Tuesday Jun, 18 2024 03:32:11 AM

En Todo Amar y Servir

Church • 16:26 PM Fri Dec 4, 2015
366
By: 
Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo, SJ

(This was preached by Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo, SJat the funeral of Bishop Freddie Escaler on December 1, 2015, Church of the Gesu, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City.) When Jesuit Father Federico Escaler was named Bishop and ordained on 31
July 1976 at the Manila Cathedral, there were two rather unusual features in
the consecratory rites. One, a bishop did not preach the homily instead Fr.
Horacio de la Costa, recently back from his Roman assignment as General
Assistant at the Jesuit Curia, did. And Two, Fr Ted Grech, a former Maryknoll
missionary at Taipei, but prior to becoming a priest, the gifted solo
trumpeter of the prestigious Cleveland Symphony, … Fr Ted, then staying with
our seminary community, volunteered to take part in the ceremonies. When
the processional began, Fr Ted’s trumpet, with its glorious notes resounding,
powerfully dominated the great cathedral space, with most in the wondering
congregation turning to the choir loft to watch him.
We were in the procession, and the Dominican missionary prelate from
Guangzhou (I believe), the Spanish Bishop Juan Velasco, turned to me, saying,
Por Dios y por Santo, you Jesuits take a vow not to accept to become prelates
in the Church, but when one is made a bishop, you fill the cathedral with the
bursting sound of trumpets!” Bishop Freddie, that was at your
consecration, and only because Fr. Ted wanted to honor the event. But we won’t
have trumpets today, even for your prayed-for, joyous entrance into Heaven!

In his homily at Bishop Freddie’s episcopal ordination, Fr. de la Costa
spoke quite briefly. He touched one theme onlyand on how St Ignatius of Loyola
who quite strongly, did not want his Jesuit sons to accept honored positions in
the Church, might get reconciled to Bishop Freddie’s new rank. Bishop Freddie
had chosen as his episcopal motto, For Faith and Justice,” — the
theme proclaimed by the Jesuit 32ndGeneral
Congregation only two years before, as its present mission’s priority of
priorities”.

Dear friends of Bishop Fred. I was almost certainly assigned to give the
homily this morning because I have known him somewhat ‘up close and
personal’ for nearly eighty years. I could even say ‘I owe him’ even before
that, because I’m told that when my father wanted to court my mother, it
was Bishop Freddie’s father whom he approached, to introduce him to my
mother-to-be’s family (as the social protocols of the time expected), and to
tell them that he was an ‘ok-person’ to become her suitor. (Eighty years, to be
summed up this morning, in some fifteen/twenty minutes or so.)
Although Freddie (if I may call him at times that, for short, this
morning) was two High School years ahead of me at the Padre Faura Ateneo [Fathers
Bulatao, Gopengco and Hontiveros – and also my elder brother – were his
HS’ 1939 batchmates], we were half-boarders together for three years. We both
joined the Jesuits in 1941 we shared the Japanese War — and more years,
really, — 1941 to 1948 — as novices and scholastics [for sure, there were
several memorable, even dramatic stories from those yearsand for one, about those
ROTC bayonets in the Pasig river … but no time for them now]. Theology studies
in the States priestly ordination by Francis Cardinal Spellman, June 19th, 61 years ago, at
the Fordham University church. Fathers Jesus Diaz and Roque Ferriols, Bishop
Freddie and I were, till last week, the only surviving Filipino Jesuits who
then became priests. Now we are only three left.

What I recount next, I’ve several times told (even in print), but let me
recount it again, to tell you something of Freddie’s person, and his love for
our Jesuit brotherhood.
We had the great gift of a Novice Master who became, in a special way,
a real father, — for him, and also for me. Freddie’s father died when he was
only five years old my father died, when I was only seven. Father
Vincent Kennally [VIK], our Novice Master, who later became Bishop of the
Caroline-Marshall islands in the Pacific, but who asked to be brought to Manila
when he was close to death, because he so dearly loved our country and our
people, … he became a real father to him, — Freddie said this more than once –
and a father also to me. Freddie, just made bishop the year before, 1976, concelebrated
at Bishop Kennally’s funeral Mass at San Jose Seminary with deep grief,
and with many tears, when – as the Mass ended — a special string group played No mas amor que el tuyo ”, Bishop’s
Kennally’s favorite Philippine hymn. (Incidentally, the Boston archdiocese
started the beatification process for Bishop VIK some years ago.)We rode together in a Volkswagon beatle to Novaliches, Freddie himself
driving. He said to me, coming back, I have never wept so much, ever ever in
my life, — not even when my mother – surely the person I have most loved in
life – left us in death.” I tell this story, because it reveals the
kind of bonding Fred had with his Jesuit brotherhood, and because it tells us
something of his own gentle affectivity. Freddie was a loving person. In a very
spontaneous, simple – but not a softly sentimental — way, he loved people and
was much loved in return. Several persons told me, during these days of the
wake, Bishop Fred seems to have been so close to his family, so much loved by the
younger generations!” And that was and is true, isn’t it, I ask you — you who
are here in force this morning? One sign with the flowers says, Tito Freddie,
with much love.” Another, Lolo Freddie, you are a gift to us. We love you.”
There have been many quiet tears these days. On the Ignatian motto, En todo amar y servir and In everything to
love and to serve.” Pope Francis once said, With many of us priests, good
priests, there is much service, yes. But so often, if there is truly much
service, there not so much tenderness and love.” This was not true of
Freddie, wasn’t it, for those who got to know him, ‘up close and personal’?
Freddie had been a Jesuit for 35 years before Rome named him bishop. In
his twenty years as Jesuit priest, he had been given practically every office
of responsibility and leadership in our Province which he could have receivedand
seminary teacher and prefect of major seminarians at San Jose socius , or right-hand man
of the Provincial (then Fr Frank Clark, who – as a regent — had taught him at
the Ateneo HS, and who loved and valued him so highly) head of the La
Ignaciana retreat house and Province CEO for its retreat ministry treasurer
for the Province President and community Rector in, one after the other,
the two main Mindanao Jesuit colleges, at Davao and at Cagayan de Oro, where he
was Xavier University President.Then Rome stepped in and asked him to take two of the poorest mission
regions in Mindanaoand Kidapawan in Cotabato and Ipil, in Zamboanga del
Sur. Hotbeds of conflict,” they were then. Peripheries and outskirts with
the poor, for the poor” Freddie’s posts, long before Pope Francis said that’s
where we belong.

They ordained Fr Freddie a bishop in 1976 (as we recounted earlier), and
asked him to start the Kidapawan Apostolic Prefecture from scratch, to organize
it, set up its basic institutions, get it financially supported, then
leave it four years later, on its feet, a new diocese. The move to Ipil in
1980, an even harder task, to do just the same there, holding office 17 years
as its Bishop, where – as in Kidapawan earlier – he worked at the creation of a
solid, lively, functioning local church. Its third and present head,
Bishop Julius Tonel, two evenings ago told us that Ipil would forever remember
Bishop Escaler, with wondering gratitude, for all that the diocese and its
people owed him.
The Philippine Jesuit monthly newsletter has a few lines from an early
letter, just three months after his consecration. It has been quite hectic,
covering six of our nine parishes, — drop-in visits, talks, retreats,
conferences, parish assemblies, right and leftand rewarding, but taxing yes,
quite taxing. Right now I’m mediating a split among the faithful in a new
parish. Who will its patron saint be? One sector wants San Jose a second, Our
Lady of Perpetual Help. Neither side will yield. If San Jose wins, the first
group says, we will not ever attend Masses in the church. If Our Lady is
chosen, the others will then do the active boycotting. Exciting? Yesterday I
had my first chance for some sleep and rest. Thanks be, Ateneo de Davao has
given me a room to hide in.”

But remember, ‘For Faith and Justice’ was the motto he had chosen. Option and labor for the poor, the leading
task. Its ‘real-ization’ through his episcopal ministry, especially in Ipil, deserves a book of
its own. Ipil in the 1970s-1980sand attacks by different militant sectors, the
Abu Sayyaf among them. A first attack a major one, with loss of many homes and
nearly a hundred lives. A second invasion, razing large sectors of the town,
and by chance, the bishop himself right on the spot, bravely but barely able to
prevent a really bloody Muslim-Christian mutual massacre.
In 1995, Bishop Freddie was kidnapped held captive for several days.
Much anxiety in church ranks the first time a bishop was taken. It never got
fully cleared who really held him most likely, it seems, a group tied up with
the Martial Law regime. Bishop Freddie had several times strongly raised his
voice against human rights violations by the Marcos military. He was
released within the week, no ransom paid, but ‘suitably warned to keep
quiet.’ My new assignment is quite exciting,” he wrote in ’76 in ‘95,
it had become also frightfully dangerous.Reaching age 75 in 1997, it was finally time to hand on Ipil to a
Jesuit Bishop successor, Fr Antonio Ledesma, who presides at our Mass today.
The following fifteen years have not really been retirement” far, far from
it. … But it’s time now to sum up.

We have touched on the more recently fostered Ignatian theme-words, En
todo amar y servir. … In all things, to love and to serve.” A fitting
enough encapsulation of Bishop Freddie’s life, as Jesuit, priest and
bishop. Servir”. Most of you know the so-called Prayer for generosity”.
We know St Ignatius didn’t himself write it, but (except for one line in it)
one finds much of his spirit there. To give and not to count the cost.” Love
is shown,” the Ignatian Exercises say, more in deeds than in words.” Bishop
Freddie has spoken often, yes part of his bishop’s ministry. But words are not
at the bottom line with him. All his life has been doing, doing getting things
done, giving of himself constantly for others. The service has been
really outstanding but all of it, quiet, unpublicized, given matter-of-factly
just what one does daily no fuss, no noise. You can ask anyone who has known
Freddie well. The glad giver, who never counted the cost, all his life long.
In his homily, Fr Joe Quilonquilong told us that just weeks ago, he
brought the new pastor of the San Miguel parish, Fr Gennie Diwa, to meet Bishop
Freddie. Freddie, now lying on his sick bed, terminally ill, already too weak
even to get up. This is the new parish priest here, Bishop.” And Freddie,
hardly strong enough to speak, said. Father, If you need any help, just call
me. Anything I can do, just call me.” And before they left, againand Any help
you need, call me.” That ‘servir’ life-story deserves a whole book, an
inspiring, heart-lifting book. And maybe, just maybe, later, — some have been
asking these last few days, — even a beatification process.
Amar” is the other word. We have said it already there has been much,
very much of that. The ‘amar y servir’ we spoke of above, was all for other
people. But we must speak now, all so inadequately, of his love, his passion
even, for Jesus Lord and King of all his being, and Mary who, we know, we know,
was truly and tenderly mother to him.
Fr. Quilongquilong spoke too, of the depth his prayer, above all in the
final years. Fr. Joe said that when in Rome, not too long ago, Freddie held the
ancient book of St Ignatius’ handwritten diary in his hands, and turned its
pages, the tears came silently, but copiously, from the depth of his filial and
reverent heart. When Pope Francis spoke to his Jesuit brothers at the
Papal Nunciature, that one evening in January this year, Freddie had asked to
be there. He sat almost directly in front of Francis, intently listening … in
prayer, really not a word said, and all that time, only the flow of silent
tears.

Two weeks ago, when I prayed with him at his bedside, and thanked the
Lord that He had used Freddie to give so much of His love to so many people
used Freddie through so many down-to-earth deeds to give hope to so many who
were poor, needy and suffering, — there were silent tears running, the words of
his own love with which he then prayed with me. I thanked the Lord that He had
used the day-after-day deeds Freddie had so matter-of-factly shared, and how so
many had come to love him, too, because of God’s caring they saw in him. In the
last years especially there was the obviously deep consolation and prayer
people sensed present in him, the love that had grown as gift, in the midst of
the sacrifice and the self-giving of, — really, we can now say, — all his life
long.
Thank you, Bishop Freddie. We say good-bye, now at this final
Mass. Not with trumpets ringing to fill this church this morning. But
with grateful love quietly speaking from our hearts, — oh, from the many hearts
of those, for whom you embodied what Ignatius said our lives should beand In
everything to love and serve.” En todo amar y servir.” Freddie, rarely has that en todo” been so well fulfilled, as you fulfilled it. Again, salamat.

Amen. Amen.

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