The gift of the Catholic faith

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

FR. SEAN COYLE writing from Ireland on August 20, shared with me his thoughts on this subject on the Catholic Faith as a gift. Let me open with Fr. Coyle’s quotation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during a baptismal rite:

“Dear friends, in giving us faith, the Lord has given us what is most precious in life, that is, the truest and most beautiful reason for living: it is through grace that we have believed in God, that we have known his love with which he wants to save us and to deliver us from evil. Faith is the great gift with which he also gives us eternal life, true life. Now, dear parents and godparents, you are asking the Church to receive these children within her, to give them Baptism; and you are making this request by virtue of the gift of faith that you yourselves, in turn, have received.”

Those who are listening to the priest at the start of the baptismal rite should have heard the same message, said in different ways. Indeed, the Catholic faith we received we pass on to the next generation in the same way that we hope the following generation will share that same faith. This ritual of passing on our faith to the next generation is the reason that we have survived the many challenges of the modern world for almost two millennia.

And the ritual continues every day in every part of the world, some underground because of the persecution of Catholics in many countries, including western nations. Despite the horrors of persecution, faith is shared with others. Of course, there are also those who lost their faith for a wide variety of reasons but as the gift of faith that God gave to Israel and to the world, the faith is always there to take.

Fr. Coyle bewailed the decline of the Catholic faith in his native Ireland. He wrote, “But we had something precious that has been largely lost – our Catholic faith. There are various reasons for the rejection of the Church by many and the outright rejection of the Christian faith by some. But this can remind us that our faith is a pure gift from God, a gift that can be shared and that was generously shared, even to the point of giving up life itself, by the countless missionaries who went overseas, or it can be lost, not only by individuals but by whole communities.

“The gift of faith can be lost by taking it for granted, by apathy, by not taking it seriously, by not passing it on. Jesus in the Gospel is telling his fellow Jews – and we must never forget that he is and will be for all eternity a Jew, just like Mary – that many of them are in danger of losing the precious gift of the faith, the faith they inherited from Abraham, our father in faith (Eucharistic Prayer I – Roman Canon) Isaac and Jacob, and that others will accept that same gift with gratitude.”

In the middle of the last century, the number of Catholics in the Philippines was listed as 95%, now that percentage of the population has declined to only 85%.

This decline in percentage basis is due to the increase in the number of non-Catholic Christian churches and the share of Muslims in the total population.

Despite this apparent decline the fact is that there are more Catholics today than the percentage say. In terms of concrete numbers, the Catholics remain the dominant religion. The Philippine population had expanded and in actual numbers, Catholicism surpasses other religious congregations.

Sixty years ago, the parish of San Sebastian encompassed practically the whole of Bacolod with parishes in the old barrios, but today this parish has been divided and subdivided into over a dozen parishes and chaplaincies. Despite fourteen Masses on Sundays and two on Saturdays for the anticipated Sunday Mass, the Cathedral is always full to a literal overflowing. The other Catholic churches are also teeming with the faithful despite three or more Masses on Sundays and Saturdays. There is clearly a need for more churches and more priests especially.

The Catholic faith is alive in the Philippines although I believe that there is an urgent need for more catechesis to make the faith vibrant and aggressive.