“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.