Because we were too young then, and believing that we are doing holiness, we never asked why; we never doubted. It was only when I heard Bro. Eli preach that my mind was opened about this. I have started to find answers for the so many whys that have been lurking in my mind since that “666” episode.
By Jose Haris S. Narral
When I was young, I was not interested in studying other religions. I was raised as a catholic by my parents in the province of Bulacan. When I was in Grade 6, I was chosen to be one of the sacristans in the parish in our place. It continued on until I graduated in high school.
As a sacristan then, my parents have been both very proud of me and my brother. (My brother used to be a sacristan, too). My father is not an avid churchgoer but my mother never missed the mass. It is a notion in our place that sacristans are well-mannered, obedient, kind, gentle and considerate. People there can think of any positive traits and associate it with the sacristans. Attending masses in catholic churches in a sacristan uniform seems to be a hallmark of God-fearing individuals and their families, too. And that made my parents very proud.
As I finished high school, the head sacristan told me that sponsors were arranged for me should I enter the seminary and choose to be a priest. I hesitated. Being a youth in the prime of my life, I think I am not ready for such life and responsibility. No vices, no fun and gimmicks?
It came also into my mind that if I become a priest, I will not be allowed to marry. And they have ready answers for that. Talk inside the church insinuates that girls were sent to provide that kind of need to “cure the boredom” of the priests. I did not like the idea and I chose to pursue my college in the city and took up BS Marine Transportation.
My life as a sacristan ended as I enrolled in a university in Manila. Being busy with my studies, I was not able to do the church services I had been doing for five years in my life. Years passed and I have also lost contacts with my co-sacristans. I just received news about them – bad news, I should say. It was not as I had expected.
As we grew older, some of my co-sacristans did not choose the good life. There are some who became drug addicts; some entered into early and failed marriages. Others were too busy with their vices. It was the exact opposite of how lofty people looked upon us before. These should not be the result of the years we have spent in service in the “holy place” and “holy people” we knew. By then, I started to ask why.
After my graduation in college, I decided to have a break and plan to start working a year after. During that break, I chanced to watch Bro. Eliseo Soriano. My father and I kept on changing channels until we saw a preacher of a TV program entitled “Ang Dating Daan” discussing about the “666” or the anti-Christ. He was attacking the priests and the sacristans. He also revealed that 666 is in the crown of the pope.
Being once a sacristan, I got interested in the topic and continued listening. The fearless preacher also said that biblically speaking, here on earth, in terms of religion, no one should be called “father.” Though I have not become an instant avid fan of Bro. Eli like my parents, that episode left a mark in me. If there were chances, I joined my parents as they listened to Bro. Eli.
Months have passed but that anti-Christ topic that Bro. Eli discussed still lingered in my mind. Then fear rushed into my heart. I thought of the numerous mistakes and sins I have committed in my life, serving as a sacristan. I also came to realize the truth of the flaws I had witnessed when I was a sacristan.
In those days, we would steal host (ostiya) and play them with our classmates in our belief that those were not yet sacred since not yet blessed by the parish and the bishops. (Anything is not sacred in a church not of God, by the way). We even rummaged into the cabinet to get and eat canned fruit cocktails from the mass’ offerings.
I have also witnessed how priests envied each other. Some people prefer a priest over the other so they chose to attend to their favorite priest’s sermon, making the other jealous. With this, I have seen how some Catholics judge through physical attributes and not by the word of God.
I have observed the different attitudes of the priests. Some appear kind (bait-pantao) who often treated us with expensive, sumptuous meals. Some are stern that it was easy for them to say insulting words and cursed those who commited even a small, single mistake. In one of the meetings of the priests, my co-sacristan was even asked to buy three cases of beer and three packs of cigarettes.
We were also asked to form groups and do “pangangaluwa” during Halloweens. Pangangaluwa is a time when folks visit households and sing their songs to give reverence to the dead. We also did caroling on Christmas. We visited rich family’s houses singing songs for them and in return, they would feed us and give us money. All of these were to be remitted to the parish. Because we were too young then, and believing that we were doing holiness, we never asked why; we never doubted. It was only when I heard Bro. Eli preach that my mind was opened about this. I have started to find answers for the so many whys that have been lurking in my mind since that “666” episode.
When my parents found a church locale near our place, we decided to attend the gatherings and became guests of the Bible Expositions held in Malolos, Bulacan where I saw Bro. Eli in person.
After that, my father, I and my brother celebrated because we believe that we have found the truth. It is just so funny that we celebrated and talked while drinking beer! Later on, through the doctrines, we realized that it was not a Christian way of celebration.
I have seen how my father changed, how he became interested in religion and in God that I have never seen from him when we were Catholics. He reprimanded me when I missed one of the indoctrination sessions of the Church of God in our bid for affiliation.
With God’s help, my parents and I were baptized in the Members of the Church of God International in September 1998. Less than a year later, my younger brother became a member too.
While waiting for my job call from the ship, I started to be a member of the choir. I also attended the training for workers in our division. When my first job opportunity in the ship came, I choose to continue as a Church worker of God. Through the years, I have been a witness to how God showered His love to me and my family.
I have lost my chance to visit other countries as a seaman but I was able to do so as a worker of God.
Thanks be to God!
Note: Bro. Haris is a Church worker assigned in China District (China, Hongkong, Macau)