Ven. Alfredo Mª. Obviar y Aranda

Obviar 6
D. Alfredo Mª. Obviar y Aranda

Two days ago, on 7 November 2018, the Holy Father received Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in audience, during which the Pope authorised the Congregation to promulgate the Decree, inter plurima alia, recognising the heroic virtues of the Servant of God D. Alfredo Mª. Obviar y Aranda, first bishop of Lucena, and founder of the Missionary Catechists of Saint Thérèse of the Infant Jesus, otherwise known as MCST.

D. Alfredo was born on 29 August 1889 in Lipa, Batangas, and was ordained priest on 15 March 1919. Appointed auxiliary bishop of Lipa on 11 Mar 1944, his title being that of Linoë, he was consecrated on 29 June that same year. After the War, he was appointed administrator of Lucena on 4 November 1950, becoming its first bishop on 21 June 1969. While still administrator of Lucena, he attended the First Plenary Council of the Philippines in 1953, and was Council Father at the first session of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. He retired his see on 25 September 1976, and died on 1 October 1978.

During the second solemn session of the First Plenary Council of the Philippines, D. Alfredo delivered the discourse to the clergy and the people, hinging his sermon on Mt. 18, 16, which he used to describe the heroic accomplishments of the Church throughout history, her struggles against foes from without and within, all the time threading the thought emphasising the significance of the Plenary Council for the Universal Church and for the Filipino nation. Below is the full address pronounced by D. Alfredo in Spanish, with our translation into English:

Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram ædificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam.

Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her.

(Matth. XVIII, 16)

Most Eminent Sir:

The Plenary Council of the Catholic Episcopate, first in the Philippines, has happily come to its conclusion. The Most Eminent Cardinal, Legate a latere of the August Pontiff reigning, is arrayed once again with pontifical vestments to offer unto God thrice-Holy the unbloody Sacrifice as testimony to the acknowledgment of the blessings authorised to this Council, in which it is not known which should be admired most: whether its very solemnity dignified by the members of the Hierarchy; or the gravity of the Sacred Liturgy, which ordained its process; or the authority of the Representative of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, who, with his prudence, goodness and dignity, presided it.

Be what it be, the vow of the Episcopate of the Philippines to celebrate this plenary council is now fulfilled; it is fulfilled with the consent of His Holiness Pius XII, who, in his mission to guide the destinies of the Universal Church, hopes of this authorised Council to gain greater force and energy for the moral and religious life of his children in these far-flung Isles..

But what does this Council mean in the history of the Catholic Church? It is one of the manifestations of Her vitality on earth, whose enriching virtue originates from those sovereign words of Her Divine Founder: “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her.”

Life is essential for all living organism. Jesus Christ, in establishing His Church to perpetuate His redemptive mission until the consummation of the ages, had to ensure Her existence so that She would not be made vassal to the powers of hell. And, thus, She, faithful to the instruction of Her Founder to go out and teach all peoples His Gospel, began to sow it everywhere, and shall continue doing so until the consummation of the ages.

Thus the Church accomplishes the divine message. It is true that She, in spreading throughout the world to bring the light of the Faith to those who are seated in the shadow of death, had along her steps encountered relentless enemies, who swore Her extermination. There the same in Judea, in Rome, in Asia, in Greece, in Macedonia, as in other parts even unto our present times, Her enemies spare no means to sate their vengeance. There the persecutions are which the Roman emperors promoted against Her. But the Church obtained greater beauty and worth when she bathed in Her own blood.

For Her, the imprisonments, the flagellations, the white-hot sheets, the fire, the cold water, the sword, the racks, the iron hooks, the wheels studded with steel spikes, the teeth and the jaws of the wild beasts, which the hatred of man did know to invent in its mad frenzy, served only, as did other new incentives, to rouse in Her the most intense desire to die for the Faith and for Christ.

She knows how to witness with equanimity and serenity in Her visage the slaughter of Her martyrs, who marched unto the arena of the circus to fight against their executioners and against other wild beasts. By the steadfastness of Her children in the Faith, beneath the sickle of persecution, children, adults, the rich and the poor, men and women, popes and bishops, priests and deacons have fallen, with a smile upon their lips, praising Christ and forgiving their executioners.

This was how the Church fought; this is how She is fighting today; and this is how She will fight until the consummation of the ages: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against Her.” But if She faced and continues to face Her enemies from without with serenity upon the brow and with valour in the heart, let nobody be astonished when She embraces with a firm hand the shield of fortitude and puts on the helmet of faith to battle those no less terrible adversaries who rose from Her bosom. I am speaking about heresies.

The Gnostics, the Manichaeans, the Montanists, the Novatians, the Antitrinitarians discovered in Her other faithful sons, who were the Justins, the Clements of Alexandria, the Tertullians, the Origens, the Irenaeuses, the Arnobiuses, the Lactantiuses and the Cyprians, who confronted the adversarial boldness. When Arius, Nestorius and Eutyches stood up to vomit their errors, the Church called upon Her sons Athanasius, Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom, Hilary, and other soldier-defenders of Catholic Truth.

Open the history of the Church and You all Will see Her always victorious and unscathed in all Her fights. Her victories and triumph extravagantly proclaim the accomplishment of the promise of Her Divine Founder: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against Her.”

A society of fishermen that becomes formidable and opens path to all battlegrounds, all equally fierce, challenges the entire world to which may be earmarked the support of human understanding, the protection of the powerful of the earth, the power of gold, etc. in its victories. A society that launches itself unto faraway countries to dispel the darkness of paganism and make shine the redeeming banner of Jesus Christ, with no gear other than the breviary in the hand, the crucifix on the chest, and the rosary in the pocket, has always been and always will be the astonishment of its enemies.

Even more so: a society that preaches the abandonment of the earthly, and combats the vices of the powerful; a society that preaches chastity to all without distinction, and humility to the proud, must not be a society flattered by the princes of the earth, but rather a society that solely depends upon the aid of Her Founder Who repeats: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against Her.”

Never has it been recorded in the annals of human history a fact similar to that of the Church, Who, through the vexation by different and many enemies who orchestrated Her destruction, continues in the advance of Her conquest, leaving them behind Her wake in their own ruin. The great Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea, of Constantinople, of Ephesus, of Chalcedon, of the Lateran, of Lyon, of Vienne, of Constance, of Trent and of the Vatican are irrefutable witnesses to the fight waged by the Church against heresies, as are other eloquent testimonies of Her fecundity in the world.

To study, therefore, the worth and grandeur of all the institutions of the world, be they empires, realms, be they nations and populaces, it is quite necessary to consult the records committed in annals and in histories. But amongst these, there is one admirable history that the dust of untoward events has never quite managed to bury. It is the history of the Catholic Church, because it is the true history of humanity. She shows Herself ever gallant and brave whenever Her enemies insult her with the rag of their weaknesses and infirmities, as She presents Herself graceful whenever the same enemies pretend to delustre the beauty and grandeur of her triumphs. Jesus Christ ever fulfills His promise: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against Her.”

Before ending, I cast once again my attention to the First Plenary Council of the Philippines. What is this Council with respect to you, O beloved Fatherland? It is the efflorescence of your Catholicism, with which and through which you have always deserved the glorious coronet of being the Catholic nation in the Far East; this coronet has increased in pearls in the present time with the elevation of many of your sons to the supreme apex of the Episcopate.

With them, you will emulate Catholic nations of both worlds; with them, you make your adversaries admire you; with them, your culture and civilisation reach greater height; with them, your faith is appraised and consolidated. Therefore, beloved Philippines, keep the gold of your faith, which is worth more than the wealth of your mountains and the lush of your fields. Therefore, nobility and gratitude require of you greater loyalty to the Roman Pontiff, greater obedience and submission to His voice and to the voice of your Shepherds; and if this submission and obedience should require you to dye your faith with the scarlet of your blood, spill it forth in order to beautify it, and for the love of Christ. So be it.

Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram ædificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam.

Tú eres Pedro, y sobre esta piedra edificaré mi Iglesia, y las puertas del infierno no prevalecerán contra ella.

(Matth. XVIII, 16)

Emmo. Señor:

El Concilio Plenario del Episcopado católico, primero en Filipinas, ha llegado felizmente a su término. El Emmo. Purpurado, Legado a látere del Augusto Pontífice reinante, se ha revestido de nuevo de los ornamentos pontificales para ofrecer al Dios tres veces Santo el incruento sacrificio en testimonio de reconocimiento de las bendiciones otorgadas a esta Asamblea, en la cual no se sabe qué admirar más, si su misma solemnidad dignificada con los miembros de la Jerarquía, o la seriedad de la sagrada liturgia, que ordenaba su programa, o la autoridad del Representante del Vicario de Jesucristo, que con su prudencia, bondad y dignidad la presidía.

Sea lo que fuese, el voto del Episcopado de Filipinas de celebrar esta reunión plenaria se ha cumplido; se ha cumplido con el beneplácito de su Santidad Pío XII, quien, en su misión de dirigir los destinos de la Iglesia Universal, espera de esta autorizada Asamblea recoger más fuerza y energía para la vida moral y religiosa de sus hijos en estas dilatadas Islas.

Pero ¿qué significa este Concilio en la historia de la Iglesia Católica? Es una de las manifestaciones de su vitalidad en la tierra, cuya virtud fecundante arranca de aquellas palabras soberanas de su divino Fundador: « Tú eres Pedro, y sobre esta piedra edificaré mi Iglesia, y las puertas del infierno no prevalecerán contra ella. »

La vida es esencial a todo organismo viviente. Jesucristo, al establecer su Iglesia para perpetuar su misión redentora hasta la consumación de los siglos, ha debido asegurar su existencia a fin de que no fuese avasallada por las potestades del infierno. Y así ella, fiel a la consigna de su Fundador de recorrer y enseñar a todas las gentes su Evangelio, comenzó a sembrarlo por doquier, y continuará haciéndolo hasta la consumación de los siglos.

Así cumple la Iglesia el mensaje divino. Es verdad que ella, al extenderse por todo el orbe para llevar la luz de la fe a los que estaban sentados en la sombra de la muerte, había encontrado a su paso enemigos implacables, que juraron su exterminio. Allí mismo en Judea, en Roma, en Asia, en Grecia, en Macedonia, como en otras partes hasta en los actuales tiempos, sus enemigos no perdonaros medios para saciar su venganza. Allí están las persecuciones que los emperadores romanos promovieron contra ella. Sin embargo, la Iglesia cobraba más hermosura y valor cuando se bañaba en su misma sangre.

Para ella, las prisiones, la flagelación, las láminas candentes, el fuego, el agua helada, la espada, los potros, las uñas de hierro, las ruedas erizadas de aceradas púas, los dientes y las garras de las bestias feroces, que el odio humano supo inventar en su loco frenesí, sirvieron únicamente como otros nuevos incentivos para despertar en ella el más vivo deseo de morir por la fe y por Cristo.

Ella sabe presenciar con ecuanimidad y serenidad en el semblante la hecatombe de sus mártires, que marchaban a la arena del circo para lidiar contra sus verdugos o contra las fieras. Por la firmeza de sus hijos en la fe, cayeron bajo la hoz de la persecución niños, adultos, ricos y pobres, hombres y mujeres, papas y obispos, sacerdotes y diáconos, con la sonrisa en los labios, alabando a Cristo y perdonando a sus verdugos.

Así luchaba la Iglesia; así lucha hoy; y así luchará hasta la consumación de los siglos: « Las puertas del infierno no prevalecerán contra ella. » Pero si ella afrontaba y afronta a sus enemigos exteriores con la serenidad en la frente y con la valentía del corazón, nadie se extrañe cuando con mano firme embraza el escudo de la fortaleza y cala el yelmo de la fe para debelar a los no menos terribles adversarios que se levantaban en su mismo seno. Hablo de las herejías.

Los gnósticos, los maniqueos, los montanistas, los novacianos, los antitrinitarios hallaron en ella otros hijos fieles, que fueron los Justinos, los Clementes de Alejandría, los Tertulianos, los Orígenes, los Ireneos, los Arnobios, los Lactancios y los Ciprianos, que hicieron frente a la audacia enemiga. Cuando Arrio, Nestorio y Eutiques se levantaron para vomitar sus errores, la Iglesia llamó a sus hijos, Atanasio, Agustín, Basilio, Crisóstomo, Hilario y otros soldados defensores de la verdad católica.

Abrid la historia de la Iglesia y la veréis siempre vencedora y lozana en todas sus luchas. Sus victorias y triunfos por todo lo alto proclaman el cumplimiento de la promesa de su divino Fundador: « Las puertas del infierno no prevalecerán contra ella. »

Una sociedad de pescadores que se hace temible y abre paso en todos los campos de batalla, a cual más encarnizada, reta a todo el mundo a que señale el apoyo de la ciencia humana, el amparo de los poderosos de la tierra, la fuerza del oro, etc. en sus victorias. Una sociedad que se lanza a los remotos países para disipar las tinieblas del paganismo y hacer brillar el lábaro redentor de Jesucristo, sin más bagaje que el breviario en la mano, el crucifijo en el pecho y el rosario en el bolso, ha sido siempre y será el asombro de sus enemigos.

Más aún: una sociedad que predica el desprendimiento de lo terreno y combate los vicios de los poderosos; una sociedad que predica la castidad a todos sin distinción, y la humildad a los soberbios, no debe ser una sociedad halagada por los príncipes de la tierra, sino debe ser una sociedad que sólo cuenta con el auxilio de su Fundador que le repite: « Las puertas del infierno no prevalecerán contra ella. »

Nunca en los fastos de la historia humana se ha registrado un hecho semejante al de la Iglesia, que a través de las vejaciones de los diferentes y múltiples enemigos que maquinaron su destrucción, sigue en su avance de conquista dejándolos en pos de sí en sus mismas ruinas. Los grandes Concilios ecuménicos de Nicea, de Constantinopla, de Éfeso, de Calcedonia, de Letrán, de Lyon, de Viena, de Constanza, de Trento y del Vaticano son testigos fehacientes de la lucha sostenida por la Iglesia contra las herejías, como también son otros testimonios elocuentes de su fecundidad en el mundo.

Para estudiar pues el valor y la grandeza de todas las instituciones en el mundo, ya sean imperios, reinos, ya sean naciones y pueblos, hácese preciso consultar los hechos consignados en los anales y en las historias. Mas entre éstos hay una historia admirable que el polvo de los acontecimientos adversos jamás ha podido sepultar. Es la historia de la Iglesia Católica, porque es la verdadera historia de la humanidad. Ella se muestra siempre gallarda y valiente, cuando sus enemigos le insultan con el trapo de sus debilidades y flaquezas, como también se ostenta airosa, cuando los mismos enemigos pretenden deslustrar la hermosura y grandeza de sus triunfos. Siempre cumple Jesucristo su promesa: « Las puertas del infierno no prevalecerán contra ella ».

Antes de terminar, vuelvo de nuevo mi atención al primer Concilio Plenario de Filipinas. ¿Qué es esto concilio con respecto a ti, amada Patria? Es la eflorescencia de tu catolicismo, con el cual y por el cual has merecido siempre el timbre glorioso de ser la nación católica en este extremo Oriente; este timbre ha subido de punto en los actuales tiempos con la elevación de muchos de tus hijos al rango supremo del Episcopado.

Con ellos vas emulando las naciones católicas de ambos mundos; con ellos te haces admirar de tus adversarios; con ellos tu cultura y civilización suben a mayor altura; con ellos tu fe se avalora y se consolida. Por eso, amada Filipinas, conserva el oro de tu fe, que vale más que las riquezas de tus montañas y la feracidad de tus campos. Por eso, nobleza y gratitud exigen de ti más lealtad al Romano Pontífice, más obediencia y sumisión a su voz y a la de tus pastores; y si esta sumisión y obediencia requieren de ti que tiñas tu fe con la grana de tu sangre, derrámala para más embellecerla y por amor a Cristo. Así sea.

The latter part of this address contains many beautiful allusions. The penultimate paragraph speaks of the timbre and the punto, which in Spanish heraldry refer respectively to the crown or coronet set atop an escutcheon, and the number of rays or pearls on that coronet. Here, D. Alfredo likens the increase in the number of Filipino bishops to the number of rays on the crown of the Philippines. The last paragraph, on the other hand, catholicises the third stanza of Rizal’s Mi último adiós. Where Rizal calls on the Filipino patriot to colour the dawn red with his blood as he dies, D. Alfredo calls on the Filipino Catholic to dye his faith red to render greater beauty to it for the love of Christ. And in doing so, those who recognise the connection will understand from this the affirmation that the only incorruptible crown we need to seek after and strive to gain is the crown of heaven.

 Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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