A couple of weeks ago, I met a German Jesuit priest at a meeting in Malaysia. Fr Gunther has spent more than 40 years in Japan as a missionary. In one of my conversations with him, I was enlightened about quite a few things about Catholicism in the Land of the Rising Sun. Only about 0.5% of the population there are Catholics, which bring the number to slightly above the half million mark.
Apparently, there are Japanese who have absolutely no notion that Christmas has links to the Church, let alone anything to do with Christ! As is evident in many countries, hotels and department stores in Japan do brisk business at that time of the year. Hotels tout it as a season of love (somewhat akin to Valentine’s Day) and promote hotel room packages for couples to ‘shack up’ for Christmas Eve. Department stores have sales that slash prices to pack in the shoppers. Certainly, this is not a phenomenon unique to Japan, but his following comment floored me. He once invited some Japanese to his Jesuit church in the heart of Tokyo to experience Christmas Mass, and they sniggered at him and said (with hands covering a smile, in a typical Japanese fashion) “What? Christmas has even come to the Church now? What can you possibly be selling there?”
This may seem bizarre, and I found it highly amusing. However, I couldn’t help but see that we too have shades of this kind of ignorance on our own shores. Maybe not regarding Christmas, but many other areas of life.
In 1968, Pope Paul VI published the encyclical letter Humane Vitae. It served as a reminder to the world that life is sacred, and that God is the ultimate giver and creator of life. Any manipulation or prevention of the natural-ness of life becomes then man’s assertion of his will over that of God’s. One of the very common reactions that came from many Catholics (and understandably, many non-Catholics too) was “what right has the Church to come into my bedroom”.
When Fr Gunther related the comment the Japanese made about Christmas creeping into the Church, it immediately brought to mind this comment that many people had about Humane Vitae, and what right had the Church to enter peoples’ bedrooms. Just as some Japanese think that Christmas is only about sales and romancing in rented hotel rooms and celebrating love in a Valentine’s Day fashion, perhaps so too do many Catholics mistakenly think that sex is only about doing what we want, when we want, and in any way we want.
Only when Fr Gunther makes the effort to share with the Japanese people the true meaning of Christmas, that Christ’s incarnation was God’s greatest gift to humanity, will they begin to see that what they have now as a commercialization is really a misguided and distorted view of Christmas. It is the Christ event that has the priority, and from that all other celebrations and observances flow. In Philosophical language, the Christ event is thus the ‘a priori’, which is Latin for 'what comes before'.
Similarly, only when we as people of God make the effort to understand, respect and appreciate God’s original plan for life (that happiness is not about insisting on rights but in the deeper giving and sharing of life) will we begin to see that our comments about keeping the Church out of our bedrooms is really a misguided view. The common phrase ‘safe sex’ that is touted by so many people, from governments to prostitutes, signals an aberration and a departure from God’s original plan. It gives many the idea that sex is something dangerous and harmful and unsafe, if one needs to practice safety in its celebration. Isn’t it the truth that it is we who have taken something sacred and beautiful and desecrated it to the extent that it became something to be protected against?
We all struggle with many areas in life. Some of them may be because we have misguided and distorted views of God’s original intent for us. What would help us is when we pray for both wisdom and humility. Wisdom to see truth, and humility to accept change and conversion.