(A mentor is one of God’s choicest blessings. Having a good one makes life’s every battle as half-won already. In the seminary where I graduated there were two, not just one. One is Chito, now Cardinal Chito, and the other is Sharkey. Sharkey has just died…. I eulogize for him.)
Last Sunday, the Gospel Reading was about the three parables- the weeds, the mustard seed and the yeast. They hold a common theme – that of being little and insignificant. Reflecting further as I prepare for the homily, I had in my thoughts Fr. Sharkey Brown. He died days ago. He was our well-loved formator in our seminary -Tahanan ng Mabuting Pastol (Tagaytay City). There was never any doubt in me that this priest fits to a perfect tee the lessons of the three parables. Other themes would include processing, growth, patiently waiting, acceptance of self, and the like. These concerns are expertise to Father Sharkey. And so I decided that I will mention him in the homily. But to my disappointment (and surprisingly at that) everything in my homily went so well except that there was no mention of Fr. Sharkey. I just could not get the right jabs to let him in. I tried very hard though but to no avail. But in afterthought at night, I have realized that perhaps what had occurred (or, what had not occurred) could only be attributed to Fr. Sharkey himself. Even in his death, he did not want to be noticed nor be mentioned at all. He was like that for us; he always wanted to be just like that in his life – little and insignificant.
Actually, he is only Sharkey for us. That is why there was discomfort above whenever I referred to him as Father Sharkey. He taught us that titles before and “tails” after our names are nothing. In fact, it could be dangerous. Very dangerous. With titles and “tails” one could turn very proud. One could look down and demean another who has no title and “tail” whatsoever in his/her name. Sharkey said, “We have to show respect to a person not because of titles, but because a person is a person. Period.” Sharkey did not only desire to be little and insignificant, he also has a heart and an eye for those who are little and insignificant. Can this be a manifestation too of his unwavering affection for that little brown Filipina superstar named Ate Guy?
Sharkey was a mestizo, born to a Filipina and an American father. Time was when the Sangley Point in Cavite was a military base of US. He was American by nationality but had never set foot in that land known as of “milk and honey”. On the contrary, he was every inch a Filipino, in his love of country and of people. Truth be told, in EDSA and at several rallies, Sharkey would brave and stood for patriotic principles. His dynamics had consistently been selfless and his disposition as for others.
By external appearance, Sharkey was a six-footer sturdy man, typical Texan, we could say. While he was that imposing physically, Sharkey did not care being considered as small at all. For instance, an ecclesiastical office for him is mission, not a position . In our seminary, he has worn many hats- rector, spiritual director, procurator, among others. He could also be parish priest or an assistant or just part of a team ministry. He discharged these functions as “unconscious” of any ranking or rating whatsoever. “Ang mahalaga ay ang pusong mapaglingkod,” he would quip. If that is not being small then I do not know what is.
In terms of being insignificant, I would always recall our last night in our seminary. It was the tribute night for our batch as graduates. Sharkey was “graduating” together with us. After long years of ministry journeying with future-priests, he was then due for a parish assignment. Instead of a fitting and separate tribute for him as formator, he opted to join us. Or perhaps, he chose to be sidelined by us. Without the fanfare of anything. Sharkey just left his home of many years. Quietly. Indeed, insignificant.
In his last years, Sharkey lost his eyesight. Our formator who had been giving us direction and had taught us to look at things in perspective had gone blind. When I paid him a visit one time, sensing that I felt pity for him, he told me, “Wag mo akong kaawaan. Tanggap ko to. I have more time now seeing God.” I was dumbfounded with what he said. Who wouldn’t, right Sharkey has suddenly become a philosopher – the blind man has come with a brighter vision. Indeed, it is when we close our eyes that we can see clearly.
Then he went on to counsel me with three reminders – “Eugene, as a priest, your first apostolate is to 1) LISTEN…. In your experiences, 2) GO BEYOND THE PAIN…. and 3) Sa anumang desisyon, timbangin mo ang lahat sa pamamagitan ng iyong PUSO. Gawin mong matalino ang iyong puso.” Sight might have abandoned him indeed but his insight has remained deep and sharp. Perhaps, even sharper.
Conceivably, Sharkey may not like that something of this sort is accorded to him. Not that he cannot do anything now to stop this. But this is what we will tell him, “This is not for you, Sharkey. This is actually for the people… para ‘to sa tao, para ‘to sa iba… hindi ‘to para sa yo.” When things are not for himself, when something would not be to focus on him… Sharkey will surely reconsider. He will always be just that – insignificant… our beloved “little” Brown.
Salamat, Sharkey. Paalam na.