PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

 

The sacristans return from Manila

I've always wondered how it feels to be a sacristan. I've never been one because, when the one and only opportunity came, either I wasn't allowed by my parents outright, or I sensed their hesitation so I hesitated myself. It didn't help that my parents were not the typical active churchpeople. I must have envied my elementary school classmates who served in the Mass wearing immaculate white and perfectly pressed vestments that erased whatever impression of naughtiness they had outside the church.

My cousin D. was one of them -- his parents were the active churchy types, and I noticed he became fast friends with the other sacristans from the rival school. Among his new friends was R., who looked every inch a naughty rich kid whom I wanted to be friends with as well (because he was completely different).

I was an active Catholic at the time mainly because of my devout grandmother (father's side), but when our entire class had a two-day weekend retreat in a religious house in Calasiao town, I was unable to join. It could be that my parents frowned at the extra expense. After my classmates came back from it on Monday, they wouldn't stop telling each other over and over, including the sacristans, all that adventure of crying they shared. I felt a tinge of envy and regret for not going. Feeling left out, now I had to wonder as well how it felt to go through a religious retreat.

These events in my young life did not presage what was to come later -- for the wheels of fortune would bring things to a total reversal.

I've been an active charismatic Catholic for about two decades now, so I can say I am an active Catholic, serving the Church as a member of a lay transparochial community. One day, in one Mass sponsored by the community, I was accidentally asked to assist the priest because JR, the usual sacristan, was absent. Of course, I didn't come prepared with the required white vestment and everything. Needless to say, I was quite stressed, because I was so clueless I was afraid I'd do everything wrong. The poor priest must have sensed my anxiety, because he would gesture to me what to do next at each and every step. It was so embarrassing especially when I didn't know how exactly to ring the bell in time for consecration. I was afraid I might ring it like an ice cream vendor did!

As for retreats, well, there never was a year I didn't go to at least two retreats or recollections: Lenten retreat, Advent recollection, planning session cum retreat, Mass doubling as recollection, etc.

I wish I could say that I had my former sacristan classmates as inspiration, because the truth is, I came to like the quasireligious life on my own. In my college years up to early working life, I was deep in searching -- I wasn't contented with my life as a Sunday Catholic, the constant drive to achieve, being driven by ambition for myself and my family. Maybe I matured prematurely, but at that stage in my life, I already had a strong sense that the rat race was a corrupt, self-centered race to the top that would only bring me spiritual ruin and unhappiness. I guess I was searchng for balance. It could also be that that was the way God was calling me.

Sometimes, I wonder where my childhood friends are now in their spiritual life. There was a time I got disillusioned with them. One day, many months after high school graduation, I saw some of them around the corner in our old provincial town, and we traded stories about college life and how we each settled into the big city. I was dismayed to hear some of my closest friends exchanging conspiratorial laughs over their respective initiation into the notorious "beerhouses" (prostitution dens) of Manila. I was totally incredulous because, somehow, the strongest mental images of them I held on to was as sacristans in immaculate white and as euphoric weekend retreatants. I was shocked to see them transform from altar saints to stallions. "Ah," I lamented, "how people change."

Maybe I was looking too much for a model or a hero of the faith perhaps because I couldn't find it in me. But I wasn't able to find it in my peers either. Worse, I even mistakenly thought along the way that I should somewhat take after them because that how things are: boys will be boys.

Maybe I was looking at the wrong direction. Today, at least four of my friends admit to having an extramarital affair. At least one of us, R., is now divorced.

I hope everyone of my friends has found or are friends with God again, as I have found mine. Or in the reverse language of Christianity, I pray God would hound each of them, though I'm pretty sure He's always been, since we are always the ones who turn away from God. Maybe the right prayer is, "May they open their hearts to God again, in His own time."

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