When I was about 5 years old, I started to accompany my mother every dawn to go to mass. Honestly I really do not want to come with her- the difficulty of waking up early, the bite of the cold water in my face, the toil of walking half asleep from our house to the church. Still, I need to accompany my mother every dawn. Since I am the only son, I would like to think that the responsibility of escorting her rested on my young shoulder.
Our church, built by the Jesuits, is very old. Then, I would just sit in the pew trying to catch some catnaps before the bell rings while my mother kneels and recites her rosary devoutly. Sometimes I would join her in praying the rosary but often I do not.
Then the altar boy rings the bell and the procession begins. My mother would slightly pinch my ear to wake me up.
My favourite part in the Holy Mass is when the priest starts incensing. I just love the smell of incense. When Holy Communion comes, I tag along with my mother receiving communion. I would stretch my hands to the priest imitating my mother, but the priest would not give me even a small portion of the Body of Christ. Back then, I do not understand why the priest would not give me a piece of “wafer”. Mamang told me that priests are generous and kind, I thought, that old priest was the exception.
After the Holy Mass, mamang and I will light candles and pray in the prayer room. Getting the wax and moulding it was my favourite part.
When I started to read, mamang and Lola Epang gave me “libritas” or prayer guide to exercise my reading. I remember having three libritas: a guide on how to say the Rosary, prayer to St. Joseph, and a prayer to St. Vincent Ferrer.
I remember when we were younger, we used to recite the family Rosary at 6pm after the big old bell sang the angelus. The whole children will be squatting in the banig during prayer. We all take turns in reciting the mystery to keep us awake. Clutching our rosaries, Manang and I will be squatting mate, while Lola Epang will be lying in her rocking chair and Mamang will cuddle our younger sister. I really don’t know why most of the time I feel so sleepy during the duration of praying the Holy Rosary but when it’s done, my sleepiness is gone and I’ll be so wide awake and alert.
My elementary years is spent in a government school. We pray before and after each class. We too have a crucifix hang in the wall and images of Jesus and Mama Mary. We have an old catechism teacher. She taught us prayers like Our Father and Hail Mary every Tuesdays.
One day, I remember when we, grade schoolers were playing in the park, a classmate of mine got a bruised knee and bled bold red blood, “hala mugawas gyud ang pari ana” (Hala, the priest will come out from that wound), a classmate told us.
The seed of my faith was nourished by my family especially with the examples set by my mother and Lola Epang.
I used to believe that baby Jesus sleeps in one of the clouds, and when it rains, baby Jesus probably pees while he sleeps. I used to believe too, that during thunderstorms God is very angry to someone.
We don’t go out at night, we were so convinced that monsters are roaming during the night.
I believed that sometimes God will go down from heaven and will be under disguised as a beggar or an old blind lolo with a walking stick. I often give my share of snack to a beggar near our school thinking that it was God.
As far as I remember, I grew up with lots of pets – a beagle, a strayed cat, and even a rat placed in a makeshift bed out of an old big Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder container. When one of my pets die, I place it in a wooden coffin built together with my friends and buried it. Then I sprinkled it with holy water. I then put a cross on it and me and friends said a prayer.
There was a time when mamang scolded me because I had emptied the matchbox. I made little crosses out of the matchsticks when a friend of mine had massacred an ant colony using a plastic lit in fire. I was so angry with him. I used to believe that animals and humans shared the same dignity.
A public high school education cannot be called a nursery for faith, except the negative sense. There were no signs around to remind one of first Fridays, oftentimes no prayers before the class, no teachers exhorting one to frequent Communion. If you did these things, you did them on your own, gaining merit thereby, perhaps. I cannot say I always did them. During these years I can only trust that the seed was sinking deeper and deeper and will someday result in the tree growing taller than a superficial planting would allow.
I remember that during this time, I begin to question the faith I have and finding “sense” in it. I still continue to go to mass and received Holy Communion despite of my doubts though.
I remember Mamang asking me to get some flowers in the carousa of St. James the Greater, she needed it to cure my younger sister’s illness. I told her why not bring her to the hospital instead. Mamang told me that Santiago is greater than any doctor.
In my entry to the seminary, the way I imagined God had changed. My primitive and imaginative faith had been challenged and patched up and my Jesus who sleeps in the clouds has now grown up, incarnated, walk and dine with sinners, and died on the cross and third day he rose from the dead and now seated in the right hand of the Father in glory and will come back again to judge the living and the dead.
I would like to think that nothing much have change with what I used to believe and continued to believe in. I still hold on the God of my imagination. I still believe in the power of my libritas, that flowers from the carousa can heal, and when it rains baby Jesus or a cherub pees.