Sunday, July 01, 2007

learning to trust

"We walk by faith, not by sight."
-2 Cor5:7

On May 25, 2001, Erik Weihenmayer became the only blind man in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak. The following year, when he stood on top of Mt. Kosciusko in Australia, Weihenmayer completed his 7-year quest to climb the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, joining only 100 mountaineers who have accomplished that feat. [1]

I first encountered the name Erik Weihenmayer when he graced the cover of June 18, 2001 issue of Time magazine. That cover came with a visually arresting photograph of him trekking the snow-covered mountain.

People were against his plans of climbing the peak of Everest. Some of those who accompanied him were even sarcastic in their remarks of taking pictures of his lifeless body. But he shrugged off all these. He conquered not only the summit, but he defied his debilitating impediment, his blindness.

I consider my eyes the most important parts of my body. I can forego my limbs, even allow my ears to be useless or to surrender my faculty of speech—but to lose my eyesight is another thing. It is simply unimaginable.

Closing my eyes alone leads me into braving my varied fears of the unknown. And then, there's the sense of distasteful perplexity as to which direction I must take in order to catch a glimpse of light.

The mere thought of darkness gives me the creeps, not because I am afraid of the creatures known to be thriving in the dark. Okay. Yes. I am. But in the midst of darkness, my greatest fear is most pronounced: the fear of uncertainty.

Demystifying faith

I can imagine how it must have been so difficult for him to reach the summit. True, he may have prepared himself physically for it. He's an athlete even before he got struck by blindness at the age of 13. He had a supporting wife who showered him with emotional support and plenty of endorsements who took responsibility of financially assisting him.

But apart from all these externalities, what made him reach his goal, I guess, is that he had trusted in himself. He had faith.

When I was growing up, I thought that faith was merely a name attributed to girls, or even how we would call our star section way back my high school days. But sooner, I would realize that it goes beyond nomenclature. Faith isn't merely a name. Nor it is merely a cold abstraction associated with justice, peace, and democracy.

It ought to be a way of life.

The inputs I got from the conferences on faith have led me into varied realizations.

The dogmatic constitution aptly entitled Dei Verbum defines Faith as the complete submission of one's intellect and will to God. To submit these faculties unique only to humans is not easy of course, for man, in all his frailties, will not be able to do it in his own sheer will. One's submission of one's will is a gift. It is a grace bestowed upon him by the Almighty. Hence, it makes sense to say that faith is divine.

The entire chapter of the letter to the Hebrews runs an exhaustive enumeration of biblical personages, beginning from Abel up to the prophets, who triumphed over their enemies and miseries because of their faith.

These individuals did not merely proclaim "yes" to God, but together with their response is a sacrifice. They are considered heroes of faith. They offer me an icon of hope that in the midst of the many things that make me a skeptic, it is still possible to believe; that at the end of the day, my faith will save me.

Faith, indeed, is beyond us. It is divine to believe. Our response to God's invitation to love him is not merely to love him back, but to have faith in him. This very response is a gift, a grace that comes from him.

My journey of Faith

I was born and raised in a Catholic family. My faith has been offered to me on a silver platter, so to say. This explains why I am a Catholic.

Having our house erected near a small chapel (which eventually evolved into a parish several years ago) allowed me to attend the weekly catechesis. Somehow, I can say that this has lead me into strengthening my belief in the Church which initiated me in knowing and loving the God who has loved me first.

However, I would soon realize that faith transcends creed. Faith is not a belief in mere formulas. It is larger than that. In fact, it is something bigger than life itself.

This faith has brought forth into my ears the gentle whisper of God for me to follow him more closely in the confines of the seminary.

However, it is ironic that even if I am already in the seminary, and especially now that I am in the very portals of a religious community, I still am struggling when it comes to giving my absolute "reason and will" to Him whom I try to follow.

I find it difficult to be at peace when an urgent requirement needs to be carried out at once and relying on God's providence seems to be a far-fetched idea.

How many times would I catch myself complaining to Him whenever I am hurt and in deep pain? When circumstances become uncomfortable? When I become jealous? Whenever I feel I am useless?

How difficult it is to rest on His comforting presence and feel his consoling love when hardships seem to be swallowing me alive!

Faith is the opposite of fear

However, it was three years ago, when I consider losing the tiniest piece of faith I was holding on to. I blame it on an episode of seizure that paralyzed me. And wrongly thinking that it may be an impediment to my entry to the religious life, I swallowed back the "yes" I wrote in my application letter. I consoled myself that it may be a sign that I don't belong after all to that portion of the society that is chosen to follow closely Christ.

I would later on realize that it was a bad call.

Like Erik, I got blinded. And it was a dark and painful journey. However, unlike him, I was a coward. He was courageous. I was timid. He had the fortitude to carry on. I was afraid.

Leaving the seminary, I consider, is the most unfaithful deed I ever did in my entire life. It was an example of absolute infidelity. A classical example of cowardice. And I would only realize that I committed a faux pas when I felt that there was a growing lacuna in my heart. I was not happy. At the back of my head, I could hear Jesus, gently asking me this question "Man of little faith why did you doubt?" (Mt 8:26)

The emptiness pushed me to make a comeback to the seminary. It's a bold move. It wasn't easy to leave those things which I used to enjoy: the career, the achievement, the fat paycheck, the many friends I have grown comfortable with. The list is legion. But I managed. Not because I now believe in Him. But He has remained faithful despite my fidelity.

It is man's nature to be afraid. It is divine to trust God.

God's Grace

This year, I say that I have become more of a believer in His providence. Not because of my sheer determination. Even it is a grace. Being in the novitiate for nearly two months now, deprived of individuals I consider dear to me, and feeling vulnerable because of the so many realizations that point out to my being inept in following Him, made me rely only on his power.

And every single inspiration that comes to me makes me grateful for my life and for His love.

Now, I still am afraid to lose my eyesight. As a budding photographer, I, too, dream to mount photo exhibits in the future. But I am more afraid to lose the seed of faith God has planted in me through this novitiate.

This, I promise to nurture and cherish, every single day of my life.