It has always been difficult for me, someone who a priest has called an "inquiring faithful", to understand many of the rituals and traditions of Philippine Catholicism. Don't get me wrong, whenever I recite the Apostles' Creed, I mean it. It's just that, sometimes, the human aspect of the Catholic Church is not easy to "believe in". Because I often find the actions of many "devout Catholics" to be utterly pointless and adverse to the Christian faith, it's not easy for me to defend the faith when questioned. Many people, myself included, are not good representatives of the Catholic Church.
This Sunday, I felt vindicated when a priest echoed my thoughts in his sermon. Fr. Nolan criticized the devotees of the Black Nazarene in this way. "Mag-tsinelas nga kayo. Baka matusok yang mga paa ninyo. Tingin niyo ba gusto ng Nazareno na magkasugat-sugat yang mga paa ninyo?" Fr. Nolan further told us that when you ask most devotees why they do what they do on the feast day of the Nazareno, they reply "Para matupad ang mga kahilingan namin." I think the priest's internal retort "Ano to, gamitan?" was most appropriate.
It is traditions, no, mentalities like this that make non-Catholic Christians shake their heads at us, marking us as unbelievers who have a very superficial relationship with God.
We tend to treat God like a vending machine. Insert good deed. Select wish. Take wish from compartment below. And when we don't get what we want we become resentful. We smack the machine. We curse at it. We swear never to use it again. This way of thinking assumes that when we do the things good Christians should do, God owes us something. But, how can that be when all the things we have and do are gifts from God? See the disconnect?
The feast of the Black Nazarene is a beautiful example of how Catholicism is still very much alive in the Philippines and how many Catholics are not merely nominal, but are devout. At the same time, to me, it is also a poignant picture of misleading tradition and skewed reasoning.