by Vicente Gabriel S.J. Bautista
March 2020 until the first week of August 2020.
These have been the longest days I have ever stayed with my family since I started seminary formation way back 2008, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staying home is one of the best ways to avoid the virus so waking up in the same house where you love family life has become the same picture of everyday.
It is far different from seminary life where meals are already prepared; where no one has to wonder or be extra-mindful of what to eat. In our house - and I suppose many of my brothers would agree - upon waking up, one question would be, “Oh, ano ang almusal mo?” (What are you having for breakfast?) Those would be the first words of my mother as soon as I finish my morning schedule, even if I would usually prepare my own breakfast.
Nothing special. Sometimes I just boil water and cook instant noodles. Sometimes if there is leftover rice, I would ask my brother to help me cook fried rice.
When my brother and I would cook, the constant reminder from Mommy is: “When you want the food to be good, make it sure that it cooked over low fire. The lower the fire, the more tender the meat.”
Those words now mean more to me than cooking. I realize that my mother’s words are applicable to my life as a seminarian in formation.
The author with his mother, Regina “Gina” Bautista, and seminary classmates
Mommy would always tell us, “Kapag malaki ang apoy, mukhang luto nga sa labas, hindi pa talaga luto sa loob.” (When the fire is too strong, you will end up with food that looks cooked on the outside but still raw inside.)
I could not easily accept this fact about cooking over low fire, especially for me, when I am hungry! But, yeah, Mommy just uttered the perfect words: “Let the fire stay low. Wait. When you wait, oh the tenderness that the food will have!”
I have to admit to the “hasty” side of me. I can recount the times I cooked hotdogs in high fire, resulting in burnt hotdogs. True to Mommy’s words, it should have been cooked over low fire.
Now those words of Mommy make me remind myself, “Hey, your formation cannot be achieved if there is too much fire. Be reminded that your days - in and out of the seminary - are days when you are formed in low fire.”
My words here might be ironic for some who tell me that in formation, one should be “on fire”. When I say “on fire”, I mean in full fire and in full strength of the Light.
But all throughout the pandemic, I realized that formation is something like being cooked in low fire: you have to wait, you have to appreciate the process; while in the process, feel your hands forming, feel yourself becoming more tender.
Those days of struggles, pains, rediscoveries, journeys, and all the rough paths formation gave me were really tests and processes of being “cooked in low fire”. The ever-present fire can cause pain, can harm, can burn, can transform.
But formation “in low fire” is becoming transformed in small and progressive steps; in low fire, one’s inner spirit and disposition turn into something valuable and precious. It is in the “low fire” process that you become great and fulfilled. Whereas, like in cooking, if on high fire, one becomes “burnt” or seemingly good outside, but inside, a lot of tenderness and beauty yet awaits renewal and formation.
I have been a victim of wanting priesthood hastily, as if I wished ordination could already be tomorrow. But now I thank Mommy’s wisdom in cooking: that in order to be well, one must pass through the low fires. Savour the process the low fire gives. Be patient with the low fire. It does not want you to be burned or useless. Low fire makes you tender but it can bring out your best.
Let the lesson of “low fire” bring you to embrace a greater you, a more tender you, a better you. Let the low fire penetrate the innermost and necessary elements of life. Let the low fire bring you to the great one you wish for life. Take the low fire with patience, embrace the low fire, and show up as one that the low fire formed in perseverance and in hope.
Vicente Gabriel S.J. Bautista is an incoming 4th Year Theology student of
San Carlos Seminary, Graduate School of Theology.