I was raised a good Catholic boy. I was taught the sign of the cross along with my ABCs and the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears along with that account about sin with Adam and Eve and the evil snake. I went to good Catholic schools and piously attended Sunday service. I took confession and received communion. I thought I made my parents and their god proud for a long time. Then, I moved to NYC and, suddenly, found myself reinventing the wheel that countless other people have turned for me since I was born. I suddenly found myself in a land of limitless possibility where, far away from the adoring eye of my parents and the watchful gaze of both loving peers and strict society, I was able to experiment with my newfound freedom. I reclaimed my Sundays and stopped going to church. I reinvented my moral code and moved away from the absolutes of sin and into the ethics of consensus. I did away with all kinds of bread and went on a no-carb diet and, yet, drank all the good wine I can. I now only knelt when I was giving good head to someone (wherein I wasn’t the one giving thanks to but being thanked for). I began to cast every tenet of my Catholicism against a shadow of doubt and, inversely, grew in believing in my power of self to actualize evey option that was available and desirable. I was both doubter and believer. This dueling of modes, or this paradox in duality, is a strong leitmotif in my life and I relished this specific one.

It was particularly heavy today as I found myself sitting on a church pew in Xavier, the Jesuit parish on 16th/6th. Today is Palm Sunday and I found myself in church.

I used to disavow my Catholicism. But, I have since gone back to calling myself a lapse, if not holiday, Catholic. I would go to all the big holiday services and sleep in on the ordinary Sundays. I particularly loved the Triduum (which is that axis of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve Vigil services) and have religiously attended them for a few years now. I was drawn to this period because it struck at the heart of my skepticism . Here was a church founded on a god who was born as man only to die in man’s hands and resurrect himself all over again as god. (I mean, this statement could easily have been read as any other Hindu legend if not for the Christian context. But, yes, I was raised Catholic and was brainwashed to be Christocentric.) There were themes of love and denial; despair and redemption; hurt and forgiveness. Hollywood cinema is built on these and, being a cinephile, I am helplessly moved by what is billed as the greatest story ever told.

The irony is that I moved to another Christian land (and not to a Buddhist or any other one) and, yet, I find it even harder to believe. (The motivation is also at issue here – do I genuinely want to or am I merely responding to ingrained habit?!) Unlike in Manila wherein you would think that Christ was Divine Providence to the deprived, here in the East Coast, you would think that he was raised in Kansas. Every hard-line Christian, oftentimes represented in the media by a fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher, spews hate in the name of the love of god. I am angered and confused and saddened and, yes, enobled by some of these mindless attacks who aim to strike at how I love and who I am. The god of boundless compassion, silent and unseen, is suddenly replaced by the god of abominable hellfire, as seen and heard through his ruthless and rabid demagogues.

I went to Xavier today to make more sense of this tension ( as well as somehow give better purpose to my 4-day workweek. The market is closed on Good Friday but not because of any religious reasons; it is in commemoration of the Big Crash in the 20s that led to the Great Depression.) I know I will come back on Thursday for the Washing of the Feet and Friday to hear the Last Words and on Saturday to hold Vigil. I return every year at this same time because I seek answers. Why will I want to believe in a god whom people claim says that how I love is evil?

Today, I sat and witnessed a line of initiates into the faith, adults who have chosen to be Catholics and who await baptism on Easter Sunday. They have chosen to believe. I looked around and saw people moved by both song and story. I, myself, am moved by this church where Matthew Shepard is a saint; where men with AIDS are given a haven for spiritual directoin in the Gonzaga Group (which is billed as an “ecumenical HIV Spiritual Support Group”); where gay and lesbians find shelter for their desires and solace for their brokenness. How am I to respond to this outpuring of faith both from priest and present and future laity?

Fr, Joe, the Jesuit priest who gave the homily, talked about how we are all victim and victimizer (in reference to the people who condemned Jesus to the cross and yet also wept for him upon seeing him bear it up Mount Calvary.) I have been both victim of my past borne of a textbook faith as well as victimized by my revisionist present. The challenge is in hashing out what is most genuine from what has been blindly held on to and responding to this newfind thoughtfully and faithfully. That is what I believe in right now and where my hope for answers in the future is built upon.

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