“You three, you get here right now—excuse me, miss, this isn’t taken, right?—get here and sit down!” the father bellowed.
The Church irony is this dad publicly shaming his children into sitting on a pew near us because they were too shy to do so. It was a crowded pew, with a bit of space that could perhaps accommodate only a five-year-old, and understandably, the three standing siblings didn’t want to bother. But, alas, they had to concede and squeeze themselves between the sitting people, if only to appease their father.
People were directing at this man annoyed looks and dismissive “shh!”—which he ignored. But they understood his cause. Probably everyone did. This man would tell you that he was just doing his job of giving his children the best, that he just wanted them to be comfortable during the Mass. But one has to ask: Why do we seek so much comfort in the duration of a Mass? Why do we seek, foremost and above all else, seats for ourselves upon entering a church?
Let’s cut all stigmas and taboos for once and answer the questions with two answers. The first answer is: to endure an hour of inexplicable and seemingly baroque rituals, movements and speeches that, I’m pretty sure, hold significant meanings but are only what they appear to be to the teeming masses. If one can sit while all this is happening, then one will definitely choose to sit. The father I observed had manifested in his action what the most self-proclaimed good among us couldn’t and wouldn’t ever admit, and that is: We need to sit and be secured of comfort to endure the hourlong Mass. If all of what we were doing in that one hour felt promising or captivating, seats wouldn’t matter. We would gladly, and not sulkily, stand and smile and sing accordingly.
But, alas, the aggressiveness in trying to squirm our way into getting a seat just proves that the Mass is anything but promising or captivating. Of course, there are also the latecomers who have no option but to stand and lean on something (if they’re lucky), but the urge to celebrate the Mass has clearly been depleted out of their system as they succumb, as the expressions on their faces indicate, to defeat.
The second answer is: Because a seat is more than just a seat to us. Despite seeming to be a true Catholic and lover of Christ, like every other person in the church, this man didn’t want his children closer to the altar so they could hear the priest better or meditate more solemnly. He simply wanted seats for them.
And this is the truth about Catholicism, or at least the one I’ve observed in our contemporary society. We’re all here for the better seat, literally and figuratively. When we go to church, our main goal is to get the best seat or, at the very least, get seated, because the truth is we all crave to rest our butt while the procession and celebration and seremonyas go on. This craving is our literal want.
Our figurative want of getting the better seat is—what else but—the best seat in eternity, the seat next to God in His eternal kingdom, Heaven. Why do we pray? Why do we worship Him? Why do we bother to repeat the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” and “Glory Be” infinite times in praying the rosary? Why do we endure fasts and go to Mass? It is simply because—correct me only if you are truthfully sure that I am wrong—we want that better seat in Heaven when we die.
Not everyone likes to think of the afterlife because no one is sure what it is exactly and what happens, if anything does, there. But here, in this society, in this air-conditioned mall-church of which I write, Christianity promises something so good—an excellent, worry-free afterlife, but only if you stand by Jesus’ rules, one of which is to endure Mass every Sunday. Catholicism takes it a step further by adding so many rituals and traditions, all promising an extra bonus in getting that seat.
The irony, the Church irony, is what I call the hypocrisy of wanting to be holy while actually being anything but. The Church irony is that at every church, during every Sunday Mass, no matter what the time, there will be a throng of people bumping into and ignoring one another—Christians, they call themselves—each wanting a good seat and a good view to get through the hour.
The Church irony is that the sacristans are more concerned with how their gelled hair stands. It’s that the most religious of us, widowed old ladies who volunteer as helpers of the Church, earnestly pray and mouth words they hardly understand. It’s that most of us take advantage of the sermon segment of the Mass to doze off or think about where to eat dinner. It’s that the assigned readers properly, carefully, and, most important, emptily, pronounce the Word of The Lord in thoughtful diction. It’s that you can see the priest is tired of his memorized sermon—or is passionate about it, too passionate, so that he starts irrationally condemning political issues and supposed devilish laws, and calling out the gays and the girls who come to church in shorts.
The Church irony is that we ignore this, brush it off like an unwanted crumb, and claim that a solution need not be thought of because this isn’t a problem, just some delusional atheist’s (agnostic’s, actually) way of chipping at a 2,000-year-old religion. And then we exclaim that we love the Lord, He gives us all His time, and we should at least for an hour on the Sabbath Day, honor this.
The irony is that we’d rather ignore everything in this piece of writing save that last absurd and self-serving statement.
Now let us sit down and sing. I love the Lord!
Renee Cuisia, 17, is an incoming journalism freshman at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.