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Lockdown with Fr. Arnel Aquino

/ 04:05 AM April 20, 2020

A bloody Friday! Last week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines lost 11 soldiers and 14 were wounded in an encounter with 40 Abu Sayyaf fighters in Patikul, Sulu. It was the largest single action casualty figure for the year. Again, faulty Army intelligence resulted in disaster. As Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of Westmincom, put it, “We were on the low ground while the enemy was on the high ground — waiting.” In other words, the enemy knew where we were going, while we did not know where they would be waiting.

An ancient and simple rule — take the high ground!

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One of several books we received prior to the lockdown was Fr. Arnel Aquino’s compilation of homilies “Empty Boat…Full Nets.” I’ve never met the good Father, although during one gathering of Penny’s STC classmates, he was pointed out to me as “the short one.”

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Father Arnel writes that his favorite saint is Joseph, foster father of our Lord Jesus. Joseph is not my favorite. He just happens to be the only saint I pray to. Most of our saints are heroic, deeply committed religious figures with miracles being ascribed to them. In fact, if I am not mistaken, a requirement for sainthood is involvement in miracles and one needs two or three cases all properly documented. Joseph was a simple carpenter yet he was chosen to be the father of the Holy Family. Very little is known about him and he had no miracles to his credit. There can be no doubt he has easy and unlimited access to the powers that be, perhaps more than any other saint.

One of his homilies, “Knowing when to quit,” should be required reading for our elected as well as appointed officials. A passage from John’s gospel refers to a good shepherd as one who lays down his life for his sheep. He is willing to give up everything for the people he loves. Father Arnel poses the question: If a shepherd lays down his life and actually dies for his sheep, then that leaves the flock without a shepherd? One of the responsibilities of a good shepherd is to ensure that in any situation, others can take his place to lead and tend the flock.

In our society today, many of the “shepherds” of the country, people who serve as our national leaders have been around too long. Father Arnel recalls that the political surnames that he came across when he was in Grade 2 “are still the same names that come up during elections, in scandals, in cases of plunder, bribery, political dynasties, graft, corruption. Many of them started out as good shepherds, yes. But many have turned bad—and they are still at it, they are still being bad. So, I was thinking, maybe the best thing they could do for the sheep is to ‘lay down their life,’ meaning, to retire or resign or move on, back to their life before politics. After all, they’ve had their time. Nakakahiya man sabihin, many have already profited from their posts, their families have already risen from erstwhile poverty, they have fulfilled some of their promises to the people. So, the greatest favor many of our national ‘shepherds’ could do, is to finally ‘lay down their lives’ for the good of the country.’’

One state policy as written in the 1987 Constitution, prohibits “dynasties as may be defined by law.” More then 30 years after promulgation of the Constitution, our lawmakers have not been able to agree on a common definition for the word “dynasty,” or maybe, they prefer the status quo.

Father Arnel goes on: “My point is this: Part of being a good shepherd is knowing when to quit. That’s the new meaning I find in the phrase: ‘lay down one’s life for the sheep,’ to know when to quit, when to let go of power, to turn in one’s badge, to step down — yes, even when you think you’ve been doing such a great job and yes, even when you think that the sheep love for you to lead them forever. If a man believes he is the good shepherd that he says and thinks he is, this presumes he has prepared shepherds to continue the job… and one very clear sign of being a good shepherd is the willingness and the serenity to go back to being a sheep with the rest of the flock — just the way everyone started out.”

Father Arnel ends his homily, saying a good shepherd is a heroic shepherd. There are times when knowing when to quit is more heroic than holding on and saying “never say die.” Or, as is said, very often these days, in the case of appointed officials, “I serve at the pleasure of the appointing power.”

Father Arnel Aquino — small stature, huge heart.

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