MANILA, Jan. 25, 2014—President of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas called on fellow bishops to be “contemplative shepherds” who seek only the good for their flock.
He said it is only through a life “soaked” in prayer and contemplation that bishops would be able to teach their flock in full freedom, “freedom from the fascination of political or social gain, freedom from the insane and unreal attraction of popularity in the world.”
“To be contemplative bishops is to become truthfully honest, cheerfully loving and passionately zealous teachers of the flock, bishops serving the Lord in total freedom detached from vainglory,” Villegas said in a speech at the opening of the bishops’ 108th plenary assembly at Pius XII Center, Jan. 25.
The CBCP president also stressed the important role of the laity to pray for their bishops so that they will transformed into contemplative pastors.
He also asked Religious sisters and seminarians, as well as lay devotees to pray for the bishops as they meet for the plenary assembly.
Villegas had a small chapel put up beside the plenary hall so prayer warriors can take turns in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for the whole duration of the CBCP plenary assembly, which will end on Jan. 27.
“They are praying for us their pastors. The flock is praying for their shepherds. The lambs and sheep are praying for us their pastors,” Villegas told fellow bishops.
“This is the Church of the new evangelization. Let us allow our flock to transform us their pastors into contemplative shepherds of the people,” he said.
Villegas said the celebration of the Year of the laity should not be an exclusive affair for those who are supportive of the Church.
But it should include “the critical and distant ones more importantly those who disagreed with us on the RH law, those who hurl accusations at us fairly or unfairly. They are children of God too, our brothers and sisters, members of our flock also,” said Villegas.
“We can do this if we are soaked in prayer as contemplative shepherds of the people freed from fear and rejection, carrying the mark of Christ scourged, crucified yet risen,” he said.
Villegas pointed out that it is also important to discern that their movement towards contemplation is not merely an escape from pastoral realities.
He said it is important to always look for the fruit of prayer, as true prayer will always lead to “greater charity for the poor” and an “increase of love”.
“If contemplation does not lead to action for justice and charity, it might have really become the “shabu” of the bishops, an addictive flight from reality,” the CBCP president said.
A life that has truly encountered Jesus in prayer, said Villegas, must guide the bishops’ response to the poor in today’s society.
“The poor are not just curious ciphers on a statistical report. The poor are not just the unlettered, the unwashed, the uninitiated, the uneducated, the unhealthy, the naked, the exploited, the trafficked, and the infirm gazing into our eyes for human recognition,” he said.
Reach out sincerely
He encouraged fellow bishops to heed the advice of Pope Francis in planning church programs and projects, especially in this year of the Laity, “to resist the temptation” of talking and acting “like spiritual masters and pastoral experts who give instructions from on high.”
He said it is important to “stay focused on the Lord and reach out sincerely to the distant poor and the wayward children of God.”
“We cannot allow the Year of the Laity to create more circles of elite and closed-in lay groups sometimes called mandated organizations,” Villegas said.
“We need to reach out to those who are angry at us bishops, those we have disillusioned and those we have misled or confused by our excessive misplaced prudence or unbecoming lifestyle,” he said.
‘The best of times, the worst of times’
Noting the many calamities and scandals that happened in the country in the past six months since the last plenary assembly, Villegas couldn’t help himself but quote Charles Dickens by saying it has been “the best of times” and “the worst of times.”
“We were visited by the strongest typhoon in the world two months ago but the Lord has blessed the Church in Mindanao with its first Cardinal, Cardinal Orly Quevedo, OMI,” Villegas said.
“Thousands died from the storm surge in Leyte but it also brought us an admirable surge of charity worldwide,” he added.
But he also said it is important to look with the eyes of a contemplative the recent devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda and the massive destruction wrought by the earthquake.
“We must look at these events with the eyes of the Lord, feel with the heart of the Lord and act with the hands and feet of the Lord. Our best contribution to the rehabilitation in Samar or Leyte, Bohol or Zamboanga is Christ,” Villegas said.
“We send help because of Christ, in Christ and through Christ,” Villegas told fellow bishops. “Our task is not just to build new homes that can be washed away again by the next storm surges. Our mission is not just to send food for the hungry and give water to the thirsty.”
“The Christ that is in me reaches out to the Christ that is suffering. It is Christ reaching out to Christ,” he said. “We will miss this point if we are not contemplative bishops. We can even reduce NASSA and the CBCP into just another philanthropic institution and we are not. We are Christ’s,” Villegas said. (CBCPNews)