I’ve been asking myself what, if any, might be my mission in life, and wondering if, with my modest resources and energy, I’d still be up to it.
To my relief, the instigator of the question himself, Fr. Tito Caluag, assures me that in my complicated senior situation— with children and grandchildren from my first and only Catholic marriage, the second being a civil one, bringing me stepchildren and step-grandchildren—I probably have long been on it. It’s people like Fr. Tito who keep me from disengaging myself completely from the Catholic Church, which, in fairness, would sooner reopen the door for me if only Vergel and I got our marriage annulment from, and married in, that church.
Fr. Tito, who now lives and works outside his Jesuit community, is on his own mission. He is a constant reminder that working for others can be accomplished creatively, even outside prescribed structures, even on one’s own. And if I need yet another nonconformist to look up to, I have Pope Francis no less. He brings me back to all things simple and, one who does as he preaches, he himself goes about his ministry unbridled by the pomp of his office, indeed with an endearing style befitting his chosen papal name.
At the moment, I’m a freelance spirit, self-employed, so to speak, walking no particular path, nay, walking several paths. But I do know that it’s time I thought of beneficiaries outside my family, which happens to be the theme of my classmate Chit Reodica’s presidency of our high-school alumnae association at St. Theresa’s College of Quezon City. It’s she who has shown me that philanthropy is about quality of spirit, not quantity of means.
Schoolbags and fresh milk
The other day she sent me pictures of another trip with some members of her board to another school, the Talubin Elementary School in Bontoc, a five-hour, mostly rough-road trip from Baguio, to bring schoolbags and fresh milk for its 400-odd pupils, who waited in the sun to welcome them with a short program.
Wherever they go on such a mission, she says, their modest philanthropy is dwarfed by the enormous need, and how they wish they could give more!
A former health secretary, Chit has indeed seen the faces of poverty first-hand, and says she can’t quite stop thinking of them. But while nothing is ever enough, she says, she can’t stop giving what she can on her own and raising further aid where she can, all done, amazingly, on the energy of a woman in her mid-70s. And she’s sweet to console me that some of my own writing (although certainly not anywhere near the inspirational sort George Sison does, particularly in his new book “You are God as You”) should have its own lifting effect—in my dreams, I’m tempted to reply.
From Christian Monsod comes a heartrending, conscience-piquing fact: there are 22 million poor Filipinos, 9 million of them food-poor. Its prompt effect on me is to do without many things—eating less is one of them, however self-serving it is in a way, admittedly. It’s the least one can do.
I could drown just thinking of all those unshod schoolchildren packed in makeshift classrooms, with no chairs, no books, not even bags to contain what school materials they can collect for themselves. But what can one do? It’s a question widely asked in the shameful, selfish context of an excuse, an escape.
But Pope Francis, by doing what he does, shows me what I can do, basically: if he can do away with the pomp and circumstance of papacy, I can do away with my own excess. As my grandfather Rafael would say, living simply is a kind of philanthropy in itself; every time one buys more than one needs, one actually takes away from the poor.
It was Lolo Rafael I first heard warn against living in walled and guarded villages. It would isolate the rich from the poor, and the alienation would be a loss for both, he said. He was proud that Lola Enchay and the woman who owned the neighborhood sari-sari store where she bought galletas and Cosmos soft drinks called each other by their first names and chatted beyond business.
Pope Francis repeatedly cries out for the rights of children, of the poor, of migrants and other victims of oppression, of the marginalized. Surely if we knew any of them by face and name, we’d be more concerned for them. Once, when we the caretakers of the forest we had built in the heart of Manila, along Arroceros St., decided to invite some of the neighboring poor to an event there, one of us quite candidly and innocently asked, “Do we know any poor?”
Exactly as Lolo Rafael prophesied, separation leads to isolation and alienation, and further to prejudice and animosity and thoughtlessness.
To anyone wondering what to do with his time and resources, no matter how meager, I’d like to share the message I got from the title of a book by Regina Brett, even if possibly its content has little or nothing to do with issue raised here; it says, “God is Always Hiring.” It inspires us to find our way to our own philanthropy.
In God’s employ there’s always an opening, and it’s never too late to seize it.