Darkest hour, Finest hour

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for Good Friday, 19 April 2019
Isaiah 52:13-53:12///Hebrews 4:14-16;5:7-9///John 18:1-19:42
Jerusalem at dawn. Photo by author, April 2017.

Yesterday I saw the Maundy Thursday letter of Archbishop Soc Villegas to us his brother priests. I have never had a death threat in my life but have experienced being the subject of a fake news on being dead in 2005. And like the good Bishop Soc, I also asked “why me for doing what is right?”

It was one of the darkest hours in my entire life. I was then assigned at our diocesan school for boys in Malolos when I initiated an investigation on two married teachers allegedly having an affair following a tip from some faculty members. Our school principal who was well-respected by everyone headed the board. After a few days into the investigation, the teachers concerned resigned after realizing the overwhelming evidences their accusers have gathered against them. We were so glad the case was peacefully and easily resolved.

A week later, a teacher woke me up very early morning with a call, asking if the text message they have received was true that I have died of a heart attack past midnight. My immediate response to the teacher was, “why did you call me if I have died already?” She was crying and was so concerned as I listened to her on the phone. Then I asked her to send me the text message, but, later I changed my mind, telling her “what if it were true?”

I was never able to get back to sleep that morning because everybody was asking about the fake news that spread so quickly. I had to call my family to assure them I am very alive and well. By eight o’clock I realized the gravity of the matter: nuns were praying and masses have been offered for my “untimely death” that some priests have in fact came to see me in the school. I tried to brushed it aside, taking it lightly with my usual jokes. I even held my classes that whole day, telling my students that even if I die, I would always come to teach them.

Things became so different later that day for me. Especially when I prayed first in our chapel that evening and later in my room. Alone, I cried, feeling a deep pain within, asking myself what have I done wrong to deserve such a fake news? It was a pain so different, something you could really piercing through one’s self, slashing and shredding every bit of my being. That night I felt I have finally grasped all those existential absurd and pessimistic stuffs by Abert Camus and Soren Kierkegaard. Like what young people would say these days, “gets ko na sila”.

Crucifixion at the altar of the Betania Retreat House, Tagaytay. Photo by author, 2017.

It did not stop there. The “mystery texter” eventually texted me, threatening me of so many things, cursing me that I would suffer so much before I die. With that, I sought help from my friends in the news who referred me to a text scam investigator whom I never met but was so kind to help me for free. With his technical skills plus my news background as well as pastoral psychology, I was able to eventually identify my mystery texter who was a co-teacher of the accusers of the teachers in the illicit affair. It turned out, she was so broken-hearted after being dumped by the male teacher for another co-teacher who was prettier and lovelier than her. And she’s also married! She thought I was protecting the accused male teacher who happened to be an ex-seminarian but later we learned he was notorious in having illicit affairs among his married co-teachers.

She eventually resigned from our school in 2006 along with her group of co-teachers who all end up miserable in life. Their leader got separated from her husband who was caught in the act in another school banging an employee in a vacant room during summer break. Another was widowed. The third just got uglier. And she? She went to teach abroad in 2007 but had to go back home after learning her husband’s extra-marital affairs. She was able to go back to our old school because I never told my rector my findings. After a year and a half, she was fired from our school when the wife of our school driver caught them having an affair. I have never seen her nor her group since I left our school in 2010.

The Cross of Christ atop the church of our Lady of Lourdes in France. Photo by my former student Arch. Philip Santiago during his pilgrimage in 2018.

Thank you for bearing with me with my long story. It is the first time I have shared it with anyone except with one good teacher I have kept as a friend. Since yesterday I have been telling you about the “hour” of Jesus Christ, his passion that started at the Last Supper, culminating at his crucifixion. We said the darkest hour of Jesus Christ is also his finest hour because of his immense love. In the end, it was his love that triumphed over sin and evil. And that is why we call this Friday as Good.

When I recall that episode in my life, I thank God. You know when I was being attacked then by that mystery texter, that was the same year God gifted me my first trip to the US when my Ninang’s daughter got married. Life has become harder for me since then but has become “betterer”.

Of course I was scared at that time, checking on everything I was doing. Everything in my life has to be planned and calculated; I hate surprises that is why I am not fond of gifts, that I do not readily open them. But, was I angry or mad? No. Even at that time. I even pitied our teacher for being fooled. There is still pain in my heart when I remember those people behind those things but overall, I have transcended the episode. And I feel I have been transformed by it. The incident made me more resolved to be good and better as a person, as a priest. Most of all, it had taught me that like Jesus Christ, we always have to make a stand for what is true, what is good, what is just. It is always painful, lonely and scary to be on the cross. But it is on the Cross of Christ where we shine and share in his glory. It is only at the Cross of Christ where we are truly transformed into better persons because of love. It is only on the Cross of Christ where we realize the value and beauty of this gift of life, of every person in our lives that we start living authentically. At the Cross of Christ, we are assured always of a bright new day to get better and stat anew in life. A blessed weekend to you!

The Crucifix by National Artist Napoleon Abueva at the Holy Sacrifice Parish at UP Diliman. Here we find Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Death and Glory of Christ always together, a hairline apart from each other. See also the long arms of Christ that seem to be disproportionate to his body. According to a story, the UP Chaplain who commissioned that crucifix, the Jesuit Fr. John Delaney asked Abueva to make the arms of Christ longer than usual to show Jesus welcomes everyone; there’s a room for everyone in the Lord’s Cross, especially those suffering. Photo from Google.

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