Religious Empathy

Dear Parishioners & Visitors,

Every year as we arrive to the days of Holy Week, my mind and my heart begin to reminisce about the years I spent in southern Spain, mainly in the cities of Granada and Seville. In those two cities, like in most of Spain, Holy Week has a very special definition. It is a time in which popular religiosity manifests itself in a multitude of forms, many of which are alien to us. Processions and an the manifold events which surround them control the life during those days. For someone who has not been raised within that culture, all these manifestations of popular religiosity might be dismissed as folklore or idolatrous superstition. It is difficult to explain to a visitor the public manifestation of religious emotions and heartfelt devotion. People's eyes are filled with tears at the sight of the statue of the bleeding Nazarene or a sad Sorrowful Mother. Religious empathy creates a religious environment where faith is manifested through the emotions of the common people.

For us who live far away from these places and immersed in secular culture which has radically purged most of the public manifestations of religious emotions and signs, the sole mention of this kind of religiosity might sound alien and maybe challenging. Do they really have a meaning in our modern world? Have we lost something while purging our culture of religious emotions and empathy? Has the concept of the individualization and privatization of our religious life deprived us of any major and essential reality?

In my opinion, those questions must be responded to with a positive answer. Our modern secular culture has deprived us of the religious richness of public expressions of popular religiosity. In its letter to the world bishops, Placuit Deo, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith warns about two new old-forms of heresy, fruits of our modern culture. They are described with the following words: On one hand, individualism centered on the autonomous subject tends to see the human person as a being whose sole fulfilment depends only on his or her own strength.[3] ln this vision, the figure of Christ appears as a model that inspires generous actions with his words and his gestures, rather than as He who transforms the human condition by incorporating us into a new existence, reconciling us with the Father and dwelling among us in the Spirit (cf 2 Cor 5:19; Eph 2:18). On the other hand, a merely interior vision of salvation is becoming common, a vision which, marked by a strong personal conviction or feeling of being united to God, does not take into account the need to accept, heal, and renew our relationships with others and with the created world. In this perspective, it becomes difficult to understand the meaning of the Incarnation of the Word, by which He was made a member of the human family, assuming our flesh and our history, for us and for our salvation ... Both the individualistic and the merely interior visions of salvation contradict the sacramental economy through which God willed to save the human person.

The text of the letter is very rich and enlightening. I encourage all of you to read it during this coming week. It is simple to find. Just google Placuit Deo, and you will find the full text of the letter. 

-fr. Alberto Rodriguez, O.P