Sunday, May 23, 2010

Noynoy presidency: With ‘grace of office’ comes every blessing needed

Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURE/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

IN SPIRITUAL LANGUAGE it is called “the grace of office.”

Could presumptive president-elect Sen. Benigno Aquino III and the nation that has apparently elected him by a landslide count on that?

It is said that when God invites or calls an individual to undertake a task, He also provides him the grace to carry out that task or calling.
“The grace of office” has often been used in the context of a religious vocation, especially for those in leadership positions, their imperfections, weaknesses and reluctance notwithstanding.
Biblical times and even contemporary history have seen ordinary persons rise to the task, strengthened only by their belief in God’s calling and their faith in the accompanying grace that would help them carry out their destiny.

There were those who rose and fell, as there were those who fulfilled their mission with humility and obedience.

In the case of Noynoy, will this special “grace of office” carry him through, and how?

The Inquirer interviewed theologians and others active in Church ministries for their thoughts on Aquino’s all-important mission.

The finger of God

Jesuit theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo asks if Filipinos can, with certitude, discern some part of God’s plan working itself out in their contemporary history.

“May we say, ‘the finger of God is here’ in this series of events, in this story line?” asks the spiritual adviser of Aquino’s late mother, President Corazon Aquino.

He observes that many do discern the offering of a “vocation-and-mission” in the case of Aquino, “with the empowerment and grace which that implies.”

“But this calls for a free acceptance of it in freedom and grace, the willingness to live out with hope and courage whatever it will demand, involving also a sought-after nearness to and reliance on God,” he said.

“This is what is asked of the recipient of the calling and mission, this is what we believe is asked now of Noy,” said Arevalo.

Gifts of the spirit

Fr. Aris Sison, pastor of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Quezon City to which Aquino belongs, believes that his being elected to the highest office is a “grace from God.”

“With it also comes every blessing needed to do what is required of him. The only thing necessary now is for him to accept and cooperate with God’s grace,” said Sison.

Sison quotes the 15th-century sainted priest Bernardine of Sienna who wrote that there is a general rule about special graces granted to any human being.

“Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty position, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand,” Bernardine said.

Beyond Catholicism

Theologian Sr. Amelia Vasquez RSCJ would go beyond the boundaries of Catholicism to the teachings of the 16th-century French Protestant reformer John Calvin, particularly his concept of vocation that erases the distinction between the secular and the sacred.

“[Calvin taught] that all calling is of equal spiritual dignity and doing it with zeal and diligence is in itself a sign of God’s grace, that one’s salvation is worked out in daily life in the world. So one’s confidence basically rests in God’s guidance, faithfulness and power, but because of the mandate from God, one also has confidence in one’s self,” said Vasquez.

She noted that Aquino had gone through the process of discernment before making his big decision to run for president.

“This means teasing out the threads in rigorous honesty and detachment from self. A measure of guarantee, though not absolute, is having a wise person with experience and pure heart scrutinize one’s deep motivation, not just vox populi or because of collective delusion,” she said.

Noting how “politics deals with power, wealth, position and the multitude,” Vazquez warned that for Aquino “the terrain is full of land mines.”

“One can perhaps begin well and even be God’s anointed but because of disobedience to God, could be rejected and become self-destructive, like Saul in the Bible,” she said.

“Hence, the prayer to begin, continue and end one’s mandate fully given to carrying out the call of God, which always means having a clean heart, of being focused on the good of all, rather than on what one gets, on responding to the duty of the moment with honesty, transparency and the good of all,” she said.

Definition of humility

Spiritual masters often remind that the foundation for “the grace of office” is hidden, lowly and loving obedience.

Renowned Christian evangelist Billy Graham who has advised 12 United States presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama would often quote Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

From the cloister, Carmelite contemplative Sr. Teresa of Jesus OCD (the former university professor and newspaper columnist Josefina Constantino) related how the day after the elections, she cried her heart out in deep thanksgiving to God, “because I realized that Noynoy is clearly the actualization of God’s adorable will.”

“And no matter what negative criticisms have been hurled against him, we know in pure faith that if he cooperates with God’s mercy and grace, God will be with him throughout his six years in office,” Sr. Teresa said.

She quotes St. Teresa of Avila’s definition of humility, “walking in truth.”

“If indeed Noynoy daily walks in truth and is totally obedient to God and the Holy Spirit, and with a pure heart be totally committed to bring about transformation, we could hope to become the country God has destined us to be for all eternity,” she said.

However, she said the call and the grace should extend beyond Noynoy, to those assigned to investigate injustice and corruption, that they may “carry out their tasks with utmost competence, excellence and integrity, and with detachment from anger or hatred.”

Out of nowhere

Fr. Arnold Abelardo CMF is convinced Noynoy is indeed the chosen one.

“I know Noy is connected to God. I had an inkling of this when, during the campaign, I would see him pray,” said Abelardo, who was a volunteer in the Aquino campaign.

The Claretian priest and chaplain of the Philippine Orthopedic Center joined Aquino in many of his campaign sorties and saw for himself many so-called “graced moments.”

He cites Noynoy’s ability to be humble and receive and listen to all kinds of people.

“Noy came out of nowhere. He was not in the people’s consciousness, but after President Cory Aquino’s death, there was an explosion, a longing, an expectation.

“Noy did not position himself, he did not have that lust for power. But people believed the Spirit was in him. People say it is destiny. I say, it is Providence. You saw the hand of God landscaping the political situation,” said Abelardo.

But he said Aquino cannot do it alone.

“Noy always told the people in rallies, ‘you are my strength.’ He was accepting the job not by his own strength and energy but also by counting on the people’s support when he assumes office. He inherited a tainted government. We should continue to accompany this man,” said Abelardo.

Hidden pearl

According to theologian and lecturer Fr. Percy G. Bacani of the Missionaries of Jesus, if everyone begins by asking the moral question, “how ought I to live?” and realizes that “the right answer ends with me,” Aquino’s victory will not be an empty moral promise and claim “but fully answered by every Filipino truly proud to be a Filipino.”

“The substantial mandate accorded to Noynoy is a clear indication of the collective quest for accountable and just governance. Noynoy has an incorruptible and principled image. We have projected unto him the best in the Filipino and we want him to lead us along the path of liberation. We want him not to fail us, and to bring back the Edsa spirit, for Filipinos to become proud again.

“This is a tall order and we better do it together with him if we want his presidency to be a defining moment for our nation in search of redemption from massive corruption and poverty,” he said.

In this sense, Bacani adds, Noynoy is God’s chosen instrument “to lead and inspire us to a responsible and engaged citizenship.”

“The hidden pearl is indeed enveloped with moral and spiritual power,” he said.