DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 March) — Got to hand it to Filipinos, we know how to perform our Catholic obligations. In fact we tend to overdo them, especially for show. I use the word ‘perform’ deliberately. Nothing beats how we commemorate Holy Week, or the last week of Lent. Everyone takes a vacation. And this year, preferably in Boracay for a last drunken hurrah before it’s closed down on April 26 for six months for supposed rehabilitation. Bad idea. Both the Boracay rush and the shutdown. But that’s not really my topic for this week.
The last time I took a trip during Holy Week was more than twenty years ago. The ordeal was enough to teach me the lesson. It sure made me feel like I was sharing in the suffering of Jesus Christ, as I jostled with the sweaty crowds in the bus terminal and the pier. I joined a friend in her trip home to Marinduque because I wanted to see the Moriones festival, which is held there only during the Holy Week. I didn’t regret the decision, even though her town wasn’t exactly the heart of the festival. They had a small Moriones contingent of townsfolk wearing colorful papier-mache masks and costumes of Roman soldiers searching the town for Longinus, the soldier who had been miraculously healed by the blood of Christ. It’s quite the spectacle, especially for amateur photographers, if not the truly devout.
But what was more unforgettable for me were the flagellants on the street. Filipinos really know how to make a show of their repentance. The ones in Marinduque used a scourge made with bamboo sticks with broken glass that made a distinct sound when it hit their backs. Something like bamboo chimes hitting raw flesh. It was painfully hypnotic. It reminded me of my iniquity, as well as the true grace that does not ever require this kind of suffering.
Yet even as we accept that Christ died on the cross for our salvation, we still like to show our remorse for our sins by performing acts of penitence. Even when we do not self-flagellate literally, we do punish ourselves when we feel guilty of something or other: directly, through sacrifice, or indirectly, through endlessly scrolling our Facebook newsfeeds. Even though I don’t fast on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I do make other sacrifices in the mode of “mortification of the flesh.” Don’t ask what. It’s silly. Isn’t it enough suffering to live in these times?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
These Godforsaken times. I suppose the Son of God had every right to ask the Father this question, even though He knew the answer. I imagine Jesus asked it to make the faithful appreciate his sacrifice more. I know I do not have the right to ask why God seems to have forsaken the Philippines. But when a president like Duterte has the audacity to give a Lenten message reminding us “that goodness and truth will always prevail,” I shudder at the irony. When a president like Duterte urges us to “embody compassion as Christ has personified,” I spit the taste of blood filling my mouth. Then I scream, “Free all political prisoners!” “Junk TRAIN!” “Stop the extrajudicial killings!”
What does Duterte mean when he wishes us a “purposeful Holy Week”? I wonder if the State will take a Holy Week break from its Oplan whatevers and mortify its thirst for shedding the blood of the poor and for sowing false truths. I pray they will. And even if they only do it for show, I would really appreciate some penitence for its sins.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz is an award-winning writer who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao in Davao City and is a columnist of Mindanao Times. This piece was first published in the Mindanao Times issue of March 27, 2018. Follow or message her on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz)