Category: society

Easter message on Good Friday

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.

Good Friday at Saints Peter and Paul Parish Church, Poblacion, Makati City
Built in 1620, the church is one of the oldest and most historical Catholic churches in the Philippines. It is under the Archdiocese of Manila. Declared a national cultural site by National Historical Commission in 1937. At first, one wonders how it came to be that the church is right in Makati’s red light district but one must know the area was a hacienda when the church was built. Photo credit: RLF at philippinecatholicchurches.blogspot.com
Good Friday at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Poblacion, Makati City
The altar is the original carved retabo The altar area also showcases a gallery of saints. When we went, the images were all covered up. On later reflection, I thought that it served às some kind of Lenten fasting for me. Not food but this, which is more painful to bear. Like, being deprived of your loved ones’ faces. I’m quite capable of going without muxh food or material comfort for days. I’m not as good at not knowing. Photo credit: RLF at philippinecatholicchurches.blogspot.com
Good Friday at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Poblacion, Makati City
The ivory image of Nuestra Senora de la Rosa, from Mexico, was enshrined in 1718 in the church from Mexico. It once held a reliquary containing a strand of hair of Mary. In 1899, during the Revolution, the reliquary as well as the ivory head and hands got destroyed. The latter were replaced with wooden replicas. Photo credit: RLF at philippinecatholicchurches.blogspot.com

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.

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Civilized

civilized: Emma Watson Vogue cover
via Vogue

Ivy League-educated, demure, socially conscious, white and pretty, Emma Watson fits perfectly into to the category of the woman whose breasts we are not supposed to see. In the binary of virgin and whore, she is firmly in the former camp. It is this that has upset the critics of her photoshoot, because there is an idea that nudity of any kind is for women of a lower class.

Feminism And Nudity: Why Are The Two Still At Odds? Reni Eddo-Lodge, Vogue

On the other hand, before Christianity and civilization our ancestors wore skimpy clothes to none, women bared their breasts, and that was natural. Civilized Christians who came upon these communities called them pagans who must be civilized and made to know God. Now that civilized people, women especially, are showing skin they’re called sluts, by even more civilized people.

Feminism has nothing to do at all with the reactions to Emma Watson’s Vogue shoot. They’re about our sense of what’s civilized and not. Interestingly, the more “civilized” society becomes so has the demarcation between civilized and wild people gotten even tighter. I guess it’s why the story tellers made civilized Jane fall head over heels over jungle man Tarzan and living with him in his lair became wild happy Jane, just to flip ‘civilized’ on it’s head. Why the story continues to be so well-received by everybody is what’s mind-boggling. Does this mean, in an alternative reality for humankind, ‘civilized’ is not even a word?

“That’s entertainment”

French word: wait what?

Waiting, especially when you’re by yourself, can feel like eternity. In that stretch, I could catch up on sleep. In fact, plenty of fellow travellers did, on the lounge seats. But women traveling solo are disadvantaged in this aspect I fear. To remain alert or at least convey that I was, I flipped through the dailies’ front pages (routinary for me anyway) on my tablet, more for entertainment than information. You can never guess what the world’s up to.

  1. Reading makes you carsick because your brain thinks it’s being poisoned. OK, so this is the brain – hypothalamus – receiving mismatched sensory signals i.e. stationary you inside a fast moving object etc. which it finally interprets as “poison” triggering you to expel this “poison” by working you up until you’re nauseated or actually throw up.

  2. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Calls US Ambassador ‘Gay Son of a Whore’. I haven’t yet read or watched local media’s report on this incident and the President’s actual words but if he said it in Tagalog then it has to be oh, whoops! censured!

  3. “If you don’t want us to be corrupt, don’t corrupt us.” Spoken by Philippine Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade at a business forum, in which he afterward received thunderous applause. He asked business people to avoid bribing them in government in order that they in government won’t be corrupt. Whichever angle I look at the statement, I don’t get the logic.

  4. Honeymoon stage. This piece tells President Duterte’s “skirmishes” with women other than his former wife and current partner. Among them, newly-elected Senator De Lima who has been accusing the President of extrajudicial killings in his anti-drug campaign. Responding to the accusation, the President daw said, “the truth is pangit siya (she is ugly).”

  5. Chinese tourist who lost wallet in Germany ends up in refugee shelter. The guy intended to file a lost property report but handicapped by his inability to communicate in English he was mistakenly given an asylum application which he promptly accomplished. He inadvertently spent 12 days at the camp. He later said Europe wasn’t what he expected.

  6. Suspect killed those ‘unable to communicate‘. The incommunicados referred to here were disabled people. The man who attacked them inside the facility confessed that he went after “those unable to communicate their feelings”.

  7. Student dies after performing solo sex act in his room, inquest hears. The poor guy must’ve forgotten to breathe.

The curious path to change

These videos were shown in a training for young LGBTQCI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, cisgender, and intersex) I recently went to. I laughed when these were shown. I have forgotten all about them. Almost a decade ago, we utilized the very same material in discussions with village men and women for a women’s reproductive health project in CAR.

I now refer to those community dialogues as therapy sessions. For the reason that we touched on topics which in polite society are only spoken of in private quarters and probably with a licensed therapist. But the project had formed me, then a single and relatively naive twenty something, into a pseudo-therapist whose job it was, for the sake of gender equality and women’s health and empowerment, to instigate and facilitate, with confidence, topics on sex, more sex, reproduction, and gender.

I spewed out words like ‘orgasm’ and ‘masturbation’ and explained coital positions like I was their inhouse sexpert ala Dr. Margarita Holmes. What did I think about the regularity of sex between a couple? how often is best? For god’s sake. I who had zero experience at the time about family planning and child birth elicited the very same from village couples like I was their longtime doctor-confidante. What differentiates Venus the woman from Mars the man? and issues surrounding domestic violence which to be honest it was a shock listening to myself talk about these things as if I had dissected the sexes in minutiae and lived in the world longer than my audience.

The truth of the matter was although I looked and spoke easily and objectively, what I agreed to be paid for in the first place, I was trying hard not to go under my own embarrassment; inside, I squirmed from the talk my rather virgin ears were made privy to. Everybody else in the project team came with a relevant educational background i.e. nursing, social work, midwifery. I was the only one with the economics background. So, tell me all about fellatio, I’d say to a colleague, a nurse and a man at that. This was pre-Internet pre-cellphone time and face-to-face communication is the only alternative to letters, landline, and telegram. Keeping a straight face, he’d explain these things to me. Maintaining an even straighter face, I absorbed it all. It was real funny actually and I’ve thought about documenting that and send it in as why-did-the-economist-cross-the-road joke. But on most I was brainwashed enough or should I say trained enough in the concepts and theories to believe I had it in me to go at the subjects confidently.

Then there was the matter of my religion. I was raised in a very strict Catholic household, it’s influence on aspects of my life I haven’t quite entirely uncovered but which as an adult I am determined to balance with a more pragmatic outlook. All those talk about sex, family planning, and convincing people to get on methods were throwing my then iron-clad beliefs out of orbit. Many nights I’ve lain wide awake battling with myself, wondering if my colleague sleeping like a babe on the next bed did not have the same struggle. When I finally had the chance, I referred the situation to a sister in my convent days who has since become a dear friend. Among the questions I asked her was, do you think we’re unleashing communities of sextroverts? Am I leading people to sin? Her first words to me were “what makes you happy?” I was momentarily disoriented. What has my happiness got to do with what bothered me? But eventually I got her message. What she said made practical sense to me. With her words giving rest to my internal battle, I continued with the community sessions.

Reflecting on that experience, the village couples had been rather lucky and spoiled by me. One, they had an eager pseudo-therapist in their midst. And I was so ever patient with the entire process of dialogue.

What they perhaps had not seen and which I realized only afterward was, more than having me initiate discussions that seemed out of place in their rough highland landscape my real value in their lives had been as facilitator- who organized safe spaces for them to open up through candid and respectful sharing and discussion in the presence of their own partners and other couples in the village and then eventually guiding them toward resolution of their own issues and problems. Near the close of the project, the participants have become more open about that side of their lives, a significant change from the early sessions in which the response I got from them were either stony faces (like hell if we’d tell you about what we do in the bedroom!) or fits of embarrassed giggles.

The solution to their issues was in them all along. All they needed was someone to get them to identify and articulate their problem, center them on that, and before anyone of us was aware of it happening they’ve already provided the solution.

Likewise, the same process changed me as well and by far the biggest one was having been mentally de-virginized and de-sensitized on fundamental human truths which Freud and Jung spent their entire lifetimes studying! As for my personal struggle with campaigning for family planning, it was only when I got married several months afterward that I was finally and completely convinced that I did not go wrong teaching others to get into it.

So explains my laughter upon seeing the videos again. It happened so long ago yet the lessons from that time fly into my present reminding me of essential things I have forgotten.

Polite society, sometimes

What I don’t like when fine dining is that I can’t eat my favorite foods with gusto.  Lobster for instance.  I like them un-shelled and whole, lime-vinegar-chili sauce mix on the side but what four-star chef serves it up as it is?  On the other hand, do I have to be in a run down place in order to have my fill of foods I love?  Can’t I have both worlds at once i.e. favorite food served as I liked it, eaten in my best dress under crystal lighting, waited on by discreet genteel staff, laugh like my lungs will break, and the orchestra in the background as well?

fine dining

Home is where the food is

Where I previously worked, the head of office would sometimes come by our wing (Program/Operations) in order to chat with us before he’d call it a day.  In one of these, he asked what language we were using to swear with because that would indicate where our true home was.  For several in the group travelling abroad in order to train or attend training, speak or participate in conferences, and visit successful projects, and for the few, secondments, adapting while there to social implications of language and dialect, has been a fixture in our calendars over the years so that the concept of home has blurred.

Understandably then nobody gave an immediate reply.  We were stumped for the answer.  We were trying to see the connection that language which one uses it to swear with has with home.  In short, we were over analyzing the question and so failed to see the joke if any, and though we wouldn’t openly admit it, searching for a politically-correct response. One expects that from development workers.  Then I broke the impasse and told him offhand, home is where my heart is and my heart is in the world.  So then it was his turn to think, providing us more time to work out the right answers.

So where is home?  I realized just recently that one also finds it around the dining table, among companions, kin or not, who are partaking of the same meal and together form a fellowship wherein each finds a home away from home.

Beyond eating

The clutter of dishes after meal times may look like as if a hurricane just went through it but to me it’s a…beautiful kind of mess, because it tells of the beauty inherent in relationship building and physical movement.

On the latter, it would be an accomplishment to map the dynamic between diners from the start until the end of the meal.  My premise is that for any given set of diners, factors such as the existing relational level(s) as well as circumstances involved while taking the meal will in synergy produce a unique depiction of the diners’ interactions.

I’m imagining the map to look like the intricate steps of a complex dance, a coming and going until both finally reach that level of connection at which point conversing over food becomes an activity that partakers of the meal look forward to replicate again and again. Isn’t that after all the aim of meal times beyond their purpose of satisfying hunger and fulfilling gastronomic desires?

On Total Acceptance

John Legend’s All Of Me makes me want to cry because what it confesses – total acceptance of another – is in reality impossible.  We might have had the capacity when we were very young before experience robbed us of innocence.

Acceptance of who we are by others especially our significant others is a basic human need, reiterated by Maslow.  In the Catholic Church, the teaching is that God is the only one who could completely and fully satisfy that need because He has accepted us even before we are, knows the number of hairs on our heads, loved us even before we knew how and despite our limitations and weaknesses, whose footprints are those on the sand, is with us at the beginning and at the end of our lives.  But experiencing this teaching at the personal level is easier said than done because as material beings, we need to see, feel, hear, and touch in order to know and so believe.

Somebody said one can only lead a horse to water.  It got me thinking what if that horse is a very sick horse?  Then that horse need to be carried to water,  But, who does that, carry a seriously heavy very sick horse to water?  Total acceptance, even while we yearn and actively seek it, is at the same time a heavy burden to carry, I realized.

Who accepts another totally?  Are we even capable of that?  Or, in unexpected moments when it’s given, are we able to receive it with total trust and faith?