Deepening popular piety

- Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - January 12, 2014 - 12:00am

I consider it a great blessing that in our country we still enjoy a tremendous amount of popular piety. This January, for example, we have the celebration in many places of the feast of the Sto. Niño that draws a lot of crowd in a mode that unmistakably is very moving, to say the least.

Visit Cebu City during these days of the Sto. Niño, and you will know what I mean. The sight is simply heart-melting, exhilarating. Prayers and piety are expressed in large processions, novenas, Masses, dances, and the whole range of festivities, both religious and secular.

While there are many warts and imperfections that accompany these activities, it's undeniable that the mysterious character of faith and devotion is very palpable, and tends to be contagious.

It's good that we take this occasion to find out how we can improve the tenor of such celebration, for definitely improvement and development there should be in this area also. We cannot be naïve to think that things will just go well by some invisible forces without our due part.

Especially these days when the all-too-worldly manners of celebrating are getting more and more prominent, we need to practice prudence and the appropriate, if not Spirit-inspired, creativity to bring this popular piety to its proper objective.

It is not to curb spontaneous expressions of piety and religious sentiments, but rather to purify them and channel them along proper paths. We have to be wary, for example, of superstitions that can easily mimic and distort piety. And superstitions and questionable pious practices, there are many!

We also have to be wary of elements that take advantage of this popular devotion to push commercialism, materialism and frivolity. It's not that we have to avoid altogether some commerce and fun, but we need to see to it that these are pursued properly. That is to say, that they enhance rather than detract from the religious and spiritual character of the festivity.

The clergy should take the lead in undertaking a most active and effective evangelization with respect to popular piety. Of course, the laity too should do their part. The whole Church should be involved in some organic fashion in this duty.

The aim to reach is to make everyone closer to God, with faith strengthened and alive, producing fruits of sanctity and apostolate and not just something professed and bandied about. In short, everyone should grow in his spiritual life, with a spirituality that is abiding and properly adapted to one's personal and social circumstances.

This will involve a whole range of details that embrace the entire gamut of Christian and human life. Catechesis has to be done always, with the appropriate plan to cover the Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments and morality, and Prayer.

It cannot be denied that popular piety can highlight one aspect of Christian life at the expense of the other aspects. For example, people can get very hot about lighting votive candles before their favorite saint, but fail to appreciate the need for going to Mass and to confession. They can look fervent in churches, but are little devils or even horrible monsters at home or in their workplaces.

As much as possible, this catechesis has to be properly prepared and programmed. We have to outgrow the culture of improvisations and on-the-spot adaptations that can only be narrow and shallow at best in their reach.

Aside from the collective and public means, the catechesis has to filter down to the level of the family and even of the individual. The ideal is to have one-on-one personal chats, so that each person is thoroughly known and guided, with the concrete circumstances considered and the most proper advice given.

We should avoid generic motherhood statements, made attractive by some sound bytes, popular slogans and memes, and other rhetorical gimmicks. Everyone involved in catechesis should somehow feel that he is the instrument of the Holy Spirit to spread the truths of our faith and to stir people's spiritual lives.

Piety should not be too popular as to compromise its intimate personal aspect, nor too private or personal as to compromise its social and public dimension. In other words, piety should be both personal and social as is proper to our nature.

This obviously requires serious study and continuing effort. I am sure that if we are generous with our prayers and sacrifices, we can attain the proper blend, and enjoy a popular piety that will leave good effects on everyone's life and on society in general. We can truly be called the People of God!


Email: roycimagala@gmail.com

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