“Vocations online” has this to say of Fr. Agerico Muñoz Orbos, SVD: “God bless you! Mama Mary loves you.” Anyone who has known Fr. Jerry for any length of time would know he uses these words as standard blessing.
Indeed, Fr. Jerry greeted us, his audience, with the same standard, untiring benediction. It was not difficult to bless him back. Before he was introduced by Ate Minnie, however, she called on Ate Gigi to lead the crowd in the Fatima hymn. Mostly Marian, the crowd did not disappoint.
Towering beside Ate Minnie (whose introductory notes I decided to forego), he was dapper in navy blue polo shirt without a clerical collar. You knew he meant it when he asked the audience to tell his/her seatmate “I’m happy that you’re alive” because his face beamed while he said the words. Which he continued with a prayer to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and to Mother Mary and the guardian angels to bless the people gathered before him and for peace in the family, the world, for loved ones, healing, and conversion, because nothing is impossible with God. And he burst into the song “Hail Mary” which his instant fans sang along with easily.
Then he thanked God, Who is in control of everything, because every gising is a blessing and enjoined everyone to try, as soon as they wake up, to kneel in humility, and thank God one is still alive. Thank Him that last night, one was not among those who had no food, were sick with cancer, are in homes where there is quarrel or where one died. Di baleng walang tulog kesa walang gising. How very apt, I thought, for his theme “Peace in Our Lives.”
He also thanked Kuya Noel, who gave him bottled mineral water, and asked how old he was. When Kuya Noel said 54, Fr. Jerry quipped he looked 53. And hastened to add, with his trademark smile, “I’ll see you in heaven!” He said the same line, and grinned the same smile, to at least an elderly woman and a man in the front pews.
When he claimed he is a native of Bani, Pangasinan, I knew he was up to a regional joke especially when he asked what maong was in their dialect; Wrangler was the answer (yes, you may roll the “Rs!”) And in quick succession, all thickly-accented, Grower (peanut); cracker (biscuit); revolver (a no-brainer), Vancouver (Canadian car cover, which cracked me up because it sounded new); and mother (another no-brainer). He missed out on my favorite bumper-to-bumper, though, which is heavy traffic in Ilocandiaspeak.
He said his mother was a public school teacher, his dad a lawyer and when he said Jesus was an SVD, we were like, “Seriously?” He did not give us a chance to insist on an answer for he was already praying, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord SVD.”
There was no telling when his seriousness starts and where his comicality abandons it. He lamented the onset of social media, citing facebook as an example, because he belongs to the slumbook generation and that “We, Ilocanos, are made humble by KISS (keep it simple stupid).” So that they are scandalized when they meet an old friend and cannot help but ask, “You used to have them, where did your eyebrows go?” People change drastically, he said, they don’t even laugh anymore. He asked his audience to remember the 11th commandment, which is “Don’t take yourself seriously.” Adding “everything came from God and it can be gone quickly.” And capped the comment with his recent thankful trip to Batanes, which reminded him of the way we were: simple, happy, honest.
Sensing the silence, he segued into a story about a priest who visited the ICU where a lolo asked to be prayed over. So the priest goes near his bed and asks if they can start. The priest heard the lolo murmur something that sounded “O sige” and proceeds. But the lolo turned blue so the priest asked again, alarmed, if they should continue. He heard the lolo say the same thing but he was frantically pointing at something on the floor while gasping – the sound-alike oxygen tubing the priest was stepping on.
Fr. Jerry thanked the laughing crowd for coming and urged them to keep breathing God to have a good personal relationship with Him and not to treat it as an obligation or else it will be wanting. Then he squeezed in Erap’s 14 stations for good measure. Erap was in a church doing the Via Crucis and a priest noticed that he was doing it backwards so the Padre asked him why. Erap’s quick reply, “Kaya pala palakas nang palakas si Jesus!” Fr. Jerry’s bottom line was Batanes. There were 40 of them who were mostly senior citizens. They ganged up on the youngest member of their group and asked him what can he share. His response: “You have lived this long, be grateful, don’t worry about death, because a Chinese proverb says, She who blames others has a long journey, she who does not has arrived.”
Still serious, Fr. Jerry thanked the Lord for blessing him with a sense of humor and remembered the time he was in the Holy Land and his knees ached. It didn’t turn out to be serious but he recalled the story of a man who lost his left leg and left arm and when the surgeon was asked how the man was, the surgeon said, “He’s all right now.”
He cut himself short by telling the appreciative audience, “God bless you, Mama Mary loves you, and me, too.” And continued with a husband going home and wanting to surprise his wife by tiptoeing behind her, covering her eyes and asking, “Nges u?” Without losing a beat, the wife retorts, “Ngesu ka dyan, he! Ikaw lang naman ang ngongo dito!” Fr. Jerry’s moral: If you’re a harelip, don’t marry a killjoy.” We were all roaring with reverent rejoicing.
“Life is a journey from me to d (meaning death),” he sagely said. “Choose to be happy, choose Christ, the world is rough and tough but wonderful,” and sang it to prove his point. We certainly got the point and sang “It’s a Wonderful World” with him.
“Life is short,” he went on. “Anything spent on the negative is wasted, nega comes from the devil, listen to the Holy Spirit.” He hastened to add that on his Batangas mission, they were on the way to the monastery/Marian sanctuary when he told his driver Andy, “Rosary tayo.” Andy stepped on the gas and stopped at the first grocery.
His advice to his fellow senior citizens: no more agenda, no more possessions or positions, the most important journey is towards God’s heart. To illustrate this simplicity, he narrated that from Batanes (the man clearly fell in love with the place), they took a 40-seater flight which had a limited luggage capacity so they had to leave excess weight to travel light. Relentless in making a point, he insisted on the five life lessons he learned from his Mom: money can be earned; stupid quarrels can be resolved with humility; the life of a loved one is irreplaceable; and peace is attained by loving people; and the loss of your soul is your greatest failure.
Of course there was an accompanying (American) anecdote. A man was walking when he saw one dollar. He picked it up, smiled his thanks. It could have ended happily there. But ever since that incident, every time the man would walk, his back is bent and his eyes on the lookout for the next dollar.
He advised us, before getting out daily, to check our four wheels for the following: fellowship, service, sharing and the eucharist. For good measure, he threw in a spare tire: Mother Mary. Because, Fr. Jerry did not believe that out of 168 hours that we have on a weekly grace, we do not – cannot – have an hour for God.
Neither can he believe that we do not have the heart to give, citing a mother who stopped her daughter from giving to a beggar with the admonition to not be fooled. His sadness stems from the mother’s teaching her child to be wise but at the same time to withhold her childlike generosity. To offset the sadness, Fr. Jerry told of a rich parishioner who, at collection time, chose a P20 bill from his wallet and, for all the churchgoers to see, dropped it in the basket. He felt a nudge behind him and a hand with a P1000 bill. Wide-eyed and a little guilty, he dropped the money in. Then the same hand nudged him again, with the words, “That bill is yours, you dropped it.”
His Mom wanted at least one son to be a priest. Of his siblings of 3 boys and 2 girls, Manong Oscar tried the Guadalupe seminary but quit after a year. He thought the youngest, Tim, would make it for they went to Christ the King together. Tim’s 4th year, however, coincided with his ordination, and his brother sidled up to him saying, “Manong, tutal pari ka na, lalabas na ko!”
He derived joy and fulfillment, however, from his grandmother, who said she will wait for the day he becomes a priest. On his ordination day, his granny died, at 98, his first funeral Mass.
He urged us to make Christ our King. In one of his Moments books, he said he wrote of a dying man who asked for an extreme unction. He came from a Misa de Gallo, the house was dark, and a man met him asking, “Are you depressed?” When it dawned to him what the man really said, and trying to keep a straight face, he asked back, “No, what do you meant?” I could have rolled on the floor were it not for the multitude watching.
Before they distributed the Bicol’s Best toasted siopao and mineral water, Ate Gigi led the happy audience again in singing “Give Thanks.”
Not one to waste a bounce-back, Fr. Jerry opened the second part of his talk with a fishy question, “Anong sinabi ng isda nung hinati siya?” Answer: “I’m two-na.” Q: “E nung piniprito na siya?” A: “I’m da(y)ing.” Q: “E nung maluto na?” A: “Wala na, rest in fish na e.”
In April of 1999, he confessed that there was a benign tumor in his vocal chords. His Mom was never one to take things lightly and told him to have it examined. In his hospital bed, and the account is found in his first Moments book, he received a call from Erap who said, “I heard there’s humor in your throat. According to the doctor’s autopsy, it was benevolent, thank God. Basta, huwag kang papayag sa local but insist on imported anesthesia!”
He will never forget his Mom’s last words, You still have something to do.” And thus he was guided by his Mom’s franchisable qualities which were prayerfulness, humility, kindness and joyfulness, many things he never tires of doing.
His parting counsel was for all of us to go BAGETS: Balik-Panginoon; Alis-galit; Gawa mabuti; Express love; Tanggal-bisyo; and Sakripisyo.
In closing, he recited “One Little Rose,” a poem by an anonymous poet he so liked at a young age so much that he committed it to memory:
When my stay on earth must end
And life has ceased to be
When this world I’ve bid adieu
Than a truckload when I’m dead.
His books are riddled with Moments because his life is rife with treasures of those. I read him every now and then in the Inquirer. I have read Happy Moments, the title of the books he sold at the venue to raise funds for his mission, and I am as reassured as I was rapt by his talk, moments are never idle with this blockbuster (roll the R) of a writer-speaker (again) to borrow Ate Minnie’s moniker for the recollection which raised the temperature to a laughing level.
On behalf of the PPC, Ate Gigi’s husband, retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. handed him a plaque of appreciation.