"The Gospels are our stories of grief, pain and frustration, as well as of joy, fulfillment and triumph."
When I started writing this column a year ago, our editors asked me what the titleof my column would be.
I instinctively replied, “The Fifth Gospel.”
At first, they thought I would be writing about religion, an idea that the editors readily welcomed since this paper doesn’t have a religious column.
But I explained that it wouldn’t simply be about religion. It would be about faith as a lived experience, as a living reality. It would be as if the Gospel were retold through our ordinary everyday experience.
The Fifth Gospel would narrate the story of our faith from the perspective of our everyday lives.
That was a year ago. Fifty-plus weeks later, I have written on a wide range of timely topics—from politics to religion, from historical facts to current events, from aspirations of faith to policy proposals.
We often mistakenly think that the Gospels are simply the Biblical accounts of Christ’s life and ministry. But far from being more than just historical narratives or an eyewitness account of the biography of Jesus—the Gospels are stories of faith shared and passed on by telling and retelling what happened to Jesus and what he did and taught.
In the end, the four evangelists were defining Jesus and his message from the perspective of their own lived experience.
With churches closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent the Holy Week this year watching the series, “The Chosen”—a beautiful retelling of the life of Jesus by American filmmaker Dallas Jenkins. Unlike previous films on the life of Christ, Jenkins enriched the Biblical narratives by portraying Jesus “through the eyes of those who met him.”
So the opening episode focuses on Mary Magdalene and the apostles Peter and Andrew and their encounter with Jesus—and Christ’s invitation to radical discipleship. The next episodes feature Mary at the wedding at Cana, Matthew at the tax collector’s booth and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well—and Christ’s response to their own doubts and uncertainties. The season ends with the Jewish scholar Nicodemus who visited Jesus in secret, and their dialogue about the truth of Christ’s mission.
The truth is that the Gospels are our stories—and they cannot be too far removed from our own experiences—of grief, pain and frustration, as well as of joy, fulfillment and triumph.
In writing this column, I would not want to make any pretenses about being a good Catholic. I describe myself as “practicing” Catholic—who continues to be a “work in progress” and to learn how to live out our faith more meaningfully. I make no secret of my own struggles and mistakes, as well as with the grace of God’s providence.
With this column I hope to underscore that notwithstanding the rise of a secular culture, faith and religion will always retain its enduring importance.
In our time, many are often quick to conclude that with fewer and fewer people going to church, it seems that religion has now lost its touch with modern man. This observation, I believe, is far from the truth. For one, a fact that is often overlooked is that there are more people of faith than unbelievers anywhere in the world.
This means religion will always be an intrinsic part not only of our individual lives, but of humanity’s collective existence, providing our lives with the meaning and purpose that only faith can give.
The real threat to our faith, however, is not in the fact that the number of those staying away from religion continues to be on the rise—but in the reality that believers have learned to “compartmentalize” their faith from their other everyday concerns.
This is perhaps what Pope Francis had in mind when in the document “Evangelii Gaudium”—the pope wrote, “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”
Take for example, politics. The prevailing secular attitude, wrongly thought to be established by the constitutional dictum of the separation of Church and State, is that politics should be unmoored from religion.
We forget that many of the great persons in the Bible were people in politics. Moses grew up in the Egyptian court. Saul was the first king of Israel. David was a consummate leader of his people. Daniel the prophet advised the kings of Babylon. Jonah was a revolutionary of sorts, calling the king and people of Nineveh to conversion. Matthew was a tax collector working for the Roman colonial power. Nicodemus was himself a Pharisee, a religious elite that swayed significant political power. Zacchaeus was a corrupt official who found wholeness in knowing the power of God’s mercy.
It was in their politics that these men found God and grew in the faith.
In our time and for many of us, it could be in business, in our professions, in our homes and workplaces that we could encounter God and bring others to meet him.
So the invitation remains for us to find God where we are—or more beautifully, to allow God to find us, and in each of our own callings, write our own Fifth Gospels.