Sunday, 18 November 2007

Big News

On January 30, 1996, we staged a play here in Don Bosco Canlubang. I was a young brother at that time and I wrote and directed that short musical entitled Bury Me Deep, based on the book by Peter Lappin, on the life of the young Argentinian native, Zeffirin (or Ceferino, Zephyrinus, Zephyrin, whatever language base the translation uses) Namuncur├í. I opened the play with the end—the funeral scene where the company, led by Bro. Gerry Martin (now Fr. Gerry) who played the role of Bishop Giovanni Cagliero. It was a moving scene, accompanied as it was by Schubert’s Ave Maria. The end of the play continues the funeral scene with a Salesian saying: “Many years after his death, he indeed was buried deep—almost into oblivion. It is indeed sad to know all about it. Yet the name of Zeffirin will not languish forever buried…” And the reason given was that he was well way into the process of being raised to the altars.

At that time I had a strong premonition that soon this young Bosconian would be beatified. How else would I explain that strong compulsion to put his life into a simple musical on the eve of the feast of Don Bosco? “Soon” turned out to be a little bit less than twelve years. It was not really a long time for me, for the 1996 production is, up to now, still vivid in my mind.

Last week, the Salesian world was in festive mood because last November 11, Zeffirin was beatified. But not only that. The whole Church is sharing in this joy for another young person has been raised to the altars. It is missionary work at its best! Even the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran the story (from Agence France Presse) about the beatification. In other words, it is big news.

Aye, it is big news, a big deal whenever we succeed in bringing out the best in our young people. I have told my faculty members that as teachers they are at the vanguard, at the forefront of this undertaking. I urged them—and you likewise—to help make more Zeffirins among the young whom we encounter everyday.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


I was a college seminarian when I first began to be aware of the feast the we celebrate every ninth of November, that of Saint John Lateran. Here in the Philippines, we know it by the more popular name, San Juan de Letran, for it is the name of a college run by the Dominicans. In his homily for the day, one of our priests in the seminary that time told us that San Juan de Letran, or St. John Lateran is not a person, but a church (a basilica). In fact, the title of the celebration is the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. It is the cathedral church of Rome, the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome who is the Pope. It is a temple so rich in history.

The celebration of November 9 takes the rank of a feast, meaning the Gloria is sung at mass and there are special readings. The Liturgy of the Hours that we pray as a religious community are taken from the a special section of the prayer book called “Common of the Dedication of a Church.”

The word “dedication” in this celebration comes in very strong for me because it speaks a mouthful. Dedication comes from the Latin word “dedo” (dedere, dedidi, deditus), a word that is much more potent that the word “do” (dare, dedi, datus) which means “to give”. The root of dedication means not merely “to give”—it means “to give up” or “to surrender”. It could also mean “to give up oneself to”.

The celebration thus means the surrender of that special place, that temple. We give up something in order to offer the possibility of it being used for a nobler cause, for a greater purpose. Taking this cue, we are reminded that dedication has always been part of our lives. We dedicate works, writings, songs, even a game or any undertaking in order to manifest affection, gratitude or devotion.

Here in the place where I work, Don Bosco Canlubang, I am happy to see dedicated people, especially teachers: persons who have not only given, but have given themselves up—surrendered—for a mission: all because they love, they care. Such nobility! Such inspiration for me! It is a feast indeed.

(photo--taken August 30, 2007-- shows Fr. Joel in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran)

Friday, 2 November 2007

Death as a Dawning

This year, I went home for All Saints’ Day. How fast one whole year has gone by! I still remember that of last year: one reason I went home for All Saints’ Day was to drive for my parents in our visit to the tombs of our beloved departed. Through the years, we have been visiting mainly two cemeteries—San Miguel, Tarlac City and Bamban, Tarlac. My grandparents are buried in these cemeteries—paternal grandparents at the former (although now their remains have been transferred to San Sebastian, also in Tarlac City) and maternal grandparents at the latter. Since I became a priest, it was an added feature for me to bring holy water and bless not only their tombs but also those of the other relatives.

It was not part of our usual itinerary, but at last year’s All Saints’ Day we thought of passing by Murcia, Concepcion (where my father was born and grew up) to bring some of the things that my sister had sent to our relatives there. We arrived at past nine in the morning and saw my cousins and their father, Uncle Jesus, the husband of my aunt (my father’s elder sister) in tears. Earlier they had rushed my aunt, Pastora (Auntie Paring), to the hospital and at 8:00am, she was pronounced dead on arrival due to cardiac arrest. She was 85. My father was in tears. Though she was weak, we have not expected her to depart this soon.

Uncle Jesus sobbingly was saying in Kapampangan: “Penenayan ne mu rugu ing daun.” (“She seemed to have just waited for All Saints’ Day.”) And he was relating how Auntie Paring was so strong the evening before, that she was even talking so clearly. (Incidentally, some months later, Uncle Jesus would also go back to the Father and join Auntie Paring.)

Later that day, we went to Bamban (before going back to Murcia to see my aunt’s body already in the coffin) and our maternal relatives were also recounting the same thing when years ago, the wife of my uncle died—in a moment of physical strength she asked that she be brought out to see the house.

A common denominator in both events was a moment of strength before the coming of death. It makes me reflect on the fact that we really will decide to embrace death when it would come before us. And I do believe that what gives the dying that strength before they breathe their last is not only the satisfaction of having lived their life the best they could, but also the imminent entrance into another life, the other life. In the many funeral masses I have presided I always tell the people something I read from a magazine: “Death is not extinguishing the flame but putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Aye, death is a dawning and this dawning gives us reason to pray, to celebrate both All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.