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May 25, 2020
May 27, 2020

Homily for Tuesday after Ascension (7th Wk of Easter), 26 May 2020, John 17:1-11a

Our readings today are both about saying goodbye properly. The Filipino word for GOODBYE is PAALAM. Literally, it means “LET THEM KNOW”. You don’t come for a visit in someone’s home like, you attend the party, and then just disappear like a bubble after you’ve eaten. That’s very impolite in any culture. You let your hosts at least know when you are leaving so you and they can say proper goodbyes to each other. (Perhaps in the context of this pandemic the beso-beso can be omitted and replaced by flying kisses or a bow with right hand on chest, or just a wave of the hand.)
In the first reading, St. Paul is about to leave the province of Asia. He is in the coastal town of Miletus, perhaps about to board a boat, but finds the opportunity to meet with the leaders of Ephesus. He says, “I am sure that none of you will ever see me again.” And so he gives his parting words, something like a last will for them. In the Gospel, Jesus is doing the same thing. He is telling his disciples that he is about to depart and he also entrusts some parting words, like a testament.
My own late father, who died in 1980, wrote me a beautiful letter a few months before he passed on. I don’t know why, of all his thirteen children (seven boys and six girls) he entrusted the letter to me. Perhaps because he knew I was going to become a priest. I wasn’t ordained yet at that time.
I was immediately in tears when I read his first two lines. He wrote the letter in Kapampangan and his hand was obviously trembling because of his health condition. He said, “My dear Ambo. I know that pretty soon I’ll be leaving you already. I thought maybe, before I go, I should leave you some parting words so I decided to write this letter and entrust it to you.”
O course I will not tell you what the letter contained. Suffice it to say that it was not about properties or the typical what-goes-to-whom in holographic wills. He just said, “I don’t have that much to leave behind as inheritance for you. I thought your education and formation as good human beings was the best kind of inheritance that I could give you. And I know that you will know what to do with whatever little I am leaving behind because I am confident that you will take care of your mother and of one another.
He closed his letter with the words, “After reading this, I want you to seal it again and keep it in some secure place where you won’t lose it. And when I am gone, after my remains have been buried, please gather your siblings along with your mother at home and read my letter to them. With all my love, your father.”
In Filipino, we would call something like this a HABILIN, yes, something like a last will and testament. Too bad, the wills and testaments that we know nowadays are too focused on properties. Sometimes, even with a written will, families get split up or end up suing each other in court when they feel that they have been disadvantaged in the partition of inheritance. When such things happen, you’d wonder if the parents are not turning in their graves or not regretting that they even bothered to build a fortune only to cause such painful conflicts in the family.
Paul and Jesus and my own father left parting words, but they were not about material things.
Incidentally, there is a family that is presently attending this online Mass this very moment. They are the Lontoc-Testa family. They lost their mother 40 days ago in the time of the covid pandemic, when the lockdown had just begun. They were unable to grieve together and so this Mass is their only way of being virtually together to honor their late mother, even if they are residing in different places in the country and in different parts of the world. If you’re listening to me now, I would suggest that, after this Mass, you meet each other by zoom and carry on the conversation answering something like, “If your mother had left some parting words, what would she have said?”
There is a song that was composed many decades ago and sung by a pop singer who sang Tagalog ballads and country music. Her name is Coritha. If I am not mistaken, I think she composed the song herself. She sang the song in a Pop Music Festival called LIKHA AWIT PAMBATA. (I actually joined that contest myself and submitted an entry which, unfortunately, did not make it to the finals and marked the end of my musical career. But I must say the winning piece really deserved the first price. It was entitled HABILIN, literally, an ENTRUSTMENT, or a TESTAMENT. They are the parting words of a parent to his youngest child. I translated it into English and here is what it says,
“Dream of a beautiful world, my child,
Whatever it is that we did wrong in our time
You must try to set right in your own time.
Strive to do your best always
if you want to fulfill your heart’s desires.
Do not let your dreams remain as dreams;
That was a mistake that we often made ourselves.”
“Always seek for wisdom,
never stop learning your life’s lessons
Not all that we taught you was right.
Your place is here and you time is now;
it is not like the time and place that we knew.
No wonder there were times when we could not
see eye to eye with each other.
And we realized why, but only later.”
“Always heed the call of your country;
Alone, you won’t achieve your goals,
In isolation, you won’t reach your destination.
You are a part of the world
share your victories with others
That’s where we often fell short ourselves.”
“Tomorrow you will reap
both the good and the bad that
we planted.
In due time you will discover
That the future is in your hands.
Wherever we stumbled
There you must rise.
And whatever it was
that we did right,
Let it linger on
and light up your path.”

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