THE Bible is the Word of God. It is God who reveals Himself to his people, the People of God. It relates to us how God created the world and all living things in there, especially mankind. It contains the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament relates to us the story of Abraham, the father of our faith, and the journey of his people from Egypt, the land of slavery, to Israel, the Promised Land. Then there is the New Testament that contains the story of our salvation, the People of God. God sent his Son into the world in order to redeem the people from the fall of Adam and Eve into evil and through his life, his death and his resurrection to bring the People of God to eternal life.
The story of the Bible repeats itself in the life of every one of us today. It is a Journey of Liberation. This is the title of a book written by a good friend of mine, Carlos Mesters, a Dutch Carmelite. Mesters was a classmate of mine when I was in the seminary in Holland. As a seminarian he volunteered to go to Brazil, a mission territory of the Carmelites. He was ordained a priest in the Order of Carmelites and as a biblical scholar became actively involved in the struggle of the poor of Brazil.
I find a striking similarity and parallel between the life story of Carlos Mesters in Brazil and the story of my life in the Philippines. Carlos says in his book: God keeps on calling his people today. A person’s life is like an onion. The onion is a symbol of man’s life. You remove a layer and think you have arrived at its heart. But it is not so. You find another layer, and another. While you go on removing the layers, the tears fall from your eyes, you cry. Abraham also cried much during his journey through life.
In the end, he discovered that the onion has no heart. It only has layers. So, during our journey through life, God keeps on removing the layers of life. At a certain point, you think you have arrived at the heart, at your final destination, and you cry out: “I have arrived! Stop! Enough!” But life does not stop, the journey continues. God does not desist! And you discover that you still have another layer to remove. And even then it does not end. In the end, you discover that life has no core. It only has layers! God is the core of our life. And you discover that you were not created for yourself, but for others and for God.
This I have found out in my own life, the hard way!
I was 12 years old and I was an altar boy. I had great respect for the priest who was saying the Mass and I felt attracted also to become a priest. When I told this to that priest, he right away said: oh no, that is no good for you! And I believed him because who was I who wanted to become a priest. But my eldest sister told me that I should discuss this with my confessor. That confessor happened to be a Carmelite who was helping out in our parish and he right away said: oh that is very good, then you can go to our seminary.
He told my father how we could get at that seminary. It was at the other side of the country. I did my examination and I passed it. I could enter the seminary right away. I did very well in class during the first two years because I had gone already to the high school for two years. So I could fully concentrate on the Latin and Greek we had to study. I passed the final examination and could enter the noviciate of the Carmelites.
During the beginning of the noviciate there was a telephone call from my family that my mother had received the extreme unction and was about to die. The novice master allowed me to go home while I was wearing a Carmelite habit and my head was shaven bold. I met my mother and she was very happy to see me wearing a habit already. She fully lived up and didn’t die yet. Only at the end of the noviciate she passed away and I was allowed to attend the funeral.
Back in the noviciate, I felt very sad but the novice master who was so strict that he told me that this was not proper for a religious to feel sad. I finished my philosophy and theology studies and was ordained a priest in the Order in 1960. In 1961, I volunteered to go to the Philippines as a missionary, But that is another story altogether.
TO BE CONTINUED...