A long time ago in my college dorm room, I was showing a friend the blog Creative Minority Report. It takes its name from Pope Benedict’s exhortation, “Believing Christians should look upon themselves as such a creative minority and … espouse once again the best of its heritage, thereby being at the service of humankind at large.”
My friend commented, “Thinking we’re better than everyone else.”
That troubled me, because I knew that it was not the intention of Christians spreading the Gospel message; the intention, as the Pope said, is to serve others by sharing our inherited riches of the Spirit. However, it is true that zealous Christians are often a pain in the behind, turning people off by their perceived arrogance and know-it-all attitude.
Years later, it came to me: We’re not better than others. We’re better off.
In the Church, we have been given a spiritual family that extends all over the world. It is comprised of sinful, fallible humans; nevertheless, it is a ready-made community, where one feels at home in any country. When I moved from Singapore to Brisbane, it was in the Catholic churches of Australia where I found kindred spirits, all struggling with their own baggage and faults, but still striving to grow ever closer to God, and welcoming fellow travellers on this earthly pilgrimage.
In the Church, we have been given a magnificent treasure trove of sacred art, architecture and music. We have sadly discarded some beautiful masterpieces – I felt robbed of my heritage when I discovered old photos of Brisbane’s St Stephen’s Cathedral, which was rich with murals depicting the first religious men and women who came to serve the fledging colonial community, not to mention a splendid Italian Epiphany altarpiece.
At the same time, I was interviewed by the national paper of Singapore for lodging a police report against a sacrilegious, nun-mocking party slated to be held in the exquisite Gothic chapel of my mother’s old school grounds, which had been turned into a secular venue. The reporter asked why I cared about such a thing when I wasn’t even in the country. It hit me that non-Catholics did not comprehend the feeling of belonging and ownership which we have over our sacred heritage anywhere in the world, even when it has passed into other hands.
We are body and soul united, and our physical Christian heritage is just as important as our spiritual heritage, for both together have been passed down to us as a trust to share with others.
Recently, I befriended an atheist sitting outside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. He was a materialist and a determinist, but he still felt drawn to admire the soaring gothic building dedicated to God. He put me in mind of another atheist, who was converted by the beauty of York Minster.1 God reaches souls through the senses – Aquinas said, “The senses are a kind of reason. Taste, touch and smell, hearing and seeing, are not merely a means to sensation, enjoyable or otherwise, but they are also a means to knowledge – and are, indeed, your only actual means to knowledge.”
In the Church, we have untold riches of spiritual teachings, from the Church Fathers to the hard-working theologians of today, who strive to display the pearl of great price anew to people of today, distracted and duped by trinkets which the modern world passes off as diamonds. We can never be truly fulfilled by anything on this earth; every earthly joy eventually passes. It is only in the infinite God that we can find our fulfillment and peace, and everlasting love.
With so much goodness to share with others, how can we keep this treasure to ourselves? We are cracked earthen jars holding an indescribable treasure, God Himself! The thing is to help others come to see their own identity as priceless vessels made in the image and likeness of God too. Everyone knows the world is full of suffering and darkness – but here is the Good News, that the suffering can be turned into joy and the darkness into light! We are no better than anyone else – we are all sinners, but the difference is, knowing that you are a sinner is the first step to accepting salvation, just as knowing that you are sick provides the impetus to see a doctor. Knowing our true state prepares us for accepting the gift of God, which is Himself – the ultimate source and fulfilment of all human existence and desire.
Image: Angelo Graf von Courten, Holy Communion (via Joy-Sorrow).
1 Dr William Oddie, “If anybody tries to make you pay to enter an Anglican cathedral (built by the Catholic Church) refuse and enter anyway”, Catholic Herald.