TEXT & PHOTOS BY MIDGE K. MANLAPIG
It is Maundy Thursday. It has become a tradition in our family to get rousted out of bed in the small, wee hours of the morning, gussied up nicely, bundled into the car, then off we go to St. Andrew’s for the annual Chrism Mass.
Going to Chrism Mass isn’t exactly mandatory for Catholics. It’s actually more for the clergy as it marks a renewal of the vows made during their ordination rites. For my family, though, it became a tradition on account of the fact that my brother just so happens to be a priest.
It is something that pretty much shaped my childhood. My younger brother hankered for the priesthood as early as the age of two. My mother tells us that he expressed a desire to read the Bible – and had me teach the kid how to read so he could. Saturdays were spent walking through one religious exhibit or another: the Santo Nino (Holy Infant) in January; those massive, life-sized figures of the Passion of Christ during Lent, Marian images in May, and Nativity crèches once Christmas rolled in. His comic-books were Biblical or based on the lives of saints; his cartoons were the religious-themed Superbook and Flying House shows rather than the Hanna-Barbera spectacle I tuned into on weekend mornings. It made for a rather unusual childhood.
Friends tend to react rather unusually whenever they find out that my brother is a clergyman. I’ve had to field questions about whether or not my parents are disappointed that their only son has chosen to serve God and live a celibate life (“Isn’t your dad afraid that it’s the end of your bloodline?”) Those who aren’t Catholic but profess to be Christians (italics mine, as you will see) tell me that my brother has chosen the wrong path; that he is no better than the Biblical Pharisees (Oh, look who’s talking! Doesn’t it say in the Bible to let he who is without sin cast the first stone?) And there are those who tell me that my family is blessed because my brother was Chosen for the priesthood; and, yes, there are those who scratch their heads in puzzlement and ask, “Why?”
I don’t think I’m in the proper position to answer anyone’s questions. But I have met numerous people who have had the privilege of having my brother for their parish priest or their parochial vicar. I have met people whom he has worked with from various Catholic ministries. I have seen the children who flock to him for the traditional Filipino elder’s blessing, for hugs, for happy chatter. There are the older men and women who thank him for taking the time to say hello, for checking in on them. There are the young men whom he guides in his own way as they stand at the threshold of fulfilling their own vocations. There are parents who seek his advice for their young people; young couples who are preparing for marriage find themselves facing his critical questions – like an acid test to see if they’re settling down for the right reasons. For these people, my brother is a source of guidance, of comfort. He is a pastor in the clearest sense of the word: someone who looks after a flock, someone who makes sure that they try to stay on the safe and narrow; someone who wants the best for his people.
This is not to say that my brother isn’t human. He has his quirks. He has his moods. He gets sick: he loses his voice several times a year and, one Christmas, had to be isolated just so he could get some rest. He’s as much a gourmand as I am; he and our younger sister have a shared interest in anime, manga, and elements of Japanese pop culture. He has lost his temper, his patience; he has found fault in others and vice versa. He has apologized and has been apologized to. There are even days when he wonders if anything he does is worth it, if what he does matters to anyone aside from him and the Lord.
But he strives and he thrives. He says Mass with fervor and devotion. He keeps his homilies simple yet meaningful and memorable. He goes about his work with as much patience and fortitude as he could muster, staying cheerful and embodying the mercy and compassion that has become the battle cry of the Catholic Church in these days of Pope Francis’s papacy.
“Don’t you find it awkward?” my best friend asks me whenever I mention my brother in the course of a conversation.
“Why?” I respond, answering his question with another question. “I’m used to it. And I’m proud of him for sticking to his guns and doing the Good Work.”
And, really, for me and for my brother, Fr. Jeff, that is all that matters.
Note: Midge K. Manlapig is an advertising professional and public relations specialist from the Philippines. Her kitchen exploits are online via her blog Midge in the Kitchen at http://sybdive.wordpress.com. She is currently working on her first novel.