The Lenten Season is a time of renewal and self-reflection, starting from Ash Wednesday and lasting through Easter Sunday.

I do my best to consider the many blessings that I have received throughout my life. One of those blessings is being able to experience Lent through different lenses - whether it be via religion, culture, or perspective. So many people with their stories of faith and conviction have touched me. Many of those storytellers even claimed that they lack faith because they do not know the scriptures as well as they believe they should. The people who have lived their lives so simply and faithfully have most especially blessed me. They unconditionally believe in Him, and they unconditionally love others.

Up to this day, the stories continue pouring on.

Ah, my friends and loved ones, if you just know how much you have taught me over the years....

As to the trials and tribulations that I have gone through, some have taught me to become a stronger person. Some are still ongoing to temper my spiritual faith into the sharp sword that it is supposed to be. Some have taught me to see and feel the pains of others unlike I have ever seen or felt before.

And some, even though they have hit me like a ton of bricks from time and time again, still need to be learned.

Life is so ironic, and so is our faith. My life and faith, in itself, is an irony.

I grew up in a multi-religious household in a small family of five which included my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and eldest brother. While my brother and I were being raised by our grandparents and aunt, we kept close contact with our Mom via letters and telephone calls while she worked in the United States.

My grandparents – particularly my grandmother – were devout Mormons. What made them memorable was how they respected me to choose my faith, when it would have been so easy for them to have me baptized as a Mormon. I recalled when my grandmother defended me from her peers. I was six years old then, and I cried my heart out after they said that I would never see my grandmother ever again if something ever happened to her and I did not go through Mormon conversion. I told my grandmother about what happened, sat down beside her, and asked her if God would allow loved ones to be separated so cruelly. My grandmother's simple answer to me was this: God gives us free agency, and the path to Him is like a fork. There are many points, but there is only one handle. I remembered how much I giggled then, thinking how funny it was. Hell, I am giggling right now but I am also recognizing how true her words were.

My Mom, who has been living in the United States since I was a baby, soul-searched and wore different religious lenses most of her life. She went to a pilgrimage to India, seeking for the Divine answers that would placate her heart and spirit. She returned to the Catholic Church years ago, yet she claims that she now has the peace of mind and soul that I so much admire from my friends who practice Eastern religion.

The aunt who raised me is Catholic. She taught me my prayers - not the regular ritualistic Catholic prayers, but prayer. Prayer, from what I understand from her, is similar to talking to someone. I have gone through much heartache and most – if not all of them – have been easier because I talk to Him without having to streamline or worry about whether I am using the right terminology.

Another aunt that I had close contact with as long as I could remember is also a devout Mormon. I have learned many things from her, but the one that I remember most is how I should trust God. He will provide even though everything seems bleak as long as I did my best to help myself become a vessel for His miracles to happen.

I attended Lutheran school from pre-school to the fourth grade, per my Mom's insistence. As much as my classmates and teachers did not like a Catholic among their midst, I did learn early on that religion is more than the symbols that adorned the altar. I learned that the significance behind the symbol is what matters most. I also experienced firsthand how religious intolerance plays a major role against peaceful co-existence with other faiths. I also learned from them that even though one suffers religious intolerance against others, the source of the turmoil are the individuals involved AND not the religion itself.

I did forewarn you that my life is an irony....

As much as my family members differed in religion and perspective, there is one common denominator: the belief in a Higher Being that has immensely blessed us in our happiest and saddest moments.

What does this have to do with Lent?

Lent, to me, is a time to fuse together the irony, the mystery, and the truth of who we are as human beings and our relationship with the Divine. The Lenten experience, in its entirety, is cathartic. Why do you think that churchgoers, even the most stonehearted ones, shed even a single tear during the Triduum masses (Catholic services from Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday)?

The same goes with other religions, for I remember my Mormon grandmother's solemn reflection throughout the entire 40 days and most especially throughout the Lenten week. I also recalled when my aunt, elder brother, and I would go together from morning until late afternoon visiting and praying from one church to the next. I also remembered how much Lutheran services touched my heart when I was attending school.

In the Filipino culture, the entire week of Lent is celebrated in solemn reflection. I remembered how the radio and television stations aired programs that were derived either from the Bible, or from contemporary pieces highlighting a religious angle. I recalled how families gathered to pray from morning to night, as each attendee commemorated Jesus' suffering and death on the cross.

I also discovered, to my heartwarming surprise, how other cultures (such as my Tongan Methodist friends) commemorated the Lenten season. I felt extremely privileged and blessed to see how they make God as a primary focus of their lives. I joined them during the first week of January years ago, as they feasted and reflected together on how God had blessed them throughout the past year. They diligently attended nightly services to prepare themselves for Lent. Since they celebrated Lent similar to the Filipinos, my Tongan friends helped me gain back the solemnity that I sorely missed since I have left the Philippines many years ago.

Ah, I have been blessed to see so much. Yet, in seeing so much, I also realize that I have only seen a sliver of what life has to offer. If there is another important lesson that struck me the most, I have learned that from my husband. He told me that as much as it is very important that you have an intimate relationship with God, you could not truly say that you have an intimate relationship with Him until you can truly see Him through the face of your fiercest and most hated enemies.

How is that for a tall order? Rude awakening, huh?

Yes, that is what I thought the very first time that I have heard those words from my husband. I am still struggling with that lesson to this very day.

Why do I have to say all the things that I have mentioned above?

The next chapters have reflections on the Seven Last Words of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now that you know that I am Catholic, you know what perspective I am coming from. However, this is not meant for Catholics alone. It is meant for everyone who welcomes a message of repentance, hope, and love - be it that you come from a Catholic or another religious background.

Please do not just look at the symbol, but also look at the messages behind the symbols. Each Word has an explanation below on how I perceived the message from that particular Word, and the lesson that I have learned from the many people that have touched my life.

So my dear friends and readers, enjoy and God Speed....

PJ Wise