Thursday, 30 May 2013

Pacman Power Pellets, a First Communion Mass, and a Dream in the Petrol Station

Thanks for hosting, guys!

Bring back memories?

image from

This Sunday was the First Communion Mass for the 2nd graders. There was no parking at the Church, and overflow parking was at the shopping center. It was drizzling. I half drove home. But at the last minute, I drove back towards the Church. It’s the second time I’ve done this in the last few days, where I’m deliberating not going to Mass, and then change my mind at the last minute. On Friday, I was not planning to go to Mass after dropping Olive at playgroup as I usually did. I intended to go straight home and go for a run instead. In my mind, this justified going to playgroup looking like a dog’s dinner. I had washed my face, brushed my teeth, and pulled some random bits of clothes on. Hadn’t bothered combing my hair. Just pulled it into a quick ponytail. After dropping Olive off, suddenly, I decided I’d go to Mass. I was so happy that I did. Afterwards, I dropped by the Parish Office to pick up some envelopes for sending invitations to the children in my catechism class for our year-end Mass. Rolf, our catechism coordinator, was unusually jolly as he helped me stamp the envelopes. I felt so good about having gone to Mass. Sometimes, I feel that God’s graces are like the pellets in Pacman. They’re all around us, ripe for the picking. And going to Mass was like eating a Power Pellet. Power Pellets gave Pacman super powers and gave him immunity from Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde. I floated on my Power Pellet high from having gone to Mass until I caught a glimpse of myself in the elevator mirror when I got home. I looked absolutely frightful. Straggly bits of hair all over the place, shapeless rain jacket thrown over a wrinkled cardigan and a faded pair of jeans. Perhaps that’s why Rolf was chuckling. I was mortified and vowed never to go out so carelessly again.

I dressed more carefully this Sunday. I was still wearing a faded pair of jeans. (I hate shopping for jeans, so all of them are faded.) But my hair was combed and I had some lipstick on. The rose-shaped coral earrings Ross brought me from Erice matched the floral motif of my scarf. I had my favorite red suede ballerina flats on. I didn’t want to get my shoes wet and I didn’t have an umbrella. When I got turned away from the Church parking lot, I thought it would be most practical to simply go home. After all, the overflow parking was a ten-minute walk away, and I would arrive late anyway. And it looked like rain.

But then, like last Friday, I changed my mind at the last minute. I was well on my way home when I did a U turn and headed back for Church. Perhaps it is Fear of the Lord kicking in. I had finished a 9-day Novena to the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. It is my favorite Novena. “Please send me some of those Gifts, Holy Spirit,” I had prayed. In particular, I prayed for more of my particular favorites: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, and Knowledge. To me, these represented qualities of strength. Oh, I could certainly use some of those. I wanted to be strong and fierce, like I imagined St Paul was. I hadn’t been particularly praying for either Piety or Fear of the Lord. They struck me as weaker qualities, and I was weak enough already. In particular, I was not too keen on Fear of the Lord. I don’t like the word “fear”. I had already confronted and struggled with so many different flavors of fear in the last two years and did not feel like asking for any more, even if it was a good kind of fear.

However, if I gave some thought to why I made those U turns to go to Church, I realized that it was indeed Fear of the Lord. I felt that the Holy Trinity would be disappointed in me if I had a chance to go to Mass and chose not to. I didn’t want to disappoint them. My first reaction, on the realization that perhaps I was had been granted an extra dose of Fear of the Lord was, “Aww, come on Holy Spirit. Why that one?” But then, one should not look a gift horse in the mouth. Later, I came across Psalm 111:10. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.” So perhaps I just have to be patient. Perhaps Fear of the Lord is a necessary foundation and prerequisite for the good stuff. I trust that God heard my prayer, and that if it is for the good of my soul, He will grant it, and that He knows what He is doing. In the meantime, my heart sings songs of praise and thanksgiving to Him.

After finding a parking spot some blocks away, I was 15 minutes late for Mass. It was packed. On a normal Sunday at our parish, there are about 5o-70 people at Mass. Today, for the First Communion of the 2nd graders, there were about 500 people. I tried several entrances, and I could not make it through the doors. It was standing room only, with people packed shoulder to shoulder. Again, I thought about going home. I thought, perhaps it is the more generous thing to do, to go home and leave the families of the celebrants to their occasion. I thought I’d just drop by the little chapel on the side where the weekday Masses were held. Perhaps I could spend some time in prayer there before going home. When I got there, I found that they had removed the partition such that the little chapel opened into the main hall. It was also full, but there was just enough room for me to squeeze in. By chance, in a tiny random pocket of space framed by heads and shoulders of the people in front of me, I had a perfect view of the altar. I loved how Don Piero, our parish priest, told the children that when Jesus prayed the Our Father, he addressed God as Abba. Or Papi. And that we should think of God not as a distant father, but as a loving and affectionate Papi.  I could not make it through the crowd to get to the line for Communion. But I was thankful for the spot I was standing on and prayed for the First Communion celebrants. I think God must have been pleased to see His house so fully packed.

On the way home, I stopped by the petrol station to pick up our normal Sunday treats. Plain croissants for Ross, chocolate croissants for the kids, and a loaf of bread for lunch. I was under strict instructions to buy one chocolate croissant for each of the kids this week. (Last week, I had bought two to share among three kids, and it caused a lot of tears.) As I pulled out of the parking lot, I had a strange dream. (What do you call a dream when you are wide awake when it happens?) This is my body, which I give unto you. I had the impression of a man robed in brilliant white offering me a Host from a golden bowl. (I didn’t “see” it with my physical eyes. My eyes were looking at a normal scene of a petrol station on a Sunday morning.) It was the sound of my own voice saying “Amen”, as I received the Host and reflexively made the sign of the Cross that jolted me out of the dream and made me think that perhaps something out of the ordinary had transpired. Did that just happen? Where did it happen? In my car? In my head? I looked around me. I was driving my car out of a parking lot. How strange, I thought. I remembered that I hadn’t received Communion at Mass. I couldn’t make it through the crowds. But now it somehow came to me in a dream.

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalms 107:1)
I contemplated whether to post this on my blog, or to keep this experience to myself. In the end, I feel that I am meant to share such experiences with others, for the greater honor and glory of God.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Reminiscing About a Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

Thanks again for hosting, RAnn and Chris!

My favorite photo from Santiago, taken on my iPhone.
Our Lady of Fatima with St James
(Do you see St James with his pilgrim's hat?)

I woke to the sound of old ladies singing. It was a familiar sound, like my grandmother and her lady friends from her Block Rosary Crusade were on procession outside. But I wasn’t at Mama’s house in the suburbs of Metro Manila. It was the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, and I was in a hotel room, on my last morning in Santiago de Compostela. After spending the last week with a group walking the last hundred kilometers of the French Way of the Camino, I was flying home to Zürich in a few hours. A glance at my phone told me it was 5:06. Too early to be awake. I rolled over to go back to sleep. Perhaps I was dreaming. I saw a pure, bright, dazzling light, in the shape of a woman with a veil with her palms outstretched. I could not make out any features, just her silhouette. I jumped awake. 5:13 am. I could still hear the singing. Brushed teeth, showered, dressed, out the door and on cobblestones of the Fuente de San Antonio by 5:20. I was going to catch up with that procession of grannies. Old ladies tend to walk slowly. They couldn’t be that far ahead of me.

Following the singing, I ran through the cold streets of Santiago  -  up Rua Das Orfas, past the Igrexia de Sta Maria Salome, up Rua Nova – towards the cathedral. I would have put money on the procession ending at the cathedral. Two days ago, I had knelt in front of the cathedral and placed my hand on the scallop shell in the middle of the Plaza del Obraidoro. We had arrived. The square was full of people, university students, mothers and sometimes fathers with babies in their carriages, nuns, school children, monks, souvenir hawkers, police, musicians, and pilgrims at various stages of acquaintance with the town. The newest arrivals would still have their backpacks and walking sticks. Their heads swiveled to and fro, wanting to take in everything about this moment of arriving, and having a hard time deciding what to look at first. They were sweaty, sun-burnt, tired, and very happy. Those who had been there longer – even by just a few hours - looked calmer and lighter. They had shed off their heavy backpacks and hiking boots in their hotel rooms. They smelled of soap and shampoo and wore sandals to air their blisters. They simply sat, some in the middle of the square, others under the arches of the Palacio de Raxoi across the cathedral. They gazed upon the cathedral, the people, the square, but the scenes that played before their inner eyes were of those of the infinitely varied ways in which God’s hand had led them there.  

Running past the walled convents, the monastery gates, the closed cafes, and boarded up souvenir shops, I had imagined that I’d arrive at the square and find the singing grannies wrapped snuggly against the cold. They would be accompanied by their younger folk, perhaps their children, long grown-up with their own children in tow, bearing candles, flowers, and banners. Six monks would be maneuvering the float carrying Our Lady. The padre would open the cathedral doors and they would enter singing. There would be an enterprising soul setting up his stall for selling churros and hot chocolate. People were always hungry after Mass and he would make a tidy profit. Or so I had imagined. I was surprised to arrive at the Plaza del Obradoiro and find it silent and empty. Where did they go?