THE SERVANT GENERAL
OUR THEME FOR 2015
THE GAZE OF THE CRUCIFIED LORD
December 1, 2014
Here attached is the pastoral letter of Abp. Socrates Villegas,
President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
It is a remarkable document, steeped in spirituality and love
for God’s people. It is very challenging to all, especially
to the rich and powerful.
As our own theme for this year is about the thrust of building
the Church of the Poor, this pastoral letter provides us with
wonderful insights, guidelines and inspiration. Please read
it carefully, pray about it, internalize it, discuss it with
brethren, and by the grace of God respond to its challenges.
Our fifth Core Value is Living a Preferential Option for
the Poor. Let us understand what that truly means, as
we embark on our spiritual adventure this new year 2015.
the Lord turned and looked at Peter… (Lk 22:61)
THE GAZE OF THE CRUCIFIED LORD
Love and Compassion, Forgiveness and Challenge
Opening of the Year of the Poor 2015
When you gaze into the eyes of the Crucified Lord, and he
gazes into yours, you encounter the love of the Resurrected
Lord. Many prefer not to look. Many recoil at looking into
the eyes of a man in deadly pain. Many balk at having to respond
to love. But these are not the eyes of a defeated man, condemned
for criminal insurrection. They are the eyes of an unlikely
King, who in dealing death its death blow, still looks into
our eyes with challenge. In his love is his call to the Kingdom
of his Father, his Kingdom of justice, compassion, peace and
life to the full.
In the sign of this crucified Lord, now resurrected, we your
Pastors, invite you to the celebration of the Year of the
Poor. Behold Jesus, poor. No image of Jesus, poor, surpasses
this one. Jesus hangs from his Cross stripped of his clothes,
his dignity, his possessions, his power, his strength. He
is fully one with the unwashed, the oppressed, the scorned,
the powerless, the miserable, the outcast. In the Year of
the Poor, look into the eyes of the crucified Lord. There
is no experience richer.
You who are poor…
In those eyes, you who are poor, feel his suffering-with-you.
From his Cross, he walks with you through crowded alleys,
stumbles on mud, recoils at the stench of unmoved sewerage.
He bows to enter your makeshift home hobbled together from
salvaged materials; it is for your family, but you share it
perforce with rats and cockroaches, an oven in the hot season,
a waterfall when rainy.
On his Cross, he is with you - God with you. He has taken
on your nakedness, your vulnerability, your hunger, your illness,
your shame. You once thought you could escape the hardship
of your rural beginnings. But your suffering only increased.
Here, you cannot find the camote to chase the hunger
from your belly; you cannot find the herbs to stop your baby's
vomiting and diarrhea; you cannot find money even to keep
your single bulb burning. Here, though amidst thousands, neighbors
You were once grateful for the backbreaking work you finally
found; your work continues to break your back, and bend you.
But your debts just continue to grow. The clothes and shoes
you bought last year to send your children to school are already
worn out. In your home you have an altar. Mary is there. The
Nazareno is there. So is the Sto. Niño.
You pray. But you tremble when you hear the shouts of the
demolition crews approaching. You cry out for mercy. You look
into the eyes of your crucified King.
Looking into his eyes, you feel his gaze into your soul. You
do not understand. Why the love for you, but a poor man? Why
the energy from the Cross to convince you: you are loved?
Why the persisting message like a mantra in the sign of the
Cross: "I have come to bring life, and bring life
to the full," and, "Blessed are you who
are poor.... Blessed are you who hunger now... Blessed are
you when men hate you..."
Why his silent acceptance of abuse, hatred, rejection, oppression
and death in rejection of yours? Why his abiding identification
with you, as he calls on his disciples to act in your aid?
"Whatever you do for this poor person, that you do
for me. ... Whatever you do not do for this poor person, that
you do not do for me?" Why, on your behalf, to any
who follow him, his mandate to works of mercy? "Feed
the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter
the homeless. Visit the sick. Ransom the captive. Bury the
dead." For the answers to these questions … look
into his eyes, and search within.
You who are weary…
In the Year of the Poor, all you who labor and are heavily
burdened, we your Pastors invite you, as Jesus himself did:
come to Jesus. "Come to me," Jesus said,
"and I will give you rest.” Life has not
reduced you to penury, but life has not lifted you to wealth.
To you also Jesus has said, "I have come to give
life, and to give it to the full."
Thinking of your families, your spouses, your children, the
relatives who run to you for help in their unending need,
you work long hours, you work overtime, you even take on second
and third jobs, just to make ends meet. Often ends don't meet;
demands exhaust you; your taskmasters overstress you; worries
But you labor on in love. Thinking of the smiles on your children's
faces and the promises you have made your spouse to provide
adequately, you work on, hoping your sacrifice will bring
the full life that Jesus brings. Whenever you can, whenever
you remember, you pray. You ask him to help. You ask his mother
for help. He does help. She does come to your aid. You know
that. Now, coming to Jesus hanging from his Cross, look into
his eyes as he looks into yours with love.
You who are rich…
“I have come to bring life,” he said, “life
to the full.” Some of you, sadly, are unmoved by this.
You do not believe this. You do not believe Jesus brings anything.
You say you do, but you don't.
For you, the fullness of life is the good life: your doing.
It is not gifted, but taken. It is not brought to you as a
blessing from above, but seized as a result of pushing and
shoving from below. It is not selfless, but selfish. It is
fueled by pride, scheming ambition, the exhilaration of power,
the taste of blood. For this you work harder than hard, you
push yourselves to the limit, you even push beyond the limit.
To achieve “the sweet life,” to outdo your ambitions,
to over satiate your sycophants, to make them applaud without
end, you abuse your bodies, you break the law, you violate
your conscience; you ravage Creation. Your social life is
your needy ego. You manipulate people, exploit their skills;
take advantage of their weaknesses; pay them poorly. What
is rightly theirs, you steal; what rightly belongs to society,
you conceal. What is there for all, you horde for yourself.
For you, there is no common good, only your good!
You build your first house, then your second houses; you provide
for your family, then for your second families. You fill your
lives with deceit, hypocrisy, and misery, and so glory in
your "good life.” You take great satisfaction in
that you are not like the rest of the rabble. You have no
need for prayer; you have no need for God.
In this Year of the Poor, we your Pastors invite you, step
back from the rat race, the pressure, the din. Step back,
and look into the eyes of the King.
His gaze penetrates through your eyes to your heart. It is
the same gaze of compassion as his gaze into the eyes of the
poor. But it is a gaze altered by your own arrogance and cynicism.
It is a gaze marked by concern. You may not wish to hear his
message, but he says it again for you: "Woe to you
who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe
to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you
who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe when society
speaks well of you, for your fathers did the same to false
He doesn't thunder this from loudspeakers, nor embarrass you
with this in the media, for you are well-respected and honorable
persons. He says it simply in his gaze, knowing fully you
can reject it, as you have rejected it before.
But in the Year of the Poor, where so many poor are poor because
of your decisions, he also reminds you that over concern with
your humongous investments, your corporate takeovers, your
capture of political power and your fine reputations to the
detriment or negligence of the poor may have serious consequences.
"Whatever you have done or not done to one of these
the least of my brothers and sisters, that you have done or
not done to me." For not feeding the hungry, clothing
the naked, succoring the sick, sheltering the stranger, visiting
the imprisoned, the Lord, the Just Judge, may say to you,
"Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire..."
for I was poor, and you did not care.
If you have trouble believing this, look into his eyes gazing
at you from the Cross.
Behold Jesus poor…
If that gaze, filled will love, brings you to confusion, shame
and repentance in this Year of the Poor, then consider its
urgent challenge for you:
With God's grace, turn away from your haughtiness, your pride,
your selfishness, your idolatry of money, your all-consuming
fascination with power. In love, work to build the Kingdom
of God on earth!
In the Philippines, this means, urgently: stop the corruption.
Stop the misuse of the People's funds. Stop the wanton destruction
of the environment. Fight the poverty of the poor. Build vibrant
companies that use our resources to create wealth for our
people, but distribute that wealth equitably. Build an economy
that responds to the unconscionable poverty of the fishermen,
the tillers of the soil, the urban laborers. Build an economy
that is open to the world, but whose benefits do not exclude
the poor. Provide jobs.
Provide education that respects all our people as human beings
and children of God, not just cogs in a global production
machine. But provide education relevant to the fight against
dehumanizing poverty: basic education to all, and higher education
to all who desire it. Build a society of dialogue in our diversity,
and especially for our poor, build a society of peace. No
more war, for the greatest victims of war are the poor!
Behold Jesus, hope of the poor…
If that gaze, filled with love, brings you in poverty to consolation,
encouragement and peace, take heart in Jesus' love. He strengthens
you, encourages you, and calls the Christian community to
help you progress from destitution to the fullness of life.
But help the community in helping yourselves. Should you have
no work, look for work. Should you have work, work well. Cultivate
a personal sense of industry, self-respect and social responsibility.
As the economy allows, continue to provide well for your family
in love: nutritious food, adequate clothing, medical care,
good education, wholesome recreation. Strive for conditions
of work that are humane and just. Continue to contribute to
the welfare of your neighbors, your barangay, your municipality,
your city, your nation. Always be helpful. Vote as the common
good demands. Together with your spouse, lead your children
to the love and respect the Lord through our Catholic communion.
Be active in your parish and in your basic ecclesiastical
community. Love, as you are loved by God. Share courageously
of your faith in love! You are not just receivers of the Gospel.
You are its bearers!
Shepherds looking into the eyes of the Good Shepherd…
Finally, in the year of the poor, we your pastors, and with
us, all priests and religious, look with you into the eyes
of the crucified Lord. How often it is that we have looked
into those tortured eyes and failed to notice their twinkle!
We have seen only embarrassing defeat, jaded suffering and
obvious dying, but failed to notice the light that pierces
the gloom in our hearts.
In the void that loneliness and isolation brought by our distance
from Crucified, we can be misled to fill the gaping abyss
with new phones and i-pads. We can cover the gaping vacuum
with another luxury car or designer jeans or more fashionable
shoes more than our shoe racks can contain; with a vacation
out of the country or another gadget for the bedroom. We can
hold on to the whisky bottle and hope that the bottled spirit
will exorcise the spirit of boredom in us. It can also be
filled up by working like a horse to impress the people, to
create a fans’ club and move you up higher to a better
assignment. It can also increase our interest in bank savings,
the stock market and the accumulation of more properties.
Church funds and personal funds are deliberately mixed up.
The parish crawls in financial difficulties while we sprint
and jump with financial security. Our easy and comfortable
lifestyles can make us numb to the peril of worldliness. It
can make us at ease with ecclesiastical vanities.
How often have we reduced his living eyes to painted plastic
on a wall, and deprived ourselves of feeling what those eyes
twinkling in passion convey: that we are noticed, appreciated,
valued, and sent forth. In so doing, we have cheated ourselves
of the only treasure in our calling: the felt certainty from
the Cross that we are each individually and totally loved.
We have exchanged this prize, this pearl of great price, for
the compulsive conservation of conceptual castles, for the
anxious pettiness of rules and regulations, for the obsessive
preservation of a pecking order, for the selfish defense of
private space, for the eccentric collection of quaint things,
as well as for the lifelong preparation for our retirement.
Or, we have exchanged this self-emptied Messiah for self-established
messiahs on distinguished thrones, ourselves rejecting the
folly of the Cross, preferring the authority of feared prelates
or the renown of pious celebrity or the fashionable cynicism
of the insecure. For these recognized spiritual professionals,
there is really no need for prayer, no need for prophets,
and certainly no need for the unlettered and unwashed, for
all ultimately is about themselves.
Look at Jesus…
In this year of the poor, we too are being asked in silence
to peer into the eyes of the crucified Lord, not plastic,
nor wooden, nor closed, but open for me, confusing me, disturbing
me, returning me to an original inspiration, healing me, raising
me up, making me whole and surprising me anew with unaccustomed
joy. In those twinkling eyes, we consider the quiet invitation
to be actually poor, one with him, stripped of his clothes,
his dignity, his possessions, his power, his strength, one
with the unwashed, the oppressed, the scorned, the powerless,
the miserable, the outcaste. Of course, we can say no.
We can repeat the valid, reasonable excuses. But we can also
In this Year of the Poor, may our neediness be turned to sanctity,
and may our arrogance be turned to service. In all, may the
love of the Crucified Lord triumph as he gazes into our hearts
and we dare to look into his.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,
November 30, 2014 First Sunday of Advent
(SGD)+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan