Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Something More

(for izumi sakata and her family)

This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?
Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you
may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your
life according to this necessity; your life even unto its most indifferent and slightest
hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.

- Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to A Young Poet

After graduation from college at Ateneo de Naga University, I joined the faculty of its high school. For three years, I taught Philippine and Asian history, moderated the second year honors class and assisted in the Days with the Lord, a retreat program designed for our students. With memories of my own high school years still fresh, it was like spending high school for the second time – and with such joy-filled ease.

Coming from the same high school myself, I saw those three years as a homecoming. I was the first to fulfill a common promise among my high school classmates to go back and teach in our alma mater. It was a time to pass on to my 14-year old students the revered Jesuit tradition of our school, share with them the stories of my own growing-up years and accompany them in the journey of their young lives. And accompany them I did: weekend strolls and movies, home visits, treks to the mountain, picnics, games and class nights. I was only six years their senior and I could speak their language well. I was one of them

It was all fun and learning and fulfilling. I did not notice the passing of three years. It felt young to be with the young, their energy infectious. But in the evening when I looked back at the day before going to bed, I would always feel something was missing. Despite the full, filled and filling days, there was still something I had not done – or was not doing. And I realized I could not ignore it anymore. I had to pay attention to it. I had to do something.

I entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Manila on May 30,1997 with 14 other companions. For two years, we tried to look deeper into our call to the priesthood and religious life. We learned to pray more. We studied the history, life and work of the Jesuits. We discovered more about ourselves, learning along the way the difficult yet enlightening and lightening process of accepting who we are – our quirks and frailties, wounds and weaknesses but more than these, our own giftedness and the never-ending working of God’s healing, loving grace.

My co-novices and I made the month-long Spiritual Exercises or retreat that all Jesuits through the centuries have made. For thirty days, we prayed and meditated in silence, talking only to our spiritual director. We had our hospital experiments where I worked as an orderly at the Philippine General Hospital, the country’s largest, listening to cancer patients, dressing their wounds, feeding them, taking them to the x-ray room, cleaning bedpans, scrubbing walls. We had our urban poor experiments where I lived incognito with a host family in the shanties. I lived in a small house in a neighborhood notorious for prohibited drugs. God knows how difficult it was for me to sleep in the first days considering the gunfire, mice and roaches that came anytime, in no predictable order!

Then I was assigned to a far-flung, barely populated mountain village in southern Philippines. It was too cold for my lowland upbringing. It was also a far cry from the city life I was used to: no electricity, no movies nor malls, bedtime at 6 p.m., a different language, diet and lifestyle. It was my first experience of biting loneliness. For our labor experiments, I worked, again incognito, as a room attendant in a 5-star hotel in Manila. A teacher, a literature graduate making king-size beds, dusting furniture, scrubbing bathroom tiles and bowls, changing sheets and vacuuming corridors – that was me! These experiences made me learn from the ordinary people. They taught me how the good Lord and the goodness of the human heart are present even amid pain and suffering, injustice and seeming despair, difficulty and misfortune. The poor can many times have hearts and spirits far richer and stronger, far more hope-full and more faith-full than ours.

I took my perpetual religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience on May 31,1999. I then proceeded to study literature, language, culture and philosophy at the Ateneo de Manila University. In January of this year, I successfully passed my oral comprehensive exams. Soon after, I received word from my superiors about my new assignment: Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro City in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

I am at present in charge of vocations promotions and Director of Haggerty House Jesuit Prenovitiate, a house for young men aspiring to become Jesuit priests and brothers. It is a very challenging job. Aside from guiding these young men grow in their spiritual lives, I perform other roles as well – preparing the monthly budget and accounting, chaplain of our workers, giving retreats and recollections, following up applicants, giving talks in schools and universities, organizing formation activities. I also teach Christian Humanism in our high school, moderate a senior class and do counseling.

There is much work to be done. I shuttle between the main campus and the high school campus, go from one university or town to another, wear many hats but through it all, I feel a deep sense of peace and joy that tells me this is not work. This is not just my work but my life. And always this brings me back to that sunny May afternoon five years ago when I stepped on the seminary grounds for the first time and said goodbye to my family, the old iron and wooden doors of the seminary closing behind me, when in my heart I said this is it! The moment I had long been waiting for. The life I had always wanted. I was home. And I am.

As I accompany young people in my ministry, it is my hope and desire that they, too, may find the more in their lives, that strong and simple I must! and live, work and die for this must. (Xavier L. Olin,S.J.)

Written July 2002, Cagayan de Oro, for the Japanese association which sponsored my college scholarship.


At 7:44 AM, Blogger Zedwheels said...

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Following last week's predictions of Yahoo adding blog search service, it did add this week blog results but with a twist.
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At 12:46 AM, Blogger Jeff Pioquinto,SJ said...

this one is superb. Muchas Gracias

At 6:57 PM, Blogger Cheenee said...

Hi Father Xave. =) Si Cheenee ito. =) Galing ng blog mo.. =)

At 5:08 PM, Blogger John Paul said...

Pads, write some more!I'll be your no 1 reader!!


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