Musical ecumenism II

I have decided that I will not be writing about the political crisis in my country because other people can write about this better than me. I am also convinced that no peaceful solution is possible other than the status quo ante, but the other not-so-violent-yet-violent alternative may well be to roll back the clock democratically and start from there. That is what the present government will be doing. However, they are not explicit about it, and I think for transparency’s sake they should lay their cards on the table. That is why I¬†will renew my passport and apply for a scholarship so I could go into temporary exile. Now.

Last Sunday at Holy Trinity Makati (Episcopal), another milestone in Philippine musical ecumenism occurred when the anthem at the preparation of the gifts and offertory, the choir sang Manoling Francisco and Jandi Arboleda’s setting of the Anima Christi. It is once again an example of using a hymn normally sung in RC churches at a certain time of the liturgy at a time that would make it sound different. This time, the use of the Anima Christi was anticipatory, but in the Lent context, with its meditation on the Paschal Mysteries that will be commemorated, this made the song quite appropriate.

I commend Trinity’s musical team for giving me another reason to smile during the liturgy.

Why I am not so keen on GAFCON

The reasons one could advance for not backing GAFCON, the “alternative Lambeth” are many. I am not convinced among other things that the Archbishop of Canterbury can no longer speak for the Anglican Communion. And while I am concerned that a majority of the leaders of ECUSA and its descendant, the ECP, are not too keen on doing serious yet practical theology (in the sense that it is willing to engage with the abstractions in the process of applying them, or that they haven’t been reading enough), I don’t think that’s enough reason for people to say that they don’t need each other anymore.

(Incidentally, I think the problems underlying the Anglican Communion, and to a lesser extent that of the Roman Catholic Church, are a result of clericalism as much as anything else. Note that not much has been said about the role of the laity in this context other than the controversial question of “lay presidency of the Eucharist” which Sydney has raised and the not insignificant issue of how the non-ordained take part in synods and parish meetings. I do suggest that if we look at ministry as a whole and not just the ordained aspect, then it is really a question of a tempest in a teacup.)

But if there is a reason I wouldn’t be so keen, it is the fact that the Latin word for “unity” is unitas. For crying out loud, just because unitas has six letters doesn’t mean it’s not symmetrical!

The ministry of reconciliation

“For me, the one thing that makes me happy about being a priest is… seeing people reconciled to each other.” – Fr. Tyler Strand, rector of Holy Trinity Church, Makati

Last Friday, Brent International School played host to an unprecedented event. A Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Tony de Castro, SJ, was invited along with Fr. Tyler Strand to address a group of upper school students on ministry as a vocation. A third participant, the senior pastor at Union Church, could not make it for undisclosed reasons. Having a Roman Catholic priest address students at chapel time is considered unprecedented; in recent years, Brent did not have anyone from the majority religious community there speaking to students. Such a deplorable development is contrary to their founder’s high regard for the Roman Catholic Church. It was this that led Bishop Brent to refuse signing a concordat that would assign areas of the Philippines for Protestants to “Christianize.” He believed that Roman Catholicism had already done that, for better or for worse.

The two priests addressed questions concerning their calling to ministry, their best and worst experiences of it, and the very difficult issue of women and the ordained ministry. The latter was handled with candor and honesty by both priests. Fr. Tony decided to introduce, albeit without naming it, aspects of the Ignatian process of discernment and how it applies to answering the call to ministry. The other memorable part for me was how Fr. Tyler placed an emphasis on the role of an ordained minister as a minister of reconciliation. I think that, considering recent events in the ECP and the wider Communion, this particular aspect needs to be highlighted.

It became clear that apart from the flexibility of the Episcopal/Anglican tradition in some parts of the world when it comes to ordaining married men and women, the Anglican/Roman Catholic consensus on the nature of ministry and vocation in general showed in today’s discussion. I think both highlighted the nature of vocation as a universal call to holiness and the individual response taking a particular form. This is a necessary corrective to a largely individualistic conception of vocations which ignores the role of the Church as the community wherein that call is given form and the response discerned. This was a point made clear by Fr. Tyler when he emphasized that in the Anglican tradition in particular, the community’s role was important. (He had in mind of course the canonical processes shared by the ECP and the ECUSA for ordinations.)

The good thing was that the event was well-received. The sad thing though was that there was little time available, and I am hoping that a smaller event for a smaller audience, taking more time, could be held. However, such a forum opens doors for more to be done to enable both the Catholic community at Brent and the Anglican ethos of that school to flourish. It can be done and last Friday was a promising start.

*****

I think that Fr. Tyler hit it on the head when he mentioned what made him happy as a priest. I wonder, though, if being a minister of reconciliation requires that sometimes one becomes a sign of scandal. Sometimes, the standards we use to judge the leaders of the world are hard to apply in respect of some people, for whom the good they have done would be misinterpreted in their lifetimes.

Countermeasures

Today is Ash Wednesday. I am however tempted to go on the Ambrosian way, where Lent starts on the first Sunday of Lent, because Jesus fasted 40 days, Sundays included. (The reason Ash Wednesday happens is that Sundays and the Feast of the Annunciation are exempt from the Lent fast, but not this year.) I would love to celebrate Lent this year in a spirit of both humility and humor, because both are a consequence of our awareness of human frailty and both are needed on the pilgrim way.

This special edition of the Notebook is based on an article that has been published here, on the Ateneo de Manila website. (Incidentally, I am drawing Anglicans’ attention to the fact that I plugged St. Andrew’s there, so everyone knows it exists and certain people will have no excuse to sweep anything under a carpet!) However, for reasons that will instantly be obvious, this is a very different piece. This is a companion essay to the earlier one.

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Dear Ren,

In your essay which was given the title “A dark and well-executed comedy,” you reviewed TA’s production of Hakbang sa Hakbang. You pointed out correctly that Measure for Measure was a difficult piece, and any effort to restage it would be considered fresh no matter the approach. I agree with you that the tenor of the piece is dead serious. In fact, even if the scene I would be watching was supposedly funny, I was trying hard to laugh. It was that serious. To quote my favorite television doctors, “Seriously.”

I also agree that in general this was well-executed. At least if the intent was precisely to disclose the political dimensions of this play, vis-a-vis the moral ones, it was. I think staging it during a time of political prostitution never before seen in my country is a brilliant idea. But… and this is with a heavy sigh, knowing that you and I will be both read by some of those who know those responsible, I wonder if the play could have done better if, like my friend George Francisco, I would see it at the Globe in period costume, or in Kenneth Branagh’s tasteful adaptations for the screen.

There is something about Ron Capinding’s production that comes together that, if one element of it is taken apart, the play would collapse. Yes, the language barrier is there, and it is an insurmountable barrier. I think it is indeed wise to read Capinding’s explanations of the moves he took, which are themselves worth buying and reading. My trouble with the play is really where I depart from your observations. I was just distracted at some points, and I thought some elements would need necessary excision.

One TA alumnus who I met last Saturday when we were watching the play, who will remain anonymous save to say that he studies law now, tells me that one difficulty that young actors have is to act out age. I perfectly understand. But I think they managed to act appropriately. That’s to their credit. However, I was distracted. Really. I mean, I really could not see why at some points, even if the dialogue was less than funny, I would otherwise have to laugh at the way that they accompanied it with dance moves. You were right. I formed my impressions just after the dance number that began the play, when they were first doing such a thing. Now I know why an acquaintance who is knowledgeable about these things shot down the concept of Hakbang from day one. Unfortunately, the most he could do was to have those bullets glance off the wings harmlessly.

To be fair to Ina Luna, herself a very graceful and gracious dancer, I think some of the movements were necessary and welcome. I liked how for instance a scene would move, literally, along all four corners of the stage, since it was needed in a “theater in the round.” However, I might remind Shakespeare’s stagers that the Bard has explicitly given advice on how to act his plays, in the play Hamlet. It is worth reading, because the poor man’s body has been rolling all over in his grave with the way many actors were ignoring his advice. At least the TA people got the part about “letting the speech trip lightly off the tongue” right!

And while we are not in some Suharto-style “guarded democracy,” yet, I am glad that no one from the administration, or anyone sympathetic, was watching when we did. I can imagine the eyebrow-raising, the head-shaking, and probably the few whispered words to Ricky Abad the Monday after. Of course, we are now in a guided democracy, so before I criticize the government and find myself branded a destabilizer standing in the way of the people’s progress, I will stop…

One last thing, however. I think the first thing that really caught me was how Ron Capinding translated the title. And I did not agree with it, even if I understood his decision. You were right when you reminded everyone that the title was a Scriptural reference. Shakespeare meant to remind people that standards, whatever they are, applied to those making them. I hope all involved in Hakbang would remember that.

Before I go, I think you forgot to put two or three words in the second paragraph: after the title of the play, you should insert the words “as part of.” I wish you all the best, and have a holy Lent!

Sincerely yours,

Renato V. Aguila

Musical ecumenism

Last Sunday, I was at the Church of the Holy Trinity to hear Fr. Randall Frew, an acquaintance I made over breakfasts at Pancake House, preach at the 9:30 Eucharist. Fr. Rand is the founder of the Holy Apostles soup kitchen in New York, the biggest of its kind in the Episcopal Church (USA) and is the head of AIDS Action International. I know him also as one who has been engaged with the Church here in the Philippines, sponsoring students at St. Andrew’s and helping start projects up North.

The guest choir was the University of the East Chorale, who is the “choir in semi-residence” at Trinity. Apart from singing the hymns and service music, they also perform an anthem or two at the liturgy. For the preparation of the altar and the gifts, they sang a setting of the Pater Noster that was quite haunting and solemn. But for the communion, their anthem was awfully familiar. They sang a Filipino version of the Suscipe, by Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ, and Jandi Arboleda, which is quite popular in RC circles as a song for the preparation/offertory. So I sang along, happy that this was the first time in living memory that one of Fr. Manoling’s pieces was being sung in an Anglican liturgy.

Now the placement of this song is really unusual for those who know this tune and many in its vein. I think it’s about time we use songs like this at times like communion, where it serves a more appropriate purpose, as a reflection on Christ’s sacrifice that we remember and re-live in the Eucharist. In fact, I think the Suscipe is appropriate—its place in the Spiritual Exercises is that of a response to an earlier recollection of the events in Christ’s life and our response to the love which Christ showed in his life.

*****

Coming up: panic at the disco with William Shakespeare. Why a recent production of Measure for Measure did not leave me laughing. Seriously.