Sunday, October 07, 2007

All Things Seen and Unseen

One story that has always intrigued me is an anecdote from the life of the late bishop of San Fernando, Pampanga, His Excellency Cesar Ma. Guerrero. The story goes that the good bishop, en route to an important function in the city, suddenly felt a massive migraine in the car. He ordered the driver to stop the car, and going to a nearby tree, began exorcising it. The bishop claimed that the tree was a habitation of demons; it was cursed, and therefore had to be rid of the evil surrounding it.

For many of us who have grown up in a cosmopolitan environment, things such as these elicit scoffs of ridicule and derision. For atheists and non-believers in general, this is proof of the immense superstition that Christianity really is. In another time, and perhaps another place, such an event would be viewed with eyes full of wonder; indeed, stories like these are the same stories our grandfathers would perhaps tell us on a cold, stormy night.

I am Catholic, but I have to admit, I am not really good at the 'legal' aspects that being Catholic entails. Of course, I have encountered the writings of saints on doctors on doctrinal subjects in the past, but for the most part, I tend to be bored by them. I am much more fond of sensational anecdotes like walking statues, miraculous crucifixes being found inside trees, dancing images of the saints, and visions from God than doctrinal wrangling. I am not saying these are any less important, but only that they are not the whole of Christian truth.

The picture above depicts a nun in prayer behind a cloister. Near the edges of the frame, one could clearly see visitors, one touching the grills with one hand and simultaneously blessing herself with the other, another with her head bowed in reverence, and another either leaving or approaching the grills. These are ordinary women, with very ordinary problems. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that they are probably very poorly catechized. But what is perhaps the most powerful sight in this picture is that of the nun herself, rapt in prayer-- to her visitors, she is seen in a special light, elevated from the mortal coil by her being 'touched' by God.

For me, one of the biggest failures of Vatican II was that it tried to explain everything about the Faith. Ironically, much of the nouvelle theologie it espoused advocated a return to the notion of God as Mystery, away from the prevalent and 'dry' Neo-Thomism of earlier decades; Rahner's theology is notable for being a very vocal proponent of this notion. The results, however, are very familiar to us: bad liturgy, bad music, basically bad everything, so that the notion of Mystery itself is stripped to nothingness.

As discussed in the previous post, 'belief' today is practically meaningless, more an expression of doubt than an acknowledgment of truth. Today, only those with a doctorate in theology seem to have a shot of going to heaven-- never mind the fact that a good portion of our saints in the past were themselves poorly catechized. One wonders what some radical traditionalists today would think of St. Jean Marie Vianney, who failed Latin countless times.

In saying more, we wind up saying less; but in silence, profundity and depth speak for themselves. Why do we pray for the dead? Because the pains of hell, we are told, are inconceivable for any intellect, save God's, to fathom. It may be perhaps that one of our biggest problems today as Catholics is that we don't really 'believe'; while many of us are solidly orthodox, praxis seems to be at an all-time low. Of course, this is not really surprising, as the tendency for many conservatives and traditionalists nowadays is to reduce Catholicism into a prayer book, with red ink for rubrics, and bold text for emphases.

Perhaps the modern Catholic's obsession with the fundamentals of Faith is symptomatic of our fears and anxieties? I think the difference between the guilt trips of modern day traditionalists and Catholics who grew up pre-Vatican II lies in the object of that fear. Admittedly, when I was a much more rabid 'rad-trad', I was allayed by fears of the Church being wrong, of having spent my life living a lie.

The few pre-Vatican II Catholics I know spoke to me of the fear of being forgotten, so much so that they may yet spend the remaining time from their deaths to the Final Judgment in purgatory. They spoke with certainty, with a glint in their eyes, of the unspeakable. It should rightly send a shiver up our spines.


DJB Rizalist said...

You are a relic of the past, and a rarity in the present: a Catholic who still believes he believes.

Archistrategos said...

Thank you, I guess. I am a one time visitor/reader of your blog, and I must say I enjoy it very much :)

Ken said...

Your writing has been very edifying. I just went through your entire blog today, and read (or re-read) pretty much all of them. Great stuff!