Saturday, March 10, 2007

Time and Opportunity, Love and Responsibility

Two months. How am I to spend the gift of time and opportunity? This was another important question that I needed to ask early on my two month sojourn in the Philippines. Time and opportunity are constantly offered and either taken or refused, appreciated or neglected. I look back at my life, all of fifty two years, twenty five of which excitedly lived as a priest and say both thank you and sorry. I am grateful for the time and opportunity that were used and have become beneficial for both myself and others. I am sorry for the time and opportunity wasted and lost forever.

Time profitably used is a mark of a loving life. Opportunity (ies) taken and not wasted is a mark of a responsible (responsive) life. Love and responsibility are necessary ingredients to a deeply satisfying and fulfilling life. I have two months. I will have time and various opportunities to exercise both love and responsibility not only for myself but for those I love and care for.

It was with this frame of mind that a series of unexpected deaths took place within my two months. I had barely settled and made plans on how to use my time when one of my father’s close friend, Dr. Y fell sick. Another friend had phoned my father to tell him that Dr. Y was very sick. “Very sick?” How sick? What sickness? That very day, my father and mother asked me to visit Dr. Y and give him the sacrament of the sick. I prepared myself and expected to see a weak, bed-ridden patient. But when we came to the Doctor’s house and rang the door bell, the Doctor himself opens the gate and welcomes us in.

Dr. Y’s wife recently had a stroke. She limped and could no longer speak. She looked at me with fearful and worried eyes. I did not only bless Dr. Y. I also blessed Mrs. Y as well. After blessing the sick couple, Dr. Y and I agreed to meet the following day for general confession. The good doctor came the following day and made his confession. He left looking happy and peaceful. Early morning of the next day, we get a call both Dr. Y and his wife were rushed to the hospital. My father Carlos despite his rheumatoid knees, wobbled into the car as I drove to the neighborhood hospital five minutes away. When we got to the hospital, Dr. Y’s children welcomed us. One of them had to tell us not to tell either parent that they were both in the hospital. Mrs. Y who had a stroke may not be able to handle the news that her husband’s condition has suddenly deteriorated.

I separately blessed and anointed the couple and gave them encouraging words to hold on to. My father and I left a bit sleepy but happy to have brought some peace and comfort not only to two sick individuals but to their children as well.

The following days and weeks were punctuated by such urgent and critical calls. On the day that my own sister in law agreed to break her own grieving by finally visiting her husband’s (my brother Vincent’s) grave, I received an urgent call from Nida, wife of my childhood friend Chito, “Please come and bless mommy, she is going down fast.” I said, “yes, after I bring my sister in-law to my brother’s grave.” Just when we were leaving to go to my brother’s grave, I receive another call, this time more urgent, “Please come now. There is very little time. She is very weak.” We changed plans and proceeded to the hospital where Mrs. Ruth Vinas was confined. When we got there we saw Chito and his sibling in the Intensive Care Unit very quiet and sad. “She had just gone,” Chito solemnly utters. I blessed Mrs. Vinas all the same, quietly regretting not having responded more promptly to an urgent call.

Hardly recovered from the death of Chito’s mother, I received three other calls. Diony, my first cousin had a heart attack and died. He was the father of a celebrity niece, Jopay, one of the lead dancers of the popular Sex Bomb Dancers. I said two masses for Diony. On both masses, I saw relatives who I usually see only on sad occasions like this.

On the day I was on my way to bless Mr. Tagoy Simpas who laid comatose at the Philippine General Hospital, I brought his wife Nedy along. On the way, we passed by the Center for Social Research of the University of Santo Tomas where the Columbans are sponsoring a presentation of the results of an international fact-finding mission on mining in the Philippines. We listened to a few presentations and left for the hospital which was just a few kilometers away. As I drove, my phone rings. A familiar voice speaks, “Is Mrs. Simpas with you? Please don’t tell her now. Tagoy just passed away. Prepare her before you enter the ICU.” I continued driving and cracking jokes as if nothing happened. When we got to the hospital, just before we entered the ICU, I stopped Nedy, held her by the shoulders and slowly, gently tell her, “Nedy, wala na si Tagoy.” (Nedy, Tagoy is gone.”

A few days before I left, Mrs. Luz Zafra, grandmother of a classmate in the minor seminary passed away at one hundred and five and a half years old. For the last six years since Mrs. Zafra ( whom we fondly called Nanay (mommy) Luz ) turned 100, relatives and friends gathered for a Mass and lunch to celebrate Nanay’s 100th, 101st,102nd, 103rd, 104th and 105th birthdays. The priests-celebrants always said after mass, “see you next year nanay.”

I said Mass for Nanay and thanked her for being one of the few women who played the role of a special mother to a priest. From the fifties to the present, Nanay had prayed, cooked and given priests her personally embroidered altar linen. A few days before I left, a messenger brings me a box. Inside were three pieces of altar linen, a corporal and two purificators. All had red crosses embroidered by Nanay. I left the Philippines bringing the three small pieces of linen. On March 18, 2007, the silver anniversary of my priesthood, wherever I celebrate Mass, I will use the three small pieces of cloth and remember Nanay, my own father Carlos and mother Naty, my siblings, in-laws, nephews and nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and colleagues. As I remember people who have given meaning and joy to my life, I will quietly thank God for the gifts of time and opportunity which have taught me love and responsibility.

Indeed two months were short but there were time and opportunity used and made fruitful not only for me but for others as well.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 10, 2007


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