It is that time of the year again. Crowd attracting spectacles of Filipino folk Christian practices are now on full display, even touted as tourist attractions, all centered upon the passion of Jesus Christ.
As I recall, these events consisted of reenactments that turn bloody in certain instances of mock crucifixions and self-flagellations and the bearing of wooden crosses along the roads. There, too, are the processions, the costumed street reenactments of phases of Christ’s last few days, meditation and repentance, abstinence, self-negation of the usual pleasures of life, church visitations (Visita Iglesia) on Good Friday. The singing and chanting reading of the Christ’s Passion, known as Pabasa, have been the most consistent and enduring. This has become truly acculturized in Philippine society. It is historically recorded that the first of this verses, for these are actually Bible-based poems written in the local dialects, began in the very early 1700s. It remains to be seen how this year’s observances will fair.
That in the Philippines we call this denouement of the Roman Catholic Lenten Season as “Semana Santa,” (Holy Week) makes obvious the Spanish provenance of the observance. What we observe is essentially the same as in the rest of Central and South America, except that in the Philippines, we indulge in exaggerations that border on the parody. Very Filipino. And this year, an added twist proves that point.
Taking advantage of gawking crowds, an assortment of activists, the urban militants and labor groups have began play acting in plazas and crowded intersections. I find really ridiculous this obscene and sacrilegious attempt at riding on a religious event and using it for their rabble-rousing leftist/communist agenda. Aren’t the Commies supposed to be godless? These costumed penitents bear placards emblazoned with calls for the President to resign, down with US imperialism and bellyaching about the ills of society that are claimed to be failures of government. It is the usual stuff of undeterred Philippine political theater. These demonstrations are no more than self-satisfying subjective behavior carried towards irrelevance, taking advantage of yet another tradition. This activism, on the other hand, is proof that we are a tolerant society and that freedom of speech has been mightily re-enshrined.
For as long as these practices cause no harm to others (and, hopefully none to themselves) I believe that no matter how idiosyncratic, democracy can also mean: each to each one’s own insanity!
The deterioration of what may have been serious and sincere acts of remorse, repentance and penitence centuries ago when the initiating and imaginative priests conceived of these rituals is evidence of how far and long a departure it has been from what used to be acceptable and uplifting tradition. And having so performed these days, however, for all participants, it will be back to sinning once more during the following 51 weeks of the year. That is almost the norm! And on the 52nd week after, it is time for a repeat of the season for repentance and penitence.
Tripod as metaphor for religious practice
Please allow me to share with you, in this season of introspection, this view of a borrowed truism regarding what consists the practice of religion and the conscious spirituality that accompanies our moral attitudes. This is merely personal and the choice of metaphor, actually a non-metaphor, is likewise mine.
It has been said and agreed upon by wise men over the centuries that the components of religious experience are Faith, Reason and Tradition. I liken this to a tripod, in which sense it is a three-legged platform that supports the weight of an object or that of a philosophical thought. For perfect balance, each leg of the tripod must always possess equal length and strength, for otherwise a sure toppling over is an irreversible consequence!
In real life, the metaphor fails because Faith, Reason and Tradition will never possess equal values. To the extent that an individual relies more upon Reason, which effectively eliminates and settles doubts ordinarily resolved by and substituted with faith, Faith is diminished. For one simple example: Before Galileo’s discovery, it was Christian doctrine and therefore an act of faith to adhere to the belief that earth is the center of the Universe and that the stars, the sun and the moons rotated around Earth. Until Galileo proved that instead the planet earth and all others in the known firmament orbit around the Sun.
Many of the flock referred to as “the faithful” in religions all over the world are in fact driven by Tradition, and it is by the force of Tradition that they unquestioningly adhere to their respective Church’s tenets (Faith) unassisted by the sanity of Reason. Many Filipino Catholic faithful have much of their Faith anchored upon Tradition.
Somewhat confusing you might say. Quite so. Ultimately, the practice of religion is a very personal experience guided by what is accepted as a God-given conscience. Rituals, such as what many of us observe during Easter, are what comprise Tradition as handed down generation after generation over a long span of time. Therefore, ”Live and let live “is civilized and sensible.
The practice of Tolerance is a healthy display of respect for another’’s creed, regardless of the weights they assign to Faith, Reason and Tradition. Life is a balancing act and the tripod be gone! To say that “Life is like juggling balls of different sizes!” seems more apt.
"Why is the Philippines dirty?”
A five-year-old Filipino boy was taken for a vacation over the Christmas Holidays to Vancouver BC, Canada to visit close kin. The perceptive young fellow asked his mom, ”Mommy, how come the Philippines is so dirty? Here in Canada it’s so clean.” (They live in a better part of Quezon City.) Mommy answered telling him, ”because here they follow rules and they do not just throw stuff anywhere.” Moments later, in a shopping area, they came upon a garbage bin overflowing with uncollected rubbish, thrash and garbage whatnots. The observant talkative young fellow had to put in this commentary, ”mommy, mommy, look” pointing out the dirty heap, ”there are Filipinos here !”
Now, don’t we wish we had millions of these little guys in Metro Manila. (Disclosure: His name is Matthew, my sister’s grandson. I call him “Matootsky” teasingly, to which he comes around and says: “Can I call you Tito Budsky?)
So, on the other hand, if indeed “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” then our parishes and their respective jurisdictions must be far from God because their very churchyards and neighboring areas are strewn with garbage. Perhaps Pope Francis ought to consign the ecclesiastical misfits who pass themselves off as priests but who are also obtrusively meddlesome in matters of national politics and affairs of the State (you know, the Arguelleses, the Cruzes and their ilk) to some soul-searching Lenten penitence. Doing garbage duty just might enhance their pastoral credibility.
Don’t laugh now, but I am dead serious. If nuns were put in charge of the parishes, cleanliness will truly be next to godliness and parochial sanitary conditions will radiate to every home within the Parish!
A Happy Easter to Y’all!
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.