It has been touted that the Philippines is a Christian country, and that 85% of the Filipinos are Roman Catholics. But I must ask, because of my observations in the parish church where I go to Mass, from what I see in the behavior of many officials in government who say they are Catholics and even ostentatiously have themselves photographed receiving Holy Communion, and even from daily encounters with colleagues and friends – how Catholics are we? How do we practice our faith?
Let me start with Sunday churchgoing. First, in the way churchgoers dress. Some of them are in attire better suited to the gym, or to evening parties, or plain lounging at home. When I was a girl, I remember my parents always dressed my brothers, sisters and me in what was really our “Sunday best”—properly ironed clothes, shoes and socks for all of us, veils for the girls – we were all going to the house of God. This is not what I see today in Catholic churches. I see people in slippers, sando, and shorts (especially on weekdays, as supposedly they come from morning jogging), women either in clothes better for nightclubs, or lease with straps of their bras showing! Worshippers in Protestant churches and even the Iglesia ni Kristo (I saw the latter on TV) are dressed so well – yes, in their Sunday best. Hotels and even certain restaurants and establishments require a dress code – they turn away improperly dressed individuals. What’s with us Catholics? Would we show up for an audience with the President of the country in such informal and extremely casual, even sweaty, attire? Holy Mass is an audience with God Himself!
Second, in the way we behave in church. You see people using their cellphones in the church, conversing (gossiping?), or failing to control their children from running around or making nuisance of themselves, or taking their siesta (some even snore!), strolling in so late or leaving even before the Mass ends (why do they bother to go?) – all these are dreadful distractions to those who wish to pray and pay attention to the Eucharistic celebration going on. Again, would these people behave so lackadaisically if they were in the presence of the President? In non-Catholic services, they participate by singing and joining in prayers – and their services even last for around two hours, while Catholic Masses, even with the homilies, last no more than an hour, indeed, 35 minutes during weekday masses (though, of course, we don’t see this outrageous behavior during weekday Masses)!
And in the matter of giving an offering, you could actually smile at how people pretend not to see the basket being passed, or drop in just a coin (don’t tell me these people who can easily spend for “loads” or a big Mac cannot give a share for the upkeep of the church). Other churches tithe (the Iglisia does. I remember a former colleague in my office who planned to join this cult, but changed her mind because they required her to submit a copy of her income tax return), and their members consider it their duty to contribute to their church (remember, God can never be outdone in generosity!).
I realize that the parish priest and his assistant (we have only two priests in our parish church) and could hardly give the proper instructions to all the parishioners, what with all their other duties. But since Vatican II, supposedly the lay people have a role in helping to explain and spread the faith. What happened, to my mind, is the creation of new levels of officialdom (dare I say officiousness?) – very important lay ministers and members of several lay organizations who are surrogates of the parish priest in “rank”: they have reserved seats in front (and if you ever attend Christmas novena Masses or services during Lent and Easter, or other church activities, you may not go those reserved seats). Why aren’t these surrogate ministers instead teaching parishioners how to behave in church? Can’t they quietly inform those who come in such unchurchlike attire (it’s not enough to flash a Power Point presentation of what is proper attire – how many actually pay attention to it?) to come properly dressed, advise those who are talking and using their cellphones while Mass is going on and parents whose children are marching up and down the newly upholstered kneelers, to be more mindful?
I shall not say anything about how our Catholic government officials and legislators and even academics in Catholic schools practice their faith at this time. Let me just say that it is extremely scandalous of them to be photographed (and have these pictures on front pages of newspapers) at Catholic Masses (and even receiving Holy Communion) when their behavior and statements are in conflict with the tenets of the Catholic faith. “I am a Catholic, but…” If they cannot uphold the teachings of their faith, why do they remain? My guess is that the other churches are even stricter, or should I say, simply strict. Perhaps they would not even be admitted.
I think it is about time that the Catholic Church imposes proper codes of behavior, say in unequivocal terms what is right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is not. It seems to me that the Catholic Church hierarchy has gone out of its way to make Catholicism so “easy” and most of our 85% Catholic population has become cafeteria Catholics, that is, choosing only what they like to believe in and how they should behave. This cafeteria Catholicism is what has bred corruption and dishonest behavior in many professed Catholics in government and business as they can always justify their behavior.
Catholics who adhere to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church should not panic if critics accuse them of being overly scrupulous, of unquestioningly obeying the Holy Father, of being medieval. So what’s with us Filipino Catholics? This is a new year…should we not change?