Last month, our community’s spiritual director, Sr. Bubbles Bandojo, R.C., celebrated her 25th year as a Cenacle sister. What a blessing it was to have been there! It was beautiful, solemn, touching, and festive all at the same time. The prayers were heartfelt, the music was sublime, the atmosphere colorful (almost carnival-like, with a huge rainbow parachute serving as canopy over the garden). But one more word I’d use to describe the event that not many would expect is romantic.
During her prayer (I’m not quite sure if it was an actual renewal of vows, as you would see at a wedding anniversary celebration, but it sure sounded like one), she started with one line that summed it all up: ”Hesus, Ikaw na, Ikaw lamang.” (roughly translated, Jesus, it has been You, and none but You). She then continued to say everything Christ has been in her life, making it clear to all those present what has brought and sustained her in religious life: the love of Jesus.
The Homilist, Fr. Bogey Cabrera, recounted a scene from the film “Of Gods And Men” where a young woman asks a priest if he had ever been in love. The old, sickly priest, with much tenderness and affection, then replies, “Oh yes, many times. But then I found a greater love.”
Though I have no insider information on Sr. Bubbles’ life prior to her vocation, it is not hard for me to imagine her with her share of suitors–a girl belonging to a respectable Catholic family, a true beauty inside and out, and a singing voice that would make anyone’s heart melt. Once, she even shared with us the names of her would-have-been children, had she chosen the other road. Casual conversation with her easily reveals her down to earth nature and quirky sense of humor. Beautiful, intelligent, talented, and funny.
And yet this is the life she chose.
In our society, the option for religious life is often easily dismissed. Some see it as being a match for certain personality-types, reserved for the timid and old-fashioned, so much so that when one who doesn’t conform to this preconceived mold joins a religious congregation, there are some who express a certain disappointment. If you have a lot going for you, becoming a priest or a nun, in the eyes of this world, seems like such a waste. I know of one particular priest, valedictorian of his class, whose parents could not share in his joy at Ordination because they had high hopes for him to climb speedily up the corporate ladder.
Some say it takes something special in you to become a priest or nun (apparently, something very special and very rare). While that is not totally untrue, I say it need not be so lofty nor complcated. All vocations should start and end in love. If this is easy to believe for marriage as vocation, should the religious vocation be any different?
Look at the saints. Many of them wrote lengthy pieces on theology, philosophy, and hence named Doctors of the Church because of their work in these areas. The likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila–their written work continue to teach us about faith and doctrine even centuries after their death. But their writings reveal not just that they were men and women with great minds and of great faith, but that they all possessed a great love:
To love God is something greater than to know Him. –St. Thomas Aquinas
Our hearts were made for You, Oh Lord, and they are restless until they rest in You. –St. Augustine
God alone suffices. –St. Teresa of Avila
As a Church, we pray fervently for an increase in vocations as we see the number of priests and nuns dwindling year after year. But what are we praying for exactly? Is God really calling less individuals into the consecrated life, or have we merely forgotten how to listen?
I would pray, rather, for more hearts to fall deeply and madly in love with God, seeking to follow His ways, to live lives pleasing to Him–whether married, single, or religious. To seek to live and love Christ alone above all–to desire this higher calling first, until God reveals otherwise.
To, at the very least, be open to the possibility that when we pray for God to write our love story, it may very well involve not an earthly spouse, but an Eternal One.
P.S.–I realize that you might find it strange (hypocritical, even) that I write about the religious vocation while being married myself. I will gladly share with you my own journey of discernment to this vocation on my next post.
(Start reading Our Love Story, Part 1)