"Father Herman is gone. He passed away yesterday, at ...Bye Father Herman, he was close to all of us, was a part of the family."
Mama wrote this on the e-mail she sent me this morning. "Was part of the family." Now I understand why his passing leaves a gaping hole to us --my parents, my siblings, Lakay and I.
He was part of the family, was always on top of our guest list in all family occasions. In fact, even in the middle of his critical condition, he had to remind us of the privilege we've bestowed on him - being our guest of honor in most of our Noche Buenas throughout our growing up years. Mama wrote:
"While in the hospital, he told Juliet that he's expecting us to visit him for the Noche Buena or Christmas lunch...If not, he will shoot us daw!"
I've never thought of how central his role was to our family. Mama says, "We'll miss him. He was the closest of all CICM fathers to us." Today, I understood why he was the closest to us. He was the only one who was open and transparent enough to break the barriers of a secluded priestly life toward lay persons like us. That transparency shone in various rays - the bright shade of bubbly-ness that breaks into tearful laughs when he shared a joke about his youth, the dark shade of anger and resentment (even towards us) whenever he feels neglected or unimportant, the melancholic shade of sadness each time he learns that one of us in the family is leaving for a distant land. Fr. Herman. His uncomplicated transparency drove away other friends, yet, surprisingly, it won our loyalty. I think it's because as much as we have been unfortunate to be the receiving end of his outbursts, we have also been showered by the warmth of his deep love. Yes, he loves deeply. And we will truly miss him for that.
I suppose he loved the parish so much that it affected him so badly when he had to retire last year. I've been a witness to that love. Having experienced how some parish priests in Manila (and even in Baguio) take on an exclusive hold of the mass collections by requiring a second mass collection for parish "expenses," I totally appreciated Fr. Herman's selflessness. He never asked for second collections. In other words, all the money collected in mass went to the parish and its expenses. I also saw how he very much wanted to establish basic ecclesial communities in the parish. He had so many dreams and plans. But he could only do so much.
In separate, but not unrelated, ways, Fr. Herman played a significant role in my life and Lakay's. While I was a youth leader serving in our parish, Lakay was also a seminarian under his formation in Maryhurst.
When I went to college, several experiences have led me away from serving him. Years after, when I confessed to him about my misgivings, he told me that he had been silently wondering about my distance. Our relationship became much better after that, so much that I and another friend helped organize a children's choir for the parish.
Meanwhile, Lakay who was in the last year of his formation in the seminary surprised Fr. Herman when he did not apply for the novitiate to continue his plans of becoming a priest. The formator was utterly dismayed. Among the young men in the list, he thought Lakay would be the one who would end up in priesthood. But then, as Lakay shares, Fr. Herman in the end still gave him his full support in his decision.
Little did any of us know that his youth leader and his seminarian would one day end up together. When we came to see him for the routine confession three days before our wedding, he said that he knows us both well enough to entrust to us the sacrament of reconciliation. In other words, he made us confess to each other, instead of to him.
He was here in Belgium two summers ago. We planned to visit him, but our schedules were a mess. This is one big thing that I will truly regret for the rest of my life. How could I not have thought that that could be the last time we'd ever see each other again? How could I just take it for granted that he would be there in the next Noche Buena when we finally go home? His presence was just so usual that it was totally foreign to think of his absence.
And now that foreign feeling has set in. And we are left to come to grips with it, barely two days before Christmas eve.
Fr. Herman, we know that you are in heaven celebrating Christmas now. As our family, in different parts of the world feast on our Noche Buena, please shine down your love on us. After all, you are, and always have been, invited.