Declaring that I was born and raised Catholic isn’t saying much when you’re from the Philippines, where a good percentage of the population can say the same (my generation, at least). Being the youngest, I got to tag along with my mom to most church activities and services for a good number of my childhood years. I attended parish events where everyone was at least 30-40 years older than me, went to Holy Hour and First Friday mass, joined all the processions our parish held, especially during Holy Week. While I make no claims to have been a complete angel all through those early years (I’ve thrown my own share of tantrums when I didn’t want to go to church), simply being there made me well-acquainted with the different liturgies of the Church calendar.
As I entered High School, my sister and I joined the parish youth choir. And while this gave me my closest circle of friends during adolescence, it also introduced me to the idea of service–singing for at least 2 masses every Sunday, and going to choir practice when I could be doing something else (wasn’t much of a burden, really…like I said, they were really close friends).
The major turning point in my relationship with Christ was when, at fifteen, I attended a retreat that marked my entry into a Catholic Charismatic Community. At such a young age, I had absolutely no prior exposure to Charismatic worship, Life in the Spirit, and even life in a community. And I just soaked it all in; it felt like I had met Jesus for the very first time, literally being touched by the Spirit. I fell in love with Jesus, and surrounded myself with anything and everything that would bring me closer to Him–I devoted a regular time for prayer everyday, I read the Bible, and I worshipped like I never had before: raising my hands, eyes closed, singing at the top of my lungs. A few years after that, a few friends and I were led to found Living Hope Community, where I now serve as one of its council members.
Meeting Christ through the charismatic culture allowed me to see Catholic beliefs and practices with renewed eyes. I went back to the liturgies I used to go to as a child, now with a much deeper appreciation of the beauty of every word, gesture, ritual. My renewal in the Spirit allowed me to fully express my love for Christ in the Church, and this became evident with every mass, every rosary, every pilgrimage, every prayer.
Over the years, I have felt Christ speaking to me in many different instances and moments that can be described not only as being Spiritual, but undoubtedly Catholic as well. Falling in love with Christ, it was inevitable that I fall in love with His Church, and all the richness She has to offer both my mind and heart.
It breaks my heart every time I hear of Catholics leaving the Church without ever having given Her a chance. They make their opinion and judgement of Her based on what an outsider tells them. What I want to offer is my journey to Her heart, to be like John the Baptist pointing others to where Christ is, where He dwells. And maybe, hopefully, give the Catholic Church a fighting chance in that decision to depart or to remain.
How fitting that She is referred to as our Holy Mother Church. For in Her I have found my home. And it is my prayer that more may find their way back into Her loving arms.