Consolation, if little, that nowhere near-death was the complication I instantly fell into, rising out of a bout with pneumonia “of a differently dangerous kind.” The variation less a viral mutation than something owed to age and body abuse, as my pulmonologist diagnosed.
But I started seeing, hearing, sensing things far removed from the reality everybody else around me was experiencing. Like swarms of flying black insects, from the size of gnats to cockroaches, darkening Room 208 at the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Medical Center, until but a shaft of light was all there was and that slowly dimming too.
The pain – as excruciating as dull blades lacerating the chest, the abdominals, every inch of the back – intensifying at each gasp for air, short, shallow gasps at that, deep breathing already an impossibly human task.
Amid the pain, quasi-consciousness floated the body through climes – sweltering heat, crispy coolness, then sudden freezing iciness, and places – arid sandy wastelands, the beautiful Tuscan countryside, a horrifying jungle of jumbled thorns and thistles where nothing can penetrate. Surprisingly, nowhere was the fiery Gehenna as I teetered at mortality’s very edge.
No light at the end of a tunnel, but in that semi-conscious state a whisper of my name – “Caesar… Caesar…” – half-waking to the blessed presence of the good Apu Ceto, with sacred oil in hand just about to administer the sacrament of Sacram unctionem infirmorum as I knew it from my seminary Latin of long, long ago. Once called Extreme Unction, and in most cases, fittingly referred to as the Last Rites.
Concluding with an absolution from all my sins of commission and omission, and receiving a final episcopal blessing, I embraced, in full resignation, the impending inevitability of final passage. Coming to full consciousness the urban legend of Apu Ceto – in his holiness – expiating all traces of sin with his anointment of the very sick, facilitating the way to their eternal rest in the bosom of the Almighty Father.
Visa to heaven
Was it not I that quipped in one of those exseminarians’ fellowships with retired priests how the good archbishop emeritus of Pampanga hands out – to those he anointed and absolved – virtual visas to heaven? Meaning, sure happy death for them.
A teardrop or two – not so much for remorse over sins past, as for salvific relief of the absolution present – at this realization of the apparent efficacy of Apu Ceto’s anointing. Don’t we all want to go to heaven? But, who would ever want going there ahead?
In a stupor, owing more to the double doses of antibiotics and painkillers than from the sincleansed sense of being, yet another whisper – “Classmate, I have come to pray for you…” It was the Rev. Fr. Larry Sarmiento, the only finisher to the priesthood in our 72-strong Infima 1967 batch of the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary.
Ah, I would continue my earthly life, after all. Fr. Larry making the contra-barata to Apu Ceto’s express lane to heaven.
Vital signs greatly improved over those in my first 36 hours at the ICU – BP from a high of 180/110 to nearly normal 140/90, fever down to 38 degrees from over 40, oxygen absorption capacity still a weak 80 but up from a weaker 60, the nose fully encased in an oxygen mask– my faculties reordered, I asked my doctor to prepare for me another treatment program should I stay a day more at the ICU.
One for psychosis, I told him and he readily understood. Sheer uselessness, utter helplessness in a perpetual hallucinational haze – the ICU was the pits.
With my vitals showing continuous signs of improvement, my doc remanded me to Room 208 anew for my recuperation and, a week after, signed my discharge to continue my recovery at home for another ten days.
That was in September last year yet, but I managed to write about it only at the turn of the year. Impelled, as though I was, by another confrontation with the frailty of human life, and thus, the significance, if not the imperative, of keeping to the Way.
Last Dec. 22, our group of former seminarians – “the unordained alumni of Mother of Good Counsel Seminary,” as Apu Ceto prefers to call us – had our Christmas luncheon, courtesy of Dubai-based George David, at the house of Boiti Portugal in Angeles City, far from our usual monthly fellowship locus that is Bale Pari at the SACOP Compound in the City of San Fernando. And therefore, we did not expect our formatorfathers or any of the usual reverends to be able to join us.
To our most pleasant surprise, Msgr. Mario Ramos came. Though looking far healthier than when we last had him at our October fellowship, Fr. Mar confided that he was scheduled for surgery at UST Hospital on Dec. 27. Some “bukol” in the intestines, he said, but no cause to worry.
As Christmas was but three days away, I said maybe we should take the opportunity to avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Penance with Fr. Mar as confessor. This, as our gift to the Lord.
Boss Tayag asked if the good father could just give us a general absolution.
“Mimua ya y Apu Ceto,” a smiling Fr. Mar said, his eyes reduced to slits.
Ashley Manabat proposed that we could just send by SMS our sins and he could text back his absolution and our penance, which made Fr. Mar guffaw.
Serious as I was to return to grace after yet another fall to sin, I asked Fr. Mar to hear my confession and we repaired to a room in Boiti’s house. Even sans the confesionario, the secret of the confession remains. Suffice it to say that God’s grace overflowed my way that afternoon.
Reuniting with our brothers at the luncheon table, Fr. Mar was visibly moved when Nestor “Max” Alvarado handed him the little sum from the hat he passed around while he was hearing my confession.
“Menabala co pa. Pero, masaya na cu rin,” he said, and with a mischievous grin: “Abayaran yu na la rin detang utang yu qng canteen seminaryu.”
During our time at MGCS, the young Mar was one of our multi-tasking helps – janitor, errand boy, canteen helper. It became a habit among the naughty boys to ask for change from Mar – which he obliged — for anything they took from the canteen – usually soft drinks and biscuits – without even paying for them.
He bid us adieu with a request that we prayed for him.
Exactly one week after, in his Facebook account, Fr. Felicito Sison requested for prayers for the eternal repose of Msgr. Mar Ramos.
Shock waves wove through social media, especially the accounts of ex-seminarians. Incidental to the condolences, prayers and sympathies expressed for Fr. Mar was my confession.
In our MGCS Kapatiran FB page, right after off ering his prayers, Ashley posted: Dela na ing kasalanan ng bong lacson keng banwa kasi meka pangumpisal ya anyang Dec. 22 kang kap boiti villa.
Retorted Boiti: Wapin masias ne i bong kanyan, sumbung ne kang apung Iru haha Fr. Cito: Ah panen, miras na banua kanyan ing kinumpisal mu! Hehe
From Msgr. Salvator Meus: Cong Bong, e ca pa mu mangumpisal cacu ne. He he he.
Upon seeing me for the anticipated Mass at St. Jude, Fr. Deo Galang: E na yata acargang Apung Mar ing bayat ding casalanan mu coya, he he he.
At Fr. Mar’s wake at the Bale Pari chapel, Apu Ceto: Personal na lang dela banua ding pengumpisal mu.
I reminded the good archbishop of his absolution of my sins at Calcutta’s ICU last September, and he said he was happy in my keeping with the sacrament of reconciliation.
The beatific smile of Fr. Mar as he lay in state said as much. Thanks, Among, for the grace.