Thursday, May 21, 2009

Contemplating Catholicity






AFTER ALL THESE YEARS of being a Catholic, I was moved again to reflect on my allegiance to this faith after seeing the live-action version of Dan Brown’s another controversial novel, Angels and Demons. No, it did not make me question or doubt my religion. But it lead me to evaluate how this Church—and I, as its member—makes way in this contemporary world. I admit that Angels and Demons is not a very powerful story (albeit better than The Da Vinci Code); but I also believe that its job of mixing facts and fictive elements were done superbly. It possesses in itself many of the qualities of fiction, and among these is the capacity to lead readers to reflection.

Those who have read the original novel will find some parts are missing in the film version but nevertheless the core story is there. It starts, of course, with Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology who seems to have the answers to all problems in the story. A formula for all Brown’s stories, Langdon is partnered with the sexy and beautiful Vittoria Vetra, a physicist from the CERN (just Google for the meaning). The story begins with a death of two important individuals: the Pope, and a physicist from CERN who is the brain behind the center’s research on the anti-matter—a thing that would supposedly affect our notion of the story of creation, that would scientifically support the mystery of God creating everything out of nothing.

The resurfacing of the ancient secret society Illuminati as the threat to the Church is key to the story. Three cardinals were murdered serially, with each bearing the marks of the Illuminati. One death would lead to another, as one place of murder would be key to the next. The uncovering of the sequences would be done with Langdon’s expertise in interpreting symbols. All these were juxtaposed with scenes that in many ways may be propagandizing against the flaws of the Church. At the end, the deceiver is a young priest, the right hand—the Camerlengo—and the murderer of the Pontiff.

In the end, the story seemed to be a promotion of an overread liberation Theology while being short—or the absence in fact—of reading Teillhard de Chardin, who understood and prayed to God present in sub-atomic particles. But, anyway, it was reflective as much as it was entertaining.

In the end too, it brought me back to the long-standing character of a Church that urges us all to seek the truth. And yet in the not so distant past, she had persecuted those who wished to know and present the truth, if the process was not in accordance with the proceeding sanctioned by the Church. And perhaps these happened because the Church failed to listen. And it continues to this day. Pope John Paul II had apologized for it in fact.

In our local Church, this may actually be a call. This is a call not just to counter with pastoral letters and synodal decrees all what others—state, communities, individuals, etc.—had done contrary to her dogmas and teachings. Perhaps, this is a call for the Church authorities themselves to reflect. Perhaps, there has been lack of reflection, or that reflection was done wrong, all throughout these times when the Church was saying, ‘yes, I do reflect.’ Many times we have heard the hierarchy responded with arrogant indifference and prided themselves with their higher degree of Theologizing substantiated with eloquence of the laws of the Church.

Here in Naga, for one, the Church has been calling for the de-commercialization of the 300-year old Peñafrancia devotion; a call so noble and right. And yet, for me, the Church has yet to admit that in many ways she has the greatest participation in the building up of this awful phenomenon; that along history, the Church was among the first to allow these unnecessary non-religious practices to make their way into the supposedly solemn devotion. Thus, perhaps, it may be an utmost need that the Church, within herself, take lead in the renewal that she calls for; not just lambasting whoever and whatever and ending up being misdirected chronic complainers.

Sometime ago, authorities decreed the changes in Church rites in the vernacular language without considering cultural nuances; perhaps, with the conviction that religions are higher than cultures. This is dangerous. We should know how religion, in its desire to subdue our culture, had altered many of the its components—truths—and left us with a culture contrived according to its preferences.

I end this article in the way Angels and Demons ends. I shall remain a Catholic faithful to her laws and character and cognizant of her flaws and mistakes. From here I shall strive to be better.

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