Remembering and Looking Forward

By Fr. Jovencio Ma, C.Ss.R.

Very recently after Mass, a high school student asked me as part of their school assignment, “Father, why did you become a Redemptorist? Are you happy? Do you have problems?” My response was spontaneous: “I became a Redemptorist because I wanted to be a missionary. Now that I am a missionary for thirty years, more than being happy, I can say with conviction that my life has meaning. Yes, I did encounter deep sorrow and disappointments along the way, but these have strengthened me and have all the more allowed me to proclaim that indeed “In Him there is plentiful Redemption” – motto of the Redemptorist Missionaries.”

I had a happy childhood. We were four in the jfamily, and we were well provided for. Being the eldest, my parents, especially my father, who had lost his family during the war, had high expectations of me. He wanted me to take over the business that he had started. But, my childhood dreams were different.

I was attracted to the priesthood when I was in high school. My parents said “No” to my desire to be a priest. Being the obedient first born, I took up Commerce, major in Business Administration. I was only eighteen years old when I graduated from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. I was offered a teaching job, but I pursue accounting instead, to become a Certified Public Accountant.

While taking review classes in Manila, I visited the national Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual help in Baclaran. There I encountered the Redemptorist Missionaries for the first time. It took me four more years before I finally decided to join them.

During these four years, I had my own income. I enjoyed the life of a bachelor with my barkada. I had a girlfriend. Then, providence intervened. A minor seminary was opened in Malaybalay. The caretakers were family friends. Gradually, the seminarians became my friends too. Then, I began to ask questions about the direction of my life. I had achieved a degree of success and was happy with my life.

However, there was a little meaning in it. Then, I remembered my high school attraction to the priesthood. I began to take seriously my relationship with God. Eventually, I made retreat with the Redemptorists in order to discern my vocation in life. As soon as I passed the CPA exams, I decided to say goodbye to my parents, to my girlfriend and to my friends.

Somehow, I felt an inner strength. Initially I said, “I am just going to give this a try.” To my father, who lamented,” I may not see you again!” I responded,” You will always be in my soul and in my prayers.” To my girlfriend I said,” Even if it hurts, I have to set you free. I am still searching for my life direction. It is not fair to make you wait.” To my  friends I said,” Pray for me as I will pray for you”.

That was more than thirty years ago. I have no regrets. There were difficulties along the way, but the people, the Redemptorist Missionaries and especially God provided me with much love and blessings; they defined the meaning of my life and my priesthood.

After my ordination, I gave missions in the areas around Dumaguete, Bacolod, Bohol, Tandag and Iloilo. I have been enriched by the faith of the people. They challenged my convictions, values, attitudes, and even my direction in life. I was maligned and criticized; all these are part and parcel of following the Redeemer as a missionary. Instead of being discouraged, I learned to rely on Divine Providence. In the missions, God also allowed me to experience a joy that is hard to describe, one that I would not trade for anything else.

When my father got sick, I was at his bedside most of the time. Thus his fear that I would not be there when he needed me most did not materialize. God knew what was best. The same thing happened with my mother. In her old age, I asked that God would take care of her and not allow her to suffer. She died a peaceful and happy death two years ago (2000). I am now an orphan, but my table is never empty of friendship and love. Through the years that I evangelized the people in the missions and in the church, I was also evangelized by them, especially the poor. My mission apostolate was cut short when I was asked to accompany the seminarians in their vocational journey; in other words, I was appointed the Director of our theology seminary. I considered it a privilege to accompany these young men in their formation to become missionaries. And, as a formator, I still considered myself a missionary.

I hope that I will again work on the missions. In this way, in my own little way, I can “give my life for plentiful Redemption.”

Fr. Jovencia, 63, was born on June 1, 1947 in Malaybalay City, Philippines. He made his first profession as a Redemptorist on May 14, 1974 in the then Vice Province of Cebu. He took final vows on February 12, 1978 and was ordained a priest on April 4, 1978. He served as a Prefect of seminary students for 12 years and most recently served as the Provincial Superior of the Province of Cebu from 2005 till 2011. Currently he is the Coordinator of the Conference of Asia-Oceania.

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