACTUATIONS: Part of the interview follows:

Zenit — Can you describe the historical context that has created the perception that politicians may disagree with, or work against, Church teaching through appeals to “conscience” and their responsibility to constituents and the Constitution?

Koterski — It seems to me that it is only because the Church is such a stalwart defender of the genuine rights of conscience, properly understood, that the situation you describe could have come about.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1782, reflects a long-standing tradition in Catholic moral teaching that every person has the right to act in conscience and that no one must be prevented from acting according to one’s conscience.

In the sections that follow, the Catechism reviews the importance of a proper formation of one’s conscience, including the duty and right of the Church through her bishops to be the authoritative interpreter of moral principles for this formation of conscience.

Unfortunately, a common misunderstanding has grown up in modern culture about the notion of conscience. And I think that this misunderstanding is at the root of the notion that politicians may disagree with and even work against Church teaching through an appeal to conscience.

The misunderstanding occurs when one thinks of conscience in terms of fidelity to one’s chosen moral principles.

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MORAL PRINCIPLES: Fr. Koterski continues that “acting in good conscience does mean fidelity to moral principles.” He said:

But in the Catholic understanding of conscience, we are not simply permitted to choose some set of moral principles to which we want to be faithful. God chooses the moral principles we must use in our moral deliberations for us.

God has revealed them to us, and we can find them in the Scriptures. Likewise, we can find them in the natural moral law that God has implanted in human nature.

It is one of the duties of the Church to make clear just what those moral principles are where there is any doubt about them.

In the situation that you describe, it seems that some politicians hold that they may choose other principles than those that God has chosen for us as their basis for making moral decisions.

Sometimes they articulate their reasoning in terms of what their constituents accept as moral values. But in doing so, they risk doing precisely what one may not do as a Catholic, namely, acting as if one were permitted to choose which moral principles one will use for one’s moral deliberation.

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FOLLOW CONSCIENCE?: Zenit and Fr. Koterski discussed the “primacy of conscience” over which there has been some debate.

Zenit — Is there such a thing as the “primacy of conscience”?

Koterski — Yes, the Church has long recognized the primacy of conscience, so long as one understands the term properly. It is not just that one may obey one’s conscience, but that one must do so — but, first, one must form one’s conscience correctly.

Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” gives a fine treatment of this question within the section on “Conscience and Truth” in Chapter 2.

In that section he criticizes those theologians who have misunderstood conscience as if it were what creates moral values. Rather, he takes the authentic understanding of conscience to be the inner witness of our fidelity or infidelity to the divinely given moral law. It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II often speaks of conscience as the very witness of God himself within us.

In the correct sense of the term, conscience is the judgment that we make about whether an action we have done or are about to do is in conformity with the objective and universal moral law that comes from God and that can be known by us as the natural law.

But we must note that conscience is not an infallible judge, as “Veritatis Splendor” says in No. 62. Since it is subject to error, we must constantly work to form the conscience truthfully. The magisterium of the Church is at the service of this formation.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 13, 2006)

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