A few weeks ago, I picked up a drain snake from Walmart. We prefer using them to dumping harsh chemicals down the drain. We’re trying to be more environmentally conscious, and we figure it’s probably better for our health and the health of our pets than Drano fumes.
Yesterday, I finally opened the box. I had some trouble getting the cardboard slide that the snakes were attached to out because they were hung up on something. Turns out it was a set of Catholic prayer beads that had been tucked into the back of the box.
I imagine some enterprising individual went around Walmart and stashed these prayer beads in random products to get them into people’s homes and hands. It’s a clever idea. They reach people that otherwise would never think to take one when offered. It was thoughtful, and their heart was in the right place.
However, it’s also a little annoying, because now I have the burden of trying to figure out what to do with them in a way that’s respectful. We’re not Catholic, but I don’t want to dump them in the trash either. I figure I’ll check with coworkers and neighbors and if that’s a bust, then I’ll drop them off at the nearest Catholic Church.
But, maybe that’s part of the plan too! To create opportunities for dialogue between non-Catholics and Catholics.
“Cartmanland,” the sixth episode of season five of South Park, contains a specific reference to the Book of Job. In the story, Cartman’s grandmother dies and leaves her entire life savings to Cartman, because she believes the rest of her family would just spend the money on crack. Cartman decides to use the money to fulfill his dream of having a theme park all to himself. So, he purchases a theme park that was on the verge of going out of business and renames it Cartmanland. Cartman uses the park solely for his own fun and makes it a point to advertise on television that no one else may enter the park or ride the rides.
Kyle is horrified that a person as despicable as Cartman is experiencing such good fortune and questions his faith in God. Kyle’s faith is further damaged by the discovery that he has a hemorrhoid. Kyle and Stan decide to try to break into the park by climbing the fence, but this only makes Kyle’s situation worse: his hemorrhoid breaks and becomes infected, leaving him hospitalized. Kyle’s parents try to cheer him up by reading him the Book of Job, but they forget to mention the ending, where Job receives more material wealth than he previously had. Kyle is horrified and his health begins to fade as the hemorrhoid infection spreads to his lungs.
Kyle’s health only improves when he discovers that Cartman’s plan to have Cartmanland all to himself fails and he ends up worse off than he was before inheriting the million dollars. Cartman had to allow in guests to defray operating expenses, was fined by the IRS for not keeping tax records, was sued by Kenny’s parents because Kenny died in the park, and ends the show by losing the park and being $13,000 in debt to the IRS, sprayed with mace and crying, restoring Kyle’s faith in God.
Saint Augustine’s Confessions is a book about the early life and conversion to Christianity of Augustine of Hippo, one of the most famous Christian scholars of antiquity. The book starts off with a description of childhood, then moves on to describe Augustine’s quest for knowledge both among the Manichees and through study of the traditional liberal arts, including oratory and rhetorical skills. An intensely personal account by design, Augustine reveals his internal struggle as he reminisces about the loss of his childhood friend, whose name he does not reveal, as well as his struggles with sexuality and his doubts about the nature of God. Essentially, the book is meant to show Augustine’s path from a confused childhood to a position of solid conviction in the Catholic faith, but Confessions can also be used as a source of historical information. This essay will examine the first seven chapters of Confessions to discover what it implies about the late 4th and early 5th century Roman society that shaped Augustine’s life.
One of the more interesting things that can be discerned from the book is the potential for mobility available in Roman society, both in terms of physical and social movement. Of course, Augustine’s case is not indicative of the norm, but he was able to advance from being the son of a modest family in Tagaste (in modern day Algeria) to being a well-respected and socially connected professor of rhetoric in Milan, before his conversion, which is related in chapters outside the scope of this essay. Augustine’s reasons for leaving his home village were originally related to study opportunities and a need to leave a place that reminded him strongly of the death of a childhood friend. His ability to travel within the empire for education purposes is interesting because it implies that there was a system in place that allowed for the boarding and education of students during his time. His ability to rise through the ranks of society based on his intellectual abilities shows that class distinctions were not set in stone and he specifically mentions that many Roman offices were available to anyone with the right amount of money. In a modern context, this has a negative connotation, and perhaps it did in Augustine’s time as well, because in his writing he felt the need to explain that as a system it allowed the state access to needed revenues and acted as a pathway to success for those born to lower classes.
In his writing, Augustine mentioned that not all families were willing to support their children’s education outside of their local towns, even when they were better-off economically than Augustine’s own family. Augustine did not go into detail about this point, but it leaves the reader wondering what motivations a family might have for not wanting to promote the education of their children at all costs, as Augustine’s did, when it might lead the family to greater success. If the story about Alypius and the responsibility of a “house” for a crime is any indication, the Roman family unit probably shared equally in success as well as culpability for crimes and failures. Was it a cultural expectation that children would follow in the footsteps of their parents, leading to a lackadaisical attitude towards aggressive social advancement, or was the lack of interest in education outside of Tagaste something specific to that locality?
Much of Augustine’s writing in Confessions deals with education, because he wrote about both his time as a pupil and as an educator. His writing makes it clear that corporal punishment was a well-used form of discipline that acted as a motivator for children to pay attention to their studies. The fact that Augustine and, presumably, other children endured caning as a punishment and prayed for respite instead of abandoning school indicates that there was some measure of compulsion in attendance, either from families or from the state. Also, unless the phrase was added by the translator, the inclusion of the “three Rs” as a figure of speech (reading, writing, and arithmetic) shows that areas of study for primary school students in the late 4th century were fairly consistent with modern education standards. His later education reveals a break with modern ideals about the purpose of studying the liberal arts, however. According to Augustine, forming logical arguments that revealed the truth about a matter were of secondary importance to style and delivery. Eloquence and the ability to convey a sense of conviction were more important than being able to logically argue a truth.
Similarly related to education, student culture in Roman society is revealed through Augustine’s writings. Bullying was alive and well in the 4th century. Schoolyard gangs even had nicknames, like “The Wreckers”, who would find “shy and unknown freshmen… to persecute…by mockery…to feed their own malevolent amusement.” Augustine dealt with this group as a student by staying on friendly terms with them, but refused to participate in their mockery and acts of vandalism. Augustine wrote that in Carthage, students would burst into a classroom and purposely disrupt it with “mad behavior.” Later, as an adult, Augustine complained of a practice common among Roman students, who would sit with a teacher for a number of classes and then transfer en masse to another instructor to avoid making payment.
Augustine’s writing reveals quite a bit about religion during the late 4th and early 5th centuries in the Roman Empire, most obviously because the book is about his journey to conversion to Catholocism, but the first seven chapters of the book also discuss the Manichees and give an example of religious syncretism among professed Catholics. Augustine wrote that he spent nine years as a follower of the Manichee religion and through his writings, we can see that it was institutionally similar to the Catholic Church, including having Bishops, but professed very different concepts of God. The instance of religious syncretism that Augustine took time to mention was his mother’s practice of tomb veneration through the offering of plates of fruit and the ritual sipping of wine at the burial sites of Catholic martyrs. Augustine mentioned that his mother was not alone during these ceremonies, so the practice must have been widespread. I also make this conjecture based on the fact that in later centuries, and continuing up to the present, Islamic scholars in the Middle East have been condeming the same practice among Muslims regarding veneration of the tombs of saints, martyrs and especially Sufi pirs.
This brief selection of information from the first seven chapters of Saint Augustine’s Confessions shows how historical information about an author’s society can be revealed by analyzing that author’s work, even when recording historical information is not the main purpose of the work. This essay examines the chapters on their own, but by comparing what Augustine wrote to other available information, one could further the process of reconstructing Roman society and elaborate on the circumstances surrounding Augustine’s life and conversion to Catholocism.
 Saint Augustine, Confessions (Oxford University Press, 2009), 101.
Do people actually do this in any other country? I’ve never heard of it before. Is it strictly a Catholic thing?
In the image above, you can see a group of people gathered around a new vehicle. The man in the white top and black pants is a priest, probably from the nearby Our Lady of Peace Cathedral, which is a popular pilgrimage destination for people who are about to embark on trips.
I’m not sure if there’s a process to this, if different parts of the vehicle are blessed at different times and I just stumbled across them as they were getting to the engine, or if having the hood raised and the engine running is just the standard way of having a vehicle blessed.
As weird as this seems, it makes sense in a way, and makes sense that they’d come to the Cathedral that’s known as a place for travelers to receive blessings to have it done.
If you stumbled across this post looking for information about how to get your car blessed at the Cathedral, click this link and then scroll to the bottom of the post to see a picture of the sign showing the hours for car blessings, as well as contact numbers.
Sometimes interesting things cross your path, in this case literally, which is why I’m glad I almost always have my camera with me!
We had just been dropped off in town by the tricycle so we could walk down the street and do a little shopping when we heard a bunch of loud bangs and then saw hordes of people with candles walking down the road we were supposed to cross. When we got closer, we could see it was a procession coming from the Antipolo Cathedral and going down the main road. I had no idea what was going on, but I figured it was a good time to take photos.
After getting my pictures I asked my wife if she knew what the procession was for. I’d seen her asking someone what was going on, but she wasn’t sure what the guy was talking about. He had said, “It’s the last procession of the month!” That doesn’t make sense though, because these photos were taken just a day or two ago, at the beginning of July. If there’s more than one procession a month, which his answer implies, then the last one wouldn’t be at the beginning of the month.
Regardless, it was an interesting sight and it was very lively with the fireworks going off just above us. They weren’t the kind that make patterns or lights, just loud noises, or I’d have taken photos of those too.
This also reminded me of a segment of the Filipino history book I’m reading. When the Spaniards first started imposing their way of life on the natives here in the Philippines, Catholic missionaries would try to lure in the more stubborn people by holding frequent festivals in the towns. The festivals and religious ceremonies and events were purposely gaudy and exciting as a way to entice Filipinos to come, enjoy and then hopefully convert, and after converting start paying tithes of course.
Since we’re talking about tithes, I also read that back then if you were a member of the church and didn’t pay your tithe, you were publicly humiliated for it during the sermon in front of all of the people from your town. My wife says this practice still occurs in some churches in the Philippines, most notably the Iglesia ni Cristos, which is a Christian sect in the Philippines.
The first time I heard the Muslim call to prayer was in Iraq in 2003 when my unit was set up near a mosque in the outskirts of Baghdad. It was strange, but it didn’t sound necessarily bad. In fact, there’s a very musical quality to it that’s easy to appreciate when you’re not letting prejudice and/or fear get in the way.
I thought Muslims were the only ones in the business of broadcasting prayers to the neighborhood over loudspeakers, but I was wrong. Walking through a neighborhood in the Philippines one afternoon I heard this creepy chanting sound and I asked my wife what it is. We were a bit far away from the source, so I couldn’t quite make out what was being said. She told me that it’s the Rosary being chanted over loudspeakers from the Catholic church in the neighborhood. It’s done every day around 2 or 3 PM, and if that weren’t enough, there are also announcements and other prayers broadcast to the neighborhood in the morning at around 6 AM I think.
While I don’t think I could quite appreciate living close to either one, having to listen to them repeatedly every single day, I would opt for listening to the Muslim call to prayer if I had a choice. Maybe it’s that I don’t understand the words, but there’s just something oddly disturbing to me about the Rosary being chanted and the entire neighborhood being forced to listen to it, whether they want to or not. What adds to the whole creepy factor is that more often than not, it’s children that are being made to recite the Rosary over the loudspeakers. They’re supplied with an afternoon snack as a lure or compensation to get them to do it.
In the video below, I’ve mashed together clips of the Muslim call to prayer that I recorded in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and a clip of the Rosary chanting here in the Philippines. Unfortunately, there weren’t children doing the chanting this time, which would have given you more of an idea of how weird it sounds on a normal day, but it’s creepy nonetheless.
Judge for yourself.
Feel free to comment, but don’t use the comment section as a Christians Vs Muslims bashing forum. Comment only on this particular practice please.
Update: The full text in English of the meaning of the Adhan, or Islamic call to prayer, is included below, from About.com:
God is Great
(said four times)
Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
(said two times)
Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
(said two times)
Hurry to the prayer (Rise up for prayer)
(said two times)
Hurry to success (Rise up for Salvation)
(said two times)
God is Great
[said two times]
La ilaha illa Allah
There is no god except the One God
For the pre-dawn (fajr) prayer, the following phrase is inserted after the fifth part above, towards the end:
As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm
Prayer is better than sleep
(said two times)
That’s a pretty big mouthful, but basically what I’m talking about here is the church that’s designated as the command center for the Archbishops of Manila. To be precise, these esteemed gentlemen:
A few posts ago I showed some photos of the cathedral in in Antipolo. It’s pretty nice, but the Manila cathedral was designated as a Minor Basilica for a reason. It’s got great architecture and a LOT of history, as you can see from the picture above, which shows archibishops dating back to 1573. We went through it rather quickly, because it was as hot as an oven in there, but on a cool day we could go back and spend a few hours reading all of the information that’s put out on display. A quick history is that this church was originally established by the Spanish during the colonial period. It originally fell under the diocese of Mexico, but eventually gained its own authority and power structure. The building itself has, in part, survived multiple wars, a massive fire and an earthquake. It’s been rebuilt a few times.
The exterior and interior of the building are in pretty good shape. There was some quiet renovation work going on while we were there, but it didn’t detract from the overall experience. I’m not Catholic, but it was still inspiring to be in such a sacred place with over 400 years of history, so we took a few moments to offer up prayers before leaving to continue our self-guided tour of the Intramuros area.
This is a view of the cathedral from the main entrance towards the chancel. It’s a pretty big area.
If you walk to the front and then turn and look above the entrance, you’ll see the pipe organ. A plaque I read said that the first Catholic missionaries to the Philippines brought musical instruments with them, including a portable box organ which was probably destroyed in a major Manila fire in the 1500s. It didn’t say exactly when the pipe organ was put in place, but it said that for almost all of the cathedral’s history, there’s been a Master Chantre, some of which were specifically named as organists.
Just after taking this photo, a young guy walked in, embraced this cross and began to pray silently. I’ve noticed that Catholics place a lot of importance on symbols, images and things as objects or focal points of prayer. It seems bizarre to me, because there shouldn’t be an object between yourself and God. On the other hand, I suppose something that inspires (properly placed) devotion can’t be all that bad. Being in the cathedral was a strong reminder and incentive for me reflect as well.
This is the “La Pieta”. I didn’t read the plaque, so I don’t understand the symbolism behind the statue, but it’s well made.
This is an image of Our Lady of the Philippines located in the Manila Cathedral.
I’m looking forward to visiting this cathedral again. We were a bit short on time and just happened to see it while on our way to Fort Santiago so we rushed through. I may create an additional post about this cathedral in the future, since it’s such a wonderful and rich landmark in Manila.
I’m not sure if this cathedral is actually the center of town, but it certainly feels like it for me. It’s where we usually get off the tricycle when riding into town from our neighborhood. We catch the FX to Manila nearby. The town hall is within sight of the front steps and the area is often host to a number of local celebrations and events like this ballroom style dancing that I saw and recorded a bit of in 2008:
The main cathedral is simple, by Catholic standards at least (compared to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City), but it still manages to convey a majestic, reverent atmosphere that reminded me to remove my cap when I passed through the doors.
The pews inside are occupied by quite a few people at any given time of the day, but it’s especially jam packed on Saturday nights when mass is held.
These are some photos of the stained glass windows in the cathedral area.
And these are some of the statues of saints that are arrayed around the outer wall of the main chamber. In the first image, you can see a woman laying her hand on one of the statues and praying.
This is a very stylistic interpretation of Jesus carrying the cross, which people are laying hands on while offering prayers.
There are also areas where candles are lit. I don’t understand the exact significance of these candles, except that they’re meant as symbolic offerings. I suppose they’re used to ensure that the person’s prayers are heard?
This cathedral is known particularly as a place for travelers to pray for safe journey. I was told by my wife, who grew up in the area, that it’s common for people to make a ‘pilgrimage’ there before embarking on international trips to pray for safety.
The thing I found most peculiar about the cathedral is this sign:
If you look towards the bottom right you’ll notice that there are services for car blessings. My wife says that during this service the priest will sprinkle holy water on the car as a blessing against accidents. Call me cynical, but this immediately brought to mind a time when the Catholic church would sell a blessing or an indulgence for just about anything, if you could pay the right price, especially with the name and logo of a bank at the bottom of the sign.
When I think of the US, my first thought is that, for the most part, it’s a Christian country. There are churches everywhere. In even the smallest towns, there’s at least one church. However, the idea and enforcement of a separation between church and state has made the religious nature of the country a lot more toned down than it is in the Philippines.
Everywhere you look in the Philippines there are reminders that you’re in a Christian country, and definitely a Catholic Christian country. (For the purposes of this blog I’m not referring to the southern islands, which has been a stronghold of the Muslim faith for hundreds of years). There are crosses and churches, religious graffiti, art, statues, pamphlets, and even religious themed custom paint jobs on vehicles, among other things. This is especially true when you get outside of the Metro Manila area, like Antipolo, which is the town just north of Manila where I’m currently residing.
Since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and their 300 years of colonial rule, the Catholic religion has been very deeply embedded into the Filipino society. I’m sure there are varying degrees from family to family, just like there are in other countries, but people in the Philippines are overwhelmingly Catholic in the way that Arabic countries are overwhelmingly Muslim.
Sometimes, this overwhelming Catholicism can border on the bizarre, or creepy. At Muslim mosques, the call to prayer is announced from the minarets five times per day. I remember the first time I heard it in Kuwait. It was a bit unsettling, but beautiful in a way. I sometimes stopped to listen to it when I was in Kuala Lumpur. There’s something similar in the Philippines, or at least at the church in the neighborhood I’m staying in. Every day at roughly 3 PM, you can hear the sounds of children chanting the rosary over and over, using loudspeakers mounted to the church. It has a Children of the Corn vibe to it, especially since it echoes off the surrounding hills. From what I’m told, these children are lured in to perform this task with promises of food and treats afterwards.
I’ve even heard tales of religion supplanting medicine in the Philippines. Some people prefer to call a priest rather than a doctor when a person is ill. The priest comes to perform an exorcism to get rid of the bad demons that are causing the sickness. I don’t want to stray too far from the topic, but if God gave us wisdom to create medicine to heal ourselves, then isn’t it a bit rude to reject it and simply pray for miracles? Anyhow, I also found a bottle of Holy Water in the medicine cabinet, right next to the headache pills and band aids. Seriously.