Oct 1, 2020

The disaster month of July

There is a joke I heard from a friend, about two lady LCEs (Local Chief Executives) who had their faces Belo-fied. LCE1 turned out prettier, LCE2 uglier, because the former charged it to the “20% Development Fund”, while the latter paid for hers out of the “5% Calamity Fund”. As our Millenials would say, “LOL”. There is also a witty remark attributed to the British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, on his archrival William Gladstone: “If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune; but if someone fished him out, that would be a calamity.”

I write about “calamity”, as synonymous with “disaster”, because we are now observing National Disaster Resiliency Month, as mandated by Executive Order No. 29 issued by President Duterte in 2017. But why July? The presidential issuance does not explain; but we can surmise that it is because July had been (in the past, or until more climate-change kicks in) the onset of the “rainy” half-year that lasts until December (the other half being the “dry”) and puts many parts of the country intermittently in a “state of calamity”.

Closer to home, a “disaster” befell our family on July 2, 2000, when my father, Badong, perished in the crash of a Philippine Air Force Nomad in the waters of Cagayancillo, shortly after taking off for the flight back to Puerto Princesa.

Of the fourteen persons on board (including Major General Santiago Madrid, Chief of the AFP Western Command), only one survived: Bruce Walker, an American, who happened to be a triathlete, which explains how he was able to swim out of the aircraft. In his account after being rescued, Mr. Walker related that he was jolted into unconsciousness when the plane hit the water; that when he came to, the cabin was already filled with water; it was dark, but that he saw light coming from some opening and swam towards it, out of the sinking aircraft, and on to the surface where he was later picked up by responding fisherfolk. The corpse of Maj. Gen. Madrid was also found. The rest of those on board are presumed to have died (by drowning). Prayers, please, for their eternal happiness.

Still, as far as death is concerned, I think my father’s was a happy one: it would have been relatively painless (they were all, presumably, unconscious); he would have died praying the Rosary (as he habitually did, upon taking off during flights), wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (as always); and it was only an hour or so after he had attended Sunday Mass and received Holy Communion (holy viaticum, it turned out), from the hand of Father Edwin Cayabo, then parish priest of Cagayancillo—thank you so much, Fr. Edu!

I take comfort, as well, from the fact that that July 2 was at the very heart of the Great Jubilee, with its flood of indulgences. The immediately preceding Sunday also happened to be the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, followed by the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (Friday, June 30), and the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Saturday, July 1).

For many years prior, and until his death, my father had been a daily Mass-goer, and went to Confession frequently (at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Kanlaon Street in Quezon City, a short walk from our rented apartment), whenever he was in Metro Manila. I know my father struggled hard to live the human and Christian virtues in all the circumstances and events of his life, largely succeeding (I think), with God’s superabundant graces.

St. Josemaría Escrivá once said: “God knows best. He is not like a hunter in search of prey. He is like a gardener, who cares for the flowers, and waters them, and protects them. And he only cuts them when they are at the peak of their beauty and richness. God takes souls when they are ripe”. I think Badong was in full bloom on July 2, 2000. If it was a day of disaster, it was also one of triumph.

Truly, in this world, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, Triumph and Disaster are “two impostors” to be treated “just the same”. But this month also has many dates that evoke Triumph: To begin with, July 2 is also the birthday of my beloved better half (the beautiful, brilliant, and saintly Judge Rowie).

Of the many liturgical feasts this month, I wish to make special mention of the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene (patron saint of Kawit, Cavite; whence the “Magdalo” group of General Emilio Aguinaldo) on the 22nd; and that of St. Martha on the 29th. It was to St. Martha that our Lord said, “Only one thing is necessary”. The famous catholic spiritual writer Frank Sheed speculates that Mary of Magdala is the same Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whose home in Bethany was a place of rest for our Lord.

Indeed, only one thing is truly necessary (everything else is of relative importance): that we reach our ultimate end, union with God in His eternal happiness. July 31 is also the feast day of St. Ignatius (Iñigo) of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, whose motto, “For the greater glory of God”, ad maiorem Dei gloriam, is another expression of the ultimate purpose of human existence; because, as St. Irenaeus teaches, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is God.” Of course, to be “fully alive” means man behaving as he should, according to the design of God. (14.VII.2019)

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