I arrived at mass early this sunday, so early that the previous mass was just about to end. Not wanting to stand outside while waiting, I decided to find a seat several pews from the sanctuary during the post-communion announcements. After the final prayers and blessings were given the priest goes down the sanctuary to greet parishioners. Traditionally in the Philippines, the faithful gather and get the priest’s hand and touch it on their foreheads, a form of blessing usually done with elderly relatives only. It’s a peculiarly Philippine tradition. But what struck me, seeing the faithful flock to the priest, was how, even when the Church is being attacked worldwide with the abuse issue, the faith of these simple Catholics are still childlike and pure. With no reservations, parents let their children gather, hug and have the priest bless their foreheads. Seeing this, I recalled Jesus’ words about how we are to be like little children if we wanted to enter His kingdom. It is this innocence and purity of faith with no reservations, no malice and no doubts, even if many times it is poorly understood, is what I think Jesus meant.
Many times I struggle at mass because of some liturgical abuse or something theologically cuckoo a priest says during the homily. It has gotten very difficult for a knowledgable Catholic to assist at mass these days because of this. For good or bad, my older children have also acquired this kind of critical observation that I have and sometimes I feel a sense of guilt for contributing to this “distraction”. Many times, I whisper to them to concentrate and let it pass but I can imagine that what is going on through their minds is also what is going through mine. Perhaps the solution is in what Pope Benedict said, “less work and more prayer”. One can only take criticism so far without praying, after all, if all these are the product of the “principalities and the powers of darkness” that St. Paul talks about, our greatest weapon is the shield of Christ in our lives which is prayer.
Having been involved in apologetics for many years. I could not help but re-think my faith. Have I intellectualized it too much? Have I lost that purity and innocence that Jesus calls us to have? After being involved in exchanges with atheists, I realized the importance of charity, humility and temperance when engaging these non-believers too, after all, how are they to learn about Christianity if not from the actions and words of those who engage them. The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, in a visit to the Philippines in 2000, said that what puzzled (and moved him) while he was still performing abortions was how the Pro-life Christians gathered around his abortion clinic had a certain aura of joy and peace around them in spite of sometimes being harassed by the police or cursed at by pro-choice demonstrators. He said that the joy on their faces even at the face of adversity was unnerving. Isn’t that in a way how children, or I might add, how Filipinos are, smiling even in the midst of adversity? Jesus was right, if we are to enter the kingdom, we must be like children. it was true then and it is true today.