If you are talking to Him, do you think He is listening?
“Let’s stop by Metropolitan Cathedral first,” my mom says even though dusk has crept in and we’ve still got several hours of traffic ahead of us.
I try my best to persuade, coerce and finally threaten her into getting a move on so that we would reach Manila at a decent hour. I even promised to accompany her to Sunday Mass back home and made some more noise but she shot down all my complaints with one pointed look that shut me up. Fast.
The source of that look is something the whole family considers not just a fascinating love story but also as an inspiring testament of the power of faith.
Let me tell you the story behind that look.
Motherless since 12 and torn between the comforts of the good life provided by her well-off grandparents and the anguish of seeing her younger siblings wallow in miserable poverty in their father’s care, my mom sought solace in her faith.
And in the hallowed dimness of the town church, she found a lifetime anchor in the compassionate form of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
She asked the Holy Mother for many things, and they all tended to focus on her siblings’ happiness and well-being. Money for food, schooling, and decent clothes; robust health, colors on their cheeks and smiles on their faces; and, finally, people to love and protect them from those who wished them harm.
Not one prayer on that list was granted.
Meanwhile, my mom played the dutiful granddaughter, doing all her lolo’s (grandfather’s) biddings and ceding full control of her life in the oldies’ authoritarian hands.
When she turned 18, she went back to the Metropolitan Cathedral and as always, kneeled before the Holy Mother. This time, she prayed for something else.
At that time, my mom’s life was in full control of her authoritarian Ingkong (grandfather). And as the dutiful granddaughter, she willingly submitted to the old folks’ wishes all the time. She had no desire to change this setup except for one thing.
“I had no choice or say in anything that happened to me during that time,” my mom softly tells me as we sit a few pews away from the altar.
“But I wanted to be happy and I felt that it would only be possible if I would have a happy family of my own.”
It was something, she says, that she and her siblings never had in their entire life.
To build that family of her dreams, she would have to find the perfect man for her. “And so, I started praying for the man that would be my partner in life.”
She even had exact specifications of the man: “I asked the Lady of Perpetual Help to give me a man who would never ever hurt me, either physically or emotionally. And I also told the Holy Mother I must love this man but that he should love me more than I love him.”
But how would she know if she had met the man she has prayed for? “I would just know instantly in my heart and right that moment that it is him.”
Years steeped in disappointment and heartbreak did nothing but strengthen my mother’s faith. She told herself that when heaven deems it time, her prayers would be answered.
She diligently prayed for “her man” for seven years, never missing her precious Wednesday Novena masses as much as possible. In between, she had a tumultuous on-and-off relationship with a guy who would go on to beat his wife (not my mom) in the then distant future, while warding off numerous guys who sought her out.
In 1977, she was engaged to be married to an older man chosen by her grandparents for his capability to “secure her a stable, pampered lifestyle”. The wedding date had been set, the announcements made and the engagement ring already inserted on her finger. All these while she was still in a relationship with her boyfriend of seven years.
Then seemingly out of the blue, the answer to her seven-year-old prayer appeared before her.
She met him in an engagement party. Although she recalled thinking how baduy (tacky) and cheeky the guy seemed as he came on to her, she also vividly remembers her feelings at that time.
“I knew from the moment we met that this man was going to be very important in my life. I just knew it.” (And I know it’s true coz li’l snoop that I was, I found her diary from ’77-78, and she wrote the exact same thing on a piece of stationery.)
The days that followed proved to be life-altering for my mom. The engagement was called off—much to her grandparents’ devastation—she ditched her boyfriend of seven years, got married to “the man she prayed for” in secret (twice in one year!) and her family disowned her—in that particular order.
She met this man in Nov 27, 1977 and married him on Jan 18 the next year. That man is my dad. (Read more about my folks here.)
No two persons could be more different than these two—from looks (he’s big and dark; she’s tiny and fair) to social status (he’s from the working class; she was raised to believe that she would never have to work a day in her life).
But my mom, believing this was the man in her prayers—and that her Holy Mother would not forsake her—turned her back on everything she has known and loved for this one prayed for shot at real happiness.
Did she make the right decision? My dad never ever lifted a single finger against my mom nor gave her any reason to cry. And though everybody in the family knows that my mom truly loves my dad, we are also witnesses to the magnitude of our dad’s love and loyalty to my mom.
This is the reason why my mom always makes her way back to San Fernando Metropolitan Cathedral. To remember and to give thanks.
And this miracle of love – this risking of everything you’ve known all your life and no looking back, just because you believe – is enough to teach us, their children, especially me, to trust, to hope and to know in our hearts that someone is indeed listening.
Originally published as “Of Love, Prayers and Miracles” in Mommy Academy Magazine (Publisher: Gerry Geronimo Prod., Inc.) in June 2005. Featured image by Ding dela Cruz. Photos courtesy of Rodrigo Sicat (vintage church photo) and Alfred Galura (Virgin Mary)