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On faith

<br /> Even for someone who has lived her whole life as a Catholic, who was born and raised in families that are traditional and conservative, who went to an all-girls convent school for twelve years, and who resides in a town steeped in culture and tradition, it took me about twenty years to have a full grasp and appreciation of my faith.<br /> <br /> I guess it's a journey we all take, some just sooner or more intense than others. I wish I could say mine started when I went to UP, but it started way before. Even in high school, I've had my doubts and I've had my questions. But it was never about God, per se, and His existence. It was always about the Church and its people. From what I saw in the news to what happens in our parish, I could see the great discrepancies between what was taught and what was practiced. Injustice and hatred is everywhere. Anger and discrimination is being disguised as "love of God."  It was always an issue of reconciliation for me - how to put together the idea that love is present when minds and hearts are closed.<br /> <br /> I didn't stop going to church every Sunday. But I guess a part of me "disconnected" from praying. I said my prayers but I didn't know if I still believed them. The nuns in our school always taught us that the Church was the bride of Jesus - and if I found myself no longer believing in the Church, then it meant I no longer had faith in Christ. It was the reasoning that made sense at the time. So I guess for the most part of my teenage years I was actually an invisible churchgoer. I went, out of obligation and not of complete belief.<br /> <br /> But it had to take a complete emotional breakdown, a tearing apart of everything I believed in, before I knew what it truly meant to get on your knees and pray. And this didn't happen in an instant, it was not a single event that turned everything around. It was an entire year of failure, defeat, and heartbreak. It seemed like a continuous stream of challenges that made me lose faith in the world, in love, and even in myself, which was the only thing I had left at that point.<br /> <br /> I lost a lot of things. I got lost. But in losing, there is also finding. When you lose something, in your search for it you end up finding something else. For me, it was my faith.<br /> <br /> I've learned that faith is best learned alone. It is not always instinctive; it is taught, it is grasped - by you. Whatever you hear from your parents or in class or in the homily is not faith - it's religion. In my opinion, both things can be learned. But only faith is something you have to understand for yourself. Religion is reading the manual; faith is driving the wheel.<br /> <br /> I don't think I've prayed more in my life than in the last year or so. And it wasn't only because I went through some really rough times. It was also because I realized how selfish I've been; how severely lacking in prayer my life was, that in "disconnecting" myself from prayer, it meant I didn't really pray for other people as well. It was then that I understood why the Church was an important part of my faith. Because despite of prayer being a solitary activity, a prayer is not meant just for the self. It is an offering of one's thoughts for the intention of other people as well.<br /> <br /> It helped that for the most part of the last year, I lived alone. It meant going to Church on my own, it meant spending time to reflect and pray by myself. It was during this time that I found myself needing God - not because I was already in such a bad shape - but because I found peace in finally choosing to surrender. In prayer, I admitted weakness. I admitted defeat. And it was an admission that was truly hard to accept, especially for someone like me who always wanted to find a way to win in the end. But in prayer, it was okay to be the failure. In prayer, you are allowed to be weak. Because it is in prayer that you will find the strength.<br /> <br /> *

Last week, I went to Visita Iglesia (arranged by my parents) in Batangas and Quezon. We visited 28 churches and completed two Stations of the Cross in three days. Almost each church was new to me, and thus, if you were to believe in tradition, "entitled" me to a wish.

I did make my wishes. I prayed for my mom and my dad; I prayed for my family; I prayed for my friends. And I prayed for myself - that I find the strength to keep believing, despite defeat.

It is in defeat that we find the most difficulty; but it is also in defeat that we find solace in prayer. The Church and I, we've had our rough times. I've always had my questions and my doubts. But never in the existence of God, never in His grace. He has always led me back to where I belonged - and for that I am always grateful. The journey of my faith has only just begun again. I don't think I've ever prayed more than I did in the last two years of my life. In my search for peace and fulfillment, I've learned that faith is surrender, and that faith is choosing to believe.

But faith is also learning. Faith is reading about your religion; faith is not merely uttering the words but knowing what they mean. It is a continuous journey of discovering: God, the Church, and the self.

Faith is trusting in His plan, but it is also bringing yourself to that plan - it is movement. It is kneeling down to pray and standing up to do something. It is knowing yourself and what it means to be in the dark, so that you can find your way back into the light.