'You are precious in my eyes'

By Katherine Santiago

The author, from Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, is a novice with the Sisters of St Columban. You can learn more about the Columban Sisters at www.columbansisters.org

I woke up one morning at four feeling excited that very soon I’d become a novice. As I lay in bed, a flood of memories came to me. In the silence of the dawn, I recalled the many events that led me to joining the Columban Sisters.

As a child, I used to play a lot with the other girls in school; however I don’t think it was all play because records show that I also did well in my studies. The whole family attended Sunday Mass. My grandfather was a member of a charismatic group and as a child, I used to go with him to their meetings. The first Christian song I learned was ‘Alive, alive, alive forever more … My Jesus is alive forevermore.’ I learned to love singing it without knowing what it was all about.

Flores de Mayo

Every feast day of the Sto Niño, my family joined the Thanksgiving Mass and the fluvial parade afterwards. I was very happy to join, watching the people dancing the Sinulog while carrying the statue of the Sto Niño. This gave me a sense of happiness, but as I look back now I realize that I failed to see the real meaning of it all.

Every summer my sister and I joined the Flores de Mayo, a special devotion to our Blessed Mother that I always looked forward to. My mother bought us small baskets for our flowers. These baskets were full every day. It was in the Flores de Mayo that I learned how to say the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be and so on. After the prayers, we had time to play, something I really liked. I never failed to join the Flores de Mayo every summer but what I failed to see was the real essence of that activity. I didn’t even ask why we had it. All I had in mind was to play and to enjoy the day.

In my teenage years, I never failed to attend the Stations of the Cross, witness the Salubong, the ‘Meeting of Jesus and Mary’ at dawn on Easter Sunday, and the Simbang Gabi, the pre-dawn Masses before Christmas. But again their real meaning escaped me. I didn’t ask why Catholics celebrate them. There were so many things that I didn’t know, didn’t understand and didn’t bother to ask, ‘Why?’ I think I was just full of myself.

Carefree life

I was carefree and easy-going, always out having fun with my friends, attending parties, knowing the latest trends in clothing. But I failed to see the realities of my life, like my father having to work very hard to support us, like being so dependent on my parents, to the extent that I left even little things like sewing a button on my blouse to my mother. Yes, I played many tricks just to forget and to run away from the hard realities in my life. I failed to see the real meaning of life because of my pretenses. Most of all, I failed to thank God for His constant love and blessings.

Religious life

There was a sudden awakening in my life when I decided to join the Columban Sisters. My parents were very supportive, but the people who knew me just shook their heads in disbelief and couldn’t understand why I wanted to become a religious. The first step was to take Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in Makati Medical Center where my journey towards knowing myself started. I learned to live and do things on my own. I was experiencing for the first time a sense of being independent and responsible for myself. I had to take care of myself and do things for myself because nobody else would do them for me. This wasn’t easy. In CPE I also learned to know and understand myself better. Seeking the truth about oneself isn’t easy.

When I started formation as a pre-novice, I discovered more about myself and was helped to face my dark side. Little by little I learned how to accept weaknesses and realities in my life that for years I had been refusing to face and had been running away from. This was indeed painful. The day I was able to accept them, I felt I was coming from a long journey inside a dark, stony and muddy cave. I now started walking on a new path.

God's love

Looking back, I am able to see God in all my experiences. God has revealed himself to me in many different ways and is always with me. Because of God I’m able to face and accept my shortcomings. God has given me strength and courage to persevere in my vocation. God has allowed things to happen in my life because God wants me to be strong and to grow as humanly and spiritually as possible. Through these experiences I’ve felt God’s love for me. Isaiah says, ‘Because you are precious in my eyes I love you.’ In the eyes of God, I am important and am God’s beloved daughter. God has allowed me to feel His love through the people who surround me. The journey in learning the truth about myself has been difficult and bittersweet, but meaningful and helpful. I will treasure it for the rest of my life. I am thankful to God for being with me as I walk through the path of life. And the real change in my life can only happen when I begin to accept myself without pretense.

Ready for the next journey

It is because of God’s love for me that I am here. I want to respond to God’s love generously. I want to serve God’s people. I am ready for my next journey and my ‘suitcase’ is ready. I’ve already put into it all I’ll need for the next journey – things like openness, understanding, guidance, enlightenment, courage and God’s overflowing love for me. I know the road ahead isn’t easy but I know that God will always be there for me. God is within me and the Holy Spirit will light my way. I will keep myself open, faithful and strong. And things will turn out just right.

Indeed life is full of surprises. It’s like a huge box that is full of gifts. One never knows what one is getting. One may not even be sure what kind of gift one will get, but one thing is sure – God is in the gift because God loves us and God will remain faithful to us always.

The ringing of the church bells woke me up from my deep reverie.My alarm clock said it was already five o’clock and so I hurriedly got up to fix myself and get ready to attend the 5:30 Mass in the parish.