THERE is no denying that pagans, we agree with Pope Francis, can be more Christian than Christians in their lives of unbelief. But there is no denying either that in many cases people’s problems stem from a denial of God, of an after-life with Him and of a God-given moral code and hence their adoption of the hedonist’s mantra “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

This is not the case in Catholic Philippines. (As a Catholic I cannot speak for Filipino Protestants, Muslims, etc.). Our problems do not stem from a denial of God but from our centuries-old preference for the God who died on the cross over the God who rose from the dead. Philippine Catholicism is a religion of the Cross and not of the Resurrection.

We rate high in happiness surveys not because we are bone-deep happy (how can we be?) with our poverty, ill-health, and ignorance but because our brand of Catholicism sublimates our dire situation into a sharing of Christ’s suffering and a way of gaining entry into heaven. As Christ submitted to the High Priest (Church) and the Roman Governor (State) so has it been drilled into our subconscious to submit to the will of religious and political superiors who claim exclusive rights to speak for God as His duly constituted representatives.

Except for the battle of Mactan at the start and for the revolution at the end of Spanish rule, we don’t hear much of an armed resistance to Spain in the in-between years. Arguably it can be said the friar’s cross conquered us not the soldier’s musket. With soldiers, Catholic Spain took over our land and overnight made us her tenants. With friars she taught us a religion of the cross (of the Black Nazarene?) so we would accept as God’s will the cruel lot she imposed on us and look to Him alone to help us carry our own cross.

But to be a Christian is really to live the new life Christ won for us when he triumphed over his crucifixion and death with his resurrection. It is not to imitate much less extol Christ’s suffering and death but to accept the challenge to rise to a new life with Christ come the Easter Sunday of our lives. Rather than sublimate our sufferings under present-day political masters, a religion of the resurrection should enable us to deliver ourselves from our economic and political powerlessness by braving creative ways of living a vibrant new life.

The resurrection gives meaning to the cross, not the other way around. Christ’s resurrection gives us the power to overcome our own suffering. We have to unlearn what modern-day friars continue to teach that suffering is God’s will and a ticket to heaven. The resurrection should energize us into seeking ways of mitigating our suffering and that of millions of poor Filipinos.