MANILA, MARCH 26, 2008
(STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores (I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. — Jesus Christ (John 11:25)

We remember our lives through the memories of moments, not by days or hours. Maybe it’s the kid within me, but I just love Easter Sunday.

Among my earliest childhood memories of Lent and Easter Sunday is the image of large brown-colored palm leaves that somehow ended up on the second-floor capiz-shell windows of our spacious residence atop the storefront of the sawmill compound along Juan Luna Street corner Pavia Street in Gagalangin, Tondo district, Manila. It was a cheerful prelude to the coming Easter and hot summer. I was too small to recall going to church on Palm Sunday or Easter with my parents — only vague recollections of Dad lighting some prayer candles — but a child like me sure couldn’t forget the intriguing sight of dried palm leaves adorning our windows every year.

As a child, I didn’t ask our dad why he and Mom celebrated Catholic feast days as dutifully as they marked Taoist and Buddhist traditions like burning incense or preparing food for altars on certain dates of the year. When Dad died, the big residence and the family business suddenly and totally disappeared, and we moved to an apartment in a Quezon City suburb; it also marked a change in our family’s religion.

One of my seven elder half-siblings and his wife had induced Mom to become a teacher in a Protestant Christian school founded by American missionaries and a Chinese educator, and Mom became a devout born-again Christian there. I would learn that our late cancer-stricken dad was also visited by a minister repeatedly before his death; that Dad had converted and was baptized as a born-again Christian in the hospital.

My younger sister and I grew up in that milieu, attending Sunday School every week as well as regular chapel services as part of school schedule. I became well-versed in the scriptures. Christianity became a cultural thing for me, part of our academic subjects and part of our mom’s upbringing.

I’ll never forget Mom in those happy moments of early Easter Sunday sunrise service every year, ending with a delightful Easter egg hunt on the church grounds. My sister and I would each gleefully peel away the colored shells and munch down several hard-boiled eggs. Easter and summer vacation went hand in hand — both so much fun!

What struck me about this childhood exposure to Christianity was that it basically seemed a cheerful, hopeful faith, with lots of singing of hymns. Even after I enrolled in the Jesuit-run Ateneo and entered the hectic real estate business, those sunny early Easter Sundays at the neighborhood church were still distant yet fond memories.

Our late mom was never preachy, though she made sure I never had any excuse for not waking up to join her at church every Sunday, even if I had final college exams or unfinished term papers. Mom was never financially rich in the conventional sense, but she radiated contentment in books, in raising her small family, and in her Sunday churchgoing.

Is it possible I take Christianity for granted, because it was always there? I must confess that, like many of the professed Catholics in our society, I would only realize years later that I was mainly a Christian intellectually and culturally.

I am not a crook and have not led a morally deviant or nihilistic lifestyle, but I know deep in my heart that I am not what an ideal and true Christian should be. One proof: I am not as good as our late mom was — I am not as contented as she was in her life, even though she had fewer material comforts — and I have been absent from church service for a long time. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty myself, when I sometimes half-jokingly complain to European friends that they’ve allowed their many once-grand Protestant and Catholic cathedrals to become almost near-empty on Sundays.

During Holy Week, when our country slows down and goes into vacation mode, I occasionally pause to reassess my faith — or lack of it. I am forced to conclude that I have not yet truly transformed myself, my life, my thinking and my actions to be more Christ-like in order to be worthy of the description “Christian.”

Someday, I hope to be able to embrace this spirituality in the way my late mother did, with an almost childlike fervent faith that goes beyond folk superstition or religiosity. I yearn to somehow gain the inner tranquility and the certitude of hope I saw in Mom’s faith, which fortified her through life’s many vicissitudes, and which makes Easter Sunday every year so much more personal, transcendent and meaningful.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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