Which is more important — the mass or thirty million dollars?
When Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle asked this question to a young audience, he was reportedly bothered when a good number of them chose 30 million dollars. He then proceeded to chastise them, saying how easy it was for them to exchange God for money, and so on.
When he related the story in his homily during Palm Sunday, he asked the audience the same question, to which they answered, “the mass,” though I highly doubt the sincerity of that response.
If the good cardinal was bothered about the initial reply, I am bothered that he asked such an inane question in the first place, and all the more bothered at the hypocrisy of his response.
Why so? Well, Tagle speaks from a position of privilege. He is head, after all, of an organization that owns vast tracts of land and has billions of pesos invested in publicly-listed corporations like BPI, Ayala Corporation, San Miguel Corporation, and so on. He probably does not have to worry where his next meal will come from, or what clothes to wear. He sleeps at night with a comfortable bed under him and a good roof over his head.
The question is a setup. It is designed for guilt-tripping.
While I talked about this with a friend, he said, “Why don’t we turn the tables around and ask him, ‘What is more important? Your stock holdings, your properties, and your public stature or saying the mass?’”
And if he responds that the mass is more important, then ask him why he and his church still clings tightly to its riches and grandeur while telling its flock to give up the same.
30 million dollars is not a paltry sum. It is around 1.3 billion pesos. It is more money than over 95% of our population will ever see. Invested wisely, this sum can literally turn people’s lives around and ensure their future for years to come.
Yet here is this very influential person, admonishing his flock for choosing a very real answer to their very real problems in exchange for a ceremony invented by men to appease and adore their deity. If I were that deity, I’d give that priest a smack on his head because if there is anything that people should learn, it is not to deify their rituals, but to see reality as it is and to live in the here and now, not in some future reality that they’re not even sure of. Would I be offended if some poor sap choose money over some ritual for me? Of course not. I do not lose any of my godhood whether or not people attend mass, yet that person stands to lose a lot if he doesn’t take the money.
I think one of the reasons why such a large percentage of our population is poor is this perverse brainwashing by our religion and by our culture that to desire money is somehow evil, and that to suffer is somehow good (the martyr syndrome). This is why we meekly bow and suck up to abusive leaders and officials. This kind of thinking has to stop.
I have a number of friends who came from poverty and worked their way into comfortable wealth. They tell me that they had problems when they were poor, and they still had problems when they were rich. The problems do not disappear. But every one of them said they would rather have problems while they are rich rather than have problems while they are poor.
Yes, I understand that money is not everything and cannot solve everything, but it certainly is something and it can solve a few things (of course, the more you have, the more you can solve). Now, the thirty million dollar question for the bishop is — in very real and practical terms, what problem does your mass solve?
And please don’t answer “eternal life.” Your most brilliant theologians would probably roll their eyes at that answer.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.