“BATINGAW” TOLLED AS (CMF) Fr. Mauricio Ulep’s title for the introduction to his Recollection talk last Saturday, March 19, 2022, at the Montfort Center of Spirituality (MCS) in Madriñan, Timog, Quezon City. Through the Association of Mary Queen of Hearts (AMQAH), whose periodic project was to feature a recollection speaker according to its events calendar, Evangelization Team’s Sis Becky Jimenez earned Fr. Mau’s assent to be the recollection speaker. This year, the occasion called for the talk to center on the patron of the universal church, St. Joseph, whose Feast’s Solemnity’s celebration fell on the exact day of the Recollection.
It was his first time, he said, to encounter the MCS audience, and set foot on the (wonderful, he described the) Center. He would not be there, he claimed, if he were not an ordained and consecrated Claretian missionary priest. “Kwentuhan tayo,” he invited, and put his audience at ease. They even warmed when he disclosed that he is not a moral theologian and is merely there as a brother sharing his thoughts and reflections. When he was conceptualizing his theme, he confessed that “medyo pinahirapan siya ni Ate Becky” because she rattled off St. Joseph, Mary, evangelization, mission, all in one breath so he was left wondering where he would focus in light of the many subjects she enumerated. He jokingly pleaded her to do it one by slowly one. And he finally figured out what was apt for an assembly like AMQAH, which was to go back to where the Church is inviting us to do, walk along the margins, in the peripheries.
(I wondered if he was aware that his bell resonated opportunely in light of the clamor for freedom and peace for Ukraine?)
Pope Francis, he continued, constantly invites us all to walk there, “sa malalayo, hindi pinupuntahan, hindi kinikilala, na tamang perspektibo ng mga tao na nasa laylayan, sila na kailangan nating kausapin, gabayan, tulungan, the so-called Church as we proclaim we are, that of the poor.” And he said we can never be the Church of the poor unless we know how to walk along the margins. And because it was the day of St. Joseph, we have to walk with him.
Many of his audience, he went on, may have better, more, experiences than his 45-year-old existence. He deemed them as more mature, like his nanay, tatay, ate, kuya, all of us being capable of witnessing how we live. He recalled ate recalled breakfast that he threatened he will call on someone in the audience but disclaimed it as a joke, causing a snicker of relief from the crowd.
When we talk about walking, said he, we prefer to walk where the road is worthy, especially now that it’s hot. In any given circumstance, we are invited to walk even in those areas where people would not want to go.
He recounted his postulancy in 1997 in Zamboanga City, 30 kilometers from the city proper, when they had to walk weekly for their apostolate. An admitted rebel of sorts then, he questioned why they had to walk when there was a vehicle available, but he was ignored by his formator. So on his first time in Zamboanga (he didn’t know Chavacano), they had to walk 8 kliks to and from the mountains. The following week, they had to walk 84 kliks to their ‘neighbor’s’ place carrying 36 pieces of one-meter-long madre cacao to put up a fence for that same neighbor. The week after that, they were asked to plant in the neighbor’s ricefield. They were joyful moments being their first time but he cautioned the audience not to try it because it was really hard having to negotiate the ascent-descent in the mountain. It was fun until the sun went up and it started to scorch and they were no longer planting the proper way. One classmate of his wondered why he graduated from Philosophy and ended up in the ricefield, a crisis for him, so the poor guy quit. Actually, Fr. Mau disclosed, there were 49 of them when they started college (one of the big batches); after graduation, 9 out 10 proceeded to postulancy; that number dwindled down to 7 (who professed); and only 2 ended up as Claretian missionary priests.
Anyway, he resumed, at times, it was enjoyable and relaxing to walk. He particularly meant UP Diliman’s, “ikot,” where there were lots of trees, as long as the mosquitoes didn’t bite, and it was more enjoyable to walk with a companion, which was fun. In every family or organization, one is not alone, he claimed. Which makes it easy to see the path one traverses, no matter how hard the trek, it’s worthwhile because of the company. And he proceeded to ask them where have they walked.
While he wondered who would be his audience, it was of no moment because he trusted Ate Becky. Having heard that his audience has been to pilgrimages, where they have walked, what has been their significant travels, he urged them to go back to the time before the pandemic and where else they have gone that’s so significant to them. What was that moment when they felt so much joy and excitement because of being in those places. Although the real question is what made it really enjoyable? Wasit the place, their companions, the experience, what was it; where have they walked. He knows that, at this time, we are going through a lot and it’s always good to look back. Probably, Jesus has been teaching us a lot during these past years. Two years and ongoing, with the many crises that we went through, the Lord must be teaching us something. And so we have to go back to those learnings. For as long as we keep those learnings and insights with us, we also hope that we can move forward better. For if we no longer remember, we’ll have lapses. He hoped that, being religious people, they also have time to jot down those encounters on their journal daily, even if they are not inspired, because when they go back, ah, the reminiscences will be significant.
Here, he paused to invite the audience to reflect on a short video. About a scavenger talking to himself: Dahil hindi ko na marinig ang tibok ng sarili kong puso, minabuti kong hanapin ito at dinala ako ng aking paghahanap sa dulo ng mundo. Dito nagtatapos ang lahat ng plastik, bote, lata, at iba pang klase ng basura..
At the video’s end, he asked them, “Where are you going?” And added that, even as a family, it is also probably good to ask ourselves where we are going. Which speaks about our goal, where our life is directed, focused, where we are headed, why we are doing this, who our companions are. Because, what is important, it is not only us who are going to that very important place, for it’s hard to be alone, so if our destiny is the kingdom of God, then we should not go to the kingdom of God by ourselves. When he found out that they were a lay association, a kind of voluntary act, and have been invited to join, to be part of the process, he thought that was wonderful, awesome, that they have been asked to be with persons who see a clear direction, why they are in this association, which is always for the good and that good leads to an ultimate good, to God and, therefore, all of us have to be there. Yet it’s also important to ask why are we going to God. Not because it’s joyful there, among many friends, but we are going there not because of a party, but because of the Lord. So the very reason, the goal, is also the reason. If God is the goal of everything that we’re doing, why we’re doing what we’re doing, then the reason is God Himself, too, or else we lose track of that evangelization, there’s no evangelization at all. That should be clear.
Even Catechists, when asked why they do it for God, hesitate to answer because it’s not easy to say, because all of us have different and personal needs. Each one of us has a personal need that has to be responded to. And in such realities, amidst all personal demands we have to confront ourselves with, we have to clarify that ultimate reason why we are doing what we are doing. For example, if we are a member of an evangelization team, why are we there? Or, in our family, we do this for our child, why? Why are we teaching our child to pray? That should be clear.
Last Sunday, in the disciples’ encounter of Jesus on the mountain, in the transfiguration, we realize that Jesus was going to the mountain in order to pray. It’s a very good reason and it is in that prayer that He encountered Moses and Elijah and the voice of the Father amidst the clouds. So this is just an offshoot of that role to pray. Therefore, if we know and are clear why we’re doing what we’re doing, we would not lose track of the way and we will be joyful along the way.
When I was in school administration, it was rather difficult, more so during the pandemic. According to the Labor Department, we have to reclassify our personnel as to who are essential and non-essential. And if you inform an employee he is non-essential, he will be hurt. Like, if you are a lab custodian, and the lab is no longer being used, what do you do? What would make you essential? You have to find your own purpose at a given time. So as you clarify your goal you also find your purpose. Why am I here? What is the reason I am working here in Claret School? If you are a lab custodian and the lab is no longer utilized, what do you do? If you can’t think of an alternative, goodbye and thank you, right? And I’m not kind, my provincial is, so he says, we have to keep all the employees. But we didn’t have an increase in tuition, the miscellaneous fees hit a low, so our 160 employees, what do they do now? Repeatedly sweeping, when there are no more areas to sweep? When you look at our purpose, we have to make sure that what we are doing makes sense, that’s the reason why we clarify our goal. If it doesn’t make sense at all, what? Do we have Scholastics here? I once was a formator, so you see who are sincere and not, simply by the way they hold the tool of their trade. Next, just by the way they more toward their place of work, you can tell who are capable. Those who are enthusiastic to work, they really wield their broom, not only that, because in our school, there is also a need to clear weeds and plant stuff, even if they don’t survive as long as they are planted. So while I was observing the personnel, I could tell who were serious and not, who will be surprised if I happen to pass by, like they saw a ghost, suddenly acting busy. What I’m saying is, as long as we do not know why we’re doing what we’re doing, we’re not focused, so we have to ask ourselves why. So with seminarians, even with priests, why did I accept this challenge from Ate Becky? Because, when I was not yet a priest, I was already booked for dawn Masses. I was ordained May 31, 2006, but I was scheduled for Misa de Gallo in December of the same year! Ate Becky booked me last year yet. My Secretary is only second to her in persistence: O, Fr., pina-follow-up na, ano raw yung theme. And I’d say, busy pa ko, though at times, pretending to be busy. Truth is, I’m really busy, with loads of things to do, and they think that, because everything is online, it’s easy. There are times when the commitments come on the heels of the others, sometimes all at the same time. Meeting, zoom meeting, all sorts of meeting, my day is loaded with meetings, so much so that afternoon finds me exhausted. Anyway, why do we accept, why did I accept this commitment? The first thing that I said was I might learn something from it, because in truth, I don’t have anything new to tell you. I might learn a new experience from you that might deepen my vocation, because according to my superior in Zamboanga, I don’t have a Ph. D. in educational leadership, so you are sent as a missionary. Your first role is to be a priest. Ate Becky was sending me back to the right path. She said for me to dress in a priest’s garb because I don’t look like a priest. So this morning, I put out my clerical shirt because I rarely wear it for I am usually clad in a barong. So why did I really accept her offer? Because of the encounter with people who are devoted. When I was young, I was a member of the Children of Mary, I was 3 years old then. What really moved me to become a priest was looking at the priest, going around, accompanying people, at a time when BEC was not yet the trend in Ilocos Norte. But he would be there, even when it rains, going from house to house, telling stories with families, asking how they are, that’s the pastor. And I was moved by his simplicity of life. He had no help so he cleaned the convent himself. Rarely do we see such priests now. That moved me to become a priest. It’s not in the vestments, it’s not in the altar, but in the life of the priest, marked with service. So when we were in the novitiate, every time that we go visit the houses, that actually deepened my vocation. For each time I share stories with the people, even if I don’t understand, because I didn’t know Chavacano, during the first years, even if I had difficulty understanding what they were going through, sharing with them, listening to them, staying with them were already acts of service for me to them. There was really nothing I could do at some point. But service and for mission also to be lived out simply by being there.
When my mother died, many people came and I asked myself, why, who are these people, I don’t know them. And then I realized my mother was very poor. She was kind, approachable. For when I was young, one of the reasons why she and my father clashed is that when somebody passes by peddling fish, vegetables or whatever, she would invite her to stop by and ask if she had already eaten. If the answer was no, she would offer food, and rice. We’re Ilocano but my father is the ultimate, you know what I mean (laughter). He would ask my mother what she bought. Nothing. She didn’t buy anything yet she gave the peddler food and rice. My mother was really kind. At some point also, I realized my mother would just talk to those ordinary people around and that made an impact in the lives of those people she touched, probably, in some ways. Mission may not be a full-blown action where you go, give but, probably, the mission may simply be being there. The truth is, before you can actually do something, be there, stay there. You may see many people giving but are those persons there? Meaning, are their hearts there? Are they conscious that they are really helping out? Because if it’s only for show, your giving, your going there, that’s not the real mission. When we speak of mission, the first act of doing mission is to be there, to be present, and presence is not simply a matter of physical presence. Presence is to make your whole being there, present.
You may have experienced talking to people, especially those who have teenaged children, when they talk to them the kids are holding cellphones (gestures). They don’t even look at you, or put their phones down. It’s really funny, I see families taking time out, even before the pandemic, and I wonder when I see them dining out and sitting together, oh, that’s wonderful sitting, together, but then, immediately, as they sit down, they hold their cps. Presence is to be there, not simply physically but also psychologically, wholeheartedly, with your mind, your heart, your entire being. Although there are times when even missionaries like me do not like the place where they are, making their mission unfruitful, because they are not really there. Even if they are there, physically, but if they are not into it, the mission will be fruitless, futile. No impact. And it’s true with us, lay people, when we are there but not. That is why there are instances when cooking gets burned. Because you’re not there, what were you doing? I was chatting. Oops, I smell something burning! Because it slipped your mind. Because you were not consciously there. Dear friends, to be a missionary is not simply to be there in the peripheries but, first and foremost, to be there, where you are, present. Let us be present. I know there are many absentees here. In our world, not only here, there are absentees, that is why one of the problems in schools today, even in Catholic schools, is the fact that many of our students have absentee parents. Because they have parents who are working abroad, far from their families, and so on. What’s worse, it’s not simply because of the absentee parents but parents who actually don’t care at all. One of our challenges during this online learning is the fact that we cannot, even if we have given them personal email, communicate with the parents in Claret School. We send them mail but they don’t read them. There’s the problem. You call them but they don’t answer. You want to talk to them about their child but they cannot be reached. They will emerge at the end of the year when it’s time to give out the cards but they cannot get the card because their child has a failing mark. That’s the worse scenario. The parent is there but the pzrent doesn’t care. How I wish that, in our life, we are here not only in this place or world but that we are aware we are here, and know what we are doing while we’re here. That’s the consciousness that we have to have so that wherever you are placed, if you are not yourself, nothing will come out of it. You are not actually there. No work can be done. Or even if you may be working, it is not fruitful, never making an impact. So when there is work to be done in an association or whatever it is that you are into, be present. Make sure that your whole being is there. Mission. So you have to make sure that in your lives, you are never absent and, if you are present, you have to be conscious and you have to care. Please, if your child is there, talk to him/her, tell stories with him/her. What’s the point of coming together if you don’t actually share that time and moment with the other. It’s important that you have to be present. So that’s mission. So when you walk, you are talking about mission. But when we are talking about mission, we have to realize where we are going, who’s gonna share with us our lives, and we cannot do the mission by ourselves. How did I do that? It wasn’t her that inputted that. Won’t I be bothered the whole day? Ma’am, I’m going to be busy, please don’t bother me, no papers to sign. She didn’t bother me. I was able to do it. Collaboration was there, meaning, you have to know who’s gonna work with you because the tasks at hand are so much. Evangelization is a lifetime of tasks that we fail to accomplish because, sometimes, there’s really a lot to do. Have you talked to your neighbor about Christ? Probably not yet. Practically speaking, we have a lot of things to do in terms of collaboration but we can start where we are now. And just make sure that we are present where we are.
The next point is the peripheries. We have to walk along the peripheries and these are margins of life, the margins of society. So what are peripheries? We have seen the video of Payatas. Probably you would not want to go to a dirty place, to a filthy place that’s not healthy. In truth, it’s hard. Who would want to go and live there? No one probably. But those people who are in difficult situations don’t have any option at all. Let us keep that in mind. Do they like it? It’s hard. Do they like to suffer? Maybe not but they do not have other options. Are you going to give them? Go, will they have another life? Maybe. But you will need to guide them, help them, monitor them. That’s another consideration. The example is easy. Give us all a job, then that’s it. Give us all housing, then that’s it. In those peripheries of life in our society today, there’s a need to, first and foremost, dissect to solve the problem in those peripheries. We need to understand what really is the problem.
We are working with the Badjaos in Basilan. We have a Samal Badjaos Foundation, we have to understand first their language, their culture, and their family dynamics. We’re like thinking, okay, let’s give them scholarship. But what are they really thinking? It could be they are only considering elementary only because that’s what they know and like. Now we have about 3 or 5 who have graduated from college. Good. But again we need to be closely intertwined with their lives to understand what are their thoughts, fears, hopes, that’s important in the margins. So to understand the margins, probably it’s not only those in difficult situations but also those who may have difficulties in life whatever those difficulties are. Not only where life is difficult but also where people are having difficulty because they do not understand. What do they really want? Many people are like that, they do not know yet what they want. The youth today, you ask them what they want and they do not know. It’s hard. This is what’s in the periphery today. There may not be people like them in areas like that. That’s the picture of the Badjaos in Basilan. The first time we went there, we were postulants, and our postulant master asked us to write our last will and testament because we have to go there and then I was worried how do I cross that bamboo bridge, there were no railings, if you fall, good luck, you know what you will find under, you won’t die but you’ll probably suffocate. Sometimes we have to go to those areas where there are lots of risks and we have to risk also to be in the margins, which means that we have to know the people who are in the margins of society. Who are they? They are those whom you ignore. There are probably among us who dislike someone so much. That person you don’t like is in the margin. He’s part of the margins of your own world. And you don’t notice him. You only notice those who are in the circle of life. You do not greet or notice people who are not your friend, beshie, and why would you, they are in the periphery. I hear that sometimes when our teachers talk, beshie, beshie. So they are those, and maybe we have to go there or we have to be with them. With those people who are different from us, probably. And those people who cannot understand us. These are the people in the margins. We know that the Holy Father, in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, speaks about the close world, because of the fact that many societies have enclosed themselves for their own security. I tell you about the story of my auntie who closes the door at 6 o’clock in the evening, and makes sure that she has locked all the doors, what a close (locked is more like it, I mused) world, isn’t it? Probably the rich countries, in a dual perspective, have actually done this to those countries who are in the Third World. They hardly notice us. Anyway, they care about their own so dump their trash on the Philippines, their scraps, which is why “ukay-ukay” thrives in the country. Thanks to the First World. We have probably divided our world. Such that we have to identify who’s rich, who’s poor. And probably some other marks that distinguish one from the other. This is a close world. Where actually there’s a great divide. Where we are separated, me here, an elitist, and you there, something else. But my world doesn’t have to be like that. Yet what we have actually experienced in our world today, because of the pandemic, is the reality of isolation. Because of the pandemic, the disintegration of our communities has been magnified. It is only now that you met face-to-face. You have been isolated from one another even though you may be closely interacting online but that’s a different story. I know how kids feel when they could not even have a personal, physical encounter with their classmates. Which is why there are kids who cry. They don’t like online classes. Because they prefer to have playmates. The son of our provincial secretary, in Grade IV, was bawling, throwing tantrums, because he was alone with a laptop. So we told Ate Marge, Ate Marge, bring Pio here. Anytime that there is no class, let him run around, and be with other people, the priests are also here. Pio was very happy.
We probably helped isolate one another all the more because of the pandemic and that also created our distance from another. We have been into this pandemic during these two years and we have created more distances and probably alienated ourselves from the others. Or, probably for the young people, they have probably alienated themselves even from their own families. There are cases among the young people who would be enjoying chatting with a foreigner more than with their mom or dad. That’s the distance. Imagine, you’re with these people in the family, in your house, but you don’t talk, because you prefer to talk to a stranger who is in another world. What a story! Really, we have to reclaim again and again that portion of the road, especially that periphery where people may not be isolated, distanced from us, but more lived in solidarity. There should be no periphery at all in the first place. But that’s a reality. Many people are living in that periphery because of isolation and distance. Sometimes it’s not the pandemic that causes the isolation and distance but we ourselves have caused them. How do we rear a child, for instance? When you look at a child while he grows and shows potential, ah, you say, this child is bright, he goes to a science high school. To another child you say, you belong to a public elementary school. There are families like that. That’s one. Another example: Oh, this child is cute, what toy do you like? To another, oy, you stay there and eat, there’s food there. In a family dynamic, I tell you, there are divisions. There are isolations. We are creating divisions. True, there are children who are cute, or pa-cute lang, but it’s how we actually treat them and then, that’s heard and ingrained in their consciousness, which actually makes them feel isolated. Woe, Mama does not love me. He will rebel. And because he does, what happens next? He’ll harbor a grudge, casting him in the periphery, which was created by whom in the first place? Because our lenses make discriminatory action at times and that’s also true. Ouch! Why there, why that? So the beautiful sceneries are only for the rich because they can afford and the so-so views only for those who cannot. And how do we orient our kids? We have students with outreach projects before the pandemic and they wanted to go to the slum area, to play with the children there, so they may think they are also human, kids. In life, sometimes, we cannot deny that we tend to be judgmental, we tend to have discriminatory lenses and I hope that, as we try to cleanse our eyes, let us see with the eyes of God. To see everyone as valuable, to see each one not with titles, not with rank, not with status, but because he or she is a child of God. It’s hard in truth, but that’s the point. For as long as we cannot see each one as a brother or a sister beloved to us, there will always be peripheries.
And we have created more peripheries than there are in truth because we have been very selfish. We have concentrated our eyes on us: I, me, and myself. So it really takes a lot of effort for us to break the peripheries in this world, to dismantle the division that brings about a close world.
I live in the provincial curia, unfortunately, and I know how it feels, especially for the Scholastics, who are here when the Provincial Superior is around. It can be very rigid and behaved. So when we tell our brothers to join us in our community for dinner or for lunch, they will not be very happy because they always see that the provincial curia is a house of the powerful. And then we’re telling them no, it’s not true. Why do we have responsibilities which are complex in nature? Because, for example, there’s a provincial superior there, a provincial econome there, a provincial secretary there, a school director there, a director of the publications there, so it’s a bit complicated. But it’s not about the position, or the role, it’s all about us together us brothers. So, when they come, we open the refrigerator for them so anything that they see in the ref is also for them so that, sometimes, after their visit, we have to go back to the market and replenish because they ate up the ice cream, yakult, which are the only contents in the fridge, our little human joys. So that’s what happens when they come, they consume what’s available because we understand that seminarians are growing up so they eat more although it is actually to make them feel that they are welcome. It’s an effort in truth.
In our house, for instance, you cannot really like whom you do not know, and not close with. It may be hard to do but probably that’s the brunt of it all. It’s not easy, as in the case of my auntie (may she rest in peace). Imagine me telling her, no, no, no, Auntie, you should open your gate, yet she doesn’t mind you. What can be stolen from you, we don’t have gold bars, jewelry, what could possibly be worth stealing? Our antique furniture? Which they have to lift up? I do not understand but, anyway, life’s like that, hard, but we all have separate insecurities in life and because of them, which we carry as we age and grow, we become more insecure. That is why, when I told them I was going to Zamboanga, what are you going to do there? They were so afraid. That something bad may happen to me in Zamboanga. By the grace of God, nothing did, I didn’t even get sick, because I was sickly before, tonsillitis, fever, I needed looking after when I was young but when I was in Zamboanga I did not need caring for, I was healthy. When I returned, I was very happy, Zamboanga was lovely, I said, and festive. We planted rice, climbed the mountain, fed the pigs, cooked their food, we had so much fun. My auntie smirked, “You did only that? Stay here instead! If it’s the priesthood you really like, there are seminaries nearby, you don’t have to go to Zamboanga!” There was fear. All of us have fear, we know what we fear. When my mother died, I was kind of afraid. Why? Because if I die, pity my father, he will be lonely further. So after she died, and I was assigned to Basilan, it was a happy event. My provincial superior said for me to go to Basilan. Okay. I was so afraid to go to Basilan then because, again, I was guarded by 3 military men and 3 CAFGU, so many, I felt like a VIP. I was assigned as a parish priest in Kumagupong, what fun. When we passed by this place, their guns were ready, unspeaking, then after several minutes, they told me, Fr., there’s the ambush site. Okay.
When I arrived in Kumagupong, what a lovely parish, quiet, few churchgoers, because there were more Muslims than Catholics (laughter). I’d say Mass daily with 4 or 5 in attendance, fun. Then at night, sudden gunfire nearby, the guards would shout: Fr., dapa! They are coming close. So I duck under the bed, because our convent is made of bamboo strips. Ratatatatat! Sorry, goodbye, Mauricio. Because the guards said to hide, they are really advancing, I go to the back of the tabernacle, which was made of concrete.
There were nights when I couldn’t sleep so popped some sleeping pills which I didn’t take to easily because they gave me a headache. I had to do it because I was afraid to die, not for me, but because my mother just died and if something happened to me, pity my father. So I pleaded my superior to spare my father from greater pain and transfer me to a less critical assignment. He sent me to Zamboanga Sibugay. I was very happy. I no longer have my guards but there was an MILF tank (more laughter). Still I was happy. I no longer felt that death was near, like it was so close in Basilan. Because then, when they know you are a priest, they kidnap you, believing that priests have plenty of money. That’s not true and, besides, our congregation has a no-ransom policy. So poor me. I really had to move out.
What’s that all about? It’s about mission. When we actually experience life in the peripheries, we probably have all this feeling of insecurities, angst, probably we may be tortured, what’s next? We probably don’t know what will happen. And this actually creates distance and distance because the more that we think about our own security, the more that we alienate our own selves from the others. But when we actually overcome ourselves and leave behind all our insecurities, then we can actually travel, move along, walk, engage, and encounter one another free, comfortably. Cause when you don’t have security, you are afraid to converse, this looks like an Abu Sayaf, but an Abu Sayaf does not mind, he’s ordinary, however armed. So when I was in the parish in Kumagupong, I wasn’t allowed to get out of the gate because anybody can pick me up where I was. That’s insecurity. But when you are actually secure, and then you are free, open to all possibilities, no matter what may happen, go. Why, is anyone afraid, I won’t harm you, and because you’re not afraid, it’s joyful. If the world is like that, you are not afraid that one night, while you are passing by, you will be gunned down, okay. But when you are afraid, the more there will be isolation, conflict, and we will not see who this person really is who, probably, is going through something, needs someone to talk with, nurturing, maybe he never felt how to love or be loved, who knows. When it’s a close world, there are no possibilities in truth. But when we open our world, there will be more possibilities. So walking, even in those peripheries, would be easier because you don’t have to think of dying here, getting hurt, but you will trust, that he is all right, trustworthy, kind. So you proceed.
That’s the difference in politics, here in the Philippines and in Singapore. Singapore, as a country, has a high rate of trust. They trust the government so there is order. All bills are enacted into laws, what’s written is carried out. Here, it’s different. I’m overspeeding. I’m a priest. That happened to me in truth, when I was not yet a priest, I took a seminarian to the airport at dawn and I swerved and a law enforcer saw me. Sorry, Officer, I’m in a hurry to take him to the airport because I still have to say Mass afterwards. He looked at me, I was wearing shorts (laughter); fortunately, he was Catholic and didn’t give me a ticket. But there are instances that you suffer for your misdemeanor, pay the fine. But here, because of palusot, palakasan, there you go. Anyway, the more that we have low trust in one another, in the systems that are in place, the more that we have to secure ourselves. We have to secure what we have because my bag might be picked up there, something bad might happen.
If we have to walk along the peripheries with St. Joseph, we have to remember St. Joseph himself as a man of encounter. Referring to the document, Fratelli Tutti, I have to tell you that St. Joseph was a witness of that encounter, aligned with that encounter, even if how limited we know about him and the Gospel today, we have to remember that in his life of encounter, first he encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a witness of true love. In the Gospel, we realize that Mary was betrothed to Joseph and then after the angel appeared to him, he took Mary as his wife. So this is an encounter. I believe that in order to walk with Joseph we, too, have to have an encounter with Mary. You have a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, with that devotion, I hope that you can look at her more as a source of inspiration of how to love purely and, like St. Joseph, who took her as his wife, we have to look at her as our center of love. Joseph has that encounter with her and he respected the will of God for the Blessed Virgin Mary. I hope, too, that if we have to journey with St. Joseph, we will have that same disposition in actually looking not only at her, our mother and our model, but also in each one of us as a source of inspiration that this person has to be loved, cared for. So we have to encounter that life of encounter especially with the inspiration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, just as she encountered the angel with openness. So, too, must we open ourselves to other people. Why, when the angel appeared to him, did he doubt who it was, did he think in his dream that it was making fun of him. No, he opened his mind, heart, and person to the message of the angel. So if we, too, are to journey with one another, we should have an open heart to receive our fellow man, whoever he is. He might be an angel and, even if he looks like a devil, he is still an angel in our eyes, we have to mind his message to us. Each one of us is an angel sent by God to the other to bring a message so all of us have to encounter the angel in the strangers around us, let us be open to them and, as we open ourselves to them, we have to be in dialogue with them. Talk to them, not talk to ourselves only, but listen as well, that is included in the dialogue. So when we dialogue, we start the conversation but not in a way that would despise and put down the other but, rather, affirm the other. Even when we correct, it is not to put down the other but to uplift, that’s the dialogue. When we have to have a dialogue and make a correction of the other person, there’s this formula called the XYZ principle. We state the fact, tell what we feel, and express our hope or aspiration. Like, for example, Son, I saw you didn’t do your assignment again. Every time that you don’t do your homework, I am hurt because I will be called by your teacher again. He will tell me that I don’t guide you, help you. Can you please do your homework the next time? If you are having a hard time, I’m ready to help you. You probably have to correct that way, that’s part of dialogue. It’s not saying that when he makes a mistake, respect him, it’s okay. That’s not right. That’s to spoil the person. Which is why there’s a lot of spoiled brats in the world who no longer know what they do. We should teach them, guide them. In our life of encounter, we have to dialogue with one another, even probably with our own husband or wife, friends, no matter how difficult it is to accompany them. We have to live in that culture of dialogue. And, of course, we have to encounter true silent fruitfulness which means we don’t have to brag about everything. St. Joseph was a quiet person but he did what the angel told him. He fulfilled what he promised silently. But why is it fruitfulness there? It’s not simply to know the product but also the process. Which is why the mango bearing fruit is a long process. Whatever fruit tree that we have takes time, may be seasonal, and requires a process. So when we live a life of encounter, we have to make sure that we encounter true silent fruitfulness, meaning we have to do this wholeheartedly along our pace with patience and dedication in order for this to be fruitful. Probably we have a particular target but, more so, when we have a target, we have to go through the process slowly. So when we encounter Joseph, we also encounter his silent fruitfulness and true collaboration for the common good and care for the poor. This is from the Holy Father. And in the life of St. Joseph, we understand how he collaborated with the mission of God. He understood clearly that what he was about to do was according to the plan of God so we have to collaborate. Sometimes we have to set aside our personal necessities for the common and greater good. We have to separate that which is comfortable for us in order to be of service for the common and greater good. Those mothers who are here, I will understand, for example, that you are on the act of putting it already in your mouth but since your son wants the thigh part of the chicken, you give it to him. That’s collaboration. That we make sure we work with the other and think of him first and not ourselves and that would demand a lot of commitment. When we encounter, walk with Joseph, we have to live a life of commitment and commitment is not an easy word. Those who are married know how difficult it is to live a life of commitment and those who made professional vows like me know how difficult and challenging it is. It’s not easy at all but then, when we have to say we have to have a life of encounter marked with commitment, that would mean that we have to constantly do this no matter what it takes. So when we walk in the peripheries, we do this constantly. This is not seasonal, we have outreaches, during Lent, Christmas and, Christmas or not, what do we do? Do we still help? Does that continue? The commitment? So that even if it’s your anniversary, monthsary, or not, would you still say “I love you?” Commitment. With us, priests, it’s sometimes tiring to get up early, you retire from a hectic workday and you have to rise early the next day, routine, but that’s the commitment, even if you probably don’t feel like doing it, you wake up, do it! That’s commitment. Because even in little things, if you don’t do this small bit, then you cannot be trusted in larger things. So if you don’t trust him in these things anymore, will you trust him in others? Commitment speaks of doing it with consistency. Of course we all have our dreams, aspirations, but I hope that, with St. Joseph, even in these dreams, we make necessary discernment. He thought about what he had to do, planned their escape to Egypt, how to go about it as part of the discernment process. Make sure that in all those discernment processes and dreams, we make our necessary decisions to walk along the peripheries with St. Joseph. We all have dreams, goals, objectives, we have to make that necessary discernment, reflection together, we did that all throughout this recollection process, made some reflections, probably our own stories would help our discernment process, but we also have to make a decision and that comes after this recollection. For why are we having this? Practice. Force of habit. We are here because we dream together. We reflect together, discern together, and we will have to make a decision together. And in such decision, we will have to continue walking along the peripheries with St. Joseph. And that is the call of the Holy Father, for us to live in the spirit of synodality, as a synod, a listening Church, walking together. I hope that even with my little unnecessary stories, I was able to walk with you, accompany you, during this moment of recollection. We walk, probably not our own personal target, but it’s good that we have to be with other people because, if mission is for God, then we have to bring others with us. And as we walk with other people, continue to walk with those in the peripheries, along the peripheries. We should not escape the difficult paths, even the difficult tasks, the responsibilities. When I was given the opportunity to teach in Claret School, it was not an easy task, but I could not, should not, escape. So even with this, we continue to discern together what has to be done. With the inspiration of St. Joseph, we are told to live a life of encounter in order to walk along the peripheries with him. May St. Joseph, husband of Mary, continue to inspire us, humble us, and walk with us.
The Author acknowledges with praise and thanksgiving the photos and recordings from Ate Maricar Lansang, fellow Montfortian Lay Missionary.