From a homily given during the wake mass of Secretary Jesse Robredo last 24 August 2012 in Malacanang Palace
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ

For more about Sec Jesse Robredo, read this article on Wikipedia.

I come here to grieve with you, to grieve the passing of a simple man and true leader. Almost three decades ago, in 1983, in this same month of August, I was in a procession hand- and arm-locked with other Jesuit scholastics and seminarians, surrounding a big truck that was carrying the body of Ninoy Aquino to his resting place. As we moved toward Morayta, drenched as we all were because of the rain, I saw a woman flailing her arms about in the downpour, wailing in the water, in tears, with unspeakable sorrow. She was like Rachel in the Bible, grieving for her children, refusing to be consoled, for her children were no more.

A few days ago, I got a Rachel kind of a text from a friend who was grieving and asking, what is happening to our country? Indeed, what is happening to us? Why do we keep fighting each other? Why do we readily see the bad in the other, and yet fail to see how weak and “earthen” we are? Why must good men like Jesse be taken from us? Why must we have to start all over? Why can hope and love and goodness be so easily stolen from us?

My dear friends, like you, I do not relish these Rachel moments. Losing someone we love breaks us. Being separated from those we love plunges us into a desolate place. When someone we love leaves us, we are hollowed out, drained, tempted, our resolve unsettled, our questions unanswered, our grief inconsolable. And so there we stand leaning against the door, the strength ebbing from us as we crumple to the floor.

Leni, beloved of Jesse, in this time of bereavement, we stand with you against that door. Aika, Jillian, Patricia, beloved children of Jesse, we walk the shadows with you. Jocelyn, Butch, Penny, Jenny (beloved siblings of Jesse), Jose and Marcelina (beloved parents of Jesse), we share your loss and your unanswered sorrow. We share your longing.

And we thank you for loving Jesse, for loving him enough to share him with us. A man as strong and humble, as resolute and kind as Jesse could only have grown from the ground of your love. Whatever strength of character and depth of compassion he bore he must have drawn from the wellspring of your love.

We thank you for the serenity and conviction of your faith that was Jesse’s faith as well. If your heart’s treasure is where it is now, it is there because of your affection for our Lord, and your devotion to Ina, to our Lady of Penafrancia, which was Jesse’s devotion as well. It is through this man’s faith and devotion that he found serenity and conviction. It is this same serenity and conviction that we see in the words of the apostle Paul to us in the first reading. Jesse could very well be the one telling us, assuring us in these words:

“We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor 4:7-12)”

So death in us, but life in you. Dear friends, in the Gospel we are reminded of what that means; we see how life is given to us. The mother of James and John come to the Lord to lobby that her sons sit with him (one at his right, the other at his left) when he comes to power. When the other ten hear this, they are furious and indignant. Jesus calms them down and tells them:

“You know that among the pagans, the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mt 20:25-28)”

Let us pray to see what Jesse saw in others, in our people, in our God. He saw our Lord in the faces of His beloved poor. Pray that we may never lose heart, that we may find our heart again and again in the people, the poor especially, who inspired Jesse. Pray that we may find the strength to endure the dying that our bodies must bear, so that life too might rise in these mortal bodies, in these earthen vessels that have been anointed to hold the one treasure that is our Lord.

Let us pray to lead the way Jesse led others. Quietly, humbly, resolutely. If we are to lead, we are not to lose heart, despite the difficulties and persecution and desertion. If we are to lead, we are to remember that woman in Morayta, the inconsolable Rachels in the rain. If we are to lead, we are not to lord it over others. If we are to wield power, we are to yield it for others.

So death in us, but life in you. God bless you Jesse. May He let his face to shine upon you and give you peace.

About Jet Villarin, SJ

Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.

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