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Homily - CG Arevalo


HOMILY -  Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo SJ

There is no need for many words from me this afternoon. Those of you who knew Sister Naty Banaag well don’t need them from me, for sure. The words you have looked at – words with the photos and excerpts from her and from others’ letters – posted on the display panels at the entrance of the chapel, you have seen the words we wish to hear. Sr. Patricia read some of those, at yesterday afternoon’s Mass; I am glad she did, because she reveal so much of what Sister Naty was: her down-to-earth intelligence, her strength and depth of spirit, her quiet sincerity; above all, her rootedness in prayer and her trust in God. Even for a non-RGS person who knows a little bit about what happened in the difficult, turbulent years when she headed the RGS here: they are testimony of the wisdom and patience of the Spirit working in her.

 She was born on Christmas Eve 1924, just a few months before my own date of birth, so we were in a real sense “contemporaries”. Those of our age who went through the painful years of the crises which emerged from within the Church, and beyond the Church, after Vatican II; from martial law and what it brought to our people and our country, -- we went through months and years when we felt that so much of the world we knew and grew up in, -- the stable, sober, reliable world of our family life, our youth, our Catholic schooling, our novitiate years – so much of it was literally falling apart around us. Even that dramatic world where she went through the tele-novelic – “Ma-alaala mo kaya” – chapter of her life, -- that was changing too.

Those of us who were in the religious life then, -- very many of us – we were in very real confusion; we really didn’t know where we were going. We were walking in the long twilight and even darkness and nobody knew where we were heading. Many nights I myself woke up in tears; many nights. Our Superior General Pedro Arrupe was sometimes asked, his Vicar General Fr. O’Keefe told us, “Where are we going?” And Arrupe answered, quite honestly, “I don’t know; I don’t really know. What we have is trust, only trust in the Lord.” Our young ones in religious life may now know much of this. Maybe they wouldn’t understand, if they knew. But many of our generation went through years of this uncertainty: this walking in chiaroscuro and even fear. – I say this, only because it is part of the background wherein Sister Naty’s life must be collocated.

The years of Martial Law compounded the hardship of this time, even if in some ways it helped us take our bearings, because we had the immediate problems to confront and meet with decisive action. These were mainly Christine Tan’s years; the only ones among you remember them. And I guess I knew enough of what was going on then in many religious communities, of men and women. Including RGS, of course; RGS, perhaps among the hardest tested and divided. The tensions, the conflicts, the polarization, the incredibly high and sharp feelings, -- even, the agonies. At that time, and again just a few weeks before her death, Sister Christine shared much of that turbulent experience. But this is not the time for that.

Photo: August 9, 2012. From left, Fr. Aldrin Lopez, Sr. Suzanne Sinense RGS, Fr. Catalino Arevalo, Mrs. Remedios Ignacio and her grandson.

Then came Sr. Naty’s time and the burden given her as Provincial Superior. Your “tribute” speaks of the holding together and the healing that she was asked to bring about. The Cassandra tragedy was part of this chapter; post factum, a moment of sorrow and of meaning. Somehow, God helped her to grow deep enough and strong enough to withstand the pain and the pressures present. Pain and pressures perhaps now hard to imagine.

How, somehow, by standing quietly and patiently through it all, by absorbing and enduring enough, and loving enough, forgiving enough, praying enough, -- she helped make it possible for the Good Shepherd himself to bring things together: together in sufficient saving measure of  reconciliation and peace. Much of her contribution to that peace was a serenity of spirit which was her courage, its willingness to accept pain…

Above all, the earnestness of her prayer and her trust. Opo, her prayer and her trust. Whenever I did see her then, it was her serenity which struck me. That was her spirit, and the gift of the Spirit to her, -- both. So, one of the letters from your council abroad, speaks of Sr. Naty’s “greatness” of spirit. The Latin word would be “magnanimitas”. We can use that word regarding her, in truth.

Maybe I have gone on too long on those crisis years. Those years have largely passed; though not entirely, of course. – Sr. Naty, your tribute says, had all of 28 years after her difficult superiorship to be just the Good Shepherd Sister in the ranks that she wanted to be; the Good Shepherd Sister she truly was. “Shepherd of my soul, wherever You may lead, I shall follow.” It says it all, di ba?

If I remember rightly, I was asked to speak at this chapel for the funeral Mass for Sr. Mary Peter. I still remember the times I visited Mary Peter before her passing. How moved I was by her spirit’s passionate self-gift in her dying and her death. Sr. Naty in her letter after the Provincial Chapter of 1984 says of her.

“On the wall in her room,” Sr. Naty wrote, “there is a poster with a very meaningful inscription. It says ‘I asked Jesus, How much do you love me?’ ‘This much,’ He answered, and He stretched out His arms and died.”  And Naty adds these words”

Very few can ever approximate such a total self-giving. I can only pray that as my years of life and service decrease, my capacity to share myself will increase. You have all been part of my Paschal life in the Province during the past eight years. Thank you for this opportunity to serve you. It has truly been a life filled with joy, pain, hope, reaching out and receiving. I pray that we may all find ourselves on the altar of the Lord as bread in one basket, to be blessed, broken and shared.

That was her prayer, we will agree, all her life long. She wanted “to approximate such total self-giving.” That is her prayer for us this afternoon, surely, at this Mass of gratitude. And that is how we may sum up her life. She was, by the hands of the One she greatly loved, she was – beautifully beyond our knowing – she was blessed, she was broken, she was shared. Thank you, Sister Naty, for the self-giving with which you placed yourself in His hands. Truly to be blessed, to be broken, to be shared. Salamat po.