When I was 19, I met the Catholic Christ.
I remember writing three years ago a recollection of that big day set apart from the vast years of my young adulthood. I remember the smell of lighted candles and burnt matchsticks and the sudden burst of incense smoke. I remember feeling my frantic heart beating so covetously that I could imagine it ripping through my soutane. I remember the crowd and the anticipation, the solemn atmosphere amid loud whispers.
On that day, I was going to serve my first High Mass. Soldiers become true soldiers after they fight their first battle. Acolytes become true acolytes after serving their first High Mass.
It surprises me now to have been so young back then, and to be feeling like I was fulfilling an important duty for the Catholic Church. Clothed in a stark white soutane beneath a lace surplice, I felt indomitable as I was taking active part in the celebration of the Mass. At the same time it was unnerving: feeling the eyes of the zealous lay members focused on the center aisle, meeting the sad gaze of the Virgin Mother at the altar, beholding the anguished features of the saints awaiting their martyrdom and salvation.
Indeed, I remember many things that happened on that day. But this is what I remember thinking about most: In the midst of the burgeoning technology, sexualized popular culture, and breakthroughs of science, the influence of the Vicar of Christ remains undiminished from where I am, and the disciples of His Holiness have shaped me in a magnitude I cannot possibly measure. Growing up under the tutelage of nuns, brothers and priests, I am not surprised to find my subconscious strongly upheld by the tenets of a Church struggling its way through a secular world, while still communicating in means and ways that date back to the Medieval Age, as The New York Times reported.
And their Jesus, the wounded incarnate of God hanging on the cross, became to me a detached figure living in the clouds, judging me for every mistake I could possibly make. This Catholic Christ was not revolutionary. In his name, societies have been operating in such a divide.
And so I remember asking: In these polarizing times between the rule of law and the rule of God, between what is necessary and what is moral, could it be possible to be Catholic and a freethinker at the same time? Or does maintaining this balance make you worldly, make you fake?
In other words, how Christian can a Christian be? How far up in heaven can he or she go for condemning the unrighteous, and how far deep in hell is he or she damned for thinking that the state must be free of the shackles of the Church? This seems an uncertain time to be a so-called Christian, because it has never been any more confusing than now.
Last year, the 72nd Venice International Film Festival featured the critically acclaimed “Spotlight,” directed by Tom McCarthy. This American film—which had a too-brief showing in cinemas here—tells the story of Pulitzer-winning journalists from the Boston Globe who investigated the child sex abuse cases involving Catholic priests. It has earned nominations in six categories for this year’s Academy Awards. That this harsh reality will shock and enter the subconscious of the moviegoer may be a hard blow on a Church that has faced numerous scandals since its heyday. More so because it strikes at the core of what the Church finds strongly abhorrent—the sins of the flesh.
The Church continues to play a significant role in history. The celebration of the 30th anniversary of Edsa I this week is a stark reminder of the power of Catholic Philippines—when the people heeded the call of Cardinal Jaime Sin and came out in droves to mount a peaceful revolution.
Another stark reminder is the recent interview of a candidate for public office, who based his controversial statements on homosexuality on his newfound faith, assuming that everyone else believes in the sacred text he swears by. And for that controversy he has lost supporters (and possible votes), but also gained some who admire his convictions.
This just shows that the medium plays such a crucial role, whether we would like to admit it or not. Perhaps the medium can even overshadow those which it is supposed to represent in the first place.
At 23, I met a different Christ. In his life he raised the eyebrows of the self-righteous. And if he were alive today, he would still elicit raised eyebrows, even among the type of people who claim to be speaking on his behalf.
In a world so strongly vocal about what it criticizes, the Christ I met stood strong on what he believed. He wasn’t the condemning sort, and not the impersonal type. And for that, he was, for me, quite the revolutionary.
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