(First of two parts)
The Philippines remains a Catholic bastion, but many of my students claim to be agnostics, putting their faith in reason instead. Some friends, who went to Catholic schools, have turned their backs on the religion of their birth to join Born-Again movements they feel serve their spiritual needs better.
Why the shift? Is it because of secularization? Ineffective teaching? My college classmate and Ateneo colleague Michael Demetrius Asis says it is both.
“The globalizing forces (such as neo-liberal economics and the unprecedented development of communications/information technologies) behind the ever-growing process of urbanization in contemporary Philippine society have given rise to certain relatively new cultural elements that are poised to shape the Filipino cultural landscape in the years to come,” says Asis in his book “Reimagining the Sacred: A Fresh Approach to Prayer, Liturgy and the Sacraments.”
“Among these elements are: the experience of religious pluralism; the excessive, and often uncritical, emphasis on individual freedom; and a personal disorientation or fragmentation. Faced with a wide range of options (from religious beliefs to ideologies, career choices to consumer products, and the like) all equally vying for our personal attention, many of today’s youth in particular tend to suffer from a sense of aimless relativism. This so-called fragmented pluralism is evident, for example, in the apparent failure of so many young people today to make lasting personal permanent commitments.”
Associate professor Asis has a doctorate from the Loyola School of Theology. He also studied sacramental theology, sexual ethics, marital spirituality and religious education in Harvard University Divinity School, Boston College and the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. He wrote earlier “I Am Because We Are: Reflections on Love, Relationships, and Life,” a finalist in the 2010 Catholic Mass Media Awards.
Asis says moral values in many Filipino families are at risk of being undermined by secularization which, at the same time, has ignited spiritual hunger in many people.
“The sudden popularity and steady growth of so-called ‘Born-Again’/Fundamentalist groups and ‘new-age’ movements, caused in part by the generally poor religious instruction of the Catholic faithful, indicate a widespread and earnest yearning among the young for spiritual fulfillment,” says Asis. “PCP II (Second Plenary Council of the Philippines) observes that this apparent success of ‘covenanted communities’ and non-Christian religious movements could be interpreted as a ‘sign of the times’ … The council admits that the Church has failed in many respects to fulfill the spiritual hunger of many Filipino Catholics.”
Asis adds, “What continues to plague the faith life of most Filipino Catholics, however, is the severe gap which, knowingly or not, many of them place between their worship and their daily life,” evident in the practice of sacraments.
For instance, more effort is spent on choosing baptismal sponsors than on helping them fully understand their responsibilities.
Though churches are usually filled on Sundays, this may not be because of genuine interest, “but simply the unfortunate lack of priests to celebrate enough Masses,” says Asis. One priest, on average, serves 10,000 Catholics, with others serving twice that number.
Even those who attend Mass regularly seems to lack proper understanding, says Asis. Many attend to avoid committing mortal sin or to ask God for help. Asis notes “the false impression that prayer is just some magical exercise to win divine favor.”
Many churchgoers are often indifferent to the plight of the needy.
“How can many pious Church members continue to act as abusive landlords, usurers, oppressive employers, or unreliable employees? Why do so many graduates of our best Catholic schools turn out to be corrupt government officials, unfaithful husbands and wives, or cheating businessmen?” the “Catechism for Filipino Catholics” asks. “There seems to be a serious gap between external ritual expression of Christian faith, and authentic discipleship: following Christ in action.”
Fewer Catholics are going to confession perhaps due to loss of “a sense of sin” and confusion over what is right or wrong. Asis cites figures from the 1992 McCann Erickson Filipino Youth Survey: 51 percent find premarital sex acceptable, 44 percent find viewing porn acceptable, 40 percent do not view cheating in school as wrong. The figures may be much higher today.
“What proves to be more alarming is that … 60 to 70 percent of the affluent … find the above activities acceptable and might very well engage in them,” says Asis. “This is … distressing … given that most of those who belong to the affluent class are schooled in some of our best Catholic institutions.”
Social conformity is often deemed more important than morality. Asis says the question “Is it in?” has more impact than “Is it morally good?”
The National Catechetical Directory of the Philippines questions whether the common “practice of herding school children to weekly confession ever represented an authentic ideal.”
“Doing penance often meant ‘rattling off’ some memorized prayers without any serious effort to address the root causes of sins habitually committed,” says Asis. “Priestly absolution is taken as a mere magical formula that wiped away sin, without modifying in any real way the penitent’s predispositions.”
Religious educators, Asis says, have to help the laity reimagine the sacraments. Have a blessed Christmas!
“Reimagining the Sacred” by Michael Asis is available at Claretian Communications, 9213984 or e-mail cci@claret.
org. E-mail Asis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(To be continued)
E-mail the author at email@example.com.