Making peace with religion


(The Philippine Star) | Updated January 10, 2016 – 12:00am

My wife Lydia recently found my dad’s old rosary and prayer book. The rosary was broken with some parts missing. She looked for similar-looking beads and fixed the rosary herself before giving it to me.

My dad died in 1957. This means the rosary had not been used in over 50 years. When Lydia gave it to me, I was moved by her gesture. I held the rosary in my hands, feeling the beads and imagining how many times my dad must have used it. He was, after all, a very devout and prayerful Catholic.

I’ve used the rosary a few times, and while I cannot remember all the mysteries, I pray with my dad’s rosary fervently.

The past few months, I noticed that I am somehow being drawn back to the faith I was born into, which is Catholicism. For years, I have not been going to Mass except during Christmas and Easter, more as a tradition than anything else. It goes with the feeling of Christmas and Easter. But I go to communion whenever I am at Mass. One might say I was not a model practicing Catholic.

Perhaps our new pope has something to do with my looking back at my Catholic roots. Because of his views and statements, I have started to see the faith through more human eyes. His openness to other religions, including atheism, his admission that he is a sinner, and the way he has given new understanding to love and compassion have made me look again at what it means to be a Catholic.

Many of us were introduced to Catholicism and faith accompanied by threats of hell, guilt, fear and dogma that made religion seem joyless and controlling. But as I grew up and matured, I met a bigger God who seemed to understand what being human was all about. I learned to be forgiving of others and of myself. I learned to believe that God’s unconditional love dismisses the possibility of hell. If hell exists and we are meant to go there if we do not follow God, that would go directly against what unconditional love means. Unconditional love asks for nothing. We are already loved. The hell we experience is because we are not awakened to this love.

For more than a decade, I have spent countless hours doing Zen meditation. In the silence and in a state where ego seems to be inactive, God has manifested Himself to me. I now feel the same thing when I am in a meditation chapel. The trimmings may be different but the experience is the same. You awaken to presence that totally defines you.

I am not into dogma. I still cannot believe that the Apostle’s Creed is literal in its entirety. I am not too concerned whether or not I am considered a Catholic on paper.

I once attended Mass for the old and sick Jesuits at the Faculty House in Ateneo de Manila University. It was held in a very small chapel. I saw a few of my once vibrant teachers now old, faded and in frail health. I was touched when I saw one of them walk to the altar very slowly to receive communion. It took a few minutes. It was as if he was undertaking something so important that he had to use all the strength left in his body to do it. I imagined him as a young priest who dedicated his entire life to following and serving an inner voice that called him to the priestly life. And here he was, still a priest way into his last days.

Faith is believing in something intangible but very real. It is as real as love. While you can’t see, touch or taste it, you know it is real enough to make it the foundation of everything in your life.

Materialists will scoff at that statement, and in a way, I understand them. But love, faith, compassion, spirit are real and there is no way science can measure them or dismiss their reality as something merely psychological. But neither should faith deny the reality of human existence.

I straddle these two worlds. Everyone does. But I am looking more at the intangibles and trying to explain it to myself and to other people. Perhaps it is age that is driving me back to my faith. I am not even sure if I want to return to it completely or just stay within its periphery.

But I believe it is intrinsic to our being human to search for the meaning of why we are even here. We never tire of asking the age-old questions that remain unanswered through the rigors of science. Perhaps the lure of the world is simply not enough to give us the full life we seek.

In the few times when I would attend Mass in the past, it was always a struggle. I was always arguing in my mind with the priest, the homily, the prayers, etc. These days, this doesn’t happen anymore. I just humbly sit and appreciate what shows up. I know there is always a gift there. I just have to be humble enough to see it.

I am in my 60s. I have done a lot in my life. Maybe I am coming full circle. Maybe I am finally wise enough to really understand what my religion is all about, without the pain and guilt that turned me off for so long. Whatever it is, I am starting to make peace with it.

3 thoughts on “Making peace with religion”

  1. Jim
    You need to have a book collection of all your columns.
    All of them are so insightful, full of wisdom and beautifully written.
    Your columns are solid proofs that a “life that is examined is truly worth living.”

  2. Jim, of course you know that truth isn’t relative. You also know you’re finite in many ways and perceive infinity in some.
    There are supernatural things beyond comprehension.
    Surrender on basing belief through comprehension but on wisdom. Wisdom will also be argued as a mindset of fools.

    Therefore, be a fool. Humble yourself, put your head on the ground because God is there and be still. Consistently do that and after proving proving authentic humility, you’ll surely see God (Catholic). Then quit on being dumb on faith. See the Church’s authority to define truth and understand it not question and doubt. Of course its eucharistic etc miracles can be argued as inconclusive of truth of religion. This will be endless doubting. Choose what’s in your heart. But soften your heart and mind your mind in the right direction before using it. It might be disaligned.

    We are in this quarantine testing ground world as banished children of Eve, having broken nature, not in heaven or paradise. This world is a chance given by God for us to redeem ourselves for the sin of the first parents. We’re here to pass the test so we can go to heaven.

    Understand fully Catholic theology. Let’s not be dumb on faith and do things the wrong way till the end. Do them now the right way and end the vicious cycle of living in lies.

    See you in heaven.

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