“Life is a battle between faith and reason in which each feeds upon the other, drawing sustenance from it and destroying it.” Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), a famous American theologian, wrote this quotation. It is Niebuhr who understands the concept of faith and accepts it as reality. What binds faith into reality is the decision to believe.
Faith is more than a concept of belief and disbelief; it is the comfortable acceptance of truth; however, the insecure nature of belief sometimes causes faith to be forgotten and lost. Faith is not gained or acquired; it is accepted through the belief in one’s true self. Faith gives reason to one’s questions and answers, with the hope of its truth. With reason one allows one’s mind to be free from the congestion of worries, with faith. It is faith that allows one to take on tasks and adventures into the unknown; it is faith that allows one to make decisions, and it is faith, which allows one to love. This faith is what confronts Antonio Marez in the novel, Bless Me, Ultima, written by Rudolfo Anaya, the godfather of Chicano literature.
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In the novel Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio Marez is the protagonist of this coming-of-age adventure. Antonio is a young boy who at the tender age of six (through age seven) is faced with many challenges and temptations in his life. All of these obstacles deal with the concepts of faith and belief in what is right and what is wrong. Antonio grows up with the religion of Catholicism from his mother and is later exposed to the concept of dualism from his friend Cico.
Ever since Antonio can remember, his mother has taught him to have faith and belief in God. His mother, Maria Marez y Luna is a strong Catholic who preaches faith in God, whenever and however she wants. Antonio doesn’t choose to have faith in God out of self-will but with his mother’s word. For Antonio to have faith, it must not be fed. It must come from his heart. Then the meaning of faith will be complete and accepted with understanding and reason.
The novel then takes a course of action where Antonio experiences several deaths. These deaths caused Antonio to question his unanswered faith in God. His faith has never had answers, just reasons, which are uncertain to Antonio at such a young age. To add to this negation, Antonio witnesses his brother Andrew entering a house of sin (brothel) and in company with a whore. More and more questions arise: Why did God allow my brother to sin? Will he go to hell? What will happen to him? As the answers to his questions aren’t there his faith is becoming weaker.
Antonio next witnesses witchery place its evil on the true good-hearted. He watches an evil curse destroy his Uncle Lucas to near death and almost exterminate the Tellez family to near-death or insanity. These curses are being placed on them by the evils of Tenorio and his daughters, the antagonists in the novel. It is not God who cures and restores the ill and returns the once ample concord of mind to Antonio; it is Ultima. His questions continue to overflow because of this enigma and his faith is questioned once again, “So again the power of the priest has failed, I thought. Why can’t the power of God work against the evils that beset the family Tellez? Why is it allowed to continue?” (239) Antonio is questioning his faith. His faith can’t give him his answers or even his reasons because it isn’t there completely. His faith has been taught and given to him but not been received by him. Of course, he prays and attends church, but is his faith there?
Another challenge of faith arises in Antonio’s life; he is faced with another religion. Antonio is first introduced to a new religion by his friend Samuel. Samuel tells him of a myth of a god named the Golden Carp, who lives in the river. Samuel sees the inquisitiveness in Antonio and refers him to another one of his friends, Cico, to learn more about this pagan god.
Cico explains every detail there is to know about the Golden Carp with truth in his heart. He even takes Antonio to witness this seven-foot-long Carp with explanation and given belief. He tells him that the Carp has been placed here by the heavens to protect the people from their sins and forgive and restore the land to its natural harmony. This again brings more questions, which arise in Antonio’s mind. This brings the test of faith. Does he believe in the Carp? The truth of its existence is there? The Carp will not cause evil to happen, but Antonio’s Catholic God does. What should he believe in? Antonio’s previous faith is overwhelmed; he is not pressured into believing the Carp, just given the truth. This is why Antonio begins to lean over into the belief of the Carp because he begins to accept what he wants with reason and time; for his, Catholicism is a belief, which is forced upon him and not quite understood.
Many of the Catholic beliefs and practices cannot be explained. The Carp has no time deadlines to believe in or ritual pressure; it allows one to take thought in its faith, before accepting it. However, in the Catholic religion, most children who believe in Catholicism don’t necessarily get a choice in believing in faith; it’s basically required by a parental guardian, thus, giving the Golden Carp a true meaning of faith.
Along with Antonio’s faith in religion, he is tested by the faith in his parents. Antonio’s mother is a staunch Catholic, and his father’s belief is heavily influenced in the indigenous culture. Ultima is Antonio’s mentor, who is a curandera or healer in the novel Bless Me, Ultima. Ultima has very strong Mexican-Indian roots: being a lady of the land (llano) who believes if one is good to the earth and its people it will be good to you.
Antonio’s mother wishes for Antonio to become a priest so he can grant salvation to the Luna family from sin (her father was the first Luna priest, which meant he committed blasphemy. Blasphemy is a contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity: i.e. one who takes part in sexual intercourse.) His father, on the other hand, believes that Antonio should choose his own destiny. Antonio’s father is a Marez, which in the novel means: men who are restless like the sea and live for expanding westward. This shows cause for his father’s desperate idealism of moving to California.
His father has relied on his three oldest sons, Leon, Eugene, and Andrew to help carry this dream on with him, but they left for Las Vegas because of their restless Marez blood and their yearning for freedom from home. So Antonio questions himself, “I wondered if I would grow up too fast, I yearned for knowledge and understanding and yet I wondered if it would make me lose my dreams. Andrew said it was up to me, and I wanted to be a good song, but the dreams of my mother were opposite to those wished by my father. She wanted a priest to watch over the farmers of the valley; he wanted a son to travel with him to the vineyards of California.”(77) These thoughts make morose the mind of Antonio as he questions his faith in his own parents. Who should he believe? His yearning for answers caused him to have awful dreams throughout the novel. Yet as his questions await answers, the ultimate question arises: “Will I be my father’s son or my mother’s baby?”
Antonio lastly questions his faith in Ultima’s own faith. Ultima believes that good will always triumph over evil, no matter the size of the good or bad. This belief, faith, she has accepted over time through truth and understanding of life. Ultima doesn’t push this concept of faith on Antonio but exposes him to this thought. She too realizes that it is not her decision that causes his acceptance of this faith, but his own. When Ultima passes away she delivers her last words to Antonio; “ ‘I bless you in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful, Antonio. Always have the strength to live. Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evenings when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the hills. I shall be with you—’ ” (276)
This shows how much significance she places on Antonio’s faith and will. Ultima doesn’t give Antonio his faith but allows for him to search for one, to find his meaning of life, in search of Ultima. Without Ultima saying this to Antonio, he would just begin again questioning his faith in God, life, and himself. She leaves Antonio with an understanding of a cause and a reason to search for his faith within himself.
Faith isn’t a concept or thought that is bought or given; it is accepted through one’s self. It is the belief in the truth that allows a reassurance of a better life. In Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio experiences many types of challenges which allow him to question his faith. These challenges bring thought, which then brings reason toward the end of the novel. Antonio’s search for faith isn’t confined to religion, his parents, or the concept of good and evil, but with himself. Faith is a belief within one’s self, not others. Ultima teaches him the way of faith and what good it brings (she has faith and cures many). Faith is the deeper meaning of oneself and it is the reflection of one; it is the abundance of life. So keep your faith. Hold on to it and let it hold on to you. For you and it will have a lifetime of adventures together.
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