On Sunday mornings I’ve been glued to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as he rendered in flesh and blood the subjects in the first and second readings, and the Gospel of the day. Glued is perhaps a milder word. Mesmerized is probably more accurate.
The cardinal has that rare Presbyterian magnetism, with an oriental countenance, a happy face and smiling Chinese eyes that seem to portray the eternal message of hope and joy in the Holy Scripture. If simplicity, purity and clarity of thoughts are the ways to bring God’s message to the human heart, then the cardinal succeeds. It seems that theology, to Cardinal Tagle, can be pared down and simplified into the humane love of God toward man and man’s humane love for God.
Cardinal Tagle’s homilies are excellently crafted to penetrate men’s hearts in a soothing way without losing spontaneity. In the reverential silence of an early Sunday morning, listening to the cardinal is a delicious one-on-one encounter with the joyful thoughts of a holy priest.
When Cardinal Tagle speaks about the faith, no thought is overinflated and none is underrated. Only pure, clear and simple truths with a lot of love and joy coming from a holy soul straight to another mortal who’s thirsty for enlightenment.
Communicating with silence
I first listened to Cardinal Tagle when he delivered a talk last year at the Catholic Mass Media Awards ceremony. His topic surprised me. He talked about silence, silence as a form of communication with our inner selves and the ambiance of God that surrounds us. It can take place without the spoken word because it uses absorption as the language of reception. At best it is reflective communication that relies heavily on our common sense and intuition.
There is wisdom in silence, because our conscience is left alone to follow its impulse.
Noise is synonymous with confusion, a feature of an over-communicated world filled with clutter. In our relationship with God, simplicity is a condition for faith. Simplicity is a quality of humility. Humility is letting God speak to us in silence, allowing His infinite love and mercy to engulf us. Silence could very well be our oasis in a confused and overburdened world. There’s nothing like solitude to bring us back in the presence of God.
Last Sunday, Cardinal Tagle unraveled to his TV viewers the wonderful world of God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. Forgiveness for the heinous transgressions of King David in the first reading to the gentlest of compassionate forgiveness toward the public sinner, the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears. This story of forgiveness and compunction, as interpreted by Cardinal Tagle in the most compassionate tenor, made us feel that the whole idea of Christianity is focused on God’s immense love and forgiveness. In fact, God’s love and forgiveness of man’s transgressions is central to the story of salvation.
To be able to express the mystery of God’s love and mercy in human terms is the force why the Catholic doctrine appeals to plain and simple village women like my grandmother to brilliant intellectuals like Gilbert K. Chesterton, the atheist who converted to the Catholic Church because he wanted his sins to be forgiven.
Cardinal Tagle’s use of television to teach and bond with the viewers is a welcome event in the Year of Faith, as declared by Pope Benedict XVI last year.
The Catholic world through the years has produced excellent preacher-priests who became famous for their exhortatory brilliance in bringing Christ’s message into the minds and hearts of men. Their genius rests on their ability to use the languages of the common man—clear, simple and direct to the heart.
In the mid-’50s, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen gathered millions around the TV set with his weekly program expounding on the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith. He was a preacher with unique magnetism ever displayed by a prince of the Catholic Church. Regal in his bishop’s vestments and stately in his movement, he was “blessed with the happy facility of being able to present the sublime mysteries of the Christian Gospel in a language that the modern age understands.”
Bishop Sheen visited the Philippines in the early ’50s, said Mass for us at Ateneo. I saw him at close range and was held captive by his penetrating eyes. As head of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, he accomplished much to promote the foreign missions of the Church. EWTN still replays his top-rating TV program of the ’50s. You can watch and listen to him on YouTube.
Newman and St. Paul
A century ago, Cardinal John Henry Newman was the toast of British Catholics. His sermons were often praised for their freshness and originality. Says Fr. George W. Rutler, author of “A Crisis of Saints,” Newman had a style of relating the plain truths with the Gospel in a realistic and emphatic way. Newman saw the great importance of the individual differences in human souls and a unique feature of his approach was to always “speak to people as individuals.” Never had a voice the like of his been heard in the Oxford pulpit. People flocked to hear him, sometimes moved to tears by Newman’s eloquence.
Of course, there’s St. Paul, the iconic and legendary apostle who pioneered in the globalization of Christianity.
Paul was formerly a brutish and ruthless persecutor of Christians, God had to strike him down and recruit him by force. Paul, of course, was the same forceful, muscular and never-say-die evangelizer responsible for the spread of the faith among the people of God including pagans of early civilizations. Paul’s epistles to all the world reverberate through the ages proclaiming the love and majesty of God. St. Paul’s teachings ring true, reverberating at all times until the fullness of time.