“You have a special mission...Your family has a special mission...” These were the words I heard spoken in my heart as our family was praying the rosary. I then felt God’s powerful presence. For the first time in my life God became a living reality to me. Until then God was only somebody I studied in my religion classes. Occasionally, I prayed to him, but only when I needed something or when I had problems. Otherwise God was irrelevant to my life. Overwhelmed by the experience of God’s love, tears began rolling from my eyes - tears of joy and also tears of repentance. This happened in 1972. I was 14 years old.
A few weeks back my father - Paul Aguas - had his conversion experience. Our family, which was renting at that time a house at Ferguson Road here in Baguio, was invited by our landlady to attend a prayer meeting. He was touched by God and gave his life to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. A week or two after my father’s conversion, my mother - Catherine Aguas - had also a powerful conversion experience while they were in lying in bed and talking about the Lord. The following day, together, they went to confession at the Baguio Cathedral for the first time in many years. That was the First Friday of August 1972.
During those days God manifested himself to our family in very tangible and even extraordinary ways. My father was full of zeal in sharing the Good News. We joined him as he went down to Manila and other places to share about God’s love. We went to houses of friends and relatives, simply sharing with them what God were doing in our lives.
We witnessed dramatic conversions ( e.g. drug addicts being instantly converted) and miraculous healings (e.g. dying people being restored to life, tumors shrinking from bodies of sick people). We experienced in those gatherings the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in I Corinthians 12:the gift of visions, the gift of prophecy, the gift of speaking in tongues...
The stories in the Bible during the time of Jesus and the apostles were no longer simply stories that happened 2000 years ago. It became a living reality in our lives. We witnessed the New Testament coming alive before our eyes. We believed in the Bible because we experienced it. We believed in God’s word because we saw the promises of God being fulfilled in our lives.
When we went back to Baguio, it was not surprising that those we encountered in Manila and other places visited us. Some stayed in our house. Within a few months we decided to become a community. We were only a handful - mostly young people who were former household helps and high school dropouts. Most of us were in our teens and early 20’s. This happened in December 15, 1972.
We lived under one roof and shared all things in common just like the early Christians. We spent our time in prayer, silence, and fasting. When given the opportunity we shared God’s word through prayer meetings, retreats and recollections. For those of us who were single, we lived celibate lives, sacrificing our right to have personal and exclusive relationships with the opposite sex. In short, we lived a life of prayer and sacrifice in the lifestyle of a semi-monastic and religious community.
We lived like this for five years. Later on differences surfaced and eventually the community broke up. My father was devastated. But some friends from another community, The Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon Community, invited my father to attend a course in building Christian communities in the United States. This renewed his life and that of the community.
I, for my part, went back to finish my studies, having had stopped 5 years of schooling to serve God. I studied computer courses in Manila as a working student. Eventually I started working as a computer professional. Initially, I did computer programming and systems work. I rose from the ranks and occupied managerial positions in the companies that I worked for.
In the meantime, during this time, my father became a well-known leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in our country. Under his leadership, the Sacred Heart Community was tasked by the church authorities to be the first Secretariat of the Charismatic Renewal in our Diocese. He also became part of the National Service Committee - the coordinating body for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in our country. He became a well-known speaker. He was invited throughout the country to give talks, seminars, retreats and recollections not only to lay people but also to bishops, priests, nuns and seminarians.
Later on he was chosen to represent Asia at the ICCRO - the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office that holds office in Rome. This opened opportunities for him to share God’s word not only in our country but also in Asia, Europe, United States and South America.
While my father was busy doing the Lord’s work, I began to turn away from God. I became too busy building my career in the computer industry. I worked hard because I was too ambitious. I also had to work hard by force of circumstance because the computer industry is fast-paced and very demanding. But in the process I neglected my spiritual life. I stopped praying and even going to mass on Sundays. I spent my earnings on liquor, women, and the good life. Sad to say, I lived like this for almost 10 years.
It was December 15, 1993. In the middle of the night my aunt and cousin went to my grandparents’ house in Manila where I was staying at the time looking for me. Fortunately, I was at home. It was one of those rare days that I went home early. They came to tell me that my father passed away a few hours ago. Needless to say, I was shocked. He was so young. He was only 53 years old!
Immediately I packed my things and left for Baguio. I have unforgettable memories of my father’s wake and funeral. But the most that stands out were the numerous people that came during his wake and funeral. Many have shared with me how my father deeply touched their lives and brought them closer to God. My father lived unselfishly for God and other people. His was a God-centered and service oriented life. It was a stark contrast to the kind of life that I was living. I was self-centered, materialistic, and selfish. No wonder, in spite of my success, I was unhappy.
It was a turning point in my life - a moment of grace. During his wake I went to confession after so many years of being away from God. I resigned from my job as Project Manager in a computer software firm in Makati. I moved back to Baguio to be with my family. Slowly, I started with God’s grace, to change my life. I began to pray. I began to read Scripture and spiritual books. I started serving God through the Sacred Heart Community. I preached again like I used to. At present I’m one of the elders of the community and work full-time as its Administrator.
Because of my decision to work full-time for God I lack financial stability, but what I have gained can never be measured.
Last February 2000. God gave me a gift. I was invited to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was something that I did not ask for or even dream about. The trip was one of the most significant spiritual experiences of my life.
But God is naughty. He did not only surprise me with a trip. He also introduced me to a wonderful and beautiful woman, whom I now have as my wife. She worked with the travel agency that arranged for it. We became friends, fell in love. And as they always say the rest is history.
God is a most merciful God. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Many years ago he called a 14-year-old boy to serve him. I, with my wife, will continue to do so whenever he calls, wherever he wants us to go. Praise be to God!
NOTE: Matt has left the Sacred Heart Community and is no longer a missionary because of poor health. He's now home bound, and spends his time reading, blogging, meditating, and praying. His wife, Jojang, lovingly takes care of him.