Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Sectarian Rise

There is a massive in-roading of sectarian groups in the Philippines. I would seem to think that primarily this can be attributed to the lack of pedagogical force that should seem to engender among the Catholic faithful. The deficiency of some Filipinos to clearly understand their faith have led many to leave the bosom of the Mother Church in favor of some welcoming congregation. The converts find in these different churches a strong social bond that is never found in Catholic Churches, so it seems. These sprouting churches exude warmth and affection to them, whereas in the church that they left behind was an isolating desert. The starking contrast of gloom and smiles could not be elaborated more.

This is where the problem lies. Belying this strong social cohesion among these sects is the inherent problem that tends to be overlooked by both the proselytes and the converts. The danger posted by the mushrooming organizations is one of doctrinal identity. As I would observe these groups, what becomes fundamentally emphasized is the particular, subjective encounter of the Lord, like receiving the Lord Jesus as personal Lord and Savior through verbal accession and from here so to speak develop a particular existentialist theology but transposed in a conservative mesh of a believing community that has become homogenous in its basic orientation to faith through incessant teaching. The emphasis of this encounter is projected into the life of the community worship. Much so that the worship now becomes an agent to boost further the emotional feeling of the first encounter. What now becomes the importance of a Liturgy that is celebrated with its usual form and rubrics does not fit in a certainly born-again community.

If one observes the homily of the speaker, it focuses on positive theology and tends to minimizing the commandments of the Lord that is truly a brute fact and could elicit distance between that and the hearer. Eventually, the life of the faithful builds up through self-help exhortations, a means by media-related literature and movies, personage that concerns human feat and achievements that would edify the believer, and the plays and games that would strengthen the members. It seems that secular themes are appended into the worship where topics of human liberation is pronounced. This is a extended edge into penetrating the mundane and urbane and offer it to the faithful where they can easily identify. Furthermore, the communitarian activity is given a vital space in conjunction with a personalistic and individualistic view of salvation. Hence, the fundamental tenets of Protestantism is preserved albeit presented in a radically new way with a touch of themes uprooted from secular personalities, which can indeed be interpreted in light of biblical exhortations and commands minus the rough edges of caveat.

The downfall of such a group is its contingency to the forces that shape it up. It becomes oppressed to the prevailing factors that led to its growth. It does not take its form from the perennial gravity of truth that becomes tested in the unfolding of ages. What renders these types of group ultimately dangerous is the trivialization of the basic truths of Christianity as just passing in a minutely graded change that would destroy the faith itself. The emphasis would dissect the fundamental identity of a religion and consequently leave it to die by explicitly leaving it out of consciousness of the believing community. Indeed, the project of the reformers of the 16th century had only been a dream that would fly before everybody's face. What had been dreamt of as purifying the excesses of Romish claims laid waste and has devastated Christendom. Here in the Philippines we need not to go far to see the divisions that these sects have brought to the face of Christianity. The Pauline admonition against breach of harmony within the hierarchical structure of the ekklesia is never more strongly worded.

What is more disheartening is the fact that these people whose goodwill could not be doubted indeed propagates their teaching innocently. And, the tendency to close off from any discussion is what concerns me. When one closes into oneself or in this case in one's own community, it becomes dangerous secondary to fundamentalistic tendency that would eventually bear out.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Water, the Temple, and the Healer

I could not help but notice a common aspect of the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel and the gospel taken from St. John. The mention of water is quite significant because the parallelism of the abundance of life that sprung from the banks of the river that initially flowed from the south side of the temple going east and the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethzatha. In the two accounts, the water becomes a transfigured element that becomes a sign of grace working in the man.

Ezekiel in his prophetical experience of an encounter that would eventually point to the future that shall be definitive recounts the water that flows from the threshold of the temple. The temple through the history of covenant people had always been identified with the presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The sanctuary whose essence becomes the living source of fruitful opulence in the land where it flows. Indeed, the Law as being captured by the image of the temple flows through where it has always been found to be a source of life. The salt water as a "foul-smelling water" becomes the "that becomes wholesome. Wherever the river flows, swarms of creatures will live in it; fish will be plentiful and the sea water will become fresh". This is the image of the Church that shall nourish the ages and ages and becomes the "wholesome water" for everyone to sustain on and thrive in.

The Church as the vessel of God's grace is indispensable in the work of Christ's salvation on earth. Thus, to be fully incorporated into the body of Christ, one has to pass through the water of life that shall renew and transform him from his old self to a new person. Hence, the water from the temple shall become a means of transporting one to the riches of the presence of the Lord, just as the sacrament of Baptism has a grace of making us children of God and fully participate in the life of Christ. Baptism is as if passing through a door ushers us into the abundance of being redeemed by the blood of the Lord. Hence, this initiation is a threshold of the sacramental life of Christianity for without it we will not have the Spirit that calls out to the Father Abba.

It is not accidental in the dynamics of the relationship of the old to the new that the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool becomes a link of importance of baptism towards the fulfillment of the eschatological reality of the union of the creature and the Creator. Sin and physical sickness has a link indeed for the punishment of Adam did not only dwell in the spiritual realm but in both the material and immaterial constitution of man. Thus, the reality of freedom from the oppressive influence of sin becomes vivid and concrete pointing eventually to the transcendental fact that shall become a real state when the "coming the heavenly Jerusalem" is seen descending as like a bride in anticipation of her groom. This is truly the constant teaching of the Church of the Anointing of the Sick and the Sacrament of Reconciliation that sin has a temporal aspect that should always be acknowledged.

In these times of positivistic materialism in which health is not explained from the point of sinful humanity but indeed from organic causes, it is imperative for the Church to emphasize humanity's need of redemptive causes that only from the emancipation of the Cross it is given. The healing waters of the God who becomes man in Christ Jesus whose clear image is the temple shedding the waters from the Cross watering the longing of a humanity who is in constant need of the replenishing waters of salvation from all forms of subjection and tyranny. It is nevertheless no truer than living the sacraments of the Church as a constant food for the souls of those who have wandered far and wide and whose hearts have been restless in its seeking to quench the thirst for water. In this season of Lent, we may always be find that wellspring of our source.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tridentine Mass

One of the glories that I would like to encounter is the Old Mass that we would call the Tridentine. It would be truly glorious because my grandmother had depicted it in vivid recollection how it was solemn. She even was disheartened when the Novus Ordo one came into existence in 1968. From my constant hearing of hers, she indeed wished that it was back for it was sublimely beautiful. I could even resonate what the beauty of it was when listening of her memories of those Lenten activities, Holy Week liturgies, the Christmas masses, the Corpus Christi celebrations, the disciplines, practices, and devotions of the Church, and others. I still could remember how alive they were in my mind. She mentioned about Hora Sancta, Cura Iglesia, the Animas, the AgoƱas, and other prayers, which until now she could verbalize from memory. Though she did not finish even grade two, she has known her prayers by heart, even the latin ones. Even today, when we say our rosaries, she would once in a while inject some memorized prayers, which she could mouth from her heart. I often wonder what could have happened if the Church from the closing of the Second Vatican Council had retained the Tridentine Mass. The Council, of course, was indeed needed in the years after the First Vatican Ecumenical Council, since it had been aborted prematurely from the onslaught of Piedmontese army on Rome. The needed changes that hanged over the Church for nearly 100 years since its unfateful end would help it realized because new challenges had been opened to the Church. How should the Church stand amidst the new thoughts, the new ways the world is doing its own way, the issues surrounding life and family, the ideas in political governments and states, the voice of the Christian Church in medicine and bioethics, and plenty of others. A council was truly needed. Nonetheless, when the eagerness of some to accommodate the ways to open the Church into the world had been given the proper ways to enunciate these, it could have gone on with preserving what is fundamentally essential within the life of faith of the Church. I think one of the losses for the post-modern Catholicism is its loss of the Tridentine Mass, which had been totally reworked "on the desk" of Archbishop Bugnini and was later approved by Pope Paul VI. The rich legacy of the distinct Catholic liturgical cycle from the days of Pope Paul V had been basketed in favor for a more direct and "effective" liturgy. I think this has greatly mistaken its own notion. The Church should have become a sort of a restraining force to the unbridled surge of the cultural revolutions that happened in the previous century. I think in this way the people of today can behold the mystery of the Church in its commanding presence amidst the vicissitudes of ideologies in the history of the world. Indeed, in its intent of opening under the spirit of aggiornamento to the world to baptize it as it were, it opened a little just enough to a destructive intent from without and corrupt it if only for a little while.

In my constant visits in my place in one of the provinces here in the Philippines, I could not help the domineering influence of my faith as evidenced by my attitude toward the Church and my constant fidelity (though not without weakness) to Her teachings. Every time I visit my birth place, memories of an old town would usually flood me. There is this tradition of ringing of bells everyday. Wherever you are in the town, if at all possible that you are within its hearing distance, usually about 30 minutes before the Mass, the bells would be rung with a regularity that has always been known by those of us around. This is quite significant for me since this is not usual in other towns I have been to. The old tone of the old bells would cast each ring with a haunting memory of an old tradition. I remember hearing it the first time that I asked my grandaunt about it. It really invites those church-going populace about the importance of being reminded of a holy liturgy about to be celebrated. And, during the consecration of the hosts and wine, two rings from the belfry would be heard as a response. It would remind me of admonishing those who are about about the consecration where the wine and bread are changed into the living body and blood of the redeemer. Though these practices have long been gone in other parts of the country, this is one of those things which have its root from the old rite of the mass before 1970.

My lola would usually recount that during the way of the cross, her grandmother would almost like kiss the ground when they would respond "kay tungod sa santos nga cruz gitubos mo ang kalibutan, which means in English, "by this holy cross, thou hast redeemed the world." Usually, the via Crucis was done inside the church with all the acolytes, ceriales, incense, and candlesticks. Nobody would not be moved by this demonstration of piety from all walks of life.

But one morning, the townspeople just woke up that the church had been evidently changed. The pulpit which stood for sometime at the right side of the nave was suddenly gone, the people had to now face the priest, and the language suddenly had turned into their own tongue. This was completely evident because my grandmother, though she was illiterate, knew that something changed without even knowing what Vatican II was. She could only adumbrate some small recollections about the gathering of bishops because it was prayed in the liturgy, but the onslaught of changes that would never have occurred to her were more than simply uncommon. It felt like a massive overhaul for them.

It was more than evident because aside from Latin to vernacular, some forms of devotions had been curtailed and prayers which used to be heard had not been heard since. The altars had been reworked and the vestments of the priests had been made anew. The fasting regulations and the great feasts of the church had been made bare to the point that it robbed it of its majesty that used to edify it. My lola would usually recalled the elaborate liturgies during Christ the King and the Corpus Christi. There were indeed processions inside the church plaza in her days and that there were some small altar, which they would call altares, for the priest to stop as he would proceed from one corner to the next. Prayers and invocations would be said in each altar with incense and pious genuflections. However, I can only listen to her account. Today, no such grand procession has had ever been. It has been turned into just a usual divine liturgy and a procession without any usual decorations of some sort to mark this feast as something glorious.

The usual Tinieblas celebration during the Wednesday liturgy on Holy Weeks were gone. Only lately I had encountered this one in our cathedral church in the holy week of 2006. It was supposed to be celebrated as the sun was setting in the west on a wednesday. My mother at her young age would recall some small children crying as the priests would try to put off the seven candles one by one after the beautiful prayers said. The whines of the little ones would be heard even louder as the last candle was blown off and taken to the sacristy. Mothers would hush their children to silence as the liturgy wore on.

One of the most unusual blend of faith and folk practices in my town Loon in Bohol is the building of bamboo platforms that would run criss crossing across the collateral nave of our beautiful and old church just prior to the celebration of tinieblas (which is called tenembrae in Latin). I asked once about it from my grandmother and she told me that it was made by the townspeople to commemorate the capture of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane on the Wednesday early evening. After the Wednesday service, the fishermen would flock to the seas to catch fish which is believed to be in plenty after the church celebration. This is one of the powerful imageries where faith and culture blend and create an evocative pedagogy of faith working in the lives of simpletons and intellectuals. If you are a third person looking on these traditions, it would compel you to believe of a working power that makes sense of a world where nature is at once subdued by an overbearing presence of an almighty. The fishermen would just put out into the sea with confidence since they perfectly know that fishes would not be amiss. What a picture indeed it was looking on them from above as they walk in droves to the seashore!