Cancer Survivors vs. Cancer Beaters

So I’ve been gone for about a month (again), but this time with good reason: I’ve just completed a month-long pre-fellowship (think auditions, or try-outs, but lasting for a month) for the Medical Oncology program at a hospital in Quezon City.

Why Oncology? Because of two cancer patients I met in my youth whose strength and courage were inspirational to me.

The first one was my mom’s dear friend, and my godmother, Ninang Chita. Most of my memory of her from my childhood was getting gifts from her on my birthdays and during Christmas. She was a seasoned classical singer, and as I discovered my own love for music, I played around with the idea that I somehow “inherited” my talent from her (though my dad would protest). I was in my teens when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and strangely, I remember seeing more of her when she was sick (either that, or those later encounters just had more of an impact on me). Even in her illness, she never stopped being her sunny, thoughtful, caring self. She tried her best to carry on as she did before the diagnosis–she attended, and even sang at, her high school reunion, most people not aware that a tube was sticking out from her kidneys and into a bag, because the tumor had compressed her ureters so that she couldn’t void the normal way. Even in her final days, when her illness forced her to stay in the hospital, she seemed undaunted at the face of death. This I know because she never stopped loving, never stopped thinking of others. Whenever people would go see her, in her voice weakened by pain, she would ask her visitors to take a seat, and would they want anything to eat or drink?

Only a person who knows where her true home is could be so hospitable at her time of departure.

The second one was Sr. Paulina, whom I have written about before. The assigned nurse at the infirmary, she’s used to taking the sick (usually older) sisters to the hospital for consults and procedures. When one time, my mom came a-visiting at the convent and found her resting, she said jokingly, “What is the nurse doing in bed?!” To which the nun replied very casually with a smile, “Oh, I have cancer.” She then proceeded to proclaim God’s goodness, sharing that the cancer was an answered prayer–this particular malignancy ran strong in her family, and thinking of her brothers and sisters with children, families of their own, she prayed that if anyone should get it in their family, that it be her.

Do you know anyone else who rejoiced upon learning that they had cancer?

As their bodies were failing them, they looked forward to what was eternal with such courage, such hope, such faith. By definition they cannot be called cancer survivors, and yet I feel it right to say that they were the victors, that they beat cancer.

Because it certainly didn’t beat them.

Is this not what evangelization is all about? Sharing Jesus, sharing hope for the Heaven that God desires for all of us. This is what my mission, my service in Church and in community, is all about–making souls eager and ready for Life Eternal.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many places to live in; otherwise I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to Myself, so that you may be with Me where I am. –John 14:1-3

As I start this new chapter in my life and in training, I pray that I’ll be equipped to be the best Oncologist that I can be, that God will allow me to be. To cure sometimes, heal often, comfort always–to be God’s instrument of love and of peace, especially to those whom the Father is calling back Home.

My Year of Faith

Kung hei fat choi!! Happy Chinese New Year!

No, I am not Chinese. But with an ever-growing population of Chinoys (Filipino-Chinese), almost everyone is familiar with the above phrase, and is comfortable using it. So just because I can, I’ll say it again: Kung hei fat choi!!

I was born in the year of the Horse. Upon seeing a commercial on TV announcing the Chinese New Year, my mom remembered this little bit of information. “Hey, this is your year! This should be a lucky year for you!”

A lucky year for me. Huh.

In all my years of existence thus far, 2013 tops the list as my un-luckiest year. One after another, blow by blow, my heart and spirit was, in many ways and at many times, beaten and broken. Dreams were put on hold, a pregnancy was lost, and a rejection left me battling with my worst enemy yet–myself. I’ve spoken of this spiritual darkness that I’ve been struggling with and within. More than once, I had thought I was over it–that, having gritted my teeth for a long enough period, I had earned a sort of spiritual merit badge that I could wave as credit towards my path to sainthood. But I soon found out that grace (and holiness) cannot be forced nor feigned–but can blossom only as a fruit of complete surrender or, to borrow from a book title mentioned by a friend this morning, abandonment to Divine Providence.

What exactly was, is, my darkness? In a word, it is the trap my favorite saint spoke of extensively and warningly: self-love. All my eyes and heart could see was how I was unappreciated and unrecognized, not trusted and not believed in. Amidst the myriad of other emotional stages I went through, a profound sense of uselessness overwhelmed me. I was of no use, and no good–to anyone or anything. I found that I could not, would not, share the nature of this darkness to anyone other than my husband and our spiritual director, fooling myself that I was doing so out of humility, desiring to suffer in secret. But in truth, I failed to bring it to light because I was ashamed. I knew that the root cause of all this turmoil was my inordinate love of self, and it was a love that inevitably stood in the way of my accepting the greater Love.

This humility is no weak or negative thing. It is the most powerful thing in the world, for it is the key which unlocks the soul to grace. By ourselves we can do nothing to increase in us the supernatural love for which we were made, but by grace we help by removing that which is in the way of the divine love, namely, self-love. With every act of humility, every time we accept a humiliation lovingly, more of self is removed, and therefore there is more room for the divine love to dwell in the soul. The depth of the ocean depends upon the depth of the caverns that lie below, and the depth of supernatural love in a soul is exactly in proportion to the caverns that humility has wrought in the secret recesses of that soul. And so the Sacrament of Penance takes its place quite simply in the Little Way as the heavenly Father’s plan for emptying the soul of self-love, enabling the little one to take firm hold of His hand again. The soul that is really humble and empty of self-love, surrendered to the love of God, is the soul of which Jesus can take full possession and carry through difficulties and up to heights which otherwise the soul would find impossible. That is why humility is the most powerful thing in the world. –from The Message of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Msgr. Vernon Johnson (emphasis mine)

Towards the end of 2013, a friend observed that quite a number from our community seemed to have struggled and suffered much during the Year of Faith. And it wasn’t the type of struggle that lets you come out feeling stronger and wiser, but rather the type that leaves you on your knees, helpless and aware of your own weakness, desperately clinging to the One who lifts up, sustains, redeems. And isn’t this the true test of faith–the destruction of our inflated belief in ourselves, and the magnification of our dependence on God?

If I have learned anything from my Year of Faith, it is that without Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5)–no good, no hope, no love.

So, do I have a “lucky” year ahead of me? Who knows. But what I do know is that I will not triumph by relying on my own strength. I move on from 2013 weaker, smaller and more helpless than before…and I have never been more grateful.

It is, then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me; and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong. –2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 

So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 3

(Finally, 3 months later. If you need to hit the refresh button, revisit related posts here, here and here.)

Around a decade ago, our community conducted a Life in the Spirit Seminar at a retreat house run by the Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation. During the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (a communal prayer in which we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit–which we received at our Sacramental Baptism–to be stirred up in us in a real and renewing way), the very hospitable sisters obliged when we requested for the Blessed Sacrament to be present for this activity.

Now, if you know what communal prayer means for charismatics, you’ll know that it is anything but silent. There is singing, raising of hands, spontaneous praising, speaking in tongues…people kneeling, standing, prostrate on the floor. Even back then, I understood that not everyone was comfortable with this kind of prayer, and no doubt some would raise eyebrows over the fact that this was how we prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. Not wanting to offend the sisters who were our hosts for the weekend, I asked a fellow servant at that retreat to call the sister to come and bring the Eucharist out of the room at my signal. I wanted to make sure that when she arrived, we would more or less have settled down after the climax of praise.

But for some reason, things didn’t go as planned, and Sister entered the room right in the middle of high praise. There was laughing, crying, praising, singing–everyone was just drunk with the Spirit, with the Eucharist right at the center of it all. As the one leading the worship that time, I couldn’t help but glance sideways at Sister by the door: oh no, oh no, oh no, what could she be thinking? Finally, the praising slowly faded into silence, I led them in prayer, then in song, then we all bowed down before our Lord.

We waited for Sister to make her way to the center of the room, but she remained frozen where she was. I thought, Oh no, was she that bothered, that scandalized by what she witnessed? After a few more minutes (which seemed like eternity), she carefully walked over and reverently retrieved the Blessed Sacrament.

When the retreat ended later that afternoon, I made it a point to go and thank Sister personally for having us, and wanted to explain (although I didn’t know how I was going to do it) what happened during the Baptism. As soon as she saw me approaching her, she gave me the warmest smile and, to my surprise, gave me a big hug. “You pray so well! I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to stay there and listen to your songs. It was like there were angels singing!”

And I just hugged her right back with all my might.

One of the stumbling blocks to a harmonious Church, at least when it comes to liturgy, is the notion that one has to choose sides–those that champion a more vertical orientation (traditionalists, orthodoxy) and those that fight for a more horizontal one (let’s call them progressives). One reader, after expressing his opinion that widening the horizontal reach should be considered more important, in the same breath admitted that the Church would cease to be relevant if it neglected to point us to a higher standard. After vacillating to and fro, his conclusion was no conclusion–that this tug-of-war will ultimately hit a deadlock every time, and that the only solution was compromise (which he argues, isn’t really a solution as it entails some degree of giving in from one or both sides).

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. –G.K. Chesterton

I agree, compromise isn’t the solution. But perhaps another “middle-ground” word better fits the bill: BALANCE. To realize that both orientations are able to teach us something, to have that openness to the possibility that we may not have all the answers. To ensure that in every celebration and in every occasion for worship, careful attention is given to BOTH the vertical and the horizontal. No, not a vertical that alienates nor a horizontal that tolerates, but one that challenges and embraces, respectively.

To be so open to the Holy Spirit that we are able to see and recognize worship that is pleasing to our Lord. Whether it be this–

Or this–

A Church that is both vertical and horizontal, teaching each other, and learning from each other. Giving the Father always what is best, what is true, what is sacred.

Waking Up Catholic (and Lovin’ it!)

I’m a sucker for Catholic conversion stories.

Maybe it’s a maternal thing–welcome home, welcome to the family! Or perhaps its the outsider perspective they have on doctrines and practices I’ve known all my life, making centuries-old rituals fresh and exciting again.

Reading Chad R. Torgerson’s Waking Up Catholic was no exception to my general love for converts and their stories. Written as a guide for “Converts, Reverts, and Anyone Becoming Catholic” (as it says on the cover), Torgerson presents basic Catholic doctrine in a grounded and concise manner. And just from that sentence alone, I can hear the unseasoned reader saying, “You had me at grounded and concise.”

Having gone through the RCIA process himself, Torgerson systematically answers the questions he asked throughout the process of his own conversion: What is the basis of Sacred Tradition? Why priests, and why call them “Father?” Why pray to Mary? Do we really need the Saints? Why believe in Transubstantiation, and why ever would I want to eat flesh and drink blood? As the author takes us through his own searching for answers, he becomes more like a companion, a guide, rather than a professor lecturing in a classroom.

I found it particularly interesting that the very first chapter talks about Sacred Tradition, stating that this was the main thing that sets Catholicism apart from other Christian churches. Making the case for Tradition (and correspondingly, the continuing revelation of the Holy Spirit) sets the stage for tackling the history of most other tenets of the faith. After convincing the reader of the importance of Sacred Tradition, the need for a governing body to ensure that the Tradition is faithfully passed on from one generation to the next logically becomes the topic of choice for the subsequent chapter. And on and on it goes, each section making way for the next. It takes a lot of talent (not to mention wisdom) to capture such a vast collection of doctrine and to present it in an orderly, step-by-step fashion. In fighting the urge to overwhelm, Torgerson succeeds admirably.

But the best feature of the book, by far, is the inside look into Torgerson’s life story. He shares his past judgements and misconceptions about the Church, and where necessary, subjects his own previous philosophies to scrutiny. This is not a story of naiveté or gullibility, but one of relentless searching (and finding) for Truth.

And in the end, more than a sentimental acceptance, or a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the Church, this is what really captivates me about conversion stories: the hand of God moving, guiding the heart and soul to Himself. No matter where any of us have been, His reach will always be farther and wider.

When you search for Me, you will find me; when you search for me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:13

Sa ‘Yo Lamang


I have such a long, meaningful history with this song, that when my spiritual director (and friend) asked if I would want to do a JMM (Jesuit Music Ministry) Cover, I immediately thought of this. Cayabyab’s Prayer of St. Francis was the artistic, musical choice; Sa ‘Yo Lamang was the choice of the heart.
How I wish I could post an english translation! But I do not trust myself to do so (and ruin the whole experience for you). Sending out an open request to Fr. Manoling Francisco, S.J.–an english translation, if you please? :)

Bearing and Birthing: Starting the Year with Mary

Apologies for the tardy post–I’ve been disconnected from the blogosphere for more than a month, and it took a bit of time for the creative juices to start flowing again.

New Year’s: the holiday (and holy day) celebrated by everyone around the world regardless of race, religion or ruling government. (As an aside, I found myself writing “Merry Christmas” and never “Happy Holidays” on all my cards and gifts…just because I can.) The New Year refreshes us with hope (things are bound to be better!) and enlivens us with resolve (I am going to be better!) for the year so pregnant with promise and possibilities.

While the rest of the world gets psyched with lists of best habits and techniques to get to that “better YOU in 2014,” the Church, as She does every year, invites us to start the year with Mary, the Mother of God. That this feast falls within the liturgically jam-packed Christmas season speaks much about its importance–that it lands squarely on the Octave of Christ’s Nativity makes it as holy as Holy Days get.

I find it interesting to note that the title “Mary, Mother of God” is the oldest of all Marian titles and feasts. It was first used after the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, which was convened to address the doctrine of Nestorius who asserted that Christ’s human and divine natures were separate. As the council proclaimed Jesus true God and true man, it followed that Mary was not just Christotokos (Birth Giver of Christ) but Theotokos, Bearer (or Birth Giver) of God.

Before she was the Immaculate Conception, or Queen of Heaven and Earth, or Our Lady of [place name of virtue or apparition site here], she was firstly a mother, the Mother.

Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception. For this reason the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 that Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb: “Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.” (CCC#466)

2013 saw me battling with a darkness I’ve started calling the SELF–propelled by inordinate self-love and self-pity, needing (demanding) repeated validation of my perceived self-worth. Darkness spreads as far as we’ll let it, and soon every aspect of my life seemed covered with this self-indulgent depression. The only time I didn’t feel gripped by despair was when I was with my children–playing with them, laughing with them, hugging them, kissing them–I seemed to forget whatever sorry state my soul was in. I was needed, I was loved…not because I had done anything to merit such affection, such devotion, but simply because I was their mother.

Darkness spreads because I let it…because in some twisted, self-indulgent way, I like it.

This is the first of all Marian feasts and titles because, while every other aspect of her person inspires us to be like her, her divine motherhood is reason enough for us to love her.

And in the sacred place of a mother’s arms, Theotokos calls all her children to follow her example–to bear witness in the world to Christ’s love and mercy, to let Him be birthed into our lives–that those who live in darkness may see Light, may be Light. Suffering, trials, tribulations? Well, you can’t give birth without experiencing labor pains.

At the start of the year, our Mother guides us thusly:”Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) Mary, Mother of God, and our mother, pray for us that we may respond with the very words you uttered: “Let it be done unto me as you say.” (Luke 2:38)

Happy 2014!

Finally putting an end to the silence!

Did you miss me? 

I know, it has been well over a month since my last post. And no amount of business (or pleasure) could have justified such an act of neglect on my part. Not to worry–resolving to write more in the coming year, so be sure to check back with us again soon for more Catholic By Choice.

Happy New Year!