REMEMBRANCE, REENACTMENT, MEMORIAL & MYSTERY

Catholic Homily/Reflection
Good Friday, March 21, 2008

Today, being Good Friday, the altars are bare; the tabernacle is gaping open and empty, and the joyful bells and organ music are both silent and still, reserved for the glories of the Easter celebration. Everything smacks of a kind of “mourning.” After we ended last night’s adoration and watching with the Lord before the altar of repose, the whole Church takes on a subdued atmosphere as it goes into what I personally call the R2M2 mode that is the hallmark of the holiest three days of the whole liturgical season.

R2M2 …. Remembrance, reenactment, memorial, and mystery!

Last evening was an exercise of remembrance par excellence. We gathered around the table of the Lord, among other things, to reminisce, to bask under the glow of His love, to hear the mandatum – the mandate given to his followers to “love one another” as He has loved us. Not only did we remember. We also engaged in a doing as befits our act of remembering. “Do this in remembrance of me.” In a moving reenactment of that mandate of love for others translated into service of foot-washing, of that touching institution of the priesthood understood as ministry, as service to His people, the whole Church did a memorial of that outstanding mystery of God’s love understood as presence, as service par excellence to His people, a mystery of God’s self-gift in the person of Christ, His Son, immolated, offered, like the sacrificial victim of the Hebrew Scriptures, an unblemished lamb offered in sacrifice to God, the Father of mercies and of all consolation.

The Church at large all over the world plunged itself to R2M2 mode beginning last evening. The liturgy takes on a dramatic turn. The people assume a reflective, meditative mood as the “joyful season of Lent” draws us all to its peak. Having laid our figurative cloaks and clothes at the feet of Him who “comes in the name of the Lord,” riding on a colt (or was it an ass?), having cried out lusty hosannas of praise to him who has come as promised from of old, we are now just about ready to cry, for reenactment’s sake, “crucify him, crucify him, for we have no other king but Caesar!”

However, lest we think we are just being taken for a ride by a shallow, stage-like performance of a passion-play of Oberammergau proportions, the famed Cenaculo of earlier Philippine times (during this writer’s childhood years), the liturgy itself orients us to what this three-day long celebration is all about.

No … it is not all about mere remembrance. No … it is not all about mere reenactment of events past, of material history being told and retold for mere posterity’s sake. Oh yes! …. It is all about a doing-remembering that is essentially what Biblical memorial is all about. It is all about mystery that transcends time and space – a mystery of God’s hidden presence in the midst of His beloved people. It is, to use the theology-laden category of last Palm-Passion Sunday, all about the hyphenated reality of God’s absence-presence, His sacrificing-saving act, the reality of His dying-rising in Christ, so that we might have life to the full.

Liturgy – the sort that we do and remember at one and the same time, is not a grand Oberammergau Passion Play that comes around once every ten years. Whilst there is drama in liturgy, liturgy itself is not just a mere dramatic presentation. Liturgy is an event – a saving event – that remembers, that re-enacts, that memorializes, that makes present and actual what was past, a past that makes our present and future worth celebrating for.

Liturgy is a celebration and a memorial in the Hebrew Biblical sense of the great mystery of God’s ongoing saving act on behalf of a sinful humanity in a sinful world!

Celebrating and memorializing in this Hebrew Biblical sense is something that postmoderns like us find it hard to do in our times. Immersed as we are in selective memory mode, we remember only that which we want to remember. The average person on the street (including not a few religious men and women) find it easier to remember the vicissitudes of life as lived by their favorite soap opera characters (Days of Our Lives and Passions in the US and canned Korean or Chinese “chinovelas” or Mexican “telenovelas,” or Filipino “teleseryes” in Philippine setting). What is remembered, if at all, is nothing more than what the Bible refers to as “grass that withers and flowers that fade.” In a world of impermanence and transitoriness, once famous names and faces easily fade away; heroes and matinee idols of just a few years are soon buried like all other massive data, in the fast-fading oblivion of digital tombs never to rise again, unless retrieved and recalled for remembrance’s sake. But such remembrance does not bloom into doing. Remembering does not spill over into genuine celebration, for what is past has not much bearing on the present, no matter how much we all try to relive the past.

In the context of Good Friday, even as we take part in the role of the crowds crying out for the blood of the innocent Christ, we do more than just remember and reenact. We do more than just relive a past event. We are not here to join a funeral cortege for a fallen hero. We do not even “pretend” we are in mourning because “God is dead.” Such shallow, superficial “play-acting” is not what the Liturgy is all about, for liturgy is not make-believe. Liturgy is plain and simple a celebration of an ongoing reality. We celebrate not because God is dead, but precisely because God offered Himself in Christ who really suffered, and died, and ROSE FROM THE DEAD, our personal and collective stories are no longer threatened by death and sin, but uplifted by grace and new life wrought in and through the same Christ.

We are then back to our topic of last Palm-Passion Sunday: remembering and doing. In the Philippines, every year since 1986, we have always paused and remembered the four fateful days of the so-called February Revolution that toppled a dictatorship of more than two decades. Whilst we still go through the motions year in and year out, it has really gone the way of the Independence Day “celebrations” – “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The dwindling crowds each year tell the whole story. Hardly anybody from among the young remembers anymore. And those who do remember from among the not-so-young, are fixated on the remembering. What is sorely missing is the doing part. What one does not do after the remembering… what one does not invest in and work for … what one does not take part in “actively, consciously, and devoutly” as are expected of us in our liturgical participation, goes the way of the proverbial dodo, foreclosed, forgotten, and forsaken in our collective digital dustbins.

People who merely remember but who don’t do, and are unwilling to go the way of mystery – the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, are condemned to merely repeat history.

We are a people still suffering on the Calvary of our graft-ridden and corrupt sense of nationhood. Calling ourselves the only Christian nation in the Far East, we are hard-pressed to shamefully acknowledge the fact that we are the second most corrupt nation in the same region, next only to Indonesia. We were crucified repeatedly under a series of regimes that all promised reprieve and hope. We even crucified ourselves unnecessarily by pinning all our hopes on charlatans and demagogues who rode on the misguided hopes and dreams of the poorest of the poor. We even crucified ourselves a number of times in what we took pride in as peaceful people power revolutions that stunned the whole world. Some adventurists in our midst, for good measure, also tried to wrest power from legitimate rulers plunging the whole country all over again into crisis after repeated crisis. But it was all a passion-play of Oberammergau proportions, a morality play that ended as all play and no morality left to bootstrap and propel ourselves to new life.

In our misguided devotion to the Sto. Sepulcro (the dead Christ), the bloodied and bruised Nazareno (of Quiapo fame), in our playful and piously na├»ve attachment to the Sto.Nino (the Holy Child portrayed in a variety of poses, guises, and emotional states galore!), and in our nerve-wracking and long-winded Good Friday processions, we all have missed the rest of what we all ought to celebrate in the doing that goes beyond remembering – the glorious resurrection of Christ! Our faith, the fiduciary kind, that ignored the performative socially conscious aspect, did not propel us to sound social responsibility, but to more of the same – private and individualistic morality that never went beyond Sunday attendance at Mass and private devotions.

Oportet gloriari in cruce Domini nostri Jesu Christi. It behooves us to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today, as you go through the veneration of the Cross, as you go home from a liturgy that, like last evening, does not end formally with a blessing, do remember that life, like the liturgy we celebrate, does not end with the cross alone. We need to glory in it, and the only way to glory in the cross is to be a witness and participant to the ongoing story of Christ’s passion, death, and RESURRECTION.

Only then, can we truly and fully take part in this R2M2 mode that is meant to characterize our life with Christ, dead and risen.

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