Of Change, Of Love

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

We are now in Holy Week in the Philippines, an ideal time for either quiet and reflection, or vacationing.  I can still remember when it was ONLY rest and reflection, combined with certain Catholic Church rituals – an NO vacationing whatsoever. But I have seen so many changes in the last six decades and I guess there is no reason why these changes will not affect religions and attendant practices.

I know many in my generation are not happy with the changes that have overtaken our older lifestyles. The advent of technology, especially in the field of communications, has been characterized by great availability and volume of information delivered in amazing speed. Looking back, I now realize that modernity had begun earlier than my generation but its inventions came more subtly through mechanization, the birth or land and air travelequipment, and even leaps in medical intervention. Of course, the First and Second World Wars were very loud displays of how destructive warfare can be with new technology.

With superstitions fast challenged, and getting defeated, by a life that is more intimate with information so readily available and measurable, it is natural for many religious beliefs to morph into simply symbolic or allegorical, if at all. Indeed, many of these religious beliefs over which men of greater knowledge had been harshly criticized or punished by religious elders are now revealed as simply not factual. Those who once accused others of superstition have themselves been exposed as the more superstitious. How many Popes in recent history have had to apologize for the bigotry and fanaticism of previous Church leaders – leading us to a second or third look at papal infallibility itself?

A closer relationship and understanding with nature has also highlighted how our ancestors may have known much more than what was accepted then, especially with the greater acceptance of natural alternatives over their synthetic chemical counterparts. It does seem more and more logical that the environment is a divinely ordained ecology, that if one believes in God the Creator, what is natural can tell more of the nature of the Creator than religion itself. It is more acceptable today to speak of integrity as not only spiritual and moral, but also intellectual and physical. The integrity of creation, then, can be such a valuable avenue for discovering more of the plan of the Creator, or the Creator itself.

Of course, great minds had questioned everything before, and by everything I man what our religions and religious elders wanted us to believe. And I remember with what I had read or been taught before that many of these great minds who belonged to the Church or within the ambit of political influence of the Church, met stiff resistance, if not punishment, from leadership severely threatened by knowledge that would undermine their authority, or mandated beliefs.

The 20th and the current 21st century, though, has not just upset but has begun the disruption of 1,500 years of domination by the Church. Pope Francis is trying his best to roll with the punch, and teach others to do the same, to overcome the fixation to power and ritual and return to the heart of the teachings of Jesus. He is the right person at the right moment, but he will not be enough. 1,500 years is a long time, and a deep culture. Only catharsis after catharsis can and will facilitate the Church evolution towards the new wine and new wineskin.

After a bruising process in a war that pitted Catholics against Catholics over the reproduction and responsible parenthood issue, the war over divorce looms darkly in the horizon. It had to come, these wars, I mean, because Filipinos cannot be insulated from global dynamics, not only because Filipinos are what they are, but also because Filipinos are everywhere on this planet. And guess what? Birth control and divorce are old, settled issues in all countries. It is a testimony to either the faith of Filipino Catholics or the solid conditioning by the Church of the Filipino mind over centuries that birth control and divorce did not come decades earlier.

The reality and power of change is not really concerned about right and wrong, it is just about change, about the inevitability of evolution. If change has not been kind to the old way of Church beliefs and governance, it is not the fault of change but the fault of those who do not understand the nature of change. Change is constant, but change can be guided, change can be molded.  With wisdom, with sensitivity, change can be coaxed towards its natural process yet accommodate what the human being longs for.

Unfortunately, change has often been resisted by those who enjoy the status and perks of power, by politicians, by the Church hierarchy. Resistance may slow down things, but never succeeds in the end. Resistance is especially inutile when the ripeness of change arrives because it will happen no matter the cost to society.

Yet, the life and story of Jesus Christ is solid gold. It has the smell of eternity, especially because it is anchored on love. It is precisely when the opposite of love becomes the front face, such as power and control, when change is invited and has to happen. If the reality of love is greater than all other values or concern, then that which constricts the flow of love must contend with the source of love. It may be that in the Catholic sense, that is God, that is Jesus. It may be, in the Catholic sense, God is change and Jesus is the way.

Truly, Holy Week provokes so many thoughts. I wish, though, I pray, that most of all, Holy Week will provoke a deeper understanding in all mankind, about change, about love.

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