Holy Week has always been associated with Lenten retreats. Some were often organized by parish councils while others were simply recollections conducted during Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, with different speakers from religious houses and churches. There are a few of them that come to mind.
One Maundy Thursday, many years ago, we spent the morning listening to Fr. Thomas Green, a Jesuit from Rochester, New York, who spoke on the subject of prayer and liturgy. A lot of things were mentioned but the subjects that I remember had nothing to do with prayer or the liturgy of the church.
First of all, Father Tom must have been raised in a home full of love, gentleness, and devotion. Every mention of his father or mother was in the context of much affection. But the one I enjoyed most, was about his father being the ultimate “sigurista.” He said that, “Much to the exasperation of my mother, dad wore both belt and suspenders to be secure against the day when the force of gravity might suddenly increase.”
Father Tom spoke about making mistakes in our lives. He mentioned that too often, we spend too much time protecting our loved ones from situations that could result in making mistakes when actually, we should allow people to make them. The name of the game is making mistakes in life. But he stressed that what one must avoid is making the same old mistakes because then it only indicates that we have not learned any lessons. “Make new mistakes,” he said, using as example his advice to a nun who had fallen in love with a priest. The next time “don’t fall in love with another priest, fall in love with the bishop,” he cautioned the nun.
Father Tom mentioned that in the United States, there is a place of worship dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. Now, we are all aware that in the Philippines there is a great devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Perhaps, what we need is also a devotion to our responsibilities and obligations and not just to our rights and freedoms, or as he put it, there is “too much prayer and not enough sharing.” He noted a positive side of El Shaddai. El Shaddai is not elitist and appeals to the common masses in the country. On the other hand, it is cult-heavy with the belief that material prosperity comes as a reward for faith “including a possible US visa.”
When a person is terminally ill and there is no hope of recovery, as in these days of COVID-19, should he be informed of the situation? Father Tom said we owe it to the sick to let them know what the real score is, informing them in the best possible manner. They may experience an initial depression but in the long run, they will accept things and may even be grateful for the opportunity to better prepare themselves for the end.
For many of us, reciting the rosary can be simply a mechanical process with little thought to what the prayer is all about. I am reminded of one of Father Tom’s anecdotes concerning little children and prayer. One of them came home and told his mother about a new prayer he had just learned: “Hail Mary, Full of grapes, the Lord is a tree…” The following week, he came home from school with another story he had heard about a cross-eyed bear named Gladly. It was from hearing the prayer, “Gladly, my cross I bear.”
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A Good Friday speaker, also many years ago, was Monsignor Gerardo Santos, only child of an Air Force officer and a medical doctor. In 1998, he was given the Servien award for his work at the St. James the Great church in Ayala Alabang.
A portion of his talk was devoted to three great temptations in our lives: First was the temptation to be relevant; second, the temptation to be spectacular; and third, the temptation to be powerful.
Among opinion writers as well as television and radio commentators, there is always the danger of succumbing to these temptations. While it is important to be relevant, the temptation to be spectacular or sensational, sometimes at the expense of the truth, could lead to unfairness and undue harm. The temptation to be powerful can be an indication of excessive pride and self-esteem.
Monsignor Santos ended his talk with a poem on Christ, “One Solitary Life,” written by James Allan Francis. The last line reads, “All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the governments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, have not changed the course of history as much as this one solitary life.”
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