Note: Another essay written a few years back — but here’s why, in spite of the maddening and horrible things done in the name of the Catholic Church (Pope Benedict’s non-leadership and pedophile priests, anyone?), I still baptized the kiddo in the Church.
When I quit CCD (the Catholic Church’s catechism classes) at age thirteen, it wasn’t because I had left the Church, even though I was in the middle of classes for Confirmation, which is the renewal of one’s baptismal vows and traditionally ushers in a person’s entry into the Catholic adult world.
Maybe I wasn’t ready for that kind of adult world.
But with my father overseas again, my mother working all the time, and the carpool driver to Wednesday Confirmation classes having moved out of town, my mother for pragmatic reasons pulled me out of CCD, “for a later time,” she said.
It wasn’t until I was twenty-one when I was confirmed, when I was ready, and my CCD classes ended up being my undergraduate studies at a conservative, mostly white, small Catholic school in Irving, Texas, and dealing with the specter that is White Catholicism.
I am Catholic. The majority of Filipinos are, thanks to Magellan. As a kid growing up, I had always thought that Catholicism everywhere was pretty much the same.
Sure, the music in church may sound different, depending on the priest and the choir director, the crucifix may be ultra-realistic or not, the bread and wine may not taste exactly like other bread and wine, and one priest’s homily may be less boring and more relevant than another’s.
But Catholicism always meant “community” to me, as in united.
In college, where I dated a white boy whom I had met in high school, I learned that in the U.S., Catholicism can also mean division.
“If you don’t think this way or follow this exactly, then you’re not a Catholic,” was what I kept hearing.
Birth control? Evil.
Not going to Church every Sunday and all holy days of obligations? Damnable.
Kneeling when you should be standing, and vice versa? Bad.
Sex before marriage? Heinous.
Not arguing with somebody who is pro-choice? Go to confession right now!
“I’m sorry, but I don’t get this ‘Catholic guilt’ notion. I thought that faith is supposed to help you, not hurt you,” I’d say.
“What, are you ignorant? Didn’t Christ suffer? Isn’t that a hurt?” he’d reply.
It’s as if we were on different planets.
“He suffered from the actions of the world so that we wouldn’t have to suffer; what we suffer from is from the actions of the world, not from our faith. Jeez, it’s people like you that give Catholicism a bad name!”
Over the years, I ended up thinking of my Filipino Catholicism as “Brown Catholicism,” born out of poverty, suffering, and joy over the simple, good things, as opposed to “White Catholicism,” fostered by wealth, political strife, and a weird “us versus them” mentality.
Brown arose out of White as a way of making the aggressive Catholicism of the Spanish conquistadors into the pragmatic and magical Catholicism of the Filipino defenders. Filipinos could not avoid conversion – the sword made sure of that. But Filipinos managed to convert this White Catholicism into something that was theirs, Brown Catholicism.
It stresses the pragmatic, good sense of women, because the previous, indigenous faith stressed the role of women as intercessors in all things practical and religious – there used to be priestesses; now there were mothers praying to Mary, the Mother of God, and giving practical, blunt advice.
It stresses the unwavering belief of the efficacy of faith in all things by giving tools of good luck and peace of mind in a scary world filled with unseen evils.
The White, compartmentalized division between mundane and spiritual doesn’t exist because the previous faith held that the spirit world, where your ancestors reside, is always around you, and even though you can’t see it, you have access to it.
Brown Catholicism, while faithful to the tenets of Catholicism in general, is this mix of the pragmatic and the magical, becoming a powerful cornerstone for the Filipino in the postmodern world.
When I turned eleven, my mother, a good Catholic women, said, “Don’t get pregnant.” This was her version of sex education.
“Don’t worry, I won’t!” I had read all I needed to in medical encyclopedias, which had extensive and glossy color photos of sexually transmitted diseases. It was enough to turn off anybody from procreating.
And when I began dating, many years later, she added, “Do you need pills?”
“Are you sure?”
“Mom.” I was getting embarrassed.
“Well, when you do, we’ll make an appointment.”
White Catholicism would’ve talked about the miracle of life, a power given to each man and woman from God the Creator, which is special and pure and participates in the creative process of God Himself. Thus, one should not waste it in premarital sex and teenage pregnancies, and therefore people should virtuously abstain, remain chaste, until marriage.
Brown Catholicism pragmatically slammed the realities of sex and was so blunt that I was embarrassed away from it. The “virtue talk” – a kind of a White Catholic “Just Say No” – was never said to me. The bluntness of choices and the consequences of not being aware of them – the major consequences being shame for the family and decreased economic stability for me and my child – were stressed.
But there’s more.
When my sister had eloped with a white man, who wasn’t even Catholic, my parents held a party for them when they came home. “Congratulations!” they said, and they brought out a priest. “And now, Father Elmer will bless your marriage so that you’ll be happy and have good children.”
When a friend of the family was convinced that she had a ghost in her house, my parents brought a priest, my uncle, to the house to bless all the rooms and the land surrounding it.
For the Brown Catholic, ghosts are real, unlike the airy abstractions of virtues and principles that the White Catholic conservative expounds.
For the Brown Catholic, poverty and suffering is real, unlike the distanced budget numbers that the White Catholic church accountant adds up.
When I was confirmed at age twenty-one, I realized that I was ready for the Catholic adult world because I had survived White Catholicism.
And – God willing – still have my faith.