Searching for a Fullness of Faith
Letter from Hanna Dabandan
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Have you ever wondered if, say, there was a zombie apocalypse and every person who knew you died, what you would do the next Sunday?
I remember when I was ten, I was at school playing handball when my best friend Sherry said to me, “I’m Catholic.” “Well,” I said, “I’m Christian.” As in, not Catholic. At the time, I could never have imagined myself being a Catholic at all. Yet here I am, 18 years later.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” - Saint Augustine of Hippo, from the Confessions.
I was born a Catholic and went to Catholic school until second grade. Then my family moved to the United States from the Philippines, where I suddenly found myself attending a Foursquare Gospel Christian church and attending a Presbyterian school. You see, my mother’s side of the family had left the Catholic Church and become born-again Christians. After we took this detour away from the Catholic Church, it would be God's grace that would lead me back to our home, the Catholic Church.
During this time, I went to Sunday school, learned Christian history, and learned the Bible well. I would be forever grateful to my teachers, from whom I learned to love God and love the Scriptures. When I was nine, I asked Jesus to come into my heart and was baptized through water by being dunked into a pool. As far as I was concerned, I was no longer a Catholic but a (Protestant) Christian.
Then my family moved again when I was eleven, and on Sundays my family began attending Protestant Christian service in the morning and Catholic youth Mass in the evening. I didn’t particularly enjoy the Catholic Mass, and I always felt awkward mumbling through prayers I didn’t know which everyone else seemed to know by heart. By the time I was thirteen, my family had completely returned to the Catholic Church and I received my First Communion and Confirmation. As far as I knew then, I was a Catholic without really knowing why.
As you may imagine, all this did not sit well with the rest our family members. Throughout the rest of my teenage years, I faced questions every time someone found out I was Catholic: my personal relationship with Christ, my knowledge of Biblical verses, Mary, the saints, statues, vain repetition, salvation by grace and not works, the priesthood, etc. Often this would come from members of my own family or even their friends. Today I would not blame them, and I am thankful to them for the questions I would not have otherwise asked during my journey of faith. Sundays were definitely awkward in our family gatherings as we would no longer attend church together anymore. Every Christmas and Easter my own family and I had to excuse ourselves as briefly as possible so we can attend Mass, and during prayers in their homes I had to remember not to make the sign of the cross.
By the time I was eighteen about to attend college, I prayed to God that if the Catholic Church was as wrong as others have told me, that He help me find the one good reason for me to walk out of the Catholic Church myself and leave forever. Just one. If I was going to remain a Catholic, I wanted to be able to know and explain why, and not just because of my parents choosing for me.
So I thought of the question I now ask you: If there came a plague, a zombie apocalypse, or World War III and every person I knew died, where would I go to church that Sunday? Would I even bother going? Why or why not? If I wouldn’t go then, why bother going now? I did not have answers then- all I knew was how to ask questions.
During my college search, by God’s grace, I found the Jesuits. I had no idea who the Jesuits were- only that they were Catholics and there’s a thing called a Jesuit education. What’s so great about a Jesuit education? How good can they possibly be? With this, I set out to challenge a Jesuit university. Growing up, I have heard many arguments against the Catholic Church, but I wanted to know the Catholic side of the story before forming an honest opinion about it- even if I had to visit every Catholic church on the planet, even if I had to ask for answers from the Pope himself.
For the next four years I restlessly, hungrily searched, armed with questions and demanding answers. If, for example, Catholics actually worshipped Mary, where is this worship service and in which part of the Catholic Mass does this happen? Shouldn’t this be easy to find in a Catholic university? I attended almost every retreat and went to every single Sunday Mass, listening to every word looking for the one good reason to leave.
To my great surprise, Sunday Masses at this university was always packed with students. I wondered why students kept coming when their parents weren’t around. I wondered why they often looked happy going to Mass, and why they always hugged each other, including me, a student they didn’t know, during the sign of the peace. I wondered how it was possible for Masses to be filled almost entirely by 18 to 22-year-old college students. Everyone involved was a college student except the priest and perhaps the musical director. Until then, the only lectors and extraordinary ministers I’ve seen were mostly older adults. Last but not least, with a white majority in our university population, I wondered how these students could be white and Catholic. As a person of color this fascinated me- it was easy to find Catholics who were Hispanic or Filipino, but I’ve never in my life seen such a large group of young, white Catholics. The young whites I knew growing up were either secular or evangelical Protestants on a mission to save Catholics. In these young, white, Catholic student community I saw, not a dead faith just “going through the motions” as I had expected to find, but a Church that was very much alive and on fire for Christ.
After years of restless searching, asking questions, and chasing answers, I realized how much I had underestimated Catholics and Catholic Christianity. From priests who quietly gave me answers that humbled me, to Jesuit professors who showed me faith expressed through art and literature, to the prayers of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, which developed my relationship with a God who loves me and desires the best for me. By the time I graduated college, Protestant Christianity seemed a shadow compared to the richness and depth of Catholic Christianity, where I hadn’t even reached the bottom.
Sometimes I still encounter questions from people at work, at home, or even at random places. I cannot promise to have all the answers- I can only share what I've found, my joy, and the beauty of a church where Scripture became alive and my relationship with Christ became more personal than ever before.
In your own journey, dear sisters, I encourage you to wonder, to ask questions, and to remain open to God’s grace.
Go deeper and know your Bible as well as you know your own favorite story, and get to know what happened in the lives of its characters. Carve its verses upon your heart, until its prayers become your own. Fall in love with the Bible and find its place in the heart of our Catholic faith.
Also reflect on how much you may already know about your own faith, the Catholic faith in general, and perhaps questions you may still have about the Catholic faith. Then seek to find the answers to those questions, learning more and growing in your understanding of the Catholic faith. When you find yourself struggling at times with your faith or with trusting in the Holy Spirit, remember to pray, then be open to moving out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself, and allow His grace to help you.
In my own journey of faith, I knew by making a choice that I would end up turning against someone in my own family- either my parents, my grandparents, or my aunts and uncles. I love them with my whole heart and my one deep desire is that God’s grace will lead them home, to the fullness of Christ, all the way into the doors of the Catholic Church. In this way my Catholic faith, where I found the fullness of Christ, is my pearl of great price. I love you too much to not share what I have. My comfort are the words of a song you may have heard before: "Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come, follow Me, and I will give you rest."
With love and prayers,
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Get to know Hannah
Full name: Hanna Mae H. Dabandan
Occupation: Graduate student and business professional
Location: Tracy, California
Educational background: Bachelor of Business Administration, Business Law concentration, Loyola Marymount University, 2012; Master of Business Administration, Dominican University of California, 2018
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
My Catholic faith is the greatest joy I’ve ever found, and I live as one happy young Catholic to attract others, especially young people, to Christ, to the Church, and to the Mass- as a friend, a lector, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, a choir member, always praying for every single person in the world as others prayed for me.
Has there been a particular teaching of the Church that has intimately transformed the way you see yourself and others? If so, please describe.
Finding God in all things, the awareness that God can be found in every one, in every place and everything. Every moment, every situation, every person we encounter is also an encounter with God, and this brings us closer to God and people in many walks of life with gratitude, compassion, and humility.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you.
A woman who inspires me is Saint Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo and from whom the city of Santa Monica was named after. Monica prayed for her husband and mother-in-law until their deaths, and prayed for her son Augustine for years until he was baptized and later became a great bishop, founder of a religious order, Saint and Doctor of the Church. She saw that her life had a divine purpose, to pray for others. St. Monica’s life of prayer is a model, especially for me, of what can be done to restore our families and our Catholic community.
Fill in the blank
My morning routine consists of: breakfast with oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon or sausages, and a glass of milk, then playing outside with my two dogs Santiago and Lorenzo.
I’m currently obsessed with: leather bracelets, pink cashmere scarves, and English cream tea.
I feel most inspired when: singing and praying during every Sunday Mass and staring at Catholic art and architecture.
My favorite part about my life right now is: my God-given freedom and time to spend with my family and friends, my dogs, and my loved ones.
The advice I would give to the millennial Catholic woman is: Fall in love with your faith and chase God to the ends of the Earth until you find Him. Let your every breath and every heartbeat become a prayer, whether you’re running or painting or even sleeping, and your prayers can make a difference in the world. The way you live your life and your faith can make all the difference to another person’s life, in ways you may not ever know. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” -- St. Catherine of Siena