My parents tried their very best to raise me to be a devout Catholic especially my mother who inherited much of her staunch Catholicism from her own parents. My Lola Dingding, my mother's mother, was a diminutive woman, seemingly frail and delicate yet had a personality as strong and as dominant as the insurmountable religious faith that was the bedrock of her very existence.
When I was a young boy, my siblings and I treasured her visits to Lianga where, after dispensing generous rations of hugs and kisses, she would quickly make sure that all of us young ones where up to date on our religious obligations while at the same time dispensing timely and homey nuggets of spiritual advice to those she felt was lagging behind in their religious and spiritual growth. That was a task she took very seriously and something we all accepted with alacrity because we loved her dearly.
To think of even arguing or debating with her was not only absurd but simply out of the question. One simply does not quibble in the face of a personal faith that seemed capable of not only moving mountains but, more worriedly, seemingly able to bring down the wrath of the Almighty upon those who would dare disbelieve or worse, mock such a faith.
But it was when she took out her rosary beads and novena booklets when she was at her most formidable. I, like all of her grandchildren, always dreaded the moments when she would call all of us out to join her in praying the rosary. It did not matter whether it was early morning, late afternoon or before bedtime. Praying the rosary with Lola Dingding was more than an act or test of faith, it was, in our rather limited view then, refined torture of the most subtle, insidious kind.
Upon seeing our usually somewhat crestfallen, less than enthusiastic faces, she would start with reassurances that it was just going to be an ordinary rosary and for a while she would seem to stay in track. We might fidget or doze off occasionally but a rosary is a rosary and as she reached the final and closing prayers, we would get ready to heave a sigh of relief and wait for it to be finally over.
But then she would start on one interminable novena one after the other, the peans and supplications to various saints following unceasingly in a long and droning cadence. There would be prayers in Latin delivered mellifluously interspersed with songs of praise and deliverance. By this time we knew we would be in for the long and dreary haul.
As the quarter hours pass, most of us with her would be trying to surreptitiously get off our aching knees and into a sitting position. Some would be dozing off or daydreaming if they could get away with it. But Lola Dingding was intolerant of slackers. One stern glance from her and all of us would struggle back quickly into position, scramble our minds for the proper prayer responses and try to adopt the most pious of expressions.
The end of the final hymn and prayers was always a cause for irreverent joy and celebration albeit restrained for Lola's sake. There would be mutual glances of relief and muttered expressions of gleeful thanks. But for my grandmother, her rock like faith was not in any way tested by such disappointing manifestations of lack of religious fervor. The deed and duty has been done. Let God, in His infinite mercy, do the rest.
My Lola Dingding passed away in 1983 but at the start of every October, which is traditionally celebrated in the Philippines the month of the rosary, I always think of her and do so with much fondness and no small degree of regret.
Perhaps I could have prayed with her more, really believed in her more and managed to siphon off even just some of her boundless religious faith. Would my life have turned out to be more simpler? More blessed, perhaps? Would I have been more spiritually stronger in the face of adversity?
All I know now is that my grandmother would not have even thought of asking such questions. She did not need or have to. After all, she believed totally and without reservations. And for her, that was all that really mattered in the end.
The rest was just semantics.