One thing you have to love about the Philippines: it is approximately 85% Catholic. 500 yards from the hotel I stayed in last night is a Catholic Parish, with Mass offered daily at 6:00 AM and 5:30 PM. That really is the standard, in my opinion. At least in every town there should be the option of a couple of early morning Masses, and a couple of evening Masses, so that everyone gets the chance to go to Mass, regardless of work schedule. To have both at the same parish is above and beyond, and probably only possible because it is run by the Redemptorists and so there are at least half a dozen priests on campus at any given time.
So this morning, after waking up and chatting with my fiancee for a few minutes, I did my workout (just yoga, since I am still recovering from my last injury), and I headed over for daily Mass. The place was full! Twenty minutes before Mass even started the place was pretty well filled, mostly with older folks, retirees and such, all sitting or kneeling in absolute silence. (So far I have had mixed experiences with kneeling in Philippino churches. The pews and kneelers are: 1) not affixed to the floor by any means whatsoever, and 2) designed for people half my size. This means that unless I kneel upright and absolutely still, they tend to slide, and that is just rude, re-arranging the furniture in Church, like a big gringo bull in a china shop.)
Philippinos love to sing. A Hawaiian friend of mine once remarked, "Why do all Philippinos think they can sing?" in reference to Manny Pacquiao's music debut, an album in which he sings five different remixes of "Sometimes when we Touch"... and nothing else. But I digress.
At any rate, in Philippino parishes, unlike most American parishes, everyone sings. They sing loud and they sing like they mean it. The hymns are, for the most part, no better than the ones I hear in the states, but they actually get into them which makes all the difference.
It is amazing! What love Jesus has for us! He makes Himself available to us every day, every single day, if we only make just the tiniest effort to open ourselves to Him. And there at Mass, surrounded by old, frail, wrinkly, eccentric saints, I felt humbled. Unworthy. It is good to feel unworthy because it allows me to appreciate more deeply the truth of the mercy I have been given.
After Mass I went back to the hotel for free breakfast. There was an old man outside the church as I left it, in dirty clothes. He made eye contact with me, and said, "Hey!" and made a move like he was going to come closer, but then stopped and changed his mind. I looked him in the eye, smiled and waved (smiling at people is pretty much standard around here) and half hesitated. Was he going to beg? Try to sell something? I didn't pause long enough to find out, and I think he didn't approach me because I didn't pause. Ironic. Less than ten minutes after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, I walked right by Him without giving Him the time to see what He wanted. If that old man is there tomorrow I will stop and say Hi and talk to Him. After all, Jesus is giving me free breakfast. Why can't I pay it forward if that's what the old man wants?
In the hotel lobby the tables were all set immaculately, as if they had been set out by ruler. There was a buffet set up with such breakfast staples as fish, beef stroganoff, garlic rice (and when the sign says "garlic rice" well, you better expect some Garlic! in that rice.) There is a chef on duty who cooks omelets and pancakes to order, and a smaller buffet of more typical American breakfast foods. I grabbed a little of this and a little of that, and some assorted sliced fruit and a mango "banna cata" which was like a yogurt pudding with mango jelly on top. Let me tell you, that was delicious!
The lobby was full of guests getting ready to go about their days. One group in particular caught my eye as I was getting my food. It was an American or European businessman with a beard, older, probably in his late fifties. Sitting next to him was a Philippina woman, probably in her late thirties or early forties, (it is hard to tell with Asians) and they were holding hands and laughing and whispering to each other like middle school sweethearts. Something about their body language said that they don't see each other often, or hadn't seen each other in a long time, or weren't going to see each other for a long time. It is a body language I have become very familiar with.
What I didn't see until I sat down was that they were not alone. They had a little girl sitting across the table from them, but I hadn't been able to see her before because her head wasn't tall enough to poke up over the back of the chair. There she was, a teeny-tiny little girl with big dark eyes, taking in everything around her, surrounded by opulence, immaculate place settings, fancy white china and silverware, just sitting there in her pajamas, her feet dangling miles from the floor. In her lap there was a fancy white china bowl filled with dry cheerios. She would eat them one at a time, picking them up delicately with a tiny thumb and forefinger, while gazing around her and watching everything.
I do not know their story. It might be a very good story or a very bad story. But looking at the little girl I felt like I was glimpsing something, a beginning of something. Right now, as I watch, she is being shaped into the adult that she will become someday. Whether that is a good shape or a bad shape, I cannot tell. I only know that I loved them, all three of them, and I wished them the best blessings God could grant them. May He guide and protect them and draw them to Him. May they know how much He loves them. I can think of no greater gift to offer than that prayer.