Thursday, November 29, 2007

Faith and Myths

An op-ed I wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 May 2005

THE saint-maker himself will be made a saint. Benedict XVI has just announced, to the applause of everyone, the opening of the cause for John Paul II's beatification. This holy man will most probably be called John Paul the Great for the great good he did to mankind. Holiness, faith and fidelity have always been drivers of human achievement.

Of course, some people do not see things this way. I still remember a mural in my college days, where students presented a time line of history. Science, arts and learning were in crescendo, except in one interlude when the Catholic faith allegedly cast its shadows during the Dark Age.

All that is now old hat-a myth dating back to the 18th century, thought up by the likes of Voltaire and drummed into our minds by Marxists and secularists.

It is an established fact, on the other hand, that the universities were born around the 12th century, under the aegis of the Catholic Church. It was the Church which stood as an oasis of learning during the "Barbarian Invasions." Drawing strength from Christianity and rich human milieu, a creative wind started to blow in the Late Middle Ages, then into the Renaissance and thereafter. Catholic artists like Dante, Raphael, Michaelangelo and Shakespeare brightened up the world. And in his Mona Lisa, Da Vinci gave us an exquisite image of Christian joy.

Historical research is now showing that the prodigious growth of science-biology, astronomy, medicine, and what have you-had its roots in 13th-century scientific method: observation, experimentation and quantification. And who formulated it? St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church's universal teacher. One of his disciples, Francisco de Vitoria, has been immortalized in a United Nations monument for laying down the principle of human rights. And thus he is a father of our modern democracy and economic growth.

In an age when Christianity is depicted as a myth, it is necessary to dismantle the myths that the secularists are spinning. A recent myth, for example, is that there was external lobbying at the conclave. It is true, of course, that the cardinals just elected somebody who was already chosen beforehand. But it was the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, who did the choosing. And this Person chose Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Not an old-fashioned doctrinaire, our Pope Benedict XVI has a bold, penetrating mind which can diagnose the roots of our present disorder. "My father is always working," he once said quoting the Bible. "We should then let him enter and let him work. And so things are born which open to the future and renew mankind...This, for me, is a message of greatest importance."

"It is a message," he says, "that leads to overcoming what could be considered the great temptation of our times: the pretense that after the 'big bang' God retired from history." God the Clockmaker, in this pretense, left the universe on its own, leaving our lonely ego to be "carried about by every wind of doctrine."

And so the Pope points to the importance of "real contact with Him who created us, and works through us...This is holiness...'It is not for me,' we tend to think, 'It is too high a goal.' Holiness then becomes a thing reserved for some 'greats' whose images we see on the altars, and who are completely different from us ordinary sinners."

With a phrase he likes to repeat, he clarifies: "Holiness is becoming a friend of God, speaking with him as if speaking with a friend. It is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy." Our Pope loves to stress "absolute fidelity to the Church's faith," because "the person who is bound to God no longer has fear....and in its place is born the courage to respond to today's world."

Our world faces many challenges: terrorism, poverty, conflict. But all these are exacerbated in a Godless landscape where selfishness darkens our view. Thus we create worse evils: abortions, marriage breakups, drug addiction, an eroticized society. To solve these, we need God's light which we find in "The Catechism of the Catholic Church." This "sure norm for teaching the faith" shows us that the Holy Spirit, Love in Person, has a dream:

"The Church's first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God," and her "structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members." (775; 774)

Driven by this God-given purpose, John Paul II wrote "Novo Millennio Ineunte," (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), "a program for all times." And he placed holiness, "the fullness of the Christian life," as the Church's top priority, a counterproposal to "a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity."

To reach this appealing end, the Holy See enjoins Christians to undergo "a training in holiness":

First, the art of prayer: dialoguing with our friend "until the heart truly 'falls in love.'" Second, going to confession, to let God enter the soul in grace. This is key. Third, attendance at Mass, where Christ gives us all our strength. Fourth, giving primacy to God's presence in the soul, so as not to fall into "doing for the sake of doing." Fifth, listening to God's word in catechesis, giving direction to our lives. Sixth, doing apostolate with "burning conviction...without ever hiding the most radical demands of the Gospel." For example: loving God with all our mind and the duty of "praying always," "uniting prayer to works and good works to prayer." (Lk 18:1; CCC 2742-5) Seventh, a "spirituality of communion" whereby we see and serve God in others, specially the poor. For this, the Church calls on Mary, "the radiant dawn."

It is the Catholic Church's purpose of seeking holiness that moves Pope Benedict XVI. It is this purpose that should move each member of the Church, whether he is a bishop, a priest, or a layperson.

It is time for all to take part in the dream and work boldly: If each one of the billion Catholics would work as one team against our Church's problems (Benedict XVI refers to ignorance of the faith, interior emptiness, the relativists' denial of truth, the secularists' obstruction of God) and follow faithfully the voice of the good shepherd in moving toward our first purpose of becoming saints-first things, first!-then the power of Christianity, the unlimited power of the "Person" whose divine beauty surpasses the imaginings of any myth, will unfold in all its brilliance.