My mother’s religionBy Raymund Fernandez
Cebu Daily News
And yet if you asked Ang Tigbuhat what his religion is, he would not likely say, Catholic. Instead he would have rather said: My mother’s religion, Catholic. And this would be a most exact and definitive answer. If his mother was Buddhist, then that would have been it.
It is true he had catechism when he was young but he paid only some attention to it. And at those times he read the Bible he read it as beautiful text. He read it for poetry and grace. And if it was sacred text, he thought all text was sacred. Text led him through the days of his life. Like his mother he treated his religion with casual and comfortable seriousness, with humor as much as possible.
She taught him from the beginning, God will not give you everything you pray for. Why would He? People pray sometimes for the wrongest things. And they would not even know they were praying for the wrongest things even when they do. Trust instead in God’s wisdom and goodness. Trust He will give to you what is best by way of blessings or its opposite. And if you trusted this in the first place then you would not feel such a need to pray too badly for winning the lotto, or passing the board or bar, or keeping your dying father alive even when he is ravaged like that on a hospital bed. God will care for your father sufficiently well even after he passes away. Pray for yourself instead.
And she taught him that the core of all these was goodness but even more to the core, kindness and gentleness. When he was young, she demonstrated to him exactly what she meant. She taught him all about power and its gentle use, for men seldom know they are bad even when they are doing their worst. And so she taught him how to aspire for knowledge. But more important than knowledge, she taught him how to aspire for understanding and that, of all the categories of understanding there are to aspire for, the most difficult would be the understanding of self. And she taught him that too.
And had he ever asked her: Why would a good God allow so much death and evil in the world? She would have said: Whether you die peacefully in a hospital bed or marching into the gas chambers at Auschwitz, all deaths are awful and gruesome. Death reminds us we are mostly meat and flesh. And we will all rot eventually or return to ash. But even that must have a reason.
And there must be a period of fear before we die. Fear is death’s spirit. It is right to rage against it all the way to the final end. But there must be a point of surrender, acceptance, of falling into an embrace of a singular sort knowing fully well there are worst things than suffering and death. And the worst of all is a wasted life.
And so his mother taught him also about faith. She taught him that nothing is lost by having religion and going through the rituals of one’s persuasion. The value of that is at least equal to having no religion at all. It is equal to having a country or a culture, equal also to belonging.
But it is possible too that the God we believe in may not find religion to be the most essential part of believing. And she might have wondered too if Jesus Christ went too many times to the temple to pray. The biblical texts talk about Christ as a child going to the temple to discuss religion with the rabbis. It talks about Him driving the money lenders away. And yet it seemed to him it was best to pray wherever you are and when you can. That much his mother taught him.
Still, they went to church whenever they could. They did all they were called to do. She taught him how to love his church if nothing else but for loyalty and for having a temple towards which to point the children. But as to loving God, that was a different thing altogether. For to love God extends deeper than that. It goes into the core of one’s heart encompassing everything that one finds lovable, everything and all that one loves: friends, family, children, art, even work.
And as for work, one must make that one’s life so that it is not work at all. And if one’s work is too much work, then it is better to find something else to do that would be the lesser waste of a lifetime. Whatever we do, it will not last too long and this is only right. Otherwise, we would not ever know why life is as precious as it is. But if death is as fearful as we think it, that might only be because we are alive. The dead do not complain.