12 May 2009

Do we take oaths too easily?

I learned just now from Catholic Culture that St Pancras, whom the Church honours today, is the patron saint of fidelity to oaths. he was martryred in Rome in 304 at the age of 14.

Here in the Philippines oaths are taken very lightly. A regular photo in newspapers is that of a politician or group of politicians being sworn in as members of their latest party. At school sports festivals children take an 'oath of amateurism'. Years ago, when I was a chaplain in a Catholic school I was asked to celebrate Mass for the opening of the games. I did so on condition that there would be no oath of amateuris. These were high school kids. The teacher in charge promised me that there wouldn't be an oath. hardly was the Mass finished than this same teacher led the students in their 'oath of amateurism'.

I was also a member of the committee of the diocesan directors of vocations and no less than than the bishop swore us in. I just remained silent as I didn't see it as proper.

I've been at countless graduation ceremonies in both public and Catholic schools here where the graduates, even at elementary level, swear their allegiance to the alumni association.

When my Columban colleagues, Fr Niall O'Brien and Fr Brian Gore, were on trial for trumped-up murder charges along with Fr Vicente Dangan of the Diocese of Bacolod, and six laymen, Church workers, lies were told freely in the court. Perjury meant nothing.

I see an oath or a vow as being made only on such solemn occasions as a wedding, a religious profession or on receiving the sacrament of holy orders, as well as when you give testimony in court or become president of your country. But not when you join an alumni association or your next political party. (Here in the Philippines political parties as understood in the West simply don't exist. They are temporary alliances of convenience).

Catholic Culture carries an excerpt from the writings of the late Fr Pius Parsch on St Pancras:

St Pancras or Pancratius was the descendant of a noble Phrygian family. As a youth of fourteen, he came to Rome while Diocletian and Maximian were in power (about 304). He was baptized by the Pope and given instructions in the Christian religion. Arrested for his action, he steadfastly refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods and was condemned to death. With manly courage, he bared his neck for the sword and received the martyr's crown. During the night his body was removed by the pious matron Octavilla, anointed with sweet smelling balsam and interred on the Via Aurelia.

Pancratius is the patron saint of fidelity to oaths. The basilica that Pope Symmachus erected over his remains about the year 500 later became a station church (since 1798 his relics have been lost). On the first Sunday after Easter the saint exhorted the catechumens gathered at his station church to remain loyal to their baptismal vows. The saint warns us to proceed slowly and prudently before taking an oath or vow. But once our word is given we must remain true to our pledge, true unto death itself, whether it concerns baptismal vows, ordination vows, profession vows, or marriage vows.

— Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch.

I had the full set of The Church's Year of Grace in my seminary years and it nourished me liturgically. It followed the calendar that was changed after Vatican II.

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