Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Back from vacation: some thoughts

How is each vacation different? Both I and my sister (who until recently, studied in Singapore as well) always go home for Christmas and New Year. Typically we'd either spent a few happy weeks with our family at home, or go on a road trip to East Java (where my grandparents and numerous cousins live) to spend the New Year at our grandparents' house. So this year's road trip isn't so unlike those in the past.

Yet every vacation gives different things. For instance, this time I got to read cover-to-cover a few books (something I've never been able to do during the past vacations!), I cut my hair short, and I actually completed a small part of an inventory system for my mom's pharmacy! Also, I had a pretty long talk with my grandpa (no mean feat, since he spoke a Chinese dialect which I mostly had to guess & listen to its context to understand what he was saying). The long road trip forced all of us who weren't driving to face the big questions we'd normally defer from thinking about in busy days.

I finally finished reading Woods' How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. There are a few short chapters after the long chapters on Science and the University; these are on: Art ('nuff said), Economics, Charity, International Law & Western Law, Western Morality, and finally, a chapter titled A World Without God. Though these chapters were well-written, the sense of being blown away upon their discovery had somewhat lessened after the chapters on Science. These chapters, just like the previous few, focus particularly on the big ideas that the Church helped bring about/nurture and had her role all but denied or misunderstood.

In modern fiction work such as the Samurai by Shusaku Endo (which I just read), the Spanish clergy in the New World were depicted as repressive, manic zealots, or collaborationists in imperial conquest. Woods pointed out that it was Fr Francisco de Vittoria, sometimes called 'the father of international law', who "brought forth the first grand treatise on the law of nations"—considering matters of jurisdiction, ownership and just treatment of fellow human beings in the person of the natives, based on the concept of natural law. This book also gave an ironic context to 'separation of church and state'; where instead of the Church interfering in State, he pointed out to the historical circumstances that spurred the Gregorian reform to draw the line limiting secular authority exercising power over ecclesial matters (especially in officials' appointment).

In the field of Charity, Professor Woods argued that Charity (of the scale witnessed) is a singularly Christian enterprise and that the Catholic teaching, based on Jesus' new commandment to love one another, surpassed ancient Stoicism to contribute to the spirit of charity. In this chapter also I learned that the insitution of hospitals was the fruit of Christian charity, and about the good sense of ancient monasteries who owned land and acted as kind, reliable proprietors.

What do these mean to me, one who is not immediately part of the 'Western Civilization'? The contribution of the Church has been far and their impact deep. Reading the chapter on Western morality, the Church's teaching against infanticide, suicide, adultery, and the need for three conditions to justify starting a war, seems like listening to a message of universal morality. One doesn't need to be Western to realize the evils of those practices prevalent then, but it was the Catholic Church who proclaims the values that necessarily render these practices sinful. My country's laws were based on those of the Dutch, which no doubt has Christian legacy. The schools which I attended were founded by missionaries from Europe.

This post which is supposed to be a reflection from my vacation turns out to be a crude summary of Thomas E Wood's wonderful book. Yet this book gives an inspiration for those who, like me, are discerning upon their vocation in the face of increasingly secular world. He wrote:

"The Church recalls the great men of Christendom—like Charlemagne, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Saint Francis Xavier to name a few—and holds them up as models for how true men live. Its message? Essentially this: You can aspire to be one of these men—a builder of civilization, a great genius, a servant of God and men, or a heroic missionary"

In his acknowledgement, Woods wrote that he hoped his daughters would find in their Catholic faith a 'pearl of great price', and quoted St Thomas More: "No one on his deathbed ever regretted having been a Catholic."

UPDATE: The first part of comments on Woods' book is here

1 comment:

Jeff said...

My wife works for Eagle Publishing, whose subsidiary--Regnery--published this book. It was a surprise bestseller right after it was published, marketed in supermarkets and such places. It was vanishing from the shelves there like hotcakes!

I read recently that 250,000 people enter the Catholic Church in America each year. Given the mediocre state of the institution, one wonders what accounts for all these conversions. I think this book is an example of the kind of thing God uses to do an endrun around the faults and shortcoming of us Catholics.