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This blog site is about a young Filipino Roman Catholic priest's journey in life; the stuff he needs and uses for liturgical, para-liturgical and personal endeavors; the challenges he faces; the adventures he has undergone; his opinions on certain issues; anecdotes; and some other cool stuff that might be unconventional for a priest yet beneficial for his life and ministry.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

CBCP Pastoral Letter on Extrajudicial Killing (2017)



For I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies – oracle of the Lord God (Ezekiel 18:32)




Beloved People of God,


We, your bishops, are deeply concerned due to many deaths and killings in the campaign against prohibited drugs. This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers. We are concerned not only for those who have been killed. The situation of the families of those killed is also cause for concern. Their lives have only become worse. An Additional cause of concern is the reign of terror in many places of the poor. Many are killed not because of drugs. Those who kill them are not brought to account. An even greater cause of concern is the indifference of many to this kind of wrong. It is considered as normal, and, even worse, something that (according to them) needs to be done. We are one with many of our countrymen who want change. But change must be guided by truth and justice. We stand for some basic teachings. These teachings are rooted in our being human, our being Filipino, and our being Christian.

1. The life of every person comes from God. It is he who gives it, and it is he alone who can take it back. Not even the government has a right to kill life because it is only God’s steward and not the owner of life.

2. The opportunity to change is never lost in every person. This is because God is merciful, as our Holy Father Pope Francis repeatedly teaches. We just finished celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy. These events deepened our awareness that the Lord Jesus Christ offered his own life for sinners, to redeem them and give them a new future.

3. To destroy one’s own life and the life of another, is a grave sin and does evil to society. The use of drugs is a sign that a person no longer values his own life, and endangers the lives of others. We must all work together to solve the drug problem and work for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

4. Every person has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Society has ways and processes to catch, prove guilty and punish perpetrators of crimes. This process must be followed, especially by agents of the law.

5. Any action that harms another (seriously) is a grave sin. To push drugs is a grave sin as is killing (except in self-defense). We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong. A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.

6. The deep root of the drug problem and criminality is the poverty of the majority, the destruction of the family and corruption in society. The step we have to take is to overcome poverty, especially through the giving of permanent work and sufficient wages to workers. Let us strengthen and carry forward the unity and love of the family members. Let us not allow any law that destroys the unity of families. We must also give priority to reforming rogue policemen and corrupt judges. The excessively slow adjudication of court cases is one big reason for the spread of criminality. Often it is the poor who suffer from this system. We also call upon elected politicians to serve the common good of the people and not their own interests.

7. To consent and to keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it. If we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem. If we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths.

We in the Church will continue to speak against evil even as we acknowledge and repent of our own shortcomings. We will do this even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other. We will help drug addicts so that they may be healed and start a new life. We will stand in solidarity and care for those left behind by those who have been killed and for the victims of drug addicts. Let us renew our efforts to strengthen families.

Those of us who are leaders in the Church should strive to push forward or continue programs that will uplift the poor, like livelihood, education and health programs. Above all we will live up to — we all will live up to — becoming a Church of the Poor.

Let us not allow fear to reign and keep us silent. Let us put into practice not only our native inner strength but the strength that comes from our Christian faith. Our Lord Jesus promised us: “You will have affliction in this world, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (Rm 8:35,37). Yes, indeed, “For the Spirit that is in you is more powerful than the spirit in those who belong in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).

As we commemorate the 100th year of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, let us respond to her call for prayer and repentance for the peace of our communities and of our country shrouded in the darkness of vice and death.

Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, Pray for us.


For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, January 30, 2017


(SGD) +SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

XXI Message for the World day for Consecrated Life (2017)

Vatican Basilica
Thursday, 2 February 2017


When the parents of Jesus brought the Child in fulfilment of the prescriptions of the law, Simeon, “guided by the Spirit” (Lk 2:27), took the Child in his arms and broke out in a hymn of blessing and praise. “My eyes”, he said, “have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk 2:30-32). Simeon not only saw, but was privileged to hold in his arms the long-awaited hope, which filled him with exultation. His heart rejoiced because God had come to dwell among his people; he felt his presence in the flesh.


Today’s liturgy tells us that in that rite, the Lord, forty days after his birth, “outwardly was fulfilling the Law, but in reality he was coming to meet his believing people” (Roman Missal, 2 February, Introduction to the Entrance Procession). This encounter of God with his people brings joy and renews hope.


Simeon’s canticle is the hymn of the believer, who at the end of his days can exclaim: “It is true, hope in God never disappoints” (cf. Rm 5:5). God never deceives us. Simeon and Anna, in their old age, were capable of a new fruitfulness, and they testify to this in song. Life is worth living in hope, because the Lord keeps his promise. Jesus himself will later explain this promise in the synagogue of Nazareth: the sick, prisoners, those who are alone, the poor, the elderly and sinners, all are invited to take up this same hymn of hope. Jesus is with them, Jesus is with us (cf. Lk 4:18-19).

We have inherited this hymn of hope from our elders. They made us part of this process. In their faces, in their lives, in their daily sacrifice we were able to see how this praise was embodied. We are heirs to the dreams of our elders, heirs to the hope that did not disappoint our founding mothers and fathers, our older brothers and sisters. We are heirs to those who have gone before us and had the courage to dream. Like them, we too want to sing, “God does not deceive; hope in him does not disappoint”. God comes to meet his people. And we want to sing by taking up the prophecy of Joel and making it our own: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (2:28).

We do well to take up the dreams of our elders, so that we can prophesy in our day and once more encounter what originally set our hearts afire. Dreams and prophecies together. The remembrance of how our elders, our fathers and mothers, dreamed, and the courage prophetically to carry on those dreams.


This attitude will make our consecrated life more fruitful. Most importantly, it will protect us from a temptation that can make our consecrated life barren: the temptation of survival. An evil that can gradually take root within us and within our communities. The mentality of survival makes us reactionaries, fearful, slowly and silently shutting ourselves up in our houses and in our own preconceived notions. It makes us look back, to the glory days – days that are past – and rather than rekindling the prophetic creativity born of our founders’ dreams, it looks for shortcuts in order to evade the challenges knocking on our doors today. A survival mentality robs our charisms of power, because it leads us to “domesticate” them, to make them “user-friendly”, robbing them of their original creative force. It makes us want to protect spaces, buildings and structures, rather than to encourage new initiatives. The temptation of survival makes us forget grace; it turns us into professionals of the sacred but not fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of that hope to which we are called to bear prophetic witness. An environment of survival withers the hearts of our elderly, taking away their ability to dream. In this way, it cripples the prophecy that our young are called to proclaim and work to achieve. In a word, the temptation of survival turns what the Lord presents as an opportunity for mission into something dangerous, threatening, potentially disastrous. This attitude is not limited to the consecrated life, but we in particular are urged not to fall into it.


Let us go back to the Gospel passage and once more contemplate that scene. Surely, the song of Simeon and Anna was not the fruit of self-absorption or an analysis and review of their personal situation. It did not ring out because they were caught up in themselves and were worried that something bad might happen to them. Their song was born of hope, the hope that sustained them in their old age. That hope was rewarded when they encountered Jesus. When Mary let Simeon take the Son of the Promise into his arms, the old man began to sing – celebrating a true “liturgy” – he sings his dreams. Whenever she puts Jesus in the midst of his people, they encounter joy. For this alone will bring back our joy and hope, this alone will save us from living in a survival mentality. Only this will make our lives fruitful and keep our hearts alive: putting Jesus where he belongs, in the midst of his people.


All of us are aware of the multicultural transformation we are experiencing; no one doubts this. Hence, it is all the more important for consecrated men and women to be one with Jesus, in their lives and in the midst of these great changes. Our mission – in accordance with each particular charism – reminds us that we are called to be a leaven in this dough. Perhaps there are better brands of flour, but the Lord has called us to be leaven here and now, with the challenges we face. Not on the defensive or motivated by fear, but with our hands on the plough, helping the wheat to grow, even though it has frequently been sown among weeds. Putting Jesus in the midst of his people means having a contemplative heart, one capable of discerning how God is walking through the streets of our cities, our towns and our neighbourhoods. Putting Jesus in the midst of his people means taking up and carrying the crosses of our brothers and sisters. It means wanting to touch the wounds of Jesus in the wounds of a world in pain, which longs and cries out for healing.


To put ourselves with Jesus in the midst of his people! Not as religious “activists”, but as men and women who are constantly forgiven, men and women anointed in baptism and sent to share that anointing and the consolation of God with everyone.


To put ourselves with Jesus in the midst of his people. For this reason, “we sense the challenge of finding and sharing a ‘mystique’ of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can [with the Lord] become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage… If we were able to take this route, it would be so good, so soothing, so liberating and hope-filled! To go out of ourselves and to join others” (Evangelii Gaudium, 87) is not only good for us; it also turns our lives and hopes into a hymn of praise. But we will only be able to do this if we take up the dreams of our elders and turn them into prophecy.

Let us accompany Jesus as he goes forth to meet his people, to be in the midst of his people. Let us go forth, not with the complaining or anxiety of those who have forgotten how to prophesy because they failed to take up the dreams of their elders, but with serenity and songs of praise. Not with apprehension but with the patience of those who trust in the Spirit, the Lord of dreams and prophecy. In this way, let us share what is truly our own: the hymn that is born of hope.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

God's Mercy is Forever



In modern parlance, the word “forever” has been continuously used in reference to people who are in love (“Mayroong forever” or “I believe in forever”). Likewise, such word is oftentimes abused when people fall out of love (“Walang forever!” or “I don’t believe in forever!”). Sometimes, young people ask, “Naniniwala ka pa ba sa forever?” (Do you still believe in forever?). “Forever” transcends romantic love. It refers rst and foremost to God who is unending Love. Since God has rst loved us though we are sinners (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us (Deus Caritas est, 1). Hence, God initiated “forever” for our sake so to speak and we respond to it. 

Our response in our earthly sojourn is to experience “forever” by sharing the love and mercy that we receive from God to others for “whoever does not love, does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Let us make our own the psalmist's exclamation: “The Lord's mercy endures forever! (Ps 118:2). Pope Francis in his homily last 3 April 2016, Divine Mercy Sunday, says, “Truly, God’s mercy is forever; it never ends, it never runs out, it never gives up when faced with closed doors, and it never tires. In this forever, we find strength in moments of trial and weakness because we are sure that God does not abandon us. He remains with us forever. Let us give thanks for so great a love, which we nd impossible to grasp. Let us ask for the grace to never grow tired of drawing from the well of the Father’s mercy and bringing it to the world: let us ask that we too may be merciful, to spread the power of the Gospel everywhere.” 

At the end of our life, God sustains us with His Mercy for “those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly puri ed live forever with Christ.They are like God forever (CCC 1023), for they “see Him as He is,” face to face (1 Jn 3:2; cf. 1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4). Yes, we believe in “forever” because we believe in God who is Love and Mercy.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The YOUTH is the focus of the October 2018 Synod

The theme chosen by His Holiness Pope Francis for the XV General Assembly of the Ordinary Synod of Bishops taking place in October 2018 will be “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.” Describing the theme "as an expression of the Church’s pastoral concern for the young," the statement said the chosen topic follows on from the findings of the recent Synods on the family and the conclusions contained in the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. It said by discussing this theme, "the Synod wishes to accompany young people along their existential journey towards maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they can discover their life plan and achieve it joyfully, opening themselves up to an encounter with God and humanity and actively taking part in the building of the Church and society."


Providentially, the year 2019 is declared by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines as the Year of the Youth. It is often said that the youth are the future of the Church. The youth are, in fact, the present of the Church. They are its most numerous members. They inspire us by their active participation in society and in the Church. The involvement of hundreds of thousands of young people in the various activities of evangelization and social transformation is a call to greater participation in the Church. “New methods, new expressions and new fervor” of evangelization are imperative. We shall invite the youth to discern deeply their vocation in the world and in the Church, especially the Lord’s invitation to them to the priestly and religious life. How we, as Church, respond to the aspirations of the youth will shape the third millennium.


Source: Vatican Radio

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Vatican Instruction on Cremation



1. What is your sentiment on the Vatican's new document on Christian burial and cremation? 

We welcome and follow the new document on Christian burial and cremation because the remains of a deceased person must be treated properly and with utmost respect based on our faith.  

2. How will the Church deal with those who have already scattered their relatives' ashes?

When the urn of the person's ashes is placed in a columbarium or tomb, the final resting place is marked with the person's name, the same name with which the person was baptized and by which the person is called by God. An anonymous burial or scattering of ashes is not compatible with the Christian faith. The name, the person, the concrete identity of the person is important because God created each person and calls each person to Himself. His Eminence Gerhard Cardinal Müller of the CDF suggests that cremated remains that were already scattered must have a memorial which includes the name of the deceased. He also said that labeling an urn or tomb in a public place is an expression of belief in the communion of saints, the unending unity in Christ of all the baptized, living and dead.

3. Will the Church issue an official decree or law on the said issue?

Here is the the link of the new Instruction Ad Resurgendum cum Christo (To rise with Christ)  issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF):

4. How will the Church in the Philippines promulgate or inform the faithful of the guidelines?

Since 2001 the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has already issued a guideline (SEE http://www.oocities.org/barats2000/cremation.html) which was affirmed by the new formal pronouncement of the CDF. It is based on the 1963 Vatican Instruction. Therefore, the ‘new’ instruction is a reiteration, an underscoring of the previous document, and has been promulgated since the 1960s.

5. What are the "approved sacred places" where families can store the ashes of their loved ones?
The cremated remains should be buried in a grave, mausoleum, or columbarium. Furthermore, the new document states that “burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works.”

According to the new guidelines, burial is still preferred, but cremation is an option. When a loved one has been cremated, their ashes must be kept intact, the same as one would treat a body. The ashes may not be separated or scattered. Instead, they should remain in a proper vessel that is interred in a proper place, such as a cemetery or church. Only the bishop can authorize an exception to this storage requirement in extraordinary circumstances. 

6. The Church has previously banned cremation. What prompted the Church to allow this practice?

The Vatican didn’t allow cremation until 1963, when the Church deemed it permissible as long as it didn’t suggest a denial of faith about resurrection.

The old 1917 Code of Canon Law expressly prohibited the practice of cremating cadavers due to the belief from the early days of Christianity that “cremation of cadavers was considered anti-Christian, while inhumation (or burial in the earth) was deemed as the normal Christian practice.”
The reason for this Christian tradition in favor of burial stems from the latter’s strong religious symbolism, made more evident by its concordance with Sacred Scripture and its long practice in the Christian community. The paschal meaning of Christian death—faith in the resurrection of the body: that one day all the saints will rise from the dead for eternal glory, as Jesus Christ has risen from the dead—is better expressed with the burial of the cadaver.

7. What prompted the Vatican to release the said guidelines?
The instruction Ad Resurgendum cum Christo reiterates the Church’s long-held preference that the dead be buried rather than cremated although it has “no doctrinal objection” to the latter. Cremation is only forbidden if it is undertaken for reasons contrary to the Church’s teaching.

The CDF said that there are new age ideas which have taken hold in modern times. People have come to see scattering of their ashes as allowing a "fusion" of them with nature, or that death is a form of liberation from the body. These ideas are new age ideas and are not Catholic. Ashes cannot be scattered because it gives the appearance of "pantheism, naturalism, or nihilism." 

8. How relevant is the Vatican guidelines in the Philippine context? Have you received reports on families scattering the ashes of their loved ones?

We have not received any reports yet of families scattering the cremated remains of their loved ones. The Vatican Instruction is very importatnt amid the increasing tendency of Filipinos to choose cremation over the traditional Christian practice of burying dead bodies. The Catholic Church earnestly recommends burial but also allows cremation without any reserve. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states that “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Can. 1176, §3).


Monday, June 6, 2016

Understanding Silence…

by Most Rev. Socrates B. Villegas, DD


Are we still at ease with silence? Has the noise of violence and terror drowned the voice of quiet conscience? Do we always interpret silence as fear of the cowards; the destiny imposed on the unwilling mute; the refuge of the guilty?

It is not always so.

There is nobility in silence like the silence of the lambs brought to slaughter in the temple to atone for sins. There is the silence of the desert mystics that pierced the hidden secrets of the heart of God. There is the silence of the woman who treasured all those things in her heart. Silence, indeed, is the language of God and only those who speak silence will be able to grasp Him.

Mine is the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate. Mine is the silence of the tears from mourning trying to fathom the mystery of death. Mine is the silence of prayer contemplating the divine mysteries. Mine is the silence of the bud blooming quietly without calling attention to itself. Mine is the silence of a hopeful mother waiting to give birth to her infant. Mine is the language of peace that refuses the dark magic of revenge. Mine is the silence of the vigilant waiting for destiny to unfold. Mine is the silence of respect for those who consider us their enemies but whose good we truly pray for and whose happiness we want to see unfold.

There is virtue in silence. There is virtue in speech. Wisdom is knowing when it is time for silence and when is the timing for speech.

You can understand my speech if you speak the language of silence. You can understand my silence if you know how to love like Him who was born one silent night.