Thursday, 28 June 2007

With You, Always

The celebration of today brings me back to Parañaque five years ago when I was ordained priest. Many years before that, I had dreamed of the day I would become a priest and thence had always looked forward to it. That moment of my ordination was the first time I stopped looking forward to it. It was a thing of the present, always present, for priesthood is forever. In my thanksgiving Mass the next day, I told everyone present in the Chapel of Don Bosco Tarlac: “Once there was a boy who served Mass almost everyday in this Chapel. Then for a while he was gone. Now he is back, not anymore to serve the Mass. Now he will be the one to preside the Mass.”

One of the beautiful thoughts I had in the days surrounding my ordination was my chosen theme from Matthew 28:20 which I have always fondly abbreviated to “with you, always”. I was awestruck at the fact that in everything that was, in the path towards priesthood, God had always been there for me—ever present, ever assuring me of His great love.

Today I bask in that love.

5 Years

5 years… What a way to entitle this piece! Tomorrow, June 29, I am five years a priest. Is it akin to the “5 Years Old” that completes the labels of popular liquor? I would like to mull over this idea: liquor that has been aged for 5 years. Distillers and wine makers let their product remain in its container for 5 years to ameliorate its flavor. Five years may not be good as ten or fifty, but it is better than an instance. With years come a certain mellowing, a spell of refinement to that which is coarse or raw.

Five years was the time from Don Bosco’s ordination to the time of the settlement of his Oratory in the Pinardi shed. It was five years of wandering, a time of uncertainty. Those five years of his life symbolized hope and growth: two things for which I have always prayed and worked for these, my first five years of priesthood.
They say that the first five years are crucial ones in the life of a priest—and I have found it just like that!
In this celebration of the anniversary of my Ordination for this year, like every anniversary, I look back to remember the fervor of that day when I received that great gift of ministerial priesthood from God. I run through the five years that came after it, up to this moment of reflection—all with the lights and shadows. I am a priest, and yet, I am still learning to be one. I thank you, dear friends and loved ones, for you are helping me in this process.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita...

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!

[Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.]

Dante, La Divina Commedia, Canto I

Midway upon the journey of life… The Bible says that “our span is 70 years, or 80 for those who are strong.” (Ps 90) Dante, the greatest of Italian poets made this the basis of the opening lines of his masterpiece The Divine Comedy as he made his persona traverse the path from Inferno to Paradiso at age 35. It was Dante’s actual age when he wrote the poem. And it is my age as I celebrated my birthday three days ago. Biblically speaking then, I am midway in life’s journey, which according to a certain author “represents the height of a person’s powers, midway between birth and death, the point at which life begins a return to its origins.” (R. Royal. Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, Divine Spirituality. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.)

In the poem, Dante found himself lost in a dark forest, rendering him fearful. Is this the state I find myself in at the moment? That I ask. What will be in store for me? Will I be fearful? Today I find myself more hopeful than before. Today I see not a dark forest but a bright light. La lumière—or la luce in Dante’s own tongue.

My birthday falls on the 19th of June and I share the same birthday as Jose Rizal (as well as Paula Abdul, Lou Gehrig, Elbert Hubbard, King James I, Aung San Suu Kyi, Blaise Pascal, Salman Rushdie and Kathleen Turner). And Rizal died at 35… Which makes me think: at 35, Dante gave the world the best of his poetry; Rizal gave to his country his very own life. I, at 35—what have I done? What have I given? I would like to believe that there is still a lot of time to give more of myself, if possible to die for a cause greater than my own poor self.

This is where the light comes in. The questions that I ask are not made in a dark forest but in an ambient that is bright; not in a pathway that is lost but one that winds into salvation. The questions above I ask in the midst of a community that is very supportive—confreres surrounding me with encouragement and care, seminarians eager to listen, teachers and lay collaborators who believe in me and willing to walk the extra mile with me, students who are docile, grateful and endearing, friends who are ever present and ever ready to lend an ear. Aye, midway upon the journey of my life/ I found myself in comforting light.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

25 Years with Don Bosco!

Today as I was assisting the boys in the playground, a thought suddenly came to me. It was around this time 25 years ago that I entered Don Bosco (in Tarlac) as a student! Yes, this year, I am 25 years a Bosconian! I have always considered that day as a point of reference in my life.

I looked at the first year boys and I remembered my first days as a Bosconian, albeit I was younger then, at grade four. But I am sure many things are the same for our Benjamins. There is the novelty of being able to run around freely, even play basketball or football during breaks. There were the Salesians who moved around chatting with the students—“wasting time” with them. These were the very things that touched me in those days and those that greatly influenced me to remain in Don Bosco, the seed that led me later on to decide to become a Salesian.

In these musings I realize that this year is indeed a moment of grace; I have thought about this only today: that after 25 years I would be working closely with Bosconians. In 1982, I was welcomed by Salesians to a Don Bosco school; 25 years later I, a Salesian myself, am welcoming new students in a Don Bosco school. Indeed, what goes around comes around!

With this reflection I have invited those working in this apostolate--both Salesians and lay educators alike: make the first days of our Bosconians pleasantly memorable. That was my experience, my very own.

Monday, 11 June 2007


When given a chance to talk to young people, I often touch on the topic of change. I usually introduce two Latin phrases that usually accompany this subject matter: the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem—the “end from which” and the “end towards which”, respectively translated into layman’s terms as what it was before the change and what it would become.I have always believed that education is a process and thus involves change in the mind of the one who undergoes this event. But much more than this is the greater scheme: the whole picture of the process of learning that involves not only the one who is educated but also everyone involved in the educative process: the educator, the other students, the parents, the environment.
There is therefore a great power in education that effects change practically in the whole community. I am reminded of a documentary television program that featured how coins are polished. The coins are made to look new once again by being mixed with other coins, all of which are continually rubbed with the others’ surface. In time, they all change each other—polished and smooth.We undergo that polishing in this process of change. We are at the beginning of this school year—the terminus a quo. Altogether we move from this end and open ourselves to change.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Welcome! SY 2007-2008

(from my column, Co-Traveler at La lumière, THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HIGH SCHOOL FACULTY OF DON BOSCO COLLEGE, vol. II no. 1, May 31, 2007)

I wish to take this opportunity to welcome you all to a new scholastic year, 2007-2008. Our special greetings go to the new members of our department: our balikbayan THE teacher John August Mortera (Drafting and Electronics), our newcomers Oliver Alcasid (Drafting), Pamela Cabrera (Science), Loida Masa (English) and Clarence Decena (P.E.).Everything seems new since besides having a new rector, Fr. Rolo Alcasid, we have nine Salesians newly assigned to our community. (For a complete list, see Salesianity column, p. 2.) Three of ours will be directly involved in the running of our department: Fr. Joey Paras, Bro. Vincent Hoang and myself.

Almost a year has passed since the publication of the maiden issue of La lumière. I am inviting everyone towards the attainment of two things for this year: professionalism and unity. In achieving professionalism, we move towards excellence with regard to our dealing with one another and with our charges. We envision this year to be an intense one with regard to striving for accreditation. At the same time, we will work together to make our department united. Our work becomes easier when we are in good terms with one another.Today we celebrate the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Elizabeth. Let us entrust this new school year to the Blessed Mother—each one of us: teachers, Salesians and the boys whom we believe are led to us by her.