Called to be Extraordinary

Last August, our family received an unexpected, extraordinary blessing–my husband, Peter, was invested as a Lay Eucharistic Minister (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion) at Christ the King Parish.

lay minister

My husband, the youngest in the group (also the one with the least amount of hair, go figure).

The invitation came subtlely enough–after noticing Peter in line for Confession before Sunday Mass, one of the existing ministers approached him to ask if he would like to serve as a Lay Minister. A thought he never really entertained before, Peter politely thanked him for the invitation and said he would have to check his schedule, or “try” to make it to the monthly formation sessions, or some other vague answer to mask his decline. Luckily, Brother/Kuya Robert was gently persistent, regularly texting and emailing my husband, inviting, encouraging, reminding.

As the weeks, months, wore on, Peter found himself having a change of mind (and heart) on the matter. A clincher was when Kuya Robert happened to mention in one email that one of the things that prompted him to approach Peter in the first place was the impression that he was a good father (as he would see how Peter was with the kids during Sunday Mass). This comment came just a few days after we had learned that I was again expecting, meaning that we (I more than he) were in the middle of all the emotional struggle that went along with the news of yet another pregnancy.

It was a confirmation in more ways than one.

And Peter, to his surprise, found himself blessed beyond expectations. The monthly formation sessions were more than enlightening (touching on such topics as confession, Mary, and angels, among others), and the brotherhood he found with these (mostly more senior) Catholic men is heartwarming. Just the other day, I was introduced to Kuya Jerry, and was touched when this complete stranger told me that he has been offering his daily rosary for the healthy and safe delivery of my baby.

A Holy Fraternity.

A Holy Fraternity.

As a single woman who had discerned if marriage was the vocation for me, I remember having prayed for a man after God’s own heart, one who would love Him and serve Him, one who would really lead our family closer to Christ and His Church. After 8 years of marriage, I see how God continues to stay true to His promise. And what I said to Peter all those years before still holds true today–that falling in love with him (everyday) just makes me fall in love with God even more.

I honor you, Peter, for always being grateful for the gifts God has given you; for honoring Him with your time, talent and treasure; for keeping Him at the center not just of our family but also of your career; for allowing His Spirit to move in your life, molding you into the Christian servant you are; for answering His call to give more, do more, be more; for inspiring our kids, and myself, to do the same.

What a wonderfully fitting way to celebrate the Year of the Laity!

The Year of the Laity, as declared by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, for the Liturgical Year 2013-2014

I’m sure the kids all agree with me–you are our hero :)

I’m alive…ALIVE!!!


Yes, friends, I am still here :)

My last post was written in the lone week off I had before starting my fellowship training in Medical (Adult) Oncology. I say this probably to channel the blame of my absence towards the long working hours and the exhaustion from studying and commuting to and from the hospital everyday (weekends included). I kept thinking, I just need to adjust to this new schedule, this workload, then I can start going back to the things I used to do, the things I love. Eight months into my first year (I’m looking at a total of 3), and I am still struggling to get to that “adjusted” state.

These past 8 months have certainly been full of life lessons, trials, as well as unexpected blessings. And in the coming days, I hope to start sharing many stories with you. Stories such as–

1. Numerous realizations and reflections from my encounters with cancer patients and their families.
2. Thoughts on suffering, death, and eternal life (and preparing ourselves–and our loved ones–for it)
3. How misery robs us of love.
4. Our son’s forthcoming first communion, and my husband becoming a Eucharistic Minister (a true highlight indeed!).
5. Oh, and our getting pregnant again! (and yes, that’s eight months in, meaning I am now on maternity leave, waiting for our 4th child to be born any day now).

Can’t wait to share all these things with you, my blogosphere friends!

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

Video

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? :)