Your Metaphors Man.

‘The Journey Back To Me’ – Ricky Lee

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By Frank A Hilario

Truth revealed. There are 3 things that make the Catholic distinct from any Protestant chic: While Protestants believe 100% in the Bible, Catholics believe 100% in the Bible, 100% in Holy Tradition, and 100% in the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. So I say, the Protestants are Okay in that they believe in God 100%; the Catholics are A-OK in that they believe 3 times more – they believe 300%. Of course, I’m a Catholic.

The noisy minority say they are after the truth. So, what is truth? To the Catholics, truth is what the Bible says, and what Holy Tradition says, and what the Magisterium says, taken all together. If you invoke the Bible only, your truth is incomplete, to say the least. As in: If you want to bring the wrath of God on my President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo you have publicly condemned using the Bible only as your basis, Roman Catholic or not, you can cast the first stone if you are without sin. Better to remind yourself that you’re not God. Or is it that your Christianity is all theory, no practice?

Is that Catholic chic or Catholic redundancy? Both. In the Philippines, the treasures of Catholic chic and redundancy you can find nowadays in most publications of Shepherd’s Voice (shepherdsvoice.com.ph), such as the magazine Kerygma in photo, as by and large they present the Catholic seduction, in print, as each article of faith leads the reader to one’s own exciting exploration of many a discoverable truth. Condemnation is the opposite of seeking the truth.

Preachers or not, Protestant or not, the truth we preach we find difficult to practice. It is easier to condemn others than to condemn ourselves, offenders that we are.

During the wedding of my son Jomar with Clarisse Conanan last Saturday, March 1 at the St Ignatius Cathedral inside Camp Aguinaldo, among other things they distributed the fun through a guessing game and contributed to the fund of truth discovered in Roman Catholic practice by giving away copies of the February 2008 Kerygma. I have been reading 19 pages out of its 40 total, or 47.5%. Those pages were ‘Baby Talk’ by Rissa Singson, ‘A Weekend Of Power’ by the Kerygma staff, ‘The Journey Back To Me’ by Ricky Lee as told to Tess V Atienza, ‘Prayer Is About Our Greatest Thirst’ by Bo Sanchez, ‘How To Make Your Relationship Sizzle’ (not that I need it – is 13 children proof enough?) by Pilar Garilao, ‘Catholic And Happy’ by Bo Sanchez, ‘From Paddles To Palas’ (plural of pala, which is shovel) by Jonathan Rickard, ‘Defying Nature’ by Arun Gogna, ‘My Long-Awaited Gift From God’ by Joey Villamor as told to Nova Arias.

All those 19 pages I read with delight, but it was the 3 pages of ‘The Journey Back To Me’ by Ricky Lee that seduced me into writing this essay. My reading has just been a journey of rediscovery. The February Kerygma is where you find that you can make love sizzle, that God misses you, that the Kerygma Conference 2007 was about power (I attended that one), that a little love goes a long way, that awards-winning scriptwriter and authentic Ferdinand E Marcos-imprisoned-activist Ricky Lee has found his way back to the Catholic faith. Notice the metaphors in all those Kerygma phrases (praises)? I tell you living the faith is all about living metaphors, man. I’m Your Metaphors Man. I have already written about teaching science in metaphors, that is, in parables, ‘Why do you teach science in parables?’ (‘The Green Elephant Of India,’ 2007 November 3, frankahilario.com).

Ricky had been a Cradle Catholic. Excerpts from his Kerygma article:

The moviehouse, the public library and the church – these were my favorite escape places during my childhood and adolescent years in Daet, Camarines Norte. … Not a family person by nature, I was often out on my own. I sneaked into moviehouses, which perhaps nurtured the scriptwriter in me.

And would you believe my favorite book was the Bible? I simply loved it for its fantastic stories. My favorite hangout was our town’s public library, which had a kind librarian who opened its doors to me even during stormy days. The church in town served as my refuge during the two or three occasions when I ran away from home.

The Bible wasn’t my favorite book in high school, but I memorized many verses from the King James Version; I wasn’t after the truth per se; I was after the beauty of its poetic English language. As bonus, I learned a little more about Jesus Christ, but not enough to make me want to become a priest.

I guess we all grow up learning about Jesus Christ’s life, and believing in what we were told, right? I did, too. I even imagined He was real and stood beside me when I joined school competitions. I loved to hear Mass as a child, and probably just like most boys, had a fleeting dream (of becoming) a priest when I grow up.

At 15, I ran away for the last time and went to Manila to pursue my dream of making it on my own. I knew at that time that I could write and earn, but I had to do all sorts of jobs to sustain my being a writer. Would you believe that the first thing I bought with my hard-earned money was a Bible? Again, my fondness for Bible stories continued.

When I entered college at the University of the Philippines (Diliman) and lived on campus, my favorite hangout was the chapel. I liked its open structure so much that I was there almost every sunset, relaxing at day’s end. Perhaps I unconsciously felt the need for Somebody there – and that Somebody had always comforted me, so I never had any reason to turn my back (to the Catholic Church). Although I must say that I never institutionalized my relationship with God. I still didn’t go to Mass regularly as what the Church says every Catholic should do.

When I got into school activism, I started questioning a lot of things – the Government, the Church, the institutions. Along the way, I lost my direct connection to Jesus Christ, my Comforting Companion, and instead asked, ‘Is He for real? It was during that time that I didHimala (Miracle)a movie about belief in God or organized religion.

When Martial law was declared, the officials caught up with me and put me in jail in Fort Bonifacio. I was incarcerated for one year – and that one year was pure hell for me. I was so depressed that I got sick. I vomited blood; I had bronchitis, pneumonitis, tuberculosis, and other diseases.

Then Ricky Lee slashed his wrist with a cheap blade, wanting to die. He was saved from certain death by one General Lumbera, who brought him to the military hospital.

And now many years later here he was on a Marian Pilgrimage organized by Executive Resources, with Fr Jerry Orbos SVD as Chaplain, together with Malou Santos, Rory Quintos (both of Star Cinema), Tess Fuentes and another writer, among more than 80 pilgrims, ‘and me – the odd man out, neither young nor pious.’ The pilgrimage was part of a research for a project for Star Cinema. The two ladies had persuaded him to join the pilgrimage, saying ‘You know, you’ll probably be the best person to go because you’re an outsider, you have a more objective view of the whole thing.’

And so he did. Then Ricky and the pilgrims were into the Jesus pit.

When we visited the pit where Jesus was brought to and scourged, I simply followed what the others did: put my head against the wall and prayed. The pit was small and could accommodate only a few people. It was a cold and lonely place. The chains, supposedly the ones used on Jesus, hung on the wall.

Then the thought came: ‘How could I have been so proud that I wanted to take my own life because I felt so useless?’ Then he began to cry. ‘At that instant, I realized my own littleness compared to Jesus’ greatness, who offered Himself for us instead of feeling useless while in His own pit. How could I have done it? And how I how could I have felt useless when I still had so much to live for?’

The tears washed away the blinders and the floaters in my eyes – and perhaps my soul, too. After that crying bout, I began to accept that phase of my life. I felt more relieved and at peace, more accepting of myself, of other people, of things around me, and even of the Catholic rituals that I tried to avoid.

That’s Ricky Lee.

Me, I’m a writer myself who went out of the Catholic Church because God wouldn’t answer my earnest prayer – ‘God, please give me back my sanity.’ I’m not sure it was in 1965, but I’m sure it was my birthday, September 17 when I pleaded with God inside the Catholic church in Asingan, Pangasinan to make me whole again. I was then going to pieces that if Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, I wouldn’t be able to pick up the pieces and make me whole again. I was going crazy, and that’s a terrible road to travel.

‘God, please give me back my sanity.’ But God wasn’t listening to me! So I said there is no God. And in answer, God didn’t speak to me for years; that would be about 35 years. Tatlumpu’t limang taong walang Diyos. Can you survive 35 years without God? I know I did. But barely. If it wasn’t Hell, it was Purgatory. And I got married in March 1967, 2 years later. When my wife Amparo told me she was pregnant with our first child, that was about the end of May that year, working backward from date of birth, February 14, I immediately blurted out, ‘Puede bang …?’ (‘Can we …?’). My wife was horrified, and I instantly knew that in those 2 words, God forgive me, I had already said too much.

Ricky Lee was going to kill himself; I was going to have somebody else kill my first baby. Ricky survived his own death wish because a soldier cared; Cristina survived her father’s death wish on her because a mother cared. Ricky felt he was ready to welcome death; I felt I wasn’t ready to welcome fatherhood. Thoughts on suicide and abortion, both about assisted death. Ricky and Frank were both trying to play God, even if they no longer believed in Him.

People who insist on their own truths either have no God, or think they know better.

In that Marian pilgrimage of days in 2007, Ricky Lee finally knew better and found peace with himself, with his God.

The experience has not really changed me to the point that I’d go to Mass every Sunday. I was changed more on the inside. It has brought me back to my youth, when I read the Bible the first time and believed what I read. The bridge was reconnected, and so now I am reading the Bible again – not just for its fantastic stories, but with more faith.

In my own pilgrimage of years, I found my peace after my wife and I were welcomed by theBukás Loób sa Díyos (Souls Open to God – my translation), a Catholic charismatic community, in 1991 and after years of wrestling with God and myself. One early evening, perhaps in 1995, I was walking home in our little street when I was moved to look up and saw stars twinkling, as little as they were, and it was as if God spoke to me, in Tagalog yet, when He knew I was an Ilocano and proud of it! I’m translating now: ‘How proud you are! Yet, you can’t even make one little star like any of these.’ I felt washed by a strange feeling from head to foot, and I must have shuddered a little. I never thought and felt like that before. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking of God when I looked up at His handiwork. If you don’t watch out, you discover something.

It’s Ricky Lee’s story that has inspired me to write this essay. A writer that he is, his story is not a script from his fertile head; it is non-fiction. About the Bible: Isn’t it fantastic stories, that is to say, fiction told by sinful and wildly imaginative humans, the most popular being gospel writers Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, and letter writer Paul? And yes, the superplots and subplots in the Bible are all incredible, improbable, impossible, like drinking water turning to drinking wine, like the blind suddenly seeing, like the sick instantly getting well with just a word said from afar, like the dead rising to life with all eyes watching. The Bible is a book of faith that either you accept or reject 100%; there are no two ways about it.

In fact, if you’re a Protestant, it’s sola scriptura – your faith is based 100% on what the Scriptures say. So, Ricky Lee, if you just keep on reading your Bible and never ever graduate from that, you’re a Protestant in a Catholic’s clothing – the Protestant will swear by the Bible and nothing else.

Not only that, Ricky, the Bible is not an easy book to understand. In the early 1990s, when my wife and I were lambs in the woods, I made sure we had many versions of the Bible so that I could understand the verses: King James Version (KJV), New KJVNew American Bible (NAB),Christian Community Bible (CCB), Today’s English Version (TEV), New International Version(NIV), Jerusalem Bible (JB). The TEV & NKJV are gone now; we still have the KJV, NAB, CCB, NIV, JB. When it comes to the Bible, my attitude is: you can’t have too many of a good thing. The thing is not to argue verse by verse but understand chapter by chapter.

Notwithstanding, for the Christian faith, 100% Bible is not enough; my 5 Bible versions are actually worth only 33.33%. I have already written (‘How The Bible Came About,’ thewonker.wordpress.com) about the ‘three-layered rock of faith’ of Catholics: Holy Tradition, the Bible, the Living Magisterium.

More on the Magisterium; Matthew Kelley writes (papist4ever.blogspot.com):

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, believes that the Church has teaching authority (Magisterium) and that the Scriptures are complemented by Holy Tradition. Together these make up the ‘Deposit of Faith’ which was given to the apostles, and passed down through Apostolic Succession through the Bishops’

In non-mathematical terms, the Christian formula is this (my equation):

CF = Bible MaHT

The Bible is not enough. My Bible MaHT formula means you add the Bible to the Magisterium (Ma) and Holy Tradition (HT) and you have your Christian / Catholic Faith. Bible MaHT is beyond mathematics – it’s meta-mathematics.

Bible MaHT means Catholics believe that faith in God must be based on two other sources of divine revelation, that is to say, taken as one: 33.33% Bible, 33.33% Magisterium, or the teaching authority of the Church, and 33.33% Holy Tradition. (You protest: 33.33% taken 3 times equals only 99.99%, right? That’s the problem with man-made formulas. Don’t worry; your faith will make it whole.)

Holy Tradition or Sacred Tradition is ‘the deposit of faith given by Jesus Christ to the Apostlesand passed on in the Church from one generation to the next without addition, alteration or subtraction’ (orthodoxwiki.org).

Fr David Moser: ‘Holy Tradition … is the expression of the revelation of Christ in the Church’ (ocf.org). It comes from the writings of the early Christian fathers. In fact, the Bible is ‘a part (a beautiful, brilliant, central part) of Holy Tradition and to remove it from the context of Tradition is to lessen it and hide its true beauty.’

Fr William G Most: ‘By the Magisterium, we mean the teaching office of the Church. It consists of the Pope and Bishops’ (ewtn.com). ‘The day-to-day teaching of the Church throughout the world, when the Bishops are in union with each other and with the Pope, and present something as definitive, this is infallible.’

Thus, the Bible and Holy Tradition are twin guides to living in the past; the Magisterium is a guide to living in the present in the light of the guides to living in the past.

In practical terms, Ricky, my mathematical equation means that anyone’s interpretation of what the Bible says is acceptable only if it holds true with what Holy Tradition says and what the Magisterium says it is. Three heads are better than one. Holy Tradition is the recorded voice of the ancient Church fathers; the Bible is the recorded voice of those prophets and priests and preachers of the past; the Magisterium is the recorded interpretive voice of the present. Divine revelation must be relevant to the present, or it isn’t divine at all.

But more than that, I believe that I have rediscovered my Comforting Companion – the One who stood beside me during school competitions, and who now stands beside me every moment of my life.

Go on and read your Bible, but Ricky, don’t forget that Comforting Companion is only one of the metaphors on Jesus Christ. In fact, ‘the journey back to me’ is your own metaphor. We cannot fathom the mysteries of life, so we live, we thrive on metaphors. What about the metaphors on God the Father (that’s the metaphor!), the Holy Spirit (like Dove), the kingdom of God (likeseeds sown by a sower)?

‘Master, why do you teach them in metaphors?’ ‘Because that’s what they understand.’ The Protestant belief is based on metaphors coming only from the Bible. Our Catholic belief is based on metaphors coming from the Bible and from Holy Tradition (like apostolic succession) and from the Magisterium (like Mary, Mediatrix). Thank God for metaphors.

Metaphors increase our understanding; we are much richer for them. Metaphors cannot be measured by science; we are much richer for that. Therefore, I wish you more metaphors!

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