by Eric Santillan

One of my batchmates when I entered the Jesuits in 1999 is a guy named Lito Ocon. Lito is one of my closest friends and he was ordained several years ago. He’s now the Chaplain of the Philippine General Hospital, the hospital in the centre of the fight against COVID 19 in the Philippines.

Before entering the Jesuits, Fr. Lito was a civil engineer doing design for a Japanese ship company, called Tsuneishi. Before becoming a civil engineer, he was a college student in Divine Word College (now called Holy Name University) in Tagbilaran, Bohol. His story is stuff for Maalala Mo Kaya. He worked while studying–as a janitor, then as an aide for SVD priests who own the school–cleaning their rooms, shining their shoes, washing their dinner plates.

When he was working in Japan, he went up to the penthouse of his building one night, beheld the stars and started to think that there must be more to life than what he had at the moment. To make the long story short, he entered the Jesuits some years afterwards.

What struck me was that his is the story of a young man who has not made a radical change in his life. He was not a bad person before he entered the Jesuits. We like the story of St. Augustine better—someone who turned from horrible sin to sanctity. Or like Ignatius of Loyola who had his days of cavalier youth before becoming the holy saint we know him today.

Fr. Lito is not an evil person. He’s not immoral. Rather, he is a very good person. But precisely, he’s a good person who made a change in his life.

And I think we will be able to understand that more because many of us are part of that group. There are very few of us who are evil and immoral. We’re generally good people. But because of being good people, we often kind of turn aside the voice that calls us further.

We are good people. We even volunteer our Sundays or give to charity once in a while. We go to church regularly (at least the ones on FB and YouTube). And we’ve probably prayed more now during this pandemic than ever before. But our goodness can be a shield and buffer us from a deeper commitment to prayer, love and mission.

What does repentance mean to us? It is not a repentance from a horrible life to a good life, but rather the repentance from an already good life to something deeper and better. You see, we carry within us a subtle defence against deeper holiness. We treat God in the negative. “I don’t do the horrible things, therefore I’m exempted from doing the better things.”

But when we pause and go deeper, we realise that the Gospel confronts us and won’t let us get away with that. And people like Fr. Lito, who are good people, say, “Do you want something better, more profound, or deeper?” His story is about a good person who changed, not an evil person who converted. And that is our message.

But this is a very subtle message. It’s a subtle message because it’s about the way we keep God from getting into our lives too deeply. Good people have a way of making excuses for not being better by talking in the negative: “Well, I don’t go around stealing like our politicians,” and “that’s really better than drugs.” So, therefore, I’m good. And I’m exempted from doing more.

The word of God challenges us, “Yes, but there’s something lacking yet. There’s something that can be changed.” There’s a deeper commitment to justice, love, and peace. There is a deeper prayer life. There is a more profound charity. There is loving the unlovable. There is real forgiveness. There is giving to the poor. There is an invitation to deeper spirituality.

Our world will not be changed by the mass conversion of evil people, but rather the deeper spirituality of the already good.

A final story:

Satan assembles his junior apprentice devils looking for fresh ideas of how to populate hell. One apprentice raises his hand and suggests, “I have an idea. Tell them there is no God.” Satan isn’t happy with that. He says sarcastically, “We’ve tried that, much as we try to tell people there is no God–we tried it in communist Russia and in China–but people still understand in the deep recesses of their stupid hearts that there is. So forget it.”

A second apprentice devil raises his hand and says, “Well, tell them then that there is no hell.” Satan says, “We’ve tried that too, dimwit, and it won’t work. Sooner or later people realize that mass murderers cannot end up in the same place as Mother Teresa and John Paul II (may their tribe decrease, amen).”

Finally, a third apprentice devil raises his hand and says slowly, “Then tell them–there is no hurry. That there’s still a lot of time.”

And Satan smiled.

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