‘Til Our Hearts Beat No More

John

I was in first year college when I discovered St. John the Evangelist. I did not have a background in Theology then for I was preparing myself to be a nurse. But in that one subject called Philosophy of Man, I was tasked by my brilliant professor to report on the Gospel of John. Clueless, I went to St. Paul’s, bought a Robert Brown book (who later on, became a staple in my library!), tried to decipher the jargons and when I gave up, dashed to the Seminaryo to consult my cousin who was still a Theology student. I would like to believe that that first encounter with the study of John began the stirring of what was to come many years later.

As I read the entire Gospel, one line during the Last Supper scene made an imprint in my heart: “One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side.” (Jn 13:23) This verse, though not part of any reading today, visited me again in prayer and then a song:

Once upon a Thursday night
A supper did renew my life
Once upon a garden pray’r cried
“My solitude is nigh now”

And then I wondered, as I listened to the song while in transit, what could have made John stay with Jesus from His side, to the Garden and then to the cross? What could he have heard in His beating heart on that Thursday night when he laid his head on his Master’s bosom? What could have he witnessed that never left his mind? What could have he heard that will make him stay steadfast ’til the end, despite the nights he had to endure and the constant threat of death?

Before entering the adoration chapel in St. Francis this morning, I felt moved to stand beneath the big cross that stood amid the Franciscan saints. Then the answer came: it was Jesus’ faithful, unwavering love. I looked at the saints beside him, each who ran the race sometimes bruised and battered but have found the reward of seeing Him in all His glory in the end. What made Saints saints was not because their hearts were free from blemish; what made St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Pio saints was their fidelity to the Master who loved them first.

“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”  (Jn 13:1)

The beloved disciple’s response of love came from his experience of the faithful love of his Master who “loved them to the end.” Despite their unfaithfulness, despite their shortcomings, despite the abandonment and the pain of being rejected, He loved them unceasingly.

I sat before the Blessed Sacrament, remembering the days past. I found myself again in the garden. I find myself now in the garden. But holding fast to His faithful and merciful love, I believe the night will soon be broken by the sunrise. Maybe in order to stay faithful, we need to lay our heads on His heart that understands what we could not. And just stay there. Stay in the joy. Stay in what is now. Stay in the ache. To listen to His heartbeat that says nothing but, “I love you.” 

In listening to His heartbeat, in staying at the foot of the cross, we would receive the grace to carry on, knowing that He endured everything first. And as He endured firstly, so should we. And as He obeyed and loved the Father’s will wholly, so should we. And as He loved as firstly, so should we…

’til our hearts beat no more.

Whose but Savior’s night, who but God’s Delight
Who but he whose night His friends had left behind can
Fill my emptiness and promise me a sunrise?
Jesus Lord of life…candle of the night
Sweet solitary life.

 

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I Am Ever With You

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I am here, sitting in some coffee shop one tricycle away from home, with an empty chair before me. Trying to fight an impending flu, I type away as songs from Arnel Aquino, SJ’s playlist accompany me as I strive to find inspiration. It is hard to be inspired when what happens in reality can paralyze one to be uninspired.

And as it is with the God who knows me well, a song played in that random playlist that begged for attention. I had to stop what I was doing and listen as its melody hit every strand of unquiet within. For a moment, I had to stop what I was doing as the tears began to fall.

That is how it is with God. In the most unexpected moments, He sits before you in that empty chair before you in some coffee shop. He would invite Himself in and in the most unguarded moments, speak with so much compassion. (This, I figured can only happen when before Him we are totally unguarded). He would reach out His hand for you to hold and grasp, offer a smile to give you a bit of consolation. He would be often quiet, not answering the questions you might present before Him because maybe the answers are still not meant to be revealed, for our hearts may not be able to contain the truth of whatever it is that we seek. (Or maybe the answers are already there and we struggle at the incomprehensibility of how so, for we can really never know the mind of God. We can only acquiesce, confident that He knows best and that His will is beautiful despite the world finding it otherwise.)

But He is there. He is ever with us, especially in moments when we struggle with His silence and our hearts moan with the pain of emptiness. He is there, accompanying us in solitude. His is a comforting presence. A peaceful one, to put it succinctly. And isn’t peace not the absence of noise or pain but the enduring presence of Someone stronger who we may anchor our weary hearts on?

I find that even if no one sees the hidden struggles, even when no one sees what occurs in the heart in the solitary moments, He is ever present in each bout of grief, wiping each tear away with His gentle hands.

And so oblivious to prying eyes who may wonder why the tears, I continue to type and do what must be done, knowing that He is here, before me sitting in some coffee shop one tricycle away from home.

Do not let your hearts be troubled
Do not stay afraid
It is really I who you see
I offer you all my peace

I have waited for this moment
To be with you again
In my heart you’ll remain
In your heart I’ll stay

I am with you, till the end of your days
I am with you, have faith
That I hold you
Even when you let go
And I love you,
You must know I am here. I am ever with you.

Do not let your hearts be troubled
Do not stay afraid
I’m beyond all anguish or death
I’m risen to life anew

When you feel that you’ve been emptied
And can give no more
Know that I am your breath and I fill your soul.

I am with you, till the end of your days
I am with you, have faith
That I hold you
Even when you let go
And I love you,
You must know I am here. I am ever with you.

High Hopes

Broken bottles in the hotel lobby
Seems to me likeI’m just scared of never feelin’ it again
I know its crazy to believe in silly things
It’s not that easy
I remember it now it takes me back to when it all first started
But I only got myself to blame for it and I accept it now
It’s time to let it all go, go out and start again
It’s not that easy

But I’ve got high hopes
It takes me back to when we started
High hopes
When you let it go go out and start again
High hopes
When it all comes to an end
But the world keeps spinning around

And in my dreams I meet the ghosts of all the people who’ve come and gone
Memories they seem to show up so quick but they leave you far too soon
Naive I was just staring at the barrel of a gun
I do believe it

But I’ve got high hopes
It takes me back to when we started
High hopes
When you let it go go out and start again
High hopes
When it all comes to an end
But the world keeps spinning around
But I’ve got high hopes
It takes me back to when we started
High hopes
When you let it go go out and start again
High hopes
When it all comes to an end
But the world keeps spinning around
[x2]

Yeah this world keeps spinning
How this world keeps spinning around

Awesome 2017

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There’s this beautiful hymn composed by Blessed Henry Cardinal Newman that became the song that ushered me to 2017. The reverberating line from that hymn is this:

“Here in the dark,
I do not ask to see the path ahead,
one step ahead enough for me.”

That was where faith led me in 2017: to paths that I never knew He would lead me. Each step, I was unsure. Each step I did in the dark. Each revelation caught me by surprise. There was a silence each time I asked and struggled to understand only to find later that I need not to. His silence was necessary.

I came back to missionary work in January of 2017. After three years of being led to Poveda and then to full-time studies in Theology, I came back home. I was initially alone in the ministry. Kuya Xavy Padilla and I had to dream and build it to where it is today. Modules were written and tested and the first Live Life sessions were rolled out. From one, we became a team of four. I was brought to wash more feet as I got appointed to lead it.

January was also the month I began teaching in DLSU. I was able to take care of more than 500 souls this year. Each time I was in the classroom, teaching about His love, I felt alive. It felt like I was meant to do just that. What warms my heart being a teacher is that one gets to listen and accompany the young alongside teaching. The many conversations outside the classrooms, the email exchanges, the “Miss, can I walk you to the Faculty Center?” were priceless. So many times that I found myself in tears before St. La Salle’s relic in the Pearl of Great Price Chapel, thanking the Lord for allowing me to experience Him in the classroom.

This year, too, I got to teach the religious: the brothers of Sandor in DBCS and now in San Carlos Seminary. Never did I see me being led to both paths. I initially resisted to the point of pain only to find that both gave me so much peace and joy. I found myself praying for my students; praying that they would love God more and stay true to their calling. Little did I know, being there led me to where He really wanted me to belong.

I turned 30 this year, too. On my birthday, I finally found the Pearl of Great Price. I finally found where He wanted me to be. Funny how I was “at home” in it for so long. Funny how, as if, the road had been laid out for me from the beginning. How in all the details of my life, there was a sign post to the life He wanted to me lead and how I could respond to His call to servanthood. In the months that followed, I got affirmed all the more and I am entering 2018 excited for “new beginnings.”

2017 also became the year of falling in love and letting go. It was the year where I concretely learned that to love is, indeed, to will the good of the other. But it was not just the kind of love that was romantic; painfully, I got a glimpse of what agape was. I figured how I could never get to give myself as a gift without firstly being vulnerable. I found out that to be vulnerable requires an openness that would allow others to strike you where it hurts. And yet despite of that possibility, you still continue to do so. You still continue to love. Why? Because there was no other way to joy but to love. Mother Teresa was right in saying that one has to love until it hurts no more. I went through the stages this year and I continue to strive to love with the same conviction that I do because He loved me first.

That picture above was taken on the final trek in Masungi Georeserve. I took the hike together with family yesterday. Dusk came upon us as we hit the end of the trail and I found it as a beautiful ending to how 2017 was for me. Whatever 2018 may bring may still prove to be uncertain and you can say that we are still “in the dark.” But God does not allow us to tread life without enough light to guide us through. When I walked in that scary bridge towards the end of the hike, I found the lights so beautiful that the fear of knowing I was walking through a roped bridge only became secondary to the feeling of awe and wonder.

I guess I end 2017 with that: AWE AND WONDER. Awe and wonder at the many beautiful  interruptions of God in my life. Awe and wonder at the paths I now tread that may be larger than life but gives me this certitude that I am where He wants me to be. Awe and wonder at what will be next. If 2017 was a difficult but wonderful year, how much more in 2018? Just looking at the schedules I have for January already brings my heart to beat with so much love and gratitude to the God who called me to lead this kind of life.

I end 2017 with awe and wonder in a God who called me, who chose me, who looked upon me with mercy and who lavished and continues to lavish me with a love that I know not where it ends.

And this awe and wonder at this God of love makes my heart raring to reach more people next year. To reach more roads leading to Him next year. To listen more, to accompany others more, to lead more to the Living Water that quenches the thirst of our souls.

Lead on Kindly Light by Audrey Assad, which is based on the hymn I mentioned at the beginning ends with these words:

“And in the night, when I was afraid
Your feet beside my own on the way
Each stumbling step where other men have trod
shortens the road leading home to my God
Lead on, lead on,
my God, my God,
lead on, lead on, kindly light.”

I do not know what 2018 will bring but I am sure that when I have You beside me, everything will be fine. So lead me on, Lord. Lead me home to You. If 2017 was a step closer, I await 2018 with joy.

With awe and wonder, with a heart overflowing with gratitude, with my entire being radiating with joy.

The Five Stages

Years back, I learned in school about Kubler – Ross’ The Five Stages of Grief. It proved to be helpful later on, as I continued to do ministry. I knew how to deal with people in grief and I was able to empathize well, mostly through silence. It was “easy” to extend one’s help to others, I realized. But it is a totally different story when you actually go through the stages yourself. Suddenly, all that would matter and all that helps, is grace.

Here’s the thing about grieving: you will never know when it will end. It may just be subtler in the coming years before acceptance is reached but for some, even reaching that stage is not a finality. Somewhere along the way after acceptance, depression may come again once in a while.

In going through the stages, it is not chronological. One can jump from one to the other. From denial to anger to bargaining to depression to acceptance, it could be rather “messy.”

Yet that is how grief is. It is a messy affair. There would be days when you are okay but there will be days too, when triggered, that you just want to shut off from the world for a while and not move at all.

And it is okay to grieve. It is perfectly okay, too. It is not a sign of weakness but strength. To be able to name what you are grieving for and acknowledging that you are in a specific stage is a sign of maturity. You know you are growing. You know you are taking root.

Somewhere, someday, the flowers will bloom.

Maybe I am angry at the moment. It took a while to recognize I was. And in the quiet of the shrine a while ago after dawn mass and the long walk home, I found that God said it was ok. It was not wrong to feel. It was ok. I am ok. It was ok to flit from “anger to depression” once in a while but to do so, one needs grace. It is okay to grieve but one cannot do it alone.

As people left this morning, I told God all that was in my heart and I received a rather odd reply: “I know. I am grieving with you. I am hurting too.” A minute after that, I saw a friend and that friend sat with me as I cried, walked with me on the way home, too.

It is true: God is close to the brokenhearted. He may seem quiet at times but just like any father, He knows when we cannot take it anymore. He stoops down to His child, looks at her in the eye and he says, “I am here.” When we hurt, because He loves us and His love is infinite for us, His pain is infinite too.

We have a God who grieves with us. A God who goes through all the stages of grief with us. Even if sometimes, we may get irrational about things, He patiently guides us what to do, where to go, whom to talk to. Our God is Emmanuel. He is ever with us.

9 days to go ’til Christmas and I do not know how these days will be. I find though that even in the darkest of nights, He always sends a star or two or more to remind us that there is hope.

I am still looking for that star at this point. Still walking along this uncertainty. But Advent tells me that just like how Jesus slipped into the world unannounced one cold, December night, acceptance will be “full” one day, unannounced too.

It will come. One day, it will.

You just have to go through the stages… with grace and hope alive in the heart.

She Never Appeared

Fatima

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.

Even Unto Death

even unto death

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.