Sunday, January 08, 2006

Fr. Felixberto Trinidad, SJ (1925-2005)

A friend died two days ago. I just saw him a couple of days before Christmas to give him Silvanas for his sweet fit. But as I was in class discussing International Organizations, my friend in Ateneo texted me, "Patay na si Fr. Bert." I thought it was a joke so I called him to confirm. It was true. I called the Jesuit Residence to finally ask the truth.

Fr. Bert died of pneumonia, complications from an undiagnosed lung cancer. I felt bad because I was not able to say goodbye before he finally bid the world goodbye. He stayed in the hospital for a week but I never knew about it. He was even cracking jokes on the eve of his death.

The last time we met just a few days before Christmas, I knew he was ill but never expected him to go too soon. His room in the residence was near the lobby where we usually exchanged stories the for the past six years. I saw him having trouble catching his breath for such a short walk. I asked him if he was ill, he said God can take him away anything and it was perfectly fine.

Well, He did. The Jesuit priest who gave the homily the other day spoke asked if he was ready to die. Jokingly yet serious, Fr. Bert said, "Oo, naman. Handa na." His easy acceptance of death perhaps is what makes it hard for me to cry or grieve furiously over his death, as I know how lovingly served His God that He was excited to face Him in the final instance. Even a few years bak when he was diagnosed with melanoma in the knee, there was no fear in his heart at the thought of death. He welcomed it with an open heart. That melanoma actually is what started the exponential donward spiral of his health. It metastised to his lungs, which is deeply sad as he was stricken with a cancer that usually entailed heavy smokers. Well, Fr. Bert was stubborn, he did not want to be x-rayed or CT scanned during physical exams.

Fr. Bert was my confessor for the past six years. I told him all my hopes and dreams, for myself, family and the people. And he always believed in me, cheesy as it is, even as I started out as the head cleaner in class to being the chair of the Council of Presidents in the High School. Even up to now, even as he knew about my progressive leanings and activism. It is funny though, I told him the same sins for the past six years and yet he was ever the consoling and guiding priest, in contrast to other priests who seemed mor eintent at emotional penance than true conversion. The last time we talked, he told me that I will definitely repeat the same sins even in the future. I know even that I will. Just the same, he said it was OK because it is also Christ's call if he really wants to pave the way to true conversion. The point is to keep the faith and serve the poor as I do.

This old friend was there in the most critical moment of my life, where idealism abounds and where hopes and aspirations spring eternal - adolescence. But he never treated me as a kid but as a mature adult capable of understanding the deeper meaning of life and the faith. I will miss those walks with him in the cold Ateneo breeze as I walked with him from the High School back to the Residence during nights of Days With the Lord. More so, our barbershop talks in the High School chapel in the mornings before class.

When I was in High School, I used to visit Fr. Bert twice a week for stories and spiritual guidance. When I went to college, the visits became more and more infrequent, around once or twice a year, especially during summer and Christmas, for gifts and confessions and a bit of stories. He felt bad that such is what I did but time and the pressures of college life and activism stopped me from visiting him as often as I wanted. He said I will be like all the rest of the kids he took in his care and prayer, the likes of BJ Manalo and all the others who forgot him when they left the Ateneo High School. I'm actually quite unsure if I did become one of them but Fr. Bert was always in my prayers despite spewing socialism and national democracy from my mouth the past few years.

Kitchie got to meet Fr. Bert at least once and it was well worth it. I wanted him to meet the girl whom I would most definitely want to bring down the aisle. I felt glad that he gave us his blessing because Fr. Bert was very keen in seeing the heart in people. He knew Kitchie was one special girl. She really is. He saw that too.

But there is one characteristic about Fr. Bert that I will never forget and hope to follow - his simplicity. Ever since I met him in the confessional around 1999, he had the same simple polo barong and slacks, dilapidated sandals, even during our last meeting. He combed his hair well and used the same old smelly pomada for old people. He used the same old creased confession manuscript which he typed using an old typewriter for my confession. He was never the high-profile Jesuit, the usual image of a priest bearing the affix SJ. He was content at being a savior of souls by forever being open to confession to whomever asked for it. It was something that he lovingly did, despite his age and illness. During my high school graduation, I invited him to the graduation. He shunned going, as he never really like the pageantry of events and the celebrations and the spotlights. He was content with the quiet comforts in the Residence, listening to his old radio programs, watching basketball and attending to the spiritual needs of his flock. He did not want to celebrate Mass for a large crowd as he preferred the intimate celebration of the Eucharist among a few people, mostly those whom he loved so much. It was with him that I experienced celebrating Mass with only two people. Him and I, praying for the sick Jesuits inside a small chapel beside the Jesuit Infirmary. The feeling was different, as I felt the Holy Spirit rushing through during those times. These are the things he did, among the many other things he did so well, in all simplicity and love for his God. He said Mass everyday for terminally ill Jesuits in the infirmary, going around the entire day to make sure they get to celeberate the Eucharist and be stronger and more ready to face their Christ when the final instance comes. He was always selfless, he even invited me for a Meatloaf dinner when he saw how distraught and stressed I was as I came from a rally before we met.

Fr. Bert was a great jesuit, a great servant of Christ in all his love and simplicity. He may not have been a provincial or popular with students or important in society like some Jesuits, but his mere presence and apostolate is more than enough to feel the love of Christ crucified among His people. His wake may not have been full of grieving people as the case with famous people who die, but those who come every night and every day during his wake are those people whom he truly loved and genuinely felt his liberating presence, as a mentor and as a friend and as an instrument of God. His wake did not have colorful wreaths, nor short films reliving his life or emotional eulogies. Simple as he lived, his funeral even was kept simple as he is, with the central activity being the celebration of the Eucharist together with Christ, the love of his life. There were no candies given out or peanuts or coffee, but there were people, friends, family and his brother Jesuits. Fr. Bert would never have been sad if such is his funeral, as he never wanted anything more in this life but to spread the love of God to the people he loves, what more in the event of his death.

I would have wanted to be with you longer Fr. Bert. To see me get married, to prove to you that my unwavering love for the poor and the oppressed was never a fleeting emotion in my heart but a genuine and concrete service to the people of God. But I know you will see me through in heaven as you drink beer with St. Ignatius. I would have wanted to shed tears for you the past few days as I visit your wake and remember all those times we were together. But no tears well up in my eyes, perhaps because I knew how ready you were and how lovingly you accepted death and how excited you were to shake hands with God in heaven. But Fr. Bert, you will sorely be missed. I would have wanted you to be the one to baptize my kids, but it is all wishful thinking now. I know you'll always be around, funny as you are, caring and loving as have always been. Please pray for me there, my family, friends, the people I love. Most especially pray for the poor and oppressed, the children of God, may they find their true liberation and their salvation. Their liberation is all that I would have wanted for them. I know you too.

Farewell, Fr. Bert. May the angels guide you home. Say hi to Jesus and my lolo for me. I love you so much. I will never let you down and make you proud, as you have always been. The world will be a little lonelier though, but it's alright. Hope springs eternal. We shall carry on.


Free Web Counter

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

<< Home