Religion and Faith Revisited

Earlier, the fact that we Filipinos go to Sunday Mass in droves and participate in the ceremony suddenly struck me. Based on my experience in the US (and from what films like Sister Act show), only we are capable of filling churches over and beyond their capacity. And so I was reminded of what a high school alumnus once wrote in our newsletter: that the greater majority of us Filipinos are men and women of religion.

Which leads to his question–are we men and women of faith?

Many wiser minds have already pointed out that, despite our love of pilgrimages and observance of rituals, Catholicism in the Philippines is a folk religion, a mingling of the watered-down Roman rite and the local paganic superstitions and beliefs. Hence, the semblance of anito-worship in the veneration of saints, the co-existence of Buddha and the Christ-child in sari-sari stores, and so on. Thus, many have concluded, as Epifanio San Juan does in his reading of Nick Joaquin’s Cave and Shadows, that we Filipinos still remain pagan at heart, and that Western Christianity–the religion of many in this country– has never been and will never be at the core of our faith.

But I beg to disagree.

It is true that there is a distinction between religion and faith: as our alumnus said, these are two sides of a coin. And yet there is no need to pit one against the other. Faith and religion do not stand opposite to each other–they still constitute one and the same coin. The person of faith is and should be a person of religion–for what is faith if it is not expressed? And the true person of religion might, just might, have trouble with the Faith–but that he or she keeps holding on to the rites and perseveres through the dark night, not out of material or political gain, is on the right track. As Nick Joaquin implies, the very struggle to find faith in religion is the Faith.

Alas! Perhaps it is unfortunate that we who are learned have to struggle so much, to learn so much, only to remember our faith! We have to go through a lot of theories only to reaffirm what we believe. And for some, what they see even pulls them out, disenchants them, as it were, from the Faith.

So now we go back to the common people filling the churches every Sunday. True, they might be simple folk who do not fully understand our religion. This, of course, should be amended. True, they must be educated. But does that make them anyless Christian? Does the folk nature of their religion make them any less Catholic? Is their faith any less than us learned people?

Dostoyevsky admired the simple faith of the poor and the peasants in Russia. True, they do not have the enlightenment of theory, but their pure, simple hearts are in the right place. One may draw a parallel between Dostoyevsky’s peasants and the Filipino Catholic masses. They believe in engkantos and overemphasize miracles, but deep in their hearts they quite possibly understand God more than we do. They understand that He is the God of the poor, the downtrodden, the needy, the oppressed–and that He sympathizes with them. Though they lament God’s sleeping, they understand that He is with them, that He does not approve of the evils and injustices in this world, and that someday He will set things right, and He will welcome them, the common, the poor, the small ones, with open arms. And that is the core of the Christian faith, the Christian hope, is it not?

And perhaps this is what the Lord means when he demands us to be meek, to be humble, and to be childlike in the name of the Faith.

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