Of late, I have been conveyed two congratulatory notes that were both quite distinctive, as I was caught rather clueless as to what they really meant. Usually, greetings of this kind come after a feat, a jackpot in a raffle, or for a victory after a game. But no, I was flooded with good wishes right after I got my second dose of AstraZeneca. Some quipped, “Graduate na po kayo!” The second time around was when I posted on social media the non-reactive result of my antigen test. “Congrats, Father. Buti ka pa po negative.” I must confess that when I replied to those particular commendations, I could not help but be tongue-in-cheek.

Slowly, though, it came to sink in that I had the veracity of the fact as well as the sincerity of those who were well-wishing me.

Congratulations should indeed be in order for those who have already been inoculated. For over a year, we have been praying in “Oratio Imperata” that God will lead human minds to develop a vaccine against coronavirus. It has arrived. Our prayers have been answered that vaccines right now are already being delivered right to our very doorsteps. I should know that jabs have already reached as far as Napsan, a far-flung barangay in the city. Further, studies show that those who have succumbed to death due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Since June, 116 of the 129 fatalities in the city were unvaccinated individuals, while 10 were just first-dose recipients (Palawan News, 9-25-2021). True indeed, to be congratulated after being fully vaccinated is just appropriate. This slogan makes a lot more sense than “Maging Bakunado. Maging Protektado.” Moreover, “Protektahan Ang Mga Taong Mahal Mo.”

Sadly, though, not a few would rather go unvaxxed. While personal consent does deserve respect, it would also, on the other hand, become a moral issue should nothing be done amidst and against a crisis. It is rather morally questionable when one refuses to cooperate to attain the common good. Pope Francis believes that it is a moral obligation. “It is the moral choice because it is not only about your life but also the lives of others.” (1-11-21) For his part, Dr. Ricardo Panganiban, our city’s chief officer for health, laments, “Noon ang problema konti ang vaccines at marami ang pumipila. Ngayon parang nilalangaw po ang vaccination centers… Dumating na sana ang solusyon…pero problema pa rin.” And on this note, Bishop Mesiona, mindful too of the moral repercussions of vaccination, has issued a video calling for everybody to do their part. “Magpabakuna na para mapadali ang ating pagbalik sa normal na buhay,” exhorted the prelate.

Then last week, I got my own “baptism of fire” of swab testing. As a spiritual leader to a flock, it is close to impossible (and also a moral issue) to be away or isolated from people. In fact, it can be called for that those who serve must all the more be present in times of crisis. Talk about moral obligation. We can think of Father Damien of Molokai who was in the midst of lepers. We can also recall St Roch. He went to a city threatened by the plague. He was diligent in attending to the needs of the sick in hospitals.

The other congratulations I got were due to the fact that I tested negative for the antigen. Truth be told, there was really nothing I was feeling in my body. In fact, I could proudly claim to be fit and strong without the “feel” of being a coronavirus carrier. Just the same, I have volunteered to be “pricked” after having known that in one of the Masses I presided over, somebody got COVID-infected. Then and there, I felt inside myself responsible for getting myself and others safe when dealing with me.

For the eventuality that I would indeed be positive, I had already packed my things for a two-week quarantine. I stuffed my bag with several books, and all that would make me indulge in reading and writing. I want to admit that there was an excitement I sensed from within. But the thrill was only short-lived.

I drove myself alone to the testing center. Before I could even turn the engine on, I felt my heart pounding. I suddenly heard myself whispering inside the car, “Lord, sana negative lang po.” The supposedly quick drive turned into a hearse-like experience. Did it ever enter my mind to back off from testing and just hide in the thought that I was asymptomatic anyway? A resounding yes. But I also thought of the many more Masses that I will attend where I will get to be near people. I had in mind too of our colleagues in schools and the people close to me. All these, or, all of them, made me push through the need (read: obligation) to be tested.

Waiting, including, the time spent inside the testing center, was almost an hour. It was the longest one hour of my life ever. I was antsy. I was both anxious and worried. I was also mad as to why the coronavirus had to happen in the world and in our period of history. I was also suspicious of others who were with me inside the testing center. What if these fellows are positive? I was sure they were also suspecting me to be the one infected. Then came an elderly person falling in line too for testing, and I got angrier. I felt pity for the matanda. So kawawa. I did pray for her. I also thought about the loads of work that I will be leaving behind. I had in mind the people who have lost their jobs or businesses due to the pandemic. Dami kong nasa isip… at kung anu-ano ang aking naiisip. I could not help but think and overthink. Nakaka-praning.

Thank God for the negative result. I have got no virus. In hindsight though, I have sensed another virus that got on my nerves- mental stress. Need we say more about this? Keep safe. But sane too.