Sunday, February 11, 2007

Saying goodbye to a friend

I said goodbye to Yna this afternoon. She was leaving for Manila to start her formation as a postulant of the Cenacle Sisters.

Yna is a pretty young woman who had recently been promoted to a supervisory position in her office. She has been a reader in our Church for over 10 years and a member of the parish liturgy commission. We've been close friends for more than two years. We frequently go out together with 3 other friends for cappuccino and dessert after supper. We jokingly call the group the SFMD (Society of the Foot and Mouth Disease). No, it doesn't refer to the disease of animals. We just love to go places (foot) and talk (mouth). We talk about a lot of things - life in general and their hopes & dreams of the future.

Last summer, one of the members (Evelyn) decided to go back to her religious order which she left 10 years ago. And this afternoon, Yna left to pursue her religious vocation. I will miss them. Meanwhile, in the absence of a quorum, the SFMD is in recess until further notice (that is whenever, they come home for a visit).

I find it unbelievable that two of my dear friends would discover (or rediscover) their religious vocation. I don't take credit for that, although they tell me that our conversations over cappuccino have helped clarify the direction of their life. I was moved by Yna's note thanking me for my "words of encouragement, inspiration and challenge" and for "being a light at night time and a gentle breeze during the day" in her journey.

Yna reminds of a very dear friend I met when I was a newly ordained priest in Tacloban. Her name was Gina. She was a very beautiful young woman who read in our Church and a student in engineering. I was attracted to her but I was careful not to violate our boundaries and to maintain a celibate friendship. She later joined a contemplative order (Poor Clares) and we have maintained our friendship through the years although we do not see each other often.

With friends like them, celibate existence is less lonely and more bearable. It made me realize that friendship with women is not necessarily a threat to my religious vocation. It can be mutually enriching and can help us be faithful to our respective vocation and draw us closer to God. Celibacy does not mean giving up our capacity to love, it is a way of loving - chaste, non-possessive and non-exclusive. I never want to become a loveless, grumpy old celibate.

I thank God for the gift of friendship - for friends like Yna and Gina.
I like the way Italians say goodbye - arrividerci (Until we see each other again). We actually don't say goodbye to friends - we only say - til we meet again.

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