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Pain, penance


Jullie Yap Daza

Jullie Yap Daza

By Jullie Yap Daza


Back in the day when going to confession was something you could not escape, like bad weather or the menu in the campus canteen, the only semblance of a choice was between confessing to a Dominican O.P. and a Jesuit SJ.

According to prevailing legend, it was standard practice for the Dominicans of UST and Letran to lay down penance of five mysteries of the holy rosary, and for the Jesuits of Ateneo to be lenient with one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory. The sacrament of confession, as it was known before pre-Vatican 2, was a prerequisite for the celebration of Easter, or Easter duty.

Today the sacrament has been renamed reconciliation, as in “God and sinners reconciled” from the Christmas carol. I am not aware if the Jesuits and Dominicans have upgraded or downgraded their standard penalties, I’m only conscious of how Holy Week and Easter practices have been liberalized over the years. My best friend used to abstain from wearing lipstick during the entire Holy Week, no matter how I teased her, “Would Jesus notice your lips?” My mother cooked nothing but fish and vegetable dishes from Spy Wednesday – yes, that’s how it was called – up to the last meal of Black Saturday – yes, that’s how it was called. Our elderly neighbors’ chanting of the Passion of Christ, aired over a battery of loudspeakers, was loud, indeed, filling the air with a narrative we could not understand but for its underlying tone of guilt and repentance.

At last Sunday’s mass, marked by the blessing and waving of nicely braided palm fronds, the priest could not help himself as he preached the need for suffering. I could not believe my ears when he, neither OP nor SJ, advised his silent listeners to “learn how to suffer.” In a country where people suffer massive and widespread poverty, sickness, hunger, injustice, crime and corruption, cheating, catastrophes wrought by man and nature, terrible accidents on the road and in their homes, the consequences of their mistakes due to ignorance and carelessness, what is there to learn about suffering? Without being taught, we are experts in suffering, in ways deep (like a wound) and largescale, every day due to our own fault and somebody else’s. We are in constant pain, we are punished and penalized rightly or wrongly, we suffer. Life is unfair, but somehow we get through, with prayer. Is it a sadistic God who enjoys the sight of his children suffering?

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