“ITONG KATOLIKO na ito will disappear. In almost 25 years wala na ‘yan.”
So, President Duterte declared Monday in his speech at the 1st National Assembly of the Liga ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas in Pasay City.
Blabbering at church people anew: “Hindi na makalimutan ng tao ‘yung — ito pala ang Katoliko. ‘Pag inabot ng libog, madre. Kung ang mga bakla ang p***** i** niya, mga bata. Who needs a religion like that? Tapos sige ka pa bigay kada Linggo ihatid pala niya sa kabit niya.”
For one, Duterte showed he did not know how to count. It has not been five years but a scant year and 10 months that he haughtily predicted “that religion (Catholic) will become passé in the next 30 years.”
For two, it is a historical given that the Church survives even her worst persecutors – from the Roman emperors, to the tyrants during the Reformation, to megalomaniacs like Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. Duterte, the least of them.
Indeed, recurrent refrains have become of Duterte’s spastic ululations against the Catholic Church. None though comes close in spiteful arrogance, in abomination to his campaign vow: “I will destroy the Catholic Church!”
Passé in 30 years. Disappeared in 25. A destroyed Catholic Church. It shall not come to pass. A vanished Duterte, it shall.
For neither God – at least ours in this Church – nor history takes Duterte’s side of his irreligious divide. Thrice already published here, yet gaining currency at each Duterte diatribe against the Church, this personal witnessing, titled Destroy the Church? What nut!
DEFENSELESS RO ME at the mercy of the rampaging barbarian horde, the seat of Christendom ready for the sacking, for scorching, for reduction to rubble.
The populace cowering in terror, their armies having long abandoned them to the slaughter. Who stands against the impending mayhem and murder? None but the Santo Papa, in his full papal regalia meeting the Barbaro at the very gates of the Holy City. Whereupon heaven opens, San Miguel Arcangel with flaming sword descending, scaring the wits out of the invaders. And Iglesia Catolica Apostolica Romana was saved.
The earliest tale of the invincibility of the Catholic Church I heard from my maternal grandmother, Rita Pineda Canlas vda. de Zapata, as part of my catechetical studies at age 4.
It did not matter that my Apu Rita did not even know the characters in the story, neither did she care of its veracity. All that counted was that it came from the cura parroco of her youth, the saintly Padre Daniel and served as an affirming moment of her Faith. And assured that I, her beloved apo, believed and would live up to that Faith.
I was already in high school, in the seminary, when grandma’s story found flesh in the encounter of Attila the Hun and Pope Leo I at Mincio – outside Rome – where the pontiff successfully convinced “the scourge of God” to withdraw from all of Italy. No Archangel Michael appearing in the clouds there, but “divine intervention” still cited – at least by my History professor Ciso Tantingco – in the famine and disasters visited upon the Hun tribes that gave Attila the scare to call off his invasion and plunder of Rome.
In those formative years, Attila’s story made one manifestation of gospel truth on the impregnability of the Church, as in Matthew 16:18: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Thus, the Church not only surviving but triumphing over every persecution, its persecutors cast to damnation: from its earliest days in the pagan Rome of Nero onto Diocletian and Galerius, to the Visigoths of Alaric, from the reign of empires and authoritarianism, to the spectre of communism.
“The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” Famously, and haughtily, asked Stalin dismissing the relevance of the Vatican in the post-WWII restructuring of Europe.
Less famously but as disdainfully, he told Churchill: “God is on your side? Is He a Conservative? The Devil’s on my side, he’s a good Communist.”
But, apparently, not good enough when it comes to sustainability: Stalin’s pride — the monolith that was the USSR – totally disintegrating on its 74th year. Though outliving the Soviet supremo by 38 years.
Afflicted with the worst case of odium fidei – hatred of the Faith – was Hitler who subjected Catholics – second only to the Jews – to his persecutory perversity. The Church having stood up and spoke against the Fuehrer even at the very beginning of his ascendancy.
History still holds that Hitler ended a suicide in a bunker under the rubble of Berlin; his thousand-year Reich lasting but a decade.
Truly, G.K. Chesterton with his usual paradox: Faith is always at a disadvantage; it is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all its conquerors.
Indeed, as that anecdote — currently trending in the web – of Napoleon boasting to a Cardinal how, if he, Bonaparte, so desired, could destroy the Catholic Church in an instant. And the Cardinal responding with a laugh: “We the clergy, with our sins and stupidity have been trying to destroy the Church for 1,800 years. What makes you think you can do better?”
That the Church has not imploded with all the vicious battering from within, incessant through the ages – from the heresies to the schisms, the forgeries, the decadence of the medieval papacy finding its zenith in the depravity of Alexander VI, the excesses of the Inquisition, the impact of the Reformation, all the way down to the cases of priestly paedophilia – can only bespeak of, aye, witness to, its divine foundation.
Taking on Matthew 16:18, St. Augustine wrote in Interpreting John’s Gospel:
“Peter, because he was the first apostle, represented the person of the church by synecdoche…(W)hen he was told ‘I will give you the keys of heaven’s kingdom…’ he was standing for the entire church, which does not collapse though it is beaten, in this world, by every kind of trial, as if by rain, flood and tempest. It is founded on a Stone [Petra], from which Peter took his name Stone-Founded [Peter] – for the Stone did not take its name from the Stone-Founded but the Stone- Founded from the Stone…because the Stone was Christ.”
How providential for this to first be written at the time of Corpus Christi Sunday, imbuing a deeply personal meaning to that truth long revealed and ever revealing: The Church is the Body of Christ. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ.
Then, who can be against us? Indeed, not even the devil can destroy us?
Lest I lapse into some Catholic conceit, and dare all self-proclaimed wanna-be-destroyers of the Church to “Bring it On,” let me just leave it to Luke 1:52: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, he hath exalted the humble.”
The arrogance of power. Hubris, it is called in Greek tragedy. Finding its full meaning in Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
So, shall it come to pass. So, he too shall pass. Have faith.
(Updated from a column first published May 2016)