For more than a year now, I have faithfully attended the 9 AM Mass at the National Shrine of our Lady of Lourdes in Quezon City. Well, not really faithfully. There were some Sundays that I’ve missed because of unavoidable circumstances like out-of-town trips, family obligations, etc. Waking up early on Sundays is not really too big a deal for a morning person like me. But for someone who’s not very vocal nor showy about her faith in the Catholic Church, I admit it was at some point a struggle for me to go to Mass every Sunday. However, that was before Father Sanjay.
He had me at his visual aids. No offense to other Catholic priests I have encountered (with the exception of Father Sonny Ramirez, Nanay’s favorite priest who used to say Mass in Sto. Domingo), I get bored with their homily most of the time. Some tends to be preachy and others seem like scolding me for something I am not really sure about. With Father Sanjay, it feels like he’s communicating with me through his AVPs and stories. During his homilies, he is not just delivering sermons. He is telling stories, much like Jesus did with his parables.
I learned things about Alexander the Great, Oprah, Bill Gates, etc. He told stories not just about famous persons but unnamed people as well. There’s the story of the two brothers’ love for one another that made me wish I have one (and then I immediately took it back, because I actually have one!). The story of how a professor taught his students that “life is like a cup of coffee” is something I would surely tell others when the chance comes up. There’s also that amusing first-hand anecdote about the mute kid who received a miracle.
There were videos with kurot sa puso that made me shed some tears (that I had to creatively wipe away). There’s this video in Chinese about a son and his senile father that Father Sanjay had to translate for us. He said that it may be in a language we don’t understand, but we’d probably end up getting the gist of it. True enough. It may be in a foreign language, but the message of love is universal.
And, of course, how could I forget the fact that Father Sanjay introduced me to the music of Matisyahu through “One Day”?
There are a lot of good stories I’ve heard from Father Sanjay and I regret not writing about each of them. Besides his creative way of delivering homilies, I also enjoy his meditation included in every celebration of the Mass. He would ask everyone to close their eyes and focus on Jesus. Surrender everything to Him and trust that everything will be all right, he would say.
Today was a special Sunday. My family woke up early at 4 AM to attend the “Salubong Mass” in the nearby church, while I decided to stay behind and catch some more sleep. They’re used to me not joining them to Mass, anyway, since I continued going to Lourdes for Mass even after we moved to the new house.
It was a cool summer morning and the Church was packed probably because it’s Easter. Father Sanjay’s homily was about a US soldier and a boy named Tad. The story goes like this: once there was a soldier who went to the White House to ask permission from President Abraham Lincoln to go home to be with his wife who was sick. Naturally, the guards didn’t permit him. While he was outside the gates looking upset, a young boy approached him and asked what was wrong. He told this young boy that he wanted to speak with the president to ask for permission. The boy told him to hold his hand and he would bring him to the president. The soldier hesitated because he, a soldier, couldn’t get past the guards, how could a kid do it? But he mustered courage and hold the boy’s hand. Much to his surprise, when they were at the entrance, the guards open the gates, waved to the kid and let them in. The boy holding his hand was, none other than, Tad Lincoln, the youngest son of the President.
Father Sanjay used this story to convey the message that we only need to hold on to the hand of Jesus who will take us to the Father.
It was before the Final Blessing that Father Sanjay said his goodbye. He said that after four years, he has now finished his studies. Apparently, he has been officiating the 9 AM Mass since 2011. I wish I have gone to hear Mass led by him since then.
I was so sad, I had to fight back some tears. My heart was breaking.
The congregation gave him a round of applause, and when the Mass has ended, the usual number of people who approaches him for his blessings, tripled. I was one of them.Trying to fight my emotions (because one usually don’t cry when a priest says goodbye, really), I joked to myself while walking towards him that I should probably say to him, How could you leave, Father? Ikakasal mo pa ako, eh!
When he placed his hand on my head, I was only able to say, Thank you, Father.
Truly, I am grateful for him. He made me go to Church to hear Mass. He taught me a lot of things through his homilies. He even made me want to get married someday, with him officiating it. (Well, a particular Veluz gown did that to me, too.)
Kidding aside, I was changed because of him. I may not be very vocal about my faith and beliefs, but through him I have learned that the way to do it is to put my whole trust in God. I am a work in progress, and I’m happy about it.
I will surely miss anticipating hearing the words “Our Mass will be presided by Father Sanjay” next Sunday. I will surely miss his usual “Magandang umaga! Kumusta kayo?” greeting with sweetness and slang. I will surely miss his stories, his videos, his personal views on things and his inspiring meditations.
But Easter is for new beginnings. And new beginnings should be full of delight. So, I sincerely pray for a fruitful new chapter for Father Sanjay. May he continue to collect stories for him to be able to tell them during his homilies, and change lives like he has changed mine.
As for me, I pray that someday I will encounter him again and attend a Mass officiated by him. Sana sa India. 🙂