EXTRAORDINARY? Of course, he was. In fact, he was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. But he was ordinary-looking. Have him stand with other parishioners, and he would not stand out. He reminded me of Abraham Lincoln’s words: “God must love the common man. He made lots of them.” He was extraordinary despite being ordinary. But I’m going ahead of my story.
The Year of the Parish as Communion of Communities will ring hollow without a reflection on actual members of the faithful who embody communion, who are agents of communion. Mano Leo C, as I called him, was one such person.
The first time I met him was days before I actually moved to my present assignment (Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish) to which he belonged. I learned he was the PPC Vice President. He greeted me warmly. He told me he was already retired from government service. He worked for the DENR and, true enough, I remember seeing him there years before. He started briefing me on the parish I was going to. From our casual conversation I gathered that despite being retired, Mano Leo was far from being tired. He was also president of the senior citizens organization. He was an active member of the Knights of Columbus. He had a crucial hand in the foundation of the national high school for local students and the barangay’s elementary school. He assisted the barangay council in the initial stages of Oplan Tokhang (anti-drug operations) in the local community, resulting in zero violence and zero killing.
As if all these were not enough, he was also our point-man in the diocese when it came to securing titles of lands on which churches and rectories stood. “Too active,” I said to myself as I frowned upon the idea of a PPC member with his hands so full he might have very little time for other things.
But I soon found out how wrong I was. Mano Leo seldom missed a PPC meeting or a community act. I could rely on him on big things, such as planning for a bigger parish church (he presented his own son, an engineer, to draft a design–for free). But he was also just as reliable on little things. Two days after I first set foot on Mount Carmel Parish, our kitchen sink broke down. Not knowing who to call, I asked Mano Leo if he could find us a plumber. “No problem, Father,” he assured me. When I came down to see how things were going, imagine my surprise to find Mano Leo doing the plumbing himself. The sink in no time returned to normal. Away from attention and the crowds, Mano Leo was just as reliable. Most of all, he refused any payment for his service (something parish priests in small parishes like mine approve of very much).
Mano Leo was extraordinary because he cultivated a center. And his center was the daily Eucharist. He would be seriously ill or out of town if he missed Mass. He loved to chat with people but would keep himself quiet before and after Mass to meditate and pray. Then off he would go back to his family, to the senior citizens’ office downtown, to the demanding task of getting diocesan land titles secured, to PPC meetings on raising funds for the Church reconstruction project. And so on. I couldn’t avoid the thought: “Why is Mano Leo in a hurry?”
His better half would later give me a clue. Mano Leo was seventy one years of age. His father died in his sleep at age 56 or 66. Mano Leo one day told her how grateful to God he was for the extra years he was enjoying just by outliving his father. Was this, I asked myself, why he seemed to me like a human sunflower, always focusing on two inseparable centers: serving God and neighbor like a man running after time?
On the late afternoon of August 21, 2017 Mano Leo told his wife he was attending a KC function in a barangay outside the parish. Nothing looked or felt different in the way he was, in the way things were. He had no complaints about anything. As usual he started his motorcycle and headed where a larger vehicle awaited him with other KC members. Off they went to Brgy Nena. After the installation rites, Mano Leo was soon called to give a message and later requested to dance the Curacha, a local fare used to honor a visitor and raise funds. He graciously obliged. Then he was shown his chair to rest. And to rest he indeed went; with hardly anyone noticing, he simply slumped on his chair. Then he slept a deep sleep he would never wake from again.
At his funeral Mass, I said something like the following: “Mano Leo was not wealthy. But he is leaving us a solid legacy: We must have the right center, his life’s center: the Lord in his Word and the Eucharist as well as in our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Mano Leo’s legacy is total love of God and total love of neighbor (Mk 12:29-31).”
I told Mano Leo’s family that I felt like he just took a long vacation, which is why we would not see him for a long time. I realized later I was wrong. It is we who are on vacation as long as we are on earth. Mano Leo already ended his; he has now returned home–to the Lord.
Mano Leo was, to me, extraordinary. Extraordinary for doing what he could to live by the Gospel idea of “servant” and for reminding us: “Our citizenship is in heaven and from heaven we too await the Savior our Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body according to the form of his glorified body” (Phil 3:20-21).
An ordinary man, an extraordinary life.