Before my wife and I got together, we made it a point to at least try going to mass daily. And we had our own reasons for it. She was praying for someone she pastored in our church group. I, meanwhile, was seeking peace of mind and heart. We constantly longed to experience God, both inside and outside the mass. And it’s one of those things that cemented our relationship, eventually carrying us towards marriage late last year.
But before you call me or her super duper religious, there are reasons why and how we got here. Faith experiences are not exactly rosy. In fact, we questioned God upon learning of our respective medical conditions. She was diagnosed with lupus in 2008. I was diagnosed with epilepsy 10 years prior. We had thought our lives would take a downturn, but with blessings like family, friends, doctors, and support groups, we continue living normal lives to this day.
Then came COVID-19. The fact that that one of us was immunocompromised and one has to go out to get the goods is scary. And it doesn’t stop there. Just yesterday, on the first day of a supposedly more relaxed general community quarantine, we got news that a neighbor in our condo building has tested positive.
Now, let’s backtrack a bit to the time the lockdown began. Like everyone else, we were grounded to a halt. And that included going to daily mass in a physical church. But we chose not to stop, especially that the Manila Cathedral, as well as other parishes and religious congregations offered online masses. So, we continued.
On top of attending the daily mass, her family prays the rosary every 9PM. I would learn later on that they would usually pray the rosary daily every October — the rosary month for Catholics. We also recently signed up for an online marriage conference scheduled for the weekend of, guess what, June 12 — Independence Day (well, we freely chose to get married).
If there are statistics within the Catholic Church community that run parallel with this, there’s the Manila Cathedral’s Facebook page. From having around 50,000 followers at the start of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, it skyrocketed by 8 times to over 416,000 in 2½ months. Go to the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, too, and there you’ll find a long list of parishes and religious groups offering live streaming of masses.
The PhilCare study’s researchers cited it as a positive coping mechanism amid the pandemic. Since people couldn’t control the situation anymore, they turned to faith. I believe there’s truth to this. A sociologist friend, however, pointed out to me that it could possibly be because people had more free time. I’d say that’s true also, especially if you’re working from home or just simply need something to do to fill up your time.
The narrative of helplessness and turning to faith is not new, at least for me. I asked for answers when I was diagnosed with epilepsy. The same went for my wife when she was diagnosed with her lupus. My sister went to Manaoag praying that she would pass the bar (she did pass, by the way). And for a country of at least 80 million Catholics having a rough time in life, many see themselves in the God who carried a heavy cross and was nailed on it.
I know we will all get through this crisis. But I also wonder what would happen when things would get better or when the dust settles. Unfortunately, history tells us that we Filipinos are a forgetful people. ‘Yun bang pag ok na, balik sa dating gawi, na ‘di naman lahat ay maganda o mabuti.
An important lesson I learned from a Philosophy class back in college was that not even God can force people to do things. The best He can do is move them to such action. For Catholics, remember that God gave us free will. That said, God can only move us to act, and in this case, pray more.
Pope Francis has said recently that Christianity is a relationship, and not a set of rules. Personally, I see this heightened prayer of Filipinos as God’s invitation for us to build a relationship, if not a deeper one, with Him — one that flows deep into the heart and soul.