I’m one of those Catholics who don’t anymore observe Lent in the traditional sense. Because, can’t I live my entire life as a ‘sorry’ and at the same time a ‘thank you’ as well such that Lent, Easter, and Christmas are everyday experiences? Does that make me a bad Catholic? Anyway. In other words, while my family has been observing the week traditionally, I’ve been busy with work (I don’t get why government finds it a duty to declare a holiday as early as Wednesday when it merely sends people scurrying off to the beaches to gallivant in scanty clothing and such, or to reunions in their home provinces which for the most part is a subtle contest of who is the relative with more material riches this year? In the meantime, matters otherwise urgently needed by citizens are left behind. Is that the spirit of Lent? Work is a better penance, especially when it means other people’s lives become better as a result of timely actions. Besides, what about the citizens of other religions? Government, it being for all Filipinos, should stop declaring holidays favoring or upholding religious rites of just one group or sect. There’s already a standard that takes care of the process. With organizations, Catholic employees can just take it out on their paid vacation leaves (especially good for those who refuse to go on vacation just so it will be converted to cash at year end!). This is what it also means by separation of church and state.). On the other hand, there was practically no people and vehicle on the roads! I went to the capital on Good Friday and what bliss! EDSA and the streets were deprived of the usual offending noise, congestion, and vehicular traffic! Even the L/MRT was shut down. The capital was quiet, still, and peaceful. Everyday should be Good Friday!
In Makati, I met with my assigned mentor (in my volunteering work) who came all the way from across the world. Why she had to come is a longish story, but what I can say at the moment is I missed the two meetings, global and regional, held abroad due to unexpected difficulties with bureaucracy here. After weeks of papers and calls going back and forth, the agency decided to send instead their staff, my mentor, to me. She came just to train me in person for the research work. I couldn’t thank them enough (and felt so disappointed with my own government or should I say it’s workers who allowed pettiness to cloud their actions). My mentor, when I finally met her, is really old, maybe late 60s. But, she was spritely, cheerful, and game. Soon afterward I forgot all about my sadness over the circumstances of her travel.
She wanted to go around and explore the area. First, lunch. We found out that the malls were closed. So much for the food courts we planned to eat in. Practically all the restaurants were. What, Good Friday fasting is now a law? What if I’m a non-Catholic, or if one, I chose not to fast and I’m far away from my own kitchen? But thank God for the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants and the fastfood chains that were open. We hungry folks will be fed. Otherwise, lunch was to be a thousand peso per meal affair back at the hotel. That won’t feel like a Lenten meal will it?
We ended my training early and went to the nearby church, Saints Peter and Paul on DM Rivera in Poblacion. I’ve attempted twice before to visit after learning from locals that it’s a pilgrimage church but I wasn’t able to both times. I didn’t imagine then, how would I, that I’d be actually visiting the church on a Good Friday with a non-Catholic foreigner and my mentor at that.
We were in time for the Mass. The place was jampacked but we took our place at the front. We had to stand though. I looked around. Statues were wrapped up in purple cloth. I wondered why. Only later did I realize, crazy me, my Carmelite sister-friends will get my throat for this, that it’s what’s done on such a day. Also, at the reading of the Gospel, I was about to make the customary sign of the Cross but saw in time that no one around me was doing it. Then I realized the Gospel was the Passion Play. I put down my hand. I felt my face burning. We were really near the altar and you know the all-seeing priests. I blame my lack of sleep from an all-night travel. Ha ha!
While they were doing the drama, I reflected on things. Like, how many centuries have Catholics here been reading and listening to the persecution and death of Christ yet how is it that norms in Philippine society then as now are more or less the same? Injustice. Disregard of others. Incongrous divide between rich and poor. Destructive power structures. Nothing much has changed. How is it that we have not become any wiser for others? This is the question that’s trying to catch up with us.
The sermon centred on the meaning of death, for Jesus and individuals. I reflected on this too. The archbishop said death is painful and we fear it. That is exactly the challenge of the Gospel on us. The undignified death of Christ is for me a call to put to death injustice, disregard of others, the divide between rich and poor, power that enable this culture to continue; and, put in place the opposite of death- life, love. We are called to confront our fear of the pain of death. It’s the only way to cross to the other side which is life. Jesus sweated blood in anticipation of the pains in his death. Still he chose to walk toward it. Why, we ask? But don’t we know? It’s love.
Then the bishop said Good Friday was the birth of the Church. But funnily as it happens, forms of injustice, disregard of others, the divide between rich and poor, destructive power structures are also perpetuated by the institution. Church officials as well are not spared from the call to confront their fear of the pain in putting a stop to these.
We left toward the end of the sermon (sorry, all-seeing priests) as my mentor has a scheduled Skype conference. Back at her hotel, I said my thanks once again and she reassured me of her support and wished me safety. I felt truly loved in that moment. Then we said our farewell.
That was how Good Friday went for me this year. The church visit, visita iglesia in a sense, was unplanned but the Gospel message was spot on. It summed up my experiences of the day – what good is it to die on the cross when there’s no love behind it? what good is observing traditional practices (of Lent and Easter) when we don’t have love to go with it? Such won’t transform ourselves or anybody. It is love that will and being open in order to allow it to re-form and trans-form oneself. I understand now what our Mother Superior said when I asked her if doing xxx is good or bad. She told me, it “depends on your motivation, what’s in your heart as you do it”. I didn’t understand her statement then and was too proud to ask what does that mean? I saw the world as just black and white. Life is indeed full of surprises.