Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The holy week irony

Officially, the Lenten Season begins on Ash Wednesday and the Holy Week on Palm Sunday. The Lenten Season, is supposed to be observed for 40 days—the number of days between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday—precisely why it is called cuaresma, which is derived from the Spanish word for 40.

The Holy week is supposed to begin with Palm Sunday, when Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem and was met by a jubilant throng waving palm fronds. Of course as we know, the same people who welcomed him with open arms would be the same people who would call for his crucifixion.

But for most of us, the observance of this annual Christian tradition only begins tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, and sadly, not for reasons related to piety.

It begins tomorrow because it is when it starts to be a non-working holiday. Whether we like it or not, most people look forward to the Holy Week because it represents a much-needed respite.

This year, it is going to be a five-day holiday since Monday is going to be Araw ng Kagitingan, which is a regular holiday. Depending on one’s motivation, that’s either five days of reflection, vacation, recreation, or boredom.

Once again, my family and I will remain in Manila. For many years now, I have resisted the temptation to flee to some idyllic location during Holy Week. Metro Manila is absolutely the best place to be during Holy Week. It is the only time of the year when the Metro is truly quiet and the roads are practically empty that one can get from Alabang to Manila in less than 10 minutes.

Of course, the malls, supermarkets and restaurants are also closed. But this is the Philippines so there are always enterprising people anytime anywhere, so one can never go hungry. The areas around churches are always teeming with activity and all sorts of ambulant vendors. Some of the food chains even put up stalls around the more popular churches during Holy Week.

A friend asked me not to write about how Manila is the most ideal Holy Week destination for fear that many will cancel their out-of-town trips and get enticed to remain in the Metro as well. But I doubt it. Being on vacation mode is not exactly the ideal frame of mind for the Holy week, but the reality is that for most families, the long weekend is the only time the whole family can go on vacation together.

So it is just another sad reflection of our times that practical reasons take precedence over the spiritual.

But then again, despite being the only pre-dominantly Christian country in the Far East and despite our claims at being a religious people, I’ve always had this nagging suspicion that our faith is not as deeply rooted as we would like to believe.

Contrary to the posturing of the bishops, I think the Catholic hierarchy has very little moral suasion, if at all, over its flock and the numbers of Catholics who actually understand, live their lives, and act based on the teachings of the faith has grown increasingly less through the years. And this becomes painfully obvious during the observance of Holy Week.

The Lenten Season is supposed to be the holiest season in the Christian calendar. But quite frankly, I think that the significance of the season has become increasingly lost among many of us for various reasons.

Take Ash Wednesday when the faithful submits to that curious ritual of being branded on the forehead. I have always wondered if people really understand the significance of having one’s forehead smudged with black ash. Sometimes I get the feeling that some people think of it as a religious status symbol; like something one wears to project this image of being moral or holy. And yet there is a lot of joking and ribbing around it. One who has an exceptionally dark smudge is generally teased as having committed more transgressions in life compare to others with barely discernible smudges.

And so today, the exodus to Boracay, Bohol, Puerto Galera, Baguio and other choice vacation places will begin. It will be bedlam tonight and tomorrow at the exit points of Metro Manila as throngs of people make a mad dash to get out of Manila all eager to start their vacations.

In Boracay and in Puerto Galera, they will have parties every night of the week. They will have all kinds of contests— drinking, bikini, even a Miss Gay Pageant— even during Good Friday. All these will be sponsored by big business—from cellphone companies and network providers to makers of tissue papers. And the media will cover the bacchanalia and splash it all over the evening news as if it is the most natural thing to do during Holy Week.

In the meantime, many among us who will be left in Metro Manila will go through the usual Visita Iglesia of 14 churches. And many among us will do so with the attitude of tourists and excursionistas out to enjoy the once-in-a-year promenade around the Metro. Others will have the attitude of kibitzers, simply out to check on what’s going on in th e Metro and find out who else have stayed behind.

Of course there are people who still see the spiritual and religious significance of the Holy Week and will spend time in reflection and contemplation. But sadly, I believe they are the minority.

Faith is something that is sadly diminishing among us. There are many reasons for this and I hope many among us will find the time this Holy Week to reflect and think about it.

Have a meaningful Holy Week everyone.

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