– Carlos M. Frota
I imagined for this week’s chronicle a dialogue between two close friends, Agatha and Frederic, so close that very often they are together to exchange ideas and evaluate the world’s events. And because they like the company of the other…
They are both university students and Christians, but one, Frederic, is a fervent Catholic and the girl, Agatha, considers herself a Christian liberal thinker, in a large context of Christianity, but without affiliation to a specific Church.
She feels comfortable enjoying this kind of personal freedom, being at the same time in and out of religious observance, without constraints.
They are not in love to each other, yet, but they are surely attracted to one another and their friendship can evolve, one if these days – why not? – to something more serious in life.
Agatha had a scientific mind, studying mathematics and hoping for an academic career in the same university where they are both completing their undergraduate studies.
Frederic had a clear taste for a large spectrum of issues, from sociology to ethology to history and his vocation was clearly teaching and searching and writing.
Last Saturday the afternoon was not so hot, the temperature reasonable for the season, and they met for a walk around the campus, eventually envisioning a light dinner, late in the afternoon.
They were both wearing sports clothes, the way the youth usually wear today: no formality, but not necessarily a careless attitude. There was in the two of them a kind of self-assurance of young people ready to fight their way in life.
Frederic started talking, pursuing a long conversation they were forced to interrupt abruptly last time. Agatha was forced to answer a long distance call fron her parents, living abroad.
He said hesitantly: “Probably the main topic of my text for the university journal is a little bit strange this week, but I cannot avoid my tendency for speculation …”
“But … speculation about what?” asked Agatha.
“About many things related to the reality of our times. I like very much to put into question what is obvious, what nobody puts into question, trying to see reality from a different angle.”
“I don’t quite understand, sorry …”
“To shorten my mental exercise: I am a Catholic, right? And I have the Church as my reference and my guide. I decided to write an article about the way I am following my way in the Church as a Catholic …”
Agatha was really intrigued.
“Despite everything?” she asked. “The Church’s shortcomings, errors, pride, sexual scandals, ….”
“Yes, despite everything!” Frederic answered calmly.
“But why? You are not an ignorant person, you are well educated and well informed … why shelve your critical thinking?”
Agatha knew very well why she was attracted to Frederic. He was different. He was a happy guy, full of joie de vivre, but with a little sense of reserve that seduced her and prompted Agatha to discover more about him.
But Frederic was explaining his reasons.
“Because my capacity of judgement fell short before the magnitude of the Message.”
“But what are you talking about?” asked Agatha, a little bit altered. “What message? Are you becoming a little bit lunatic? Or mystic, which for me is the same thing?”
Frederic prayed silently for an extra portion of patience and very very slowly said: “Did you study a little bit the fundamentals of Catholicism?”
“Of course I have!” reacted Agatha immediately. “Everybody has at least some light about the Church, even today its influence is so powerful in shaping our society and our behavior … not necessarily through compliance but by opposition, by reaction!”
“Ok, ok,” exclaimed Frederic. “The Church for us has a transcendental meaning. More, much more than in any other Christian denomination. Ours is Peter’s Church, the direct legacy of the Christ!”
“Come on, Frederic, the Church, your Church, is a human institution, so human that it is full of sinners! Just frail human beings whose frailty is more and more obvious today.”
Frederic looked at her. She is beautiful! – he thought for a second. And even more adorable when she is animated by a discussion like this one.
But he rapidly retook the line of their exchanges: “Agatha, please… Do you know why the main altar of St Peter’s Basilica is located in that precise place?”
“Nnno … no …”
“Because beneath the altar lies St Peters himself, his remains, the bones of the first disciple of Jesus.”
“Ok, and then?”
“From where comes the authority of the Pope? Directly from St Peter!”
Agatha felt a little bit annoyed by the “lecture.” “But in which measure does this change the nature of the institution? Human, errors, sin …”
Frederic expected this remark and in a very thoughtful way said, “Peter denied Jesus three times on the night the Christ was arrested. And don’t you see, he is the first Pope, he is the successor of the Messiah!”
Agatha was more and more frustrated. “What are you trying to say? For me this is not quite obvious!”
“That you can pass from the state of sin to sainthood in a manner only understandable by God himself,” Frederic replied unperturbed.
Now he was clearly beyond the reasonable, considered the girl. “Are you now trying to convert sinners into saints just to rehabilitate the tarnished image of the Church?”
“No, what I am trying to say is that human nature can be redeemed, every person is potentially a saint, and that the entire destiny of the Church in every moment can change. Because, you know, there is something special concerning our Church.”
“Which is …”
“Its invisible side …”
“Ok, then your Church has an invisible side! This is magic or what?”
He briefly smiled and replied, “Not at all! Invisible but REAL, like the wind …”
“And there are the hundreds, thousands of people we don’t see but who are praying for the Church, continuously, inside the walls of their monasteries, their homes …”
Agatha was surprised by the intensity of Frederic’s voice.
“This is the powerful army the Church is hiding for the final battle against the world?” she asked. There was irony in her voice but also, to her big surprise, a kind of window slowly opened to a landscape she didn’t know yet.
“Yes,” Frederic replied in a murmur. “This is the invincible army the world cannot see …”
Suddenly, Agatha felt that another dimension of Catholicism deserved to be explored, better understood. And that the central figure of the Pope and his teaching can be, in a modern way, the gentle light illuminating more and more dimensions of the darkness of our times.
(To be continued)