La manda

20 01 2009

penitentes2007_046_jpg

From the Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasti Me blog:

One thing I’ve noticed about the many flagellants and penitents who crowd the streets of Manila and its neighboring provinces during the Lenten season — and more specifically, Holy Week — is that they view their panata (i.e., religious vow) almost as a moral obligation. Failure to fulfill the panata almost always means bad luck and sparse blessings for the year ahead. Thus, the men and women who vow to ‘serve’ the Lord in some way or another are, in a way, paying a debt. But deeper than this goes the concept of utang na loob. One thing that always impressed me with the character of the penitents is that very few of them, if any, have a victim complex. They go about their rituals and penitence of their complete and utter accord, knowing full well the the dangers of the activities they are about to enter… Contrary to popular opinion, the Philippine concept of penitence is not confined exclusively to crucifixion and flagellation (although these are probably the most prevalent, especially the latter). There is the tinunggong of Laguna, where boys as young as ten roll sideways on the barren ground on the way to church; another province has a peculiar tradition of macho men donning grass skirts and headdresses, thereby humiliating themselves by dressing up as women.

What is described in this post is the Filipino version of what in Mexico is known as a manda. In traditional Spanish Catholicism, one does not merely pray to God expecting that God is going to give you what you need just because you ask. People even now in these places make vows that have consequences. Not only does one promise that one will do something if the request is obtained, but one choses to suffer the consequences of not “paying the price” of the favor. Jesus, the Virgin, or the saint have a right to “get even”. The “name it, claim it” attitude is about as far from this idea as the night is from the day.

Most “good Catholics” would be shocked and horrified by such a mentality, but I have never been able to discern any difference between their critique and what Bonhoeffer calls, “cheap grace”. All of that Hans Urs Von Balthasar, post-Vatican II treatment of God as the all-merciful pushover in Heaven seems to be dangerously close to thinking of God like Casper the Friendly Ghost. People in Mexico and the Philippines, those bad, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, non-church going Catholics seem to be treating God as if He were a real person. I have yet to see an American Catholic crawl into a church on his knees. We seem to treat God like the ultimate sugar daddy in the sky.

Much of what passes for Faith in the modern world appears to me to be the castrating of real religion with the shiny tools of systematic theology. I am immensely skeptical of it.


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13 responses

26 12 2015
Sonya

I see American Catholics do these things all the time. Must be a matter of looking for it. And where I live having the influence of Latino and Indian ancestry. Traditions are learned, handed down through the generations. I don’t think they are a reflection of one’s devotion being greater than the other, etc.
Look up Tortugas mountain and the Dia de la Virgin de Guadalupe 12/11. We aren’t in Mexico and most climbing are American born.

22 01 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Josh S.,

Yes, because we all know you can abolish Hell itself if you write enough books and have enough doctorates.

22 01 2009
Fearsome Comrade

Why not just admit that your brains don’t even measure up to the little pinky of their hands?

I had always thought that this line was pulled out only on Protestants. I’m glad to see it shows when one Catholic is berating each other for not being smart enough to pull God out of heaven by the force of intellect, too.

21 01 2009
MCH

It only seems silly if you’re surrounded by the comforts of the middle class. Most Catholics outside the United States are not so lucky. We have to deal with corruption, poor standards of living, really, almost everything that one can throw at us. I met a poor man with 18 children once who lived in the streets. He told me that the only thing keeping him afloat is the hope that he can somehow ‘secure’ a happy future for his children by walking on his knees to a certain shrine every Holy Week for the rest of his life. Now, that’s faith. I think Arturo’s point, and mine, is that you must never allow your theology to interfere with your religion. You have to be able to believe in the pit of your gut, and not just in heart and mind, in the unfathomable mercy and love of God. For us who have everything we could ever ask for, it IS silly, naive, superstitious, and maybe even a bit pagan. But above all, i think it is human. What is faith after all than a firm trust in God? Can–Will– we still call ourselves believers, after everything has been taken from us? In America where prosperity (and really the whole suburban way of life) is held to be the most visible sign of God’s grace, I imagine it would be VERY hard to do so. Just sayin’.

Oh, and just an aside. It’s very common in Mexico, the Philippines, and indeed, the rest of the Spanish-colonized world for some women, especially the elderly, to attend Mass daily and never miss it for the rest of their lives, but still end up bitter, resentful old hags. Really now, if salvation were as easy as attending Mass everyday, heaven would be filled with old women (and I’m sure it is), but as it stands, not all of them are exactly perfect, let alone saintly. Why else would they be praying the rosary and countless novenas even when the Mass was still in Latin?

21 01 2009
Arturo Vasquez

It is most theologically correct to say that you cannot buy off God. That is something I know well. That doesn’t mean He doesn’ want you to try. It’s sort of like being in love.

If we view it too much from the theologically correct perspective, we get the form of religion we have in modernity, and we all know what that looks like. Problems come when we try too hard to wrap our minds around these things, and even more problems come when we try to “fix” them.

21 01 2009
Ronald Marsh

Also stemming from Jonathan’s reply I would like to add that it seems silly to “bargain” with God. What can be given that is not already his? This is not to say that making vows and sticking to them is a bad thing, only I question the expectation for something in return, it seems like asking for an allowance from your father for doing extra chores when you don’t even maintain the ones you already have.

21 01 2009
Jonathan Noguera

Thank you for the post, Arturo. This isn’t the first time you’ve touched on this subject and this probably won’t be the last, hopefully. I’m trying really hard to put my thoughts to words, so here goes:

What I don’t understand is how can you hold unto bargaining with God, Mary and the saints as an acceptable practice of the Church Militant when this sounds horribly like the relationship with the “saints” of those who practice Santería. If there is confusion on my part, it’s my blinding Americanized Catholicism. Where is the line drawn between those two?

21 01 2009
Tony

Simplificateurs terribles obviously are your cup of tea… Tabloid theology seems to be what grabs you. Actually, if you’ve just read at least the first volume of the Theological Aesthetics, then you would understand what Balthasar is about in the seven volumes of the first part of his theological tour de force of a masterpiece. I take it then that anything that goes beyond one volume makes you cringe in fear and despair… I did not realize that people today could be so mentally challenged! Or is it just plain modern laziness and the love of the instant (like instant coffee) or the virtual (virtual Michelangelo perhaps) or the digested (like Reader’s Digest)? After all, think of the collected works of Lonergan, Rahner, de Lubac, Augustine, Origen, Thomas Aquinas…should I continue??? I have not even started with the philosophers… Obviously these names are all of obfuscators and lovers of rhetorical showboating. Why not just admit that your brains don’t even measure up to the little pinky of their hands?

21 01 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Tony,

Well, you would think I insulted your mother… anyway, you can read what I think of von Balthasar here and here.

Anyone who you would have to read 15 volumes of in order to get a decent picture of what he thinks is questionable in himself, especially considering the modern tendency towards obfuscation and rhetorical showboating.

21 01 2009
Tony

Your dismissive and disdainful attitude toward von Balthasar betrays your ignorance of the man and his theology. You are entitled to your opinion regarding the devotional practices of Manilenos or Mexicans, but really your ignorance of Balthasarian theology in particular and what seems to be your ideological position on Vatican II in general smacks of obscurantism to the point of idiocy. If you style yourself as something (what, conservative? traditionalist? whatever?), then be intelligent about it at least. Nothing is more laughable in the Church than people who dismiss theological greats like von Balthasar. Only after you’ve read the 15 volumes of his trilogy, not to mention the many shorter pieces, are you allowed to make any judgment on his theology. Otherwise, you are nothing but a theological charlatan masquerading as a defender of the faith.

21 01 2009
Arturo Vasquez

I am wondering where all of these participating people are….

21 01 2009
random Orthodox chick

Oh yeah, and mortification like fasting. Can’t forget that.

20 01 2009
random Orthodox chick

“Most “good Catholics” would be shocked and horrified by such a mentality, but I have never been able to discern any difference between their critique and what Bonhoeffer calls, “cheap grace”.”

Maybe they see full participation in the liturgical and paraliturgical life as sufficient repayment.

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