I want to write about my favorite pet peeve - the political shenanigans in my country. But I refrain from doing so as I get so worked up I end up raising the level of my palpitations, instead of prayerful thoughts.
My readers will have to make do with rehashed thoughts, taken from my digital storehouse. I repost a journal entry dated March 14, 2004. I wrote it when the weather back in Baltimore, MD couldn't wait to be called spring, but, like us people who keep on hemming and hawing, pushing and pulling at one and the same time, it kept on falling back to winter, in nature's version of people who can't seem to get decided ever on what they want to be and do.
I originally entitled it MARCH MADNESS. The heading above was originally only the sub-title. News from Great Britain these past days are full of the recent terroristic madness that this journal entry back in 2004 also partly refers to - the infamous Marzo Once! In the local scene, well-intentioned dragons raise a hue and a cry about the dress code in Catholic churches in the Manila Archdiocese. (Thanks, Kay, for writing so nicely about it!). In the parish where I celebrate Mass regularly, people consistently arrive late - mostly during the time of the readings. Some even have the nerve to enter triumphantly and with perfect insouciance, during my homily. The British are changing their tunes today. No ... those who perpetrated the dastardly explosions were not "home-grown" terrorists, like as if it really mattered whether they were home-grown or not, like as if dying would be any less cruel and meaningless if they were not home-grown! Ahh, ubinam gentium sumus!
Here's the dated entry ...
THE MANY FANTASTIC TRICKS WE DO
“Man, proud man, dressed in a little, brief authority does such fantastic tricks before high heavens, as make the angels weep.” (Shakespeare)
March, at least in the so-called temperate zone, is a ripe time for all sorts of mania and madness. The weather goes raving mad, for one, ranging from summery sweltering highs to shivering, shuddering lows; from bright, brilliant sunshines, to gloomy, lowering and gloweringly menacing clouds threatening icy rain, slush, and late sleet and snow – all in rapid succession within a short span of time.
An epic struggle takes place between receding but proud winter, and hopeful, if excited spring, at this time of year, with the latter all raring to burst into glorious, glowing new life. A clash between the dark and dreary dead of winter on the one hand, and the light and lusty life-giving promise of spring takes place every day as the mercurial and the barometric sensors that plummet down as quickly as they shoot up all too clearly show.
The much awaited spring is a time for renewal, excitement, promise and endless possibilities. It could, alas, also be a time for disappointment, pain, and uncertainty. Will spring make good the hope it engendered all through the cold of winter? Will spring come in and make the most awaited and popular cherry trees burst forth into breathtaking blossoms in Tokyo and Washington, D.C.? Will spring dispel the slumbering ideals of a people whose hopes may have gelled into silent cynicism and quiet desperation, turned gelid and cold by the anemic and icy dedication of people who once were live and burning flames of idealism and brilliant leadership? Will the onset of spring in late March erase forever the unsavory reputation of the “ides of March” that brought Julius Caesar to his dreaded doom? Will all the muck-raking and mudslinging that seems to be de rigueur before elections (in the U.S. and in the Philippines) lead to a May-time of gladsome thanksgiving and celebrations or to a numbingly real November that soon paves the way to another “winter of discontent?”
Madness of Marzo Once
The series of well-coordinated explosions that rocked three separate trains over in Madrid, Spain on the eerily timed late winter morning of March 11, 911 days after the infamous 9/11 massacre made mince meat of a hopeful world’s best efforts at living a normal, peaceful life. The “ides of March” have once-more sealed the fate of a month now more known for madness and mania than for anything else. The cold-blooded massacre’s “success” was only surpassed by its utter madness. With all due respect to T.S. Eliot, March, not April, has become “the cruelest month,” (cf. The Wasteland) cruel in many ways more than just one. March began the war in search for weapons of mass destruction last year, a further addition to the piling reasons for mankind to do more of what, ironically, in people’s linear thinking style, war was designed to do – to keep peace. Did you get it right? To keep peace. Here we are face to face with the madness of Marzo Once. But here, we are face to face, too, with the madness that made Marzo Once and all the terroristic bombings and killings taking place all over the world, even as I write, a very attractive solution to a problem that the world has not fully defined.
The Madness of Linear Thinkers
A well-meaning father, seeing his two sons quarreling one day, asked a typical linear thinker’s brilliantly logical question: “Who started this fight?” Of course, the stronger of the two brothers, the “top dog,” immediately quipped: “It all started when he hit me back!” Linear thinking is a worldwide brain epidemic that has attacked the most intelligent people in the world: from presidents to priests, from businessmen to bums. Every problem must have a cause. To solve a problem one must root out the cause and eradicate that cause. As the two kids unmistakably show, even with adults like us, it is always somebody else’s fault. And the stronger one almost always wins, even before the fight actually starts.
In a system, such as every family, every society, every community is, the question as to who is at fault is immaterial. In a macro system such as the worldwide society, the simplistic search for who ought to be punished and banished, at some point becomes ludicrous. Should the people in the third world now be punished for air pollution and the consequent global warming because they have no sufficient legislation in place? Should people in corrupt governments and societies replace one government after another by putting up one revolution after another, thus, creating a banana republic in the process? (as what happens in Haiti which could very well happen in the Philippines, too!) Should everyone disappointed and despondent now in both countries flee like rats would escape a sinking ship? All this reminds me of the ultimate linear question that made Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ ultimately earn millions at the stills. “Who put Jesus Christ to death?” “Who is responsible for his being put to death on the cross?” Linear thinkers have a ready answer for it, depending on what side of the faith universe they are. The Jews wouldn’t have any part of it. The Romans, for the most part, (in Italy) have long since thrown their faith out in the Tiber to really care a hoot about who’s ultimately responsible. The media are only busy hyping the ante so that the controversy could earn them the coveted almighty dollar. The theologians and Biblical scholars have got their hands full answering the same questions put to them ad nauseam. The pseudo-theologians and the soft-liberal pastors that dot the American religious landscape all have a series of “theological issues” to raise against the movie. The extreme rightists lose no time propagating the movie, if for nothing else, to propagate their brand of Christianity that bases itself a whole lot on feelings.
In the mélange of culture, races, ethnic groups, religions, creeds and political groups of various persuasions that constitutes the changing face of America, every question, every issue, no matter how small and insignificant occasions, a group of impassioned supporters pro and con. People talk about the GIRM (General Instruction on the Roman Missal) but people continue doing what they think is best. The magisterium is pretty clear on a whole lot of issues, but the culture of pluralism almost forces people to adopt their own positions. The GIRM is clear on the exact manner of giving communion, but as usual, the “soft liberals” have their own version. The ultra-rightists, who appear more to be followers of the heretic Jansen than catholics have their own determined way of receiving communion, prostrating themselves like Veronica at the foot of the priest (why don’t they carry a portable communion rail?). Now, here’s hoping you don’t get me wrong. I am not a stickler for details just for the sake of details, but at the rate we are getting polarized into two irreconcilable camps (the extreme left and the extreme right) I begin to sense a lurking danger. What happens now to the living and teaching Church – represented by the official Magisterium? If every theologian of both persuasions can decide for himself what is the orthodox teaching on any topic, then what do we make of the voice of the living Magisterium?
I have always maintained that the Church is harmed immensely by both the ultra conservatives and the ultra progressives. Both have their own brand of theology. Both think that their theology is parallel to the Magisterium. Both think that they have the ultimate word on a whole lot of things. Both are rigid … and rigidity is associated with death – as in rigor mortis! When theology thinks and behaves like it is above the Magisterium, then theology loses its meaning, its purpose, its very reason for existing. For some ultra conservative groups, legitimate devotion is made a stepping stone for some strange teachings (when will these groups ever tire of re-setting the scheduled and dreaded “three days of darkness?”), substituting unhealthy fear for love of God and healthy attachment to the living community of believers. For many ultra progressives, the Holy Father is not “postmodern” enough, not in touch with reality, not in pace with the modern ways of the world, and therefore still lives in the Middle Ages, etc.
A frightening prospect lies behind both extremes. The implication is shuddering to think of – that the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised to the living Church is no longer in what we know as the Church. Push it a little further and the ultimate implication is unmistakable … the true teaching lies now in this little, funny group who preaches the modern version of “fire and brimstone,” or that happy, fellowship-inspired group who makes of the Mass nothing more, nothing else, and nothing less than a time to sing together, a time for horizontal mirth-making, with a few “pious readings” thrown in for good measure, and please … no mention of any Papal encyclicals, for God’s sake! (And avoid all talk of those strange topics called “hell” or “purgatory” “sin,” or “abortion.” Just wait for next year’s Pro-Life march at the national Mall!) By their “additions” or “deletions” to and from the official orthodox teaching, through overemphasis on one aspect or under emphasis on some others, both groups ultimately do harm to the integrity of the faith. A scholastic philosophical dictum comes to mind here: goodness comes from the totality and badness comes from whatever detracts from that integrity (Bonum ex integra cause; malum ex quocumque defectu.)
The U.S. Secretary of Health made an appearance on national TV two weeks ago with this ominous sentence: “We are just too darned fat, ladies and gentlemen.” Well, he was talking to about 130 million Americans, 65 % of the total population who are, … well, just that - “too darned fat.” There was immediate response from the fast-food giants – (everything in America is “big” … ever wondered why one of the biggest food stores is called “Giant?”) something that the business world has been doing for decades now all over the world … downsizing. No more supersize fries; no more supersize soda. Afraid of being sued again for enabling people to get fatter than they would like, they made a mad rush toward more realistic portions.
Martha Stewart made the “wrong move at the wrong time.” For not telling the truth when the right time asked for it, she was booked mercilessly and stands to spend “vacation time” in jail. The multi-millionaire and undisputed “domestic diva” for more than a decade, who wanted to save a measly 51,000 dollars by dumping her stocks, now has lost millions – and still counting! Paranoid America is booking everyone for every imaginable infraction of the law. What Giuliani did to beautify and put New York City back in its former glory, federal America now is doing. A pervasive paranoia now seeps through the cultural, religious, political atmosphere. (The Church has a lot to contribute to this paranoia with the pedophilia scandal). After 9/11, one cannot anymore do whatever one wants. Travelers, including those with the once respected “laissez passer” document, can be subjected to on the spot checks, and be handcuffed, if for no fault of their own, their name matches any of the thousands in their huge data base. As a student here, I have to prove to the government that I am really enrolled full time in school. The SEVIS on-line computer tracking system for students put in place just last year has an intricate system of monitoring which makes the school accountable if one of its students has been doing other things. For me to go out of the country temporarily, I will have to “inform” the government. Going back in, everyone is fingerprinted and photographed, and once back, has to report once more to the same office.
Mania for more Roads
A recent study showed that traffic has steadily worsened in the major cities all over the United States. L.A.,Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas are among the worst. So, too, are Chicago, SFO and Houston. More roads are being planned. Again, linear thinking mode has set in. Space is basically limited and no matter how big America is, soon, with the rapid growth of population, with the lavish life style getting more and more lavish and comfort-bound, there will be more and more demands for bigger and bigger houses, bigger and bigger cars, and more and more roads. More roads will fuel more development, more trash, more demand for natural resources, for more space. Soon, we will be back to where we started. The model just cannot go on like this forever. Sooner than we think, America will have to think more along the lines of mass transit, instead of each one having a car. Fossil fuels are not increasing by the day. They are not replenishable. Already, the prices of gasoline, arguably the cheapest in all the world, has gone up steadily over the past weeks and months, and expected still to go up like mad.
Mania for Cults
America is a haven for all sorts of newfangled cults whether home grown or coming from foreign shores. At this point in time, there are at least 630 known cults being watched by the FBI and by relevant Church authorities. (Ever wondered why these foreign cults love to go to the first world, and not to other third world countries? Because there’s oodles of money here, and plenty of gullible people to invite.) A number of them are no less than destructive (remember Waco, Jim Jones, and that group that all wore expensive sneakers before they all followed their leader to mass suicide?). Some others look as benign as sheep being led to the slaughter, flowing robes and all. What’s common among them is the gradual process of subtle deception that at some point makes the unsuspecting proselyte reach a snapping point after which he or she would have a progressively lower level of cult awareness. Through a variety of very smart and subtle tactics designed to work over the long haul, like meditation and prayer, they work towards a gradual involuntary form of slavery, where the candidate becomes mesmerized and enamored through the mechanism of idealization, of a leader or guru, as the case may be, who soon assumes, or is accorded, an ideal “fatherly” or “motherly” image. Emotional and psychological deficits unaddressed since childhood, get capitalized by these very smart leaders who start out by not rustling feathers. Other tactics go by the very popular low-carb or healthy options that attract immediate followers – to go vegetarian or vegan – something not bad in itself and actually healthy, but which over the long haul, may lead to the candidate’s being robbed of protein. The protracted diet then contributes to overall vulnerability and further suggestibility. Weekends of prayer meetings then turn into weeks of indoctrination, until one loses all sense of perspective about daily life and daily reality. The conditions for subtle abuse are created. Soon fatigue, loss of identity and confusion set in. The person soon becomes a card-bearing member of the cult and becomes a perfect come-on for others, who like them, may still be looking for something they missed in childhood – an ideal father or mother figure. Mind control is the ultimate aim of this very subtle cultic madness.
Some Christian sects are not beyond using the same tactics, by the way. Once one is in, there is a very real, strong, and pervasive control system that makes it hard for the member to go against the grain or sing a different tune. (Some even have a way of checking not only a person’s weekly attendance for worship, but also how much one gives to the collection box!). Similarly, some so-called covenanted communities may also be led by very controlling and manipulative “elders” who never step down from their office, and who have a way of controlling even the feelings of their members, and certainly, their behavior. (Some ultra conservative leaders of groups in the catholic Church capitalize a lot on fear of eternal damnation, and talk endlessly of reparation for sins, thus making their hearers and followers always feel unnecessarily guilty for not praying all 20 mysteries of the rosary, or not doing the overnight adoration, or not fasting three times a week, to cite just a few examples.)
The many fantastic tricks we do before high heavens, ultimately boil down to the ultimate madness. The “who” question that wanted to put imputability and blame to whoever was responsible for the death of Christ, was really the wrong question. It was not primarily “who” but “what.” Sinfulness, such as only free human beings like us can do, along with human weakness, the “broken nature” part of our being human, is what is behind all this ultimate madness – the unacknowledged and repressed anger that shows itself as perpetual apparent goodness, the deficits that accrued from our less than perfect life history, all normal parts of growing up human but which unfortunately never reached the level of awareness and acceptance. This is the answer. Having found the answer, there is no longer need to ask the “who” question. For all of us, who “have fallen short of the glory of God,” as St. Paul puts it, have all been busy making “the angels weep.”
Dundalk, MD - March 14, 2004