SPIRITUALITY TODAYMary Ann Fatula:
Summer 1986, Vol. 38, pp. 164-170.
Current Trends: Truth that Transforms the World
Sr. Mary Ann, O.P. (Columbus), holds a doctorate in systematic theology from Catholic University of America and chairs the Religious Studies Department of Ohio Dominican College.
EVEN after several months, the images in our mind's eye remain: a widow, an unarmed Filipino people, and a dictator, all facing what Defense Minister Ponce Enrile described as an inexorable "moment of truth." And while the world extolled the Filipinos' courage, this people showed us at the same time and on a deeper level the utterly real transformation that spirituality can accomplish when it pushes us to a passion for the truth of things.
News reports chronicled the critical days in February when a whole people chose for truth at the risk of their lives. They voted, and counted votes, and gave themselves to the non-violent resistance movement inspired by church leaders like Cardinal Sin and led by Corazon Aquino. "Armed only with their hearts," a scant thirty defenders initially guarded the defense ministry headquarters where Fidel Ramos and Enrile had barricaded themselves. As other soldiers turned their loyalty to Aquino, thousands of Filipino civilians protected the opposition forces with their own bodies.
Enrile had told a Newsweek reporter (3/3/86) of his belief that, when it came to the wire, even loyalist soldiers would make the choice for and not against their own people: "This is a moment of truth." Enrile was right. Filipino Church leaders themselves took a stand for the truth, denouncing the Marcos regime as fraudulent; with their voices and lives they worked to lead the resistance movement to a peaceful victory. In their own moment of truth the U.S. Senate condemned the election, while a House subcommittee voted to curtail direct aid to Marcos. And when Marcos himself could no longer escape the truth, Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt refused to pad its implications: "Cut and cut cleanly. The time has come."
A New York Times (3/2/86) feature article called the Filipino revolution an "act of self-determination inspired by the most basic human stuff -- weeping, cheering, praying, singing and a sheer yearning for democracy." Significantly, the Times reporter identified prayer itself as the heart of the amazing transformation this people underwent in their path to freedom: "most of all, perhaps, Filipinos prayed." This very prayer became a people's decision for truth, a decision they made with their lives.
SPIRITUALITY AS TRUTH TRANSFORMING THE WORLD
Above all, Corazon Aquino reached for the truth within her in a way that changed radically not only her own future but also the future and fiber of her nation. In an article celebrating her as "woman of the year" and symbol of the triumph of "people power," Newsweek reporters (3/10/86) attributed her remarkable personal growth to the influence of her religious faith. The woman described by a former classmate as "sweet, delicate and frail" emerged as an outspoken and courageous leader of fifty-five million people. Reporters recalled how, in accepting an honorary degree from her Alma Mater in 1984, Mrs. Aquino had focused on the central impact of her faith in opening her to her newly discovered vocation as a political leader.
This public destiny was not one Mrs. Aquino would have chosen for herself even a year ago, and yet it soon became clear even to critics that it was everything God made her to be. In recounting her personal growth through the tragic experiences of her husband's imprisonment and eventual murder, Newsweek reporters described the decisive role two spiritual experiences played in the final stages of Mrs. Aquino's inner journey to the truth of her own mission. She dreamed frequently of going to a church only to find each time that her husband's coffin was empty. Through this dream she began to recognize what she initially refused to admit: that her husband Ninoy's person and mission now lived in some way within her, transformed into a unique mission of her own. After more than a million Filipinos petitioned her to run for the presidency, a second decisive spiritual experience led Mrs. Aquino to accept and then to embrace her destiny with all of its implications. She went into seclusion for a day-long retreat in order to pray and discern God's will for her; friends told Newsweek that she hoped against hope that "God would let her off the hook." God did not. From this time of prayer the woman who only recently had said, "What do I know about being president? I am only a housewife" emerged to announce her candidacy.
In identifying the source of her personal transformation, Newsweek acknowledged that Mrs. Aquino is "fueled almost solely by spiritual staying power -- her own definition of courage." These reporters quote her manifesto: "So long as I believe I have to do certain things, I will just go right ahead." Ramon Mitra, presently Minister of Agriculture, told of his own terror and "Cory's" contrasting inner strength at a rally which had threatened violence for them. A personal autonomy and confidence had taken hold of her to give living testimony to her own words to Newsweek (3/10/86): "We are willing to risk even our lives . . . ."
Perhaps even more noteworthy than Mrs. Aquino's story of faith is the seriousness with which secular news sources recounted the power of individual persons' spirituality to effect the freedom of an entire nation. Along with Filipino civilians and soldiers, bishops and laity, priests and nuns, Mrs. Aquino took her stand with the truth that alone sets us free. In the process, and in company with the church leadership that successfully inspired and sustained the non-violent resistance movement, she transformed the destiny of her people in a way significant enough to make an impact on the whole world.
It may be that the most profound lesson we learn from this remarkable event in the Philippines is that a nation's justice and freedom hang in the last analysis on the spiritual depth of individual people willing to choose the truth that can transform the world. The lives of people like Gandhi and Aquino herself are evidence that spirituality and mysticism of their very nature push us to the truth within us, to the truth of God's gift and call which far exceed what our often miserly and faint-hearted expectations could dare to anticipate.
For years, Corazon Aquino had lived gladly as a silent helpmate to her talented husband. But his imprisonment from 1972 until 1980 forced her to develop her own untapped gifts. Her husband's murder in 1983 finally brought her unwillingly but irrevocably into the public eye she had carefully avoided. Mrs. Aquino sought God's will for her life, and in seeking his will replete with unsuspected largesse, she reached into the truth of her own being. From these depths the person who had defined herself as "only a housewife" grew into the woman whose spiritual resources and political gifts inspired and led an entire nation to freedom.
With her people, this widowed president teaches us that spirituality inescapably makes demands on us, demands to enter into and to embrace the truth of our own being in its full potential. From this place alone can we live the truth that makes a difference in the world. Conversely, Mrs. Aquino shows us the inseparable other side of the coin: that real spiritual depth is a matter not of an isolated and unreal inner world, but of God's intimate, personal love inviting us to give the stuff of our own lives for our brothers and sisters.
CATHERINE OF SIENA'S MYSTICAL WAY: PASSION FOR THE TRUTH
In living out this two-fold paradox of grace, Mrs. Aquino, along with countless other Filipinos, claims kinship with men and women whose spirituality has transformed them into an unexpected power for good in the world. In this regard I think of the fourteenth century Dominican, Catherine of Siena, whose fidelity to her own mystical call lured her from the life of a silent recluse into whole-hearted involvement with the civil and ecclesiastical ills of her day. In thus opening herself to the full breadth of God's invitation to her, this woman who had no formal schooling discovered within herself the resources to preach and write with the theological clarity and depth that earned for her the title of Doctor of the Church.
One of the central themes Catherine develops in her writings is precisely the need for commitment to the truth that transforms us. "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31). Catherine drank into her soul this passage along with the motto of her own Dominican Order, Veritas, until their call to truth became the very substance of her own identity. Because s~ ~e had learned to embrace the truth of God's love with all of her mind's intelligence and her heart's passion, she broke free of the fear which enslaves so many of us to a security that refuses to risk anything.
One strong current of contemporary spirituality has focused on discovering the mystics anew and learning from their living voices how to recognize and respond to the mystical call in our own lives. I have been reading the initial draft of the first volume of Catherine's letters, superbly translated into English under the direction of Suzanne Noffke, O.P., and slated for publication in the near future. Catherine's passion for truth rings out on almost every page of these letters.
When only twenty-nine years old, she boldly writes to Pope Gregory XI in an attempt to assuage his fears about returning the papal residence from Avignon to Rome: "Don't be afraid no matter what has happened or may yet happen" (Let DT 63); "you have no need to fear. But if you don't do as you should, you may well have reason to be afraid" (Let DT 76). Civil leaders, too, did not escape from Catherine's word of truth, made all the more powerful in its impact by her own unparalleled integrity. She warns Charles V of France to reign without slavery to selfishness, flattery, and human respect. "And don't pretend not to see if your officials are inflicting injustice for money, denying the poor their rights. No, be a father to the poor as a dispenser of what God has given you" (Let DT 78).
The illustrious archbishop of Otrante receives this pointed admonition from Catherine: "Take heart, be brave, and don't be afraid of anything . . . Boldly, and with no fear at all, proclaim the truth" (Let DT 56). And she urges the civil rulers of her native Siena to break free of the "perverse fear" that infected Pilate, whose terror at the prospect of losing his power caused him to "close his eyes" to the truth. Catherine adds this stinging comment: "It seems to me the whole world is full of such Pilates" (Let DT 123).
SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND THE CHOICE FOR TRUTH
In our more honest moments, we may recognize dimly outlined among these Pilates not only public figures like the deposed dictator of the Philippines, but also we ourselves. We've learned how easy it is to close our eyes to the truth within and around us. We suspect that truth hurts, that facing it squarely involves too much pain, that meeting its demands on us would require us to change, to expand our hearts, to let go.
Yet most of us have also learned how much it debilitates us to hide and sneak around corners, how much energy it takes to live a lie. We see how wasted our life forces become when we spend them on what is not worthy of us, when we devote ourselves to pretensions and cover-ups, to contradictions and facades. And if the gracious mercy of God has ever freed us from the prison of this kind of sham, we have discovered in contrast how life-giving the truth is, how wonderful it is to have our energies freed and unchained, how good the experience of our own life becomes for us when we live the truth instead of lies.
We each bear within us this truth that cries out to be heard and listened to, not simply by others, but most deeply by ourselves. When we have paid attention to the truth within us and to the truth spoken by others to us, we have found evidence in our lives of how infallibly fear of pain can yield to truth's joy and freedom, to its peace and power. Experiences like these make us suspect that those courageous enough to stake their lives on the truth they publicly proclaim have first entered into their hearts and claimed this truth in their own lives.
This kind of inner liberation constitutes the very heart not only of social transformation but also of the spirituality at the core of this transformation. More than a few mystics, psychologists, and teachers of inner healing have stressed that real spiritual growth occurs only to the extent that we open ourselves to truth. As we learn to befriend and embrace truth wherever we find it, regard less of how painful it may initially appear, we open ourselves simultaneously to human life in its most exalted potential.
Even our recognition of how we attempt to escape from truth is itself God's own gracious gift. To pray for the grace not to fear or to resist the truth within us and around us is already to co-operate with the essential means of our human healing and maturing. As Catherine herself loved to emphasize, since Jesus alone is the living person of truth, no other truth, when embraced in this ultimate truth of Jesus' love, can finally bear for us other than good news.
When our spirituality becomes a living adherence to the truth of God's mercy and love not only known with our minds but embraced with our lives, then the truth we ourselves live can extend itself to the world around us as a force for good. Those who love the truth in their own lives have no fear of living and speaking the truth before others. Catherine's words to a high ranking Church leader, Cardinal di Luna, are apropos here: "if you know and love the truth, you will not fear pain .... Otherwise, your shadow will make you afraid" (Let DT 284). We learn how radically the truth makes us free in proportion to the depth with which we are willing to stake our lives on the truth.
This is surely the meaning and goal of spirituality, growing in the human maturity that freedom from lies and commitment to the truth bring. And in making a choice for the truth of ourselves before God, we learn that our spirituality has far reaching implications for the kind of impact our life will make on others. Lies diminish our being, but the choice for truth opens us to God's gracious will and plan far more magnificent and expansive than we could have dreamed.
What the events in the Philippines teach us is that peaceful revolutions like non-violent resistance are not idle dreams, but they work only to the extent that the people engaged in them are unafraid. And only a personal choice for the truth embraced in the truth of God can free us of fear. When Mrs. Aquino declared, "We can bring Mr. Marcos to his knees," perhaps countless Filipinos believed her because they had seen her bow her own knees only to the living God. They had seen that her willingness to die for the truth had freed her from fear of any human power.
Precisely because we are made for truth, for what is real rather than what pretends to be, we cannot help respecting those who will not be bought, those who commit themselves to the truth even at the cost of their lives. This is why Mrs. Aquino and the people of the Philippines remain in our mind's eye as a symbol in some way of our own deepest human potential. At a mass of thanksgiving to celebrate God's mercy to them in this peaceful revolution, Mrs. Aquino spoke to one million Filipinos of her slain husband: "We have proven him correct, that the Filipino is worth dying for." And, she would surely add, only the truth is worth living for, the truth in which God transforms the world.
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