God of my youth
Since I came home from a visit with our children in the United States, one of the issues that recently hogged the front pages of our newspapers had to do with God. It was one of the rare occasions when God took center stage, as mentioned in heated remarks by a sitting president. There was some question as to God’s mental prowess.
Many of us have different versions of the Almighty. Let me share with you my own.
My mother passed away when I was 10 months old. Before she left us, my father quickly had me baptized in the Aglipayan Church. He was a supporter of Gregorio Aglipay and other religious figures like Bishop Santiago Fonacier; they were involved in a breakaway movement by Filipino clerics dissatisfied with Vatican rule that favored Spanish friars. My baptismal sponsors, I am told, were Sen. Quintin Paredes of Abra and Mrs. Alicia Quirino, wife of former president Elpidio Quirino of Ilocos Sur.
Soon after, my aunt, a fervently devout Catholic, whisked me away and raised me as her son. The first thing she did was to have me rebaptized in Catholic rites, presumably to get rid of any demons that might have taken hold of my spirit. As you can see, I was initially baptized under Aglipayan rites and, weeks
later, under similar rituals of the Catholic Church. Was there a different God presiding over those two ceremonies? In both events, I was blissfully unaware of what was taking place.
As I grew up, my aunt, a warm, gentle and caring surrogate mom, made certain I would stay in the fold. This meant the sacraments of Confirmation, Confession, Holy Communion, Sunday Mass, novenas, strict observance of Holy Week activities, and even sacristan duties. The God of my youth was all-knowing and all-seeing. Even an altar boy smiling and giggling during services did not escape His attention. And the Belgian nuns of Holy Family College made sure I paid for such lapses in behavior. At least 10 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Marys, and 10 Glory Bes, on my knees at the sacristy after Mass, was the usual price for frivolous conduct.
Through the years, I found out that there were other Gods—the God of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and other religious groups in different parts of the world, all claiming that their God was the one, true God. I continued to hold on to my faith, although at certain stages in my adulthood, I decided to set aside, at least in my mind, some of its teachings and to listen instead to my conscience. I figured that my God allowed me the freedom to think and to question in my personal search for the truth.
The God of my youth has remained my God. And yet I do not know Him very well. For one thing, we have never met. We have never spoken to each other, and it is difficult to nurture a relationship with a Spirit, Holy as He is. I have called on Him on numerous occasions, mainly when I was in need or facing difficulties and problems. More often than not, there would be no response from Him.
But, in the end, things always seemed to work out, not so much in terms of some resolution, but in terms of acceptance and moving on. Was this His doing? I am not sure. I do know that when things seem hopeless, I turn to Him.
Each time I would be wheeled into an operating room in a hospital under sedation for yet another major surgery—I have had seven of them—I would talk to Him for a few minutes. He does not say anything. I leave things in His hands. And so far I have survived. I once asked a Carmelite father and confidant: Why? His reply was that perhaps there remains some work to be done.
He is a strange individual, this God of mine. Someday I hope to meet Him. I have so many questions that I would like to ask of Him. The possibility does exist that we may never meet.
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Archbishop Romulo Valles, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, has called on the faithful to observe the day in prayer and penance, “asking for God’s mercy and justice on those who have blasphemed God’s Holy Name, those who slander and bear false witness and those who commit murder or justify murder as a means for fighting criminality in our country.”
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patron saint of our parish here in Quezon City. On this joyous occasion, we join our fellow parishioners in praying for peace in our country and around the world.
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