[Homily at Mass of Christian Burial of my father, Jose Quiogue Tabora, who passed away peacefully on March 31, 2017 at the age of 97]
As Christians, we are privileged even in moments of great bereavement to come together in celebration. Even as we mourn the passing of my father, we also celebrate his life in heaven.
Yesterday I shared with you the story of how God intervened in my father’s life to prepare for him the place in heaven from which I am sure he is smiling on us today.
God involved our Lady of Peñafrancia. On the occasion of my inauguration as President of the Ateneo de Naga University, she brought my mother and father together – after many years of marital separation and oftentimes painful animosity – in an unlikely reconciliation.
As we were preparing for the inaugural ceremonies, our organizers had been instructed to entertain the groups of my father and mother, but keep them apart. So, after a day of shopping, my mother’s party was to visit the old, historic Shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. My father’s party, on the other hand, after a day of touring Mt. Mayon, was to visit the relatively new Basilica of Ina. But what we had planned to avoid actually occurred. Because the driver of my mother’s group confused the Shrine with the Basilica, all of a sudden the two groups were facing each other on the steps at the side of the Basilica. It would be the last time my father and mother would meet before the long illness that eventually claimed her life. Then, what was totally unexpected occurred. My mother left her group, quietly walked up the steps to my father, and kissed him. I firmly believe it was a sacrament of reconciliation and love that Ina had worked out for my father and mother.
God involved the late Jaime Cardinal Sin and Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who was then the secretary of Cardinal Sin. My father was deeply disturbed by a preacher on EWTN who had threatened all who were in irregular marriage situations with fire and brimstone in hell unless they repent for their sins, see their bishop, and work out their reconciliation with God. He asked me, his “Father Son,” to make an appointment with Bishop Bacani. When I asked him why Bishop Bacani, he said that he would be more accessible to him than Cardinal Sin. When I explained to him it was really the Cardinal he needed to see, he acceded to an appointment with him. I returned the following morning to Naga and from there called my friend, then Fr. Soc Villegas, to ask him for an appointment for my father with the Cardinal “on a conscience matter.” Fr. Soc immediately said yes. I told him I would be back in Manila in three weeks, and that I would bring him to the Cardinal. Fr. Soc however said that if it was a conscience matter it could not wait three weeks. But he told me not to worry, and that he would take care of it. Eventually, he got hold of my father not at his home but on the tennis courts of the Philippine Columbian. The next morning, my father was in deep personal conversation with the Cardinal. Both he and Esther confessed their sins to the Cardinal that morning and received absolution.
Weeks later, at an ordination in Loyola House of Studies, the Cardinal called me to himself. He told me that my father had shared the story of his life with him in tears for over an hour. He told me that my father was a very good man and that I was never to forget it. He also told me that he had encouraged both my father and Esther to return to the sacraments under certain conditions. He asked me, “Do you know why I told them to return to the sacraments?” “Why?” I asked him. “Because that’s what Jesus would have done,” the Cardinal said smiling.
It was in this context that eventually, two months after the passing of my mother, I was privileged to preside over the marriage of Dad and Esther. At that time, Dad was 91. Many times since, whether in sickness or in health, we have spent happy evenings celebrating Mass and enjoying supper in their home rejoicing in the presence of children and grandchildren.
When I’d texted Soc Villegas, now the President Archbishop of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and thanked him for his pastoral intervention in my father’s life, he replied: “I am sorry to hear the news of your father’s death. My condolences. I am sure he passed away happy and fulfilled. We have a new saint in heaven.”
I am sure that is what many of us here believe as well. We have a new saint in heaven!
But in what did that sainthood consist on earth? Just a few points that I am sure many of you can add to.
My father had a deep devotion to Our Lady. With Esther he would pray the rosary, or lately, mysteries of the rosary. Honoring Mary’s role in the Incarnation as Ignatius did, his day began and ended with the Angelus. When I was a child, it was my father who brought me to church on Wednesdays and taught me devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
My father had a deep sense of gratitude. This morning Bro. Armin Luistro and Bro. Dennis Magbanua of the Brothers of the Christian Schools were here. My father was a La Sallite. (Not all of us can be perfect!) And he would tell me how grateful he was to the La Salle brothers. My father’s father, Lolo Manuel, a lawyer, had passed away early in his life, thrusting the family into poverty. He would tell me how studying in his time was difficult, with his mother working hard to make ends meet, but not always able to make the deadline for tuition and fees. He would tell me how normally the Christian Brothers would look the other way so that he could continue his studies. When finally he had graduated and needed to prepare for the CPA exam, he was allowed audit the review session without charge. He eventually became one of the early CPA’s of our country.
He was eternally grateful to his younger brother, Tito Moning, who upon the death of Lolo Manuel, went to work in order to allow my father to finish his college studies in La Salle.
My father was an entrepreneur. When he had left the foreign service which in our childhood brought us to the United States, he gambled his separation pay on capital equipment that could make cosmetics formulated specially for the Filipina complexion. He founded “Beautifont.” In its heyday, Beautifont had become the largest sales organization in the country. He was a strict manager, but he also understood to call forth the best talents of his people. He had the true entrepreneurs’ mind, plotting and scheming 24/7 to make and develop new products and programs.
In this way he provided well for his family – even after Avon eventually mounted a hostile take over of the company.
He loved sports, especially tennis – and all the people he came to interact with playing tennis. Many of you who are here have been companions of my father at the Philippine Columbian or at the BF Homes’ Sports Club.
If we are to sum up Dad’s sainthood on earth, as one of you texted, Dad was “a kind and gentle man.” Those who lived close to him know this well. He was always concerned about others, needing to be assured that they were properly provided for.
My father died repeatedly signing himself with the Cross of the Redeemer. He experienced the love of the Father working out redemption for him in the Son and living in the love of the Holy Spirit whose fire purified him in life, consumes him in death, and raises him in the glory of the Father – forever and ever.