Looking for Three Signs

“Now that I have finished my college seminary formation, what’s in store for me?”

The question did not flow from my study of philosophy, but from a young man’s mind and heart that wanted a sense of direction or fulfillment of one’s dreams.

Poverty has few options.  But the lack of creativity and determination will make the options even fewer.

Vacation time was always quality time with the family.  

Funny to think that my father had his uncanny ways of endearment.  Each time I arrived home for summer vacation, the first thing he would ask me was, “oh, so, you are here?  When are you going back to the seminary?” 

At first, I felt uneasy with his question, and deep inside, I would say, “Come on, Dad, I have just come from the seminary and now you want me to go back there soon?”

In time, however, I got used to his fatherly style.  I knew he missed me, too, but he was just unexpressive.

Day in and day out while on vacation, I would help in household chores—things that you missed doing at your very own home for ages.  Aside from attending daily Masses in our parish church, back home I would do some gardening, a little landscaping here and there, a little carpentry, feeding chickens, feeding the doves, bathing our pigs, marketing, cooking good meals, and washing dishes.

Home was a little Nazareth for me in the sense that you would live there anonymously, silently, far from being noticed as a seminarian.  I wanted my family to feel that I was still the same boy they knew.  I was not making my divine presence felt. There was none anyway. I did not inhale or exhale incense.  Nor was I praying the novena the whole day.  Neither was I walking like one foot above the ground in mystical levitation.  None of those dramatic religious aura and cultist mindset ever set in.  

Back in the seminary, before we left for summer vacation, we were told by our seminary rector that if we received a communication from the seminary, it would most probably mean that we passed the evaluation, and that it would also mean reporting to the next formation stage, which was the novitiate.  If we would not receive any letter, then it was time to think of Plan B.

Now, days became weeks, and weeks became a month, I was slowly feeling more and more uncertain, and consequently, more anxious about my formation journey.  Was it now time for me to shift to Plan B?  What were the odds?

Back in my first year of high school, I remember playing football with my co-seminarians and priests-formators, many of whom were Spanish priests.  Since I was the smallest seminarian and, obviously, the least reliable player, the ball would seldom pass near me. So I had plenty of time to banter with other companions and sing. At one point, my teammates shouted at me to kick the ball, but I was facing them, and I didn’t know that the ball was just at my back rolling towards me, and so I sang, “Where do I begin?”

Amused at me, our seminary rector who was a Spanish priest, Fr. José María Juango, OAR, approached me.  I was stunned to death for fear of his crispy slap.  He told me, “You should not sing, ‘where do I begin?’ because you are already here in Sto. Tomas. You should sing, ‘where will I finish?’”  Oh, I realized I was fast becoming his favorite noisy boy!

That was when I started looking for signs.  “Was I really called to the priesthood?  Where will the finish line be?”

One afternoon, I saw Fr. Juan Garde, OAR, our Prefect of Discipline, and Fr. José María Juango, OAR, our high school seminary rector, sitting idly by under the mango tree, so I approached them to ask what were the signs that one was called to the priesthood.  Father Juango suddenly replied, “you should eat well, study well, pray well, work well, and play well.”  I immediately ran to play.  And they both laughed at me. Naughty boy!

But I digressed…

Back to summertime, coming from the public market, I got off from a tricycle, and, I think it was my younger sister who told me there was a telegram for me.  Right there and then, the world stood still.  I dropped down all the goods I bought.  I hurriedly tore open the telegram. The message was short, crisp, and dry:  “Congratulations.  You passed.  Report to Mira-nila on or before April 24.”

Answered Prayer—the first sign.

I thought the uncertainty was over.  But I became even more uncertain and axious when I started thinking of my classmates—what about them?  How many of us passed the evaluation?  

What would the novitiate be like without my other classmates?

There were just a few days left before the deadline for reporting to the novitiate.

And stoking the fire of restlessness raging in me was the thought of travelling to Manila, this time, alone.

All of my four years of college life I spent in Baguio, so I barely had any knowledge of the ins and outs of Manila.  At least for us coming from the Visayas, Manila was just a day or two of stay, en route to Baguio, and each time we travelled, we would do so in groups, never alone.  I was never the adventurous type who would brave the streets of Recto Avenue, or of Divisoria, and get lost in the labyrinthine roads of Quiapo, or even farther on northeast to Sampaloc district, as if nothing happened.  I was just the group’s nerdy skeptic who would laugh boisterously at every awkward mistake of mine and of others, always getting the ire of our seminary rector, who would make me kiss the wall where the word, SILENCE, was conspicuously posted. 

But this time I would be travelling alone, yes, alone, and that made me worried, anxious, and restless, let alone the fact that my backpack was literally bigger than myself.

Sensing my anxiety, my old Aunt Mama Dioning, who was like a second mother to us, advised me that if I should finally take the boat bound for Manila on Wednesday, April 22 (1987), I should at least find and befriend an old couple, who were occupying the cot nearest mine, so that I could just entrust my backpack to them anytime that I would leave for meals, for the restroom, or just for walking around to breathe some fresh air—her unarticulated premise being, of course, that older people were almost always more trustworthy than younger ones.

The boat from Cebu docked in Manila the following day on the 23rd of April, a Thursday, around a quarter of five in the afternoon, and I finally disembarked around five-thirty, not knowing where Mira-nila Subdivision was.  I figured out I should first go to our nearest parish church on Del Pan Street, and gently ask a small favor from the parish priest, Fr. Leonardo Pauligue, OAR, who was known to be a good-hearted priest, if he could at least take me to Mira-nila Subdivision in Quezon City.  But as soon as I disembarked, I noticed it was fast getting darker, and I thought it was easier for me to lose my way than to find it, amidst the busy, walking crowd.  And if ever I would be lost, I thought of just looking for a big house somewhere, and, perhaps, apply for any job, maybe, as a ‘working boy.’  Face to face with the uncertainty and fear that accompanied the reality of the setting sun and my fast-vanishing dreams, I had to comfort myself: “Whatever happens, I know how to feed the pigs, wash dishes, cook food, or do laundry. Maybe, life is simpler that way.”  In an instant, Plan B was no longer an AB-Mass Communications in St. Louis University in Baguio City.  All that talk of a Plan B was now fast becoming a Plan C—Tondo!

By a stroke of luck, nay, by Divine Providence, a jeepney with a Del Pan-Quiapo signboard was fast approaching me.  I sighed in relief and in joy, thankful that God showed me the way to the nearest parish church located on Del Pan Street.  

Answered prayer—that was my second sign.

I immediately looked for Father Pauligue, OAR, but in my excitement and to my disappointment, I forgot about my humble request for him to take me to Mira-nila Subdivision.  I asked for directions, instead.  The instructions were rather hazy to me, as I wallowed in regret why I had asked for directions instead of asking him a favor to drive me to Mira-nila Subdivision.  I hated myself for that.  I could not blame anyone else.  I wanted to cry.  All I remembered was to take a jeepney bound for Pier South, get off near the tall building of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and take another jeepney bound for Fairview. And the one thing that registered in my ears was when you see a big church of the Iglesia ni Cristo, get off the jeepney, and take a tricycle bound for Mira-nila Subdivision.  I wanted to write it down!

So off I went, with my backpack getting heavier at every step.  I flagged a jeepney in a corner and I was now taking a ride bound for Pier South.  But how would I know if the jeepney I rode was already approaching the BIR Building?  “Tall building,” I remembered being told.  But all the buildings in Manila looked tall that early evening.  Finally, I saw the tallest building—yes, the BIR Building. 

I alighted the jeepney and took another ride bound for Fairview.  It was a long ride and the weather was uncharacteristically warm and humid.  It was already dinner time. Yet I was still in that long trip not knowing where my next landmark was located.  I happened to be seated next to a kind-looking woman.  I asked her where the Iglesia ni Cristo church was.  She told me not to worry.  We were still far. And it was easy to know because the church was full of lights.  She promised me, though, that she would alert me, if the jeepney we were riding was then fast approaching the church. She gave me that condescending smile, perhaps, suspected me of being an Iglesia ni Cristo.  So, I smiled back at her—and that was my silent way of saying, “No, I’m not—!”

Good thing it was a Thursday evening, and the church of the Iglesia ni Cristo was dazzling with lights, as it was their mid-week worship day. The woman beside me gave me a slight elbow nudge and pointed to the church.  So, I got off and looked around.  Across the street, there were a few tricycles gathered in one corner. I figured I should go there and ask where the tricycles bound for Alondras Street in Mira-nila were.  I asked one lady passenger where Alondras Sreet was, and she said it was near Maries Village.  So I shouted, “Maries,” and a driver took me in.  The roads got darker and darker inside the relatively new subdivision. I thought that was the end of me.  All the passengers had already gotten off, and I was the last passenger, and the tricycle driver suddenly turned impatient, and asked me where I was going.  I promptly answered, “Alondras.”  He protested, “you told me ‘Maries’ [Village] earlier!”  He stopped driving, and raised his voice even louder, shouting at me in the vernacular, “where do you really want to go?”  I told him, also in the vernacular, “I’m sorry. I am new to the place.  I just wanted to go to Recoletos Seminary, 71 Alondras St., Mira-nila Homes, Pasong Tamo, Tandang Sora Ave., Quezon City.”

The driver shrugged his shoulders, laughed at me sarcastically, and finally drove me to the Recoletos Seminary.  It was now thirty minutes past eight o’clock.

At long last, I arrived. Answered prayer—my third sign!

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