Thursday, August 31, 2006


Son of a Preacher Man

My dad used to be a Catholic priest. Among plates and silverware in our cupboard are golden chalices engraved with my father’s name preceded by “Rev. Fr.” These were recovered from a neighbor’s house where Mass was held one time. Apparently they were lent them some time ago to another neighbor but were never returned. We’ve since kept them there never to be used again until high school sophomore year when we had to re-enact the Mass for Mr. Purto’s Religion class.

When I played Joseph at the Christmas Pageant at Michael’s Kiddie School, my costume was a green silk robe with an intricate design of the Shepherd Jesus. In fact, it was my dad’s priestly vestment altered by ever-resourceful mom.

There is a Papal Dispensation freeing my dad from his priestly vows. This document signed by the Pope himself is the difference between leaving the priesthood properly or just going awol like those we hear about in news magazine programs.

My mom tells the story of priests crowding around to see a genuine Papal Dispensation when they were applying for a marriage license. But the dispensation comes with some special terms. My father, a professor, could not teach Catechism, for one. He could not be a lay minister (he is, after all, dogmatically still a priest) nor could he serve as advisor to a Catholic lay religious group. He was also exempted from the marriage banns – the public announcement of the names of parishioners who will wed.

But Catholic dogma cites once a priest, always a priest so my father still retains his priestly powers. He can, for one, consecrate bread and wine and it shall become the body and blood of Christ. Only it would be “valid but not legitimate.” We were the only ones home when my grandmother, his mother-in-law, was drawing her last breaths. He said he sort of knew that she was going so he reached up to an upper cabinet where he’s kept his old prayer book and, miraculously, immediately got hold of it and opened it exactly to the page where the Blessing for the Dying is. My grandmother got her last wish of being blessed by a priest before meeting her Creator.

SIDE STORY: My grandmother, too, was able to wait for my mom and the rest of the family to come home from the mall before succumbing to cancer. She died peacefully with us gathered around her bed. Because of this, I would be able to see the testrals pulling the carriages if I were to visit Hogwarts. Testrals, you see, are magical creatures in the Harry Potter books visible only to those who have witnessed death.

As a boy I asked why he left the priesthood. He said it was because he dreamt that we will all be born as frogs if he didn’t start a family. (Interestingly, the Agapay siblings are used to house lizards, small rats and cockroaches running around their Marikina home but would all freak out at the tiniest frog.) But I think he joined the seminary because he was raised by a generation of parents who believe it a blessing to have a priest in the family. Being the obedient youngest child, he might have obliged. My mother’s eldest sibling was also a Catholic priest but is now a family man in the US though he still hears Mass, something we frown upon, so much so that gramma had two funeral masses – one celebrated by my uncle and another by a celibate priest.

On his 60th birthday, my dad said in his speech that when he became a priest he soon after felt that he made a mistake. I’ve heard of a story that he confessed his qualms to his superior who told him that if he were his age, he would also leave. So he left and started life anew (he was already in his mid-20’s by then).

He met my mother after he left the priesthood while they were both teaching at PSBA Manila. He was faculty adviser of a frat and she of its sorority counterpart. Mom says she didn’t like him at first because he was wearing green socks, besides she was engaged to someone else already. Her opinion of him changed when he carried her through the flooded streets of Manila. Mommy believes in praying for guapo and mabait husband because that’s what she did. Her fiancée who was already based in the US was asking her to get a Fiancee’s Visa (this no longer exists) but she somehow delayed getting one. Still the guy sent her letters everyday. Then she prayed that if he fails to send a letter on a particular day, she would break up with him to be with my dad. You can guess how that turned out. Now my mom swears she wakes up every morning and stares at my sleeping dad thinking how handsome the man she married is. My father, too, is satisfied with his decision. He said he’s lucky to have married my mom who is smiles easily and is always in a happy disposition no matter what.

My father thinks celibacy should not be mandatory for priests. Last year he asked me to send the Inquirer an article he wrote about this. A few days later Pope John Paul II reiterated the importance of celibacy for priests. Dad texted me not to send the article “out of respect for the Pope” but it was too late. I think he didn’t mind that it got published but the priest in him might have felt a tinge of guilt, as well.

Dad wasn’t particularly religious but I’m sure he prayed. He and mom hear Mass every Sunday and just like most of us he hates long Homilies (saying when he was a priest he wrote down his Sermon so he wouldn’t drag on and on). He also didn’t like it when my mom hung a bronze crucifix over their bed because he found it morbid. Amen.

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