I learnt something from my godson yesterday when I spoke with him over the phone in Holland. Apparently, Holland has a public holiday on the Monday following Pentecost Sunday. I remarked that it was rather interesting because from what I know about the church in Holland, it is as alive as a doornail. The Dutch church had experienced persecution in the past, and after having been emancipated in the 1860s for about a century, it gained some ground, but it has not been anywhere near being a strong Christian country, but instead, has been a tremendously secular society. Apparently, less than 2% of the country’s Catholics are regular in Mass attendance. So, it was very interesting to hear that the entire country ‘celebrates’ Pentecost Sunday as a public holiday. My suspicion is that it had a history of being meaningfully celebrated in that country as a religious holiday in its past, and this is somewhat of a ‘hold-over’ holiday, and because it doesn’t take a religious person to enjoy a day off from work, most, if not all, would want that retained, even if only as a religious holiday in the nominal form.
But it is a pity. On a day like Pentecost, where the Church celebrates a maturity of faith, a strengthening of the Spirit, an enriching of wisdom and an outpouring of fortitude and proper fear of the Lord, there are people celebrating a holiday of this event only in name. Instead, many would have taken quite a few (or a few hundred) steps backward in terms of faith, weakened in the Spirit, and have little fear and instead, disregard for the Lord. Yet, they want the holiday. I am sure that there are other countries like this, but the only reason I am citing Holland is because I had a first-hand encounter of this. I am sure that it is not alone. In fact, it is such a pressing problem that Pope Benedict is embarking on the New Evangelization strongly, in an effort to re-evangelize the Catholics who have all but thrown out their faith of the window because they have come to the conclusion that their faith is no longer meaningful. The truth, however, is just the opposite – Catholics who have left often find out later that what they thought was the truth, was their interpretation of the truth, and perhaps something a result of being catechized poorly or learning from wrong teachers. Sadly, the secular society is a very bad teacher of core Christian values, and this ‘teacher’ has misled thousands, if not millions, from what true Christianity is about. Indeed, the New Evangelization effort is very necessary right now.
|Stained glass impressions of the Theological Virtues of Hope, Charity and Faith|
We don’t need to go far from home to see this effect of bad catechesis and poor praxis of the faith. I just realized that one of the people who had asked me to bless a new home just before I left Singapore for the United States last year was a person who had actually left the Church for quite a number of years, perhaps decades. In a casual conversation with one of her relatives whom I personally know, it was only revealed to me that this person was ‘desperate’ to have her new apartment blessed so that she could live there peacefully. I had no idea that this was not a ‘practicing’ Catholic when I went there to bless her home. As a general rule of thumb, I would ensure that Catholics have as little of a superstitious mentality as possible before I proceed to bless homes. Hopefully, the little catechesis I give before blessing anything causes them to ponder about their relationship with God.
A secular country celebrating a spiritual holiday. A non-practicing Catholic wanting her home blessed. What do these two have in common? Maybe one thing – that there is a great desire to love the grace of God, but a great reluctance to love the God of grace. Is this disturbing? To a priest whose life is all about getting folk to open their hearts to the love of God, it certainly is. It shows me that there is just so much more to do, because there are so many levels of society which have yet to hear the Word of truth in life.
The nurturing of the theological virtue of Charity is something that has been impressed on me by my Dominican lecturers in the course that I am taking right now. Charity is also the theological virtue that enables us to love our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God. It is the virtue which, as St Thomas says, allows us to love other for the sake of the other. It is what allowed Jesus to say ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do’ on Calvary. It must be what allows so many injustices to go on, not because we condone it, but because it is a reflection of ignorance. Charity binds everything in perfect harmony, upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and ultimately, raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love. Without the gift of Charity as a virtue, we would end up only loving ourselves in a selfish and introverted way, and deface the divine image that we are created in.
When I act with true Charity in the heart, it becomes less important if a non-practicing Catholic doesn’t go back to Church on Sunday after I bless her home, though of course it would be much better if she does. Charity also makes me say that perhaps it is still good that Holland has Pentecost Monday as a public holiday though only 1.2 percent are Church-going, because it makes the Dutch think, even for a moment or two, about the Holy Spirit in their lives. Charity enables me to not think that I have ‘wasted’ my time catechizing her before blessing the home, because it would allow some way for God’s word to gain access to her heart, even for a moment or two. In other words, it’s ok if things are still not perfect on the spiritual front before they enjoy the good things of God, because Christ did not wait till the world was sinless before he died for it.
But I have also realized that my being as close to a state of grace does play a great part in whether or not I let Charity operate through me. It is only when I am aware of this that my priesthood becomes an instrument of holiness for others, making my personal choice for God and holiness, so that it can become a reason for others to make similar choices in life.