By: Msgr. Fernando Gutierrez
N. B. This article is written primarily from the viewpoint of the Catholic faith. Other faiths will be secondarily and briefly treated.
At the beginning of Hispanic colonization of the Philippines, the cross and the sword played major roles. Both the Church and the government are meant to serve the spiritual and political needs of man. In many instances, they did a healthy collaboration at the helm of their obligations and responsibilities. There were a times, when noncooperation and competition marred their image by trying to gain full dominion of the whole archipelago to amass power, gold and prestige. They were not the only sufferers in this in tug of war, but the prime victims are
This quest for supremacy over the nation persists to the present. The legacy of this swashbuckling continues. The Catholic Church prays and reaches out to then government for collaborative endeavors. It seems, however, that the government is looking the other way to break the faithful loyalty to the church.
The corpus of this work has three main components. Firstly, a discussion centered on the early life of the indigenous Filipinos, how they lived traditionally, culturally, socially, and religiously. This is the Pre-Christianization and Colonization. Formative aspect of the indigenous Filipinos when they had a culture and civilization of their own, though animistic and pagan religion, yet it is originally Filipino.
Secondly, the focus would shift toward Spanish Colonization and Christianization of the native Filipinos, how it affected and altered positively (lights) and negatively (shadows) their traditional, cultural, social, and religious life. The Hispanic: Deformative phase occurs when the Spanish “conquistadores” and Christianity (the sword and the cross) went hand in hand to civilize and evangelize the early Filipinos.
The third topic: Present: Transformative phase treats the solution to finding the Divine Face of God in the human face of the present-day Filipinos. In spite of the past pre-colonial and colonial experiences of the Filipinos, can the present remain saddled with superstitious and colonial mentality? Is there is no other way to transform the present to a more Christian, politically, socially and culturally better future? The answer is “Yes.” It is love. It is sincere love of God and others.
Lights and Shadows
To live in the presence of God is to journey in the midst of brokenness and darkness of life guided by the mysterium et fascinans.
The world’s concrete and historical condition is characterized both by lights and shadows. There are lights characterized by freedom, longevity, prosperity, and equality. However, people’s alienation from one another, isolation, loneliness, violence and hatred are some of the markings of the shadows that can only be attributed to the presence of sin.
The Philippines’ experience is no different from that of the other countries. The blending of superstitions and faith, piety with heavy emphasis on suffering and remorse, colonial mentality on the superiority of whiteness over brown skin, corruptions and cronyism in the government, selfish interest in the private sectors with little concern on the plight of the poor, and the church on the side of those “where vested interest stands, be that the vested interest of the business world, the academic world, or the pop culture,” salutary lights and positive change emerge: renewed and transformed democratic way of life, freedom of expressions, and living conditions.
Positively viewed, the changes, brought forth by pre-colonial and colonial history of the Filipinos, can lead to transformative development. “If one accepts that our troubles fall within the providence of God,” Michael Casey says, “one is more likely to see them as potentially beneficial and not necessarily destructive.”
Brokenness is a blessing in disguise
Leonard Bernstein wrote the famous Broadway play, Mass, in memory of President John F. Kennedy. Toward the end of the musical, a priest, dressed in elaborate and colorful vestments, is lifted on the shoulders of the people, in the form of a human pyramid. The crowd adores him while he holds the glass chalice. Suddenly, the human pyramid collapses, and the priest falls all the way down to the ground. His clothing is torn apart, the glass chalice falls on the ground as well and breaks into small pieces. This time, he is wearing only a t-shirt and blue jeans as he walks away from the crowd. A group of children starts singing, “Praise, praise, praise.” The priest looks at the broken chalice. There is a silence. He looks for a long moment and then comments: “I never realized that broken glass could shine so brightly!”
Soren Kierkegaard said “Courage isn’t the absence of despair and fear but the capacity to move ahead in spite of them.”
Life is not all smiles; there are also tears which should not inhibit us from fully enjoying life. Brightness does not mean the absence of light, but it shines and exists through darkness, even without us being aware of it. In spite of the negative effects in life, there is faith which leads to hope that springs eternal light.
Mark Twain puts it this way, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.”
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca; ca. 4 BC – AD 65) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist. Though a citizen of pagan Rome, he had an idea of heavenly realm. He said, “Virtus in astra tendit, in mortem timor.” (Courage leads to heaven; fear, to death.)
Broken glass, broken dreams and hopes, failures and disappointments and shattered lives due anger, addiction to alcohol, drugs and sex could be transformative toward wholeness. Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Through the cracks of history brought about by erstwhile colonial rule on the Filipinos as well as on other countries equally colonized, light shines through.
Brokenness and wholeness are both divine
What is considered as indigenous, backward, native, inferior, and downtrodden is the ground mostly on which the divinity has chosen to descend. There is something spiritual on what is anthropologically peripheral. As Jesus has affirmed, he came not for the healthy, but for the sick, not for the just, but for sinners. He had also been beset with brokenness, weakness, and marginalization. His life had a “crack” because he suffered with the suffering humanity, but through it and with him a light could shine to the world.
A companion in struggle
It is this shadow of fear, doubt, despair, and self-pity that John Paul II had mentioned in his message at the conclusion of the International Eucharistic Congress at Guadalajara, Mexico on October 18, 2004. Speaking about the longing in man’s heart that can only be satisfied by the Bread of Life, the pope said,
over this universal human longing, threatening shadows gather: the shadow of a culture that denies respect for life in each of its phases; the shadow of an indifference that condemns so many people to a fate of hunger and underdevelopment, the shadow of a scientific quest that at times is at the service of the egoism of the most powerful.
The doubts and fears in life could become the catalysts for light and transformation.
John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter, Amid our questions and difficulties, and even our bitter disappointments, the divine Wayfarer continues to walk at our side, opening to us the Scriptures and leading us to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God.
Kahlil Gibran wrote, “When you part from your friend, you grieve not: For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.”
Our faith sets us on trial. During that trying time, we either remain steadfast in faith or abandon it. We draw our strength from faith to weather the storm of trials, because we are aware that there is a God of love. There is therefore a hope of transformation for the Philippines and the world, because of the light of faith coming from Christ’s powerful grace and God’s love.
“For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. … For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. … He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is beset with weakness.”(Hebrews 18; 4:15; 5:2.)
According to western standards, the early indigenous Filipinos were uncivilized and weak. They had crude weapons to defend themselves against the Hispanic colonizers swords helmets and breast plates. Yet, in all of these, they were contented with their simple and unsophisticated life.