Yesterday, after more than a year long of waiting, my friend finally enters the convent and joins the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate as an aspirant. Her home is in Novaliches, Quezon city; the convent is just a few minutes ride from their home. I hope her parents accompanied her. Only her mother does not approve of her joining the sisters; her father does not say anything. But my friend feels she is now ready. She has to enter to see if it is to the convent she is really called. She planned to enter on October 7, the Feast of the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. But she entered days before it to make it for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, which is today.
I. Conversion Experience
My friend studied at the La Consolacion College under the Augustinian Sisters and finished as Salutatorian in high school. She collected rosaries when she was still a child; she fiddled with them, but she can’t finish a rosary. As a middle child in her family, she tends to be alone. Her elder sister and her younger brother are playmates; she felt left out. Even in her elementary and high school years, she can’t relate well with her classmates. After a couple of unhappy relationships, she lost her sense of direction. She saw demons haunt her several times; they only vanish when she cry out to Mama Mary and to St. Michael the Archangel.
In her fourth year in college at the Ateneo de Manila University, she studied under Fr. Joseph Roche, S.J. in one of her theology classes; she is a Management Information Systems major, but theology, like Philosophy, is one of the core courses in Ateneo. It was 15 units in my time; I think it was down to 12 units in her time. Oh how she loved Fr. Roche. Fr. Roche would talk about the Catholic Church, the Saints, the Pope, Mary, and Jesus with so much love. But at times he can be temperamental: he would hammer his fist on the table as he repeats again and again and again the dogma of Faith he wants his students to remember. My friend always saw him at 7:30 a.m. in the morning to photocopy some biblical reflections in a newspaper for discussion in class; but many students did not appreciate his efforts. Before the semester ended, she went to confession to Fr. Roche. Her many sins were pardoned, and she resolved to go and sin no more.
After her graduation, she went to an 8-day retreat. The retreat master was Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J., who was my research supervisor for nearly half of my life. A bond was formed between them. A father she became to her. Just like the many men and women whose lives Fr. Dan touched.
II. The Manila Observatory
Two summers ago Fr. Dan found work for her at the Manila Observatory. And two summers ago Fr. Dan sent me to the Observatory’s Ionosphere Building to write my physics dissertation; no one stays at the building anymore because Fr. Victor Badillo is confined at the Jesuit Infirmary. On that summer we met. According to her it was on the Observatory’s lobby. I was talking with Fr. Dan for a few minutes and she was there sitting looking at us, smiling. Fr. Dan told her later that I was staying the Ionosphere building alone. And she wondered who is this man who lives alone.
We only met a few times after that. Sometimes, it was while walking after mass or walking to the LRT station at Katipunan. I find her aloof, always fiddling her ten-bead rosary while walking. Sometimes it was during birthday parties. During the Feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia, the birthday of my friend at the Observatory, we were seated at the table with Fr. Dan. We talked about the saints and the mass. And we connected. But we never yet became friends.
Last November, I started writing my Monk’s Hobbit blog. One of my entries was on how Our Lady of Guadalupe converted me from the New Age Movement, how She taught me to read the Bible, and how She became my Mother after my mother died. My friend was able to read it. And she thought:
Here is a man who also loves Our Lady. What if he becomes my friend? I shall enter the convent soon, and I would be very sad if I enter without me knowing him.
She gave me a book on the Marian Shrines of France by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, the same religious order who wrote my favorite Handbook on Guadalupe. I blogged about the book she gave me. And in just a Saturday and a Sunday, I received about 3500 visitors; my average number of visitors then was only about ten per day. My post became the top 83 post in WordPress worldwide. That was February 8. Like Peter seeing the miraculous catch of fish, I said to God:
Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. I do not wish to open my heart to another woman again. I already lost my long-time best friend since high school, and I already died when we parted. I do not wish to die again. But not my will, O Lord, but yours be done.
III. My Twin Sister
Last 10 Feb 2009, she emailed me some of her thoughts. I wrote her that she sounded like St. Therese of Lisieux who do not wish to be outdone in loving Jesus and Mary. So she proposed the following pact of holy friendship:
We shall outdo each other in loving Jesus and Mary. The first one to go to heaven wins.
I agreed, save for one small note: the pact officially begins on the next day, 11 February, on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
We went to 5:15 p.m. mass at the college chapel of the Immaculate Concepcion. The one who gave the homily was my college classmate in physics, Oliver “Ody” Dy, who was a deacon then; he is now a Jesuit priest. He told the story of St. Scholastica and her twin brother, St. Benedict:
St. Scholastica visited St. Benedict in his monastery. In a little hut outside the monastery, they talked. They talked about spiritual things for several hours until night came. Then St. Benedict told her sister that he must leave, because the visiting time is over and he is wanted at the monastery. Scholastica pleaded, but Benedict won’t listen to her. Then lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. The rains fell. Benedict can’t leave. “O sister, what have you done?” he asked. And Scholastica said, “You won’t listen to me. So I prayed to God. He listened.”
I don’t know if you find this story cute. But I find it cute.
We smiled. And since that time, my friend refers to me as her dearest twin brother, and I refer to her as my dearest twin sister.
IV. My Companion in Prayer
Last 15 February 2009, we went to Parish Church of Our Lord of Divine Mercy in Sikatuna, Quezon City. It was our first Traditional Latin Mass together. It was the first time I saw her veiled.
We went to mass together everyday, usually at the college chapel. For special events, we went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at Gilmore and renew our friendship before the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel holding the Infant Jesus. For me it was the most beautiful and lifelike statue of Our Lady that I have ever seen. Beautiful. She is really beautiful.
We also went to other churches. We went to a Benediction a few times at the Monasterio de Sta. Clara in Katipunan, Quezon City. During Saturday mornings at 6:30 a.m., we usually go to the Carmel of St. Therese at Gilmore, except last Thursday, October 1, on the Feast of St. Therese de Lisieux. If we can’t make it to the college chapel, we go either to the della Strada Church in Katipunan or to the Shrine of St. Joseph in Aurora Boulevard.
We usually pray the rosary together, usually in Latin. Whenever one of us feels troubled or tempted, I or she prays the first half of Ave Maria; the other prays the second half. That is our signal. And we talk.
We sometimes talk over the phone, when we can’t see each other, usually during Sunday’s when she is in Novaliches. Our conversations last a quarter to half an hour and we end with an Ave Maria and three Gloria Patri.
Everyday we text each other, usually around 10:30 p.m.to reflect on the day and say sorry for the wrongs we had done. She would begin with “How are you, Pope?” And we end with a “Goodnight.” I recorded some of our text messages in my private blog to note down certain recurring thoughts and actions. In this way I can help her discern her vocation.
(Pope is my nickname at the Ateneo. Paul is my nickname in my neighborhood. Quir is my nickname in elementary and high school. My real name is Quirino, but my baptismal nickname–if there is ever such a thing–is Pope Paul, because I was born in the Holy Year of 1975 in the reign of Pope Paul VI. I have a special devotion to Pope Paul VI and his encyclical, “Humanae Vitae”, is one of the Monk’s Hobbit blog’s battle cry.)
V. First Farewell
Last 24 February 2009, after a 6:00 p.m. mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Gilmore, my friend told me that she is entering the convent soon. The day after, 25 February, was my dissertation defense. On my way to school, I was crying. I emailed Fr. Dan. I was still crying. I felt keenly my loss of my new found friend. And Fr. Dan wrote, “Hang in there, Pope.” I finished my slides ten minutes before my scheduled defense. I passed.
Last March 10-18, she went again to a retreat with the graduating students of Ateneo. Fr. Dan helped her review her life, by noting the highest and lowest points. He also helped her discern her vocation. Fr. Dan wants to know whether her vocation is only the result of her strong will and her romanticism, for “these are a deadly combination,” he said. Fr. Dan is suspicious of stories about demons or St. Francis telling her, “What is it that you want, my daughter?” These can be just the result of watching movies or strong imagination. At the end of the retreat, Fr. Dan said that he must talk with the sisters on April 5.
At the day of the end of her retreat, I went to the Observatory at 4:30 a.m. to meet my friend from Baguio. I waited at the lobby. She waited in front of my building. We never met until 5:30 a.m.
Last April 5, my friend told her story to the sisters while Fr. Dan listened. It was agreed that my friend will not enter the convent without Fr. Dan’s permission. Fr. Dan told her to wait until October. I felt relieved.
VI. Second Farewell
October has arrived. Fr. Dan gave her his recommendation. Last Thursday night, my friends at the Observatory gave her a simple farewell party with two pizzas and watched a movie. She never enjoyed the movie of John Lloyd and Bea Alonzo. She hates anything romantic. Halfway she left and went to the chapel. I went to her after some time and we left.
I accompanied her to Novaliches and arrived at 12:30 a.m. She asked her parents if I can sleep at their home, so that I can join her for the 6:30 a.m. mass with the sisters at the convent; they agreed. She said that Sr. Magdalene wants to show to me the details of their altar and the candlesticks so that I have some idea on how to make the proposal for the renovation of the Manila Observatory’s chapel. (I shall tell about this meeting in another post.)
I slept in her room; she slept in their sala. In her room is a large crucifix, about two feet high. There are also some little statues of our Lady and of St. Michael the Archangel. Her room was cleansed after a few inches of flood crept into their home last Saturday, during Typhoon Ondoy. Some carton boxes are piled up high. The carpet was rolled to the side.
Two Saturdays ago she was not at their home; we were caught by Typhoon Ondoy at EDSA. I was coming from Defensores Fidei talk at Greenhills; she was coming from their other home near University of Sto. Tomas. She tried to make it to the talk, but the flood was already a foot-deep there when she left. We met at Guadalupe train station. We passed by Market Market and she bought a shirt and skirt; she was wet. We braved the storm for a few blocks and found a taxi. Her umbrella broke before she entered. But the taxi can only go as far as the American Cemetery. There is a long traffic of cars towards Gate 3. Nothing moves. Only my umbrella sheltered us from the battering rain. It was a long walk.
My sister-in-law told her that she can sleep at the room of my niece who was stranded at the University of Asia Pacific in Magallanes; the flood already submerged the second floor there, so they stayed at the third. During the night, my friend helped me paint Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have finished the sketch and painted the face. She colored the mantle and the rays. Our styles differ: she uses pastel like crayons–dark and strong; I undid some of her colors using cotton dipped in baby oil, because I prefer colors light and subdued. Our painting is still unfinished. I don’t know how our opposite styles can blend in harmony. I have to study her style and use it where it fits. I have to modify my style and invent new techniques. This can take months of work. Or years. If God permits that we see each other someday, I don’t want to meet her empty handed. I must show her the final piece.
VII. Third Farewell
After our mass with the sisters, we went to their house for lunch and went back to the Manila Observatory. She gave some ten-bead rosaries to our friends. We left again at 5:30 p.m. The rain poured. Typhoon Peping is coming. The waters in Katipunan was rising to a few inches. We got a taxi and rode to Novaliches. It was three hours of grueling ride. I placed my envelope bag on my lap, placed a clean bond paper on top of it, and there she rested her weary head. My mission is to help her find her vocation and I have to make sure she enters the convent safely.
We arrived at their home. Her parents offered me some brownies and Zesto juice. Her mother asked if my phone number is still the same. I said yes. She was the one who gave me the phone when I lost my phone in their car on the way to Novaliches before. My friend ‘s phone is dead; she intentionally left her charger at their other home, so that she won’t be disturbed by text messages. She borrowed my phone and texted Fr. Dan. Fr. Dan gave her his blessings. When I was about to leave, her father told me that it was raining heavily outside. I said I have to go. I promised my brother and sister-in-law that I shall be home. I bade goodbye.
The road home was fast. I arrived at 10:00 p.m. My brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece were there watching TV. I said, “Good evening.” My niece took my right hand and touched it on her forehead. At 10:30 p.m. I called my friend in Novaliches. That was just in time, since she was also thinking of calling me. We talked for an hour.
“Pope, I am dying,” she said. She was crying.
I told her to be strong. I told her that the Aspirancy is for her to know whether the convent is really for her or not. I told her to be obedient to her superiors and open her heart to her new novice mistress; her spiritual director, Sr. Magdalene, is leaving for Italy this October. She cannot expect to make other people change, but she can change her way of seeing other people, just as St. Therese did. I told her to tell the novice mistress whenever she feels pain.
And we talked some more and renewed our pact of friendship. My sister must die to herself and purge her soul of inordinate attachments before she can be a bride of Christ. For two years I won’t hear from her. Yet despite this, I cried not. I promised her before that I won’t cry anymore during our parting. I kept my promise. There are only two things in the world that cannot be bought but only spent, as an Aztec once said, and that is Love and Time. I spent them well and I never regretted. So even if mountains and seas and silence shall separate us in this life, she shall always remain with me in my heart, and we shall never be part.
Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight
Someone is thinking of me and loving me tonight
Somewhere out there someone is saying a prayer
That we’ll find one another
Somewhere out there our dreams come true.
VIII. Notes on Her Sickness
My sister is sick. She has bronchitis. The doctor at Medical City told her to come back after two weeks, to make sure that she is really well before entering the convent. She took the medicines but she never went back to the doctor, for the sisters have their own doctor. She has ulcer and hyperacidity. She cannot fast. If she delays her meal even for thirty minutes, she feels acute pain in her stomach. She also feels pain in her left rib. When she laughs long, she feels pain in her left chest. She also feels pain in her shoulders, maybe from playing the violin for hours. She usually practices in my office at 6:00 p.m. while I do my research. Her knees are weak. A doctor in Cardinal Santos told her that the x-ray of her knees revealed that her knee-caps are not properly placed–an inborn defect. She feels pain whenever she tries to bend her legs upward from sitting position. The doctor advised her not to walk too long or climb stairs. Kneeling is ok, because only the tendons touch. But when she kneels to pray a rosary on a bare floor, her knees hurt. Before it was only her right knee; now it is both.
I pray that she will persevere in the convent. Nothing makes her happy than to see Jesus at the Adoration Chapel and to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Nothing makes her sad that to see Jesus placed inside the Tabernacle after Benediction and to see him received with profane hands. If she can’t persevere, I may have to take care of her.