501 Years of Christianity: A Lenten Reflection, Final Part Understanding the practice of Catholicism



In the previous two parts of this Lenten reflection, I explored the process or processes involved in a rite of passage from being a previously labeled “pagan,” to a Roman Catholicism convert. Straddling between two points where one finds itself first in limbo having to decide whether to make that leap; and second, making the leap and finding oneself in a liminal space struggling for the new identity as a Catholic much less a devotee of a saint or religious relics.


Whereas in the two periods of colonial years, our parents and grandparents went through the process of instantaneous conversions that did not always mean achieving apostasy but rather as a way of improving their lives or accumulating power. Even in my generation, we went through a similar process of conversion when baptized Catholic as a child without the opportunity for thoughtful thinking and deliberate appreciation of what the conversion meant.


Today, the Catholic Church has a process in place for those seeking conversion. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is a deliberate process on how to become part of a Catholic Community of Faith. Through RCIA one is provided religious education, faith formation and sacramental preparation to be baptized and confirmed with the help of a parish community.


The process of embarking on a transformative “rite of passage” is foundational to becoming a successful and faithful adherent of the Catholic Faith. This process can take weeks, months or even years to come to fruition. With a positive outcome, it would mean receiving the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil. Then begin a journey as a baptized Catholic in a life of faith and service.


This is perhaps the most critical stage or phase in such a rite of passage - the trip back from the point of conversion to practice and to integrate into the communal space – the church, Catholic community. If the method followed during the rite of passage is to “copy and paste,” then broadening of faith becomes iffy and spiritual growth is suspect. Thus the manifestation of such growth is how well a Catholic understands the relevance of such devotion or faith and how to measure his or her progress objectively.


A case in point is during the past fiesta celebrations in Tinambac, for example, a duality of culture emerged between the women and the men. The men, having characterized the patron saint as “Ama,” (or Ina for Our Lady of Peñafrancia) gravitated to a role of masculinity as a protector, a fatherly figure (or motherly figure needing protection) and incorporated such cultures during the street performances (linking arms, chants).


The performance itself became a liminal entity and a transitional space between tension of the past and the now, the individual and the communal space he/she then shared with others, the relationships between social and religious activities, fun or celebratory versus solemnity that blurred the line between the sacred and the secular.


For women who stayed away from the “danger” of rowdy men reeking of liquor and chaos, praying became their cultural manifestation. Using poetic prayers and songs engendered love and respect and deeper adoration. But it also reinforced the notion that women needed protecting and being kept away from masculine duties. For men, to “boya or voya” was a step to achieving masculinity versus understanding what San Pascual was “Ama” of or for – his relevance to daily living?


The land (Traslacion) and fluvial processions (boya), fiesta entertainment programs, and the street dancing festival featured a mixture of indigenous art and modernity. The processions and performances had similarities and quality that indicated prior planning, organization and practice were involved. Voyadores wore similarly designed and colored shirts indicating a coordinated action involving fundraising or solicitation for donations. The chants, interlocking of arms happened almost instinctively and honed to some degree of unity and perfection.


During the civic activities, the degree of performance varied on their music and tempo choices with a purpose to entertain and win. They were performed unmindful of the paganism genesis of the performance. Even now, interpretations of street performances (like the Voyador Festival) for spiritual meanings other than depiction of historical contexts, are often difficult. Similarly with the boat racing where individual boats were decorated similarly during fluvial processions, the fervor was palpable with the ultimate goal of winning.


In sum, the experimental mixing and matching of the sacred and the profane like the planning for the processions, the holding of a beauty pageant, street dancing festival, boat racing, military and civic parades in the context of the religious celebration became an entanglement from the historic past and modernity to a point that the point of the exercise was no longer recognizable.


Should one continue as if everything is proceeding accordingly, or should one pause and do some self-reflection and contextualizing? Knowing that our current conceptions of conversion through our own experiences or journey, have not adequately specified the process of conversion nor clearly demonstrated the effects of the conversion process on the self.


It behooves, then, to determine if your own conversion involved a rapid or steady but discernible personality change that resulted in a “reorientation of the soul?” Or was it a case of waking up one day and already had that feeling (or assumption) that from birth I grew up a Catholic, therefore I am? Thus, the process we went through was a seamless conversion without any radical change in behavior or emotional turmoil that one experiences being identified with the sacred?


Many of us who were baptized Catholics did not go through such a personality change (radical or gradual) where we could discern a change for the better (i.e. with the conversion). Call it a classic or steady conversion where we adapted along the way as we went through the sacramental obligations and observation of traditions where we have accepted religious attitudes without remorse of a previous religious affiliation.


Growing up, we were told that being baptized took away the original sin of Adam and Eve and having been confirmed upon reaching the age of reason at seven; our Catholic lives became a struggle for eternal salvation as we began to rack up venial, cardinal, and mortal sins. Such a lifelong struggle, then, became our measure of being a Catholic. Veneration of saints gave us an opportunity, if you will, to find some vindication and relevance. And we lived happily thereafter.


We can continue the same worn out path that our parents and grandparents took and keep the traditions going but the danger is that young people are told to follow Catholic traditions that perhaps conflict with their understanding of the now and a nebulous concept of eternal life. Consequently, the fires that innately burn inside could die down or become the fuel to burn down the structures of a culture, just to feel the warmth of their cocoon.