The Visitation: A Long Journey of Grace

The Visitation by Jeronimo Ezquerra (1737)

After receiving the great news from Archangel Gabriel, Mary lost no time in planning visit to Elizabeth, her cousin who was on her sixth month of pregnancy by grace of the Holy Spirit. Remarkable by any means, but it does not surprise Mary now who, “ponders her ways in his heart and understands her path” (Sirach 14:21).

We have no accounts of the exact details in the Bible, but it would be sensible that Joseph and Mary would have gone through the process of marriage before she left for Hebron where her cousin lived. Mary would stay with Elizabeth until her full term; she herself would be in her first trimester.

The journey was by no means a stroll in the park. Taken in a straight line and cutting through the forging valleys and wilderness, the journey from Nazareth to this town in Judah would be around 130 kilometers. An arduous and perrilous journey even for a young woman with child!

But neither Mary or Joseph were perturbed at all by the events that were happening, they who were filled with the grace of God. Singing hymns of joyous praise:

Praise the Lord, who is good;                                                  

God’s love endures forever;

Praise the Lord of lords;

God’s love endures forever (Psalm 136:1-3).

Such a great amount of faith! Moved by the Holy Spirit, charity filled Mary’s heart to undertake such a trip. And what a blessing it had been to have been greeted by such an outburst of praise from Elizabeth! Imagine Mary’s joy in meeting Elizabeth who bore the child who would one day be the forerunner of Christ!  

The holy joy between the two women were total and complete! “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). 

And Mary, whose joy was even more pronounced by this greeting, expressed her psalm of praise known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).  

She was to become the Mother of God and would be Mother for all men to come, and yet remained humble and pure.


Mary at the Annunciation

The Annunciation to Mary by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

Much of the excerpts of this article is taken from The Life of Mary As Seen By the Mystics by Raphael Brown, a compilation of revelations to some Catholic saints on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On the eve of the Annunciation the Archangel St. Gabriel descended from heaven to appear to Mary as evening was approaching. The young lady retired to her room to pray. She had knelt on the floor and was reading the Scripture, her hands folded across her chest. 

A bright light suddenly filled the room and before her appeared a celestial being–an emissary of God–beautiful and resplendent. He had greeted the words which frightened Mary. “Hail Mary, full of grace….”

Not your ordinary news

Imagine the surprise! She who was nothing more than a simple village woman! But she regained her composure as St. Gabriel proceeded with his words:

“Do not be afraid Mary, for thou has found favor with God. And behold, thou shall conceive in thy womb and shall bring forth a Son. And thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father, and He shall be king over the House of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there shall be no end.”

Boom! The words might have hit Mary as if with a bat! Full of wonder and praise for Our Lord who had now chosen her among all women! Her complete purity and innocence could not simply fathom the great news the angel announced. But mindful of her vow to live a chaste life even with the company of the just St. Joseph, she asked:

“How shall this happen since I do not know man?” Surely the good Lord had not disapprove her vow and allow her break it? It would pose a problem with her, since Joseph had likewise made the same vow. 

 St. Gabriel answered: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee,” and proceeded to share the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, even in her advanced age.

Two wonderful news in one blow! First, the coming of Jesus who is to be fulfilled in her; and second, the coming birth of the forerunner of Christ–St. John the Baptist–the voice who is to cry out in the wilderness “to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). 

No fear of the unknown

Mary now understood her pivotal role in God’s plan of redemption. She might not have understood all of it at once, but she was a prayerful woman and was obedient to the will of God. Was she afraid at this point? Not in the least. How can one fear the unknown knowing that God is at his side? This old Nike ad comes to mind: JUST DO IT!

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge: of whom am I afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

“Be it done to me….”

With the eyes of complete faith and love: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord–be it done to me according to thy word.” Evident was Mary’s humility by saying “handmaid”. Even with the big role she knew she was going to be, she still abased herself as nothing more than a mere servant, out to do her master’s bidding.

In that instant, the Holy Spirit descended, filling the small room with its resplendent love. Were it not for the grace of God, the Blessed Virgin would not have been able to sustain herself at such rapture.

St. Gabriel bowed down before the Virgin Mother, who now possessed our Lord Jesus in her womb. The prophecy of salvation was now being fulfilled. 

Give thanks to the Lord, invoke his name;

make known among the peoples his deeds!                                                       

Sing praise, play music;   

proclaim all his wondrous deeds!     

Glory in his holy name;                                                                                           

rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord!                                                                   

Rely on the mighty Lord;                                                                                               

constantly seek his face.                                                                                         

Recall the wondrous deeds he has done,                                                                   

his signs and his words of judgment.                                                                   

You descendants of Abraham his servant,                                                                 

offspring of Jacob the chosen one! (Psalm 105:1-6)


Staying Catholic: A Response


(Sourced from CNN, NBC Pennsylvania)

I wrote this article in response to the recent article I read in Yahoo about a Catholic who decided to leave the Church.

When I read articles like these I can’t help but be sad. While his reasons are arguably valid (i.e. the recent sex scandals by the clergy that rocked the Church), I do not think leaving is the best solution just as bailing out of a troubled marriage is.

Through the centuries the Church had gone through historic periods of scrutiny and scandals that have shaken the Faith each and every time. The Great Schism between the Western and Eastern Church led to a separation of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches during the 11th century, followed by the Western Schism in the 14th century. Let’s not forget also another great split led by former Catholic priest Martin Luther which ultimately led to Protestantism and ushered the period of Reformation. And what started it? The clergy was selling indulgences to affluent parishioners, leaving the poor in the darkness of their sins.  But this recent sex scandal is big time because of the grave impact on the lives of the victims and their families.

But even as leaders in the Church have stumbled in the past, there were always great moments and people who redeem to lift the Church up from ruin. When God called St. Francis of Assisi to “build His church”, Francis went into action to develop a radical way of life that was entirely new to the clergy during his time (he literally thought it meant rehabilitating the church in Assisi at first but then got the drift after that). Or when St. Ignatius of Loyola established the Society of Jesus in France, affirming the leadership of the Pope as a response to the widespread Protestantism (Lutheran and Calvinism) spreading in Europe.  Another spiritual giant during the Counter-Reformation period was St. Teresa of Avila who made reforms within the Church by bringing back the Carmelite Order to its originally strict rule of life. These are just examples of individuals who were considered radical during their time. At a time when the Church was besieged by corruption and scandal, they did not leave the Church but did their share to bring it up.


But even without these saints, the Church will still stand upon the solid rock instituted by Christ (Matthew 16:18-19). The Gospel, its teachings and traditions will (and should) remain unchanged. We are exhorted to live in the unity of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:3).

Having said all these, I am sticking to my Catholic faith and the Church, not because I condone the wrong doings of the offenders but because the practices and teachings of the Faith remain sound and incorruptible. Who knows, maybe a great spiritual giant lives among us now to radically move the Church to the right direction?

Maybe it’s you, or maybe, me?

Living a Godless Life: A Tale of Two Atheists

I come from a mix-cultural family. My grandmother was a Muslim (a Maguindanaoan of royalty) while my grandfather was pure Chinese, both from my mother’s side. They raised a big family and allowed the children to grow independently. Since my grandfather married into royalty, he adopted Islam but was never quite into it. The children grew up more solid in Islam at the start, but as they grew their beliefs changed. And this is where my story really begins.

Uncle Pin and Boy – Smart & Godless Men

I had two uncles who were a study in contrast: Uncle Pin was a smart and fastidious senior captain of his time who traveled the world in his heyday and always regaled us with his sea adventures; on the other hand, Uncle Boy was a simple farm boy who was good with plants and loved to roam the estate barefooted. Both were very strict and disciplined; I remember being scolded at such a young age when I insisted playing with friends outside the house.

They were confirmed bachelors until the day they died. They couldn’t imagine being tied down to a nagging wife and wailing children. Uncle Captain would always tell me to remain single as he did so I didn’t have to worry about leaving anybody behind. The idea actually appealed to me sometime but wore out when I began dating and eventually married my husband. But my brother took this advice to heart and was a bachelor when he died a few years ago.

They were excellent wordsmiths. I remember that my brother and I would always be given pop quizzes on grammar and spelling every time they went to visit us. I retained most of my learning in grammar and spelling from their pop quizzes than my English classes in school combined.

They were both confirmed atheists until the very end. If their intelligence wasn’t enough, their minds simply could not accept how God could let anything bad happen to people, when He was essentially good. In my youth I never had the courage to challenge them in their convictions. They were voracious readers, surely they loaded up on reading to arrive to THAT conclusion?

How the mind of an atheist works

But that is just the thing about atheists. They rationalize everything, and what they cannot prove or answer by reason and logic they simply dismiss altogether. They explain human existence from the view of human thinking, that we started from a single cell then worked our way up to becoming homo sapiens through a process of evolution and elimination. To an atheist’s mind, we are a product of one big cosmic accident.

In my encounters with my uncles, that was how they viewed creation, with God out of the equation. “How can God allow this?” my Uncle Pin used to say, referring to human suffering. “God cannot be a good god, if there was any,” my other Uncle Boy would assert. I asked one of them on one occasion, “who do you think made all these (creations)?” All I got was a curt reply: “Read your Science books. It’s all there.”

Was it?

During a dark time when my own faith was tested, I almost had the same reason. I went to a university known for its radical thinking, I learned the works of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Bertrand Russell, among others.  I was also dabbling into another religion which is supposed to bring me to heaven but ended up hitting a hard blank wall. Nothing came close to the truth.

I recall the words of a known Carmelite saint, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: “Anyone desiring the truth is really looking for God, whether they know it or not” (incidentally, St. Teresa Benedicta was also an Atheist in her youth but experienced a conversion which led her to embrace the Catholic faith).  I was looking for the truth but never came close to it. That is when I made my journey back to the Faith.

A dark and bleak end

When my Uncle Boy suffered a stroke, he had to be transported to Manila and was under my mother’s care for a short while. In the number of times I watched over him I tried to talk to him about spiritual matters, to believe in God and return to His good graces. There were times that he almost gave him, but was never fully convinced in God’s mercy. He said he would convert if he was completely healed. That was the last time I spoke to him. He was brought back to the province a few weeks later where he died, despondent and unhappy.

Uncle Pin had it much worse. I was not at his bedside when he passed on, but my mother was. She prayed at his bedside as he was heaving his last few moments, and was hard of breathing throughout the ordeal. He was at the point of death, and on all accounts he was restless and groaning that people beside him were shaking in fear of something unseen. It was a difficult death and everybody who was there saw it. I was deeply saddened to receive the news of their passing, years apart from each other.

The Last End

Was it a good death? Nobody knows for sure but one can always pray he died in the grace of God. For those of my family members who witnessed their passing, it is a grim reminder to us to remember their glorious and even colorful lives—only to leave in  darkness towards the end of their lives.








Pilgrimage to the Holy Doors in the Philippines

Just finished last week our pilgrimage to the Holy Doors in 5 churches within Metro Manila. It was a pilgrimage that started on Good Friday this year and completed almost a week ago. It was a promise our family made, to complete the 5 churches as identified in the Pilgrimage Passport we got.

The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy 

Pope Francis declared 2015-2016 as the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, a call to all Catholics to experience “a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective” (Letter of Pope Francis to Archbishop Rino Fischella, 1 September 2015). The jubilee year would run from December 8 last year until November 20 this year. On a jubilee year, the pope opens the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica that would allow pilgrims to extraordinary graces.

What makes this this year special is that instead of confining pilgrims to the Holy Door in Rome, Pope Francis made the “Door of Mercy” accessible to selected churches around the world. This makes it available for pilgrims who do not have the time or means to come to Rome to enjoy the indulgences attached to it. It is mercy in action!

The Holy Doors in the Philippines

In the country, Filipino Catholic Bishops have designated the Holy Doors for several churches in the country. A list of these churches can be found through this link. For my family, we made our way to the Manila Cathedral where we would soon find out that a pilgrim passport was available for those wishing to complete the pilgrimage seriously.

The Pilgrimage Passport

The Pilgrimage Passport is a small, purple passport that pilgrims use to accompany them to their pilgrimage. It explains the purpose of the passport and the conduct that should be performed by the faithful to each of the 5 churches. For this particular passport (I am not sure if the other dioceses in the provinces have their own passport), it has identified 5 churches (Manila Cathedral in Intramuros; Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Church in Pasay City; Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Kamagong, Makati City; Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong; and the Santuario de Santo Cristo in San Juan).

Pilgrim passport

Each church has its own procedure, so you have to read the instructions well. After the pilgrim recites the required prayers and completes the process, he goes to the church parish office to have his passport stamped.

The passport is available at any of the 5 churches mentioned. After completion of all the churches, you may request for your certificate at the last church. They will issue a very nice certificate stamped with a picture of Pope Francis.

As part of our Lenten sacrifice, we made our way to Manila Cathedral, but was dismayed to learn that they ran out of passports then. We went to the next church in Mandaluyong, where we were able to get our passports and the first stamp.

Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong City

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Since it was a Holy Week, you can imagine how the church was swamped with people. We finished the first church after more than 2 hours.

Second Church: Manila Cathedral

Porta sancta

Holy Door at the Manila Cathedral

By the time we continued with the remaining churches last week, the pilgrims were already a lot less. But still, it was a Sunday and we were pleased to find company in all of the Holy Doors we went to. God is so good, our trip was blessed with sunny weather after almost a whole week of rain.


Our passport stamp

Third Church: Santuario de Santo Cristo, San Juan City

Among the churches we went to, this was the one that was most difficult to go to. First is because San Juan was practically unchartered for us. Second, not a lot of available directions going to this church is available. You can read the map but doesn’t mean it’ll be any easy. We took the Sta. Mesa route and turned right to the corner of SM Sta. Mesa. This road led us to San Juan. When you find Puregold to your right, that’s where F. Blumentritt is. You turn right and drive straight ahead until you find the church.

We did expect to find a beautiful old church within the heart of this city! The church was built by Dominican friars in 1602.


Our stamp and some of the prayer guides we recited at the church

By the time we finished Santuario de Santo Cristo, it was already high noon. We took our lunch at the tapsi resto nearby.

Fourth Church: National Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Makati City



The National Shrine of the Sacred Heart, dwarfed by tall buildings

By the time we arrived in Makati, it almost 1pm. The church was still full of people as they had mass at 12 noon. It was not my first time to get inside this church, but I was surprised to find it was air-conditioned. We spotted former Mayor Junjun Binay among the attendees.

Last Church: Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Pasay City

Our last stop was in this church along FB Harrison in Pasay. If you’re coming from Coastal, you turn right at FB Harrison going to Pasay. Not far away from the corner is the church. In this church was were we said our rosaries and had certificates done. We were so happy and blessed to have finished it! It was a happy day for us.


This church was constructed by the Society of St. Paul

Some helpful tips:

  • The jubilee year of mercy is only until 20 November 2016. There is still time to complete it, but expect pilgrims will be many as the period comes to a close.
  • Plan your visits well. It would be best to prioritize Manila Cathedral, since their parish office is only available in the morning. Check the schedules of each church.
  • Wear comfortable and decent clothing. Remember that this is not like going to the mall. Wear clothing that shows reverence for our Lord. Bring extra clothing.
  • Bring water. It can get humid.
  • Bring rosaries. In the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows, you have the option to either pray the rosary or the 7 Sorrows of Mary. We chose to recite the former.
  • Follow the instructions carefully. Do not shortcut. Remember that our good Lord sees us in all our undertakings.
  • Make it more meaningful by offering each visit to an intention, for example, one church for the souls in Purgatory, another church for good health of one’s family, etc.

Have a blessed weekend.


Entering the Holy Doors: What Else You Need to Know

So I started my pilgrimage to the Holy Doors (Porta Sancta) this Maundy Thursday, with family in tow.  Thinking it was the perfect time to do it, we made our first stop at the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros.

First Church:  Manila Cathedral

Porta sancta

The grand archway at the Manila Cathedral

Not knowing what to expect, we went to the cathedral and was surprised to find a large throng of people outside the church walls.  There was a chrism mass going on which was officiated by Cardinal Luis Tagle and attended by several priests all over Metro Manila.  This mass is especially celebrated for priests after all, in commemoration of the institution of the holy priesthood established by Jesus Christ.

After the mass, we went our way through the parish office, to be informed that the Pilgrim’s Passport would be distributed at the front of the church.  By the time it was our turn, we passport ran out and we would have to wait for the next batch of distribution in the afternoon.  Rather than be disheartened, we made our way to the next church.

Second Church: Shrine of the Divine Mercy

We reached the shrine around 1pm, when it was hot and humid.  The church was overflowing with people, but in a smaller scale that was manageable.  There was enough passports to distribute to pilgrims.  Except for my son, all 4 of us were given passports.

Pilgrim passport

After completing the steps required, we had our passports stamped at the parish office.  Because it was Holy Week and there were many people in the churches, it took us more than 2 hours to complete everything.  We decided to complete the other four churches (including Manila Cathedral) on a later date.

Important Things You Need to Know

There are a few things that you should know before going on a pilgrimage:

  1. The Pilgrim’s Passport is free, however you may make a donation of any amount.  The pilgrimage is not advisable for children below 15 years old.
  2. Each of the five churches indicated in the passport has it’s own set of steps.  Read the instructions in the passport as this will be your guide in completing it.  No shortcuts please.  You may try to do this, but our Lord will know it.
  3. The Jubilee Year of Mercy runs until November 20, 2016, so anybody wanting to complete it can spread out and plan their pilgrimage carefully.
  4. The most important part of the pilgrimage is not just going there, but what you get in return.  Please have the purity of intention.  It is not a field trip.  In visiting the Holy Doors, you get a plenary indulgence for your sins.  For a complete understanding on this, you may want to read more on how a plenary indulgence is obtained.  Visit the Divine Mercy website for details.
  5. The passport only lists 5 churches, but there are other churches that have been identified by other dioceses.  I am posting the list of churches from the Diocese of Cubao and Pasig City.  Every diocese in the country has the authority to designate a Holy Door within their area.  I would suggest that you check your local diocese for information.
  6. For those who are sick or incarcerated, Pope Francis has also given special attention to them.  These are special instances and the details are discussed in the Vatican’s Misericordiae Vultus.

Posted at the Diocese of Cubao's website

Posted at the Diocese of Cubao’s website


From the Diocese of Pasig website

From the Diocese of Pasig website


Opening the Holy Door in the Jubilee Year of Mercy

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When Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, I must admit I had a lot of questions about it.  But I was curious at best–I wanted to know its special significance and the benefits attached to it.

Declared last December 8, 2015 (coinciding with the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) and to run until November 20, 2016 (the Feast of Christ the King), it has been called an extraordinary jubilee simply because it is something that is not scheduled or predetermined ahead.  What makes it more significant is its purpose:  the jubilee is seen as a special period for remission of sins and obtaining universal pardon and mercy from God.

Opening of the Holy Door

In every jubilee, the pope celebrates this by opening the Holy Doors in Rome.  People who pass through these doors gain a plenary indulgence among other blessings.  On this jubilee year, Pope Francis has decided to make the Holy Doors accessible to the faithful by allowing every diocese all over the world to designate a Holy Door in their area.

Remission of Sins and Gaining Indulgences

To Catholics, we are taught to understand that there are two kinds of sins: mortal and venial sins.  In any case, any kind of sin ought to be confessed to a priest with the recitation of certain prayers (the Act of Contrition and the absolution given by the priest-confessor).  We are absolved from these sins, but the effects (or scars) of our sins are not completely erased.  That is when the idea of gaining good works and indulgences come in.

And this is one big benefit of entering the Holy Door, it gains one plenary indulgence of one’s sins.  I will not go into detail about indulgences, but there are plenty of good links available about it.

The Holy Doors in Metro Manila

There are several Holy Doors designated in the country, but I am only familiar with the 6 churches within Metro Manila area:  the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros; Divine Mercy Shrine in Mandaluyong City; Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Makati; Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Church in Pasay City; Sanctuario de Santo Cristo in San Juan; and Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit one of the Holy Doors.  The picture above is the Holy Door from the Divine Mercy Shrine in Maysilo, Mandaluyong City.  You’d notice it right away from the notice on the side which says Portia Sancta (“Holy Door” in Latin).

What You Have To Do

When entering the Holy Door, you have to make the sign of the cross with reverence and contrition.  Pilgrims follow a certain procedure, recite certain prayers, and this varies from church to church.  Those who are really keen on completing the pilgrimage may also opt to buy a passport at any of the designated churches.  After reciting the prayers and going through the steps, those who opt to buy a passport should go to the parish office and have their “passports” stamped.  It is pretty much like the passport stamping done on pilgrimage to the Buen Camino de Santiago (“Way of St. James”) in Spain.  It makes the pilgrimage interesting and memorable.

Try to visit any of these Holy Doors, especially during Holy Week.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will enrich you spiritually.