The past week was a time of grief and loss for our people and our nation as we mourned the death of Jesse Robredo, a true public servant and a genuine servant-leader.
An often-cited quality of Secretary Robredo was his leadership style of walking the talk. He said this eloquently in his acceptance speech when he was conferred the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service. We heard this even more eloquently in the stories of how he served his beloved Naga, in the stories of the people whose lives he touched.
For five Sundays in a row, we’ve read from the sixth chapter of John that has as its core the Discourse on the Bread of Life. The discourse was completed last Sunday and today is the conclusion: The followers of Christ needed to make a choice. Confronted with the Truth of who Christ is and why he “came down from heaven,” they had to make a choice.
As Christ puts it in another part of the Gospel: “It is either you are for me or against me.” There are no half-measures in accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior, as our brother. He is buy-one-take-all-or-none-at-all.
Last Friday, I was running Round Two, so to speak, of a formation session for the final batch of the 150 principals, supervisors and teachers from the Angeles City Division of Public Schools. We were discussing how to get back to our mission, which is a “birthright gift,” as Parker Palmer puts it.
In reflecting with the teachers on these lines from Palmer, I ended up discussing and reflecting on the story of Secretary Robredo: “We arrive in this world with birthright gifts, and then spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them. We are surrounded by expectations and slots to fill. In families, schools, workplaces and religious communities, we are trained away from the true self toward images of acceptability.
“There are pressures that can move us away from our true selves, and instead we start wearing other people’s faces. There are sometimes events or abuses that create distortions of our true selves. So how do we get back?”
This Sunday’s Gospel is a tribute to the life, work and mission of Secretary Robredo. He, early in his life, chose to follow Christ by living out his mission. Like Peter in today’s Gospel, he, early on, discovered there is no other truth, way and life except to follow Christ by being true to his God-given mission and being faithful to his authentic self.
As we, the teachers and I, were reflecting together, we agreed that there are no accidents in God’s plan. Yes, even the death of Secretary Robredo is—in God’s often incomprehensible wisdom and love—part of his infinite plan.
‘Tuwid na landas’
One of the participants reflected that, in the same way President Cory in death made us reflect and remember as a nation the spirit of Edsa 1, Secretary Robredo reminded us of the tuwid na landas (the straight path), an inspiration that Robredo helped make a reality by working to elect PNoy as President and serving as a loyal servant-leader. And, if I may add, while staying loyal to the ideals, vision and mission of the tuwid na landas.
Walking the talk
“Do you also want to leave? … Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
This same group of 12 (counting Judas’ replacement) men were the ones who walked the talk. They did not leave Christ then. They internalized the vision of the Christ, the Bread from Heaven, the Lord and Savior, and established the church communities all over the world “rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.”
This is the same group of men who walked the talk and who died a martyr’s death—11 out of 12—in faithful following of Christ, all the way to the Cross. They did not leave him—all the way to the Cross.
They followed Christ to continue his vision and mission: “that others may have life and life to the full.” Like Christ, they went to their mission areas “to serve and not to be served, and to give their life as a ransom for many.”
Three nights ago, I caught a part of the interview of lawyer Leni Robredo, Secretary Robredo’s wife. She is grace personified. She is a living testament to Secretary Robredo’s life and mission. A life dedicated to mission, in life and more so in death, is best measured by how what one lived for and died for continues to live beyond one’s time and watch here on earth.
Leni, Secretary Robredo’s family, his colleagues, and the people he served will be the best measure of his success, a mission well-accomplished in how they will continue, build on, and improve his legacy.
Fr. Ronald Holheiser wrote in his book, “The Holy Longing,” that each one of us is meant to live in a special and personal way a continuation of God’s compassion and love in the world. Our life is a continued presence in the world of God’s compassion and love.
He continues and says that if we want to remain connected to a departed loved one, we must remember and live out the particular way he/she made present in our life and world God’s compassion and love.
Secretary Robredo’s death is a grace to us, to the Filipino people, to our nation. Yes, it is tragic, but it is as eloquent as the Cross. It reminds us to walk the talk. It reminds us of the vision and mission he chose and followed in his youth and lived out in the arena of public service for over 25 years.
Edsa 1 was the most eloquent reminder to us as a people of our mission as a free and democratic nation, as the only Christian country in Asia. But perhaps we haven’t walked the talk enough?
The death of President Cory and the election of PNoy under the aegis of tuwid na landas are reminders of the invitation and grace of Edsa 1.
They pose the question: “Do you also want to leave?” Or, putting it in another way, Will you follow me? Will you walk the talk?
The Gospel this Sunday reminds us that we have to confront the basic truth of our faith and life, that we are called to mission. No! No, we were sent into this world with a mission, with our “birthright gift.” It reminds us that we need to ask now if we will get back to this mission, or will we also leave Christ?
Do we walk the talk, or walk away? More than just ask, we need to respond. Finally, will we walk the talk as a people, as a nation?
Maybe this is Secretary Robredo’s final act in his life-long lived mission, to make us confront that question again.