ALL YE, faithful: Rejoice.
Twenty heritage churches in Pampanga, the Metropolitan Cathedral included, have reopened four months after being impacted by the 6.1 magnitude temblor that shook Luzon on April 22.
However, four – those that took the brunt of the quake – have remained closed: the pisamban maragul that is the Holy Rosary Parish Church in Angeles City, San Andres Apostol Parish Church in Candaba, San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church in Macabebe, and the San Agustin Parish Church in Lubao. The celebration of the Mass in these parishes remains outside the churches.
Among those that reopened is the Sta. Monica Parish Church in Minalin.
I take the news of the churches’ reopening as some measure of grace, coming as it is on the feast of St. Monica (August 27) and on the eve of that of her son St. Augustine (August 28). My devotion to them, along with my veneration of St. Anthony of Padua, inhered in me veritably the day I learned to walk.
Mayhaps, that explains the stirrings of the soul I’ve always felt at every visit to the Sta. Monica church. That I best articulated here over seven years ago, at the time the church was declared by the National Museum as a national cultural treasure.
…COMPLETED IN the mid-1700s by the Augustinians, the church has remained relatively intact, having withstood devastating earthquakes, typhoons and floods, and the Mount Pinatubo eruptions that swamped it with lahar. (Include now the April 22, 2019 earthquake.)
No ostentatious ornateness but architectural splendor defines the façade – an outdoor retablo in concrete, where niched between Corinthian columns the images – as old as the church too – of Saints Peter and Paul, Francis of Assisi, and Catherine of Alexandria, with the top of the triangular pediment holding the image of St. Monica. Twin hexagonal four-story bell towers buttress the façade.
At the churchyard are the only four capillas posas still extant, in their original form, in the whole Philippines. Small chapels in red bricks, these served as holding areas for catechumens prior to their baptism inside the church in the early days of colonization…
Aye, being edifices of faith, churches are not simply viewed. Churches are objects of contemplation, and, but of course, centers of worship, loci of adoration. More than the sense of wonder it evokes, the Sta. Monica Parish Church invokes deep stirrings of the soul… There commenced my personal pilgrimage. With St. Augustine, whose presence is embossed throughout the church named after his mother.
Crowning the window above the pasbul mayor, the main door of the church, is an escudo of an eagle – the symbol of St. John the Evangelist whose gospel was St. Augustine’s favorite.
“Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.” So, I remembered St. Augustine saying in Tractatus in Ioannis Evangelium. There entered I the realm of faith.
At the vestibule, above the baptistery, is the heart of Sta. Monica carved on the adobe keystone – the image of a spade pierced by an arrow. Significant of the sufferings and sacrifices of the mother for the conversion of her sinful son.
“But I wretched, most wretched, in the very commencement of my early youth, had begged chastity of Thee, and said, ‘Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.’” Thus, St. Augustine in Confessions.
Taking center spot in the iconography at the main altar is a painting of the Nuestra Senora de La Consolacion y Correa. Beholding the image dredged memories of my dearly departed maternal grandmother.
May 4, the feast day of St. Monica (in the pre-1969 General Roman Calendar), Apu Rita took pre-school me to this same church for Mass. As was her wont whenever we went to any church, she told me anecdotes about all the saints present at the altar.
Her take of La Consolacion – from memory now – St. Monica prayed nightly to God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, to change the sinful ways of her son Augustine. One night, as St. Monica wept, the Virgin appeared to her and as a token of compassion took off a black cloth cincture from her waist and gave it to St. Monica. It was that cincture that finally effected the transformation of Augustine. From then on, members of his eponymous monastic order have worn a black band across the waist as a pledge of devotion to La Consolacion.
In remembering Apu Rita, I heard St. Augustine saying: “What is faith save to believe what you do not see?”
Unschooled, unemployed, unfettered from the material world, Apu Rita totally devoted her whole life between home and “her one, true, Mother Church.” Again, hearing here anew St. Augustine, and St. Cyprian too, declaring: “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.”
Lest this be misconstrued as Roman Catholic conceit, the most recent Catholic Catechism interpretation of “Outside the Church there is no salvation” is that “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.” Everything universal, nothing parochial in the expanse of the Church here.
The visit to the St. Monica Parish Church coming a day after the local media’s commemoration of the 19th month of the Ampatuan Massacre, I was moved to pray for the repose of the souls of the victims and that justice be done. And then remembered St. Augustine saying in De Civitate Dei: “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies. For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms.”
His City of God segueing further to current times: “He that is good is free, though he is a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though he be a king.” (Now even more apropos of the Duterte regime.)
…At the churchyard, my last look at the church centered on an escudo of a flaming heart – the very seal of the Augustinian Order – appliqued to the keystone of the main door.
Ah, how could I ever forget, the very core of St. Augustine’s Confessions: “Our heart is unquiet until it rests in you”
Maybe, I need to spend more time in churches than in coffeeshops. That will certainly make a lot of people less stressed, less upset, if not happier.
So, then I cry: But I wretched, most wretched, in my every commentary, had begged charity of Thee, and said, “Give me charity, give me unquestioning acceptance of the powers-that-be, only not yet.”
So, then I pray: God let me do a St. Augustine, but not yet.