I began my day today just like how I have been routinely going through the first thirty minutes since last year – ruminating about what state of life I had at the moment, including all the responsibilities I had, the mission I was pursuing, the duties that needed to be accomplished. Such exercise might prove weird for some but it has been helping me see if I was still doing God’s will or it was just a product of pride. I would go through each one and ask the Lord if it was still a go. For a year, it was usually a peaceful waking; a “yes” to each area. But a month ago, there was this sudden desolation and suddenly, I would lie down in bed longer than usual.
I was picked up by my cousin and our first stop today was to visit the wake of my missionary friends’ 2-month old son, Isidro. It was a heartbreaking stop and I realized how we can never really know when our time is up. We may never really be certain when God will call us back home. I had my usual “whys” as I stared at the little boy’s lifeless body in a bed of flowers. Each why was met by this silence that was both comforting and disturbing at the same time. I left my questions hanging for God to answer later on. He may do so, He may not. But I left them there, anyway – mingled with the suppressed tears. I took a last look at Isidro’s parents, Kuya Cocoi and Ate Gay and walked away.
We were kind of late for our symposium in Everest International School. A former classmate, Ms. Amelie, invited us to attend “Sexuality, Gender and Education” given by Fr. Joseph Tham. As I entered, I was surprised to see familiar faces with us: the teachers and pastoral team of Don Bosco Technical College – Mandaluyong to whom I gave a workshop recently on new methods of teaching the faith. They were right behind us and the teachers who I encountered became my group mates too.
Fr. Tham gave us the basics of what we believe as a Church with regards to sexuality and gender identity. He ended with a documentary entitled, “The Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which featured the life experiences of three people who found their way back to Jesus after acting out their same sex attractions. There as the film rolled, I found myself crying. I realized that God was speaking to me in the experiences of conversion I was listening to and that the unquenchable desire for God and Heaven is, indeed, present in every human heart. Since I began teaching and doing missionary work for Live Life, that “unquenchable desire” has always been part of the narrative in all the engagements I was asked to give. It spoke to me again this morning because… that desire has been so alive and burning within for the past year.
We ended the session with a mass and I was grinning at some parts, looking at the crucifix, because two Salesians concelebrated the mass. One was a classmate in Theology. There were funny moments between me and the Lord during the Liturgy. Funny, because, I realized how I never expected “Don Bosco” to be present with me that day but he was. It was really funny, I couldn’t help but smile at times (hoping no one saw the silly expressions!).
Oh but it was that homily from a Legionaries of Christ priest that brought me to tears and the sudden revelation of the ruminations I had that morning and the whys I asked God earlier in the wake. Father began his homily with a curious question about getting hurt when we love. I smiled. I think I knew that too well. And then he reminded everyone of today’s feast – ahhh…it was Sts. Peter and Paul’s Feast Day. To those who know me well, they would know why I would be very emotional at the mention of St. Peter and St. Paul and maybe God did use these moments of the day to remind me of the cost of the “yes” I had been renewing each day.
What made St. Peter and Paul endure to the very end? It was the constant recollection and basking in the mercy and love of Christ. They were both terrible sinners yet chosen to do great things for God and somehow, I found myself in the same position too. When they followed Jesus, what was the cost of it? We all know they treaded a very dark and painful road; it was not a bed of roses for them both. But from that experience of being pardoned and loved and embraced thoroughly by the Lord, it made them single-minded for the mission. There may be points of weaknesses but they both ended just the same way their Master did – in a pool of blood, in persecution, in death. Tragic it may seem but that was what was expected of following Jesus – it was to love without counting the cost and to love until the end. St. Paul would say, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Both their lives ended in Calvary and yet God raised them up to glory. They both found the fulfilment of their “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.”
Why did God take Isidro away? Why did He allow His faithful servants to suffer? Why do we hurt so much when we love unconditionally despite being betrayed by our friends and yet we love them still anyway? Why do we love when reason may tell us it’s crazy and yet we love until the end? Why this road of suffering as the cost of following Christ? Why should we forgive when we have been repeatedly stabbed in the back and in front by people we have considered family for the past ten years? Why should we put “our dreams” on hold for the greatest dream of the “Everlasting Hills”? Why should we go to Calvary? Why the cross?
Father said, “Sts. Peter and Paul looked at Jesus. It was Him. It is He.”
The Gospel today asks this question, “Who do you say I am?” I found myself again in the shoes of Peter. I could not do anything but cry. Because of all the whys I asked and all the whys I had in the past months, I still knew what to do: I shall still say yes to Christ. There was no other way. No other path. No other option. I think I have reached this point when I find no other options to wake up in the morning but to do what He desires me to do. Despite the hush gossips of others who do not understand. Despite the raised eyebrows. Despite the many whys that could go on an endless list unanswered.
It is still Jesus. It is only “He” who mattered. No one else, nothing else. Only Jesus.
I remembered Kuya Cocoi and Ate Gay and Isidro – that was the painful cost of following Christ. Absurd to human reason but faith supplies.
I remembered the three people in The Desire of the Everlasting Hills and the cost of following Christ meant a complete turnaround, a loss of many things but a gaining of Heaven.
I remembered my journey of the past year and how the call to die every single day is still something I am very far from gaining but I would not have it any other way.
The cost of following Jesus is painful but the assurance of peace and joy is there despite all that. Well actually…even remove that sense of “peace and joy!” Because really… the most important thing is that we gain Christ.
“For to me, to live is Christ and death is gain,” (Philippians 1:21) says St. Paul. It is a hard declaration to do but it must reach that point when we desire to lay down everything for God.
Death is gain. Pain is gain. Suffering is gain.
Just recently, I had my last session with my Spiritual Director. He gave me pointers on what I believe the Lord is teaching me now – Holy Indifference. He referred to what St. Francis of Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God:
Take notice, I pray you, Theotimus, how the life of the Apostles was filled with afflictions: in the body by wounds, in the heart by anguish, according to the world by infamy and prisons, and in all these, – O God! what Indifference they had! Their sorrow is joyous, their poverty rich, their death life-giving, their dishonour honourable, that is, they are joyful for being sad, content to be poor, strengthened with life amid the dangers of death, and glorious in being made vile, because – such was the will of God. And whereas the will of God was more recognized in sufferings than in the actions of virtues, he ranks the exercise of patience first, saying: But in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses: and then, towards the end, in chastity, in knowledge, in long-suffering.
Sts. Peter and Paul had this Holy Indifference. It is a virtue very hard to attain but much to be desired. The cost of following Christ should lead us to this Holy Indifference: “Not my will but Yours be done,” as Christ said in Gethsemane. And then He walked to the cross. And then He was raised to glory.
Happy Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul!