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Saturday, January 11, 2014

RELIGIOSITY is looked upon with great favor in this country. I, however, look upon it with a mixture of cynicism and perplexity.

Because most of our religious practices are not really carved out from the fervor of our faith but handed down to us from previous generations, we should not blindly follow them. Instead, we should question their relevance and examine our motivations for observing them.

Do we go to mass because we fear hell? Or because we fear the ire of overbearing forbears bent on carrying on tradition? Do we go because Catholic education and upbringing fills us with guilt? Or do we go because we believe going will ensure us entry into the Kingdom of God?


People attend religious processions for two basic reasons: to ask for something or to say thanks for a wish granted. Most Filipinos attend processions because of a “panata.” Panata is a promise or a personal commitment to do something as repayment for a prayer or wish granted.

I don’t see anything wrong with giving back to God. But I do question the form of repayment which many Filipinos feel is appropriate—sometimes, it’s a simple procession which could still erupt into a stampede and endanger one’s life as well as the lives of others but sometimes, it can go as far as senseless flagellation or crucifixion.

How does attending a procession, getting one’s self flogged or crucified qualify as appropriate repayment for God’s goodness? And why would anyone imagine that this is the form of repayment God demands or desires?

Most people believe that repayment must entail sacrifice. In most cases, it does. But what many people misunderstand is that sacrifice in itself means nothing. I’m saying that if you take a knife and cut yourself then offer this sacrifice to God, God would think you foolish.

Ask yourself this, if you attend a procession, get yourself flogged or crucified, how does this benefit anyone? The reality is that it benefits no one including God. But it does serve your ego and pride to prove to everyone that you can withstand the rigors of a 22-hour march in scorching heat or pelting rain or withstand excruciating pain.

How could anyone actually believe that these practices please God? I boldly wager that God in all His wisdom would actually prefer for our actions to make sense. Sure. God would appreciate our sacrifices but only if these come from living a life in the service of others and not from hurting ourselves for no reason than to serve our pride.

Panata is an admirable Filipino act of devotion but what Filipinos should understand is that promising to live a good life is much better and more meaningful though more difficult to do than promising to participate in an annual religious ritual.

What would be the point of going to mass, attending a novena or procession if you continue to come to work late, whine all day, speak spitefully about others, tell tall tales, engage in gossip, ignore your debts, steal parking spots, cheat your customers, mistreat your employees or throw trash into the streets?

Save your strength to make these changes in your life rather than attempting to march 22 hours.

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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 12, 2014.


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