IT SEEMS to me that Cardinal Tagle in Manila got all defensive in his midnight Mass sermon on the question of whether they are fanatics those who throng the streets for the sake of the Black Nazarene. To assuage the nameless, faceless critics who ask this question every year, he had to resort to a bit of wordplay: no, he says, these people are not “fanatics,” but “devotees.” He then explained that a real devotee loves, while a fanatic just clings on to something from which they derive their sense of self-worth.
The problem with words is that they can always be redefined at whim, especially when one needs them to back up their own arguments. This is a trick that people educated in top-tier universities often use to slip out of verbal quandaries, make themselves look smart and their opponents look foolish, and in the end win the debate. Even though Cardinal Tagle is undeniably one of our country's most learned churchmen, he did the Catholic faith no favors by redefining words the way he did to supplicate to critics who would remain stubborn in their unbelief anyway.
The good cardinal ought to have stood by the faithful as their divinely-appointed shepherd. If I were in his shoe, I would have said something like this instead:
“You accuse these people of being fanatics. You mock them for their unsophisticated faith. You deride them as mere simpletons for turning out in droves, despite all inconveniences, all for the sake of an old wooden statue of Christ bearing his cross. If to you that makes them fanatics, then they are indeed fanatics – and I for one see absolutely nothing wrong with that. For what is a fanatic, if not one whose love and devotion is single-minded and all-consuming? And what is the Black Nazarene, if not the very representation of Christ's own fanaticism for us? If his suffering and dying for ungrateful and stubbornly sinful humanity isn't fanaticism, I implore you – tell me what it is.”
Our editor-in-chief Mr. Aguilar writes that he once asked a student if he is Catholic, and while the student said yes, he sadly could not say for sure what it is that Catholics believe in. This student is no fanatic; he's not even one of Cardinal Tagle's so-called “devotees.” But if he were a fanatic – and again, a fanatic is a devotee of the highest order – he would have immediately stood at attention as he recited without hesitation and without a hitch the Apostles' Creed... or perhaps even the older, longer, and more complete Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed! “But why the longer creed?” you might ask. Well, why not the longer creed? After all, as the philosopher George Gurdjieff once wrote, “If you go on a spree, then go the whole hog, including the postage!”
Russian Orthodox Christians like Gurdjieff have this notion called “foolishness for Christ.” A holy man or woman becomes a fool for Christ when they completely abandon the world out of their love and devotion for Jesus. This idea of being a fool for Christ is plainly stated in the Bible: “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seem to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
Our own great Catholic saints such as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola no doubt became laughingstocks when they gave up their wealth and lofty stations to live as Jesus Christ and his disciples did. But it must be said that their fanaticism – their willingness to carry out the will of God no matter what the cost and even if they understood it not at all – was blessed by God, and thus their faith breathed new life into a Church whose faith was flagging even then. If Cardinal Tagle took a closer and harder look at how things are nowadays, he'd see that the Church's faith is badly dwindling even now. And worse, under attack from all sides.
I do not believe that it is more thinking and speculating and ideating and pontificating that we need to save our faith. Christ himself said, “In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” All we truly need is a faith as pure as a child's – and nothing more!