My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Is God punishing us? Are we getting the harvest of the sins we planted?
I am sure it has crossed your mind. Are all these calamities from nature punishments from God? I have been struggling with this thought and the question keeps on lingering.
I cannot answer. I do not really know.
Who am I to interpret the meaning of these series of calamities? Earthquakes and erupting volcanoes, floods and long days of rain, unrelenting pandemic and mutant viruses, unprecedented death counts, what more? How come they are happening almost at the same time?
Only God, and only Him, can answer the question “Are we being punished for our sins, personal sins and national sins?”
WHAT IS THIS YOU HAVE DONE? (Gen. 3:13).
The question “Is God punishing us?” implies that we are aware that we have done some evil or wrong; that punishment is but just and deserved.
Hence, more important than the question “Is God punishing us?” is the question “Are we guilty of sins against God that merit punishment?”
Have we been a faithful and obedient people of God? Is there nothing in our consciences that deserve punishment? Are our consciences, national and personal, clean and pure? If we are not innocent, regardless of whether God is punishing us through these calamities or not, then we must repent and atone. If this is not yet His punishment, let us not wait for the punishment before we repent.
Sin is the reason for penance. We have sinned. We cannot deny.
The reason for repentance and atonement is not the ongoing divine punishment or the impending divine wrath. If we have sinned, then we must repent regardless of the wrath of God. Do we need to be punished so we will repent? That would be very late. Penance and atonement for sins are part of Christian life. The Lord offers His Body and Blood so that sins may be forgiven.
What must we atone for?
If then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land. (2Chr. 7:14)
Have we as shepherds of the flock become cold, complacent, presumptuous, entitled and indifferent? Have we become dealers of cheap grace offering mercy without repentance, tolerating evil in exchange for convenience, living in hypocrisy as we daily hold the divine mysteries, standing guard like preying wolves of the sheep we were tasked to feed? Before the Lord and before the sheep, we repent and seek pardon.
Have we your shepherds lost our voice to condemn the vulgarity of words because we ourselves are guilty of vulgar examples?
Have we your priests and bishops failed to gather a forceful voice to condemn the killings of the poor because we have not done enough to help them live?
If we could not clamor for civil transparency and accountability, could it be because we have been remiss in submitting our own?
If we could not condemn the blasphemy and cursing against God, could it be because we carry sacrilege and profanity in our consciences? Are we afraid of media and public opinion but have in fact lost the fear of the Lord causing the flock immense confusion?
Are we helpless to fight the fake news because we have created and shared our own petty gossips?
Of us spiritual leaders could the Lord not justly say, “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”? (Matthew 23:3)
We really and truly are stained and ugly and unworthy in the sight of the Lord. If our only credit were only our own merits, we should be silent forever. And yet we still dare to be the prophets for our time denouncing evil and calling for repentance and atonement, because of the Lord who has chosen and sent us in spite of us. Only in and through the Lord are we prophets! By His mercy alone not by our merits!
Brothers and sisters believers in God, shepherds and sheep, we must be sorry for our sins, do penance and return to the Lord NOW. Our time is borrowed.
We are who we honor. We are who we choose to lead us. Conscience must prevail over survey popularity. Nationalism must prevail over regionalism and ethnicities. The common good must prevail over family dynasty interests. Democracy cannot survive in a nation whose citizens ignore the voice of conscience. This is a stain in our national conscience that needs cleansing, penance and conversion. Lord, have mercy on our split Christianity.
The use of murder to solve the drug menace cries to heaven for vengeance. Those who kill their brethren, those who order the killings, those who watch and do nothing and those who continue to applaud the killings—they will have to face the judgment of God sooner than they think. “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground‘” (Gen. 4:10). Upon the killers and their cheering or passive enablers, Lord, have mercy. Those who cheer for the murders and the murderers, Lord, forgive. Lord, have pity on the restless souls of the victims of this of murderous rule.
Dishonesty continues to be rewarded and plunderers continue to rake riches. The loathsome culture of corruption continues to bleed the poorest of the poor. Being helpless and unable to stop the stealing, the poorest just content themselves with receiving crumbs for the votes they sell and say it is better than nothing. No education for the children, no medicines for the sick, no food for the hungry, no roof over the head. And no guilt, no pity from their own affluent brothers and sisters. Lord may the poor find it in their hearts to forgive us now. Lord we atone for our sins of negligence and abuse of the poorest. “Lord, do not hold this sin against us!” (cfr. Acts 7:60). We know that on Judgment Day, the poorest will seat in judgment over us. The poor are our masters and how great is our sin against them.
The tongues the Lord gave us to praise Him, we have used for calumny, slander, defamation and deceit. The lips that should proclaim the mercies of God are now latrines of filth and scum and poison. Vulgarity is idolized. Mockery of God is laughable. The children are cajoled to imitate. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” (Isaiah 6:5). We strike our breasts in shame and atone for the sins of our lips.
WHAT MUST WE DO? (Lk 18:18)
The arena for atonement and penance is inside our once locked souls that we now want to open to the Lord.
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God….Spare your people, LORD! Do not let your heritage become a disgrace, a byword among the nations!” (Joel 2:12,17).
I invite you to FAST and PRAY for the atonement of our sins, personal and family and national, PRIVATELY away from the social media, known ONLY TO GOD, on a date and time that is MOST INCONVENIENT. Let us gain back the righteousness of our interior lives, which have been much compromised and forgotten by the culture of social media.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Mt 5:5-6; 16-18).
Having done our fasting and prayers in the hiddenness of our souls, I invite you to declare a COMMUNITY FAST and PRAYER on the feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe on the 14th of August. Let the admonition of the Prophet Joel be our guide “Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! (2:18)
In the weeks ahead, after our personal and community fasts, I encourage you to form circles of fasters and intercessors and discerners. Let the Spirit teach us how to be Christ’s disciples in these months of turmoil, treason, uncertainty and discord. Evil is so real but God has conquered evil and we shall overcome!
Is God punishing us? Only God can answer. Ask Him as you pray.
Do we deserve what we are going through? Yes and we deserve even worse than this!
Penance! Penance! Penance! Time is running out. May God have mercy on us!
From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, August 6, 2021, Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan