WORD Becoming – By Fr Roderick Salazar SVD
Once, in the not- so-long ago, before a virus felled us all, frightened us, kept us apart, making us mask our faces, hiding our smiles and barring our kisses; when there was yet no fear to be near to someone whether familiar or stranger in jeepney, bus, car or plane,movie house, church or concert hall; yesterday, when I was young-er, I entered a crowded second-hand bookshop. And even with only a few pesos to spare, I found a treasure.
It was a slim relatively untouched volume titled CROSSING: Reclaiming the Landscape of Our Lives.
Author Mark Barrett, OSB, shares his life as contemplative monk, explaining how he lives through the day filled with regular community prayers: Vigils at pre-dawn, Lauds at early morning, Midday Prayer, Vespers at early evening, Compline before bedtime. But more than getting to appreciate the life of contemplatives, I found something else – what I now make my meditation on the eve of the day of my birth. Barrett quotes part of a poem by W.H. Auden titled In Transit.
To fully appreciate the poem, one must find that quiet moment and be prepared for an encounter with God.
One must read the lines slowly, meditatively, imaginatively, tasting the words, their placement and their contrast, the rhythm and the rhyme.
TO BE in a place, for instance, is a common enough experience for all of us. The past participle would be TO HAVE BEEN. But one can be in a place so quickly as in ‘just passing through’ , as a tourist or as a traveler. Nothing of the place registers. But there are also places where we are TOTALLY present – to the place and the time and whoever and whatever is part of it. Such an experience W.H.Auden writes as ‘to have REALLY been’ there. Add the rhymes ‘places’ ‘spaces’ ‘faces’ and we are on towards finding a gem of a thought, a jewel in the Presence of God.
Now enter the quiet. Breathe deep. Stay calm. And slowly. Prayerfully. Read:
“Somewhere are places where we have really been, dear spaces of our deeds and faces, scenes we remember as unchanging because there we changed”.
What may that scene be? Where? When?
For me, it is this:
It is 1961. Legazpi City. I am in third year high school in Liceo de Albay. Twilight time. With a friend I am at the crossroad of Sikatuna and Maria Clara streets. We are just chatting. Teenage talk. People are walking home from school and work. Suddenly it occurs to me and my friend that the only meaningful way of life for us was to become priests.
We rush to the house of our school director, Father Joseph Bates SVD. We knock and, told to enter, see him praying Vespers. We tell him we want to enter the seminary. Probably surprised or amused or whatever, he tells us to sit down and asks what brought this about. I no longer remember how we answered. But he tells us to think about what we shared with him, finish high school first and then see where our dreams would take us.
That was in 1961.
But that scene, for me, is what Auden wrote about. I was REALLY there. And that scene is unchanging. Because there I changed.
I graduated from high school in 1963 and entered Christ the King Mission Seminary that same year.
On June 21, 1974, with 19 others, I was ordained priest. Because we consecrated ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our desire to persevere, we called ourselves Heartfelt ’74.
I was missioned to the University of San Carlos in Cebu City in 1975. I would spend 34 happy years there. I still belong to the Southern Province of the SVD in the Philippines. But having been felled by renal failure at the start of the year, but thankfully recovered and recovering,I am at present at Villa Cristo Rey, our retirement or recuperating home, in the compound of Christ the King Mission Seminary.
Over the years, there would be other scenes in my life. Happy ones, unhappy ones. I would not always be good. I made mistakes. If I made some people happy, i made others sad. I hurt them, disappointed them. I am sorry. Sorry then, sorry now. I pray that God will heal me and us all. As He can and always has.
On the eve of my 73rd birthday, I hear the Beatles sing “In My Life”:
“There are places I remember all my life though some have changed, some forever not for better, some have gone, and some remain. All these places had their moments with lovers and friends I still can recall, some are dead and some are living, in my life I loved then all …”
And, of course, W.H.Auden:
“Somewhere are places where we really have been, dear spaces of our deeds and faces, scenes we remember as unchanging because there we changed”.
By the grace of God, I remember my places and spaces and faces.
What about you? Do you remember yours?
First date, first kiss, first time to say or hear I love you? First time you felt the Presence of God, realized that God is real, that He loves you, that you are loved.The moment you said I do or I will. I will follow. I will obey. I will leave. First betrayal. Disappointment. Heartbreak. Rising up. Dreaming again. Living a new life.
Thank you, Lord, for those happy moments. The painful ones that still haunt me and keep me sad, these I surrender to You. Please heal me.
You said, ‘Come to Me all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.”
So here I am, Lord. All of me.
But I also say Thank You for all that has been. And for all that will be, Yes.
Let me sing this hymn by Andrae Crouch:
“How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me, things so undeserved yet You give to prove Your love for me. The voices of a million angels cannot express my gratitude, all that I am or ever hope to be, I owe it all to You.
To God be the glory, to God be the glory, to God be the glory for the things He has done.
With His Blood He has saved me, by His Power He has raised me, to God be the glory for the things He has done.
Just let me live my life and let it be pleasing, Lord, to Thee, and should I gain any praise let it go to Calvary.
With His blood, He has saved me, with His Power He has raised me, to God be the glory for the things He has done.”