For the Thanksgiving mass of Fr. Nono Levosada SJ
San Jose Seminary, Ateneo de Manila University
Loyola Heights, Quezon City
Several years ago, a child in his boy scout uniform was left behind by his school bus that was supposed to bring him home to Cainta, Rizal. Unfazed by the situation, he was able to find his way there. In many ways, levels and intensities, that little child who collects comic books and loves Batman; that boy scout from La Salle Greenhills, is now home. It took many years of waiting before He chose to follow the path of Jesuit life. It took many steps before He found himself at the door of Sacred Heart Novitiate, and several other stages before He got himself ordained a priest. But it took a few years, before he made a great turn from Green to Blue. I tell you: every UAAP season, Nono would cheer, not for the Archers, but for the Eagles. He is home indeed!
We are gathered here today in overwhelming gratitude, in order to remember. What we pay attention to is often profoundly influenced by memory. And what gets our attention are the emotionally arousing events and not the boring ones. I believe the story of Jesus appearing at Lake Tiberias after His resurrection is so significant and emotionally appealing that the narrative has to be put down on paper, read by communities, in order to be lived by generations. And just as Jesus repeats certain events to reveal who He is, what He wants to say, and how He wants things done, we too are to derive meaning from them. This is what we’re going to do.
The Gospel begins by telling us that Jesus reveals himself to his disciples in this way. He appears at the lake while his disciples are on the boat fishing. He tells them to throw their nets and they have a great catch. Like the first time He called them. Then, He prepares a fish-and-bread breakfast, then when everything is ready, He took the bread and gave it to them. Like the way He used to do things. As the communion hymn you requested us to sing: The Lord asks you, “Naaalala mo?” (Do you remember these things?)
Revelation is a remembering. And from this day, you, Nono will make people remember and recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
Just as Jesus repeats the incident of His disciples’ first calling, let us recall a bit. Nono took Business Management at the Ateneo, but started to heed the call of the Lord more intensely when he became a member of the Ateneo Christian Life Community. I witnessed this pursuit as his spiritual companion. At that time, Nono drove a quaint yellow Beetle to get to our appointment. He did not use a boat and plied Marikina River as the first disciples in the Sea of Galilee, but like Peter, Andrew, James and John decades ago, Nono too heeded the invitation when Jesus said, “Come and see.”
True, it has been a long journey from the time Nono entered the novitiate on May 30, 1999 to this very day. Just as the miraculous catch of fish will never come about without Jesus’ words, so too we are asked to remember that, as Fr. Jojo Magadia, our Provincial, said yesterday, that God has called us first. That we are sent by the Lord, through the Society whom we are grateful for. Nono, you said this at the Cafe By the Ruins in Baguio: “Isa sa pinakamalaking biyaya ang pakiramdam na pinagkakatiwalaan at inaalagaan ka ng Kapisanan ni Hesus.”
Second, we are here to celebrate Easter and the easters of our lives. We are here to rejoice at Nono’s easter, as well as ours. We are here to share our stories of triumphs like the community of disciples gathered around the fire, while Jesus prepares our “breakfast” — well to us, it’s dinner. What do we share? We share our common memory of Fr. Nono who have been a very faithful son, brother, friend, teacher, mentor, and companion to many of us. To many of us, Nono’s thoughtfulness is one of his endearing qualities.
His mom shares her story. When she worked abroad, Nono would constantly write her. She particularly remembers the one with Nono’s drawing of an airplane with him under it. She also remembers Nono with his bouquet of flowers, personally delivered to St. Luke’s Hospital as she could not leave the hospital on her birthday.
Fr. Nono, it is not just once that we hear people say that you have touched their lives. I personally will keep remembering the times when you made yourself available for me, and the times when I needed to talk to someone, and you have been there. And I am sure, there are also others who have been graced by your availability, constancy and friendship. In addition, thank you for the annual cards you send us, your family and friends. We still have them in our scrapbooks. Your mom, particularly, has one.
When Jesus instructed the disciples to put out the net into the deep for a great catch, He reminds us that we can gather people to the Lord at the very depths of their lives. One of the great privileges we have as priests is this: people become very vulnerable to us. They bare their souls. They tell us their secrets. They confess their sins. They allow us to enter into their very depths. We are present at the most crucial part of their lives: when they are baptized, when they married, when they are in great pain and tragedy, when they are weak and sick, and when they are about to die. And in these great moments, we are asked to bring God’s word of encouragement, consolation and hope. Our presence is to remind them of God’s presence.
And this is what I believe: You already possess the charisms to gather people. I have two proofs: Tombi came for your ordination. And he said, “to fly from LA to spend just a day here is worth it.” Unfortunately, Tombi couldn’t attend Nono’s Thanksgiving mass; right now he is at the Centennial airport, on his way home to his family in LA. [Note: Tombi’s flight was cancelled and he was able to attend. I didn’t notice him before the homily.]
And the second proof are the people here, all of us. We are gathered here because in many ways because Fr. Nono, you are part of our lives, and through you, we experienced God’s love for us. We are gathered in worship because we have a common memory of you, the Church and the Lord. As a priest, you in turn will gather more people around His altar. And how? By being just as endearing as you are.
Finally, we are here to wish Nono well in his mission. As we all know, his first frontier is the Philippine General Hospital, where his primary task is the care of the sick. And so Nono, it is in this great sea of suffering, your very own Tiberias, that you will encounter people in the very depths of their pain and gather them around the fire and food that the Lord has prepared for them.
In many cases, as Fr. Francis Alvarez SJ relates, bringing them to the Lord means literally sending them off in death. There was a day, he recalls, that the number of people who passed away was 27. Hindi ka pa natatapos sa isa, may tumatawag na sa iyo. You are on call. You will wake up in the middle of your sleep, by the needs of the flock. Fr. Pedro Arrupe SJ said, that whom you are in love with will decide everything. You do not own your life anymore; the shepherd’s life is determined by the sheep he tends. And when you get exhausted by the enormity of the work, by the emotional upheavals from the person at the threshold of death and the family around them, you will be asked by the Lord, as He asked Peter, “Do you love me, feed my sheep.” And every time, when the road darkens, and you find yourself ‘freezing’: remember what you said in your first year of regency, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” And this time, He will ask you not just three times, but all the time. And we all wish that at the end of the day, your answer is “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
But then I recall what you’ve said, “What helps me from being overwhelmed is the chance to take care of people, to be brought out of my comfort zones. It prevents me from being self-absorbed.” And so here it is, when you find yourself freezing, all you need is a chance to be warm. However, I will say, don’t be just warm, but be hot: be as passionate as a person on fire. As passionate as you can get. The way you burn when in browsing through comic books and playing basketball.
“Nung bata pa si Nono, kapag natinik siya sa lalamunan, ito ang ginagawa niya: Tinatakpan niya ang kanyang tainga. At biro ko sa kanya kagabi: “Tsong, nasa leeg ang tinik, hindi diyan.” In many ways, it’s a good thing to talk about this. Priesthood is about being where the pain is; where the cross is. It is being where people need us most. Nono has a very good sense of humor: alaskador din yan. So, it is funny to remember that once he has been frustrated in high school for not being accepted in peer counseling; now it is God’s turn to laugh. You will need to open your ears and put your finger on the very wounds of others.
So let me end: Today, Fr. Bernardo de Hoyos SJ will be beatified in Valladolid, Spain. He is considered the first apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in his country. And so it is fitting to let him give you an advice for the rest of your priestly life as a Jesuit. And it is for all of us as well. He said, “I see that everything in my heart is moving towards God, drawn like iron to a magnet. It desires only God, searches only for God, and longs only for God.”
Fr. Nono, we will pray that you will keep your gaze on God alone. And it is more than enough.