“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” – Ecclesiastes 3:4
I grew up in a fairly orthodox Roman Catholic family. Baptised in the faith, raised in the faith, and even following a time when I questioned my faith and considered jumping ship to either atheism or one of those Born Again Christian splinter groups, I remain in the faith.
That said, my observance of Holy Week follows specific lines. No modern music; so my iPod which features everything from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones to Weezer and Fall Out Boy to the compositions of my award-winning singer-songwriter friend lies silent. Maundy Thursday will find me waking up well before the crack of dawn to attend the Mass of the Holy Chrism at St. Andrew’s. Then there will be the cleaning of the parish sanctuary back home, the construction of the Altar of Repose where the tabernacle encasing the Blessed Sacrament will be displayed for veneration in the evening. Sometimes, I’ll join in for the Mass of the Last Supper in the early evening; but the night always ends in visiting several churches for the traditional Visita Iglesia.
But it is on Good Friday that one, in my personal opinion, should feel the true extent, the full context of one’s faith. As a child, the admonition was to stay quiet on Good Fridays: no active play, no loud talking; the radio would be tuned in to dzFE, the classical music station, which would be playing selections from Beethoven’s Opus 23: Missa Solemnis or Gregorian chants or Mozart’s Requiem, and everything in between from Palestrina to Elgar. Because my mother’s side of the family is mostly made up of academics and artists, we were encouraged to spend our time reading. And thinking. And, if manageable by either talent or sheer personal impetus, writing.
It was, as my late grandfather would put it, time to be silent: not to talk but to listen; not to openly express one’s self, but to open one’s self to accept higher, more meaningful truths. And my grandfather was a past master at keeping silent on Good Fridays – and for most of his life, come to think of it. You see, whenever we visited my mother’s parents during Holy Week, my grandfather – normally a highly, even hyper, active sort of man – would be bedridden. Having contracted amoebiasis during the Death March of the Second World War, he wasn’t supposed to fast. Catholic law exempts those with critical illnesses or chronic medical conditions from fasting on Good Friday, but my grandfather always insisted on fasting even if it pretty much left him weak and very ill. But I never heard him complain: he just lay there, murmuring as he prayed the rosary, the only other sound the clicking of the beads as he progressed from one mystery to the next. He lay there, this old soldier, suffering in silence; bearing the pain with neither whine nor whimper, as if he sympathised with Christ hanging on His cross. Pain was the fire that purified a person; a vivid reminder that there are better things to come despite such setbacks in life.
Which is why I raise my eyebrows at parents nowadays who let their children run wild in the streets even during these High Holy Days. Whenever devout neighbours would complain at the wild shrieking, screaming, and, yes, even cussing (and these are children of nine or even younger!) that cuts through quiet time, the answer is “Ay, pabayaan n’yo ‘yan. Bata lang ‘yan.” (Leave ’em alone; they’re just kids.) Which, having been raised as I have, is a very wrong thing. People will tell me that I’ve no right to complain or criticise as I have no children of my own, but here’s the thing: when will your children learn that there is a proper time, a proper season for everything? That there is a time to play and a time to stay still, that there is a time for laughter and shouting and a time for contemplative silence? When will your children learn to respect the beliefs of others and that it is only in learning to respect others that they will earn respect for themselves?
We are given this time in the year for silence, for contemplation. This is the window we are given every year to sort ourselves out properly. This is a period for allowing things to fall into place. Not to question God or fate, but to open ourselves up to the answers. Not a time to complain, but for situations to come into proper perspective. Not a time for heading to beaches and resorts and having fun, but for prayer, for silent reflection; for seeking peace both within ourselves and the world at large. This is a time to think. To pray. To hope.
There is, as Scripture tells us, a season for everything and a time to every purpose under heaven. And today marks our time for silence, for prayer, for contemplation, and gratitude that one Man’s sacrifice has saved us all.