MAY 21, 2012—It’s the 96th birthday of Fr. James B. Reuter, SJ.
At 4:30 p.m., a group of senior citizens who belonged to the all-male Ateneo glee club of the ’50s gathered in the small chapel, just across Father Reuter’s room at Our Lady of Peace Charity Hospital in Parañaque.
Inside the room, we were told our old priest friend and idol lay mahina na at matanda na, totally bed-ridden, nursing a nasty arthritic pain in his right leg. Kawawa naman.
At 5 p.m., Fr. Asandas Belchand, SJ, my friend and school chum in the ’50s, prepared for Mass for Father Reuter on his birthday.
The ol’ glee club guys (already in their late 60s and mid 70s)—Toti Olivarez, Joe Castro, Nene Syquia, Simon Mendoza, Ruben Nuñez, Ambassador Domingo Siazon, Freddie Rodriguez, Rey Guevarra and Kiko Rallonza—formed a semicircle in front of Father Reuter’s room. With Nene Syquia leading, the group began to sing a beautifully harmonized song called “Ere Priesthood’s Dawning.” The lyrics were utterly prayerful, a soulful serenade for an orig Jesuit who performed his multiskilled apostolic work in our country for 75 years.
Ere Priesthood’s Dawning
In life’s bright morning
Ere priesthood’s dawning
Do we pray today
For deep full light to see
God’s truth as it was seen by thee
I came along and we entered the room to sing at Father Reuter’s bedside.
Father Reuter lay in a fetal position like a baby in the womb, his head totally bald, his face with the look of innocence, his easy smile cherubic. He raised his feeble hand to give us the thumbs-up. This Jesuit friend of mine, whose charisma lies in his mastery of the arts and his generosity in administering the sacraments, attracted many young people to pursue acting careers on stage, film and television—Noel Trinidad, Subas Herrero, Celeste Legazpi, June Keithley, Cecile Guidote, Vic Diaz, Vic Silayan and many others. He is the idol of talented people because he himself is talented in the fields of theater arts, literature, sports and mass communications.
I’ve known Father Reuter since my college years at the Ateneo in the early ’50s. My image of him was macho. His hunky frame reminded me of Marlon Brando in the movie “A Streetcar Named Desire.” During rehearsals for his stage plays, Father Reuter’s routine get-up was white pants and white T-shirt hugging his well-built body.
It was the same get-up he’d wear during basketball practice, when he was athletic moderator of the Blue Eagle basketball champion team. He drove the players crazy by leading them on long, hard hours of running a rugged cross-country route from the vast field of Loyola Heights, all the way to UP.
These daily runs gave the Ateneo team a fast and furious edge during NCAA games. His rehearsals for stage plays were famous for hard work all through the night.
Now on his 96th birthday, he is old and infirm but hey, he’s got the pristine look of holiness, ready to be claimed by His Father in heaven.
We beg for grace to be
His soldier of the company
And if ’neath the eastern skies
We fall under the cross today
We beg for strength to rise
As Christ did upon Calvary’s way
Four years ago, I wrote the Catholic stand on the RH Bill, but couldn’t secure the space. I ran to Father Reuter, who wrote a weekly column in the Philippine Star. Happily, he gave way to my article in his column.
I confided to him my disenchantment with Ateneo philosophy professors who published their position papers arguing for the use of contraceptives in the government’s proposed law on birth control.
Ain’t the same
In a sad voice, Father Reuter said, “Minyong, it ain’t the same anymore. Ateneo today is different from the Ateneo in your time.”
As priest friend, he was fatherly and highly spiritual. I felt his profound and personal kindness inside the confessional box. His homilies during Mass were not only literary sounding, but eloquently and succinctly doctrinal. He was a terrific retreat master. His anecdotal meditation on sin, death and hell was guaranteed to keep you wide awake even in the sleepy hours of mid-afternoon.
His sermon on Jesuit blind obedience (or “What it Means to be a Jesuit”) is classic. He delivered it on the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola in July 1953 in front of many of his fellow Jesuits.
Father Reuter officiated at my wedding in 1991, and his steady admonitions on the sanctity and indissolubility of matrimony still ring in my ears.
Father Reuter’s Catholic orthodoxy is a breath of fresh air, a gust of divine truth in a world enraptured by relativism and unbelief. True to the teachings of his church and obedient to his vows, Father Reuter is the classic and original Jesuit in the authentic mold of the Ignatian spirit laid down by the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
At 95, Father Reuter completes the full cycle of his holy vocation, from the fetal position in the womb of his biological mother to the fetal position in the womb of the Holy Mother—the Church.
Let us grant this saintly priest the request he always makes after he gives us absolution in the confessional box: “Please pray for me.” Yes, Father! We always will.
Thanks for helping us discover the best in us, not only on the theater stage, but in all the sacred stages of our lives.