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Bond of brothers

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FERVENT HOPE and ardent wish to see a son become a priest.

That, every Kapampangan mother – Catholic naturally – held so dearly, up to my generation, at the least.

It took all reasons to send a boy to the seminary: the most prayerful in the brood, the most well-behaved among siblings. And unreason too: the least good-looking, warranting unattractiveness to women, and therefore deliverance, nay, preclusion from temptation.

The Cursillo Movement in the ‘60s stirred nascent vocation in most men through the three-day rigorous rollos-prayers-mananitas-meditation spiritual package, including that ritual called dos-por-dos: one-on-one encounter with the image of the crucified Christ in a darkened room where the hardest of hearts melted in repentant tears, absolved in penitential wails.

Invariably, new men aborning from the De Colores experience exhibited the evangelical zeal of Paul, post-Damascus Gate. Disqualified automatically by celibacy, these fathers turned to their sons to pursue their sudden epiphanies. Hence in 1967, a total of 72 young boys entered Infima Class at the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary in San Fernando, the biggest batch ever, none coming anywhere near it since.

Inured – not simply exercised – in the Greek ideal of mens sana in corpore
sano, boys morphed to men: the intellect honed in rhetorics and mathematics, in the sciences and the classics with the liturgical lingua of Latin taking all of four years through Ars Latina, De Bello Gallico, Cicero, onto Aeneid and Ars Poeticaand the body made fit in daily ball games, in regular long hikes called ambulatios and periodic Mount Arayat climbs.

The nobility of menial work celebrated in and inculcated through manualia and laborandum – regular clean-up of the chapel, dormitory, lavatories, classrooms, and the seminary grounds.

And, but of course, the spiritual formation: the cries of “Benedicamus Domino” answered with “Deo gracias” upon waking, lauds in early morning followed by the Holy Mass, recitation of the rosary at noon, the Angelus at dusk, vespers and reflection after dinner, capped by Salve Regina which came to be regarded as the seminarian’s lullaby. All these in a day. Every day, throughout the five years of minor seminary…

I AM my brother’s keeper.

That may well define the relationship among former seminarians of the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary in the City of San Fernando, Pampanga. It is a relationship that cuts across generations of the many who were called and the few who were chosen to spend their formative years “beneath the mantle blue” of the Indu ning Mayap a Usuk: whether it was in Guagua, where the then Mater Boni Consilii Seminarium was birthed in 1950, in Apalit where it relocated, and – in 1963 – in its final and present site as the Anglicized MGCS.

Togetherness – in prayer, in study, at play, even in sleep in a common dormitory – provides the thread with which the beautiful quilt of that relationship is knitted. No matter the stiffness of competition for scholastic honors. Notwithstanding the physicality of contact sports like basketball, and in our time – thanks to Bruce Lee – the martial arts.

A fraternity – but not in the sense of the Greek-lettered kind – ours is a brotherhood that traces its lineage to one single mother: Our Lady of Good Counsel, to whom we profess a life-long devotion.

From “infancy” at MGCS – that is Infima for the first year, the brotherhood is established when a senior seminarian serves as an “angel” to the newcomer called the “soul,” the former teaching, guiding and helping the latter adjust to seminary life.

Seminarians may not remember their “souls” – one may have as many as four in his stretch of five years at the minor seminary, from his second year or Media onward to Suprema, Poetry, and Rhetorics. But they most certainly will not forget their “angels.”

Rising out of this angel-soul affair is yet another familial tie-in, the Big Boy-Small Boy kinship. All seminarians senior to one are big boys; all the juniors, small boys. The latter are fated to follow the orders of the former. The pecking order of things is strictly followed even today among inter-generational groups of former seminarians, wherever they may gather.

From this bonding naturally evolved a strong support system among the “ex-sems,” whether here in the Philippines or in the United States where the alumni associations are most vibrant.

Acquiesce consiliis meis. Follow my advice. More than a motto inscribed upon the seal of the MGCS, it is at the very core of our devotion to our Mother.

Every alumnus takes to heart the hymn of his youth, especially that part: “…in my doubt, I fly to thee for guidance/Mother, tell me what am I to do.”

In times of differences and misunderstandings, even in instances of conflict among us, it is to our Mother, the mediatrix that she is, that we appeal for resolution.

Aye, the opening strains of Salve Regina, are enough to cool the hottest of passions, and by the time we reach the lines “Eia ergo, Advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte..” all pain issoothed, all emotions calmed, and everything is right. Indeed, “O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria.”

Aye, owing to our Mother, ours is no mere band but abond of brothers.

(Past writings on seminary life blended in time for the 70th Foundation Anniversary of the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary this July 4.)

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