Her name is not Rosemary. But I will call her that.
The woman that I married in the year 2005 was born in Manila, capitol of the Philippine Islands, in 1973. Politically, she was born soon after Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law on the island nation that he ruled. Culturally, over 300 years of Spanish rule had turned the people of the archipelago into perhaps the most devout Catholic Christians in the world. And much as Spain held uneasy tensions with their southern Muslim neighbors, the northern Philippine Islands shared the same tensions with the Muslim islands to the south.
Rosemary was born into a very devout Catholic culture. Soon after her birth, she was baptized as a Catholic girl and, as was typical, was endowed with many god-parents. Her earliest memories were those of religious training and catechism. She was taught to accept the body of Christ, and to pray and sing in the choir. She was taught about the suffering and passion of her savior Jesus Christ, and she was taught to adore the holy saints, including the parents of Jesus, Joseph and Mary. She was taught that God was far removed from this mundane world, in fact He was so vastly far removed that it was best to direct her prayers to her adored saints. Since the saints lived in Heaven with God, they could act as intermediaries, and if she kept a righteous life, they could pray directly to God for her.
Rosemary received her first Holy Communion as a toddler. At the age of 10, after years of immersive Catholic education, she reaffirmed her baptismal rites in Confirmation. As one of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church, Confirmation was meant to confess her Faith in Catholic dogma to her family and community, and it ensured her as an adult member of the Catholic Church. I sometimes wonder if there has been any child who has ever refused Confirmation because they did not believe the received Dogma. Somehow, I think peer pressure eventually gets the better of every child in this situation. But this was not the case for Rosemary. She sincerely believed in her Blessed Sacraments, and strove to live through her Sacraments, and grow deeper in them as she grew older.
Rosemary was proud of her Faith as a source for morality. Her Church taught her to live her Faith out through generous actions to those less fortunate. During 7th grade, she went on her first religious retreat, where she was allowed plenty of quiet time for prayer and contemplation. The priests at the retreat would lecture on how to be a good Catholic by service, prayer, alms, and performing good deeds to others. Rosemary attended more mature retreats while she was in high school. She read selected Bible passages at her Christian Living program classes, where she was taught to spread the Word of God. “Spreading the Word” did not mean door to door evangelism or street preaching, as it did with me. For Rosemary, spreading the Word meant living the life that Jesus would live through her. This meant to her that Faith was one that relied on actions and good deeds, not merely on devotional prayer and study, and certainly not on preaching. She became active in collecting goods for the victims of Manila’s frequent typhoons, and she visited needy prisoners with much needed supplies like towels and sardines. She and her class-mates would team off in pairs to teach in the miserable slums of Pasay City, and share stories of Jesus with the children there.
Rosemary was fortunate. She did not come from a rich family, but they were not desperately poor either. Her mother was a school teacher at a very exclusive Catholic school, and through those connections, Rosemary was also able to attend and receive a quality education. Unlike my own family, Rosemary’s knew the value of education, and insisted that she attend college after high school. Rosemary attended a private, exclusively female, Catholic university in Manila, and was taught by the nuns of the Assumption Order. College training with the nuns, and her many theology classes only strengthened and solidified her Catholic Faith. At one point, she was even invited to become a nun. Although she declined the offer, she found her Catholic Faith exciting and vibrant. She felt that her immersion programs, singing in the choir, preparing food for farmers, and visiting slum areas were much more important, and much more interesting than her boring day job.
The Christianity that Rosemary knew was not one I would ever recognize. Being a refugee from Calvary Chapel, I believed that Catholics were heretics. At least I had read enough John MacArthur study booklets to be convinced that they were heretics. They were not real Christians. Catholics could not possibly be real Christians since they relied primarily on their good works to achieve salvation, and did not have true Faith in the one and only, all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus, and salvation through His grace alone. Catholics could not possibly be real Christians since they followed the doctrines established by the Roman Church and unverifiable traditions, instead of the sole and sure authority of the Bible, the Word of God. Catholics could not possibly be real Christians since they prayed to statues of Mary, which in my mind were no better than the graven images that God commanded Moses not to carve, much less worship. Worst of all, Catholics could not possibly be real Christians because they did not believe in the sufficiency in the only unique sacrifice of Jesus to atone for all sin. During the Holy Mass of the Catholic Church, the priest held the wafer over the altar, and dared to invoke a new sacrifice of Jesus Christ and impart His essence into the wafer. The bread and wine were not mere symbols of remembrance as Calvary Chapel practiced, but were the true body and blood of Jesus, to be sacrificed anew at each celebration of the Mass. I was taught that this was unbelievable and heinous blasphemy, that the Catholic Church was a likely candidate for the anti-Christ, and that it was no better than the most base and primal of pagan religions. So I was told and so I believed.
I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I thought. I could talk to God the Father one on one in the most intimate of settings. God loved us as a Father, not ruled over us as a tyrant. God asked for our devotion and purposeful love. How could he possibly be impressed with love that was only manifested in rituals, traditions, and chanting from prayer books?
In the meantime on the other side of the planet, Rosemary was asking similar questions to herself. She loved God. She adored Mary and the Saints, and she was devoted to Pope John Paul II. Why then could she not just pray directly to God? Why did she have to recite endless cycles and repetitions of the Rosary? They were not serious doubts of her Faith. They were simple questions of devotion and piety. Yet she was discouraged from asking even the most innocent of questions such as this. From one of her friends, she was introduced to a book by Neale Donald Walsch called Conversations with God that seemed to provide her with some satisfactory answers to her troubling questions. Despite warnings from her conservative mother, Rosemary was very impressed with the ideas put forth in the book. God was not a vengeful being, and it is harmful to think of God as a Divine king or parent. God is Everything and is All, and His believers are welcome to have intimate ‘conversations’ with Him. The book gave Rosemary a picture of God that she was very attracted to, but it also introduced other, potentially troublesome, food for thought. Contrary to her Catholic teachings, Conversations with God also taught that there was no absolute morality, and that right and wrong were illusions. If bacteria and parasites thrived by devouring their hosts, they were only doing what was ‘right’ for them. How then could we know what was ‘right’ for us?
Beyond questions like these, Rosemary never doubted the truth of her Catholic Faith. She insists that she was born a Catholic. Everybody in her family was Catholic. She attended Catholic grade school, high school and college. She eventually became a school teacher, and taught in the same Catholic grade school that she had once attended. All of her friends were Catholic. Her entire culture, influenced by over 300 years of Spanish rule, was drenched in Catholic tradition and belief. She had heard of people of other Christian religions, but she did not personally know anyway. They were all, despite the diversity of Christian belief outside of Catholicism, lumped together under the generic term ‘Protestant’. Some of these people did exist, for instance in the Iglesia ni Kristo, but they were a small, cultish minority. There was a lack of acceptance of these Protestants among Catholic believers, and Rosemary had no idea what they really believed. She was taught not to question or be curious about them.
In 2002, Rosemary was given the opportunity to travel to the United States to work as a school teacher. She applied for her work visa, and was given an assignment to work in a city called El Paso in Texas. Rosemary was naturally nervous about the move she would make from her home to a distant foreign country, a move away from all her family and friends, from her culture, from everything familiar and important to her. She did what many young women did in her position. She made a short trip to visit the Sister-Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration in Tagaytay City. More popularly known as the Pink Sisters, the nuns of the Adoration Convent of Divine Mercy were famous for their piety, their vows of silence, devotion and contemplation, and their bright pink habits. But most importantly, they were known for their answered prayers. The Pink Sisters invited visitors to the convent to make prayer requests, and the Sisters would direct these prayers to God through the exposed Holy Eucharist, to which they devoted their lives in adoration. One could not make an oral request to the Pink Sisters, as silence is demanded within the chapel walls. A dropbox was located outside the gate, into which slips of paper with written prayer requests could be inserted. Rosemary requested prayers for success in the United States, that she would use her skills as a school teacher to educate young American children, continued health for herself and family, and that she would make enough money to send back home to her family in Manila. Within her own heart, she asked God to take care of her husband until she met him, wherever and whenever he might be.
Rosemary eventually found herself travelling 8000 miles from her island home to the desert of the southwestern United States. She had all the wild and mixed emotions that one would expect from a young woman leaving her family for the first time. She was afraid, yet excited for her new independence. She had no idea what American children and classrooms would be like, and she prepared herself by expecting the worst. But she anticipated new growth and maturity in herself, professionally, mentally and spiritually. Upon her arrival in El Paso, she looked out the aircraft window at the dusty creosote bushes scattered about the desert floor and she already missed her lush tropical home.