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Unholy Week

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“ONLY THE SICK, the vain, and the faddists still fast during the Holy Week.”

So the preacher-poet of Que Sio, Que Tal told me. And come to think of it, he is right. Fasting, and abstinence too, are not the only Holy Week practices that have gone to oblivion.

Less a mark of religiosity than a sign of (old) age is that feeling of indignation at (mal)practices of not a few of the (un)faithful during these supposed to be the holiest of days of the year.

The kids instantly scoff at every incantation of “No, we did not do those when we were younger” when – aghast! – in-your-face with patently irreligious acts passed off as sublime spirituality.

Maundy Thursday’s self-reflection induced by the soft, angelic Cant Gregoria before the Blessed Sacrament in a dark corner of the village church is pierced by the flash and whirr of digital cameras and myriad ringtones of mobiles toted by the throngs doing their visita iglesia rounds.

The object of their faith: not the body of Christ exposed in the santissimo sacramento but the monumento where the little golden ciborium is mounted.

Last year, of the many paparazzi, I took note of two Saudi-looking wives, read: jaundice-gold ornaments hanging all over them, prodding their little daughters to move further back to the monumento to get a more panoramic view. Beholding the photos, how papa would have drenched with tears the Arabian sands at this saintliness of his little darling! Oh God!

Then, there was this gay-looking gaily dressed quartet – I have noticed them for the past three Jueves Santos without fail – focused on the monumento from different angles while furiously scribbling notes and sketching on small notebooks like judges in some contest. Come now, have we a monumento competition going on? The most nature-inspired, the most futuristic, the most, err, gay?

Did those “visitors” ever come to pray if only for a minute? I very much doubt it. They – like the many others who barely bended their knee – had to rush to six or twelve other churches to complete their rounds of seven or 13. For the indulgencia to be granted.

In the scheme of things currently practiced however, the seventh or thirteenth church visited makes only the penultimate stop. The final – and longest – stop for the faithful is always Jollibee or McDonald’s. There in their own santissima cena, they feast on fries and burgers, spaghetti and chicken to stock on physical strength in anticipation of the requisite Good Friday fasting and abstinence.

Ah, how they fast and abstain from meat in the true (?) Catholic way – only one full meal on the day of days – a lunch of crabs and lobsters, prawns and oysters! Ah, Epicurus be praised!
Good Friday. My morning jog at the acacia-canopied village square has to take detours through the grass as the lane gets swamped by a horde of shirtless flagellants preparing for their penitential rite.

The plak-plak sound at the strike on the backs of penitents of the bundled bamboo strips at the end of their abaca whips provided the cadence to my jogging pace.

This struck me as a paradox of the faith: not a few of the Kristo wannabes imbibing markang demonyo for strength to carry their assorted crosses, or survive the bleeding under the burning summer sun. Yet a number puff on cigarettes.

With their backs “bladed” literally, or scratched with wooden brushes having broken glass for bristles, the magdarame start – to the rhythmic plak-plak – a procession of blood, the cross bearers in front and a multitude of their families, barriomates and usiseros bringing the rear.

Last year, being an election year, not a few of the flagellants sported arm bands and headbands prominently displaying the names of candidates. “Penitential” politics be damned!

Later in the day, after reverently hanging at the cathedral’s iron fence their black veils and crowns of woven vines of cadena de amor, the flagellants’ new spirituality gets further renewal with bouts of spirituous devotion to San Miguel, not the archangel but the blue one called GSM. Truly, bilog ang mundo. Maging sa penitensiya ng mga tao.

Black Saturday, the faithful flocking the churches for the Easter Vigil are nowhere near in force and in determination with those at the cathedral of compulsive consumption – SM, its two-day closure “in oneness with Christendom’s observance of the holiest of days” only serving to further whet the shopping appetite of its own hordes of fanatical believers.

From the abyss of the apostasy of my youth, I wrote a poem that ended thus:
“comic calvary,
a joker made of jessie.
pray, wail,
god is doomed
in the damp darkness
of nietzsche’s tomb.”
No. God is not dead, Zarathustra. Christians have only put other gods before him.

(First published March 26, 2008)

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