My Writer's Journey
"The Spirit of truth will testify to me, says the Lord, and you also will testify."
- John 15:26b, 27a -
- John 15:26b, 27a -
Twenty five years ago, 1992, around March, I sat inside the Araneta Coliseum at the topmost bleacher with four other classmates of our graduating class in nursing. My teacher invited us to this healing rally by renowned preacher and healer, Michelle Corral. Thousands of people gathered in this huge dome and I felt insignificant among the many. It was my first time. I felt ill at ease when the youth music ministry started playing an upbeat gospel music and urged people to stand up, sing and dance. I didn't care too much for this kind of worship or any kind of religious gathering outside of Sunday mass. But why was I here?
It was a healing mass. But I wasn't paralyzed like that man seated on a wheelchair at the front row, down right across the stage. Nor did I have some form of incurable lump on the face like that woman beside the man.
I was healthy at 21 years old, about to graduate from nursing at the top 10% of my class and had a boyfriend who was a medical intern. The world was waiting for me. Yet, here I was carrying a burden in my heart that needed healing-- a family crisis that threatened to destroy my family and a heart ailment that threatened the life of my father. So I was there, not for myself but for my family.
Little did I know that God brought me there not for my family but for myself. For after witnessing the healing of the paralyzed man who took three steps towards the stage, and the delirium of the others who claimed cure of whatever ailments they had, and amidst the frenzy of alleluias, praise the Lords and cries of thanksgiving, Michelle started calling out the young men and women present.
My classmates and I looked at each other. And she shouted all the more, waving her hand towards the young people seated at the very top of this huge coliseum, waving at us to come down and stand below the stage. My teacher urged us to go down. And so we pushed our way in the midst of the crowd, down the steps, into narrow passages until we finally reached the ground level. We stood there in rows and faced the stage.
Michelle started declaring prophecies. I was there with my eyes closed, still praying for the healing of my family and my father, my hands extended out when suddenly she uttered a prophecy that pierced my ears, like it was spoken for me and me alone. Among the many young people, this woman spoke these words that would send chilling sensation at the top of my head, down to my spine, and send the hair standing behind my nape. It was like a small thrill of electricity that struck me from above.
It was a call. God was calling me.
I cried and cried and cried. I could not stop crying. Tears just flowed from my eyes and I was shaking and saying, "Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord."
That night, my life went a 180-degree turnaround. This was a conversion that would bring me to many places. When I said my "yes", I declared my surrender to a God who personally called me by my name.
That day marked the beginning of my search for my purpose. That "yes" gave me the fortitude to break up with my boyfriend, pack up my things and pursue this Lord who had pursued me for a long, long time. Finally, He ensnared me and captured me. And He had never let go, ever since. He had brought me to many places in pursuit of His will.
Through the Lord's Flock Catholic Charismatic Community, my rebirth became more pronounced. I witnessed a different kind of Catholicism. In this community, I was introduced to the power of the Holy Spirit as manifested in tongues, prophecies, visions, miracles, interpretation of tongues and the like. I was astounded. And everything was explained using the Bible. Suddenly, I felt like I was transported to the time when the apostles had just received the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost. My spiritual life became more tangible and real. We were taught to consult God in everything. We were taught how to listen to that small voice in our mind.
And that voice led me to National Bookstore to a particular aisle, a particular shelf and three particular books: the works of St. Teresa. I did not know her. She wasn't the Teresa of Calcutta who founded the Missionaries of Charity in India. Neither was she Therese of the Child Jesus, the little flower. No, this was the founder of the Discalced Carmelites, the cloistered nuns who lived in the Carmelite monasteries. Yet, as I read about her life, I was astounded that she did not sound like my idea of religious and saints, the meek and gentle and kind. This was a voice who had the sharpness of a razor, who would discipline the most stubborn of people, the voice of a mother superior who would not tolerate mediocrity in the spiritual life. She was a voice who made me laugh and cry. She was a voice so alive that I took her as my spiritual mother and she readily took me as her erring child, that she didn't hesitate to straighten from my crooked ways. Under her maternal care, I began to desire the spiritual life. She was a mystic, so I learned a lot from her on how to discern the spirits, for I soon realized that there were many voices in my head who would pretend to be God. Therefore, I needed to discern which voice to listen to and which voice to reject.
Soon, her magnetism drew me to knock at the doors of Carmel to learn from the desert nuns and father on the ways of contemplative prayer. I no longer sought just the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I longed to know more of the Giver of these gifts. There was a thirst that I couldn't quench within me.
In the confines of Carmel, my spiritual director made me put aside the mysticism of my spiritual life. He wanted to purify me and to find God in the ordinary. He gave me the book of St. Therese of Lisieux, "The Story of a Soul." It was her memoir, her autobiography. At first glance, you would not find anything extraordinary about the book. It was so ordinary that it became extraordinary when upon its release, it had swept the world by storm. This young nun, who lived a hidden life for most of her life, who did nothing supernatural, entered the monastery at 15 years old and died at 24 years old and whose only work is a book that you cannot even call a literary masterpiece, but upon her death, had become the patron saint of the missions, and her book translated and distributed world wide, and loved by many.
What was it in her writing that was so powerful and evoked such a great response from popes and peasants alike?
The power of "The Story of a Soul" was its simplicity.
She made God accessible, even to a child. She made spirituality simple.
The work of the Holy Spirit in her hand produced this book, the outcome of the creative energy within her fueled by love for God. She wanted God to be loved by all men. She wanted to quench the thirst of Christ with conversion of the most sinful men. She sought for the lost and those in the darkness because she believed they would infuse the greatest aroma of sacrifice to God. She offered simple works as sacrifice for these intentions. She offered small sufferings for these intentions. She vowed that she will spend her heaven doing good on earth and shall shower the world with roses as an affirmation of her having heard the prayer and her efforts at helping the prayer to be heard by God.
But was it all that simple: offering sacrifices to God?
What kind of sacrifice? I tried to do it but all it brought me were pain and suffering. There was no joy in it. Yet as I read her book, it was clear she was not the kind of Catholic that made me cringe and run away from. She doesn’t have a sullen and morose face. She was not the hypercritical, overjudgmental and self-righteous Catholic who'd frown at me each time I fail and fall.
Her face was filled with peace and joy.
Years later, I would find another book that would speak of that joy, "The Joy of the Gospel," written by Pope Francis. And his smiling face was on the cover, again not the stern priest or strict nun or veiled elderly church-goer I used to see in my childhood years.
And I've seen the transition over the years, the transformation even in worship. Catholics have become happier, more Easter people.
It seemed in the past the suffering of the Cross had been emphasized more than the glory of the Cross.
Yet Jesus walked the earth joyfully. In His 33 years of life and 3 years of ministry, He suffered in agony for a day and then His resurrection would lead to joy and glory. He entered and left the earth in the spirit of joy. His birth and ascension brought joy and promise to the world.
He said, "I came so that you may have life and have it abundantly."
Many would interpret this as mere financial abundance. But this would be lie. Because St. Francis, a most wealthy son abandoned his wealth and embraced poverty to follow Jesus. And he found joy.
So what is this kind of sacrifice and suffering that Jesus is asking of me?
Or am I doing this sacrifice and suffering the right way? Or am I creating my own yoke and my own burden? For He also said, come to me all of you who are tired and burdened and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.
So apparently there is something about Christianity that I am not fully comprehending.
The Threefold Mystery of Suffering
"Why would someone desire suffering? Wouldn’t that make you a masochist?" I asked my angel.
"Only when you desire suffering for suffering's sake," my angel answered. "But when you desire it to give birth to a new life then this is a suffering that immolates the suffering of Christ."
I sat astounded and remembered my experience as a mother.
For nine months, I bore this baby in my womb, feeling sick in the first three months, hating all sorts of smell and puking at every occasion, getting dizzy and faint and feeling drowsy all the time.
Then came a respite in my second trimester were my body adjusted to this growing being within me. I learned to eat well, sleep well and even feel joyous about this new life.
Then the third trimester came when the burden of the baby became apparent with the weight and the size. I walked like a waddling duck, my back bearing the extra load. Towards the very end I just wanted to bear out the baby and let it out into the world. And the baby eventually did, with pain and suffering. Yet, I
bore it all lovingly, willingly, patiently and even welcomed the suffering of labor pain because I knew that there is glory and joy that would come out of it, that this pain and suffering is temporary.
And that's the threefold mystery of Christ passion, death and resurrection. He too suffered the pain of death on the Good Friday, had to wait in patience on Black Saturday for the glorious Resurrection that would come on Easter Sunday, new life for Him and for everyone.
He wants me to embrace and carry my cross and yet, He also promises the joy and glory that will come out of it.
But how will I know whether the Cross I am carrying at the moment is a cross of my own making or the Cross that came from Him.
It was then that I realized that the Cross that comes from Him is a purifying Cross, a Cross that would make me a better, happier and more loving person if I embraced it. It is a Cross that is meant to correct me, a sandpaper for my rough spots. Embracing it brings joy. The Cross also has the accompanying grace that makes it sweet, and peace is the fruit of embracing it.
On the other hand, the crosses that I create for myself breeds turmoil, unrest, annoyance, as well as rigidity, controlling attitude, goal-orientedness that caters to self. This kind of cross, I can imagine, would make Jesus tell me, "Is this the kind of sacrifice that you make? It ends up in grumbling and bickering?" No, that is not the kind of sacrifice that the Lord is asking of me.
And I think many Christians, including me, would preach this suffering and sacrifice in this light and even practice this kind of sacrifice in our lives. No wonder many would shy away from embracing this kind of faith and embracing the cross. It is painted in gory, bloody red of the Roman cruelty and not the spilling of love and passion from a God who longs to give and give, to the point of death.
And yet the question still hounds me, and I asked my Lord, "How did the saints embrace suffering and even seek suffering for the love of You?"
"Because love begets love."
That shook me to my senses. Love begets love. He who loves much is able to suffer much.
And I witness this everyday.
- The parents who are willing to sacrifice for their children,
- The soldiers who are willing to sacrifice for their country,
- The teachers, healthcare workers, firefighters, policemen and women, and all those who give much of their time and effort for a higher cause,
Those who do things out of love for God, those who give up family, friends, property, everything to follow God are those who've been moved to love Him this way. No one can do this unless he experienced the love of God. He who is loved and who love much seeks to suffer much for the love of Him because he had experienced the greatness of His love and suffering for his sake.
Power is in the love. That is the kind of sacrifice, a joyous one.
And I wept for I have not loved much. I still cringe from suffering.
"Can you take a bullet for me?" It seems this is the question of my Lord. "Can you drink the cup that I drank for you?"
Suddenly I understood how the martyrs felt. They must have been asked the same question. And the love that they had for the Lord made them run to the stake, the guillotine, the sword and to persecution for the Lord. It was love in their hearts, and not heroism, that made them give up their lives. It was love.
The Mass is a sacrifice of praise. We do not lament when we go to mass, we celebrate. Jesus had transformed the word of sacrifice from the negative to the positive, from darkness to light, from pain and suffering to joy and peace.
The Mass is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the peace, joy and abundance of this life, a taste of the after-life. The Kingdom of God is here on earth, not just in the afterlife; it is within you.
That is the promise of the Holy Spirit, the power I still have to harness, the gifts I so long desire… the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which will bear the fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Oh, my Lord, I pray that you may increase the love in my heart. Make it burn as it burned in your martyrs, apostles and disciples of long ago that I may not abhor and withdraw from suffering. Let me not embrace suffering with resignation and for suffering's sake. If I should embrace suffering let it be done in the way You did when You willingly gave your life for me… with much love in Your eyes as you gaze down at me. Let it be in that same spirit. Let it not be in grumbling and complaining as though all my life had been spent in suffering. Let it be with joy because you made me experience your kind of suffering and made me share in that experience. Let it be with gratitude that you found me worthy to share your sorrow as you wept for my sins and that of my neighbors. Pierce my heart with your love and imbue in me that kind of suffering so I may sacrifice for the sake of love and find joy in my heart.
And the image of the sword piercing my heart appeared. It was Fr. Nathan who mentioned it during the mini-retreat. It was the same image of the heart of my dear Mother Mary. It was the sword that fueled the heart to burn, as though the blood that spilled from the wound set the fire ablaze. It was the sword of suffering and pain that shared in sacrifice of the Son. It was my Mother Mary's heart pierced with a sword, a heart flaming and burning with love for mankind.
"So now you know the reason for suffering and with what motive you must embrace it. You can grow in the virtue of patience and perseverance," my angel said.
"You know that every suffering that comes from God will give you new life. Embrace it knowing that He bestowed it upon you so He can slay the old man in you. And when you embrace that suffering, the old man dies. Sometime he does not die in an instant. He struggles within and that's when you need to be patient as you wait in agony for its final death. And when finally you've overcome your old man, the new man in you will arise. For anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come."
So that's what it meant.
"Yes, and this happens because you cannot pour the Holy Spirit in the old man, the old body, in the same way that you cannot pour new wine into old wine skin. The old wine skin will burst and the wine will be spilled and gone to waste. No, the new wine can only be poured into new wineskin."
"So I should die to my old self, let go of old bad habits, faults and tendencies," I whispered. "Let the new man live. And I shall receive the Holy Spirit and His gifts in full measure."
"Overflowing," my angel reassured me.
"Pentecost is the outpouring of the Power of the Spirit," he said. "He cannot bestow the power and the gift of the Holy Spirit in a person who had not died to himself. No, the old wineskin must be abandoned. A new clothing must be worn so the Holy Spirit can move and manifest His power in all purity."
"The Feast of the Pentecost, long celebrated by the Jewish people as a feast of the harvest… 50 Days after the Passover, the festival of reaping, or the first fruits."
I reflected on this parallelism of the Pentecost of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The first Christian Pentecost came upon the apostles as they celebrated this Jewish passover. It yielded the first Christian harvest when the Holy Spirit descended upon men. Now God resides within each of them. He specifically told them to wait for this Spirit, this power that would transform them, to transform their fear to courage, their uncertainty and doubt to firm belief and unwavering faith. This Christian Pentecost shall yield in me a rich harvest in this life, beyond the material and the earthly, 50 days after the Paschal Mystery of the Lord's resurrection.
It's in the waiting: Ten days of waiting and not pre-empting the Lord.
"Wait for the right time to speak out. Wait for the power to manifest. Wait for the help that I will send your way," the Lord had promised.
As a Christian writer, I need to harness this power. My words are good for nothing without the anointing of the Lord. It will be blown by the wind like chaff.
"Wait, and be stouthearted wait for the Lord with courage. Wait for the Lord." My angel spoke these words over and over.
Forty days of Lent, I waited for the Lord. I restrained myself from blogging. I had to clarify His call and there I found my voice.
Forty days of Easter, I waited for the Lord. I restrained from bragging. I had to clarify my purpose and there I found my niche.
Another 10 days, He urged me to wait for the real power that was hidden within me, waiting to be released.
No wonder He brought me to Carmel, to get rid of the old man so the new man can emerge, to let go of the old wineskin so the new wine can be poured into new wineskin.
And now 25 years after, I am still running after my God who's relentlessly chasing me. Sometimes He'd catch me, sometimes I'd catch Him. I guess this earthly life is an endless pursuit of this Lover and His beloved.
But now at 45 years old, I am molting again. And I feel a different kind of rebirth, for He has led me to the writer's life. And after 50 days of preparation, I have learned how to live the writer's life in joy, peace and the spirit of abundance through proper pacing, patience and perseverance.
Rebirth. Pentecost. New wineskin. These words haunted me. What do these all mean after 25 years?
As I sat in the airport terminal, waiting for my flight, I googled Michelle Corral. How was she? Was she still active in the healing ministry? And I came upon this youtube video of hers and my mouth went agape.
How was it, my Lord that after 25 years You would still use the same vessel that You've used in the past; that she would still speak the language that my spirit would understand? Mysterious indeed are Your ways.
She talked of pouring new wine into new wineskin, even as I reflected about it last week, of a new anointing to stretch me into another supernatural level.
"Stretch your spirit into another level: a new level in prayer, in love," she said.
"Do not rationalize, do not go back to your natural, old life. Do not be afraid of the stretching, do not be stuck with your old schedule and your daily routine."
The only way He can pour out His power into me is through a new wine skin. This will mark my ability to stretch, to be flexible, to be available for God, on-call for God.
"What do you want of me today, Lord? Do with me as you please."
"And another level is the purification and emptying out process: the way of the cross that may entail inconvenience in your part," Michelle said. "The process of pouring out the wine from vessel to vessel prevents stagnation."
Here, too You're telling me, Lord that the only way to grow in faith is to serve, and to be poured out to others. Like the widow in 2 Kings 4, I should have nothing in the house but a pot of oil. None of me and all of You. This was the only way I can be fully united with You, when I am emptied of everything and all of me is poured out to all the vessels in need of my oil, even just a drop of oil. And to do this I need to focus. That's what Michelle said.
"And moving to a place of service is moving to a place of overflow. When you serve there is a place of overflow and not want," she added.
I am God's personal property. He does with me as He pleases.
So this was the secret of St Therese of the Child Jesus. She had total and complete surrender to the Child Jesus, to become His toy, for Him to enjoy. That is absolute surrender! For who would trust oneself to a child with all His "whims and caprices"? Amazing surrender, her key to the kingdom of God. She had the heart of a child who entrusted herself to the child Jesus for an adult cannot do that. Only a child can.
It is apparent that to become a new wine skin, I have to stretch. Be flexible. And wasn't this the lesson You've been teaching me lately? And through this video, You are stressing it further? A true disciple of Yours needs to be available to do Your bidding at all times, to be on-call. Am I prepared to do that, I who hate being on-call?
And yet, You would also reassure me that when You call, although it may seem inconvenient for me, in the end, it becomes the most convenient option. In your all-knowing wisdom, You'd show me Your supernatural ways, and I should not be afraid of this new level because it will be nothing compared to the old anointing. Truly You pour new oil and new wine each time. There is no stagnation in You.
Flexibility, the right pacing so I will enjoy my life and love my work.
It had been a very fruitful celebration of Lent, Resurrection, Ascension and the Pentecost. Today marked the beginning of the Ordinary Times in the liturgical calendar. Yet, I had emerged a new man from the past seasons of grace. So much had happened in my interior journey that there was no way I could just go back to where I came from. I felt a strange rebirth.
Now I can face my ordinary days with extraordinary and expectant eyes of faith, transforming the ordinariness of writing with extraordinary hope in the One Who had called me to write. Living in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, I look at my future in a new light.
A mission awaits me. There is a purpose to fulfill, but this time I will not do it using my own will power.
It will be through the Power of the Holy Spirit.
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