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Adult Faith

April 05, 2004

EMILIANO T. HUDTOHAN

Students from the ‘50s to the ‘70s who studied the Baltimore catechism will discover in Bro. Andrew Gonzalez’ latest book, Towards an Adult Faith, something different, something new. The Christian Gentleman handbook published by the Christian Brothers in the ‘50s has been finally updated in terms of adult Christian faith through Gonzales’ provocative constructs for the Christian of the third millenium. Furthermore, this book liberates its readers from a theology that finds its roots in Doctrina Christiana (1590) and the ethical concerns of the early Filipino Christians in Urbana and Felisa (1864). Towards an Adult Faith as a guide to Christian value formation bridges our Hispanic theological past that nurtured a 16th century baptismal faith to 21th century adult Christian paradigm.

Towards An Adult Faith celebrates the theological presence and influence of the Christian Brothers in the Philippines for the past 100 years. It signals the entry of the lay religious (Brothers) in the theological arena traditionally dominated by the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits and other major religious orders theologically linked to the Roman Curia, none of whom has, of late, taken a step to get out of the bondage of the language that continues to propagate bone-dry interpretation of church doctrines. In a triumphal culture dominated by priests for almost 500 years, this new scholarship of Gonzalez opens the floodgates for the laity to follow his example.

In his book, Gonzalez addresses contemporary theological questions found in Thomas P. Rausch’s Catholicism at the Dawn of the Third Millennium (1996). While Rauch relies heavily on Christian documentation, using scriptures and encyclicals, Gonzalez speaks with scholarly confidence and authority beyond traditional Christian boundaries. Borderless in his presentation, he does not allow censorship to suppress his truth.

Content wise, Towards an Adult Faith offers a new paradigm absent in Weber & Killgallon’s one-time bestseller,Life in Christ: A Catechism for Adult Catholics (1958), revised in 1996 to accommodate Vatican II theological updates and Abriol’s Ang Katotohanan at Buhay: Ang Aral ng Panginoon ayon sa Banal na Kasulatan at sa Concilio Vaticano II (1998), which though written in Filipino for Filipinos, continues to preserve mainline Roman Catholic theology. Both catechism books stamped nihil obstat and with imprimatur, use the familiar Q&A format. Scriptures and encyclicals are quoted to close open-ended questions. Katesismo sa mga Katolikong Pilipino(2000), a translation of Catechism of the Catholic Pilipino, offers even more references. Aside from scriptures and Roman documents, local church proceedings from PCP II and the Philippine Catechetical Commission) appear as authoritative sources. Gonzalez, steeped in academic scholarship and research, models academic freedom by sharing his Christian insights and faith experience. Gonzalez’ statements are rational, sensible and candid but sensitive, responsible and humane. He helps his readers to discover the truth behind myths traditionally accepted through a theological bypass operation.

Towards an Adult Faith may as well be a 3rd millennium Doctrina Christiana. Gonzalez raises questions that ordinary Catholics would love to ask but do not for fear of being branded as disrespectful or “unCatholic,” more so, because similar issues have been raised by Iglesia ni Christo, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and other Christian sects. Finally, they find in Gonzalez’ text a voice from within that articulates their own concerns about their Catholic faith. While Towards an Adult Faith shakes the mythical foundation of the Catholic faith, it does not lead to its renouncement. Gonzalez resolves contemporary issues in human terms whenever possible, and if not, suggests “a leap of faith.”

Towards an Adult Faith resurrects the zeal and scholarship of the early Western missionaries who produced manuals and guidebooks to orient newcomers serving in a new territory like the Philippines. Religious manuals were convenient tools that provided precise notions on how to “dispense” the gospel. Alonso Mentrida’s Ritual(1630), Francisco de San Jose’s Baculo (1686), Tomas Ortiz’ Practica (1731), Manuel del Rio’s Intrucciones(1739), Casimiro Diaz’ Parrocho (1745), and Sebastian de Totanes’ Manual (1745) show how precise the 17th and 18th century Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans were in carrying out the task of evangelization (Impelido 2001).

Like his Hispanic predecessors, Gonzalez, a lay religious, has similar pastoral concern for Christian educators who continue evangelization work today. In his essays, most of which were “published in the monthly bulletin of a parish church,” he challenges the existing paradigms of parish priests, lay church leaders and ordinary parishioners. Adult faith cannot be developed through perfunctory KBL (kasal, binyag and libing) Christian practice. Without imposing his own religious worldview, Gonzalez invites every Filipino Christian to nurture his faith to adulthood. Clarity on what is and what is not the basis of one’s beliefs makes a well-informed Christian confident in living the faith. Gonzalez is able to bring clarity to his readers by skillfully segregating Christian myths from historical reality.

Gonzalez’ book is a catechetical landmark for Filipinos. By putting his ideas on print, he succeeds in facing religious issues squarely. This courageous stance is a challenge to our avant-garde theologians and scholars whose notes carry a “for students’ use only” caveat. Gonzalez shows the way. Publish at the risk of ecclesiastical censorship.

Gonzalez reinvents the language of theology when discussing dogma, moral, and gospel issues. For him, the language of adult faith indicates that there are figurative ways of describing significant developments in the faith community, which are not meant to be interpreted literally but rather as imaginative stories that bring home the message of faith. (Gonzalez 2002, 11).

Without disparaging the intellectual competence of theologians, he candidly describes those who do God-Talk as “children babbling never quite able to be fully certain of what they say and its correspondence with reality. They use the language of metaphor and figures for God-Talk.” (Gonzalez 2002, 141). Here, he liberates the permanent, essentialist perspective that goes into the production and interpretation of “revealed truths.”

 The fact is he encourages his readers to do critical thinking and create their own language of faith. For all however it is crucial for an adult faith that the language one uses, no matter which or of whatever kind, really comes from the self within and goes beyond any formula. (Gonzalez 2002, 5). Beyond the rational (left brain) exercise is the mystical (right brain) experience of our faith, which unfortunately is relegated to the background by mainline traditional theologians.

The future is now. Gonzalez is a transition visionary advocating change. Using linguistic theories and tools with other social disciplines, he skillfully reengineers the theological language of the Roman Catholic doctrines. In the Philippines, he is accelerating the theological shift (not a rift-schism for he has not abandoned the Apostles’ creed) that is being pursued, for example, at Maryhill School of Theology. He has cracked of the monolithic structure of our faith by breaking the theological language barrier. Apparently, theologians are caught in a language trap imposed by the very discipline of sacred theology. What they fail to articulate, he is able to express in a new language, effectively removing the sting of Roman dogmatism.

Gonzalez succeeds in demythologizing a lot of traditionally accepted “givens” that support the Roman Catholic credo. His linguistic platform creates a new paradigm and gives fresh theological insights on church dogma, moral teachings, and gospel stories.

Stripped naked and deboned, the truth he presents whets the readers’ intellectual appetite with wit and humor. He challenges his readers’ childlike, innocent (and for some, ignorant) faith that passively allowed 16th-century Christianity to creep into their consciousness without any quantum significance. Certainly, adult faith does not come from one’s regular dose of Augustinian, Dominican, Franciscan, Ignatian, Scholastican, Assumptionist and LaSallian “faith” capsules dispensed from these Catholic schools. Christian education helps but, in the final analysis, adult faith is a matter of personal choice to dialogue with life here and now. And when the believer is ready (becomes an adult), God appears.

Gonzalez’ new language has virtually erased the virgin birth, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the story of the Magi, the mass slaughter of children, and Jesus raising the dead, to name a few myths he debunks in his book.

He shatters our belief on the virgin birth. Without forsaking the role of Jesus in salvation history, he tells us that “If Jesus was born through natural biological parents and he was conceived, grew in his mother’s womb, and was born through the normal birth channel, it would not detract from his sonship and his divine mission and as later theological reflection would have it his divine and human nature and his person.” (Gonzalez 2002, 34). In addition, he gives a broader notion of virginity. He says, “After all, virginity is a matter of mind and attitude, not physical intactness; an excessive preoccupation with a physical reality such as a hymen, the function of which in human evolution is not yet fully understood, seems to downgrade the natural birth process and devalue the wonder and beauty of the coming of new life through human reproduction” (Gonzalez 2002, 33-34).

He can be an iconoclast destroying “accepted” faith realities. He opines that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem cannot be taken literally because there is really no record of a census of the type described by Luke in the days of Octavius Caesar’ (Gonzalez 2002, 42). In relocating the birthplace of Jesus, he destroys the Christmas card tableau of “a child born in Bethlehem.” As such, adult faith requires intellectual assent and an emotional letting go. Readers can empathize with Virginia when she was told there is no Santa Claus.

Gonzalez, erasing the presence of the magi from the East as historical figures, claims there was no recorded comet and no mass murder of children within the time of Jesus’ birth. (Gonzalez 2002, 35-36). What he emphasizes is “not the historical facts which were not the objects of the account but to bring home the points being made by Matthew, that the Messiah came for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, and that those who are loyal to the Messiah are bound to suffer persecution from evil men.” (Gonzalez 2002, 37).

But he goes easy on the Resurrection of Jesus for “we have accounts of children seeing departed loved ones… post-modern appearances of those who have died suddenly and stories of appearances of people at their favorite places even after they have passed away and before witnesses knew they had passed away (Gonzalez 2002,53). Comforting is his statement regarding resurrection. He says, “One believes first, then one tries to understand based on one’s initial faith.” (Gonzalez 2002, 53). But he refuses to give literal meaning to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus and others from the dead. He says, “The resurrection of Lazarus, Jairuz’ daughter, and the son of the widow of Naim were probably examples of midrashic interpretation to dramatize the new kind of life Jesus effected in a post-resurrection interpretation.” (Gonzalez 2002, 45).

The section on Domesticating God may, at first glance, shock his readers. Why should Gonzalez use the term domestication, which he explained applied to human pets? When theologians do God-talk, they in fact engage in domesticating God. Human analogy as a form of domesticating the Trinity leads to “the concept of two Persons in God by thinking of the two in terms of reproductive biology.” (Gonzalez 2002, 63). From here on, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are humanized persons. His comment of the feminine nature of God sits well with current feminist language politik. He concedes to the feminists by considering “the Holy Spirit, without denying earlier New-Platonic theology on the Holy Spiration (breathing between Father and Son, as somehow personifying the traits we normally attribute to the feminine of our species.” (Gonzalez 2002, 73).

In discussing the Incarnation and Redemption of Jesus, Gonzalez veers away from the bloody interpretation of the suffering and death of Jesus. He believes that “with emphasis on grace abounding, we can put less emphasis on condign satisfaction and the notion that an almighty and all loving God demands condign reparation and caused the incarnation of the divinity for the sake of buying back human beings through Jesus’ blood.” (Gonzalez 2002, 78). Filipino Christians could very well learn from this insight. If Jesus’ resurrection truly empowers us, why do we remain captives of the Black Nazarene redemption? The Filipino’s gift of a happy, cheerful disposition may as well be a sign of God’s resurrected presence within us. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is better understood in Gonzalez’ concept of a Quantum God.

Gonzalez does not have any strong opinions on the sacrament of baptism, confirmation, and marriage. However, he has a lot to say about confession. He thinks the practice of regular confession, like weekly confession or even devotional daily confession, has trivialized the concept of sin.

Sin as a fundamental option either for oneself or for God provides a better picture on what being mortal is all about. He insists that devotional confession erodes the full meaning of sin and forgiveness. He says,

If the Rite of Reconciliation is to be restored to its rightful place in Church liturgy, it must be as a public event reconciling grave sinners back to the fold of the community. If this is kept in mind, we should not be worried or even upset about the fall in the practice of private confession… Rather than bemoan the slack in the practice of auricular confession, the followers of Christ will do better looking for creative ways, new rites and new ceremonies, to mark the path of reconciliation and forgiveness. (Gonzalez 2002, 104, 107).

The quantum reality of God present in the believer needs to be explored. The Quantum God in Gonzalez’ thesis is not only out there in heaven; He is operationally present within every adult believer. In reality, our quantum connection has been established by virtue of the Resurrection. Gonzalez opens a new world of understanding the connection between heaven and earth by advancing the idea of a Quantum God. Bill Gates’ claim that communication travels at the speed of thought is digitally based. Real-time speed of thought in quantum physics is instant. And that’s how the God of Quantum Mechanics designed it.

Now, it is a lot easier to read and understand Chopra’s Quantum Healing (1993), Pearsall’s Wishing Well (2000), Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life (1984), and Redfield’s The Secret of Shambhala (1999) and many more authors of the “new age.”

 More importantly, the Quantum God should help Filipinos reconnect with their pre-Spanish religious heritage—the babaylans/katalonans, the diwatas, and other cosmic beings our ancestors were relating with. In a way, Gonzalez has moved the Filipino faith forward–he comes to terms with God of the 3rd millennium and at the same time offers a bridge to the forgotten ethnic spirituality of our forebears. This unfinished theological business of inculturation is already being addressed by Filipino theologians like Jose de Mesa, Fr. Carlos Ronquillo, CSSR, Fr. Leonardo Mercado, SVD and Estella Padilla to name a few.

Towards an Adult Faith debunks conservative theological schools of thought and redirects its readers to a better understanding of their Christian faith so as to rediscover their ethnic past interrupted by almost 500 years of cultural disorientation.