A Sinner’s Manifesto
Let me share with you the story
Of a hope I’ve come to know
A love that’s always for me
And a peace that frees my soul
–Fellow Traveler (Ginny Owens)
I spent the first 28 years of my life in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila, Philippines.
Most of what I knew about God, I learned from Catholic school, having studied in a Benedictine school from Nursery (4 yo) to sophomore year in high school, 2 years in another school which was Catholic, but instead of teaching Catechism, it forwarded a curriculum called Christian Values Education, and a Jesuit university for 4 years undergrad and several years of grad (which taught Roman Catholic theology, but also many philosophies, particularly postmodernist Philosophy).
I grew up believing that I was basically a good person, and that I needed to maintain my membership in God’s family (which I believe I joined in baptism) by continuously doing good works. I was pretty good about fulfilling that. I was your run-of-the-mill goody-two-shoes. I heard mass weekly, prayed the Angelus daily, prayed the rosary. I was an active participant in organized works of charity.
Before high school, I thought I pretty much observed all the requirements of a good Catholic, but in my late teenage years, I began to question its many teachings. To prove to myself that I wasn’t outright rejecting it, I tried to read Catechism to understand the bases for many traditions, and if I couldn’t find them, I would ask members of religious orders. I was disappointed when the questions weren’t answered sufficiently. I didn’t want to keep on observing traditions that I didn’t feel the need for. At the same time, I was concerned about the repercussions of my growing noncompliance.
In my third year of undergrad studies, I read Thomas Aquinas’ 5 Ways and Summa Theologica. In my limited understanding, I applied what he wrote about unbelief to my current questioning about Catholic teaching. It was never an issue about whether I believed in God or not, but how I worshipped Him. I took his writings to mean that my rebellion was a positive stage in the development of my faith – something that would fortify, rather than destroy it.
From that moment, I swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, becoming a staunch defender of the Catholic faith. I pressed on with my studies with the Catechism and sought ways to make my life compliant to its teachings. I was black and white about it. I labeled each and every person I encountered that was lukewarm as a fake Catholic/Christian. I also discovered Catholic online chatrooms and regularly visited them to learn more about the faith. A few evangelical Christians frequented the chatrooms, and they lambasted Catholic beliefs. In my attempt to make them look unintelligent and hypocritical, I studied and prepared to rebut all their arguments. I made this the focus of my studies, instead of focusing on God.
On the outside, I wore a veneer of righteousness, but it was far different from the actual condition of my heart. I had disobeyed all ten commandments. Each time I did, I went to confession, but I found that the same day I left the confessional, I would repeat the same sins. No matter how much I wanted to take repentance seriously, I still fell into my favorite sins habitually. Even then, I claimed that I was a better person than all of those “holier-than-thou” modern Pharisees who called themselves born-again Christians.
However, there were several Christians I looked up to because they were set apart. They acted differently from the world and from the nominal Christians. I secretly admired them, but would never admit it because I wanted to keep my antagonistic front towards all Mary-bashers.
One of the people I had a high regard for was my supervisor during my internship in Kent, WA. She was the most selfless, most encouraging, most accepting person I ever met. Unlike most Christians I had come across in the past, her approach was gentle and meek. I felt accepted as a person, even though I knew she did not believe my pretense for walking with Christ.
When it was my turn to become a supervisor, I could not emulate her example on my own efforts, no matter how much I tried. I relied a lot on my own perceived wisdom, and talents, which got me nowhere. The more I tried to do my best, the more my weaknesses were highlighted. Something had to give.I realized that all the while I thought I had a relationship with the Lord, I just did all the talking and To-Do lists for Him, but never really listened to His word. I spent an inordinate amount of time researching matters of religion, but never seeking to really know Him. I was concerned about following the law to the letter to look good on the outside, but never changed my attitude towards sin. I was prideful and expected things to work themselves out because I did a lot of good works. Though I deceived many with my “nice” exterior, I knew the truth. God knew it, too. (Proverbs 21:2)
I realized that if God were to judge me on the basis of how I had lived my life, he would not have granted me access to heaven. I was mistaken to think that he was a forgiving God who could just let me in based on a history of charitable work. I had created my own image of a God I was comfortable with. Previously, I believed that if I did the right things and followed things to the letter, I would be alright. I struggled with reconciling that heaven was something accessible, as long as I was right with God, doing the right things, with the impossibility of keeping His commandments perfectly.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) My “good works” were unimpressive, based on God’s standards. (Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8-9) I could not let Jesus lead me to the Father without getting rid of all the other idols (wanting to always be right and always doing the right thing to look good) that distracted me. I had to choose. Either I got rid of them or they would continue to pull me away from the truth. Either I continued to live for my self-glorification or I died and let Jesus live in me for His glory.
John 12:24 says, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
I told Christ, I wanted to die to myself and accept His substitutionary death for my sins. I wanted to be with God in heaven, no longer trying, in vain, to buy a ticket in with good works that never impressed Him in the first place. I wanted to acknowledge my sinfulness before Him and to genuinely repent and ask His forgiveness. Before I even spoke the words, I knew he had already taken them on as His own sins and washed me clean with His own blood. Because it was not my choice to begin with. He claimed me for Himself before I ever wanted to “make” the decision.
My life was never the same again, because it wasn’t “my” life anymore!
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:6)
I used to worry a lot. Anxiety was almost second nature to me, but today, I am free of fear, especially of death. I am assured I can claim victory over death because I have entrusted my life to the One who has overcome death. Knowing that God is in control has helped me to live life happily, despite whatever obstacles come along. Many people ask me why I can be so calm in the midst of daily annoyances, setbacks and trials. I can always answer with courage that it is because God’s sovereignty is my strength. (Habakkuk 3:19)
My story goes on, written by no less than the creator of the universe. Today, I reside in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I am healthy, I have opportunities to continue learning from the very best colleagues, I have the company of fellow believers who are there to support me in my walk, and I have the love of my earthly family that is just a phone call and plane ride away. Tomorrow, it can all be taken away. Whatever happens, I will still praise my Lord, Jesus, who is also my best friend, brother, and Savior, who took on the punishment I actually deserved, and gained for me what I could never hope to attain or afford. Praise forever and ever to God, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4 NIV)