Fresh from college seminary graduation in March of 1987 in Baguio, I thought of the cliché—life would never be the same again.
Of course, graduation gives you that euphoric feeling that you own the world and the world revolves around you. You are the sun. The rest are mere planets and moons. Think of the cheering crowd, the intermittent applause, the speeches, the graduation song, the awarding ceremony, the proud parents, the handshakes, and, yes, the kisses and hugs!
For our graduation song, our class had Barry Manilow’s “I made it through the rain,” which we then sang with heavy bass undertones, because there were many of us who belonged to the vocal bass! Why our brother Nick Salamanca, our class musician, chose it no one among us had ever known or would ever know in the decades to follow. It must have been for the obvious reason that the song was just so easy to sing. Or, that the message of the song compared life to a storm must have also contributed to the temptation, at least, for the boldness of our youth, to appropriate the song, given our stormy seminary setting, oh, yes, there were storms—and there were many, both the literal and the figurative kind.
But when the graduation stardust settles down and loses its shimmer, you begin to think and re-think things.
Was college life in the seminary worth the pressures of study, assignments, term papers, late sleeping time, early waking time, countless prayer times, and equally countless hours of manual work?
It did not help that there was always this anxiety to think that the Prefect of Discipline was just right behind you, or that his spies and sycophants would report anything and everything about you, about what you had said or done, or even about what you were still planning to do. Was it worth all the sacrifice of leaving the family behind and all the family problems that you thought only you could help solve at that time? Was it worth all the attempts at forgoing and forgetting the outside world, either so bravely or so insensitively, just so that you could numb your senses, and focus on your vocation again, your studies again, and assignments again?
It did not help that you were caught drinking, got drunk, threatened with hell-fire, and punished with no quasi, no paseo, no habit, no TV, no recreation (only the Recollects know this!) for six months, and that you had to affix your signature to a document, indicating that you agreed to the punishments outlined therein, even if such signing was done under intense pressure or duress, with the threat of expulsion as its coup de grace. It did not help that your friends outside the seminary or your lay teachers would give you a prospectus of St. Louis University, just in case you decided to pursue an alternative course, such as AB-Mass Communications. It did not help either that there was this stubborn uncertainty over what the future would hold for you, like, would you make it through the rain after all?
It did not help that you finished an AB-Classical Philosophy and received at the altar of success nothing but a ceremonial bond paper rolled like a diploma that day. It did not help that you knew the distinction between genus and species, between substance and accidents, between metaphysics and rational psychology.
In the seminary, we treated these graduation exercises like they were just the tip of an iceberg. Nobody knew how huge the iceberg could be down there. You could even be tempted to think of it as nothing but a formal way of closing just another academic year.
What was most important in our mind was not graduation, but VACATION—back to the family, back to the reality where true love was and is.
In one of those commencement exercises, the seminary formators thought of inviting the superintendent of Recollect-run schools in the Philippines, the late Rev. Fr. Melquiades Modequillo, OAR, who would later become our college seminary rector. At the Baccalaureate Mass, he reminded the graduating class of seminarians, “if you look at the forest from afar, it is green and attractive. But if you enter the forest, everything turns dark. The world is green. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. The moment you go back to the world, sooner or later, you will realize it is dark.”
It was like you were just three days closer to your most-awaited vacation back home and you would be told that the world out there in your family was dark.
What? Let that sink in.
Did that darkness really await you in the world of your family—where, inexorably, true love was to be found? How dark could your family be?
What outside world did that dark forest stand for?
Did the priest refer to the Johannine world of sin and darkness?
Or was the world outside the seminary walls necessarily and eternally dark and sinful?
Did you not ever or even experience sin and darkness while you were inside the seminary?
In the seminary, at least, in the eighties, you were trained to use your reason—you looked for reasons for the world’s existence, reasons for being, even reasons for reason itself.
In the seminary, at least, in the eighties, too, you were trained to study, to work, to be strong, and to survive. You were taught to excel not just in Philosophy, but also in English, Algebra, History, and in the Sciences.
You were trained like soldiers. Go hard or go home. Either you obeyed like you were in the PMA (Philippine Military Academy) or rebelled like the NPA (the New People’s Army).
Given the kind of seminary training you had, you would wonder which world was now greener or darker?
Yet, proximately, or ultimately, what was at stake after all?
Green and dark—it was the same forest.
Green and dark—it was the same seminary.
Green and dark—it was the same family.
Green and dark—it was the same world.
What was at stake was how each vocation would personally respond to or resonate with the greenness or darkness of the forest, the seminary, the family, and the world. And life would never be the same again!