(For the previous post on raising the cause for religious vocation, click here.)
The storyteller in me demands that I start from the beginning.
Growing up, my mother tried to ingrain in me the virtue of waiting–that is, holding off temporary good things, for things infinitely better. Of course, this lesson held truest on the topic of romantic relationships. As a household rule, I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend until age 18, but my mom made no secret of her hopes that we (my sister and I) observe the directive she herself followed: to enter into a serious relationship only when we were mature enough to get married.
Did I see the wisdom of this rule in my adolescence? Of course not. But I obeyed, and couldn’t wait till my 18th birthday.
As I’ve shared previously, I was renewed at the age of 15. About a year after that, at 16, I made a decision that laid the groundwork for my state of life discernment years later.
In community, I had been hearing about how some were “offering their youth” to God, a commitment to guard their hearts for chastity. At its core, it was simply a call to love God with one’s whole being, but for a teenager (as I was back then), its most glaring feature was swearing off having a boyfriend until the age of 23. (Why 23? I really don’t know, it was like that when I got there). It sounded a lot like my mom’s advice regarding the “right age,” but I didn’t think too much of it at first. Maybe it was because boys were starting to pay attention, or maybe even due to a crush (or two). At 16, my long-awaited 18th birthday was just around the corner, I could almost taste it! Why push D-day by another 5 years?
There’s an old song that speaks of falling in love unexpectedly, declaring to the object of affection, “you took my heart by surprise.” I had no plans of “offering my youth,” at least not any time soon. But just like what the song says, Jesus came, and took what was rightfully His: all my heart, soul, mind, strength.
It started with a mass at the EDSA Shrine, May 19, 1995. I still can’t explain it, how supernaturally special that mass was. It was like every word, every part touched me deeply, making me feel God’s overwhelming love in a new, romantic way. Still, I didn’t make the decision to give Him my “yes” right then and there–I wanted to think about it, and to make sure that this was, indeed, coming from Him (and not my imagination).
I spent the afternoon that day with some people from community who shared with me their experiences with their offerings. All the stories were beautiful, but still, I didn’t want rush into the decision–I didn’t want to give my “yes,” then take it back as soon as my crush professed his love for me. Besides, I thought, if God was really calling me to do this, He would make His call much clearer.
That night, while at choir practice, I decided to catch up on my Scripture reading. I remember, while reading through another book in the Old Testament, a verse suddenly popped into my head: Deuteronomy 6:5. Skeptically, I turned my bible to the verse, and then almost dropped it on the floor.
Deuteronomy 6:5 — You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.
After that, it was an easy YES.
Those eight years of my offering involved falling in love with Jesus over and over and over again. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for Him–He was everything I ever needed Him to be. Even when I was the only one unattached in my group of friends, no one would ever have labeled me as unhappy or insecure–my heart was overflowing with joy, and I believed my future was perfectly secure in His hands.
The Lord gave me many memorable moments during those years, just like those an old couple would reminisce about. Miraculous love letters, flowers, angels sent my way, little things and big things just to tell me how much He loved me. By the time I embarked on a formal discernment period for my state of life, I could honestly say that all the choices before me were on equal footing. I believe those years of consecration allowed me to truly taste and feel God’s love, making it so real that spending the rest of my life with Him, and only Him, was a very attractive possibility.
So in a way, mom got her wish: I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was old enough to get married.
But that’s getting ahead of the story…
(Read Part 2 of Our Love Story here.)