MY PARENTS WERE not devout Catholic is not why I lacked sufficient formation to really grow in the faith. My father was an ordinary working man who barely made ends meet and I am not ashamed to admit that his honesty did not allow us to live a life of ease. While that is not a complaint, it helps to attribute my mother’s whining to her inability to discern her husband’s integrity. The gap between them I came to understand later and realize afterwards that he could never be a saint but he sired one who aspires saintliness. That he died honest is a badge on and boon to my person and my brothers’. I’m confidently equipped with that knowledge and, buoyed by a constantly renewing conversion, proclaim there is reason in living a life in Christ through Mary. Before my father disappeared into a coma, he deeply believed in Christ’s Momma.
It was never in my constitution to speak before people. My father was a crowd-drawer but the only genes he never found out he left me with is his writing prowess. I never cease to be awed by his making it to the country’s then-renowned Philippine Free Press. In high school, emboldened by that consciousness, I scratched the itch to borrow a memorized speech he wrote for me, daydreaming to be a writer like him, trying out for the school paper. I impressed the Adviser, she took me in as a columnist. I would’ve been daunted but I knew my Dad not only loved me (saints love for the right reasons is why he did not become one) but he also wanted me to be a writer like him so bad he’d do anything to make his wish come true. So I told him how I got to column-writing and could he help me out. Long story short, for the love of his first-born Abraham, Prospero put up with plagiarism. Until college came. The real me emerged. Truant, haphazard and without focus, I splurged his hard-earned (for my tuition) money on keeping up with the Ayalas. Short-fused, my gallivanting bright days browned-out soon enough. The only lesson I learned, from my 37 college units, was my English Professor’s 1.25 rating on my tardy (and hand-printed) term paper, with the encouraging “You’ve a flair for writing. Cultivate it by being more precise with your words.” She could not have known how that indelible epiphany defined the changes in my life.
Cut to our move to BF Homes, Quezon City. I’ve shared this at many PREX Weekends so I’ll prune the long story shorter. At Mass one day, I noticed the choir and asked my wife what if we joined. She said for me to go ahead, it wasn’t for her, so I did. The choir that I joined had a senior repertoire that didn’t agree with my taste I quit and looked for another group that pricked my passion for singing. Not only did I find one that suited my search, it introduced me to PREX, a history that has not stopped writing itself.
From there, the first ministry that I took interest in was the Legion of Mary. My foray into it was short-lived, the desert being a dryness to test the truly converted. But God creates mysteries to be plumbed, not understood. The death of my dear friend John, a staunch advocate and soldier of Mary, compelled me to fill his void. It could not have been more obliging than if he himself requested my return.
In the Legion are holy men and women who effortlessly, invisibly take my hand and lead me to deeper spirituality. UtoLiza encouraged me to join her little churches of BEC. The sharing of scriptural reflection has been a weekly fount of inner peace and collective joy. Sis Gelly has upped the ante with Totus Tuus Journey, a pilgrimage of faith I have taken twice and could never get enough of. In-between, I sustain active service to PREX as speaker and immersing myself throughout the weekender.
Probably because of my more open heart, I share my feelings with fellow faithful wherever we are gathered. I read my testimony in PREX classes, my reflections of TTJ sessions and my bible sharing in BEC. A few butterflies in the belly, minor edits here and there, no big deal. It was when BEC, the Legion and TTJ seemingly put their heads together and decided I’m ready to deliver talks to our separate audiences the heretofore light chore suddenly daunted.
But living saints like Ate Thelma always reassure. Thankful in all circumstances like her, I threw caution to oblivion, simply prayed and, because miracles happen when not taken for granted, breezed through two sessions of Jesus and His Humanity and a recent talk on this eponymous piece.
Let me underscore that the recent task was significant because I had for my audience 13 grandmothers who are the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence-Holy Family Center’s self-appointed wards.
I prefaced my presentation with the question, “Why do you love Mary?” mostly assuming that, because they always pray the rosary, they do. I was acknowledged with an answer that did not disappoint. So I took them back to Genesis 2:7, where it all began, “Then the Lord God took some soil from the ground and formed a man out of it.” Then He created Eden and placed man there. He may eat the fruit of any tree there except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then He created the animals and birds. But not one among them could keep man company or help him. So He made Adam sleep and took one rib from him and fashioned woman out of it. Adam called his spouse Eve, meaning mother of the world. And because she was mother of the world, the snake entered her world and tempted her. The lolas all nodded in agreement.
They were responsive and had an answer to my every question I was happy that I could not catch them unawares.
Very carefully and slowly, I asked them to listen to Genesis 3:22: “Now these human beings have become like one of us…” Then I repeated the portion “…have become like one of us…” to emphasize to them that, when God created the world, He was with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I paused to let it sink in. Satisfied, I continued by saying that the Triune Council convened again in (the letter of St. Paul to the) Galatians 4:4-5 “But when the right time finally came, God sent His own Son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might becomes God’s children.” I stressed out to the lolas to take note that, earlier, the angel Gabriel had already announced to Mary that she will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity convened again, because the fullness of time necessitated Christ’s coming as the new Adam, through Mary, the new Eve. Man, because God as well, is perfect. Not made out of clay but from woman, not from man’s rib but blessed among women like the fruit of her womb. Perfect also was Mary because chosen by God the Father Himself.
Mary is blessed, I stressed, not divine, because only the Triune God is. Yet Mary is the greatest of all saints and holy persons. I also shared with my rapt audience that Mary is not the one who answers our prayers for she is but an intercessor or mediatrix. Assured that they understood this, I asked them how do we know if our prayers reach the souls in purgatory. Encouraged by my assurance that there are no wrong answers, they tried to guess. Of course I allowed them the right to imagine because my learning was a recent product of TTJ which I really intended to share with them. Again, I slowly told them, after thanking their tries, that we do not really know. But because Mary is heaven’s allocator of prayers. We are assured that our prayers reach wherever they are bound. Best of all, we will also feel sublime relief that, whoever of our loved ones are in purgatory, because Mary allocated prayers for them, they have moved on to the next and only level.
If consecration is being set aside, I added, the inverse is true with Christ being set in the womb of Mary, far more apart than any distinctive human attribute, because ordained by God.
Because of her intact, perpetual virginity, which was until her Dormition, her incorrupt body was assumed into heaven. She merited to dwell in heaven to keep company the Creator, whom she carried in her womb.
I told the lolas that I disagree with the Protestants’ protest in venerating her because they claim that she is ordinary. If this were true, why was she the only one chosen to carry Christ in her ordinary womb? Rejecting her is rejecting the Savior and is an error because it describes the birth of the Redeemer as ordinary.
In Islam, I offered further, she is Maryam and the Quran says that divine grace surrounded her from birth. As a young woman, she received a message from God through the Archangel Gabriel that God had chosen, purified and preferred her above all the women of the world to conceive a child through the intercession of the divine spirit. That child is Jesus or Isa in Arabic.
After my talk, LOM President Sis Rhea (who was with Ate Liling and me) invited them to ask questions or be clarified on concerns that seem vague to them. Initially, they were mum. But when I sat in their midst and initiated a dialogue, they slowly but surely gushed like a geyser. They did not need to be reassured. They were all decidedly dedicated, devoted Marian. We talked until it was time to partake of Lolo Jose’s birthday pancit (yummily cooked by Sr. Mary), while I distributed Ate Liling’s tokens for them.
Just recently, I distributed a video of Cristina Calsado’s interview of a former Imam (a prayer leader in a mosque) who is now a converted Christian. The video is easily accessible so will not include it here but what astonished me was his admission that there’s a chapter in the Quran (Islam’s equivalent to our Bible) that is about Maryam (Mary) that extols her sinlessness, virginity and assumption to heaven, pretty much like how I essayed her earlier.
And of Jesus, he said that, in the Quran is written that He was able to speak when He was two days old. And, to qualify my calling Him Creator, this man read in the same Quran that Jesus fashioned a bird out of mud, breathed on it and the bird flew away.
In recognition of that man, I now use the adjective Maryam, to describe anything ang everything about Mary, in reverent retention of her Muslim attribution.
ABRAHAM DE LA TORRE