For anyone who knows me, they know that my faith in God is very important to me, that I have chosen to remain an active participant of the Roman Catholic Church, that I struggle daily with the Church’s teachings as made clear by Pope John Paul II, and that I rarely wear my faith on my sleeve. I have never been one to proselytize my faith to others, partly because I believe everyone is entitled to their religious ideas and need not hear what I have to say about mine but more importantly, I believe that the best expression of my faith is through living a life of love, trust, forgiveness, with a call to social justice.
I rarely would use my blog to discuss something that is so personal to me, as is my relationship to God and my relationship to the Catholic Church. But today, on the death of Pope John Paul II, the only Pope that I’ve ever known in my life, I felt that I could make an exception and put forth what my heart feels today.
Having been raised in a Catholic home whose family is from the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country where the line between church and state does not exist, I have been exposed to the Church since I was born. It was only during my college years that I turned from the Church, eager to get away from what I experienced as a stifling tradition. Without my mother’s influence and gaze, I did not attend Mass on Sundays and shed all sorts of practices that I associated with Catholicism.
But God does indeed work in the most mysterious and the MOST GENTLEST of ways. Even though Sunday was filled with food, friends and good times, I felt like something was missing. I truly can’t explain it…except looking back now, all I know is that it was God’s Grace at work. So I tried going back to church and attended Mass on campus. I was struck by all the women who attended Mass out of their own accord without being dragged by parents and I witnessed how my peers incorporated their faith into their lives as students, as young women, daughters, and sisters.
Since 1994, I believe my faith has grown incredibly in due part because of my daily struggle with it, in questioning it, and in practicing it. Despite many painful disagreements with my Church, I still believe at the end of the day, that it is through Mass and the practice of the Catholic faith that I maintain my personal relationship with God, with others, and with myself.
I did not necessarily agree with all of Pope John Paul II’s conservative ideology but I do believe that he has been a wonderful example of how one can lead a moral life. I have to respect a man who holds fast to his convictions and beliefs and has not once swayed from them in the context of a fast changing and “modern” world. His impact on others through his selfless and loving actions, is a wonderful model for us as Catholics, and ultimately, as human beings. His life example transcended Catholicism yet it epitomized perfectly the teachings of Jesus Christ. He taught us how to live faithfully, how to give our wills up to the will of God, how to accept pain and suffering in life, in illness, and ultimately in death, and how to fight for what we believe to be right — to speak out and act on behalf of the disenfranchised, the poor, and the forgotten.
For these reasons, I am thankful to God for more the 20+ years of service this Pope provided. I am thankful for his life example. And I am thankful that he now is resting in eternal peace, free from human suffering and pain. The crux of my faith is the belief that death is not the end of life, but merely a transition to something better, something bigger, something so incredible that our own humanity will never have the capacity to fully understand it — the promise of eternal life. This is what I believe. Although Pope John Paul II leaves behind a great void in me, and perhaps in all of our hearts, I rejoice at his coming home. I will miss his incredible perservance, his fight for justice, his love for humanity, and his example to us all.