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Last October 13, Manila Archbishop Jose F. Cardinal Advincula handed to each of the priests of the Archdiocese of Manila their new assignments after the celebration of the holy Mass held at the Lay Formation Center Chapel in San Carlos Pastoral Formation Complex in Guadalupe, Makati City.
When asked how the Cardinal chose which assignment will be given to which priest, Fr. Isidro Marinay (Chancellor) explained that the appointments were based on the profile of the priests (age, academic background, pastoral experiences and performance in previous assignments) and on the profile or needs of the parishes/communities they will be assigned. A survey questionnaire was likewise sent to the clergy asking them to give at least three preferred assignments in the order of priority, if given a chance to choose. The survey also asked the incumbent parish priests to give at least three candidates whom they will recommend as their successors. Finally, before making appointments, the Cardinal also got recommendations from the personnel board (a group of 7 priests elected by the clergy tasked to study the profile of the clergy and the profile of parishes).
As for the parish of San Roque in Pasay its parish priest, Fr. Paschal Ma. R. Gorgoña, will be transferred to the parish of San Isidro Labrador as the new team ministry moderator. So, as he leaves behind the parish for his new assignment, he leaves behind the following lessons to us his parishioners for 11 years:
PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR – Fr. Paschal taught the parish that Caring for those who are less well-off is everyone’s responsibility. Preferential care should be shown to vulnerable and marginalized people, whose needs and rights are given special attention in God’s eyes. “The phrase ‘preferential option for the poor’ was first used in 1968 by the superior general of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe, in a letter to his order. The term was later picked up by the Catholic bishops of Latin America. In its early usage, particularly, the option for the poor referred especially to a trend throughout biblical texts, where there is a demonstrable preference given to powerless individuals who live on the margins of society” (Kira Dault).
In 1991, Pope John Paul II used the term, and elaborated on the concept in his encyclical Centesimus Annus. In that encyclical, which celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor), John Paul II expanded the use of the “option for the poor” to include spiritual as well as material poverty. Pope Benedict XVI, embraced the option for the poor as a true Catholic obligation, and extended the understanding of the poor to include all those who are marginalized in society: widows, children, people with disabilities, and victims of oppression, among others. In San Roque, it meant being with the poor — and we will never forget Fr. Paschal sharing “Noche Buena” with them in the streets; and by giving them their special “Media Noche” baskets (which was a 1st class package with ham, etc.) for the New Year. And, during the Pandemic Lockdowns he would visit each and everyone of them with their daily sustenance.
WE ARE BEINGS TOWARDS DEATH – This was common theme in all of Fr. Paschal’s homilies. For human beings, time comes to an end with our death. Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be an authentic human being, then it is essential that we constantly project our lives onto the horizon of our death. This is what Heidegger famously calls “being-towards-death”. If our being is finite, then an authentic human life can only be found by confronting finitude and trying to make a meaning out of the fact of our death. Heidegger subscribes to the ancient maxim that “to philosophize is to learn how to die”. Mortality is that in relation to which we shape and fashion our selfhood.
“EVERY GISING IS THEREFORE A BLESSING”. To be awake and drinking your favorite beverage in the morning is always considered a blessing. It is a way of thanking the Lord that we survived the night before. To us in modern times Eschatology (the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind) seems to be an awful idea. Who wants to think about death? But what if instead of being scared and unwilling to embrace this truth we did the opposite? What if reflecting and meditating on that fact was a simple key to living life to the fullest? Or that it was the key to our freedom — as Montaigne put it, “To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”
And, SPEND MORE TIME WITH GOD – spending a much longer than usual Sunday Mass (usually 90 minutes or more) is for Fr. Paschal our way of spending more time with God. He taught us that going to mass is not simply because it’s an obligation. Rather, we attend Mass because it’s our loving response to the God who has loved us first. It is an active choice of the will to give of our time, treasure, and talent – knowing full well it will never amount to the sacrifice endured by our Savior. “Binigay na sa atin ng Diyos ang buong Linggo para sa ating personal na buhay. Sana naman yung oras natin para sa Diyos tuwing Linggo (pati na rin yung mga extrang minuto na sumosobra sa isang oras) ay ialay natin sa kanya bilang pasasalamant natin sa mga biyayang ipinagkakaloob niya sa atin” (Fr. Paschal).
The Mass is for Fr. Paschal the prayer of the Church par excellence, meaning, there is no greater prayer other than the holy sacrifice of the Mass. From the opening prayer to the closing prayer (most especially the Consecration), the Mass is one continual offering to God the Father by making present the passion of his Son. Almost all of the prayers are addressed exclusively to the Father. We, as a community of believers, participate in this awesome salvation story that is relived every time the Mass is offered. We are not merely spectators but active participants in the Lord’s passion; so, a few extra minutes is always worth the time.