I returned to my homeland this past January to bury a brother, the elder and leader of our growing clan since our parents died some 20 years ago. Many Sam ("Many" being a title of respect) died from prostate cancer. At one point, the men in the family talked freely about the scourge—Dad died from it, a couple of us are dealing with it, including myself. One brother, the family comedian, joked that our family should have stayed Catholic, concluding that, in his non-medical opinion (he's an agricultural engineer), prostate cancer is a Protestant affliction. "Don't we sing a hymn that says ?angels' prostate fall?" Someone reminded him that it's prostrate fall, not prostate. We laughed. The comic shrugged off his "engineer's English" and laughed with us. Humor comforted us even in the midst of Many's death. Life is a joy. The resurrection faith enables us to rise above our fears and the terror of cancer.
I started doing ministry in 1961 after graduation from the seminary. Over the 40 years of uninterrupted practice in the ministry, I've always experienced it as joyful—until last summer, when things got pretty overwhelming and stressful and I was sensing that I was losing the joy of it. I went on a pilgrimage, returning to the homeland where I visited the barrios of my early childhood years. I wanted to reconnect with my past, where it all began for me.
I visited the remote place where the family evacuated during World War II, in an abandoned house, now gone. It was there where I had my first memories—pasturing the carabao, swimming, laying bamboo fish traps in the river with my brothers. The second locale was where we lived after the war. I saw the field where my brothers and I shepherded sheep for a wealthy family. Nothing but an empty space where the house used to stand. At the third barrio, I visited the school where I attended first grade and thought of my teacher, Miss Rosa. I looked for the bat, a huge rock, after which the village was named. I found it under a grown mango tree. I vividly recalled happy, playful, carefree times on it with my boyhood friends and classmates.
I visited my hometown church and to my first parish on the same island. Looking back to those places and times, picturing in my mind a long life and faith journey, seeing myself where I came from and where I am now—thousands of miles and three scores and two years later—I saw, I felt, I believed in the guiding, sustaining presence in my life of the living God whom I know in the risen Christ. This thought, and the summer's pilgrimage, revived and renewed my soul, body and mind. God is alive. I, too, shall live. Doing ministry is truly joyful once again and, I pray, always will be.
The Rev. José A. Malayang is Executive Minister of Local Church Ministries.