"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Feast of the Black Nazarene: How the devotees of the Black Nazarene saved my vocation to the priesthood

Faith is more than a personal conviction... (Spe Salvi 7). I learned about the deep meaning behind this assertion from Benedict XVI when I visited Quiapo church during my eight-day retreat prior to my ordination to the presbyterate in 2012. What happened? At that time I have accomplished the comprehensive examinations already; so there could never have been a time that I would be more prepared. Until, lo and behold, the unexpected came. I went through a deep desolation of a sort. It was not the typical desolation that I thought I would still go through at that time. After the third day, a serious doubt arose in me about whether or not I was really called to the priestly vocation. At first I thought it was just another temptation from the Evil One who was trying to make a last minute trick on me; however, it turned out to be his most diabolical and wicked scheme of all. What did he do to me? He told me all the lies he could say, e.g., that I did not have a calling from the very start. He told me that I just made it all up according to my own liking. My retreat guide, Fr. Arnel Aquino, SJ, gave me the leeway to choose which biblical texts to use. I was even so proud about the first three days of the retreat when I felt so consoled by all the sacred passages that I "prayed" about only to realize it was the disguised angel of light with whom I was conversing at prayer. I experienced what St. Ignatius wrote in his Spiritual Exercises about the angel of light: "At first he will suggest good and holy thoughts, and then, little by little he strives to gain his own ends by drawing the soul into his hidden deceits." Even in matters of the Sacred Scriptures the enemy out staged me saying that I was not better off than he and he knew from Adam everything in the bible. He bombarded me with all the lies until it became more and more difficult to convince my mind otherwise. It was a free fall with the thought that I just made it all up. I did not have a calling from God because even this God whom I believed in was no longer real. I just made him all up too. And all my personal convictions about myself and my God suddenly collapsed. That was when I learned that personal conviction alone is not secure; it can be very shaky.

How did God save me from this hole?

Ifelt like I went through the Cartesian doubt. Even my own thoughts were put in unstable ground and everything with it. I realized then that I could not trust my own thoughts anymore. My retreat guide told me not to read anything but just go to the Quiapo church in Manila to attend mass and contemplate the many devotees I will find there. After the mass when the lay minister sprinkled holy water upon the people coming from various walks of life I was deeply touched by their sincere acts of devotion, expressions of their love for the Black Nazarene. I remember seeing a woman who raised a pile of books and a few pens to be blessed. I surmised these were her reviewers and writing materials for an upcoming licensure exam. In my contemplation of her the image of the hemorrhagic woman who touched the tassel of Jesus' cloak suddenly flashed in my memory. There were countless others who were praying ardently, with tears. And they fervently believed. When I came back home I joined the evening mass of the Jesuit community where I was staying for my retreat. I volunteered as a lector and acolyte at the mass. During the post communion as I was cleaning and wiping the chalice with the linen, it flashed in my mind memories during the last supper of our Lord. I felt in my hands the sacredness of the linen and chalice. "My mind cannot doubt these anymore!" I told myself. These are real and they brought me back to the ultimate "proof" of the existence of Jesus who made all these possible, the one who instituted everything. I felt the Lord calling me anew to his love and assured me that his love will always be real. After that the think cloud of doubt evaported. At that point, I knew I was brought out of the abyss of my darkest desolation. Thanks to the simple but substantial "proof" of our Christian faith: the “substance” of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen. Below is the whole section seven of Spe Salvi that is a worthwhile read on the matter. We remember also what happened 500 years ago during the reformation when Martin Lutherchief catalyst for one of the biggest splits in the history of Christendom, looked at faith in a different light as Benedict XVI points out in Spe SalviFr. JM Manzano, SJ

500 Years Since Martin Luther's Excommunication (January 3, 1521)

The following is an excerpt from the encyclical letter Spe Salvi, on Christian Hope, by Benedict XVI (November 30, 2007) which explains the bone of contention or the main subject or issue over which there is continuing disagreement between Catholics and Protestants for the past 500 years. The following is the whole section 7 of the encyclical where the former pontiff sheds a ray of hope as both sides open up their understanding of what constitutes Christian faith that is faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ in Scripture and Tradition.

Spe Salvi
on Christian Hope
by Benedict XVI
November 30, 2007

7We must return once more to the New Testament. In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (v. 1) we find a kind of definition of faith which closely links this virtue with hope. Ever since the Reformation there has been a dispute among exegetes over the central word of this phrase, but today a way towards a common interpretation seems to be opening up once more. For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated. The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen.” [Transliteration from the original Greek: Estin de pistis elpizomenōn upostasis pragmatōn elenchos ou blepomenōn.] For the Fathers and for the theologians of the Middle Ages, it was clear that the Greek word hypostasis was to be rendered in Latin with the term substantia. The Latin translation of the text produced at the time of the early Church therefore reads: Est autem fides sperandarum substantia rerum, argumentum non apparentium—faith is the “substance” of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen. St. Thomas Aquinas, using the terminology of the philosophical tradition to which he belonged, explains it as follows: faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see. The concept of “substance” is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say “in embryo”—and thus according to the “substance”—there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this “thing” which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not “appear”), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence. To Luther, who was not particularly fond of the Letter to the Hebrews, the concept of “substance,” in the context of his view of faith, meant nothing. For this reason he understood the term hypostasis/substance not in the objective sense (of a reality present within us), but in the subjective sense, as an expression of an interior attitude, and so, naturally, he also had to understand the term argumentum as a disposition of the subject. In the twentieth century this interpretation became prevalent—at least in Germany—in Catholic exegesis too, so that the ecumenical translation into German of the New Testament, approved by the Bishops, reads as follows: Glaube aber ist: Feststehen in dem, was man erhofft, Überzeugtsein von dem, was man nicht sieht (faith is: standing firm in what one hopes, being convinced of what one does not see). This in itself is not incorrect, but it is not the meaning of the text, because the Greek term used (elenchos) does not have the subjective sense of “conviction” but the objective sense of “proof.” Rightly, therefore, recent Protestant exegesis has arrived at a different interpretation: “Yet there can be no question but that this classical Protestant understanding is untenable.”

Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet.” The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future. (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi 7)

Comments

  1. Timely sharing for the Feast of the Black Nazarene today... And what a coincidence, you mentioned about the acts of devotion which struck me today in the priest's homily...Our devotion to Christ is not only for a day but our entire lifetime or more than our lifetime…with Him forever. Have a blessed Feast of the Black Nazarene!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh what a providence that today as I recalled that day when my vocation was saved by the devotions of people in Quiapo church, the home of our beloved Black Nazarene. I am not aware today is their feast! Thank you and God bless us always!

      Delete
    2. I just changed my post format to highlight the feast of the Black Nazarene. The earlier focus in this post was the 500th year of the excommunication of Martin Luther.

      Delete
    3. How amazing the Holy Spirit works on you today, Fr. Jom! Good change of format... Keep on being a faithful priest! You are faithfully daily prayed for. God bless us!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Thank you for your interest in the above reflection. When you make a comment, I would personally read it first before it gets published with my response.