BEFORE I BEGGED off from the 7:00 AM Choir of the Holy Spirit Parish, I made sure I was already accepted by the Apostleship of Prayer Choir of the San Jose ang Tagapagtanggol Parish, a church only a tricycle ride away from our village. In fair weather, and to save my fare back to BF Homes, I would walk the distance and sustain in the trek the adrenaline that went into singing. As if the euphoria might ebb if I rode instead of take the leisurely stroll.
The choir serves many times a week, singing at Mass, praying at wakes and providing music at street Masses in the outskirts of the parish. The spirituality of the depressed community is looked after by three Franciscan monks (headed by Fr. Percy Tayem) assisted by the parish pastoral council and its many ministries and mandated organizations. I chose to join the AP Choir for the simple reason that, except for their organist, Kuya Buddy, they had no male members. Not only did they welcome me enthusiastically, I was humbled by their reassurances that they knew me from the accounts of their PREX personages who vouched for my good standing as a speaker and occasional music ministry member. At their recent PREX 32 Class, I could not deliver my Talk 5 because the National Association of Parish PREX Secretariat (NAPPS) was streamlining and upgrading their roster of permanent speakers so I served full-time as a staff instead. There is no explaining the joy that singing with the music ministry instills. So much so that at every close of each Talk, like mine, a dismount song is imperative to hammer home the humility of the servant-speaker’s message.
Thus, their adopting me as an honorary parishioner began.
Fortuitously, I am able to juggle service as a lay minister in my parish and as a choir member in theirs. My PREX addiction is not jeopardized because it is rare that their seminar and ours coincide on the same weekend. The respective chair couples of the movement see to it.
The choir members are parishioners who are practical neighbors, give or take a block or two. They are serious in singing and religious in practicing, which is Thursday nights after the 6 PM Mass. It is probably this sobriety that encouraged a latest male addition to the roster, Kuya Exul who, like five of the female members, recently graduated from PREX Class 32. The group is expected to increase its membership with the entry of two more females, both PREX “fixtures.”
Practice is not rigid and kept to a maximum of two hours. It is also the yardstick of Fr. Edgar Alutaya, grand choirmaster, who makes it a point that rehearsals, general or group, are conducted efficiently and strictly so as to not tax the interest and presence of the musical proclaimers. It is amazing how he is able to manage all the groups in that short time with the uniform repertoire tucked confidently in their musical minds. Small wonder why, on special occasions, and even on short notice, he can summon whichever group or a merger of groups, if not the grand coalition itself, to sing in unison.
There are moments of bonding, too. After Thursday rehearsal, Sister Lydia’s house is transformed from a practice venue to a videoke “bar” and the terpsichores among the group let their feet loose and their hair down for a festive song-and-dance gig. The amiable hostess joins in and opens her heart and purse to prepare simple fare for bread-breaking. The loaves are multiplied by the sharing of those who are inclined. The table is never empty.
Still vivid is our outing in Manaoag. We heard Mass at the shrine and retired to Pulo, a barangay at the foot of Baguio City, where lies the ancestral home of Sister Lydia. After buying provisions, we proceeded to Pugad Resort, a few kilometers away, and soaked up the warm pool waters. Lunch was a banquet of food, fruits, banter and laughter. The singing would follow later back at the house, further encouraged by liquid morale booster. And sing Kuya Buddy and I did, till the wee hours of midnight, so that those kept awake by the still-pumping adrenaline would be lulled by our now softly-soothing ballads. We were specifically warned that should we pursue belting earlier pop ditties, we would be “thrown out.”
Baguio was the inevitable next and final spot. Burnham was easily the first stop. From there, it was predictable to pass by the market for souvenir items and pasalubongs. The next landmark was the cathedral, where there was no Mass compatible with our schedule, so the collective choice was to offer a prayer of continuing gratitude and blessing for the trip back home.”
On the way back, our grumbling stomachs compelled us to stop at the first roadside restaurant. The dishes displayed on the casserole-laden counter and estante looked palatable no one – not even the fussy among us – minded the flies and that there was no tap water. The only common precaution we exercised was to drink either mineral water or soda. An unseen hand must have sanitized the eatery because long after the pig-out, there was no complaint of a bum belly.”
My recent excursion with the choir was to the FEU Hospital Chapel. Kuya Buddy used to play with a group of medical professionals and students there. A healing Mass, arranged every second Tuesday of the month, will be presided by Fr. Stephen Roque. It was significant because the priest, who used to celebrate it from way back, is now assigned in Pozorubio, Pangasinan. And the minstrels, some of whom belonged to Kuya Buddy’s other group, were hand-picked by him, on short notice and with as little practice as the night before.
The unpreparedness was only apparent. The rag-tag team was up to the task. While they were briefly practicing before Mass started, a man and later on a woman (Kuya Buddy would later say members of his old team), came and joined us. Augmenting our audibly inadequate rendition of an obviously new lineup of hymns.
As if dispelling our anxiety, Fr. Stephen’s homily struck us solidly. He prefaced it with the announcement of the feast of St. Camillus de Lellis, patron of nurses, the sick and hospitals. Whose incorrupt heart would not decay to this day.
He went on to say that our fears, anxieties and sorrows – and especially sickness – are caused by an attitude that we should change. Like, all those natural ill conditions exist (he didn’t say because of our neglect) but if we don’t have the power to make them disappear, we have the choice to change our attitude towards them. And, by that, we will be able to be more careful.
He likened the situation to the coming of the Big One, an imminent disaster that is predicted (and implanted dread) to hit certain areas of the Philippines (and other parts of the world). Advertisements warn us to prepare but, Fr. Stephen rued, without invoking to pray to the Big One.
We worry so much. We are so preoccupied with the decadent world. We forget its original beauty and Who created it.
“We are so wrapped up in worry we count sheep in order to sleep. When we can tallk to the Shepherd instead. By counting rosary beads.”
We no longer smile anymore. When ours is a happy God. Who called us/His creation good.
Before the final blessing, Fr. Stephen asked those who wanted to be touched by his healing hand to open their hearts to God and surrender their will to His.
Who does not only provide. But is profoundly good. All the time.
Abraham M. de la Torre