Friday, January 25, 2008

The Sunday Before The Ash

Christians joyfully celebrate this Sunday as the first before the solemn beginning of the quadragesima, "a season of preparation by fasting and prayer, to imitate the example of Christ (Matthew 4)" that starts with Wednesday of Ash to the celebration of Easter, which marks the end of the triduum, the commemoration of our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection.

Mater Ekklesia is preparing her children for conversion, for the preparation of our hearts in this holiest time of the Christian liturgical year. In the preface of Dom Gueranger's work on the Liturgical Year, it says "prayer is man's boon. It is his light, his nourishment, and his very life, for it brings him into communication with God, who is light, nourishment, and life." And, this prayer finds its exact form in the Eucharistic sacrifice, as the late John Paul the Great said in his encyclical Ekklesia de Eucharistia, "it is the summit of Christian life". However, the Church should not cease Her fervent prayer directed the Trinity because "though the divine mysteries whereby our Saviour wrought our redemption have been consummated, yet are we still sinners: and where there is sin, there must be expiation". We are constantly called to convert and be forgiven.

The Liturgy of the Word opens with the words from the prophet Zephaniah, a seer who is particularly known as the watchman of the Lord. He lived and began to preach in the second half of the seventh century before Christ. To give a little background, He descended from the tribe of Simeon and grew up in the land of Sarabatha. A contemporary of another great prophet Jeremias and King Josias, Zephanja (in Hebrew which means "God conceals", in a certain sense, also means God protects) prophesied the punishment that would come to Israel first and then to the gentiles, the coming of the Messiah, and the conversion of the pagans and the blindness of the chosen people, which in the end of time, they were to be converted.

The reading is taken from the second to the third chapters, which are an exhortation of repentance. Here we read Yahweh rendering "judgment of the Philistines, of the Moabites, of the Ammonites, of the Ethiopians and Assyrians", but with Israel he has given hope, though themselves have been swallowed by their own transgressions. In these verses, the Church underlines the importance of being humble before the Lord. It is even said that the meek and the just are His reasons of his judgment.

The 146th Psalm opens with the words of joy, a praise to the Almighty. He lifts the meek but brings the wicked down to their fall. In Latin, it is particularly obvious with the opening words: Laudate Dominum, quoniam bonus est psalmus, that the Psalmist offers his thanksgiving to the goodness of the Lord, which is made manifest more clearly to those who fear and hope in Him.

St. Paul of Tarsus wrote an epistle to the Corinthians in which the Apostle to the Gentiles reproved the dissensions about their teachers, that the world was to be saved by preaching of the cross, and not by human wisdom and eloquence. The indefatigable Apostle reminded the young Church in Corinth in his day and to us of today that the "But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise: and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong".

The Matthean gospel takes us to a hill overlooking Lake Tiberias, as recounted in the fifth chapter. Here Jesus gathered the multitudes and taught what Christianity has come to know as The Eight Beatitudes or popularly known as The Sermon on the Mount. It is traditionally known that Jesus climbed the hill of Karn Hattin or Kurun Hattin, which is not far from His hometown Nazareth, from Capharnaum where much of his ministry was centered, from Cana where he showed his first miracle, and Mt. Tabor where He showed His glory to the three Apostles. The word Beatitudes is a term coined from the word beatitudo in Latin, which means happiness, but is more tranditionally translated into English as blessed. In Greek, it is μακαριος (makarios), which literally translated to English as "possessing an inward contentedness and joy that is not affected by the physical circumstances". There have been a number of differing opinions about the exact number of the Beatitudes. St. Augustine of Hippo said it is seven because of the significance of the number in scripture and Israel, and the contemporary scholars would say four: the poor, the mourner, the hungry, and those seeking after righteousness. It is said that the other four are just additionals and commentaries to the original four.

Some thinkers in the past had been critical to the Beatitudes. Friedrich Nietzsche saw it as picture of "slave morality of Christianity", while others, like James Joyce, William Blake, and Theodore Dreiser, "condemned it as advocating life without striving".

But for us Christians, let us heed the words of St. Augustine, who in his opening words on his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount said: "If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount ... he will find in it ... a perfect standard of the Christian life ... For the sermon itself is brought to a close in such a way, that it is clear there are in it all the precepts which go to mould the life." Brothers and sisters, Rise, let us go now. Let us go the Lord and behold the hour is at hand.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Speech That Was Never Read

It is unbelievable that Sapienza University would block Pope Benedict XVI from speaking on its annual opening of its academic year. Sixty-seven professors had signed a letter of protest to the dean of the university, Renato Guarini. Physics professor Andrea Frova was the main signatory of the letter and came charging that the pontiff in 1990, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had "shown hostile to science", when he spoke about Galileo Galilei's trial under the Holy Roman Inquisition. We could not dwell at length on that speech given by the then-cardinal Ratzinger on the 15th of February in 1990. In that speech, however, Joseph Ratzinger quoted an atheist philosopher of science by the name of Paul Feyerabend, who said that "the Church remained more faithful to reason than Galileo himself." According to Giorgio Israel, a mathematics professor of La Sapienza and who wrote in L'Osservatore Romano defending the Ratzinger, the pope had defended Galilean rationality by using the quote to question the attitude of modernity toward itself and its inventions: science and technology.

The speech was clearly Ratzingerian. There were many themes the pope touched on. But the central theses of his essay were centered on two questions: what is the nature and mission of papacy and what is the nature and mission of the university. He went to and discussed the relationship of truth to faith and university. The pope is always fond of using the Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato in his making a point by outlining the question of the former to Euthyphro about believing the constant bickering of the gods and goddesses and its truth. He points that this question posed is not something antithetical to religious people and does not shake the ground of belief but has always been essential to faith even for the first christians. This question as related to faith has also relation to the episkopoi, since this faith finds its truest expression in a believing community, which has basically a leader, a supervisor. The answer to this is found in the beginning and end of the speech. When the pope said that his ministry begins firstly as a bishop of Rome, he, therefore, "surveys the whole landscape, making sure to keep the flock together and on the right path", who unites the whole flock and shows as being first the way to the Christ, the Logos, the Creative Reason Himself. This brings us to the point of that the pope does not impose his faith, but "it is his task to keep alive man’s responsiveness to the truth" and "must again and always invite reason to seek out truth, goodness and God, and on this path urge it to see the useful lights that emerged during the history of the Christian faith and perceive Jesus Christ as the light that illuminates history and helps find the way towards the future."

In between, the pope finds a common ground why faith should have a voice of reason and should not be dispelled by putting forth the idea of John Rawls, that though religious doctrines could not be considered "public reason", it has in its character a non-public reason that cannot be obliterated as such because it is participating in reason itself. The pope sees in Rawls another criterion of this reasonableness of doctrines that stems from its responsibility and well-grounded tradition "in which over a long span of time sufficiently strong arguments have been developed in support of the respective doctrines."

From there, we can see that, indeed, faith as such cannot be relegated to unreasonableness, to the mythological. Thus, theology itself right from the start of the rise of universities in the west had already been included in the core curriculum. Here, the pope pointed out that in due time philosophy rose as an independent domain capable of standing on itself and raise questions it can capable to answer. This happened in medieval universities, whose basic principles still are operative today. Though the pope pointed out that theology, philosophy, law, and medicine have always been cultivated in the universities, what holds them together is their perceived rationality. So much so that they can talk among each other. This I think can be a reason why the pope at least can be invited to speak within the environment of university freedom. He speaks of the reasonableness of the position of faith in the varied debates of the society because it has rich ethical positions that overlap with mankind and has "become a voice of the ethical reasoning of humanity." He, therefore, can speak with any questions of life because faith has reason in itself that compels humans in their states and beliefs.

Understanding How It Feels

The night did not pass by without sly: a sly of talk but not without a pick of choice. A choice on what topic, indeed, to take up with, though things had not been planned with a forethought. There were three of us who were gathered around an a little over elongated square table. This simple tryst was a jostle of an instant invitation. The place could not be unfamiliar for in the past has been a constant reminder of our presence in the place.

One oftentimes wonder how it comes to be. We just picked on things that we have dwindled on unknowingly but inevitably. The night was passed up with elements of personal opinions on things that are often neglected due to the business of everyday. And, when we try to look at these things one more time, it feels odd that there they are to be focused on. Now it comes to us as a surprise that little do we know of its importance.

Everybody gossips, and it passes from lips to lips. It became a heated discussion among the three where to put gossip as it is. Of course, it had to be resolved that though gossip has in itself its disadvantage, it is a means of something positive. The night did not end weighing only on one thing because after all at least one sociologist opined of its usefulness in venting out stress in a smothering situation.

It is said that I do not see it a waste of anything in any of these little gathering. Rather, it could be said that this is unconsciously anticipated for the three knows that it would not be without anything to discuss. The friendship does not stand static but constantly controverted to stretch a little slack every now and then brought by influences from anywhere.

What could be next if only I happen to know when?

An Inherent Constitutive Weakness

The Other Islam: Scholarly, Written with a Sharp Pen written by Sandro Magister recounts of a lecture delivered by a female scholar from the faculty of human and social sciences at the University of Tunisia. The lecture touched on a core issue of today's Islamic problem: fundamentalism. Not quite a few have said that this strain of thought within Islam has, indeed, grown as an ideology that is slowly taking a permanent hold within some of its believers. Now this lecture tries to link this fundamentalism to orthodoxy that seems to feed strength to the former. In effect, the relationship between the two should be that the latter is transformed inherently, effecting a change to the former, which is primarily the breeding nexus of terrorism. Since September 11, the world has been so conscious of this term, which has since become a political byword, sometimes being used to advance a political agenda, which oftentimes aggravates an already precarious situation. Does, indeed, orthodoxy lend itself up to this deviant strain of thought among those who fervently believe in a religion such as Islam? Do other parallel religions in the world, which at its very core also proclaims its orthodoxy of its belief, could be rendered the same danger?

I had thought of these questions, since it has been a marked criteria even within Christianity. Orthodoxy has been a constant battleground of so many saints and martyrs in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches. How can I not forget Athanasius, who comes to my mind whenever a monolithic example is recalled as to total adherence to faith even within the dangerous lines of defense?

Latifa Lakhdar's fundamental thesis is something positive in light of the present state of her religion: "Islam, just as the optimists say, can be the foundation of a Muslim mindset that is modern, enlightened, and liberal." In her view, there should be a dissociation of the mystifying element engulfing the relationship between Muslim orthodoxy and fundamentalism. In my view, if this has been rendered open, not as a closed system and an elevated thought beyond the grasp of the now and here, an access of rational inquiry can penetrate it and reasonably separate them into categories and proper perspectives.

As the lecturer points out heavily, orthodoxy can be the parent for the evolution of fundamentalism. However, this relationship of cause and effect is not exclusive in the sense that the latter is a necessary effect of the former as its cause. But a more important question points to the issue of identity, which could render the faith of Muslim religion threatened. At the outset, the question of change is well within the possibilities, but what is that change that is needed? And if this would be, would it not be a great paradigm shift for every Muslim believer; something that calls for a total change of perspective. For what is brought before the altar of sacrifice is something that is at the core of what is being a Muslim. How would the world could be changed in the mind of a Muslim if he were to believe that the holy book of Koran is not a handwritten document of Allah, but had been composed by men, who had been gripped with the charisma to write, which could be said to have been under the influence of a deity. What compounds the problem is the idea of a finished theology from the time of Hegira. The Quran could not be interpreted as anything but literalist without inciting public scandal for Muslim adherents.

It could not be anything less than to ask pork not eggs from hogs. However, there are many ramifications attached to a kind of revolution that the author dreams. If we may speak of a sclerotic and obtunded growth of speculative theology in Islam, then this is special vocation for those who see in their religion the source of sinister that corrupts of what they believe is the essence of their faith. But how can it be fostered within a milieu that has so long been captured under the politics of Islamic umas and bureaucrats?

One could ask if the golden age of Islam could again flourish from the Iberian peninsula to the fringes of Southeast Asia? The 9th to the 12th centuries saw the dialogue between Islamic faith and Aristotelian philosophy, and from this encounter is borne the names of Avicenna and Averroes. These names are just some of the Islamic thinkers whose minds had been fostered within a special Islamic city of Cordoba, a city known for its patronage to scholarship. However, one author had said that it became possible because of its possibility within a political figure whose interests were focused on cultivating scholarship. Here it cannot be mistakenly pointed out that the rapprochement between secular knowledge and the ideas of faith gave birth to a flowering civilization that had an impact on every level of Muslim life. This radiating energy did not confine to a locus somewhere south of Spain but spread throughout the Arabic-speaking peoples.

But could we not ask if the turn of European events into what it has become today is the model of every development for others? Should we graft what we believe as positive of European history to nations under Islam? Is there any justification that such pattern is the ideal one over other patterns of history? Or should we not also ask that somehow there is something which Islam can fundamentally teach those under the western influence by reining in some unbridled consequences of modernity? Or else, we might as well speak of the passivity of the west into looking oneself again to see what had become of it.

There could not be even a question that the project of humanism did not dispel the contribution of Christianity in the cultural growth of nations. Certainly, some of the popes of the sixteenth century and onwards have been close patrons of humanistic ideas. The growth of these ideas in fairly homogenized population is one thing that clearly points the uniqueness of western history. The dialecticism of the historical reality between the faith and the development of reason through science had never brought a nihilism and total negation of this dual relationship. Thus, we can conclude that somehow the rationalistic approach of a St. Thomas Aquinas did not at the basic level foster an annihilistic force in the side of faith, enough to destroy what reason has been for former. Hence, this epoch in the history of theology prepares the humanism of the later times, giving fertile ground for the rise to scientific revolution of the 18th century and of our own time. Therefore, it is enough to cast a look on this era to explain out any doubts of the role of the church in the growth of science.

Now, this is the uniqueness of Christianity over against Islam. In Islamic history, there was a spontaneous appeal to the ideas of Aristotle and western philosophical thought early on but was later destroyed by itself, thereby receding Islam itself into the problem of the Will and anchoring its theology to it as its loci of departure over and against Christianity itself. This author could even begin to suspect that what happened to Protestantism in its stance against every Catholic teaching is as true as well as what became of Islam in its attitude toward Christianity following its beginning in the 7th century. It is highly probable that though there was a limited scholarly exchange and access between these two religions there was an endemic idea of one over the other that had been piled up over centuries of battles and wars.

Though at times the papacy has been construed as an impediment in history, that might seem to pose less of an importance in the influence the popes had had in the dialogue of reason and faith. For sure as early as the first century of Christianity, there had been questions raised already on the place of rationalism-intellectualism in the life of faith in Christ. Paul of Tarsus though had an evident reservations of pure rationalism over and against the new-found religion, he too was not imprisoned from the sphere of understanding man's gift from God as totally limited only to his response to the grace he is given. For indeed hovering the mind of Paul was the enduring consciousness of the Genesis' account of God's endowment to man that which was seen as good in itself. Hence, from early on, an idea has already been considered that opens to possibilities of dialogue and rapprochement. The second and third centuries also came with a number of apologists to the faith, e.g. Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch, and theologians, e.g. Alexander of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and others, who did not avoid in their corpus basically the encounter of a Greek-pagan thought with the unique salvific history of Christ. For such universality of salvation as its essence and nature is extended to every man and woman of every age, and that this catholic understanding of the redemption of Christ must not appear as totally annihilating and destructive to what is fundamentally positive in humanity that is in need of saving grace. The dialectics between grace and nature found early investigations within a religion which has grown itself in an advanced civilization with ideas and thoughts teeming with positive contributions to humanity. Though Christianity developed and grew in a hostile Roman empire, it was not deaf also to the transcendental questions that the temporal event of Christ has been wrought. Thus, the early Christians had to defend the religion and its relationship to a paganistic social framework as well as to propose this religion as a unique option in a large empire amassed with different religions, thoughts, ideas, and persuasions. In one end then, Christianity grew to a large extent from the persuasion of the mind more than the use of force. The latter ages just merely picked up from what their predecessors in faith had opened.

It is particularly in this area that the popes of Rome has had a tremendous impact on the fostering of this engagement of reason and faith. The institutionality of the nature of papacy based upon the Matthean promise of perpetual foundation of the ekklesia gave impetus to any human investigations of reality that indeed will have impact on faith. Though there have been a debasing tendencies in the history of renaissance popes, the contribution of the successors of Peter can never be overlooked. It is enough to look back on the growth of humanism in the 16th century as fostered principally by the absolute ruler of the papal states. Thus, this is a factor which Islam can gleam upon. The cohesive factor of a centerpoint is indeed more essential that the centripetal forces in the vicissitudes of human history. And this too is uniquely Christianity's own great accomplishment.

Now this singularity of encounter of faith and reason in Christian history is more than unique in the annals of religions. The Jewish concept as a Chosen People has secluded itself to itself that anyone from outside should either live socially by the rules stemming from the Mosaic Law or convert to the religion of the Patriarchs. The Judaic religion lived with a unique identity among the great civilizations of the east existing on a promise that is in itself a life-force. Hence, the particularity of this religion was punctured through the advent of the redeemer, thus, opening it up to the world under the new command of making all disciples under the trinitarian formula. Therefore, the relationship of Judaism and Christianity cannot be more than evident as given in a consistent thread and progressive unfolding of revelation. And in this development, it has to engage the world at least and baptize it to the fount of the saving waters of Christ.

Islam came after the events of Christ obviously, and in this at least borne a general idea of what constitutes Christianity by and large. And the events of the incessant encounter of Christianity and rationalism did not find itself within the confines of a Christianizing Roman Empire. The Nicean event, for me, became at least a marker that baptizes an outside concept, making it a handmaid of use to explain mysteries of revelation, toward a dogmatization of the divinity of Christ. The history of dogma in part can explain the essential antagonistic attitude of Mohammed toward what he usually calls the Trinitarians. Hence, the isolated Arabian saw a Christian religion before him wrapping itself in a western ideas that is essentially rational. It is my great interest indeed that perhaps the Muslim prophet contributed early on on the general attitude of antipathy towards rational investigations of faith.

What Could Be Long and Far Might Not Be

The phases of life inevitably ends up truly unpredictable. That is why I am quite skeptical when people would say things in absolute terms without an afterthought or so. You might be friends today, but tomorrow you may find yourselves could not stand each other's presence. Oftentimes, it is almost shocking when you find two people whom you have known to be good friends end up in a heated altercation and bitterness. It is as if what words each can come up against the other is truly unbelievable to hear.

I had a recent experience. I was just a spectator of the whole exchange of words. The blow by blow rally of two opposing minds dogging their heels on their points was a part threatening but at the same time induces someone to think clearly. The responses were graded and counted, and the steps of rebuttal were aimed at the eye of the figure before each one.

And the worst hasn't yet arrived. When everything settled and words died down and have all gone to their own, it might be that things become clearer than before. You would immediately hear the almost-like suppressed grumblings that hithertofore not heard. Things that were not brought to light because of the speed of things, and the memories of distant past that did not nag at the very time that it was most needed. This is the time when you can say that after all things did not heal; the wound still continues.

And it all continues, until no one knows exactly that specific time in the past that it all happened after all. The passion of hatred did not cease; the remnant of it now belongs to the self and not a temporary belonging to be discarded at any time. But what can one make of it? Does it need to be continued on as an ember of an anger?

When one thinks it closely, it insults not because of the materiality of the situation but that it behaves as if it is quite an extra from the self. When we think of anger and hatred, it becomes like non-you; it unfolds the animality. I have read it once that anger is an evolutionary defense for preservation, and that it is something man should be thankful. Man reacts to what threatens himself, thereby, preserving his being from destruction. However, it might be thought of that intrinsically what becomes a defense for men is not constituted as normal since it arises not from everyday interaction but when situation only aggravates it.

So it was on that night when my mind was busy tennis balling. I have had my own ratiocination of whose fault was it and whose want it is needed to repair the broken and hurted feelings.