The Personal Testimony of Bro Bart Sagun, Jr., BCBP Cagayan de Oro
Bro Bart Sagun, Jr. relates how as a child, he felt unwanted and unloved. How he discovered his “umbilical history” and found love through his wife and the BCBP’s Christian Marriage Retreat is a saga of faith and healing not to be missed.
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; My days were shaped, before one came to be.” (Psalm 139:13 & 16)
My name is Bartolome Lagnada Sagun, Jr. I was born and raised in Butuan City. My father, a true blue Ilocano from Batac,Ilocos Norte, is a retired government employee. A replica of Al Pacino at 76 years old, he has been graciously serving the Lord as lay minister for almost twenty years now. I grew up knowing Papa as the bread-winner—a very hardworking father, a faithful and loving husband to my mother. I consider him as a man of integrity with a great sense of humility in his work. My mother was a simple, self-giving housewife, and a musician-composer by heart. She was an all- out-servant of the Lord before she died of cervical cancer 14 years ago. My parents were both active in the Charismatic Movement and Couples for Christ.
I do not have much to shout about my life. I am the fourth child in the brood of six. I was born during a difficult financial time for my parents, and I was a very sickly child. My mother offered me to the Sacred Heart of Jesus a few days after my birth. My Lola prayed for my healing and asked the intercession of St. Joseph through regular novena prayer. Due to circumstances I grew up as a “Lola’s boy” — attached were the perks that comes with the label. By default, my Lola nurtured my Christian faith.
During my senior year in high school, it was already clear to me that six was already a crowd in our household. I felt that I was the less favored one, and other than the fact that I could not get my share of love and affection from my parents, I already had the inkling that they could not support my college education outside Butuan. But stubborn as I was, I wanted to get out of Butuan. I took the initiative to scout for college scholarship programs. My Lola, allowed me to take the Xavier University scholarship exam with a condition that I would also take the entrance exam at St. Peter’s Seminary. The dilemma came when I passed the Xavier exam, and topped the entrance exam at the seminary. My aunt, the sister of my mother, a nun from the Daughters of St. Paul’s , convinced my family that Xavier University, being run by the Jesuits, would be a good venue for my spiritual formation prior to joining the priestly vocation. Having been given the ticket to fly out of Butuan, my college years at Xavier, as a member of the honors program, can be encapsulated in one sentence: “ I had a little of everything, and everything in between.” I suppose the “in betweens” nullified the possibility of entering the seminary.
My life as a young professional was a stand-alone. As a yuppie, I tried to live a life of my own and earned my keep. It was also a clear manifestation, as my father would aptly put it, “virtual detachment from the basic roots”. “Cogito ergo sum.” —- (“I think, therefore, I am.”) This is how I describe my life before BCBP— a life punctuated with sheer arrogance. I got married in March 1999 — Although a hardworking, faithful and loving husband and father, I was a nominal Catholic — my prayer time with my family was every Sunday. For me, it was already more than enough. Or so I thought.
Although my work was financially rewarding, I was not aware that my married life was slowly crumbling to pieces — we were slowly drifting apart, even in still waters (with no apparent and compelling reason—no third party, no grand vices to boot) practically nothing—as in nothing in between. Looking back, the “nothing in between” had an underlying meaning. I remembered my frequent bouts of gnawing emptiness deep inside me which I could trace way back to childhood. It had been my hang up for many years.
I attended my first BCBP Breakfast in 2009 with my wife. I became a regular fixture at the breakfast for the next six months and we joined the BCBP’s Christian Life Program (BCLP) Batch 8 in Feb 2010. Our BCLP graduation was God’s gift to us —-God rearranged everything such that the date would fall on March 27, 2010—marking our 11th wedding anniversary. It was a grand celebration at the VIP Hotel costing us not even a single centavo.
After the BCLP, I started strengthening my personal and family prayer time. I realized that I had read lots of books, but had missed the best-selling book of all time— the Bible. I was so ashamed to admit this. But I had a good alibi for not having read the bible—-I had no personal bible to start with. I joined the BCBP at a time when “new members” had to undergo the formation program prior to regular membership. As an associate member, I was always excited to attend the activities — almost perfect attendance in action group meetings, 1st Friday mass, assembly, breakfast, formation, retreats and the national convention. During my BCBP formation period, you would see me in all BCBP activities —but do not be misled.
What I could not understand was this— no matter how spiritually fulfilling the BCBP activities were way back then, episodes of emptiness and the indescribable pain of loneliness kept haunting me. It was during these times when I intensely felt the abysmal and gnawing emptiness. I felt a huge hollow inside me even after a particular BCBP activity. It was a recurring and annoying feeling — a very familiar sense of brokenness stemming from my childhood years. In my lucid intervals, I would ask God “why and how come?” I felt something very important was missing. As to what it was, I did not know.
Then the BCBP Marriage Retreat (BCMR) was in the offing. Allow me to dub the BCMR as “The Mother of All Retreats” . This has literally led me to this misnomer — the word “Mother”. I did not know, but it would be the start of a spiritual saga of finding myself, and knowing how God “knitted me in my mother’s womb. ”
We took the BCMR 7 in October 2010. My first impression was: “This is just going to be another movie.” A movie indeed — for right after the joyride from CDO to Bukidnon, a new twist in the plot came just before the start of the orientation. My wife asked me. I should say “she begged,” that whatever is the outcome of this marriage retreat, can I promise her that we will go to mass daily after the BCMR? And being a faithful and loving husband, I held her in my arms, looked at her, and with conviction, gave her a reassuring and a very resounding answer: “ NO, I cannot promise you that.”
What was I thinking at that time? Nothing. What did I feel when I saw my wife crying when I gave her that answer? —–Nothing.
Do not get me wrong, I followed the pre-requisites of the retreat. But admittedly, all throughout the retreat, I felt the rapid, random and recurring attacks of emptiness—-the same old feeling I had had since I was a child. I refused to believe that this had something to do with my “ umbilical history”. My mother had been longing to talk to me, even before she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She wanted to tell me something very important, and somehow would want to make up for the lost time. What I can vividly remember about my mother, as she was courageously embracing cancer—she would never complain even when she was in pain. She would just hum a praise song.
April 8, 1998, a mother was dying, longing to embrace her son. And a son, more than four hundred (400) kilometers away from his mother, was longing for the warmth of a mother’s embrace. That fateful day, I rushed home, but I did not make it. Mama died in the loving arms of my father. What remained in my memory was that particular moment in college when my mother hugged me, but I tried to shove her away. At her wake, I sang my mother’s favorite songs as my way of making up for the lost time. When we buried my mother, I also buried everything there is to know, including the yearning and the longing.
Play it fast forward— 12 years after. Days before the BCMR marriage retreat, my wife talked to me about something she deemed that I should know, for this might be the missing link. As my wife was carefully knitting together the bits and pieces of my umbilical history, she told me that my mother had been faced with the dilemma of telling me that I was — an “unwanted child”. My parents were financially strapped at that time, since my father had lost his job because of his strong sense of idealism and advocacy. They were not ready to have a fourth child. They were not ready to have me.
But from my point of view— they could not afford to love me. As I was told, I almost died. My mother left me at the hospital, went to church, and offered me to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was ready to accept the worst on her way back. To my mind: No big deal. It would not matter. I survived. It would not make a difference. Little did I know that the indescribable feeling of brokenness, of emptiness and loneliness was creating subliminal havoc in my relationship with my wife, my children, and the people close to me.
At the BCMR-Bukidnon, at exactly 2AM, second day of the retreat, when my wife was about to give up on me, as I looked at one particular corner in our retreat room, it dawned on me— it was a déjà vu— and it felt like home. Then I felt what I can only describe as “a menthol, eucalyptus feeling” that engulfed me. And I said to myself: freedom at last from the bondage of emptiness!
Isaiah 41:10, and I quote “So do not fear , for I am with you – do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you – I will uphold you with my right hand.” True enough, halfway through the mass, when “Hosanna” was played, I cried as I sung, and felt that the old gnawing feeling was uprooted from my whole being. That day, after the mass, and on my way to the BCBP breakfast, my wife told me and I quote: “Do not ever think that your mother did not love you, or loved you less. Her devotion to the Sacred of Jesus was dedicated to you since the time you were born.“ Then I remembered that months before my mother died, my wife, (who was my girlfriend then at that time) had had a heart to heart talk with my mother. These were the very words of my mother: “Please take good care of my son, hug and embrace him — for, and in my behalf.” More than anything else, God spoke to me, through my wife, who helped me realize that music was my mother’s way of reconnecting with me — embracing me and touching me even when I was “knitted in my mother’s womb. ” In affirmation of God’s message , during that very breakfast the response reading was Psalm 139. I shall always remember that day as the day when God unveiled my umbilical history through the Responsorial Psalm taken from Psalm 139.
After the BCMR, my life was never the same again. The BCMR is one of the most wonderful gifts that God has given me and my family. This was affirmed during my first trip back to Butuan with my wife and kids, two weeks after the BCMR. God spoke to me through Mama’s favorite song, through my father’s dream of my mother, and through my five-year old son, who, when we visited my mother’s grave, said this three times, “Goodbye, Lola, you are healed now.”
I quote from Exodus 15:26: “For I am the Lord who heals you.” With this, I claimed healing during and after the BCMR, and all the days of my life. My dear friends, claiming God’s grace, I now have a regular date with my wife as we go to mass every day. I take it as a personal advocacy to promote marriage as a blessed sacrament. I now believe that the husband and wife can make a strong pastoral team for the Lord. My personal advocacy also includes appreciating and respecting the sanctity of life from conception, to birth and onwards. And with faith and confidence, I believe that God apportions the gift of healing every single day through prayer and regular confession.
In retrospect, allow me share this statement, written by Charles Swindoll, and I quote: “You may have known brokenness, hurt, insecurity since your earliest days — but please hear me on this: You were never an accident.” That is why I am here, standing before you today — a living witness of God’s awesome grace. Each day unfolds the greatness of the Lord as the Healer, the Giver of life. BCBP has helped me realize that I can claim this every single day. And as I stand before you today, in awe of God’s power and majesty, I want to “shout to the Lord, and declare His greatness!”
A SAGA of FAITH and HEALING, Bartolome L. Sagun Jr.
Bart has shared his personal testimony at:
BCBP East CDO Men’ s Breakfast Sharing 10 March 2012 , Thai Me Up Restaurant, CDOC
BCBP West CDO Men’ s Breakfast Sharing 05 May 2012, VIP Hotel, CDOC
hi hon, just walking down memory lane… as i looked back, you had this sharing more than two years ago. still, cant hold back the tears as i read, and read, and read this piece… Looking back, our daughter Toni led us to psalm 138:1 “… I thank you, Lord with all my heart…” I thank the Lord for this “humble, simple and awesome” masterpiece. As Fr. Rudy Fernandez, SJ puts it, ” Grace. All’s grace.”
sir… very nice and very touching. honestly, your precious piece made me cry. indeed you were never an accident… a living testimony of God’s healing grace.thank you so much ma’am jhay for directing me to the website.