As we marked Easter on Sunday, the day served as a fortunate reminder that we live in a society, which still values Christian rites and traditions.
For many Filipino Christians, the Lenten season was an apropos time to affirm their devotion to inner faith and prayer. It was thus comforting to see that the fervor with which Pope Francis was welcomed months ago had been carried through into the last 40 days and the Holy Week.
On Maundy Thursday, it was a heartening experience to visit the churches in Manila and find each one, from Binondo to Malate filled to the brim. In each historic church, hordes of faithful praying the Way of the Cross, lighting candles, waiting for the Mass, or simply kneeling in prayer, packed every nook and cranny. Most came with family and friends, and together they fulfilled the age-old tradition of Visita Iglesia (a practice of visiting seven churches).
Visita Iglesia is perhaps an awaited a tradition as annual fiestas in the Philippines. In fact, many youths even look forward to the Holy Week to fulfill a vow of penitence and sacrifice. For some able-bodied teens, they also embark on an annual Alay Lakad pilgrimage towards Antipolo, where the 10- or 20-kilometer walk ends at the cathedral atop the mountain.
For other devotees, walking kilometers between seven churches is but a small sacrifice and penitence for Holy Week as well.
Many people would probably better ascribe this devotion to rituals and rites as a superficial act of faith. Yet, for many Filipinos, religious faith is strengthened and lived through outward acts of prayer, embodied in rituals and external displays of devotion. Maybe then, this is what makes Christian faith truly unique among Filipinos.
Easter and Lent have starkly reminded us all too that faith also means transforming our lives—that faith can be lived even in the ordinariness of everyday. It was stirring to hear how our parish’s guest priest reminded us about how we are often transfigured in the celebrations we share with kin and kith. He said we ought to realize that we are never the same persons after a life-changing event, whether good or bad, happy or sad.
Indeed, there are moments that ultimately change us so significantly that we do not come out of the experience the same person. We are we transformed as persons in baptism, weddings, and other milestone events, just as we are through distressing realities such as illness and difficulties we face with those closest to us.
There is truth after all to the saying that one can never really put an experience behind. The opportunity to be our best selves often arises out of the most difficult moments in our lives.
“Stars shine the brightest in darkness,” the priest said so perfectly.
Every single life event changes us to become either stronger or weaker in faith. And it is in those moments that we can choose to become better persons in the end. After all, in the worst moments, goodness shines the most.
The season of Lent at best epitomizes the life of shared faith and prayer among Filipino families and friends. In a fast paced and ever changing world around us, keeping close to one’s Christian faith is a source of comfort. And perhaps, in the end, living out faith with grace towards others is what Easter means best.