by Vicente Gabriel S.J. Bautista
Just before we ended our school year, our class had our year-end retreat at the St. Michael’s Retreat House with Rev. Fr. Carlo Magno Marcelo as our retreat facilitator. He was open enough to hear out our thoughts on what we wish to hear from him during the retreat. He gathered the class for a short meeting and collated some ideas as to what we wish to reflect on during the retreat.
And as a graduating class who will eventually adjust from the seminary structure to parish life, many nodded to this topic: adjustments, turning points, and crossing over.
Retreat week came. As Fr. Carlo opened the days of prayer, he introduced us this “not so new” English word: liminality. As Catholics, we often see or hear this word used to define the visit of a particular group of bishops to Rome what we call “Ad Limina Visita Apostolorum” (The Visit to the Threshold or Tombs of the Apostles).
Limina, when translated into English, means “threshold.” Fr. Carlo described “threshold” as in between going out and coming into a new phase in life. Being in “liminality” is a path for many uncertainties, adjustments, new phases to reach and feel, and many opportunities to gain lessons.
After graduation, majority of us were called by our own bishops to prepare for our Vocation Synthesis Program, or for some would know it better as the “pre-diaconal program.” Though a classmate of ours was ordained to the diaconate (Rev. Jhionne Lazarus D.V. Maniago), I am sure that all of us were in a way standing and walking through this liminality we are facing.
Most of us were already sent to our parish assignments. Adjustments and mobilities were experienced (or are being experienced). Liminalities are indeed true and exciting.
In our class, four of us are from the Archdiocese of Manila. Rev. Fr. Kristoffer H. Habal, Head of the Team of Vocation Ministers of the archdiocese headed our orientation and facilitated the introduction to the Vocation Synthesis Program of the archdiocese.
Around the second week of May, the four of us were sent to our parish assignments. I was assigned at the San Felipe Neri Parish, Mandaluyong City under Rev. Fr. Ramon U. Merino. Mr. Aldwin Ivan M. Gerolao was assigned at the Sto. Niño de Pandacan Parish under Rev. Fr. Sany de Claro. Mr. Norman M. Gandia was assigned at the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, Binondo under Fr. Andy Lim. Mr. Xavier Paul Y. Jacome was assigned at the National Shrine and Parish of St. Michael and the Archangels under Rev. Fr. Genaro O. Diwa.
So far as the date of this writing, we are nearing the first month when we began our vocation synthesis program. I am deeply blessed enough with happy and challenging memories and lessons with the community I am with now. I wish to share some of those that also became an eye opener and a humbling experience on my part.
Fr. Mon and Fr. Hans asked me to be the adviser of the Worship Ministry. This group is composed of liturgical ministers. As I arrived, the parish was preparing for the feast of St. Philip Neri. As I took the responsibility, I met with the people involved in the fiesta celebrations. With the limitations caused by the pandemic, it was our parish’s first fiesta after last year’s ECQ implementations. Thus, some activities were still limited. Ten percent of the seating capacity was still implemented. No large parish assemblies or parties were held. Some were not able to prepare hearty meals for some to feast on. The novena prayers and masses were said in honor of St. Philip Neri. After the morning mass of the fiesta itself, breakfast was served to parish volunteers and servers. Bp. Pabillo presided over the fiesta celebration with the attendance of many. It was a simple and joyful celebration. But still, you could see the radiating joy from the devotees and parishioners of San Felipe Neri.
I was left to myself one night and asked myself: “Ganun lang yun? Baka may ibubuga pa.” There could have been more that we can do. But seemingly, the Lord called my attention and told me, “Yup, it is still pandemic. But your community did well. You need not exhaust all efforts to come up with activities. Kung magpipilit kayo mag piga ng mga gagawin, kayo pa mahirapan. Sapat naman ang lahat. Masaya ang lahat. All were blessed.” And yes, if we placed everyone at risk in preparing the nitty gritty of things, safety could be pursued off. Simple and yet meaningful, praise and thanksgiving were rendered to God.
Another hearty lesson and experience was the daily encounter with people. I mean not only the face-to-face meet up with the parishioners, but coupled with those are their concerns. When I say concerns, it varies and it multiplies! It was one day when I had that experience, I just saw myself seated inside the office and was looking straight to my planner. I could still hear and remember their varied concerns and needs. But then, I have to stand up and take note of some of their concerns and begin utilizing time and elements around us.
This last and I would say, the most painful yet consoling experience just came this early of my immersion. After almost a month of living with the community, I came across with different concerns, stories, and even experiences the parishioners and their pastors have had. The “superman” in me wants to burst and say: “Let us take that into action. Let us fix that.” In a way, since our forth-coming archbishop lives the life of listening, the superman in me keeps of tolling, “Let us listen to it and let us do it. Agad agad!”
Left to myself once again, I felt exhausted over all stories, experiences, results, and other forms of responses needed to make. Human efforts are well appreciated. But the superman in me wanted to do more and make all things settled. But then, Jesus was like telling me, “This is my Church. I will take care of this.” And it was a boom! I began telling myself, “Viel, you are not the Christ, you are not even Superman, you are what you are.” And from that day on, before closing my eyes, just like what St. John XXIII did every night of his pontificate, I say to the Lord in prayer, “Lord, I have hopefully did my part today to your Church. I will sleep now. Take care of your Church. This is your Church.”
Formation indeed continues. Perseverance for every battle and experience are to be carried on. Most of all, humility at all times is needed. Humility when one shows excellence, humility over the guidance of the team of pastors in the parish, humility over hearing and doing parish activities, and most of all, humility in facing the Lord and telling him: “I am not you, nor am I a superman being to face this. Help me, help us.”
More to come and more to follow. More liminalities to cross and venture. Many thresholds to enter into. Many more uncertainties and surprises to embrace. But top of it all, it is the Lord, it is always the Lord, it will always be through the Lord.