Thursday, July 19, 2007


The day I dreaded most when I entered university was not the day I would have to take my Accounting finals (though it's pretty close), nor is it even the day I would have to take my oral exams at the ungodly hour of four in the morning. It was the day when my Theology class began. Unless you've spent the last forty years hiding under a rock, you will no doubt be familiar with the Sons of Loyola, and how that illustrious Order--once at the forefront of the Catholic vanguard against the deceptions of the modern world-- has virtually sunk with a near-pathetic whimper to the whims and wiles of modernity. Los Jesuitas son diablos, my grandfather used to say in his heavily accepted Spanish. Though a product of Jesuit education himself, he was never one of the aristocrats that otherwise made up the entire population of his class. He was accepted by pure merit of his intellectual capacity alone, which his mates never let him forget.

It is a strange and ironic fate that has befallen me: in my elementary and high school days, I was formed, through much rigor and stringency, by the Opus Dei, and now, in my tertiary years, I am being molded by the Jesuits. There is a marked difference about how these two groups (I hesitate to use the word 'Order' because La Obra is technically not one) conduct their business. Whereas the Work taught me the supreme importance of fidelity to the Magisterium, the sublimity of piety, and all that 'good stuff', Jesuit education stresses an entirely different spectrum of Christianity, chief among these ecumenism. It is entirely fitting and proper to describe this as culture shock, I guess. There is even a running joke among the people from Opus Dei schools studying with the Jesuits as regards the difference between the two:while a priest of the Work drives a Mercedes Benz, a Jesuit expects to be driven in one.

So it did not really shock me when our group was chosen to do a report on intra-campus ecumenism. One of the chief points we focused on was the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Protestant Fundamentalist theology; it sounds like a daunting task, and it is. Perhaps the hardest part of all was agreeing to shirk away from any theological debate; because, as our professor said, ecumenism is primarily a dialogue (uh huh), without unity-- the object of Our Lord's sacerdotal prayer in John 17:21-- could never be achieved. I dreaded the prospect as the days gradually flew away like leaves. And come it did, on Friday the 13th, no less.

There we were, seated in a badly-rendered semicircle. I was at the middle, while the rest of my mates flanked me on either sides. One was too busy sending text messages on his cellphone, the other was bored to tears. The only other person interested in getting the job done was a notoriously liberal Catholic. On the other side, huddled together like foreigners in a strange land, were our Protestant 'guests'. They fit the typical Fundamentalist image in the Philippines: one of them, a male, was twenty years old yet looked twenty five, and the other, a female, was twenty two years old, yet looked a day over fifteen. I remember examining the two of them with cold detachment: how they whispered to each other in barely restrained tones, how they were reluctant to say anything (at first) in the interview, and how they would practically stop and stare at each other whenever the name of the Blessed Mother was mentioned.

The girl, as it turned out, was raised in a Catholic family, but like many of today's youth, an increasing disconnection between her and the 'outmoded', 'outdated' Catholicism of her parents facilitated a change of faith in her. Says she: 'I just couldn't figure out Catholicism.' The boy, on the other hand, grew up in a Protestant family, one of the first, in fact, in the country, after the disaster of the Second Vatican Council. I noticed how their eyes would always evade mine, and I noticed how my eyes could not really look them in the eye. It was a befuddling situation; I could tell that none of them really looked forward to the experience. In my heart of hearts, I knew that I could never be swayed by their arguments, and doubtless, they held the same thoughts as well. Their words were even, calculated, and well-chosen; I picked the most difficult questions I could think of.

'Do you feel ostracized in the campus for your faith?'

'Do you honestly believe that all Catholics are going to Hell?'

'How do your parents feel about your decision to leave the Catholic faith?'

'Do you ever feel like you are missing out?'

'Is there any particular Marian dogma that you find 'repuslive'?'

'Are you aware that the 'Hail Mary' comes from the Bible? How does this affect your Fundamentalist beliefs, if it does?'

I must have fired off question after question for twenty minutes straight. I could not tell if it was the sadist in me, but I relished being given the chance to ask these questions out in the open. They, in turn, answered me with precision, never missing a beat, and with a ready apologetic for anything that might come into question. I had my TAN Books waiting to one side of my bag, ready to be picked up at the slightest provocation.

Looking back at this incident, I guess I am rally reflecting more on myself than on the Fundamentalists. Let us face it: modern-day ecumenism is largely a sham, designed for mere dialogue, but without any hint of catharsis or resolution at all. It is simply a bunch of bobbing, talking heads, repeating the same things which much of Christianity has always held to be true and sacred in the past. I am Catholic first and foremost because I was born into that Faith; I am a Catholic, because I know it to be true. To filter through my entire history, and how I arrived at the conclusion that the Church is the one, true Church founded by Our Lord, would probably take years and tons and tons of words for me to articulate. I am no St. Augustine, and neither am I Rahner. Ultimately, it all boils down for me for the simple fact that it was in the Church that I first experienced the primordial and the transcendent. It is true what they say about the Church being the birthplace of wonder; it is this conviction that has sustained me through all these years. I did not sit for hours under the gaze of San Baraquiel, sword in hand and eyes flashing with power majesty, only to dump this Faith in the end.

The devout Catholic in me would weep at the thought that a daughter of Holy Mother Church would leave the Mystical Body of Christ for a bunch of tambourine-wielding, tabernacle-dancing, slain-in-the-Spirit glossolalia aficionados. But were I placed in the same situation, were I pulled out from under the noses of the numeraries, I do not think I could still have the conviction of remaining Catholic. Fundamentalist rhetoric is simply a fool-proof, air-tight case against Catholicism to those who have never even bothered to learn more about their Faith. I too have many Protestant relatives, and even if they are technically apostates, they will probably still reach heaven first before I do, poor and wretched sinner that I am. However, this is not to say that this is legitimate grounds for leaving the Church; I can think of no reason why such a thing should ever be done. But then again, reasons are only secondary to the whims of the heart; if there is anything I have learned so far, it is that Christianity is more than just the sum of its rules and dogmas; to be a Christian is to become the Faith that has been handed down to us.

Perhaps this is why apologetics does not automatically make one a good Christian. It is simply a means to an end, although a symptom of the corruption our age is manifested in its being twisted to become an end in and of itself. It is a sad day when the whole of Christianity is reduced into a colloquialism of philosophy, a mere syllogism rather than God's presence in one's daily life. As a wonderful saint once put it, 'Go and preach the Gospel; use words, if necessary'.

In the end, as I shook the hands of the people we had just interviewed, I saw a brief, smile shy flutter in the girl's face, but like the flickering of flame, it was gone in an instant. I felt her hands, how warm they were, how 'alive', and I thought to myself that this must have been what it was like to shake the hands of the Magdalene, or to kiss the face of the Blessed Mother. I came away from the interview unconvinced of even the best arguments that Protestantism could offer, and I left with the knowledge that theirs is a sadly irrational position. I have no doubt that they left with their beliefs intact, and I imagined that they must have gone to their worship service more rejuvenated than ever. But if there is anything positive to come out of this experiment, I no longer saw them as the abstract 'enemies' as I once did; they were human again, with flesh and blood, and born with the capacity for great love and emotion just as myself. Somehow, in the midst of it all, and inscrutably enough, I had made friends.


Borther Burn said...

Excellent piece, Brother. Bravo.

Archistrategos said...

Thanks for your comments as always, Brother Burn!

Dan said...

I'm curious why you ever considered them "abstract enemies" in the first place? Aren't Catholics and Protestants all on the same side of the divide, despite our disagreements?

Archistrategos said...

^ I myself don't know. But then again, most people here still believe that Protestants have cloven hooves and furry tails, literally. I don't recall being explicitly taught that, bu somehow this image seemed to have been ingrained on me, whether by osmosis or some other means :) .

Anonymous said...

It is very obvious from your line of questions that you are a very kind hearted person because you didn't put them into the oven by requiring them to provide Biblical support for their fundamentalists faith. The Protestants & the Born Again are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have to love them; but at the same time we must also share our Catholic Faith to them. What you did is right in the sense that you have given them a heart-filled testimony of love of Christ & of the Church that many young people nowadays are lacking. We must be on fire for the faith but we have to do it with charity. Next time you encounter them I suggest the ff. questions:

1. Where in the Bible can you find your dogma that 'Justification is by faith alone'?
2. Where in the Bible can you find your dogma that 'The Bible is the only source of Faith'?
3. Where can you find in the Bible the word 'Rapture'? If you cannot provide it in the Bible, please tell me who invented it and why.
4.Where is in the Bible your belief that 'Once saved will always be saved'?
5. Where is in the Bible your belief that 'We are dunghills covered with snow'?
6. Where can you find in the Bible that 'Total Immersion is necessary for Baptism'?
7. Where can you find in the Bible that after preaching in Buses you will pass a collection box or envelopes for money?
8. Where can you find in the Bible that women could be Pastors?
8. Where in the Bible the permission to use Biscuits and Grapejuice for Last Supper Meal during Christian worships? How come some Born-Again have Sacred Meal in worship and some do not have?
9. Where is it stated in the Bible that the Bread and Wine is a 'mere symbol' of the Body of Christ?
10. Where in the Bible can you find the dogma that 'Just accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and you are saved'?

These questions were given me by a friend who was formerly Born Again but returned to the Catholic Faith. I used it on several occasions and the Born Again really perspired and shake their head in desperation, because every passage that they are quoting I was checking and they are not providing a single Biblical passage to support their doctrines. They self-destruct.

We Catholics must orient ourselves wit the Bible because that is the best language that the Protestants nd Born Again appreciates.

God bless you in your Accounting exam. Your blog is wonderful. May your tribe increase.

Archistrategos said...

Thank you so much for your comments, anonymous! I will surely have need of those when I eventually tackle on the big fish-- my evangelical relatives. God bless!