By Veronica Ugates
The author is one of Misyon’s regular contributors. She has recently come up with her own magazine, HEROES – a magazine dedicated to our overseas Filipino workers. It has an online version, www.heroesmag.com. She is currently working on her book Questions Women Ask About Their Men.
Lufthansa flights from the Philippines to Tripoli have two stopovers, one in Bangkok and the other
in Dusseldorf. Returning to Tripoli on the second leg of my trip, I was seated beside a Malaysian lady.
Apparently, she had been observing what I was doing and after I had prayed the rosary she asked me, ‘You’re Catholic, right? What makes you different from others?’ I replied, ‘Hello! Oh, there would be a number of things but I’d venture to say our faith is the most difficult to follow yet it is most practical’.
A curious exchange
‘Why is that?’ she asked. ‘Well, the main difference would be that our faith calls us to sacrifice, and not just any ordinary kind of sacrifice, but with a free and willing heart. That is why we embrace the cross as a symbol of that willingness to suffer. Yet, we are told that the greatest sacrifice may not be enough unless the grace of God is also bestowed. So you may be doing and giving your utmost but it still is up to God whether He would accept that sacrifice as an offering to Him’, was my reply.
‘Really’, she commented. ‘You mean there is no guarantee? None at all?’ I agreed. ‘Is that not the same as what others do?’ she questioned. ‘Well, no,’ I said. ‘I have noticed that others are fond of quoting the Bible verse that goes, “Ask and you shall be given, look and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you”’. ‘Don’t you do that as well? she said. ‘Personally, no. I usually pray for safety and good health like now’, I said, ‘but to receive all other blessings will be a bonus. I do know that a lot of others do’. I conceded ‘But at the same time we are aware that there is no assurance that it will be given because it is all in God’s hands. After all, if everything on this earth belongs to Him, then He can do with it as He pleases. So mainly, we pray that we can accept and bear whatever may happen to us in this life’.
‘Is that not a defeatist attitude?’ She said. ‘Well, I guess, you can look at it that way but it allows us to prepare for anything that can happen along the way. After all, nobody can say what tomorrow brings or even one hour after the next, right? So it is a matter of being prepared all the time. And when you look at it that way, even the greatest disaster can be accepted with humility. Besides we really can do nothing about it when it happens so why not accept in good grace?’ was my reply.
‘But what is the point if you cannot expect some compensation for doing right?’ she asked again. ‘Ah, but we do hope for compensation, just not in this life,’ I said.
‘Well, yes, but you are not even sure that you’ll get it,’ She said. ‘That is true, but then who is sure of anything anyway? Are you sure that what you believe in is right? Who said so? And if anybody had said so, what proof does he have for saying so? So you see, we are all in the same boat. So why not just accept and believe. I think it is easier’, I said.
‘But if you do that then you have no control over your life.’ She said. ‘Perhaps’, I said, ‘But even if you strive for control, it will always be just up to a point. After that it still is all in God’s hands’.
‘So why do you say it is practical?’ She asked, going back to my first observation. ‘Well, I believe it is practical because the Church provided us with the sacraments as guides from birth to death’, I clarified.
From womb to tomb
‘What are sacraments?’ she asked. ‘They are a sort of rites of passage we undergo as we grow and mature in our faith until we die. For example, we are given the sacrament of baptism at birth or as early after birth as possible’, I replied. ‘Isn’t that a naming ritual?’ she asked again. ‘Not really, though you are given your name at the same time. But it is more a ritual of acceptance into the Catholic faith. And it gives you the privileges of being Catholic, so in case you die prematurely, you are assured of going to heaven’, I elaborated.
‘How do you know you’re going to heaven?’ she asked. ‘Well if you are still a baby I am sure God would have no objection to accepting you into His Kingdom, would He?’ I pointed out. ‘It is practical because it gives us the advantage of knowing where we will go if we die young, and not float somewhere in an unknown world’, I said.
She was silent for a while. So I added, ‘Then we also have confession’. ‘What’s that?’ She was curious. ‘If we commit sins we go to the priest to confess them’. I explained. ‘Why would you do that?’ she asked. ‘You see, if we commit something wrong our conscience will bother us. But once it is confessed to the priest he absolves us and sets us free from thinking about it. I imagine that is the reason why with the millions of Filipinos, the rate of insanity is almost insignificant, because we have this escape from all those burdens’, I elucidated.
‘Why do you have to do that? Can you not just confess directly to God?’ was her next question. ‘No’, I said. ‘In fact, that is one reason why I said our faith is more difficult to follow. Which is easier to do - to confess to another human being or to tell it directly to God?’ I asked. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘what if the priest talks about it?’ ‘No, he cannot’, I explained. ‘They have the vow of secrecy. They cannot divulge the things told in confession’. ‘Even if it is murder?’ she asked. ‘I guess so’, I said. ‘And if it is as grievous as that, then you can just imagine the burden he carries. That brings us to another reason why I think our faith is more practical. The priests have the vow of celibacy. They cannot marry once they are ordained priest.’ ‘Why should that be practical?’ she asked. ‘Well’, I said, ‘We all know how curious women are but our priests need not put up with the curiosity of a wife’. I laughed and she laughed with me.
‘On top of that, a priest can take care of his community without any hindrance. He can devote the whole of his time to God and his flock. What is more practical than that?’ I finished. I guess I could have elucidated further than the very superficial things I told her. On the other hand our faith is not that easy to explain to a person of another belief so I opted for the more light-hearted exchange. However I did hope it had planted some seeds in her that will be fruitful someday.
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