Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Holy Terror


I have probably posted this video before, but a sudden thought just occurred to me. In many cultures, the sacred takes on a decidedly double-faced characteristic. The sacred, because it is numinous and otherworldly, escapes the grasp of human reason, and because of this, it can be said that the sacred technically fits neither category of benevolence or malevolence. What the sacred is, however, is terror--sheer, impalpable, creature-ing terror.Remember that sacred ultimately means being set apart-- but whether that is a good or bad thing for us remains to be seen. Perhaps the reason, then, why the practice of making vows to the saints perdures in the Philippines is because it is never wise to cross that which is not human. The sacred is untamed, wild, irrepressible and contagious. Maybe, just maybe, these vows are made, not just to bargain with the divine, but also to keep it out of the sphere of life as much as possible. After all, who wants to seek death by displeasing the Madonna, or St. Isidore the Laborer? Of course, I am just toying around in my head; but the idea that God, His Holy Mother, the nine choirs of angels and His saints constitute some sort of cosmic Justice League is ludicrous, maybe even dangerous.

In the video are penitents called 'magsasalibatbat', who crawl around town on their hands and knees dressed like the Nazarene. Upon reaching a shrine or visita in honor of the town's patron saint, they prostrate themselves upon the dust, while a cross is tied down to their backs. The remainder of the penitent act is spent with the cross bearing down on them.

And All The Angels and Saints

My current predicament (nothing serious, to be sure) is almost sure to prolong my absence from regular blogging. In the meantime, I thought I'd draw the reader's attention to a new blog I came across. Mr. Alex Castro runs 'And All the Angels and Saints', a blog dedicated to the art and craft of the santero-- saint-makers, literally, men who carve images of the saints for use in processions and in churches. As well, it offers interesting trivia and history on some of the more celebrated santos in the Philippines, including an image of the Dead Christ that was supposedly 'kidnapped'. Do check it out, it is quite a fun read.

On the Weather

One day last week, as I was taking the train to meet a friend, rainclouds suddenly blocked out the sun, and rain started to pour. In another instant the rainclouds were gone, and the sun was shining down again, but the rain perdured, now strong, now weak, drizzling, pouring, all this under a clear blue sky. I was suddenly reminded of an old superstition; whenever rain started to pour while the sun was up, they said, it was a sure sign that two tikbalang were about to be married. Having the body of a man and the head of a horse, the tikbalang is one of the more famous creatures of Philippine mythology; it has a taste for human flesh, they said, and when two of them were to be married, it's said, humans better watch out.

And sure as day, I saw a little old lady of about sixty, no doubt a grandmother, suddenly grab her grandson and give her a medallion of St. Benedict. She pressed it to his foreheard, lips, and heart, before finally crossing the child with the medallion. 'Crux sacra sit mihi lux, nunquam draco sit mihi dux.' Meanwhile, the child played gleefully with his PSP, as even then, the old lady resumed reading her tabloids, no doubt chewing up the latest gossip about her favorite stars' love lives.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Requiem Mass for President Ramon Magsaysay at the Brompton Oratory, 1957

 The late Leon Ma. Guerrero, of the prominent Guerrero clan of Manila was probably one of the most interesting figures to have served his nation. A dyed in the wool aristocrat (he spoke with an impeccable Oxford accent, to the delight of the British where he served as ambassador for seven years), it has been said of his family (to paraphrase Nick Joaquin) that they were at once marked by the most intense Catholicism and by the most intense nationalism; at once the fiercest defenders of tradition, while also fostering revolution on the other.

Mr. Guerrero served under the government of Ramon Magsaysay, who is, perhaps, one of the most beloved Presidents the Philippines has ever had. Magsaysay was as populist as they came, serving as a mechanic for a time and inviting the poor to come into the halls of Malacanang Palace where he would wine and dine with them. There too, is a story told that Magsaysay was able to bring about the surrender of communist rebels by circulating tales of aswangs -- blood-sucking, flesh-eating vampires-- loose in the mountains. President Magsaysay, sadly, died in a plane crash, and his body was never found.

The photo above shows the catafalque of President Magsaysay draped in the Philippine flag. Please excuse the somewhat poor quality of the photo, as I had no means to properly scan the book in which I found it. Rather, I just used my phone to snap a photo of said photo.

Here now is an excerpt from The Diplomatist about the Requiem Mass in honor of the fallen president, held in the London Oratory at Brompton in March of 1957.

... at the Brompton Oratory at 11 o'clock on the morning of Friday, 22 March the Earl of Scarborough, the Lord Chamberlain, representing H.M. the Queen at the Solemn Requiem Mass sung on the occasion of the funeral in Manila of the late President of the Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay. Her Majesty's Ambassador in the Philippines, Mr. G.L. Clutton, represented Her Majesty at the funeral. The Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Gerald O'Hara, presided, Father P. Bushell was the celebrant, assisted by Father Mark Taylor and Father D. Wood, and the Archbishop of Westminster was represented by the Right Rev. Msgr. Morrough Bernard. Among the large congregation were diplomatic representatives of 67 countries including 25 ambassadors. Attending with the Philippine Ambassador and Mrs. Guerrero were members of the staff of the Embassy and others of the Filipino community in the United Kingdom, and members of the Philippine Society of London.

And finally, some choice words from Mr. Guerrero about his fallen commander in chief.

Yet none was closer to the ordinary Filipino than President Magsaysay. Perhaps it was because he never made his fortune, because he rose to power so quickly and so soon. Or perhaps the common people always took him as their own because he made them feel important, because he knew he would worry as much about an artesian well for their mountain village as about a new oil refinery, or about a poor postman's promotion as a change in the Cabinet.