By: Elizabeth Angsioco
Published in Manila Standard Today
Dated April 30, 2011
What has Lent turned into?
Like most Filipinos, I was born into Roman Catholicism. I was baptized as a baby, had my first confession and communion as a child, attended Sunday masses (many times, at least), memorized prayers, did the rosary, joined processions, and never cut my religion classes.
I went through the rituals. Why? Honestly, because that’s just the way it was. Was Catholicism explained to me by any of the people I did these things with? No. I only knew that these were done, and that they were mysterious. The rituals were mysteries themselves. There were no talks about spirituality. It was simply Catholicism = salvation = heaven. Of course everyone wants to go to heaven!
Lent was special, and SOLEMN. We never missed Palm Sundays and after mass, we hung our “palaspas” outside our door. We were forbidden to make noise, including loud or fast music. We could not play “habulan,” or “patintero,” dance, or do anything active. The rule was to stay home.
Rules were stricter from Maundy Thursdays to Black Saturdays and the only explanation was, “patay na ang Diyos.” Streets were totally deserted. All shops were closed. Meals were all meatless. Television only showed masses, the movie “Ten Commandments”, and “Siete Palabras.”
Lola organized “pabasa” in the house. People would come and go and read the life of Jesus in a sing-song manner. This should end at 3:00P.M. when Jesus was said to have died on the cross.
From our window we could see men doing penitence—inflicting pain on themselves by whipping their bodies and walking while carrying wooden crosses. I saw shows where men were nailed on crosses. Lola said they were repentant sinners.
Thursday evening was for “visita iglesia.” We hopped from church to church. I liked it but did not know what it was for.
From Thursday to Saturday, it was absolute stillness and silence. Our world was literally on a standstill. Sunday was back to normal because “buhay na ang Diyos!”
Then questions came. The men who passionately sung Jesus’ life during “pabasa” were the same men ordinarily seen drinking and gambling. Some were known wife-beaters and womanizers. How come?
As I got to know more people, I learned the facts of life. I heard about priests having “wives” and children. I observed people who were totally religious BUT were selfish, egoistic, and arrogant. Some were outrightly abusive and/or violent. On the other hand, I also met people who could hardly be considered religious BUT were honest, courteous, kind, law-abiding and helpful to those in need.
I also got exposed to other religions. Each one claimed exclusive passes to heaven. How could this be? Is heaven really about membership in one particular church? Where then did the billions of people who passed on before these churches were organized go? Does God really favor one religion over the others?
Is spirituality limited to religion?
I came to the decision that one can be spiritual without being part of any religion.
I decided that one can have a PERSONAL relationship with one’s God or any higher being one believes in. I decided that it is better for one to pray by one’s self using his/her own words. I decided that rituals are just rituals and unnecessary.
Personally, I decided that instead of being religious, what I needed to do was nurture myself and my personal relationships. I decided to do good, be fair and not abuse others, and help out. I decided to take social responsibility and do things to help my community, my people, and my country. I feel that this journey of mine is shared by others.
The rituals, the practices, even the Lent of my childhood are just fond memories. I changed; things changed.
Even Lent has changed. We know how the previously solemn Holy Week has been commercialized. More and more people see Lent as vacation time. Resorts are full, tourist destinations are abuzz with people. I see this as a concrete defiance of the Catholic church.
This Holy Week was very different, the first of its kind. On the controversial reproductive health bill issue, Lent used to be “ceasefire” season. Instead, the clash between the Catholic hierarchy and RH advocates went on and even heightened.
After the President made clear his position to push for the RH bill’s passage, all went haywire. Bishops reacted in a way never seen before. Ret. Archbishop Cruz called the President “anti-Christian” and unwise; a Baguio priest, Fr. Jose Vernon Ilano, asked pro-RH Catholics to leave mass; Bacolod bishop Vicente Navarra said that priests can send pro-RH people away; advocates were singled out during masses; Vicar General of San Pablo diocese Msrg. Melchor Barcenas said that RH advocates use tactics of Satan and they do not deserve to celebrate Easter; and advocates were called “terrorists” by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma. All throughout Lent, the pulpit was used by priests to vilify the RH bill and its supporters.
I don’t know if the priests and Bishops were out to provoke people but people did not take these sitting down. Not a few Catholics reacted, some by using social media and telling the country what priests were saying, others by walking out of masses, and many more took on the priests, Bishops, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for what they were doing.
The RH issue remained in the news the whole week. Social media were full of RH discussions. More and more people spoke out against the Catholic hierarchy. People, especially Catholics, are no longer meek.
On the RH issue, this Lent has shown that people are becoming increasingly cognizant of what are lies, propaganda, and coercion. People go for facts and reason. Blind obedience to religion is no more. People show a different kind of spirituality: reason over dogma.
When Bishops challenge, people will challenge them back. When Bishops resort to name-calling, people will put them to task. When Bishops coerce, people will DEFY. Lent or not.