Emmanuel ‘Emer’ Encarnacion, an only child, lived comfortably with parents who were devoted Catholics and who made sure he got a Catholic education.
But he said he reached the point of becoming unchurched. Life’s trials in his adult years tested his faith and rendered him so hopeless that he asked if he might as well end his life.
I’m an only child so I lived a charmed life, loved and protected as I was by my parents.
Since I had no siblings, at home, I sort of created an imaginary world of my own where I was hero as well as villain and other characters.
In reality, I was simply an ordinary boy, bespectacled and thus looking so nerdy, I was an easy prey of school bullies.
Little did I know, life’s blows would be much, much harder.
I got married in my early 20s and my wife and I were blessed with three children— our eldest a boy, the one in the middle mi unica hija, and our youngest a boy.
In the early years of our marriage, my wife and I engaged in a flourishing business. But amid the Asian economic crisis in 1997, our business went bankrupt the following year. We plunged deep in debt and my wife even faced legal impediments.
She then saw an opportunity to earn money to pay our debts— by working in the United States in 2002.
But alas such move worsened my already deteriorating life.
In just three months in the U.S., my wife sent a message that she met someone there and she’s planning to marry him. I thought she was just doing this to gain American citizenship to legalize her stay in the U.S. But as it turned out, she filed for divorce which I had no choice but to approve— and she went ahead and got married to this man.
So there I was— without a source of income, without a wife, my children without a mother, our family broken.
And as if I had not received enough blows, at thetime, my mother, who could have been my refuge, passed away.
Later, in 2005, petitioned by their step dad, my only daughter and youngest son migrated to the United States. In 2007, my daughter came back to the Philippines to finish college. She graduated in 2010 and in May of the same year, went back to the U.S. to stay there for good. My eldest son is still with me waiting for the approval of his petition.
Feeling alone in this grim situation and facing a bleak future, I couldn’t help asking, “Should I now end my life?”
Suicide, however, was not an option for me. And I must say that’s because I was raised a Catholic and had been taught taking one’s life is a mortal sin.
We were an average Catholic family. My father was an altar boy. Priests in the church where he served granted him scholarships up to high school and helped him get a job in a Catholic university where he was a working student until he graduated with a degree in Accountancy. After graduation he continued working for this university as an accountant until he died in 1981, succumbing to lung cancer.
My mother, a full-time housewife, devoted a life of service in our parish church until her death in 2004.
From elementary, high school, up to college, I studied in the university where my father worked.
But I must admit that despite my Catholic upbringing and education, I had been what is called simply a nominal Catholic. I guess I attended Mass and went through the Sacraments simply as my Catholic obligation.
Amid my troubles, however, I began to search for the meaning of it all, a relief from such heavy burden, by looking up to God.
Now, it happened that after my mother’s death, I had to clean her room and sort out her stuff. And as I did, I chanced upon a copy of Our Daily Bread, a little book on daily reflections on God’s Word.
I sat and read a few pages… and before I knew it, I was already asking questions: Who is God? Who is He in my life? Who am I?
I then went on in this search for my spirituality… a renewal of my relationship with my God. My search led me to a book titled The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. I read the first page and in the next 40 days, I just couldn’t put the book down until I reached the last page.
And for the first time, another question nagged me: Should I go back to the Catholic Church, or find a new one?
Yes, I must say that I had reached the point of becoming unchurched.
Not sure of what to do, I stopped attending Sunday Mass. Neither did I attend non-Catholic services.
But I did ask the Holy Spirit to guide me where to go.
Finding The Feast
Five years after I read the Purpose Driven Life, in May of 2010, my prayers were answered…
One Sunday, a very good friend of mine invited me to attend a charismatic prayer meeting being held at the Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig City.
I said, “Sure!”
The preacher said, “Welcome to the Feast. This is your new spiritual family now.”
Those words simply blew me away.
Those words were spoken by Bo Sanchez. But the one I heard was God, welcoming me again to His Church!
Tears stung my eyes, my heart pounded with gladness. I felt peace, I felt joy!
It is a feeling of rebirth, a renewed relationship with my God.
The talk that Sunday was the start of a six- week series titled Life of No Regrets.
God could have not chosen a better time to get me to The Feast. That Feast talk was simply what I just had to hear. Indeed, God is perfect. God is good.
I followed Bro. Bo when he transferred to the Philippine International Convention Center.
At Feast PICC, on September 2010, I was so moved when the choir sang the Potter’s Hand. Written by Darlene Joyce Zschech and popularized by the Hillsong praise band, the song goes:
I’m captured by Your Holy calling
Set me apart
I know you’re drawing me to Yourself
Lead me… Lord I pray
Take me… mold me
Use me… fill me
I give my life
To the Potter’s Hand
Call me… You guide me
Lead me… walk beside me
I give my life
To the Potter’s Hand…
Earlier, I asked the Holy Spirit to guide me, right? And so through these words that must have come from the Potter Himself, I figured He did guide me toward The Feast.
And so I prayed to God: “Father, I would like to serve you in any of your ministries. Use me where I’m good at —use my core gifts.”
First, I applied for membership in the Music Ministry, but I did not receive any reply. I guess there were already many applicants they were no longer taking in more members.
The next year, January of 2011, I signed-in to join the Creative Events Group and still, I didn’t get a reply.
Then one Feast Sunday in March of that year, I just assisted a lady usher in arranging the chairs at the second level of the Reception Hall.
The usher looked at me and said, “Would you like to be a greeter?”
I grinned from ear to ear and answered, “Yes Ma’m! I would love to.”
Guess what? A week after I joined the Greeters’ Ministry. The Creative Events Group accepted me as new member.
Back to the Church
Since it includes the Holy Mass, The Feast led me back to my Catholic Faith, which now I truly understand and appreciate.
The faith community that holds The Feast, the Light of Jesus Family, warmly welcomed me and so I have embraced LOJ as the community where God called me to be molded in the person He purposed me to be.
Through this community, I’ve felt God’s unconditional love. I’ve also received His forgiveness for my unfaithfulness and so I’ve learned to also forgive.
In 2014, I was already a member of the Light of Jesus when I received word that the husband of my wife was in Manila as a balikbayan.
My eldest son and I met with him in the hotel where he was staying. We talked and he answered my whys and wherefores, and at the end of the day, I felt relieved from the pains of the past.
Before we parted, I found myself saying to him, “You’ve loved the people that are closest to my heart— my only daughter, my youngest son and their mother. What had happened is not your fault. I love you with the love of the Lord.”
And I hugged him.
Never in my wildest dreams would have I thought I’d befriend the man who had replaced me in the heart of my wife. But I must say it was not human me who spoke, but the Holy Spirit, our God of the Impossible, who uttered those kind words.
Just like Job in the Bible, I’ve lost not only my family but all of my properties. Our ancestral house was repossessed by the bank, we had to sell our properties in the province, and our business never recovered.
I guess God took away all my worldly possessions — so I could start anew. He took away all of my distractions for me to see the light at the end of the tunnel —and that is Jesus Christ.
All of my children are now professionals. I am in sales, working for an imported luxury cars showroom.
Yes, God is so great, He has simplified my life.
Today, I continue to learn back everything about my Catholic Faith. What I read daily now is the Companion, which includes the daily Mass readings, a brief explanation of the readings from priest writers, and a space for one’s reflections on the liturgy for the day.
And as I reflect on God’s Word, the more I realize that even as I’ve made a detour in my faith walk, the Holy Spirit never abandoned me. All along, He’s been there with me, especially during my darkest moments. And so I pray I will continue to open my eyes, my heart, my mind, and spirit to His leading.