Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Praise of Bad Taste

Of Plastic Images, Glow in the Dark Virgins, and Calendar Piety

Some of my earliest visions of heaven were formed by my many trips to my paternal grandparents' house in Batangas. I do not come from a wealthy family; at best, there was the promise of land and wealth that never really blossomed because of the War. Thus, my grandparents, though born considerably better off than most Filipinos, had to revert to their blue collar roots to eke out a living. As I've probably mentioned before, much of my family on both sides consists of educators-- my grandparents were no exception. Lolo Salvador was the city agriculturist of Batangas in the 1960s, while my Lola Fermina established (eventually) one of the foremost schools in that area today.

They were simple folk, who wore their religion on their sleeves. My grandmother, even at an early age, already made a reputation for herself as an hermana de la Iglesia, a sister of the Church, because she was a constant presence in the town church: whether for benedictions, masses, novenas or whatnot, my grandmother was always in church, either shuffling her mantilla and fingering her beads while seated in the pew, or talking to the Monwsignor and giving him advice on anything and everything under the sun. My grandfather was not very religious-- but by the grace of God, and through the stubborn persistence of my grandmother, he eventually became devout, even becoming an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. He still reads Scripture at least an hour a day and prays the rosary three times, as he did when my grandmother was still alive.

They lived-- and still live-- in a quaint little house, neither too big nor too small (more than enough space for six children-- in a narrow street near the town square. When my grandparents were younger, they used to walk to the church everyday, as most colonial churches in the Philippines were established such that it faced the town square (or the square faced the church, rather). The house has changed very little since the 1960s, at least in terms of design; in the 1970s, though, my father tells me that they kept some pigs and poultry in the back yard, now converted into a dormitory of sorts (they also happened to be near the provincial college).

In my grandparents' house, my then four or five-year-old eyes marveled at the antiquarian surroundings, but the thing, or things, that most impressed me was the sheer number of religious images in that house. In the dining room, for example, hangs a huge tapestry of the Last Supper, some five by eight feet in all. Near the dining room was the family room, which had the unusual arrangement of having a wine rack built into the wall. Next to the wine rack was a wide cabinet where were displayed literally hundreds of little Santo Ninos-- estampitas amassed through out the years, some of bronze, zome of wood, some made to look like bronze or wood, and others of cheap, poorly painted plastic.

Under the stairs was a small alcove, reached by passing literally through a faded velvet curtain, where images of Christ the King, the Virgin of Guadalupe, some more Santo Ninos, holy plates (I kid you not) and glow in the dark plastic figures of the Holy Family and an antique, ivory Santo Nino dressed in gold-plate and elaborately embroidered brocade were enshrined. There was also a light fixture in the form of the Holy Ghost as a dove, whose tail had been replaced with a red light bulb.

Even in the bathrooms one did not escape the gaze, or as I used to think, the glower of Jesus. In almost every bathroom was placed a headshot of the Divine Mercy, probably cut out from some pious publications, glued onto a piece of card and covered in plastic, and 'enthroned' in the 'throne room'. I used to think it was to prevent the boys or their play mates from engaging in 'pocket billiards' during 'the sacrifice', or at least when they took a bath. There were also xeroxed images of the Arma Christi, again pasted onto card and covered with plastic, that hung above door posts, and even little secularized angels, made from porcelain, that stood next to the Holy Family(ies?) on some more cupboards.

Now, my grandfather, even in the 1960s, could be considered an extensive traveler. He took as many photos of the places he had been to, including one of himself in a bus in Washington DC (this was at a time when segregation was still enforced or the norm), and one in a church in Canada. He liked collecting keychains, and even had whole cupboards full of them. His favorite was apparently one that came from the Vatican, just before the Council.

Upon reaching the second floor of the house, one is greeted by the sight of a gigantic rosary hanging from the wall, the same kind that is (apparently) used in Mexican weddings to join the bride and groom together. Although it has lost a few beads since, it is still an imposing sight. I even remember thinking that it must have belonged to giants before my grandparents acquired them. There are yet more headshots of the Divine Mercy, and even some sappy, framed Scripture quotes that hung in the walls. Needless to say, just about ever nook and cranny had some trinket or religious item in it. But that's not even including the Master Suite...

The last major repair done in that old house was in 1991 or 1992, when the Master Suite was renovated. Entering into that room, one immediately sees walls upon walls covered in pious calendars, some from the Archdiocese and even some from foreign countries, all showing sacred images: the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Senor Santo Nino, the Black Nazarene, and even some scenes of fiesta life. To one side of the room, and appropriately the one facing East, was hollowed out a portion of the wall. That was their private altar, as you can see from the picture above. It was a veritable clash of sacred and profane, with plastic Lourdes bottles, plastic plates with the image of the Santo Nino printed on it, two faux bronze busts of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin, plastic flowers, oleographic prints, cheap statues, worn-out candles, dried palaspas (blessed palms, and a cheap wooden St. Joseph completing the scene. And yes, those rosary beads are glow in the dark.

While I imagine most would find this plenitude of images kitschy, in bad taste, or even a bit superstitious, I have to say that they really remind me of home. I think there is a certain tendency among educated Catholics to cerebralize the home altar too much-- it must done by the books, to a point that it no longer resembles something belonging to home, and just ends up as a display piece. I've seen houses which are literally lined wall to wall with antique images, some hundreds of years old, but ultimately end up looking like showcases.

In a way, I have to say that there is something very visceral about seeing so many images of the Holy Family and the Holy Child that a professionally sculpted or painted piece of sacred art can never deliver. I guess it boils down to the fact that these 'mass-produced' oddities speak at a very human level that is almost popular. These Lourdes bottles and glow in the dark Santo Ninos are literally (in many cases) a guiding light to people who are otherwise stuck grappling in the dark. They find their faith 'crystallized' in these images, not so much because of their didactic or hieratic value (although there is that) but from the simple, and very basic fact that they work. How many would-be rapists' hearts were converted upon seeing a plastic image of La Guadalupana? How many would be carnappers have had their intentions spoiled upon seeing a little glow in the dark image in some car's dashboard? I know, because this very nearly happened to our car once.

In the end, I think this debate on bad taste is moot-- not because I don't care to appreciate good art (and I do!), but because art is ultimately not life. Yes, we can always depict the grotesque in the human condition, but ultimately, what the people need--desperately, madly-- is hope, and not $5,000 profesionally produced sacred art.

Today, whenever I go to my grandparents' house, I am still enchanted by the wealth of sacred-profane images one can find in just about every corner of that house. There have been some more accretions in recent years, like a grotto in the garden, and if all pushes through, another one in front of the house. This is how the Church will stay sane and happy: by remembering that She is, above all, a vehicle of salvation, and not of polemic. I am glad that my grandfather is continuing this tradition of filling the home with images of the holy-- for me, it is nothing short of Heaven.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Paganizing Christianity

On the third Sunday of January, Filipinos troop once more to the streets, singing and dancing, in honor of the Santo Nino de Cebu, the first icon of the Christ to reach these isles some 500 years ago. Though it looks young as ever, the image of the Holy Child is really five centuries old; it made the historic voyage that proved the earth was round, borne aloft by Magellan and his crew of sailors, was gifted to Queen Juana and Raja Humabon of Cebu (who were baptized by the Spaniards, hence the Hispanic names). When the Filipinos revolted against the Spaniards, their settlements-- as well as those of their native allies-- were burned, and it was presumed that the Santo Nino itself perished in the infernal blaze.

Forty four years later, when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi braved the seas and reached where his predecessor had fallen, the Spaniards, thinking the apostasy of Magellan's converts to be succinct, were surprised to see the image of the Santo Nino-- burned and blackened by the fire-- being worshipped by the natives through song and dance, and resting on a pedestal of fine make. Apparently, the Santo Nino survived the threats of apostasy and the war-cries of the old, heathen gods; and in that span of forty four years whence the natives of Cebu last had contact with the Spanish, the Santo Nino was 'transformed', it seemed, into a powerful rain god, chielf amongst the ancient deities and greatest of them all.

The Spaniards found that dance played an important, if not an integral, part in the natives' worship. The Sinulog, as the dance came to be called, was not unlike modern day Mardi Gras, in that it fused street revelry with the fervent piety of the natives. When the Santo Nino is feasted, men and women don brightly-colored costumes, festooning themselves with trinkets and feathers; they bring gongs and flutes and drums and trumpets to the street, making a raucous noise that is part cacophony and part symphony of faith, gaiety, pageantry, and solemnity. They dance in a frenzy, filling the streets, gyrating and swaying with (to the eyes of the on-believer) an almost pagan intensity. And throughout the ceremony, the image of the Santo Nino-- the same one that first came to these islands 500 years ago, who saw the world become round-- gazes upon his people, borne aloft a platform that is an ostentatious display of sheer, Rococo splendor. Adding to the cacophony are the cries of the devotees: 'Viva Pit Senor!' Hail the Little Lord!

Legends, too, abound about the image of the Christ Child. One that is often told, even today, is how it was said to disappear from its shrine every night. The caretakers of the Basilica would look all around the complex, searching even the convents, for the image of the Santo Nino, but to no avail. Miraculously, when the caretakers would return to inspect some more the next day, they would find the Santo Nino back in its shrine, with not a few blades of grass on its cape and boots. The explanation of the elders was that the Little Lord was bored, being stuck in a glass casket to be reverenced by pious old ladies and fevered devotees all day long. To relieve its stress, it would take a stroll on the Basilica's gardens at night, and would even go out of its way to find some playmates.

Another popular story is how the image of the Santo Nino was brought to a newer, bigger church, since its old basilica was apparently becoming ill-equipped with regards to dealing with its increasing number of devotees. According to the story, on the night the Santo Nino was transferred to the new church, the caretakers were surprised to see that the Child was not there. Fearing the worst, they alerted the whole town of the theft, and announced heavy punishments to whoever was responsible for the so-called crime. Some days passed; but on one night, just as the priests were about to enter the shrine, the Santo Nino was back! In a surreal turn of events, it was suggested that the statue's legs be cut off in order to prevent it from wandering away; but even without its legs, the image would still vanish and reappear. Finally, giving in to the Lord's request, the image was transferred to its original site, where it has remained ever since.

It has often been said that the image of the Santo Nino was THE single most important symbol that facilitated the conversion of the Philippines. Reading the old legends and pious stories of our elders, the theme of discovery is one that pops up multiple times: whether it is the Santo Nino playing with children in the streets at night, to the Little Lord taking strolls in the basilica's gardens, to its miraculous vanishing acts, there is always the underlying thread of the Santo Nino as a pilgrim: he travels to little known places of low prestige, constantly trudging the bare earth in his gold-plated boots. In his hand, he holds the globe, symbol of the world, and one that has seemingly grown with every step of the way in its voyage from the Old World into the Ancient World of Asia.

I will not deny that many people frown on such stories today. In the enlightened post-Vatican II world, such stories are seen as far from the pristine Christianity of the Early Church, and one that is envisioned by the Council. I know one man who was a devotee of the Holy Child in his younger years, but altogether stopped believing when he came to realize the full extent of 'paganizing' elements in the cult of the Santo Nino. But how does one exactly define paganism? Is it rising from the dead, or turning water into wine, casting out demons, or speaking with forces beyond our reach? If we are to apply this frame of thought to the Gospel, then it would seem as if the Gospel itself were Pagan; indeed, such a radical framework would almost invariably filter out any hint of the supernatural, leaving only the natural-- cold, lifeless, historical, dry. To use an overused example, what is the use of being Christian, when theoretically, I could be just as good when I join the Red Cross?

The great Filipino writer Nick Joaquin once wrote that, by becoming the last and greatest of the pagan gods, the Santo Nino facilitated the conversion of the Filipino people to Christianity. The image of the Holy Child was literally a tangible hermeneutic of continuity-- but even more so, of transformation. By keeping alive the old cults and the traditional devotions to the old, heathen gods-- now banished into the outer dark-- the Santo Nino was able to conquer the Philippines. It is in this context that this image of the Holy Child is known today as the chief evangelizer of the Philippines. Its genius lay in the fact that it actually preserved, even cultivated, the soil of the Filipino people's Faith.

The idea is novel and at the same time probably 'heretical' (in the sense that is differs from popular opinion, especially as presented on blogs), but I would have to say that the Faith was actually more inculturated than it was before Vatican II. The problem I see with most devotions and belief in general today is that it all looks too mass-produced; the senses of the Filipino hunger for the mystical Baroque splendor of Spanish Catholicism, with its bone-breaking, blood-shedding piety and profoundly human character. Perhaps the surest sign that the Faith is no longer inculturated as it used to be is the fact that many Filipinos are content to follow the hyper-traditionalism of the internet than hearken once more to the old stories that filled their fathers' fathers' eyes with wide-eyed wonder.

Just what does it mean to have an authentic faith? Does it mean being utterly original in praxis, without a care in the world for continuing an established tradition? Does it mean being isolated from the rest of the world? If these are our main definitions of what it means to have an authentic, totally original Faith, then count me out. I would much rather hear stories of smiling, bleeding statues than debate and whine the merits of one type of style versus the other (all that arguing at the NLM over the simplest of matters is really starting to bug me). To out it bluntly, European Christianity is itself an unoriginal thing: it is a Faith that was born in a back water part of the Roman Empire in a remote corner of Asia, that has literally come back full circle to the continent of its nascence. All this thanks to the Santo Nino, who made that maiden voyage five hundred years ago. All this thanks to the Santo Nino, culture hero, and greatest of evangelists. Viva Pit Señor!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Prayers for a Priest

I am requesting everyone to please pray for the eternal repose of Fr. Eduardo Hontiveros, SJ, who passed away on Tuesday, 15 January 2008. The Father was considered the Father of Philippine Liturgical Music, composing the majority of hymns we sing in our churches today. I know many have some reservations, even hostilities, against this kind of inculturation, but he was still a priest, and in need of our prayers. In 1991, Fr. Hontiveros suffered a stroke, paralyzing him, and rendering him almost unable to speak for the rest of his life. Today, a fellow priest and great former student of Fr. Hontiveros related how, almost a month ago, the Jesuits celebrated his 84th birthday; it was then that he expressed one of the most beautiful 'Thank You' ever heard by all.

The internment is scheduled for tomorrow, 19 January, at the Sacred Heart novitiate in Novaliches. Before suffering from that fateful stroke, Fr. Hontiveros served as rector of the Jesuit seminary here in Manila, and also served under the same position in the diocesan seminary.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Obra de Dios

I've never been to this Center before, but it is definitely one place I would like to visit soon. If my younger brother ever decides to become a numerary, the first thing I would ask him is to give me a list of all the Centers I haven't been to before. That would make my day, LOL.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cross Your Fingers

I think this is the Cloverfield monster.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno

There is no greater feast in all of Manila than that of the Black Nazarene, held annually on the 9th of January. In the historic old district of Quiapo, where old-wealth Spaniards intermingle with Muslim traders from the South and Chinese merchants, literally hundreds of thousands-- which could swell up to a million or more-- converge upon the dingy, narrow streets to follow, and if one is lucky, touch, the image of the suffering Christ, which is said to effect numberless miracles.

The image came to Manila from Acapulco, Mexico, in 1606. Legends abound about the translation of this image of the Lord- about how the ship that carried the image of the Nazarene was razed by fire, and how it alone survived, blackened by the fumes but miraculously intact. In 1791, and again in 1929, Quiapo church was burned-- but again, the image survived, by providence. In 1645 and 1843, earthquakes reduced the church to rubble, but the Lord survived, unscathed. It even survived the destructive bombing of Manila by the Japanese in World War II, and all these events have fueled the already fervent devotion of the people to this venerable icon.

Truth be told, I have never participated in the procession itself. I have only witnessed it on television-- and what a sight it was! The Nazarene's devotees, hundreds of thousands strong, clad in maroon, wave their towels as the carriage exits the portals of the church, shouting 'Vivas' in one magnanimous voice. From then on, it is a frenzied race to even so much as touch the ropes pulling the image's carriage, and it would be an even greater honor to be able to wipe the face of the Christ. From above, the devotees look like a sea of blood catching fire, the reds and yellows of their clothes glistening brightly. All come to worship at the procession-- mystics, healers, the superstitious, the devout, the heretic, the orthodox, the merely curious, the disgusted, the exploiters and the exploited, the afflicted and the healthy, rich, poor, educated and uneducated alike. There is a belief which persists to this day that touching the face of the Lord would absolve one of all his sins-- which might have arisen from the fact that January 9 is traditionally the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord; as is usual in Hispanized countries, processions are held on great feasts. Thus, what might have been originally been a mere indulgence was 'elevated' into an almost sacramental plane.

The devotees of the Black Nazarene are mostly male; they range from thugs to politicians (the Philippine vice president is a devotee) to businessmen, but in the gigantic blur created by the reds and yellows, social rank and privilege are cast into the wind: one is either favored to have been able to get near the carriage or not. Marching bands, dancing girls, circus acts-- fire-breathers, stilt-walkers-- as well as tributes from the police and the military all hail the Lord in his passing. The noise is deafening, but at the same time mysteriously calming, and the furious swishing of white towels, held aloft and waved by fevered hands, all make the scene seem like it was transplanted by some freak of the supernatural from the 17th century. A curious calm descends on the mind when the Nazarene comes into view. His devotees desperately, madly, cling or try to cling to him, never mind the sweat and heat beating down upon their backs. They see the image as some sort of scapegoat, banging their foreheads in shame and sorrow at its carriage, touching the image's feet and hands in the hope of passing their sins onto him.

In some ways it can be cathartic, a way to unload all the filth and scum that have soiled one's soul in the course of the year. As mentioned, many still see participation in the procession as a quasi-sacramental act-- an unfortunate superstition. However, for all the quality (or lack thereof) and personal defects of the Nazarene's devotees, faith ultimately rings true in the end. Yes, there is violence, and yes, there are occasional deaths. But the barefoot, maroon-clad, towel-waving devotees continue to throng in this old district of Manila to honor the Suffering Christ, He who bore the cross upon His shoulders and in many ways still continues to do so today. What is faith, ultimately, but the firm trust in God? Isn't faith, then, necessarily an act, and not just mere mental exercise?

Perhaps we may feel comfortable criticizing what seems for us an excess from a distance. We may even frown upon the motives of some of the Black Nazarene's devotees-- perhaps it is for material concern that one goes to the procession, while perhaps for another it is merely cultural. In truth, many devotees of the Black Nazarene do go to the procession for an ulterior motive; joining it is seen as the transactional act, the payment, as it were, for the favor asked for. Locally, this is known as a panata-- a religious undertaking taken for the benefit of a favor, whether for oneself or for his loved ones. In English, panata is most often rendered as oath, or vow. Yes, there is a chance that the devotion looks like one big bargain with God; and we, who have the benefit of proper catechesis and proper schooling, might in turn see the whole ritual as folk magic, or glorified superstition.

But then again faith does not, and almost never does, function by the books. To have faith in the usual postmodern sense is to have religion-- go to church on Sundays, eat well, dress well, and get it over with. That is faith for the well-off. The poor, who do not have the benefits of good education, believe (sometimes even in false hope) with their guts. They believe because that is the only thing they can do, and they do so with what limited means they can. It is a strange coincidence that the icon of the Lord dearest to Filipinos is that of Him carrying the Cross, kneeling from the heavy load on His shoulders. What is it with this image, so fixated on the collective consciousness of a people for whom Christianity was but a transplanted religion, that spurs to great a devotion? Maybe, in the end, we all just need to suffer a little bit more. Yes, it does sound like a masochistic suggestion, but it may be the only way for us to eradicate these notions of faith as something of an instructional video.

Thinking of the Black Nazarene, I am reminded of how Our Lord, while on earth, worked as a mere carpenter, and how He was indeed born in a manger, with nothing but beasts for companions. Many of us, sadly, expect to find Him, and consequently true faith, in palaces and great churches and all the best places of the earth. Too bad that God decided on a different course; instead of ambassadors of the world's empires, He had shepherds as his visitors, and was not even welcome in His own land. Had we known all this firsthand, would we still have had faith in that Child born in the manger?

As the sun sets on the afternoon of this January day, the Nazarene returns once more to his basilica, its devotees, still fresh and harried by the day's activities, eagerly awaiting next year's feast. They return to their old ways, drinking, swearing, womanizing and thieving. Sin has a remarkable ability to sting those to whom grace has but returned, the temptations of a worldly life too strong even for a panata to stop. But there are also some who have clearly seen something of the supernatural; they pause for a while, and give glory to the Son of God, who carried a cross while He walked the earth. But whoever they are, the day's events are sure to leave their mark-- and they will continue to troop, saint and sinner alike, to Christ, and hope to carry their own crosses alongside Him.

Monday, January 07, 2008

On Cheerfulness

There was a time before when I did not go to confession for almost two years. I don't exactly remember any particular reason for this lapse in faith; perhaps I was just too busy, perhaps it was spiritual acedia; it could have been cowardice on my part, or the basic fact that I did not know how to manage my time in those years. I will spare my readers what I did in those twenty four months of languishing in sin-- suffice to say, these are things that I sill work on and struggle with even unto today.

It was 2004 when our oratory, small and charming as it is, was finished: construction begun in November of 2003, and by February, it was practically done. Only the best materials-- marble from Italy, vestments and vessels from Spain, and the best local artists-- were employed to furnish our Classically-designed chapel. It was also the perfect time to (finally) confess. So there I was, one morning, entering the as yet newly finished oratory, which still hung heavy with the musty smell of cement, the air conditioner chilling the hairs on the back of my neck while I simultaneously sweat gallons. Silently, reluctantly, I reached for a pamphlet in front of me, the folder paper already creased and folded far too many times in just a short span of time, and reviewed the list of offenses I had done. I was ready. After about five minutes, I finally mustered the courage to reach for the confessional box's door, feet dragging like dead weight, and knelt at the screen. 'Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been two years since my last confession.'

For the next ten or fifteen minutes, I recalled all the offenses I had done, recounting them before the priest with an almost robotic quality with which an old lady might finger her rosary beads. Pride, lust, envy, jealousy, anger-- all of these I had done, and all of them I now recounted, citing the frequency and circumstances in which they occurred. Finally, after a seeming eternity, I was done. I felt so guilty having confessed so much filth to our chaplain, and yet at the same time relived, that the ordeal was done. A few seconds elapsed before Father spoke again. To my surprise, he didn't sound wrathful or vindictive at all; instead, he spoke in a manner in which a teacher might give advice to a struggling student. 'For your penance, pray ten Hail Marys'.

Ten Hail Marys? That was it? Surely I was a better sinner than that.

After all that I had confessed, that toxic sludge that could only have resulted in a stubborn procrastination, must have at least merited a rosary. After saying the Act of Contrition, Father dismissed me, saying 'Go in peace'. I immediately went back to my pew, knelt before the tabernacle, and started praying that paltry amount. In the middle of my prayers the sacristy door flung open, and out came Father, umbrella in hand, with a smile on his face. Surely this was not the face of a man who had just listened to so much shit?

Now that I think of it, I guess I should probably be thanking him for letting me off so easily. It is only now that I realize the full magnitude of the difficulty of being a priest. Hearing confessions all day long is definitely not an easy task-- aside from being taxed physically and mentally, there is also spiritual taxation, which in my opinion brings the heaviest weight to load on the shoulders of these priests of God. To think that I am but one of many who confess the same wretched devilries to the same man on any given day-- to think that I think that my sins alone are the be-all-and-end-all of the universe!

How many times has Father forgiven an abortion, and just how many have confessed it in the past? How many times has he heard the confessions of murderers, rapists, and terrorists? How many times has he listened to stories of incest, torture, sodomy, or perhaps even cannibalism? These things I mentioned are all very sick and rotten to the core-- but I wonder, if I can think of them at all, surely others have too-- and perhaps, some have even consummated them! Granted, some of these seem far fetched; but so too does the thought of the Supreme Being taking the flesh of a man and dying an ignominious death on a cross for the salvation of His creation, who are but dust and ash and naught.

I have heard stories of priests who bring barf bags with them in the confessional-- for to such depths can human depravity sink to that we are given pause to think, and rightly so. In that mythical microcosm of Manila that is Quiapo, confessional lines can last up to a day long, and I can only imagine what filth is being filtered through the privacy of that wooden box. Perhaps a father conspired with a lover to murder his family; perhaps a pervert had sex with a minor with the full knowledge that he had AIDS. It could be very tempting for priests to contemplate breaking their vows and start phoning the authorities as to the whereabouts of these people-- the fact that they remain silent, in deference to these vows, is, for me, one of the greatest miracles we have today.

Up until I finished high school, I confessed almost the same set of sins to Father over and over again. To be sure there were variations as to the frequency and circumstances here and there, but for the most part, they did not deviate from the mold. Sometimes, I think he might just snap at me in the middle of my confession, since I practically went every week, and he had practically memorized my voice, speech patterns, and perhaps even the way I phrase my sins. But always I would get that cheerful smile in the end. Always, I would seem to get away easier than I should, and always did I succumb to the same sins.

Perhaps a 'sensible' man would cite this propensity to sin as proof of the inefficacy of the sacrament of penance, stating how, in the end, the sinner never really gets rid of his old ways-- he just adds confession to his routine in the hopes of striking a balance between bad and good, as it were. But then again, penance is not for the laity alone, it is also for priests; and I imagine that for the men of God, the hardest penance to bear would be to listen to the sins of others. To listen to the depths that human nature could reach in the clutches of evil is, in some ways, is to see creation as a failure, hopelessly marred by the machinations of a jealous creature, the Devil. But just as Christ descended into the bosom of Hell to free the souls of the just, so to is confession an icon of the Lord, rescuing fallen man from the his depravity and sinfulness. And in order for us to be rescued, there must first be something from which we must be rescued.

Nearly three and a half years later, here I am, still a victim, still a sinner, still in need of God’s grace. Whenever I see our chaplain, I cannot shake that image of him, smiling, and offering his hand to bless ourselves with. Always, the smile—one of contentment, and of real optimism, the kind that can only be had after a firm trust in God. How can anyone smile after hearing, for hours at a time, secrets and stories that will boil the blood of any decent man? How can someone continue in this ministry knowing that all the filth and degeneracy of the human race will, at one point, pass from the lips of anonymity and through the wooden screen of the confessional? These are anyone’s guesses. One thing is sure, though: there is a reason why many are called and few are chosen. I pray to God that He will continue to send us good priests, who will guide us along the path to everlasting life.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Family Portrait, 1965

I was cleaning around the house today when I saw this portrait of my father's family (that is him in the middle), taken way back in 1965. I asked him for the photo's history; he says it was taken on Christmas Day of that year, a few days before my grandfather's business trip to Washington D.C. I will (hopefully) write more about my family in the coming posts. I consider ours to be the stuff of telenovelas, and there are definitely a lot of interesting stories I've heard that I wish to share.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Puppy Birthday!

(Yes, I know the title is a very bad pun)

This is our dog Scott.

He turns two human years today, which means he is already 14 in dog years (am I to expect him to become rebellious anytime soon? LOL). Scott is a mutt; his father, my first pet Rex, himself a mutt, had very good, very noticeable golden retriever features. His mom was picked up from the streets by my grandmother. Sadly, both of them are now dead (i.e., his parents). Scott likes to play. He likes me to shake his hand. When I get home, and honk my horn at our gate, he goes crazy and goes up to his couch, expecting a kiss on the nose once I come in. He sleeps in my parents' bedroom. He likes snuggling between them, playfully wagging his tail and slide-surfing his way to peace and quiet.

I love my dog Scott. He makes my day brighter, and for that, I am very thankful for him. (Wait till you see our true blue, black labrador Amber, though, or as we like to call her, AmBear, since she is sooooooooo fat. And cuddly. )