He Walked While He Had The Light

(OM’s Message on the Celebration of the Life of Bp. Gregorio Aglipay: On the Occasion of his 80th Death Anniversary)

  1. Today, September 1, is the 80th Death Anniversary of Bp. Gregorio Aglipay, our first Obispo Maximo in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. We are grateful to the Diocese of Batac for leading our Church to conduct this Memorial Service held at its Cathedral Church in Batac City, which, for a long time now, also served as the Aglipay Shrine for his continual remembrance. This Memorial Service is offered to rightly honor the real, prodigious Son of Batac who was born on May 8, 1860 and died on September 1, 1940, almost four months after celebrating his 80th birthday.
  2. Since there are restrictions for public gathering today due to the health crisis, we have made arrangements that this Memorial Mass can be broadcasted via livestream and reached to the homes of our church members not only within the Diocese of Batac and the Ilocandia Region but to the whole Church as well, spread out in forty-nine dioceses here in the Philippines and in North America and in our organized congregations in Hong Kong, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom. Through the use of modern information technology, we are able, in a sense, to gather together as Church to thank God for giving the great Bp. Gregorio Aglipay to the IFI and to the nation who impacted so much on our Philippine history playing various significant roles as being a revolutionary and reformer, a patriot and nationalist, a politician and crusader, a prophet and priest, and a pastor and leader.
  3. Our celebration today is therefore about his life, not about his death; a kind of life that Bp. Gregorio Aglipay – to paraphrase the words of Mae West, an American actress, singer and playwright – had only lived once, but since he did it right – this once is enough. And right he did with his life because his was able to contribute to the formation of the Filipino soul and identity as proud and dignified people to stand equal with other races in the world, shift the course of our national history towards freedom and independence from being freed as slaves and inferior human beings under direct colonial rule, and to change the landscape of the church in the Philippines to acquire integrity and credibility because its faith and witness, its worship and service, reflected the situation and struggle of the Filipinos, and embodied the hopes and aspirations of people desiring for national liberation from foreign domination. His life once lived is, in fact, more than enough because his was able to demonstrate faithful discipleship and bold witness that inspire church members to make their baptism relevant and meaningful, and to challenge Filipinos to continue the struggle that he espoused and pursued until it will find full realization in our national life with the presence of God’s kingdom of justice, peace and righteousness. It is to this great life that we in the IFI honor and celebrate today, and in recognition of such grandeur we appropriated the theme: “Obispo Gregorio Aglipay: Matapat na Lingkod at Masigasig na Saksi” with the accompanying call: “Ganito Siya Noon, Ganito Din Tayo Ngayon” to characterize our celebration and to firm up our commitment for his legacy.
  4. We know that the greatness of his life comes from his humility to open up himself to the stirring of the powerful Spirit of the loving, liberating and life-giving God in Jesus. This working of the powerful Spirit, we believe, started in his baptism in which by God’s grace he was adopted as among God’s children, incorporated as member of Christ’s body the church, made as temple of the Spirit, and given the privilege as inheritors of God’s kingdom. This baptism had so much influenced in his life and person as he was named as “Gregorio” after St. Gregory of Nazianzus, whose feast day on May 8 he was baptized and later he observed as his natal day rather than May 5 as reflected in his birth records. St. Gregory of Nazianzus was a prominent theologian in the 4th Century who defended the Christian faith from attacks by Emperor Julian who had publicly declared himself in opposition to Christianity in 362AD and had subjected St. Gregory of Nazianzus and other church leaders under persecution. In later years St. Gregory of Nazianzus spent his efforts in combating the heretical doctrine of Arianism that threatened the Christian faith and divided the church in his region.
  5. The life of Gregorio Aglipay, later, had the same trajectory of the saint’s life. He was imprisoned at a young age and got the taste of the pangs of persecution factored by the collusion of the state and church under an imperial, colonial rule. He carried this bitter experience as he grew into a young adult, a university student and a seminarian. As a young priest, he continued to experience the same situation of persecution among his people, of discrimination among his kind within the church, and of subjugation by foreign power on the political, economic and social life of the Filipinos. Immersed in his people’s situation, he began to see colonialism as a heresy against the doctrine of a loving, liberating and life-giving God in Jesus, and understood his participation in the revolution as the best praxis to demonstrate his priesthood as a relevant, faithful discipleship and bold witness in a time of slavery, oppression and persecution, at first under Spain, and later under USA. By carrying arms and leading a group of revolutionaries, he actually wrote in action the theology of engaging struggle to combat the heresy of domestication espoused by the ruling church to promote domination by the state of a vicious foreign rule. The “guerilla padre” and his group of revolutionaries were the last to surrender to the American soldiers but only their guns, never their ideals, dreams and aspirations because the struggle is still continuing and because with the birth of the IFI the revolution has found a rallying symbol. 
  6. We believe that the greatness of his life stems from his deep knowledge on the love, power and presence of the Lord Jesus, who is God’s beloved Son, the chosen and anointed one. He acquired this knowledge probably from his experience, reading and studies while as a young boy coming from a highly religious family, as an inquisitive university student and as a discerning seminarian, but most certainly he had this sense learned from his exposure to and solidarity with the people struggling to emancipate themselves from the darkness of the clutches of bondage and slavery. By accompanying his people in their journey, Aglipay knew what darkness is and what the desire to see the light means in a reality of pitch darkness. Because of this experience, he had the vision of light and he had to live and work through and under the radiance of light.
  7. Interestingly, the last line from the gospel reading (John 12:23-36) in today’s Memorial Service reads: Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light” (John 12:35-36). Gregorio Aglipay had actually embraced this light of Christ. In his baptism on the feast day of a great saint, his sponsors received for his behalf the candle which represented the light of Christ and he had to proverbially carry as he grew in the faith. As a devout Christian, he often heard together with his family during worship that the Lord Jesus called on people to become the light of the world in order to dispel darkness in the world and for light to prevail upon it. As an ordained he preached this subject of Christ being the light and on Great Easter Vigil processioned the Paschal Candle and sung the Exultet proclaiming the glorious light in the resurrected Christ.
  8. Looking at it today, we are certain that this must be the light that inspired Aglipay’s life to become the beacon of light to his people who were shrouded in darkness by the shadow of the cross and sword under Spain and by the wide cast of the wings of the bald American eagle. Aglipay lived out the Lord Jesus in his ministry, and so he radiated the powerful light of Christ. He made the love, power and presence of Christ concrete and real in his life and work, the Christ that bravely confronted and carried his cross by proclaiming God’s love that overcomes hatred in the world, by asserting his divine purpose that everyone stands before God as equals, by denouncing the rulers of his time for their arrogance and grave abuse of power, and by inaugurating God’s kingdom of justice, freedom and peace. Aglipay, true to his being a baptized person, and a disciple and witness to Christ, enabled himself to allow the light of Christ flowed out from his life and flowed into the lives and situation of the Filipino people that they might not be overtaken by darkness. He walked while he had the light, and the various roles he significantly played in our nation’s history bespeak the myriad of lights he kindled in the lives of our people. As he gave light, Aglipay shone brilliantly in God’s glory carrying Christ the light, and radiated the brightness of the struggle of the Filipino people. Indeed, “life has meaning only in the struggle,” says Stevie Wonder, for “triumph or defeat is in the hands of God. So let us celebrate the struggle!”
  9. This celebration of the life of Bishop Gregorio Aglipay must therefore lead us to see our own situation today as a people and nation and to celebrate the struggle of our time. Like Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, and in consonance to the teaching of our Lord Jesus, let us walk while we have the light in order to dispel the darkness that engulfs our people nowadays. The worsening coronavirus disease has shrouded us with darkness already. We are seemingly abandoned by our government to save our own lives as it resigned already to just wait for the vaccine, ignoring that infections and mortalities are increasing day by day and that hunger and unemployment are consuming a greater number of our population. The intensifying state-sponsored repression has blackened all the more the darkness that covered us nowadays. Incidences of extra-judicial killings have become more frequent because the culture of impunity remains unchecked and no perpetrators have been arrested and tried. The cases of violations of people’s liberties, rights and dignity have rocketed-up to merit the attention of the international community and to alarm various watch groups in our country because the victims were critics of Duterte’s government, peace advocates and rights activists earlier red-tagged by the state-security officers, while church workers and progressive leaders of the militant organizations of the workers, farmers, urban poor, Lumad communities and Moro people continue to experience harassment, intimidation and threats. We need to resist repression and tyranny; we have to defend our shrinking democracy and our encroached sovereignty; we must advocate for justice, freedom and justice and for the welfare and well-being of our people. We must cast away the works of darkness with the empowering and liberating light of God, the Lord Jesus.
  10. In such a situation like ours today, we need an example of life to inspire, drive and guide us to act out an appropriate response. And today is an opportune time, more than ever, to celebrate the life of Bishop Gregorio Aglipay. We need to emulate his life as our way to celebrate the struggle of our time. We have to continue his legacy; we must become a light to our people like him, and accompany them in their cause and struggle because like Bp. Gregorio Aglipay, we see the Lord Jesus among the lives of the people, sharing with their suffering, joy and aspiration, and joining with them to lead the pack of his movement for renewal, transformation and liberation. In celebrating the life of Bp. Gregorio Aglipay, we therefore have the spiritual template of faithful discipleship and bold witness because he really was; and in committing ourselves to continue and move forward with his legacy, we are making the firm resolve to get on board with his ways because it brings us to the Lord Jesus who is the light, and the way, the truth and the life. And in doing so, we are setting our mind on things of God. Justice, peace, freedom, love, mercy and righteousness are things of God, and seeking to realize them in our midst is our participation to God’s plan to bring these things of him concrete and real, purposeful and serving in the life of his people. These things greatly matter to God for his people.
  11. Bp. Gregorio Aglipay has filled his heart and has set up his mind with these things of God too, that in turn made himself a vessel of God’s purpose for his people. This is for us in the IFI see a meaningful death in Bp. Gregorio Aglipay because he lived a meaningful life. This is for us in the IFI behold his meaningful life because Bp. Gregorio Aglipay sought and embraced the costly grace of God: “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).
  12. May the life of Bp. Gregorio Aglipay remain alive in our own lives and memories as the living. May he rest in peace and rise up in the glory of the resurrection. Amen.

Obispo Maximo
1 September 2020
Manila, Philippines


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