Archive for February, 2013

February 12, 2013

Filiation: Learning to Love the Family

My mind has yet to fully recover from the shocking news that Pope Benedict XVI, our beloved Papa Razi, will step down. Needless to say, I was quite surprised, disturbed, and at some point, grateful at my own reception of the news. In all honesty, I have never encountered such sadness, yet at the same time a profound sense of hopefulness, in my life as an oftentimes-erring Church member, never fully integrated, always along its fringes. As if, only now have I realized that I really am a member of this troubled but loving family, as if for the first time.

As I look back at my own history with this Regensburg professor, mediated through the media, his countless publications, televised speeches, homilies, and wikipedia articles, I cannot help but wonder: how did I come to know of the man?

I remember encountering him during the requiem mass for our beloved John Paul II. He was a peculiar character; his slouch gave off a conservative stench; his eyes, deep from late nights of writing; white hair, highly advanced in age; the stout, uncle Fester-like stature – in all, a fanciful trope of secularist propaganda. And my, it worked! I tended to believe that he was hell-bent on plunging the Church into the middle ages, that he was out to get other religions, and so forth. One cannot but remember his striking resemblance with Emperor Palpatine. Truly, I believed that the empire was being brought back.

I accepted the fact that I was going to confront him (or his thought) eventually, since Ateneo education bombards you with theology. Reading his work, I surmised that he was too Greek – in all senses of the word, I felt that I was listening to someone who never realized that there was such a thing as inculturation, and that oftentimes, it was not such a good thing. My spirit was all for the oppressed non-persons of Latin America, and of course of the Philippines. I remember a friend of mine trying to have me read Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity,” scoffing at the idea in my head.

But things started to become a little bit more different. As I continued my studies, I eventually had to read up on Benedict, since he just pops up anywhere. My research interest lies in religion, and in this day and age, one cannot “do” theology (or religion from the point of view of the Christian) without going through Benedict.

And then, one Lenten retreat some two years ago, a good friend of mine left a copy of the second volume of Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” series at my doorstep. I felt like St. Augustine as I picked up the book, and read it in the garden outside the retreat house. In 3 days I finished the book. And I guess that things have never been the same again.

I started to read up on Benedict, not because I was forced to, but because I found his thought interesting and intriguing. Not long after, I realized that every time I spoke of theology or of faith and spirituality, I would always go back to some insight or intellectual nugget that Benedict said in his books.

I rediscovered him. And by then, after pages and pages of Logos and charity and the unicity and salvific priority of the body of Christ, I learned to love him. He was a compassionate servant of truth, always humble to admit his own limitations, and always fiery in his zeal for the truth of the Word. I was always in awe everytime I read his works, always moved by his solemn recitation of Latin verses, always emboldened by his struggle to find unity in our otherwise-broken Church, a family that has longed enough for its return home. In time, I also learned (I think) to share in his struggles.

Which is why, I think, his resignation left an indelible mark in my faith journey. I finally found someone whom I can call my ecclesiastical father. There was a strange attraction with his passion for the truth of Christ – it was infectious that he strove to be a beacon for a family that was in shambles. It was inspiring that he stood by the conviction that if Christ was true, then everything must make sense in light of this truth. It was awe-inspiring that he treaded the thin line between uncritical dogmatism and the fullness of the unicity of the Church through the magisterium.

“Being strong for the family” was never a distant idea. I should know; I come from a broken family. It is no joke to be “strong” for the family, especially when you see yourself sliding into oblivion just for the sake of getting the family together again. It is a mighty task reserved only for those who know that it is not up to them to make things better, but God’s. Time takes away the spirit and zeal for charity, the passion for the impossible, everything; time takes away our ability to give ourselves to other people.

As I read the pope’s statement, I couldn’t help but feel the pain and the weakness of Papa Razi. It was indeed no joke to hold on to the family when its members have come and gone. He was getting older and more ill as days went by – I felt the pain and the humility in his resignation. In his critics’ eyes: such a weak person.

On the contrary, I believe that he exercised his power to the fullest in his resignation: it is pure power to acknowledge one’s finitude. As Christ asks for water on the Cross, so too do we see our beloved and ailing pope asking for some time off. Such is the glory that is found in the littlest of things: stepping aside for somebody else to take the lead. In God’s eyes: rest now, my son. “Come all of you who are weary and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

And this “somebody” is not the soon-to-be new pope, nor is it the college of Cardinals; it is none other than Christ himself.

It is difficult to love something (and most especially somebody!) that is broken. The Church indeed is broken, and at some point, I think beyond repair. But Benedict chose to believe otherwise. If Christ was true, then the Church should stand in all its glory and honor. In all, I think that I learned to love the Church because of this man.

To be sure, he has his own defects and limitations – let us not sugarcoat his papacy. His emphasis on the unicity of the faith will most definitely not sit well with other religions (one remembers Dominus Iesus!), nor do the simple facts of his involvement in the numerous cover-ups of the sex scandals that has rocked the Church in the recent decades bid well to his name. But at the same time, I ask: what makes it different from our own lives, when, in more ways than one, we have failed our promises to our brothers and sisters, where we also lied in our dealings with people, when our treachery sows discord and division even among our closest friends?

The struggle of the Church is the struggle of the individual, just as the struggle of the individual also reflects to that of the Church. Benedict will forever be the face of this struggle. But this struggle is not one of deception and violence – it is one, I think, of a profound sense of hope, a hope rooted in the risen Christ. Benedict has not created these problems, for it is true that these are inherited. The fact of his reign remains: in his struggle to mend the wounds, he failed in healing all the wounds, but succeeded in touching even a few number of hearts. I should know, even if he doesn’t, for I wouldn’t even bother writing this down if I were so not moved by his humility and his passion.

His papacy will always be for me a papacy of conversion; where I realized my own dirt and sinfulness, where I came to share with the struggles of the other members of the Church, most especially the pope himself. Finally, it is in his papacy that I finally realized that the Church is, after all, a family that laughs, that cries, that struggles, that rests, that is broken, that is brought back together again, that is, in the final analysis, a loving one. And a sinner such as I am will always find a home in this family.

Only now do I feel a sense of filiation. Coming from a broken family, it is quite difficult to find that powerful and profound spirit once again. But thanks to Benedict, I think I can say that I, too, would want to share the love that I have experienced in the Church to other people, starting with my own family.

Thank you, Papa Razi, for bringing me home.