Monday, May 22, 2006

Life in the Spirit for the Youth

Last Saturday, I felt God’s mighty presence at a little chapel on the other side of Commonwealth Avenue, called Banal na Puso Chapel. I was asked to give a sharing that would encourage the children to accept God’s healing love more concretely. I spent a sleepless night trying to come up with something inspiring to say. All I found was that that group of children inspired me, not the other way around.

They were members of the youth choir and the Legion of Mary. They spent almost the entire summer at the chapel – attending Bible study, serving at Mass, and even cleaning up the chapel afterwards. Those were things I did not spend a single minute on when I was their age. What could I say that could inspire them more?

Fr. Brian and Ate Sallie said I could share about how the Holy Spirit had worked in my life, specifically on areas where I had felt healing. Given what I had been going through in my spiritual life, that posed a huge challenge for me. I searched for a way to say with conviction that God wipes the tears from our eyes, because at the back of my mind I was thinking, “But kids, the tears would come back because healing is a very looong process, especially if we are stubborn....” That hardly sounded encouraging.

My time to speak came and I stood up, notes in hand, amidst the cheering of 10-19 year olds, most of whom were expecting I would be as lively as I had been during previous visits. It was not one of my greatest talks. I forgot many things in my outline, conscious as I was of the limited time and the even more limited attention span of my energetic audience. I said the prayer that had never failed me ever since my first talk several years back, “Lord, let me be Your messenger. Let the words that would come out of my mouth be Your words alone. Make me forget to say anything that You do not want me to say at this time.

I was glad to sit down afterwards and to observe the rest of the session. After eating our snacks and singing some more songs, Fr. Brian, Fr. Steve and Fr. Geoffrey prayed over the kids, numbering almost 40. I had been a renewed Christian for 13 years but it was my first time to witness the praying over session for kids, mostly in their pre-teens. While waiting for their turn, the little angels waited prayerfully and hopefully. They approached the priests with anticipation in their faces. They cried buckets of tears. And then the rain fell down on that humid morning. One child said afterwards that it must be God’s blessing raining down upon us.

After the prayover session, some kids shared their experiences. I translated for Fr. Brian and Fr. Geoffrey. It was heartwarming to listen to stories of love, of overwhelming feelings at being forgiven by their Heavenly Father, of belonging to Someone who had never let them down all their lives. One boy in particular said something that moved me. He was very small for an 11-year old, and the other kids often teased him for his height. He got the mike but had to move a few steps higher, closer to the altar, so that all of us could see him. He simply said that his cousins were blaming him for his grandmother’s illness. Tearfully, he said that while he was being prayed over, he asked God to transfer his grandma’s illness to him, so that she wouldn’t suffer anymore. I had to stop translating in mid-sentence because I fought back tears. What a selfless, innocent heart this boy had! And then he said that he forgave all those who had hurt him, even if they didn't forgive him for all the mischief he had done in the past.

One by one, the kids shared stories with similar themes. They knew about laying down their lives for their loved ones. They knew about forgiving those who had hurt them, even if they were not given the same treatment. They knew about hurt, persecution, and loss. Yet what shone through was the love and mercy of God. Some of them received the gifts of the Holy Spirit immediately, speaking in tongues and seeing visions. Another child, who seemed to be one of the naughtiest boys of them all, said that He heard God telling him in Tagalog, “Today is a new day. Forget the past. I’m giving you a chance to start over.” And he sobbed while telling his friends that he would change from then on, that he would become a better person.

It was way past lunchtime and yet once started, the kids couldn’t be stopped. Having had no sleep and no breakfast (except the coffee which the teenagers, my friends, prepared for me), my stomach should have been grumbling, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t want to leave, if only I could stay there and absorb more of that bond of love, shared between God and His children. Jesus truly showed me how to enter heaven, to be as simple- and single-hearted as the little children.

I got to talk to Fr. Steve afterwards and we were simply amazed, even if it was not our first time to conduct LSS, and agreed that God was truly at work there, and I added that I wished I could see the same phenomenon again, in teenagers, professionals, and adults. What happened took place because the children’s hearts were already open to the Holy Spirit. They already had a personal relationship with Jesus from attending all those activities at the Banal na Puso chapel.

Fr. Brian was so struck in what he saw and heard that he incorporated it into his homily the next day at our parish, across Commonwealth, where middle-class subdivision owners lived, where the LSS we conducted last year hardly had any parishioners as participants.

God truly meets us where we are at. Seeing how powerfully the Holy Spirit manifested Himself yesterday at the youth of BnP, I thought it must be because their hearts were turned to God completely. It didn’t matter that their sharers were flawed and groped for words. It didn’t matter that the sound system didn’t work properly (an old enemy trick which had already been proven ineffective anyway!). The Spirit could move freely, for there was space for Him in the hearts of the children.

Would that cynical grownups could rid our hearts of some baggage, maybe we could hear God speaking to us more clearly. And we could respond more freely.

My life in the Spirit has been continuously renewed by seeing God at work in the lives of others. I am thankful that it is God who is at work, and I am just a witness to His power and His love.

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