Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oblateration Run

There is oblation. There is obliteration. Now, there is oblateration. What once was a noble idea of a living offering of all that is humanly perfect and pure has been obliterated by human folly. We – no, they – call it Oblation Run.

The ancient Jews, chosen by Yahweh as a special nation and people, began as a colony of Hebrew slaves in ancient Egypt. Led by the pillar of fire through the wilderness, they were disciplined and purified for forty years before they could claim the Promised Land. In their triumph, God reminded them constantly of that miraculous, historical event through burnt offerings (oblations) of animals. Centuries later, that sacrificial rite would be replicated on a cross by a human being born of God.

A Filipino national artist who was also a strong believer of the Hebrew God, sculpted the Oblation as the University of the Philippines’ symbol of its mission and a reflection of our country’s destiny, as envisioned by our greatest heroes. Every incoming UP student learns this as his or her first lesson of the heart. All the other lessons learned by the mind pale in comparison to it.

For each struggling student for two or five years in one of the many campuses of UP, the Oblation stands as a mute witness to the unspoken vow every parent ostensibly makes on behalf of a youth on whom the promise of a bright and glorious future has been endowed -- both by family and country.

Such ideals seem hard for the youth of today, brainwashed by decadent thoughts and practices from western cultures, to understand, much less internalize. What started as a naked streak by anti-Vietnam-war protesters in the 70's has given birth to this despicable bacchanalian display by misguided youth claiming academic freedom of expression.

Expressing what principles and ideals of academic excellence? Brotherly devotion? That is, taking the shame upon one’s self on behalf of your frat brothers? And done at a time when people celebrate supposedly the birth of the Messiah of the Jewish nation and of the world? And with masks to hide even their own shame?

And so, the institution tasked with bringing to life those lofty ideals in the lives of its products has failed. By allowing the media to sensationalize this shameless practice and making it even an acceptable social and campus tradition as if it were a harmless festival to be followed and cheered by innocent children and gullible men and women, it has established a precedent for citizens to throw away the cherished symbols of our ideals. If it cannot protect mere symbols of our values, how can it hope to protect and promote the very values themselves? And if a university can’t do it, can the lower schools and the smallest institution – the family, that is – be expected to do it? Chaos retains its image from the great to the small.

But we, as one people, share the shame and ignominy of those among us who would demean themselves facelessly and their bodies before the public. Our common shame before the world and before God, however, must lead us to rectify the guilt we all bear by our individual sins. Not by our own power but by our faith in the One Who promised to give back to Adam his honor. The same honor he lost by his own sin. The same honor he lost and tried to reclaim by covering himself with fig leaves. And yes, the very same fig leaves Oblation wears permanently to hide his own shame (our shame) until, together as one, we can stand again with innocence and holiness before our Creator.

A symbol is not a dead ideal. It lives because we live it in truth and with faith in the righteousness and holiness of God.

(Photo above: The Oblation, done by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino, stands in every campus of the the University of the Philippines System.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Removing Our Blindness to Eternal Things

(This is the Preface to my forthcoming book entitled Preparing a Body for Eternity: From Adam to Christ to All Believers)

“It all started with the Big Bang!”

So goes the theme song of the popular, bone-tickling sitcom “Big Bang Theory”. Four genius (“geeky”) friends regale viewers with their idiosyncratic views of the Universe – and of each other. They sort of help us forget or laugh at our problems, which is what sitcoms do and should do. Laughter, of course, is the best medicine in life and for many of its mishaps.

This book, however, will not give us answers about the Universe nor bring us fits of laughter with well-phrased and well-timed tech-loaded puns and gags. It only hopes to provide readers with some apt views and, well, useful answers to many of life’s sublime and even not-so-sublime issues and, hopefully, some stress-relieving laughter.

To illustrate further the parallelism and differences between this book’s purpose and that of science-oriented programs and publications, let me deal with one of the biggest issues between theologians and scientists -- and even among theologians themselves: the firmament or, in Hebrew, raqia’.

Gen. 1:6 says that God created the firmament that separated the waters that were below (i.e., the seas) from the waters that were above (apparently, what poured down during the Great Flood).

Job 37:18, further:”With Him, have you spread out the skies, strong (or firm) as a cast metal mirror?”

Psalm 19:1, on the other hand, states: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”

Put together, these verses will lead, as they have, many to conclude that the firmament is a solid or firm material that made up what the ancients described as the vault of the sky. Since this solid, metal-like firmament no longer exists (if it really did), we have no way of proving whether the ancient writers of the Old Testament were talking of one and the same object or if they were at all referring to something that really existed before. Hence, later translators referred to the firmament as the “expanse” between the waters to remove apparent confusion in our times. Our reluctance or resistance to the elementary, unsophisticated or unadorned accounts of those scribes has somehow led many to eventually invent their own newer views.

It is easy then to see how this old “science of the day” produced the ancient vocabulary and the concept that naturally arises from following those “scientific observations” (the ancient writers wrote what they saw or what people said they saw). Modern interpreters, however, have clever ways of going around the science that the ancients based their writings upon by using our “latest science” to explain away the evidence, hence, distorting or totally rejecting the facts and, ultimately, the truth.

In my book, Noah’s Ark and the Earth Rebuilt, I gave biblical and scientific proofs that there really existed a layer or canopy of water above and around the Earth. In essence, the book fused all available solid evidences and without rejecting the eyewitness accounts of the ancients in arriving at a more convincing picture of the past. Applying this method, we can come up with this workable and plausible picture of the ancient sky.
Here are the facts that arise:

1. God did create the “firmament” to separate the waters above and those below. Gen. 1:6 clearly states that.

2. Logic should tell us that this firmament could have been a visual illusion or a seeming material reality produced by the curved body of water (most probably liquid, as the upper and lower surfaces would enhance the illusion of solidity) that stayed above the atmosphere. Job 37:18 seems to prove this idea of the firmament appearing to be like a “molten looking-glass” (per King James Version). That is to say, the writers did not really mean that the firmament was solid but that it appeared like a solid, curved bronze mirror that held up the waters that lay behind or above it. Furthermore, the fact that it stayed there motionless must have made them think it was as solid as the ground they stood on.

3. As such, Psalm 19:1 is in keeping with that idea of a literal translucent mirror up in the sky which actually reflected the surface of the Earth at daytime and even at night-time while letting the stars and moon shine through. The fusion of the glowing images of terrestrial and celestial bodies in one encompassing canopy throughout the evening is a magnificent vision we can only imagine but which the ancients saw daily as a reality. This is the only way the firmament effectively, logically and scientifically “shows or declares the handiwork of God.” No one can see beyond several kilometers beyond the horizon; but the literal mirror up in the sky reflected the seas, the mountains, the fields and the valleys in a multicolored display via a circular, panoramic, blown-up image of the Earth’s surface due to the concave-shape of that mirror.

4. The vault of the sky was, therefore, not like a gray-cement-plastered cathedral dome but a majestic Sistine-Chapel-like canopy daily and nightly exhibiting the grandeur of God’s handiwork to either humble or haughty human eyes. The Sun’s shifting light and position (in the absence of clouds, the canopy may have refracted sunlight variably) made a moving show of the Earth’s surface, something we cannot see today but can appreciate from the photos taken by astronauts in outer space.

Do we still see this today? No, and it is no wonder why so many people do not know God nor give back glory to Him. He left us a record of His grandiose work and we do not even believe it. Well, even those who saw it during Noah’s time did not really feel compelled to obey God, so there is not much value in trying to convince people that the canopy really did exist. But we try just the same, as obedient servants should. (Unfortunately for those unbelievers, what they saw and thought would not fall on them, did fall and kill them. Today, what we do not see and do not also believe will also kill us.)

Is there science and logic in this interpretation? There is and it is because the Old Testament writers have provided us with the real, basic framework that allows us to apply our own modern science to come up with an acceptable universal concept.

This then is the dilemma in our modern era: our blindness to eternal things and ignorance of the reality of the eternal God. With this book, I hope many will feel compelled to look at God’s written evidences with more openness, honesty and humility.

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Highlighting provided) - Col. 2:2,3

(Photo simulation above done using Google Earth image.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Michelangelo’s Dilemma: What Do We See in Art? (Is There Truth in Art? Part 2)

It is not easy being an artist. Da Vinci. Michelangelo. Van Gogh. Hugo. Rizal. They all had problems, big and small. But as great artists, they had historically interesting problems. Let us take a look at Michelangelo.

In a previous article, we talked about how our favorite sculptor/painter/architect – hey, most architects are multi-media artists, too – had to deal with possibly the biggest patron in the world: the pope. In any language, that spells a lot of honor, fame, money and -- sorry to say this -- trouble. And not necessarily in that order. Hence, in the four years that he painted the Sistine Chapel, he said that he probably aged more than ten years. Was it the work? Yes, of course. Employer-employee issues? That, too.

Lying down on your back all day long to paint is not the best kind of work one can have. First of all, Mike (as we may call him) did not want to do the job as he was a sculptor and not a painter by training and disposition. Sculpting made one strong, sitting down or standing up and using one’s arm in vigorous motions and with a lot of resistance that builds muscles. But lying down and putting colored mortar delicately on a ceiling with only candles for light, not only dulls one’s eyes, it also prevents blood from circulating well. One gets really old. And crabby, when your patron peeps in every now and then and shouts to you from below, “Is it finished yet?”

Yes, they also shouted to (and sometimes at) each other – painter and pope – because they were quite a distance apart, at least 30 meters or about ten-storeys high. They had to or they would not have heard each other. Mike was up in the ceiling while Julius was on the ground craning his neck and trying to catch a glimpse of the ongoing work. The pope, of course, respected the artist’s abilities but still looked at him as an ordinary employee working for the Catholic Church of which he was supreme head. Mike, never got to finish (that is paint gold edgings over the paintings) because the pope impatiently demanded to see the work. Mike took down the scaffolds and refused to put them back when asked to put on the finishing touches.

But there was more to the physical and professional gap that separated artist and patron. There was the spiritual. Yes, spiritual, not religious, because they were of the same sect. There was something in the commission that was somehow helping Mike sustain his body and his spirit in spite of the daily abuse of physical pain and personal deprivation he had to go through. Four years painting on his back on a ceiling about the size of a basketball gym! That’s probably like being in prison for four years and being forced to lie down almost all day in a bunk a foot or two away from a ceiling. Call it torture or deprivation – the result is the same.

No, if you are not wise enough, you would go crazy or quit. Mike did quit a few times but came back to finish the work. If you are truly wise, like Mike was, you immerse yourself in the work and find meaning or transformation though the process. And as we said previously, he found out his work was not that of a mere chronicler of biblical stories but as a true searcher and, it follows, conveyor (hence, teacher) of divine truth. He finally saw God, like many philosophers before and after him, not just from the text of the Scriptures he read but from the spirit of the message of Him Who caused it to be written. The difference between a scientist who studies Nature and sees only atoms, cells and natural processes and an artist who studies God and Creation and sees supernatural life is direction or perspective of vision. The former looks in and sees more of matter while the latter looks beyond and sees more of life. Who do you think will find the greater truth?

When Mike first envisioned the creation of Adam for his panoramic fresco, he must have thought like an infant imagining how he might have come out of his mother’s womb into a world of great wonder. As a newborn baby slides through a woman’s portal of life, it has no strength or real being that we often assume is our legacy in life. It goes limp as it separates from its life-giver and source of sustenance. It feels initially lost and blind to whatever grand design it was meant to comprehend and accomplish in this vast earthly environment.

The muscle-sculpted Adam, in fact, looks like a big baby whose life is just about to begin, a lump of clay given mere form but not will and awareness. (Or in Mike’s medium, a mixture of cement and color given artistic life.) Adam blindly looks at God or behind Him where Eve is but a blurred vision. He can hardly recognize the hand of the One Who created him. Or lift his hand and finger high enough to touch His power so that he may have complete life, sight and understanding. But God, right before He grants abundant gift of life to Adam, extends His hand to perfect His work for him and the whole Universe.

Mike himself was now seeing the truth in the power of God to create, not just Adam and life but the whole universal reality. The “Creation of Adam”, right at the center of the chapel, is the very beginning of all that Mike would portray through his almost divine creative power as an artist. It seemed that he was trying to tell the world that his faith in the power of God to create Adam was but the culmination – or crown -- of His ability to create everything else: light, water, Sun, Moon and stars. The whole of human history (the entire painting’s theme) around Adam, therefore, merely serves witness to that originating Divine Power which Mike so magnificently portrayed. One Power uniting with one Creation. Only the human heart, through faith, can unravel such inevitable truth.

It was Mike, for all intents and purposes, who decided what he wanted to paint on the ceiling. Sure, the pope may have told him the basic idea of retelling the biblical epic in glowing fresco as if Heaven itself had projected the lives of those characters we merely read into visual forms and colors and high above the heads of those who can only see them but not touch them. Only Mike, with his hands and his spirit as if he were God himself, had that privilege as delegated creator.

It is easy then to understand the many instances when Mike and Pope Julius II argued about certain details of the frescoes. Whereas the pope envisioned to decorate his chapel with the best and grandest masterpiece ever made to perpetuate his influence as well as that of the church (aside from being head of a religious group, he was also the commander of the papal army – he fancied himself as a “Julius” Caesar -- and was more a politician than a theologian), Mike, like a true mystic, was searching for truth. Mike, therefore, benefited more from the relationship for it gave him the motivation to go into the introspective process of divining the essence of God and life.

To prove this hypothesis, for that is what this is mainly all about, we present the painting of the Last Judgment on the Sistine Chapel altar wall, a fresco done by Michelangelo for seven years long after he had finished the ceiling. His new patron was now Pope Clement VII who died before the painting was started and was replaced by Pope Paul III. It is well known that Mike had preliminary sketches (See this video) for this monumental scene but not as they were finally painted. In the sketch, we see Mary seemingly kneeling or crawling toward Jesus on His right side – the good side, of course. She seems in fear, as if pleading to Jesus to be sparing in judgment, as if it were her place to do so. The question is: Why did Mike end up putting Mary right beside Him on His seat? Does not Christ sit at the right hand of God? If Mary then sits at His right hand in Heaven and at the judgment, then that makes Mary equal to God – a clearly Catholic teaching. My belief is that Mike knew he was doctrinally correct when he sketched Mary like any among those who will be judged. Perhaps, Mike was even trying to show that Mary herself pleaded for her own soul, humbling herself before Jesus like everyone else. That, by all measures, is a sound, biblical point of view that endows Mike a clear and impartial grasp of spiritual realities.

What then caused Mike to change his fresco, if he really did it himself? Or, more precisely, who prevailed upon him to amend his original idea? Could Mary’s final figure have been a revision done by someone else? We cannot tell for sure without science’s help -- or that of the Vatican.

In investigating this hypothesis, we find out that some of the figures in the painting were actually revised later (fresco portions were scraped out and replaced with new fresco mixture) to remove the obscene nudity and latent carnality. As today, religious sensibilities then were pricked by artistic license and, in some cases, extreme experimentation. For instance, the figures of St. Bartholomew and St. Catherine were painted over with clothes to cover the frontal nudity and to eliminate the fact that the lady saint was looking at the male saint’s organ. It is judgment time and the holy children of God are still at it! Whether this naughtiness is true or not, Mike must have been trying to tell us something else less vulgar.

A chapel is a place for prayers; but as a model of the Universe, it is freely open to all and every thought and activity of humans. Ironically, in painting over lifeless, gray ceilings and walls inside a chapel, Mike succeeded in opening instead our minds to what truly happened and what was actually happening out there in the world and way above it. Our bodies are a gift from God and appreciating the wonder of this fact can be seen as acknowledging God’s power and can be, therefore, a form of worship. “I was fearfully and wonderfully made, and my heart knows it well,” King David wrote about his own body.

The common idea that chapels, convents or church buildings are sanctuaries built to keep away the world has all but lost its significance in our changing times. Did not Christ move and live among the peasants and the sinners where they were – the real world – and effectively showed that knowing and serving God required only an open and humble heart and spirit? Did He not teach that true worship was neither in Jerusalem’s temple nor in Samaria’s high places but in spirit and in truth? Our body is the very temple of God; what we do to it expresses our worship.

Likewise, the common perception that worship “requires” purity of thought is at best merely a way to brainwash people to a form of religion. Anyone who genuinely struggles through prayer knows that the devil forces his thoughts even in the most sacred or solemn moments. Women wearing shorts or tight clothing inside churches or in the streets, although they are generally clueless or care-less, provide Satan clear and living pictures (not static frescoes) with which to plant impure thoughts among men – and even among women. Besides, worship – what we define as a living offering – is a continuing, long journey through both darkness and light and not a series of pleasant trips around a paradise island on a clean cruise ship. A life of faith is not like going to a safe school to learn modules of lessons from expert teachers but a real trek through a thick forest full of beauty as well as dangers and the teacher is God Himself. Sistine Chapel was designed by the pope to be that cruise ship, but Mike turned it into the thick forest of reality.

Better to come before God with impure thoughts and begging Him to cleanse us completely than to pretend to be pious for an hour but immoral the rest of the time.

Artists tend to disturb people. In Mike’s case, that is an understatement. In fact, he intentionally and impishly positioned the door to hell so that the priest who celebrated mass faced the way into damnation. Perhaps, nothing expresses Mike’s personal view of those religious leaders then more harshly than that fact. He might have preferred that people turned away from chapels and their pre-programmed rites and defined iconography so that they can live real lives acceptable according to God’s standards and not to those of humans. For there are those who would rather worship outside of churches, buildings or rituals in obedience to Christ’s call to true worship (in spirit and in truth). A human painter like Mike can only paint a tiny part of God’s workmanship on a ceiling for God alone can paint His entire truth in the vast Universe. Have a real life, Christians!

Mike himself predicted that many people will look at his Last Judgment painting and discover so many hidden things. What we have said so far is but a tiny portion of what he was trying to present.

Mike, who was no longer as pressured and as harassed as before (he was standing now and not lying down), was in a better mood and even took certain liberties. He painted his face into the scene as the flayed body of St. Bartholomew. Was this his idea of “dying to the world” as a Christian? Or just a playful way of relieving work stress?

We will never prove beyond any doubt that Mike was pressured to edit his concept of Mary’s position. He was completely free to interpret it as a painter as much as the pope was as a theologian. As an artist, he did see himself higher than the pope while the pope, of course, saw himself higher than Mike. But whose thoughts have truly remained for us to see: the pope’s, the artist’s, their shared idea or that of God?

I believe that artists take too much liberties at times because they see, like many ordinary people, but a part of the truth. That is why whether we read only the Bible or teach it or paint its stories, we must make sure that we represent it as faithfully as we can. Art or artistic freedom is not an excuse for changing God’s essential truth. Yes, we can imagine things where the text is silent; but we should not pass them off as absolute truth. Factual, perhaps, but not necessarily true.

Still, it seems that Mike may have tried to use his freedom to stretch the truth toward how he saw it as much as he could. Thus, even if Mike did freely change his composition to make it what it is now, we doubt that it really represented what he understood to be a valid message of the gospel. The presence of the study sketch seems to support this view. The final scene may have been an accommodation he made either as a compliant Catholic or as an obedient employee of the Church.

Mike was a poet as well. He wrote several sonnets and in those poems he expressed the deep spirituality of one who had intelligence and the independent mind of a true searcher of truth. Like Galileo, perhaps, who turned his back on his discovery in order to keep the peace and to maintain his ability to do more work, might Mike also have compromised to continue working and doing what he needed to do which was to live reality according to the truth? For isn’t a commissioned art-work, after all, nothing but a work you do for someone who may not share your own beliefs? For as Galileo said, “The Earth moves just as well”, Mike could have also said, “Mary is not yet in Heaven after all”.

By the way, one of Mike’s vocal critics (Cardinal Baigio da Cesena, papal master of ceremonies) ended up being one of the painted nude figures consigned to hell (inescapably bound and bitten by serpents). It may not have been a kind Christian wish but a purely albeit sadistically artistic move. Mike had his own foibles definitely. He lived in a real world, not in an artistic vacuum like some artists do.

Art is full of mystery just like life. Yet, art can be also funny at times. And so is life. But all hidden things will be revealed eventually and the laughter of those who made fools of many will turn to crying when we all come face-to-face with the Great Judge.

Finally, we judge a painting and its painter to test ourselves whether we seek and live out the truth that they strive to show or we will forever be blind people seeing the painting and yet seeing only what we see or what we want to see and not what God ultimately wants us to see. Like the Pharisees who heard the parables of Jesus, do we hear but do not understand the meaning? Art can open our minds some more if we already have the truth in us. Most artists struggle to do so but there are artists and people around them who willfully close our minds from the truth. Beware of them.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So is truth. Do we see only art or do we see life also? Do we merely see life or do we see God as well? And so, do we use our eyes alone or do we also use our minds?

Only the Truth can give us clear sight and save us from condemnation.

(Painting above: Detail of "The Last Judgment" by Michelangelo.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Is There Truth in Art?

The issue confronts us once more as a nation. And no doubt, it will for years to come.

Background for what happened: An artist uses religious symbols to express his apparently political and even facetious personal views by incorporating phallic or extra-realistic (a Christ with rabbit-ears must be an ET) images, thus causing furor among religious devotees of the Black Nazarene, the people in general and even the legislature (including the president himself) who find the works offensive. The heads of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) close the exhibit on the grounds of security (as some of the works have been vandalized).

On the surface, we see what caused the explosion of passion: a penis for a nose of a Christ on the cross is definitely too avant-garde, modern or liberal an expression in a country that is still caught in the medieval adoration of religious objects and relics. Hence, the use of words as “sacred”, “sacrilegious” and “desecration” being thrown around. Artists and their friends in media and academe, on the other hand, throw in their “freedom of expression” in defense of the artist, who by the way, is named Mideo Cruz – a cunningly and literally “sacred” name in Latin-Spanish meaning “My God, the Cross”. Although we do not know the man, he must be himself a deeply religious person who may even value the symbol of the cross but in a way that many of us do not comprehend. Who can fathom the mind of an artist?

Let us try to unravel the web of opinions and raise it to a higher level where we see art as truth and truth as art. Or even higher than that, where art is life and life is art. Otherwise, we have become nothing but a society of people who do nothing but pass opinions around. If we are truly a Christian nation, of what use is revelation to us? God would have utterly failed us. For the truth of life is the only opinion that will unite us. Freedom is just the first fruit of truth. Unity is the real harvest.

But there must be divisions and differences of views in our multi-cultural world. The goal of democracy is to allow these opposing forces equal opportunity of expression while preventing either side from annihilating the other side through violence or intolerance. Which of the two does more harm is not obvious, for war or conflict destroys in an instant while intolerance does so through generations.

At first glance, this is a simple case of idolaters (image-worshipers) condemning another idolater (art-worshiper) for misusing their proprietary symbol. For one man’s religion might be another man’s art. And a man’s art may be his religion as well. On the other hand, our laws guarantee the freedom of expression of any citizen. Can the two coexist in a democracy? How shall we be guided through this endless maze?

And who can judge artists? Just the artists – as seen from the actuation of CCP heads when they allowed the exhibit in the first place and when they failed to find fault on an artist? As Aristotle said: Some artists must be judged by non-artists. For who can be the better judge of a house: the builder or the one who lives in it? Who can judge a meal more effectively: the cook or the eater? You present an art work before the public and must expect the public to give fair as well as unfair judgment. When the highest judge of the land (the president or the Supreme Court, as the case may be) comes in to bear upon the issue, we realize how great the monster has grown.

What is this growing monster called Art then?

Art is not mere representation or symbolism of ideas, people and events. It is an expression of life in a fleeting or frozen moment – through oil, marble, film or words – as seen by a person who has been impelled by the spark of divine creativity. Artists imitate Nature – the original and divine Art -- and her ways, not merely to duplicate her beauty but to enhance it, twist it, distort it even and, at times, destroy it for a moment’s need. For artists are also messengers, like prophets, who regale us with visions of monsters and beasts that demonize kings, nations and peoples. What for? To entertain us? To inform us? These and more. But, in our modern world, musicians and artists have ceased to entertain more than to lead us to passions of anger or self-annihilation. Those who merely entertain, to such people, are like blind beggars waiting for the cash to go “kachinnng” melodiously into the cup. Real artists, however, must raise the questions of life for people to see themselves in the realities of their world. Real artists must portray ideas that people may be led to transform themselves.

When Michelangelo began painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he saw his work merely as a documentation of the stories he read in the Bible. Then he had his epiphany -- like Archimedes shouting “Eureka!” -- and erased his first paintings. Whereas he had seen only history written in the Scriptures, he now saw God’s hands working directly through those times. Whereas, he had seen only a cycle of human-v.v.-divine love-hate relationship, he now saw a loving God reaching out to obedient humans. Whereas he had seen only a time-trapped God handing down laws, he saw an eternal God promising His people abundant, if not eternal, life as well.

In being transformed by his medium (he was a sculptor forced to become a painter) and his message (he was a student of God’s word) in his craft and commission, Michelangelo sought also to transform his viewers to share in his god-like ability not just to create a thing of beauty and power but also to become part of that beautiful and powerful tapestry that God alone can create through His Spirit, the Holy Sculptor of human spirits.

Can any modern artist presume to stand beside Michelangelo and say, “Hey, man, I really like your work; but your message is not for me. I see things and will do things differently.” Can any modern musician face up to David and say, “Hey, dude, your psalms are great; but I prefer to be less direct and more horizontal – you know, man-to-man and not man-to-God.” True, it is a privilege for any artist to be free and to be oneself. Art students study art and its history to learn as well as to improve or improvise upon the works and lives of the old masters. The question that remains is: Have art schools or has society, in general, preserved and protected the truth that the masters like Michelangelo discovered through the things they teach and through the works they spawn among their students? To this, we say a big NO.

Classical art and much of what it represents is history (meaning “dead”) and has lost its appeal among people and artists in particular. The elusive truth that also motivated people of science like Kepler, Galileo and Newton sought to discover from the written Word and from Nature has become passé and unattractive to many. Belief in this truth has served its purpose in this post-modern era and has turned our artists, thinkers and shakers into practitioners of unbridled freedom and even ungodly living. Experimentation and Quantum Physics – the idea of going where matter or our minds may lead us -- rule our psyche and our culture.

That is how we lost the truth. And when truth disappears, who will suffer? Not just the artist, the discoverer or the philosopher but the people who look up to them for guidance and inspiration. Artists behave and think like gods within the vast freedom our laws grant them. No, they are a God unto themselves oftentimes! How often did Michelangelo rant against Pope Julius II over matters of style and finances? Were the Pope’s religious views better than the artist’s inspiration? Somewhere in between them, the truth must have been juggled about. We can only judge partially from the paintings we see; but God will judge from the issues of their hearts as He will from those of ours.

Undoubtedly, in history, art itself has been the destroyer of truth. As early as ancient times, people sought to represent God in a way that led people to dishonor Him. Idolatry – worship of graven images of God or things in Heaven -- was a sin not just of ancient times but much more so today. As we said, God created Nature (the original Art) to give us a view or an image of His real nature, His love and His power. But humans turned that image into a god which they worshiped instead of God. The truth that God placed in Nature was turned into a lie. And the lie had become the truth for many people. The golden calf removed God and His laws from the minds of the Hebrews.

This offense was punished in many severe ways as recorded in the Bible. (Visit this link and see how Michelangelo depicted some of these events - Sistine Chapel) Yet, the blood, flesh and guts produced by the judgment of those people have long been swept away and forgotten. Even seeing paintings or old movies of Moses and Noah do not bring enough shame or guilt in the consciences of complacent individuals nowadays. Entertainment can be had for a dollar or two; but truth is worthless and nobody is willing to pay even a cent for it.

The lie in art remained and even became desirable at a point in history when patrons of the art found a way of endearing themselves to the masses and even using their self-proclaimed position as preservers of faith and art to perpetuate their wealth and their faith-systems. (This was true then as well as today.) Thus, during the Renaissance, the best painters and sculptors (including Michelangelo) were maintained to produce the art of the church. And so, his image of a younger-than-Jesus Mary holding her dead son in “La Pieta” has been perpetuated in other art works and more so in the minds of many Marian devotees. The initially “innocent” desire to produce church art gradually became a seed for idolatry among many who see such images as sacred or holy in themselves. Or was it only a perpetuation of a old ancient habit?

Whatever it was, the truth that artists wished to convey had become another truth or a lie. The images were adored as holy relics themselves, to be revered or even worshiped in place of God. Perhaps, this is what iconoclastic artists like Cruz wish to achieve: disabuse our hapless idol-worshiping devotees of their superstitious beliefs. The awe that Sistine Chapel evokes to a visitor may not be far from the sense of piety that a devotee has for the Black Nazarene in Quiapo. They may even be one and the same for many people. But this comes from not knowing, first, what art is and, second, what genuine worship is. The confusion comes, ultimately, from forgetting the truth.

And what is the Truth? A ruler asked this once of a man who was about to be condemned. No answer was given for right in front of him was the Truth in the process of being confirmed. Jesus Christ – The Truth -- was to die and to rise again. He was going to ascend to Heaven and judge the living and the dead. (An entire wall is devoted in Sistine Chapel for this fact, but, unfortunately, with Mary beside Jesus and not the Father. The man was not perfect after all even as an artist or a student of the Word. Which proves our point here.)

The whole Truth is founded on the historical fact that God created man, Adam, in His likeness. (Artists use something to make something else; but God used nothing to make the Universe and from universal dust created man.) When that perfect image of God was destroyed by sin, God sent (created is not the proper word) His Son to be the real image (representation or art work, if you please) of Himself and Whom we must imitate through a sublime art of living. (Our living then is our worship.) But as many artists have often done to Him, the real Jesus was also “desecrated” and ultimately killed.

In raising Himself from the grave, Jesus proved His true nature as equal with God the Father. Yet, the work of God was not finished there. Today, both the Father and Son work to finish the Ultimate Art Work of all time: the transformation of humans made in the image of Adam (carnal/sinful) to that ultimate image of the true, exalted and eternal Jesus Christ (holy/divine) Who reigns in Heaven. Both living body and living spirit (not inanimate objects) will be excellently painted, marvelously sculpted and graphically-virtually morphed into the very essence of the eternal God at the right time. Is this the Truth? Judge for youself. For you will be judged based on your own judgment.

In the face of such magnificent divine art work, how do we look at ourselves? What kind of art do we produce? What kind of stories do we tell? What kind of novels do we conjure? What kind of movies do we imagine? What kind of music do we write and sing? What kind of faith do we preach and practice? What form of worship do we invoke? What nature of business ventures do we implement? What style of parenting do we exercise? What kind of governance do we run?

The truth then is that the cross and all other images used by devotees are not sacred in themselves. In fact, in God’s eyes they could be abominable for they distract our view of His real image which is His being Spirit, being invisible and being in Heaven and not on Earth and certainly not in a relic, a picture or an amulet. How then can you desecrate something that is not sacred? How can you insult Christ Who sits in Heaven through mere impish, material art work? No, you have to reject God and His truth in your heart and in your life in order to bring Him down. But why do so when you, as an artist, can glorify God and uplift people through truthful, respectful and decent art work?

God taught and gave us art just as he gave us life and existence. The least that He expects is for us to give honor to Him and to others. Better still, to love Him and others. Our art and our life speak of how we express our understanding or lack of understanding of the Truth of God.

(Painting above: Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment" at the Sistine Chapel. What is wrong with this painting?)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Across the past: Conquering Ancient Fears

The Dragon Flies Again

Across the past
Across the sky
Across the sea
Across space
Across time

I fly once more
To visit my home
In this my homeland
To revisit my youth
To review my early journey

And conquer my fears
And heed my calling
And face my destiny
And seek the answers
To questions left unanswered

This is the poem I wrote at Manila’s departure lounge on June 1 as we waited for our flight to Cebu, the first leg of our trip to the Visayas. From Cebu, I, my sisters and other relatives would proceed to Bohol and then, finally, to our native province, Negros Oriental. We planned to spend some time in Dumaguete City where all of us siblings studied as kids and then visit our father’s hometown, Siaton, 50 kilometers southwest of Dumaguete.

Yes, it had taken 46 years before I could visit these two towns -- virtual arenas of my past as a child and as a young student. I had travelled back and forth to Mindanao and most islands in the Visayas, including the Occidental side of Negros. This was when I still worked in a bank in Makati. Even Cebu and Bohol I visited several times; but those were the only times I got really close to the old province.

It had also taken me about 25 years to take the courage to ride a plane again. In the interim, I had developed a lot of other phobias — claustro (enclosed places), acro (heights), elevato (a combination of the first two inside a lift, my term), agora (crowded places), cinemato (perhaps, a mixture of claustro and fear of the darkness inside a movie-house), seismo (earthquakes) and even transpo (if fearing a bus ride can be called that). Name it, I had it all it seemed.

But, thank God, I overcame most of them one by one although I do have some apprehensions about many other things. Coming out of my shell and moving around again after about ten years of reclusive living in Baguio helped to rebuild and refresh my mind, my heart and my spirit.

I tell these things to give courage to those who may have the same fears. My cousin who works with trauma victims told me that I was one of the “lucky few” for, in most cases, the fears remain and even get worse.

Writing books and songs, and singing them, of course, certainly saved me from total ruin from a heartbreaking experience. We all know the one thing that can break the heart – love. But love is also the remedy for a broken heart. The love of God and of the people who truly care for us. Even when we don’t feel like loving anyone in return, we find comfort in the fact, for instance, that our mother will always love us no matter what happens. And so many others out there who may not express or show it, but come to our lives bringing the sunshine of refreshment into our lives.

Travelling back to our hometown was not just a much-needed, long-overdue vacation. It reinforced filial love that extended to other relatives whom we had not seen and heard of for decades. It also allowed us to meet new relatives (second generation) and friends who went out of their way to make us feel welcome and accepted as part of their homes and families. Likewise, it opened up vistas I never thought existed when I was a child. Think of Valencia’s forest, Siaton’s Balanan Lake, Tayasan’s Calag-calag reefs and Sibulan’s Balinsasayaw Twin Lakes – sparkling gems on an emerald island waiting for tropical dreamers. But that’s another story.

Why we have to travel to some far places when right here in our country we can find such abundance of friendship and fellowship (not to mention fantastic places) is puzzling. Yes, we see beautiful sights and exciting cultural experiences in many places. But those foreign places do not really belong to us; neither do we belong to them. As the modern diaspora-nation, this may be hard to re-instill among our people who have come to belong to other nations and cultures as well. But I have discovered the value of looking more closely into what made me what I am now. Let me mention just a few things.

As a small boy, I developed this terrible fear of the dark. Stories of ghosts, vampires and “sigbins” (a Visayan-invented kangaroo-like elemental creature) kept me awake many nights and prevented me from venturing five feet away from my parents or any of my older siblings in the dark. Looking back now, my recent fears may have arisen from this early penchant to believe in unreal things. Worries, we call them now, which can take a life of their own and become monsters who inhabit our minds and souls as if wanting to rule over us.

The proper way to erase such fears, I learned while in college, rests in Apostle Paul’s advice in Phil. 4:4: “...whatsoever things are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.” But the world is so powerful and wins us over to the side of unreal things. Harry Potter may be cute; but behind his charming aura is an ancient cultic invitation to visit the world of tormented spirits. Hollywood does this best: lift us to heights of fantasy where we desire to stay and forget the real world or bring us down to the pits of darkness where evil spirits fight for supremacy and, oftentimes, do win over our own gullibility by taking much of our time and diverting our attention.

How did I develop fear of the dark? From other, mostly older, people who told stories about unreal things that dwell in the night. Before your kids end up with the same fears, it would be good to avoid such un-bedtime stories. Yes, the worse that might happen is for kids to develop fear of darkness. The worst is for them to fall in love with witchcraft and other cultic practices. In between, some even believe that such stories are allusions to the Christian spiritual warfare. But do we really think that those who make tons of money making people appreciate the cuteness of witches and vampires have any desire to teach Christians a few tricks on battling evil? No, for all we know, they are using these stories and films to soften our fear of or disdain for their real power to destroy our minds and our souls.

There is something in the darkness of our carnal minds we must genuinely fear: the devil. He makes his darkness appear like light to entice us. Ironically, he removes our fear of visually horrible things in order to remove our fear (or apprehension) of the “more terrifying” spiritual fear (of divine judgment) that God wants us to have. A healthy kind of spiritual fear leads to freedom; but the devil enslaves us through deceptive means.

We said “ancient cultic invitation” because the very same stories I heard as a kid (which took away my joy and freedom as a young person) were concocted by those who may have found those stories thrilling and worth telling in real terms. The basis of their stories, as in most myths, may have been real or hallucinatory. In our scientific modern world, such stories can easily be dispersed logically or psychologically. Still, with Hollywood raking in mesmerized minds into its bosom, how do remove this ancient influence from our midst? For the limitless power of the mind can only be made effective when we “think on the true and excellent things”, not the false and depraved things. They divert us from leading truly godly lives. “As a man thinks, so is he,” Marcus Aurelius wrote.

In short, my naive childhood fears came because of ignorance of the realities of the spiritual world. There are wicked spirits and benign spirits. Whoever wins your attention as a child or succeeds in molding your character determines who you are as an adult. Beware then of youthful or naive fears, they could (and will) grow on you during those dark moments.

There are real -- that is, visible things -- that do cause fear in us. Like the ancients who trembled at the sight of wild animals, we quiver likewise at the sight of fearful things or beings. This second case came to my attention when I realized that many of my early fears arose from people who had such strong personalities. One of them is my mother whose hands were swift to discipline me with a hanger or a belt as a boy. Today, she still retains that authoritative voice and glare when she finds me questioning her views. The others were my teachers in elementary who were mostly stern and, sometimes, unsmiling women. My favorite was my sixth-grade, mestiza teacher at Piapi Elementary School, Mrs. Edna Paralejas, who was as beautiful and as stately as Gloria Romero. She was also charming but she knew how to keep us in our places. The main reason I learned to fear her, in spite of her disarming personality, was the fact that she was from Silliman University and, unlike us, spoke very fluent English. She had authority and finesse written all over her. She would embody every other discriminating and intimidating teacher I would have in high school and college – mostly my English teachers: Mrs. Vea, Mrs. Gonzales, Miss Morillo and Mrs. Benitez, my college-speech teacher. (The rest of my male professors at UP College of Engineering, as hard as they tried to, were not as intimidating as the complex courses themselves.)

Corollary to that, I realized those stalwart female teachers did not only develop a fear of authority in me but also real fear for girls or women. Many of us high-school mates, in fact, recently discovered we were mostly “torpes” (we had fear of girls, if not courting them or telling them what we felt can be called a fear). Perhaps, we all had stern mothers or teachers who stunted our confidence when it came to dealing with the opposite sex. Whatever it might have been, I still carry with me this defensive wall against women who may not necessarily intend to cause fear but do create that feeling. The good Lord filled us with such strong emotions; we do not know when and whom to love or fear properly. Or maybe, it’s just me.

Be that as it may, what I found out when I finally visited Mrs. Paralejas after 46 years (she is more than 70 years old now) was that I no longer had the youthful fear I had when she was my teacher. Not because she is smaller than me now or that she has a more wrinkled face than me and that she no longer has the movie-star aura she used to have, but because she looks like my late grandmother who was so doting to me and kept smiling at me. She was no longer the person set on teaching me proper grammar or pushing me to excel with that serious voice and look. She was like a friend, no, a child buddy, who just wanted to talk about simple things. It was a restful conversation, not a stressful classroom lesson with thirty other kids around. When I gave her a copy of my latest book, she gave out a big smile that reflected my own joy in having had such a great teacher who prepared me to be what I am now. Perfect love -- and real joy and peace, as well -- is the absence of fear. There it is: the Lord’s “easy” answer to this emotional dilemma!

Yes, I also got to fly again after more than two decades; but the return flight was something else. Never had I had a more turbulent ride. I was glad I rode with my cousin Susan Monte de Ramos-Soldwisch’s husband, Bill, who knew how to cheer up a phobic person like me, especially at those moments when the plane was rolling and pitching around like a flip-flop on a raging river. During my first flight, I had taken videos of the islands and seas between Luzon and Cebu. Weather was perfect! On that return flight from Dumaguete, however, all I saw were gray clouds and tiny rivulets of rain through the window.

All my fears of sigbins, strict teachers, pretty girls, thunder and earthquakes disappeared in the face of a storm’s tail buffeting our plane. This was the Mother of all fears, the most ancient of all fears – the fear or sting of death that the devil succeeded in planting in humans hearts early on. I was not facing my fear of flight. I was actually flying in a plane that was juggling me around, strong and long enough to make my heart sink to its lowest point. Singing the old hymn “Peace Be Still” helped a lot, like it had done many times before. But I can’t help thinking that I was singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” instead of that song! Even after we touched down, I did not dare sigh in relief until I got out of the plane. The thought of a terrorist’s bomb exploding before we deplaned did come to mind!

It turned out that a typhoon that had just left the country was sucking winds and rains over Manila. After we landed, I heard that all outgoing fights were canceled. Faith is the victory – this is so true over death and even over not-so-funny phobias.

The one remaining real fear I had to face was flooding in the magnitude of Ondoy. (How I envy the people during Noah’s time who had no fear of flooding! Ignorance is bliss indeed.) The taxi driver promised he would take me home through the floods, of course, for the right price. I was hungry, sleepy, tired, heavy-laden and fear-wracked at that point, so I had to pay up about a third of my plane fare for a cab ride. At one point, the driver had to stop and think if he could cross a flooded bridge over a creek. He kept his promise. Being in a plane crash or drowning in a creek was a possibility that did come to me (or in my belly, at least, as my cousin Susan said) that day; but they were after all the same old fears or worries at work given more real manifestations.

My life-long education in handling fears took a rest for a while when I got home, happy and dry. Twenty-three days after I had left, I was back in my room that remained as cluttered as I had left it, but with more dust to clean. I was in no hurry to clean up. Besides, mud from a possible Ondoy 2 could have come that night. At that point, it was just a stray thought, not fear of floods.

Vacations are truly fun when you get to see old and new persons and places. But the best vacations are those that also let you see the old and new persons and places in your own heart.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. -2 Tim. 1:7

(Photo above: Aerial shot of Bicol, showing majestic Mayon Volcano, below the wingtip, Burias Island and Ragay Gulf in between. Taken by Paolo Enteria.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

On Tithing, Receiving, Serving and Giving

Much has been said about the issue of bishops receiving or using money from the government. Before the issue finally dies down and swept into oblivion like so many other issues involving ministers or churches, let us take a quick look at what is really expected of leaders of the Christian flocks everywhere.

As much as I respect the opinions of fellow Christians on the matter of tithing or giving, it is necessary to look into the issue from the perspective of the apostles of the Lord Jesus. And no other personality would provide us a clearer picture of what it is and how it should be done than Apostle Paul.

First off, the word “tithe” or “tithing” (giving 10% of one’s income) is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament as a teaching or as a requirement for believers. The few verses available are allusions to the old Mosaic law given to Jews. This is an important point for it settles, once and for all, the basic difference between what tithing (in particular) is all about and what giving (in general) is all about. Tithing was necessary to support the Levitical priesthood. But with the fulfillment and eventual removal of the Mosaic system (including the priesthood) through Christ’s ministry, such a teaching or practice no longer holds. It was a command of Moses to the Jews only. Being Gentiles, I don't see how we should be compelled to follow it. Unless, we require men to be circumcised as well.

What remains now then is giving. Tithing is out. Or, it was never a command given to Gentiles. (Please check out Acts 15.) So, what is Paul’s teaching and attitude on giving? Can we consider it the final word on the matter?

In Acts 20:17-35, Paul calls for the elders or bishops from Ephesus and tells them how he had conducted himself before all, namely:

1. With humility
2. With suffering from persecution
3. With diligent teaching to the end of his life
4. With innocence

With such a virtuous stance no one then and now could question, he then warns them against the coming wolves. (As a prophet as well, Paul gives a warning to tell the early disciples and us future disciples of what was going to happen. That it did happen is no longer a question. It is just a matter of looking for wolves in sheep’s clothes.) He then commends the leaders to God's grace and leaves them his most ardent and revolutionary teaching on serving and giving, the one ministry that most religious groups are big on (but not necessarily in that order of importance). But what he tells them is so contrary to what is practiced and believed now. It is so obvious that I wonder why so many preachers do not teach this, to wit:

1. “Do not covet people's money or clothes.” (I could almost hear him say, "Do not covet anyone's SUV or Lotto profits.")
2. “I provided for my own needs and those of others. In this way, we must support the weak.” (He does not say: by asking for tithes or donations or alms from among your flocks. Remember, he was talking to bishops not mere disciples.)
3. Finally, quoting Christ, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Surprise!)

How consistent is this statement of the Lord with the stance that Christians should give tithes to support the weak or, as a modern adjunct, to support the work of the Lord? If Paul told bishops to give rather than receive, why do we require people to give tithes to bishops or pastors then? We failed to see this: The leaders are supposed to give, not the followers. Who is more blessed now, the giver (the people) or the recipients (elders or churches)? Spiritually, we give and are blessed. Materially, we receive and are helped. Churches today are materially helped, not spiritually blessed, sad to say. That explains our penchant for nice, expensive church-buildings or monoliths that house our assemblies while the poor live in shanties and starve.

Just look around and see who live in comfort and contentment from the income of the weak and poor and you will see how Paul’s teaching on serving and giving has been totally inverted. No, the funds have been diverted! The weak continue to suffer while the strong bask in glorious wealth. Who live in palaces and nice houses of prayer and meditation? Who ride in cool cars and vans in pursuit of serving the weak and poor? And whose money is it that props up the government’s lotto or sweepstakes if not of the poor, in general? The rich do not bet to become richer, although many do. The poor who make up more than 60% of the population do. Do the Math and you will readily see how a single person can win PhP300 Million in a few weeks while the rest continue to hold on to the same dream until they die.

The government takes and gives. That is its job. That is what taxes are supposed to be. But taking money and giving it to a few people through sheer luck is a wilderness gambit. ("I bet You, Jesus, You won't die if you jump from this cliff." Or, you can bet your life you can become rich.) Ask why Las Vegas can make the desert bloom and shine. Mammon controls such games and those who play it serve the god of this world. Of course, the government also takes and gives to deserving people. It comes, however, from being confused about taxes and pot-money.

As Christians, we are compelled to give – but, to the needy and the weak, not to the strong, learned and powerful, like some pastors, priests and bishops. They must lead by the example set by Paul. It is not too late to learn to do the proper way. In some cases, deserving teachers and elders may need support. But as it is, the exception has become the rule.

In short, why don't we just follow the example of Paul and forget about a dubious command supposedly given to the churches? And why covet that which we clearly see to be what the weak and needy gave in order to get what they need? That does not only make us covetous but vile as well for condoning laziness and greed.

Humility, perseverance, diligence and innocence, as in the case of Paul, are pre-requisites to the genuine ability to give to others who need help. Who can be like Paul and work with his own hands from such a standpoint in order to serve and to give to others? Who can follow his desire to preach the Gospel free-of-charge?

(Painting above: "The Widow's Mite" by James Christensen)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Infallibility: Truth or Fiction?

Infallibility – a word definitely invented and appropriated by humans. Only God is perfect and infallible. For humans to claim even a semblance of such infinite virtue is not only presumptuous but arrogant as well. God did give the keys (plural, take note) to His kingdom; but He gave them to all twelve apostles, not one. And the same keys anyone can receive as well by faith in Christ to unlock the door to the same kingdom, for that is the will of God. (I Cor. 4:1: “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.”)

The Roman Catholic Church bases its teaching on papal infallibility on the supposed position granted to Peter as the first pope and Supreme Pontiff (an unbiblical concept and office). Their claim is anchored on the statement of Jesus that upon Peter (Petros, a masculine name in Greek meaning stone) the kingdom of God would be established. However, Christ was clearly referring to petra (a feminine noun meaning rock), which was Peter’s good confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That truth – hence, upon Christ (The Rock), not Peter (a stone) – is the solid foundation of the Kingdom. Notice that Peter confessed Christ as He really was – Son of the living God. In return, Jesus confessed Simon (the unsteady) as He wanted him to become -- a firm believer, the new Peter. His new status brought about by his transforming faith in Jesus qualified him to receive the keys to God’s kingdom (keys to open the mysteries of Heaven), something the rest of the apostles could have equally received and did receive, as Paul attested. There is no talk whatsoever about any office or special rank Peter alone received at that moment or later on.

If so, Christ is the first and only pope (father) we should recognize. But He Himself said the Father in Heaven is greater than Him and that is why He left and took His place beside the Father in Heaven. Peter as a pope is as wild a conclusion as saying Marcos is a genuine hero or BB Gandanghari (Rustom Padilla) is a real woman.

How could we miss this simple fact and the obvious fact that Peter denied Christ three times and again denied Him before the Gentiles later on. This does not mean that Peter remained weak for he became a strong defender and preacher of the Gospel of Christ. Upon his and the rest of the apostles’ teachings, the assemblies of the first-century Christians were founded. (Acts 2:4-14 records the fact that all the 12 apostles were speaking foreign tongues through the Holy Spirit. Only Peter stood up to answer the crucial question: What is happening?) As messengers, they merely proclaimed Christ’s message through their words and works as the Holy Spirit enabled them. How could unlearned peasants and mere publicans have overturned the world otherwise? How could they have gotten the ability to uproot centuries of erroneous pagan beliefs and immoral living without Heaven’s direct interference? Please read the Book of Acts again and see how everything was all but the work of the Holy Spirit accomplished through fallible people. (Remember Ananias and Sapphira?) Even the so-called council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 merely echoes previous general pronouncements Moses declared against idolatry, dietary impurity and immorality. Nothing new at all was added. But many ensuing councils under the Roman and Greek Churches would loosen the strong fabric of genuine apostolic doctrines. At that point, the Roman Church slowly became both an ecclesiastical and a political entity.

Beyond the miraculous manifestations of divine power, the apostles had wisdom to rule over believers without the trappings of political, economic and military rule. By divine precept, there was a plurality of leadership in the early assemblies, not a hierarchy under one head. One pretentious head is, in fact, a dangerous formula for dictatorship while many humble heads are a safeguard against abuse of power. Remember how the Israelites angered God by asking for a king (so they could be like the tribes around them) when they already had a plethora of judges? And was God not their King?

How then can a divine kingdom be founded upon one unsteady person (Lord, save me for I am drowning! Matt. 14:30) who merely derived power through the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit? True, Peter healed the sick and raised the dead. But so did Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. In that regard, they were equal in rank, so why was Paul never claimed by the Romans (the first Gentile convert was a Roman centurion) as a pope as well? Because Peter was an “original” apostle whereas Paul was “born out of time”? Upon a dubious interpretation of a verse, the whole Roman Catholic Church hinges its claim to Christ’s throne on Earth which does not exist. Why? Because He reigns in Heaven. Hence, a claim to an earthly throne is all that the pope has. Politics is its real weapon; religion is its mask. How obvious is this?

Any sincere student of history will see through the dark chapters of the Roman Church’s rule and see how far it stands in harmony with Christ’s infallible quality, or even the excellent nature of the apostles’ deeds. In fact, if Apostle Paul were to be the real paragon for popes, every pope would have worked for his own keep in order to support himself and his co-workers and not expect to be supported by millions of souls throughout the world with alms big and small that make their the way to what is probably the wealthiest bank in the world -- the one in Vatican. (Infallible and rich: how favored can one person be?) For Paul vowed not to be a burden (as long as he was able to do it physically) to anyone and worked as a tentmaker. It is one thing to work as an evangelist and expect to be paid for doing so and another thing to work for a pay and then preach the Gospel free-of-charge. That was Paul’s way. He was not infallible (“I am the chief of sinners.” I Tim. 1:15); but he was less fallible than Peter as an apostle. Even when he was ready to be poured out finally, he never set himself at par with God’s perfect status (“Not that I have . . . already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Phil. 3:12)

In terms of numbers, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would technically have a greater claim to a papal seat than Peter who preached mainly to the Jews. It was he who established the churches in Asia and later on over a big part of Europe though his missionary journeys. Peter supposedly died in Rome, giving him greater right to the seat being claimed by the Roman Catholic Church. But Paul apparently did more to encourage the believers in Rome and other parts of the Roman and Hellenistic world as seen through his letters, his travels and his travails. It was he who appealed once to Caesar as a Roman citizen himself and defended the faith in Rome. That he lived to be an old man and, perhaps, also as a martyr like Peter makes him as qualified to be pope as much as Peter. So, why is he not recognized as a pope? Is it because two popes could not rule at the same time, as seen from Rome’s obvious historical disdain for the Patriarch of Constantinople and the teachings of the Greek Orthodox Church? Who knows what motives people have to distort history and the truth?

The truth is that there was no such office to talk or argue about. Peter, Paul or John were mere messengers, not supreme heads of any organization, least of all, that of a sovereign state. The pope in Rome, like Queen Elizabeth, sits on a titular throne whose roots go back to the Roman Empire, not to Kind David, from whom Christ descended. Peter, the lowly, unlearned (not ignorant) fisherman is the stepping stone used to claim Christ’s glory for a religion that falls short of the first-century model of purity and simplicity. Open your minds to history’s irrefutable lessons. See the disparities between first-century Christianity and many modern-day churches, not just Catholic. Better still, why submit to defective modern versions when the original model only awaits our simple faith and compliance. (Please visit this blog.)

What do we mean then when we say the assemblies were founded on the teachings of the apostles? Does it mean they founded a formal organization or a religious group? If hiding in an upper room to evade persecution from Jewish leaders is the way to go about it, then they must have. If worshiping in catacombs can be seen as a convenient way of espousing a religion, then they were far from being very effective.

After many years of persecution by Roman emperors, it was Constantine, a Roman emperor himself, who took Christianity and made it into a formal religion, changing entirely the character of the original foundation the apostles built.

There were obvious benefits to the believers when persecution stopped and a washed-down form of Christianity became officially acceptable. For the entrance of pagan teachings and practices diluted the purity of the early assemblies. Councils conducted both by the Greek and Roman branches of the Catholic Church introduced new doctrines not consistent with the teachings of Christ and the apostles. The formalistic conduct of the original pure and simple rites of the early assemblies became a rule. The Mass took over the love-feasts or agapes they held spontaneously and daily in their homes (Acts 2:42). A priesthood patterned after the Levitical model arose (even though Christ taught that every believer was a priest in the eyes of God, worthy to offer his or her body as a living sacrifice, our acceptable spiritual service --nothing more, nothing less, Romans 12:1). A formal, global hierarchy under one head took over the simple plurality of pastors or bishops overseeing (not lording it over) the lives of believers in various cities.

Christ knew what would happen if humans were given power and authority that is why He claimed “all power and authority” having been granted to Him by Heaven just before He ascended. He never gave part of that to anyone or any group of people. Least of all, His apostles whom He knew to be helpless without the Holy Spirit empowering them spiritually and not politically or legally. He did say that “greater works” than He had done the apostles would also perform. Obviously, He was referring to miraculous acts and the unlimited spiritual progress of the kingdom till now, not political, military or financial progress as the Catholic Church has obtained for herself in the past and much of it in the present.

Papal infallibility’s claim to religious correctness is a dead giveaway to the false and pretentious progress of the Roman Church. It was she who went through a painful reformation in Europe, not the Greek branch, for its excesses under profligate and “infallible” popes. Our very own hero, Jose Rizal, died in the hands of the Spanish rulers through the evil machinations of the friars. If Galileo could be forgiven for espousing a scientific fact, why cannot Rizal be officially “pardoned” or reinstituted for exposing truths about the friars? (Silencing Galileo and killing Rizal are only two of many clear proofs of the religiously intolerant nature of the Roman Church.) Because Rizal rightly recognized and taught against a religion that in reality makes slaves of us instead of setting us totally free. (Donde la fe no mata, donde el que reina es Dios.) To uphold Rizal’s teachings would mean rejecting erroneous Catholic teachings. He remains an enemy to Catholicism and to many priests. And yet, they treat him like a friend for the sake of display. Across almost every Catholic Church in every town in the Philippines, Rizal’s statue stands in the plaza maintained by the government. But in Dumaguete City, for some reason, he seems to face away from where the church stands. This shows that even Rizal’s statue still knows how to look the other way.

Catholic priests would conveniently qualify the pope’s infallibility by limiting it to his professions as Supreme Pontiff on matters of faith and of morals. This despotic qualification holds all Catholics captive to any and all pronouncements of the pope. Hidden behind this dogma, however, is the tendency to add or to subtract from the plain teachings of Christ, for the very position he claims is an invented office, as we already said. In fact, as an example, cardinals and archbishops (obviously with papal permission and as a matter of conscience, hence, of morals) can justify the use of money from lottery or gambling for its religious purposes. This, therefore, excuses from sanction his or other priests’ arbitrary actions. Another case is that they allow marital annulment but not divorce. This is like saying, “Whatever I say is right and whatever else I may indirectly allow is also right.” Such sophistry they have perfected as their trademark. Only the truly discerning can see through the hocus-pocus.

We would easily believe that the pope is infallible if he chose his archbishops, bishops and priests such that they would at least be half as infallible as he is. But, no, the fact that the branches can be as corrupt as the trunk simply means the teaching on infallibility is a hollow, dead and sapless stump full of termites.

The only time any person can be considered technically as infallible (not in error but not necessarily free of sin) is when he or she proclaims eternal truths revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. An example would be Peter’s confession that Christ is the Son of God. Another would be that Christ reigns in Heaven and that he will return to judge the living and the dead. These are basic and universal truths. But to say something that is and has not been revealed to the apostles and the gospel writers is “adding” to God’s word (a grievous offense and subject to divine condemnation). Such invented doctrines divide people and cause dissensions – something we are going through now. We must, however, contend for the purity of God’s word.

When Christ prayed in Gethsemane for the apostles, He said, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:14-19 - With highlighting) To be sanctified is to be made holy or whole. Our teachings and faith can only be complete through the revealed word of God given to the twelve apostles, not theological inventions or misinterpretations pronounced by false teachers and other wannabes.

Catholics, in general, are sincere believers. But the teaching on infallibility is one matter that even non-believers will find hard to follow into its logical conclusion. Why believers would believe a lie is certainly amazing. The “father of all lies” is still very much alive and gathering harvest everywhere.

Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Gal. 4:16)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Rudiments of Marriage

With the ongoing public debate on the RH/RP Bill, it might be good to review marriage as God conceived it. This, of course, we can derive from a reading of Genesis and the Gospels which give us a clear, fundamental picture of marriage.

Much of the confusing arguments thrown about in media, in courts and in churches come from people’s misconceptions regarding the origin of marriage. When institutions enforce inordinate marital laws, society gets caught in the proverbial Gordian knot. Today, the moral and economic health of our nation will depend upon our unravelling this knot for us to experience the freedom and prosperity that God wanted us to have in the first place.

When marriages end up becoming mere playgrounds for the perverts and the depraved, it is time to get serious. Let us then review the Rudiments of Marriage:

A – Marriage is an ACT of God.

God established and defined marriage in the beginning. He “made them male and female” and made them “one flesh”. No, in reality, He made them first “one flesh” (one kind of flesh) in the person of Adam from whom Eve was taken. Having formed Eve from Adam’s flesh, God “made them one” (one united flesh) in marriage. Thus, He declared them to be husband and wife. There, the simple definition of marriage from the Author of Life Himself.

One man. One woman. One flesh. One union. Can there be anything more elegant than that?

Today, people pervert the equation: One man. One man. One flesh.... Bang! It blows the mind of God and sensible people. But people don’t know any better and violate the Law of Marriage, making it into a mere act of humans.

B – Marriage BEGINS with the physical union of man and woman.

One flesh, at the start, then there were two different flesh forms (male and female). God meant the two to be reunited -- a physical and loving union. Adam and Eve loved each other. Their union was uniquely and directly physical since Eve came from Adam. They became husband and wife when they consummated and celebrated their entrance in marriage.

Since all of us came from the union of Adam and Eve, we can consider ourselves of the same flesh nature. We also have the privilege to enter marriage.

It is important to see and understand that the pattern of Adam and Eve is our only model for marriage. They entered their union by the physical act of coming together as “one flesh”. The act of God was to make male and female out of one flesh and joining them in marriage. The act of humans in subsequent marriages is to unite in the same manner. That is marriage the way it should be seen and done. From the beginning till the end of time.

In short, the wedding or the pronouncement by any institution does not establish the union. It is two persons following the law and word of God and keeping that union pure before Him.

C – CLEAVING to one another

What God has joined together, let no one separate. But why do we have laws that allow separation? Because we have taken over God’s authority. We change the equation, distort and extend it to satisfy inordinate carnal desires.

To cleave means to be joined with. The initial intense desire must remain, as much as possible. It is a responsibility of married people as well as of society to keep that union everlasting. Of course, this is hard to attain in our fast-changing times. But if it was generally possible in the past to remain married till death, why can’t we do it again? So many reasons to remain one and only excuses not to.

D – DISSOLUTION of marriage is through death or divorce.

Only God can separate what He united. Through death of a spouse, He allows a person to marry again. Or when one becomes unfaithful by uniting with another. Why?

Since marriage is a union between two bodies, a married person who joins with another different body destroys the original union. 1 + 1 = 1, is the formula. But we have changed it into (1 + 1) + 1 = 2. There are now two unions, one from God and one from humans. One holy, one evil. But people still do it! Why? Because they are driven by their carnal desires, not by the Spirit of God.

From the previous illustration, we can see how population explodes and society’s morals disappear. Why? Because people abuse the privilege. Hence, (1 + 1) + 1 + (1 + 1) + 1 + 1 = 5. Both husband and wife have other partners at the same time. But wait, even the young have made their own equation, thus: (1 + 1) + 1 + 1 = 3. What?

Let us make it clear that two who are joined in the sexual act enter marriage as defined by God. Male and female, in the beginning, remember? Even if you are only 13, once you unite with someone, the union is established. Same flesh, same act, producing the same union. You are bound to keep that union or suffer the consequences of entering an adulterous union. But, of course, people have found ways to go around God’s laws.

Now we have “legal separation” because “there was no marriage in the first place”. That is like saying, God made a mistake in defining marriage and, therefore, we can allow two persons to be free to marry again. Divorce -- legal or not, right or wrong -- has become a prized status which brings big profit to many. But the law of God remains and will make us accountable in the end.

Friends, hope you learned something new from an old teaching. So, when you go and multiply, make sure you use the right equation. We don’t want anyone losing the soul for not knowing and understanding the simple Alphabet and Arithmetic of Marriage.

(Painting above: "Tampuhan" (Lovers' Spat) by Juan Luna)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How Jesus Died (Inside the Centurion’s Mind)

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Daniel 2:44)

The heart of a war-hardened Roman centurion remained loyal to the divine Caesar. His mind sought only to fulfill his duty to his emperor, his country, his soldiers and his family. Centuries of imperial rule and military wisdom had created this ancient machine capable of conquering nations and subduing rebellion over almost the entire world. Pax Romana reigned because of him.

When Jesus Christ began preaching, Judea was a far-flung colony ruled by a Roman governor in alliance with the Jewish Sanhedrin, a council of leaders faithful to Moses’ Law and extremely zealous for its many invented traditions. The link between the foreign Caesar and the local rulers produced a delicate balance which worked effectively to quell unrest and to maintain economic benefit for the colonizer through taxes. Both parties, keeping a safe distance from one another, gladly fulfilled each other’s role while keeping the people tractable, safe and productive. Between the two, the Praetorian Guard, under the governor’s command, played a vital role as a strong bridge.

A centurion, in reality, had command over two hundred to about a thousand soldiers. Today, he would be equal to a colonel in terms of command and dignity. He served both as mother and father to his soldiers – training them, inspiring them, fighting with them, laughing and mourning with them, eating and sleeping with them in camp and even dying with them in the battlefield. The road a soldier-leader trod upon to earn his spurs was paved with unending struggle, pain and dedication. The physical strength, mental acuity and emotional alertness required of him allowed little room for error and excuses. Mens sana in corpore sano (sound mind in sound body) – a Roman maxim -- found its pedestal in the centurion’s life.

The unnamed centurion had heard of Jesus since He began teaching in Judea with a band of followers -- former fishermen, tax collectors and ordinary folks. It was his duty to find out what was happening. Some of the soldiers he sent to observe told him of a man who baptized people and Jesus in Jordan River. The centurion remembered his soldiers saying that they even got a “washing down” from the leather-bound, ascetic prophet: Do not abuse your power. Do not get money from the people.

“Who is the leader of the movement then: the baptizer or this Jesus?” The centurion had asked then.

“Well, the baptizer wanted to be baptized but he ended up baptizing this Jesus instead,” was the answer.

Quite a humble person, this Jesus, the centurion had thought.

For about three years, the centurion had heard many things about this Jesus, also called the Son of Man, Messiah or the Prophet. He heard about his teachings of a coming kingdom, about forgiveness and loving your enemies, about praying and about a resurrection. The miracles – now, those were amazing reports -- even led him to see for himself whether this Jesus was for real.

Disguising himself as a visiting merchant, he decided to see for himself one Sabbath when not many people were in the streets. To his great amazement, he saw Jesus heal a man who had been born blind.

Great Jupiter! This man is indeed very powerful. Who is he? Where is he from?

That night, he had a hard time sleeping. Never in the history of Rome or anywhere else had that happened. But being the literate and smart person that he was, he wanted more proof before putting any trust upon this teacher-healer. He also needed to be unattached in order to focus on keeping the crowds who followed Jesus from becoming unruly.

Still, he wanted to know more about this Jesus. He had an unhindered view to a historic and revolutionary event and he did not want to miss whatever good it offered. Besides, it was his duty to keep this Jesus and the excited people within his scope. Also, he needed to keep Jesus from harm in case the Jewish leaders thought of eliminating him unlawfully. Either way, he kept the guard and gave relevant reports to the governor regarding the rising events.

“This Jesus, although he doesn’t seem intent on starting it, may be the source of trouble for all,” he told his soldiers. “Stay alert!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey, the centurion provided security in the streets of the city. But since it was his duty to keep a close watch over the band of followers, he stayed close and kept even wider eyes and ears than his soldiers. He gathered reports of what Jesus said in the temple through the stories told by some Jewish “friends” (Spies, we would call them. Romans were not allowed inside the temple, you see. He knew the Jewish leaders had also planted spies among Jesus’ followers.) He heard how Jesus toppled the tables and how he lashed at the Pharisees and Scribes. The Sanhedrin almost had to call Roman soldiers in just to prevent the people from causing any more vandalism. Fortunately, only Jesus showed violent behavior.

Surely, this man is motivated by some kind of ultimate goal for him to defy the Sanhedrin as he does, thought the centurion.

He now wondered what was the final goal of this Jesus? Did he want to ultimately take control over the temple? Was he merely testing the Sanhedrin’s ability to resist Him and the people? Where would he get his weapons to accomplish that? He had tasked his soldiers to search the homes of some of Jesus’ disciples many times in the past. But they found none.

By all counts, this man is a man of peace. He does not know the ways of war like I do. Taking over the temple or the city would require training a big army. But with the Roman legions guarding the province and the city, it would be an impossible task.

So, why is he doing nothing but teach in the temple and in the surrounding towns? For three years, he has not varied his habits. Yet, more and more people are coming to him. And now that he has made a triumphant entry in Jerusalem, he has not said anything to the people that would come close to rousing them to take over the temple or the city.

His claim that he is the Son of God has divided this nation. The leaders hate him; but the people love him. Could he have supernatural power to overthrow Rome and Judea by calling on God’s angels? Their prophet Moses overthrew a great nation before without an army; perhaps, this Prophet will do it again.

This man is very mysterious and very dangerous.

The centurion made a report of the recent events and made an effort to explain to the Roman governor that he had not seen anything like this Jesus or his movement. His recommendation, therefore, was to reinforce the security in the city as Passover was arriving and more people had come to celebrate. It might be that Jesus was waiting for more people to make his final move, whatever it was.

The order arrived one morning at the centurion’s house from the governor for soldiers to assist the Sanhedrin in the arrest of Jesus that night.

So, this is how it will all end? The centurion felt the despair and helplessness. Or perhaps, he has an army trained somewhere and would come at the right moment to begin the uprising. But until then, I have nothing to work on.

That night, they came and arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was half hoping that Jesus and his followers would put up a fight; but only one follower did, cutting off a soldier’s ear in the process. But Jesus rebuked the man and even healed the soldier’s wound. The soldiers confiscated a couple of swords and clubs, nothing more.

This man is not putting up a fight. What is he doing? Maybe he wants a more dramatic revolt. We will have to wait.

The centurion waited in vain. Before the Sanhedrin, before the Roman governor and before Herod in Galilee, Jesus did not defend himself. No rescue from any army -- of humans or of angels -- came. When the Jews cried to have him crucified, not even the governor could save him. The centurion, feeling frustrated, accepted his orders from both quarters.

When the governor ordered Jesus to be flogged, he let his soldiers do the job. He felt exhausted and went home to take some rest. Watching another flogging would have been senseless.

Anyway, this is not what I had hoped would happen to this man. Ah, a drink and a bath will clear my mind. Even in battle, such small luxuries can do great wonders. And in this war of politics and religion, a soldier neither wins nor loses. One merely carries on.

Upon his return, however, the soldiers were scourging Jesus with wild abandon.

“The order was to scourge him, not kill him,” he yelled at them.

How can these people laugh at their own cruelty?

He could not look into the eyes of the bleeding man. The crown of thorns and the robe around his lacerated body made him appear neither as a dignified king nor a respectable man by any trace. The laughter he heard around him at this pitiable spectacle seemed to hurt him almost as much as the wounds of Jesus.

After the governor turned over Jesus to the Jews to be crucified, the fate of Jesus fell entirely into the hands of the centurion.

This man has not caused any trouble; but he is being punished and sentenced to die. I envy the governor; he could wash his hands of this man’s blood. Mine are already stained by it.

But he had a task to do and ordered the soldiers to proceed with the sentence. When they arrived at Calvary, he had Jesus nailed and raised on a cross between two thieves.

This is the worst order I ever had to follow in my life, the centurion mused as he watched while people cheered every pound of the hammer on the nails. Yet, the condemned hardly cried in pain. It was nine in the morning.

People who were passing by mocked him. The soldiers were gambling over his cloak. One of the thieves hanging beside him cursed him. The Jewish elders dared him to come down and prove He was the Messiah.

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” the centurion heard Jesus cry out.

The Roman laws which I serve and his own laws have condemned him; but my own heart cannot even condemn him. And yet, he will not condemn anyone. What great love this man has!

At noon, a black darkness covered the entire land. It seemed like the Sun itself stopped shining for there were no clouds; not even the stars or the moon appeared. Light itself seemed to refuse to shed its presence upon the scene. Torches were brought in by the soldiers for they could not move within the gloom.

What kind of man is this that even Nature grieves at his suffering? I have seen both courage and fear in the faces of men who died in battle. My comrades who bled and died in my arms defied death and the enemy and cried out for more blood. But this man refuses to fight, forgives his enemies and brings sorrow even to a man like me who has stared at death so many times. He... he is all alone in his agony and, yet, it is I who feels abandoned.

“I thirst!” came the cry from the cross. Upon hearing this, a soldier gave him wine vinegar mixed with myrrh and soaked in a sponge. But Jesus did not drink.

“Enough! We have mocked him long enough. Let him die with dignity,” said the centurion.

He thirsts for something else. Whatever it is, we have no power to give it to him.

“It is finished,” Jesus spoke.

The centurion felt the end was near. He had been standing several paces from the cross and had remained there to see everything that transpired. He had forgotten about his duty to Caesar, to his country, his soldiers and his family. The only obligation he had at that moment was to the man on the cross. This time, he spoke to Jesus from his heart.

You were placed under my command, for me to observe, to control, to protect, to scourge and now to crucify. In my tour of duty in your land, I have seen many die on a cross – yes, under my command. Men who deserved to die. I know you do not deserve this. But you wanted this. That I know now. For what purpose? I do not know.

In Rome, we have a hero who was bound to a rock for stealing fire from heaven and giving it to humans. I see now that even as you approach death, Prometheus that you are, even the light dies with you. It is my privilege to see a man whom we Romans would call a true hero of the people. No, we would call you a god! For that, I give you honor.

The centurion took off his helmet, unsheathed his sword and stood it on the ground.

Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit!

With such a piercing cry, Jesus died. It startled every one. Even the land shook with such a force that the centurion fell on the ground. In the lingering darkness, he stayed down kneeling and supporting himself on his sword. People were screaming and trembling. No one, not even the mockers who had gathered like vultures uttered a word. Only the centurion’s clear voice rose above the rumbling ground and fearful cries.

Vere filius dei erat iste!” (Truly, this man was the Son of God!)

It took a while before the chaos subsided. The darkness dispelled in a moment and the soldiers took enough courage to gather back around the cross at the centurion’s call. It was three in the afternoon.

It was a custom for executioners to make sure that those who were crucified were dead before they were brought down. The centurion hesitated to give the command when it was Jesus’ turn for he had a glimmer of hope that he would still be alive.

Perhaps, it is his way of surviving this great injustice. Wouldn’t that be a great vindication for the innocent? The governor, who understands our laws more than I do, believes so.

“Sir, we have to do this,” asked the soldier ready to plunge the spear into Jesus’ heart.

“What‘s another wound to a dead man?” The centurion waved his hand and walked away.

The centurion went home that day pondering. He had proven something to be true and still had some hope remaining that that truth would last long enough for others to see. He only had to nurture that hope.

Today, many do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He lives and reigns in Heaven. Many others do not even believe He ever lived at all. One man witnessed how Jesus died -- and believed.

(Painting above: "The Roman Centurion" by Nathan Greene)