Lester's Thanksgiving Mass Homily

19 April 2006. Wednesday of the Easter Octave
Luke 24, 13-35 The Road to Emmaus

Note: This is the homily I gave at the Thanksgiving Mass of Fr. Lester Maramara SJ, a newly ordained priest and close friend at Xavier University Main Chapel, Cagayan de Oro City. Both Lester and I have been assigned to Xavier University.

The Gospel is one of the most beautiful Resurrection stories: the story of two disciples making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a village seven miles away. Their journey was a movement from confusion to understanding, from darkness to light. I believe the journey to Emmaus of those two friends also describes the journey of Fr. Lester Maramara to the priesthood. Their story is also Lester’s story that led him to finally offer his whole life to the Lord.

First, restrained from recognition. It is at this stage that we are “restrained from recognizing Jesus” as the Gospel words it. On their way to Emmaus, the two disciples were discussing the events that happened in Jerusalem. They cannot make sense of the events that followed the crucifixion and the initial announcement of the women that Jesus was alive. In a way, Fr. Lester began a journey such as this. Lester entered the Don Bosco Missionary Seminary in Talisay, Cebu in high school, but decided to leave the seminary because he could not find himself there. He proceeded to take Psychology in San Carlos University and worked for some time after. Lester’s father died during this time, and his brothers and sisters slowly moved away from Cebu, some of them outside of the country. I saw his picture in high school, and he was fit and slim then, but he was cute they said. When young, life consists of a flux of events seemingly without a thread that connects them. And like the two disciples on their initial journey, they had little ability to make sense of what happened. Often our tears and confusion shield us from seeing Jesus and the thread that brings all the pieces together.

Second, remembrance. Stories have power: they make us remember. On their way to Emmaus, Jesus retells the stories of Moses and the prophets, interpreting the scripture which referred to Him. During the Easter Vigil, the liturgy of the word recalls the stories of how Yahweh saved his people with five or more readings from the Old Testament to the epistles of Paul in the New Testament. These readings help us make sense of the story of Jesus.

This mass is about gratitude for all of Lester’s significant stories that led him to the priesthood. I too have plenty of stories to tell about him. When we were here in Xavier University High School --- I was in my first year as a priest, and he, a regent --- there were times that I wanted to unwind and to relax. And Lester was the first person whom I called --- kay dali galgalon, o dali birahon (kaladkarin) --- except when he prays. In his room, there is a small altar with vigil candles and incense. Nothing --- even my persuasive powers --- can make him move away from his prayer.

But it is not just his prayer life. It is also his personal disposition that made Lester endearing to me and many of us here celebrating with him. Lester’s joyful disposition and simplicity is contagious. And those who were unfortunate enough to fall in his charms fall flat on their faces --- and I tell you, I personally know some of them, both men and women. Lester is loveable, they said, because he is easily pleased by simple pleasures: fish, dogs, food, music, arts and the movies. He has exquisite musical taste. Moreover, Lester also likes stories, a voracious reader of fantasy books, from Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings, and recently Eragon, the dragon. Furthermore, my story meets with Lester’s at many times. Albus Dumbledore in the book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, said, “Happiness is found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Lester is like that to me and to many others: like Jesus, he helps us remember the light, and then he makes us happy once again!

But this ability to shed light was witnessed by those who were formed by him. Years before ordination, Lester had been assigned in houses where young men were guided in their search for God’s call to them. It was in these houses that new stories were forged, and new persons were formed. He had been in the prenovitiate in Haggerty House here in Cagayan de Oro City, in Arvisu House in Quezon City, and his next assignment, Daigler House in Davao City. To him is entrusted the future of the Society of Jesus. The key to this trust is seen in his intelligence --- he has a degree in Psychology and two MAs in Philosophy & Theology --- and more importantly, in his ability with people. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sirius Black says, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” In XUHS, Lester was awarded --- thanks to votes from his fans --- as the best teacher that year. If one knows Lester, that award will not come as a surprise.

Finally, recognition. Jesus used words --- stories --- to help the two disciples remember. But it was in a familiar gesture that they finally recognized him: at the breaking of the bread. You see, Jesus loves eating at table, whether in the house of Zacchaeus or Lazarus, whether at the wedding feast at Cana or sharing the Passover meal with his disciples in Jerusalem. Jesus was finally recognized by the breaking of the bread.

I believe, the vocation of Lester to the priesthood had been enriched by table fellowship, just like Jesus. And some of these memories, I also cherished. Just as we have two friends, two disciples, both loving Jesus, my vocation, my priesthood and my Jesuit life have been enriched by my friendship with Fr. Lester. We remember the conversations with Fr. Mike Bernad about the history of the Society or of his students at table, the banter and corny jokes of Fr. Jorge Hofilena, Cal Poulin and Jim McKeough, the personal care of Fr. Balchand our rector, and the companionship of varied personalities of the Jesuit community of XU. We remember the places we frequent with friends especially from the high school or the young Jesuits of our age like Bro. Noel Cantago --- Bigby’s, Vienna Kaffee Haus, Bo’s and Taza CafĂ©. We remember Ms. Bombeo, the chair of the Christian Humanism department, who bought foodstuff for us while we travel to Bukidnon for the high school retreat: I would look at the label of the wrapper to know what I was about to eat, while Lester would put it in his mouth first, before asking what it was! Indeed, in friendship, at table, while eating, we recognized Christ.

But nothing beats the Mass. Here nothing else can be said: in the celebration of the mass we have seen Christ and the core of our lives. In the mixture of all of these events, stories and gestures, the Lord confirmed our vocations.

Today, our hearts are grateful for the gift of Lester’s person and the Lord’s gift of the priesthood. As a priest, Lester will also accompany others in their Emmaus journey. And just as the Lord walked with him and with us at all times, even in our inability to recognize Him, we too pray for Lester, Buboy and Jonjee, newly ordained, that they may be able to recognize Christ in their new assignments and help others see Him too in their lives. Let me end with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, her advice to priests: Give Christ and only Christ.

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