Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Catholic and the Citizen: Looking Deep Into Human Nature

Logic is good (we see this in arguments all the time) . . . but we need a greater appreciation of human nature. How are we designed by our Creator, really? It's an unending question, for who can fathom the mind of our God? To me, at the end of every argument, is the question, does this please God? We don't like the answer most of the time.

 Image Credits: Partha Nandi, MD

Still, it's a question I ask every time I pause and watch whatever is in front of me... and, trust me, it reduces me, each time, to a round-eyed toddler.

Last night I attended a street mass, which thankfully pushed through because the weather was good. I was amazed by how enthusiastically the people in that compound prepared the altar and the chairs. The podium and the chairs were lent by the Barangay (for non-Pinoys who read this, the Barangay is the smallest unit of government here). The leader of our pamayanan (a parish grouping of neighboring parishioners) just started the rosary when I arrived, while waiting for our parish priest to arrive.

You see, this was no high-end compound. It was pretty crowded. The ground on the alley was earth, and I could imagine the mud in that area every time it would rain. Houses of a few square meters big were built next to each other, separated only by walls. The clearing where the mass was held was just a few square meters large, but the alleys provided space for the seats.

While mass was on-going, I noticed that a roof was constructed on top of where the mass was being held. The roof was supported by the pillars of several adjacent houses. It was several meters high that, in the dark, you'd barely notice it. I found out later on that it was the Barangay who had that constructed.

Realizing that there was a roof on top really struck me. We worried that even a drizzle would have canceled such mass. But no, there was this roof, large enough to cover the altar and some seats.

Precious blessings converged there: the Church, the venue, the things from the Barangay ... and the people. So I thought, where the Church and the government meets, there God is, and the people too! I felt it the most when we greeted each other, "Peace be with you!" during the mass. The smiles of the old ladies behind me and the children simply lighted up the whole place.

You see, these are the same people who have voted for the current President, whom the Church admonishes almost at every opportunity. (When the mass finished, I noticed a motorcycle parked in one corner ... with the Duterte logo on it). Between 8 to 9, out of every ten Filipinos support the President's moves.

Does that mean that these parishioners are being unCatholic? I don't know. I think that depends on what "Catholic" means.

You see, "logic" tells us that as Catholics we should act this way and that way; and so therefore when we make choices that "fall short" of Christian standards, ahhhh, we're being unCatholic. We're being hypocrites.

But hey, doesn't Catholic mean universal? Doesn't that word refer to the first Christians? Ergo, as Christians, doesn't that mean we're sinners? Granting that supporting the current President is a sin (tell me it is and let's have another thread for our discussion), then there you go ... a street mass participated in by sinners, exactly how Christ intended it to be. Right?

You see, these are people who live their lives as a citizen of this country. They work. They commute. They pay bills. They feed their kids... and they need a lot of help to do all that.

Human nature is at work here. We love our families and, for most people, the thought of supporting them is why they wake up in the morning. They can make a lot of use of any grain of sincere respect and compassion from people who have sworn to serve them.

As a Christian, to me, the people seek the face of Christ every day, without most of them realizing it (yes, even among Catholics). That's where the rubber hits the ground.

Many Catholics actually believe that the current President, with his policies, is the answer to their very basic prayers - a clean government and safe streets, among others. It must be challenging for the clergy to accept that such "answer" comes from someone whose behavior they loathe the most, maybe more than they have loathed Marcos.

(As a Catholic Christian and father who reads the Bible, I can see that God does give answers to people's prayers in ways that the people do not expect. Don't even get me started in listing the episodes down.)

That's exactly where the crisis of a Catholic and a citizen comes in. So, just let me share with you how I'm dealing with it.

Just like the people who participated in the street mass last night, I work to feed my family. I relate to them in that respect... and I too yearn for the sincere respect and compassion from people whom I have voted into power. As a citizen and as a voter, I demand sincere service from people in power.

I have never voted any priest or bishop into their respective positions. That's not the way the Church works. We don't get to choose who sits as the parish priest, as bishop of the diocese or as president of the CBCP. So, as a parishioner, I cannot demand. I can only be grateful for every word of compassion I hear from them and elevate to the Lord every wound I get for every painful word I hear from the clergy.

Lastly, as a Christian, yes, I am a hands-down sinner. It is why I pray before serving and participating in the holy mass, "... cleanse me of my sins and make me a worthy channel of your grace."

There's no logic in all that, I guess. There's only ... a God-given human nature.

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