Sunday, September 24, 2006

Celebrating 25 years of Priesthood

This evening the Redemptorist community in Davao celebrated the anniversary of ordination of 3 Redemptorists: Fr. Flan Daffy (50 years), Fr. Allen O'Brien (40 years) and yours truly (25 years). After a dinner of turkey, steamed fish and calamare, we had a program where the postulants and seminarians sang and danced. Each of the jubilarians were also asked to share their thoughts and reflections. I gave a powerpoint presentation of my life over the last 25 years - with photographs interspersed with poems. I ended my sharing with this poem:

Silver Jubilee
"those who die in the congregation will receive a crown of glory in heaven" - St. Alphonsus de Ligouri

Twenty-five years ago
when my hair was thick and wavy
and my tummy was flat and firm,
I stood before the altar
with no one by my side.
I made a promise to the Lord
to be a faithful priest
in the company of the sons of Alphonsus
for better or for worse, in sickness and in health
until I receive the crown he promised.

Twenty-five years later
with no hair on my head
and with an explanding waistline
I remain a faithful priest
in the company of the sons of Alponsus.
I kept my promise all these years.
I slept alone and loved the Lord and the people
with all my heart and soul.
I preached the good news of the kingdom
and worked for justice and peace.
I formed not my own family - but the family of God -
the Christian community.

Twenty-five years or more from now.
When not a single hair will grown on my head
and I look like a prisoner on death row,
when my tummy will be wider than my chest
when I can no longer bike
and a pretty nurse will push my wheelchair
I will remain a faithful priest
in the company of the sons of Alphonsus.
I will keep my promise
until I receive the crown he promised.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

PD 1081: Remembering Martial Law

I woke up early this morning to celebrate the six o'clock mass in the church. After the mass I went out to the lawn for taichi. Then I joined the community for the morning prayer. During the prayer of the faithful, one of the seminarians prayed for the victims of martial law. I became aware that I was one of those he was praying for today, the 34th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos. The tattoo in my arm- a clenched fist in chains with the number 1081 - won't allow me to forget. PD 1081 - that's the presidential decree declaring the state of martial law.

Early in the morning thirty-three years ago, on the first anniversary of martial law, I was picked up by military agents in Cebu. I was interrogated and tortured for a week and imprisoned for seven months. The psalm that I wrote later sums up my experience and those of others:

Psalm from Prison

From this dark and lonely cell
I cry out to you
Lord, hear my groaning!

I don't know where I am
I don't know whether it's night or day.
I don't know what will happen next.

My throat is sore, I cannot scream anymore.
My finger is swollen, I cannot clench my fist.
My ribs are broke, I cannot stand erect.

I hate the sight of water I can no longer bear a single drop.
I loathe those cigarettes that penetrate my skin.
I dread the sound of foosteps and the opening of the door.
I prefer this darkness that face the glaring light.
I can just imagine what they are going to do next.

They said only I can end my suffering
if I cooperate with them
and sign the confession they manufactured
and bear false witness against myself
and those that oppose this diabolical regime.

How much longer, O Lord, can I hold on?
How much longer can I maintain my sanity?
How long will they keep me in this limbo?

Will I ever see again the sun?
Will I ever see again the faces of those I love and serve?
Or will they make me disappear forever?

Lord, deliver us from these kidnappers and murderers
who are trying to maintain peace and order.
Deliver us from these mercenaries
whose obsession is to defend national security --
the security of this bloodthirsty and power-hungry dictator,
the security of his cronies and their big business interests,
the security of his alien lords and their bases and investments.

O Lord my God.
I know that you are neither blind nor deaf.
Your mercy and compassion endures forever.
You have always been a subversive God.
You scatter the proud, you depose the mighty
your empty the rich, you lift up the lowly
you free the oppressed, you fill the hungry.

I cry out now to you:
subvert this evil kingdom and empire!
Let your spirit fill the hearts
of those who struggle to build your kingdom
of justice, peace and freedom.

From this dark and lonely cell
I cry out to you.
Lord hear my prayer.

Into your hands, O Lord
I commend my broken body
and my wavering spirit.

Late this afternoon as the sun was setting down, I joined the interfaith prayer service at the freedom park in front of Ateneo de Davao. It was just a small gathering. In my sharing, I told the crowd who were holding lighted candles that we should never forget that dark period in the history of our nation. Martial law may be gone but its legacy remains with us. The present Arroyo regime continues to abuse power, trample civil liberties and human rights, engage in corruption, and perpetuate the culture of death. Like martial law, those accused of being leftists or criminals are being executed by death squads. A policy of total war is being implemented by the likes of General Palparan who has been using the same methods reminiscent of martial law. The peace process between the government and the NDF has been abandoned. There is an escalation of war in the countryside.

NEVER AGAIN! This is what we said when the dictator was deposed by people power. Sadly, it is happening again, even without a declaration of martial law.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Growing Old - Reflections on the Third Age

There were five of us priests that spent the whole day at a cottage by the sea not to swim but to pray, reflect and share on our life and faith. This is what we call "Recollection" which we usually do on the first Monday of each month. There were two Irishmen - Allen and Aidan, and three Filipinos - Senen, Cruzito and myself. Allen is sixty-five years old, Aidan is fifty-five, Senen and myself are fifty-two, and Cruzito forty-five. We reflected and shared on the Superior General's Communicanda entitled - "Discovering the Best Wine at the End: Reflections on the Third Age." The Third Age is really Old Age.

My first reaction to this theme was -- it does not concern me at present. I am just turning fifty-two and old age is still far away. But the Superior General wants us to reflect on this as a community since there are elderly members among us and that we will all reach that age someday. The best time to prepare for the Third Age is when we are still in the Second Age -- during midlife.

I realize that I am growing old every day. Although I don't really feel old, there are a lot of reminders that I am indeed growing older. The most obvious sign is the loss of my thick and wavy hair. I decided to shave my head after all attempts at "reforestation" failed. I thought it was ridiculous to cover my head with the remaining hair on the side of my head.

Another sign is that I cannot run marathons anymore. My knees can no longer bear four hours of running on cement or asphalt pavement. So I have shifted to cycling. A time will come when I can no longer bike and instead ride a wheel chair. But that's still far away. Or is it?

I have to admit that I am past the noontime of my life. I am now in the afternoon and soon it will be evening. Two poems that I wrote sum up what I feel about the Third Age:


As the sun sets beyond the sea
the old man limps along the shore.
The waves rush in to wipe away
the footprints on the sand.

It seemed like it was only this morning
that the sun emerged behind the mountain
and he was jogging along the beach.


It's getting darker and darker.
What's happening to my eyes?
I can hardly move this ancient frame.

Where are they now?
Everyone seems to be gone.
I am all alone.

No wife.
No children.
No grandchildren.

Strangers visit me
and they call me father.
I cannot remember their faces
but they look familiar.
They take care of me.
They feed me.
They wipe my ass.

Whatever time I have left
is spent in looking back.
I am afraid to look forward -
there might be nothing there.

I wish my life was a vide-movie.
Then I can keep rewinding it
when the end comes.

I have so many, many yesterdays.
Is there a tomorrow beyond this final night?

I hope there is .
Otherwise, my self-oblation
would have been for nothing.

Time to say goodnight.
Time to sleep
peacefully, restfully.