John 14:1-12; Fifth Sunday of Easter
Ever heard the word, “cathoholic”? I chuckled the first time I heard it a few years ago. I kinda suspected what it meant before I looked it up. Cathoholic: a Catholic who’s drunk with Roman-Catholic beliefs, traditions, rituals, morals, but misses out on the Christic values, like option and action for the poor, compassion, inclusivity, community life—the kind of person Jesus was like. “More Roman than Catholic,” is another funny way of putting it, or a bit more painfully, “More Catholic than Christian.”
First, cathoholics know the truths of the faith: doctrines, propositions, liturgical rules. They’re well-versed on the catechism & Catholic morality, with particular attention to what is forbidden, and who is forbidden. Second, cathoholics know the way of the faith. They receive sacraments regularly, especially confession and daily Mass. They love sacramentals (blessing of house/statue/car). They have devotions: many rosaries a day, novenas, St Benedict medals on all doorknobs, holy water on the altar, little cups of salt here and there to repel Satan. Third, cathoholics know how to earn eternal life, namely, by holding the aforesaid truths and walking the Roman Catholic way. Here’s the rub: sadly, cathoholics are often intolerant. They’re intolerant of non-Catholics (like Protestants); intolerant of non-Christians (like Muslims); intolerant of other forms of Catholicism (El Shaddai, The Feast, etc); and intolerant of fellow good and devout Catholics who just happen to have a different sexual orientation.
The main goal of cathoholics’ hyper-focus on all things Roman Catholic seems to personal salvation. Religion is really a one-on-one affair between them and God, Jesus, Mama Mary. To be a good Catholic means to assiduously perform all traditional and ritual obligations to the letter. Sunday Mass is a personal obligation more than community worship. It only so happens that other people are in the same building, fulfilling their own personal obligation, for personal salvation. So, very often, cathoholics have two different personalities. They’re very pious and devout whenever there’s an altar or a priest. But outside of those occasions, they default to being domineering, uncharitable, easily angered, and often, matapobre. So, people walk on eggshells around them because of their toxic personality. Until they’re back before the altar, alone.
Sisters and brothers, the way, truth, and life of our faith is not just a what. “Way” is not just a path we walk that’s paved with traditional rites, rituals, devotions. “Truth” is not just an inviolable inventory of Catholic doctrines, rules, and creeds we must hold, fight about, and defend. “Life” is not just a one-on-one affair with God, Jesus, Mama Mary. “I AM the way, the truth, & the life,” Jesus says. So, the way, truth, and life is a WHO, not a just a what. This Who did not hyper-focus on the what’s of Judaism. Instead, he gave himself away to the for-whom of his mission: people who needed a fair shake in life. Why? Because the “judaholics” at the time, Pharisees and Sadducees, they were too busy hyper-focusing on personal salvation by performing the what’s of the Law.
In the first reading, the apostles remind the first Christians that the cornerstone of this new faith was a Who. The Greek converts at the time noticed that their Hebrew brethren were not giving them an equal share in food, due to their being a different race; echoes of Pharisaic, Sadduceic xenophobia. Later on, when Paul visited Peter’s community, he was shocked that the Jewish and Gentile converts were eating at separate tables, not together! Inaway niya si Peter! Again, the mindset of us-versus-them, typical of hyper-focus on the what’s of faith instead of the who and the for-whom. Cathoholics tend to be that way. They find comfort in either-or-thinking; black-or-white, binary thinking; us-versus-them. This is why religion is a one-on-one between them and God. It’s a comfort zone: being alone & being right with God alone.
Yuja Wang from China and Khatia Buniátishvilli from Georgia are 2 of the world’s leading classical pianists today. Both are virtuosic, esp. when playing bravado pieces. Agile and light, their fingers go at breakneck speed. Left hand nimble as right, their monstrous octaves leap seamlessly up and down by C the piano with no extraneous notes, no slips, no falls.
When Yuja plays a slow Chopin nocturne, you find yourself waiting for the passages where she would showcase her phenomenal finger dexterity. That’s what she’s known for: technical superiority. But when Khatia plays the same piece, something different happens. Her playing calls up childhood memories, people’s faces, feelings. Oh, both pianists know “the way” (technique, accuracy, volume). They know the “truth” (principles of interpretation, composer’s biography, period/era of composition). But while Yuja draws attention to the adroitness of her hands, thanks to her almost robotic virtuosity, Khatia blesses the piece with a beating heart, and makes it breathe and sigh, and gives it a voice so that it whispers to you, or yells at the world, or cries with you. One makes you think how far ahead of you she’s gone. The other holds your hand and assures you that you’re not alone.
A cathoholic is therefore like a pianist with prodigiously dexterous fingers, virtuosic and phenomenal in musical knowledge, technique, and performance. But the music has no beating heart. It is cold even if it’s flawless. It is disconnected from you even if it sounds precise and correct, “right and just.”
Whenever a troubling issue comes up in the faith, cathoholics jump and ask: “What does the Church say about this?” On the other hand, the true Christians would ask that, too, sure, but don’t stop there. “What would Jesus do?” is their final question. It is not wrong to ask what the Church says about something; that’s orthodoxy, the right believing. But the follow-up question is more important: “What would Jesus do?” That’s orthopraxis, the right living. Our faith is not just all about what’s. Our way, truth, and life is a Who. And he always had a for-whom. Which do we desire to be, sisters and brothers? A cathoholic? Or a true Christian?
*image from the Internet