I thought to write this post as a pre-Lent mismash of thoughts and ideas that might need to be put aside for more focused reflection during Lent. But it's harder and harder to write as different threads of ideas came about. There's that little lecture by Feynman, and there are two books by Graham Greene (and working on a third one, The Power and the Glory) . Between them, I got a glimpse of lives which are vastly different from mine, and yet oddly, not so different. I'll try my best not making anyone reading this more confused than I already am :)
Asking hard questions
The 'scientific' training I've had, or not-so-scientific, if one examines Feynman's argument that now is an Unscientific Age, with instant polls & magazine articles expounding breakfast in bed as a key ingredient for happy marriages (based on just 12 couples interviewed!), made me ask these questions over and over again in the course of making daily decisions: "What should I do (now)?"
Feynman says this question can be further examined by asking two questions: "What would happen if I do this?" and "Do I want it to happen?". Science is primarily occupied with answering the first question, and ethics (or morality—or religion for Feynman) needs to answer the second question. Anyone enquiring into science needs to answer both questions in order to make sense of what one's doing. Thus, in response to Feynman's statement that science is quite independent from morality, I'd say, "Yes, science is independent from morality; but this is precisely why science had to be guided by morality when practiced by scientists!"
In today's biomedical scientific research sphere, there's a tension between the 'pro-life' camp and the 'pro-science?' camp over stem cell research. Dr Ignacio Segarra, in his talk during the Bioethics Forum session on stem cell research in early February, pointed out that adult stem cells have been proven successful to treat various diseases while embryonic stem cells (ESC)—which require the death of the embryo, which is basically a really young & small human being—hence the ethical controversy, have not cured a single disease. So much talk on Christopher Reeves being able to walk again had research on ESC been federally funded in the US!
The controversy over ESC research casts dark shadows over scientific integrity. There is that recent fiasco of faked research results by South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk, as well as redefining (seemingly at whim!) of scientific axioms, such as the claim that "no genetic materials from rabbit would 'contaminate' blastocysts that result from using rabbit eggs implanted with human nucleus" in research done in a Chinese university, against the understanding that a cell contains genetic materials from both egg donor and the 'nucleus donor'. Researchers redefine terms the way it would serve their interests. What happens to scientific integrity? What happens to accepting that perhaps ESC are too plastic to achieve a simple healing job (instead of metastasizing into cancer)? What happens to exploring an alternative source of stem cells: umbilical cord blood cells? I'm not working in this field, yet the same questions could be applied to our lives: what will happen if I do this? And, do i want that to happen?
Asking such questions in my life made me identify with some of Graham Greene's characters (such as Henry Scobie) who felt that knowledge is damning. No doubt Greene's statement, that only Catholics—blessed (and cursed?) with fullness of revelation—can be damned because of their full knowledge of sin, sounds presumptuous. Yet I wonder whether one would face the question of vocation in life as a non-Catholic. Would you have asked what is God's will for you, if you are not a Christian, or better, an agnostic or an atheist? Would you have agonized over big choices and prayed for illumination during your discernment? Would you accept a lifetime of meaningless existence? Would you experience despair if you do not believe that God is love and Hell is a state of being unloved? Would you look for your station in life if you have not been told that God has designs for every single one of us?
In EWTN's recent episode of the Journey Home, I caught a snippet of conversation between the host and their Irish guest, Dr Gerard Casey, who despite growing in oh-so-Catholic Ireland, left the Church (and returned, thank God!) because he, like many cradle Catholic friends I met, experienced a loss of faith that characterized the "implosion of Cultural Catholicism". I used to marvel at countries which have been traditionally Catholic (like Ireland, Spain & the Philippines) and envied their strong POD culture, but Dr Casey made me realize that faith is not an attribute of culture alone, and not something which one doesn't need to fight to keep. In Cologne last August, one of my volunteer teammates in WYD was a Buddhist, and she had questions naturally about Christianity and the questions she asked were typical of a seeker. To my surprise, I could not easily share with her what thought process made me come to believe and neither could the rest of my team, who were all cradle (and likely, cultural) Catholics, who never question their Faith and look upon Faith as both a gift and part of their heritage. Is it really?
Alright, I'm wading into uncharted waters now... The Catholic Faith for me has influence in 3 areas: the intellect, the attitude and the vocation. Through the Eucharist, we are taught that all Christians are transformed, ideally into the body of Christ Himself. [It] is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me, St Paul wrote. I only paid attention to this teaching recently from a few homilies. A priest often (somewhat rhetorically) asks the congregation how we have been transformed in our own lives. How indeed? In terms of intellect, being Catholic had opened for me more than 2,000 years of philosophy (mostly Western) on the question of God and His relationship to us, that I otherwise would not have known. In terms of attitude, being Catholic made me aware of the need to sanctify the little things in our lives and the love with which we need to do our tasks. Yet in terms of vocation, I have difficulty seeing how inviting Christ into my life has changed it.
I mentioned a change in vocation because, a thief naturally, is not expected to remain in that trade after his conversion... Similarly my current work sometimes dragged me down so low that it made me feel unworthy of being a Christian. Sure, Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that God is found in little things done with love. I have led a very sheltered life that made it possible for me to ask all these questions (instead of being 'out there' and really trying hard to live the faith in spite of daily tribulations). For some of my friends, their vocations are very clear. Everyone has something to do for God, John Paul the Great once said. What if, one is not capable of love in what one does, like me? What should one do if one can see an alternative vocation? I cannot help but to feel pharasaical for thinking that the righteous life cannot be found in the current way and thus must be found another way of living the Faith?
These questions I have had for a few months now... I didn't think writing or thinking further about this crisis in vocation could get them out of my system. Perhaps therein lies the problem, that I do not expect God to suddenly answer them (although He can, and He would in His time if He wills it)! I realize I haven't believed enough and I haven't prayed enough for God's will to happen.
My First Lenten resolution: Pray in earnest for deeper faith, and pray often.