The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines is 50 years old this year.

I once asked a friend of mine what she thought of the Philippine bishops. There was some silence for a while. Then she hesitatingly answered that she never really thought much of the bishops. Almost sounding apologetic, she tried to soften the impact of her statement by assuring me that it did not mean that she did not find them respectable, suitable, or qualified. Still, that to her, they seemed so distant. They were to be treated with deference and respect as symbols of the Church hierarchy. To her, they were distinguished-looking men with purple sashes and purple skull caps before whom you bow or whose ring you kiss. That’s it. They are present only on very important occasions as if solely to lend prestige to the affair.

When we parted ways, I felt a sudden surge of wanting to tell everybody how important bishops are in our lives.

I played back in my mind the many significant historical events that would not have happened if the bishops did not play the roles they did. How could the peaceful EDSA revolution have happened if not for the call of our Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin? How could we have responded as a people to the cheating in the snap elections if not for the eye-opening scenario the bishops painted for us through their pastoral letter? More recently, how could we have gathered millions of people at the Luneta to celebrate the Eucharist with the Holy Father if not for the preparations made by the Philippine bishops? These, to me, were obvious manifestations of the bishops’ direct involvement in the lives of the Filipino faithful. If not for their guidance, wisdom, and organizational skills, these peak moments in our history could not have happened. But how obvious is it to Juan de la Cruz? Has it even crossed his mind to give credit to the bishops for planting the seed and laying the groundwork for these milestones?

If we take a few steps back and think of 1985, it is easy to believe that not everybody knows that it was declared a Marian year because of the inspiration of the Philippine bishops. The faithful followed the instructions of their respective parish priests and worked on everything from there. Little is known or said about who truly set the people on that path. If not for the inspiration of the bishops to make 1985 a “COR” year, we may not have had the disposition of heart and the strength of spirit to fight for our rights during the snap elections and subsequently during those four days of the peaceful EDSA revolution. The bishops are truly the “COR,” the heart of the Church. They made 1985 a “COR” year, meaning a year of Conversion, Offering, and Reparation. It became a “COR” year also in the sense that we were invited to really go deep down to our essence, to our core, our heart, and soul.

There was so much unrest in Philippine society at that time. We had no other recourse but to turn to God in an honest effort to belong unconditionally to Him through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. A move that proved to be the most important act we did as a Filipino people. The credit must go to the bishops who set the tone, who set us in that direction.

My friend did give me something to think about. Is it true that the bishops are really distant or have they played the role of father so faithfully and well that makes them appear that way?

Take the example of my own father. I realized with so much certitude how important his role was in our family only a few weeks before he passed away. He was a relatively quiet man with very sure ways. I saw clearly then how in his seemingly laid-back manner, he gave our family the direction and stability every family needs. He was the authority figure who gave us the discipline we needed and put that sense of order in our lives. My mother and the house helpers were the visible, concrete evidence of the system in place.

Now I understand my friend’s comment a little better. She is right in saying that the bishops seem so distant. It just appears to be so because they have successfully carried out their role as fathers. A good father is not one to lord it over his children. He is there to give the guidelines and set the direction for the family. In so doing, he empowers his children and the entire household. That is why perhaps the perception of the bishops is that they are so laid back and have become mere figureheads. It is because they have faithfully fulfilled their role as good fathers. They have successfully empowered the priests, that the people come in closer contact on a daily basis. In turn, even the laity has been empowered in such a manner that they have that sense of responsibility and spiritual maturity.

If the bishop as father is not faithful to His call, would we have an empowered laity and an enlightened clergy?

He is the Triune God present in our midst. He is father. He is the sweet odor of Christ. He has the Holy Spirit that blows the air of inspiration in our lives that makes us true Christians not just in name but in deed.

We need bishops because we need Christ.

Jesus Our Light

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