We were told that we would be spending about five days in Agoo (the Philippines). We were all excited except that we had to walk for five days from Malolos, Bulacan, to Agoo, La Union, without money for food or renting a room. We would have to beg from people without telling them the truth that we were seminarians. We were only given enough money for lunch and the return trip back to Manila. Five days…like the animals on the ark, we were sent out in twos.
The first day, we walked fast and covered as much distance as possible. On the second day, my companion complained that he could not continue because of the pain and blisters. He decided to return to Manila. I was hesitant to continue but decided to go on. My first day alone, I was caught in the dark along the highway in Tarlac without any house or building in sight. I was worried. Finally, I was able to find a house, but it turned out to be a karaoke house. I asked the owner if I could sleep on the bench. But he just told me I couldn’t because his customers were coming soon. An old man was listening to us. I waited. The man returned and told me after all the customers were gone I could sleep at one of the benches. The old man turned out to be the father of the owner. I left early in the morning and left them a note to thank them. On the fourth day, I was hot with fever and so I went straight to the church. But I was bluntly turned away. Feverish, hungry and angry, I took some money from the money for transport back and bought medicines, biscuits and water instead of asking for help from people.
After walking around the town, I went to the police. They asked me questions and checked my ID, curious as to why I was walking around. They gave me food and a bench to sleep on.
On my fifth day, I eventually reached the church in Agoo. The doors of the church felt like welcoming arms. I knelt before the altar and thanked God. Just thanked God. It was the most humbling experience to be nothing and to beg. Jesus went through His own journey of 40 days. Lent is a journey. It is important to remember these things.
Trust and Hope
When I was hungry and angry at the same time, I gave into my needs because of pride and selfishness. We were told not to buy but to beg from people. I was tempted, and I gave in. For part of the journey I learned to trust and hope in God. It taught me to depend on the mercy and compassion of the people God sent me and not to depend on my own strength and power.
During Lent and in any moment of our life, we can rely too much on our own will. We tend to do things “my way.” When we “fail,” we blame others because we think so highly of ourselves as being incapable of mistakes and failures. We even blame God because we think God owes us so much because we have done so much for God.
God wants us to succeed in life. He wants us to be faithful to Him. If you sin and fail, stand up and walk on. God’s mercy and goodness is more than our faults and mistakes. The world demands that we become successful in life but never faithful. To prove ourselves to people. We aim to succeed in life at the expense of our relationships. Everything is about winning. Then it becomes difficult for us to accept, understand and believe that we are worth more than anything, we are special and loved by God— even when we are hungry, empty, unfulfilled and losing in the eyes of the world.
Unless we learn to be humble, we cannot trust others or God. On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that the ash symbolizes our origin and destiny, our weakness and strength, our past and our future. It reminds us that we are sinners.
We are broken, weak, and wounded. But we are also capable of holiness and of great things, of doing incredible things. Isn’t it beautiful that God creates wonders from ash, from dust—something we consider useless and meaningless, He created miracles that we call people!
If I were to ask you to draw love, what would be the shape of love?
As a Christian, I believe the shape of love is the Cross. We all like love stories, but there is a far greater love story—our love story with God. From the very beginning we were created because of love. Remember the creation story—it was love at first sight. When God saw what He created, He saw everything was good. But when sin came, that love story was broken. Both man and woman chose themselves over God and disobeyed God. Remember that for God so loved the world He gave us His only Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour, His most precious one.
Every day, God renews His love story with us. He rewrites the story in a different, profoundly more intimately and personal ways. Jesus said that He no longer calls us slaves but friends and that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The shape of love is not the heart but the Cross.
Remember, Lent is a journey. Trust. Be humble and love.