So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy. – Romans 9:16
I wasn’t really brought up to
be a good practicing Catholic back when I was growing up in the province. I studied in public schools all my life. No religion class. No catechism. My being Catholic was only practiced during Holy Week, Christmas and Sunday mass of my birthday week. The only Catechism class I had was before my confirmation. The nuns from the nearest Dominican school went to our class to teach us. I liked the classes but they only lasted for three weeks. The nuns never came back anymore. That was fine with me and I thought I was still a good kid.
Like most families, we rarely expressed our emotions to each other. No one kissed. No one said “I love you”. Hugs were reserved only in the airport, when one of us would go abroad. Yet, we would really know if anyone of the adults in the family was angry. My brother and I would get scolded for almost every mistake we made. When we did something right, no one talked about it. No congratulations. “You’re expected to do that so it’s just right you did it”.
The environment at home made me feel like I needed to work hard to deserve to be loved. I needed to earn their love and appreciation. I did everything I could to get some compliments from my mom or my grandma. So I did everything to be “Number 1” until I finished high school. I would compare myself with my classmates who got recognized and appreciated by their parents for way less achievements. Yet, all I got from my family was silence.
There was one quarter in high school where I became “Number 2”. My mom asked me to quit the swimming team to focus on my studies because “Number 2 isn’t just good enough”. It felt unfair. I had so many questions. “How come the pressure is so high? How come number 2 isn’t enough when my brother isn’t even excelling?” Nevertheless, I followed and quit the team. I ended up convincing myself that I just had to keep pushing with my studies because I had to do it for my own future. They would not appreciate my achievements, anyway.
I finished high school with honors and passed all the college entrance tests I took. I ended up choosing UP because it offered the biggest “value for money”. The last message I got before riding the bus going to Manila alone was “Galingan mo ah. Diyan mo ipakita na magaling ka.” (“Do well, ok? Prove how good you are”) I didn’t know what to feel.
Being in a very secular university, I adopted a lot of things. I stopped believing in religion. I preferred critical thinking over faith. If you couldn’t prove it, it must be false. I still believed in a “Higher Being” but I decided what was ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It’s sort of a “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) religion” and I decided I didn’t need prayer. As long as I was not hurting anyone, it was okay.
Despite not being sure if I would pass all my subjects during my last semester, I signed a job offer two months before graduation and was very happy with the idea that my first salary would be very adequate. Everything turned out well and I was able to graduate. My mom gave me money for the things I needed for work. That was the last amount I got from her. I had to buy office clothes and fend for myself for more than one month until my first pay.
Unlike most fresh graduates, I wasn’t able to give my first salary to my mom. I couldn’t afford to do so.
But I recovered. And I recovered fast. I worked so hard. Stayed in the office until morning to finish everything my boss asked me to do. I eliminated all contact with my friends in college. I removed all distractions to focus on work.
A month before my 21st birthday, I moved to a condominium unit. I felt invincible. My family offered that I move to the US with them. I declined. All I wanted was to be independent. There was no way I would forego everything I had achieved so far for an uncertain future in a foreign country. My family didn’t take my decision well and my grandma stopped communicating with me for two years.
One day, I got an email from a multinational company telling me that they had an opportunity for me. Since I was sure it would be a good one, I asked for help from my mentor. But the strangest advice I got from him was, “Go to Mass and pray”. So I did. I learned to ask God for what I wanted. I really wanted that job. I went to Mass almost every day to pray. It went on until I got the job offer. After that, I attended mass less frequently.
My work demanded a lot and I was more than willing to devote my time for it. I didn’t pray anymore. I only went to mass when I had nothing else to do on a Sunday. My prayers at church revolved around me – asking for a bigger salary, promotions and certain projects/assignments.
I got promoted yearly for the past three years. However, there was always something missing. I couldn’t call myself happy. At 24, I realized that money couldn’t buy me happiness.
It was September last year when my boss then invited me to attend the Living Hope Catholic Charismatic Community prayer meeting. I arrived right on time and was weirded out when I saw people raising their hands while singing “Protestant” songs inside a Catholic chapel. I didn’t understand why they were doing it. Then came the exhortation and the witnessing.
Since I didn’t know much about Catholicism, I made the prayer meeting my religion class. The talks and stories of real people about their relationship with God kept me coming back almost weekly. I would tell my friends that I would be late for our Friday night-out so I could go to prayer meeting.
Members from Living Hope invited me for the Road To Damascus (RTD) retreat the following month. I begged off because I couldn’t take one Saturday off from my new assignment. But I still went to prayer meetings. However, I made it a point to avoid the worship part. I had not gotten over that first experience yet.
When I got invited for the next RTD weekend, I finally said yes. I didn’t know what to expect. It was the first ever retreat I attended. I was really tired from work. When I woke up that Saturday, I honestly thought of not going. So many things to do. So little time. As I was driving to Manresa Retreat House, I was still giving instructions to my colleagues. Looking back, I’m really glad I went.
“Why are you so restless my child? Have I not provided you with enough?”
The first talk struck me the most. A flashback of memories appeared in my mind. I realized that God has always been there for me, that I didn’t need to earn His love, that I didn’t need to prove my worth to Him, and that His love is forever faithful. He loves ME despite me not knowing Him. The love was so overwhelming that I didn’t know how I can possibly accept it. The walls I built to protect myself were so high, I couldn’t let anyone in. I felt unworthy of the love. I couldn’t find a logical reason why someone would love me that way.
Feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit made me feel the love I thought I never got in the past. This was the love I was looking for. I didn’t know I was looking for Him until that very moment. I had to love Him back. I needed to find ways to show how much I love Him. Jesus was a stranger and I decided to follow Him that day.
I know that I need to learn more. I am learning to be Catholic. A good Catholic. Community helps me on all aspects of my pursuit of getting to know Him more. As I learn more, He increases my ability to love. He opened my eyes to see that all the pressure I experienced in the past were done out of love. My family loves me after all. I now understand that they did all of those things because they wanted me to succeed.
Gone are the days when I would avoid worship. Worship became my expression of love for Him. The songs I called Protestant became part of my regular playlist and they resonated my feelings for God in a way I never imagined before.
I have never been happier. I am extremely grateful of His love and I do all that I can to show how much I love Him back. I can’t imagine living a life without Him again.