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Soledad: Traditions And Inclusivity In The Catholic Church

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The Catholic Church is one of the oldest and most followed religious orders in the world, yet it is not without its criticisms. Throughout history the Church has been criticized for its responses to many different affairs. One piece of literature that provides such criticism to how the Catholic Church as a community/institution had responded to moral issues is Soledad, a poem written in 1940 by Angela Manalang-Gloria that depicts a girl condemned by the Church after committing a grave sin which caused a major scandal. Here, Soledad uses catholic imagery to highlight the strong adherence of religious communities to moral values that are present in religious traditions and practices, but subsequently a struggle of the community to mediate upholding tradition and inclusivity when dealing with moral issues.

Understanding the Catholic Imagery in Soledad

Before analyzing Soledad as a whole, it would be appropriate to take a look at the catholic symbolism that is found in the poem’s imagery. The vivid use of catholic imagery can be attributed to Angela Manalang-Gloria being a Filipina poet and the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country. One such imagery is “The bread and wine of life” (7). Bread and wine are key symbols that are used in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic celebration is a commemoration of Jesus Christ sacrificing his life for the world, so that all will be free from sin, the bread and wine symbolizing his Body and Blood. Furthermore, according to Fay (2001), partaking of the Body and Blood in the Eucharist also unites man with Christ and tied to his divinity.Meanwhile, an imagery of life that is tainted is seen in “Her soul’s cathedral burned by his desires” (10). Cathedrals are grand buildings that are important places of worship for Catholics. So for the girl’s soul to be compared to a cathedral has two effects. 1. It emphasizes the sacredness of life. 2. It implies that the girl was raised in a religious environment. These images effectively shows the seriousness of the dramatic situation that the poem presents.

How the Sin is Approached in the Poem

By paraphrasing the entire poem, the dramatic situation of Soledad would be that of a girl, raised by a very religious community, likely a very religious person herself, who had committed a grave sin under the influence of a firebrand, which translates to someone who causes unrest and trouble. While the poem is oddly vague as to what really happened, the most plausible interpretation is that the girl was under the firebrand’s influence and had premarital sex. This can be interpreted from “she dared profane The bread and wine of life for some insane Moment with him.” (6-8), a description that does fit premarital sex given the previously established symbolisms of life’s sacredness. To the girl, she is probably content with her sin, since in her mind, it was an act of love. But in the end she is being condemned by the “neighbors” for her actions.

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The poem’s persona speaks from a third-person perspective, narrating the thought process of the “neighbors” as they reacted to the scandal. It is clear they had a conservative, traditional viewpoint in response to the girl’s actions. The people were likely angered because the girl had broken traditions, which can be seen in the word choice describing her actions like “she shattered”, “she dared profane”, “a sacrilege” and claimed that she “found heaven in the depths of hell.” (14). Furthermore, another factor that could have contributed to these judgements are the values that came with religious traditions that were also broken. According to the Vatican, “It (Fornication) is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children.”

Mediating between adherence to tradition and inclusivity

For as good as the arguments were, there is still another conflict at hand, one that the persona points out. This other issue is that the community failed to understand the why. They tried to understand how a girl who had a blessed, carved and polished life, could have easily thrown it away. (4-6) The persona knew and stated that love is what “claimed her soul’s cathedral burned with his desires”, but no one else figured that out. They saw “nothing but her blackened spires,” (12), which can be interpreted as only understanding the end result but not the means. Another notable point to the dilemma present in the poem is the irony of love. Love is an intrinsically good feeling, yet it is also what drove the girl to commit sin. This contradiction would imply that the girl likely had a misaligned perspective of love from that of the community’s Catholic perspective.

However the damage had already been done, the girl already had sex with the firebrand and the scandal had been spread. So at this point, the community could have taken an inclusive and open-minded approach to the scandal, in order to attain clarity. Having a broader scope on the issue could have allowed them to understand what really drove the girl to commit her sin. And with this understanding, the people could have remedied her burned soul. But instead, they opted to take an exclusive approach, and condemned the girl for her love and without fully understanding why. This can be inferred from how there is a lack of clarity and perspective in the poem. The reader only sees the perspective of the people, which has limited knowledge given that they themselves do not know every detail. Instead we were left with the abrupt conclusion that they condemned the girl for her actions. To add to this, the title of the poem is Soledad which translates to Solitude, which is likely what has become of the girl, left in solitude and isolated by the community because she broke tradition.

Soledad paints a clear picture of how the Church as a community of faithful tackled moral dilemmas by taking a conservative, traditional stance. The poem also criticizes and points out a clear danger to only using tradition as grounds for judgement. There must be some level of mediation between upholding the truths taught in religion, and being open-minded and inclusive in order to fully understand an issue and make proper judgements. Granted the poem was written in 1940, and the Church now has been making strides to modernize. An example of such modernization today is through Pope Francis who according to Goodstein in The New York Times (2013) had criticized the Church’s prioritizing moral doctrines over serving it’s people, Yet the poem was progressive for its time. Angela Manalang-Gloria in 1940 had confronted the need for the Catholic Church re-evaluate and change how they make judgements on affairs long before such changes were being made.

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Soledad: Traditions And Inclusivity In The Catholic Church. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/soledad-traditions-and-inclusivity-in-the-catholic-church/
“Soledad: Traditions And Inclusivity In The Catholic Church.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/soledad-traditions-and-inclusivity-in-the-catholic-church/
Soledad: Traditions And Inclusivity In The Catholic Church. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/soledad-traditions-and-inclusivity-in-the-catholic-church/> [Accessed 27 Sept. 2022].
Soledad: Traditions And Inclusivity In The Catholic Church [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2022 Sept 27]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/soledad-traditions-and-inclusivity-in-the-catholic-church/
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