Faith and consequenceBy Fr. Francis Ongkingco
Cebu Daily News
Back in high school, not so many years ago, after class we would relax in the subdivision clubhouse for a few snacks and drinks. The absence of iPhones, tablets and PSPs, fueled us to be more creative in spending these pastimes.
Options were not as endless as today’s music playlists or video games insecurely stored in a 32 Gigabyte iPhone or Tablet. We enjoyed chatting about friends, plotting our future careers and playing casual games.
One of the games was called ‘truth or consequence.’ I considered it a milder version of Russian roulette and perhaps worse since I hated being asked about girlfriends, crushes or break ups.
Instead of a pistol, we used a ball-pen or an empty soft drink bottle. As the ‘pistol’ pen or bottle slowly stopped spinning, the person it pointed at would have to either choose to answer ‘truthfully’ a question or opt to carry out something he was dared to do by the group.
If you chose ‘truth’, the juicy information was always welcomed by the ‘gossipist’ of the batch since whatever small or big talk was always like fresh air for dead-talk in the province. If you chose otherwise (though the group had other ways of knowing your secrets anyway), then ‘consequence’ was a safer option.
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I recalled this silly game when I was trying to think of an analogy to explain how our commitment to faith entails total adherence to its content AND its demands. It cannot be a whimsical choice between one OR the other. Sadly, many Christians only opt to embrace (often superficial as well) the contents of the faith, but reluctantly follow its moral demands.
Faith and its implication in man’s moral life are two realities that complement each other for the sake of man’s human and supernatural fulfillment. One’s belief cannot remain in some conceptual void. Beliefs or convictions ought to naturally move man to behave according to them. Thus, faith alone, without its moral facet, would become a mere fashionable intellectual and inspirational indulgence.
Benedict XVI, in Porta fidei, unveils this sad and alarming reality. “It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied. (no. 2)”
In another place, the Holy Father gives a concrete example: the very door of faith, Christian baptism. This institution was never questioned in the past; in fact, it was always recognized as a necessary gift opening for the soul –besides holiness and Heaven– many wonderful graces required by life’s challenges.
The Pope comments: “We were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit before we knew what was happening to us. Today, many people doubt whether this is a good thing. We have the impression that decisions are being anticipated and imposed on the person that only he himself can properly make. Such presumption seems to us a questionable limitation on human freedom in a central sphere of life. (In The God of Jesus Christ)”
We could describe this attitude as a ‘commercialized faith.’ It coherently flows from today’s consumerist tendency of acquiring the good without too many strings attached and without too much effort. When faith is embraced from this angle, one distorts the grace of Baptism into something burdensome. Thus, we hear people negatively react: ‘If I get baptized, it means I would have to go to weekly Mass?’ or ‘If I’m baptized, then I can’t do this or that anymore?’
Benedict XVI answers these egoistically conceived positions of a commercialized faith saying that, “we are forgetting that life, too, is something determined in advance for us—we are not consulted beforehand! And life entails so much else as well: when a person is born, not only his biological existence is determined in advance, but also his language, the age in which he lives, its way of thinking, its evaluations. A life without ‘advance gifts’ of this kind does not exist; the question is what these advance gifts are. (Ibid.)”
To this we add another example: individuals who claim to be ‘catholic’ but are reluctant to embrace and live the fullness of their faith within the Church, Her authority and teachings. This incoherent dichotomy will eventually convert one’s faith into one more personal ‘socializing apparel’ minimally reserved for Sundays, and later to be tossed away and displaced by party, sports, mall and beach garbs.
The Holy Father replies: “Where the Church is regarded only as an accidental human association, the ‘advance gift’ of faith will be questionable. But one who is convinced that it is a question, not of some human association, but rather of the gift of the love that already awaits us even before we draw our first breath, will see his most precious task as the preparation of another person to receive the advance gift of love—for it is only this gift that justifies passing on the gift of life to him. This means that we must learn anew to take God as our starting point when we seek to understand the Christian existence. (Ibid.)”
Before going on his retreat, Benedict XVI invited us to make our faith and its consequences the “criterion of our life and of the Church’s life.” This involves constantly struggling against the temptation of mediocrity and ingratitude towards God’s graces. Thus, the Holy Father advised that this spiritual combat ensues within “the decisive moments of life,” where we must constantly examine ourselves. “If we look closely, in every moment, we are at a crossroads: do we want to follow the self, or God? (Benedict XVI, Address, 1st Sunday of Lent, 17-II-2013)”