On my knees
Decades ago, my husband Felix and I gave a talk at a marriage encounter symposium at the Pope Pius XII Center on UN Avenue in Manila. During the question-and-answer portion, a woman in the audience rose and asked, “With 12 now-adult and successful children, how did you raise them?” Spontaneously and almost without thinking, I replied, “On my knees.” There was a brief silence, and then applause. I myself was stunned by my answer. “Prayer, of course, and hard work,” I added.
Our friends, Manolo and Fely Santos, were present in the audience and Manolo was so struck by my answer that he never forgot it. During gatherings, he would introduce me thus: “This is Nena, the mother who raised her children on her knees.”
Today I’m reflecting on the centrality of prayer in my life. How did it happen? I think that example and environment played a large part.
I was born and grew up in my grandfather’s house on Juan Luna Street, a block away from the beautiful and imposing
Dominican Binondo Church. Every day, at dawn and sunset, the huge bells tolled calling the community to prayer.
It was usual for people to drop in at the church before doing their chores or going to work. There were Masses from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., no later, because fasting was from midnight. Mass was said in Latin with the priest facing the altar. Since there were no songs or homilies, the Mass lasted only from 15 to 20 minutes. Songs and sermons were reserved for the Sunday Masses, which were attended by whole families.
My parents and two sets of uncles and aunts went to the 7 a.m. daily Mass. I joined them before being brought to school. I was a colegiala from kindergarten to high school at the Colegio de Sta. Catalina run by Dominican nuns on Anda Street in Intramuros across from the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. Classes started and ended with prayers and the morning session with a rosary in the chapel. I was in the company of Dominican priests and nuns until the war broke out in 1941.
During the Japanese Occupation, we lived on Tennessee Street in Malate. My daily Mass was at Paco Catholic Church.
There was this young man from San Fernando, Pampanga, who was courting me. He would wait for me at the corner of Herran at 6:30 a.m. and we walked to and from church together, bowing from the waist to the Japanese sentries at strategic street corners. When we became steadies (that was the term then), I suggested that we make the Siete Domingos de San Jose. The practice was for the couple to go to seven consecutive Sunday Masses.
Completion assured success in marriage. Considering that he came all the way from Pampanga and only the train and street car were his available means of transportation, it was really a test of love and endurance. With God’s grace we succeeded, and a few months later we got married at the UST Chapel. The heavens smiled on us that day.
When I was teaching at UST, I went to the 7 a.m. Mass prior to my morning classes that started an hour later. Failing that, I caught the 12:15 noon service at the UST Hospital Chapel. If my classes were in the afternoon, it was the 5:15 p.m. Mass for me.
My attendance at the Cursillos in Christianity in 1965 intensified my faith and deepened my relationship with the Lord. I was introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours and became involved in parish activities. I joined and led recollections and retreats. I looked for a spiritual director upon the suggestion of the Cursillo retreat master. I even transferred my allegiance in my teaching from literature to theology classes.
The most important learning, though, that I derived was the idea of the apostolate. Prior to my being a cursillista, my relationship with God was primarily a vertical one—myself and my Creator. I wasn’t involved with my neighbor. The apostolate provided the horizontal dimension in my spiritual life, making me obey the dictum “Love God and neighbor,” which translates to Christian service.
In 1992, I was recalled from retirement by the UST rector, Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, OP, who requested that I organize the Campus Ministry in the university.
To me, this last official service to the Lord was the icing on the cake of my spiritual life. Thus have service and prayer become an integral part of my life.
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Lourdes Syquia Bautista (c/o [email protected]), 93, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas, a widow with 12 children, 27 grandchildren, and 21 great grandchildren.
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