Tuesday, November 08, 2005
WHO can ever forget that grand Hollywood production, "The Ten Commandments"? Think, too, of how it has influenced the way we look at ethics and morality as rules set in stone, literally handed down by God amid thunder and lightning, to be followed word for word, through all time.
I am sure there are similar interpretations of ethics in other religions, "being good" identified with religiosity, with rituals and prayers and following prescribed rules of what to do and what not to do accompanied by threats of reward (heaven) and punishment (hell or purgatory).
Lately, people have started to talk of the need for spirituality, which I think is a positive move in the way it refers to a world-view, a sense of right or wrong, that comes out of critical reflection and discernment. Unfortunately though, words have a way of becoming trivialized and sometimes I suspect people still mean "religiosity" when they talk about the need for "spirituality." I hear references, for example, to "Catholic spirituality," implying some absolute monolithic model, again handed down from the heavens like in a Hollywood film. This usage again defines one's own group as distinct from "others," usually implying one's own "spirituality" is superior to that of others.
In reality, there are many different Catholic spiritualities, and even more variations of Christian spiritualities, all of them ways of trying to be like Christ, or at least an aspect of Christ. These spiritualities are often associated with particular religious orders, reflecting the thinking of its founders who, in turn, were shaped by the historical circumstances in which they lived.
That's a lot of words to process, so let's get straight to some examples which I'm drawing from a book by Chris Lowney called "Heroic Leadership," which focuses on Jesuit spirituality (another column, I promise) and a lecture in 2002 by the Ateneo de Manila University's Father Bienvenido Nebres.
We start off with Benedictine spirituality. The Benedictine order was established in the 6th century, at a time when Europe was in ferment, slowly slipping into what has been called the Dark Ages, as Attila the Hun and his "barbaric" hordes destroyed what was left of the Roman Empire.
Benedictine spirituality sought to retreat from the chaos of the outside world, offering order through monastic life and discipline. Benedictine monks had to take a vow of stability, agreeing to stay in a monastic house until they died, their lives revolving around the rhythm of prayers, seven times a day from Matins at 2 a.m. to the Compline at 7 p.m.
It wasn't all prayer in the monasteries-the monks appreciated the dignity of labor, growing their own food and becoming quite self-sufficient. What was striking about the Benedictines was that they never really retreated from the world, their monasteries actually open to visitors and the outside world. Today, some Benedictines generate income through computer work, still faithful to their sixth-century principle of Order through Labor.
The Franciscans emerged several centuries later, in the 12th century. Europe was moving out of the Dark Ages, with urban centers developing together with a new and affluent merchant class. Against this backdrop, we have Francis of Assisi developing a religious order that rejected the lifestyles of the rich, seeking to identify with the poor Christ. Franciscan spirituality comes closest to current New Age philosophies, with an emphasis on harmony with nature and simplicity. Saint Francis' feast day is used, even today, for a blessing of pets, commemorating his own closeness to nature.
The Dominicans were contemporaries of the Franciscans, established literally as Ordo Praecatorium (O.P.), the Order of Preachers. They were established at a time when the Catholic Church was highly factionalized, with the groups attacking each other as heretics. The Order of Preachers was there to uphold The Faith. To this day, Dominican schools emphasize theology and philosophy, and are generally thought of as conservatives although there are in fact Dominicans today who believe that preaching includes defense of the poor and upholding social justice.
The Society of Jesus was established in the 16th century, at a time when Protestantism was rapidly growing, literally in protest against the Catholic religious' excesses. The Jesuits' founder was a former soldier, and drew from the military for many of his religious metaphors. Instead of retreating from the world, the Jesuits chose to engage the world, setting off for the most difficult and remote places.
Our schools -- Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or secular, as with government institutions -- need to make students more conscious of the different spiritualities that exist, how they came about, and how the spiritualities need to respond to the needs of our times, as they did in the past.
I studied in Jesuit schools for 12 years and am realizing how this education continues to shape my view of the world, sometimes in paradoxical ways. I think of how my staying in the University of the Philippines and (so far) resisting invitations to join the Ateneo de Manila full-time could in fact be a function of this Jesuit upbringing and spirituality, this sense that we need to give priority to hardship areas like the University of the Philippines!
We might want to ask ourselves, too, if our problems as a nation might have come about because we have imbibed too little of spirituality, and too much of the trappings of religion with its emphasis on public performances of piety and charity, its holier-than-thou sectarianism, its intolerant and divisive dogmatism.
Our redemption as a nation may yet come as we learn from the different spiritualities that women and men have developed through the ages, responding to the needs of their times. Even limiting ourselves to the four "Catholic" spiritualities I just described, we will find they offer many lessons for life.
The Jesuits remind us that Christ did engage the world, often with great passion, but the Franciscans remind us Christ did all this without armies, without material wealth. (Some) Dominicans remind us we need to preach, but that Christ was most effective when he preached through deeds.
And the Benedictines, I will admit they do "tempt" me too with their reminders that while we might want to engage the world, we should guard against being engulfed by it, and that there will be times, too, when we need to build peace within our own homes and our hearts, without having to set up walls.