But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. – John 4:23
Having studied in a Catholic School in the entirety of my education, religion had always been part of the curriculum. We were required to memorize prayers, learn about saints and know the symbolisms in each sacrament. Reading the Bible was very academic with quizzes at the end of each parable. It was like being graded on how religious you were.
My parents are very religious, too. I once asked them why we had to go to mass every Sunday. They advised that it was our obligation as Catholics. It always felt like it was more of a tradition: I was raised as a Catholic, sent to a Catholic school and observed Catholic practices. It all seemed methodical. I never understood it on a spiritual level.
Back in high school, I encountered my first praise and worship. It was when my Christian friend invited me to their service. He told me that they had a very different way of doing things. What struck me the most, was when he said that in his religion, they were not required to attend their service. It was more of people really wanting to attend service.
Given what he said, I was naturally curious with how it was like, so I obliged to go. We entered their church and I was in shock. There were no statues or images. It did not seem very ‘church’-like. Instead, it was a dark room with chairs, a white screen with a stage at the center. On the stage, where you would expect an altar, were the drum set, guitars and a keyboard. I was in disbelief that it was a “church”.
The difference continued on during their service. Their pastor still seemed very young. Unlike Catholic priests who always wore their standard attire during Mass, he was just wearing a shirt, jeans and sneakers. He began leading everyone into prayer and everyone bowed their heads. After a short prayer, I could hear the band starting to play music but it was not the kind of religious music I was accustomed to. It was loud and boisterous. It seemed more like a rock concert than an angelic choir. As I looked around me, they all started to sing as the lyrics were being flashed on the white screen.
The weirdest part for me, was when people raised up their arms. I did not understand why they were doing this but they seemed very serious. You could see in their faces the out-pouring of their spiritual belief, something that you would seldom see in a Catholic Church.
After the service, my friend asked how the experience was for me. I said that it was refreshingly new but that it was also kind of weird. I was not sure if this could be considered praying for Catholics. But I had fun because of the spiritual intensity that the congregation had. I still didn’t think I would be ever comfortable with raising my hands up because it felt like being part of a cult.
I went back a second time because of my friend’s enthusiasm towards his faith and his religion. I wanted the same fervor that he had. The only thing that held me back from going a third time was my religion. It felt like I was abandoning Catholicism because I knew some of the teachings they had was not the same as what was taught to me all my life.
Fast forward to several months before my Road to Damascus (RTD) retreat, my spiritual side has stagnated (Living Hope Catholic Charismatic Community organizes and facilitates the retreats). I had always thought of myself as more of a faithful than religious. I would go to mass every Sunday with my family only to fulfill my obligations as a Catholic. On several occasions, I consciously would avoid hearing mass. I felt that most of the homilies were mere repetition of what I have learned in school.
Basically, I was tired of the monotony of being a “good Catholic”. It seemed that it was always the same thing and nothing really changed. At this point, I felt that my spiritual journey stopped that I was just willing to neglect it.
To add to this, I was also going through a rough time with my career. I had just recently been made a brand manager for two new brands that the company was about to carry. This new work would be on top of the current responsibility that I had, which was managing a very crucial client.
I was excited for the new position, though, since I always wanted to be in Marketing. It was a very important career-building opportunity that I did not want to pass on. I knew that the position would entail hard work since my previous experiences were a hodgepodge of things. I worked in sales for a real-estate developer, IT project lead in a research and development lab then moved to a business development position. I was willing to take on the additional work but I told the team that I would need a great amount of help.
It was very stressful to say the least. Most of the days, I would be tearing up in the car on the way to work because I did not know what I was doing.
This was my motivation in joining the RTD retreat. I thought that if I could spend time with God, He would grace me with His peace and show me what to do. I was also hoping and praying for a possibility of studying abroad. I thought to myself that if I wouldn’t be able to learn marketing in my current wok, perhaps studying abroad would be the way to go. I was caught up asking and pleading with Him during the retreat until praise and worship session.
This particular portion caught me off guard. I was told about it but I was too preoccupied with asking God for an answer. The experience of praise and worship was still weird but also familiar from my experience with a Christian service. There was a band, lively music and raising of hands.
Despite having been able to witness such a thing before, it still felt very different. I had to reassure myself that the retreat that I went to was Catholic and not a Christian one. But there was something that drew me in. It was that everyone was into the moment with God. They were rocking it out with immense spirituality. Everyone had that same fervor that the Christians had towards their religion but this time it was Catholic.
Then, the band played “Forever Reign” by Hillsong. And the song spoke to me so much. There is a line from that song that goes “You are peace, you are peace; when my fear is crippling in; You are true, You are true; even in my wandering.”. It resonated so much that amidst all the uncertainty in my life and career, one thing was constant and true, the peace of the Lord. And that is what I still hold on to.
And the chorus of the song goes, “Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms; The riches of Your love will always be enough; Nothing compares to Your embrace.” And after all my prayers, this was the only direction that I had to consider after all. It was towards Christ. How can the promise of good pay, good career be truly a happy one if Christ is not present? How is His embrace less comforting than all the riches in the world?
After the RTD, I still did not know what to do or where to go. But I found faith in God through praise and worship. It was then that the crisis was not so much a big problem. The fear and worry that loomed in before was just a fragment and nothing to really lose sleep on.
I have been regularly attending Living Hope’s Prayer Meeting every Friday. The community comes together for the Bible-based exhortation, praise and worship, voluntary personal sharings and fellowship. All these things aim to give back the glory to God. During the first three praise and worship sessions that I attended, I would still refuse to lift my hands up. It still felt weird and unusual. But then I would see the community pour out their faith in God through the prayer meetings. I then began to realize that praise and worship is another form of prayer and that it is not exclusive to Christians. It is for everybody because it is another way of expressing our trust and faith in God.
It was only then that I was able to lift my hands in praise and worship. It felt like my surrender to God of everything in my life. It was an out pouring of my trust that God will never fail me. It is my way of revering our Lord. Every Friday is when I am recharged in a spiritual way that has made my life more complete.
Praise and worship broke the tedium of the memorized prayers that were taught to me. Now, the direction is clearer. I know where to go and Who to follow. I am now an avid follower of God. And just like any follower, I try to get as close to Him as possible. I was once lost and now, found. As it turns out, I didn’t have to look far. I just had to strive harder to understand more deeply the complexities of my relationship, my faith and my religion. Because of this, there is less monotony in my prayer life. In fact, I now look forward to Sunday masses. I can already say now that I’m Catholic, not by birth but by choice.