In the evening of Oct. 4, 2002, several dining tables and bedrooms in Linden Suites in Ortigas were filled with frames with this line, “One chance!” This was the night before game three of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines’ men’s basketball championship. It was in Linden Suites where the Ateneo de Manila UAAP men’s basketball team was quartered for the championship series.
“One chance” was the line that became a call to arms issued by William Wallace—the character played by Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”—to the Scots as they faced their do-or-die battle against the English forces of King Edward I of England.
It was the same battle cry that was issued to Ateneo the night before its winner-take-all game against archrival La Salle. The following day, Ateneo won its first championship in 14 years.
Those long years were marked by frustration and false starts. After back-to-back championships, the team fell into a slump and stayed on the lower half, if not the last, of the team standings. After close to a decade, it was given a fresh start. Hopes were raised, but the team still fell short.
Soon after, it was given another chance. Finally, it broke out of the cellar, rose to the upper half and made it to the final four.
The year after, it went up to No. 2 in the elimination round, only to be booted out despite the twice-to-beat advantage.
There was call for blood, for heads to roll. But the team stayed its course and made it to the finals in 2001. Game three of that championship series ended in a heartbreaking loss to La Salle.
With a new coach the following season, on Oct. 5, 2002, the team that had struggled and worked its way to the top for over three years finally delivered. As one team commentator said in the final championship game, it had arrived in the promised land.
This is a story of second chances, third chances and more. This is the message of this Sunday’s Gospel from Luke, which talks about sin and suffering, repentance and salvation. It’s about multiple chances—but it also admonishes us that there is judgment in the end.
The Parable of the Fig Tree vividly conveys this message. We will be asked how we used our blessings and our opportunities, our second chances.
Thursday night, many of us were following the coverage of Pope Benedict’s final hours in office and his departure from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo. In one of the news programs, the panel discussed how Benedict’s resignation is not a simple precedent, but could very well be the defining moment of his papacy.
There was another comment that struck me. If I remember correctly, they said that this could very well be a moment when the Church is given a fresh start to set things right. This is the grace of second chances.
Second chances are blessings, but as is the nature of grace, we need to cooperate with it. We need to make choices and seize the moment.
How many moments in our life did we allow opportunities to pass us by? How often do we shake our heads and say, “When will we ever learn?”
Just think of the many recurring issues we hotly debate over and, when the dust settles, we soon lose the sense of urgency and we forget to follow through.
Just think of the recurring crises we face every time a natural calamity hits us. Think of “Ondoy,” “Sendong,” “Habagat” and “Pablo.” We must commend the government and its agencies, including private groups, for the learning and improvements in rescue and relief operations.
But we must also reflect not just on missed opportunities, but also on wasted efforts.
At the height of a crisis, many are out to do volunteer and heroic work, which we admire and commend. But soon enough, the zeal disappears, the numbers dwindle and when the equally, if not more important, work of recovery and rehabilitation needs to be done, very few are left to continue.
In Filipino culture, we refer to this as ningas cogon. This is both wasted effort and missed opportunity.
Sad to say, this is the unfulfilled dream of Edsa I. This is the weakness of the majority that gives the minority the strength to perpetuate the prevalence of traditional politicians or trapo and political dynasties.
It is our lack of constancy in pursuing the good that has to be done, which allows the tyranny of patronage to continuously manipulate the majority of our people and keep them wallowing in want and dependency.
We never learn. This is putting the lesson of this Sunday’s Gospel bluntly and plainly. And we are reminded: There will be a day of reckoning.
In the Ateneo-La Salle 2002 championship series, drama unfolded as the second of the elimination games started. Ateneo had a 4-5 win-loss record and was in danger of losing again.
I did not want to share this story, lest it be interpreted as blowing my horn or “nagbubuhat ng bangko.” But I will risk the possible misinterpretation for the sake of what I think is a useful story to learn from.
At that time, I was still chaplain and moderator of the Ateneo team, but I had been out for other work when this 4-5 score card was developing. When I came back, the situation was critical.
The first day I was back, I called the coaches to a meeting with the team captains and senior players. I first talked to the head coach to get a feel of the situation. I did not tell anybody that I wanted to push the leaders of the players to the brink—to make a choice to take on the mantle of leadership, which I sensed was the problem.
As we were all gathered, coaches, captains and senior players, around 10 or 12 of us in the conference room of the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center, I first let out a barrage of what few people would like to say and what most of them in the room would hate to hear. I called a spade a spade and pointed out the lack of leadership.
They were all stunned. They rarely saw me that mad. They all left very silently, not knowing what hit them and I knew some were angry with me.
I took the risk—not knowing how my gambit would play out. I allowed them to get over the shock and the message to sink in. Then I called everybody back to the conference room. Some were already out of the campus, but everyone came back.
The gambit, with God’s will, worked. When they all walked in, still silent, I asked them what they thought we need to do.
One player, not any of the captains, picked it up and—perhaps more passionately than I could ever have done—confronted the leader of the team. The player’s message was that the leader was not doing his job. Bluntly the player said, “You have to f***ing lead us and we will follow. We have to do this. No one else will do it for us.”
With that, the team turned around and blazed through a seven-game winning streak, until the game two loss to La Salle in the finals.
“One chance.” This was a reminder of the second and more chances the team was given in its journey to the championship. The 14-year wait, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, the laughter and the tears, the wins and the losses all boiled down to one game, “one chance.”
This is the lesson of today’s Gospel. Our God is a God of second chances, of many chances, of infinite chances, because his love is infinite and knows no bounds. But there is only “one chance” because, when the day of reckoning comes, there is only one question.
Yes, there will be judgment day and there will be only “one chance” because there will only be one question: How much did we love in our life?
Here, there are no shortcuts. There is no cramming. There is no ningas cogon. It is either we live our day-to-day life in love, loving others or, as Mother Teresa put it, “we do little things with great love.”