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Unholy thoughts on Holy Week

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At the start of Holy Week, my wife presented me with two choices for Lenten reflections covering Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Black Saturday. The first had bishops of the Catholic Church as speakers, while the second was a list of Jesuit priests in talks entitled “Faith and Music” to be held at Mary the Queen Church.

It was a no-contest situation.

When religious leaders tell us that Typhoon “Pablo” was God’s sign of displeasure with the Reproductive Health bill that was pending in Congress; when they tell us that the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on the implementation of the RH Law indicates that “God is on our side”; or when they explain that a large population is an advantage because we can then provide wives for foreigners or something to that effect, it is time to look elsewhere for guidance, for enlightenment and for inspiration, particularly in times of controversy and conflict.

And the Jesuits did not disappoint.

Maundy Thursday had Fr. Manoling Francisco starting the Triduum of talks. His music continues to uplift the soul and, for me, they are worth more than a thousand words, or even a thousand homilies.

Good Friday was taken up by Fr. Jessel “Jboy” Gonzales, the only Jesuit priest still working at the Ateneo High School. Or, is he the principal?

I loved his stories about the pig and the cow. Who was more popular? It was the cow who continues to give while alive. The story of the pig and the chicken explained the difference between a commitment and a donation. The chicken lays eggs and makes a donation from time to time, but the pig gives himself once in a  display of total commitment. One would have to listen to Jboy to better appreciate his stories. They are my kind of stories that explain certain positions in a way that simple minds like mine can easily understand and comprehend.

People have asked him if he was a “true blue Atenean.” His answer: “Thank God, I am not. I am colorful.” He was raised by Franciscans, Benedictines and Dominicans, and only in college did he come across the Jesuits.

Fr. Arnel Aquino, poster boy of the “shortage” of priests (he is probably the shortest priest I have ever met), closed out the Triduum on Black Saturday.

Father Aquino explained that there are two stages in the life of every human being. The first is a life of ascent, of striving to accomplish, of guiding and leading the less fortunate in society. The second stage, more important and more difficult, is a life of descent, a life of going down, of returning to the community to live among the poor and the marginalized. This involves humility, and a lifestyle of simplicity and compassion.

Our bishops have completed the first stage. After laboring long and hard in the vineyards of the Lord, they have ascended to the high and lofty positions of the Church. Perhaps along the way, some may have lost their bearings in the rarified atmosphere of their world, causing them to lose sight of their goals and their mission in life. They have been intoxicated by the power they wield over the flock, overlooking what Pope Francis recently said in his inaugural Papal Mass, “Authentic power is service,” and  “self-absorption is the root of evils within the Church.”

Just after his election, Pope Francis decided to share a bus with his colleagues instead of using a limousine. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was used to riding public transport. When was the last time our bishops saw the inside of a public bus, or a  jeepney? It is time for our religious leaders to embark on the second stage, to make the descent just as our Lord came down from above to live among us, to lead a simple life, and in the end, to sacrifice everything for our sake. Our Lord did not engage in name-calling, and I doubt if He understood what a TRO was all about. The focus of His leadership was to unite and not to divide people.

The Jesuits are excellent teachers. In their own way, the Carmelites of my parish are wonderful pastors. For many years, the men from the Emerald Isle of St. Patrick ruled the parish. Today Filipino priests have taken over, displaying their brand of spiritual direction and guidance. If the Church in the Philippines is to grow, we shall need  more of their kind.

* * *

Last week, PMA class 1956 lost another “mistah”. Col. Francisco Raymundo Jr., Philippine Army, passed away quietly surrounded by family members. A sensitive soul, he lived a quiet life, opting for early retirement after 20 years of military service.

In our Golden Sword yearbook published in 2006 to commemorate 50 years of the class, each member was allotted one page to say anything he wanted about himself, what one might call “bragging rights.” In the case of Ray, his page contained only four words: “Still Proud! . . . but broke.” That was Ray. We shall remember him in our prayers.

* * *

The last time I visited a US Navy ship was more than 15 years ago. We were invited to witness a firepower demonstration onboard the USS Independence, flagship of Carrier Group 5, the strike force of the US Seventh Fleet. At that time it was the oldest ship in the US Navy’s active fleet. It has since been decommissioned.

Last Monday Ambassador Harry Thomas invited us for lunch onboard the USS Decatur, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer commissioned in 1998.

The USS Decatur is the latest in a growing list of US Navy vessels making “goodwill visits” to the country. It is named after Stephen Decatur, one of the great heroes of the US Navy, also its youngest captain during his time. Decatur is also known as the “Conqueror of the Barbary Pirates.” They were Berbers living along the coastal regions of North Africa, engaged in attacking other ships and capturing slaves and cargo, very much like the present-day Somali pirates operating off Somalia. Tripoli was their capital and the opening line of the Marine Hymn refers to the conflict: “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli. . .”

The USS Decatur, with a complement of under 300 personnel, including a number of Fil-American sailors, is skippered by Cmdr. Joel Ellingson, a US Naval Academy graduate, class of 1996.

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