Aguilar: Lenten devotion?

Against the current

I WAS in Hinigaran for the Holy Week. While I was in awe with the number of devotees who went to church to observe Lenten rituals I was quite baffled by the glaring ironies I witnessed.

First was that while everyone was in prayerful mode during the Friday procession, right at the finish line all of a sudden the crowd went berserk as they pushed each other just to grab their shares of flowers from the carriage that carried religious icons, with no ounce of sensitivity to children around or to those of weaker physique.

Second, just across the church I found at least four stalls selling lechon on a Good Friday and interestingly they were all sold out before midnight of the very same day. Third was that, perhaps only the church service was solemn in the whole observance of lent because right after the procession people were feasting and drinking alcohol until wee hours of the night, I even witnessed a fight among intoxicated youth just across the church.

Lent is supposed to be a season for fasting and prayer. It is supposed to be the time to remember the agony and the sorrows that Jesus underwent some 2,000 years ago. It is the perfect time to pay respect to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus did. But as time has passed, it seemed like things have changed so much. Almost all religious activities we celebrate now, not only lent, have somehow become just icing on a cake as they show show signs of fanaticism more than devotion. Perhaps it is good to come to mind why we do what we do in the name of religion and faith.

I remembered discussing this a couple of times in my column that certain religious practices, while they are founded on very sound theologies can easily become fanaticism if not well understood by the devotees. I do not want to pass judgment to those who have strong devotions to certain saints of our faith or are very much into religious rituals. I know the importance of devotions in cultivating the faith that I am blessed with having studied theology myself. But what I saw last weekend was very puzzling.

Allow me to share again with you my notes some years ago on devotion versus fanaticism to drive a point and raise fundamental questions.

The injuries and sometimes even deaths that are reported yearly due to religious rituals present quite a contrast of the Catholic philosophy of putting the others’ welfare before the self.

Devotion is actually not bad. It even helps nurture a person's faith. You see, there are three fundamental pillars of faith, these are doctrine, discipline and devotion (3D’s). Let me dissect them for you.

Doctrine is basic in every belief. Every act of a faithful is always based and determined by the doctrine of his faith. For Hindus, they have Vedas, for the Jews they have Torah, for the Muslims they have Qur’an, and for Catholics we have the bible. By studying our respective holy books we get to know what our God expects of us and how we are supposed to live our lives in accordance to our faith. Yet what baffles me is how millions of Filipinos claim they are Catholics especially those who have not even opened a bible in their life, much more read it. Without the doctrine, there is simply nothing to be faithful to.

Discipline on the other hand is supposed to follow if the proper doctrine was learned. When a person knows what is expected of him, he then lives up to such tenets. This is where real discipline comes in. For a true Hindu, it would be very evident how he respects nature. For a devout Muslim, you can see how he pauses at certain times of the day to say his prayers facing the Holy Land. For a true Catholic, he would find it easy to forgive his neighbor.

Yet such is not the case in Filipino Catholicism. Since most of us do not know our doctrine, we do not know how to behave as Catholics as well. This is why while we consider ourselves as a dominantly Catholic nation we are also one of the most corrupt. Religion has just been reduced into a Sunday reality.

Devotion on another note is also essential in keeping our faith. These are small acts that cultivate and strengthen our faith such as mantras, routine prayers, or forms of worship we do regularly. Devotions don’t answer our prayers, but our acts of devotions show how sincere we are in keeping our faith and how we desire to grow in it. With healthy devotions it becomes easy to discipline ourselves to live in accordance with our faith. But devotions without correct doctrine and discipline results to religious fanaticism.

I still could not reconcile what I witnessed last weekend to the fundamentals of my faith as a Catholic. And while I appreciate the boldness of faith as evident in the intensity of emotions I saw, I still think the church should toil more on grounding our faith with sound theology.


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