FAITH AND CULTURE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [GEN 8:6-13, 20-22; MK 8:22-26 ]
Three points received my attention in today’s gospel. Firstly, what struck and puzzled me was Jesus’ action of taking the man outside the village to be healed and then warned him not to return to the village after being healed. Secondly, the healing of the blind man took place in stages rather than in just a single action from Jesus, unlike the other healing miracles. Thirdly, in this instance, Jesus had to use His spittle to heal him. It was an indirect healing rather than, as in most other miracles, a command from the Lord. What was the intent of the evangelist in recounting such details of the healing for his audience?
Firstly, faith has a personal dimension. That is to say, grace does not destroy nature. On the contrary, the reception of grace is dependent on the recipient’s openness. There is some form of synergy between God’s grace and man’s response. More often than not, like the blind man, we do not come to faith in a moment. Like him, faith must grow and deepen. A person might be a priest or a theologian, but his personal faith might be lesser than that of a simple Catholic. He might know more about his faith but his personal faith in Christ could be shallower than that of a person who has no training in theology. For fullness of faith, we need preparation, the encounter with God’s grace itself, a conversion experience, growth and deepening the faith that has begun in us. We do not come to faith all at once. Indeed, a typical example would be that of St Paul who, after an initial breakthrough as a result of a conversion experience, still had to grow in faith after that encounter. He spent time in Arabia for three years before he began to proclaim the gospel.
The implication of this personal dimension of faith means that each must cooperate with God’s grace if he were to grow in faith. He must make effort to consciously grow in his personal faith besides his intellectual faith. As a community, on the other hand, we cannot judge each other because different people have different depths of faith according to the grace given to him and his cooperation. It is also important to take note that in a community, we are all at different levels and depths of faith, so as St Paul advised us, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.” (Rom 15:1f)
Secondly, faith is incarnated and mediated through nature. Because we are made of body and spirit, we need signs and words to awaken faith in us e.g. spittle, banners, water, incense and the laying of hands. As human beings, we require the personal and human touch. This explains why Jesus used spittle and laid His hands on the blind man to heal him. The Church has always in her wisdom made full use of signs and actions, such as sacramentals to assist the faithful to arrive at faith, especially those who are not intellectually inclined. We cannot underestimate the power of sacramentals in helping people to encounter God. As human beings we need to be touched and to be heard, to hear and see the love of God. Indeed, we all experience love through acts of kindness and love from others. An encouraging word, an act of thoughtfulness, a hug or a little note of assurance builds love and trust. Hence, we have a duty to help each other experience the love of God and thereby grow in faith by our words and actions.
Thirdly, faith has a social dimension. The study of sociology shows that man is a product of society, and society a product of man. The ramification of this principle means that in the first place, our ability to grow in faith and love depends on the community we are in, whether it is a loving community or otherwise. If the man was taken out of the village to be healed and then warned not to return, it was because Jesus, knowing how skeptical the villagers living in Bethsaida were, wanted to protect the incipient and growing faith of the blind man, and the only way to do so was by asking him to stay out of the village.
Indeed, this is true when helping people who live in conditions that tempt them to sin to get out of their sinfulness. Such as in marriage counseling cases. If only one party wants to heal the marriage, no matter how much counseling and prayers we minister to that party, not only will the marriage not be repaired but the counselee will fall back to his or her previous self again. It is just like being discharged from hospital after having been treated for dengue and returning to an environment where there are plenty of Aedes mosquitoes – it is unlikely that we can ever be restored to health. Similarly, if we are living in a situation of sin or an environment that leads us to sin, it would be very difficult to be faithful to our Catholic values even after conversion. Being weak in faith, we will eventually return to our old selves as the situation will bring out the old Adam in us.
This explains why Noah was told to lead his loved ones and take a pair of clean animals of all types to the Ark by God. For if they were to continue living in that sinful environment, they would eventually lose their faith. So God in His mercy commanded Noah to build the Ark to protect himself and then allowed the waters to destroy the evils of society. Thus, Noah and the Flood symbolize Christian baptism when through the sacrament of baptism, we are taken away from a sinful environment and placed in a community of faith.
Consequently, we can appreciate why the Church is at war with secularism and extreme secularization when God is absent from society. The world is trying to marginalize God from our daily lives so that God will no longer be the center of our life. By forgetting His presence, we allow the world to influence us in our thinking and decisions. The culture that is being promoted will influence our ability to feel the presence of God and our will to live out the gospel values. Thus, the Church reminds us constantly that the work of evangelization especially of the laity is to inject the values of the gospel into the culture of society. Otherwise, the faith of our people will be eroded by the negative and worldly values promoted by the world.
However, whilst it is true that society forms the individual, we must not abdicate our personal responsibility for influencing society. We cannot exonerate ourselves from our share of the sins of the world by blaming it on society or the community we belong to. The truth is that the community is not an abstract reality. We, as individuals, form the community. Consequently, we can change society as individuals. Jesus did it and so did Noah who was faithful to Yahweh. We can also change individuals around us and together transform society as well.
Thus, it also behooves each one of us to play our part in changing the culture of whichever community we belong to. In our backyard, instead of bemoaning that the Church or our office is so divided, we must change this divisive, competitive and hostile situation in our family, our parish, our ministry and workplace. We can begin by changing the ambiance of our offices and communities and even at home. We as individuals must first make an effort to make our homes, our communities and offices a school of communion, a home of fraternal love and support for each other. For those of us in a Catholic institution, we should ground our fraternal communion by being connected with the Lord in common prayer, sharing the faith and the Word of God regularly. In this way, we become a loving, supportive and caring community.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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