By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
Nearly 20 years into the new millennium, society sometimes asks how modern young people choose the religious life. A summer school course at Catholic Theological Union gave me cause to reflect and recall my own liturgical formation–learning the holy work of God–from the age of four and how it shaped the foundation of my vocation.
My parents seized the opportunity to foster my gift of faith. I was baptized at Saint Rafael Parish in Pasay City, Philippines. They sent me to the parish’s preschool where I had my first religious education. I believe that my baptism and early education sowed the seeds of my religious vocation.
I remember three significant experiences in that parish: the pouring of holy water on my head during baptism; Easter Sunday celebration where an image of Judas Iscariot was burned in effigy; and the moment when I realized I wanted to be like the altar servers and wear the vestments of the priest.
When I moved to elementary school, I was fortunate to receive religious education in a non-Catholic private school where I first experienced the Sacrament of Reconciliation and received my First Communion. During high school, I joined and became a leader of a Catholic youth ministry.
Salesian brothers and priests lived in our community. They did youth ministry in our small urban settlement. Every weekend, the seminarians visited our place for catechism class. They helped us establish our chapel and develop our community parish activities.
I became one of the youths who made parish activities a recreational part of our community. We were involved as parish ministers such as choir member, altar server, commentator and lector.
I read the Bible and adopted religious practices like novenas and devotion to the Blessed Mother and Santo Niño (Child Jesus). As children, we raised awareness and promoted the Catholic faith by organizing social outreach projects. For the feast of our patron saint, we organized activities, such as a procession, sports festival and a Bible quiz bee. After earning a bachelor’s degree in religious education from a Catholic university, I became a religion teacher.
I am thankful for the rich experience of parish involvement at a very young age. I owe it to my family, the parish community and the people I met in school. The music, gestures, Scriptures, prayers of the faithful and Eucharistic prayers became an integral part of my growth as a baptized child who was exploring the mystery of sacred experience. It taught me a sense of community, belonging, diversity, inclusion, reconciliation, peace, justice and charity.
My presence in the liturgy was not as a watcher but as a participant who was being transformed by the living God. As stated in the Congregation for Divine Worship’s Directory for Masses with Children,” worship teaches human values through “the community activity, exchange of greetings, capacity to listen and to seek and grant pardon, expression of gratitude, experience of symbolic actions, a meal of friendship, and festive celebration.”
Through Mass, I learned active, conscious and authentic participation in the Eucharistic celebration. Furthermore, I witnessed the dynamic life of the Gospels, the Word of God. Over the years, as I grow in age and wisdom, my ears have been trained to the sounds of the words in Scripture verses.
When I listen to a lector, I understand that it is not a mere reading of Scripture. It is the proclamation of the Divine Word. It became the lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).
From my first encounter with the living God in worship to where I am at right now, the liturgy has formed my baptismal identity as a child of God. The proclaimed Word that I heard during the liturgy grew within me. It is constantly calling forth an ever deeper spiritual response. It leads me to unlimited possibilities for an encounter with God through worship and the liturgy.