How I Got My Early Catholic Education

By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.–Richard Dawkins

As I sat in the front seat of my husband’s car, the man waved for me to roll my window down. Then he handed me a pamphlet. The Watchtower. On the cover was the iconic image of JC. I remember this same image from way back when in childhood. Although not much has changed since then. Only that the messengers have changed.

I was born and raised in the world’s largest Christian religion. I attended Cathechism class. By age nine, I was leading the family’s nightly novenas, although I was almost asleep and thumbing my way around my rosary. “The second glorious mystery…” . On Holy Week, which had to be the hottest, humidest time of the year in the Philippines, we refrained from eating meat and from watching television, went to Church to visit the Stations of the Cross, or Via Dolorosa, and repented our sins of omission or commision. The only thing we didn’t do was to engage in flagellation (although I have, on one occasion, imagined myself walking on my knees  to the altar at our town church). My siblings and I went to Catholic school.

Mostly, I got my awakening of the Catholic ways of life as a child from the most unlikely Catholics–Sister Petra at my alma mater. My younger sister, Emma, would tell me that Sister P would kick their Monopoly board off the lawn as she was passing through at the time that the children had all been dismissed from class that day.

At one Sunday Mass, in the mid-70s, in our town in Novaliches, our new Parish priest arrived. During his sermon, he explained how he was aware of what the Japanese military had done to my country during World War II. He asked the people at church to forgive. Instead, the people did not forgive the past, and did not forgive this priest for being Japanese. That was the first and only time I ever saw him.

Speaking of other parish priests where I lived and grew up… there was one who had a gambling habit. Another who drank the wine.

Growing up Catholic in the Philippines meant being surrounded by images of Santo Ninoand of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Most, if not all of my friends’ and relatives’ homes had the image of Mother Mary. Our altar inside the house had all three. Our altar was strategically placed at the end of a short hallway, before it forked into my parents’ and our own separate bedrooms.

When I lived in New York, I had Filipino friends, just a few, but we didn’t go to church together. At New York University, I made new friends who were also graduate students who came from India, Taiwan, or Nigeria. I knew for sure, among my new friends, nobody else was Catholic.

Nobody talked about religion, more to be polite rather than because of disenchantment. Conversations were often philosophical. Nobody was trying to be evangelical. And certainly, noone was trying to do any convincing or converting, or to question their faith. It was all about enjoying good company and good conversations.

I go through life now, taking everything in perspective, and looking into all past as historical, not mythical. I don’t know what to cling on to.

Some days, I do have to try harder to keep my sense of wonder.

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