Note: SPIT on TV

Your correspondent had a relief this morning from news about Romano Prodi, the US economic stimulus package, and Societe Generale, when on the ABS-CBN News Channel, SPIT appeared.

Taking part in this TV appearance were Gabe Mercado, Missy Maramara, Kenneth Keng, and Arnel Diccion.

I have not seen them in months, but I am grateful that the group is still going strong. Also, as a matter of pride to those reading this note who are Anglican, Kenneth volunteers in an Episcopal parish in Makati City. Talented people like him are what the Church, and indeed all of humanity, needs to remind us of our fragility and of the richness it can offer precisely because of that. (Humility, humor, and humanity have the same Latin root, mind you.)


A prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

I know this has become a cliche, but I would like to post it just as a sobering reminder to myself and to everyone. Note that the prayer is much longer than what is usually quoted. And a hat tip to the anonymous ecumenical working groups who placed this in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity resources list.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as he did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that he will make all things right if I surrender to his will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with him forever in the next. Amen.

Habemus Papam indeed!

I congratulate my friends from the Society of Jesus and all who are associated with them on the election of the new Father-General, Adolfo Nicolas, SJ. Until he assumed the chair of St. Ignatius of Loyola, he was the president of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania and was in the past director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute, which is based in the Ateneo de Manila campus. If the Kolvenbach precedent is followed, he has nine years as Fr. General (he is 71 years old), but if God and his health will it, he can serve longer.

I pray that as the Society’s 35th General Congregation continues, this time to determine the future direction of the order’s work, they may continue to be filled with the zeal for mission and the Gospel, which ought to be an example to us all.

And a little child will lead them – a reflection for January 20

The Feast of the Holy Child, otherwise known as the Sto. Niño, is to be celebrated on 20 January this year. It falls during the traditional dates for observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January). The feast is peculiar to the Philippines and to Filipinos, and I recently learned that an older date for observing this is 14 January. Hence, it always happens that the Week of Prayer is observed in the Philippines outside the fixed dates, and hence ignored by most Christians. (And I’m not just blaming the Romans here, mind you. A source tells me that an Anglican parish which is otherwise very cosmopolitan has little planned for this occasion.) Also, the observance is overshadowed by National Bible Week, which is an event far more ecumenical in observance as it is sponsored by all the Christian umbrella organizations I can think of, not to mention that it is backed by government fiat.

I often wonder why we don’t take the trouble to make this more significant, considering that the Pope himself recently urged Christians to take the Week of Prayer very seriously. I think that the key lies in drawing from the Bible (thus hitting three birds in one stone) and that a theme for our reflection is Isaiah 11:6. More precisely, the last few words of that verse are what I would like to draw attention to: “…and a little child will lead them.”

The vision of peace that Isaiah promises under the reign of the Messiah, Emmanuel, is a vision towards which all humanity is called to travel. For Christians, the journey involves overcoming all the “great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions,” as the Book of Common Prayer calls them. For a hundred years now, Christians have by common prayer and action sought to achieve progress toward unity. However, a hundred years on, we still do not have unity, but rather more division. I find it tragic that Christians can disagree on much more things than Muslims do. Yet, more often than not, our differences, legitimate though they are, are either not worked out in discussion or swept under the “We’re all Christian anyway” rug. We have come to accept that diversity is going to be a reality of the visible Church; it does not distort our unity but rather makes it a sign of witness to a world divided by many things. It is that aspect which resonates elsewhere in that verse—lions and lambs lying together are unimaginable, but so would the possibility of Roman Catholics embracing the Week of Prayer back when it started!

“And a little child will lead them.” The Holy Child can be called many things by people who may not understand the great love and devotion many Filipino Catholics (and Aglipayans) have for the Christ Child, but the innocence which he represents is part of the vision Isaiah has of the Messiah’s reign. It is not a naivete that does not see reality for what it is, but a hope of what will be. A child seems to have more hope than most of us have; one only need to look at the eyes of a child as Christmas comes to see what I mean. It is a child who will lead the lion and lamb, the leopard and the kid, because the child sees more than the cynicism of “it can’t happen.”

What if we saw the Christ Child as the one who leads us to the unity, as a much older man facing death, for which he prayed at the Last Supper? We have to bear in mind that there is something difficult with popular piety around the Christ Child, but the point has to be made that this is the same Christ who hoped that all his sheep would be in one sheepfold under one shepherd. We have to hold together the tensions between the Child and the Man this feast establishes, because this child is not merely a symbol of child-like faith, as the official catechetical line would put it, but a sign of hope. If we cannot achieve unity in our time, then we can hope that it will happen. Then we can really pray, with Christ:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:20-21.

Let the Christ Child be our guide toward the unity for which Christ prayed. Viva Sto. Niño! Viva Cristo Rey!

Towards an Anglican ecclesiology

Recent developments in the Anglican Communion have often focused on the question of discrimination against gays, or the actions of particular groups and individuals. What has been missing is a willingness to make clear what the underlying competing ecclesiologies—or views of the Church—are in the current conflict.

I recently took part in a Thinking Anglicans thread—a tangent to the events surrounding the secession of San Joaquin—where the discussion turned to the question of whether the universal church (or church catholic) was made manifest in the diocese, or local church as Vatican II understands it from a Roman Catholic perspective, or in the national church. My concern is that canonizing one or the other can lead to some serious problems. While I have little fault with the idea of the bishop and diocese being the locus of the church catholic in a particular place (or non-geographical location), it has to be balanced by the idea of the local church’s relations to other churches, as I mentioned. At the same time, national churches—understood not only as nation-states, a very modern conception, but churches that eventually take root around ethnic identities—run the risk of phyletism.

So it is clear that the question must be resolved, one way or another, at some point. If Lambeth should find something more fruitful to discuss than a Covenant that I am sure will not get through without a lot of trouble, it is this particular question, and its very real consequences. And that, I think, is where Anglicans can ultimately articulate their biggest contribution (apart from liturgy): an ecclesiology for the church catholic in a postmodern world.

Diverse groups do better!

I had a bit of a choice as to what to write about. There is the somewhat arcane metaphysical discussion I had earlier with a colleague from university on the resonances between two thinkers and how they defined “being” (analytic philosophers may recoil with horror). There is also the temptation to write about leadership changes that are happening in the Philippine Episcopal Church, changes that, to my knowledge, have not been made public elsewhere, yet. (And I will not bother to do so either, because it is best to await official word.) And then there are the books I have been reading, most notably These Three Are Onebut that can wait for next week. 

However, in connection with these leadership changes, I draw attention to an article from the New York Times. Scott E. Page of the University of Michigan has a book whose chief thesis is this: diverse groups tend to do better than homogenous groups in terms of productivity. Diversity encourages more creativity and flexibility. His argument is based on empirical data and mathematical modelling suggesting that diverse groups, far from being recipes for chaos, actually promise to be more exciting and innovative and decisive.

Why do I raise this point? It is becoming obvious to me and not a few others concerned with the state of Philippine Anglicanism that if the local church is to move forward, it has to make sure it does so with everyone on board. The best way to get rid of exclusivist tendencies is to present evidence that diversity is the way to go. I have at least one piece of evidence to back this claim.

Have a good weekend!

A poem by John Bunyan

This was modified by Percy Dearmer into what is one of The Tablet readers’ most loved hymns.

He who would valiant be,

Let him come hither;

One here will constant be,

Come wind, come weather

There’s no discouragement

Shall make him once relent

His first avow’d intent

To be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round

With dismal stories,

Do but themselves confound;

His strength the more is.

No lion can him fright,

He’ll with a giant fight,

But he will have a right

To be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend

Can daunt his spirit;

He knows he at the end

Shall life inherit.

Then, fancies, fly away,

He’ll not fear what men say;

He’ll labour night and day

To be a pilgrim.