“Jesus is there…”

Finally, after being away from home for what felt like an eternity, I was able to visit my home in Koronadal City, South Cotabato last weekend. This weekend was a very special one.

My parents and I have made the habit of attending the eight o’clock morning Mass every Sunday because there is greater probability of seeing my Ate’s family in the church. True enough, last Sunday, during the Holy Mass, before the offertory, two cute smiling little girls came into view, and giddily settled in our pew to smother their much-missed aunt (that’s me) with hugs and kisses. Soon after, I saw my sister and my brother-in-law take their seats in the row behind ours.

Since my small lap can only accommodate one toddler, my mother took Karol (Kay), the second child, while I held the eldest, Dominique (Dom). I just have to chronicle and share this particular moment with my inquiring and curious niece, Dom. My mother and I were kneeling, waiting for the Consecration of the Bread and Wine. Meanwhile, Dom and Kay were sitting on the armrest, with Dom in front of me, and Kay in front of my mom. When the priest finally said, “Do this in memory of me” and raised the Host, I opened both of my palms.

Dom suddenly asked me, “Bakit ka naga-ganyan?” (Why are you doing that?) referring to the opening of my palms.

I simply answered, “Andiyan kasi si Jesus.” (Because Jesus is there.) I remember feeling surprised by my reply. Surprised not because I was in doubt, but because I felt a deep tugging in my heart, affirming me that what I just said is completely true, and that it did not come from me. Surprised because a river of gratitude for the Lord flowed into my consciousness in view of that seemingly uneventful moment to teach the truth to a small and innocent child. Truly indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ is physically present in the Holy Eucharist.

“Saan?” (Where?) Dom asked again, meaning I have to point to or tell her where Jesus is.

“Yan O,” I said gently, “yung gina-raise ni Father.” I scrambled for the Hiligaynon/Tagalog word for “raise.” “Yung gina-taas ni Father na puti.” (That white one being raised by Father.)

She was sitting on the armrest, and turned her head towards the altar. Her head moved from side to side, as she was obviously trying to find where Jesus is. She turned her eyes to a statue of Jesus standing near the altar, and said “Yan O, yung statue?” (That statue?)

But I firmly said “No, the white, round one.”

Dom scowled, confused of what I said. I noticed she became restless, discontent of not being able to understand what her aunt has told her. Her curiosity, her quickness to things has always fascinated me, qualities which are common in my Ate’s kids (ahem, it’s the genes from our side of the family. hehe), and which I so admire. So, to appease her, I whispered, “Quiet muna tayo, mag-listen tayo kay Father.” (Let’s be quiet for a while and listen to Father.)

I let what happened linger – in my heart, in my soul. I felt immense joy for the given opportunity to teach a child, and I fervently prayed to God, that the conversation we just had will be etched in Dom’s memory, and that she may someday grasp what I said. “Andiyan si Jesus,” this time, I heard a comforting whisper from my innermost being. Thank you Lord, for the years of Catechesis – studying in a Catholic school, watching EWTN, reading theology books, Catholic websites and magazines – for finding a community and for a fruitful and consistent prayer time. The Lord knows how much I want to partake the Christian joy that is both in me and outside of me, especially with the kids in our small family. While writing this, few days later, I realize I happen to be one of Dom’s godmothers.

Lord, give us the grace to teach and pass on what is right, true and honorable to the young generation.

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A Personal Jerusalem

“They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed and those who followed were afraid.” -Mark 10:32

Lately, Biblical passages that describe, talk or discuss about roads, paths, or taking a journey have struck me in an unsettling kind of way. I have spent time in prayer to try to squeeze out or grasp the Lord’s message for me, but He answered me in silence. However, in one noon mass in the days leading to the end of May, the priest talked, in his homily, about having to climb our personal Jerusalem. In the Gospel reading during that day, Jesus and his disciples are on their way, “going up to Jerusalem.” Jesus also told his apostles that in this place, He will suffer and condemned to die – “Behold, the son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.” It is not a pretty picture, if not scary. Jesus knew of His death in Jerusalem, and yet He still chose to continue, and pursue entering the place in which His death is inevitable.

The priest went on to impose a question on us which is particularly arresting – what is OUR personal Jerusalem? “What is MY personal Jerusalem?” I quietly asked the Lord. The question lingered, as I continued with my prayer time, wrestling with God. I have to admit that I am oftentimes hard-headed and steel-hearted that when the Lord asks uncomfortable questions I try to evade them. Thankfully though, I have become mature enough (I hope) to know that try as I might in evading Him, my efforts will end in vain. Thus, the lingering thought was presented to me again in another biblical passage, at the start of this month of June. The words in 1 Kings 19:11-15 became alive to me – “Go take the road back to the desert near Damascus.” – that I hear the Lord personally whisper these words in my ears as He did to the prophet Elijah. Go, take the road back to the desert. It is more striking the second time. What is MY desert? I asked the Lord In the same manner I’ve asked what is my Jerusalem? Whether it be my personal Jerusalem or desert, I know that they are both uncomfortable places. Places of challenge for they are hot, dry and bare. A place of suffering, hunger and thirst. But somehow, a great place to be pruned and to grow an oasis of faith and love. Maybe at this point in my life, the Lord is inviting me to fully and joyfully embrace a cross that is already wounding my back, or take a leap of faith and decide to tread a path which I may perceive to be thorny and fearsome, but which will make me fall deeper in love with Him. Whatever it is, I am at peace in knowing that in the “Jerusalem’s” or deserts in my life, the Lord is my companion, and He even takes the lead.

“Each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and He will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip us well.” -Alexander MacLaren

A letter to my future teenage daughter*

Because I overheard a conversation of teenage kids while waiting for my barbecue near the sidewalk of Ateneo de Davao High School, I felt compelled to write this letter:

Dearest Future Teenage Daughter,

I love you so much and you have grown to be a beautiful young lady. I hope that though our relationship will not be perfect and smooth sailing, you would still be proud that I am your mom. I also hope that you would still see me as beautiful (and cool, i might add) despite the wrinkles that have slowly formed around my eyes and my mouth for smiling too much, when I am seeing your face, and for painstakingly sharing with you the wisdom I have gained through the years in the words I speak and through my different facial expressions. I hope you would still proudly say, “I have a beautiful mom,” even if I can no longer maintain a slim/slender physique due to a slowing metabolism brought by old age and child bearing. I am full of joy when the Lord allows me to carry life inside my womb, thus i am not afraid if bringing back my younger physique is no longer biologically possible. Please remember my dearest, sweetest daughter that the beauty of a woman is determined by our Maker. The beauty of a woman is measured by how receptive she is of God’s grace and how willing she is to be a vessel of God’s love. Remember our dear Mama Mary. She is the epitome of womanhood. May you always seek her help, as she freely allowed herself to become the Lord’s Vessel. No matter what the world says about beauty, look at our dear Mother. The Mother of Christ. She will tell you what beautiful means. Gently. In her silent strength.

Always,

Mama.

*Reposted from my previous blog account. This entry was written on 21 July 2014.

Falling into His Arms

On the first day of April of this year, I was in an airport, waiting for a delayed flight. I was glad to be seated beside a loquacious grandmother who was travelling alone back to Davao. I was experiencing some emotional swings at the time, due to physical exhaustion, and the Lord was generous enough to send her to me, to keep my spirits up. I’ve always loved listening to other people’s stories – that is those which are told by persons with so much heart and so much enthusiasm to share some parts of their life to impart a lesson. This grandmother was one of those persons. She told the recent events of her life with chuckling smiles, and shared her long-ago “US immigration” stories animatedly (she possesses dual citizenship). She also shared how she met her husband, and her take on how this young generation differs so much from the one she belonged. I don’t know, but hearing the lullaby-like voices of mothers or grandmothers brings me to a state of peace and pensiveness.  My moments with her were preludes to my meditations while waiting for my flight. And after telling her stories, and when she had gotten tired of seating and needed a walking exercise, I retreated in silence to my corner, and started to pray, and simply fell into the Lord’s arms. Lord, I’m physically drained. I thought to myself. But why did you let me hear her story? After a few moments of trying to sift through the old lady’s life, I looked around me. The airport was filled with people anxious to get home, early. There was already tension at the airport, right after hearing a passenger shout at some airport employees for the delayed flight. Lord, I entrust our circumstance into Your care. I also need to go home early to finish up some pending responsibilities. I will be taking an exam in a subject I really find difficult to comprehend. A talk I need to prepare for… A venue I needed to arrange for a sister in community who’s getting married… My list went on. I ensured that the Lord would know all the things I needed to do. And He whispered to me, Everything will turn out fine. Heard the old lady? She has been through a lot, and she said to you that everything turned out fine. Gosh, anxiety. “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7” I just fell into my lover’s arms. O my sweet Jesus, I’m sorry for my weakness. Thank you for the holy week that passed, for the joyful time with my family, and for the informative training. Thank you also for cancelled dates which allowed me to rest, and for little moments of grace.  And from then on, I walked to the plane with a smile, and by the Lord’s grace, with stronger faith and grateful heart.

Small Town

For about two weeks, I was stuck in the small town of Plaridel, Misamis Occidental relative to my work. I was originally planning of going back to Davao City during weekends so that I would not miss my graduate study classes. However, I’ve learned during my first night in that small town, that to go home, I would need to commute at least 7 hours by bus on Friday, spend the night in Cagayan de Oro City, so that I could take the early morning flight from Laguindingan Airport to Davao. Well, I’ve found out I am not that devoted to my grad studies. And so, for two weekends, I was practically enjoying the activities a bucolic place could offer – surfing the cable TV, marathoning some favorite romcom’s in my laptop, and my favorite pastimes, reading and having morning/afternoon walks. I felt like I was taking a retreat. It was very refreshing. I was grateful that I can’t easily get out. Deep inside of me, I was secretly thankful I have some valid excuse of not being able to fulfill some responsibilities. Because essentially, I was stuck.

But Plaridel was a good place to be stuck in. Just a few steps from my hostel was the Catholic Chapel, in which Wednesday and Sunday masses are held. In front of the chapel was a simple restaurant, regarded as the best in the town. A walk farther away was the sea port. In fact, if I take the narrow road at the back of my hostel I will find the beach.

During my first Sunday in town, I decided to take a walk around the town square. The walk took me to a public school which was built just a few meters from the shoreline. As I was walking near the school, I marveled at the sight and sound of the sea. I tried to savor the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves and wondered if the kids going to that school still appreciate the sea even if it has become mundane to them. The ocean was a perfect crystal blue, and the sky mirrored its color. I took my phone and snapped some photos. I also took the time to record the rhythmic crashes of the waves.   It was breathtaking that I simply had to utter a prayer of thanksgiving. How I wish I’m always filled with this kind of awe and wonder! How I wish my life would be as simple as the teacher who teaches in that school, and as carefree as the students in it.

I always wanted a simple life. As years pass, I realized I never preferred to be a city rat or an urban dweller. Though there are times I may have sought a fast-paced, adventurous life, I never had the ability to sustain the desire… I have learned that I usually end physically and emotionally drained, questioning why I have to pursue something that which my heart never really yearned for. Examining my heart deeper, I thirst for a peaceful existence, and quietly pursuing an academic career, as a teacher and as a writer. My passion for books and stories have grown to a level that I would want to write one, and would want to spend my life telling good, inspiring stories. In fact, my “quiet” preference is one of the reasons why I choose to retreat back to Mindanao and turn my back from the promise of Manila. And because of that innermost longing, I have to painfully give up some social circles and prospects of closer relationships with one of the most interesting and life-giving people I have met in the capital city. It’s funny how life seems to turn around when you pursue a deeper longing. Though the decision was scary to make, I was convicted that it was the Lord who intensified that longing. In one of my prayer times, the Lord said to me that I have to be uprooted from a spot that I have grown overly comfortable with, lest I remain stagnant in my faith journey. His timing was perfect. Looking back, had I stayed longer in Manila, I would have stemmed some superfluous attachments which could have been more difficult to prune.

The “ordinariness” of this small town reminded me that I am just going through this phase in life in which long-term decisions are being tested, and that my ability to stuck it out and remain faithful is being polished. Although I have anticipated that I will undergo a situation in which things do not turn out the way I want it to be, it is quite different when you are already in the situation. In challenging times, I have questioned my decisions, and sometimes I wonder if I really made adequate discernment. Thankfully enough, the Lord’s grace do not fall short in reminding me that He was with me when I made my decisions, and that His promises will still hold true even if I undergo trying moments. Thus, I am able to dispel temptations of self-pity and loneliness. There is grace in living an ordinary life. Oftentimes, living an ordinary life is one of the most difficult things to do.

Plaridel is far from being a touristy town. However, it’s funny to think that we will find moments of grace not from places that offer us a modern and active premise, but from those with a subdued environment but which can mysteriously pacify the souls of the restless.

Awareness

From left, Ces, Honey, Nerry and me! (photo from Ces' Facebook account)
From left, Ces, Honey, Nerry and me! (photo from Ces’ Facebook account)

During the last weekend of August, I attended my community’s Christian Sexuality Course (CSC), at St. Charles Borromeo Retreat House. Actually, it was my second time to go to this course. Not that I needed reminding about my sexuality and how I should relate with the opposite sex, but I was tapped to show support for the newly-committed brothers and sisters in Ang Lingkod ng Panginoon (ALNP)-Davao community. In this course, the members of the ALNP are being re-oriented of why God created our bodies in a particular way – male and female – and how we are called to make use of our persons (as a man and as a woman) to relate with one another towards building God’s Kingdom.

I just had to chronicle this particular moment with Nerry, an elder sister-in-Christ, whom I have formed a closer attachment since starting my newly-found life in the Lord. We were deep in conversation while other participants in the retreat were busy chatting and making friends with the brothers and sisters from other branches of the community. I do not consider myself to be in Nerry’s intimate circle, but I’ve known her to have a special penchant for throwing off-guard, frank questions. “May crush ka ba?” I heard her ask me while I was readying myself for worship. I scowled briefly, pursed my lips then answered, “Oo naman.” I was then led to look back and realize that since I started community life, the question has gradually become a taboo. And I do find it uncomfortable at times when people ask me such question. Uncomfortable, because one, I’m afraid to blush profusely (as I often do) because I DO have a crush, and two, to be asked such a question, it may seem to some people that I am abnormally without one.

Maybe Nerry sensed my hesitation to further elaborate my answer, thus she continued, “Ako noon, nahihirapan ako kapag may crush ako. Lagi akong distracted. Kahit di mo sya nakikita, alam mong nasa likod mo sya… tapos kahit malayo ka sa pinto, makikita mo syang pumapasok.” And we both giggled. A girlish voice came out of my mouth and added, “Di mo sadya, pero parang nasa line of sight mo siya lagi…” I said, grinning sheepishly. And yes, we share the same sentiments. Like Nerry, I get distracted. Sometimes, too distracted. The presence of my “beloved” is too much for my frail, womanly heart to handle. That is why sometimes, literally, I flee. And sometimes, I find myself whispering to the Lord to take all my crushes away! (this time, figuratively of course!).

But Nerry, being Nerry, followed up immediately. “Alam mo, ganyan din si Lord. May crush din siya sayo (You know what, the Lord is also like that. He has a crush on you)” That was when the universe collided in my mind and in my heart. Eureka. Never thought of that before. Maybe my patterns of distractions before are the Lord’s way of showing me how he must feel towards me? Nerry’s insight was very overwhelming that I can only utter “Nerry!” to her. I remember that heart-to-heart talk with her, few months before, when she said, “Sinabi nang Diyos sa akin, ‘Bata ka pa lang, binakuran na kita’.” Those words were etched in my memory since. I think it was the most romantic revelation of a man to a woman. I and a couple of sisters were interviewing her about her state of life. Nerry is a lay missionary who is living single for the Lord. I thought, here is a sister who shares a romantic relationship with Jesus.

That night during the retreat, I pondered on what Nerry had said. You’re crazy about me, Lord. I giggled. I smiled, tossed and turned on my sleeping mat like some love struck teenager. If this is how we feel towards our human crushes, the Lord is so much more! He is the greatest lover! He is constantly aware of me. My actions, my words, even my inmost thoughts. He is watchful not because he is on the lookout for the mistakes that I’m going to make, but because he loves me. He is watchful because He wants to protect me, and is always finding an opportunity to break into my experience and to make His love obvious and felt, intensely. Lord, kinikilig ako.

The next morning, it was a Sunday. Nerry led me to the same disposition of becoming more aware of the Lord’s presence. We were sitting on a pew near the altar of the church. Nerry called my attention to look at an old woman who was sitting two rows away from us. This lola in a blue dress was talking to another lola. “Ang cute ni Lola o,” Nerry giggled. Lola in a blue dress was sporting a scowl, with her mouth half open. The wrinkles on her face were placed in a way that she looked like an innocent child, trying to figure out why the sky is blue or why birds fly. She was so cute! “Napaka-oblivious tingnan ni Lola,” I told Nerry. “Onga e,” Nerry said, “alam mo natutuwa si Lord sa kanya. Lab na lab yan sila.” Yes! The Lord is fond of our innocence indeed! He smiles when we blush. When we feel awkward. When we stutter out of pure intentions. Alam na alam ni Lord. He is sad when we are jealous, unforgiving, impure… He is aware of me. He is aware of my presence. My lover is constantly aware of my presence. Oh, if we are also constantly aware that He is! Oh, if we are conscious that His Spirit is in us! That we are His temple!… Then I would be acting, speaking, thinking in a way that is worthy of my Lover! Na-conscious ako bigla. Lord, alam mo. Alam na alam mo.

Those moments with Nerry, perhaps, left the most vivid mark from my CSC this year. As I began my first week of this month, I find myself praying each morning to be given the grace to be constantly aware of His presence. Every hour, every minute, every second. May this greater awareness lead me into doing what is right, what is just, and what will glorify my Lord. If I am aware of my Beloved’s presence, I want him to be proud of me. Of course, there is always room to be unpretentiously me. But it is just that it is in His presence that I rightfully belong. Let my time be devoted to my Lover who is constantly aware, and who is most ardently passionate for me.

In this 29th Year, I ask…

Me (third person from right) and my co-workers.
Me (third person from right) and my co-workers.

For the grace to be more time-conscious (so that I’ll be able to meet deadlines and come on time for meetings).

For more courage to detach – from excessive self-image, pride, and habitual sins.

For more forbearance in dealing with life’s challenges, and people who have been hurt deeply.

For more love in doing my mission, my ministry, my service.

For a healthier mind and body to endure graduate school.

For stronger desire to learn more about Jesus. That the Lord will gift me with a sharper mind and humbler spirit while I encounter Him in Scriptures, literature, arts and music.

For more joy in my family, community, circle of friends and work environment.

To be more sensitive and receptive of the Holy Spirit. May I always ask for His gifts. That I may bear fruit.

That I may learn how to be a good steward of financial blessings.