Then, I got my biggest surprise this Christmas when I was asked to organize the Simbang Gabi for our condominium community four days before it started. I learned that our Liturgical Committee Head was already busy preparing for his overseas assignment soon and begged off from the responsibility of organizing and overseeing the preparation. Being his assistant, the responsibility landed on my lap. I initially thought that the task wouldn’t be very difficult since there are other members of the Liturgical Committee and there are cluster representatives in the different buildings in our community. But I was wrong. I found out in the course of the preparation and coordination that there were only three reliable members of the Liturgical Committee. And that included me, a lay minister and our head. Since our head was busy with his work commitments, he only committed to provide the music by playing the keyboards. I was already very happy with that. At least, finding a musician was one task off my very long to-do list. The lay minister, although very knowledgeable with the requirements for the Holy Mass, relied more on me to mobilize and coordinate with people and to provide the other items or requirements for the Mass.
It was very stressful especially in the beginning because I had to do almost everything and I had to move from one place to another during the mass because no one else volunteered or was familiar with the parts of the mass. There were only a few cluster representatives who responded to my text messages and calls when I coordinated. Out of the many representatives, I think less than 10 percent responded and much lesser are those who responded positively. A lot of times during the first few days of the Simbang Gabi, I wasn’t sure who was going to be the readers, offertory ushers, fruit or grocery basket donors or choir. Every night, I kept praying to God that He would touch and move hearts and that He would send other volunteers who would help me organize the Simbang Gabi. Then, slowly each night, God sent one or two more volunteers until it came to a point that I didn’t have to be the only commentator. I thank God that there was another woman who volunteered. This development enabled me to focus on other tasks/roles that needed to be done/filled during the mass like ensuring that the symbolic offering every night for the Christmas Novena would be in order and that those assigned to offer would not forget to bring what they are supposed to bring and walk at the right moment. That the offertory procession would be in order and that there are people chosen to carry the love offering baskets, water, wine and host and that they are carried in the right order at the right time. That there would be Power Point slides used to project the Responsorial Psalm, Christmas Novena, Prayers of the Faithful and the songs for the Mass and that there would be someone who would operate the computer and the lcd projector. That the contents of the mass kit are complete and ready for use, etc. etc.
I experienced so many challenges preparing for the Simbang Gabi but the miracles I witnessed each night were so much more. The first miracle I witnessed was the very big turnout of mass-goers. The chairs were not enough since day 1 because those who attended the Simbang Gabi in our clubhouse were always more than a hundred. In fact, on the first night and on the last night of the Simbang Gabi, the attendees were more than doubled because our clubhouse was filled with people up to the second floor. The second miracle was that I always get surprised with the turnout of donors for the fruit or grocery basket. There were days when no one has committed or pledged to donate and I would just pray to God that He would move my neighbours to be generous. And then I noticed that it was during those nights when I wasn’t certain if someone would donate or offer a basket that we had the most fruit/grocery baskets offered. Amazing! There was also a night when no one confirmed among those I texted until around an hour before the Mass. A neighbour who was supposed to donate and offer during the weekend but did not make it called me and told me she will donate and offer that night. What perfect timing! It was only then that I realized why she was not able to attend and offer during the weekend. It was because she was appointed by God to offer that night when no one else would donate and offer except her. The third miracle I witnessed was the raising up of new volunteers among the residents of our community. One by one, some neighbours eventually approached me and volunteered to help in their own small way. We still have a very small group of volunteers for our liturgical services but it’s better than not having any volunteer at all. I continue to hope and pray that God would send more laborers into the harvest for the harvest is great but the laborers in our community are few. The fourth miracle I witnessed was when our next door neighbour who rarely went to Mass attended our Simbang Gabi and they even agreed to carry the wine and host in one of the Masses. And then I wondered… Could it be that some of our neighbours are like them who are not regular churchgoers but because the Mass was already in the comforts of our clubhouse, they have chosen to attend? Possible! And with that realization, I grew in conviction to endure the hardships, challenges and inconveniences of organizing the Simbang Gabi.
The fifth miracle I got was the answer to my question and search at the start of the Advent season. I realized while preparing for the Simbang Gabi that this was the family bonding activity God wanted me and my family to share this Christmas. I discovered that this was the first time my husband was able to complete the Christmas 9 Day Novena Masses. And his experience was made more memorable because he was not only a spectator or regular attendee but he had some active participation and specific roles in some of the Masses because I needed his help and there weren’t many servants/volunteers who can help me. Most of the time, he was part of the music ministry and he was helping out Yanthy with the symbolic offering. Our 2 year old son, Yanthy, was able to attend the Simbang Gabi for the first time this year because it was held in our own clubhouse and it was held in the evening when he was still awake. He even played a special part because of the symbolic offerings which are part of the Rogationists’ way of having the Simbang Gabi. It was also very meaningful and memorable for our family especially for Yanthy because he lent his things to the Baby Jesus in the manger. Since I was the one organizing and only a couple of residents volunteered to provide the symbolic offerings, a number of the things offered in the manger are Yanthy’s things. I was very happy that Yanthy was involved somehow in preparing for Jesus’ birth. I saw how eager he was to lend Baby Jesus his baby pillow, baby clothes and toy drum. I was glad to see my son happy to offer his own things so that the Baby Jesus would have something to “use.” It was a delight to see and hear my toddler son sing liturgical and Christmas songs during the Mass. It was a fulfilment of my dream; that one day when I have my own family, we will be one household serving the Lord. I only hoped and prayed for something nice that our family could do and experience together this Christmas but God surprised me and exceeded my expectations by giving us this amazing and unforgettable experience of the first ever Simbang Gabi in our condominium community. These are just some of the many miracles I witnessed as I organized the Simbang Gabi. There’s so much more but I am at a loss for words right now. I just can’t help but marvel and be awed at God’s amazing hand.
It was an exhausting and challenging 9 days but if I would be asked to do it again, I would still say yes. The Simbang Gabi experience did not only help me and my family prepare our hearts for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It also helped many residents in our community prepare their hearts for Jesus. It was an honor and a privilege to be God’s instrument and to be like St. John the Baptist to our neighbours. As I end this reflection and sharing, let me share part of the homily of Fr. Tim, one of the priests who celebrated the Simbang Gabi with us. He said that God needs people like Mary who are willing to make a sacrifice so that others would experience His Love. His words struck me because God called me to make a sacrifice this Christmas so He could use me to organize the Simbang Gabi which would bless a lot of people. I wasn’t stressed much because of the Christmas shopping because I started early. It was only later that I realized why God moved me to do this early. It was because He was going to give me another assignment. What stressed me was the day by day preparations for the Simbang Gabi when a lot of the things we needed were provided sometimes literally at the last minute. But it also paved the way for me to witness God’s faithfulness and amazing grace. Then I realized, it was not only me who made a sacrifice but also my family because we were exhausted during the Simbang Gabi because of the preparations and coordinations and we slept late most of the time including Yanthy. We were not able to prepare much food also for our Noche Buena because I didn’t have much energy anymore to cook a number of dishes. I simply prepared a pasta, salad and soup dish. Moreover, although we were able to shop for gifts for other people and for Yanthy, my husband and I were not able to spend ample time searching and buying gifts for each other. We were not able to go out also to have a date on our wedding anniversary because we needed to serve in the Simbang Gabi. We simply had lunch as a family in a restaurant and offered a fruit basket and a copy of my book during the Mass. But as we reflected on our Simbang gabi experience on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we realized that what we have experienced as a family this year is what is essential. That’s what really Christmas is all about. It’s all about Christ and about being Christ to others. I’m blessed to have given Jesus Christ -- the real reason for our celebration -- the gift of myself. And I’m doubly blessed to have received Him in my heart as the most precious Christmas gift I have received this year.