Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Fall of Byzantium

Today, May 29th, marks the 554th anniversary of the fall of the Byzantine Empire, and the symbolic death of the Middle Ages. The Sultan Mehmed II, long enamored with the fabled splendour of the Byzantine Empire (it is said that two thirds of all the riches of the world were held by the Byzantines), faces a weak and fragmented Empire. By that time, Byzantium had practically been reduced to the great city of Constantinople; and seizing this opportunity, the sultan starts a campaign to conquer the Queen of Cities. This is an especially sad and poignant moment in history; the Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, had been facing intrigues from his court for his pro-Latin stance, with most of the pressure coming from his own Megas Doux, Loukas Notaras. To top it all off, the Byzantine armies were themselves crumbling; only a handful of thousands remained, augmented by a few thousand Western mercenaries under the leadership of the ruthlessly efficient and valiant Giovanni Giustiniani. Despite this effort, however, the forces that defended the city still numbered a paltry 5000-7000, an infinitesimally small figure compared to the 100,000 plus strong army of the Ottomans.

Sadly, Constantinople was conquered in the end. It is said that when Mehmet II finally entered the city, he exclaimed 'What a town this once was!', perhaps to express his lamentation at having reduced this city of desires to a pile of rubble. Still, some maintain it was an expression of his disappointment at the crumbling state of the city. The Great Church of Hagia Sophia in particular suffered much; the Ottomans stabled their horses and captives in the sanctuary, as they plundered the treasures of the church. of which it is proper to quote Scripture and say of them 'De te fabula narratur'. For such was the adornment of the Great Church, that it was the boast of all Christendom: silver chandeliers hanging from silver chains thick as a man's arm, 40 tons of silver that covered the sanctuary area, an altar studded with thousands of precious stones. And when they finally found the Emperor's body, buried among his own troops, the only way they were able to distinguish him was through his purple boots.

The following is considered the most accurate account of the Siege of Constantinople, written by an eyewitness to those events, the Venetian surgeon Nicolo Barbaro. It is written in diary format, and details much of the doings of his fellow Venetians, as well as some details of several naval affairs. It is especially recommended reading for this day.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Mother of God

On Kitsch and Sentimentality

My mother isn't the most religious person out there; so when she wept and begged us to pray for her during a painful ordeal in December of 2002, I knew it was serious. My father had been in the hospital for three days already when the incident happened,
confined due to a heart problem (he weighed some 220 pounds back then, and exercised too vigorously). I remember having a rather intense argument with her some hours before, which resulted in an uneasy quiet between us. It was unusually cold, too, for a December evening-- the temperature seemed to be three degrees lower than what it had been yesterday. There was not much to do, so I contented myself with watching television.

Munching hungrily on my Cheetos, and watching bad horror movies with delectable gusto, my problems seemed to slip away. My sister was there, too, who by then was only eight years old. I was playing with her; she had brought with her this small, stuffed polar bear named Robbie and dressed him up in a large yellow tee shirt. In the midst of it all, I saw the maid frantically rushing for the car keys and phoning the driver (my parents are always busy, so we had a driver) to come immediately. Upstairs, I heard some sobs and screams. When the dust settled, if partially, the maid told us that my mother was suffering from a very severe case of hyper acidity, and had to be brought to the hospital as soon as possible.

My sister, being the closest among us to her, wept inconsolably. I don't usually cry, but somehow, I shed some tears as well. With my father in the hospital and now my mother as well, who would take care of us? If worse comes to worst, what would become of us? I had the sinking feeling that both of them would be marred for life by these events. Worse, I felt a tug in my gut that there was a chance both of them would die.

I found religion in 2002. Well, not exactly; I had been Catholic all my life, but it was only in that year when I began to explore its depth and multivalency and began to take it seriously. Coming from an Opus Dei run high school, the canonization of St. Josemaria Escriva was naturally a cause for celebration; we had a longer semestral break than usual to accommodate the families that would be going to Rome on pilgrimage. And there were many of them, too. As for myself, I watched the ceremony on television, and it was quite an experience, to say the least. That was my first encounter with Gregorian chant and Latin Masses and Catholic life, in general. I was in awe when the choir chanted the Missa de Angelis (back then, the Sistine Choir were my idols, haha) and I delighted myself trying to pick out as much Filipinos as I can in the massive crowd. A friend even commented that he had not seen so much fur and coat tails in a very long time.

My interest in religion was not confined to Catholicism, however. I liked reading the colorful myths of the Hindus and pondering the sages of Buddhism; most of all, I liked reading about the Jews, especially the Haggadah. But despite all of these interests, I was never much of a Marian person. Perhaps it was the influence of my Evangelical relatives that somehow turned me off to the 'Marian excesses' of the 'Roman religion'. I just had hard time reconciling all of these dogmata with the Biblical truth, or what I understood it to be in those days. But it was the 'Hail Mary' that I found myself praying the most when my mother had to be whisked away to the hospital. It was the 'Hail Mary' that I taught my sister to say to find peace and calm in that night of tribulation.

I returned to the television to calm my nerves. There was a movie about possession showing that night, and since there was nothing else worth watching, I decided to sit through it. It's good to have an antagonist to be delivered from in order for one's prayers to be heard, I said to myself. My sister was still sobbing, hugging her teddy bear and talking to an aunt on the phone. She gripped my hand tightly, and it was already sticky from wiping away her tears. I could think of nothing else to do. I couldn't drive, there was no one else at home, my sister needed company. Both my parents were in the hospital, suffering critically, and all I could think of was the story of Job, who lost everything due to the Devil's malice.

I almost turned the television off when I heard a strange voice emanating from it. I looked at it again, shaking off the first vestiges of sleep, and saw the possessed boy floating on his bed and singing Schubert's 'Ellens dritter Gesang', otherwise more popularly known as 'Ave Maria'. I never understood the Romantics; for me, their sentimentality-dripping pieces and overly melodramatic tones inspired visions of cotton candy and statues of shrouded skeletons wielding massive scythes, which aren't exactly the most consoling visions to have. Schubert did not seem too far from this generalization; indeed, my classically trained musician relatives often compared his work to a boy writing a poem about sweets and taffy. It was not a very flattering image, to say the least.

It wasn't the most theologically reassuring work as well, either. I am not going to make any pretensions and say that I understand music; ironically, despite having grown up with Brahms and Mozart all my life, I don't know how to play a single instrument. But Schubert's Ave, even to me, seemed unsure of itself; it was erratic, and seemed laden with all the troubles of the world. It was pleading, pretty, and an emotional wreck, as I once heard it described. But something about it was mysteriously calming. Perhaps it is the raw emotion evident in the work, perhaps I identified with its pleading and anxious tone. Whatever it was, I felt at peace when I heard it. Somehow, in the song reminded me of the lullabies my mother would sing me when I could not sleep, or the words of comfort she would offer me whenever I got scared. It was beautiful.

I could hear God telling me in my innermost of hearts 'Be still and know that I am.' And I could see Mary, too, dressed in blue and crowned with gold, the perpetual image I had of her as gleaned from many bad works of religious art. I somehow understood that even Faith had to be 'kitschy' at times. Bargaining with God is not exactly the most civil thought to have in mind, but this is the same God, Who can be bargained with, that was the God of the Old Testament. It was the same God, as well, Who even paid for our ransom, bargaining with Himself, in the New Testament. This is the essence of the Catholic faith, and it is all summarized effectively by one word: love. I imagine love would be boring without the romance; no greeting cards, flowers, bad poetry, even worse pick up lines ('Love is like a rosary; it is full of mysteries!'), and the occasional public display of affection. But sometimes it is necessary to dwell on the 'pretty', too; else, how can we ever understand what beauty is? Or more importantly, what Truth is?

I understand now what all of these Marian dogmata meant; for me, they all boil down to one single fact, that God loves us all in ways we can't even begin to comprehend imagining. And I understood as well why we honor Mary with flowers and triumphal processions and feast days that seem to outnumber Our Lord's; it is because Mary was, is and will always be, a Mother. Mothers are the vessels that brought us to this world, and they are the women who care for us, nurture us, fuss over us, are sometimes overprotective of us, and who will continue to do so even if we throw everything but the kitchen sink at her. That God gave us His own mother is second only to Christ's passion and death (as well as His incarnation, Ascension, descent into Hell) in giving proof of God's immeasurable love for wretched man. This, perhaps, is the ultimate kitsch in the history of the universe, and I am thankful for it everyday of my life.

It is sad to know that Franz Schubert died penniless and young ( 31 years). Although a Lutheran, his insights into the Catholic psyche, I am almost tempted not to say, sometimes trump the incomparable aesthetic of great, Catholic men such as Palestrina, Victoria, de Lassus or Allegri. Maybe it was the shivering, erratic and inconsolable sentimentality of his works. We do know, however, that he was devoted to the Blessed Virgin; and for an 'adopted' son, his love and devotion are simply, well, tear-jerking.

Bernini sculpted the following image in the last years of his life. Although belonging to another age, I am pretty sure he would have understood what Schubert was trying to say in his 'Ellens dritter Gesang'. As for myself, it has cemented a place for itself in my heart and mind, and it is such a wonderful thing to listen to.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Saints and Sinners

There is a rapidly spreading legend about one of Manila’s most crowded cemeteries, about how a curious statue of the Archangel Michael is drawing visitors from all over the country. Unlike most legends, however, this story is true. There is such a statue of the Archangel, and it is slowly but surely attracting a growing number of visitors. Is it miraculous? Does it move? Does it communicate revelations from God? Is it a long lost da Vinci? The answer is none of the above. The statue is crude, primitive and weathered by nearly a hundred years of exposure to the raw elements of nature. It is not even an exceptionally carved piece, and it is locked away in s rusted cage of wrought iron. And strangest of all, the Archangel is depicted not as the glorious champion of God—rather, he lies prostrate, humbled, his neck trodden down by the smiling figure of the Devil himself.

If popular lore is to be believed, then the statue and the grave upon which it rests is at least, if more than, a hundred years old. The final resting place of a sangley, it was supposed to have been erected to spite the Spanish friars, who discriminated against his people. The grave lay unnoticed, waiting in prodigious slothfulness, until it was ‘rediscovered’ within the last ten years. And if the tales of local residents (yes, some people here live in the cemeteries) are true, the sangley left one final curse to the friars, and had the words ‘ME CAGO EN LAS TETAS DE VUESTRAS MADRES’ carved onto its face. I have not seen the grave in person yet, so I cannot ascertain the veracity of this claim.

There is good, solid evidence to think this man was a sinner in life. The undeniably derisive depiction of the Archangel Michael and his supposed hateful vitriol against the friars are still cause for grave scandal in this deeply conservative country. So what is it about this sinner that still inspires conversation today? What is it about his sin that is so intriguing, despite the obvious irreverence it depicts?

It is true that the Church has always had sinners in its midst. We have had impious men arrogate the tiara for themselves, bishops who sow scandal and disorder among the sheep, priests who deny Her very doctrines, laymen who are more superstitious than faithful as well as charlatans, thieves and murderers, to name a few. So, should this really come as a shock to us? After all, even in this day and age, sinners still walk amongst saints in the Church. For every Mother Teresa striving to live out the ideals of Christianity, there are ten Alejandro Borgias and double the number of Gilles de Rais making a mockery of them. Indeed, one can even argue that today’s sinners are worse than the sinners of yesterday, and this is very true to a large extent.

So what makes the sinners of forty, fifty, even a hundred years ago infinitely more interesting than those of today? If there is any particular reason I can think of, it is probably due to the fact that these people knew exactly what they were doing despite always having the Church and Her morality in perspective. They knew they were flouting doctrine, they knew how much they lusted after women arrayed for battle, they knew the exact number of people killed in their petty wars. They knew above all that they were sinners, and that their impiety and severe lack of charity would be their ultimate demise. Call it melodrama if you want, but if there is something ‘positive’ about it, it is that they never sought to justify their being sinners, because a sin is a sin is a sin, and that was the incontrovertible, irreformable truth. They knew that they were sinners and they enjoyed every minute of revelry of their misdeed.

Compared with the sinners of today, they were vastly more interesting; the difference lies in the fact that heaps and heaps of souls will suffer everlasting fire without even knowing it. These days, may are damned and are being damned without their even knowing it or enjoying their sins. I attended a retreat almost six months ago, and during one of the many meditations we had, the priest mentioned that modern man must somehow learn what it means to be a sinner in order to distinguish just what is it in the silent nature of the cosmos that we are being saved from. This seems to be the fundamental dilemma in our postmodern age: there is no more fear, no more taboos, and therefore, no more excitement. Modern man is accustomed to having his whims fulfilled at the push of a button. It is not even out of malice anymore that men are being damned, but through a more dangerous path, that of ignorance and entitlement. This then effectively eradicates the concept of sin, and consequently, of sinners; thus, only the hell-bound remain.

Some days ago, I came upon the medieval legend of the Irish bishop Gudmund. As the story goes, the bishop sent some missionaries to a far off island in the hopes of bringing the Christian religion to their shores. When many months passed without so much as a word from the missionaries, the bishop himself decided to investigate the island. Local lore spoke of monstrous beasts and devils that haunted the uppermost caves of the island. Undeterred, the bishop brought with him a quantity of holy water, and began to bless the island. Eventually, he found himself at the foot of a long and narrow bridge that crossed a gaping, immeasurably deep chasm. As he was crossing the bridge, a huge, hairy hand emerged from a nearby cave, a dagger in hand. Gudmund increased his prayers as even then, the mighty appendage severed one of the ropes.

The brave bishop continued to proceed, as another hand, this time more massive than the first, cut the second rope which held the bridge in place. But despite the threat he faced, Gudmund pressed on. This time another hand, carrying a tremendous sword, tried to sever the third and last rope, but the good bishop had given it a special blessing and was miraculously saved. Gudmund crossed the chasm eventually, and as he was about to bring the wicked beings to an end, a voice called out to him, saying ‘Bless no more, Bishop Gudmund. Even the wicked must have a place for themselves’.

A religion that does not know how to deal with evil—death, suffering and woe—is not a real religion, because real religion, in the end, is supposed to mirror life, and not an ideal. In our haste to proclaim the Church a vessel of every triumph and honor, we have somehow forgotten that there must be an adversary first to flesh out this victory. And the Church has suffered losses more than She has won victories in the twenty centuries of her existence thus far. This is the greatest tragedy of the Reformation: in its disdain for the popular and ‘vulgar’ religion of the middle ages, it produced a whole system of errors, of negation of negations, that we know as Protestantism today.

So what does this have to do with sin? When we consider Luther’s divorce of religion from the public sphere, there is naturally also a separation of what is true from what one’s ‘personal truth’ is. The Reformation, with its cafeteria set of doctrines and the chaos and disorder it consequently effected, is then essentially nothing more than Luther’s way of justifying himself, of his despair and the scarcity of any self-worth he had. It is a system that is devoid of any corporate aspect, and that which is more an ideal than reality. The end result is the compartmentalization of religion, and consequently, of sin itself. Despite this, however, Luther remains an ‘interesting sinner’ in my books, because he knew that trying to justify himself was his sin; indeed, there is an often-told anecdote about Luther’s mother, who asks him if she should follow him on the path he has chosen. Luther’s reply is a classic in itself: ‘Remain a Catholic’.

I think Luther genuinely had a desire to live his life as free from sin as possible, and while a noble thought, it is highly unrealistic in the end. As I’ve said a couple of times before in this blog, how can we honestly expect a life that is free from blemish and hardship when Our Lord—God Himself—underwent the most bitter ordeal in the history of man? It is not without reason that Cicero calls crucifixion, in his immortal words, ‘crudelissimum eterrimunque supplicum’—that is, the most cruel and atrocious of all punishments. Even Christ Himself warns us in Holy Scripture, that if they persecuted Him, we, too, shall suffer the same fate. It is good to be hateful of sin, and this has always been a very Christian perspective; but also part of this psyche is the notion of suffering and frailty.

It is not proper to expect of ourselves absolute and utter perfection; even the highest and most glorious of the seraphim do not have this honor. In the end, it is good to remember that all the elegance and majesty of the cosmos, from the splendor of a supernova to the primordial utterances of the raging sea down to the most poetic of the sun’s rays are as nothing compared to the dignity we have been gifted with by Our Lord. What the universe in all its glory cannot even fathom was content to walk the earth and live as Man. That is truth.

I have often lamented the fact that much of the sanctoral legend and pious customs which nourished the Middle Ages seem to have been lost in translation from that period to the modern era. I guess I am lucky enough to have lived in such Chestertonian settings. I am still fascinated by many-headed dragons crowned with ten crowns and armies that number two hundred million, and I find cute the image of the Christ Child resting His head on a human skull (Sto. Nino de las Suertes). The tragedy of the Reformation and the subsequent blight of the modern era all seem to boil down to the fact that it cannot tell stories anymore. In its quest to rid Catholicism of excess baggage, I fear the Council Fathers of Trent, though noble in conception, produced a religion that glories in its triumph, forgetting that the dragon remains unconquered. I recognize that Trent was formulated precisely to combat the Protestant heresy, so I won’t comment on this matter anymore.

Perhaps the reason why there are so many people rebelling against Christianity is because it does not offer them taboos and excitement anymore. To be Christian these days has degenerated into nothing more than attending the service on Sundays, feeling good, and driving around in SUVs that poison the environment. I once quipped in class that Christianity is the ultimate form of rebellion, in that is saw as ugly and aberrant what so many people otherwise see as just ‘part of this world’, and sublime and beautiful what we would consider the small and the broken. It didn’t set out to be praised or to look good, and it certainly didn’t shy away from hard questions. In a way, the Christian religion seems to have ‘sold out’ and become just another drone.

The thrill of rebellion, after all, lies in the negation of what is commonly perceived as normal and substituting an alternative and often radical view for it. So it is not any wonder that more and more Christians of all stripes and colors are leaving their churches in droves; but sadly, and perhaps even thankfully, this has happened before in the past. The genius of God lies in His eternal creativity, and it is through life that He works primarily to bring out the reds and greens and blues of daily routine and flesh them out to extraordinary brilliance. Who knows? Maybe there is hope yet for them. Who would have known that when the Europeans were languishing from the ‘fruits’ of the Reformation that God would raise entire populations of indios from Latin America and the Far East to restitute the Church?

To say that the Church is rebelling against Her rebellion is probably an accurate way of summarizing things in the end. But this rebellion is not exactly ‘rebellious’, either. It is rather like substituting an English garden party for a rave, or God forbid, Green Day for Led Zeppelin. Boredom and tepidity can kill, after all, and it is precisely these two that are affecting the majority of Christians. It is too pretty and sanitized for its own good.


Last fifteenth of May was held the famous Pahiyas festival of Quezon province, a feast in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. Pahiyas is a unique and colorful celebration of the saint's day; in Lucban, Quezon, which has one of the most elaborate celebrations, whole streets are decorated with the harvest of the season; facades of houses are plastered with grapes, avocados, guavas and a whole array of other delectable fruits. Numerous folk art carvings line the avenues, carrying placards with witty one-liners on them. Of course, much of the celebration deals with that most famous of saints, San Isidro. On that day, he is dressed with sumptuous, hundred year old antique vestments, and is paraded throughout the town in an explosion of light, fervor, joy and color.

The word 'pahiyas' literally means 'decor' in English. The name is obviously derived from the fact that houses are literally decorated with food as a display of the prodigious harvest and also as an offering of thanksgiving to the saint. Who was St. Isidore, though? We knoe that he was born to very poor parents in Madrid in 1070. A farmer, he worked for much of his life for the wealthy landowner Juan de Vargas (the gentleman in the frock coat), and who would later make him bailiff of his entire estate. According to the story, Isidore as accustomed to hear Mass everyday before hieing off to work; one of his fellow farmers complained of this to de Vargas, who set about to rebuke the saint. Upon investigation, the hacendero found Isidore in church, as his fellow farmers said, while an angel was sloughing the land for him. Presumably, it was this incident that led to his promotion. Isidore was also known for his fond affection for animals; indeed, in the province of Bulacan on May 14th, for example, there is a procession of carabaos (Philippine water buffalo), who are dressed in colorful costumes; they are taken to the patio of the church, where they are made to kneel for their blessings.

Isidore's wife is herself a canonized saint, who is popularly known as Santa Maria Torribia de la Cabeza, because only her head is carried in processions. This is because the most popular relic attributed to her is a skull, which is believed to be her own. According to legend, she and Isidore had one son; the son would fall down the side of a hill early in life, so the couple begged the Virgin to save him. Miraculously, he survived, so the two of them devoted themselves to a life of sexual abstinence. Sadly, the boy still died in his childhood, despite their best efforts to save him. She outlived Isidore by a significant margin, too, dying some 45 years after him. During that time she is said to have dreamed of the Blessed Virgin every night, and would cross the river Jarama on her cloak (it apparently never got wet).

After the feast, the colorful decorations are taken down from the house, where they are then cooked and enjoyed by the whole community. It is obviously one of the most delicious feasts out there! San Isidro is also venerated in Talavera, Nueva Ecija, where, for the whole week leading to his feast day, novenas are said daily, Mass is offered several times each day, and there are also fairs, carnivals, processions and other entertainment events. Since Nueva Ecija is often referred to as the "Rice Granary of the Philippines", I am pretty sure it is a colorful spectacle as well.

As you may seem to notice, the religious festivals in the provinces are much more interesting than the ones in the city. There is a certain old world feel to it, a magical and enchanted viewpoint that seems to be missing from the elaborate parades of the more urbanized areas. In rural Philippines, the priest, in many ways, is still a 'padrino', in the sense that many would choose to follow him over the mayor or other city magistrates, and from this fact he enjoys much political clout. Before the harvest season, many farmers would bring him their seeds so he can give them his blessing for an abundant reaping. In some places, he is seen as an honorary politico even, perhaps a throwback to the days of the past.

The greatest satisfaction I derive from such festivals is how they show how the faith has nurtured the norms and traditions of the country. There is a remarkable catholicity to them, too; while the vestment of the San Isidro statue, for instance, is hundreds of years old, the figure of the kneeling Juan de Vargas has supposedly been replaced many times; indeed, its frock clashes with the Baroque splendor of the saint's robes. Additionally, their ability to convey and form tradition is something to be admired; it is a joy to see that the legendary aspect of Isidore's story has not been shied away from, which I find is the case in many cities.

Perhaps this is the greatest apologetic for the Communion of saints: how they are loved and cherished even in an age where many of them have been forgotten or relegated to the realm of superstition and historical vaguenesses. They are addressed in the same fashion as one addresses a grandfather or a grandmother and are always spoken of in the present. They 'watch' processions of other saints in their special balconies, and in the old days, even heard Mass (there is a tradition in one of the provinces where the priest says Mass with only the statues of the saints in the congregation-- theirs is said after this one).

As I've said before in this blog, true faith is always liable to be mistaken for mere superstition, because it penetrates the world of the mundane and grafts itself onto the seemingly worthless. The world, too, has felt an echo of the Divine Presence in the Incarnation, which is fulfilled in the glorious Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord and Divine Savior. Perhaps, in the end, this is what the Church needs most of all to rediscover: a sense of importance and the sacred in the mundane, and above all, a sense of joy. The first Christians, after all, were the rabble that followed Our Lord wherever He went, who probably sought Him more to avail of His miracles than any firm belief in His claims of divinity. Please do not think that I am advocating a 'dumbed down' religion here. What I am trying to say is that we must remember most of all what it is to bow to the Divine. That is what Tradition ultimately is: to kneel with our fathers and grandfathers in faith, without so much as knowing their names or seeing their faces.

As a bumper sticker once read, 'Anyone can bow before a king; it takes a gentleman to bow down before a pauper'. The world is the Father's gift to us, and His greatest gift is His own Son. That God suffered and died for wretched man is a enough a thought to make even the angels tremble in awe and the firmaments shake in their foundations. Why, then, can we not feel them? Are we too busy limiting God to a certain framework that we somehow forget His majesty and glory are beyond anything we can possibly conceive? Our Lord is definitely not a pauper, but at least we can honor His divine condescension the only way we can-- through joy and laughter and heaps and heaps of melodrama. So kiss that Virgin Mary statue right now and prostrate yourself before St. John the Baptist's severed head (complete with tongue lolling!); it really won't hurt to do so.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Old Manila Carnivals

I found some pictures of the Manila Carnivals from 1908 to 1939. Apparently, they were the talk of the town when they were first brought here by the Americans, who used conceived it as a gesture of good will and a celebration of Philippine-American relations. You will perhaps recall that the Americans bought the Philippines from the Spaniards for a sum of 20 million dollars; naturally, there were many problems encountered along the way. Held over a period of two weeks, it was held in Wallace Field in Luneta, and showcased the agricultural, economic and industrial progress of the country. The highlight was the crowning of the Queen of the Manila Carnival, who were chosen from the ranks of the country's most prominent families. Many of American descent also participated in the contest.

Here is the link. Enjoy!

Monday, May 21, 2007

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine

Two of the biggest holidays in all the Philippines are the twin days of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. On these dates, millions of Filipinos will migrate to their provinces to visit their beloved dead, as well as meet up with some relatives they had probably not seen in over a year. Almost all the cemeteries here are filled to capacity: many families bring food and are sometimes forced to dine on their loved ones' graves due to lack of space, children run around and get lost in the campo santo and come crying back to their parents for fear of ghosts, and charlatans dressed as priests extort money from the unwitting crowd to pray for their dead. Even the most sanctimonious Born Again Fundamentalists will lay aside their self-imposed rigidity and revert to their humanity, and maybe even utter a Hail Mary, if you are lucky.

Local custom holds that there must always be someone accompanying the deceased on these days, perhaps as a relief from the pains of purgatory, and for more practical reasons as well: if you ignore the grave for even a minute, chances are that some opportunists will spirit away your candles and flowers to sell them at cheaper prices. It is a joyous chaos, robbed of the solemnity and gravitas one usually expects in such hallowed grounds. But why such joy in the face of such sorrow? How is it that people can still smile and engage in ribaldry in the land of the vapid and the silent?

My paternal grandmother died in 2004, at the ripe age of 82. She and my grandfather had been married for fifty six years, and it was a lifetime spent in joy and sweetness, surely one of the best-lived lives I've ever known. Death is not a pretty thing; there is a shock and pain that goes beyond the sweet melancholy offered by flowers and prayers that either makes or breaks a person. My father loved my grandmother very much; with him being the youngest among a brood of six, he was naturally bound to receive much of the attention. The story goes that, on the day my grandmother died, one of her last requests was to see her beloved son one last time before she left this mortal world. My dad was stuck in a thicket of work that day; he left the office at 3 PM and drove as quickly as he could to Batangas, which is a good two and a half hours away from Manila. Worse, there was a storm that afternoon, lengthening the number of hours of travel. The traffic crawled to a mind-numbing slothfulness.

He didn't reach her in time. He arrived at eight in the evening, a good hour after she had died. I learned about the incident through my sister. I remember I was reviewing for a test that night, as well as chatting with some friends via MSN. When my sister finally blurted out the inevitable news, I didn't know what to think; I quickly prayed the 'Lux Aeterna' and recited the De profundis, which I gleaned from the Internet some days before (this was the time I was first rediscovering Traditionalism). None of us spoke that night. We were all gripped in contemplation, and gently, the rain wept outside.

They buried my grandmother in a simple grave beneath the shade of a lofty sampaloc tree. It was located on a farther side of a somewhat steep incline that was studded with an array of beautiful flowers and emerald green grass. On golden days, the sun's rays would pierce the alcove created by the tree and create a dazzling show of light. It was a haunting vision that stirred tears to well in the eyes and the coldest hearts to melt. My grandmother always said that she wanted to be buried in the ground; her beloved sons and daughters gladly fulfilled this request, despite having an old, if modest, family mausoleum in the same cemetery.

My father had always been a believer, but I could tell this incident had a profound impact on him. Although he believed in God, the depression and despair that gripped him in those days following the funeral launched him into the deepest recesses of abandon. If I were to crystallize his state of mind, it would be summarized into this single statement: "I know God exists, but I don't believe in Him." Indeed, he didn't go to Mass for the longest time, and I have to confess, this attitude also influenced us to an extent. When he spoke, his voice was always tinted with a certain sadness and detachment, as if he were caught in the grips of a perpetual sigh. Even my aunts would sometimes find themselves asking him if he needed to be alone, or to visit my grandmother's grave.

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if that despair never left my father. Would it have rubbed off on me as well? Would I have stopped believing? Would I have been angry for the rest of my life? Observed from a distance, the consequences do not seem so earth-shattering; but such is the nature of human beings, I guess. We are social animals, and whether we admit to it or not, the thoughts and actions of our peers will always influence us to a certain extent. My father’s hopelessness never really had a profound impact on me until now, and I have to confess that I am still a little bit confused as to what to think in the face of it all. Perhaps I am repeating this for the thousandth time now, but what is really the point of all the suffering? Why does despair still creep into a world that has been redeemed by the Son of God Himself?

Or is despair not really what it seems? In high school, our religion teacher once gave the whole class a single question with which to ponder on for a period of three months. The question was this: “What would you do if everything you ever dreamed and hoped for turned out to be a lie?” I don’t recall how I answered the question; I probably went off on a tangent and wrote something sappy life, “There is always hope!” or “God will make a way”. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t too bad, but I have always been easy to please. And seeing the question thrust at me again, I am at a loss to provide an answer, save the most desperate of all: that despair is the most sublime gift from God.

I have never known an atheist in person until I entered college; I had some acquaintances before, but for the most part, the people I knew were all very religious and very devout. This person wasn’t the most intelligent student out there, and neither was he the best looking, nor the richest. He was perfectly normal, sans the fact that whatever he wrote or said always seen laden with all the cares and problems of the world. Perhaps it may have something to do with the fact that two of his siblings died in childhood, that his mother left them for a foreigner, or maybe even the fact that his own father was a sexual deviant. He hated God and hated everything that had to o with religion, and avoided those subjects like the plague. What is most admirable about him is how, even in the face of such concerns, he still manages to take care of his remaining siblings, provide himself with a good education, smile a lot, tell good stories, and live as if everything in his world was assured and that they will all be taken care of.

To see with the eyes of despair is to see the world, scars, bruises, blemishes, warts and all. Indeed, it is a revolting thought to have that our lives all ultimately boil down to living for the day and nothing else, that we are, as Scripture says, only ‘dust and ashes’. Were I raised an Evangelical, I am almost certain that I would have slipped into such a mindset; I am a person with a generally melancholic temperament, balanced occasionally by bursts of the choleric, and the rare dab from the sanguine. Perhaps this is the reason why we have the phrase ‘it is best to die as a Catholic’; the Church is not just some abstract juggernaut that caters itself merely to those wise and smart enough to understand its legalese; it too, is found in the gutters and the slums where the simple and the ignorant thank God everyday for even so much as a piece of scrap metal or discarded chicken bones. As a friend of mine once put it, the Church is the only conceivable institution on this earth that proclaims the Gospel of the mundane and the worthless.

This naturally goes without saying that religion is not, and should not, be seen as some sort of divine magical apparatus that is nothing more than the Midas touch so many of us dream and hope for. The power of the Church does not lie in its ability to change the things around us, but in its unsurpassed ability to change ourselves into something more than dust and ashes. Nowhere is the meeting of the Divine and the human better celebrated than in the Mass; to an atheist, the thought that the God we worship is contained in that single white wafer is an absurd, ludicrous and even utterly stupid notion; but more than mere melodrama, we believe this to be irreformable, undeniable Truth. Yes, it is the same God who created the universe Who humbles Himself to take the guise of bread. And it is the same God Who suffered, Who descended into hell, Who rose again on the third day, Who now lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost, Who will come again to judge the quick and the dead.

I often think of despair as the deepest seedbeds of hope. It is when we have been pushed to such an extreme when we only realize the goodness and grace of this world. Surely even a person like Doña Ignacia Sanchez Botello thought about giving up on more than one chance; but unlike the atheist, she used the bleakness and severity of her condition to see that there is still some good left in this world. Perhaps society in general is indeed doomed to be a habitation of devils; but where most give up, there, too, is to be found hope. The shadows are always darker than the light, but it is nevertheless always dispelled.

It was Mother Teresa who taught me what it means to love through her example. Here was a woman who looked more like a corpse than a human being, whose face was furrowed with long nights of grieving and praying just to give some nameless man, abandoned in the streets for the sport of crows and predators, another day, hoping against hope that someone would come pick him up. In many cases, such days never come. If there is anything this should teach us, it is this: to despair is the greatest proof of God’s love, because in seeing the world as meaningless and shrouded in all its defects is a way of perceiving the haunting truth that there is a God out there Who loves us, and Who wants everything for us to become more than dust, more than ashes.

I pray that my atheist friend will one day see the light; it would be such a sad thought if he were to think all his efforts and hard work ultimately amount to nothing but sentimentality and obligation. He is such a wonderful person to talk to, and it would be a shame if he were never to see that there is still a spark of goodness in an otherwise clouded and stormy world. As for my father, he has thankfully overcome that brief, though seemingly eternal, period of intense trial and tribulation. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, after all. Perhaps the surest and most surreal sign that his ordeal has finally come to an end occurred last year, when we visited my grandmother’s grave. He didn’t cry; he merely smiled, which in all probability she too would have wanted for him to do. The flowers beside the grave were in full bloom, and the grass carried the fresh scent of spring, while under the shade of the tree everything looked golden. As we were finally leaving, I heard a song playing on the radio of a car some three hundred feet away. It was the Beatles’ classic ‘Here Comes the Sun’. My dad smiled, and we pretended not to notice. It has indeed been a long and lonely winter.

Journal of a Soul

Today is this blog's first anniversary. Yes, you read that right: Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasti Me is officially 525,600 minutes long, and it has been a weird and wonderful journey so far. If you read my archives, you will probably notice that I didn't update this place in a very long time. The reasons are many and varied, but the most important of which is that I entered college last year. i wish I could say I was a diligent student; but sadly, I was not. I had occasional near misses and even more setbacks; I hated the fact that there was too much free time when I wanted to do some study and I adored it as well. You will perhaps have noticed as well how much the tone of this blog has changed-- from apologetic to imperialistic to eccentric to just plain weird. In the span of a year, I went from Crusader to monk, championing papal magisterial supremacy and defending a weak and broken Church.

The title of this post was arrogated without even batting an eyelash from Pope John XXIII's autobiography. Like Paul VI, he has been praised to high heavens by the more liberal camps of Catholicism and criticized by much of the conservative factions. Here was a pope who had one of the most complete papal coronations in hundreds of years, who forbade woman entry into the sanctuary, who extolled Latin as the supreme language of the Church, and on the completely different side, championed a reconciliatory direction for this same Church. I will admit to you now, reader, that I do not know of any concrete reasons on why I chose to name this post as such apart from the fact that, well, this blog does serve to chronicle my thoughts.

History, it is said, is written by winners; I don't necessarily believe this quote en toto, but I think it is a valid point as well. It's ironic that the "winning side" of this blog is the defeatist, scarred and broken-boned side that is afraid and weary of arguing, the side that more resembles an unruly mob than the Graeco-Roman vehicle of supra-perfection that is the pride of many. If there is anything I've learned in a year's time, it is this: I am a Roman Catholic by blood, and that in itself is the ultimate apologetic. I am lucky enough to have been reared on pious legends that straddle the border between faith and superstition, and I have seen how the mob works, and for that, I am thankful. My nine year old niece said something to me some months ago when I asked her who her patron saint was. She said, 'All of them! Because they are like the paparazzi who always photograph God, and He can't refuse them because He loves all of His fans!" It's a crude way of understanding the Divine Nature, but hey, if it works for a child, why not?

I really don't know in the end what I am trying to say here. At best, it will probably confuse the lot of you, or even better, inspire you to kill the Buddha (props to anyone who understands this joke). What I do know, though, is that I am extremely thankful for all the people who have visited this place, commented on it, linked to it, bashed it, praised it, and even to those who ignored it. Such is life, after all: the more you try to make sense of it, the more chaos will descend upon you. Someone once told me that the greatest mystery there is to life is knowing how to live; I have forgotten how to do this, and this blog has helped push me back on track, if however slight. Here are some more things I learned within the span of a whole year:

- Differential Calculus is the Devil's plaything, and he will use it to lash at you until your flesh slides from your bones, and he will eat it with pickles and a bottle of Pinot Noir, poured on hollowed human skull, which he will then show you and say to you: 'Math is hard'.

- Jesuit priests give very thoughtful and intellectually sublime homilies, but are dumbest when it comes to doctrine

- The best way to talk to a girl you like is to have her for your seat mate in a boring class that no one ever attends and talk to her about milk teeth, gold teeth, wicker furniture, and cosplay. Make sure to brush your teeth, too.

- Dogs, especially puppies, are best to have nearby when studying for a 500 item quiz the following morning

As I am typing all of this, my neighbor is playing 'Nessun dorma' at full blast, and it is beautiful. Exquisite does not to it justice; revelation reveals nothing. It is glorious, melodramatic and highly emotional-- the stuff that life is made of. Puccini obviously knew how to pour his heart out on whatever work he comes up with. Perhaps it is best that I leave you with an English translation of the aria.

Let no one sleep!... Let no one sleep! Even you, o Princess, in your cold room, watch the stars, that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me, my name no one shall know... No!...No!... On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!...

No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.

Vanish, o night! Set, stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Suffer the Little Children

I was at the mall a couple of days ago. Since it was a Saturday, I thought I would treat myself to a movie, so I watched 'Spider Man 3'. I was supposed to meet my mom and my siblings there as well, but since it was still a bit early, I decided to grab a quick bite, since I hadn't eaten lunch yet (it was already nearing supper). I bought myself this 'thing' from Taco Bell that tasted like sweaty socks. Apparently, it was supposed to be a burrito. Then, I went to the bookstore to find myself something to read. I scanned the titles and found very little to my interest. I did see this neat book on Byzantine art, though, and some copies of Urrea's 'The Hummingbird's Daughter', which I had been wanting to read for some time now (unfortunately, I forgot to bring my money!).

In the course of my long wait, I eventually found myself in the mall's fourth floor. Near the escalator were some shops that sold mainly electronics, from cameras to cellphones to televisions to iPods. Sticking out like a sore thumb in the midst of all the high tech gadgetry was a quaint little store that sold religious items. The store is a very popular chain here in the Philippines; it is called St. Paul's, and it carries everything from cheap, mass produced religious statuary to glow in the dark crucifixes to Mexican lazzos to Byzantine icons to Novus Ordo Charismatic pamphlets and even the rare copy of Butler's Lives of the Saints, as well as tabernacles and crowns for images of the Blessed Virgin. To one side was a wall literally covered with all sorts of crucifixes-- from revoltingly sappy Risen Christs to the gaudiest, bloodiest Spanish baroque syntheses of pain and suffering.

I did not enter the store, but I kept watch outside. Then, all of a sudden, a yellowish blur obscures my view, and this kid, who was probably no more than two years old, passes in front of the store, seized by an obviously excited state. The boy was jumping and grinning; in the store's display window, there was a monstrance, which by all accounts was probably the same height as the boy. Next to the monstrance was a santo image of the Risen Christ, its wig braided somewhat insouciantly. Its head was a bit too big for its body, and its robes weren't exactly the tailor made, either. The way in which it was sculpted made it look like as if it were waving at the child.

Suddenly, the kid's dad catches up to him. He hurriedly points to the store and begins to rush inside, where he was pointing at several images of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, and even picks up a beautiful, jeweled rosary, handling it with all the care of a butcher holding a string of sausages. The kid begins to jump again; his yellow shirt and khaki pants made him look like a hamburger. After a few more minutes of frenzied excitement, he and his dad eventually leave the store; judging from his dad's expression, I could tell he was a bit embarrassed about his son's behavior. They leave, but not without the kid planting one last kiss onto the store's window, where the statue of the Risen Christ waved back at him.

Children are the purest of God's creatures; in them is manifested the wonder that we adults have lost in the course of our growing up. A child, then, is able to do things that we would normally be afraid to do, and he does it with love and affection. This kid was yelling 'Papa Jesus' for all the world to see, but he did not mind, because for him, that statue of the Risen Christ was really Our Lord, and its gentle smile obviously made him feel loved. This is what is lacking in the Church today. This is what real religion looks like. As the boy finally left my sights, I looked at the store once more, and I thought of entering it, when my mom and my siblings finally arrived. We went off to dinner, and I digested the incident that had just happened while I munched on my tenderloin. It was good, but it needed some more spice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pope Paul VI

(Pics Scanned From Time Life's 'The Pope's Visit')

I have posted more pictures in my Flickr site, this time, of Pope Paul VI's pontificate. Giovannibattista Montini is famous and controversial throughout the Catholic world as someone who is either a progressive, enlightened reformer, or a destroyer of heritage. It is a well known fact that John XXIII, whom he was particularly close to in real life, referred to him many times as 'our Hamlet'. Montini was also in Pope Pius XII's inner circle; indeed, he often treated the gothic-miened Montini with the affection of a father to his son.

The relationship between the two was filled with a lot of emotion, and there is even an anecdote told of how Montini once wept when he heard his mentor was doing something he did not like (perhaps a policy change? We don't know). Montini was often hailed as the Vatican's most practiced diplomat, which is only natural, considering his own father was a lawyer. In any case, he will most likely be remembered as the Pope who gave us the Vatican II we know today. I happen to think he is a misunderstood figure, but I will save that thought for another time.

An interesting tidbit: when he was archbishop of Milan, Montini was always on the go and always ate sparingly. He also had a habit for driving at really fast speeds-- an anecdote from his chauffeur tells us that Montini liked to cruise at an average speed of 160kph, and whenever he thought the car would slow down, he would tell his driver, 'Antonio, are you asleep?' The driver would always consent, however.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On Icons

"For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man."

-Philippians 2:5-7

The history of salvation as expounded by the Christian religion traces its fundamental fountainhead to the incarnation of the Son of God as Man. It is this moment in history, when the Divine entered the mortal world and took flesh and blood, that is one of the most crucial points of Christianity. More than a mere happy accident, the Incarnation was herald to more important events, chief of which is the Passion of Our Lord, wherein the mystical goal of our redemption found its culmination. By taking on a human body, God was able to share in our sufferings; it was the most luminous of all revelations, when the Ineffable and the Eternal walked the earth along with His creatures. It is for this reason that the Church celebrates these events with magisterial pomp and unmatched splendor, and there is no better medium in which this is expressed but through iconography.

Icons, of course, are largely an Eastern phenomenon these days; but the West, too, had its own distinct iconography in the past. So what makes an icon? And for that matter, what is an icon? A quick glance at Eastern theology gives us the definition of icons as the union between the art and those which it tries to portray; it is a confirmation, an affirmation of truth. Thus it is proper to say that icons are written, and not painted, since it is not merely pious art, but more importantly catechetical and didactic art. The icon, then, is a mystical representation of the splendor of God-- the two dimensional character of the images reminds us of the other worldliness of God and points to His divine nature; the gold which frames the image is intended to mirror the bliss of the heavenly court.

I will admit that, although I am intensely fascinated with icons, I know very little about Eastern theology in general. Theologically speaking, however, the icon is perfect, and in it the truths of faith are subliminated to an almost mystical degree. The image of the Christ Pantokrator, stern faced and staring in divine majesty, is a sight to move even the basest of men. It portrays a higher Christological understanding than what is commonly seen here in the West, with its plenitude of wraith-like Christs suffering intense agony in the wood of the Cross. Given this understanding, many, too, in the West would like to adopt the Byzantine icon into Roman Catholicism. But is this really warranted?

I am personally of the opinion that icons should remain an exclusively Eastern phenomenon. I find that most Roman Catholics who would like to see nothing more than a mural of the Pantokrator in the Renaissance dome of a Catholic church are the same people who grew up in a post-Vatican II world and have only begun to realize the richness and breadth of the Christian tradition-- and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is important to remember that the West too has had its own tradition of religious iconography, which is Gothic art. It has been said that the two most important things that defined the Middle Ages were the Crusades and the Gothic cathedral: the former, a defensive war that brought home more tragedy and victory, the latter, quite possibly the supreme expression of Western religious thought. So, why the difference in theology (however nuanced and subtle)? Isn't it the same Christ, arrayed in majesty in an icon, and suffering for all the world to see in a Western crucifix?

It is important to remember historical factors here. While the men of the Bosphoros were obsessing over their titles and expounding on Christian religious thought, the men of the Tiber relied on the efforts of a few monks, locked away in their mountainous monasteries, trying to scratch out from the annals of decay any trace of the ancient wisdom that once launched Rome into glorious heights. Impious and unworthy men were straddling the See of Peter, trying-- and in many cases, succeeding-- in arrogating the Holy See for themselves. And when the Byzantines were developing one of the most glorious civilizations this world has ever seen, the West barely survived a devastating plague which wiped out at least a third of all European population, repeated attacks from conquest-minded Muslims, and a host of other factors. Naturally, this heritage of loss, confusion and attrition will form a large part of the Western man's collective consciousness. Hence, perhaps, the lack of 'sophistication' in Western religious iconography.

Perhaps this is also the main reason why depictions of the suffering of Our Lord are so popular here in the West. Much of Western Europe was facing a legion of horrors at every turn during this troublesome period, and how else should they cope with such grief and sorrow? How else could they be like Christ in these moments of tribulation, but by sharing in His suffering? Maybe this is the reason why so many Russians abandoned the Orthodox faith in the wake of the militant, aggressive atheism that spread itself with Communism; they never knew the Lord who suffered. They have never seen God, the Almighty, the Holy One, reduced to practically a mound of bloodied, broken meat, Whose only support is in the hands of His Mother, caught in the grips of despair and sorrow. It is too poetic a religion, which forgets the abruptness and the sometimes raw, heart-breaking nature of life.

An excess of beauty almost always leads to bad taste, or worse, to mere 'prettiness'; the Byzantine icon, though theologically compleat and sublime, is nevertheless too beautiful and sublime to provide man with the necessary 'tools' to explain, and consequently face, the challenge of suffering and woe. In the West, too, this has happened; the excessively ornate, over-the-top frillery of 1700s Rococo culture led sacred art in the Western tradition to a path concerned with mere prettiness and decadence; the wounds of the Suffering Christ have been cleaned up and dressed, His face more like the face of a Roman Emperor--chubby and plumb-- than the bony, lacerated vault of Gothic and Latin Baroque traditions. Perhaps this is the reason why the first openly atheistic figures in Western Europe appeared during this period?

If there is one unforgivable mistake the Renaissance Humanists did, it is their disdain for the burgeoning Gothic--Christian-- art of the Middle Ages as barbaric, tacky and unsophisticated. It is worth remembering that this period saw a revitalization of Classical principles as the fundamental foundation of all beauty. There is hardly a bigger lie; I personally find most Classical buildings too boring and too staid. Stick a huge triangle on top of four pillars and add an egg-shaped dome on top and you have the basic principles of Classical culture, a far cry from the ornate splendor of the Gothic cathedral, where stone melted into lace, where the beauty and glory of God came to life in various colors, and which sustained and united the European people throughout those dark days.

In many ways, this is the same problem I see with people who pine for a greater influence of Eastern thought into the legalistic cum 'spartan' river of thought that makes up Roman Catholicism. It is simply out of character. The West was nurtured in wars and corrupt popes and spoiled, submerged-in-filth heretics. To clamor for icons in Catholicism is, in a way, to lose the identity of the Church, which has always maintained a fervent devotion to the suffering and human Christ. Like the Renaissance Humanists, we are simply displaying a disdain for a tradition which has nurtured such far off countries as those in Latin America and the Far East. It also brings to mind the tragedy that was Vatican II which, in its contempt for the organic development of Christian art as contrary to the 'noble simplicity' of the Early Christians, brought a massive wave of indifference and aversion to Christian culture in general, and whose effects are still largely felt today.

The Western man is losing his identity. It is a sad and ominous thought, but it is true. And to extol icons as some sort of miraculous panacea for the woes of Roman Catholicism is, I think, a worse pipe dream than to hope for a restoration of the monarchy as the ultimate grace from God. The least we can do is to cut ourselves some slack.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pope Pius XII

I have posted several pictures from Pope Pius XII's pontificate at my collection of images at Flickr. I scanned them from a book by Msgr. Pierre Pfister, who was the French canon at the Lateran basilica for much of that pontiff's reign. His book on Pius XII contains a wealth of photographs and interesting descriptions regarding the state of Catholicism in those halcyon days before the Council. I've posted twelve photos out of nearly eighty, and needless to say, I will try to post more in the following days. My scanner is acting a bit 'unwanted' lately, so I guess the rest will have to wait. You can view the photos here.

Also of note are Pius XII's words to a visiting group of English doctors in 1954:

"How exalted, how worthy of all honour is the character of your profession! The doctor has been appointed by God Himself (Cfr: Eccli. 38,1) to minister to the needs of suffering humanity. He who created that fever-consumed or mangled frame, now in your hands, Who loves it with an eternal love, confides to you the ennobling charge of restoring it to health. You will bring to the sick-room and the operating table something of the charity of God, of the love and tenderness of Christ, the Master Physician on soul and body.

That the blessing of the King of Kings may descend upon you and your works and all your dear ones and your beloved country and remain forever, is the wish and prayer that rise from Our affectionate heart."

This was written in the pope's own handwriting. As you can see, he was quite the poet. I will also try to scan this in the coming days. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Maior Autem Caritas

Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam, et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum dele iniquitatem meam!Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis et
omnes iniquitates meas dele. Ne proicias me a facie tua et spiritum sanctum tuum
ne auferas a me!

Psalm 50:3,11,13

There I was, making my way into the back pew, as I usually did. My shirt was practically soaking in sweat; my hair was an unruly mess. My stomach was growling, my head throbbing from an intense migraine. I made my way into my usual place, and, uttering a short growl of a curse, plopped myself down into the seat. In front, the mensa was being prepared for Mass. I attend a Jesuit university, so naturally, the minimalism of the chapel was an affront to my liturgical tastes. The candles were small, wide, and looked as if they were salvaged from the clutches of a cheap dominatrix. The Risen One hung from the cross like a floor board. It was hot, almost stifling inside the chapel, despite the pouring rain outside. But it was not merely the liturgical minimalism that had set me into such a foul mood. It was something far more personal.

The Mass eventually started, and this ancient, withered husk of a man with thin, wispy white hair, emerged from the sacristy, escorted by one of the Eucharistic ministers. He bows his head to the altar, and in a clear and modulated voice, begins the service, invoking the blessing of the Blessed Trinity. In my mind, things began to swirl. I recalled my childhood days-- those carefree days of running in the sun-kissed streets and endless walking and running-- as well as the images of the suffering Christ. Then, gradually, we reached the Gospel. 'The Lord be with you', he said; 'And also with you'. I chanted my response almost perfunctorily, as if I didn't mean anything I had just said. It was then I realized the reality of what I had just done; that I had sinned in the house of God.

In the Philippines, as well as other countries where Spanish influence was dominant, there is a particular image of Our Lord called the 'Cristo Moribundo'-- the dying Christ. It is Our Lord, caught in the depths of despair, that moment where hope itself seemed to have died. It is the image of Christ, crying out to the Father in the barren wilderness, begging Him to take this bitter chalice away. It is that moment in history where Our Lord Himself felt abandoned, that moment when His heart, broken and defeated, is about to give in. It was this image that scared my most of all when I was a child. To contemplate the suffering of the Lord is to examine the human psyche itself. If we are to believe all the private revelations sanctioned by the Church, it would seem as if He had suffered all the hatred of humanity in those three hours.

A quick glance at popular tomes such as the infamous (or famous, depending on who you ask) Pieta Prayer Booklet would tell the reader the exact number of wounds He had received, how many times the crowd spat at His face, how many drops of blood were lost, and other such gruesome details. It paints the suffering of Our Lord with a distinct and violent pallet, consumed with the blacks and blues and reds that adorn His broken body. It is not a pretty thought; it is the stuff nightmares are made of.

But there is something about the face of Christ-- that face, furrowed with unimaginable sorrow, plastered with implacable fear and lashed with the worst cruelty and barbarity humanity can offer. Is it the eyes, welling with tears, and pleading for even a moment's respite? Is it the dryness of His mouth, the parched tongue begging for its thirst to be quenched? What is it about the vultus Christi that haunts the sinner and edifies the saint? How can such an image of immense suffering offer hope to the abandoned, and bring redemption to the impenitent? There is no single answer to this question.

The beating, flame-crowned, thorn-wrapped heart of the Christian religion ultimately boils down to one word: it is Love. It is because of love that the Almighty has deigned to abandon the glories of omnipotence to humble Himself as man. It is because of love that He allows Himself to suffer indignation at the hands of His own creatures, that forces Him to love them even in the depths of their depravity, that moves Him to hear the heartfelt pleas of even the gravest of sinners. It is because of His love for us that He comes down to us once more, in the guise of bread and wine, to be with us once again as He promised the apostles. I believe it was Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who once said that the greatest love story in the aeons-long history of the universe is contained in that single, white Host. It is God, come down to earth to humble Himself under these unworthy accidents, and Who suffers the indignation which was once accosted Him in the tribulations of the cross.

I know in my gut that I have sinned against Him. I felt like I did not belong in the Church in that moment; I wanted to run away from the sanctuary, away from the house of God, of which I was unworthy to belong to. But God did not suffer so much on this earth to drive away the sinner. It is precisely for the lost, the wretched and the hopeless that He was nailed to the cross, that He was flogged with unspeakable malice by the soldiers, that He was trampled upon and chastised by His own people. I heard from a virtuous soul once that the tears of the penitent are the greatest of all God's graces. It is the same water that flowed from His side, which, when pierced with a lance by the soldier Longinus, became a soothing ointment that gave him back his sight. To gaze at the face of Christ, weeping in sorrow for the forgiveness of our sins-- even of those who called for His death-- is to gaze at Love itself. In those eyes, we understand what it means to love, and it is a most reassuring thought to have.

When Our Lord hung from the cross, it was the Virgin Mary and the beloved disciple, John, who gave Him the strength to bear the weight of sin. 'Flesh of my flesh, let me die with you!', were the words of Our Lady. I know that I do not have the courage to say these words, let alone live them. I know that I can never equal the divine sacrifice of the Cross; to attempt to do so is an exercise in futility. But if there is one thing in all the universe that moves Our Lord to bend His knees before his own creation, it is the sinner's plea for help. It is his plea of desperation and despair for which Our Lord would gladly suffer a thousand times over the cruelties of the Cross. It is love that moves Him, and it is His love for us, despite our myriad faults and sins, that gives us life. It is love that will ultimately save us.

To beg at the foot of the Cross, to gaze at Him whom they--we-- have pierced is the only theology worth studying. It is the theology of the gut, that inextricable part of man that hungers constantly for redemption. It is the knowledge that God loves us so much, to such an infinite and unknowable degree, that He gave us His only begotten Son, that we might know Him and be saved. This is the essence of love: it is incomprehensible, heart-breaking and utterly beautiful, which speaks to us in the cacophony of our lives in the still and quiet of the heart. And it is a message that is too often overlooked and ignored. This poor and unworthy sinner humbly entreats you, dear reader, to pray for him that he may have a heart that knows how to love and forgive.

Lord, teach me to love!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Interesting Times

"In the eternal silences of the Blessed Trinity, God our Father spoke but one word: Jesus."
-St. John of the Cross

History seen from the perspective of the Roman Catholic is most often confined to the last two thousand years, the era when the Christian religion was born, and for good reason. The last two millennia have undoubtedly seen the rise and fall of nations, ideologies, theologies and lifestyles, all of them, in one way or another, being influenced by Christianity. From Classical times to the postmodern existence of today, Christianity has always played a part in something, and it is for this reason that it is said that the history of the Church is the history of Western civilization-- for indeed, the West owes its existence to the labors of the countless monks who persevered, day and night, to salvage the last traces of the ancient wisdom from being forgotten by the immense, unforgiving wages of time.

But just what is the history of the Church? We know for a fact-- nay, truth-- that there was once a time when God humbled Himself to save wretched man. There was a time when He whom the seven heavens could barely contain found hearth and home in the womb of a Virgin. There was a time when the Divine was content to walk the broken earth on His feet, when the Boundless consigned to be urned by fragile flesh. There was a time in our history when the Eternal sated Itself with bread and drink, when the Transcendent deigned to partake of the limited and 'solid' nature of man, when heaven was joined to earth, and the earth joined the triumphant hosts in glorifying this human God.

There too, was a time, when God wept; when He bled copiously; when His blood was spilled on the same earth upon whose face He walked so tenderly. God, too, was afraid when the soldiers came to seize Him, and He felt the sting of betrayal like a lance to the heart in the treachery of Judas. God felt alone, raised to the heavens on a piece of wood upon whose beams His own hands were nailed, and even in that hour, He still found time to bless the jeering crowd which had clamored for His death. The words of the Good Friday service are an especially poignant and haunting reminder: "My people, what have I done to you?"

In the cross, Jesus hung for all the world to see-- humiliated, ridiculed, mocked, a disgusting eyesore for even the most mangled leper. His body wept from a thousand orifices, cruelly torn and flayed by the whips of the Roman soldiers. He was naked and alone, and the cold indifference and their blinding hatred hurt Him more than any of the instruments of torture could have managed to inflict upon Him. He was despised, the most abject of men, a man of unending sorrows, who seemed to have taken the full force that the legions of hell could muster in those ungodly hours. It is not a pretty sight; it is horrible, scandalous, and incites absolute repulsion and outrage.

Looking back, it always puzzled me how a man, let alone God, could bear such things. His death was the ultimate insult in the history of the universe: that the Creator of heaven and earth, the Lord of hosts and King of kings, the same thundering God of the Old Testament, was subject to such unforgivable impiety and derision is for me one of those questions which seem to form part of the fabric of the universe itself. Why? How? What is the point of all the suffering?

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I like the Baroque, especially the particularly extravagant species that is the Spanish Baroque to such an impossible degree (although I like Gothic art equally as much). Growing up, those bloody images of Our Lord were something I was afraid of, and surprisingly, attracted to as well. I will never forget how much a particular crucifix in our old parish-- an antique, almost two hundred year old synthesis of pain and suffering and death-- used to scare me out of my wits on more than one occasion. This crucifix, with its irregularly proportioned corpus of immaculate, black hardwood and glazed glass eyes, seemed to stare at back at me whenever I looked at it, and in those glass eyes, I saw myself-- the sinner whose sins drove the nails into the sacred flesh-- reflected back.

But this crucifix, as I learned later on, would also offer me the greatest comfort in my most trying times. As I grew, I learned to love it, and not fear it; and I came to love that crucifix. The eyes of the corpus no longer seemed to condemn me to everlasting fire, but now seemed to well with tears, as if asking me, "Will you answer Me?" I felt how Our Lord must have dreaded that hour, written in stone in the altars of heaven, when the world would be cast out of darkness and into light; when salvation literally hung on the balance; when God Himself ransomed sinful, wretched man from His own justice through the most inconceivable outpouring of His love. It was the hour of triumph, born in the midst of tribulation and distress.

But these are not just pious legends and moral exhortations; these were real episodes in human history. For many of us living in this postmodern age, one wonders just what place religion has in society. They may even question the veracity of the crucifixion; but for us Catholics, such questions are irrelevant. What matters is that it is the TRUTH. And that is the way it has been for hundreds of years. We dwell in the same earth where God once dwelt, and we breathe the same air that He breathed. The earth we live in is the same altar on which Our Lord was first raised to Heaven for the expiation of our sins, and it is the same sun that warms us and gives us life that hid its face in that moment of infamy. Our God is not a god who is indifferent to His creation; ours is a God who humbled Himself to partake of His own creation. He is a God who once dwelt with sinners, who wept for them and continues to offer them His forgiveness. Ours is a God who loves.

Thus, I will continue to enjoy and express my awe at gaudily dressed images of the saints, borne aloft on the shoulders of hundreds of men. I will continue to marvel at those images of Our Lord which have been reduced to a quivering mass of bloody, bleeding flesh. I will weep at the feet of six foot tall Madonnas dressed in their old fashioned gowns. And I will always love 'bad taste' and popular religiosity, for these, at least, have managed to preserve one of the most important articles of our Faith; that God Himself once became man, and was pleased to share in our fragile conditions. And this is true today as it has been for twenty centuries, and it will continue to be so in the succeeding years to come.

We do indeed live in interesting times. We have only to look for them amidst this vale of tears.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

On The Great Schism

I found this at the Fish Eaters website almost two years go. It is from a book called the Penguin Book of Greek Verse, and was originally written in Greek. This is a transliteration by one of the members there; the author of the poem was never known.

God rings the bells, the earth rings the bells, the sky rings the bells,
and Santa Sophia, the great church, rings the bells:
four hundred sounding-boards and sixty-two bells,
a priest for each bell and a deacon for each priest.

To the left the Emperor was chanting, to the right the Patriarch,
and from the volume of the chant, the pillars were shaking.
As they were about to sing the hymn of the Cherubim,
And the Emperor was about to appear,
A voice came to them from heaven, from the mouth of the Archangel:

"Stop the Cherubic hymn, and let the holy elements bow in mourning.
The priests must take the sacred vessels away, and you candles must be extinguished,
for it is the will of God that the City fall to the Turks.

But send a message to the West, asking for three ships to come,
one to take the Cross away, another the Holy Bible,
The third, the best of the three, our Holy Altar,
lest the dogs seize it from us and defile it."

The Virgin was distressed, and the holy icons wept.
"Hush, Lady, do not weep so profusely;
After years and after centuries they will be yours again."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Reina del Cielo

May in Manila and the whole of the Philippines in general is marked by a distinctively Marian character. May is the month of Mary-- during the course of the month, thousands upon thousands from virtually all walks of life, troop to the various shrines of the Blessed Mother in this country, penitent and barefoot, carrying with them the burdens of their families and their own selves and singing and dancing their praise to the Virgin. One of the most popular shrines is that of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, who reigns in the cathedral basilica of the Diocese of Antipolo. Said to have been miraculous, it was spirited away from an obscure parish in Acapulco by the then governor general Don Juan de Tabora during the height of the Mexico-Philippines galleon trade.

The story of how the Virgin acquired its name is the stuff of legend. As the story goes, the valiant ship El Almirante was the one favored by the governor to carry the brown Virgin back to the Philippines. During the course of the voyage, the ship was battered by endless storms and terrible winds; a fire threatened to reduce the noble ship to a pile of burnt out cinder. For three months, the ship was left alone in a cruel and unforgiving sea, with only the Virgin as their sole refuge. Eventually, the ship reached the ports of Manila in time, and miraculously intact. Governor Tabora was convinced that it was the Virgin's intercession that saved them all from a watery doom, and realizing this, called for a pompous and exceedingly grand celebration to welcome the image's arrival.

Looking at this statue of the Blessed Mother, one will note how crudely carved it is, and its rather primitive features. Indeed, many have commented that the Virgin of Antipolo resembles the Mexican indio more than it does a wealthy Spanish señora. Its eyes seem perpetually on the verge of tears, a happy accident resulting from the impervious quality of the hardwood used in its creation. Its distinctively brown skin and long, unkempt hair have, in the past, elicited derision and ridicule, even from Catholics. Her hands are half clasped, as if they longed to wrap themselves around a wayward sinner or a faithful son.

The pilgrimage to Antipolo itself is one of the most moving experiences one can have. As early as the first light of the first day of May, thousands of pilgrims descend in droves to visit the Virgin in her shrine. They come in uncounted numbers, majority of them barefoot, chanting and singing and praying and conversing amongst themselves. There are sinners among saints and saints among sinners. The penitent as well as the supplicant come together to lay their hearts at the Virgin's feet. The walk is not an easy one as well; starting from Quiapo, where the Black Nazarene is to be found (curiously, this image is also from Acapulco), the pilgrims make the arduous five hour journey to the shrine. I said in an earlier post that it took two hours at most; apparently, I was wrong. A former pastor of the Virgin of Antipolo's shrine once commented that, from the first kiss of dawn to high noon, the church was flooded by a writhing mass of humanity, and it is said that one could not walk three feet in all directions without running into another person.

The pilgrims themselves are not exactly the most stellar persons. Here perhaps is a girl, asking the Virgin to bless her relationship with a certain man whom her parents do not approve of. There perhaps is another woman, mantilla shrouding her head down to her back, walking on her knees to the Virgin while ignoring her Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. To one corner are the debauched and the thieves, in another the wrathful, the vain and the greedy. To yet another corner gather the lustful, while in another corner brood the hopeless and the abandoned. To one side waits the skeptic, to another side is the photographer who doesn't believe, while the single mother gently makes her way to the altar, her tears forming perfect beads that make up a rosary of sorrows. If you believe such things, the quickest way to have your prayer answered is to walk to the altar on one's knees fifteen times, each time praying a decade of the rosary.

Why do we do such things? Why do we persevere when almost everything around us screams at us to just give up? Looking at the Virgin, I seem to have found my answer. Her eyes that well with sorrow, her unkempt hair, her short stature, her brown skin, and her crudely carved features remind me that Mary too, was once subjected to derision. When Mary was conceiving the Lord, did her community and even close acquaintances think of her as an adulteress? When Mary was betrothed to Joseph, did her ever think the same way about her? And if that weren't enough, did she not grieve at the sight of her only Son-- bruised, bloody, beaten, flayed, ridiculed and mocked? Was not her own heart pierced with a sword? And did she not have more in common with a Dona Igñacia than she did with Isabela la Catolica?

Mary was human too, but unlike us, she never sinned. But she grieved like the rest of us, fussed over her Son like the rest of us, drank and ate like the rest of us, and slept and prayed like the rest of us. Even more important, she was also a Mother-- and the love of a mother is like the love of God-- it is unconditional, selfless, and eternal. In the teary eyes of the Virgin of Antipolo, I saw the hard work and sacrifice of my own mother, who worked day and night, sometimes till sickness, to provide us with the things we want. I saw my paternal grandmother, teaching street children in the school she helped to found. I saw my maternal grandmother, teaching her children to sing the glory of God. I saw our maid, who sometimes had to carry me to school until I was three years old.

To touch the hands of the Virgin, to touch her sacred manto in her small camarin, and to kiss her feet are the three most important things for the pilgrim to accomplish. It is not just mere veneration, but a prayer in itself; to do these things is to literally prostrate ourselves before the divine (though of course, Mary is not a goddess) and to acknowledge our sinfulness and weakness. To bargain with the Almighty is one of the most humbling acts we can ever render God; indeed, it is when we are spiritually “driest”—when we feel as if we have been abandoned by God Himself—that we are most ‘spiritual.’ It is when Jesus, His Mother by His side, kneels down once again to lend us a helping hand. When Our Lord was crucified, He did not wish for the Apostles to avenge him or to engage in aggressive polemics. He just wanted them to be there. And when Our Lord cried out, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani, He too felt forsaken by God. Perhaps, were He not Divine, the weight of sin would have been too great for Him to bear. But despite all of these factors, Our Lady stood weeping by the Cross, sharing in the pain of her own Son. And it was her presence that was the sole consolation to the Lord in that hour of abandonment.

There is a story often told about a boy of seven, who had been ‘vowed’ by her mother to the Virgin of Antipolo. The boy’s mother nearly died giving birth to him, and in thanksgiving for her miraculous recovery, she made a pilgrimage to the shrine, and consecrated her son under the Virgin’s mantle. The boy spent his early years in the shadow of that church; he went there religiously and devoutly, and his learning grew and grew. Years later, as a young man in his thirties, the boy confessed that he had somehow drifted away from the Church and forgot his early pieties. But deep down, he never forgot that he was the Virgin’s own.

That man was Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. In his lifetime, Rizal was a doctor, philosopher, linguist (he spoke 22 languages, including Latin and Greek), reformist, intellectual and one time Freemason. But in the end, Rizal rediscovered his ‘covenant’ with the Virgin; and so he died, executed by the Spaniards for treason, wearing the blue sash of the one of the many pious sodalities of Our Lady. Perhaps this realization of our own humanity, and the acknowledgment of our need for redemption and forgiveness that is the greatest ‘noontime miracle’ of all.

As the sun prepares to hide its face for another day, the pilgrims assemble at the plaza to witness the procession of the image of Our Lady. She comes, bedecked in her finest gowns and jewels, borne aloft a towering carroza filled with smiling cherubs and beautiful, scented flowers. They stand in awe at her, and shout ‘Viva!’ a thousand times, the stench of sweat mingling with the salt of tears. Here, they have assembled to visit her, and she now returns to them and sees them off for another day. To the miraculous Virgin, they sing this song.

Adios, Reina del cielo!
Permite me que vuelva a tus
Plantas besar. He quedado
O Maria, abrasado en tu
Amor. . . Dame tu bendicion,
Dame tu bendicion!

Having bidden their fair Lady farewell, the pilgrims leave the shrine in droves, much the same way as they came to her. And the Virgin, having heard their fervent pleas for help, and bidding them goodbye in turn, returns to her shrine while a shower of petals—the tears of the penitent and the thanksgiving of the supplicant—rains down from the choir loft, laying themselves at her feet.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I decided to postpone an essay about the Virgin of Antipolo for another day to answer some Internent memes, which will hopefully serve as a break from all the reflections I've been posting lately. The first meme is from Andrew of Unam Sanctam, while the second is from Arturo Vasquez of The Sarabite blog. Please forgive me for condensing both memes into one post. Hehe.

The first meme concerns the books I am reading at the moment. I like to consider myself a wide reader-- from theology books to devotionals, from pseudo-Pieta prayer booklets to treatises on special effects, humorous, sonorous, holy and sanctimonious. My current reading list is a jumble of these things. The first book is Umbeto Eco's The Name of the Rose. This is the third time I am reading it-- and since I already have the gist of it-- I decided to take a more leisurely pace this time around. Thus, on some nights I only read a single chapter, while on others, I could read up to a hundred pages. There was even one time when I read only a single paragraph. I won't spoil the book to those who haven't read it yet, but it is definitely an exercise in erudition. Eco delivers with devastating wit, and as I mentioned in the past, his thoughts on the nature of heresy and the religious psyche of the time are exceptional. Definitely a must read.

Another book which I am reading is The Art of Ray Harryhausen. Growing up, I've always admired Mr. Harryhausen's work-- his incredibly detailed stop motion armatures literally came alive on screen for me. Gwangi, the Ymir, the Kraken, the Hydra, and of course, the legendary skeleton battle in 'Jason and the Argonauts' were some of the most memorable fixtures of my childhood. The book brims with an enchidrion of pictures-- from concept art, to set pictures, to models, to press releases-- all of them highlighting Mr. Harryhausen's work. The text itself is warm and inviting, almost casual, which I like. Perhaps the most important thing I gleaned from reading this is that these stop-motion monsters were animated not just by clever photography, but more importantly, by the sense of wonder that permeates Harryahausen's myriad works.

Finally, I am reading Social Aspect of the Holy Eucharist: Archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress, which contain, among others, a wealth of pictures from the 1962 Eucharistic Congress in Manila, as well as all the speeches and addresses delivered by priests, bishops, civic leaders, and government officials during the Congress. The images, I thought, were enough reason for me to borrow this book from the library; it like looking into a window into the past, the calm before the storm, before the Council unleashed a wave of modernity onto the life of the Church. The addresses themselves are extremely well-written; here was a time when people were still able to profess their ideas eloquently and elegantly. A very good read.

I tag Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Arturo Vasquez and Kenny.

Now, the second meme. The following is a list of my four favorite saints-- I did not include the Most Holy Virgin in this one because I think it's rather like asking 'who is your favorite mother'. It just seems, I don't know, surreal to me.

1) The Great Archistrategos of God, St. Michael - I was baptized Miguel Carlo in April of 1989, and since then, I've always wondered about just who my patron saint is. St. Michael is of course called the 'archangel' in Scripture; although whether this is just a title or the choir he belongs to, there have been many debates. It was Saint Michael who cast out the profligate dragon from the vaults of heaven to the depths of hell. It was he who, wielding a spear, is destined to do battle with the dragon once again, and it is he who is called 'Who is like God'. And if, like me, you like flaming swords, then St. Michael is the saint for you. Oh, and San Miguel is also the brand of one of my favorite beers.

2) Saint Eulalia - The virgin who was decapitated unsucessfully, and stuck into a barrel full of knives which was then let to roll on a jagged, rocky side of a hill. She is the patron saint of Barcelona as well.

3) Saint James the Great - Known as Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor-slayer) in Spain, his images used to scare me as a child. Imagine a sword-wielding, gloriously happy warrior seated on a steed about to crush someone and you have the icon with which I grew up thinking this saint was. He was triumphalism and theatricality personified, and you just have to love warrior saints. Santiago y cierra Espana!

4) Saint Lorenzo Ruiz- The first native Filipino canonized by the Vatican, San Lorenzo was made to suffer grievously by the Japanese. The force fed him buckets of water and jumped at him from a height, causing the liquid to come out of every orifice in his body. And if that weren't enough, they stuck him upside down, along with two priests, down a huge hole filled with shit and other unmentionable filth. He also prayed the rosary ceaseless and said he would gladly undergo the whole ordeal again than renounce his faith.

My favorite blessed is Blessed Miguel Pro. We used to have a rather crude statue of the blessed in our old house, though sadly it was eaten away by decay. My dad always told me to be like Blessed Miguel at all times-- names were very important in our culture, so he always told me to act like my tocayo or namesake. For him, that was the ultimate veneration one can render a saint, and I am proud to share the same name with this (hopefully soon) glorious martyr of God.

If I would have my way, J.R.R. Tolkien would be canonized this very day. Tolkien saw his mother suffer and die for her Faith, and considered her as a martyr. Here was a woman who was ostracized by her own family for being a papist, and this suffering faith nurtured Tolkien into the Catholic he eventually became. Aside from this, 'The Lord of the Rings', 'The Silmarillion', and indeed, the whole of his legendarium are modern day classics that overflow with a genuine Catholic piety. It is a shame how he is constantly protested against by some so-called 'Traditionalists'.

I tag Andrew, Nicholas Larkin, and Jeffrey of the Roving Medievalist.