When I was six or seven, I remember telling you that I’d like to see you, Mama. My young mind thought that you would magically appear to children if they ask of it. I waited, actually. It made me pray to you more. It was that fascination that made me memorize the mysteries and pray the rosary whenever I could. But you never appeared.
How that desire to see began is actually a candid story to tell. It all began when, at an assembly for kids in my community, my favorite candy was up for grabs for anyone who could recite the mysteries of the rosary. With my eyes set on that bag of Tootsie Rolls, I declared: “Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious!” The prize did not go to me. It went to an older kid who memorized all fifteen. Devastated, Mommy brought me to the parish bookstore and got me a copy of the Rosary book for kids. Thinking the question will be asked again in the assemblies to come, I memorized the fifteen and prayed it too. At the back part of that little Rosary book, there were three stories that I liked reading over and over: Guadalupe, Lourdes and then Fatima. Of the three, I liked the story of Fatima the most. The youngest of the three children who saw you was nine. I was seven. Was it possible that you would also show yourself to me in the secret of my room if I prayed harder and did good more? I tried doing those two. You never appeared.
Fast forward to the year 2011. I was 23. The desire to see you returned when the application for World Youth Day – Madrid was offered to me. Not knowing how I would be able to go there, I prayed again to you. You said, “I will see you in Madrid.” Was that the sign that I would finally see you? That the childhood desire of you appearing in front of me will finally be fulfilled? And so to Madrid I went. How I got there was another miracle story to tell. I remember stepping out of the plane, tearful with the idea that I was stepping on “The Land of Mary,” Spain. I was able to visit you in many churches. I was able to pray the rosary again like I did when I was a kid. And then to end that first week in our host diocese, came the surprise that was 17 years in the “waiting;” My feet stepped on the holy grounds of Fatima, Portugal. We, the delegation in Valdefuentes, were supposedly heading to Lourdes when there was a change in the plan. I was glad for that change, Mama. Will I see you here? I asked. Will you ever appear?
On that blessed day in Fatima, I had three wishes: 1. That God show me the life He wants me to lead, 2. That my Dad would land a job and 3. That I will finally see. I remember standing in front of where you appeared, feeling grateful, overwhelmed and greatly loved all at the same time. I knelt, prayed the rosary, and then finally granting my third wish, I was so sure you said:
You know I do not have to appear to you to let you know how much I love and care for you. You know I do not have to appear to you to make you feel that all your life, I have been a mother to you. You know I do not have to appear in order for you to understand that my mantle has always protected you from all harm. And when you told me before, you wanted to see me, I made sure this day will come. It took a while but it did. Know that you do not have to always see with your eyes. Know that I am always in your heart, beside you wherever you go, holding your hand when it hurts, rejoicing with you when you are happy. I am your mother and I will always be.
You never appeared in the way my childhood self wanted to but you did make sure that you have always been there for me. You made sure you made a statement when you did “appear.” In the many times I whispered the word, “Mama,” you always made sure I noticed.
Those two other wishes at Fatima? The second was granted right as I stepped out of the plane in Manila. Dad called me to say he finally got the job he wanted. The first? I am currently living it out now.
So thank you, Mama. Thank you for making me see that I am greatly loved by the Mother of the One I love the most. I will never run out of “Thank you’s” for the many times you held my hand and embraced me before I slept at night. I will never run out of “Thank you’s” for the many times that you explained to me how I should love your Son and others. I will never run out of “Thank you’s” for the many times that when I did not understand a thing about what God was doing in my life, your presence consoled me greatly.
As today unfolds, the 100th year of your appearance in Fatima, I pray that you “appear” to me in a special way. You know very well what I am going through at the moment. I think now more than ever again, I’d like the constant embrace of a mother too. But I know I do not really have to ask, Mama. You know very well who I am because I am your child. Without a word from me, you know.
I end this letter with the same hope that I will see you face to face. I still never gave up on the idea that you will appear one day. One day, I know that when I reach the final leg of my journey in this life, I will see you, finally and as always, leading me to the Lord. Your hand will stretch out to me, your lips will curve in the most beautiful way and you will say:
You did well, Lee-an. You did well.
I will finally be able to touch and embrace you and maybe in Heaven, the first thing that you will give as we walk to see the glory of your Son is a bag of good old Tootsie Rolls. We’ll munch that on the way together, laughing as we recall all the pains of the past that will be no more. We’ll share that bag of candy that led me to know you, that led me to love you and that led me to dedicate my life to your Son’s service.
And Mama, that would be, indeed, such a sweet end I will certainly wait for.
It crosses my mind so often: how much are you willing to give up for the sake of love?
In the face of a great love freely and totally offered, how must I be?
Sometimes I feel like giving this life I have for You isn’t enough. And so here I am, asking You to take everything away. Nothing really matters anymore but seeing You face to face. And so permit me to toil with great joy for anything that can bring a smile to your face. I long to give you joy.
Permit me to love you with reckless abandon, no longer looking at my comfort but how I can give back everything You have so generously offered to me. Permit me to lay everything down as You did. No matter how difficult the road to You may be, for as long as the end would be You, and for as long as I have You here holding my hand, permit me to run towards You.
Sometimes I find Your glory and beauty so blinding, it shakes me to the core. I cannot help but proclaim it only to always fall short for there will never be any word in any human language than can describe who You are. I would always look back and look at what I have and what there is before me, extending my hope to even what I cannot see but was promised by You and I would feel my heart pause. I would feel my breathing stop, my world stilled in awe, wanting to stay in the moment. All I desire is to revel in the moment. Can I always stay just like that? Can we fast forward this life to that moment when I can just gaze at You, hold You, embrace You, reach You to the point of burning with a love that will consume me and nothing will be left of me but You?
I love You. Even those words are not enough for me to express how much I do. Because You loved me first. And whenever I see the cross, whenever I would look at You as I kneel in adoration, whenever I would see You in my neighbor, my heart cannot help but exclaim to no end: I love You.
The pain, often times, is just so hard to bear. When can I finally be with You? When will this earthly sojourn end? But as I continue to ask and as I continue to pine for You, I ask that You send me out more. Send me out to where I can see a momentarily glimpse of Your face: to my neighbor, You once said. That would be enough, I guess? Not really enough because for as long as my heart isn’t completely one with Yours I will always be left wanting. But whatever is close in this life that will me lead me to You, just do.
And when that day will come when You call me home, when that day will come when the hunger and thirst for you shall cease, when my lifetime hope will be fulfilled, when I hear You audibly say, “You have done well, my Love. Come with me to infinity,” my heart will be stilled and at the same time explode with a love that knows no end.
But for now, allow me to ask: please use me unto death. Please use my days and exhaust all of me. I desire nothing else but that. I desire nothing else but Your love and grace. With my every breath, with everything I have, lead me to You even unto death.
When you consider yourself a 90’s kid, it is impossible for you not to have come across Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Back then, when it was still in cartoon format, my mother revealed that I sat in the movie theater for more than three hours because I found it that good. On the third run, she said that she had to literally drag me out of the theater and the only thing that consoled me was when she brought me to the music store to purchase the soundtrack which was in cassette tape! The tape lasted for about a month until the film gave up due to constant rewinding. I’m not sure how many tapes I asked my mother to buy. All I can remember is that I found the story revolutionary. The narrator, at the beginning, even asks: who would ever fall in love with someone as hideous as the Beast?
But watching the Live Action film now at 29, despite knowing by heart what the storyline was, I saw it in a whole, new, different light. Beauty and the Beast speaks of what love is truly about. Beauty and the Beast, in a way, reflects the kind of love that we all long to have and the “love” we should avoid at all cost. And so to begin with, what is love? And how does the thought of Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) in Love and Responsibility and C.S Lewis find its place in the scenes of Beauty and the Beast?
LOVE AS ATTRACTION (Amor Complacentiae)
“A human being is beautiful and may be revealed as beautiful to another human being.”
The lesson that the film conveyed was obvious: love looks beyond outward appearances. While Belle was not attracted, initially, to the Beast, she found beauty behind the horrible facade. Getting to know a bit about the Beast’s history and developing an unlikely friendship with her “captor,” she saw “something there that wasn’t there before.”
There’s something sweet and almost kind
But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined
And now he’s dear and so unsure
I wonder why I didn’t see it there before.
On the other hand, the Beast similarly found himself being drawn to Belle who, despite him taking her prisoner in place of her father, showed him kindness he might have never experienced before. He sang:
She glanced this way, I thought I saw
And when we touched she didn’t shudder at my paw
No it can’t be, I’ll just ignore
But then she’s never looked at me that way before.
As the days passed by and the two got closer, Belle found in Beast his value as a person. Beast as he was, there was something that endeared her to him. In the next stanzas of the song, Something There, Belle sang of her attraction to Beast:
New and a bit alarming
Who’d have ever thought that this could be?
True that he’s no Prince Charming
But there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see.
Note the last line in bold. Wojtyla, in Love and Responsibility, said that “the attraction must never be limited to partial values, to something which is inherent in the person but is not the person as a whole. There must be a direct attraction to the person: in other words, response to particular qualities inherent in a person must go with a simultaneous response to the qualities of the person as such, an awareness that a person as such is a value, and not merely attractive because of certain qualities which he or she possesses.” This attraction to value is the “something in him that I simply didn’t see.” It was Belle seeing Beast in a whole new light: he may not be “Prince Charming” but he was beautiful as a person.
LOVE AS DESIRE (Amor Concupiscentiae)
And so we can find in Beast a transformation too. Even if not explicitly said, he initially saw Belle as someone who could help him break the curse. As he spent more time with her, he found himself longing for her as a woman and as someone who can be his companion. She was no longer “an object he can use” to change him. Suddenly, he wasn’t alone and he realized that he cannot be alone.
I was the one who had it all
I was the master of my fate
I never needed anybody in my life
I learned the truth too late.
Beyond the need for her to set him free, he desired her as someone he could be with.
LOVE NEEDS VULNERABILITY
In the newest addition to the soundtrack, Evermore, Beast beautifully sang of what he felt about Belle when he let her flee the castle. One heartbreaking stanza points significantly to what C.S Lewis wrote in his book, The Four Loves.
I’ll never shake away the pain
I close my eyes but she’s still there
I let her steal into my melancholy heart
It’s more than I can bear.
As the Beast got attracted to Belle, he slowly opened up and revealed himself to her. Vulnerability is a needed step in any relationship. It actually opens the door to it. C.S Lewis wrote:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
For years, the Beast locked himself up in that tower, thinking no one was capable of loving him and accepting him for who he truly was. It even took time for him to break his walls and “surrender” to love. For the first time, however, he discovered the glory of love and that he regretted learning the truth too late.
In a way, we might find ourselves identifying with the Beast after an experience of pain of loving another. We may have the tendency to lock ourselves up in our the towers of our minds and refuse to give our heart away to anyone. “I don’t want to get hurt,” you might say. But doesn’t true love hurt? When we give ourselves totally to someone in love, or to anyone for that matter, we expose ourselves, indeed, to pain. But we might be forgetting how joyful it is to truly love someone and that that experience of joy should make any pain worth it. Alfred Lord Tennyson said it so well in his poem In Memoriam: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all …”
LOVE AS GOODWILL (Amor Benevolentiae)
One can find a contrast of “loves,” in the film in the figures of Gaston and Beast. While Gaston was debonair and very much handsome, Belle was right in saying that he was “a beast” inside for being narcissistic. At the beginning, we find Gaston wooing Belle in an attempt to have her as a trophy wife.
Right from the moment when I met her, saw her
I said she’s gorgeous and I fell
Here in town, there’s only she
Who is beautiful as me
So I’m making plans to woo and marry Belle.
Gaston’s idea of “falling in love,” was not loving the person for her value but for her physicality. Wojtyla warned that we might think we love someone but in fact we treat them as “an object for use.” In no way should be persons treated as objects to satisfy our needs and desires. This madness and self-love drove Gaston to his rage and eventual demise.
For the Beast, he became truly human because of love and that it even moved him to do the heroic: he let her go. While it may sound absurd-letting go of the one you love– it is an act that points us to true love . The Beast willed the good of the one he loved. At the expense of pain and the possibility that she may never come back, he loved her truly that he set her free to go to her father. He knew that he may remain a beast forever and that the curse may never be broken but he went out of himself, out of his tower, out of his ghastliness and put Belle’s welfare before his own. Even if the physical transformation would not occur, he was able to truly transform from a beast to a truly loving human being.
“Love is the fullest realization of the possibilities inherent in man.The person finds in love the greatest possible fullness of being, of objective existence. A genuine love is one in which the true essence of love is realized–a love which is directed to a genuine good in the true way.” -Love and Responsibility (Karol Wojtyla)
After Belle’s declaration of love, the beauty of the once-Beast and the castle inhabitants was restored to its former glory. Ah love! See what true love can do? It makes people change for the better, it makes moments of goodness last forever.
I shall end this article with the final song we find as the credits roll: How Does a Moment Last Forever? Listen carefully to the lyrics and you would find the glory of true love. And how does the song point to the Divine, or to God?
How does a moment last forever?
How does our happiness endure?
Through the darkest of our troubles
Love is beauty, love is pure
Love pays no mind to desolation
It flows like a river through the soul
Protects, persists, and perseveres
And makes us whole.
I realized that the reason why that stanza resonated so much with me was because it reminded me of Saint John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul:
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
In the dark night of the soul bright flows the river of God.
Isn’t it eerily similar? Well the composer Tim Rice might have done a parallel thought as he also wrote songs for Jesus Christ Superstar and King David.
Bottomline is, Beauty and the Beast teaches us so much about what love is truly about. And what is true love? Despite the darkness, despite the pain of loving, love endures to the end. It wills the good of the other just like how Jesus willed our good and loved us even unto death.
True love lives on. God’s love for us, like a song, is forever.
Lesley Anne Rosal is a Fulltime Pastoral Worker for Live Christ, Share Christ, which streamlines Catholic Lay Evangelization. She is also part of De La Salle University – Manila’s Theology and Religious Education Department, teaching Theology to college students. She obtained a Master Degree in Religious Studies major in Catechetics at the Don Bosco Center of Studies and is currently completing units and a thesis to graduate with a Master of Arts in Theology, major in Moral Theology in the same institution which is an affiliate of the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome. She is fascinated with anything John Paul II, Hans Ur Von Balthasar, Karl Rahner and Edith Stein. She loves to bake.
[This post was first published in http://www.familyandlifeupdate.com]
My feet aren’t really pretty. It’s rough, calloused and often dry. During my insecure years, it became a source of shame so I had to make sure I always had lotion in my bag and make sure I get foot spa once a month. I didn’t know why then I just really didn’t like my feet. But last weekend, I saw my feet in a different light. I saw that despite the flaws, I had beautiful feet.
From January ’til last week, I have not been able to really let everything sink in. It was only on the Friday just before the World Singles’ Congress of my community that God “caught me captive” in a 12-hour long bus ride due to a missed flight that could have brought me to Bicol in a jiffy. All along I thought I was checked in only to find out five minutes later from the counter check-in cut-off that I should have verified first before I assumed.
So left in the airport with the tarpaulins of Live Life, 20 books of Tito Frank Padilla, flyers for Live Life and Uplift and 2 bags, I took an Uber to the next available bus ride to Legazpi. As I sat at the back of the airconditioned bus after a whirlwind decision, fighting off the what if’s and why’s, I stared out and suddenly in dawned on me that I have 12 hours to sleep, reflect and simply be quiet.
Ah silence. I have been craving for a prolonged period of it since I came back to Fulltime Missionary Work after two to three years “out of it” and since I also accepted to teach Theology in De La Salle University – Manila. In between the two that I’m juggling, some responsibilities remained – I was still a student of Theology in Don Bosco Center of Studies and I was a household servant, a sister, a friend and a daughter to my sick parents. Of course, with all these I had to contend with something that tests my patience each and every time: commuting in Manila Traffic.
So it was not bad after all; God does write straight with crooked lines. Despite the strain in my back the entire congress, I had a different beginning to it compared to the rest of the delegates and it revealed something new about how I saw things and how grace probably changed me…for the better. :p
If last year was a year of testing and grappling in the dark, this year began with a sense of urgency to go out there. It was as if God turned on the switch and said, “Lee-an, it’s time. Go.” From just studying, my schedule became peppered with meetings here and there. Overnights, reading, studying, lesson planning, one on one sessions…it was crazy. I would manage to squeeze prayer in the morning and in the in betweens but I missed how much time I had for it the past year. When I got home, I would try to do an Examen or a rosary only to find myself jolting out of bed at 3:30 am. I fell asleep.
Back to the bus, I was able to savor quiet time with the Lord. I was able to review what happened from December to January and I saw how His faithfulness was pronounced in each moment of joy and pain. It became clearer to me why I had time off to just study – I could better teach now than before. It was also revealed how the dark actually led me closer to the Lord and how being close enough (but not really) can change one’s heart. Somehow, I learned to be a person who would just leave off everything to God.
The old Lee-an would probably be sulking in the airport, crying at the things that were going wrong and complaining about the weight of what I was bringing to Bicol. I was surprised myself at how simple and how swiftly I moved from “What now?” to “What can be done?” How, in my mind, if there was a solution, do it and if there wasn’t leave it up to God. He knows better anyway. I smiled at the thought that I was actually peaceful and happy. That when grace brings you to completely trust in the Lord, things become simpler. The “burdens become light.” Never mind if at the middle of the trip, I was jolted awake by the driver’s sudden step on the brake and the news that we almost slammed into the bus in front of us. Never mind if all the things that were supposed to be checked in had I not missed the flight went flying to all corners of the bus. I was happy. I was peaceful. And I was thinking, “Really, God, did I get crazier?”
I realized that God already showed me what I needed to do in the Kingdom and prior to that, He equipped me by allowing me to stay at the foot of the cross. I was made to proclaim His love in any way I can. I was made to teach who He is in a manner that will “cut to the heart.” I was made to love a lot of people and surrender myself to Him who is Love and who is the love of my life. I was made for mission. And with the “I” came these rough, dry, calloused feet.
Just before going home, I was blessed to be with a group who made stopover in a beach in Sorsogon. While I am not a beach person, I loved watching the sea and putting my feet into its shallow waters. I loved watching the waves crash slightly into me and then get pulled back into the horizon. I loved the smell of the sea. I loved the peace it brings.
Wearing my black sandals which has accompanied me in all the long walks of my life -World Youth Day – Madrid, Asian Youth Day – Korea, Alay Lakad in Antipolo plus the important meetings, talks, events – I slipped my feet into the cold water. The sand was soft and I burrowed my feet sometimes into it. I looked into the horizon and saw how the journey was from last year to that moment. I smiled and closed my eyes, feeling the wind’s chill bite my skin. Even if physically no one was beside me, I knew He was there in the water with me. Watching with me. Breathing in the salty air with me. He was there as He had been with me since the beginning. He never left even if I thought He did.
In my mind I imagined Him beside me. His feet beside mine. His had the bruises that He got from all His missionary journeys. His had the familiar wound from the nails of the cross. And His was beautiful. I looked at mine – calloused, dry and in a way, bruised too. I smiled that my feet was slowly becoming like His. At that instance, I appreciated how mine was flawed. At that instance, I looked at Him and looked back at my feet. They were beautiful too.
These feet have a long way to go. My heart tells me that there is more to be done. There is an ache in my belly to spread His love – fast and I don’t understand fully why. All that my mind can fathom at the moment is that I need to keep walking. If need be, I will even run. Because really, at the end of this race is the fulfillment of something I have been so longing for – one day I will really see Him. Hug Him. Stay with Him for as long as I can.
One day, I shall also kiss His beautiful feet because it was the same feet that allowed me to witness this life like no other.
There I was in the classroom, discussing to a bunch of college students at 7:30 in the morning, that mysterious and often debated upon four-letter word. Even if the time of the subject and the subject itself – Theology – are challenges already for a newbie teacher, I felt the mood perk up, noticed that eyes were suddenly wide with curiosity and saw that tiny smiles were forming in usually sleepy faces. After each slide of showing familiar references in pop culture, from the poetic to the “jologs,” giggles filled the air. I even caught one student daydreaming as I called her attention. Oh love, see what you can do?
I proceeded to move into the four loves, engaged the class in a banter as I moved from eros to philia and then to storge. As I was about to discuss the love that would be my jumpoff from human experience to Theology, I caught myself discussing something from memory as an example. A prolonged Freudian Slip, I guess? I continued on, replacing “me” with “I have a friend.” And then at the end of the discourse I said, “…and then she found herself falling for this someone and desiring not to possess. Rather, she wanted his sanctity. She wanted his good and she prayed for it whenever the pain would hit her heart.”
“Is that the last love, Miss? That one they call Agape?”
Surprised that one student knew, I nodded, paused for a while and tried to make sense of what I just revealed to the class (who was clueless that it was me) and even to myself.
I clicked the next slide to bring me back to earth and well, this showed up:
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
The discussion went on and then I briefly touched Agape just to deepen what love was in the philosophical sense. So I began with Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility to introduce love in its stages – attraction, desire and goodwill.
- “The feelings or attraction that one person feels toward another often begins suddenly and unexpectedly, but this reaction is in effect blind.“
- “Response to the qualities inherent in a person must go with a simultaneous response to the qualities of the person as such, an awareness that a person as such is a value, and not merely attractive because of certain qualities which he or she possesses.”
- “A human being is a person, a person whose nature is determined by his inwardness. It is necessary therefore to discover and to be attracted by the inner as well as the outer beauty.”
- “The subject in love is conscious of [desire’s] presence, knows that it is there at his or her disposal so to speak, but working to perfect this love, will see to it that desire does not dominate, does not overwhelm all else that love comprises.”
“A genuine love is one in which the true essence of love is realized — a love which is directed to a genuine (and not merely apparent) good.”
“Love is the fullest realization of the possibilities inherent in man.”
Then came the slide that made my heart sting at the realization that – without wanting, expecting or forcing any of it – I’ve fallen in love with someone I didn’t like to.
It is not enough to long for a person as a good for oneself; one must also, and above all, long for that person’s good.
My questions in my head, the pain I had in my heart and the lesson that I had to finish…imagine all that happening in an hour and a half! I finished the lecture rounding up all disciplines to give reason to the faith and finally relating agape, goodwill and the sacrifice in Calvary.
Fast forward to two chats with a good friend and a Divine Appointment and the acceptance that whatever this is is something beautiful from the Lord despite the many “why’s” that I may ask along the way.
“Basta ingatan mo siya. Alam mo na yun.”
“And that is what you call Agape – desiring the good of someone, loving without expecting anything in return. That love that He showed on the cross, He is letting you experience it in a different and unexpected way. This is good. This is from the Lord. Let Him tell you what this is for – for that person and for you as well.”
“The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory. In one high bound it has overleaped the massive of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interests of another in the centre of our being. Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbour as ourselves. It is an image, a foretaste, of what we must become to all if Love Himself rules in us without a rival. It is even (well used) a preparation for that.” (The Four Loves, C.S Lewis)
Funny isn’t it? How what a teacher can be discussing in the classroom will be met by God in such an astonishing way by letting the teacher firstly be a student of life and of the Master she proclaims?
For whatever this is, I’m not quite sure. So many times I have asked the Lord to take it away only to discover that what is existing at present is actually a gift. From an antagonistic stance before the Giver of Love, from a defensive line “I do not welcome this feeling, Lord,” He transformed that into an appreciation of what is and this: “What a happy feeling this is, thank You Lord.” Which reminds me actually of what my literary hero wrote in his book, The Four Loves:
“Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: “We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.” Need-love says of a woman “I cannot live without her”; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection – if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.“
In a world that thinks love has to be (at all times) reciprocated and that love no longer exists when one is “no longer happy,” I am thankful I am able to experience, even if only a part, what love as goodwill is. I will always be forever grateful that once again, just like what He has been doing all my life (except that now this is a very surprising context of it), I was led to the foot of the cross. Wanting to know, waiting for things to unravel in His perfect time but enduring and pondering everything in one’s heart, difficult as it may be.
I will always be thankful that in my lifetime I found out that such a kind of love is possible to attain – this heartwrenching, painfully beautiful, paradoxical love called agape.
“If it is God’s will, He will bring you there no matter what.” I held on to this as 2016 began. I came out of a room in the Seminaryo with much hope despite the uncertainty. My Spiritual Director gave me a hug and reminded me to “shine for God, Lee-an.” “Remember that the lamp should not be hidden. Its purpose is to shine. So shine, Lee-an. The light is inside you. Shine!”
Two months ago, I was checking the schedule for the last semester I had in Don Bosco Center of Studies. Finally, I thought, this would be the last card I will be signing and the last enrollment I will ever do. As I copied my schedule, my eyes drifted to the schedules beside the postings for the Saturday Master in Religious Studies group. For a moment, I stopped what I was doing and found myself wondering what it would feel if I sat down in the classes in the other department. I smiled, shook my head and muttered, “impossible.” Because even if it tickled my curiosity, I thought that studying with a bunch of seminarians on weekdays seemed out of this world. I had an amazing job then at Poveda and I was happy where I was. Surely, it was just a fleeting “what if” running in my head, right? I can let go of the thought of imagining myself taking Pastoral Communications, Johannine Writings, Pneumatology, Spiritual Theology, Ethics, etc., right? It doesn’t make sense to quit my job, take another path and subject myself to another round of sailing into the uncertain seas, right? Little did I know that those questions actually took root in my heart and that God was probably smiling at how I was belittling how grace can actually work in the seemingly absurd and craziest of situations.
I passed my pink enrollment card to Ms. Gina, beamed as she said, “Matatapos ka na,” and walked away. As I was nearing the staircase, I walked back to the schedule board and checked it out again. I entertained the thought that crossed my mind as I scanned the schedules of those taking Theology: “But, what if?”
“But Father, I am happy where I am. I am having the time of my life! It’s just that, the images of those schedules bother me from time to time. I want to switch my mind off.”
Fr. Mike smiled. “I understand that you are happy but Lee-an, but as if you never learned what God has been teaching you all along.”
“I do not understand.”
“Isn’t there any hint of longing in between those bouts of joy?”
I paused for a while and closed my eyes. As how it was each time I was with my Spiritual Director, some images of the past came flitted into memory and there I felt it – I knew I desired something more even if I was deliriously happy where I was. And then a familiar question, “What if?”
“Imagine you are on your deathbed and the regrets of the past come crashing down on you. If God brings up this “what if,” would you be happy you did not even try?”
It was Holy Week of 2016. I went on an alay-lakad with friends and proceeded to attend the Holy Week Retreat with the Cenacle Sisters. For four days, I was made to reflect on the Gospel wherein Nicodemus spoke to Jesus in secret. I struggled with my “what ifs,” and tried so hard to reason out with God. “I am not brave enough to do something this crazy, Lord.”
It was a beautiful Saturday night at the Cenacle. I was almost at the end of my retreat and I still didn’t have the guts to say yes to what was glaringly clear before me. I prayed for grace, for a word of assurance, for courage.
“Then we were invited to remember Abraham, our Father in Faith because he put all his trust in God. As somebody puts it very well, trust is the jump we make when we cannot understand anymore. So often in our lives, we don’t under-stand what is happening in us and around us but we are invited to trust. And then, in His own way, God “sees,” God “pro-vides,” and the lamb that suddenly appears –in the bush, in our lives–is the sign of God’s fidelity, the assurance of His presence.”
“What is the blessing of darkness? That we become helpless and empty, unable to understand, and yet allowing God to work silently in us, to invite us to hope and trust in Him, simply because Jesus is risen, and His new life is within us, even if it is so hidden most of the time. The spark of the Divine is in us: the fire of his love in our hearts, the light of his wisdom in our minds, even if so dim.“
-Fr. Robert Champoux, SJ
The next day, I sat down on my last session with the sister who helped me discern.
“You look very happy! So what was God’s message?”
I told sister that I may not know what may be ahead of me but I am sure that God wants me to take a crazy leap of faith. I may still have so many questions but when has God really failed me in my life? He had always been faithful even if I wasn’t. He had always provided even if I did not ask. And if He loves me this much, who am to say no when He asks me to jump?
“What passage in John’s Gospel struck you the most?”
Fighting my tears I read:
The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?”Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
He came to Poveda an hour earlier from his scheduled Mass. I was excited to talk to him again as I admired him greatly for his humility and passion. The phone rang in the office and I was told by the President to meet the mass presider in her office. I ran, opened the door and found his familiar smile greeting me as I entered.
“Kamusta na?” He said.
I proceeded on telling him what happened during my retreat and how I finally decided to resign from Poveda.
“You did tell me two years ago that I will leave two years later.”
He chuckled and asked me what my plans were. I replied that I still wasn’t sure yet but I have several options I was currently entertaining. Probably sensing there was more to what I was saying, he pointed out:
“But is that what you truly desire? What do you really want?”
I mentioned to him how I desired to teach Theology and how I’d like to make people understand that it is not simply an intellectual exercise. Theologizing should lead us to a deeper relationship with the One who we are getting to know more and more.
He looked at me intently for a minute and he said the words that confirmed what God really wanted me to do:
“Go take Theology. Take it with the brothers. I will support you. Don’t worry about the tuition. The Church needs people who will do just as you desire.”
“Are you joking?” I clarified.
He laughed and slapped my arm.
“Mukha ba akong nag-jojoke, Lee-an?”
I hugged the good priest after his mass and at that moment I knew that as he wrapped his fatherly arms around me, that was God embracing me and reminding me to take courage.
“This is just the beginning,” the good priest said.
Today, I write this on the last day of 2016. I am now taking Theology with the brothers on…weekdays. How I was able to sustain myself this year was not how I imagined it to be. I lived day by day not knowing what will happen and only hope became my reason to continue the crazy, uncertain journey.
I battled with my questions, I went through the pain of His silence and I almost lost hope.
Do I regret letting go of Poveda? In a way yes. It was painful for me to let go of my students and the family to whose spirituality I attribute much of who I am today. Then again, there are greater desires that I had to pursue and greater dreams that I needed to risk for. God was calling me to something more I know not what up to this very day.
2016 became a learning year for me. I felt the joy of Mary of Bethany as she sat with Jesus and listened to His every word. It was a pause that was needed; an out-of-this-world leap of faith that many questioned. Even I, at the later part of 2016 questioned the Lord again why I had to take the road less traveled when I could be an ordinary 8 to 5 office worker, doing the usual stuff ordinary 29-year-olds were doing.
But as my Spiritual Director said during our session this December, “God called you for something else and even if you may not be the ordinary 8 to 5 Millenial, admit it that you are happier and content doing this extraordinary call. You wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, right? You might be happier than the rest of them are.”
“So shine, Lee-an! There are unlimited possibilities that await those who say yes to His will. Take the lamp out from hiding. Go and let His face shine in you that the rest of the world may see.”
2016 was a year of painful uncertainty but it taught me greatly that when I put my hope in God who is the only certainty, I have nothing to fear. The Wind will always blow where It wills.
So 2017, let’s shine for the Lord. Bring it on.