Dear Fr. Hugh,

Greetings from the Chinese Jesuit missions in Taiwan!

Long time no see.

Just had a short chat with my Mom the other day on Skype, and she mentioned how you were. I just realized that you’re the last of the American Franciscan missionaries who have formed me, still surviving today.

Frs. Julian, David, Bede have all gone ahead and my regret is that I never got to thank them personally for all that they’ve done for us at San Antonio. Please accept my deepest thanks at this moment, for your personal care, and for being instrumental in God’s plan for me.

Rest assured, I never took it against you that you didn’t give me permission to join Antioch when I was still too young (my mom mentioned that you brought this up recently, that you felt some regret). I actually took this as a sign from God, that I should continue to stay with Luke 18, as I had qualms about Antioch’s vices at that time. This also taught me how not to ask for exceptions and special favors. I really thank you for this.

To tell you the truth, I’ve admitted publicly, during my Dad’s wake last year (with Fr. Tony Rosales as the main celebrant) that I did want to become a Franciscan. I was so edified by the simplicity of the Franciscan lifestyle in the midst of the urban opulence of Forbes and Dasma. I recounted how as altar boys, we would raid the Franciscans’ fridge, and find that there was not much there! (Later, Fr. Tony added, “little did he know, we Franciscans have our own fridges in each room!” That was quite a comic relief.) Though I was attracted by the Franciscan simplicity, in my search to follow Jesus, I somehow knew that I was still too materialistic, and had too many attachments.

When I met the Jesuits, who didn’t seem to have a vow of poverty and openly admitted that they were “sinners, yet called, just like St. Ignatius, to be companions of Jesus”, I realized that that’s the group where I belong.

After 18 years as a Jesuit, I discovered that there are quite a few Jesuits who are serious about the vow of poverty, particularly in the Franciscan way, and have shown that some Jesuits can really live up to this ideal too, but really only by God’s graces, and not by one’s own efforts or human rules alone. I’m glad to find that Pope Francis is one of them. I can identify so much with him, who obviously emulates St. Francis of Assisi, with the Jesuit honesty that he is a sinner, and unworthy, yet “miserando atque eligendo” (being shown mercy and being chosen). My only qualm about this pope is that he celebrates liturgy like most Jesuits, without much care for the details and liturgical music.

The masses sung at San Antonio were most memorable for me precisely because of the liturgical music, especially when the presider would sing the words of consecration (perhaps, the melody of Fr. Andres Ranoa?). Those words would touch a deeper chord within me, and continue to resound in me even long after the mass. Because of this, I have been singing the words of consecration, even when celebrating masses alone, regardless if the mass is in Chinese, Italian, Latin, Tagalog, or English. I find that the melody fits so well to express what the words convey.

So there you have it, that’s probably the Filipino Franciscan in me, I suppose, in the liturgical tradition of Santuario de San Antonio!
I am still striving towards deeper Franciscan poverty, begging the grace of God for this. For this, I’ll need your prayers too.
My current mission is to teach Ignatian Spirituality at our Theologate. We have students mostly from the Mainland, which is wonderful. Hopefully, our small efforts here in Taiwan can help evangelize the spiritual culture of the entire Chinese people.

Commending these intentions to your prayers, for one of the lesser spiritual sons of St. Francis,

Jem, SJ

As published in the October 16 issue of the Parish Bulletin.