Wednesday, March 5, 2008

‘Spirituality of/for revolution’

Last week, while the country was in the throes of yet another people power outing/revolution, an updated version of Bishop Julio X. Labayan’s 1995 book, “Revolution and the Church of the Poor,” was (re)launched. This book is about what the bishop perceives to be an all-important ingredient for a revolution to work—spirituality.

Who is Bishop Labayen? “Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, a member of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites, is viewed by many as ‘controversial,’ having figured in clashes with the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. In a sea of conservatives in the Philippine Church hierarchy, the bishop is considered ‘a voice in the wilderness.’” I wrote that many years ago.

But wait, I had waited for the chance to say this: Recently, the 80-ish bishop figured prominently in the media when some thoughtless ideologues marched him into the Trillanes Peninsula military misadventure/press conference and, when things got awry, left him there to fend for himself. When the smoke cleared and the misadventurists (and the media people who were doing their job) were hauled away, Labayen found himself among the detained, hobbling his way to the barracks and overnight detention. Good thing Fr. Robert Reyes was there, too, and looked after him. Task Force Detainees had to get him out the next day. Where were his thoughtless handlers/users? There, take that.

I do stress Labayen’s being a Carmelite— steeped in the spirituality of mystics John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila—to contrast with his being perceived as a leftist by the military and even by his colleagues.

In his book, Labayen attempts to present the Church of the Poor from “the perspective and analysis of revolution.” And vice versa. The book is not an apologia or defense of church people’s romancing Marxism and so-called liberation movements. Far from it. What Labayen wants to see is “a letting go of what has become irrelevant and obstructive, a going beyond ... a dying to what has ceased to serve life ...” What he is driving at is the failure of revolutionary movements to deliver. Some things just didn’t work. Or don’t work anymore. Or were bound to fail.

“What I write here,” says Labayen, “is the fruit of my 33 years of pastoral experience as the Bishop Prelate of Infanta (in Quezon province) ... interwoven with the dark strands of trials, crises, harassment, persecution and marginalization, and also with the bright strands of pastoral breakthroughs, deep insights, qualitative turning points, reassuring faith-experiences of the living God of history, His/Her comforting presence in the midst of abandonment, and discovery of the fathomless depths of the human spirit.” The bishop has the “K” (“karapatan,” or right) to write a book like this.

But before Labayen tackles revolutions, he presents two models of the Church: the “imperialist” Christendom model and the Church of the Poor. In this context, he says that “while the Church may be historically shaped and conditioned by history, the same Church was founded by Jesus Christ to shape history.”

Chapter 5 (“Where did revolutions go wrong?”) makes a straightforward criticism of revolutions abroad. He cites Europe and China and lingers in Latin America, Nicaragua especially, where the Church played a vital role in the revolution. “In the initial process of revolutions,” Labayen writes, “the outcomes either fall short of the initial noble intentions or, sometime after victory, shortchange the masses.”

At home, Labayen cites the failure of the Christians for National Liberation (founded “with the intention of having a Christian presence in the revolution”) “to influence the revolutionary process to make it more humane, compassionate and less rigid.”

He notes that cultural and psychological perspectives are often not taken into consideration in revolutionary affairs. It cannot all be politics and economics, Labayen points out. The human factor is important. The human heart and the human spirit, he argues, also seek to be liberated.

But of course, he presents another paradigm: Christ. Not the one who is conveniently portrayed as a radical to polarize social classes, but the Christ who preaches about an interior revolution in the human heart and spirit. The bishop is now onto another plane. Labayen, the social action man, is not shy to say: “Those who are committed to revolution often think that the interior journey of the human heart and spirit is tantamount to copping out of the struggle ... considered reactionary (and) will delay the revolution.”

He urges revolutionaries to “consider the essential condition for a genuine and lasting revolution which is that of a radically changed human heart and spirit. In other words, a spirituality for/of revolution.” He dares suggest that they “understand the contribution of the mystics and psychologists... It may well be that here we encounter a yet untapped inner resource that we have not harnessed for revolution. Could it be that herein lies the ingredient that is lacking for the satisfactory and fulfilling outcome?”

I am stumped by this. I have long waited for someone to say this.

Dig into your inner well, he exhorts. Then he offer words from Juan de la Cruz’s Spiritual Canticle: “And then we will go on/ To the high caverns on the rock/ Which are so well concealed;/ There we shall enter/ And taste the fresh juice of the pomegranates.”

If, as they say, John of the Cross, when peeled and stripped of the Christian layers, is really a Buddhist monk, I think, Bishop Labayen, if stripped of his activist label, is really a contemplative, a monk at prayer, on his knees in the bloody fields of battle.