Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sensus Plenior

In the Philippines, October is the month of candies and frivolities, and November is the month of ghosts, witches and demons. It is on the first of November that tales of lost souls and hell-bound men are told; it is during the first week of the eleventh month that hell and spirits and death in general are discussed in the media, from radio to television to what have you. My early recollections of November revolve, primarily, on visits to the cemeteries with the whole family, spying on deserted, haunted mausoleums, and hearing stories to chill the blood of any child.

One of the most vivid of these memories involved myself listening to the arguments of some of my relatives a decade or so past. My great aunt Luisa attends Charismatic Catholic services; she waves her handkerchief in the air to receive God's blessings, and was a firm believer in the importance of emotions in the proper worship of God. Still, she was a cradle Catholic, having been born in the 1920s when the echoes of the Council were still undreamt, and the holy traditions still mattered. Her brother, my grandfather, died in 1987, a strict, if uncatechised, Catholic; however most of my aunts, and even my grandmother, left the Church to be 'born again' in the late 80s to the early 90s. Naturally, visits to the grave would have presented an obstacle to them.

I remember great aunt Luisa telling my grandmother how, some weeks before All Saints' Day, she was walking in her house to get something from the basement when a sudden gush of wind blew in, and whipped about her neck. She described the feeling as nothing short of chilling; she went over the list of her dead relatives, and suddenly remembered her brother Peregrino, my grandfather. She told my grandmother how it all made sense to her; I listened intently, wondering if this was supposed to be a ghost story. To remedy the situation, great aunt Luisa said a silent prayer for Peregrino, even offering a plate of food on the window sill to sate him on the way back to Purgatory.

All that time my grandmother stood, mesmerized by the story. I was scared; my siblings were scared, my cousins, some of them at least, did not care, not having been raised with such stories in the first place (they were evangelicals, remember). Nowadays, most of us would probably agree with my cousins and shrug this story off as superstitious drivel concocted by dreary minds in order to find some sense of resolution about the death of a loved one. Even when I was hearing that story, a part of me was 'convinced' that it was nothing but a story, a mountain of a mole hill, perhaps.

Many Catholics, especially my elders, would probably tell me I'm wrong; in the olden days, it would probably even have involved a smack to the face, or a lash of the belt. Today, of course, I wold be told wrong for believing the story-- such is the paradigm of modern belief that rationalization and its prerequisites have practically filtered into the way be perceive and believe. Sociologically, rationalization involves three very important things: efficiency, calculability, and predictability. Faith has become efficient: its praxis is restrained to doing X,Y,Z, such that any sense of doubt is cast as something to be ostracized and shunned. Faith is calculable-- we know what it offers, and we are free to 'shop' around if we like. This is best represented by what I like to call 'parochial exaltations' where parishes are based on its clique and culture rather than a proper geographical location.

Faith is predictable-- this is perhaps one of the most grievous blows dealt to the notion of belief. A predictable faith is a faith where mystery and wonder have all but disappeared; it is a faith that is too concerned with the world, a faith that operates on a very human level of understanding. It is disturbing to consider that we have basically all become magisteria to ourselves: we immediately know, for instance, when an apparition of the Virgin is legitimate or not just by basing the circumstances of a particular case to those of past cases. That we can speak of such an earth-shattering thing like the apparition of the Blessed Virgin in such casual, even medical terms is very disturbing to me.

Such is the irony of belief today that it is the one who can quash as many 'hoaxes' and debunk so many supposed apparitions and miracles who is considered the believer, and the one who actually believes in the reality of things, who speak of them in whispers and firm conviction, who is considered the heathen unbeliever. Our faith is in theology, not in the saints, the Virgin, or God.

This is why Catholicism never was, or never will be, a 'Bible religion'. There is of course no doubt as to the veracity and truth of Scriptures; but to have it as the sole, proximate and immediate basis for faith seems, to me, the wrong road to take. The attitude displayed by many today is that if it is not in the Bible, it must follow that it is dispensable, and even some Catholics are beginning to buy into this ruse. The smoking gun is of course the fact that it is the 'superstitious' faith of the simple, and their assent to the incredible, that made Scripture possible in the first place. At the bottom of the Old and New Testaments lies a common thread that binds them both, and that is the notion of a loving God. This loving God, Who loved the world so much, was not a god Who preferred to deal in abstractions. This loving God became a thing of flesh and blood, and performed miracles.

It is not so much the reading of Scriptures that makes one have faith; rather, it is only through the eyes of Faith that Scripture begins to make sense. Else, it is but a book, and all books have a different interpretation to the individual who reads it. Catholicism is a religion of whispered prayers and pilgrimages to dusty, roadside shrines; of talking statues and living blood, severed heads and miraculous weapons. These are very real, very physical things, as the anima sola is a real thing (though often portrayed metaphorically). Humility is a virtue we forget too much in our praxis of faith; perhaps that is why we can't acknowledge the existence of wandering spirits and possessed trees, because we only believe what we see with our own eyes-- eyes that see only the physical and the tangible.

I recall something that great aunt Luisa told my grandmother: Peregrino is here. She told this with such clarity and firm conviction, in barely whispered tones, to my Born Again grandmother. Surely, I thought, she must think all of this nonsense. I soon swallowed my words, when I saw her talking to the winds. But it was not really the wind that my grandmother was talking to, but Peregrino himself. That is Faith. That is how we believe.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Vagabond

One of the most disturbing trends I see in the traditionalist Roman Catholic movement is an incredible distrust of modernity. I can understand where this fear comes from, and there is little doubt that the world in which we live in today is thoroughly godless and an exultation of decadence, luxury, and an overbearing sense of the self. Any Catholic should be rightly fearful and cautious of such environments, not only because they can be detrimental to one's faith, but it can also be incredibly dehumanizing as well.

But there too is to be found error in outright antiquarianism. To live as if the fruits of modernity were completely that of the Devil, or to see it as a negation of all that is good and worthy is, to me, more worthy of the Manichaeans than the Church. I think a sizable majority of those who consider themselves traditional can be prone to this, as I myself have been, and in some cases, still am. To negate this negation, we run the gamut from fierce apologias as to why modernity is inherently evil, to establishing nigh-utopian communities. I think this kind of thinking is very dangerous, in that it supposes Tradition, or even a certain epoch in time, as an impregnable bastion to the thralls of Hell.

This attitude is crystallized and manifested at its best in the various Sedevacantist movements that have sprung up within the last few decades or so. Like the tactics of many revolutionary groups (such as the New People's Army here in the Philippines), the arguments of these bodies are based purely on negating the positions of another; it is an endless flow of anathema after anathema, that one has to wonder, just what do these people stand for. What would become of their arguments, and their bodies as a whole, when the situation is 'normalized'? Would the Brothers Dimond, for example, cease acting like a terminal madhouse case once the Tridentine Mass is exclusively celebrated once again, or would they clamor still for the return of the American 1940s?

At best, it can perhaps be said that the animating ethos behind most of the 'radical traditionalist' factions is one that is primary psychological. To be a 'good' Catholic means being gloomy, downcast, grim, unsmiling, utterly prim, with no time for ribaldry or any kind of fun at all, and wearing three-piece suits in a quaint cottage with a nice piece of farmland managed with the fewest bits of technology; for women, it's wearing a frumpy dress made out of tablecloth and being utterly submissive to their husbands. Assuming that X,Y,Z are done, then it follows that there is world peace, peace on earth, and an endless litany of other utopian ideals.

Let's not stop there. If we really want to be traditional, let's just get rid of our modern hospitals. Sick children? Bah! They should learn to take it like men. I also think that our Catholic women are not dressed conservatively enough; I mean, just look at those Muslim women! Those burqas sure are elegant. And while we're at it, let's get rid of such modern 'conveniences' (instruments of the Devil, really) like the internet, television, cars and whatnot.

The majority of Catholics in the past never had any Missals, and just sat and knelt at the prescribed times in the Mass. My grandmother, for example, prayed a decade of the rosary at the Gospel, said a novena during the homily, lit a candle during the offertory, and left the church immediately after receiving Holy Communion. They toiled at the farm all day long, without the benefit of any modern tools, which led to her having callos on her feet, and a perpetual back ache for my grandfather. In fact, surprisingly, many Catholics were more exuberant and attentive in extra-liturgical ceremonies, like processions and various Filipino traditions like the pabasa, and the pasiyam. The simplest answer is, of course, the language: Latin, which was treated as a language of incantations and incredible power, but just that and nothing more.

I'm not saying that we should get rid of Latin and completely destroy our Catholic heritage; but what I am saying is that we need to be more sober in dealing with others who are not of a traditionalist bent. The only reason we can say that the Second Vatican Council was a disaster is because we have seen its fruits and know better; our liturgies are in disarray and our praxis of faith is sloppy. But for all our pining and whining, are we really losing sight of the big picture? Again, we need to ask ourselves this question: are we really more Catholic than the rest by the mere virtue of our support for the old ways? Or is it really a Manichaean paranoia that drives us to seek shelter in the past?

I attend the Tridentine Mass because it is perhaps the most beautiful thing I've seen this side of the world. I attend it because it is the same Mass that an army of saints knelt before, the same ceremony that brought wonder into the eyes of many a child. But to politicize it is perhaps one of the gravest mistakes we can commit. To see the Tridentine Mass, or indeed any of the traditional sacraments (as if the sacraments we have are decidedly and completely different from those 45 years ago) as agents, tools, of furthering a political end is to me an act of gross scandal.

I thank the Holy Father for giving us Summorum Ponitificum and 'freeing' the Tridentine Mass from the immobility brought about by the politicizing of the Second Vatican Council. At the end of the day, though, it is the countless millions who attended Mass in the 'halcyon' days before the Council, who knew its rhythms even before speech flowed from their mouths, who never knew a drop of Latin nor owned a hand Missal, that I thank: the nameless who silently wished for Mass in the vernacular, but kept silent out of obedience and love for that Rite.

We stand on the shoulders of giants-- but this is something we have forgotten. And so I pay my respects to those who have long since died, who wished to see the Mass of their youth restored to the altars. And I pray for myself, that my arrogance would be quashed and silenced, and that I may cease to be a vagabond, wandering and shouting and cursing at the graves of those 'foolish' enough to have abandoned the Old Rite. In the immortal words of Robi 'Draco' Rosa:

Rodando por el mundo camino, camino
Pregunto a la Quimera el enigma del destino
Nómada loco, noctámbulo y soñador
Un vagabundo
trono sin rey
Un vagabundo
Templo sin dios
Un vagabundo.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I'll admit it: I am a big Spongebob Squarepants fan.

I really like this episode, it's probably the cheesiest song I've heard on TV for a very long time. I thought it might provide a few chuckles-- or even tears of joy-- to my readers. More serious posts as October ends, right now I want to enjoy as much as I can, hehehe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Funkatronic Dreams

I've never been on crack, but I seem to have had the strangest, most vivid dreams lately.

Take last night, for example. In that dream, I was supposed to be a Roman Emperor. Somehow, I had the urge to summon the other 'co-emperors' (who were incidentally, my high school classmates)to the Flavian Amphitheatre, there to decide whose cuisine reigns supreme... er, who the Really Truthy True Emperor is. Strangely, instead of duking it out ourselves, we were given access to giant monsters to do it for us.

My beast looked like a cross between the latest incarnation of Godzilla and Z-Ton, the space dinosaur who spewed trillion degree fireballs, who was the original Ultraman's final enemy. This fat guy in my class clapped his hands, and from the ground came up a vaguely humanoid shape, with a rubber chicken for a head.

The referee of the fight was almost universally referred to by the voice in my head (in the classic narrator accent) as 'Whatina' reporter Maria Teresa Guadalupe Aranzazu del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus 'Cheche' O'Flannagan, who was wearing one of those black garbage bags. She was watching the 'fight' atop a curious-looking platform which reminded one of a flying saucer.

So the fight started; my beast, whom I called 'Dunbar', spat fireball after fireball at the rubber-headed chicken beast. Then, all of a sudden, there was a darkness in the sky, and a comet fell to the earth, whence came forth a grisly looking hand, attached by duct tape to a weird mishmash of fluff that gave the impression of innards and offal, as rendered by bad special effects. The hand 'spoke' in sign language, introducing itself as The Thingy.

For some reason, King Crimson's 'In The Court of the Crimson King' began playing in the background, followed by a Rush song whose title escapes me now. Then, a mariachi band composed of dwarf monsters dressed lime Oompa Loompas began swaying to some 60s beat. I don't think I've ever seen such huge asses, hahaha.

Again, this is one strange dream. The next moment, I found myself, no longer dressed in imperial robes, but in neon-pink pimp robes, complete with a staff cut from a single, gigantic diamond. Somehow, my name became 'Sweet Buttah O'Reilly'. Then a stewardess dressed in a bunny outfit leaped and bounded into the ring, and began singing and swaying to the tune of that Abba monstrosity, 'Dancing Queen'.

Finally, a strange sound began to ring in the air. It sounded like a screaming banshee, which seemed to cause an earthquake in the ring, where fell the party animals. It was my alarm clock.

I wonder what my dreams would be like if I had actually taken drugs? I imagine it would be strange, indeed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

San Ignacio Church

A picture of the old, and much-lamented San Ignacio church in Intramuros, Manila.

The church was run by the Jesuits and was the toast of high society, in the less than sixty years it existed. Though not a physically imposing building (it was notably small, only 80' by 40' if I recall correctly), it was nevertheless decorated with the best artwork-- the famed sculptor and santero Isabel Tampingco worked on San Ignacio's ceiling, as well as carved many statues for the church, including the Immaculate Conception and the image of St. Ignatius in the main altar.

San Ignacio was destroyed in World War II, a victim of Allied attacks. By the time it was destroyed, Mass had not been said on its altars for well over three years-- the building, which had been decorated with various hardwoods, took several days to burn. Its ruins remain even to this day, a silent, brooding sentinel of a bygone age.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Teacher from Hell

Teacher from Hell.

That's what my mates and I used to call our fifth grade English teacher, Hector. When the principal introduced us to the new teachers that year, Hector's reputation preceded him; he was described as a 'walking encyclopedia', a 'drill sergeant', and many other epithets of fear. True enough, when he first came to our classroom, he ordered us to occupy only one fourth of our seats, and have our backs straight as possible; he immediately gave us a ton of homework, and his first words to us were 'I'm not here to be your friend.'

Now, from what I remember, Hector came from a well-off family of lawyers and justices in beautiful Iloilo City, which rivaled Manila in prominence at the end of the Spanish colonial period. Hector studied with the Jesuits in grade school and high school, joined the Opus Dei, went to Harvard, and came back to the Philippines after several years of study. He was the first teacher I'd ever seen who drove a Mercedes Benz to work, and he talked with a perfect Hahvahd accent, with the slightest tinge of a Hispanic flavor to it.

Most of what we knew about Hector came from hearsay. Back then, to us, he was the most awesome teacher we had, while at the same time being the very epitome of Hell. Just a few days into the school year, he already required a notebook to be submitted at the end of the year, containing at least two new words we learned per day, including weekends. The penalty for so much as failure to note one entry was unknown, but we didn't stick around to find out what it was.

He was also the first teacher to deviate from the approved curriculum; he made up his own, and required us to read C.S. Lewis' 'Chronicles of Narnia' instead; for the first quarter, it was 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe', 'Prince Caspian' for the next, and 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader' for the last two. Failure to bring one's book meant being excluded from the lectures for a whole week. Indeed, Hector was so strict in this regard, that some parents even complained against him.

Hector had a lot of quirks. He hated clicky pens, calling them unmanly. One time, a friend of mine who would later on become valedictorian, used a clicky pen for a major test. Hector lost no time in approaching him, and snapped the clicky pen like a twig between his fingers. He also did not mince words; in the Philippines, the Spanish puneta as well as puta are considered exceptionally taboo; he broke this taboo by explaining to us their proper meaning. When he would encourage us, he told us anecdotes from World War II, telling stories of Joseph Goebbels 'the sinister head of the Propagandaministerium'; I don't know why.

He was also our religion teacher as well-- and if he was strict in English class, he was doubly strict in religion. He spoke casually of the sufferings Our Lord suffered on the Cross, citing ancient Roman sources on the severity of this ignominious execution. One time, during a lecture about the Virgin Mary, an Adventist seat mate of mine cracked, 'Advocate? What do you mean, like the Devil's Advocate?' (the discussion was about Mary being our intercessor before God). Hector fumed, his face turning red; he let out a large scream and swept our jugs, which were resting atop a low shelf to one side of the room, hurling them at Chuck, my Adventist seatmate (who was incidentally our biggest bully). 'ANATHEMA SIT! GET THE 4%^&* OUT OF MY CLASSROOM!' That was the first time I saw Chuck cower in fear. I think he even cried, if I remember correctly.

He was very strict when it came to essays in both subjects; spelling 'ecumenical' wrong, for example, landed one a point's deduction. When someone asked him, 'Sir, can I come inside the room?', he would glower fiercely and say, 'You may not', and slam the door shut. He refused to let the student in until he learned proper grammar. Luckily, I was never one of those students.

There was also a legend, that he picked a fight once with another English teacher in the faculty room, apparently appalled at his grammar or something, who would incidentally go on to teach us in the sixth grade. When we were noisy (and it was rare), he would either make us line outside the room or, more frequently, have us run laps in the quadrangle, or carry our chairs above our heads for forty minutes while he delivered his lectures. The thing that struck fear most of all into us, though, was when he picked up a piece of chalk, and calmly rubbed his forefinger and thumb, and completely pulverized it. Without even breaking a sweat. Without even straining a muscle.

He would have been our Spanish teacher as well, but time did not permit, so we had to settle for another one, who he would probably have called 'a clown' to his face. But that probably would not have been a good idea, since he would have asked us to write essays at least five pages in length (for a Grade 5 student, that's Hell) entirely in Spanish. Besides, I wouldn't want to get a tongue lashing from him like that other student did, whom he called a maricon and a pajero in front of the whole class (the other section).

Looking back, that year under Hector was one of the most memorable things in my mind. Eight years have hardly dulled his memory, and today we still speak of him in a reverent air, afraid that he might pounce at us from a hidden, shadowy corner. Hector was simply awesome; I doubt I'll ever meet another teacher like him again. I would not write the way I do today without his criticisms, and I probably would not know what 'diphenychloroarzine' or 'succinylsulfathiazone' is had he not required those two new words everyday; I must have bled our three volume dictionary set looking for the rarest, most difficult words I could find, but still he knew most of what I put in that notebook.

Please pray for Hector. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and it is apparently not progressing. He has a beautiful daughter, a lovely wife, and so much to lose-- and still to give-- at this early stage in his life.

In the words of his favorite greeting to us: 'Morituri te salutant!'

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Do Mothra's Priestesses Sing in Tagalog?

I was watching one of my all-time favorite movies this morning, 'Mosura tai Gojira' (1964), or 'Mothra against Godzilla'. If you're a fan of Japanese monster movies, and in particular Toho's Godzilla series, you will no doubt have heard of this movie, as it is a classic amongst fans. Many cite the Mosu-Goji suit (aka, the rubber Godzilla suit) to be among the most evil looking of the lot, with its slithering, serpent-like quality and soulless eyes.

The plot is simple enough to follow: a freak storm uncovers a gigantic egg buried underneath layers of soil in a distant island, which then washes onto a Japanese shoreline. It is then bought by the Maritomo Company, which intends to put it on display. Meanwhile, ace reporter Sakai and his oviparous girlfriend Junko, who try to wrest the giant egg from the evil industrialists, are surprised by the appearance of the Shobijin: twin fairy priestess barely a foot tall.

The Shobijin claim that the giant egg is Mothra's, and that if it isn't returned soon, they shall have to face the moth goddess's wrath. But suddenly, Godzilla arises after years of slumber, and he's madder than ever! The radioactive dinosaur, hungry for breakfast, heads for the giant egg; while in a last ditch attempt to save the people of Japan, Sakai, Junko and Professor Miura head to a desolate and seemingly God-forsaken island to beg Mothra's assistance in the oncoming fight.

I won't spoil the rest, but let it be known that this movie ranks among the best in the Showa Eiga Godzilla movies, or those movies produced in the years 1954 to 1975. This was the first Godzilla film from the Showa era that I had seen, and it easily remains one of my favorites.

I was a bit surprised, though, when the Shobijin began singing in a language eerily similar to my own, Tagalog. I know that Mothra's island (called Infant Island in the movie) is supposedly near Indonesia, but I didn't realize I would also hear my tongue in that movie. True enough, I did a quick search on the internet and came up with this.

The Sacred Fountain

Verse 1:
Na intindihan mo ba
Na intindihan mo ba
Mairoun doan
Maganda baron
Punta ka lang dito
Ka lang dito
Harika tu marupo
Harika tu marupo

Verse 2:
Na intindihan mo ba
Na intindihan mo ba
Mairoun doan
Maganda baron
Punta ka lang dito
Ka lang dito
Harika tu marupo
Harika tu marupo
Ru, ru, ru, ru, ru, ru
Ru, ru, ru, ru, ru, ru

The song 'The Sacred Fountain' is sung when the Shobijin implore Mothra's help. Granted, it's a very crude form of Tagalog; but here is my translation anyway:

Do you understand?
Do you understand?
(Mairoun doan)
Is it beautiful there?
Hasten to us
To us
Come now (no idea what 'tu marupo' is)
Ru, ru, ru, ru, ru, ru
Ru, ru, ru, ru, ru, ru

The words in parentheses are either wrongly transliterated, or they may be in another language. I feel like such a geek now. Hahaha.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

All Things Seen and Unseen

One story that has always intrigued me is an anecdote from the life of the late bishop of San Fernando, Pampanga, His Excellency Cesar Ma. Guerrero. The story goes that the good bishop, en route to an important function in the city, suddenly felt a massive migraine in the car. He ordered the driver to stop the car, and going to a nearby tree, began exorcising it. The bishop claimed that the tree was a habitation of demons; it was cursed, and therefore had to be rid of the evil surrounding it.

For many of us who have grown up in a cosmopolitan environment, things such as these elicit scoffs of ridicule and derision. For atheists and non-believers in general, this is proof of the immense superstition that Christianity really is. In another time, and perhaps another place, such an event would be viewed with eyes full of wonder; indeed, stories like these are the same stories our grandfathers would perhaps tell us on a cold, stormy night.

I am Catholic, but I have to admit, I am not really good at the 'legal' aspects that being Catholic entails. Of course, I have encountered the writings of saints on doctors on doctrinal subjects in the past, but for the most part, I tend to be bored by them. I am much more fond of sensational anecdotes like walking statues, miraculous crucifixes being found inside trees, dancing images of the saints, and visions from God than doctrinal wrangling. I am not saying these are any less important, but only that they are not the whole of Christian truth.

The picture above depicts a nun in prayer behind a cloister. Near the edges of the frame, one could clearly see visitors, one touching the grills with one hand and simultaneously blessing herself with the other, another with her head bowed in reverence, and another either leaving or approaching the grills. These are ordinary women, with very ordinary problems. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that they are probably very poorly catechized. But what is perhaps the most powerful sight in this picture is that of the nun herself, rapt in prayer-- to her visitors, she is seen in a special light, elevated from the mortal coil by her being 'touched' by God.

For me, one of the biggest failures of Vatican II was that it tried to explain everything about the Faith. Ironically, much of the nouvelle theologie it espoused advocated a return to the notion of God as Mystery, away from the prevalent and 'dry' Neo-Thomism of earlier decades; Rahner's theology is notable for being a very vocal proponent of this notion. The results, however, are very familiar to us: bad liturgy, bad music, basically bad everything, so that the notion of Mystery itself is stripped to nothingness.

As discussed in the previous post, 'belief' today is practically meaningless, more an expression of doubt than an acknowledgment of truth. Today, only those with a doctorate in theology seem to have a shot of going to heaven-- never mind the fact that a good portion of our saints in the past were themselves poorly catechized. One wonders what some radical traditionalists today would think of St. Jean Marie Vianney, who failed Latin countless times.

In saying more, we wind up saying less; but in silence, profundity and depth speak for themselves. Why do we pray for the dead? Because the pains of hell, we are told, are inconceivable for any intellect, save God's, to fathom. It may be perhaps that one of our biggest problems today as Catholics is that we don't really 'believe'; while many of us are solidly orthodox, praxis seems to be at an all-time low. Of course, this is not really surprising, as the tendency for many conservatives and traditionalists nowadays is to reduce Catholicism into a prayer book, with red ink for rubrics, and bold text for emphases.

Perhaps the modern Catholic's obsession with the fundamentals of Faith is symptomatic of our fears and anxieties? I think the difference between the guilt trips of modern day traditionalists and Catholics who grew up pre-Vatican II lies in the object of that fear. Admittedly, when I was a much more rabid 'rad-trad', I was allayed by fears of the Church being wrong, of having spent my life living a lie.

The few pre-Vatican II Catholics I know spoke to me of the fear of being forgotten, so much so that they may yet spend the remaining time from their deaths to the Final Judgment in purgatory. They spoke with certainty, with a glint in their eyes, of the unspeakable. It should rightly send a shiver up our spines.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I Believe

vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem: Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in aeternum peribit."

-The Athanasian Creed

"I believe". These words have haunted the imaginations of Christians for centuries. In the days of the infancy of the Church, a Christian could literally get killed for saying these words; and, just as it was before, saying 'I believe' today marks one for persecution of the world. The Christian who is not afraid to say that he believes in Something greater than what the eyes can see, what the ears can hear, and what hands can touch, is either branded a lunatic or a fanatic.

But what exactly do we mean when we say 'I believe'? The Latin word credo has a very interesting etymology. Many have theorized that the verb credere is formed by a compound of the words cor, cordis (heart) and do (entrust); taken together, credo is properly translated as 'I keep to my heart'. The foundation of Christian belief, then, is primarily trust in God.

The German end Old English also share some similarities: the German belieben, for example, is strikingly close to the English believe. It is interesting to note that, whereas the context of the German is in preference and allegiance, 'belief' today in the English language has come to mean s mere affirmation of doubt; to believe someone, then, is almost necessarily an inferior way of knowing the truth. To believe has simply come to mean 'What you say is incredulous, but I will still listen to it, on account of the fact that I cannot offer a suitable alternative to yours-- that is, for the time being'.

How did this come about? Many of us will no doubt blame certain historical epochs for this loss; the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Age and the Age of Commercialism immediately spring to mind. Then there is also the arrival of science, that sole arbiter of empiricism, whose has shattered the concept of religion, and consequently God, for many the world over. To a point, it is true; the Church's greatest enemy has always been apathy, and one has to wonder, what place is there left for religion in the world? We live in a society where material possessions are the pinnacle of human existence; in such a world, traditions simply have no place. Even Faith itself seems to have bee influenced by the secular to a certain degree.

A cursory glance at apologetics will reveal a mindset of self-preservation, especially in the First World, where the practice of religion is rapidly declining. I cannot blame people for thinking this way-- and as any person will tell you, Christianity itself is the greatest apocalyptic movement to have ever existed on earth. Admittedly, there are also times when we must face the 'dark side' of our history if we ever want to see where we are headed. But then, what next? It is not enough to merely believe that God exists-- one must believe in Him.

I was struck at the difference between the kind of traditional Catholicism practiced by today's reverts, perhaps even myself included. Tradition is basically packaged as a set of philosophical musings-- of legalese and endless quodlibets after piles and piles of 'yes' and 'nos'-- the kind of doctrine that would hold a geeky lawyer's attention for hours at a time. But the gutter Catholicism of the poor is something much more raw; it is a religion of pilgrimages on knees, prostration before the Blessed Mother, bargaining with saints, and kissing the polychromed cheeks of the Holy Child, that in the rays of the sun, it would seem as if He were really sweating amidst the pulsing, throbbing multitudes gathered before His effigy. This is the Catholicism inherited from ignorant, uncatechized elders, the Church closest to the leper colony who clung to Our Lord with their disease-ridden hands.

That poor mother of ten in the streets, upon learning of a cancerous growth, would perhaps go to Baclaran on her knees, and in a piously vulgar display of devotion, would crawl to the Virgin of Perpetual Help; the hunted murderer would flee to the Lord of Quiapo and vow to pull the ropes of His carroza for fifteen years straight if He would but give him peace of mind. These are very much physical acts, veneration at its most profound. At the core of belief lies the conviction that the Other loves us for who we are; and we respond to this love, tentatively, perhaps with more than a grain of caution.

Faith, then, is not so much the interior convictions but the actions of the individual. To believe is to love the other for who he is and what he is, the same way that a mother would still find it in her heart to forgive her soon even with all the evil he has committed against her. That we have 'divorced', as it were, this aspect of doing from the concept of belief is perhaps symptomatic that there is something very wrong with us. As I've already mentioned, belief these days is practically worthless; in the same way, the soul is slowly being ripped apart from the self, that it becomes just another byword for thousands of other bywords out there.

In the Philippines, it is a curious thing that majority of people who do extraordinary acts of penitence in Holy Week are usually the berdugos-- the wandering tough guys, macho men who drink and whore any other day of the week-- lining up in columns of up to hundreds at a time, their faces obscured by a blood-stained cloth, their backs scarred from the countless lashings of a whip. For the catechized, it is a spectacle of unimaginable superstition; the fundamentalist Protestant would probably whisper 'Pelagianism' underneath his breath, while the radical traditionalist would probably be invoking canon after canon in condemning the wicked practice.

But for the better part of the last few hundred years, such idioms of piety, complete with wailing and much ululations, constituted the norm for the Church. Perhaps this repulsion stems from the fact that their God is a small god, a god of the philosophers, rather than the personal God of the Christians. At the end of the day, God is neither contained by our limited understanding of Him; we only end up putting Him in the midst of immobilist politics. In my opinion, we have simply become far too smart for our own good, that we are confusing what little germ of faith we may have had in the first place with how we think the Church, and God, ought to be.

It is surprising to me that religion involves very little of creeds and formulae in actuality, but seems, for the most part, more concerned with the here and now of worshiping, adoring, prostrating, praying and devoting. Maybe the surest sign of a secularized church is not so much the apathy of its congregation but rather the excess of their devotion. Yes, it can go either way, but too often the tendency is to ignore an over-wrangling reach of so-called traditionalists into matters solely for the eyes and ears of the Curia. The pious Catholic today is one who has memorized as many encyclicals as possible and who wears three-piece suits to Mass and chuckles with a socialite's glee at the under dressed. The simple pieties of old, of kneeling before the image of a beheaded saint for hours at a time, is relegated to the rubbish bin of ignorance and 'misguided' beliefs.

Thus we hide under the cover of complaining how everything about the Church is in such a state of calamity, because we envy those who, even in the midst of the most banal Novus Ordo 'bastardization', can calmly close his eyes and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, however irreverently It is treated. We invoke the clause of 'modernists running the Church' because we secretly desire to run the Church, but are afraid of the consequences and responsibilities. We criticize those who persevere in error, not taking into account our own sins. We are a people who have forgotten how to love.

Being a Catholic is definitely not one of the easiest things in life-- the badge carries with it a stigma of being brainwashed followers of an old man with a funny hat who sits in his golden throne in Rome, and it carries with it a 'gutter' culture, at least in the eyes of the 'polished' Christians. But that is ultimately what it means to have faith-- it is to love, to hope, and to do. To believe is to know that the world, for all its temptations and evils, can be overwhelmed and fit into that small pocket of the heart.

It is said, man is the only being capable of lying in the face of the Truth. Not even the highest angels are given this privilege. That we are capable of living a lie and yet acknowledge the Truth is something that puzzles me still.