Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An Open Letter to New Bishop

Dear Bishop Brod,

The last time I saw you was outside the World Trade Center along Roxas Boulevard. It was the National Retreat for Priest in 2004 where you gave the most applauded talk on “poor priest among the poor.” After your talk, I thanked God for the gift of your life. I somehow knew about your struggle as a scripture scholar and professor and member of the Salesian Congregation. You had wanted to teach scriptures while living among the poor. Apparently, the idea did not sit well with your superiors.

Eventually, this led to your radical decision to actually live among the poorest of the poor in the poorest parish of the Diocese of Palawan. I even remember visiting your little bahay-kubo in Palawan. I saw your Hebrew and Greek Bible, Biblical Dictionaries and Commentaries sitting on a bamboo shelf above a simple study table. Books of erudition and bamboo usually do not go together but they can. You have seen a lot of bamboo, discarded plywood, rusting and perforated corrugated steel sheets or “yero” and various shapes and sizes of cardboard and tin biscuit containers or “balde” beaten flat put together by your poor parishioners to build their houses.

Indeed, I was deeply moved by your choice quite uncommon in this times of affluent congregations and posh parish churches and rectories. It takes no simple courage to leave the comforts of convent or rectory and find one’s abode among those pushed and trampled upon by the comfortable and secure. I left you and your little “bahay kubo” and thanked you and quietly spoke to the Lord asking Him to teach me the same radical simplicity and courage to choose the unpopular.

Now you are Auxilliary Bishop of Manila. You will be surrounded by willing and generous benefactors who would fall head over heels to get close to a bishop as though this were to be their passport to eternal life. You will no longer live in the naked and vulnerable simplicity of a “bahay kubo.” You will no longer have as much time to spend with the poor, unless….unless…
I am no biblical scholar. My field is social science. But this much I know, that in reading scriptures there is hermeneutics or the science and art of understanding and interpreting texts. Hermeneutics gives importance not only to texts but to their context. This helps us understand text the way they were understood by the people in the times these were spoken and eventually committed to writing.

Thus, an excessively literal reading of the text can lead to dangerous fanaticism and parochialism. But the opposite is also true. One can read too subjectively into the text that it becomes thoroughly washed and becomes almost antiseptic if not cosmetic.

Today’s Gospel is from Luke 6:20-26, the Beatitudes. It begins thus, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.” Somewhere before the end, it reads, “But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.” There are two ways of looking at this, one literal and the other figurative or subjective. In any case, our priestly lives are based on a conscious or unconscious interpretation of the beatitudes whether literal or figurative, radical or liberal.

Now that you are bishop, I pray for you as I do for another young and new bishop, Ambo David who incidentally is another scripture scholar. Jesus was neither scripture scholar nor priest. He did not have the luxury of long study, reflection and agonizing choices. He simply was true to Himself as the Son of Man sent to live and be among the poor, outcast, the pushed and trampled. I guess, a professional hazard of bishops, priests and religious today is precisely having a choice between the comfortable Jesus and the radical Jesus whose life was a constant testament to love, justice and compassion for the trampled and the pushe

One in the constant striving to follow Jesus,

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
September 13, 2006


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