I became a senior citizen (60 years of age) two years after the outset of the COVID 19 pandemic. You know how the world stopped when COVID began to cripple us. And so the past two years were not an easy transition for my Senior years. I was then about to take a sabbatical program, but every inked schedule was erased and everything was so uncertain. The only set activity that was accomplished after postponement was the 30-day Ignatian Retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House of Malaybalay, Bukidnon (Southern Philippies). In the early quarter last year, our Provincial Superior, Fr. Rollin Flores, SSP called me up to consider joining the new mission assignment. The bishop of Cabanatuan invited us to his Diocese, some three hour-bus ride from Makati, the site of the Provincialate and a Local Community.
I said yes, despite the uncertainty I feel. I had been to Venezuela for a very short mission when I pitched in to help their Editorial as Fr. Tim Melizza went back to the Philippines for an MBA. I was young, well not so young as I was in my thirties then, and I faced the challenge with eagerness partly because three years before that I had already visited Argentina-Bolivia-Brazil during a month of exposure to the catholic media institutions through the Famiglia Cristiana and Union Catholic International Press (UCIP) grant. But at the threshold of the start of my 60’s, I feel the ambivalence of the challenge. Although it is only here in the Philippines yet totally new area for me. We will open a bookstore and hope I would handle it; while the two priest, Frs Tim Melizza, SSP and Ramil Tapang, SSP will be active in assisting the parish priests of the assigned areas. I seems to me that the two priests follow what Primo Maestro advised the early missionaries when coming to a new area: ask help from the parish priest or stay in the parish, though it was required of them by the bishop before they could be entrusted a parish.
In the 2022 annual retreat batch I had, I heard Fr. Antonio Pernia, SVD, say, “when God calls you for a mission, He has a gift for you.” My mind wandered at the many images of what this gift for me be. Many things. But I’m certain though that this mission is a gift to me because I did not volunteer, unlike in 2000 when I wrote our General Superior on my willingness to go on a mission. Today, I affirm that when I think of mission, it is God’s mission that unfolds. I am only a collaborator in His work of pitching His tent among us (Is. 40:22)
But of course, there are moments of hesitation. Hope it is not because of the pandemic— doubting about my presence; here in my mission area, what do I do? What could I contribute? One who now has a fragile health enliven by maintenance medicine; one whose hair has completely turned silver, and whose heels often suffer from arthritis and gout! But again, is not sharing my own vulnerability even a part of the dialogue of mission? When I go out and meet other persons from all walks of life, are not these the moments to encounter the face of God whose mission is to be in solidarity with humanity?
This becomes very clear this season of Advent. Although, we long for the final coming of the Lord when his reign is fully realized, it is God who gifts me with his presence and what is required of me is an openness to whatever this may entail. Yes, there are moments of doubts and fear to tread the unknown, but I draw strength from the figure of Abraham who in his advance age also left his comfort zones to heed to God’s promise of life and progeny. And he responded with an unwavering faith even if this would mean a sacrifice of his only son Isaac, the only source of his lineage. And God met Abraham in that moment, an advent experience, to assure him that his faith was enough. His son wouldl live to fulfill the promise. Yes, nobody is too old for mission. I remember Fr. Angel Vagnoni, SSP in Venezuela who could survive with just a baked apple for supper due to his precarious health, yet at in an advance age still was steering the San Pablo Ediciones Editorial, partly because there were only a few Paulines there. Yes, I affirm my “yes” as I read Fr. Joven Lagdamen, SSP quote: “Yes, the world is our parish…”
Lucien Legrand in his book, “The God who Comes. Mission in the Bible,” says “before a sending of prophets, the Servant, and messengers, mission is the beginning of a journey of God himself, who becomes Emmanuel, the God-with-us of the entire world.”
As I see how we bring out our purple and pink candles, and hear ‘O’ antiphones, and uncover the Nativity Creche, I hear the invitation to the peoples to celebrate this advent, this Coming. Let my open heart savor this holy encounter.
-Br. Hansel Mapayo, SSP