Nothing could be farther from the truth than to think that the mission of Jesus Christ on earth was to be removed from the politics of this world. Political circumstances surrounded the life of Jesus Christ from birth to death.
Christ was born to a Jewish nation that was then under the domain of an imperial power – Rome. That is world politics.
Christ would not have been born in a manger if not for the edict of the Roman rulers obliging everyone to return to their place of birth in order to facilitate a census that will improve Roman tax collections. That is politics.
His birth triggered the deaths of babies in Bethlehem resulting from the insecurity of a threatened puppet ruler – King Herod. That is politics.
His mission came into conflict with the traditional ministers of religion, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees who became the subject of several commentaries of Jesus Christ about pretension and hypocrisy. That is politics.
His crucifixion was the result of the politics between the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate and the powerful religious leaders. Manipulating the mob to pressure the Roman Governor into crucifying Christ, the heads of the Sanhedrin obtained the unjust sentence despite the Governor’s personal conviction that Christ was innocent. That is truly the ugly face of politics.
To a great extent, you can even say that Christ fought against the conspiracies of the politics of this world that prevent man from living in his rightful dignity and attaining his full spiritual growth. Historians recognize Christ as the greatest revolutionary and nothing could be more political than that.
The insecure and threatened regime, no different from the paranoid puppet King Herod, always cited the principle of the separation of the Church and the State to discourage the men of the cloth from rendering fair commentaries on bad governance and protesting State abuses and excesses that demean the persons in society.
Typical of tyrannical regimes, a selective aspect of a principle or a law is applied (the separation of institutions of Church and State) from the reality of the greater mission of Christ’s representatives on earth to protect and defend the dignity of the human being.
Throughout history there have been Catholic priests who have suffered martyrdom because they saw it as their duty to get involved in political issues. Among the most prominent martyrs of our period is Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of San Salvador.
At first, Archbishop Romero was not an "activist Bishop" but evolved into one due to the political events in San Salvador. To champion the cause of the poor was not just a matter of pastoral priorities insofar as he was concerned but a defining characteristic of Christian faith.
He wrote: "A church that does not unite itself to the poor in order to denounce from the place of the poor the injustice committed against them is not truly the Church of Jesus Christ. On this point there is no possible neutrality. We either serve the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death….We either believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death."
The story of San Salvador during the time of Archbishop Romero is no different from our situation today. During Archbishop Romero’s time, it was said that "social contradictions in El Salvador were rapidly reaching the point of explosion. Coups, countercoups, and fraudulent elections brought forth a succession of governments, each promising reform, while leaving the military and the death squads free to suppress the popular demand for justice. As avenues for peaceful change were systematically thwarted, full-scale civil war became inevitable."
Archbishop Romero revealed this in an interview that he had two weeks before he was killed: "I have frequently been threatened with death. I must say that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death but in the resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people."
"Martyrdom is a great gift from God that I do not believe I have earned. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life then may my blood be the seed of liberty, and a sign of the hope that will soon become a reality… A bishop will die, but the church of God – the people – will never die."
Archbishop Romero sent the San Salvador military a message on March 23, 1980, the day before his death, to encourage them to refuse illegal orders. The next day, as he was saying Mass in the chapel of the Carmelite Sisters’ Cancer Hospital, Archbishop Romero was killed, struck in the heart by a single rifle shot that was fired from the rear of the chapel.
Thus, for those who have made the priesthood a vocation, they simply cannot avoid plunging into political issues when the political processes become the source of greater suffering, exploitation, the loss of human dignity and the very violation of Christ’s core commandment – "Whatsoever you do to the least of your brethren, you do unto me."
When a Christian – not necessarily a priest, Bishop or Pope even – decides to take up his cross and follow Christ, then that includes resisting evil governments and checking bad governance. In our country today, we have easily 30 million countrymen who are unable to rise above poverty, sinking deeper into brutal and dehumanizing living conditions. They are not even aware of the dynamics of the system of exploitation that makes them poor and miserable.
These poor countrymen of ours (per the recent SWS survey, 52 percent of Filipinos now rate themselves as poor) are our nation’s collective cross. What do we say to Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate tomorrow, if we refuse to pick up and carry this cross?
They need us to enlighten them on why a country such as ours, so rich in natural and manpower resources, can have so many who are poor while a country like Japan – with a bigger population and hardly any natural resources – can be so rich and progressive.
They need us to teach them how to make democracy work by making them an enlightened electorate. They need us to use our collective moral force to defend them from their oppressors, to allow them to enjoy equal protection of the law and to have an access to education, opportunity and a better life.
We need to do these not only because we want to be real Christians but also because we owe it to our children to right the wrongs in the country we will bequeath to them. We owe it to our sons and daughters to stop this worsening poverty and deepening animosity among members of society. We owe it to the next generation to prevent a social explosion that our series of crises will eventually bring.
Rather than merely wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, let us all work towards achieving a meaningful Christmas by becoming the hope of the least of our brethren. The enlightenment and economic emancipation of the least of our brethren are the best Christmas gifts we can give the Christ child.