My memories of Lent included going through Catholic rituals I didn’t fully understand, but nonetheless observed because my parents did. I had some hazy knowledge of why we did things, but my understanding didn’t run deep.
Our household did the Seder Meal, I’d give up chocolate for 40 days (though I would always find a way to rationalize this into “just chocolate bars”), and wasn’t allowed to read secular books during Good Friday—just the Bible or books about the lives of saints.
The uber-long Easter Vigil Mass would be worth the wait as sugar bunnies and chocolate eggs would be distributed to the kids afterward.
Nowadays, my seven-year-old and two-year-old ask a lot of questions I cannot confidently answer, so I had to do my homework.
On Feb. 21, I attended a Lenten recollection at De La Salle Zobel by Fr. John Paul del Rosario. He reminded us why Christ’s death was a true offering and supreme act of sacrifice.
“Offering becomes genuine if it comes with a facet of sacrifice,” said Father Del Rosario. “Communion is the wellspring of our mission. We can go out to serve others only if we have experienced oneness from within our own homes. With whom are we connected? We cannot be effective if we are not connected with God; charity begins at home.”
The priest recounted how God did not spare His Son from suffering: “It is the greatest expression of the communion/pakikisama/solidarity of God to His people.”
Shared experiences and common things lead us to compassion. “Pareho ng pinaghuhugutan, love in identification,” said Father Del Rosario.
This is why we fast, he explained—to express solidarity with the poor, knowing what it’s like to go hungry. “Mercy is always expressed in our life’s stories. People you share wounds with, those with the same struggles. It is rare for us to have blanket mercy a la Mother Teresa.”
“I am a priest and yet I fall,” our retreat master admitted. “I’ve just confessed my sins but I fall and sin again. That’s why I am merciful to those who have repetitive sins. I understand because I, too, share the wounds.
“Suffering is not just a problem, it is a religious problem because it makes you question your God,” said Father Del Rosario. “It makes you think and ask difficult questions. Your brokenness moves you to help others in similar situations. Can a God be truly unmoved by the brokenness of His creatures? It points to our connection with God. Pakikipagkaisa.”
He expounded that Lent enables Christians to express oneness with Christ through participation in the senakulo, Pasyon, processions, and other rituals that enable people to feel the wounds of Christ and their own woundedness. Fasting, abstinence, almsgiving and prayer all help in feeling inconvenienced for the sake of Christ.
“We are empowered to stand up and serve by the cross,” said Father Del Rosario. “We stand up because we are empowered, and then we bow down to serve, much like Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Our communion means nothing if we don’t go out and serve. That’s why after we receive Holy Communion, we are told to ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’”
Communion is service
He stressed: “Communion should translate into service, otherwise it is meaningless.”
We also learned that of all Masses, the Maundy Thursday cash collections during offertory are mandatory. “That’s where ‘maundy’ comes from—the mandatory precept to love. You have to put something in the collection basket,” he explained.
“The cross is not just an image of a God who suffers, but a rallying point for unity among all Christians,” said Father Del Rosario. “There is dignity in the act of serving our loved ones and fellowmen. In the cross, God revealed that His love knows no bounds. That is what we commemorate during Lent.”
Family as focus
The family is the locus of offerings, which come with great sacrifices.
“Those we love the most will cause us the greatest pain—your spouse, your children, etc.,” he said. “It’s in my family that I had a lot of painful moments. My father was unreliable and has let me down many times. My mother had her own weaknesses and hurt me with words. My brothers and sisters, extended family… my lolo is very stoic, my lola is matapobre. My titos and titas looked down on me. We all have our hinanakit, keeping score of slights. A family comes with sharing in many sacrifices. These are our offerings to God.”
Thus, there is no worship without sacrifice.
He then asked us to look into our own families. “The ones you love are the ones who pain you the most. Offer these moments as your sacrifice to God. Not to spiritualize or justify suffering, but life is a journey—there is a time for everything. Let us acknowledge both our sufferings and blessings. As faith-filled Filipinos, let us strive toward communion and service, all for the greater glory of God.”
It’s wonderful to be retooled and refreshed about the faith. Through Father Del Rosario’s engaging stories, punctuated by jokes and candid sharing, I left the recollection with a renewed spirituality and a heart more attuned to compassion and service.
This tiny spark will hopefully be enough for my children and the people around me to imbibe, and subsequently to spread like wildfire. —CONTRIBUTED