I wonder about Lent

GLIMPSES
By Jose Ma. Montelibano

Real-life reenactment of Christ's crucufixion

Real-life reenactment of Christ’s crucufixion

I wonder about Lent. Every year, I wonder about Lent. Being Christian, or more specifically, raised a Catholic, it is hard not to wonder about Lent. Being Filipino, though, I must wonder about Lent.

Even after four centuries, it is impossible to shrug off the conquest by the sword. It is not a unique experience. I cannot count the number of peoples around the world who have succumbed before the sword. But I am Filipino, and I must focus on the Filipino experience with the sword.

Why dig up history? Maybe, it is like digging up Lent. Lent is part of our religion, and religion is so woven into our daily lives as Filipinos. Like now, like today, Good Friday.

The greatest feast of Catholicism is Easter. But Filipinos hardly know Easter. Oh, a few do, but I cannot talk about the few before I talk about the many, the great many. Religion, too, must not talk about the few before it talks about the many, or about the all. That distinguishes mainstream religion from cults, that one addresses the universal rather than the select.

Which is why I cannot but wonder about Lent, why I cannot help but wonder about suffering. That is what Lent is all about, basically, the suffering. The Christian faith, of course, elevates ordinary suffering to the sublime. That is why Lent is not about just suffering, but suffering embraced, embraced for a reason well worth the suffering.

What is deep in the faith, what is central in religion, what is practiced in ritual, all these are part of Filipino life, at least the life of the vast majority of Filipinos. Again, Christianity and the Filipino swirl in my thoughts, in my feelings, in my reflection. This is Lent, after all, Lent in the Philippines, Lent of the Filipino. I want to understand it, not just experience it. I believe if I do, then I will be a better Filipino, a better Christian, a better Catholic.

I cannot avoid focus on the observance of Lent and the suffering embraced by one for the good of all. What a beautiful story, made most beautiful because the one who embraced the suffering did so in a world of options. Forced suffering is the opposite of embraced suffering. In fact, those who would impose forced suffering on others, in the religious sense, can be deemed as evil.

I always though faith relates to God, and the religion related to that faith applies by teaching and by example its deepest beliefs and virtues. It seems inconceivable to me that religion can only a facsimile to faith. That would be a horror, a betrayal of everything. In my human struggle to stay in fidelity to faith, in my Christian struggle to remain in fidelity to religion, I know all too well the falls as well as the victories. To err is human but not to err is humanly possible as well, if erring is grounded on principles of right and wrong. Or else, it is laying the justification of crime for all.

And this Lent, I want to see faith and religion find sincerity in application, my shared faith, my shared religion, in my shared fraternity with the Filipino people. I put on the altar of Lenten wishes that my faith and my religion become the pathway of salvation as close to the human understanding of what salvation is.

Salvation – not of this earth but in heaven, not in time but in eternity, not in the human but in the divine. Even this salvation I can accept. But I have neither the capacity nor desire to accept a salvation that totally disconnects the now from the hereafter. I do not stand along, too. There is a man in Rome who is doing his utmost, upsetting many but inspiring many, many more.

And I heard this man from Rome tell his appointees all over the world, “Go to the people, go to the people.” Strange, is it not, that he instead does not exhort them, “Go to God, go to God.” Maybe he believes that one cannot go to God without going to the people, without seeing God in people.

If the man from Rome does not feel the people are in pain and wanting relief in the flesh before salvation in the spirit, there would be no need to tell bishops and priests to go to the people. But he may be feeling the pain, the hopelessness, the suffering of a Lent that has no discernible connection with Easter.

The Filipinos are the people that the Filipino Church hierarchy is being asked to go to. Some has less need, some have less suffering, and some embrace suffering by choice for their lofty motivations. But many more, much, much, more, in the tens of millions, in clearer representation of the collective, they have great and urgent need, they have more pain, and have no options but to accept a suffering they did not ask for, do not want, and hope they can be freed from.

Lent cannot be the Filipino season, not without Easter. The Lent of Filipinos cannot just recur and recur, it must be confronted where it is merely a forced suffering. Easter must define our faith, our religion, our rituals, for Easter is Lent’s highest purpose.


3 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Bong A. says:

    Beautifully and rightly said!

  2. Guy Guerrero says:

    THE VAST MAJORITY OF FILIPINOS ARE POOR. THEIR LIVES ARE THE VERY STORY OF LENT. THEIR SUFFERING CEASES ONLY AFTER DEATH. NOTICE ALSO THAT ON NOVEMBER THEY ALL FLOCK TO THE CEMETERIES TO CELEBRATE THE DAY OF THE DEAD. IT IS ONLY IN THE CEMETERIES WHERE THE POOR FINALLY ATTAIN EQUALITY AND LASTING PEACE.

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