I was educated in elementary at Assumption-Iloilo, a Catholic school inspired by the patron saint Mother Marie Eugenie. Also having a mother who was deeply religious and whose Catholic faith may have been the only thing that sometimes hurdled her through her most difficult times, I was raised to believe in the Catholic teachings and observe its practices.

Our family would attend Sunday mass regularly. But I remember that during my early years, I found masses to be such a drag. It was something I had to force myself to do and I felt guilty when my mind flies during the service and am not paying attention to the priest as I was told to do.

However, when I was in Grade 6, I learned to love masses. I used to come to school unusually early then because it was the only way for me to avoid the throng competing for jeepney rides during the mornings. With nothing to do but hang around the campus and with the compelling force of a mass grid chart that our religion teacher posted on our classroom wall with instructions to have a box shaded every time we attend mass, I found myself attending the daily 6:30 AM mass of the Assumption sisters.

And I loved those masses and would eagerly participate in them everyday. I like the hymns and the act of singing, particularly. I remember we have this hymn book, Zion Sing. I would learn the lyrics of the songs and in my dark hours as a child and teen-ager, I would take comfort and therapy from the book. I’d hole up in my room and sing and feel the praise wash over me. I would cry, deeply moved by the songs, and feel full celebrating their messages: Each moment of life speaks of one ever faithful (Each Moment of Life); It only takes a spark to get a fire going (Pass It On); Till the end of my days Oh Lord, I will bless your name (All my days); And let it begin with me (Let there be Peace on Earth) and so many many more. Up to this day, I would break out into these worship songs and feel the devotion, the freedom, the love.

One mass I particularly like was our First Communion service when I was in Grade 2. We had regular rehearsals for it because it was going to be a participatory event, like a choral recitation and a musical play. Like any other mass, the priests have lines and the congregation have responses and of course, there are songs at the beginning, in between, and at the end. But what was unique in this service was that the Gospel reading has everyone involved. There were parts recited by the priest, by the moderator, and by us, the first communioners, who had to memorize our lines. It was simply wonderful for me.

All these mass attendance and our teachers having us organize the masses ourselves, made me very familiar with the structure, flow and requirements of a mass. And I would feel flattered, every time Sister Magpie would assign me to either help arrange the mass or to do a reading. (As an aside, I was one of Sister Magpie’s favorites :))

Besides mass, Mama would occasionally have my brother Toto and me join her praying the rosary and the Angelus. Most of the time I found them a drag, and of course, I felt guilty for feeling such. But later in adulthood, I learned to appreciate the rosary, especially when I knew about the value of repetition or mantra when I was exposed to other spiritual texts.

So in grade school, you could say that I was a bit religious. But I was also afflicted in some ways.

I remember, there was a time I had this compulsive mannerism of making the sign of the cross four times every time I’m agitated, afraid and feeling guilty. I was also scared of the statues and the images of the Way of the Cross. I found them dark and they aroused irrational fears in me.

And I distinctly remember a vision. I was then asleep in bed with Mama beside me. I suddenly woke up and found lying between us a very solid and well-sculpted cross with a bleeding Jesus nailed to it. I stared at it but when I looked again it was gone. I don’t know if it was just a dream. But I can visualize it up to this day minus the gripping fear I felt then.

In high school, I went to UP in the Visayas, which is of course non-religious. And perhaps it was here when I started having questions about the Church. Still, I would attend mass but not that regularly. My motivation was accompanying Mama, being in prayer as a family, and yes, that I was asked by the priest to do the First or Second Reading every time we attend mass in the government hospital chapel which was very near our home then. (We were always moving house so I’ve attended mass in various churches and chapels). I know that I do very nice readings and that the priest likes me because of it.

In college in UP Diliman, I rarely went to mass. But when I moved to Mahiyain Street in UP Village, I found myself occasionally hearing mass at the nearby Church of Claret. But it wasn’t so much meaningful and I wasn’t familiar with the Church’s repertoire.

A few years back though, I would drop by the Church in UP to keep silence and offer a prayer. I like the solitude and less imposing feel of the place.

One of these days, I hope to find a Catholic Church with worship services that arouse all the wonderful feelings I’ve experienced before, and then, so much more.

P.S. Am not exclusive in terms of my spirituality, so am also looking forward to other rituals and practices, both formal and informal and either as part of an organized institution or otherwise.

* This post is to be continued as part of a series of accounts of my ongoing spiritual journey.

* Like most everything else written in this blog, this entry is up for endless re-writes.