“'She who laughs, lasts.' At least that was Theresa of Avila's philosophy. Theresa, a Spanish nun who founded the reformed order of the Carmelites in 1562 used to look for novices who knew how to laugh, eat and sleep. She believed that if they ate heartily they were healthy, if they slept well they were more than likely free of serious sin, and if they laughed, they had the necessary disposition to survive a difficult life.” I am not sure who wrote this, but it inspired me to write the following true-to-life accounts.
One morning the two-year-old son of the caretaker was playing near the chapel of Mount Carmel Monastery in Angeles City. After the Mass I tried to communicate with the child and asked, “Where is your father?” He answered, “At home.” Then intending to ask the name of his father, I continued, “And who is your Daddy?” Confused, he said “you.”
Among the ways to make a child talk is to ask him/her to recite the alphabet, or to count one to ten. I tried this on a three-year-old girl. I showed her one finger and she said, “one.” I showed her two fingers, and she said, “two.” I showed her three fingers, and she said, “many.”
When I was in Fiji in May 2000, I visited Chevalier Hostel, a home for street children in the capital Suva under the supervision of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. After some snacks, I had a chat with the kids. They informed me that they go to the different schools in the city. When I asked them which subjects they liked most, one answered that Mathematics was his favourite. So I pressed on and inquired if in school they use “Finger Math.” I explained that this method uses the fingers to compute equations using the principles of the abacus. The young boy answered, “No, Father, we do not use our fingers; we use our brains!”
When I was in the elementary grades (10 years old) all the boys in the class were joining the cub scouts. I was chosen by the teachers to be the commander. So I practiced the commands in English like “forward march,” “about face,” “to the rear march,” and so on. However, I got ill. When I returned to school after a week, my classmates informed me that another student was chosen to be the commander, because the practice had to go on and the scouting event was getting close. When I informed my parents, brothers and sisters about this turn of events, they discouraged me from joining the scouting activities. So, the next day I discussed the matter with my teacher and told her that I was no longer interested to be a cub scout. When she asked for the reason, I answered, “Because I am not the commander anymore.” Well, I was still in the cub scouts; my teacher arranged that I would be the commander of another group of scouts.
At Chevalier School (formerly Sacred Heart Seminary), Angeles City, a second year high school student (15 years old), who was in the star section of his year level, regularly passed by the school chapel every morning on his way to the classroom to pray before the image of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Devout and intelligent, he must be a good vocation candidate to religious or priestly life, I thought. I was all the more impressed because he was elected student council president of the high school. Some vocation directors came and went, but there was no mention of him. After his graduation I met his mother who recounted to me what happened at home. His father had high hopes for him and wanted him to become a priest. So one day, the father expressed to him this ardent desire, “Son, you know, I very much want to have a son who is a priest.” After a short silence, the son answered, “Yes, Dad; I too want to have a son who is a priest.” [This youngster continued his studies at University of Santo Tomas, one of the four top universities in the country, was elected student council president of the student body, and is presently a medical doctor. He may now have a son who is at last willing to join religious life and break that cycle of “wanting too to have a son who is a priest.” Well, Vocation Directors, do something...search for this guy!]
COLLEGIANS, NOVICES, AND SCHOLASTICS
In the fifth year in the minor seminary, we had a subject “Astronomy.” Owing to the fact that the test was scheduled in a few days, I decided to do some extra readings and consult Collier’s Encyclopaedia. From the class lectures I learned that the earth rotates on its axis (thus we have night and day) and in one revolution around the sun, it makes 365 (or 366 during leap years) rotations. In the case of Mercury, one side of the planet always faces the sun. Now, I read something interesting in the encyclopaedia that was not in the notes, namely, that because one side of the planet constantly faces the sun, then in one revolution, it makes one rotation! That was quite a revelation, a gem of information! Then came the much-awaited test. On the third day, our test papers were returned. I had one mistake, and that was the very information from the encyclopaedia! What a reward for an extra research work! I complained and showed the professor the exact wording in Collier’s, but he would not budge, saying with finality, “One revolution, and zero rotation. Books can be wrong, and Encyclopaedias can be outdated!” I remembered this event when I was in Theology. Some students dared to be original when they wrote their terms papers, either out of conviction or for the reason they they did not follow the lessons! One of the few Spanish Jesuit professors reminded our class at the beginning of the semester, “Class, well, you can write in your term paper whatever ideas you may have, but remember, you have to please me.”
In the scholasticate, before the evening meal, one of the formators regularly got the ice cubes from the old refrigerator for the drinks before the meal. One hot afternoon, after a basketball game, the scholastics had to content themselves with the unrefrigerated bottled soft drinks (soda, cola), because the one in charge forgot to put them inside the refrigerator. Now the most senior scholastic, whom we had voted to be our dean of scholastics, got the ice cubes and shared them with a few others, believing and hoping that in two hours time, the water would turn to ice. Evening came, and the formator asked the community, “Who got the ice-cubes?” We all looked at each other wondering who the culprit(s) might be. After a period of silence, that senior scholastic coyly raised his hand and said, “If nobody did...I did.”
In the early 70’s a fellow scholastic was often visited by his mother who lived just around 200 kilometres away. While we were very happy whenever she came because she always brought food for her son that he shared with us, the rector was not! Why? Because for him, she was a distraction to the community life. So one day he confronted this scholastic, “Why is your mother often here?” Then came the fast reply, “Because she wants to see you.” The visits continued.
This same rector was ill at ease during his first few months in the scholasticate. He felt he needed to be away once a month and visit his family and confreres in the province 200 kilometres away. An air-conditioner was installed in his room to help keep his blood pressure down. For him the world had gone upside down. Why, this was not the kind of scholasticate that he expected. He complained, “In my days as a scholastic in Australia, the rector calls the meeting and the scholastics attend; now, the scholastics call the meeting and the rector attends.”
The Theology course “Sacraments of Initiation” had this assignment: to observe a baptismal rite and interview the officiating priest. So I went to a parish in a place called Cubao, and requested the German SVD for an interview after the baptism that he would officiate at. He asked, “And who are you?” “Father, I am a student in Theology studying under the (American) Jesuits,” I answered. “That's bad,” he remarked. “But I am with the (Dutch) MSC,” I retorted. “That's worse!” he said.
In 1971, I was on pastoral year/regency at Virgin of the Rule parish, where one of the parochial vicars was learning how to drive the Volkswagen Beetle. While we were on our way to the nearby city one evening, we could see 20 meters ahead a big stone the size of a cantaloup. To show his driving skills, the parochial vicar drove straight towards the stone intending to pass it betweent the left and the right wheels. But to our surprise we felt a big thud. Embarassed, he remarked “That stone should not be there!”
A Dutch confrere came over to the provincialate in Manila. I was there by chance, listening to his encounter with the Dutch Princess Irene, the sister of the present Queen Beatrix. He talked about his meeting with the princess at Philippine Plaza Hotel where she was billeted, and about how she valued his visit. He mentioned too that as he was leaving, she wanted so much to have a picture with him that she herself went to her room to get her camera. Then pricking our conscience he said, “See the princess listened to me and gave importance to my visit. But whenever I am here with this community, nobody cares.” Then in all innocence I quoted Luke 15 saying, “Father...you are with us always, and everything we have is yours...”
There is a Dutch missionary that everybody loves. He is that kind of a person who is accommodating, simple, innocent, etc. His thin undernourished looks all the more add to his saintly aura. This aura and his winsome innocense make him popular among the religious women, that whenever a group of priests and religous visit any women congregation, the sisters congregate around him, and leave the others to fend for themselves. Now, during one meeting of the formators and the provincial council, the group could not exhaust the list of human and spiritual qualities that the scholastics should have imbibed at the end of the formation; the provincial superior in all frustration said, “Well, look at this confrere. That is how the seminarians should be.” But this same provincial superior loves to tease him. One time I told him, “I pity you; the provincial superior always teases you.” He retorted, “No, he does not tease me...he persecutes me.” Here is one example. During the famine in Africa in 1992, there was an international APIA spirituality seminar in Manila. The provincial superior introduced the confreres from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Papua New Guinea and so on; and turning to him, the provincial superior introduced him thus, “This one is our confrere from Somalia,” to his chagrin but to the amusement of the others. This same Dutch confrere is also a practical man who cannot be hurried into something. Once in 1990, when the novitiate was in Angeles City, he was preparing to leave for Manila. I wanted to hitch a ride in his Volkswagen Beetle and asked, “Father, When are you leaving for Manila?” He answered, “When I am ready.” That was an unexpected answer! In that same year, I had to go to Manila one day; so I told the novices that I would ask this confrere to take over the lectures. As I was waiting for him to arrive from the Mass at Mount Carmel Monastery, a novice and I were discussing about his photograph that was laid under the top glass of the table in the living room. When he arrived, I greeted him, “Father, I noticed that in your picture in the living room, you looked handsome.” Then came his fast reply, “Yes, what do you need?” The novice confirmed what I said and reiterated, “But you were really handsome.” To which he retorted, “And what about you?” I left for Manila knowing that the novices were in the hands of a saintly, practical, and smart confrere!
Colonel Verendia from Lupao, Nueva Ecija northern Philippines, once visited the MSC community in Angeles City, and declared his admiration for the religious. “Why?” “A religious can be a provincial superior today, and tomorrow he is a sacristan,” he said. Some years later, in the gathering among religious formators, one complained that his former provincial superior, after a taste of “the kingdom, the power and the glory,” grudgingly left his post at the expiration of his term, and declared that he would refound the congregation, to the consternation of his confreres. Then that formator sneered saying, “Who is he to do that?” And another remarked, “Persons like him are making a joke of religious life!”