Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Sacred and the Profane

Man's transcedental consciousness is not limited to an elite few. Everyone at some point in his life experiences an immanent presence of a completely absolute being. And, I think this has a religious bent, which our Judeo-Christian experience has always taught us, that has its beginnings on the pages of Genesis. When, indeed, the creator has given us life, He breathed us not a simple word as air or wind but a spirit, a spirit that gives life in an otherwise an only material substance. It is as if that divine spiration is one step to making us divine ourselves. That giving off of the life has awakened that materiality of a substance devoid of essence. Ever since that locus of beginning, history sprung to life where the apex of all created order had given reality what could have been inconceivable had creation been devoid of its existence! Man can rise up to apprehend the divine realm, which was his own in the beginning.

Since the making, no one could be an exception to that which the inception of beginning has in it in the first. That is why the domineering feeling of a God is always felt, which no one in his finite being could exempt. The stark consciousness of having to end in this life propels us to accept our limitations, and beyond all boundaries of life is an abyss of darkness which inevitably constantly invites us to reflect. My concept of a God did not stem from a dreadful anticipation of end but in the beauty inherent in faith. The vocal prayers of those of whom I have lived with and the spontaneity of a pious and simple believer had early in my life been a overbearing memory, which keeps on repeating everytime. The aesthetics of the liturgy had become my source of encounter of someone whom I know could not be seen. The potency of the Church's tradition of doing things and the existence of timelessness could not be shaken off just easily. In one of a Good Friday processions in my old town in Bohol, the symbolism of an age-old tradition just seize you with a feeling that what goes on right before you is an amazing work of faith. The crowd, the anticipation, the prayers, the incenses, the murals of the ceiling, the starking contrast of the chandeliers bursting with light against the pressing darkness of an eight o'clock evening, the statues borne on platforms of shoulders innumerable to count is incomparably the call of faith.
In my young days, I would ask my lola what their experience of Catholicism then. Here, it is seen where culture is transformed as faith imbues the people with the spirit, which is its own. It is as if that the epicenter of their lives revolves around the Church. Their whole horizon parallels the whole liturgical cycle of the Church. They perfectly knew the feasts and the special holidays of obligations. They had almost memorized the prayers, which govern their time. Her two aunts, who were specially religious in their religous observances, would wake up around 3:00 early in the morning to begin their prayers (The Trisagio). Sunday masses were always days obedience. It became a routine, a cyclical, revolution centered on the Church. This cycle became their identity and in return gives them life. Is it not, then, a clear manifest of what we have called liturgical life?

There were prayers of the dead, which became a specialized area in itself. Coupled with this practice are the nebulous beliefs of the afterlife, of the homes and abodes of the spirits, and of the eccentricities of different personages, who either had gone ahead or were their contemporaries. The color of these accounts weaved a kind of relationship, a kind of pattern which at the center is faith that did not become foreign and alien to the whole thing. It was even poignant to hear that even in the church there were some stories of fairies, giants, and dwarves. These narratives became accepted in the consciousness of the people themselves that it soon became automatic accounts of the past whenever there are family or social gatherings and events. There was an account of my lola where the patroness had to be borne on a procession to dispel the plague brought by cholera. When she shared this, it came to me alive but like a very old picture streaming across my mind. The general association of the account made a coherence with the geographical place this occured. The way the mountains and the valleys give a backdrop of the countless stories of processions, masses, liturgical events, political caucuses, governmental occasions, scandals, mysteries, and on could never be wanting in any way.

The place that bred my faith and that of so many others becomes no ordinary place of one whose existence is but a part. And, the different architectural realities are a great contribution to the existence of this faith. Plus, the fact that this faith grows in a community of sanguine relations or in different family stocks is all the more an impulse of its thriving from within. The topographical beauty does not become an antagonistic force within the whole history of the place but a constant reminder of it. The economy, which the land had imposed upon its possessors, births practices and customs that adumbrates the profile of the people of Loon. But, we must not forget, however, the bleak of history, the smear of time.

However, the passage of time poses a danger to the cultural fabric. The vitriolic effectuality of liberal and progressive ideas, which are radical in the simple eyes of the Oriental people, may gave way to a general consciousness akin to alienation. The European Reformation gave way to the Enligtenment, which had shaken the concept of unity of life. The essence of this European event is the centerpiece of reason above all else. The questioning mind looks on the horizon with a heavy eye of doubt and skepticism - foremost for which is on the Christian religion with its dogma and doctrine. The idea of unassailable beliefs and tenets had to be deconstructed through perspicuous and rigorous logical reasoning. The end result of which might not be friendly to the propositions of faith and could be devastatingly negative to it. It should be noted that this kind of tool to achieve a result of understanding faith to the best human way possible was the primary characteristic of Medieval Catholicism; it was an endemic spirit that governs the theological schools of Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and England. In that, philosophy was used to achieve a desired result of putting in arguments in logical form using deduction and induction the faith with all that it entails that was "once and for all given to the saints". But the post-reformation world had put a wedge on the unitive vision of Catholicism. The so-called reformers in their plight to go back to the simple teachings of the gospel had destroyed in their religious ideas the development of doctrine and faith and traditions as time unfolds. A progression idea of faith that does not annihilate the past but built on it.

These tumultous ideas only trickled so slowly in the Philippine Church, though early traces of which could be seen on the advent of American Protestantism. But today, the coming of evangelical missionary activities have denoted this idea of devaluation and deconstruction of Catholic concept of society, and the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council gave impetus to religious freedom. Were the concept developed early on among Protestant churches and the ideas expounded of the last General Council compatible with Filipino faith? As a matter of fact, since there was a general acceptance, though not without any resistance from some, it was integrated by Filipino faithful. But as a matter of principle, it was not conducive to the way naturally Filipinos sees faith: for the oriental world, there is unity of reality that transgresses the natural and supernatural realms. The supernatural entity that punctures the natural domain has given rise to the way both spheres interact. In the Philippine society, their consciousness that spirits abode in the woods, trees, mounds, fields, areas, animals, and water bodies could not sit well with instrinsic and inherent belief born on Greek logic. However, the concept of Catholicism itself encompasses not just the lofty heights of reason but also the feelings and sentiments of mystical theology, then the appearance of cerebral faith did not kill the acceptance of a newness of a vision of faith brought by Vatican II.

With these high fallutin stratospheric Christian categories that ushered a new era for the Church, it might not appear to have radically incited a rebellion among Filipino churchgoers, though in many an instance, as my grandmother had observed, most have truly wondered. It was from the Sacred Liturgy that most felt the change: where the priest said his vocal prayers by himself and facing the altar, now the presider faces the congregants and heard audibly; where the sanctuary is a place where the priests and ordained ministers or sacristans are enclosed, now there is "human traffic" of lay persons, who have been consecrated as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. These and all did appear to many that the Church has been changed. The "secularization" of the Liturgy to advocate an inclusive attitude in the Church has a tragic outcome. No longer has the world seen something that compels them to renewal, but that in the effort of the theologians to offer Christ, it has lost the essential uniqueness of Christian revelation and salvation. The general attitude of today's population is not a flight toward Christ but that Christ should come to them to understand man. The pervasive indifferentism and ignorance of common Catholics to the teachings of Christ and the Scriptures is at its face very laughable and sometimes stupid to hear. There is also a great danger among Christians to cower in the event where a situation calls for intervention for witnessing the Gospel. Oftentimes, one feels that fear of giving account to the faith of which we have been given in the face of growing societal scepticism. But at one end, at other times, we feel that the abandonment of the world and the isolationism of modern societies has created people with harrowing emptiness that few existential questions would slip in conversations and dialogue. It is palpable that fear of the beyond and the now is a groping reality amidst the noise of today. It is here where the Gospel is at most successful and audible in the hearts of those who suffer internally.

This extended observation is not circumscribed in Western societies. It is beginning to affect Filipinos. By analogy, can we not ask if the reduccion the Spanish friars introduced in the Philippines did bring something beneficial? Lawrence Cunnigham in his book The Catholic Experience discussed the elements of which Catholicism has always been featured of. One of these is space. In this specific chapter, he observes that whenever one comes into a church something different happens: from the noise of the outside world comes the silence of a church, which becomes a different environment that invokes a different perspective. It no longer is mundane but heavenly. Going back to the the reduccion, a sociological terminology applied by historians on the process implemented by the friars in gathering scattered population into one circumscribed are within a geographical pattern. Looking into the common patterns of Philippine towns, one can always take note that the Church, the municipal hall, the town plaza, the market, and the residential areas are arranged in typical way. If we were to take more notice on this, it would seem to us that the call of dispersed units come together as one whole. What then becomes a call of Christ to gather the children of Israel, of the gathering of wheat and vine, becomes in a unique and concrete way manifested in the building up of a community. The presence of a priest whose features are all the more repelling against the background of the community to which he is bound by Christ create a tension between what he represents and the hitorical circumstance of the people. It speaks of a Gospel in contact with pure nature that it seeks to purify. But a call should be heard, whose need of a caller is given by the one who sent. In a way, the Church whose bosom bears the promise has to radiate this gift of salvation to ends of the land. At the center is placed the church whose belfry calls the distant persons beckoning them to come and drink from the wellspring of life. Is it not the case that the Gospel is an energy that summons the souls and hearts of those who hear the sound of the bells? Is it not that the hearts spring with joy when music is heard from the bellows of the organ and the strings of notes scatters in all directions? The road to the town is a road to peace; the peace that is seen in the measurements and dimensions of the elements of the physical structure of the community. The way the town is arranged evokes the presence of tranquility that points to a community in the City of God, in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The Catholic magic crisscrosses the boundaries of what is supernatural from the natural, the mundane and heavenly.