Seminary Memoirs, 4

Let me start these tales by coming up with a waiver: that I am not responsible for what I write here. I am merely reconstructing memory from a cartographic sketch of a Bildungsroman of a double embarrassment, one for the riches of the institutional Church and never, not mine but I am waiting to have a share soon, and another for not making it in the seminary as a priest. 

This idea about priesthood starts out with a child's game, in the mind as in the neighborhood when in moonlit nights in the provinces especially during the hight of the tropical heat, children could imagine to play all sorts of games from the sacred to the profane, from war to peace. 

When we would stage our wars--we did not understand the delineation, following the Summa Theologica of what was moral or its lack in the calling for a war with someone else or with some other people or communities--we simply staged it, with basically two actors: the Ilokanos against the Japanese soldiers who gleefully bayoneted Ilokano children and raped and bayoneted Ilokano women and children.

Or it could be the Ilokanos against the Americans who, even at Tirad Pass, did not forget their imperial ambitions at the expense of the more democratic view of the American people like Mark Twain who opposed it, and opposing it fully he was willing to put his life at stake to that opposition, arguing, among others, that America had no right to impose its notion of freedom and democracy upon a people who are trying to define these things for themselves given their own unique experiences and circumstances. 

A war, we would always shout, and there we go: one side were the Japanese, who would wear long sticks for bayonets, and the other side would be the Ilokanos, who would wear their courage outside their sleeves. 

We would hide in other peoples surroundings, sometimes shooing away the chickens that had already come home to roost for the evening, the chickens that would sadly dream of stew and papaya and our hunger and their last summer of life. 

In the quiet of the evening, we would rouse everyone from rest and sleep with our shrieking, and the war would go on until everyone dropped dead. Mapanen--let us go--would be a signal for us to go and run and hide and look out and look for the enemy on the prowl. Mapanen--ah, that beautiful word only nostalgia could recover how it was said. 

We would seek each other, kill each other. Once already killed by the enemy, you dropped dead. The tricky was, you killed first. Aggression was part of the moral of this war exercise.  

And it would be over, this business called annihilation--a good exercise in spirit-building andin strengthening human character because in my youth, I would need it. 

Part of that youth was spent In the seminary, in particular.

In the seminary was the tacit game of war, that game of annihilation when to annihilate is to get annihilated, or simply, you are annihilated. Either way, and it all boged down to how strong was your sense of self-worth, your sense of decency, and your sense of self-respect. 

In peacetime ('peacetime' is my father's favorite word, him who knew what war was and whose uniform of khaki in that one and only one photo he had with an uncle who went to war but had never tasted the spoils of that war, not a single cent for his duty to his country), we would stage other childhood games. In one rare occasion, it was a bishop saying mass for that city fiesta that was about to be held each February. 

I can't remember the name of the bishop and neither the priest in our place, but they were good people, and they were so far away. 

I remember that as a child, we would mock how they officiated the mass, with their backs on us. Vatical I--not Vatican II--was still in effect then, and the miracle would happen as soon as the priest turned his back on us.

We would interpret the ceremony of the turning of the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into His blood as--the ceremony of the Eucharist--as:

Priest: (fronting) Awan pay, awan pay, awan pay ("None yet, none yet, none yet.")

People: Apay ("Why?")

Priest: (turning his back, cape in full view, so royal and so pontifical) "Awanen, awanen, awanen ("No more, no more, no more.")

People: Tinapay? ("Bread?")

Priest: (facing the people) Daytoyen, daytoyen. ("Here it is, here it is.")

That would be for the turning of the bread into the body of Christ. The same ceremony, in verbatim fashion, would be followed when turning the wine--almost always, our father's or somebody else's father's basi--into the body of Christ. 

We would parrot this ceremony: we liked all the Ilokano blankets in their riot of colors on the clotheslines of the neighborhood draped on our small and lanky and tubercular bodies and narrow shoulders, and we looked good with them. There would be a religious procession from someone else's front gate to another playmate's backyard some yards and yards away. 

It helped that these religious dramas of infantile pretensions were staged when the elders were away or in deep slumber and youthful men and women were all elsewhere in the banana groves dreaming about the number of children that would come out of their loins. In moments like this one, we were left to our devices and no one bothered us as we never bothered the old people, as we never bothered the young lovers.

I grew up getting used to this cycle of childhood imagination when a television antennae was two long bamboo poles roped together, and the TV set was only for those who were well-off or for those who were Hawaiianos, our people who had come back from Hawai'i to live amongst us and happily and who nightly counted their dollars while we all endured the pugnacious smell of RCA--Rice and Corn Administration--rice courtesy of Marcos and his cohorts. 

Then one evening, the playmate who would always play bishop or priest or both depending on the circumstances and the religious occasions we would parody, got sick with flu. Someone suggested that I would take over--and lo and behold, I took the helm as priest and bishop rolled into one. 

I took my own dirty linen--my own blanket--draped it on my shoulder and shielded it from a fall from grace by tying two loose ends together and let the tie fall on my neck. Lo and behold, here, here, here is your priest and bishop of Romblon! Vatican was way below our standards, what with our opulence and pageantry. We were simply unparalleled. 

That was fun--and we always looked forwards to these primeval drama of soldiers killing and getting killed, and priests and bishops giving the blessing for each killing and each death. Think of violence being tutored on the young, while they are young. 

It helped that I had aunts and uncles and other relatives all over who were in the religious life. Their stories made me think about following up on a tradition, if we could call that as one.

And I had a grand aunt--my grandmother's elder sister--who had fervently prayed that one of his grandnieces and grandnephews would inherit her closeness to God. 

There you go: we tried, I tried. The 'we' there was that many of us tried. No luck. 

Few succeeded, only a handful. The rest of us successfully found our way out of the walled life, out of embarrassment for the pretension that we thought we heard a call, or out of desperation because of the recognition that simply, simply, we did not have the guts to live a vowed life and/ or a living lie like that. 

The idea of a living lie here is, of course, subject to interpretation. It bogs down to issues about how many times you say Ave Maria each day, in church or elsewhere, and when at home, you curse your housemaid. Or even if you talk to all the angels, both fallen and those still rising. 

The truth is: we were perhaps lying that we were called to live a lie--or to live a life like that.

A Solver Agcaoili
Hon, HI
Oct 10/08

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