La manda

20 01 2009

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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.