One drizzly afternoon, I went to see my seminary contemporary of long ago, Msgr. Lito Maraya, at the Archdiocesan Shrine of Sto. Nino in Tacloban City, Leyte, to deliver pre-ordered copies of my book.
After I handed him the books, he invited me for coffee and, of course, some kumustahan.
“Glad that you came, pais,” Monsignor Lito said, addressing me in the way alumni of Sacred Heart Seminary in Palo, Leyte, address one another. “Long time no see.”
Yes, he was right. It must have been around 40 years or so since we were together in the seminary. He’s seven years my junior, and back in SY 1981-82 on campus, I was in my fourth year of a college philosophy course and he was just a high school freshman.
During our conversation, I learned that after completing his bachelor’s degree in philosophy in our seminary, he obtained another in theology from the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain.
He has two master’s degrees (in ecclesiastical philosophy from the University of Navarre and in philosophical research from De La Salle University in Manila) and two doctorates (in ecclesiastical philosophy from the University of Navarre and in philosophy from De la Salle University).
Given his highly scholastic background, it’s no surprise that most of Monsignor Lito’s ministry assignments have since been based in the college and theology seminaries of the archdiocese—as dean of studies, vice rector, rector, and philosophy and theology professor—with intermittent pastoral assignments in certain parishes.
I was impressed by his long and uninterrupted seminary formation and steep academic training, and was inclined to believe that his journey in “faith and reason (studies)” has been unperturbed as well.
Crisis of faith
But I felt some queasiness in my assumption.
So, I fired up a question to him: Pais Monsignor, with your impressive seminary formation and academic background, was there any point in your life that you doubted God or that you had a crisis of faith or your vocation?
I was taken aback by his answer.
Said Monsignor Lito: “I entered the seminary at the young age of 12 as a freshman at Sacred Heart Seminary. From Day One, I was sure, or better still, I took as given, that God exists and that the Catholic Church is the true church. Since I grew up in a very religious family, I never doubted anything I heard and knew about God and the Catholic Church. However, one year before my diaconal ordination, it hit me very hard that I was about to spend my whole life, and the only life that I have, as a priest of God. There would be no turning back.
“Then, in succession, two hard questions popped in my head: What if there is no God? And if God exists, what if the Catholic Church is not the true church founded by Jesus Christ? I guess there was something selfish on my part as to why these questions came to my mind.”
Surpassing the crisis
Wow, what a revelation! Even more curiously, I asked: How were you able to surpass such a crisis?
“I tackled these two questions separately, one after the other,” Monsignor Lito explained. “The first question I had to resolve was on God’s existence. I wrestled with it intellectually and spiritually. I reviewed the arguments for and against the existence of God from what I learned in philosophy, and ended up convinced that on balance, there were more convincing reasons to believe in God.
“In the meantime, I had to suffer secretly this personal, existential crisis because I felt so ashamed to share it with my seminary formators and co-seminarians since they knew me as someone who had been so sure about my vocation to the holy priesthood. I also prayed very hard, even challenged God to make me ‘see’ Him more clearly and intellectually, as I felt I was like someone who has gone suddenly blind. I felt like the three Magi who lost their way to where Jesus was. As they were nearing Jerusalem, the star that guided them in their journey from their country in the east suddenly disappeared from their sight.
“Once I have resolved the problem of God’s existence, the question on Christianity as the true religion was surprisingly easier to answer. I read the entire Holy Bible, from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, for the very first time. There were many nights that I slept very late. I spent hours reading the Holy Bible in the evening—the only free time I had—sometimes up to 1 or 2 a.m. What convinced me was the power, inner consistency, and logic of the words of Jesus in the four gospels. I found His words so precise and so orderly that I thought, This could only come from God, and not only from a great thinker or philosopher. But I also know it was the grace of God that led me personally to Him. The crisis of my religious belief lasted for six to seven months, more or less.”
Whew! I had goosebumps while listening to Monsignor Lito’s account of his faith journey. While I fully agree with him about the “power and inner consistency” of God’s words in the Bible, I have yet to experience it because I have yet to read the entirety of the Bible.
I asked him one last question: From your wonderful faith journey, what insightful reflections or lessons can you provide?
He obliged. “Here are some, pais. One, take your Christian faith seriously. Resolve issues of faith. Do not sweep them under the rug. Two, live your Christian faith daily. We see more the beauty of our Christian faith when we live it day by day. For our faith to be alive, it must be lived. And three, nourish and cultivate your Christian faith with more study of philosophy, theology, and even science.”
In closing, he tried to settle the age-old query raised by the second-century Christian apologist and polemicist, Tertullian: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (Or, in the modern context, what does thought or philosophy have to do with Christian faith?)
With his soulful search for God as backdrop, Monsignor Lito affirmed that, indeed, “philosophy or intellectual quest can lead to an authentic faith in Jesus of Jerusalem.”
Thus did he hurl his parting quip: “Pace (peace), Tertullian. Athens has a lot to do with Jerusalem.”