Pray in the Spirit at all times… (Eph. 6:18).”

Christian Piety and the Filipino Catholic

Filipinos have very strong and vocal pious expressions, each region or ethnic group different from another. Some of the most famous popular devotions among Filipinos are the devotions to the Black Nazarene, the Sto Niño, devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Misa de Gallo, and various Lenten rituals such as the Pabasa, Moriones, Sinakulo, Visita Iglesia, Siete Palabras, Salubong, and many others.

This is affirmed by the conference of Filipino bishops when they stated: “We Filipino Catholics, constituting more than 82% (1997 data) of our population, are rightly proud of our Christian faith. We are especially fond of religious processions, novenas, and numerous devotions to Christ our Savior, to Mary and to the saints… Recent religious movements in our country such as the Cursillo, the Charismatic Renewal, the Focolare and the like, have clearly shown a widespread yearning for closer union with Christ (CFC 679).”

In a more particular sense, we have experiences of our parents and grandparents who observe strict religious practices; influencing, and sometimes even compelling their children and grandchildren to practice their devotions. Who among us haven’t experienced joining the Flores de Mayo? Or joining our older folks as they pray the long novenas during fiestas and funerals? Or witnessed a Santacruzan in our place? Or welcomed the image of the Blessed Mother in our homes in the Birhen sa Barangay pilgrimage? Or joined the nine-day Misa de Gallo? Or joined GKK or parish fiesta processions for our patron saint? Or experienced simply eating binignit and/or kakanin during Good Friday for religious reasons? These and many more just show a certain aspect of our piety and reverence to God and our veneration to His saints.

Pious Devotions Increase our Faith and Piety

Filipino Catholicism, many would affirm, “puts a great stress on rites and ceremonies…” It is understandably so because “much of what the ordinary Catholic knows of Christian doctrinal truth and moral values is learned through sacramental and devotional practices (NCDP 319; CFC 1469-1470).”

Our faith contains, among others, a lot of intertwining philosophical, theological, biblical and even mystical truths that are hardly fully grasped by a scholarly person, much less of an ordinary man. In simple terms, the doctrines of our faith are hard to understand. An ordinary Filipino Catholic who isn’t so much educated about the doctrines of the faith may only very well understand the truths of these doctrines through the observable practices one sees, observes or participates in. Take for instance the following scenarios:

  • “We know God is the creator and Lord of all because we have been taught to ask His blessings on everything that touches our lives: not only our religious statues, medals, rosaries, crucifixes, but also our homes, shops, offices, and factories; our cars, bridges, ships and ports, our food and crops, our holidays and vacations (CFC 1470).”
  • “We know Christ is our Savior because we make the novena of First Fridays, in honor of the Sacred Heart, and share his suffering and death in the Stations of the Cross, especially every Good Friday (CFC 1470).”
  • We venerate Mary as our spiritual Mother who intercedes for us with her Son because we meet her in the Panunuluyan, and at the Belen every Christmas, and in the Salubong every Easter morning. We celebrate her month of May with Flores de Mayo and pray her Rosary throughout the year, especially in October, the month of Our Lady of the Rosary (CFC 1470).”  

Piety Beyond Popular Devotions

Piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Together with six other gifts, they complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations (CCC 1831).” Piety can also be understood as reverence, devoutness/devotion, or religiosity. The Church recognizes the fact that our faith in God “always finds expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life such as veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, religious dances, the rosary, etc. (CCC 1674).”

Accordingly, the original Latin interpretation of the virtue pietas from which piety originated expresses a highly regarded Roman virtue that makes a person regard his responsibilities towards the gods, country, parents, and relatives. In a stricter sense, piety is the sort of love a son ought to have for his father (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piety).

We recognize firsthand how, at times, “popular piety fails to produce acts of loving service… How can many pious Church members continue to act as abusive landlords, usurers, oppressive employers, or unreliable employees? Why do many graduates of our best Catholic schools turn out to be corrupt government officials, unfaithful husbands and wives, or cheating businessmen (CFC 680)?”

One should always put to heart that genuine piety may include and be explicitly expressed through rituals and external observances of faith, real piety goes beyond them. Jesus sternly warned his disciples and listeners when he said, “Not everyone who says to me: ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my heavenly Father (Mt.7:21).” Jesus mentioned the hypocrisy of some teachers of the Law and the Pharisees when he said: “Do and observe all they say, but do not do as they do, for they do not do what they say… They do everything to be noticed by people, so they wear very wide bands of the Law around their foreheads and robes with large tassels (Mt. 23:3-5).”

What Genuine Piety Demands

Genuine Christian piety… inspires true Christian witness and service (CFC 681).” Genuine Christian piety is, and should always go beyond a mere attempt to exhibit signs and actions of seeming religiosity – praising God in loud cries and voices, wearing big religious articles good enough to be seen, or anything of that sort. Pious devotions are done not to gain public recognition or esteem, nor is it simply a great devotion or, worst, a fanatical engagement in something religious in nature but doesn’t bear any moral or spiritual influence on a person, as is often seen in our modern context.

Increasing in Piety

Piety, while it is a gift of the spirit, is also a grace, and grace only builds on nature – meaning, that it only matures and increases in the heart and spirit of a person who is disposed to such grace. The virtue of piety needs the help of other virtues in order to make it grow – since practically no virtue stands alone on itself. The practice of piety – at least of doing pious devotions – needs a certain degree of consistency, persistence, and diligence in order for it to be sustained. Above all, grace comes from God: our growth in the spirit comes from the providence of God, not of our own merit. We must therefore remember that our devotions should always consider God as the prime mover of our spiritual maturity.

While growing in our prayer life and piety doesn’t have a clear-cut process, here are some things we can do to develop the gift of piety that we have received:

  • Set a particular time of your day to pray in order to develop a habit. Prayer may come in many forms: the Rosary, novena prayers, meditation, Liturgy of the Hours, examination of conscience, or just pure spontaneous prayer. You may select one or a combination of any of these and other prayers. When prayer becomes habitual, you pray more often as though you can hardly start, continue and end your day without it. Prayer becomes a part of your system that you will feel like you always need it, much like you need to eat every morning, noon and night. Just remember that does not happen instantly, but only gradually, and even on an irregular pattern. Simply be diligent in your prayer habit.
  • Read the Holy Scriptures more often. We have daily reading guides that we can use to guide us which Bible passage we need to read during the day. But of course you may read more than the suggested reading for the day. And pray for wisdom from the Spirit of God every time you do so. Read the Bible in the spirit of openness to whatever divine inspiration is given to you. When you read the Bible in prayer, read it not as a critic, a scientist or even as a theologian, but as a humble, simple-hearted, contemplative Christian. Jesus said: “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little ones (Mt. 11:25; Lk. 10:21).
  • Join the Holy Eucharist as often as possible, or at the very least, every Sunday. In prayer, we meet God in a spiritual way, but in the Holy Mass, we meet Jesus in a four-fold way: We meet Him in the people we celebrate with, we meet Him in the priest-presider, more evidently in the proclamation of the Word, and in the breaking of the Bread – the Body of Jesus – which we receive during communion. What better way to nourish our piety than to receive into our bodies and spirits the Body of the Lord – He whom we believe in, worship and adore, and direct our prayers too.

Prayer for the Increase of our Piety

O God almighty, Father of us all, you are the fountain of all goodness. From you alone springs all our virtues and good works, and all our inner desires to please you ever more constantly.

We now ask you, in the name of your Son Jesus, to increase in us the gift of piety, which you have so generously showered to us through the outpouring of your Holy Spirit. Make us always recognize you as our God in a constant attitude of prayer and openness. Make us docile to the promptings of your Spirit so that our bond with you in prayer may remain steadfast, and so make that all the things we do, are fulfilled with the thoughts of pleasing you. Give us diligence and fervor to sustain our reverence to you, so that our life may become a perfect offering of praise to the glory of your name. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.