Friday, April 22, 2011

Motorcycle, Disco, Penitensya and a little theology of pain

Yesterday, I was on a motorcycle and listening to KC and the Sunshine Band singing “That’s the way” and following a crowd shouting “crucify him!” while two centurions carrying two large bamboo piggy bank go from jeepneys to bystanders asking for donations made me stop, look, listen and scratch my head. The irony and the incongruity of it all almost made me want to get down from the motorcycle, grab the cross, carry it, then sing “That’s the way I like it” while swaying to the rhythm of disco’s groove and horn…Of course this  sounded sacrosanct, but, sometimes the mind had its own way of dealing with absurdities, go insane or to be more adaptive and survivalistic,  think of little crazy things. 

Anyway, for all the traditions and the holiness we attached to holy week, there’s one thing that I need to talk about. It’s the question that nags me every time I see penitensyas done in the street: Why there has to be pain? If you ask me, Lent especially Good Friday is one big sadistic traditional festival very similar to that of the hedonistic Mardi gras that is also, incidentally, part of the observance of the Lenten season, where exhibitionism and flagrant sensuality rules the day. (Mardi gras in English is fat Tuesday. It is the tradition of celebrating and eating all you can before the beginning of the fasting season of lent which is Ash Wednesday). There is a thin line, actually the relationship is direct and complementary, between pain and sensuality.Orgasm and dying are both ecstatic-medically speaking of course.

In the Philippines it is belief that self inflicted suffering like whipping and the literal crucifixion of a devotee to imitate the sufferings of Christ brings with it forgiveness and washing of sins, and, also expected are healing, blessings, and the granting of prayers.

Although many religion practice self inflicted pain as an initiation rite and also as a way to induce ecstatic experience, the Christian tradition, or understanding,  of pain and death of Christ is that of representational  or vicarious in that the sufferings and death of one man, the second Adam, all may live. So, if I follow, Christ suffered and died to give life, and that is by ransom, by redemption, that resulted in our justification before God. Christ's death sufficed. Although many saints suffered and was martyred, it’s not because they intentionally chose to, but it’s because of the hostility of their era to Christ and Christianity and to expect Christians to suffer in the way these saints did is absurd. That is why Paul stressed the spiritual aspect of suffering and the nailing on the cross of our fleshly nature because of the dangers of Christinity going the way of Stoicism, which Paul fought vehemently during his time. The teachings that espouses the denial of the body and the glorification of suffering and physical pain. Unfortunately, the mythologization of the lives of the saints, real or fictional, resulted to the glorification of self mortification at the expense of the joys and the blessings of a saving relationship with Christ.

Penitensyas, unfortunately, still espouses the discredited and dumped dogma of indulgences because it deemed self mortification as a bargaining chip, not different from that of the excess merits of Christ and the saints, to win favor from God based on what humanity could give and not grounded upon the grace and perfection of God. What can humanity add to the sufferings of Christ? Nothing. It is the acceptance and the realization that the suffering of one man is enough for us all-that is what we must to-accept grace for we cannot add anything to God's perfection.  

Penitensya is odd because if it is to be understood as an imitation of Christ, it does not accomplish much. Observe that after the lashings and the crucifixions, after a few days, most of these people are back to their former selves with not a trace of change in them. Experiencing Christ does not necessarily has to be painful, but it must be life changing.

The practice and tradition of self mortification has its scriptural source in the writings of St. Paul; Romans 6:13 “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye live through the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”; Col. 3:5 “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Though the implications of the verses are spiritual and do not necessitates self mortification, the traditionalization of the penitnesyas may well be the result of the Catholic Church’s institutionalization or at the very least toleration of the penitensyas.  

 It is only lately that the church, as a whole, started issuing strong repudiation of the necessity of self mortification on a Biblical as well as for health reasons. Also, with the attention that penitensyas are getting, the evil of commercialization is starting to rear its ugly head. People are not getting nailed on the cross for religious and even ecstatic reasons; the primary motivation now is manna-money, the love of which St. Paul rightly said as the root of all evil. Because of this the Catholic Church realized that the religious and spiritual aspect of most penitensyas is taking a backseat and is now just a peripheral justification for the observance of penitensyas and what is emerging is one lucrative business: the religious-cultic-tourism. They are now taking steps but centuries of traditions and the pull of making money cannot be changed in a day.

Why is there pain? I don't know gaadddaafffi...

 The absurdity of it all is saddening. Its like riding on a motorcycle, listening to KC and the Sunshine Band singing “That’s the way” while watching a young boy dressed like a Christ re-enacting crucifixion. Where is this leading to?

Back to basics people! Jesus saves.

And back to my breakfast...I like blogging while eating!

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