“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is what I’ve been playing in my head over and over again. In pain and sadness, I cried out those words looking for someone or something to save me.
The intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of life: What am I missing?
I continued the search for that someone or something by repeating: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death. Amen.”
These are the only two prayers available in my already-limited knowledge of the Catholic faith. “Lord Jesus, have mercy” is a snippet I recently learned from a news article. The Hail Mary is something I picked up when I happened to walk into a prayer session in Nha Trang City. I chanted the words desperately and – perhaps – superficially. For I wanted God’s help but at the same time wasn’t sure if He would be the one.
Was God there with me? Is He now? Or will He ever be? I wished I had maintained that precious joy when a friend called me “daughter of God.”
My work, relationship and family life culminated in darkness. My body became strained, so much so that I thought my intellect was gone. As a person who despises emotions, I felt unable to cry and instead had to see my tears coming out, on and off.
“So what is left for me?” I made the first step into self-pity. I saw no intellectual, emotional or physical aspect of life. “But can I have God then?” The moment I realized I didn’t even have a strong faith or a fatherly figure to turn to, I fell into both chaos and despair.
I’ve never had a spiritual life because I was such a good student of the formal education that taught people one dangerous thing: Being religious is un-cool. Faith is for the weak and the talentless. Religion is a cover for politics.
So that’s the obstacle. Even when I know those tenets of my secular education are completely nonsense, it’s still hard to build up my faith. I’m not an agnostic because I actively want to believe in God’s existence. He exists, right? But where? Can Christ show himself to me?
Looking for the Messiah
On Tuesday I listened to an episode of the Catholic Catechism before going to bed. Half awake, I carried the word “Christ” into my sleep. Getting up, I recalled the catechist explaining “Christ” as “the Messiah.”
“I gotta find Him,” I said to myself, knowing that I wouldn’t want to live in sadness forever. “Let me see the Messiah.”
So at 5pm I rushed to the nearest church that offered a late-afternoon Mass. It was the Thuan Phat Church of the Saigon Archdiocese.
About 80 parishioners were already there when I arrived. “Eighty people for a weekday Mass. There must be something great about this church,” I thought.
The priest said Mass with the help of two altar girls and two nuns, the whole process of which lasted for 30 minutes. I wasn’t as captivated as I’d hoped to be.
But something was piercing my chest when I saw people coming near the altar to receive Holy Communion. I couldn’t participate in the celebration of the Eucharist. I hadn’t enrolled in a catechism class. I hadn’t received the sacrament of Confirmation.
The image of Blacker from Graham Greene’s The Hint of an Explanation (1948) emerged in my thoughts. As a baker, Blacker wanted to know how the Host tasted different from the bread he produced, so he asked Popey Martin, an altar boy, to steal a piece of the Host for him. But beyond curiosity, Blacker had a yearning for eating the consecrated bread to see “how God tastes like,” although he claimed to hate “the God whom people persisted in crediting.”
“Blacker and I may well break into a church, any church, and steal as much consecrated bread as we could find,” I imagined. But that would be wrong. Blacker hated the Catholics. The baptismal certificate I got the same month I was born doesn’t render me a fully practicing Catholic – not yet.
Ten-year-old Popey Martin turned down Blacker’s offer to exchange an amazing toy for the Host. He had a disposition for upholding the Church’s principles and so grew up to become a priest. “You could [have one of those wafers for Communion] if you were a Catholic,” Popey Martin said, simply. I should listen to him.
I found a shell institution
The Mass ended at 6pm. The majority of the Mass participants stayed to say some more prayers, quietly. I planned to sit inside the church go over the Gospel verses for the day, because when the priest explained them I couldn’t hear him very well.
Then there was some singing. I thought the church was starting an evening event or their choir was having a rehearsal. It turned out, however, that it was some sort of singing mixed with praying from a young man. Everyone else had left. I sat at the far back of the church watching him with complete joy and peace.
“Get out! We’re closing,” the Thuan Phat Church’s security guard shouted, while the prayerful man was on his knees coming closer to the altar. He probably wanted to communicate better with Jesus.
Ignored, the security guard came next to the young man and said even louder, “Hey, you want to stay here forever? Get out so I can lock the doors!”
By 6:15pm, the church was shut. Did the guard not understand the young man’s moment with God? Did he hear Pope Francis say that when a Catholic wants to be with God and yet sees closed church gates, it’s a very bad thing?
“The security guard is likely employed by the Government Committee for Religious Affairs,” I thought to myself.
Looking for the Messiah, again
The shell institution rattled me and added to the void which I still don’t know how to fill. I went home not in peace.
Was I just exerting my “angst” on how I viewed a local church? I looked up the Gospel verses for the day, hoping that I could find a “loophole” or a way to explain all the wrongs I saw with the world.
Wednesday, 15th Week of Ordinary Time – Gospel Mt 11:25-27:
“At that time Jesus exclaimed: I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal.”
It struck me that I couldn’t find the Father – Lord of heaven and earth – because I had never been among the childlike. How can one expect to have a dad when she doesn’t consider herself a child? God endowed us with reason. So I’m free to pursue logic and invest in my intellect, especially in a society like Vietnam, which is heavily driven by personal relationships and emotions. Nonetheless, I’ve tried to keep up with the intellectual realm to the extent that it’s become a prideful enterprise, one that denounces the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of life.
Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. And I will look for you, again.