The Spanish influence endures in the Philippines today, in the names and language of the people and in their fidelity to the Catholic Church.
A Filipino is Catholic just by breathing the air. This faith has so infiltrated the life of the people—the kitchen, the town plaza, the barangay hall, the school—that despite other subsequent faiths and quasi-religious cults, Catholicism and the Filipinos’ intensity to practice it remains inconceivable to grasp.
Popular religious beliefs are the protective devices which the human mind is unable to attend. They are just too complex to understand, too straggly to explain or bring to light—a profound, almost irrational belief that gives credence to what some agnostics call “a crime against wisdom.”
Moral patterns are learned, or taught, in each one’s lifetime from forebears and become modified, undergoing updated rituals in the process, an “aggiornamento” without a drastic leap of faith. Such is the pillow-breasted assurance of the Catholic Church that for ages has continued to hold a powerful allure to those who may be spiritually errant.
We have been witnesses (and participants) to the unique cycle of rebirth and salvation offered by the Catholic Church: washing off life’s dirt, renunciation of life indulged without constraint, a Saturday confession reparative to the soul, atonement, and release.
This Catholic cycle of washing away like a sandcastle, one-size-fits-all characteristic forgiveness of sins, is a thoroughly Pinoy ethos in which he sees himself as having now connected to holiness. Thus, exoneration allows him to peep into the existence of another world despite the absence of material proof.
But man is a well of mortal frailty. Who among us is so freaking saintly that never made a bad stumble?
Most times, the odds in everyday life get unexpectedly high and the coping mechanism stalls. We fall through all the cracks. Old ceremonies do not easily die. Essentially it’s an endless chase for the next redemption, minus the fear of rejection. Forgiveness becomes a given, a sure thing. God is not dead.
Holy Week in the Philippines kicks off in the cruel summer months—March or April—and, more than any time-honored religious practices, brings out without fail the latent Roman Catholicism streak in us.
The prayerful mood starts with the Ash Wednesday, reminding us to comfortably deal with our mortality. The annual religious observance starts on Palm Sunday, followed by a week of meditation on the life and death of Christ, recreating a history observed through prisms of centuries of hindsight, the kind of elaborateness that shoehorns the faithful into the full week’s moments.
A few times it all gets a bit surreal. The Lenten period is supposed to be of one lonely, refining silence, of soul searching, some breast-beating, a taming of the chaos in one’s conscience, of trying to heal inside wounds that do not bleed, yet refuse to heal. The period is supposed to reaffirm one’s faith in the only world he knows despite its having gone doddery in its axis.
All over the country, the Holy Week becomes the great embracer of all the faithful and sinners as well. An eerie presence of past events—the entry into Jerusalem down to the last gasp for air among two thieves—attempts to recapture that occurrence. There exists a surface line that separates spirituality from a zealot’s unreserved fealty to the faith he has chosen to embrace.
The capstone of the Good Friday observance—self-flagellation with borillos and the crucifixion spectacle at San Pedro Cutud in San Fernando, Pampanga—has become, contrary to Lenten rationale, a sort of a spectator sport or an updated odyssey of a sacrosanct pietism.
We have grown attuned to this summertime state of religious affairs that the Holy Week, with the routineness of clockwork, opens and happily ends with a basketful of Easter eggs.
The real beauty of the Holy Week does not come from external qualities. It springs from plumbing the depths of the human soul. “Bonhomie” is an ingenuine precept. We can’t be nice all 365 days. But Holy Week or not, it would help Christianity to remember some old general orders, especially the “do unto others” clause and hope that nobody steals your laptop.
Photos by Diana B. Noche
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