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So Much Ado About “Fiducia Supplicans,” Final Part

The joy of the Gospel (or Gospel joy), as Pope Francis would often emphasize, is perhaps the stumbling block for many Catholics, especially Filipinos. The fundamentalists and conservatives oppose many of the pope’s efforts to reform the Church as “too liberal” and that reforms stray too far from the deposit of faith (depositum fidei). Deposit of faith in the context of revealed truth in the Scriptures and tradition as preached by the Church. Mind you, there is a third component to the deposit of faith and that is the Magisterium, like what the pope is doing now.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he gave the apostles a mission to go and “make disciples of nations.” Jesus defined their mission to make more followers of Jesus. Pope Paul VI reiterated this mission when he wrote, “The Church exists to evangelize.” Indeed, that is the very reason for the Church’s existence in faithfulness to the charge given to the Apostles to reach out to nations and make more followers of Jesus.

Something went wrong along the way. When the Spaniards colonized the Philippines and planted the Cross, their idea of converting locals to the fold of Christianity was not so much to preach the Gospel. They mass baptized people “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” but did so without truly evangelizing the Gospel. They branded the locals as pagans because they didn’t know Jesus Christ, well, how could they?

The locals followed their own religious beliefs using anitos for their rituals and worshiped their Bathala. Understanding the local practice of animism, the Spanish clergy brought with them images of saints to replace the anito images that the locals used. The “deposit of Faith” at the time was seamless as the locals didn’t have a hard time focusing their loyalties to the new images and fealty to the new “Bathala” – Jesus Christ. The Spanish clerics cultivated devotion to these images and other forms of art ephemera like paintings, relics, or pictures of saints as part of their effort to evangelize the locals.

Such devotional practices have been carried over to this day and to some extreme. Think of the devotional celebrations for the Black Nazarene of Quiapo every year in Manila, Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City, and Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan. These practices are criticized by Eurocentric thinkers for apparent incoherence or inconsistency with the prescribed beliefs or practices. In other words, such traditional celebrations are not rooted in the Gospel but carried over as part of the fiesta traditions.

From the get-go, the Spanish friars used fear as a tool to make Filipinos keep the foothold of Catholicism on the island. Those who resisted conversion were either excommunicated or told that their souls are destined to eternal damnation. Even after the colonizers have left, what they preached to fear eternal damnation was inherited by succeeding generations of preachers. They preached from the pulpit of beautiful churches and cathedrals.

Catholicism and the Spanish state were inseparable, and the religion played a predominant role in the administration of the Philippines. The friars were interested in accumulating lands and in building cathedrals. They too were into politics and governance. Certainly, during the Spanish colonial times, the state and religion worked as one to the detriment of enlightened Filipinos like Jose Rizal and the martyred priests (GOMBURZA).

When the Americans came, they wanted to exorcise the pagan Filipinos for their “worship” of idols and other religious artifacts. The new colonizers preached Protestantism, a religion that prohibits such “idolatrous” practices. Well, for the most part they failed because the Filipinos feared ditching the images lest their soul burn in hell and their spirit is eternally damned.

For the bulk of Filipino Catholics who are poor, the concept of Gospel joy is hard to grasp. While Catholicism has been the cornerstone of Filipino identity since the colonial periods, many Filipino Catholics cannot discern Gospel joy because of how they view their practice of the faith – popular or folk Catholicism, as the West refers to it. They attend church services hoping for deliverance from poverty.

The term popular or folk Catholicism implies that it is not a mainstream Catholic belief, inauthentic at best. Certainly, in the case of the Philippines, the fervor (or joy) that devotees refer to is not long lasting. During the feasts for these saints, throngs of devotees line up to touch the image. Just days after the feast, the lines are gone, and devotees go back to their normal routines. The multitude of devotees in hundreds of thousands, a million even, disperse back to their origins having completed their individual pilgrimages.

For centuries, Catholic churches in the Philippines waited for the faithful to attend church services and they came and kept coming. The homilies are Scripture-based and complemented by life-stories or life-lessons. People pray and many would even bring their devotional rosaries and novena mini booklets to read pre-written prayers. After the service, the faithful go back to their usual routines. This has been the practice since time immemorial as handed down from generation of Filipino Catholics.

Gospel joy? For generations, Filipinos were told to not even venture reading the Bible and to merely trust the clergy for understanding. So, how does one evangelize others (and feel the joy) with such limited understanding of the Gospel? How can we make more adherents of Jesus Christ if we are not comfortable evangelizing? Filipinos use churchgoing as a process of enriching their faith. The clergy preaches to the choir every Sunday and other days of obligation and practically relies on the devotional traditions to draw more adherents to the devotion – and hopefully to Christ.

When Pope Francis alludes to Mother Teresa’s Gospel joy, it is hard for us Catholics to feel such joy. Why? Mother Teresa’s joy came from the faces of the poor she served. “I see God’s face in their faces,” said the saint. In the “Epistle of Joy,” (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians) Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice.” Paul refers to joy as “an enduring quality that results from deeply knowing God and actively engaging in God’s eternal work in this world.”

Paul wrote the letter while he was incarcerated in Ephesus. According to Paul, “joy is a fruit of Spirit.” Stated differently, biblical joy is not solely an emotional response. If we follow Paul’s reasoning, to achieve the spiritual fruit, one must react to an emotional state (i.e., suffering, sorrow, disunity, persecution) with discernment and purpose in the long run and not just because of the circumstance.

Virtue as a moral imperative, can be used as one of the lenses wherein joy can be viewed and achieved vis-à-vis discipleship, suffering, vocation, or justice. The Catholic Church can be a catalyst while pursuing synodality. It must get out of the business of maintenance (and politics) if it is to pursue and follow what the Apostles have started.


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