Friday, June 17, 2005

God writes straight with crooked lines

Still feeling a bit under the weather, I wasn't so sure I wanted to go to Fr. Chi's funeral mass. But towards 3PM today, I was feeling a bit chipper, and so I went.

It was a concelebrated Mass with Bishop Du as the primary celebrant. Priests from all around, including the aging Fr. Sun, Fr. Chi's contemporary, were there.

They asked me to say some words about our old parish priest. I was to come in third and last.

The first speaker was Fr. Rey, who spoke about endearingly about his relationship with Fr. Chi. At first, it was difficult to get along with Fr. Chi so he went away for a couple of years to China. There he finally understood what Fr. Chi was all about. Since then, on his trips back to Dumaguete, they would spend hours talking about China. He said Fr. Chi was a "true Chinese, a true priest, and a true son of God."

The second speaker was Gilbert Uymatiao, who gave a very good explanation of Fr. Chi's character. Fr. Chi, it turned out, was a fourth generation Catholic. His community in China had been a Jesuit mission, and his great grandfather one of the first converts. It had always been his dream to recreate that ideal community here in Dumaguete. Of course, it just wasn't the same; hence the frustrations on both sides. But Gilbert thought he had come to accept it in recent years.

Gilbert and Fr. Rey were one in saying that Fr. Chi was never very expressive when it came to affection. But that did not mean he did not feel it; he just expressed it in different ways.

And me: after Gilbert's exposition, there really wasn't much else to add. I told them how I had spent the last week Fr. Chi was still active talking with him in the hospital. I highlighted the escape from China, and how difficult it must have been to leave, not knowing he would never come back and see his family again.

But such was his faithfulness and perseverance that, if you look around the church, you could see that was his legacy. God writes straight with crooked lines. Unfortunately, that line did not occur to me until after the Mass.

Then I spoke about the transformation Fr. Chi undertook whenever he heard confession. Yes, he was tough as a person, but he became very gentle when he heard your confession. At this, not a few people nodded their heads vigorously in silent assent.

And finally, I shared with them one of my moments with Fr. Chi when I was showing him the Bible on my Thinkpad. He was looking for a passage in Ecclesiasticus. We had no luck finding it, and I didn't have the patience or the foresight to bring it up during my eulogy.

But here it is:

For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and will be credited to you against your sins; in the day of your distress it will be remembered in your favor; like frost in fair weather, your sins will melt away.

I was forced to paraphrase, but I told everyone I thought that was his way of thanking us.

And so, my friends, here ends the saga of a remarkable priest.

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