Archive for April, 2015

April 4, 2015

Commemorating Good Friday in a Secular Landscape

Three points of reflection:

1. I feel a sense of uncanniness commemorating Good Friday in a place that does not treat it as much as where I come from. Cleveland – or should I say (most) of the US – is a highly secularized society, and because of that, social arrangements are profoundly different. Before I would scratch my head every time people wrote about the difference of the experience of space and time in secularized societies. Temporality and spatiality are profoundly different back in the Philippines, which become pronounced coming up to the holidays. Holy Week, being the most important dates for a Catholic, are days of reflection and prayer, of penance and forgiveness, and finally, of joy and hope. And because of that, everything stops; everything gets reordered, distended and intended, stretched to their limits and condensed to their densest possible singularity, according to the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Here, however, today feels just like any other day. Much like how we regard Muslim holidays – a greeting of goodwill, and nothing more. Only now have I realized how profoundly different commemorating Jesus’ death is when you only have a few people to commemorate it with, which really underscores the intimate link between community and the very experience of space and time.

2. It gets me thinking about how we, Catholic Filipinos, take so much of the slowing down of time and the extension of space for granted. Our givenness in the Catholic faith allows us to experience things differently, and I daresay much more profoundly. The Stations of the Cross is a perennial example. While most of us – me included – will want to finish off the stations immediately, the invitation however is to slow down. And what better way to learn that slowing down than by learning how to walk slow, and not only walking slowly, but with the community. The walking is an act of praying. Incidentally, I met someone in an academic conference last week. She was a woman minister for the Church of England, and we talked a lot about religion. As we talked, it gradually dawned on me that much of the distinctiveness of the “Filipino-style” of practicing the Catholic faith comes from the very visceral, embodied, and even carnal depictions of the movement of faith. The excessive manifestation of the faith is not a relic of an non-Christian way of doing things; it is what makes the Filipino faith distinct. In other words, the Filipino faith offers nothing less than a profound change in the spatial and temporal arrangements of one’s living. The practice of everyday life, as a sociologist puts it, is changed because of faith. And the marvelous thing with Filipino religiosity is that this faith is acted out, performed most vividly in the process of practices involving the body, to the point of excess.

3. This unique and distinct style of Filipino faith, in my view, offers a deeper look into the very physical and traumatic nature of Christ’s suffering. The Gospels until Easter morning are populated by narratives involving touch, or at least intensely physical experiences. The first narrative coming up to Friday was the scene in the garden where Jesus prays to the point of painful sweating. This was followed by His arrest, where Peter cuts off one man’s ear, only to have Jesus heal the man’s wound by touching him on the side of his head. Of course we are familiar with the oft-repeated passion narratives, which are inundated with assaults to the senses. And coming up to Easter, we see the resurrected Jesus telling Mary to not touch him. We also see the disciples in the road to Emmaus, who witness a stranger touch the bread, raise them up, and whose eyes were opened and whose “hearts were burning” at the sight of the risen Christ. What do these narratives tell us? Perhaps this: that we are invited to slow down and feel those intensely physical invitations, for it is only in slowing down and in prayer that we are able to savor the salvific power of Christ. This is why narratives of touch are almost always narratives of conversion. I have said earlier that the distinctively Filipino style of practicing the faith has been very physical. There is another dimension to this physicality: its shared nature, how undergoing a similar or an analogous experience provides a deeper level of understanding. Perhaps the call is not just to emulate Christ for the sake of emulating Him in the most physical manner possible; perhaps the call is to unlock one’s doors and go out into the streets and share the burden and joy of being a Christian, embodied in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps physicality can be rendered in this way: as an extension of oneself to the other, just like Christ did. Compassion, lest we remind ourselves, comes from the Latin patir, which means “to suffer with.”

That might be the deeper lesson in Filipino Christian practices, over and beyond the usual interpretations of being instances of folk Christianity, or worse, inauthentic renderings of faith. Faith, at least in our experience, is never divorced from community, and community means to go through something together, even to suffer together. But one must be reminded that everything does not end in suffering, but in joy. Which is why the paradigm for Christian practice is the liturgy. And perhaps that is a good starting point for rediscovering our faith: simply by going to mass and letting God take hold of you, for it is in His holding that everything will change, and it is in that holding that I am also held together by others in worshipping Christ.

A blessed Good Friday.