Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Communion and Connectivity

Recently, I have been noticing how more and more Catholics in the Philippines are becoming increasingly aware of just what exactly the Church teaches. While obviously a good thing, it has also sadly fed the pride of many, leaving them to abandon the Church. In this age of interconnectivity and fast information, it is easy to readily accept the onset of globalization; indeed, I've also noticed how many Overseas Filipino Workers take on the mannerisms of their Western employers in due time, and this is not contained in the secular sphere alone, but also in the area of religion. Nowadays, internet traffic is informing a growing number of Catholics about the crises in the Church, and the effects of such things. This is obviously a welcome occurence.

It seems a bit strange, but whenever I visit a church not in my own country, I always have the urge to genuflect as neatly as I can; most of the time, I tend to slouch my back a little and make funny fly-swatting gestures in the air, which is what crossing myself looks like. On the converse side, my brother always makes the best genuflections; but when he visits these churches, or even churches here in Manila that he has never been to, I notice that he cranes his neck a lot and tends to be a bit more absent minded than usual. I have been thinking about this lately, and I believe I have an explanation for this.

But first, let me recall a university lecture I attended for my social anthropology class back in January. It was entitled 'Culture Connect: Why Culture is Dying in the Information Age'. and was given with expert erudition by a graying, balding man in his mid-fifties, who had a noticeable beer gut and large, smiling eyes. Basically, the lecture said that the interconnectiveness that characterizes our present day is leading the way for the extinction of cultures worldwide. He cites, for example, how a Burger King in Papua New Guinea is unwittingly killing its host culture by introducing a novel and totally alien way of satisfying one's own hunger. He also cites how an excess of Western influence in Philippine society is effectively stifling time-honored values and traditions. But the crème de la crème of the entire lecture was when he put the blame, all of it, on the internet.

A prima facie consideration of the internet would lead one to disagree with the venerable professor. Certainly, the internet has been particularly helpful to religion and the defense thereof. It is almost certainly the herald of the new evangelization, as correcttly understood, that was idealized by the Second Vatican Council. So where do the problems start? I think the primary problem of an internet religion is its inhumanity. I don't honestly think that the internet provides the reader of an ample, let alone accurate, image of the blogger or pundit he reads. For most of us, the closest we may get to having a picture of someone on the internet is just that, a picture. They will never be anything more than the sharpness of someone's eyes, the curliness of one's hair, his height, weight, interests, preferred music. At best, it will probably a mutual acquaintance (and I've known bloggers who have become friends with other bloggers in real life); at worst, nothing more than psychological recall.

Christianity is a corporate, social religion. It is not a personal choice or mere intellectual conviction alone, but also the history of a people-- its intrigues, life, joys and sadness. As such, we cannot honestly be Christians if we are all alone, because this goes against the doctrine of the communion of saints. So why exactly is this doctrine so important? For the average Catholic, it is nothing more than the apologetic and excuse to pray to San Antonio de Padua or to have a grieving, ivory-carved image of the Mater Dolorosa. But the communion of saints, properly understood, is more than just that. It is the doctrine that seals our unity with one another, the doctrine that allows even the pious and virtuous dead to be loved and cherished even after having gone to their eternal rewards. A priest once described it as the sweet yoke of Christ, binding the people of God directly to Him. And what a joy it is to know that we are being prayed for by others!

I think the main problem with this virtual Church is its inability to provide a broad perspective of the problems that plague the people of God today. Yes, tou read that right: the internet is simply too big and unpredictable to take all that information in all at once. Thus, there are people who might think that the Church has practically been destroyed by the Council, and seek to form their own 'clique' to escape its ravages. And there are also some who are so blind to the irreverence and scandal being perpetrated in the Church today who vilify everyone else as old-fashioned and uneducated. Thus, we effectively sever communion--unity--amongst ourselves. I guess what I am trying to say is that the problems of a particular church themselves become the problem of many more. So it is not really a stretch to believe that the American church is incredibly influential on an unprecedented level, on both reform and ruin.

I used to think in a similar manner; my first serious encounter with traditionalism was through the controversial, which remains influential even to this day. The picture it presented me was that of a Church steeped in barbarity and scandal that could only herald the doom of this world. It gave a chilling picture of a Church that has lost the faith and become seat of the Anti-Christ, a false church, Babulon a megala itself. It is easy to be swept up by what the Fathers Moderator say: after all, how could one not believe them? Surely clown masses and halloween masses are the surest signs of the decadence and sinfulness of our age?

Thankfully, these are isolated cases, although admittedly blown out of proportion for the edification/schadenfreude of the faithful. I am most assuredly NOT sanctioning such liturgical abuses; they are the prodcuts of sick minds and a problem in the Church that DOES merit correction or chastisement, whichever you prefer. But to think that a return to the traditional praxis of the faith alone is sufficient to curb these abuses seems to me, at best, false hopes. Let us not forget that there is a possibility that the liturgy can become nothing more than theatricality and entertainment as well; the Renaissance is proof of that sentiment.

If we really want to see what the Church is like, the only way to do so is to accept all Her shortcomings and frailties: let us not forget that the Church, too, has a human element which we can never be rid off. On the postive side, I am grateful for the internet for providing me with the necessary material to inform myself about the Church, her laws of motion, development, and history. But it should not be our sole icon of the Mystical Body of Christ, because the internet is just a means to an end, and nothing else. God sees the world, after all, not through a webcam, but through His eyes, loving and tender. He looks back at us not as an observer, but as a participant.

Life itself can teach us more theology than a thousand years of constantly reading the Church Fathers and Aquinas ever can, because the world and all its multivalency and grace and beauty are themselves God's gift to us. We often hear of the anecdote about St. Augustine who met the boy in the beach, trying to drain the entire ocean through a sieve; this always struck me as a beautiful story, not only because it provides us with a good idea of God (that is, His ineffability and immanence) but also shows how man can be totally helpless alone. One can only posit an infinite number of possiblities if, say, all the Catholics in the world joined that boy. Faith, after all, can move even mountains, says Our Lord.

So what is my explanation? I think the answer lies in the fact that we sometimes forget that Our Lord is God of all the nations; and as such, each nation will express its reverence and devotion in different ways. But it is the same Jesus, the same God-man, but too often we neglect to see this fact in light of our own problems, perspectives or even prejudices. This is not an excuse to portray Jesus sitting on a lotus looking like Gautama Buddha for all the world to see, nor reason to imagine Him in a purely Caucasian light. Rather, this should serve as a reminder that the Church is bigger than any of us, and how God elects to run it is not our business, but His alone. We would do well to trust in His Divine Will, for His providence and guidance are never lacking.

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