Monday, May 15, 2006

Pruning

Yesterday's Gospel reading was very apropos in light of the upcoming movie release of "The Da Vinci Code." There is an undercurrent of fear that the message of the book and the movie will cause some to lose faith in Jesus Christ and in the Church.

And most likely, it will, but mainly among Christians who were ready to let go of it anyway. Tragic, but necessary. Our Lord has already warned us of this.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit" (John 15:1-2).

Filipino Librarian highlights the inadequacy of the response of the local Church hierarchy. But look! In contrast, the members of Opus Dei are using it this as an opportunity to respond creatively to clarify issues. Dean Jorge Bocobo says essentially the same thing, and further adds that Opus Dei will most likely see an increase in numbers.

Dean and I will fall on different sides of the three issues that he raises but I will agree with him that this will lead to a rationalization and catharsis. Very few people understand why only men can be priests, or why priests of the Roman rite have the discipline of celibacy. But more on that at another time. I hope this period of confusion will lead people to question and discover more about their faith.

Not all will accept the answers. Unfortunately, people will fall away because of The Da Vinci Code and the growing environment of spiritualistic materialism that it represents.

Nothing new, really.

After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

14 comments:

  1. "Unfortunately, people will fall away because of The Da Vinci Code and the growing environment of spiritualistic materialism."

    thanks for noticing my post. but i have to say that people have been falling away--and will continue to fall away--not because of da vinci, but because of the church's neglect. there is a need to present the faith in a way that addresses the people's needs. if it is seen as being from the middle ages, how will the people of today identify with it?

    on another note, i read patricia evangelista's column. you have tourist-guide blood pala =)

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  2. Hi, Von, thanks for the comment. Actually, what I meant to write was "the growing environment of spiritualistic materialism that it represents."

    I understand the spirit of your comment, though. On the other hand, we should remember that Church should not represent just the hierarchy but all the Faithful. The responsibility falls back to the members as a whole. If the Church has been neglectful, it is because we have been neglectful.

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  3. Dom,
    Thanks for this post. I'd love to find out the three areas where we might disagree, for surely I will learn something there. But let me share my view in this wise...

    First let me say that I think fiction is a valid basis for FAITH. It has to be, because faith or belief in something does not have to be rational or even based on facts. It can be based on our deepest feelings. And of course nothing other poetry can stir and stimulate those feelings like Fiction. So I claim that fiction is just as good a basis for believing in something as any. Viz also the Noli and Fili as fiction of this sort.

    Personally, there is no way for "me" to know the truth about everything that might have happened 2000 years ago and since. In many ways, both the Church's version and DAn Brown's version are about events so far distant that I may as well treat both as fictional accounts of history, at least in so far as both are obviously incomplete, even as to the details of Jesus' life and those of his alleged contemporaries. In any case, our investiture of belief in one or the other, has no ultimate rational basis. But it has a rhetorical basis, in both cases. Plausibility

    I think that the practical issues are these:

    (1) Why should there not be a categoray of married priests?
    (2) Why are women not allowed to be priests ncluding popes?
    (3) Is the Church male supremacist and chauvinistic in other ways?

    Now I am also familiar with the Catholic church's teachings on these matters, so I sorta know the stock answers.

    But even ordinary Catholics perhaps accept priestly celibacy for a perhaps "fictional" reason anyway: that Jesus was not married. I don't think the Gospels say either way do they? But the official version of a single, unmarried Christ leading single unmarried apostles is surprisingly widespread among devout catholics (allmost a universal belief) despite the fact that St. Peter was married with kids, and so were a number of the other disciples, also according to the Gospels. As you must know.

    Anyway, here's the only nugget I've got: The rhetoric of fiction is the same power that stimulates faith. So that if people come to think it plausible that a married Christ with kids wouldn't really change our essential MORALITY as Christians, then the idea of married priests and women priests might not also be so strange. Then the theologians can adjust the dogmas to what really works ... as they did in the 3rd century!!

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  4. Hi, Dean, thanks for posting. As always, I value your opinion. It's the wonder of blogging that I can now interact with someone whom I had been reading a few years back in PDI.

    I'll need a few days to compose my thoughts on the three issues. I have been thinking of doing so for a while. In a nutshell:

    1) Priestly celibacy is not essential to the Catholic faith but is enforced as a matter of discipline in the Roman rite. So yes, it could change.

    2) Regarding women priests, the late Pope John Paul II has already answered that it is simply not within the capacity of the Church to ordain women. It has nothing to do with the superiority and inferiority of one sex against another; it has to do with the fundamental difference between men and women. Here's a starter

    3) This is a question whose response is best answered by statistics and actual experience. Here's an interesting tidbit, though: a priest estimates that only twenty-five percent of the participants in Catholic gatherings are men, and "when men do come, they are often brought along with some resistance by their wives." Experience will bear this out: go to Church one Sunday and compare the number of men and women. See this article. It's actually the reverse, Dean!

    I disagree with you that fiction is a valid basis for faith. Faith (not supernatural faith, but even the ordinary kind) is what we believe to be true; as such, we may be sincerely mistaken in what we believe. But we cannot believe what we truly know not to be true. Faith has the quality that it does not contradict the truth.

    Finally, I think you fall into the postmodern fallacy when you say that you cannot believe in something just because it cannot know everything that happened 2,000 years (or 20,000 years) ago. Time does not invalidate the truth. Granted, some things may be obscured, but that does not mean they stop being true. (My counterexample would be evolution - no one has actually seen the bifurcation of species on phylogenetic trees millions of years ago, but people believe in them, granting that new evidence does not contradict the belief.)

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  5. I must say, while there may be a good case for why women should not become priests, your linked article Why Women Can Never Be Priests does not make it for me.

    Here are a couple of points of contention:

    "... what girls everywhere dream of is being radiant and lovely, of wearing a beautiful garment. Of entrusting herself into loving and protecting arms. Of being fruitful and bringing forth children of her own. Of being deeply reverenced for her fertility, her motherhood. ...."

    "Women will of course take on 'male' responsibilities--when men drop the ball."

    Can you say "stereotype"? I've known many many women who do not fall under the author's sweeping generalization. Women who would rather be providers than nurturers. Women who would rather be reverenced for their coding skills than their fertility. Women who would rather be priests than nuns.

    "Take "Gone with the Wind." I cheerfully admit I would be a lousy Rhett Butler. But even with my bald head, skinny body and whimpy voice, I would do better at it that any woman. Than any woman."

    "Let me say also if the director were somehow so desperate as to cast me as Rhett, the opposite qualification would be essential for the one portraying Scarlett."

    The writer is woefully ignorant of the history of theater. Men have played female roles with much success in the time of Shakespeare. And in Chinese opera, women can play male roles, some of them even becoming superstars.

    I'm sure some woman would be better at playing Rhett Butler than the author. And it is also quite possible that some woman can be a better priest than him.

    More recently (and I'm aware that the article was written before the movie was made) the success of Brokeback Mountain shows that a Hollywood love story does not need protagonists of the opposite sexes at all.

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  6. Roy, much of your dissent comes from the last sentence. I agree with you it is inadequate, even unfortunate. Does that invalidate the rest of the argument? As I said, this is a sensitive issue with no easy answers. It takes time and reflection to answer.

    Women can take on some of the roles of men -- they often do. But there are roles of men that women cannot play, just as there are roles of women that men cannot play. Women cannot be fathers (in the biological sense), and men cannot be mothers (in the biological sense). This is the essence which the original article was aiming for, but was not able to capture. True, Brokeback Mountain showed that two protagonists need not be of opposite sexes to fall in love, an admirable sentiment; but neither can these two protagonists have children. That's the essence of fatherhood and motherhood.

    If it were just a matter of personal qualities and contemporary demands, then yes, by all means, let's have women priests. But this goes beyond material concerns.

    Finally, let's not forget that priesthood is not a job that you can simply apply for. It is a vocation.

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  7. You are right, of course, this is a question that needs deep thinking. You are also right that the priesthood is a calling. The question is: are women also called to the priesthood?

    I don't know the answer, but I do know that some women believe that they *are* called to it; but are frustrated, because they have no way in the Roman Catholic Church to fulfill what they perceive to be their vocation.

    It is easy to see that a man may not bear children, nor may a woman be a sperm donor. It is much more difficult to discern, at least to me, what it is in women that disqualifies them from the priesthood. *shrug* -- it is complicated, but it's reasonable to assume we lean towards different sides of the debate on this. :-)

    Finally, is the essence of fatherhood / motherhood really the ability to conceive children? Or is it rather their ability to love them, and raise them?

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  8. "The responsibility falls back to the members as a whole. If the Church has been neglectful, it is because we have been neglectful."

    perhaps, but then again many local priests still don't encourage the critical thinking/ exegesis mindset that post-Vatican II writings do, and for a layman to question them gets the ire of such priests.

    don't get me wrong, i accept that priests are people, too. still, if saint augustine and the venerable bede, among others, encouraged critical thinking and meditating on one's faith, why can't they?

    nice blog, by the way.

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  9. Roy: we must be careful about defining a thing other than what it is in order to suit a point-of-view.

    Let's get our terms straight: Fatherhood is the state of being a father; a father is a man who begets or raises or nurtures a child, the male parent of an animal, or the male ancestor; a male is a member of the sex that begets young by fertilizing ova. You can follow the same thread with motherhood, and it will end with a member of the sex that produces ova or bears young.

    Much as I would like to answer all your questions now, I have already said that it will take time to reflect and compose my thoughts on this. Before I even do that, I want to reflect on the nature of faith, because we cannot see understand these reasons without faith. Hint: spiritual fatherhood, and the Church as the Bride of Christ.

    I cannot judge the women who say they have the vocation to become priests. I have never met any. But if you do, you might ask them to talk about their calling and judge for yourself.

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  10. Hi, Jester: thanks for visiting, and for the compliment. Regrettably, some priests are not proper examplars, judging solely by their human qualities. But that is not the reason they are priests. It goes back to vocation: it's between God and them.

    However, we shouldn't let the shortcomings of others deter us from what we know our duty to be. We also have much to answer for.

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  11. The Da Vinci phenomenon is nothing new at all. Because the worst case ever in Church history was way back in 3rd century = )

    Btw, good taste in books. I'm a Chesterton nut.

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  12. Hi, Claire. Good to meet another Chesterton fan. Also good to meet another Clair(e); I always end up being good friends with people with that name.

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  13. We've met before at the Linuxworld Philippines Conference late last year.

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  14. "If the Church has been neglectful, it is because we have been neglectful."

    yup, we are, in fact, the body of christ. but there's only so much that lay people can do. we do not, after all, elect the pope--or the cardinals who elect him. but that's another issue altogether. i'm with jester on this one.

    re "fiction is a valid basis for FAITH," it is. you should read genesis. its literary form is "myth."

    the writers of genesis had no facts, but they wanted to explain their faith to others in ways they could understand, and so they resorted to what we know now as fiction. the fundamentalists will of course claim that everything in genesis actually happened. but that's another story =)

    finally, faith is a gift. no amount of facts or science will convince non/believers to change their minds. you either have it or you don't. but this doesn't mean, however, that believers should just follow blindly.

    we shouldn't neglect to do our homework and learn what we can about what we say we believe. and this leads us back to the church's neglect.

    most students will only be as good as their teachers are. but if the teachers just tell students to "memorize" their faith and follow blindly, can we blame the students if they follow instructions?

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