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"Average" Catholics and the Bible

When I saw "Bibles nurture hopes of poor" by Blanche S. Rivera (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7 November 2005), I noted that it seemed as if the Bibles being distributed were how-to books that did not need to be interpreted at all. But I didn't think of the article again until I happened to open an old file that I had hoped to publish after further polishing.

After looking at it again, I thought of sharing it here because if you look beyond the religious aspect, what it says about books that go unread and how students should be introduced to reading is also very relevant to the GMA Modular Library program and DepEd's Library Hub.

I wrote this in 2001 or 2002, and though some of the views I've expressed below have already changed and the logic isn't always clear, I have decided not to revise what I wrote. Consider it a snapshot of me at a specific time =)

EKKS Marks the Spot
by Vernon Totanes

I am writing this hoping that someone will be so incensed after reading it that s/he will want to prove me wrong. And whether I am proven right or wrong, I would be satisfied with having played a role in determining where the Catholic Church in the Philippines is now in terms of understanding the Bible.

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country and I suspect that the average Catholic family has at least one Bible. But, if asked, only the mother would know where to find the Bible. Or, at best, one of the children would be able to pull it out right away but that would be because s/he has to bring it to school every day. Pathetic, right? It gets worse.

Guess how many in this hypothetical average Catholic family actually read the Bible regularly? Most probably, none. Not even yearly, monthly, or weekly. And definitely, not daily. That's just reading. How about understanding? Never mind. But they hear the Word of God every Sunday, right? Then the priest explains, shouldn't that be enough? Umm, ALL of them? EVERY Sunday? And assuming they're all there every Sunday, do you think they actually HEAR what's read? The priest is a different story altogether. Let's not go there, let's stick to the Bible.

Now that we've established (I know, I know...) that the average Catholic does not read the Bible (priests, religious and students at theological schools please lower your eyebrows, you are NOT average Catholics), let's try to imagine how "good" average Catholics live their faith. The "good" average Catholic would probably go to at least one Mass other than the Sunday Mass, say a novena once a month, say the rosary at least once a week, and remember to pray every day. She, however, would be hard-pressed to explain why we celebrate Christmas on December 25 when Jesus was born during a time when today's calendar did not yet exist. What about the "bad" ones? The "bad" average Catholic would probably go to Mass once in a while and remember to pray when he's in trouble. He also wouldn't know the difference between the Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption and the Ascension, and would probably agree if told that Catholics worship Mary as if she's God.

I exaggerate, of course, but I doubt I would be very wrong. I have no empirical data but ask yourself if I have not been, in fact, describing someone you know. I taught religion during the past school year at a school with a devotion to the Sacred Heart. But most of my students, like me, would not be able to explain the significance of the devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They had been required previously to bring their Bibles but eventually they learned to resent this requirement because they kept bringing their Bible but it was never used.

What most Catholics in the Philippines have, in my scientifically-unsupported opinion, is a faith in a memorized Jesus and an adherence to devotions not fully understood. What we have is a faith based more on teachings that tell us what we can and cannot do aside from what we should and should not do. Why? Because religion teachers find it easier to ask their students to memorize the names of the twelve apostles than to challenge them to reflect on how they are similar to the apostles. Why? Because that's how they were taught by their own teachers. So, is it the teachers' fault? Not entirely.

Can we blame someone for not achieving an objective if s/he doesn't know what the objective is? I think not. And since I've gotten this far, I suppose I might as well suggest an objective for religious education in the Philippines. I just hope I don't get excommunicated...

When I started teaching, I stated my objectives in terms of "X marks the spot." I told my 2nd year high school students that we had to be clear on where we wanted to go during the school year otherwise we would never get there. Or, alternatively, we would never find the hidden treasure if we had no idea where it was. And in this case, "X" was spelled "EKKS." E for Experience of God's love, KK for Knowing and Keeping the Word, and S for Spreading the Word.

My guess was that most of them had been taught to KEEP the Word and not much more than that. I explained that I wanted to help them reflect on their own experience of God's love. Why? Because this is what will give them the reason to WANT to keep the Word. However, keeping the Word presumes that they KNOW the Word. And if their experience of God's love is strong enough, they will not want to just keep the Word but SPREAD the Word, as well. That's what happened to the first disciples, why should we be different? Without the first disciples' Experience of Jesus, they would not have had the courage to Keep the Word in the face of difficulties, nor the zeal to Spread the Word. EKKS marks the spot.

Then I brought in the EKKS-Men who were different from everybody else and that's why people wanted to kill them even though they actually did a lot of good. I'm not talking of mutants but the followers of Christ. And how about the EKKS-files? The truth is NOT out there, it's in the Bible. That's why we need to read it. EKKSmas? Our Christmases would probably be more meaningful if we reflected on our Experience of God's love, whether we Know AND Keep the Word, and what our role has been in Spreading the Word in word and in deed. Funny? Simplistic? Well, it worked.

At the end of the year, most of my students could understand and relate a given Bible-reading to their own experience of God's love AND spread the Word to a younger cousin in language that their cousins could understand. It did not go as smoothly as I have described it and it's very likely that a lot of them still hold very heretical ideas to be true but I console myself with the thought that if all I was able to do was get them to open the Bible and read it, then maybe I would have accomplished something.

P.S. To see examples of how I taught, read "Introducing Gen X to the Bible." And then look at this Friendster testimonial, which let me know that I was able to accomplish a little of what I hoped to achieve.

Categories: Religion, About Vonjobi

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