Tuesday, August 19, 2008

That Still, Small Voice

My great grandfather, Tatang Angel, was a Mason. He was born in a very different Philippines than the one I know today, when it was still Filipinas, and the 'lengua Sajon'-- as English was known then-- was still considered unacceptable. He was a teacher; he was the principal of the local high school in Quezon province, and was apparently quite good at it. In those days, being a Mason meant being anti-clerical, possibly atheistic, and entailed a hostility to the Church. While being a Mason still entitles one to being ostracized by one's community today, the ideological differences were remarkably more defined back then.

He married my grandmother sometime in the 1920s. Where they were married no one remembers now, but cases of Masons being married in the Church were supposedly not that rare. Of course, once they married, they never went there again. When Angel finally had his own family, Mass was not an option at all. He forbade my great grandmother Felina from going to church, and would chastise her if he caught her doing so. For Felina and their young daughters, among them my grandmother, that meant sneaking out of the house at the crack of dawn to catch the first Mass of the day. They would cut little pieces of cloth from old blankets, and even the mesh from the window screens, to serve as veils.

For much of her early life, my grandmother attended Mass in secret. Even when she received her first Holy Communion, it had to be under her father's nose. Still, my great grandmother Felina would go to great lengths to teach them of the Faith. Although she herself probably never received excellent catechesis, she made it a point to teach their children all the devotions that she, in turn, was taught by her mother. To the day my grandmother died in 2004, she would pray the rosary three times daily, and would spend at least an hour reading Scripture. She was fiercely Catholic, who demanded that even their non-Catholic household help join the family in their prayers.

My great grandfather eventually became a well-respected teacher. When World War II dawned, he took it upon himself to move his family constantly, so as to avoid persecution by the Japanese. As a teacher with nationalistic ideas, he was seen as a threat by Japan, because he could potentially incite his students to rebellion. They moved several times, often in secret, often at night. Then the day came that the constant exhaustion and stress finally caught up with his wife Felina; she fell ill during one relocation. Several weeks later, she was dead.

Whether Angel had abjured Masonry at this point I don't remember; but it was certainly true that he had a change of heart at this point. Sometime after the war, great grandfather Angel repented, and was received back into the Church. No doubt Lola Felina had something to do with his conversion; needless to say he spent the rest of his life a Catholic. To this day, all of his daughters are devout Catholics-- four of time, who have been living in the United States for at least forty years now, remain as steadfast as they were back in the 'old country'. His youngest daughter, a religious sister, followed in his footsteps and became a teacher and a brilliant chemist, writing her thesis in German; my grandmother, the eldest daughter, founded a school in honor of the Santo Nino, who would do wonders for Angel. She married my grandfather in the 1950s; she taught him how to pray.

It shames us to think, that we, with all our conveniences and tools, have done so little so show our love for Christ. I thank God for my great grandmother Felina and her little square pieces of mesh, her propensity to wake up early, and her undying patience.

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