I am catholic and a Catholic, or I choose and try to be. Universality is catholic, and love is Catholicism. I had no choice but to be baptized, hardly any choice but to be confirmed, did not know if I had a choice to confess and then take Holy Communion – all of these happening when I was a young boy. Not long after that, though, I learned that I did have a choice, but I had to be careful about picking an option that did not please the authorities at home and in school.
In my mid-thirties, I reached the conclusion that most of my beliefs were developed under indirect duress, like wanting to make my parents happy, like wanting to make my Catholic teachers happy, and like making myself acceptable to my peers. I thought that resembled more of superstition than understanding, and did not want to live the rest of my life wondering why my Creator would design me to be intelligent and blind at the same time. I had to choose between believing, and obeying, blindly or understanding and choosing to follow freely and eagerly.
I chose light and freedom, of course. I thought it would have been defiant of me not to, as if that would mean dishonoring the talents and capacities I was blessed with from birth. It was not as though my understanding of Christianity and Catholicism was that flawed and brought me only to doubt and confusion. I could not live for long under that environment as that is, for me, a sure ticket for suicide or the mental hospital. But to accept in totality all that had been taught to me would have guaranteed confusion, and forced me to be selective along the way.
To be selective in order to prevent confusion was also not a peaceful path for me. I equated that to compromise, and I saw that compromise would lead to hypocrisy. I knew I had to be discerning, even if that may seem like selectiveness to the narrow-minded or fundamentalists. My understanding is that the inclusion of conscience as part of human existence points to at least two important divine characteristics – that the Creator wanted a direct line between Him and every human being, and that direct line compliments the gift of free will and guides its proper use.
Having studied only in Catholic schools and even had some years in a minor seminary, it was natural that I had a blind spot where other faiths or religions were concerned. I felt no strong urge to change my religion or my belief system, but I did have a strong desire to understand other faiths and religious practices. That is part and parcel of my being catholic or universal – the belief of one Creator of everyone and everything, and of the equal worth and dignity He regards all of us. My intuition brought me to assuming that the Creator reaches out to all and that all have a direct line to Him. How that equal regard the Creator has for all His children and how conscience delivers the core of His truth is manifested in somewhat different ways to different peoples and faiths. Yet, I trust that there is enough commonality in belief systems to link human beings and their consciences. I wanted to discover those links.
In my mid-thirties, I was bothered by another lack. I knew I was a Filipino but I also knew I was not representative of the Filipino. I could not even speak fluent conversational Pilipino and would think in English or Ilonggo, then translate the same to Pilipino as best I could. I had a hunger in my soul to discovering more of the Filipino, that great part that I had no knowledge of or affinity to. Without wanting to provoke a debate on the national language and its choice of one dialect over others, let me just say that my residing in Metro Manila from the time I was going to college made me very conscious of the funny way I spoke Pilipino. I had to try to speak and understand Pilipino better – which meant I had to know more about the Tagalog language and the Tagalog people.
Combining a faith and race journey, I built a native house in the foothills of Mt. Banahaw on the Quezon province side, I thought I could not find a better place to study and reflect than in the heart of the Tagalog region and in the midst of folk religions. I discovered that those who seemed left behind in time and still lived their lives and faith as most Filipinos would have a hundred years ago, including having herbs, hilot and traditional healers to handle their health issues, were more open and respectful to others who believed differently. Somehow, their respect for persons who had contrasting religious beliefs seemed more spontaneous and catholic, or universal.
For more than fifteen years, I exposed myself to what others thought as superstition, or new age. I learned about the occult, about magic. What I learned made me smile at the irony of things, how the occult and magic demanded proof while Catholicism and Christianity promoted believing without seeing. When a guru or healer of the traditional path would teach or cure, their followers look for proof and other indications that what is being taught or what is being done should result in what is expected – enlightenment or cure.
I am much more serene in my faith, leaning more on my conscience than the example of religious leaders. I learned along the years how stereo-typing and labeling have extended the divisions that have kept us from being true people of faith and a strong nation. The fruit of the dominant faith in the Philippines includes massive poverty and endemic corruption. A universal faith grounded on loving God and neighbor (as proof of one’s love of God) is severely challenged in teaching its faithful what is core and how to break its tolerance to lip service.
Some have called it split-level Christianity; I call it simply hypocrisy, or cowardice, and the insidious desecration of Jesus.
“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” — Albert Camus