Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Gospel according to E.T.

Is there life out there amongst the billions of galaxies teeming with possibilities?

Ever since the first scientists suggested that we might have crawled out of the primordial slime and wriggled our way into humanity, countless evolutionary theories have speculated that if this was true of life on earth, there is no reason to think that intelligent life cannot be replicated elsewhere in far away galaxies with life support systems that mirror our own. And if that were true, how do we reconcile our Christian faith with colonies of E.T. trampling through Elliot’s garden eating M&Ms?

Doesn’t our faith in Christ as sole mediator and savior of mankind exclude this possibility? Are we not the sole beneficiary of God’s saving love and fatherhood? Or do we have distant cousins and spiritual siblings we know nothing about?

The Magisterial Church has never made any pronouncements about this for good reason. First off, it’s just curious speculation no matter how many alien abductions, UFOs and unpleasant bodily probings some people claim to have encountered on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”.

Secondly, although it makes for interesting debate, it is not crucial to the life of Christians to wrangle about the souls of possible extra-terrestrials when we have far more urgent and practical commitments to our own proven salvation history. For all our faith in the supernatural life, Christians are practical and realists when it comes to living the truth.

Having said that, some theologians have suggested various ways of looking at this question if the basis of alien life was true. Perhaps like in a parallel universe, they would have their own “Jesus” and their own salvation history. Or perhaps like the history of the Jewish nation, salvation would first be offered to the human race and then extended to the “gentile” nations of the stars in time to come, spurred on by the evangelizing efforts of astronaut priests and missionaries. Others insist that the possibility of other intelligent life forms does not omit the need for a creator of the universe, nor in redeeming humanity did Christ not also redeem the entire order of creation as St. Paul says.

The truth is...I don’t know. But here’s what I think.

Love is a funny thing; you can’t scrutinize it under a microscope or swirl it in a test-tube, although some people seem to think otherwise when it comes to making babies. And it was supernatural love - personal, pure and eternal - that created and redeemed us.

God did not clinically make Adam and Eve out of a cold laboratory, he gave birth to us as it were from his own supernatural life; as a woman gives birth to her child through the life of her own human nature – begun and sustained with conjugal and maternal love. In saying this I do not mean that the theory of evolution is debunked, but rather that the natural process of creation does not rob God of his supernatural intent or motivation – which is to give himself to us as our fulfillment and joy. Through the redemption of Christ we are further born into a new life of supernatural grace, which bonds us even closer to God in the intimacy of father and child.

What does this mean?

There’s a phrase from St. Josemaria Escriva that I dearly love: divine filiation - the idea that we are not merely adopted, but that we are truly sons and daughters of God by dignity and redemption through the love and mercy of Christ. This truth above all other truths explains our reason for joy and hope in life. And as any of us know, a father’s love is deeply personal and intimate. It doesn’t matter how many other children are stumbling around in the playground, a father has a special, devoted and faithful love for his own child above all others; because “this” is flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.

To look into the face of your own child is to see your own.

And the relationship that God has with mankind, unraveled through the historic ages of this planet we live on is a personal relationship between father and child, bridegroom and bride.

Scripture tells us that all things in the cosmos were created for man, to help man realize the love of God for him, and for him to draw closer to the love of his creator.

It doesn’t matter how many planets or solar systems purport to support life, God is not obligated to populate the universe with similar beings just because he did so for one tiny blue planet. He made all things and as maker of all things, he is exempt from the limitations he imposes on all things. The natural laws of the universe cannot impose themselves upon the supernatural will of their creator, who sustains their very existence by his own love.

As such, there is no reason to believe that just because God chose to have this personal, intimate history with mankind, he must do so for every other planet that bears the same ideal conditions.

Love doesn’t work that way. In fact, real intimate love is always faithful and often exclusive in a special way.

Just because I fall in love with a certain kind of woman doesn’t mean I will fall in love with every other woman with the same character traits. I may feel similarly attracted to these features in another woman, but love demands more than just a set of chemical responses in the brain, it demands a personal choice and an conscious act of the will.

In other words, I may be naturally attracted to someone but I supernaturally choose to love someone; even though sometimes she may be less than attractive to me. There's a big difference between the two.

Does God himself act differently? Out of all the great nations of the world, he chose one tiny nation to make a covenant with, and he remained faithful to that covenant despite Israel’s countless adulteries with foreign Gods.

Out of all the pure, faithful and virtuous women in Israel at that time, he chose one young Nazarene virgin to be born of, and to be given the dignity of being his mother and the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Out of the countless myriads of people milling around the Judean countryside, he called 12 men to himself to be the cornerstone of his Church, and out of those 12, he chose a weak stumbling and impetuous fisherman to lead them. And in your own lifetime, he has chosen you through the waters of baptism to be a sign of his special love among others.

Is there a science to that? As far as I know, the science of divine love will never pass the scrutiny of atheistic scientists because it was tested, applied and proven on the folly of Calvary.

The basis of evolution, or indeed any scientific discipline is wrapped around very precise formulas and theoretical presumptions, and the end result often lies along a very narrow strip of speculation based on statistical data. Hence even though natural science is really a great adventure of discovery, it’s also a very controlled experience governed by the natural laws of the universe; at least those that we know of anyway.

But God is above those laws. How often for instance have we seen medical science flounder in defeat when trying to explain supernatural interventions and healings in the lives of patients who cannot medically survive? How often can we not explain why one woman is fruitful in her womb while another remains sterile when no medical anomalies exist between them etc?

Love is a very different kind of adventure; it’s unpredictable, passionate and constantly filled with sweet surprises that endure in fidelity. And ultimately God is love - the best kind, and I sincerely wish you that kind of adventure.

So in short, do I think E.T. exists with all the other green men of the universe? At this point, my personal entry in the Captain’s Log, stardate 2007 says “I very much doubt it”.

But that’s just my opinion as a man of faith, not as a man of science.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Walking in the moonlight

How the seasons change. Today, we celebrate Pentecost; the birth of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only a little while ago, we recall the joy of Easter. The church bells chimed with the rhythm of new life, announcing to the world that sin and death have been vanquished, darkness must give way to light. And yet for some, this Lenten season has passed without so much as a murmur of change. The leaves fall, the sun shines and the vicissitudes of life meander as usual as we go about our pleasures and our business.

For others, this holy season has brought us closer to the passion of Christ than we dared imagine. Far beyond our tepid abstinence on Fridays and our half-hearted prayers, it seems Lenten mortification has come calling with the violence of an unwelcome guest. Life can sometimes be a hard drink to swallow when the wine press of suffering distills the potency of faith.

I know of many who have endured pain, misunderstanding, loss, illness and death over this period – so much so that inevitable questions arise within their human hearts – Where is God? Is he real? Why me?

Indeed, what is the Christian response to suffering, especially when it afflicts the innocent and good with the bluntness of crude terror? What words escape us when Calvary shakes the ground we stand upon and swallows us in its bowels?

Instinctively, we look towards the cross of Christ. From our spiritual birth, we’ve been taught to find our answers and meaning in the crucified form of the Nazarene, who so loved us, he hung himself dry of life in order that we may live with hope - brave, certain, new abiding hope - supernatural hope. And so we pray.

And we pray.

And we pray.

And sometimes, the wait for an answer echoes in unbearable silence. For a generation used to quick solutions and immediate gratification, this can be a torturous journey that pushes our faith and hope to the limits.

Why does God take so long to come to our aid? 40 years of the Israelites wandering in the desert, 13 years of St. Monica weeping for the conversion of her son Augustine, and night after night of endless prayers offered up in desperation by countless souls in the crucible of Calvary. Sometimes, the sighs we offer up to the eternal one seem to take an eternity to be answered. In the meantime, we stay racked on a bed of pain where the sinews of our faith are stretched to the limits of human credence.

In short, the mystery of Christian suffering remains that – a mystery. And I don’t think there are any human answers for the divine will, at least none that will satisfy our vulgar thirst for justification.

It’s understandable that we want to hold God accountable for our faith in him. “We believed in you and we called on your name and you did not answer”. It’s what I call the “convenience store” spirituality. I made an agreement with you that you would be my God and I would be your customer. I rang the bell and there was no service. Not only that, I was kept waiting even though I’m obviously an important patron with an existing account - in this case, my willingness to profess my belief in you as my Lord and Savior as long as you hold up your end of the transaction in this barter of wills.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten up from my table at a restaurant and simply walked away because of the bad service, or turned my nose at a bargain because I was invisible to sales staff who were too busy picking lint off their lapels to notice my calls for help.

Nobody likes to be ignored because we expect a certain degree of attention and responsibility from people in our circle of life, whether personal, romantic or professional. And since we’ve invested our hopes and faith in this bank of trust, we expect reasonable returns or lo and behold, we’re withdrawing our faith and taking our business somewhere else.

But God is not our supplier and we are not his clients. Our Father in heaven wants nothing from us but only happiness for us. To persist in the immaturity of this “convenience store” relationship will only obstruct our faith and bury our prayers in the soil of self-conceit, and we shall never penetrate the essence of what it means to be loved and to love with all our hearts in spite of riding the roller coaster of life.

The covenant between God and man is not a business contract; it is a marriage feast of the lamb, a spousal union of life that invites us to give ourselves to another in generous service and love so as to till the soil of our own souls to receive the seed and flowering of the Holy Spirit in our relationships. But like the multitudes that followed Jesus through the Judean countryside, we sometimes mistake our lust for God’s bread with our love for him.

In a marriage, we do not marry for what our spouses can do for us but for who they are as persons in God. And if we are to be faithful in our supernatural marriage to the Lamb of God, we must open our eyes and our hearts to the greatest good that is our Lord himself, and not what he can do for us.

Still, we cannot ignore the very real suffering of losing a loved one, or the pain of debilitating disease or the empty hours of deep loneliness some of us go through. The Lord himself does not want us to deny these realities and difficulties.

But neither does he want us to lose hope or courage on the brow of Calvary, for standing beneath that cross in the storm of uncertainty, is to also stand before the power of redemption and life; to be bathed in the water and blood that gushes upon us in love and renewal so that strengthened and transformed like the Roman Centurion; St. Longinus, we may descend from that holy mountain to face the world anew with glory and strength.

As we recall the memory of the infant church gathered around the presence of her mother Mary, who prayed with and for them, I find it most interesting that Our Blessed Lord chose to give Mary to us as our own beloved Mother at the very precise point of his crucifixion; when the disciples were twisting in the fear and despair of their darkest hour, unable to see the light that was bursting forth from his pierced heart.

There were so many glorious episodes in the gospel when our Lord could’ve chosen to make this grand gift of his mother to the Church, but instead he waited for this one dramatic moment to entrust her to us and vice versa. Why?

Is it because when the night is darkest that we need the moon the most, so that we will not lose our way completely. Or maybe it’s because Our Lord knows that we need to draw strength from her maternal presence and love the same way he did, in all the dark Calvarys of our lives? Perhaps it’s when we feel most abandoned and orphaned that we need our mother’s love the most?

Surely it’s all of the above and more. I’ve included one of my favourite renderings of the Pieta scene with this entry. And to close, I’d like to also share this little anecdote from the life of St. Josemaria Escriva…where he shares an observation from his childhood:

“I remember how in my country, when harvest season came and they did not yet have these modern agricultural machines, they lifted the heavy bundles of wheat by hand and loaded them on the backs of mules or poor little donkeys. And come a certain time in the day, around noon, the wives, the daughters, the sisters would come – with scarves gracefully draped over their heads, so that their more delicate skin would not get sunburned – and bring them cool wine. That drink refreshed the tired men, encouraged them, strengthened them…That is how I see you, O Blessed Mother. When we struggle to serve God, you come to encourage us throughout this journey. Through your hands, all graces come to us.”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hello again...

It's been forever since I last posted anything on this blog. But like any enduring project, it requires its own commitment and energies. Forgive me for slacking off. Between the demands of work, the exhaustion of engagements and the curve balls that life throws at us ever so often, I have not been able to be present at this site.

Well let us begin again.

I initially intended this blog to be less about me and more about my faith, but typing out little treatises about doctrine, apologetics and faith require more precise thoughts, phrasings and academic discipline than I'm available for. Yet despite my penchant for privacy, I realise also that my faith is best explained and shared with you, my friends, through my life and struggles and not just through my encyclopaedic knowledge...which is miniscule to start with.

So let's take a break from that and just chat shall we? It's about time I slowed down and just gave myself the joy of space and being.

If anything, I'd probably take short trips around asia just to ease off a little...but first chance I get, I'd like to head towards Spain, and more of Italy. The Italian countryside and the rennaissance of Florence still capture my imagination. And the eternal city of Rome resides in my heart like a mother looking out for her son's return with an embrace of good food, good cheer and tender love.

Even though there are many places that call to our wanderlust, every step towards a private moment with God is a vacation in beauty. And our souls need little vacations now and then.

There's a little rugged flatland near my apartment that I sometimes trudge to for fun. It's a little oasis of greenery and virgin tracks that taper towards a wide river which eventually leads to the open sea. And it always amazes me that hidden beneath the shadows of high-rise flats is a scenic buffet of untamed landscape, exotic birds and cute critters. And everytime I laced up my hiking boots for a visit, I feel like I'm taking a vacation with the Lord and entering this secret garden of thoughts and smiles.

I enjoy luxuries like anyone else, but it always surprises me how little we really need to lift up our hearts and joys. And it amazes me even more how much heaven is within our grasp when we school ourselves in the art of learning how to love truly in a beautiful relationship. Human love is a great mystery and a great gift of life. Unlike many today who give only to receive, we must remember to give in order that the other may receive our best sacrament of love...their joy and fulfillment as human beings are our reward and satisfaction, since Christian joy exults and multiplies in the happiness and growth of our beloved. In our calling to be saints, we must always give thanks for our struggles as sinners...and not be discouraged in our vocations to be sacraments of Christ to each other.

I pray that all who read this post will know this joy of living, loving and praying. And if you've been really busy and tired lately, take a little vacation...take a walk with Jesus...and let your heart smile and hope again. For as the disciples of Emmaus discovered, "did not our hearts burn within us when he was talking to us?"