Gifts of three wise men

Last weekend to celebrate the feast of the Magi, the coming to Bethlehem of the three kings/wise men to attend to the birth of Jesus Christ, I decided to treat myself and find peace by rereading books written by three of my philosophy professors, all Jesuit priests, at the Ateneo de Manila. Two of them – Francis Reilly and Thomas Green passed to eternal life years ago; one – Roque Ferriols – is all of 92 years old and recently published “Glimpses into my beginnings”, his memoirs of his early life as a Jesuit which coincided with World War II, the invasion of the Japanese, and the liberation in Manila. From these three wise and holy men, I received gifts of wisdom that I will carry with me through this New Year full of challenges.

Let me start with a story that Fr. Roque, the most brilliant Filipino I have ever met, recalls in Glimpses about an SVD missionary priest in Lubang Island, Mindoro, Fr. Benito Rixner. A Ferriols family friend, Fr. Rixner used to visit their home. According to Fr. Roque: “He was a simple priest, humble and charitable. He shared with us his experiences as a missionary. I remember that after each visit, and when he had returned to his mission, he always left us at peace with ourselves, a kind of silence that embraced us.”

Years later, after the liberation of Manila, Fr. Roque writes about his encounter with Fr. Rixner: “Rizal Avenue attracted droves of people. The city had awakened, and was buzzing with activities; business was flourishing, more shops and stores were catering to the needs of their customers on those days. The place was teeming with people, greeting each other when seeing each other accidentally, and one would hear various individuals saying, “You’re alive. Thank God!’ I was a Young Jesuit about to finish my juniorate. I was whiling away my time, looking at people walking down Rizal Avenue. In an instant, I saw a German priest that I have not seen in a long while and had not been part of my memory. A light seemed to shine on me, “Fr. Rixner!” “Roque!” We shook each other’s hands and we were practically dancing on Rizal Avenue. When I returned home, and until now that I am writing this, I could still savor the peace and the silence that he had always left me.”

In reading and rereading these lines, weighed down by so much dying of the poor and anxiety for what may happen in the world and in our country, Fr. Roque gave me the gift of peace.

Fr. Thomas Green SJ, my professor in philosophy of science and philosophy of language, knew how to help women and men find peace. In addition to being a philosopher, he was a spiritual master, directed many aspiring priests in San Jose Seminary, and thankfully wrote several books.

From “When the Well Runs Dry”, I share this text: “The life of prayer is perhaps the most mysterious dimension of all human experience. We come to be at home with a God we cannot see. We discover that is it only by giving ourselves away totally that we come to truly possess ourselves, that we are most free when most surrendered. We begin to realize that light is darkness and darkness light. We become lost in a trackless desert – and then, if we persevere despite our disorientation, we begin to realize that it is only in being lost, in losing ourselves, that we are found. The whole of our life, and not just our prayer life, becomes a paradox, an apparent contradiction concealing and revealing a deeper truth, because we begin to realize that we must live as we pray. The darkness, giving, surrendering, and lostness cannot be restricted to than one hour a day, which we we call “our time for prayer”. The Lord refuses to be a compartmentalized God; we come to realize that “my work is my prayer”, but in an entirely different and much deeper sense than that in which the phrase is usually uttered today.”

Later in the same book, Fr. Tom writes about this darkness again: “When we begin to realize that the darkness is light, and that ever so slowly the Lord of love is fashioning in us the eyes to see, the dominant motif of our prayer becomes gratitude – gratitude even, and perhaps especially for the trials which have previously caused us misery, since we now realize that it is precisely through these trials that the Lord is fashioning in us the resurrection person. And our greatest joy, our greatest expression of gratitude, is to be able to share with others the good news which we have learned: ‘We are writing this to you so that our joy may be complete!’ (1 Jn 1:14)”

From Fr. Green, I received the gift of hope, of assurance that all will be well, that this darkness that we may be experiencing will not only pass but it is light, that the trials before us are transforming us to be, in Green’s words, resurrection persons.

Finally, Fr. Francis Reilly SJ, professor of metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of religion, gives me the gift of faith that anchors both peace and hope.

In his book “A Quiet God”, subtitled as “quiet words especially for searchers”, Fr. Reilly explores the various ways of proving the existence of God through rational discourse. Among others, he reflects on how evil could co-exist with a kind and powerful God. Fr. Frank asserts, among others, that “moral evil in the world is our work, not God’s, and that his plan is to give us a share in his own freedom so that we can freely choose to some extent what the world will be like.”

At the end of A Quiet God, Fr. Frank writes: “Even in calling us God is quiet. He does not shout but speaks softly through others, through the situations which we face with alert intelligence, through his revealed word, but he does enable us to find him in acts of intelligence and freedom.” In a letter to those who have difficulty in believing in God, Fr. Reilly is encouraging: “He calls personally to us, trying to persuade us to admit him into our lives. God, we can discover, takes the initiative in making himself present to us and we experience his presence in his word. Believing therefore has a very personal quality to it, and the God who invites us personally to accept himself and his word is one who comes to us gently and with total respect.” Peace, hope and faith. To all my readers, I pray that you too will receive this New Year these gifts of my Magi – from my three philosophy professors, all wise and holy men of God.

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