Sis. Fe’s past midnight text message sent chills down my spine that very early morning I woke up to read it. As I called Sis. Fe back, my fear was confirmed. Something happened to you in the hospital. You moved from earth to heaven, where your heart always lay, where the likes of you are destined to spend eternity, where Jesus waits for you with comforting embrace.

I could not anymore return to sleep; instead I went before the Blessed Sacrament to pray for you. I prayed the Rosary that Mama Mary, whom you loved most affectionately, will accompany you to the throne of God. After praying, I tried to focus on my usual morning chores but I did not succeed. A deep sadness came into my heart and I felt a great loss.

I must be truly blessed as a priest because I came to know you in the parish where I stayed the longest. You were already active there when I came. I knew you as an active lector, one of the few male lectors we had. Later I learned that you were eucharistic minister, Bukas Loob sa Diyos charismatic community member, parish council president and many more before I came.

You welcomed me with open arms and extended both yours and your wife’s support to me and my vision, projects, and activities for the parish. Soon however, I would know you in a deeper way – as the really kind, compassionate and caring person that you always have been. When my own father died, you were almost a fixture at the wake and the funeral. After that I felt that you cared for me more than just your parish priest. I knew you cared for me as a friend, a confidante, maybe even as a son because your older children were about the same age as mine.

I will always remember your generosity to the parish. You gave tithes when you struck a deal in your real estate work; the first Filipino I knew who gave tithes to the Lord from his income!

You were God’s answer to my prayer for the erection of a monumental religious shrine in the vicinity of the parish. In every project we undertook, you gave from the abundance of your heart. God was the acknowledged source of all your earthly riches and to him you rendered thanksgiving and sacrifice. How admirable was your sense of gratitude and humble recognition that all good gifts emanate from divine hands.

When you first invited me to your home, you and your wife made me feel so comfortable that it would be one of the few homes I would visit many times, on occasions brief, on others, long enough to have deep conversations with you. We sat around the same table, on the same chairs every time we spoke on the porch of your house. I think you served me the same refreshments too, a glass of coke and something else.

You were one of the few people I felt comfortable baring my soul, knowing for sure that you will understand as a man, a father, a friend, a Christian, a friend.

I will never forget how on the day you were to undergo open heart surgery, you told your wife that you would not go to the operating room unless I came to see you, hear your confession, and bless you. It was a miracle that I received permission from a very pressing appointment to be able to rush to your side and do just that. When I rallied the others to pray for you, the adoration chapel of the parish was full of concerned fellow workers who loved you and valued you as an elder and genuine example of faith and service. We were blessed to have expressed our love for you on that very delicate operation.

How you loved your wife! We were going on a Marian pilgrimage to Europe when the day before departure, Sis. Fe was bitten on the leg by a neighbor’s dog. Frantic for medication, you managed to secure that night the necessary anti-rabies drugs to be administered for the next couple of days. What a sight to see you holding the cooler where you kept Sis. Fe’s medicines through almost half the length of our pilgrimage. In every hotel, after breakfast, you were busy pressuring the waiters to give you enough ice for your cooler to preserve the medicines needed temperature. Just as you found the Lord in the holy places, you discovered Him in the person of the wife you faithfully loved and served.

An apex of your life was the much anticipated golden wedding jubilee. You planned ahead of time and invited me to officiate the renewal of vows. You were thrilled your children and grandchildren would be complete as they never were before. You planned the church service, the reception, the family reunion soon afterwards. But then as mentioned above, the unexpected surgery drained your budget. However you willingly settled for a family-centered and economically trimmed feast.

When you learned a month before that I could not come to personally officiate the Eucharist on your and Sis Fe’s golden jubilee, you insisted that you would come with the family members to where I was. Thus, we had a pre-golden jubilee celebration complete with Mass, renewal of vows, pictures, and a simple dinner. I felt so blessed that you still wanted to include me in your plans even if another priest would have to stand in for me on the formal celebrations in the city.

And how happy you were that the event turned out to be primarily for family members. Your daughters and son were all present, with their spouses and children, most of them coming from the US. You were always proud of how they turned out to be. You spoke so highly of their achievements in their career and in their family life. Everytime you spoke of your grandchildren, you shared their intelligence, their talents, their career path. You loved them equally and I know their adored their grandfather as the best grandad in the world!

When I was in a faraway place, away from my usual circle of family and friends, to my surprise, you and Sis Fe came to visit me together with another senior couple. I could not believe that you would seek me out there and spend time with me there just because you wanted to show me solidarity and support. I knew there were limits to your movements already since you could not walk too long or climb too high or descend stairs too steep. But then did we not visit so many places, tourist spots, vacation locations. You made me feel very important. You made me feel God loves me and never abandons me.

Did you not teach me how to bet on lotto tickets? You shared your moderate and practical lotto fascination and you convinced me to do the same. We even promised that the first one to win the jackpot would give the other a big treat! You really influenced me there!

Brother Jun, there are so many things I can write about you. God knows the pages are not enough to capture the essence of who you are to me and to many people. There are still many incidents I can write about but these are mostly in support of the previous ones mentioned.

I would just like to remember one more detail in our friendship – Our Lady. Of all people, I decided to ask you to keep for me my precious image of Our Lady of Fatima. And you warmly welcomed her into your home. At first, the image was in the living room. Later, you took her into your bedroom and enthroned her on your family altar. You always believed that Our Lady showed you many favors and interceded for you and your family to the Lord Jesus Christ.

In my last visit to your home, you asked me if I wanted to see Our Lady again. As you brought me inside your room, Sis Fe and you pointed out how many items on your altar were small gifts I have given you through the years. I was amazed at how you treasured these devotional things, even the smallest ones. Not surprisingly, the Rosary that Sis Fe wanted wrapped in your hands in your eternal repose was the one you received from me many years back.

When I caught up with your wife and daughter in the memorial chapel office while they were negotiating the wake and funeral arrangements, I tried to strengthen them in their vulnerable and sad moment. Little did I know that I myself would release such a torrent of tears that when I was blessing your peaceful body, I could not pronounce the prayers intelligibly because of the anguish of losing a friend and a father like you.

Bro Jun, thank you for sharing your life with your family – your wife and kids and grand kids. Thank you for sharing your faith with us in the community. Thank you for showing us an example of how to follow Jesus faithfully and joyfully. Thank you for allowing Jesus to reign in your heart and transform your soul into the good servant that you finally became.

Well done, good and faithful servant… enter the presence of the Lord!