Editor’s Note: We are indebted to Ms Marigail Gines for these very timely excerpts from various articles by the late Fr. Thomas H. Green, S.J. that she furnished NSC-PSD Joey Avellana, who forwarded same to this Portal Editor.
The articles of Fr. Thomas H. Green, S. J. are about his reflections on elections that he wrote for the Makati Village Voice published in 1992. It was stumbled upon by his long time directee, Mr. Boy Nazareno while cleaning his things. Realizing Fr. Green’s wisdom attested by his 9 books (most are on Discernment) and the relevance of the articles in our coming elections, I remember to share them for others as he had shared them to me.)
Since the articles were written in 1992, by way of example, Fr. Green then used Ninoy’s death in 1983 which led to the 1986 EDSA Revolution because at that time it was a very significant historical event. More importantly, Fr. Green used it only in the context of pointing out that only God knows the ultimate meaning of our actions here & now. I remember in one of his homilies few years ago, when he was alive (he died March 13, 2009 ), I personally heard him say that the 1986 Revolution is a means to bring change for our country and not to be used to throw any government whenever we want it! This clearly implied that whenever we are disillusioned, we use another “revolution.” If so, can you Imagine what will happen to our country? Also, Fr. Green mentioned Cory’s summation, ” I have done my best!” because she was the president at that time, again, only in the context of pointing out “doing one’s best.” Moreover, in the context of casting our vote, Fr. Green explained thoroughly, in his articles below, a process of Discernment which is a good means to do one’s best! If the event & the person are mentioned in the article, it is not to be mis-interpreted in any slightest manner, connoting to campaign for a particular presidential candidate.
For those seeking guidance to be helped on how to “Discern” whom to vote for, Fr. Green focused on the issue by asking, “How do we balance prayer & our own efforts in the coming elections?
Let us now read what Fr. Green wrote:
PRAYER and ELECTIONS
As I ( Fr. Green ) reflected on this question, certain guiding insights came to my mind. Let me share them with you. First, God is not a doting Father, constantly intervening to “make things right” no matter what we do—at least, this is not the God & Father whom Jesus reveals to us. He gives us freedom, and He expects us to use it well. Thus, second, we must do our part to bring justice and peace to our world. With regards to the May elections, this means we must make our voices heard in the election process; we must vote; and we must vote with our honest & sincere convictions. If we fail to do these things, we are like the man who buried his talents in the ground & did not use them (out of fear & discouragement) to earn a profit for the Lord who gave them to us. And third, we must seek the Lord’s guidance in prayer—asking Him to show us how we can best contribute to just & fruitful elections. The implications is that not all of us has the same responsibility. We have different talents, different roles to fill. And this is why prayerful “discernment” (discovering the Lord’s personal will for me) is so important. This is where prayer & action meet.
If I wish to learn whom the Lord desires me to vote for, usually I must first do my part. That is, I must take account of such factors as the needs of the country, the qualifications of the various candidates, the peculiarities of the present political system. This, concretely, is what we mean by “reading the signs of the times.” The Lord has given us intelligence & experience, and He expects us to use these gifts. I must make the effort to be informed about the issues & personalities, and not just listen uncritically to tsismis (gossip) or follow blindly my husband’s opinion. This is, admittedly, hard work. But nothing in Scripture leads us to believe that the lazy will inherit the kingdom of God!
By way of example, let us consider the question of choosing the best candidate to vote for. One practical way ( first suggested by St. Ignatius Loyola) to read the signs of the times here is this: Make yourself a list of the serious candidates, and list the “pros” & “cons” for (the reasons for and the reasons against) each candidates. No perfect human being, and hence no perfect candidate, exists. One of our flaws as a people is that we demand perfection & then become cynical when, inevitably, we don’t find it. In virtually every human choice there will be reasons for & reasons against each option. For example, candidate “X” may be patriotic, honest, and provide hope of continuity in the current development policies which I believe in. At the same time, he may have a kerida, have dubious connections with the past dictatorship, and come from a different religious tradition than my own. Similarly, candidate “Y” and “Z” will have their own pluses & minuses. List them all down—and, as the months before the election pass, add new factors (distinguishing, as best you can, between rumors & facts) to the lists. Then study the lists & see who, in your judgment, has the greatest preponderance (superiority in weight or importance) of “pros” and pluses.
What will this process give us? Not, most likely, a clear & unambiguous choice. There will always be gain & loss, no matter whom I choose. But at least my choice is reasonable, made with my eyes open. I am not finished yet: as we will explain next month. I still have to bring my tentative choice to the Lord & ask Him to confirm it. My reasoning & reflecting & questioning is not the final word. For that I have to come to God & listen. But at least I have done my part—and so I have a fair claim on His goodness. Now I can expect Him to guide me when I ask Him.
As we also pointed out, however, this reasoning process is not identical with “discerning” God’s will. It is usually a necessary first step. But then we must, and ask Him to confirm it if it is really His will? And how does he “confirm” it? This is precisely where prayer & action meet. It is, in the most proper sense, what we mean by discernment: discovering in prayer how God wishes us to act. And it is the topic I promised to discuss in the present article.
Surprisingly, perhaps, God speaks through our feelings. This can surprise us because many people, especially if they have a “Westernized” background, mistrust their feelings as a guide to sound decision-making. And many more, at least in our culture, tend to follow their feelings blindly—hence the ningas cogon. Neither attitude is correct. The feelings are indeed important, and one of the great strengths of Filipinos is that is their feeling culture. But the feelings must be “sorted out.” Not all of them are good, are from God. Some are from our own self-love, and some are from the devil. The important thing is to discover which of my feelings or inspirations is from God and which is not—in order that I may follow the former & reject the latter.
How do we do this? First of all, let us note that the feelings in question here are religious feelings, those connected with the love & service of God in some way. In the tradition, two basic categories of religious feelings are distinguished: Consolation & Desolation. By “consolation” we mean, essentially, joy and peace in the Lord. And by “desolation,” turmoil, restlessness, anxiety—in general the absence of peace in the Lord.
The basic principles of discernment are simply stated: desolation is never God’s voice. Hence, we should never make a decision while in desolation. By contrast, consolation is more ambivalent. The devil will try to discourage us (desolation). But if he fails, he will try to imitate God. To produce in us a false (but seemingly good) consolation. Next month we can consider how to differentiate the genuine consolations of God, which are a good guide to deciding & acting, from the false consolations of the devil and of our own ( perhaps subconscious ) self-love. For now, however, let us apply the easier criterion of desolation.
Since desolation is never from God, we should never make or change a decision in desolation. Concretely, with respect to the elections, suppose I bring my tentative choice of a candidate to the Lord in prayer, and find myself depressed, anxious, discouraged about the state of the country. This is clearly desolation. In that state, I may be tempted not to vote at all, or to take the line of least resistance & vote for my kababayan irrespective of whether she or he is good for the country. What should I do? Above all, I should not make a decision while in desolation. I should continue to pray, to seek God’s peaceful guidance. This will take patience, and the devil always makes us impatient. It will require self-discipline, and all desolation is at root self-pity, a call to self indulgence.
Fortunately, though while there is always desolation in the Christian life ( the devil is always working, as Scripture tells us ), he is a creature like ourselves. The Lord may allow him to work for a time ( to purify out love & to teach us to depend more totally on God ), but in the end—If we persevere—the Lord will reveal His will to us. He does care for our country—more than we do! Next month we can suggest how He shows his concern & reveal His will.
But how does the Lord reveal His will. We saw that He does so through consolation: peace & joy when we are quiet in His presence. The problem, as we noted, is that the devil is the “father of lies.” If he cannot mislead us by desolation, he will try to mimics God’s voice & try to produce a kind of fake consolation. How then do we distinguish the voice ( the consolation ) of God from that of the evil spirit? St. Ignatius Loyola tells us to check the whole course of the experience: the beginning, the middle and the end. If all are good, we can trust that the inspiration is from God. But what do we mean by “beginning, middle & end?” Perhaps some examples may help us here.
The beginning of the consolation experience: I think this can be concretely expressed by the question. Am I in the right place at the right time for the right reason?” A mother who neglected her children in order to join a prayer group is not in the right place at the right time for the right reason. Even if she has beautiful prayer experiences, the beginning is not good—and the consolation is not from God. Similarly, one who seeks God’s guidance in the election when his mind is already made up—who tries to persuade God to support his candidate–is not going about it the right way. The beginning of his prayer is not good. And any consolation he might experience is not from God.
What about the “middle?” I take this to mean what happens during the consolation experience itself. If a person, while praying for guidance about whom to vote for, finds consolation in the choice of candidate “X”—and if she begins to feel superior to her relatives & friends who are not as prayerful as she, or becomes determined to impose her choice, now “divinely” confirmed, on her family, then the middle ( the consolation experience itself ) is a suspect. The fruits of the Good Spirit are charity, humility, tolerance. Hr self-righteousness is the “tail of the snake” by which she may recognize the evil spirit’s action. And the inspiration to act which comes at such a time should not be trusted.
And finally, the “end.” What does her consolation lead her to do later? Does it lead her to be intolerant of others, critical of the church ( forgetting that churchmen are human beings too ), or determined to promote her candidate by any means? If so, we can again be sure that her consoling prayer experience did not come from the Lord.
If, however, the beginning, middle and end of the consoling prayer experience are all good, then one can trust that the Lord is revealing Himself. If at that time I was moved to feel my choice of “X” is the right, the Godly choice, then I can act upon it with peace & confidence. Am I infallibly sure that “X” is the best candidate or the best choice? No. normally we do not get infallible certainty or clarity in this life—because we live by faith. But I can go ahead in peace & act on my decision ( for example, cast my vote ). Even if “X” turns out to be a bad president, I do not have to lose sleep or feel guilty. As long as I did my best to listen well & to be open to the Lord, the outcome is His responsibility & not mine. Bahala na!
In the matter of personal faith decisions we have said ( albeit briefly ) all that needs to be said. The problem in the case of the elections is that it is a community decision. Mine is only one vote. And since it is very likely that most people will not choose their candidate in the faith-filled way we have been describing, what real value does my own discernment have? Perhaps we can address that question next month, in a final article just before the elections.
One question remains for the present article: Since my vote is only one vote & my voice is only, what good does it do to decide prayerfully how to act & vote, if, as seems likely, most people are going to decide how to vote for reasons that are not all connected with faith & prayer & God’s will ? What good does it do, in the end, to try to decide in a Godly way? How do we realistically avoid discouragement & cynicism ? The following are thoughts that come to me as I pray over the above questions.
1) First, many of our seminarians are involved in the crusade for clean, informed elections. And, as one told me, they quickly realized the need to go beyond forming individual consciences. They have sought to organize people– to discuss, pray, guard the ballot-box, to face the elections as a community. And this is very important, especially in our country. We have not had a tradition of political parties distinguished by their platforms. That is, personalities & not issues or ideas ( as embodied in party platform ) tend to dominate. Due to the efforts of many groups & individuals, I think we can see the beginnings of a move towards more issues-oriented parties & campaigns. And the process we have been discussing in these articles could well help bring about that healthy change.
2) Secondly, we have to realize that God takes the long view of history. Because we are short-sighted, and have limited horizons, we tend to feel that every election is the most crucial ever. But the Lord works slowly–to slowly to satisfy us !—because He sees this election as just one step on the nation’s journey through history. And if we have tried to discern as the previous articles suggested, one very important fruit for us should be this: to attune us to God’s tempo. The more we learn to listen to Him, the more we should begin to see things His way. We should begin to take the long view, the divine view of events in our lives & in our country. While we won’t always ( or often ) see the ultimate meaning & purpose of our actions here & now, who, for example, could ever have imagined in 1983 that Nino’s death would lead to the fall of the dictatorship & the restoration of democracy?—we should be convinced by our learning to listen to the Lord that He does have such a purpose & see such a meaning. And that itself is a very great fruit of the discerning process.
3) Finally, and very importantly, we should also begin to realize more deeply that results, valuable though they be, are not the most important thing. What is crucial is that I have been true to myself & responsive to the Lord. As St. Teresa put it so beautifully, at the end of our lives we shall be judged by love. “Was I brave & strong & true?” If so, then my life ( including my participation in the elections ) has been rich & truly meaningful. When President Cory gave her “valedictory” to the foreign press corps in January, her summation was: “ I have done my best.” For her critics, that is not enough. But for God ( who is more tolerant ! ), that is all He asks. If we too, when the elections are over can say, “ We have done our best,” then the Lord will say: “ Well done, good & faithful servants. Enter into my joy.”
Fr. Green, being a philosopher of language is precise when he explains. However, in case you wish to be clarified in the process of Discernment feel free to call me at 09165183382 or 740 2552. He was my professor (at the Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo ) & mentor for many years in Discernment process in my Retreat Apostolate. Gail Gines