Saturday, March 31, 2007

Through the Eyes of a Penitent

"The road back to a lively faith is not a question of finding the right answers, but of living in a certain way, contemplatively... We must live in such a way that we give birth to God in our lives."

-- Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of the Church's commemoration of the Passion of the Lord. In a Catholic country like the Philippines, this day sends families and clans to a fever pitch-- last minute arrangements are made for vacation plans, and for the devout, this marks perhaps one of the longest weeks in their entire calendar. For Palm Sunday is the start of a whole week of mourning and festivity, where statues and tableauxes depicting scenes from the Passion, some of which have been entrused to the same families for generations, are paraded in streets, where whole towns shut down at the moment of His death, where the whole world is seemingly plunged in darkness.

In Spain, the hermanos penitentes, known for their tall, conical hoods, immaculate robes and who are generally in charge of the week's festivities, are an almost universal sight. In the Philippines, however, these penitents have never been popular; and so when I had the chance to experience Semana Santa in Valladolid some nine years ago, I was haunted, awed, terrified and edified by the sight of these hooded men. Personally, I find Semana Santa in Valladolid to be vastly more sober than the Rococco splendor of Seville, and subsequently more interesting. But that is not the point of this post; rather, I will try to voice my thoughts on these hermanos penitentes, mysterious lot that they are.

If you ask some Protestants, they will generally give you a blank stare, or perhaps a mild laugh, whenever such subjects as the hermanos are brought up. To them, they are nothing but a bunch of superstitious men caught up in a flawed understanding of Christianity, that is, one of bloodlust, pain, suffering and death. The Protestants simply cannot comprehend why we Catholics do such things. They ask: Do we think we will be saved just by flogging ourselves in the streets? Do we Catholics honestly think that parading a bunch of statues is a sign of predestined glory? Do we think we can equal the sacrifice of the Lord by having ourselves crucified?

But what does Protestant faith actually consist of? For many of them, it is simply accepting that Jesus Christ is one's Lord and Saviour; but aside from this, many Protestants are otherwise spiritually dead. Theirs is a faith more akin to simple belief than a living, working faith. It is a simple matter of assent, and basically, nothing else. I find it ironic how many Protestants can blame Catholics for having a 'dry' spiritual life; they criticize ritual as being empty, make fun of devotions, and look down on those who embrace their sufferings as 'cursed by God'. And these are the same people who first allowed divorce in Christian matrimonial praxis, whose isolation of religion from daily life has led to the present day secularization of society. Who is honestly dead-er in this situation?

In this day and age of crisis, the word 'spirituality' brings up notions of bearded, unbathed hippies who practice a 'feel good' religion that overemphasizes the transcendence of self than belief in a Higher Power. Being 'spiritual' these days has become a synonym for laxity in Faith and an aversion to authority. However, true spirituality should not be seen as such. Spirituality goes hand in hand with religiosity; spirituality without religion is nothing more than positivist secularism, and religion without spirituality is mere ritual and nostalgic attachment. We should not see spirituality as some sort of disease, but more like a missing piece, a complement, rather than a detriment.The problem with people today is that we often prefer one extreme to the other. Thus there are people who are merely 'spiritual' and those who are merely 'religious'.

Father Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I, has written perhaps one of the most well-known books on the subject of religion and spirituality, 'The Shattered Lantern'. The title of this book of course refers to Nietzsche's mythical man in 'The Gay Science', who, in an infamous scene, breaks a lighted lantern and proclaim's that philosopher's immortal words: 'God is dead'. The problem, according to Rolheiser, is that we try too hard in "developing a better rational and intellectual apologetic for the existence of God" that we lose sight of Him altogether. We have become blinded by the fact that we cannot seem to quantify God or to find a tangible proof of His existence, that we ignore the majesty of the mountains that surround us, the gentle music of a softly falling waterfall, the singing of the eagle's wings, the burning fire of the sun, and the silvery calm of the moon. It is not so much a problem of not being able to see, hear, feel or breath Him, but a question of developing the wide-eyed curiosity of a child at the things around him, or getting a better pair of lungs to be able breathe the cold mountain air that declares His praise. The problem, simpy put, is with us.

That is one of the reasons why I admire penitentes so much. Modern man has ditanced himself so much from nature and dwelt in hyperreality for so long that he has lost the gifts of his senses. These penitents-- whom many even in Church vilify as 'laughably outdated' or a proponent of a violent, bloody interpreation and praxis of the Faith-- have never forgotten the basic fact that they are above all human. Whereas modern man has desensitized himself and dwells only amidst a clean and sanitized environment, the penitent is not afraid to see blood, and admit to himself that he will one day die. Ironically, it is modern man, who, in his compulsion to sanitize himself and shun all forms of 'pain' completely who is ultimately the jaded one. The penitente, in his undying, childlike wonder, continuously adapts himself to the circumstances around him NOT by shying away from it, but by looking at them the same way a child might.

For Fr. Rolheiser, God, in the end, is not a monastic God, but very much a domestic God. In carrying those five-ton tableauxs of the various stages of His passion, and in disguising himself in his brotherhood's theatrical garb, the penitente is not so much putting on a show as he is showing something about him, his Lord, and enjoying the show at the same time. And while the path of the Lord is one of immense suffering and misery, it is the face of Christ, bent in sorrow and pain at His agonies, that pushes him through, the same face he hopes-- and strives-- to one day behold in the eternal beatitude destined for all men who follow that same path. We need to be like children again if we want God to come back to our lives.

Note: Visit
Chema Concellon's Flickr site to see where I got my Semana Santa Valladolid pictures from. He's one of my favorite photographers there.

Also, I will be out until Spy Wednesday. I will try to have another essay ready by that time; in the meantime, though, here are my plans as outlined for Holy Week: on Wednesday, a post on confession, hopefully with my OWN pictures; then on Maundy Thursday, we will be doing the traditional 'visita iglesia', hopefully I will be able to get some good pictures of that. -Arch

Friday, March 30, 2007

Defende Nos in Praelio

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”
— Baudelaire

The Church Militant has long been a favorite subject of meditation for pious men and women and sage intellectuals. We have often heard it said that, at the very moment Our Lord ascended into heaven, the end times began. And from the moment of its inception, the Church has always been plagued from all sides by forces that threaten to destroy or subvert her, supernatural or otherwise. We must not delude ourselves; crises such as the one we face today have also appeared in the past, and in many ways, the Church has never recovered from much of those effects. Daniel Mitsui of 'The Lion and the Cardinal' fame elegantly and eloquently crystallizes these thoughts in his essay, Permanent Scars. It is defintely a must read, given Mr. Mitsui's superb erudition and sober approach to the Catholic Faith.

An excerpt:

"And the patristic-medieval Latin Orthodoxy that I desire Roman Catholicism to become, and to which I will devote the efforts of my entire life: he is smart enough to ruin that too. This is what needs to be remembered by those who seek a refuge from modernism in Traditional Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy or in their own historicist fantasies of either of them. There is no refuge in the Church Militant. If a Church appears to have withstood modernism, it merely means that Satan is waiting to afflict it with some other error as soon as he is able. The ancient Churches are vulnerable and they have always been vulnerable."

I think one of the main problems with the Church today is that we see the struggle between good and evil as sort of a movie, with a predictable and definite outcome-- that, of course, being the triumph of good over the forces of darkness. But it is an infintely more complex situation in real life. In life, the forces of good are often the ones who are defeated again and again. The good guys are always a minority, an infinitessimally insignifcant factor, even. While we may admire such stories of the hero rising up to meet his task and saving the world in the end, we simplify things too much to the point that we lose sight of the big picture. Make no mistake; the Devil is smart, and he is not afraid to wait. He has been planning his attacks on the Church from time immemorial; he knows his time is short, and so he does everyhing in his power to seduce 'even the elect' from the rightful glory they should possess.

Our Lord defeated the Devil through His cross, that is true. And while all of his works have been rendered to futility by the redemption won for us by Christ, the Devil remains to this day an infinitely powerful being. If we are to believe the pious old legends handed down to us by our ancestors, the angel Lucifer had twelve pairs of wings, twice the number of an ordinary seraphim. In him was reflected the primeval splendor of God, until his pride caused him to be thrown from 'the heights of heaven to the depths of hell.' The archangel Gabriel, after all, greeted Mary with the words ne timeas-- fear not. What more of Lucifer, who was the greatest of them all?

"There is no refuge in the Church Militant ... a Church that is not permanently scarred is not the Body of Christ. "

For me, these were the most salient points in Mr. Mitsui's essay. It is a haunting reminder that being Catholic also means being target practice for the Devil and his minions. When you are a member of the Church, you are not immune from his diabolical schemes; on the contrary, you are a bigger priority, a bigger and better catch for the infernal legions than a charismaticist, touchy-feely Protestant. Perhaps this is why Evangelicals seem to have life so much easier; they pose no threat to him. It is us that he wants. It is us he wants to share in his eternal misery.

The Devil too is always one step ahead of us. Nowadays, he is far more subtle in his attempts to seduce the faithful. He manifests himself in the moral and doctrinal laxity of 'liberal Catholics' as well as the ultra-rigorist spirituality of Traditionalits. He shows himself in the depravity of modern society, as well as in the attempts of rigorists to 'turn back the clock', as it were, and delude us into a mad nostalgia. He plays both extremes, from the leftmost end of the spectrum to the furthest right. And he does this all thorugh subtle and cunning means, biding his time, allowing decay to seep into our strongholds. And when the City of God has been surrendered to decadence and depravity, he makes his move.

Our Lord promised us ultimate victory in the end, but that is just it--
ultimate victory. We are not promised every victory, and as history shows us, this is almost always the case. As Scripture itself ascertains, 'When the Son of Man comes, think you, shall He find faith on earth?' As Mr. Mitsui so eloquently put it, 'There is no refuge in the Church Militant'. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that, just because we are being 'traditional', we are free from the Devil's wiles. We have deluded ourselves for far too long, and it is a sobering thought to consider that the Devil may have had his greatest victory in hijacking our veneration for Tradition and turning it into an wanton worship of the past. That we have allowed ourselves to think that we are somehow 'chosen' and free from his influence is perhaps the greatest delusion of all, and it is something that the Father of Lies is exceptionally good at.

A porta inferii, erue nos, Domine!
Domine exaudi orationem meam, at clamor meus ad te veniat!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bebe con Moderacion

An atheist friend once asked me if it were possible to live in such an urbanized setting and still find time for religion. Hedonist that he is, my friend contends that, in this day and age of fast information, interconnectivity, open-mindedness and secularism, religion has to adapt itself to society, or risk altogether being eradicated. It is for this reason that he became a Buddhist, because he said Einstein thought that that faith was the one most likely to be prevalent in this century, and being a devoted disciple of the gray-haired genius, naturally adopted this same view as well.

I grew up Catholic, although admittedly in not a very pious household. I've stated in past posts that I was reared in the stories of the Old Testament by Protestant aunts in my youth; I was exposed to such concepts as the end of the world and the final judgment at a young age, and even today, I still cringe at the thought of it. To me, Christianity just didn't make sense without hell; even in my young age, I knew that villains were central-- perhaps more so than the hero-- to a plot because it is through them that our hero is tested. Without the villain, the hero just didn't seem quite as interesting.

Consumerism is undoubtedly one of the most prevalent things in the present century. Nowadays, people convert to one religion from another for such senseless and stupid reasons as, for example, the pews being too stiff, the pastor being senile, the people being 'unwelcoming' (Boohoo, there was no welcoming committee to greet me, waaaa), the music sounding like nursery rhymes, ad nauseam. If religion were so important, then why even bother changing it?

The internet, ironically, has aided much in this regard. Nowadays, especially with the advent of blogs, we tend to assume that the views presented in one blog is the whole of a religion's teachings. We construct imagined childhoods from the experiences of others, and oftentimes, converts, unwittingly or otherwise, tend to shape their own view of what the Church should be based on some posts on a discussion forum, which is mostly made up of other converts anyway. In fact, I would even argue that the over representation in the internet of certain factions (E.g., traditionalist Catholics, conservatives, liberals, etc. ) are to blame for the sorry state the Church is in right now. We are stuck in Church, alright-- but it is the worldwide Church of the Web that we are lost in. It is exactly like the imagined 1950s of Republicans, where everyone smiled, women wore skirts and were perfect in every regard, where sex was unheard off, where all men wore suits, smoked pipes, and unfailingly provided for their familes.

Please don't misunderstand me. I respect converts who try to live as holy lives as can be; in secularized Anglo-Saxon countries like the United States, where a thoroughly Catholic culture never took root, I guess it is the fate of all well-meaning converts to build their interpretation of Catholicism upon every encyclical ever written or how they think Catholic praxis was in the closest thing to a Christianized culture as that country had-- the 50s. But it is never enough to just focus on the bright side of things-- Catholicism is not some panacea that will take off that excess 50lbs, improve your stamina, and revitalize your sex life and overall vitality-- and all in the comforts of your own home.

Being Catholic is not an assurance that, from now on, everything in your life will be perfect. No. God chastises whom He loves, after all. Rather, we must examine it from all angles-- light and dark, obtuse and acute, narrow and wide, not to find fault with it, but rather so that we may be grounded on a real interpretation of it. We shouldn't be deceived; not all Catholics who lived pre-Vatican II were saints, in fact, I would even be so bold as to say that your average '50s Catholic did not know much catechesis aside from the basics they were taught by their parents. And certainly, very few Catholics in those days were masters of dialectics or theology; they feared Protestants not because their heresies were incongruous to Catholic belief, but because they thought they had horns and hooves, and were literal children of the Devil (this propaganda is used to the present day to dissuade 'provincial Catholics' from worshipping with the SSPX!) We must accept the Church for what She is, no matter how sinful the lives of Her members appear to be.

In the end, I am reminded of a trip I had to an Evangelical meeting when I was still a child. My aunts took me there, presumably to pray over me (perhaps in the hopes of 'saving' me from Babulon a megala) with the congregation. At the podium, the pastor, with typical Evangelical flair, preached about the errors of Rome, and his following words never managed to leave me: 'Join our church and be saved by Christ Himself-- what an offer you can't refuse!'


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Rant

"This chasuble is horrible!"

"I have to drive 100 miles just to attend a reverent Mass!"

"That alb has too much lace-- how cheap."

"What an ugly church, it doesn't even have enough pews for the congregation."

"The music is laughably poor; how do they expect us to worship?"

"Don't these people realize that they shouldn't be praying their novenas during the Mass?"

Many "traditionalists" are quick--often too quick-- to point out what's so wrong with the Church today, yet ironically enough mire the situation further by their incessant bickering and complaining. We all know who they are; and I have to admit, I was once part of that group. Alb too lacy? Priest mumbling his words? No air conditioner working? Noisy brats running along the aisle? Guess what: such things have been a fixture of the Church even before the "golden age" of the 1950s. Deal with it. Are we honestly too superficial and shallow as to dwell on these things?

It seems as though the more "stiff-upper lip" the liturgy is, the better. Men should all wear suits, women should all wear long skirts, their veils should at least cover their necks, children below the age of seven in the cry room or left behind at home, face buried in Missal, absolute silence. Give me a break. What we need to realize is precisely the fact that this stiff upper lip mentality is very much a Protestant innovation. Belloc often said that the saddest and greatest "achievement" of Protestantism was the separation-- the compartmentalization, to be more precise-- of religion from daily life. The Catholics who lived in the Middle Ages were undoubtedly simple folk: they were a merry people, who feasted on the great Feasts, who treated holy days like holidays, who viewed something as mundane as traveling as a 'sacrament'.

The problem with us today is that we hold such a disdain for the mumbled Mass of a rural barrio priest in something shabbily decorated barrio church-- and instead opt for the seraphic, multi-colored, over-the-top splendor of the Anglo-Catholic Mass. I'm not saying we Catholics should adopt a Low Mass mentality; God forbid. But there is a vast difference between actually worshipping God and worshipping the rubrics. Perhaps the greatest difference lies in the fact that even a 10-minute mass of a barrio priest is an unconsciously and therefore fully traditional thing, whereas the spikiness and overall obsessive compulsion in an Anglo-Catholic service tries its damnedest to imitate what it is not; and whereas the Mass comes to us naturally as part of nature, these 'rubricist' services are, at best, a pale imitation of art.

The next time a nitpicking 'rad trad' comes to you and complains about how his chapel had such poor airconditioning, tell him about the wartime soldiers, who worshipped in the midst of the tropical heat. So you drive one hundred miles for Mass? Our former parish priest had to take a four-hour boat ride across Communist territory, hike for some fifteen kilometers on foot across a barren hilltop, drive for three more hours, say Mass for one community, and repeat the whole process so he could reach the next community in time. He still does this every Sunday. Too few pews? Then stand; besides, pews here in the Philippines were only introduced during the American occupation. Noisy children running along the aisle distracting your form prayer? Don't send them to the cry room-- instead, go there yourself. Afterall, did not Christ say, 'Let the children come to Me?'.

I realize I may be being unfair to most people. For that, I am sorry-- but I do believe that my concerns are a valid one. Traditionalist Catholicism, the way I see it, is nothing more than a hybrid of Jansenism and Calvinism (at least in practice), with some vestments and ritual thrown about. Really, what makes it different from mere catechesis-- though admittedly with props? The only thing 'Catholic' about it is the name; all else is mere translation, and all of us lost in it.

There is a saying here in the Philippines, which is also a running joke against most 'born again' Evangelicals. When confronted by a self-righteous 'I'm saved, you're not' Fundie, remember to say this always: 'Ang bait mo, sani kunin ka na ni Lord'. Roughly translated into English, it reads: 'You are too good, I hope the Lord takes you now'.

Have a nice day.

Confutatis maledictis, flammis accribus addictis

Follows a lengthy excerpt from Chapters 4 - 6 of the apocryphal Apocalypse of St. Peter. I advise you to read this if you want to instill good ol' 1950s Lenten severity dor the remaining days of this season. And lest we forget: this is actually the 'sanitized' part. The depictions of the torments the damned shall suffer, as described in this apocalypse, make the nine levels of Dante's hell look like a sun-kissed flower garden.

I will post about the aforemention tortures in the coming days. In the meantime, the verses that follow are not without their own merit.

"And this shall come at the day of judgement upon them that have fallen away from faith in God and that have committed sin: Floods of fire shall be let loose; and darkness and obscurity shall come up and clothe and veil the whole world and the waters shall be changed and turned into coals of fire and all that is in them shall burn, and the sea shall become fire. Under the heaven shall be a sharp fire that cannot be quenched and floweth to fulfil the judgement of wrath. And the stars shall fly in pieces by flames of fire, as if they had not been created and the firmaments of the heaven shall pass away for lack of water and shall be as though they had not been. And the lightnings of heaven shall be no more, and by their enchantment they shall affright the world.

And so soon as the whole creation dissolveth, the men that are in the east shall flee unto the west, unto the east; they that are in the south shall flee to the north, and they that are in the south. And in all places shall the wrath of a fearful fire overtake them and an unquenchable flame driving them shall bring them unto the judgement of wrath, unto the stream of unquenchable fire that floweth, flaming with fire, and when the waves thereof part themselves one from another, burning, there shall be a great gnashing of teeth among the children of men.

Then shall they all behold me coming upon an eternal cloud of brightness: and the angels of God that are with me shall sit upon the throne of my glory at the right hand of my Heavenly Father; and he shall set a crown upon mine head. And when the nations behold it, they shall weep, every nation apart.

Then shall he command them to enter into the river of fire while the works of every one of them shall stand before them to every man according to his deeds. As for the elect that have done good, they shall come unto me and not see death by the devouring fire. But the unrighteous the sinners, and the hypocrites shall stand in the depths of darkness that shall not pass away, and their chastisement is the fire, and angels bring forward their sins and prepare for them a place wherein they shall be punished for ever.

Uriel the angel of God shall bring forth the souls of those sinners who perished in the flood, and of all that dwelt in all idols, in every molten image, in every love, and in pictures, and of those that dwelt on all hills and in stones and by the wayside, whom men called gods: they shall burn them with them in everlasting fire; and after that all of them with their dwelling places are destroyed, they shall be punished eternally."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Carpe Diem

(Foreword: I've already blogged the picture above some months ago, but it carries special meaning to me, and hence, in this most auspicious and nostalgic of times, I decided to use it again)

Has it really been a year?

As I am writing this, my thoughts race back to exactly a year ago, March 25th 2006, the Feast of the Annunciation, the day when I finally graduated from high school. I still remember how much my barong itched as I was about to walk to the stage. I recall having gotten a haircut the day before, and I can still taste the awful lasagna they served us immediately after the ceremonies. I can still recall, with vivid clarity, the look of relief on my classmates' faces as they processed to the podium, some necks glittering with the gold and silver of medals, others content and humbled to have at least gotten their diplomas and made it through high school. Has it really been a year since?

I will never forget high school. From my first day as a freshman, when I still clung to my parents for 'moral support'; to my discordantly barren sophomore year, when I lived in fixed paranoia; to my junior year when I first started to become a 'smart ass'; and finally down to my last, glorious night as a senior, spent with friends, someof whom I had known for eight, nine, or ten years. I still recall the crazy discussions in my senior religion class: how our teacher called us 'coprophagous imbeciles' for failing to pass the simplest quizzes; how I almost blew my top off at some filthy juniors who took my bag and hid it from me; how chose 'Bivouac of the Dead' for our speech choir piece; how we all laughed, cried and drank booze like drunkards on the last night of our retreat.

I still remember all the homilies I heard during the many times I heard Mass in our school chapel, still remember the names of our enthusiastically fervent second grade altar servers (If Gab Navarro doesn't become a priest, then I'm th queen of England!), still remember the correct way of folding Father's alb (the trick, it seems, is always to fold it an odd number of times), and I still remember the smell of wafting incense-- whose smell was the olfactory equivalent of a burning rubber tire-- rising in clouds to greet the Sacred Host, encased in its two-foot high monstrance.

I still have many mementos from my myriad discussions with my teachers, some of whom I have come to consider my closest friends. And I still remember hating some of them, especially the 'lavender mafia' of my sophomore year, who hit on every good-looking student they could rest their eyes on (thankfully, they have long since gone from the school). I will definitely remember my Latin classes for the rest of my life, and how I almost got suspended for greeting an elderly substitute teacher with the words 'Podex perfectus es!' (How could I have known that he trained under the Jesuits--and actually TAUGHT Latin-- way back in the 1940s?!?!) I still laugh at that incident, though, mostly at my own expense.

I can still produce all the movie tickets I've saved for every movie my friends and I watched, often to the detriment of other viewers, for we went into the theaters as a foridable group and talked somewhat loudly. Those Friday, Saturday, early weekday gimmicks I still carry around with me. And I certainly can still remember the songs I sang on the way to my UPCAT and ACET exams. Ever tried blasting Foo Fighters' DOA at maximum volume at 5:30am? Or for that matter, the Beatles' I Am The Walrus? I got some really weird stares for that one.

I have a tendency to hoard most of my things. It's a known fact that still have some of my notebooks from the fourth grade, and I've personally never thrown away any of my textbooks, although admittedly, my dad has done this for me. Sometimes I just want to plop down on my couch, pick up those old tomes, and reminisce on the good ol' days. And it helps, I think, to remember where we came from. I'll admit that some of my mates probably know more about me than my own siblings or parents; and while I do regret this, I certainly don't regret having them around one bit. They have kept me going through when seemingly overwhelming obstacles come my way, they have challenged me to do things that I normally wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't do.

All those shared moments of sadness, relief, anger, exhaustion, jubilation, despair: these, we did not experience not just as individuals, but almost like family. I can never recall a time when we did things solely for the benefit of a particular clique or group; and this is not something that just comes naturally. By our tears and pain, though joy and sorrow, we have all undergone the same path. And that is why I love high school.

Has it really been a year? Empirically, objectively, yes. But I know that the friendships I made duing those four years can never be severed by something so petty as a set quantity of time. They have been forged by forces and circumstances far beyond mere pleasantries and trifles, and it is this fact that makes high school the best time of my life.

To end, let me leave you with some words from Green Day's 'Time of Your Life', one of the very few songs from them that I ever liked:

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it's worth it was worth all the while

It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

Congratulations to the all the graduates of Batch 2007! Carpe diem!

Sueño Dorado

In the days before the Second World War, there was no more celebrated church in the whole of Manila than the Jesuit run San Ignacio, located at the heart of Intramuros. It was the masterpiece of that order: though considerabl less formidable in size than the monumental San Agustin, or the perpetual malcontent that is the Manila Cathedral, San Ignacio commanded the attention of all who set foot in its venerable halls. Upon entering the church, one is struck by the unparalleled beauty of the High Altar: built in the more sober and restrained incarnations of the Spanish Baroque, the central niche housed an image of the Immaculate Conception, carved with exceptional detail by the legendary Isabelo Tampinco. Tampinco would later on be known as the Philippines' answer to Francisco Salzillo of Spain-- the images he carved were so beautiful and lifelike that one would think them real people, locked in stasis for all time.

The church's carved ceiling was famed throughout the whole country as one of the few examples of the artesonado style, and, if old stories are to be believed, was heavily plated in gold. The Stations of the Cross, and other pious images, notably of the Immaculate Conception and Saint Ignatius, for whom the church was named, were all done by Tampinco. Such was the grandeur of the church, that it even became a status symbol to visit it. No wonder it was the favorite church of the elite to have their children baptized. From 1889, when it was first built, San Ignacio remained a repository of the very best that Filipino skill and artistry had to offer.

In 1945, at the height of the War, San Ignacio was destroyed during the liberation of Manila. It lasted a little over 56 years, and sadly, nothing survived the destruction, save the memories of the remaining few privileged enough to have been able to gasp in awe at its magnificence. The Jesuits have always referred to this church as their "Sueño Dorado", or golden dream. It is saddening to think that San Ignacio--its ornate halls, flamboyant altars, magnificent vestments and incomparable beauty-- is now only but a dream, a memory ossified and preserved, but nothing more.

Perhaps the biggest irony here is the fact that this church was run by the Jesuits, that famous, often vilified and suspected order, who have basically become the archpriests of the "Spirit of Vatican II" mentality. San Ignacio was free from any sign of kowtowing to heretics: it was Catholic Triumphalism at its gaudiest and most powerful, as only the Spanish Baroque can deliver. Nowadays, it would be an almost surreal sight for a modern day Jesuit church to equal the splendor of San Ignacio. Nay: it would be an impossibility.

We have all experienced a 'falling out' one way or another. We have all, in one way or another, had our dreams broken, and we are tempted to just say sometimes: It is only a dream, and nothing more. Sadly, this attitude has been at the center of Catholicism for quite some time now, made especially evident by the Council. But did not God speak to the Old Testament prophets in dreams? Did He not tell Joseph to flee into Egypt through a dream? I'm not saying you should get your diviner's kit, light up some scented candles, and try to 'prophesy' using your dreams; that's sorcery.

The kind of dream that I am talking about is our aspirations, prayer, desire and trust-- trust in the providence of God and His eventual victory. We need to realize that God helps only those who help themselves. Afterall, what use is His grace if we only end up rejecting it? Are we really asking Him to help us in our time of need, or just telling Him to do it for us?

A golden dream. It is not lost forever-- we have but to look for it, search for it, find it, and live it. And although San Ignacio, that most glorious of Old Manila's temples of God, has been reduced to a pile of slag and rubble-- its foundations remain, and are only awaiting new materials, new labor and new commitment for its old glory to return.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Non Sum Dignus

Hell is heaven viewed from the other side.

As a Christian, and especially as a Catholic, I often get asked what it was like to live my life under the shadow of guilt. This question undoubtedly puzzled me, and in many ways it still does: I am a hedonist when I am not being watched, and my sins have become as a river of scarlet before the throne of Lord, so many they are, and so grievous, that they all cry to Him for vengeance. Of course, I try to live my life free from worldliness as much as possible; but in a heavily secularized environment, even here in Catholic Philippines, it is difficult not to give in to the temptations around me.

I am not trying to justify my behavior, nor am I trying to say that I can sin and sin, since I can always avail of the sacrament of penance. That would simply be antithetical to authentic Christian doctrine. Yet why do we sin? Why do we, even in the face of irreformable Church teaching, sometimes persist in our errors? I don't know the answer to that question. Perhaps there is no clear answer. I can yap all day along about our fallen nature, how concupiscence drives us to test the waters of temptation, and perhaps I could even differentiate what delectatio morosa is from desiderium pravum or gaudium peccaminosum. But in the end, theology can never fully explain why we do such things. And saying that it is because 'we are only human' is the biggest BS answer of all, I think.

Sometimes we desire spiritual perfection too much that we are plunged even deeper into the darkness. We want ourselves to become like angels, to possess the divine ardour of the seraphim, for example, that we forget the fact that we are human: made in the image and likeness of God Himself. We desire to expunge all 'impurities' and 'defects' from our system that we end up trying to portray ourselves as something we are inherently not. Does this not remind us of Isaiah 14:12?

God did not become Man for angels. God did not suffer for the thrones. God did not endure mockery and humiliation for the dominions. He did not die for the seraphim. He did all these things for you and me. He loved us so much that He was even willing to 'spoil' us in the process.

So why do we want so much to become like angels? Did not the Son of God's Incarnation forever raise the dignity and glory of this frail human body to the heights of heaven? Think about it: only humans can offer the Mass; not even one among the angels, even St. Michael himself, possesses this singular distinction. Is it perhaps because we want ourselves to be God's favorite pet that we want to achieve spiritual perfection so bady-- even to the point of despair?

Umberto Eco, in his extraordinary book The Name of the Rose, is quick to point to the reader that Hell is essentially Heaven viewed from the other side. Catholicism, after all, is not about being the 'perfect' guy, the 'perfect' husband or the absolute perfect man. Many, many, MANY Catholics have been grave sinners. We count popes, saints-- even doctors and fathers of the Church-- among the ranks of sinners. But then again, how can gold be purified without fire? Are we so arrogant as to say we have no need of it?

The Christians of the East, specifically the Orthodox, teach that heaven and hell are basically the same thing-- the endless, eternal outpouring of God's immense ocean of love. For the virtuous, this love is pure bliss, unending beatitude; but for the damned, this love is a source of everlasting woe at having rejected so great a reward. It is a love that burns, and it haunts their memories unto the ages of ages.

If there is any moral to this story, it is this: the single most important precept in being Catholic is the acknowledgment that we are all ultimately sinners. It is not our role to have the same ardour as the glorious seraphim; rather, through our imperfections, we must let the splendor of the Creator shine in its fullest. We need to wake up to the fact that we are humans: frail, weak, burdened by concupiscene, yet at the same time forever honored by having been bought from sin and death at so great a price. Christ Himself stumbled, and fell down three times when carrying His Cross; we must remember that we, too, can fall sometimes. We need to forgive ourselves, and carry our own crosses with the dignity which we have been so greatly gifted.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder

Now is the Lord brought to his rest.
My Jesus, now good night!
The toil is o'er which all our sins have laid on him.
My Jesus, now good night!
O thou, most blessed body,

See how I weep with grief and sorrow for thee,
That thee my fall to such distress hath brought!
My Jesus, now good night!
Have all my life
For thy great passion countless thanks,
That thou my spirit's health such worth did pay.
My Jesus, now good night!

We lay ourselves with weeping prostrate
And cry to thee within the tomb:
Rest thou gently, gently rest!
Rest, O ye exhausted members!
This your tomb and this tombstone
Shall for ev'ry anguished conscience
Be a pillow of soft comfort
And the spirit's place of rest.
Most content, slumber here the eyes in rest.

- J.S. Bach, St. Matthew Passion

Monday, March 19, 2007

Arma Christi

Christ was born to die.

From the very first moment we are schooled in the Catholic religion, we have always been taught that Jesus, the Son of God, was destined to die. We are bombarded with the many verses from the Old Testament, which pre-figure His miraculous birth; His rejection by His own people; His agony and suffering; His being despised, mocked, beaten and ridiculed by the bloodthirsty crowd. His was a story marked by the greatest of sorrows. Contrary to popular opinion at the time, Jesus was not the divine warrior-Messiah, born of kings and ruler of the powers of the world that the Jewish populace expected Him to be. Rather, He was the complete opposite: a commoner, having been born in a filthy manger with beasts for companions. His birth was not met with jubilation; we know for a fact that He was the main reason why Herod ordered the slaughter of the Israeli firstborn. Our Lord was born in a time of tribulation and distress, baptized by fire and adversity, no glorious warlord but a peasant carpenter.

When the Child grew up, He took his place among the men of His society. Like any Jew, He would have been circumcised; He would have visited the Temple as well, and that He did, even wandering away from His earthly, foster parents. Much of what we know about Him during these days is shrouded in secrecy; but we do know from Scripture that He grew up in wisdom and grace, and was found favorable to the LORD. When He had finally reached manhood, the Boy took up His father Joseph's trade. He must have been quite an excellent carpenter; one would expect nothing less from the Son of God Himself. Like us, He too cried, felt sorrow, fell ill and got impatient; but unlike us, the Boy never sinned.

He was probably very close to His Mother, as well. She it was who nursed Him, fed Him, clothed Him and served Him with her whole being. She loved Him as well, and He loved her. His father, too, would have been proud. He was a noble man, whose justice, purity, patience and humility knew no equal. Sadly, he never got to see Jesus grow into maturity. Somewhere in those hidden years, Joseph died. And perhaps he it was who held the singular greatest comfort a man can have, for he died in the loving arms of God Himself, and with him grieved the Virgin Mary, whose tears were a more soothing balm than anything we mortals can produce.

As the Boy grew older, His life began to take its first steps in the redemption of the human race. From the moment He came to the river Jordan to be baptized by His cousin John, when the Spirit of God descended upon Him, He knew there was to be no turning back. For the next three years of His life, He practiced His public ministry, ministering to the apathetic, the zealous, the sinner, the saint, the wounded, the healed, the virtuous and the vicious. All of them came to Him. They listened to His words, and marveled at His wisdom.

The Pharisees eventually came to hear of this 'wonder worker'. These men, a 'brood of vipers' and a pack of 'whitewashed sepulchres' as He called them, were filled with envy and rage at His growing popularity. They resented how the crowds came to believe that He was the long-awaited Messias, and how they held Him in greater esteem than themselves. Their blood boiled at the thought of Him who dared to minister to Samaritans, their people's sworn enemy, and they vented their collective rage at this 'charlatan' who dared to call Himself God, Who had the gall to upbraid them of their errors, and who sacrilegiously vowed to destroy the Temple-- and rebuild it in three days' time.

They soon heard the news that He was coming to Jerusalem. And came the fateful day did. When He entered the Holy City, He was greeted with almost universal acclaim by its people. They beheld Him, a figure in white, Who rode a donkey as a sign of His humility. The prophecies of old were suddenly being fulfilled. Here is come the Saviour-- the Messias-- Who would deliver Jerusalem from her enemies, and Who would reign in glory as its rightful king and lord.

One of the first things He did upon entering the City was to cleanse the Temple of the myriad plagues that threatened it. Like a prophet of old, He seized arms and began to beat the merchants and simoniacs who dared to profane the House of God with their gluttonous trade. 'It is written, My house shall be called a house pf prayer!' And with that, the wicked men flew away from Him, melting like wax in the presence of the ardent fire that was now before them.

Eventually, the Pharisees caught up with Him. In a mock trial in a mock court, in the middle of the night where hidden things came to vivid life, they accused Him of blasphemy, sorcery, sacrilege and a myriad other accusations. The same people who had greeted Him five days earlier, who laid palm branches and shouted 'Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!' and who rightfully claimed Him as their king, now came up to Him with the most venomous of calumnies. They accused Him of sedition, of being a puppet and slave of the Babylonian Beast (Rome), and of being a liar. The same people who had welcomed Him with loving arms now sought to wrap those same arms around His neck.

The furor eventually came to the attention of the Roman authorities. In one of the greatest tragedies in human history, Pilate, who knew that Jesus had done no wrong, gave in to the bloodlust of the crowd. And the Pharisees incited the crowd to have Him crucified. 'Crucify Him!', they said. In the face of all these, after having endured a monstrous flogging which ripped flesh from His bones and left Him a mass of scarred, bloodied and broken pulp, He maintained an almost uncanny silence. See how He forgives--and loves us-- even to the point of death!

They load the Cross on His bruised and broken shoulders. It is heavy and big, even for a healthy and strong man. But He still carries it with love and devotion. Although He has practically been reduced into literally a bundle of sinew and bleeding orifices, and even though the weight of sin was crushing Him into oblivion, He knows that it is His duty to fulfill it. He knows there can be no escape now. And He knows that He cannot back down now.

Golgotha. The place of skulls. It is a cruel site, a barren and desolate patch of land atop a ragged hill. Here is the site of His death. He arrives soon enough, and the sight of that dry patch of land was almost a relief to Him. The Roman soldiers, exceedingly cruel even in their own day, strip Him of His garments. The crown of thorns they had forced onto His head cause blood to pour down His face. His body is half-alive and half-dead, but more dead than alive. They push Him onto the cross, and they nail His hands and feet. The nails they use are no mere ordinary nails-- on the contrary, they are more akin to spikes. The cruel iron nails dug onto His flesh and pierced His bones. He is now a wailing piece of meat, yet even in this condition, He ha the gall to forgive them. 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.'

His mother arrives soon, and she is devastated at the sight of her son. She beheld Him now, literally a bloody, gore-dripping mass of broken and beaten flesh, cruelly nailed to an even crueler cross; condemned like a common criminal, yet debased and humiliated lower than dung itself. Her tears stream down her face, and it is as if a sword had pierced her own heart.

Then, after more than three hours hanging in that awful beam, He expires. He surrenders His soul to God, His Father. 'Tetelestai-- It is accomplished!' He pauses one more time. And with a heavy heart, He says 'Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit'. And with these words, He breathes His last. The sky darkens. The earth trembles. The world is plunged in darkness.

Yet, in that dead hour, He has achieved His greatest victory. By His death, He has forever won for us the price of eternal life; we who have crucified, mocked, flogged and humiliated Him-- we who lacked the courage to speak out against the terrible injustice being levied against this Man-- have been bought with the blood of God Himself. We have been ransomed from the pain of everlasting fire.

The nails, the wood of the cross, the flagella, the crown of thorns, the ladder, the sponge, the spear. All these call to mind the darkest hour of the human race. But in that blackest of hours, the light of Christ shone forth, forever dispelling the darkness. By His death, we are free. He has laid waste to the strongholds of the Enemy and He has put the Wicked One's works to destruction. He has plundered the armouries of darkness and has broken the iron bars of its gates. By His death, He has conquered Death itself. And by rising from destruction, He has given us new life.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Auto da Fe

When I was growing up, I was always told to be prim, proper and decorous at all times. In truth, my childhood was rather Puritan in character. Instead of horsing around with the kids at the neighborhood, I would read Grimm's Fairy Tales and Aesop's Fables non-stop, since learning, after all, is a nobler endeavor. I learned about architecture, music and art through my aunts-- I had six whom I always saw-- and they would always tell me how rock music incites the mind to worldly things, how smoking can be a precursor to 'the fire that quencheth not', how cleanliness IS Godliness. They would also tell me about the Bible; I particularly liked the Old Testament and its stories, which to me seemed exceedingly rich and bursting with excitement.

It was in my seventh year when I lost my 'innocence'. One night, as my brother and I were playing with our Power Rangers action figures ( he had an eight inch Ivan Ooze, while I sicced the (MY) mighty Dragonzord at him), one of my aunts came up to us. Like any concerned relative, she advised us to be careful, and not be overly violent. Then, as we were taking a break, she brought out a rather thick volume from her bag; it was a book, bound in black. It wasn't the biggest book, nor was it probably the most interesting. But it carried with an omen of doom.

'Have I got a story for you two. I'm going to tell you about the end of the world.'

That night, I couldn't sleep. I could still see in my mind's eye that vision of the world-- the same earth that Captain Planet just saved from evil industrialists that morning-- shrouded in a sea of fire. It was utterly dark; pitch black was an understatement. I could hear the wails of torment of the damned, their bones being crushed by the massing darkness, the cries of their lamentation lingering like shreds if cloud in that inescapable realm. I could smell the foul mixture of blood and filth, and my skin crawled at the thought if having devils-- murderers, charlatans, ingrates, the proud, the arrogant, the damned-- as my eternal companions.

Later on, I was to find out that the book in question was Bellarmine's perennial classic, 'Hell And Its Torments'. Why an Evangelical was reading it to me would later puzzle me-- and it still does, mind you-- but all of that wasn't important for me. What mattered for me then was how to save my soul, and to avoid such a horrible fate.

For the next few years, I lived in the shadow and fear of this memory. It was in 2002 when I first started to read more into Catholicism. It was during this time that I first came across Sedevacantism: I still remember reading, and being shocked and scandalized, at the supposed '101 Heresies of John Paul II'. I was intrigued when I heard stories about Paul VI's corpse exuding a foul stench during that pontiff's wake, and how John XXIII's body supposedly faced downward (Hell) when his coffin was opened. I lived in an almost millenarianist paranoia, thinking that the end of the world was literally waiting around the corner. I kept thinking about my fate, of whether He would count me among the blessed, or if He would turn His face away from me, and condemn me to everlasting fire.

Ironically, it was also this time that my Evangelical relatives told me about how the Catholic system was a deluded mess, and that it was a synthesis of abomination, with its 'Mariolatry', 'bread-worshipping', and its 'necromancy' (obviously referring to the veneration of saints). In particular, they pointed out to me how the Mass 'killed' Jesus again and again, and that it mocked Him by making a ridicule of His sacrifice (a wafer can never save my from my sins, they said); as well, they called the Pope the anti-Christ, and that this pope (then JPII) would be the final one; Christ, they said, was coming soon to render glory to the just and vengeance to the wicked. Amen.

A couple of months later, I found Catholic Answers. That site provided a blow-by-blow counter-attack to even the most vicious Protestant punditry. It analyzed the Church not just from a Biblical perspective, but also through historical, cultural and sociological methods. The myth of Sola Scriptura was forever crushed, in my eyes. Without that doctrine, everything else in Protestantism falls. Then, in that same year, I came across Traditional Catholic Apologetics ( To me, that site contained the most detailed and the strongest attacks on the errors of Protestantism. I particularly liked that site's sections on the Protestant Bibles-- that, for me, ultimately sealed the deal.

That was somewhere in late 2003/early 2004. During this time, I became more confident in my resolve. I started hanging around in the Yahoo! Chatrooms and debated the Prots, often through vicious and violent means (I called many of them worthy of death). I was practically a militant; I felt like Christ when He drove the moneychangers and simoniacs out of the Temple, or when He called the Pharisees 'a brood of vipers'. It was like a mad sugar rush, only it made me angry. Very angry.

Then, in the middle of 2004, I became re-acquainted with the Sedevacantist movement. I came to believe that the Novus Ordo Missae was possibly tainted with the odour of heresy some months before; but my frequent visits to Traditio and Novus Ordo Watch bolstered this conviction to a soaring degree. Eventually, I ended up being a Sedevacantist (though only for a short time). I was convinced that JPII was a pertinacious heretic, and that the Council and its popes were irredeemably and hopelessly damned for their destruction of Catholicism. I was a fanatic and proud of it. If your mantilla wasn't long enough, you are a Jezebel; if your knees buckled at your genuflection, that was a sign of weakness, perhaps even homosexuality. And if you dared so much as smile or laugh or turn your head during Mass, you are disrespecting God, and are deserving of a punch to the face, a kick in the spine and a hammerfist to the head.

I was in a perpetual state of tension, and I prided myself on that achievement, if it can be called that. I congratulated myself for reading as much papal (pre-conciliar) encyclicals as I can, and I flaunted the fact that I knew Latin, however rudimentary, to everyone claiming to be a good Catholic-- and when they gasped in amazement, I would smirk, give him or her a condescending look, and proudly say 'Everyone knew Latin before that f-----g Council introduced heresy into the lifeblood of the Church'. I liked being called a 'Triumphalist'-- to me, it was the surest sign of holiness and love for the Church. I was a 'son of thunder' and I thundered across the plains of heresy, schism, weakness and lukewarmness with the zeal and conviction of the martyrs.

But my conviction peaked. It had reached a maximum point, and the only place left to go was downward. Somewhere in 2005 or 2006, I just lost it. I came back to sinning. It seemed as if I would ultimately be consigned to hell, and that I would forever share in the company of the wicked and the damned.
In early May of 2006, around the time I started this blog, I visited San Agustin church in Manila. This venerable stone shrine, run by the Augustinians, was a perpetual 'sermon in stone', having survived several earthquakes and natural disasters in the past. It was a masterpiece of the Spanish Plateresque: inside, the mighty vaults of the ceiling declared the glory of God with its magnificent trompe l'oeil, and the fourteen side altars, all singularly glorious, were awash with the grace and wisdom of the ages. As you walk down the nave, your gaze is drawn to the imposing main altar: a vision of such grandeur and beauty that it moves you to tears. In the central niche was housed an image of the Apostle Paul, sword in hand, gazing from his 'throne', a look of compassion in his face. Two candles burned perpetually beside him. The silver altar fittings gleamed with faint light in that rainy day.

St. Paul, of course, is the greatest apologia for Catholicism. This man, who was single-handedly responsible for the destruction of many ancient Christians, who traveled to Damascus, who encountered Christ on that fateful road, and who would ultimately become one of the pillars of the very Faith he sought to vanquish by fire or force; this man who sinned and was forgiven, who killed and 'died in Christ'; I saw this man, looking at me from his niche, with eyes full of vigor and compassion. The expression on his eyes put to shame every Catechism, encyclical, exhortation, dissertation or spiritual writing I've read to that point.

I did not cry, but I looked at that loving gaze for what seemed hours. I felt like Pilate, and I wanted to scream with him: 'Quid est veritas?'

Moments later, my concentration was broken, as a group of women, clad in white, their heavy mantillas shrouding their heads, marched to the front pews and took their seats, some two rows ahead of me. They were a motley crew of eleven: some were rich, some were poor. I concluded that one of them was a teacher, another a mid-level executive, some housewives, and some widows. A number of them spoke in hushed tones. I heard some mild laughter. One pulled out her antique mother-of-pearl rosary with the flourish of a conductor brandishing his baton. Two or three intoned the 'Salve Regina', their voices frail, while another said the Golden Arrow ('May the most holy name of God...'). For me, that scene was the visual equivalent of St. Paul's metanoia-- and how fitting this would happen in this noble and venerable church dedicated to the very saint!

The women eventually finished their devotions. Then, I saw the ministers vesting the altar for Mass. The lights were turned on, the candles lit. Soon, more and more trooped to the church, and took their seats under the church's great ceiling. I saw several tourists pose for pictures near the altar, while a cute American five year old boy descended from the pulpit. I soon left, as I still had business to attend to.

It was then that I realized how much I've fooled myself. I prided myself in my vast knowledge, and took this as a sign of my personal holiness. I lived under the shadow of a lie.

That experience in the church was more powerful than any theological construct I've read. Like Paul, we too have sinned: and like Paul, we can still find redemption. Often this comes to us in our darkest hours, when God has seemingly abandoned us to whims of this world. By blood, sweat and tears, we try our best to make amends for our myriad faults. We beg Him to grant us the grace to face the challenges ahead. But this is not the affair of the mind, but of the heart. Redemption is after all, a unitive thing. We cannot redeem the 'mind' alone, or for that matter, merely the 'heart'.

The Christian life is inherently a life filled with contradictions. But it is the only path worth taking, because it is the only path that makes the prize so much sweeter. That is the beauty of our Faith: more than anything, its idea of 'perfection' stems from the basic acknowledgment of our inherent weakness. I am reminded of a story Sir Anthony Hopkins once told. As the story goes, the actor once asked a Jesuit priest regarding the shortest and most effective prayer he knew. The Jesuit paused for a moment, looked hims straight in the eye, and said: 'Fuck it, it's in God's hands'.

The women in that church viewed their whole lives as an auto da fe: an act of faith. They sin and pray and hate and forgive: but behind their human weaknesses lies a conviction, tempered with fire and harder than steel, that there is a God out there Who loves them. And it is a God who became man, Who suffered as man, Who now lives and reigns in glory undimmed for all eternity.

The Jews expected a divine man to deliver them from tyranny and oppression. Ours is a human God, Who, by entering our world and suffering with us and for us, has forever delivered us from sin and death. We have only to realize this fact. After all, it is by our own choices that we are rewarded or punished in the life to come.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Authentic Yet Exotic

Like many in Mexico, Tzintzuntzan is a Catholic city. The name literally means 'place of the hummingbirds', and it holds the distinction of being the capital city of the Tarascan region. In Pre-Columbian times, Tzintzuntzan covered only a measly seven square kilometers, a far cry from the 165 square kilometer city that it is today. Tzintzuntzan is also famed for its weaving; in fact, baskets are one of its main exports. As well, it is significant to note the presence of many steppe pyramids, many of whose stones were hewn to provide suitable building materials for the first Catholic chapels in that region. It is a quaint, rural spot, largely untouched by the hustle and bustle of the Twentieth and Twenty First centuries.

Holy Week, as observed in this quaint little Tarascan outpost, follows the general pattern of exuberance and solemnity particular to countries which have been colonized or influenced by Madre Espana. On Palm Sunday (or Good Friday? I forgot), a detail of ten or so crimson hooded men enter the church, presumably to herald the arrival of the King of kings. Also central to the celebration of Holy Week are the various parades that speak of the pageantry of bygone days, when the world was still innocent. On Good Friday, seven, ancient crosses, entrusted to the same families for hundreds of years, are brought out of storage. They are paraded several times that day, with the greatest of pomp and most solemn of ceremonies. When the procession is finished, the crosses are taken to the town church, where they are displayed for veneration in the church's entrance. And, as is customary to many Mexican villages, the Passion play is performed. It is interesting to note that as recently as thirty to thirty five years ago, penitents still had themselves crucified, as is still practiced here in the Philippines.

To many of us, such scenes are reminiscent more of superstition than faith, of exaggerated machismo rather than true contrition. We are appalled by the sight of blood, by the gore-dripping depictions of the Christ, even by the solemnity in which all of these things happen. We are scandalized by the un-orthodox depictions of His suffering; we frown, for example, at a bow-legged Christ, hanging from a cross by the palms of His hands, which by now are reduced to no more than a mere bundle of sinew. For us, these are the vestiges of an age of mysticism, an age that has been replaced-- conquered-- by an age of reason.

However, exotic as it may seem, such scenes used to be the norm.

I remember my grandfather telling me stories about his youth. He was born in 1922, a mere 24 years after Las Islas Filipinas became independent of Spain, and when the American Occupation began. My grandfather, being a Nationalist, was incensed at the Church in those days. He would tell me, for example, how we would give food to the wandering Aglipayan ‘priests’ while hiding the rest from the Catholic ones. He contemplated joining the Masons, but even they were too ambiguous and anti-religious for him.

Some years later, he met my grandmother. Her mother was a very devout Catholic, although her father was a Mason. On Sundays, she and her mother would both sneak off from the house to attend Mass while her father slept. She recalled gutting an old screen door to use the mesh as a veil, because any sign of the ‘Spanish religion’ was dealt with accordingly. My grandmother grew up to be a very religious person. And by the grace of God, her father left that horrid group and was reconciled into the Church in the 1940s.

It was my grandmother who taught my grandfather to pray. When they were still newlyweds, she would also act as a catechism teacher to him, and together they would pray the rosary, go to Mass, visit the major shrines of the Virgin, attend the evening Benediction and read Scripture daily. It was a simple life, a life characterized by vigorous piety and a genuine, deep-rooted love.

In those days, penance was a very strict affair. There were none of the penances we are so accustomed to these days. In the early part of the Twentieth Century, a typical penance for missing Sunday Mass would have the penitent kneel on a handful of rock salt for half an hour straight. It was an excruciating affair: I tried it once out of sheer curiosity, and needless to say, that was the reddest I’d ever seen my knees. The salt dug onto my flesh, scratching the delicate covering and leaving gaping pock marks for the rest of the day. Another penance, usually for sins of the flesh, would be to crawl to the altar on one’s elbows and knees. This was very interesting for me; in my grandfather’s case, he would make sure to visit an important Marian shrine to do his penance. One such famous shrine is that of Nuestra Senor de la Paz y Buen Viaje, located in Antipolo.

The trek to this place alone was already penance enough. Antipolo was nestled on top of a hill, some 1 to 1.5 hours away from Manila. Traditionally, devotees would walk all the way to shrine barefoot, as a sign of penitence and humility. This arduous journey usually left its mark in the many blisters that dot the devotee’s feet. The whole trek was so exhausting (this was around 30 kilometers at least, if I'm not mistaken), that may devotees sang this song along the way:

Tayo na sa Antipolo
At doon, maligo tayo
Sa batis na kung tawagin
Ay Hinulugang Taktak

* Translation: “Let us forth to Antipolo/and there let us bathe/in the river called/Hinulugang Taktak)

The ordeal doesn’t end here, however.

When the shrine’s glimmering roof is first glimpsed, penitents immediately drop to their knees. From there, they crawl to the Shrine, heads bowed, hands clasped at the chest. Pious old women bring out their heavy lace mantillas and cover their heads, while men take off their hats, if they have any. A group on a pilgrimage might sing a Marian song, like ‘Salve Regina’ or ‘Ave Maris Stella’. The rosary is also usually prayed. Remember that this is no small group: a typical day at the Antipolo Shrine, even on weekdays, draws up to several thousand devotees.

To enter the shrine church is everyone’s dreams. When one first enters the shrine, his eyes are immediately drawn to the gilded silver retablo. In the central niche, beneath a solid silver baldaquin, rests the image of Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje. She is no more than three feet tall, but her devotes throng in the thousands. One might even argue that it is not an exceptionally carved image of that it looks almost too provincial; but then again, this is not the main concern. These man and women have come to Mary’s shrine to honor her with praise. The devotees usually bring flowers with them, whether it be a single red rose or a bouquet of the most exquisite kinds available, and lay them at her feet, the devotion of a child to his mother.

My grandfather, sorry for his sins and those of his past life, crawled on his hands and knees. It seemed like an eternity to crawl all the way to the altar. His head was bowed down, his eyes contemplated the floor. He dare not look at her whom he has shunned, ignored and rejected. But from the corner of his eyes, tears well. They are the tears of hope and joy.

Most of us, sadly, don’t have such stories to tell. Such is the unfortunate fruit of the dreaded 60s affair. What we formerly held as being the norm is now viewed, almost like a specimen in a museum, as something strange and exotic. Our traditions are no longer part of the cultural mentality, but reduced to a severed limb, a nude on display for the fascination of an unknown age.

The problem with many traditionalists is that we often forget that we are not the whole of tradition. This was the main reason I became alienated to so many self-proclaimed “rad trads”. Beneath all their pretenses of being traditional lies the fact that they view the soul of tradition as being theirs for the taking. In short, what is considered ‘traditional’ may, in fact, just be someone else’s opinion of what is. For what it’s worth, being a ‘rad trad’ is really nothing but taking tradition into our own hands and owning it—the very antithesis of what tradition is all about.

We look at such devotions as being remnants of a superstitious age. But these criticisms come not only from the hated liberals—they also come from conservatives and traditionalists. Sometimes I wonder what the point of being a traditionalist is when these people (including myself) cannot even agree on what traditional means. Is it merely the Mass? Is it merely devotions, processions, parades and badly-garbed statuary? Common sense tells us no. For me, this is our ultimate tragedy as Catholics—the loss of our culture. It is sad when holiness is measured by how long a woman’s chapel veil is, or how much of a dialectic philosopher one is. Gone are the piety of old that did things with the heart and the mind, which has now been replaced by a thoroughly intellectualist spirituality. It is sad when such pious customs as crawling to the altar, walking barefoot for the Stations of the Cross, or offering flowers to Our Lady are relegated to the dusty museum halls of the past.

It is a sad thing when we start to lose that gift our fathers in faith have tried to hard to procure for us, by sweat and blood and toil.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What Difference A Council Makes

Over at The Hallowed Ground, you can find pictures of a Solemn Papal Mass of canonization celebrated by Pope Paul VI in the years before that horrid 1960s affair reared its ugly head. Among others, there is a picture of the Holy Father drinking the Precious Blood through a golden fistula, something which that unfortunate Council did away with. The new sancti being glorified in this Mass are St. Charles Lwanga and companions, missionaries from Africa who have sprinkled that land with their blood as a powerful witness to the grace and love of Christ. I will say no more and let the gorgeous pictures speak for themselves.

Click the following link to read the whole post. The rest of the blog should also not be missed, as its impressive photo collections can attest to.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Some Thoughts on Tradition

This post will yet again be brief, but it is my hope that I can at least communicate something coherent and in the end profound to the reader (if any, lol).

Tradition, as I've said in my previous posts, is the essence of the Church. The word itself hails from the Latin 'traditio' which means something which has been handed down. Tradition is more than just the sum of all the gestures we do during the Mass; in tradition, we see the entire history of the Church, from Her infancy to the present day. A genuflection, for instance, is more than a mere act of politeness; it also symbolizes our affirmation of the doctrine of the Real Presence, as well as the fulfillment of the Biblical command that 'at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend'. In the numberless gestures that we Catholics make-- whether the triple cross during the Gospel, or bowing the head at the mention of the Holy Name, or kissing a St. Michael medal in times of trouble and affliction, we see a part of the truth of the Church. Tradition, then, is almost a 'sacrament'. It binds and has bound Catholics throughout the centuries, and still does so, albeit on a less obvious level (no doubt due to our own fault). Tradition both sanctifies us and has, in turn, been sanctified, canonized, by the actions of many saints in the past.

Tradition is history. It helps us to reconnect with our past, without actually dwelling on it. The beauty of Tradition is that it is by nature 'sacred'. It has been hallowed, as it were, by its usage by men and women greater than ourselves, and has given strength and succor even to the destitute. Tradition, then, connects the rich to the poor, the mighty to the fallen, the sinner to the saint. Tradition tells us, rather, reminds us, of that one truth we have seemingly forgotten: that the Church is a living, breathing entity, much like an extended family. Oftentimes we are confined to the notion that the Church is this unshakable monolith with the Pope and his curia at the very top. Tradition reminds us that the simple and ignorant are just as much a part of the Church as the learned. Tradition, then, serves as an equalizer. It is our common inheritance, that precious piece of memory from the past.

Lastly, Tradition is perhaps the most visible, tangible proof of the communion of saints. In the Creed, we profess our belief in the doctrine of the communion of saints, that most comforting doctrine by which we affirm the capability and efficacy of the saints' intercession for us in Heaven. By repeating the hallowed and hallowing gestures of our faith, like the above mentioned genuflections, we are doing exactly what Francis Xavier would have done all those years ago. By weeping over the Santo Entierro, we are imbibing the simple spirituality of Francis of Assissi. By venerating Our Lady of Victories, we are paying tribute to Pius V. Tradition, then, is a continuous process that should, theoretically, grow more profound with every passing generation.

This is the disaster of Vatican II. It has destroyed these 'family customs' and substituted 'new', 'fresh' and 'experimental' ways and approaches to do things which we have always done in the past. Instead of Tradition evolving into something more glorious, this Council has done much to circumvent the wisdom of the past with its arrogant innovations. Gone is the sense of Tradition being a common property; in this 'Spirit of Vatican II' age, tradition is virtually rendered meaningless, and it is left to the individual to make his own sense of it. We have thus effectively estranged ourselves from each other.

Tradition is not sacred because it is untouchable. A true sense of tradition knows that it is continually evolving, whether through accretion, amalgamation or otherwise. The Church-- the human element, that is-- is beautiful not because it is perfect, but precisely because it is human. It is a Church that knows how to love, how to cry, how to mourn, how to rejoice, how to be angry, what have you. The same is true for any family. While we might occasionally pick fights amongst ourselves, these only help to make us understand how much we love each other. I believe St. John Chrysostom said something to the effect that Adam and Eve's banishment from Paradise was the only way they could see how much God loved them. Vatican II, in its dream to reflect a fabled 'Golden Age' of the Church, has forgotten that there is no such age. There have always been heresies and schisms and grave scandals in the past. To try and think otherwise would be the height of foolishness.

This is the ultimate irony of it all. Vatican II was actually more idealistic (in the wrong sense) than what it tried to portray itself. In its dream of achieving perfection in this earthly life, it has steered the Church clear away from the path of the supernatural and into the world of the mundane. Tradition is our sole refuge in reconnecting with our past. It is the one thing that connects us all, the living, the dying and the dead. That the Council destroyed this notion of connection is indeed lamentable.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Recommended Reads

I thought I'd try something else for a change. Here are some I books I've been reading lately, and I encourage you all to check them out. Heh, maybe this can be a weekly thing or something. Oprah's Book Club, move over. Haha.

1) The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

Erudite, ebullient, witty, incredibly sarcastic-- Eco has created a hodge podge consisting of parts of medieval philosophy, history, aesthetics, metaphysics, you name it, this book has it. It is a classic detective story set in the exciting time of the Middle Ages. This is truly a master work. Eco peppers the narrative with the odd Latin phrases every now and then (some of which are really funny, btw) but the reader never gets sidetracked. More than a simple fiction story, 'The Name of the Rose' is also a philosophical treatise, delivered with devastating wit and introspectiveness as only this quirky Italian fellow can deliver.

2) 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, by Roger Crowley

This account of the Fourth Crusade, as well as the final demise of that most glorious Christian city, proves to be a hauntingly fun read. Crowley, though an amateur historian, delivers the goods with a peerless panache for detail. One note of caution, though: he seems to be too sympathetic to the Infidels at times. But aside from that, it's one of the most entertaining books on the subject I've ever read.

3) A Very Short Introduction to History, by John Arnold

Another history book. Arnold's style is readable and flows smoothly, though somewhat clumsy at times. At some 130-150 odd pages, it is a surprisingly quick read, though this is done without compromising clarity and attention to detail. Chapter 6 was particularly entertaining; you'll know what I mean when you read it.

I'll promise to return to my regular brain-wracking in a few days' time. I'm sorry if this post was extremely short, and probably useless in the long run, but hey, it's alrady crunch time. Right now, the stress is REALLY piling up on me. Oh well.

BTW: Most of the pictures I use in my posts come from this wonderful website: Fotos Cofrades Blog. Interesting place, especially if you're interested in Spanish processional statues, of which this blog has an enchidrion of pictures.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

15 Secret Tortures of Jesus Christ

This devotion scared the hell out of me when I first heard about it. Also, if you recall Mel Gibson's movie, I think some of the scenes depicted in this devotion made their way to 'The Passion of the Christ'. In any case, I think this is an oft-forgotten part of our Catholic culture, and here I am posting about it so it can get some more exposure. I'll be quiet now and let the prayer speak for itself.


Revealed to the pious, God-loving Sister Mary Magdalen of Sancta Clara Order, Franciscan, who lived, died and was beatified in Rome. Jesus fulfilled the wish of this Sister, who desired to ardently know something about the secret sufferings which He endured the night before His death.

This devotion is approved and recommended by His Holiness Clement XII, 1730-1740)


1. They fastened My feet with a rope and dragged Me over the stepping stones of the staircase, down into a filthy, nauseating cellar.

2. They took off My clothing and stung My body with iron joints.

3. They attached a rope around My body and pulled Me on the ground from end to end.

4. They hanged Me on a wooden piece with a slip knot until I slipped out and fell down. Overwhelmed by this torture, I wept bloody tears.

5. They tied Me to a post and pierced My body with various arms.

6. They struck Me with stones and burnt Me with blazing embers and torches.

7. They pierced Me with awls; sharp spears tore My skin, flesh and arteries out of My body.

8. They tied Me to a post and made Me stand barefoot on an incandescent metal sheet.

9. They crowned Me with an iron crown and wrapped My eyes with the dirtiest possible rags.

10. They made Me sit on a chair covered with sharp pointed nails, causing deep wounds in My body.

11. They poured on My wounds liquid lead and resin and, after this torture, they pressed Me on the nailed chair so that the nails went deeper and deeper into My flesh.

12. For shame and affliction, they drove needles into the holes of My uprooted beard. They tied my hands behind My back and led Me walking out of prison with strikes and blows.

13. They threw Me upon a cross and attached Me so tightly that I could hardly breathe anymore.

14. They threw at My head as I lay on the earth, and they stepped on Me, hurting My breast. Then, taking a thorn from My crown, they drove it into My tongue.

15. They poured into My mouth the most immodest excretions, as they uttered the most infamous expressions about Me.


Then, Jesus added,

"My daughter, I desire that you let everybody know the Fifteen Secret Tortures in order that everyone of them be honored."
"Anyone who daily offers Me, with love, one of these sufferings and says with fervor the following prayer, will be rewarded with eternal glory on the day of judgement."

~ P R A Y E R ~

My Lord and My God, it is my unchangable will to honor you in these Fifteen Secret Torments when You shed Your Precious Blood; as many times as there are grains of sand around the seas, as fruit in the orchards, as leaves on the trees, as flowers in the gardens, as stars in the sky, as angels in Heaven, as creatures on earth. So many thousands of times may you be glorified, praised and honored, O Most love-worthy Lord Jesus Christ - Your Holiest Heart, Your Precious Blood, Your Divine Sacrifice for mankind, the Holiest Sacrament of the altar, the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the nine glorious choirs of Angels and the Blessed Phalanx of the Saints, from myself and everyone, now and forever, and in the eternal ages.

In like manner, I desire, my dear Jesus, to give You thanksgiving, to serve you, to repair and atone for all my ignominies, and to offer You my soul and body as Your possession forever. Likewise, I regret all my sins and beg Your pardon, O my Lord and my God. And I offer You all the merits of Jesus Christ to repair everything, to obtain a happy dying-hour and the deliverance of the souls from Purgatory. This prayer I desire to renew at each hour until my death, O lovable Jesus. Sweet Savior, fortify my resolution and permit not that neither wretched men nor Satan destroy it. AMEN.