Our theological studies at what was known then as Recoletos Seminary were not all about learning Greek and Hebrew, or about mastering the Old and the New Testaments. Studying theology was not just about learning the rudiments of doctrines and morals, liturgy and Canon Law, or history and the patristics. Life at the Mira-nila theologate did not simply revolve around major exams and quizzes, or feasts and preparations for feasts, professions of vows and preparations for professions of vows, or ordinations and preparations for ordinations.
Let us disabuse ourselves of the notion that seminary life during our time was all drudgery and boredom. It was also about laughing, sleeping, eating, singing, walking in the rain, playing in the rain, and, hush, drinking (with or without permission, that is). There were also light moments, slow moments, lazy moments—what most everyone would call, the lull before the storm.
We would usually spend our Saturday afternoon either in the apostolate or by just walking around the subdivision, indulging in that kind of filipino laissez-faire attitude. Those of us who were health-conscious and figure-conscious would do some brisk-walking or jogging to burn some calories or get rid of some unwanted belly fat. You would even wonder why others would carry a backpack while jogging. (Yeah, the Coca-cola inside). Others would play basketball with non-seminarians. Oh, I remember the small, thin, and lanky, Timothy (I never thought that some thirty years after our paths would cross in the Healing Ministry!) and the burly and brusque special friend, Jay (only the Mira-nila pioneers knew him!). While still others would explore places just around the subdivision—a euphemism for visiting some friends. But I am not supposed to name names here. Hahaha.
One lazy Saturday afternoon, I wanted to explore what was beyond the tip of Alondras Street in Mira-nila Homes. I turned right on Sarimanok Street. There was a big house that had a public phone booth in front of it. I could just imagine how many 25-centavo coins our companion-seminarians shelled out into that phone booth! I then turned further on Librada Avelino, turned left on a nameless street, and at the bend I walked right on what was called Kalaw Ledesma Circle, then walked right on Josefa Lllanes Escoda Street. I noticed there was another religious community on Escoda Street. I figured that in all probability, it must have been, originally, a residence that was later converted to a religious convent, because the house lacked an architectural design that would usually characterize religious communities. I did not know I was already traversing another subdivision then.
I wanted to have a good look at the house just to read its signage on the wall. I saw some paper cutouts that read, “Servants of Charity.” Just when I started turning back to proceed to walk a little farther, I noticed a young American in a Roman collar go down the stairs, and out of instinct I said to him, “hey, Joe!” Half-amused, he smiled back at me and asked why Filipinos would call him, “Joe,” all the time. “Are all Americans Joe’s for Filipinos?” Taken aback by his question, I simply replied, “yes,” without even thinking why.
He twisted his head a bit, shrugged his shoulders, opened both hands, and said,
“I’m Reverend Matthew … and you are?”
“Oh, I’m Ferdinand,” I shyly answered. “Are you a deacon?”
No, I’m a priest. In the States, we seldom use Reverend Father. We just say Reverend.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Do you stay nearby?”
“And are you, uhhm, …..?”
“Yes. I am a seminarian.”
“Oh, I know your place. What brought you here?”
“Ahh, I was just strolling lazily and aimlessly, until I passed by your place.”
“Oh, so there, would you care for a walk, or would you rather come inside and see our chapel, or drink some juice?”
I was impressed by his filipino hospitality. I thought then he must have been told or briefed by his confreres that Filipinos were hospitable and that we had raised hospitality to the level of a virtue.
So, I went to visit their chapel. Prayed for a little while. I loved the silence and simplicity of their chapel.
In short, I had my early merienda and some juice.
One topic led to another, and time was running fast, and I had to tell him,
“I must go back to the seminary at least before six o’clock in the evening. Rules are rules. Laws are laws.”
He smiled and said, “I understand. Rules are rules. Welcome to seminary life. All the best.”
I walked some steps toward their community chapel, made a genuflection, bowed down in reverence, stood up, and thanked Father Matthew for the conversation, the insights, the hospitality, and the holy friendship that was to start between us. I walked down the stairs, and he said,
“Rules are rules, right?”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“But the Gospel is life, not law.”
A few more visits to the formation house of the Servants of Charity on Escoda Street made me appear like I was already their seminarian. Finally, I told myself, I found a spiritual director that I could trust—someone I could talk to anytime, someone who could answer all my arresting questions, even those cynical ones, someone who understood my struggles, my sarcasms, my doubts, and my pains.
“The Gospel is life, not law.”
I wanted to shout out in the street, out there in the open, “the Gospel is life, not law.” I felt re-charged and empowered. I was like floating in the air, flying, and soaring, my heart bursting out in joy to hear those words, “the Gospel is life, not law.” I was oblivious of the noise of tricycles of the poor and luxury cars of the wealthy passing by. I did not bother anymore to count how many people or stray dogs I met on Alondras Street as I walked back to the seminary.
Yes, for the sake of rules, I was back to the seminary before six in the evening. I made it just on time. That is the law. But a certain part of me wanted to shout at those deaf seminary walls, “the Gospel is life, not law!”
“The Gospel is life……”