Missiological Musings

by Colm Meaney, CSsR

What a relief to have good news to report from the place which I had re-named Doomaguete when the going was tough. That was when the main priorities here were putting up new curtains for the community chapel and putting up enough barbed wire around the property to make it a rival to Guantanamo Bay. That kind of foolishness is past now, thanks be to God, but foolishness we still have, in great supply. It’s tenacious, Dumaguete-style silliness; but first the good news.
Kudos to Jun Butlig & Co. for painting a beautiful mural on a section of the wall here. It’s a fine combination of Pinoy mythology (Bathala), everyday life in Dumaguete (tricycle drivers, mothers & children) and devotion to OMPH. A great achievement during this anniversary year! More power! An artist who has worked in Baclaran, Emil Yap, came to offer his assistance, and together with a dozen of our youth, they succeeded in brightening a dull corner of the property and hopefully distracting attention from the ugly and entirely unnecessary concentration-camp style barbed wire atop the wall.

Kudos to Jun Butlig & Co for painting a beautiful mural on a section of the wall here. It’s a fine combination of Pinoy mythology (Bathala), everyday life in Dumaguete (tricycle drivers, mothers & children) and devotion to OMPH. A great achievement during this anniversary year! More power! An artist who has worked in Baclaran, Emil Yap, came to offer his assistance, and together with a dozen of our youth, they succeeded in brightening a dull corner of the property and hopefully distracting attention from the ugly and entirely unnecessary concentration-camp style barbed wire atop the wall.

Congratulations too to Sean Purcell for the successful conclusion of a really practical project (not all his projects can be so described!). Among the dying wishes of Paud Sheils, was that (a) he be cremated and (b) some of his ashes be brought here. Brendan O’Rourke duly brought Paud’s ashes here and they were interred in the local cemetery. Sean then pursued the project of building a columbarium with a tenacity reminiscent of Bongbong Marcos seeking an election re-count. The columbarium was finished and blest, and Paud’s ashes were taken from the cemetery and placed in the first niche to be occupied. There are still five vacancies. I find it strangely moving to see a candle lit under Paud’s resting place; someone, I presume, with fond memories of a very decent man, wishing to honor him.

Our two postulants are also a source of good news: even though they seem to spend long hours enjoying life (which isn’t a bad thing to do, I suppose), and sometimes it seems that they are doing practically nothing else, at least they bring down considerably the average age of the community.

Another piece of good news from our sleepy backwater is that, amidst the widespread carnage wreaking havoc on countless families because of the unbalanced crusade of our boorish, uncouth president, two of our parish workers and a parishioner participated in a literally hands-on seminar-in-practice. It took place in Murcia, Negros Occidental, and dealt with acupuncture as a means to check addiction. Nobody, I presume, needs informing about the deleterious and sometimes deadly effects of drugs, both on the user and on others.

But an extensive out-of-control rampage of executions is certainly not the answer. And to imagine that the “drug problem” in this country (or anywhere else, for that matter) can ever be eradicated, is worse than wishful thinking; it is to inhabit a world of delusion: delusion, unfortunately, resulting in a growing number of widows and orphans. (For a fine depiction of the insidious, entirely ineradicable nature of “the drug problem”, the reader is referred to the movie, “Traffic” [released in 2000]). Already other lay co-operators from around the province have come here to learn more about the acupuncture therapy as a help in detoxifying.
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These instances of good news are really something of a lifeline, when someone of an aesthetic and/or musical temperament (like myself) has to endure the weekly disaster of what should be a highlight: the Sunday Eucharist. I’ve put pen to paper before on this topic, but the agony, instead of lessening, has only worsened over the months. You may think that the church in Ireland is in a moribund state, and for all I know, it may very well be. But in our parish church in Limerick, at least the people sing! Gingerly, hesitantly, but at least their voices are heard.

For those among us devoid of any aesthetic sense of the attractiveness of the whole assembly joining in the singing, the poverty of our Sunday gatherings will not register. Bereft of the ability to appreciate the tangible, aural difference made by the congregation’s participation, they will be likewise unaware of how better, more satisfying, more buoyant our liturgies could be. But to have experienced it, as I have, is to miss it, and to rue its continuing prevention – solely due, I’m convinced, to inaction on our part (or even the prior awareness that anything really needs to be done).

As I look at the throng of churchgoers passively, mutely standing, while the choir “does its thing”, I often ruefully recall the events of the year 987AD. The prince of Russia, Vladimir, sent envoys to neighboring countries to investigate their various faiths, hoping to find one that he would adopt for his kingdom.

The envoys who visited Muslim lands reported on the joylessness of a religion which prohibited alcohol; those who visited German churches of the Latin rite reported that the worship was arid and graceless (how little has changed over the centuries!); but those envoys who attended the Byzantine liturgy at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, reported that, so beautiful was the liturgy, so glorious the surroundings, that they no longer knew if they were in heaven or on earth

If Vladimir had sent envoys to Perpetual in Dumaguete, they would probably have contemplated self-slaughter. I think the hegemony of choirs in this country is catastrophic, and it’s all the sadder that we Redemptorist have swallowed the situation hook, line and sinker. In every church I’ve visited, Redemptorist and diocesan, the situation is the same.

No matter what gimmicks you use to encourage the people to sing, “Please sing with the choir” or monitors on the church pillars, the result is the same. The vast majority of the congregation will passively listen, while the choir perform. And when one is used to the whole assembly participating, as I am in my mission chapels and household gatherings, the result is incredibly dull and uninspiring.

Choir-domination I consider a national malaise, and it’s probably too late now to rectify this sorry situation. But even so, we should hardly be adding fuel to the fire. Putting additional speakers and microphones in the choir area here (in Dumaguete) was a misjudgement of epic proportions (it’s like giving ammunition to the enemy), but given the cemetery-like, ghostly aura of our Sunday gatherings, things can hardly get worse. Is this Tomb-aguete?

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You might think it’s nice being mistaken for Mr. Macho, and it does indeed have its attractions: all it needs is a dollop of gel in my hair, a generous splash of my top-of-the-range aftershave from Avon and a tight-fitting shirt, and the girls are swooning, lining up for celebrity-style selfies. But it has its downside too: it tends to encourage distracting fantasies (the swooning ladies are all 10 year-olds) and all the efforts at hiyak are bound to damage my abdominal muscles. Hiyak is not the local version of the Kiwi’s haka, but it does involve physical exertion – it’s the pulling-in of the stomach to try to conceal the beer-belly.

Anyway, any illusions of machismo were finally laid to rest recently, thanks to two incidents. The first was my visit to the dentist, the previous visit having been in 1983 as a requirement for the novitiate. If machismo means being cool, calm and confident, then I’m an abject failure. The moment I sat in the dentist’s chair I was reduced to a blubbering lump of jelly, my vocabulary reduced to “Yes doc” or “No doc”. I half-expected him to administer some anesthetic just to get me to stay in the chair. But, wonder of wonders, the entire 4-session procedure was painless. I’m planning my next visit for 2035.

The second incident had to do with sleep. The quality of sleeping arrangements in the mission areas is variable. Perfect conditions include the following: mosquito net & no lights. Recently, the woman of the house insisted on having a light on all night, and because the plywood wall between our rooms didn’t reach the ceiling, I also had to endure the glare. A minor inconvenience; but then she’d turn on the radio at top volume at 5.30am. I’d already be half-awake, but to have to listen to boom-boom rap at that hour is enough to try any man’s patience. But further trials lay ahead.

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